Hi everyone. Just a quick update from me. We're in the home stretch of voting before the deadline on New Year's Eve. I'm not going to reveal the current standings this week, as we're only a little over a week away from the deadline. But I will say that things are very close. If there's a story you want to see and you haven't voted yet, please email me your vote (if you don't know where to look for the genres, go to 'Could I Be...?' Chapter 17).

Now, I'm sure at least a few of you have been wondering about the whereabouts of fellow writer Nerdy Jock, one of the writers on the site who inspired me to start writing on this site in the first place. Nerdy Jock is okay. I received an email from him last week saying that he has been very busy with school and hasn't had very much free time to write the newest chapter of 'My Bully, My Buddy, and Me.' But he also told me that he may be able to post a year-end chapter, so try to look forward to it if he manages to get it done.

I'm also going to let you all know that it's going to take a little while for the romance and sex to start with this story as well as slowing the development of some characters, so it may take some time for you to connect with the characters. Hope you all can wait for that to happen. Thank you all again for your support with my stories. I hope you enjoy Chapter 3 of 'Is It Possible...?'


Chapter 3

I haven't heard from Adam in a little over a week and it's been a week that's sucked terribly. I can't stop thinking about what happened with Cole, Nate, and Ryan. How did things get so out of hand so quickly? All I did was...oh, right. I called Ryan and Nate faggots and accidently kicked Cole into the coffee table.

I didn't mean to kick Cole. My reflex just kicked in and my lower leg accidently bumped into Cole and it sent him into the coffee table. Now, I feel absolutely horrible. Cole's a great kid and I hurt him and made him cry and I ruined my relationship with Adam as a result. But...why do I keep thinking back to Ryan and Nate?

They're faggots, the weakest of the weak. I had every right to put them in their place. So...why does it hurt to think about them? I mean, yeah, they're good guys and they had a lot of masculinity to them, but...they're faggots! Why am I thinking like this?! Why can't I stop thinking about what I said to them and why does it hurt to think about it?!

I don't have time to think about this. I need to get to Toyota Sports Center for my first practice. Pulling myself out of the bed I've spent the better part of a week in, only getting out to go to the gym, the bathroom, and the shower, I gather my gear and head down to the parking garage of my apartment building and drive to the center.

It doesn't take long to get there and I pull my car into a parking spot outside of the center and step out of my car and grab my bag from the trunk. As soon as I close my trunk, I'm met by a microphone being thrust into my face. "Tanner!" says a familiar female voice. "Good to see you again after so long!"

"It's nice to see you as well, Sarah," I reply.

Sarah Guinn, one of the leading reporters for SportsCenter and a woman who loves hockey with a passion. She's a short woman of about five foot two with light brown hair, a slim figure, and big brown eyes. She actually has to hold her arm above her head to get the microphone to my face. I hear the cameraman with her snickering at the gesture.

She giggles a bit before regaining her composure. "So, Tanner," she says. "How are the Kings handling the retirement of former head coach Walter Barker?"

"Coach Barker was a great coach," I say. "He always greeted us by first name whenever we showed up to practice and asked us how we were doing. He always knew what plays we best worked with and we worked well on the ice as a result. It's going to be hard without him."

"About your new head coach, Gregory Natick. I've heard some great things about him and how he worked incredibly well with the Providence Bruins. Do you know anything about Coach Natick?"

I suppress a growl in my throat and take a deep breath. "Coach Natick and I were classmates in high school, but we never really interacted too much. So I'm in the same boat as all of my teammates in knowing about his skill as a coach."

"How do you think the Kings will perform in the upcoming season? Last season, the Kings were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs."

"The team is looking a lot better this season, so we're planning on taking the Stanley Cup away from every other team out there. I wish I could say more, but I need to get to practice."

"No problem. Good luck to the Kings."

Sarah and her cameraman walk to their news van and I continue walking to the sports center. I quickly get down to the ground floor and walk into the locker room, where I find several of my teammates already here. "Hello, droog," Vladimir says to me as I walk in.

"Hey, Vladimir," I reply, taking the locker next to his. "You ready for practice today?"

"As always, droog. The ice is my home, and I've been away from home for far too long."

"You and me both, Vlad." We look behind Vladimir and see Gunnar, starting to slip off his shirt. Vladimir and I follow his lead and start to change into our practice gear. "Are you okay, Tanner? You seem a little down."

Is it that noticeable? "I guess I am a little bit," I reply.

"Is something the matter, droog?" Vladimir asks.

"Yeah, my friend and I got into a huge fight and it ended with him moving out of my apartment. Now, it's pretty lonely being in there all by myself."

"I am sorry to hear that, droog. I would gladly help to keep you company, but Eva would wonder why I would be spending more time with you than her."

Eva is Vladimir's wife of seven years now. She's also of Russian descent, but as lived in the United States her whole life and is a year younger than Vladimir. "It's the same with me," Gunnar says. "Amanda and I just moved into an apartment together and we're very happy. Sorry, Tanner."

Amanda is Gunnar's girlfriend of two and a half years now and things have been going very well for the two of them. "No worries," I say. "I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with my friend."

We get back to changing into our practice uniforms and skates and head to the rink once we have on all of our gear, most of the team still in the process of changing. The three of us walk through the tunnel to the rink and a bright light and a blast of cold air meets us. As soon as we step out of the tunnel, I feel myself smile.

I gaze out at the freshly resurfaces ice and the bright lights that reflect off the surface. With the two goals on both sides of the rink, bright blue and red lines across the ice and the freezing cold air surrounding me, I feel at peace. "Good, you three are early," says a voice to our right.

