Hi everyone. Hope you've had a nice summer so far. Mine has been busy with a summer job and internship, so that's been fun and has taken up a bit of my time. But I'm back on track and have finished the most recent chapter. I've finished up nearly half the chapter in the last few days, so I haven't had time to really check for spelling and grammar errors. So I hope there aren't too many if any.
There are two chapters left in 'Is It Possible...?' By far, this story has been my favorite one of the series. And while I'm sad to see it end soon, I'm glad I've managed to create something like this for everyone to enjoy. There are two chapters left and I'm going to try and get them done as quickly as I can for all of you.
Thank you all for your continuous support. I hope you enjoy Chapter 19 of 'Is It Possible...?'
"Gregory! Gregory! How does it feel to be dating a Hollywood star?"
"Can you give us anything about your relationship with Jesse Wentworth?"
"How do you feel about Jesse's new movie?"
Jesus Christ, people. I'm fucking getting groceries! Can't you just leave me alone for two minutes? I have never focused so much on bananas in my life. And I can't believe these people followed me in here! There's got to be some kind of law against that. At least I hope. "No comment," I coolly reply.
Turning, I quickly walk in the other direction, suppressing a groan as they follow me through the supermarket. Why can't they ask me about the Kings, as opposed to my 'relationship' with Jesse? Maybe this was a mistake because now the press won't leave me alone about me and Jesse.
Hell, I can barely focus on doing daily tasks, let alone the playoffs. We've already made it past the first round against the Oilers and we're leading 3-1 against the Winnipeg Jets. And I want to get to the semi finals after tomorrows game. As for Tanner and I, things have been...difficult for the both of us.
We can't spend as much time together with the press constantly following me around, hoping to at least get a few answers out of me, and I don't want to risk him being potentially being thought of something more than a friend of a player of mine. Tanner says he's supporting me, but I know he's simply putting on a brave face.
Turning down an aisle, I continue to ignore the press behind me. But a deep growl grabs my attention. Turning around, I find a giant wall of flesh between me and the press, who seem to be slowly backing up. The man in front of me points to the entrance of the store. "Out," he says in a gravelly voice.
The reporters and cameramen scramble over each other to try and escape the wrath of the man. "Hmph," the man grunts. "Serves them right." He turns around and I'm met by the slightly concerned face of Hank. "How're you doing, Gregory?"
"Jesus, Hank. You nearly made me crap myself with that growl of yours."
"Years of practice. Come walk with me. I want to talk to you for a little."
Great. I escape a group of reporters and I'm left with a man I'm about ten times more terrified of. We continue down the aisle together, Hank's giant body making it slightly difficult to walk next to him. "How long have they been chasing after you?" he asks me.
"A little over two weeks. Since Jesse's interview came out."
"Tanner told me about that. The whole situation seems incredibly blown out of proportion. Why should someone's personal life be broadcasted to the entire world? You don't see reporters at my doorstep when Amanda and I fight."
So very true, Hank. "Trust me, Hank," I say. "If Tanner were in a position to come out to the world, he would do it in a heartbeat. But he and I both feel that now isn't the right time."
"Are you so sure about that?"
I come to a stop. "What do you mean?"
"Tanner came over for dinner the other day. He wanted to invite you as well, but decided against it because he knew you wouldn't want to risk blowing your cover. He and I had a talk and he mentioned your fake relationship with Jesse Wentworth."
"I know he doesn't like what we have to do to, but he and I agreed that..."
"Tanner may have agreed, but that doesn't mean he agreed because he wanted to hide. I have a feeling Tanner only agreed to your whole setup so wouldn't worry so much."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Doesn't it? Think about it. I know that Tanner loves you, Gregory, and he'd do anything in order to make you happy and comfortable. Even if it means sacrificing his own happiness."
Is Tanner not happy with what we're doing? "But..." I start.
"You may not see it, Gregory," Hank cuts me off, "but I know my boy is hurting with this situation. Ever since he was a toddler, he's always put on a brave face to make sure others don't worry about him. And even now he's doing the exact same thing. But this time, it's on a much more personal level."
Hank glances around to make sure no one is within earshot and looks back at me. "Tell me, Gregory. How would you feel if you and Tanner's roles were switched? How would you feel if you were the hockey player that had to hide who he was while your coach, the man you're head over heels for, pretends to date some Hollywood actor?"
His words are like a punch to the gut. I never even thought about it that way. "And let me tell you," Hank keeps going, "this whole situation isn't fair in the least to me. You're an openly gay man in charge of one of the best teams in the NHL that's loved by millions. Tanner, on the other hand, has millions of fans too and is incredibly successful. But unlike you, he's being forced to hide.
"Amanda and I have always told our kids to be who they really are with others and to tell the truth no matter what. What Tanner is doing is going against everything he's been raised to know, everything he believes is right. Now does that seem fair to Tanner?"
With each word, a new fist flies into my stomach. "B-But Tanner's career..."
"Tanner doesn't care about things like that, Gregory. He never has. He loves hockey. He has ever since he was a kid. If he were dirt poor but could keep playing hockey, he'd be the happiest man alive. If he could give everything up just so he could be who he wants to be, he'd do it in an instant.
"All this talk about making sure Tanner doesn't lose his position with the Kings if he were to come out? Yeah, Tanner was at first worried about that. But now that's he finally come to accept and love who he is, none of that matters to him anymore. All he wants is to be happy. And he isn't happy right now. He's miserable. And it breaks a father's heart to see him the way he is."
Is...is all this true? Have I been so concerned with something I thought to be right that I've caused Tanner's happiness to be destroyed? "He's right you know, baby."
Jumping around, I'm met by my mother staring right at me. "Mom, you scared the shit out of me!"
"Try not to swear so much, baby," she says. "It makes you not look as professional."
"Wait, did you say mom?" Hank says.
Mom steps around me, looking right up at Hank with a wide smile. "Hi, I don't believe we've met. I'm Cynthia Natick, Gregory's mother."
Hank raises an eyebrow. "Aren't you supposed to be...you know, not so alive?"
"I'm a ghost, hot stuff."
Hank stares at her for a minute before shrugging. "Works for me. I've seen weirder."
He and my mother exchange a handshake, and I'm left wondering what the hell has Hank seen that's weirder than seeing the ghost of a woman who's been dead for more than ten years. Mom turns back to me. "And what Hank here has said is 100% true, baby. I've been keeping an eye on that boyfriend of yours."
"You've been spying on Tanner?" I ask.
"More like assessing to see if he's a good enough boy to be with my baby. I had to watch him everywhere. At the gym, at practice, in the shower..."
Mom giggles and Hank lets out a booming laugh. "I like your mother, Gregory! She's got spunk!"
I want to crawl into a hole and die. My mother is a perv. She actually peaked on my boyfriend while he was in the shower... "Anyway, Gregory," Mom says. "Mr. Muscles here is right. You really aren't being fair to Tanner."
Hank flexes to himself, nodding satisfyingly. "Mom, it isn't that simple..."
