The last few days have been...rough. Greg finding out Scott is his birth father has been hard on him. He's been really quiet and he's kind of shut himself off from everyone around him. He's spoken to me a lot less and he isn't as focused during practices and games. We lost two games in the past week before we finally managed to get back on track. But Greg...I don't even know.
I've tried to talk to him, to ask how he's feeling about the whole situation, but he's barely said a word about it. Whenever I try to bring it up, he asks me, begs me, not to make him talk about it. It's like I'm walking on eggshells around him, and I just wish I could help him through this in any way I can.
I only hope he can get back to being himself by this weekend's game. The Kings are playing the Red Wings and it's been a really anticipated match. Word about Greg and Brody's old relationship and now friendship hit the news a few weeks ago and the media had a holiday with it.
Now everyone's waiting to see which ex-boyfriend has the stronger team. The number one team in the Eastern Conference? Or the number one team in the Western Conference? But if Greg doesn't get even the slightest bit out of his slump, then the Kings will lose and the Red Wings will become the number one prospect for the Stanley Cup.
On a more personal note, I've still been constantly thinking about how I feel about Greg. If there's one thing I've found out with this whole predicament with Scott it's that I really hate seeing Greg so upset. When we're in bed together, I sometimes hear him crying to himself in the middle of the night.
It breaks my heart knowing he's in so much pain. Greg's trusted Scott for nearly fifteen years. And to find out he's not the man Greg always thought he was? God knows what must be going through his head. I want to help him as much as I can, even when he pushes me away. I want to be there for him, to be a shoulder for him to cry on when he needs it.
I want to show him that I care for him, that I hurt just as much as he does whenever he's upset. So...does this all mean that I...love Greg? Am I really in love with Greg Natick? My chest swells whenever I ask myself the question and I love the warm feeling it gives me. I know it for a fact now: I love Greg.
But...I don't think now is the best time to tell him. He's already distracted by what's going on with Scott. And if I tell Greg I love him, I could distract him even more by telling him I'm in love with him. So I want to put this off until after the Red Wings game, when he has the opportunity to think a little about everything.
So I just need to hold off telling Greg for a few more days, then I can pour my heart out to him. "What's on your mind, Tanner?"
I look up from the counter and find A.J. in front of me, wiping down the bar counter with a clean rag (if a piano were playing in the background, I'd swear this was a 1940's noir film). "Just this weekend's game, I guess," I say, stirring the water in my glass with my straw.
Damn it, A.J. He's always been too perceptive for his own good. "Yeah..." I say.
"You and Gregory stuff?"
I told A.J. and Ulrich about me and Greg not too long ago. Both were so surprised that Ulrich actually forced me and Greg to eat one of his wings to prove we weren't lying. The pain was worth it. "You could say that," I say, looking distractedly into my glass.
A.J. sets his rag aside and looks back at me. "You two doing okay?"
"We are, but...Greg's going through a bit of a rough patch with some personal problems. He got a bit of bad news handed to him last week so he's been pretty down because of it."
"Sorry to hear that, dude. Hope he gets better quickly."
The kitchen door opens and out walks Ulrich, drying his hands on his pants. He takes a seat next to me. "Dishes are done and we are officially closed for the night," he declares. "Can I get a water, A.J.?"
"It's one more glass for you to clean."
"I'll fucking clean it tomorrow..."
A.J. laughs and gets Ulrich his water. "What've I missed?" Ulrich asks, sipping his water.
"Tanner here has boyfriend problems."
A.J. gives Ulrich a quick explanation about my situation with Greg. "That sucks, dude," Ulrich says, giving my shoulder a pat. "Any reason why?"
"Greg has a few personal issues he's dealing with right now and it's been really hard on him. I'm not blaming him, but it's kind of putting a strain on our relationship. He's not talking as much as he used to, he hasn't smiled once, and...and he's not being as observant with his diabetes."
That's the part that worries me the most. I need to constantly remind him to do something he's been doing his whole life. It terrifies me that if he doesn't take his insulin, his blood sugar could change a lot and he could get really sick. "Can't that really hurt him?" A.J. asks.
"Yeah, he could get really dehydrated, start vomiting, and it could get a lot worse if he goes a while without taking any insulin. He could even end up in the hospital."
"So what're you going to do?" Ulrich asks.
I take a small sip of my water, by my throat still feels like it's coated with sandpaper. "I think I may have an idea, but it's not one I'm too fond of going through with. Mostly because I don't completely trust who I'll need to get help from."
"Well, Tanner," A.J. says, "it looks like you're going to need to suck it up if you want to get Gregory the help he needs right now."
I sigh to myself, knowing he's right. I dig into my pocket and pull out my cell phone. "Who're you calling?" Ulrich asks.
"A friend of Greg's." I hold the phone to my ear and listen to the dial tone. "But if he so much as tries a damn thing, he'll get his teeth knocked in, no matter how much influence he has in the NHL."
There's a knock at my apartment door and I raise my head off my pillow a bit. For fuck's sake, Tanner. I asked to be alone for a little while. Why can't you respect that? The knocking gets louder until it's full on pounding on my door. I gave him a fucking key! If he wanted to get in my apartment so badly, he could let himself in!
I throw the covers off of me and I quickly put on a tank top before storming through my apartment. I get to the living room and the front door and pull it open without even looking through the peephole. My jaw drops when I find who's standing out there. "You look like you've seen better days, Gregory," Brody says.
He walks into my apartment without me letting him in. "Brody, what the hell are you doing here?" I say, not even bothering to close the door. "Our match isn't for another three days."
Brody sets his bag down by my couch. "Tanner called me yesterday and told me he was really worried about you and that you weren't taking your insulin as diligently as you normally would."