Vladimir, Gunnar, and I turn and look at the bench area and find Greg sitting on the bench, a notebook and pen in front of him. His black hair is still slicked back, but instead of the suit he was wearing last week, he's now in a sweatshirt and jeans that fit him just right, a stark contrast to the clothes he wore in high school.

Greg sets his notebook down on the bench, stands up and turns to us. "Tanner," Greg says to me. "You have laps to skate. Fifty of them, in case you forgot. Try to make it quick. Gunnar and Vladimir, take this extra time to stretch out and get ready for practice."

I quietly sigh to myself and step out onto the ice, feeling the slick surface beneath my skates but to me it's as solid as concrete. I turn to my left and start on my laps, feeling the returning sense of the ice underneath the blades of my skates. After a lap, I start to fall back into my rhythm, getting the feeling I've missed for so long.

My body wants the burn in my legs, my skin of my face wants to feel the cold air, and my brain wants the adrenaline rush. So that's just what I give myself. I push myself even harder and pick up my speed, giving my body everything it wants. I continue to move faster, letting the world of the ice take me back.

As I keep circling the rink, a voice brings me back. "Tanner! You passed fifty laps seven laps ago!"

I look over in the direction of the bench and see Greg standing there with his arms crossed over his chest and the rest of the team standing on the other side of the rick, a few of them snickering. I cross the ice and slide to a stop amongst my teammates and we all turn to Greg for his instruction.

He takes in a deep breath and looks out at the team. "I appreciate you all being here on time for our first practice of the season," he says. "I take it you've all stretched out in preparation?" I see a few nods. "Good. Seeing as it's early August now, we have two months left to train until the start of the new season and we have a lot to work on.

"Today, we're going to focus on defense and how we can strengthen it. Not to worry, offensive players. You're going to get secondary training from trying to get past the defense. But the Kings' defense is lacking and we need to reduce the amount of goals allowed a game by at least two.

"So we're going to break up the defense into two teams of four, mixing up our starting and backup defensemen. Alex, Jacques, Ken, and Bobby are on one team, while Mike, Dmitri, Cameron, and Nolan are on the other. Alex's team will defend first and Bradley will be in goal. Everyone else, stand in the bench area and just observe."

"Well, who's going to try and get past us?" asks Bobby.

"I thought you'd never ask." Greg turns toward his left, in the direction of the second tunnel that leads to the ice, raises his hand to his mouth and whistles loudly. "Lucas! Stefan! Mikhail! Come on out!"

The team looks in the same direction as Greg and we see three other players step out of the tunnel and skate onto the ice, all three of them wearing practice outfits as well, but in a bright gold as opposed to the regulation black everyone on the Kings wears. And...they all look like they're fresh out of high school. Greg steps out of the benched area and walks across the ice toward the three players.

I'm actually surprised to see that Greg has completely stable footing as he walks. He steps up to the three skaters and gives them all a solid pat on the shoulder, which they all grin at. Greg turns back to the team. "These three will be the ones that will getting past you," he says.

"Who are they?" calls out Marcus Harper, a backup forward.

"These three young men are Lucas Kinsley, Stefan Walter, and Mikhail Shigin," Greg explains. "They were my three starting forwards when I was working with the Providence Bruins and all three are 19 years old. They are all expected to be recruited by the Bruins after the upcoming AHL season, so get ready when they join the NHL next season."

The team and I stare down the three young players. But while we expect at least a look of fear, nervousness, or even anger, we don't get any. All we get are three, smiling college-aged guys who look ready to play. "Boys," Greg says to the three boys. "You know what to do, right?"

"Yes, Coach Natick!" all three boys sound off.

"The go and get into position. Same for the five names I already said. Everyone else, in the bench."

The first team of defensemen and Bradley skate over to their positions while the three boys skate to the opposite side of the rink. The rest of the team and myself step into the bench area and Greg stands on the ice, arms still crossed over his large chest. "Everybody ready?" he calls out, a bellowing yell.

"Ready!" everyone calls back.

Greg produces a fresh hockey puck from the pocket of his sweatshirt and slides over in the direction of the boys, who are standing not even three feet apart from one another and Lucas nuzzles the puck against his stick. Greg turns back to the rest of us, his eyes dead serious. "Pay attention, offense," he says. "What those three boys do, you're all going to learn to do by the time the season starts."

He looks back out at the ice. "Boys!" he calls out. "Whenever you feel like it!"

All of a sudden, the happy-go-lucky expressions the three boys have on their faces shift to looks of pure rage and hatred. Lucas takes the puck and turns back toward the goal on their side of the ice, Stefan and Mikhail following behind him. All three boys skate behind the second net and stand in silence for several seconds.

And then all hell breaks loose. The boys seem to explode out from behind the net, Stefan and Mikhail in front, Lucas behind them keeping the puck under control. They skate toward the center line at a great rate of speed and Jacques and Ken, who are both about six foot five, taller than all three boys by about half a foot, come to meet them.

But when I think Stefan and Mikhail are going to slow down or are going to try and avoid the two hulking men, they only pick up their speed. I pay attention to Stefan, who has a look on his face that can kill. He charges toward Jacques and just when I think that Stefan is going to crash into the defenseman and fall flat on his ass, the exact opposite happens.

Stefan suddenly lowers his shoulder and gives his skate a hard kick into the ice, getting a bit more thrust. Stefan's shoulder rams right into the center of Jacques' chest and I hear the wind being forced out of his lungs. Jacques goes flying back and hits the ice hard on his back, his helmet bouncing off the hard surface once.