"In your mind it isn't, baby. But to everyone who knows it, it is. I know I've only seen you a few times recently, but I've gathered from seeing you that you really love this Tanner boy. He seems like a good man."
"He gets that from his dad," Hank supports.
"It sure seems like it," Mom says, reaching up and patting Hank's cheek before turning back to me. "So do you honestly think forcing him back into the closet after he's finally come to terms with who is, is the right thing to do? How would you feel if the man you were dating told you under no circumstances could you tell anyone the two of you were together?"
"Exactly, baby. And that's what that Tanner boy is going through right now. Forced deep into the closet with the old prom dresses and a Halloween skeleton because his boyfriend is scared about something he isn't even worried about. But maybe you're actually more concerned about yourself than you are about Tanner."
Huh? "I think I know what your mother is talking about," Hank says. "You're Tanner's coach. Tanner is your player. If Tanner were to tell people about the two of you dating, you'd be exposed as well."
"That's right," Mom says. "You'd be thrown in the same pot as Tanner, baby. Except rather than the fans you'd have to worry about, you'd be dealing with the NHL administration. Dating a player when you're his coach. Your sexuality isn't an issue in the NHL, baby. But you're scared of potentially losing your dream job, your players, and potentially your boyfriend."
A chill races up my spine. Is she really right? Am I just using Tanner's career as an excuse to keep myself out of harm's way? "Before you scare yourself, Gregory," Hank says, "there is no way you did this intentionally. You love Tanner too much to do that to him."
"That's right, baby," Mom says. "Don't be so hard on yourself. Other people in your situation would do the same thing."
"So what should I do then?" I'm willing to take any answer right now. "Am I supposed to let Tanner come out?"
"I wouldn't advise that," Hank says. "Tanner would wonder why you'd have changed your mind so quickly. And it would probably turn into a giant mess."
"Then what the hell am I supposed to do?"
Mom and Hank glance at each other. "Hell if I know," Hank says.
"Sorry, baby. I'm as lost as Mr. Muscles."
"Then why did you come here, Mom?"
"To do what every parent does best, baby: let their kids know they're wrong."
She gives my cheek a pinch. As she takes her hand away, her watch starts to beep. "Oh, time's up. I need to go, sweetie. I'll see you soon."
She kisses my forehead before turning to Hank and unabashedly running her hands over his chest. "Like two hard slabs of beef," she sighs.
She giggles before snapping her fingers and disappearing. Hank and I stand in complete silence for a moment. Hank suddenly bounces his pectorals before nodding again and turning and walking up the aisle. And now that I'm alone, everything Mom and Hank just told me jumps around in my head. Everything I'm doing is for the best, right?
"Still no Gregory with you in the mornings?" Rock asks me as I step off the stationary bike.
"No, he said that if we're seen together too much, people would start to suspect something."
I grab my towel and wipe some sweat off my face. "It's still complete bullshit in my opinion," Rock says.
"I agree with you there. I don't like that I have to do this, but if it makes Greg happy, then I'll do it."
"Even though you hate doing it?"
I sit down on a weight bench and feel my shoulders sag. "I hate every part of it. If I could run out into the street and yell how I really feel about Greg, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But Greg would never forgive me if I did."
"It just seems so unfair to me. Gregory is an out and proud gay man. While you, his boyfriend, are being forced to stay in the closet just because he's afraid of how the world will react to you coming out. Which, by the way, no one will care about. It's 2024 for God's sake. The only people who care about someone being gay are religious wackjobs and assholes."
"Exactly. I really don't understand what Greg is so afraid of for me. If someone attacks me on the streets, I could put up a good fight."
Rock takes a seat on the weight bench across from me. "What about your career?"
"I mean, yeah. I love hockey. But do I need to be a professional player to enjoy it? God, I've been asking myself that question since all this bullshit started. But in all honesty, I'm worried about Greg."
"What do you mean?"
"Think about it, Rock. I'm a hockey player in the NHL. He's my coach. What do you think would happen if the administration got word of it? Greg could be fired for misconduct. He could be blacklisted by the NHL and never coach again."
Rock rubs the back of his head. "Damn, man. That's rough. Do you think they would actually do that?"
"I don't know. But if me keeping in the closet is what keeps Greg as the coach of the Kings, then so be it. His future is more important to me."
Rock stays silent for a minute before standing up. "I hope it works out for you guys."
He gives my shoulder a pat before going back to his office. As I grab a pair of dumbbells to get a few flies in, a small sinking feeling makes an appearance in my stomach. And unfortunately, I'm used to it being there by now.
"And there's the buzzer, Lauren! In an overwhelming victory over the Calgary Flames, the Kings have made it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in more than ten seasons!"
"That's right, Liam. And I must say the Kings deserve it. They've put in so much more effort than I've ever seen from an NHL team and it's really paid off for them. But they've got a fierce competitor between them and the Stanley Cup."
"You said it, Lauren. We have a Detroit Red Wings Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup final. And it's a toss up between both of these teams. They've both improved so much over this past season that all bets are off when it comes to trying to figure out who's going to win."
"What do you think, Alan?"
"Lauren, there's no way to tell who has the edge in this final. Both teams are so even. I feel a seven game final coming on."
"Nice to know, Alan. You saw and heard it here, Kings fans. Your L.A. Kings against Detroit's Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final starting next week. Be sure to tune in."
I rip off my helmet and shake the excess sweat off my head. "Letting your hair grow out, Tanner?" Gunnar asks me.
"Yeah, the buzz cut was getting a little boring. I'm trying for something new."
A sudden clap gets everyone's attention. "Okay, guys!" Greg says. "You all played well and we're in the Stanley Cup finals!" The team rises up in cheers and locker banging. "But you're not out of the woods until we destroy the Red Wings! We've played them before and they've beaten us, but we've beaten them too! They're a tough team, but they're also not unbeatable.
"We need to stick to what we know. If we can do that, we'll put up a good fight against the Red Wings. Hit the showers. Practice tomorrow at 8:00."
Greg leaves the locker room as the rest of us get cleaned up. Once I'm finished, I carefully pull my bag out of my locker and check the contents. Okay, it's still undamaged. Thank God. I got worried when the bus braked hard to avoid some idiot who ran a red. Securing my bag, I leave the locker room in hopes of finding Greg.
Turning a corner, I immediately find Greg in front of a group of reporters and paparazzi. But standing beside him is Jesse, who has an arm around Greg's lower back and is flashing that too perfect smile of his. Greg has a small smile on his face as well, but even from here I can tell that it's strained.
Flashes of cameras go off as Greg and Jesse look at every camera. "C'mon!" a reporter yells. "Give your boyfriend a nice smooch!"
Jesse laughs and delivers a kiss to Greg's cheek, making him blush. My chest suddenly feels a lot tighter and my hands and feet colder. Why can't that be me over there? Smiling with Greg in front of people I don't know. Kissing him without worry of someone seeing us. But all I can see is Greg with another man. And it fucking hurts.
Holding my bag a little tighter, I turn and walk back into the locker room, hoping that no one saw me staring at Greg. Thankfully, most of the team went to the bus a little before me, so there are only a few stragglers behind. Sitting on a bench, I try to compose myself. But all I can see right now is Greg and Jesse.
My fingernails dig into my palms at the thought and I can start to feel wetness behind my eyes that I will to stay there. "Tanner? I thought you left already."
Glancing over, I find Ian standing next to me with his gear in his bag. "I uh..." I stammer. "I just...forgot something." I look down at my bag for a second. "Hey, Ian? Could you do me a favor?"
I open my bag and pull out a small box covered in black wrapping paper and hand it to Ian. "W-When you see Greg could you give this to him? I'd really appreciate it."
"Uh...yeah, sure." He takes the box from me. "But why can't you give to him?"
"I...I need to get going, so I won't see him. Family stuff, you know?" I quickly stand up and grab my bag. "I'll see you at practice tomorrow..."
I walk past Ian and out of the locker room before he can ask any more questions. Keeping my head down, I make it to the garage of Staples Center and am thankful to find a cab there. The Kings sometimes use them if they have somewhere else to get to after a game. Opening the back, I climb in and shut the door.
The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror. "Griffith Park, please," I say. "As fast as you can."
The driver nods and pulls out of the garage. I make it so my body language puts off that I'm not in a talking mood. Mostly because if I even open my mouth, I'll say something I shouldn't. So I stare out the window and watch the celebrating Kings fans as I go down the street. All of them, so happy and carefree. I wish I could share the same feelings as them.
A little while later, the driver pulls up to the park. As I reach for my wallet, the driver waves me down. "Free of charge, sir," he says. "It looks like you need it."
Surprised by his words, I slowly take my stuff and open the door. "Thank you."
"And don't worry. To me, this trip never happened."
Nodding my thanks, I close the door and he pulls away from the park. It's nearly 11:00, so the park is deserted and nearly pitch black, save for a few lights. I walk a little toward the entrance and find a bench next to it. Setting my stuff down and sitting down myself, I finally allow myself to let go.
An ugly sob grips my chest and escapes my lungs. And unfortunately for me, it isn't the last. Tears fall from my eyes as my cries echo through the park. I haven't cried this hard in such a long time. But I couldn't hold in my frustration any longer. Seeing Greg with Jesse wrapped around him, pretending to be happily in love, brought me to a breaking point.
Seeing him with another man hurts so much. And it's so fucking unfair to have to witness that and not be able to experience it firsthand. I try to wipe my face dry to try and gain back a bit of dignity. But realizing I need this right now, I tell my dignity to go fuck itself and continue to bawl my eyes out.
I don't even know how long it's been since I sat on this bench. But by the time I manage to calm down a bit, my throat is incredibly hoarse and I can feel my face is puffy and my eyes red and swollen. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out my phone and go to my contacts and find the one I'm looking for.
Holding my phone to my ear, I'm thankful for the other end of the line picking up. "Can you come pick me up at Griffith Park...?" I force out. "South entrance..."
I shut off my phone and wait patiently for him to get here. And sure enough, his car pulls up about twenty minutes later and he climbs out. "You okay?" Adam asks me.
Shaking my head, I slowly stand up and grab my bag, feeling completely numb to the world. I throw my stuff in the back seat and climb up front with Adam, who silently climbs in as well. He drives back toward the apartment, the car ride silent the entire ride back. I don't even remember the ride to our apartment by the time we pull up.
Adam shuts off the car and climbs out, grabbing my bag for me and putting an arm around my shoulder as we head upstairs. He unlocks the door for us and we step inside. "I'll shut down for the night," he says, meaning he'll turn everything off. "You go get ready for bed."
Nodding my thanks, I turn and walk toward my bedroom. I don't even make it two steps before a large hand grabs my suit jacket and pulls me backward. I fall into a large chest and feel two pythons for arms circle around me. "It'll be okay, Tanner."
Not even realizing I needed a shoulder, I hug Adam back and press my face into his shirt, spilling out what little tears I have left.
"Did you really have to sleepover at my place, Jesse?" I ask him as we pull up to the Toyota Sports Center.
"With those paparazzi following us, yes. Those bitches are unrelenting."
No denying him there. Jesse stops the car and we both climb out. And why did you want to come to my practice with me?"
"I've always wanted to see a live hockey practice. And I could probably use what I see here to prepare for a film I may have in the future."
"And what's the real reason?"
"Gawking at muscly hockey players."
Rolling my eyes, we both walk inside and down to the locker room. All of the team is already in when I walk in. "Morning, guys," I say.
"Morning, Coach Natick," the all reply.
"Hope you all are well-rested for today because we have a lot of work to do."
"Coach Natick?" Alex says. "Why is your boyfriend in here?"
I glance over at Jesse, who is openly staring at every player he can see. "He wanted to come watch practice in order to study hockey players up close for potential future roles, so I let him come along. He'll be in the stands watching so he won't be in the way."
Jesse happily waves at the guys. "Okay," I continue. "Everyone, warm up on the ice. I'll join you in a minute." The guys head toward the rink and I look at Jesse. "Behave yourself. We're supposed to be dating."
"I know we are. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate sexy men when I see them."
I roll my eyes and start to walk toward the rink when I spy Ian still sitting on the bench, staring down at his hands. "Ian, we have practice," I say.
"Coach Natick, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Can it wait? We really need to prepare for the finals."
"No, it can't. It's about Tanner."
Tanner? Nervousness bubbles up in my throat. "Is he okay?"
"I...I don't know. He talked to me for a minute after last night's game and I haven't been able to get in contact with him since."
Oh no. "My office. Now."
Ian grabs his bag and we head for my office with Jesse following not too far behind. We all step inside but before I can close my door, there's a knock and a security officer pokes his head in. "Sorry to interrupt. But there's someone here to see you, Mr. Natick. Adam Underwood. The professional fighter."
"Send him in," I say, trying not to sound too worried.
He steps out and returns with Adam a minute later. Adam closes the door and faces me. I immediately notice that his body language is the exact opposite of how he usually is. He looks nervous, reserved, and very worried. "Gregory, we need to talk. Now."
"Is it about Tanner?" Ian asks. Adam glances at him and nods. "I'm about to talk to Coach Natick about the same thing."
"Ian, you first," I say.
Ian tries to collect his words. "Tanner left the locker room before most of us. I noticed him leave while I was getting changed. But he came back in when I was packing up my stuff. He looked like a nervous wreck, like...almost on the verge of a meltdown."
Oh God, is he okay? Is his family okay? "D-Did he say what was going on?" I ask.
Ian shakes his head before bending down and unzipping his bag. He pulls out a small flat box covered in black wrapping paper. "He gave me this before he left. He asked me to give it to you as soon as I could. I wanted to give it to you last night, but you already left with Mr. Wentworth right there."
"Gregory and I are just friends," Jesse says. "I'm pretending to date him as a favor to him."
"I figured as much." He looks back at me. "Whatever is in that box must be really important, Coach Natick. At least it must be important to Tanner."
He hands the box to me and I feel a bit of weight inside of it. "Tanner called me to pick him up last night," Adam says. "It was after 1:00 in the morning and he called me from Griffith Park. He sounded like he had been yelling. But when I got there, I saw that he'd been crying. And a hell of a lot of it.
"He looked terrible, but he didn't tell me the reason. So I automatically assumed that it must involve you. But it wasn't like when you two broke up for a bit. This seemed...worse."
Just hearing this makes me want to vomit and immediately rush to Tanner. "And I'm here for a reason this morning," he continues. "I knew he had practice this morning. But when I checked on him to see if he was okay, he wasn't in his bedroom. But all his hockey stuff was there."
"He's gone, Gregory. And I don't know where he is."
My chest feels like it suddenly explodes and I all of a sudden feel dizzy. Jesse has to grab me to make sure I don't fall over. "I came here as soon as a I saw he wasn't at home. His parents called me asking if he was at our apartment. They wanted to congratulate him on making it to the finals. So they don't know where he is either."
I feel tear drops fall out of my eyes before I can stop them. Jesse sits me down in a chair. "Gregory, I don't know where he is and I'm freaking out right now," Adam says. "He's one of my closest friends. Do you have any idea where he could be?"
I try to think through my head about every place Tanner could be. Not A.J. and Ulrich's bar. Not the gym. Not his parents or siblings places. "I...I don't know..." I choke out.
My hand falls into my lap and it connects with the wrapped box. Instinct taking over, I rip the wrapping off the box, only for a small, folded note to fall into my lap. I take the note and look at everyone else. "C-Can I read this in private?"
They all exchange looks before getting up and stepping out of the office. Composing myself a bit, I carefully unwrap the note. I immediately recognize Tanner's handwriting.
'Greg. You know I'm not the best with words, so I've decided to write them down with this gift. Take a look in the box.'
Looking over at the box, I carefully lift the lid on it and am met by a beautiful, silver and leather bracelet, connected by two holding hands. I look back at the note.
'I had that bracelet specially made for you. It unhooks by lifting up the thumb and the hands stay together when hooked. I bought it to show my love for you, Greg. To show you how much you really mean to me. It's been more than six months since I've started dating you. And I don't think I've had a more wonderful time in my life.
'From when we first kissed, to our first night together, you being there for me when Keith was having trouble, supporting me and my anger issues, to Zane and Eric's wedding. God, what an amazing time that was. Finally feeling free from worry and pressure. And I'm so glad I got to spend it with you.
'Even when we were fighting, I knew I loved you more than anyone I know (don't tell my family I said that). And when we got back together, I was the happiest man in the world. And it's because of my love for you that it hurts so much to see you with another man all the time when that man beside you should be me.
"At first I was okay with it. I thought it would be good for us to not have to worry about the press staying so close to us. But as it went on, you spent so much less time with me because you were focusing on not raising any attention. I'm not blaming you in the least. None of that is your fault. But seeing you like that upsets me so much.
'I can't even count the number of times I've woken up in bed to find you not there beside me. All I can say is that I miss you, Greg. I miss you so fucking much that it physically hurts to not have you near me. I miss your smile, your laugh, that look on your face when I do something stupid, how you push me to be the best in everything I can be, I miss every part of you, Greg.
'But even though I miss you terribly, I hope you accept this bracelet. It shows that even when those two hands are apart, they're still connected. And it's the same with you and me in my opinion. I'll wait for you, Greg, until you think it's the right time for us to come out together as a couple, no matter how much it hurts I'll wait for you.
'I love you, Greg. More than I can even put into these words.'
The note crumples in my hand as my tears drip onto the paper. What have I done? I've pushed away the man I love more than anything. And for what? So I could force him into a closet he doesn't want to be in? Shakily, I take hold of the bracelet and get a closer look at it.
It's wonderfully made. The two hands look to be made of pure silver. I don't deserve something this beautiful for the way I treated Tanner. Unhooking the hands, I wrap the bracelet around my wrist and re-latch it. And the second it's on, I lose it. I sob into my hands, silently begging for a chance to make everything up to Tanner.
Hell, I don't even deserve that chance after everything I've done. And I know I don't deserve a man as wonderful as Tanner. Mom and Hank were right. I was doing nothing but hurting him the whole time I've been with Jesse when I thought I was helping him. Helping him from what? A delusion of my own creation, that's what.
I grip the bracelet for even the slightest bit of support. Because right now, I need a lot of it. "Please...come back..."
"Welcome back, hockey fans. Even four days after Tanner White's mysterious disappearance, the mood in the studio remains somber. We're here to give you all the facts on the investigation. Lauren, what do you know so far?"
"Well, Liam, the facts are very limited. His roommate and friend, Adam Underwood, last saw Tanner a little before 2:00 in the morning last Friday in their apartment. According to reports, Tanner was missing when Adam awoke the next morning. Many of his belongings, including his cell phone and wallet, remained in the apartment.
"Police suspect Tanner left by his own free will and no foul play was involved. But that still leaves many questions, Liam. Why did Tanner disappear? The Kings community is desperate to find Tanner. L.A. Kings Coach Gregory Natick has declined to comment on the proceedings."
"It's a very unfortunate situation, Lauren. Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals is in two days and the Kings are down 2-1 in the standings. I feel that if Tanner doesn't return soon, the Kings will lose the cup. Tanner, if you're watching this, wherever you are, I hope I can speak for everyone here at ESPN and all of your fans, that you're safe and well. We all hope you return soon."
I shut off the TV, tired of hearing the same thing over and over. It hurts too much to even hear a small part of it. "Here."
Looking up, I find Scott standing over me with two mugs. He takes a seat next to me on his couch and hands me one of the mugs. "It's hot chocolate. I know you always like it when you're upset."
Raising the mug, I take a sip of the warm beverage. "Thanks..." I quietly say, my voice still hoarse from all of my crying.
Scott slides a little closer to me and sets down his own mug. "Do you want to talk at all?"
I take another sip of my hot chocolate and sink further into my seat. "I hurt him...even more than I thought I could..."
Scott wraps an arm around my shoulders. "Buddy, you only did what you thought was right for the both of you."
"But I pushed him away, Dad. Forced him to hide from the world out of my own stupid fear. God, what if I really did do it to protect myself from the league? I would never forgive myself."
"There's no way you would have done that intentionally and you know that. And Tanner definitely knows that too."
"I...I just want to apologize to him. Tell him how sorry I am for what I did..."
Scott carefully takes away the mug from me and sets it down before pulling me into a hug I really need right now. "Everything will be okay, buddy. I know it will."
I clutch him as hard as I can. Because I'm afraid if I let go, I'll break even more than I already have.
I don't know how we managed to win tonight with me being so distracted. Hell, I don't even remember most of the game. But thankfully, the guys fought hard and forced at least one more game into this series. But even though we won, the locker room is devoid of voices.
Everyone is feeling the effects of Tanner not being here. All the guys are making mistakes on the ice, we're unorganized, and I'm barely doing a thing out there. I should be supporting these guys when all I'm really doing is focusing on my missing boyfriend.
"We fly out to Detroit tomorrow morning for Game 5 on Sunday," I say. "Get some rest. You all earned it after tonight."
They all continue their robot-like motions. Jesus, this is just depressing to look at. And I probably look just as bad as all of them. As the team goes to the showers, I take a seat on a bench and find myself gazing at and toying with the bracelet Tanner gave me. I've worn it every day since I first opened that box.
Just seeing makes me feel that Tanner is so close to me that I can almost feel him. But the second I look away from it, all I see is that I'm alone. A text alert comes from my pocket and I pull it out to find a message from Brody.
'You know, even though this is what I've been hoping for since we started coaching our own NHL teams, it doesn't really feel like a fight, Gregory.'
I know he's right.
'Yeah, I know, Brody. I think I'm just distracted.'
'I know. And for good reason too. But I'm not trying to distract you even more with this conversation. All I want is to have a fair fight with you.'
"I'm really trying. But no matter how hard I try to focus on our matches, my mind always goes to Tanner.'
'Well for your sake, I really hope he comes back soon. Because with the way things are going, the Red Wings are on their way to a Stanley Cup. And I won't feel like we won it fairly.'
A pang of guilt resonates in my ear. I'm not being fair to Brody. A Stanley Cup final together is something we talked about back in college. And now that we finally have one, I'm not committed to it. Not to mention, I'm also letting the team down. I should be kicking them into gear. Not the wrench that shuts everything down.
Needless to say, I don't sleep very well that night. Just like every other night for the past week. When I get to the sports center tomorrow, I'm surprised to find Mark and Shawn there as well. "What're you guys doing here?" I ask.
"We wanted to come along with the team to help give them a bit of encouragement," Mark says. "We've both noticed them not playing at their best with Tanner not being here."
My shoulders slump a bit. "And it looks like it's having the same effect on you," Shawn follows up.
I only nod. "I'm really sorry this has happened, Gregory," Mark says. "I've got a few dozen private investigators looking around the Los Angeles area for any sign of him. But they haven't found a thing."
"I appreciate your help," I quietly say. "But I have a feeling Tanner doesn't want to be found. At least for now. All I hope is that he's okay..."
Quickly rubbing my eyes, I step onto the bus to take us to the airport. Slowly, the rest of the guys arrive and climb on as well. With the last few players, Mark and Shawn step on too. "Okay, guys," Shawn says. "I know things have been rough since Tanner disappeared. But if he were here, do you think he'd like what he saw?"
Several heads perk up. "If he were here, he'd probably give you all a smack on the head for being so down." Several chuckles, knowing Shawn's right. "You're in the Stanley Cup finals for God's sake! This is no time to be down! Right now the Red Wings are probably laughing at you because you all look like a bunch of pathetic losers!"
A reminder, this is the governor of California. And he's calling the Los Angeles Kings pathetic losers. "Fuck them!" I hear Bradley yell out.
"The Kings are the fucking best in the league!" Ken says. "And we're going to bring it hard to them tomorrow night!"
With new energy, the team yells and cheers in anticipation. "That's our team!" mark yells over the noise. The guys calm down after a few moments. "Shawn and I just need to do a little pre-check and then we'll head for the airport."
They step off the bus and I sit down in my own seat. Grabbing my bag, I look through it to make sure I have everything I need when my eyes spot something. Reaching deep into the bag, I pull out the slightly crumpled note from Tanner. Against my better judgment, I unfold the note.
I can already feel it getting to me. No matter how hard I try, I can't help but feel responsible for all of this happening. I hurt Tanner, but he can only think of the happy moments in our relationship. Our first kiss, the first time we slept together, the night at Eric and Zane's wedding, I can't even forget how...wait...
I go back to the right paragraph and look it over again.
'God, what an amazing time that was. Finally feeling free from worry and pressure. And I'm so glad I got to spend it with you...'
Feeling free... Pure shock and realization come crashing down on me and I shoot out of my seat, smacking my head on the compartment above me. "Jesus, Coach Natick," Bobby says. "You okay?"
"I'm fine..." I rub the sore spot on my head. "But you all are going to Detroit ahead of me."
The bus erupts in surprised yells and commotion. "Coach Natick! We have a game tomorrow!" Vladimir yells.
"We cannot afford another missing Kings member!" Jacques follows up.
"If you all give me a few hours, I'll meet you in Detroit tomorrow! But I know where Tanner is!" Silence washes over the bus. "It's a strong hunch, but if it's right, I'll bring Tanner back with me."
"Where is he?" Ian asks.
"Somewhere special. Now, I need to go! I'll see you in Detroit tomorrow!" I quickly rush off the bus, right into Mark and Shawn. "I..."
Mark produces a pair of car keys and dangles them in front of my face. "Go bring our captain back."
Smiling, I snatch the keys out of his hand. Pressing the unlock button, I hear the roar of a McLaren Z3. Mark sighs to himself. "Man, I love being rich..."
"I'll send an order to every police officer in the state to let you drive as fast as you can," Shawn says. "I'll get a lot of hell for it, but it's worth it. Just please don't crash."
"Thank you both."
Running to the car, I climb in and quickly buckle up. Pulling out of the parking lot, I quickly make my way for 395 North. I haven't driven a car in nearly a year and this one is so powerful I can feel my ass sweating from me being so nervous. But pushing my fear aside, I hit the accelerator and roar up the highway.
The peace and quiet is what I really needed. No stress, no worry. But abandoning the guys when they need their captain? They'll probably hate me by the time I get back. Game 5 is tomorrow night. I know I need to get over myself and fly out to Detroit to help them. But with the potential of seeing Greg there with Jesse keeps me from it.
So I keep doing what I've been doing for the last week. Walking along the shore of Emerald Bay in a small inlet hidden from everyone. It's a good thing Dad took me camping so many times over the years, otherwise I probably wouldn't have lasted a day out here. Stepping out of the shallow water, I grab my shoes and walk back to my campsite.
It's a simple setup, just a small tent, but it's been good for me for the past week. My cell is useless out here, so I turned it off a while ago. God knows how much it'll blow up when I eventually turn it on. Taking a seat on a fallen log, I reach into my shirt and pull out my new necklace and gaze at it.
It's the exact same style as Greg's new bracelet, two hands clasped together and connected by a strand made of leather. I'm incredibly happy with the designer's end product. But whenever I look at the necklace, all I'm filled with is yearning. I tuck it away in my shirt and climb into my tent.
Crawling onto my sleeping bag, I fall onto my back and stare right up at the ceiling of the tent. Alone with my thoughts, I feel guilt starting to crawl into my head. What I did by coming out here when I knew I had to help my team was cowardly. I'm letting them all down. Not to mention the fans, my family, and most importantly, Greg.
He's worked so hard with all of us, turning us into the team we are now. Countless hours looking over game footage, working with each of us individually in order to improve us, nurturing and raising us rather than simply coaching us. And I'm taking all that down and flushing it down the drain.
I want to be there. I really do. But with Greg constantly looming in the back of my mind, there's no way I'd be able to focus on the match. I'd be hurting the team more than helping. And if me not being there helps them win, then so be it. "...er!!"
What the hell was that? Slowly sitting up, I keep an ear out. Some kind of bird? "...ner!!"
Okay, at least I'm not hearing things. Standing up, I step out of the tent, trying to figure out where that noise is coming from. I notice that a while has passed since I stepped into the tent with the sun starting to set now. "Tanner!!" a faint echo calls out.
Looking to my right, in the direction of the echo, all I see are trees and water. But I know that voice sounds familiar. "Tanner!! Please answer!!"
Is that...Greg? Walking toward the shore of the bay, I head for the source of the echo. "Please!!"
Jesus, that is Greg's voice! He should be in Detroit! I switch to a run, pushing off the wet sand of the shore. "I'm sorry!! Just please answer me!!!"
I run as hard as I can, just to try and get closer to Greg. But just off in the distance, I see the shape of a man break through the edge of the forest and stop on the shore, frantically looking. Running up, I come to a stop not even thirty feet away and I watch as Greg's eyes meet mine.
He's a mess, with his collared shirt and tie ripped in a few places, his hair all out of sorts and sweat coating his face. I've never seen him look so beautiful. Even from here I can see his face is a mixture of grief and relief. After a few moments of complete silence, we both take a step forward and make a break for one another.
I stop and grab Greg as he jumps into me. But the force knocks me back and we both fall to the ground. Keeping a tight grip on Greg, I feel his arms circle my neck and I bury my face in his shoulder. His body quickly starts to tremble and as I sit up, I feel a wetness drip onto my neck.
I grip him a little tighter, just making sure this isn't some kind of dream. "I'm sorry," I hear quietly in my ear. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Tanner..."
He presses his fingers into my shoulder blades. "Greg I..."
"I didn't know how much I was hurting you until it was too late. All I wanted was to keep you safe when I didn't need to..."
"No! It isn't okay! I don't deserve to have someone like you for what I did! I forced you to hide when all you wanted was to be open with who you are. How could you even forgive me? You should hate me for..."
I cut him off with a firm kiss, digging my fingers into his hair and holding on for dear life. It takes a moment, but I slowly manage to get him to start calming down. "It's the same thing I said when we first started dating," I say. "I could never hate you."
I sit up and hold Greg on my lap. "I will admit when there were times that made me upset and hurt, and it really stung when they happened. But I could never hate you for doing what you thought was best for me."
I lift his face of his shoulder and find his face is soaking wet with sweat and tears. I take my thumb and wipe the undersides of his eyes. "I love you, Greg. Do you understand that? I love you, and you alone."
More tears spill out of the corners of his eyes and he buries his face in my shoulder once again. "How did I find someone so wonderful as you?" he sobs.
I let him cry as much as he needs to. He calms down after a little while and meets my eyes once again. Slowly, he lowers himself to me and our mouths meet once again. But this time, I slip my tongue past his soft lips and press him even closer to me, my hands slipping under his shirt and pressing into the firm muscles of his back.
Greg quickly unbuttons his shirt and I pull it off of him as fast as I can, needing to feel every inch of him. Sliding off his undershirt, I take a moment to gaze at his amazingly sculpted chest and stomach before ripping my shirt off too. I relish in the amazing feeling of skin on skin as my rock hard erection presses through my shorts against Greg.
God I've missed this feeling so much. "Need you," I groan. "All of you..."
He manages to undo the buckle of his belt and unbuttons his pants. Not wanting to wait another second, I grab the waistband and pull his pants and underwear down. He's as hard as I am with a drop of precum sliding down the shaft. I nearly shoot in my underwear at the sight of Greg naked on top of me.
He doesn't even get his pants and underwear past his knees before I grab two handfuls of his butt cheeks. He tenses for a moment and I feel his precum drip onto my waist. He presses his lips to mine in a feverish kiss while scrambling to get my shorts off of me. Unbuttoning my fly, my cock smacks against my stomach as he pulls down my shorts and underwear.
I frantically kiss him as I kick to get out of my clothes. With nothing left, I soak in the feeling of skin on skin. "Give me your cock," I growl. "Now."
I don't even wait for a response as I shove Greg onto his back and dive for his crotch. I don't hesitate as I quickly devour his hard dick, welcoming the feeling of it sliding down my throat. Greg screams out as I start sucking him, his body twitching in pleasure. I've missed the feeling of having Greg's cock deep in my mouth and throat.
Just the feeling of Greg's rapid heartbeat and throbbing dick makes me even harder than I already am. And the sweet taste of his precum is a taste I could live off of. "T-Tanner..." I hear him whisper. "I won't last if..."
I slide off his cock with a loud pop, making him shiver. "Just a little more," I beg. "I want to get it nice and wet..."
Not even waiting, I swallow his dick once again, his voice yelling out music to my ears. Getting it as soaking with my spit as I can, I take in one last swallow of his precum and slide off. I quickly stand up and position myself right over Greg's wet dick. "You'll...you'll hurt yourself..." he breathes out.
"And it'll be worth it. So just shut up and let me enjoy this."
I lower myself and feel the head of Greg's cock poking at my ass. My body breaks out in goosebumps at the feeling and I slowly start to impale myself. Almost immediately, I feel the sting I've come to know and know well. But it's not nearly enough to stop me. I keep taking in Greg's dick, welcoming the wonderful sensation and fullness.
I breathe hard and quickly through my teeth to try and combat the pain. As I try to push even more, two strong arms circle me and I'm filled with a sense of comfort and warmth. "Breathe..." he quietly says in the crook of my neck. "You've almost got it..."
Allowing myself a few moments of rest, I concentrate on my breathing and let myself relax. And sure enough, the last few inches of Greg's hard cock slide into me. "God, I love you," I say.
"I love you too..."
Taking Greg in another kiss, I slowly slide some of Greg's dick out of me before taking it all back in. Greg moans into my mouth and the sensation of his cock's head grazing over my prostate nearly makes me explode right there. Holding him tight, I repeat the process, lifting myself off his lap and ramming his cock right back into me.
I don't even care if someone comes by here and sees us. All that matters to me right now is the most amazing man in the world in front of me. And I want to show him how much he means to me. "I-I'm getting close," he groans out.
"Inside me. Shoot it...inside me..."
"Yes! I want it, Greg! Shoot your load deep in my ass!"
I increase the pressure and speed of fucking myself on Greg's dick, our voices echoing around us. "I'm cumming!"
With a few more thrusts, I bury Greg's dick deep inside me and welcome the feeling of him exploding inside of me. The throb of his dick is euphoric as it empties itself deep in my ass. Greg falls against my chest, breathing hard and fast. But before I can say anything, he gives me a shove like I did to him before.
Falling onto my back, the feeling of a warm and wet tongue wetting my cock hits me and I groan against my fist. "Greg, you just came..."
"And you didn't. And I want you to feel as good as I did...
He licks my cock from the head to the base, coating it in his saliva before he stands right above it. "B-But..." I say.
"I can take a cock better than you, Tanner. And I want yours more than anything..."
He grabs my cock and aligns it with his hole before shoving it deep inside himself, screaming out as he quickly goes balls deep on me. His hot ass surrounds my cock like velvety glove and I nearly shoot right there. "Kiss me," he says.
Sitting up, I grab him and shove my tongue deep in his mouth as he starts to fuck himself on my cock. "Feels so good," I say.
He holds me even tighter as he picks up his pace, driving my cock in and out of him. The friction combined with the feeling of Greg's cock filling me causes my load to start churning in my balls. "Y-You're going to make me cum..."
"Inside. Do it..."
Holding him as tight as I can, I shove him down onto my cock and fuck him as deep as I possibly can. "C-Cumming!" I shout against his lips.
With one last push, I shove my cock deep into Greg's ass and shoot my load. Stars float in front of my eyes as I unload into Greg's ass, his ass gripping my cock tight as it milks me. With every drop of cum out of my cock, I grab Greg and fall back onto the dirt with him in my arms.
Pulling him up to me, I kiss those deliciously soft lips of his, every ounce of my strength gone. "Wow..." I quietly say.
"My thoughts exactly..."
We both lie in silence, welcoming a few moments of peace and quiet in the woods as Greg's breath tickles the side of my neck and my necklace presses between our chests. "Greg, shouldn't you be in Detroit?" I ask after a little. "Game 5 is tomorrow."
"I wasn't going to go without you. I drove all the way up here to find you and..."
"Wait, you drove? Greg, you haven't driven in God knows how long."
A small smile forms on his face. "Scariest shit I've done in a long time. But I couldn't fly across the country again without you. We need you, Tanner. I know me being there with Jesse would be difficult for you but..."
"That's not why I couldn't go." Embarrassment slowly builds up in my stomach and I can feel my face start to blush. "I'm scared, alright? This is my first Stanley Cup final. What if I mess something up and make us lose? And how could I go there when I've missed four games already?"
"Are you kidding? Everyone is worried sick about you. They're waiting for you to come back so they can win with you by their sides. It's okay to be scared, Tanner. I'm terrified myself. But I just go out there and do my damn best. And do you know what makes me do that?"
I shake my head. "You do, Tanner. Every time I see you out there on the ice, I want to improve myself as a coach. I want to be the very best I can be for all of you and to help you win. And right now, I don't feel we can beat the Red Wings with the way I am right now. And that's why we need you there, Tanner. Why I need you there.
"You make everyone better. You improve us all. And without you there, we fall flat on our asses. I'm begging you on behalf of the guys. Please come back."
I feel Greg's hands tremble against my sides. He really is terrified. But he's kept putting himself out there despite his fear of what could happen. I feel something start to bubble up in my chest and adrenaline pulses through my veins. "Where's the nearest airport?"
The plane skids to a stop on the tarmac and quickly begins taxiing to our exit point. "Fucking storms!" Greg yells, staring at his phone. "The game starts in less than an hour!"
"We'll make it. We aren't that far from Joe Louis Arena."
Securing my bag, I get ready for the plane to come to a stop. Thank God Mark was able to send his private jet to us so quickly, along with my hockey stuff. But the delay thanks to a storm over Detroit set us back a bit. The plane comes to a stop and the door opens. Greg and I jump out of our seats and run down to the towncar waiting on the tarmac.
It's still pouring rain, just like the forecast said, and Greg and I are soaking wet as we jump into the car. "Get us to the arena!" Greg yells at the driver.
With a nod, He quickly pulls away from the plane and we're on the highway in no time. Greg's leg bounces as he stares out the window and I take his hand in mine. "I know you're nervous, but we'll be okay. We'll get to the stadium with time to spare and we're going to kick ass tonight."
He looks at me and while I still see a bit of nervousness in his eyes, he manages to calm himself. "I know."
Some time later, the driver pulls off the highway and into downtown Detroit. Winding through the streets, I see people on the sidewalk frantically making their way for the stadium, trying to get there before the game starts. Just as we round a street corner, the car comes to a screeching halt.
Greg and I fall back into our seats. "Why have we stopped?" Greg asks.
"There's an accident ahead of us!" the driver says. "I can't move!"
Looking ahead, I see a three-car pile up in the intersection in front of us. Shit! At least everyone seems to be okay. "Can you get around?" Greg asks.
"Police have taped off the street! Not even if I tried to!"
"Okay, turn around and...!"
The sound of crunching metal explodes from behind us and we turn around to find a freshly t-boned car and a second car with the front end smashed in. "Are you fucking kidding me?!" Greg screams.
There's no way we'll get out of here. "How far is the stadium from here?" I ask.
"A little more than a mile..."
We can't wait any longer. "Get your shit!"
I open the car door and jump out, opening the trunk a second later. "What're you doing?!" Greg says.
"We're running to the stadium! You better keep up!"
Pulling my bag onto my back, I hope onto the sidewalk and make a break for the stadium. I dodge past other people on the sidewalk, trying not to break my stride. A moment later, Greg appears by my side, running as hard as I am. The rain quickly soaks through his shirt, causing it to stick to his hard torso.
Goddamn... "Focus!" he yells. "You can fuck me with your eyes later! We have a game to get to!" He rushes past me and I quickly catch up to him. Greg glances down at his watch. "Five minutes!"
We push ourselves even further. And sure enough, me make it to the entrance of the stadium, where we're met by security. "Tick..." one of them starts.
"Fucking move!" Greg yells. "I'm Gregory Natick and this is Tanner White! We're late, so get out of our fucking way!"
Greg shoves past the two security officers, only for one of them to grab him by the shoulder. Immediately, Greg grabs the guy by the elbow and throws him over his shoulder. The man hits the ground with a loud thud. "Run!" Greg yells at me.
We both rush inside and make our way for the stairs to the basement. Running past people, I start to hear people recognizing me. But I ignore them as I follow Greg. We get to the stairs and quickly rush down. Pretty soon, we get to the Kings locker room, which is completely empty.
I set my bag down and start stripping off my wet clothes. "Get out there," I say. "I'll change."
Throwing my shirt onto the bench, I don't expect Greg to give me a very tender kiss. "It's good to have you back, captain..."
A smile splits my face and I give Greg one more kiss before he turns and heads to the Kings bench.
"And welcome back hockey fans to our live coverage of the Stanley Cup Final, Game 5. I'm Liam Keeling and with me as always is my co-host Lauren Becker. Ready for tonight, Lauren?"
"More than ready, Liam. This game will decide who is one game away from taking home the Stanley Cup. And it looks like both teams are ready to go."
"You said it, Lauren. The Kings and the Red Wings both want this game so bad. And this game can add an immense amount on the pressure for the loser to win the next match to force a Game 7. What're your projections for tonight, Lauren?"
"Liam, as much as I love the Kings, I need to give this game to the Red Wings. The Kings seem to have run out of steam. And combine that with their captain Tanner White being missing, it'll take a lot for the Kings to bring back their spirit."
"Unfortunately, I have to agree with you there, Lauren. The Kings managed to bring it back in Game 4 thanks to a late third period penalty on the Red Wings. If it weren't for that, we'd likely have a 3-1 standing."
"Well, we shouldn't focus on what could have been, Liam. We should focus on tonight's game. We're just about to get started and...Coach Natick! Coach Natick is running up from the Kings locker room!"
"We were questioning where he was earlier, Lauren! But we're glad to see him here tonight! Coach Natick takes his place in the Kings bench and the starters for both teams make their way onto the ice. Wait, the Kings only have five players on the ice..."
"It could be a scare tactic, Liam. Maybe a way for Coach Natick to...and a new Kings players runs up the tunnel and bursts onto the ice! Oh my God! It's Tanner White! I repeat it is Tanner White!"
"I can't believe it, Lauren! Tanner White is back and this crowd is going crazy! Even on enemy territory! White takes his rightful place at center ice against Evert and this crowd is not calming down! You can feel the electricity in the air, Lauren!"
"You said it, Liam. And this game is under...oh! And White is charging out of the gate! He sends Evert to the ice and the Kings take possession of the puck! Fowly and Denier skate to intercept White, who sends the puck back to Abramov. White and Lindberg push into Red Wings territory and Abramov isn't far behind them.
"White passes the blue line and...a bullet from Abramov! White barely manages to intercept that and...a fake! A pass between White's legs and Wesley is unable to keep up! White winds himself up and...no! A sharp pass back to...Yezhov! Back at center ice!
"Yezhov situates himself, winds himself up, a cannon! Shot, score! And a goal from center ice from Alexei Yezhov from center ice a minute into regulation time! Liam, this Kings are back! And they're out for blood!"
Now this is my team. We deserved this win tonight. And judging by the amount of energy and noise in the locker room, the team knows they did too. Tanner hasn't been out of the arms of one of his teammates since the game ended, and for good reason. The Kings are a family. And they really missed their captain.
As I watch the craziness unfold, Tanner lets out a loud whistle and calms everyone down. "Okay, first off, I want to tell everyone how sorry I am for not being here for the first four games of the finals. It was an insanely shitty thing to do. But I promise you all I'm going to give every single game we have left my all.
"We're going to take home that cup if it's the last thing I fucking do! We've come this far and we're not leaving without the championship title!"
Tanner rouses the team into a frenzy with fists ramming lockers and feet stomping the floor. Letting out a whistle of my own, I grab the team's attention. "And I'm sorry for not being a complete coach until tonight. Tanner's disappearance distracted me and my head wasn't in the game."
A pair of feet run into the locker room and I find Jesse in the doorway. "Gregory, you wanted to see me?"
"Perfect timing, Jesse. Come here." He walks over to me and I can already see Tanner fuming at the ears. "I want to tell you all something that I've been lying about. I tried keeping it a secret for a while, but I couldn't deal with hurting my boyfriend any longer."
Much of the team glances at one another. "You see, Jesse and I? We aren't dating. All we really are is really good friends." Much of the team fills with surprise, but I find the most surprise in Tanner's face. "I lied to all of you and to the public because it's what I felt was best for my real boyfriend.
"I thought he was scared to come out of the closet when in reality, I was only keeping him in there. But now, he can't hide any longer and I don't want him to hide either. So if he wants to, he can come out and tell the world he and I are dating."
Before I can react, I'm swept off the ground by a large body and a pair of lips I've come to know so well meet mine. The world immediately disappears around me and Tanner as we kiss, even as the team is shocked beyond belief. Tanner pulls away for a second and the smallest voice reaches my ears. "Thank you..."
Tanner sets me back down and takes a breath before turning to face the team. "I'm gay," he proudly says. "And I've been dating this amazing man right here for more than eight months now. I don't know if what we're doing is allowed but I don't care if it isn't.
"I wants to tell all of you guys so badly, but a part of me was afraid of how you would react to hearing your captain liked dick. So if any of you have anything to say, say it now or..."
"What the hell, man?!"
Looking over, I find Gunnar glaring at Tanner. "Gunnar?" Tanner says. He walks over to Tanner and stands right in front of him. "Look, I understand if you're upset by me being gay, but..."
"I'm not fucking pissed about that! I'm pissed because you thought you couldn't trust all of us with something like this!"
What? I glance around the locker room and find several guys nodding in agreement. "You've always said we're a family," Gunnar continues. "And family never leaves one of their own behind. Gay or straight, you're our teammate, Tanner. It hurts to know you were scared to tell us something like this."
"I feel the same way, priyatel," Vladimir says. "We are brothers in combat. Even if you sleep with a man, I would never turn my back on you."
"None of us would!" Bobby yells.
"Fuck no, we wouldn't!" Ken says.
The guys rally once again, even louder this time. "See, Tanner?" Gunnar says. "No matter who you are, you're always a King to us. You like dick. So fucking what? I like fermented herring! And that shit is nasty to nearly everyone! But do people hate me for it? Fuck no! And it's the same for you!"
Gunnar takes his hands and slams them on Tanner's shoulders. "We would never turn away from our captain. Get it?"
I feel wetness touching the back of my eyes at seeing it. Was I really afraid of this? Seeing everyone coming together to support their captain? Tanner looks at everyone and I see two tears fall from the corners of his eyes. But a large grin on his face shows they're from his joy.
The guys all swarm around their captain, hugging him and giving him hard pats on the back. My feet carry me into the fray and I step beside Tanner. He wraps an arm around me and pulls out his cell phone. "Want to blow up the Internet?"
Oh he really is evil. He holds his phone in front of my face and the rest of the team swarms behind us to try and fit in as well. "Kings on three," he says. "One, two, three!"
Just as he's about to take a picture, he presses his mouth to mine while the rest of the guys cheer behind us. He and I separate and with a few taps on his phone, it's out there for the world to see. "Okay, everyone! Back to the hotel!"
"Woo!" Jesse says. "I want to drive! I want to get ready for my next movie!"
The guys all cheer and grab their things and we head for the hotel. Some time later, I step out of the bathroom, drying my hair. "Ugh...everything hurts..."
Looking over, I find Tanner sprawled out on our bed in his underwear. "Well that's what happens when you play as hard as you did when you haven't played for more than a week."
Going to my suitcase, I pull out a pair of my own underwear and slide them on before climbing into the cool sheets next to Tanner. "I'm so glad I can share a bed with you again," he says, cuddling up to me.
"It really is the simple things you learn to love, isn't it?"
As I'm about to turn off the light, a call comes on my cell phone. I was expecting one tonight. Grabbing my phone, I hold it to my ear and listen silently as I'm told of a meeting I need to go to. I set my phone back on the nightstand. "Who was that?" Tanner asks me.
"The League. They saw the picture you posted and they want to have a conduct meeting with me when we get back to Los Angeles. It's mandatory for me."
"How did they sound?"
I bring my knees up to my chest. "Not too pleased..."
Tanner gives me a knowing look and wraps an arm around my back, pulling me close to him. "It'll be okay..."
Somehow, I feel that's a lie.