Tanner called Brody? "W-Why did he call you?"
Brody spins around to face me, his face seething. "Because he cares about you, you idiot! And I care about you too! There are so many people out there that care about you and you're not taking care of yourself. If you were to get sick from not taking your insulin, we'd all be worried sick about you.
"Whatever's going on with you needs to change, Gregory. It isn't more important than your health and well-being. So I brought Clint here with me to help me get you back on your feet."
Clint is Brody's husband of about a year now. "You brought Clint?"
"He's parking the rental car downstairs and should...oh, there you are, baby."
Turning around, I find Clint standing in the doorway, two suitcases in his hand and a backpack strapped to his back. Clint's from Texas and he and Brody met at a bar when Brody was starting out with the Red Wings. It was an instant connection for them. Clint's a tall guy, maybe six foot four, with a naturally muscular physique, sandy blonde hair he keeps short and covered with a cowboy hat (yes, he's that southern).
Clint smiles at the two of us. "Driving here is a nightmare," he says in his deep southern drawl. "If I had my handgun, I would've blown my brains out the second I got downtown. Hi, Gregory."
Brody laughs and walks over to his husband, giving him a kiss and taking a suitcase from him. "So Clint and I will be staying here for the next few days to make sure you're getting back on your program," Brody says.
The two set down their suitcases and bags. "Brody you can't stay here," I say. "People will find out and think you and I are...I don't know, conspiring together for the game."
Brody lets out a low laugh. "Conspiring together? Are you serious? The media already knows you and I used to date and are now just friends. If people start to question it, we'll just explain that I'm trying to be a friend to you and help you through some shit."
"B-But what about the Red Wings? Don't you need to get ready for the game?"
"The team's already here. We flew out a few days early so I could give them two days off and they could relax a bit. And we're going to practice the day before the match so we can get back to things. But you're my main focus right now, Gregory. If you're not focused on our match and you lose, then I won't see it as a win."
"B-But doesn't Clint have work?"
"I have a few vacation days saved up," Clint explains. "Plus I've wanted to visit Los Angeles for a while, and darlin' here asked if I wanted to go."
He kisses the side of Brody's head. "There's no way I'm getting out of this, am I?" I ask.
"Nope," Brody grins. "Now throw on your swim trunks. We're going to the gym to start to get you out of this funk."
"Is Tanner coming with us?" I ask.
"He told me you asked to have some space, and he's giving it to you. I tried to ask him to come, but I don't think he likes me quite yet because you and I used to date. But he asked me to help you all I can, and I plan to keep my promise to him."
A small lump forms in my throat. I pushed Tanner away when he only wanted to help me. I walk to my room to put on my swim trunks and grab my phone in the process.
'I'm sorry for the way I've been acting. I really appreciate this.'
A reply comes a minute later.
'I just want you to be happy again, Greg. I don't like that I had to call Brody to help, but I was willing to do it so we could get through to you. I'm spending the day with Keith and we're waiting for one of his therapy sessions. Please call me when you're done for the day.'
'I will. I promise.'
I almost type 'I love you' into the text message, but I manage to restrain myself at the last second. I need to wait for the right time. And until I know Tanner feels the same way about me, I can't say it. I need to keep waiting.
"You feeling better?" Brody asks me, propped up against the wall of the pool.
I peel off my goggles and swim cap and shake out my hair. "A little," I say, wiping the excess water off my face.
We look in the lane next to Brody's, where Clint is still hard at work on his laps. The man grew up with a lake in his backyard and loves to swim. "I'm trying so hard not to get a boner right now," Brody says, not taking his eyes off his husband.
I roll my eyes, but I understand where he's coming from. Watching a very attractive man doing laps in a pool wearing nothing but a small speedo, that's grounds for a boner. And judging by the women staring at Clint as he swims, a few lady boners as well. "Sorry, ladies," Brody calls out. "That man is mine."
Brody holds up his wedding band that was sitting on the edge of the pool and the girls make a few pouting faces before leaving the pool area. "Way to stake your claim," I say.
"Hey, when your husband has the looks to be on dozens of magazines, I'll yell out he's my man. I should probably tattoo 'property of Brody Mates' on his forehead."
He's got a point there. "So are you ready to tell me what's going on?" Brody asks me, pushing himself out of the pool and taking a seat on the edge.
I look up at him for a second before staring back down at the water. "Someone really close to me...turned out to be someone he wasn't."
Brody glances around before bending down a bit. "Did Tanner go back into the closet?"
"No! No, not that. Someone else. You remember when we were still at Stanford about my old high school gym teacher?"
Brody thinks about it for a second. "Scott Haines or something like that?"
"Close enough. Yeah, I remember you talking about him a little after you and I started dating. And from what you told me about him, he seemed to help you a lot when you were still in high school."
"He did, more than I can ever repay him for. He saved my life, Brody."
I involuntarily look down at my wrists. "I'm still lost, Gregory," Brody says, getting my attention again. "What does your old high school gym teacher have to do with you being in such a shitty mood?"
I sigh to myself. "Do you also remember me telling you how I was raised by my mother most of my life and that my father was out of the picture?" Brody nods. "Well...it turns out he was closer than I thought."
"Gregory, what the hell does...?" Brody stops short and his eyes slowly bulge. "Oh you're fucking shitting me..."
I shake my head. "It's true, Brody. Scott's my father."
Brody gawks at me, completely frozen. "Gregory, this is something out of a shitty soap opera. Are you sure he...?"
"He had a picture of my mother in his wallet, Brody. He called my mother his ex-wife. It's pretty definitive that Scott's my father."
Brody slides back into the pool. "Wow, Gregory. I can understand why you've been so upset. Are...are you angry with him?"
I prop myself up against the lane divider. "I don't really know. I was furious when I found out he was my father and I ended up punching him a few times. But I don't think my actions were reasonable. He seemed just as surprised as I was."
"So do you want to apologize for punching him?"
"I really don't know what I want with all of this, Brody. Scott's a good man, I know that already, but I can't get over the fact that he didn't look for me or my mother while I was growing up. He had to have known my mother's name before the two separated. If he even did a simple investigation, he could've found us. That tells me he didn't care about either of us enough to even try to look."
"Just because he didn't look for you doesn't mean he didn't miss you."
I look behind me and find Clint treading water. "Did he miss his kid before he knew it was you?" Brody asks.
"He told me he did, and it looked like he was being honest too. He said he missed my mom too. But if he missed us so much, it doesn't explain why he didn't look for us."
"Gregory," Brody says, "I don't think him not being there for you isn't entirely his fault. Do you ever remember your mother telling you about your father?"
I dig deep to think back to a time when I asked Mom about my dad. Whenever I asked, she wouldn't say much about him. She usually said that she really loved him and that he was one of the nicest men she'd ever known. Whenever I tried to dig deeper, she always told me I wouldn't understand. "Just that he was a good man," I say. "She never told me about why he was gone."
"And did Scott ever tell you anything about his ex-wife?"
Pieces slowly start to come together. "That she...she ran away the day after I was born. But t-that's no excuse for him..."
"Maybe he had an excuse," Clint says. "You never know until you ask him. My daddy left my mama when I was just 8 years old. Four years later, he comes back out of the blue. I didn't speak to him for another three years. Turns out he was in witness protection for testifying against a drug kingpin.
"All that time he was gone, I was angry with him. He left mama to raise me by herself without so much as a word and came back when I was in middle school like nothing had changed. He kept apologizing for leaving me and mama, but I was too hurt to accept it. When he finally told me about the witness protection, I was about to cut him out of my life.
"A simple explanation was all it took for me to forgive my daddy and now I call him every week just to say hi. When I left for college he gave me his favorite hat, that hat I've worn every day for the past eleven years and I plan on giving to my boy someday."
"What if we have a girl, Clint?" Brody asks.
"Then she'll wear that damn hat and be happy with it." Brody and Clint exchange a smile. "So, Gregory? I think you need to talk to Scott at some point. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but soon. He owes you an explanation, no doubt about that. But you'll get it only when you want it."
I look between the two, silently thanking them for being such good friends. "I still don't know what I want in regard to Scott. I still feel a little mad at him, and I know that if I see him too soon, I'll just blow up again. I'm going to keep thinking about this."
Both Brody and Clint nod. "Well, I'm pruning," Clint says, pushing himself out of the pool and stretching his limbs. "You two want to grab something to eat? I'll buy."
"I can eat," I say, pushing myself out as well. We look down at Brody and see he isn't moving. "Brody, you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just...I don't think I should get out of the pool for a minute or two."
Brody's face turns a little red and he looks up at Clint. "It's your fault for being too sexy..."
Clint and I exchange a look before stifling our laughs. "Darlin', if I knew this speedo did that to you when we first met, I'd have worn it every day."
Brody blushes a little harder and Clint and I head to the locker room, Clint taking a second to bend over and 'scratch his leg' on the way there.
A few days later, I'm looking in a mirror in my office, tying my tie and making sure my suit is perfect. Even below the stadium, I can hear the crowd echo through the concrete above me. With my suit ready and a bit of time before the match starts, I walk over to the couch and take a seat.
My notes on the Red Wings are sitting in front of me, but I resist the urge to look at them again. I'll just second guess the plays I've already come up with. This is going to be one of the toughest matches of the season so far. Brody is just as great of an analyst as I am, so he's definitely been studying the Kings just as much as I've been studying the Red Wings.
While I know about all the players on the Red Wings teams, there's one that makes me really worried: Stephen Denier. The guy's a good player. Not the greatest, but very well balanced and a challenge when he's in a two on one situation. But his skills aren't what I'm worried about, it's his attitude on the ice.
He gets really into his matches and sometimes gets way too hot headed and aggressive. Last season, he checked a defenseless player into the boards and bruised one of his ribs. He was ejected and suspended two matches because of it. Brody's told me about him a few times and has expressed his concerns.
I shake out my worries about Stephen. Brody told me yesterday that he would make sure his players would try to avoid inflicting accidental injury on the Kings and I promised the same for the Red Wings. I run my fingers through my stiff hair in an attempt to calm down a bit before I need to go to the locker room.
There's a knock at the door and Tanner appears a second later, dressed in his uniform with his helmet and stick under his arm. "You ready?" he asks.
He closes the door behind him and walks over to the couch and takes a seat next to me. "How're you doing, Greg?"
"On the personal side or the professional side?"
"Both. I'm still really worried about you."
I rest my elbows on my knees and clasp my hands together in front of me. "The personal side is getting a little better. I still haven't spoken to Scott and I don't know when I'll want to. And I still haven't really thanked you for what you did for me, Tanner."
"I'm just happy it worked out. Brody's slowly becoming a good guy in my book. He's not there completely, but I can see you two being friends is a good thing. And remember, if you have any other problems, don't hesitate to talk to me about them, okay?" I nod. "Now how're you feeling about tonight?"
I sigh loudly. "Frankly, I'm more worried than I've ever been before a match. Brody and I have never coached two teams that are in the same league, so this is our first match against each other. I feel ready, but I can't get this feeling out of my gut that makes me feel like I'm not going to be at my best tonight."