Holy shit. That kid just took down someone who was easily thirty pounds heavier than him. Turning away from the surprising hit, I see Mikhail's on a collision course for Ken, the same expression I saw from Stefan on his face. But just when I think we're going to see two bodies collide into one another, Mikhail suddenly changes tactics.

He suddenly lowers his entire upper body and starts to spin to the left. His body rotates around once and his skates stop on the ice and Ken is just a few feet away now. All of a sudden, Mikhail's body explodes off the ice in the form of a powerful jump and he brings his legs up high, forcing his head very close to the ice.

Ken quickly dives for the ice to avoid the bladed skates of Mikhail, but Mikhail's skates aren't even close to Ken's head. Mikhail gets his feet down under him and lands back on his skates with a quick spin, leaving the path clear for Lucas, who is still casually handling the puck with his stick.

When I think Lucas is going to try and take it to the net, he suddenly places the head of the stick in front of the puck and stops the puck where it stands, but Lucas keeps charging forward toward Alex and Bobby, his mouth grinning and his eyes wide with excitement. Bobby and Alex prepare themselves for Lucas, but it distracts them from the real threat.

Stefan has already blown past Jacques with little trouble and it seems like he wants a bit more blood. The kid charges straight for Bobby, who's too distracted by Lucas to notice him. Mikhail takes control of the puck and takes over where Lucas left off. When I think Lucas is headed right for Alex, he suddenly darts right and taps the ice three times with his stick in the direction of Mikhail.

Mikhail sends a swift pass across the ice and it lands right in the sweet sport of Lucas' stick. Mikhail goes for the left side of the rink and I see Jacques and Ken starting to rise off the ice from their respective scenarios. Stefan quickly turns his attention away from the two defensemen in front of the net and skates behind the net, but not without attracting the attention of Bobby, who breaks away from his position.

I look back to Lucas and I see him slide the edge of the stick underneath the puck and with a strong flick, sends it across the rink in the direction of Mikhail, whom I see is the target of Jacques. The puck flips through the air and lands just to the right of Mikhail, but he doesn't take control of the puck.

He slaps the frozen rubber across the rink with so much force, I lose track of the puck for a second. The puck sails across the ice and to the upper left corner of the rink, where Stefan has magically appeared with Bobby not far behind him. Mikhail brings his stick down toward the oncoming puck and sends it right to the middle of the attacking zone, where I don't see a single player.

Then, appearing like a ghost, Lucas skates into the path of the oncoming puck, his stick already wound up behind him. Just as the puck slides in front of him, Lucas' stick moves at a blinding speed toward the puck, causing a slap that sounds almost like a gun going off. The puck flies off the ice, right for the net.

Alex tries to dive in the way of the puck, but he doesn't move fast enough, and Bradley tries to get his glove up in time to try and snag it, but not even our veteran goalie can stop a bullet. The puck flies right into the back of the net and the net ripples at the puck crashing into it. There's complete silence for a second before all three boys cheer at the top of their lungs.

Stefan and Mikhail convene on Lucas, who awaits his teammates with open arms. The team stands in complete shock. Three nineteen-year-old boys just broke through four NHL defensemen and a goalie like they were nothing. "Great work, boys!" Greg yells. "Everyone, bring it in!"

All the players on the ice skate in the direction of Greg and Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail stop closer to Greg than anyone. "Now, I'm going to ask you all one question," Greg says. "What just happened?"

The team stands in silence for several moments before I decide to speak up. "They scored," I say.

Greg glances at me. "That's right," Greg says. "Three AFL players, teenagers nonetheless, scored a goal in less than a minute on five veteran NHL players, all of which have been playing NHL hockey for over five years now." He looks over at the five players that were just on the ice, who still seem to be in a state of shock. "Maybe a little bit of extra explanation about these three boys is in order."

He moves over next to Stefan, who's about five foot eleven with light brown hair and square jaw, and pats his hand on his shoulder. "Stefan Walter, 19 years old, raised in Germany until he was 14. At 12, he won the German national wrestling competition, a competition reserved for boys 16 and older and every match was won by pin. Hockey was originally a hobby for him, until he found out that he could hit people with no holds barred."

He moves over one step and gives Mikhail, who's the same height as Stefan, but with dark hair and a thin, angular face, a good pat on the shoulder. "Mikhail Shigin, 19 years old, raised in Russia until the age of 15. A former figure skater, he won the Russian Figure Skating Championship three years in a row thanks to his speed, dexterity, and agility before he decided to pick up hockey, which he's only been playing for four years."

There's one last shoulder left, and Greg gives this one an extra pat. "Lucas Kinsley, 19 years old, born and raised in Canada his whole life before joining the AHL. He picked up his first hockey stick when he was six months old, learned to skate before he could walk, and has been playing hockey since he was 3. At 16, Lucas became the number one youth hockey player in all of Canada and, at 18, helped bring home a silver medal in hockey at the 2022 Winter Olympics."

Lucas, the tallest of the three at maybe six feet tall, blushes at Greg's words. I thought the kid looked familiar, with the dirty blonde hair and missing canine tooth. I remember seeing him a few times when I was watching the Winter Olympics last year (I would've been part of the U.S. team had I not sprained my ankle just before trials).

The team and I continue to stand in silence while the three boys continue to smile up at us. "These three boys will be huge threats next season," Greg says. "You've only gotten a taste of what they can do together. Last season, the three of them combined scored 435 goals, 145 goals each, and earned 1092 points between all three of them. Every game they played in they won by at least fourteen points and in the playoff championship last season, they were forced to call the game because these three scored twenty-two goals in the first period.

"All three of these boys had been playing with the Providence Bruins for a year before I became head coach. Before I joined, these boys were lucky to score two goals a game, no offense, boys."

"None taken, Coach Natick," Mikhail replies.

"When I saw their strengths, I immediately put them together and in the very next game, they scored 12 goals. I helped turn these young players into powerhouses, and I plan on doing the same for all of you. I'm rebuilding this team from the ice up, forming it into one that will be a force to be reckoned with. I'm going to turn you all into the most feared team in the NHL."

While my teammates glance at one another, I continue to stare at Greg. He's so...confident, affirmative, and, dare I say it, masculine. Where's the small, skinny kid I remember from high school? The guy that couldn't look anyone in the eye and who never spoke more than a word a day?

Greg claps his hands together once, getting all of our attention again. "Okay! Next group, get on the ice, and we're going to put Chad in goal instead of Bradley this time. Get to it."

Mike, Dmitri, Cameron, Nolan, and Chad all skate onto the ice while Lucas, Stefan and Mikhail get back into their position. The result is much the same. Stefan takes down Nolan without any problem and checks Dmitri to the ice as soon as he takes care of Nolan. Mikhail skates around Cameron and Mike, creating a perfect diversion while Lucas handles the puck. With a sharp pass to Stefan, another pass to Lucas, and a final shot by Mikhail, the puck is in the back of the net once again.

All the players skate back to the benched area, where Greg remains unchanged. "It's not as easy as it looks, is it?" he asks. My teammates shake their heads. "Don't let it get you down. These boys are above and beyond the average player, so they're going to get by you more often than not. Just focus on the next time they try to score again. First group, back on the ice."


About an hour and many checks, jumps (on Mikhail's part), passes, blocks, goals, and saves later, the defensemen, goalies, and the three boys are back at the bench, all of them sweaty and out of breath. "Good work, gentlemen," Greg says to my teammates. He turns toward the three boys. "Boys, you can take a quick rest. Be sure to drink plenty of water."

Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail all nod and step inside the bench area and walk over to the available water cooler. "Group one," Greg continues. "Grab a quick drink, then you're back on the ice. But you're not going up against the boys again." He turns toward the rest of us, who haven't even moved from the bench area since the start of practice. "Vladimir, Gunnar, and Tanner. Stretch out quickly and get on the ice. You're taking Lucas, Mikhail, and Stefan's place."

My heart races at finally being able to get on the ice and it looks like Vladimir and Gunnar have the same feeling I do. The first group gets back on the ice while Vladimir, Gunnar, and I quickly stretch out our arms and legs before getting on the ice. We skate to the other side of the rink and turn and face the five other players.

I glance between Vladimir and Gunnar. "2 to 1 with interlacing passes?" I ask.

"Sounds good to me, droog," Vladimir says.

"Me too," Gunnar says.

"The rule is the same as before!" Greg calls to us. "Just try and get the puck into the goal by any clean means necessary! If I see one player get hurt, the player's ass that hurt him will be mine!"

I swallow the laugh that rises in my throat at Greg's choice of words. I'm the only person on the team that knows Greg's gay. I'm not really sure how everyone else will take it, but I know I'm not a fan of it. Greg grabs a fresh puck and slides it in my direction and I secure the puck against the head of my stick.

The three of us turn and stare down our teammates, who seem incredibly pissed off. Securing my stick in my hands, I tap it against the ice twice before kicking the puck forward with my skate. Vladimir, Gunnar, and I take off down the ice, the puck completely under my control as we make our way toward the defensemen.

While I expect Ken and Jacques to wait for us to arrive so they can handle us as a pair, they suddenly push off their skates and charge toward us, their faces filled with rage. It takes us completely by surprise and we don't have time to react. Ken and Jacques go straight for Vladimir and Gunnar, who I see start to tense up in anticipation of the oncoming hit.

Both Jacques and Ken lower their shoulders and suddenly ram them into Gunnar and Vladimir's chests, sending them both down to the ice. And I'm suddenly alone to take on Bobby, Alex, and Bradley. Bobby comes charging toward me, just like Jacques and Ken did for Vladimir and Gunnar, but I'm ready for him.

I suddenly dart to the right to try and escape the oncoming defenseman, but Bobby follows my movement, his eyes locked on me. If I want to get this puck into the net, I'm going to need to shake Bobby off me, and I think I have a way to do it. I continue skating toward the boards, Bobby descending on me for a check into the boards.

But as I get close to the boards, my skates quickly turn to the left and I stop almost on a dime. Bobby, not expecting me to stop so suddenly, can't stop in time and skates into the boards full force. I turn back around and start to lead the puck back in the direction of the net, but I suddenly crash into a brick shithouse.

Alex has appeared out of nowhere and is currently in the process of using all of his body to stop me. I can't even move as this mountain of a man forces his body against mine. And a second later, my body crashes into the boards, my helmet covered head colliding with the glass above the boards and I slide to the ice in a heap.

It takes me a second to get my eyes back into focus, and I see Alex kneeling in front of me, his face looking concerned. "Lisus, Tanner," he says, using the Russian pronunciation of Jesus. "Are you okay? I didn't mean to hit you so hard. It just...happened."

I shake my head out a bit. "Yeah, I'm fine," I say. "Great hit, by the way."

Alex smiles and holds out a gloved hand, which I take and he helps me back up to my feet. "And that is what I was looking for."

Alex and I turn and see Greg standing next to us, his arms still crossed over his chest. The other three defensemen, and Gunnar and Vladimir, who seem to be in a similar state of recovering from a hard hit, skate over to us. "What?" I say. "Alex checking me into the boards so hard I blacked out for a split second?"

"Somewhat," Greg replies with a satisfied look that kind of pisses me off. "But what I really wanted to see the defensemen to take the initiative and be committed to a hit. From the videos of the past few seasons, I've seen the Kings' defense wait for the opponents to approach them rather than the players go to the opponents.

"This allowed the opponents enough time to adjust their playing style and let them get by our defensemen and score. What I wanted to do with Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail was to get the defensemen to burst out of their protective shells and to get them to take down the opponent before they had a chance to try and get past you."

Greg turns and looks up at Alex. "Alex, what were you feeling when you checked Tanner?"

"Um...very angry, I guess. I didn't want another goal scored."

"And that's what I was looking for as well. I want all the defensemen to feel angry toward their opponents and to come at them ready to kill. That's why I brought in Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail. Stefan has strength, Mikhail has speed and dexterity, and Lucas has precision. Those are some of the best skills players can have in hockey. And I want the defensemen to be able to stop all of these skills on the ice.

"Alex, you know that Tanner has a good amount of speed, strength, and precision, right?"

"I do. That is why he is the captain."

"And what is it you just did not two minutes ago?"

"I stopped him."

"You stopped him like he was a newcomer to the game. You took down Tanner, the captain of the L.A. Kings, without any hesitation, all while making sure that you could get a clean hit. Can I ask you if you've ever done something like that ever since you and Tanner started playing together?"

Alex looks down at the ice in thought for a second. I see his eyes widen a bit before looking back at Greg. "I have only stopped him once before, and that was only when I slipped on the ice and slid into his legs."

"And this time, you were able to stop him all on your own." Greg looks to Bobby, Ken, and Jacques. "Jacques and Ken, you were able to stop Vladimir and Gunnar without any problems, right?"

"Yes," Jacques says, his French-Canadian accent coming out. "I was able to knock Gunnar to the ice as if he were someone half his weight."

"Same with me," Ken says. "Vladimir's a big guy, but I didn't even feel him when I ran into him."

"Bobby," Greg says. "I know you saw the boards when you were chasing after Tanner. Did you care about yourself in any way?"

"No," Bobby replies. "I was only focused on getting the puck back. I didn't even think about the boards."

"And Alex," Greg continues. "What did you feel when you took down Tanner?"

"Satisfaction beyond words at being able to take down my opponent," Alex says.

"Me too," Ken says.

"Me as well," says Jacques.

"And those are the traits I want to see out of all of my defensemen," Greg says. "No hesitation, unbeatable strength, and a deep pool of anger. This is just day one of practice and you four have improved so much from last season. If you keep it up, you're going to be unstoppable during the season. I want you all to strive to achieve that feeling of satisfaction at taking down your opponent that Alex had."

The defensemen look between one another, all of them with a look of determination that I've never seen on any of them before. "We still have another few hours of practice left," Greg says. "Let's get the second defense team and a new set of offensive players and we'll go from there."


About six hours later, I'm dead tired and everyone else is as well. The defensemen got the hardest workout of all of us and are currently in various states of collapse on the locker room floor. The rest of us are seated on the locker room benches, trying to catch our breath and rehydrate.

I take another long drink of water and lean my sweat-covered head back against a cool locker. "Some practice, eh, droog?"

Vladimir is sitting on my right with two empty water bottles in front of him and a third one in his hand. "No kidding, Vladimir," I reply. "I don't think Coach Barker ever pushed us that hard during our first practice of the season."

"You're telling me," Gunnar says on my left. "And we have practice tomorrow too, so that's great."

The three of us go back to sitting in silence and nursing our waters. After another minute, Greg walks into the locker room with Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail wait him, the three boys looking like they're on top of the world. "Good practice, gentlemen," Greg says as he gets to the middle of the locker room.

All he gets is response is a grunt from all of us. "I know I pushed you a little harder than what you're used to, but practice is only going to get harder from here. Seeing as how hard you all worked today, there will be no practice tomorrow and we will resume practice on Monday."

There's a collective sigh of relief at getting an extra day off from practice. "Be sure to take care of yourselves over the weekend and make sure you don't get any cramps or anything like that," Greg says. "Try to keep moving and be ready for practice next Monday. And in two weeks from today, we're going on a little field trip so don't bring your usual gear.

"Instead, basic workout gear is fine. I have a friend who's going to help improve your speed, agility, and strength. Although we're going to be working on solid ground instead of ice, the results will help to make you faster on the ice. So be ready for it. I'll send out an email to all of you with more details on the field trip over the weekend.

"I hope you all have a relaxing weekend." Greg turns to the three boys, smiling a bit. "Okay, boys. Now that practice is over, you have my permission to drop the professional persona."

Huh? I look at Lucas, Stefan, and Mikhail and within a second, their faces stretch into full-blown grins. The boys suddenly drop their sticks and rush around the room, each of them speaking a mile a minute. It takes me a second to put everything together. Even though they're AFL players, it's easy to forget they're still teenagers, and these teenagers are in the same room as players they've looked up to since they were kids.

The boys continue to buzz around the locker room, their faces lit with excitement and joy. I take another sip of water and I hear a pair of feet stop in front of me. I find Lucas standing in front of me, a large grin on his face. "Mr. White!" he says. "God, I've been a fan of yours ever since I was 15 years old! It's an honor to meet you!"

I smile up at the kid and hold my hand out to him. "The pleasure is mine, Lucas," I say. "And you can call me Tanner. You're a freaking beast out there on the ice."

Lucas blushes at the compliment and takes my hand, giving it a good shake. From Lucas' sides, I see Stefan and Mikhail appear as well, Mikhail in front of Vladimir and Stefan in front of Gunnar. Mikhail and Vladimir start a conversation I don't understand (they're speaking in Russian, and the only Russian words I know are 'droog' and 'vodka'). Stefan and Gunnar exchange compliments with one another and I notice that Stefan is just as cordial as Gunnar.

I continue to talk with the boys, but while I pay most of my attention to them, I feel something making me look away from them, and he's currently standing off to the side of the locker room with his phone in his hand. Why am I even looking at Greg? I can't stand the little faggot...well, he's not so little anymore, but you see my point.

But why can't I seem to not look at him? Even during practice, I found myself glancing in Greg's direction more times than I wanted to. Maybe it's because I haven't seen him in more than ten years and I might be making up for lost time? And even though I know he's the same Greg I know from high school, I don't feel any urge to try and insult him anymore.

What's going on with me? Why is it whenever I'm around Greg, I do things I wouldn't normally do? "Boys, I'm afraid I'm going to need to cut the meet and greet a little short."

Greg suddenly appears behind the boys. "Aw," Lucas whines. "C'mon, Coach Natick. Can't we stay just a few minutes more?"

"Sorry, boys. I need to get you back to your hotel. You three have an early flight back to Providence tomorrow morning, and I can't let the stars of my old team miss their flight."

"Do we at least have time for autographs?" Stefan asks.

Greg glances down at the watch on his wrist. He looks back at the boys and smiles. "You have two minutes. Better make it fast."

The boys jump, produce pens from their bags, and start rushing around the room again, all three of them offering their sticks as their mediums for the autographs. But I'm too distracted by something else to notice the boys: my racing heart. Why is my heart beating so fast? All Greg did was smile, a smile filled with perfect white teeth and genuine warmth.

My head shakes vigorously at trying to shake the thoughts from it. What the hell is going on with me? My heart won't slow down, my face must be beet red, my palms are sweating, and I'm struggling to catch my breath. I've never been like this in my whole life. Am I sick or something? Is something wrong with me?

As I feel myself starting to get a bit scared, something falls on my knee. "Tanner? Are you okay? You look like you're going to pass out."

The voice in front of me manages to calm me down a little. I look up a bit and am met by two amber eyes filled with worry. Why does Greg seem so concerned for me? And why am I starting to feel better? "Y-Yeah," I stutter. "I...guess I was a bit more tired than I thought."

"Hold on." Greg reaches into his back jeans pocket and pulls out a small orange packet that's probably the size of half my pinky finger. He snaps the package in two and holds it in front of my face. "Breathe in deeply."

I take in a deep breath and it feels like my mind is a lot more awake than it was a minute ago. The sudden invigoration makes me shake my head out even more. "What the hell was that?" I ask.

"They're a lighter version of smelling salts that are used to make someone who's on the verge of passing out come back to reality," Greg replies. "I keep a few in my pocket along with a few regular packets of smelling salts in case someone's knocked out on the ice or needs a bit of waking up during practice or a game."

This guy's...incredibly prepared. "Are you doing okay now?" Greg asks.

"Y-Yeah," I say. "Thanks for the help."

Greg gives me a nod before stepping back. And as soon as he does, the three boys swoop in front of me, all thrusting their hockey sticks and pens in my face. God, they're as eager as puppies. I take the pen and quickly sign the hockey sticks, earning more grins from all three boys.

Once they get my autograph, they step back and admire their now autograph covered sticks. "Okay, boys," Greg says. "You've got your autographs. Now, I need to get you back to your hotel."

The boys nod and Greg starts to lead them toward the exit. But before they leave, the boys turn back toward all of us, still smiling. "Thank you for having us!" Mikhail says, sounding almost like a soldier.

"It was a pleasure to work with you!" Stefan says next.

"We'll see you again on the ice next year!" Lucas says.

The boys turn and continue to follow Greg until they're out of sight. "Those boys are going to be trouble for us next year," Gunnar says.

"They're still a bit green, but I can see bright futures for all of them," says Vladimir.

As much as I want to say something, I find my tongue tied and my mind still thinking about Greg.


About thirty minutes later, I'm showered and dressed and driving through the city of Los Angeles, looking for my next destination. With my day tomorrow being free, I'm planning on kicking a few back and spending the night watching some games. But doing that alone is a bit pitiful, so I'm heading to my favorite bar.

I'm lucky enough to find a parking spot just outside the bar. I park and lock my car and walk in the front doors of Get The Puck Out. Get The Puck Out is a popular sports-themed bar that's been open for about five years now. It's about three thousand square feet, a good size for a bar, with mounted TV's set up all around the bar, dozens of sports memorabilia, and yes, a wide selection of beer and liquor.

I slip off my sunglasses and gaze around the bar, which is already filled with a healthy number of people. "There he is!"

The voice came from the bar and I look over and see a familiar head of dark red hair that's been dyed an even darker over the years to make it look flame red. "Hey, A.J.!" I call.

I cross the bar, giving a few familiar patrons some slaps on the shoulder, and take a seat at a stool in front of the bar counter. A.J. sets the glass he was cleaning down in front of him and he gives me a greeting high-five. "Tough first day of practice?" he asks.

"Insane," I say. "I thought I was going to collapse at some point."

A.J. grins and turns back toward the bar's kitchen. "Hey, Ulrich! Our favorite hockey player's here!"

There's a loud bang of a pan hitting the floor and a set of rushing footsteps. Ulrich steps out of the kitchen door connected to the back of the bar with an apron around his waist. "Hey, Tanner!" he says, a few spots of food on his t-shirt.

Ulrich steps to A.J.'s side and looks at me. Yes, Get The Puck Out is A.J. and Ulrich's bar. The two attended USC together and decided to go into business together after they graduated. Get The Puck Out had a huge opening, with word going around the city that there was a new bar that often had famous hockey players in its doors.

The bar is also a great place to bring family and friends, offering a family friendly atmosphere all day, all while catering to the drinking age crowd at night thanks to the large dance floor inside the bar and the constant booking of popular DJ's. Ulrich and A.J. are co-owners with A.J. working the front of the house as head bartender and Ulrich working the back as head chef. They split the paperwork, which is the part of the job they both despise.

The two have stayed much the same since high school, save for A.J.'s hair, but just look a bit older. They've both stayed in shape over the years, despite both of them choosing not to play competitive hockey in college

A.J. claps his hands together. "So what'll it be, dude? You want something stronger tonight?"

"You just want more of my money with a more expensive drink," I say with a laugh. "Just a Bud Light is good."

A.J. makes a pouting face and grabs a fresh glass and quickly fills it with ice-cold beer and places it in front of me. I pull a few bills and my car keys out of my pocket and hand them to A.J. "Planning on a drinking a few more than usual?" he asks.

"No practice tomorrow, so I'm free to do what I want all weekend," I say. "Ulrich, can I get an order of sliders?"

"I'll get Dominic right on that," he says, talking about one of his chefs. "Then I'm taking my break."

Ulrich walks back to the kitchen, calls out my order, then walks back out without his apron. A.J. places a glass of water in on the counter and A.J. takes a seat to my right with a sigh. "Thanks," he says, taking a long drink from the water.

"Aren't workers not allowed to sit with the customers?" I ask.

"My bar, my rules, bitch," Ulrich says, taking another drink from his water.

I laugh and take a few gulps of my beer. "Just what I needed," I say, setting my beer back down.

"So how've the last two weeks been, asshole?" A.J. asks. "You haven't been in since we had that drunk girl escorted from the bar."

"Sorry," I say. "Things have just been a bit crazy for me. First off, a little over a week ago my roommate and I had a huge fight and he moved out."

"Dude, that sucks," Ulrich says. "What happened?"

I take in a deep breath and slowly let it out. "Well, his brother came over for dinner one night and brought his son with him and another friend. Everything was going really well until I accidently heard that his brother was gay and his friend was his husband. Then...things kind of went downhill from there.

"I acted like an asshole and called my roommate's brother and brother in law faggots and told them to get out of my apartment. Then my roommate's nephew came up to me and told me not to make fun of his dads and punched me in the knee, right where the doctor hits you to test for your reflex.

"My reflex kicked in and I accidently bumped the kid into my coffee table and he got a small cut because of it. My roommate went all Hulk on me and almost punched my lights out when his brother stopped me. Two days later, all of his stuff was out and I haven't spoken to him since."

A.J. and Ulrich both slap their hands against their foreheads, confusing me a bit. "That stupid philosophy of yours again, wasn't it?" A.J. asks.

"For the last time, it's not stupid," I defensively say.

"Well, it's probably the reason you acted like such a douche with your roommate's brother and brother in law," Ulrich says. "You've always thought that if someone wasn't a muscle-filled, perfect-looking, man's man, then they're beneath you. You think that because a man is attracted to other men, then that qualifies in your book as weak."

"Exactly," A.J. says. "You think that being gay makes someone weaker than they really are, even if they're one of the strongest people you've ever met."

"And I thought I came in here to hang out with my best friends, not get lectured," I say.

"We're just trying to help you to understand that you were in the wrong, Tanner," Ulrich says. "Think about how your roommate felt when you insulted his brothers. How would you have felt had your brother or sister been insulted for something they can't change?"

I think it over for a minute. "I guess I would be pretty pissed."

"And that was the same type of situation your roommate was in when you put him in it," A.J. says. "If I were you, I would try to understand that gay people and straight people are no different when it comes to things like masculinity. There are feminine straight guys, masculine straight guys, feminine gay guys, and masculine gay guys, and guys of both sexual orientations in between all over the world."

I take another gulp of my beer and mull it over for another minute. "I'll think about it," I say.

"That's good enough for me," Ulrich says. "So what else is going on in the wonderful world of Tanner White?"

"If you mean bombshell, I've got one for you," I say. "You know how Coach Barker announced his retirement?"

"Yeah, we heard it on SportsCenter today," A.J. says. He quickly leaves for a few seconds to get another customer a beer before returning. "Are they going to announce your new head coach soon?"

"I'll announce it right now to you two. It's Greg."

It takes a second, but both of their mouths hit the counter. "Gregory Natick?!" Ulrich says. "Our classmate from high school?!"

"The same one," I say.

"Holy shit!" A.J. says. "I haven't about him since we graduated high school! He just about dropped off the face of the earth after graduation day! How has he been?"

"I'll tell you this," I say. "He's not the same guy we went to high school with."

I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone and go to my pictures, find the right one I snapped a few days ago while I was at the gym. I turn my phone to my friends and they both look at the picture. The picture was of when Greg was once again going hard on one of Rock's treadmills, his shirtless, rock-hard body glistening with sweat.

I get two more dropped jaws from my best friends. "There's no way that's Gregory," says Ulrich.

"It is," I say. "I've talked to him a few times and he remembered everything that happened in high school."

"Including the explosion?" asks A.J.

I nod a bit, remembering the memory I've spent years trying to forget. "Yeah, including the explosion."

I put my phone back in my pocket and take another drink from my beer. From behind me, I hear the door to the bar open and a voice call out. "A.J.! Ulrich! My schedule is free for the next few days, so get me the coldest beer and the spiciest wings you've got!"

I see A.J. grin widely. "You got it!"

Ulrich rolls his eyes, but grins just as much as A.J. "Guess my break's over."

He takes one more gulp from his water before heading back to the kitchen. A.J. spins back to the beer tap and quickly produces a glass of beer. He turns back around and sets the beer on the counter. In my peripheral vision, I see a thick arm hand A.J. a few bills and a body takes a seat on the stool on my left.

I look over at the guy and feel my eyes widen a bit. This guy is covered in tattoos, with a few poking out of the collar of his shirt and his arms coated in ink, not one bit of bare skin left. I see that he's maybe four or five inches shorter than me with a body that has a good bit of muscle on it, slicked back dirty blonde hair that's buzzed shirt on the sides and in the back, a few earrings in each ear, has a pretty handsome face and is wearing a black t-shirt that's pretty much hugging his upper body and a pair of jeans and boots.

He takes a long drink from his beer and sets it down on the counter. "Perfect," he says. "I may not drink very often, but when I do it's so satisfying."

A.J. laughs with the man. "So you finally got a break from your insane schedule?"

"After almost three months, yeah. Plus, my son's spending the weekend with his mother so he can enjoy some quality time with her."

"And he's...?" A.J. starts to ask.

"In Boston playing a series against the Red Sox. Can you turn one of the TV's to ESPN? I'd love to spend the evening with cold beer, hot wings, good people, and watching him on the mound."

A.J. smiles, produces a remote and turns one of the TV's above the bar to ESPN. I see Fenway Park appear on the TV screen, a baseball game about to start. "Thanks, A.J.," the man says.

"You really love that fiancée of yours, don't you?" A.J. asks.

"More than the world," the man replies.

I see a look of what appears to be love wash over the man next to me, his face looking completely relaxed. "So when's the wedding?" A.J. asks.

"Late December," the man says. "We decided that we wanted a winter wedding, so we're having the ceremony in Lake Tahoe by Emerald Bay."

"Wow," A.J. says. "I went there when I was in college for a snowboarding trip and stopped by Emerald Bay. The place was beautiful."

"We thought so too, so we booked the location and we've already got everything set up for December, now we just need to wait another four and a half months, then I'll be the happiest man in the world."

"By the way," A.J. says. "I'd like to personally introduce you to my longtime friend Tanner White. Tanner, the man to your left is world-renowned artist Zane Mercer."

The man, Zane, turns to me and I see his eyes widen. "You're Tanner White? Holy crap, I feel like I'm sitting next to hockey royalty right now." He holds his hand out to me. "Zane Mercer. I'm a fan."

I smile and take Zane's hand in mine. "Always nice to meet a fan," I say. "I've actually heard of you a few times over the years. Some of my teammates say you're a fantastic artist."

"Fantastic is an understatement," A.J. says. "Zane here can make artists like Picasso and Monet look like preschool finger-painters."

Zane lets out a low laugh. "Don't even compare me to Picasso and Monet. I'm nowhere near as good as them."

A.J. rolls his eyes and goes back to cleaning glasses. "So you're getting married soon?" I ask.

"Yup," Zane says. "I can't wait."

"Congrats. So who's the lucky lady?"

Zane goes silent for a few seconds and glances over at A.J., who shrugs a bit. "I think I'm the lucky one here," Zane says. "I'm finally getting married to the man of my dreams after almost ten years of being with him."

The beer in my mouth chokes me for a second before I manage to swallow it. "Y-You're gay?" I ask. Zane just nods. "B-But I heard you say that your son is spending the weekend with his mother."

"His surrogate mother and my longtime friend from college," Zane replies. "This isn't going to be a problem, is it? I've already had enough situations turn sour because of my sexuality to last a lifetime."

I stare at the brown liquid in my glass for a few moments, biting my inner cheek. "I really don't know," I say. "I've already ruined my relationship with one of my best friends because of how I reacted to his brother and brother in law being gay. This is all new to me."

"Tanner," A.J. says. "I thought you, Ulrich, and I talked about this not even five minutes ago. I know you're hesitant about gay people because you've never really known any, but you have to start to understand that gay people and straight people are only different in their sexual preference.

"Take Zane, for example. Zane's an artist, not the most masculine job in the world, no offense, Zane."

"None taken," Zane says, taking another sip of his beer.

"But he has plenty of skills that you'd probably see as masculine. He can throw a fastball at over 95 miles an hour and get a strike nine times out of ten, he always gets insanely excited whenever he watches a sports game, no matter the sport, he works out four or five times a week to stay healthy and in shape and the results are pretty obvious.

"He's gone under the needle of tattoo machines more times than you can count, so you can't even to imagine the pain he's probably gone through to do all that, he's..."

"Is there a point you telling me all this?" I ask.

"My point is," A.J. continues, "is that while Zane may be gay, he's probably more masculine than a lot of guys I know."

I glance over at Zane again, and see him take another sip of his beer and look back at the TV. "Oh! There he is!"

I look up at the TV and see a player stepping into the batter's box and he holds his bat behind his head. I really don't pay too much attention to other sports, but I've seen this guy in enough commercials and magazine ads to know him. Eric Swanson, star pitcher of the San Francisco Giants and certified masculine man in my book.

The guy is fucking huge, muscles rippling his body in all the right places. He's incredibly handsome too, although his nose is a bit skewed, but with the light brown hair, dark brown eyes, stubble on his cheeks and chin, and always-prevalent smile, it's no wonder why he's in dozens of commercials and magazine ads.

I hear a deep sigh next to me. "He's just as gorgeous as the first day I saw him ten years ago," