Hi everyone. I'm back again and I'm doing well. First off, I wanted to say I'm really sorry for being gone for so long. I had a long bout of writer's block and the passing of a family friend was on my mind for a little while. But now I'm back and I'm hope you all understand.
The spring semester at school has started, so that's going to be taking up a lot of my time in regard of my writing. But rest assured, I'm going to work my hardest to get a quality piece of work to you all as soon as I can.
Thank you all again. I hope you all enjoy Chapter 17 of 'Is It Possible...?'
"And welcome back, hockey fans, to our live coverage of tonight's matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Minnesota Wild. As always, I'm your play by play correspondent, Liam Keeling, and with me as always is my lovely co-correspondent, Lauren Becker. How're you doing tonight, Lauren?"
"I'm doing very well, Liam. My sister just had her baby and my boyfriend and I just bought a house together, so things are looking very good for me. How about you, Liam?"
"My car was towed this morning, but I'm staying optimistic for tonight. The Kings are still leading the Western Conference and the Wild are currently fourth. And tonight marks the return of L.A. Kings captain, Tanner White, after he was suspended for one game after a hard check from behind on Jonas Flores, who is still out for two more games recovering from a broken nose."
"And I'm worried for Tanner, Liam. After that kind of showing from Tanner's part, I'm not sure how the fans will react to seeing him again. He may be the captain of the Kings, but I feel he may have lost face with what happened."
"Well, we'll just have to see tonight, Lauren. He hasn't made an appearance on the ice with the rest of the team, so he must be very nervous about tonight. Alan, has anyone been able to get into the Kings locker room tonight?"
"Not even, Liam. There's security everywhere here, personally arranged by Mark Presley and Governor Leif. It seems they don't want anything about the Kings getting out to the public. Especially with Tanner White's return after his suspension. We'll just have to see how it goes tonight."
"Well, we'll just have to see how the Kings perform tonight. We have to take a commercial break folks to allow the Zambonis to sweep the ice. Will the Kings be able to triumph over the Wild? Stay tuned."
Shutting my locker, I take a seat on the bench behind me and finish lacing up my skates. I'm nervous about tonight, seeing as it's my first game back after my suspension. And I don't even know how everyone out there feels about what happened. I've stayed off all social media sites out of fear of what would be on there.
But some things I can't just avoid or ignore. I just need to go out there and do what I do best. A sudden clap grabs my attention and I look toward the middle of the locker room, where Greg is standing in his usual suit. "Okay, guys. Get your hands out of your jocks and gather 'round."
We all move around Greg. "We're playing the Wild tonight," he says. "They're a strong team with a killer defense, so it's going to be hard to get past their players. Their offense isn't the greatest, but don't let your guard down around them. Hit them hard and hit them fast. Understood?"
"Yes, Coach Natick!"
"The starting lineup tonight is our usual. Vladimir, Gunnar, Alex, Jacques, Bradley...and Tanner."
Greg looks over at me and everyone follows where he looks. "Are you ready for tonight, Tanner? And have you reflected on what happened before?"
"Yes, Coach Natick. I'm ready to lead my team again."
"That is if you're willing to be a team player again. One slipup and your ass will be sitting on the bench the rest of the night. Got it?"
"Yes, Coach Natick. Loud and clear."
"Good. Finish getting dressed then get out there for warm ups and then we'll go over strategy one more time. No slacking off."
I sit and don't move even though I'm already dressed. My teammates start leaving the locker room one by one while I stay sitting, staring at the carpeted floor. This hasn't happened since I first stared playing hockey. I'm actually scared. My fingers won't stop shaking and I'm sweating like a whore in church.
Calm down. You've done this hundreds of times. Just go out there and play your best. Come on, legs! Move! "Tanner?"
Looking up, I find Greg kneeling in front of me, a look of concern on his face. "I-I'm fine..." I shakily say.
"I never asked if you were, so that tells me you're not fine." Damn, he got me there. "Tanner, what's going on? I can understand if you're nervous, but in all the matches I've watched you play in, I've never seen you so nervous for one before."
I set my stick aside and Greg takes the opportunity to take a seat beside me. "I understand you're nervous, Tanner. I would be too if I were in your shoes. But you just need to push all the insecurity and fear aside and play your damn hardest."
"What if they don't see me as the player I was before? What if they expect me to go back to being the idiot player I used to be?"
"Then prove them wrong. You and I both know you're one of the best players in the NHL. And I know that you're not that guy anymore. You've changed for the better, and I'm so proud of you for it."
I see Greg glance around the locker room once before he grabs my head and pulls me into a hard kiss. While it doesn't last very long, it's enough to get my blood pumping. Greg pulls away and I look around. "Greg!" I whisper. "Someone could have seen us!"
"But it was exciting wasn't it? And no one was in here anyway. Now how're you feeling?"
I bite the tip of my tongue. "A little horny thanks to that kiss..."
Greg grins from ear to ear. "Good. Now use that pent up energy out there on the ice. You'll do great. I just know it."
Still not convinced, I stare down at the floor and my skates, absolutely zero energy in my legs. "You know?" Greg says, his mouth close to my ear. "After the game, I was thinking about maybe coming over to your place. Maybe spend the night with you..."
I push off the bench and grab my helmet and get it on my head, newly invigorated from hearing Greg's offer. "You really know how to get a man's blood pumping," I say, gabbing my stick.
Greg laughs and stands up as well. "Tell you what. If you score a goal tonight, I'll let you top me tonight...for as long as you want..."
He licks his lips and it goes straight to my groin. "I'll score two..."
I grab the back of Greg's neck and pull him into a quick (albeit awkward) kiss. Pulling away, I give him a smile before I turn and start my walk up the walkway to the ice, the roar of the crowd getting louder. With a deep breath, I charge toward the ice, ready for whatever comes next."
"And welcome back, hockey fans, to our live coverage of the Kings Wild game. We're just about to get this match underway and I'm itching with excitement."
"You and me both, Liam. The crowd is buzzing tonight in hopes of seeing L.A. Kings captain, Tanner White, return to the ice. And from what I've seen, he seems to be much like himself again. He seems a little nervous though. What do you think, Alan?"
"Lauren, he does seem to be back to normal. But I'm sensing an air of wariness around him as well. He's gone through his warm-ups fairly well, but now that the game is about to start, I can tell he's a bit apprehensive."
"Well this game is about to be underway, so let's so how this turns out. Tanner will be facing off against Minnesota Wild center Carter Daniels. Carter is slightly shorter than Tanner, but he has a bit more speed and his reflexes are sharp. It's going to be hard to tell who will take this faceoff."
"Well, Liam. We'll just have to see. The starting players take their positions on the ice as referee Preston Sutherland makes his way to center ice. White and Daniels ready themselves and this match is underway. Kings take possession of the puck and White sends the puck back to Laurent, who takes it deep back into Kings territory.
"Laurent passes to Yezhov, who circles around the Kings net. Yezhov passes up to Abramov, who...oh, nice dodge around Martin by Abramov. Abramov enters Wild territory with White and Lindberg. The Kings are facing intense pressure from the Wild defensemen, but they aren't letting up one bit.
"Carter races toward Abramov, who sends the puck to Lindberg, who is facing pressure from Orphic. Lindberg sends the puck to an advancing White, but the goal is guarded by Nash and Garner. White has no one available, but he's still going for it."
"Either he's crazy or stupid, Lauren."
"Well, Liam, he...oh, Sutherland stops play. A power play for the Kings is coming up on a tripping call by Carter. So far, things look very much the same from the Kings. What do you think about this all, Alan?"
"Lauren, everything is looking good from here. The Kings are communicating well and the offense is strong as usual. But it's still too early to tell."
"We have a Kings power play now, so let's see if the Kings can take advantage of it."
"Well, Lauren, the Kings are ranked third in the Western Conference in power play goals, but the Wild are ranked second in power play kills. Let's just see how this goes. Crossrick faces off against Fredrin. Sutherland drops the puck and The Kings regain possession. Crossrick sends the puck to White, who sends it up to Densely. Densely winds up for a shot...!
"And the Wild send it deep into Kings territory. Yezhov skates back for the puck and has Harper for help. Yezhov passes to Harper, who is facing pressure from Steffi. Harper passes to an open Densely and...oh! A good check from Roux! But Crossrick takes possession of the open puck!
"Crossrick looks for the open man and finds White! Crossrick sends a sharp pass to a winding up White! White takes a shot! Score! And the Kings are the first on the board in this game!
"I'll say Liam, that's a classic shot from Tanner White."
"You said it, Lauren. And with some great support from Crossrick with that goal. It looks like we have the old Tanner White back. And the Kings fans are rallying behind him. And now...hold on. It looks like we have a situation going on at the Kings bench. Alan, can you tell us what's going on down there?"
"Well, Liam, over the noise I can't quite hear all of it. But it...it sounds like White wants to try something."
"Could you be more specific, Alan?"
"Liam, it sounds like....White wants to go for the goal alone while the rest of the team stays behind in the Kings territory."
"Wait, Alan. Are you saying White wants to try and score without any help from his teammates?"
"That's what I'm hearing, Lauren."
"Alan, that's seems both selfish and stupid in my opinion."
"On the contrary, Liam, it seems like Coach Natick is fully supporting it. I think I heard that White wants to redeem himself."
"Well we don't have time to dwell on this, boys. Play is about to start again. White skates to center ice and is facing Daniels once again. Sutherland approaches with the puck and comes to a stop between Daniels and White. He drops the puck and the Kings once again take possession.
"White has the puck and...skates back deep into Kings territory. He skates past Crompton and pauses behind the goal. And...the rest of the Kings players stop! They are not moving! And White breaks away from behind the goal! He is flying down the ice and the Wild are ready for him!
"Carter is approaching White and...oh, a beautiful fake by White! But Steffi is there to intercept him! White isn't slowing down! Oh my goodness! White flicks the puck perfectly over Steffi's head and skates right past him! White has entered Wild territory and the remaining Wild players are crowding around the net.
"And Roux breaks formation to meet White head on! White is approaching the blue line and jukes right past an unsuspecting Roux! Only two defenders left between White and the goal! White takes the puck and...Liam this is something I have never seen before!"
"Lauren, White has taken the puck and is juggling it with his hockey stick! Is there some sort of rule against it?"
"Not that I know of, Liam! And none of the referees are calling a penalty! White is deep in the attacking zone of the Wild territory and is still juggling the puck! The Wild defenders don't know what to do! White takes the puck and flicks it high above is head and...comes to a dead stop!
"White brings his stick behind him and swings! Contact with the falling puck! The puck...hits the edge of the goal post and...he scores! How in the world did White even do that, Liam?"
"You've got me, Lauren! But that was one of the greatest displays of skill I've ever seen in professional hockey! Even White looks to be in disbelief as he returns to the Kings bench! Alan, how's the situation down there?"
"Liam, the stadium is going absolutely crazy! I just wish you could be here instead of the studio so you could just feel the energy in the air!"
"Well, hockey fans. You have just seen one of the greatest displays in professional hockey and this game is just getting started! We have to take a quick commercial break, but stay tuned for more."
The locker room couldn't be any louder as my teammates yell and cheer at a blowout win for us. 4-0 against the Wild, and I scored two of those goals. It really has been a redeeming night for me. "Alright, guys," Greg says over everyone. We all calm down and look over at him. "You all played great tonight.