Tanner moves a little closer to me. "Greg, you've never been more ready for tonight. You've been studying the Red Wings constantly for the last few days and you've memorized every little detail about the players and the plays. I know you're worried, hell I am too, but I'm so fucking excited I can't get my fingers to stop twitching."
Tanner holds his hand up and I see his fingers really are twitching. "You're not going out there to face the Red Wings alone, Greg," he continues. "You're going out there with all of us and we're all ready to give it all we've got. We know we could lose tonight, but that doesn't mean we're going to lay down our sticks and give up.
"We all want you out there with us. And we can't have that with you stuck in here." He rises back to his feet. "We're ready when you are Coach Natick."
How he can always make me so calm so easily, I'll never know. "Thanks, Tanner."
I get up as well and check my appearance one more time in the mirror. "Um...Greg?" Tanner says from behind me. "Can I talk to you about something really quick?"
I glance down at my watch. "Sorry, Tanner. You and the guys need to take the ice in a few minutes and I'm afraid I can't deal with any other bits of stress at the moment."
"A-Are you sure? It'll be really fast..."
"I'm sorry, Tanner. After the match, okay?"
I look at Tanner in the mirror's reflection and see he looks...a bit upset. "Yeah, okay. After the match..."
A small pang fills my chest at hearing Tanner's voice. He sounded so confident a minute ago. Now it just sounded...strained. Tanner turns and heads out of the office, leaving me alone. I rub my hands over my face in frustration. I should've heard him out, listened to what he had to say. It must've been important if he wanted to tell me so badly.
As much as I want to punch myself for being so thoughtless, I'll get to it after the game. With a breath, I head for the door, finally ready for tonight.
"And welcome back, hockey fans, to the third period of the Kings Red Wings game. In case you're just tuning in, I'm Liam Keeling. And always with me is my lovely co-correspondent Lauren Becker."
"Thank you, Liam."
"We're close to the end of the third period of the match and the score is tied at 1-1 with neither team showing signs of giving in. The Kings scored late in the first period and the Red Wings equalized the score in the middle of the second. Almost thirty minutes of gameplay later and there have been no other results."
"There have been several chances for both teams, Liam, but neither have been able to finish them due to the very strong defenses of both teams. This match could go ether way tonight."
"I couldn't agree with you more, Lauren. Both teams are so similar to each other in terms of power, speed, and endurance that it looks like they're playing themselves. I feel that it's due in part to the training by coaches Gregory Natick and Brody Mates."
"That's right, Liam. Natick and Mates have a history together at Stanford University, where they both majored in sports management with a focus in coaching. Both have several years of assistant and head coaching and have helped lead their teams to very successful seasons.
"The two even have a personal history together."
"They dated at Stanford, right?"
"Yes, Liam. Mates and Natick began dating in their sophomore year and stayed together until their senior year. They decided to separate when Mates was accepted for his internship with the Red Wings and two have remained close friends to this day. There's zero animosity between the two and it was very evident at the start of the match."
"At least their old relationship hasn't affected how either coach is leading their teams. Both are being absolutely relentless in regards of offense and it's making the defense of both teams work their hardest to try and stop both teams. I think the match is going to come down to luck."
"How're the teams looking down there, Alan?"
"Lauren, I'm tired and I haven't taken a step outside of this box. Both teams are exhausted and look to be on their last legs. If this game goes into overtime, I don't know how they're going to fare with it if it were to come down to that."
"What's your prediction based on what you've seen, Alan?"
"Liam, I can't even decide. Everything is so even between the Kings and Red Wings that if they were to switch uniforms, no one would notice a difference in playing style."
"Well let's get back to the ice, where there's only one minute left on the clock. Red Wings have possession of the puck and are idling with it in their defending zone. Wesley starts up the ice, Thompson marking him. Wesley crosses the puck to the right side of the rink and Evert takes control of it.
"Evert crosses the center line and Friskin is closing in on him. And...oh! A nice dodge by Evert! He passes the blue line and sends the puck to Denier. Denier eyes the goal and sets up a shot! But no! He sends the puck back to Evert! Evert tries to break away from Friskin, but Friskin isn't letting up!
"Forty seconds left in regulation time. Evert is starting to feel the pressure from Friskin and he sends the puck to Denier again. Denier goes and...A very nice stop and switch by Denier! Denier is unmarked! He brings his stick back and sends the puck flying to the goal! But Densely snags it and holds it tight in his glove!"
"That's a good way to get your heart pumping, Liam!"
"You said it, Lauren. There's thirty seconds left and Densely sends the puck to Yezhov, who takes skates behind the goal to give the Kings a last minute line change. Evert charges for Yezhov, but he passes the puck up to Harper. But Keller and Jules stop his approach and Harper is forced to send the puck back to Yezhov.
"Less than twenty seconds left in the period and Yezhov is looking for the open man. Abramov takes the puck from Yezhov and starts up the...a sharp pass to Crossrick! Crossrick, the youngest player with the Kings, blazes up the ice. Keller is struggling to keep up with the kid! Crossrick's in Red Wings territory! Less than ten seconds left in the game!
"Keller dives for the puck, but Crossrick...White's open! White is coming up the ice, Denier on his heels, and signals to Crossrick! Crossrick sends the puck across the ice, right into White's stick! Ten seconds left in the match! White readjusts himself and Denier tries to get the puck back! But White's already taking his shot!
"White sets up the shot, and...no! It's a pass to Crossrick! And Crossrick's ready for it! Five seconds left! The puck connects and...is blocked by the leg pad of Odessa! White with the rebound...score! And time has run out of this game! With a last second goal from White with an assist by Crossrick, the Kings have taken this game!"
"What a play, Liam! The Kings have taken the match by the skin of their teeth!"
"And the Kings are celebrating their victory down on the ice, Lauren. That was probably the most exciting match of the season that I've commented on. And now that...wait, Denier's approaching White. And he does not look happy, Lauren."
"He must be feeling pretty upset that White managed to take that win from the Red Wings. White isn't watching Denier and...oh my God! Denier is raising his stick!"
"Someone stop him, right now! Oh my God! White's down! White is down! Someone get paramedics to the ice right now!"
I think I just sweated through my undershirt from all that nervousness. But we did it. We beat Brody. I step out onto the ice to shake hands with him. "Hell of a match, Gregory," he says, taking my hand.
"No kidding. I thought you had us a few times."
"Looks like we know that I need to beat you guys next time."
We exchange a friendly hug as well, and I suddenly hear a lot of screams of protest from the crowd. We let go, ready to find a crowd of people looking at us, but I see everyone's looking up the ice. And it's not a look of hatred or anything like that. They all look...scared. I look where they're all facing and feel my heart stop and watch as everything slows down.
I'm looking right at Stephen Denier, who has his stick raised and cocked behind his back. He looks crazed with rage as he bares his teeth at the person in front of him. Looking at the person in question, his back is to Denier, but I see five letter that make up his last name: White. I want to scream out at Tanner, telling him to get down, but my voice is gone.
Denier swings his stick around and I watch as the tip of the blade connects with the side of Tanner's helmet. The stick shatters and I see a large dent in the side of Tanner's helmet. Tanner's legs give out from beneath him and his body crashes to the ice, not moving in the slightest.
I move even before I know it, sprinting as fast as I can for Tanner's body. Both Kings and Red Wings players alike grab Denier and throw him to the ice and pin him down while others try to help Tanner. I slide to a stop and drop to my knees in front of Tanner. The dent in the side of his helmet is huge and...drops of blood are trickling from beneath the helmet.
My body freezes and every bit of sound disappears from my ears. The only thing I'm focused on is my hurt boyfriend. "Move!"
Paramedics swarm Tanner with a stretcher at the ready, but I can't move. All I can do is watch as the paramedics pull off Tanner's helmet, only for a torrent of blood to come flowing out of it. They immediately press towels to Tanner's head and I feel like I'm going to be sick from watching all of this.
A gloved hand rests on my shoulder. "Coach Natick, let the paramedics do their job," Ian tells me. "You and I are just in the way right now."
I look over my shoulder a bit and see Ian looking down at Tanner, complete worry on his face. He helps me to my feet and the paramedics start to get Tanner onto the stretcher. "Where's that bastard?" I growl.
Ian nods over to where there are several players holding down Denier and Brody glaring down at him. "No one's let him move even an inch," Ian says, not taking his eyes off of Denier. "They could crush him for all I care."
The paramedics finish strapping Tanner to the stretcher and lifting him off the ice. "What hospital are you going to?" I call out.
"The medical center on South Grande Avenue."
"Got it." The paramedics start to carry Tanner off the ice and down one of the hallways. "Kings!" Every Kings player turns their head to me. "We're going to the medical center! Leave Denier to the Red Wings and the police! Grab all of your shit and get on the bus!"
They all jump to action, grabbing their discarded gloves and sticks and rushing to the locker room. I take a second to walk over to Brody. "I'll leave this garbage up to you."
"And I fully intend to report him to the NHL personally for this. Whether he's suspended or forbidden from playing a game ever again, I don't care. I'll message you in a bit."
Even though he's covered by a suit, I can tell Brody's clenching every muscle in his body in an attempt to restrain himself. I give him a pat on the shoulder before running off the ice.
The bus comes to a stop in the front of the hospital and I'm the first one to jump off. The rest of the team quickly gets off as well, a few accidently falling because they haven't put their skate guards on. We all rush into the hospital, much to the surprise of the hospital staff. "Where's Tanner White?" I frantically ask the woman at the front desk.
The woman takes a second to collect herself and looks at her computer. "He was brought in less than five minutes ago and is being assessed by a few doctors right now. The report says he received a head injury caused by a hockey stick to the head. A doctor will be out shortly to give you an assessment. Has his family been notified?"
"I called them."
"Good. They'll want to be here when the doctor comes to talk to you. I suggest you all take a seat...or try to take one...for a little."
The team goes and sits in the waiting room, taking up most of the available seats. Good thing it's probably a slow night here or this place would be packed. Pent up exhaustion finally kicks in and I take a seat as well. I pull my phone out of my pocket and send a text to Brody.
'At hospital. No prognosis yet. Waiting for doctor and Tanner's family.'
The reply is almost immediate.
'Keep me updated. I'm so fucking pissed that one of my own players could do something like that. Stephen's been taken into custody, but he'll manage to post bail and be out by tomorrow.'
'Any news on what the league will do to him?'
'They called me immediately after the police took Stephen. They scheduled a hearing for next Monday, so Stephen and I are staying here for the next few days while the rest of the team heads back to Detroit. Vickson will take over as coach until I get back.'
Vickson is the assistant coach for the Red Wings.
'Clint staying too?'
'Yeah, for moral support. He's worried about Tanner just as much as I am. I need to go. Police need to ask me a few questions.'
I slide my phone back into my pocket and fall back in my chair. The doors to the hospital slide open and in rush Hank, Hannah, and Keith. "Gregory!" Hannah says.
I rise out of my seat and walk over to them. "Where's Tanner?" Keith asks. "You told us he was hurt."
It's so hard to look into their faces right now. "He's being examined by some doctors to see how he's doing. All I know is that the hit to his head was a hard one."
"He was hit in the head?" Hank asks.
"After the final goal in the hockey game tonight. A Red Wings player hit Tanner in the head with the blade of his stick and the blow was hard enough to knock Tanner unconscious and cause some bleeding. I don't know how severe the bleeding was, but it didn't look good."
Hannah holds her hands to her mouth as Hank pulls her close to him. The hospital doors open and Allie rushes in with Drew behind her. "Gregory! Drew and I saw the game on TV! How is Tanner doing?"
I give her the same rundown I gave the rest of the Whites. Allie looks a lot paler than she did a minute ago and Drew rubs her arm comfortingly. "I-I need to call Ethan. He needs to know about this..."
Allie digs her phone out of her purse. She taps the screen a few times and holds it in front of her. "Hey, Allie," Ethan's voice says. "We just finished a show in Denver. It went great. Allie? You don't look so good."
It must be a video call. "It's Tanner, Ethan," Allie says. "He got hurt at a hockey match."
"What? Tell me everything right now."
We give Ethan the same explanation. "We don't know how he is yet," I say. "But the doctor should be here soon."
And a minute later, a man in scrubs and a white lab coat comes out. "I'm Doctor Warner. Who here is with Tanner White?"
Nearly everyone in the waiting room swarms the doctor, teammates and family alike. "Kings!" I bark out. "Two steps back!"
Immediately, the team moves back a bit, all of them silent. "Nice work," Drew says to me.
"How is he?" Keith asks.
"Unfortunately, we have to take him to surgery." Surgery? "The blow to Tanner's head had enough force to cause a small bleed in his brain and the blood lost on the ice was caused by his helmet cutting into his head. It's not a life-threatening bleed, but we need to operate to stop it before it gets worse. So we need the family's consent to operate."
"Please do everything you can," Hank says. "He'll be okay, won't he?"
"It's too early to tell. We need to stop the bleed before we can make any other assessments, like long term brain damage caused by the injury." Hannah makes a strangled noise and Hank tries to soothe her. "So we have your consent?"
"Absolutely," Hannah says, tears in her eyes. "Please save my baby..."
"We'll do everything we can. I need to go scrub in with the other doctors. You can either wait in the waiting room or head on home and we'll give you a call as soon as the operation is done."
"We're not going anywhere," Allie says. "I'm staying here to see if my brother's okay."
"We all are," Ethan says. "I'm getting on the next flight there."
"Ethan no," Hank says. "You're in the middle of your tour. You can't just drop everything and come home."
"It's Tanner, Dad..."
"I know, son. But you have a priority at the moment and you can't abandon it. Just have your phone and laptop nearby and we'll keep you updated. Okay?"
Ethan sighs through the phone. "Send me texts every fifteen minutes. The band has a day off tomorrow, so I can stay up tonight and sleep in later."
"We will," Allie says.
Ethan hangs up the phone and Allie puts her phone away. "We'll work our hardest," Warner says. "Please sit and we'll let you know as soon as we're done."
He turns and heads to the operating room. "Kings," I say, facing the team. "Head on home."
"But Coach Natick..." Gunnar starts to say.
"No 'buts,' guys. You're all exhausted from the game and we still have practice tomorrow, with or without Tanner." My chest aches from just saying that. "Go home and get some sleep. I'll let you all know what's going on in the morning."
The team stands still for a minute before slowly starting to move out to the bus. All except Ian. I can understand why he's so reluctant to move. Tanner's been looking out for him for a while. And he was barely even five feet away from Tanner when he got hit. He's probably worried beyond belief for Tanner.
I step over to him and he meets my eyes. "Head on home, Ian. I'm staying here to keep an eye on him."
Ian stares at me in silence for a minute. "It's you, isn't it?" The question confuses me and Ian moves a little closer. "You're the guy that Tanner's secretly dating."
My body freezes. How the fuck does he know about that?! I'm so shocked that I can't even form a response. "It's okay, Coach Natick. Tanner and I are keeping each other a secret and whomever he dates is none of my business."
Each other? "You're gay too?" I quietly ask.
Ian nods. "Tanner came out to me a few days ago after he overheard me talking to my boyfriend from back home over the phone. I don't plan on outing him or his relationship with you. I can see you two really like each other and it hasn't affected how you two work together. And it's easy to see you're worried about him. We all are."
I nod a bit, still a little scared knowing Ian has this information and can do anything he wants with it. Ian takes his hand and gives my shoulder a pat, something Tanner always does. "I'll see you tomorrow, Coach Natick. I really hope Tanner makes it out okay."
With that, Ian turns and leaves the hospital while I walk back to my chair and fall in. Allie takes a seat next to me. "You know," she says, "the only people still here are my family and Drew. All the nurses are out of sight, so if you..."
Before she can say anything, I grab Allie and bury my face into her shoulder. I don't care if anyone sees me, just please let Tanner be okay. Please...
Several hours later and we're all still in the waiting room. Hannah and Keith fell asleep about an hour ago and Drew and Allie weren't far behind them. Only Hank and I are still awake. Even if I wanted to fall asleep, I'd be too wired to close my eyes. There hasn't been any word with Tanner since the surgery started and I've been worried beyond belief.
My phone has been blowing up with messages and calls from the guys, asking about Tanner and if I know anything yet. I don't have any answers most of the time, and I really appreciate their concern. "You holding up okay, Gregory?"
I look up from the floor and find Hank looking at me from his chair. "I've been better..." I quietly say.
He nods a bit. I can tell he's just as worried about Tanner as I am and it's been pretty evident since he first got here. Hank's been quieter than I've ever seen him. He pats the seat next to him, telling me to take a seat with him. I rise from my chair and walk over and fall into the couch.
Hank scoots a bit closer to me. "I know you're scared, Gregory. Hell, I'm a fucking nervous wreck. But if I know one thing about my son, it's that he's a fighter. He'll get through the surgery."
How Hank can be so confident at times is beyond me. "I hope so," I weakly say.
The room is quiet for a minute. "Gregory, I want to ask you something as Tanner's father, not as a friend."
Oh great. Like I haven't sweat enough already tonight. "Yes, sir?" I ask.
"I want you to answer this honestly. What do you think of my son?"
The question takes every word I know and makes me forget them. I look at Hank and try to form a word, but three slip out before I can stop them. "I love him..."
My mouth clamps back shut as quickly as it opened and I look down at my hands. I just admitted to Tanner's father that I'm in love with his son. "I know."
I glance over at Hank and find him looking down at me. "You do?"
"I knew the second Tanner brought you to meet me and my family for the first time. You've loved him for a long time, haven't you?"
I swallow a bit, trying to wet my dry throat. "Since freshman year of high school, sir."
"Did you and my boy get along during high school?"
Well here's the can of worms I didn't want to open. "Not really, sir. Tanner and I...you couldn't exactly call us friends back then. Not even acquaintances."
Hank sighs to himself. "Tanner bullied you, didn't he?" How could he have known that? I know Tanner wouldn't tell anyone about what happened and I've stayed quiet. "Scott told me a while ago how he had seen Tanner harassing you a few times back then. I won't ask any more because it isn't any of my business, but it must've been hard having someone you really liked be cruel to you."
"It's okay, sir. It's in the past and I've already forgiven Tanner for what happened back then."
Hank hums to himself. "Doesn't mean it was right. But high school is a phase in a lot of peoples lives where they can make their mistakes then. But if I had to assume, I would say Tanner bullied you to chest up."
"Chest up, sir?"
"Putting up a bravado to make you seem stronger and more intimidating. It may have been Tanner's way of being closer to you in high school without seeming what he thought of as weak back then. How often did Tanner come up to you a week?"
"Um...maybe two or three times?"
"So he saw you a lot. Did Tanner bully anyone else?"
I think back to high school and flash through every memory I have about it. A lot of the memories involve Tanner calling me a name or shoving me once or twice, but I don't remember ever seeing Tanner bullying another student. "Not that I know of, sir," I say.
Hank smiles to himself. "So Tanner was around you a lot, gave you a lot of attention, and purposefully sought you out? That sounds like my son having someone he liked even before he knew he did."
Is Hank really right? Did Tanner actually like me back in high school but didn't know he did? "So...what are you saying, Hank?"
"I'm saying that my son loves you just as much as you love him. And I know that for a fact."
My heart stops at hearing the words. D-Does Tanner really love me? "White party?"
Looking over, I see Doctor Warner standing near me and Hank. We both stand up at the sight of him. "How is he?" Hank immediately asks. "Is my boy okay?"
Everyone else rouses themselves from the sudden voices. "The surgery was a success," Doctor Warner says. "We managed to close the bleed in Tanner's brain." The room sighs in relief. "However, that being said, we need to be very careful monitoring him now that the surgery's over."
"Meaning?" Hannah asks, wiping a bit of sleep from her eyes.
Doctor Warner sighs to himself. "Tanner's in a coma."
My stomach drops to my feet. "W-What?" Keith asks.
"The surgery actually ended a little while ago and we attempted to wake him up from the anesthesia, but he wouldn't respond to stimuli. Light, sound, touch, pain, nothing worked. We checked to see if there were any other reasons as to why he won't wake up, but all we could determine is that his brain has somehow chosen to put Tanner's body and mind into a state of unconsciousness."
"Is something like that possible?" Hank questions.
"It's not unheard of. After certain traumatic events, like head injuries and sometimes childbirth, the body shuts itself down. The brain continues to function normally and the body continues working, but many doctors think putting a body into a coma is the brain's way of making sure everything in the body is really okay."
"How long will it last?" Allie asks, clutching on to Drew.
"We aren't quite sure. Comas can vary greatly. Some last as little as a day, others around a week, and sometimes they go on for even longer. All we can really do is closely monitor him to see if there are any changes to Tanner's brain."
I can't hear this. I don't want to fucking hear this. This can't fucking be happening. I feel my chest tightening with every passing second and it feels like it's about five seconds away from exploding. Hank notices this and places a hand on my back. It's a comforting gesture, but it doesn't help me in the slightest.
I manage to take in a deep breath. "Can we see him?" I ask in my coaching voice.
"He's resting in the ICU, so yes. But I'm going to have to ask that you keep your voices down and don't crowd him all at once."
Doctor Warner leads us down the hallway and through the hospital. It takes so much willpower not to just sprint to the ICU to find Tanner. But I can't as much as I want to. We make it to the ICU and I find a few other people in the room, most of them unconscious with a few family members around.
We walk to a curtained off bed and Warner pulls back the curtain. Lying in bed, attached to several monitors, a tube down his throat, bandages wrapped around his head and eyes closed, is Tanner. Hannah sucks in a sharp breath at the sight of her son and Hank holds her tightly, fighting back emotions of his own.
We step around the bed and I'm forced to bite my tongue to keep the tears away. He looks like he's simply asleep, but I know that isn't the case. I want to take his hand in mine and squeeze it for all it's worth. "With Tanner in a coma," Warner says, "we had to put a feeding tube into his esophagus so he can get food and water.
"He's breathing on his own and normally, so that's a very good sign. But we need to closely monitor him to see if there are any after effects from the surgery or post-traumatic effects from his injury."
His words go in one ear and out the other. I'm only focused on Tanner and how much I want to hug and kiss him, scream at whomever to let him be okay. But I can't. And it isn't fair. "I'll let you all spend a little time with him," Warner says. "But I'll have to make you leave in a bit. We really must monitor him, seeing as he just got out of surgery."
Warner turns and leaves, pulling the curtain closed behind him. With him gone, everyone moves a little closer to the bed, but no one even tries to touch Tanner. "He'll be okay, won't he?" Keith barely says.
"I don't know, buddy," Hank says, his eyes shining. "All we can do is hope he will be."
Allie sniffs and pulls her phone out of her purse and stares at the screen. "Ethan's worried beyond belief. I need to call him to give him an update."
She quickly turns and walks past the curtain. "I should go with her," Drew says. "She needs a shoulder right now."
He follows Allie, leaving me with Hank, Hannah, and Keith. "You better wake the fuck up, baby bro," Keith snarls, not taking his wet eyes off of his brother. "I'll fucking kill you if you don't..."
"Sweetie..." Hannah quietly says.
"He didn't deserve this," Keith continues, tears dripping from his eyes. "That fucker Denier did this for no fucking reason. I'll make him pay for it."
"No, Keith," I say, my voice straining. "The NHL will deal with Denier and I'll make sure he gets every fucking fine there is and he won't step on an ice rink for as long as I can."
I inch a little closer to Tanner until I'll right beside the bed. His eyes twitch a bit, but I don't see any signs of him waking up. "I know this is a lot to ask right now," I say, not taking my eyes off of Tanner, "but could I have a minute alone with him?"
"Gregory..." Hannah whispers.
"Just one minute, please. That's all I ask. Please."
I hear them moving slightly behind me. "One minute," Hank says.
I nod and the three walk past the curtain. Now that I'm alone, I slowly take Tanner's hand, grasping it lightly, worried that he might break in my hand. I'm not Coach Natick at the moment. Right now I'm Gregory. Coach Natick might be incredibly worried about Tanner, but Gregory is fucking dying on the inside.
The tears that I've been forcing back come without warning and drip onto Tanner's arm. The beeping of the heart rate monitor is the only thing I hear. "Please, Tanner. Please wake up for me. I don't want you to hurt in front of me. I love you too much to let that happen. I'm sorry I didn't listen to you earlier. But when you wake up, I'll listen to everything you have to say.
"Just please wake up soon. I can't stand not to have you here with me. Please."
I give his hand a small squeeze before letting go and wiping my eyes dry. With a breath, I turn around and pull the curtain open. Standing at the door of the ICU are the Whites and Drew, who's returned with a very upset Allie. I close the curtain and walk over to them. "You okay, Gregory?" Drew asks.
"I've been better. But now I need to go."
They all stare at me with gaping eyes. "Gregory..." Allie says. "Why?"
"Because I can't stay. As much as I want to not move an inch from Tanner's side, I just can't. We're still a secret to everyone. And if people learn I'm spending all my time sitting beside him, they'll start to figure things out."
"Then don't let anyone know," Keith says, his eyes red. "Keep the press out of here and don't tell a single person that you're here."
"I can't risk it, not with Tanner's career on the line. So I need to go. Keep me posted on how he's doing."
Before anyone can stop me, I push past them and walk as fast as I can through the hospital. I almost run into a few doctors and nurses along the way and I eventually make it to the front door. I step out into the cool night and reach into my pocket for my cell phone. "Gregory!"
I look back at the hospital and find Hank running out, right for me. Even before I can move, he grabs me by the shoulders and keeps me in place with a death grip. "Why the fuck aren't you staying with him?!" he yells in my face. "You told me you loved him!"
The look on Hank's face, the rage that fills it, scares me to my core. "H-Hank, I..."
"Was that all just a fucking lie?! I swear to God, if you played with both me and my son like that I'll...!"
"It wasn't a lie! I could never lie about something like that!" The tears come back and I choke back a sob. My eyes press shut and my head faces the pavement. "I can't stay because it hurts too much..."
Hank's grip slowly starts to ease. "Gregory..."
"I can't stay in there because looking at him when he's like that hurts too much. And if I stay in there and he's outed because of me, I'll never forgive myself. I love him too much to have that happen to him..."
I quietly cry to myself, unable to look up. Two strong arms pull me into a rock solid chest and I hug Hank is tightly as I can. "I believe you," Hank quietly says. "I don't agree with what you and my son have to do to protect each other, but I'll respect what you're doing. I just want Tanner to be happy."
Hank lets me go and I manage to look up at him. His face is as wet as mine feels. "I hate that my son has to hide who he is. But I'm glad he has you to be with, Gregory."
I sniff my nose a bit before Hank hugs me one more time. "So what're you going to do?" I ask as Hank lets me go.
"I'm going to stay here for a little while longer then head home with Hannah and Keith. We're coming back tomorrow and keeping on eye on Tanner. What about you?"
I wipe my eyes. "Denier's hearing in next Monday, so I need to get ready for that. And we have a game in Raleigh against the Hurricanes on Sunday. It'll be hard without Tanner, harder for me than the rest of the team. But we'll try to pull through."
Hank nods and squeezes my shoulders one more time before letting go. "I'll text you every hour to let you know how he's doing."
Hank heads back to the hospital and I quickly call myself a cab. As I wait for the cab, I find myself looking back at the hospital, yearning for Tanner. It's going to be so hard getting to sleep tonight without him there next to me. The cab pulls up after a bit and I head back to my apartment. Luckily the driver doesn't say anything as I silently cry to myself in the back of the cab.