"I have no notes for you all. Every play, shot, pass, and block was textbook. We have the next two days off, so I want you all to relax a bit. On Monday, we have practice at 8:00. So when you're done getting showered and dressed, go home to your wives, girlfriends, or, God forbid, boyfriends or husbands."
The team gets a small chuckle out of that. "Go shower up. You all smell like the inside of a jockstrap."
Greg leaves while the rest of us strip down and head for the showers. Once I'm finished, I head back into the locker room and start dressing back into my suit, I hear my phone ringing in my bag. Managing to dig it out, I find a number I don't recognize on the screen. "Hello?" I say as I pick up.
"Hi, is this Tanner White?" says a woman's voice.
"Yes, who is this?"
"Good evening, Mr. White. This is Stacey Faltham and I'm the president of Athletes for Charity. Have you heard of us?"
"Oh, I have. I've seen a few of your charities and telethons on TV and a few commercials and ads too."
Athletes for Charity is a non-profit organization that was founded maybe eight years ago. They raise money to help fight things like obesity and other health problems brought upon by lack of exercise. "Fantastic," Stacey says. "I'm so glad you've hear of us. And great game tonight."
"Thank you. So what can I do for you this evening?"
"So Tanner, every year, Athletes for Charity organizes a calendar to help raise money for programs to help children and adults alike get up and be active. It's our most successful way of raising money."
"Well, we have our photo shoot for the calendar tomorrow, but unfortunately, two of the athletes we had for the shoot aren't able to make it due to unforeseen circumstances."
"Oh I'm sorry to hear that."
"But that's the reason I called you. I was wondering if you would be interested in working with us to get this calendar done."
"Wait, you want me to...pose for this calendar?"
Hmmm. Posing is something I've never really done. Sure I've been in magazines before, but they've all been action shots from the game I've been in and maybe a headshot or two for interviews I've done. But something like a calendar? "Um...I've never done posing for a calendar shoot before."
"Oh that's perfectly fine. Nearly none of the athletes we get for these shoots have done a photo shoot like this. And it's a very friendly and light-hearted environment and everyone seems to have a good time."
Do I want to do this? Glancing up, I find Greg standing on the other side of the locker room, talking with coaches Warren and Jacobs. Wait. The little devil in my head is telling me something. "Stacey, is the calendar limited to just athletes?"
"Hmmm. Well the calendar is usually filled with professional athletes. We don't use models because they aren't really athletes, even though they look good. Is there someone you have in mind to help with the calendar?"
"Actually, yes, I do. My coach: Gregory Natick."
There's silence on the other end of the line for a moment. "Oh, he's a very attractive man. But while he isn't an athlete, he works very closely with them. I think he would be a perfect fit for the calendar. Plus he's gay, so he can help increase the amount of donations we'll get from this."
The silence returns. "Tanner, you've just given me a brilliant idea. If you can talk to your coach about this shoot and he agrees, give me a call. If you could give me an email address, I'll send you the details on the shoot tomorrow. Thank you so much for this, Tanner."
"It's no trouble at all. I'm actually looking forward to it. I'll see you tomorrow, Stacey."
I hang up and slide my phone into my pocket. Grabbing my jacket, I slide it on and walk over to Greg, who's on his phone. Looking up from the screen, he raises his eyebrows as he looks up at me. "Hey. What's up?"
"Oh, not much. Hey, have you ever thought about modeling before?"
Greg's eyebrows lower into a small glare and he puts his phone away. "What did you do?"
"What makes you think I...?"
"You aren't looking me in the eye. That's telling me you did something. And something I may not agree with, I might add."
Damn it. "Okay, fine. I did something. But it's for a good cause."
Greg places his hands on his hips. "You mentioned modeling. If it's for something like Playgirl, you can forget it."
"No, nothing like that. I just got a call from the president of Athletes for Charity. She asked me to help pose for their yearly calendar to help raise money for programs to help people get active. I said yes. And I kind of...said yes for you too."
Greg pinches the bridge of his nose. "Tanner, why did you involve me with this? I'm not even an athlete, so why did...?"
"I don't know, Greg," I say, bringing my voice down so no one else can hear us. "I thought it would be fun to maybe spend the day with you since we haven't done that in a long time and...you know..."
Greg's face slowly softens. "I know, Tanner. And I really want that too. But...couldn't we have done it some other way? I mean I know the photo shoot would be for a good cause, but don't you think this would be a little too...I don't know, crowded?"
"It may be, but it's a little too late for me to back out now. Please, Greg? It could be fun and it's still volunteer work. And I know how much you like doing that."
Greg presses his lips together. "I do..."
"So why not go with me tomorrow? Please?"
He glances down at the floor for a second before glancing around. "Remember what I said about you topping me tonight if you scored a goal?"
"For me doing this photo shoot, you better be prepared. Because tonight, along with you fucking me, I'm going to do the same to you. I hope you're not planning on sitting too much tomorrow..."
Greg gives me a wink before turning and leaving the locker room. All of a sudden, my pants feel a little tighter. Oh I'm definitely not going to get a lot of sleep tonight.
The next morning, with a sore ass from last night, I drive over to Greg's apartment complex. Parking out front, I send him a text letting him know I'm out front. He comes out a few minutes later and climbs into the front seat. "Ready?" I ask.
"No. But I'm already here, so let's go."
Reaching for the cupholder, I grab one of the two coffees and hand it to Greg. "I got this for you."
He smiles at the coffee and takes it. "Thanks. Sorry if I'm a little cranky. It's just because I had to leave your place in the middle of the night."
"Hey, it's okay. I saw your note this morning. Did you really have a water pipe break in your apartment?"
"Yeah. My landlord called me after we both fell asleep and told me the apartment below mine had water dripping from the ceiling. I came back to my apartment to find my bathroom with an inch of water on the floor. The broken pipe went to my toilet and it overflowed."
"Ouch. What's the damage?"
"Just a couple hundred to repair the floor and get the water cleaned up. But it'll take a few days to get all that done. So I'll need to find somewhere I can stay until that gets done."
Leaning over, I give Greg a soft kiss, the fresh taste of coffee still on his lips. "Whether you like it or not, you're staying with me until you get this whole thing sorted out. Okay?"
He smiles and gives me a kiss in return. "Okay. But if I find Adam with his hand down his underwear again, I'm going to the nearest hotel."
"Don't worry. I'll give him notice before you come over. Now let's head over to the photo shoot."
Putting the car in drive, we head over to the photo shoot. It takes a little while to get there, but we pull up to a very large studio. Three stories tall and about half the size of Leo's workshop, made of solid stone, glass, and metal. "Is this the place?" Greg asks me.
"Yup. Same address as the one Stacey gave me. Better get inside."
I park the car and we both climb out. The second we do, a high pitched voice echoes across the parking lot. "You're here!"
Looking toward where the voice came from, I see a small woman scurrying across the parking lot toward us. "Oh, it's so nice to finally meet you!" she says, grasping my hand and giving it a firm shake before doing the same to Greg.
"Thank you?" I say. "And you are...?"
The woman, a woman who looks to be in her mid-forties with light brown hair and a friendly smile, composes herself and smooths down her shirt. "Oh, where are my manners? I'm Stacey Faltham. We spoke on the phone last night."
"Oh, you're Stacey. It's nice to meet you. This is Gregory Natick."
"It's nice to meet you, Ms. Faltham," Greg says, giving Stacey a handshake.
"Please call me Stacey. Oh, please do come inside. You're the last ones here, but we're still setting up so there's no rush."
Looking around the parking lot, I find a lot of very nice cars sitting along with mine. BMW's, Audi's, Mercedes', Lexus', Cadillac's, Bentley's, Range Rovers, and a couple high performance cars and motorcycles as well. Walking inside, we follow Stacey down a few hallways before we walk into a large studio.
A large white backdrop at least twenty feet in height, rises from the ground. Bright lights illuminate the backdrop and people are scattered around the room, working on lights, cameras, costumes, props, or just mulling around. "So this is where the photo shoot will take place," Stacey says.
"Nice," I say. "Will you be taking the photos yourself?"
"No, we've hired some professional photographers to do that. But I've come up with the idea for the calendar this year and I'll be here to watch it take place. We're actually making three calendars to give people options when these hit shelves later this year."
"So are we just going to be in one of them?" Greg asks.
"No, you both will be in two. So let's get you into costume and then we can get you to hair and makeup. Ricky? Ricky dear? Could you please bring over Tanner and Gregory's costumes?"
Looking over, I find a young man who looks to be in his early 20's grabbing two garment bags and following us to where the makeup stations are. As soon as we get there, three women flock around us. "Just follow these lovely ladies and they'll get you in your costumes and get your makeup on," Stacey says.
"Not that they'll need much," says one of the women. "These two are already handsome as it is."
Stacey nods and head off, leaving us in the hands of the women. The young man, Ricky, hangs the garment bags on a few available hooks and unzips them. He reaches into one of them and pulls out a crisp white dress shirt and a nice pair of dark dress pants and a thin black tie. "These are for Gregory," he says, handing the clothes to one of the women.
"Perfect," says the woman he hands it to. "A professional man. He'll make a perfect Mr. October."
"Why October?" Greg asks.
"It's when hockey season starts. So let's get you changed while Ricky helps Tanner with his outfit."
Before Greg can protest, the three women take him away while I'm left with Ricky. "So you're helping me?" I ask.
"Yup. I've got your outfit right here."
He reaches for the second garment bag and pulls out a pair of hockey pants and a practice jersey. "The outfit for the calendar is pretty standard," Ricky says, setting down the clothes before grabbing some shin pads, hockey socks, and a pair of skates. "But it's what Stacey wanted."
"Sounds good. So do you just want me to put this stuff on?"
"Sure, go for it. I'll turn my back is you want to."
"Nah, don't worry about it. I'll keep my underwear on." Taking the hem of my shirt, I pull it over my head and toss it onto a chair. "So how're you on this set? You look like you're still in college."
"Oh I am. I'm a junior at USC. I'm a photography student and I intern with Athletes for Charity on the weekends and during the summer. This is my second year here."
"Nice." I pull off my pants and start to pull on the pants before going to the shin guards. "Have done this shoot before?"
"Yup. I helped with the calendar last summer, getting a few extra shots before they went to print. And I was freaking out on the inside because I was near all these professional athletes. But the magic wore off after about two days. Athletes to me are just people that play a sport a lot better than you and are more well known than you."
He's got a point. I grab the skates and quickly slip them on. These skates are new, I can tell because they haven't been broken in yet. But I think if I don't walk around too much with them, my feet will be fine. "All set?" Ricky asks.
"I think so, unless there's a jockstrap you didn't tell me to put on."
"Don't flatter yourself. If I wanted to see you in a jock, I would go to one of the dozens of internet sites where there's a muscly guy's body with your face pasted on it. Besides, I don't think my girlfriend would approve if I saw you in a jock without her here. I'll take you to makeup."
Nodding and laughing a bit, I follow Ricky to a few makeup stations, where I find Greg already sitting and being worked on. The clothes fit him a little too well. And with the sleeves rolled up to his elbow and his hair slicked back, he looks like the sexiest coach I've ever seen (and he is). "Oh! They look great!"
Stacey has reappeared and is giving me the up and down. "Sorry about the skates," she says. "But if I told you to bring your skates, I think it would have spoiled the surprise."
"It's no problem," I say. "As long as I don't walk around with them too much, I think I'll be okay."
"Perfect." She looks past me and waves her hand. "Lucy? Natalie? Could you get Tanner all set up for the shoot? He probably doesn't need too much makeup, but you do what you think is best."
"No problem," says one of the makeup artists from earlier. "I'm Lucy. This sassy lady is Natalie. Gregory is already finished, so let's get you in this chair."
Gregory hops out of the chair and I take his place. "Does makeup always hurt so much?" he asks, his face looking a bit smoother than I know it to be.
"Sweetie, if it were easy, we wouldn't be doing it," Natalie says. "Just be glad that you're a handsome devil or it would've taken a lot longer."
They go to work on me, rubbing some kind of stuff into my skin and plucking a few stray hairs here and there. And yes, it does hurt, especially when they really start going at it. "Hey, look who else is here."
Glancing toward the voice, I find Eric standing next to Greg. "Eric?" I say. "What're you doing here?"
"We're here for the calendar shoot."
Josh has appeared next to Eric and rests his elbow on his shoulder. "Both of you are?" Greg asks as Lucy ad Natalie turn me back toward the mirror.
"Yup," Eric says. "We agreed to help out this year, plus it's for a good cause and I get to show off for Zane."
Speak of the devil, Zane has appeared by Eric's side and Eric instinctively wraps his arm around him. "I'm here so I can maybe get some inspiration for my next painting and so I can make sure Eric doesn't gawk at the other athletes too long."
Eric laughs and kisses the side of Zane's head. "Is Leo here too?" Greg asks Josh.
"No, he's spending the day with Aiden and Jade with our parents. But I promised to get a few autographs for him."
"Well he'd probably be happy seeing you in that getup."
Hell, anyone would be happy to see Josh in that outfit. He's wearing a pair of football pants that are maybe a size too small, some cleats, and on his shoulders are some shoulder pads. And that's it. Unless you count the smudges of eye black that are under his eyes. It's oddly erotic and I hold my hands over my pants to hide my slowly growing erection. Down boy...
The makeuping (torture is a more appropriate word) finally ends and I hope off the chair I'm sitting in. "What, no love for the sexy baseball player?" Zane says.
"He already gets enough love from you, Mr. Artist," Josh says.
Eric is wearing a sleeveless, skin-tight UnderArmour shirt and a pair of pristine baseball pants with some cleats. It's probably what he'd usually wear to practice, but he's making it look like it's a fashion statement. "Do you both always have to look so perfect?" I think out loud.
I clamp my hand over my mouth, but it's already out there. And everyone around me is giggling. "The sad thing is we didn't even put any makeup on their faces," Lucy says. "Except the eye black on Josh."
Yup. They're both too perfect. A sudden clap gets our attention and I see Stacey walking over to us. "Okay, let's get this photo shoot going! Ooh! I'm so excited! I can't wait to see how my idea turns out!"
Why does that slightly terrify me? We all follow Stacey back to the backdrop, where I find about two dozen other professional athletes standing around and chatting with each other. A lot of these athletes I know about, but have never met in person. "Okay, everyone!" Stacey yells out.
Everything quiets down and everyone turns to look at her. "We're just about to get this photo shoot ready. But just to make sure, everyone is in their wardrobe and has gone to makeup, right?" She gets lots of nods in return. "Okay, good! So here's how the photo shoot is going to go. It's going to take a couple of hours to get all these photos done, so you're all going to be here for a while.
"But rest assured, we have lots of food for everyone here and great Wi-Fi, so I doubt any of you will be really bored while you're here. When we call your name, you're going to come up and stand in front of the backdrop and just follow all of the instructions our photographer, Russell, has for you."
Russell waves from his camera and tripod. "While you're waiting, please just relax as much as you can. But all I ask is that you keep it to a very low level so we can focus. Any questions before we get started?" Silence. "Super! Okay, first up is Valerie Yvette!"
The internationally ranked tennis pro walks over to the backdrop while the rest of us stay off to the side. "How the hell can you stand up on those things?" Zane asks me, looking down at my skates.
"When you use these things on ice or most of your life, solid ground is easy. So how's married life treating you two?"
Eric and Zane smile at each other. "It's absolutely amazing," Eric says. "We were pretty much married even before we tied the knot. But telling people I have a husband to go home to instead of a boyfriend is something I'll never get tired of saying."
Zane grins and rests his head on Eris's shoulder. "How're you two doing?" Josh asks me and Greg. "I know you two had that whole...thing going on a couple of weeks ago."
Greg and I look at one another and he gives me a soft smile. "We're good," Greg says. "We had a few issues to clear up, but we got them settled. We're okay now."
I smile back at him. "So did you finally tell each other your were all lovey-dovey?" Eric says.
Zane smacks Eric in the shoulder, but he doesn't even flinch. I see Greg's face flush a bit, but a smile breaks through. I can't help but give him one in return. "That's a yes," Josh says. "And it's about freaking time. If neither of you said anything to each other, I would've forced you both to pay a visit to Dr. Leo and have him psychoanalyze you."
I get a cold shudder. Never again am I going to pay a visit to Dr. Leo. That was just too damn creepy. "Josh Rusden!" We look over and find Stacey waving at us. "Come get your cute butt over here! It's your turn!"
Josh quietly laughs and cracks his knuckles. "Wish me luck. Because I'm going to be a piece of meat for a little while."
He walks over to the backdrop, other athletes woof whistling and patting him on the back as he walks past them. The guys and I walk over to get a closer look. "Okay, Josh!" Stacey says. "Just stand there for a second so we can get a small gleam of sweat on your skin!"
Well, that doesn't sound just a little bit creepy. So we watch Josh as he doesn't move an inch. And sure enough, under all the hot Mickey Mole and Arri lights, Josh's skin starts to gleam. "Perfect!" Stacey says. "Russell, I'll let you take over from here."
"Thank you." Russell takes his camera off the tripod and adjusts the lens for a second. "Okay, Josh. Give me sexy."
"He's already giving you it!" a girl's voice yells out.
We all laugh. "Good point," Russell says, laughing a bit himself. "Okay. Then let me get a double-bi pose."
Josh's eyebrows rise a bit, but his ever-present smile remains. He unfolds his arms and raises them above his head. With just a small flex, his incredible biceps protrude out of both his arms. And with that, the room goes entirely silent. "Am I doing something wrong?" Josh says, not lowering his arms.
"More like you're doing it exactly right," Russell says. "Trust me, dude. If you weren't a football player, you'd have a career as a model. Just stay like that until I tell you to move."
Russell clicks away with his camera. Zane leans over to me. "If Leo were here, he totally would've came in his pants at seeing that."
I have no doubt. Time goes by slowly as Josh changes from pose to pose. By the time he's done, he's coated in sweat. He accepts a towel from Stacey and walks over to us. "How was that?" he asks.
"Probably the sexiest thing I've ever seen you do," Eric says. "And I've seen you with your mouth around my dick."
Josh grabs Eric and pulls him in a tight headlock, both of them laughing like they're still in college. I step over to Greg. "So how do you think our shoots will go?"
"Hopefully as well as Josh's. But I'm not expecting much. I know I'm only here because you convinced Stacey to get me."
Glancing around, I pull Greg a bit away from everyone else. "Now you listen to me," I quietly say. "You're ten times sexier than any other person here and if I had any control over this calendar, I'd put you in every month. And I volunteered you for the shoot because I want people to see the amazing guy I look at every day.
"No matter what anyone says, Greg, you're beautiful. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Okay?"
Greg looks at the floor before a smile pulls at his lips. "Thanks, Tanner."
"Gregory! It's your turn!"
Stacey is waving over at and Greg clears his throat. "I can do this..." he tells himself. "Tanner, could you hand me that bottle of water?"
Handing him the bottle in question, he start to walk over to the backdrop. As he walks over, I see him loosening his tie a bit and unbuttoning the top two buttons of his dress shirt. Unscrewing the bottle of water, his pours some of it into his hand and runs it through his hair.
With his slicked back hair wet, he shakes the excess water out of it and messes with it a bit. He's lost the look of a dignified coach. Now, he's ten times sexier than he was a minute ago. The room has gone entirely silent as Greg walks in front of the backdrop and crosses his arms. "How's this?" he asks.
Jesus Christ, I can feel the confidence radiating off him from here. Russell clears his throat and looks down at his camera. "U-Uh...yeah, you're perfect."
You're damn right he is. Russell starts snapping off photos of Greg and I rejoin the guys. "Goddamn, Tanner," Josh says, still watching Greg. "You've got yourself a hell of a man over there."
I look over at Greg again and see a sly smile tugging the corner of his mouth. "You're telling me..."
A couple hours later, the last of the second calendar's models are finished. "Thank you!" Stacey says. "Now if I've told you you're posing for the third calendar, please come forward!"
The guys and I all head over to Stacey. When we come to a stop, I find all the other people that are posing are men. We do have some women who could pose too. So...? "Now I bet you're all wondering why there are no female athletes with you," Stacey says.
Lady, get out of my head. "This is an idea that I came up with last night," she continues. "I came up with the concept for this calendar in order to appeal to a different audience. And based on predictions for sales, I expect this calendar to sell more than any of our others."
I glance around to find everyone looking confused. "I guess I should just cut to the chase. All of you, strip naked."
Okay, it's been a long day, but I know I didn't hear that wrong. Everyone has a similar reaction to me: wide eyes, gaping mouths, and a few nervous laughs. "Let me explain," Stacey says. "We manage to sell a lot of calendars, but we're lacking two key demographics: women and gay men.
"That's where you all come in. You're all very attractive and fit men. Yes, I'm helping your egos right now. With a nude calendar, we can appeal to a wider audience and keeping with our normal calendars. Now I understand some of you may be uncomfortable with..."
In my peripheral, I see movement. Looking over, I see Josh peeling off his shoulder pads, leaving his upper body completely exposed. "Uh...Josh?" I say. "What're you doing?"
"Getting naked. What does it look like I'm doing?"
Is he serious? I see Eric give a shrug has he starts taking off his shirt as well. "You too, Eric?" I ask.
"Yup. I'm pretty open with my body, so this is nothing."
Josh and Eric both pull off their shoes and pants, leaving them both in nothing but their underwear. From behind us, we hear a few of the female athletes goading us on. "Take it off, Marx!"
"If they can do it, Ruberg, you can do it too!"
"I wanna see some sexy man ass!"
I'm pretty sure it was Zane who said that last one. I look over at Greg, who gives me a shrug. "I'll do it of you do," he says.
Well, I'm the one that got us into this mess. I grab the base of my shirt and pull it off my head. "You too, White?" Bryant Quale, an Olympic wrestler, says.
"Hey, it's for a good cause."
Yeah, I'll be telling myself that through this whole ordeal. I get down to my underwear, along with Greg and look at the other guys. "So you guys going to strip?" Greg asks. "Or are you afraid of those pretty ladies over there seeing that your dicks are smaller than three gay guys and a hockey player?"
Oh Greg, those are fighting words. I see the fire burning behind all of their eyes immediately. Clothes start flying in every direction until there's nothing but briefs, boxers, and jockstraps left. "Show us the bits and pieces, boys!"
Zane, I'm going to kill you later. But Eric just laughs it off and grabs his waistband and next thing we know, Eric's underwear is around his ankles. The athletes (and Zane), all cheer at seeing Eric. Josh quickly follows suit, standing as naked as the day he was born. We all eventually lose our underwear and now there's a dozen guys standing in a group completely nude.
Someone behind me shifts. "I swear to God, that better be someone's knee against my thigh right now!"
"Relax, dude. It's only a penis."
There's a lot of laughter before Stacey calms us all down. "Okay, I had months assigned to all of you. You know, January, February, and the rest. So we're going to start out with Mr. December."
Ricky reappears with a Santa hat and a candy cane, handing them both to Stacey. "Now," she says, smiling almost evilly as she slowly walks in front of us. "Which of you men is on my chopping block first?"
"I hope it isn't me," someone whispers behind me. "I'm Jewish and my mom would throw a shit fit if she saw me wearing that Santa hat."
Stacey keeps pacing before she finally comes to a stop. "Gregory, you're my Mr. December."
Everyone in the room laughs, Greg and myself included. Greg takes the hat and candy cane. "I'm just glad I'm not November. The word 'stuffing' comes to mind, and I'm afraid of your you've come up with for that."
More laughter from everyone as Greg walks over to the backdrop, where Ricky is placing a large, plush chair. Greg takes a seat and places the Santa hat over his junk. "So what do you want me to do?" he asks Russell.
"While I've worked with nude models before, they've all had experience doing something like this so they're pretty accustomed to poses. I really haven't worked with people who haven't done something like this before."
"Do you want something sexual?" Greg asks. "Or do you want me to act like I'm flirting with the camera?"
"More flirty, but with a bit of sexiness thrown in. Just pose however you like, and I'll adjust you if I need to."
Greg thinks about it for a second. "I'm going to regret this later," he says to himself.
He stretches out his neck and shoulders before he places the candy cane in the corner of his mouth. Taking his arms, his tucks them behind his head and stars intently at the camera before flexing every muscle he can. He biceps bulge out of his arms and his abs force themselves through his stomach.
Jesus Christ, Greg. He said flirty. Not sexy as all fucking hell! "That's perfect," Russell says, picking up his camera and taking shot after shot.
Ricky comes around to the rest of us, handing us towels to cover ourselves while we're waiting our turn. "You're lucky, Tanner," Josh says, lowering his voice next to me. "Another minute and I think your dick would've popped off and ran over to Gregory."
I wrap my towel around my waist a little tighter to hide my growing erection. Josh wraps his arm around my shoulders. "Don't worry. There are a few others around here that are in the same boat as you."
He nods his head toward Eric, who's sitting down with his hands firmly in his lap. I notice a couple other guys are doing the same. I laugh at the scene before me and take a seat with Josh and watch as Greg poses for Russell. I never take my eyes off him as Greg adjusts his body from pose to pose, my pulse getting faster with every passing minute.
As I watch him, I see him glancing over at me every once in a while and giving me a wink or two. He's such a fucking flirt that it makes me want to run over there and let him fuck me in any way he wants. "You're so fucking whipped, dude," Josh says to me.
"No kidding. What that man does to me I can't even say out loud or I'm afraid someone will slap me."
Josh laughs and slaps my back (where I'm pretty sure he leaves behind a hand print). "You're just lucky he's almost done. Another ten minutes and I think you would've came in your towel."
And sure enough, a few shots later, Greg hops off the chair and tosses the Santa hat and candy cane to Ricky, who handles the hat like it's about to bite him. Greg keeps a hand over his junk as he walks back over to us. "Nice job," Eric says, handing Greg a towel.
"Thanks." Greg wraps the towel around his waist and grabs a bottle of water. "Jesus, I'm stiff after that."
"So was Tanner while he was watching you," Zane says as he walks over.
Giving him a quick jab to the arm, I feel myself blushing. "Aw, I'm flattered," Greg says, stepping next to me. "I'm sure it'll be the same when you're standing up there naked in all your sexy glory."
And I go from a blush to my face being completely red. Greg laughs and turns his attention back to the next model. I take a chance at another glance at Greg before I join him in watching.
Another couple of hours later, the photo shoot is over and I finish getting dressed back into my normal clothes. Josh, Eric, and Zane left a little while ago and I'm just waiting for Greg to finish getting dressed.
'I freaking hate you right now Tanner. Getting to see all those sexy men...'
And that would be a text from Allie, who I've been texting for a little while. I sent her a few...let's say provocative pictures of some of the guys that were here. And her response was immediate. Drew texted me soon after I texted Allie, asking if she was okay. They were spending the day together and Allie ran out of the restaurant they were in with her phone in hand.
'Sorry, Allie. Guess I just know the right people.'
'You're just lucky I now have those photos saved to my phone or else I'd be running over there to stab you in the eye with my scalpel.'
'You're not at work. How do you have a scalpel?'
'A girl's got to be prepared, Tanner. Especially when her brother is around hot guys and she isn't there.'
My sister is a lunatic, isn't she? She got it from Dad.
'I love your crazy.'
'My crazy loves you too, Tanner. I'm going to go and drool over these photos.'
'What about Drew?'
'Let's hope Drew doesn't see this conversation for your sake, Allie.'
Sliding my phone back into my pocket, I look up and find Greg walking over to me. "Hey," I say as he comes to a stop. "Get everything you need?"
"Yeah, but I also got this."
Greg reaches behind him and produces a very worn baseball cap. That thing must have been on someone's head for years. "Who's hat is that?" I ask.
"It's Eric's. It's weird because he never forgets it. I wonder why he left it behind this time."
"Well I did overhear him and Zane talking and I think I heard the words 'dick' and 'blowjob' somewhere in that conversation."
"Well that would explain it. I'll just have to remember to give it back to him."
Snatching the hat out of Greg's hand, I slip the cap over my hair. "Does it suit me?"
Greg smiles. "Sure. If you don't mind how much Eric has sweat in that thing."
"I'll take it off when we get to my car. I think it deserves a bit of time on a new head after so much time with Eric."
We thank everyone once more before we turn and leave. Stepping outside, we find that the sun is starting to set. "Wow, we were in there a lone time, weren't we?" Greg asks.
"We really were." A low rumble suddenly comes from my lower stomach. "And I'm starving. How does pizza from Mickey's sound to you?"
"Sounds great right now. I'll take some insulin in the car and I'll be all set to go by the time we get to Mickey's."
We get to the car and as Greg is about to walk to the passenger side door, I grab him and give him a kiss. He chuckles against my lips before pulling away. "What was that for?"
"Just a prelude to what I'm going to do to you when we get back to my place later. Adam's in Vegas for a title fight, so we'll have the apartment to ourselves."
Greg grins and gives me a kiss himself. We climb into the car and pull the car out of the parking lot and head for Mickey's, probably breaking a few traffic laws to get there as fast as I can.
A couple days later, I arrive at the center for practice. Greg isn't with me this time. He had to get to the center a little earlier than usual to work on a few things, so I was without a workout partner this morning. But I don't mind. Walking into the locker room, I find some of the team already here, taking their time getting into their gear.
Greeting them, I take a seat in front of my locker and start to get on my gear. The rest of the team starts to show up and joins us in getting ready. As I pull on my skates, I see Greg walking into the locker room, a folder under his arm. "Morning, guys," he says.
"Morning, Coach Natick!" we all say in return.
"If you guys aren't already in your uniforms, get your asses in gear. We have some new plays and formations to go over, so we have a long day ahead of us. If you didn't hate me already, you probably will after today."
We all groan while Greg just smirks. "Gunnar," he says, looking at the man in question. "Phone away. I thought we talked about this."
"Sorry, Coach Natick," Gunnar says, not looking up from his phone. "It buzzed and I was curious."
"Well put it away before..."
"Wait," Gunnar cuts off. "Coach Natick, didn't you say your boyfriend was still kind of in the closet?"
Greg raises an eyebrow. "I did. What does that have to do with anything?"
Gunnar stands up and walks over to Greg. "This post on CutOut has a picture where you're getting...a little flirty with another man."
My stomach buries itself deep in the earth's core. And it looks like Greg is having a similar reaction to me. He snatches the phone out of Gunnar's hand while I quickly grab my phone from my locker. Going to the CutOut website, I see the very first post.
'Does Gregory Natick Have a Mystery Boyfriend?'
My skin feels as cold as ice as I see the picture in question. It's from the shoot on Saturday, when Greg and I were leaving to get pizza. And the shot is of when I grabbed Greg and kissed him. I quickly read through the article, dreading the sight of my name somewhere in here.
But I don't find my name anywhere in the article. Hell, there isn't even any indication that the guy in the picture is even an athlete. My face is obscured by Greg's face in front of mine and Eric's cap covering my head and shielding my eyes. I stare at my phone in silence.
The sound of a throat clearing gets my attention. Looking up, I find Greg now standing in the middle of the room, a stern look on his face. "Regardless of who my boyfriend is, we still have to focus on hockey. If I'm so much as even asked as to who he is, the person that asks me will be doing ten suicides.
"Everyone out to the ice." Taking a moment to collect myself, I put my phone back in my locker and start to head for the rink with everyone else. "Tanner, you stay behind for a bit. With your recent head injury, I want to be sure you understand the plays we're going to be going over. Julian and Spencer with get the other started on the ice."
Nodding a bit, I walk back to where Greg is as everyone else filters out of the locker room. Greg turns and walks in the direction of his office and I follow behind him. Walking in, Greg closes the door behind him and locks it. And the second he does, Coach Natick disappears and Greg comes back in full force.
He paces up and down the office, looking scared and frantic. "How the hell did they get that photo? How in the fucking hell did I not think to guess that there would be photographers outside of the studio?! Jesus Christ, I'm so sorry, Tanner. I didn't know a-and...I..."
Before he gives himself a heart attack, I grab Greg and pull him into my chest. I can feel his heart racing against me and he's struggling for breath. "Shhh, it's okay, Greg. It's not that big of a deal."
"Not a big deal? Tanner, there's a picture of you kissing me all over the Internet now. How is that not a big deal?"
"No one can see my face in the shot and if someone wanted to tell people about me and you, they would have done it already if they knew. And since they haven't, then that means they don't know."
I cut him off with a soft kiss and I slowly start to feel him relaxing a bit. "I love you so much more knowing how much this matters to you," I say as I pull away. "But I want you to know that, regardless of if word gets out about us, I still want to be with you. No matter how much people may not like it, I love you too much to let you get away from me a third time."
"Third time? When was the first?"
I run my thumb over his cheek. "Back in high school, when I was too stupid to realize how I had a crush on you and pushed you away from me. I can't believe how I missed out on getting to really know such an amazing man. And now that I know the man, I'm never letting him go."
The irises of Greg's eyes swirl for a moment before a smile slowly spreads. "Do you know how much I love you?" he asks me.
"I have a pretty good idea. Everybody loves me."
He smacks my chest and we share a laugh. "You're lucky you're pretty, otherwise I'd smack you even harder."
"I have no doubt, Coach Natick."
He smiles again and gives me a kiss before pulling away. "Let's get out to the ice. Don't want the rest of the team thinking I'm giving you some special treatment."
"I'll catch up in a minute. Need to lace up my skates again and run to the bathroom. Don't want any yellow ice today."
Greg rolls his eyes. "Just make it quick. I don't want you falling behind everyone else."
I nod and Greg turns and leaves the office. Waiting a few seconds after the door closes, I fall onto the couch and run my hands over my face. Jesus, I really hope Greg didn't notice how much my heart was racing or how I was struggling to breathe. I haven't felt this kind of anxiety in a while. And I really haven't missed it.
I slide my hands under my thighs to try and get them to stop shaking and maybe get some feeling back in them. That fucking photo. That motherfucking photo. I can't even say how I feel about it without someone realizing that it's me in the photo with Greg. All I can really do is hope that it goes away.
But a small voice in the back in my head tells me that this is only the beginning.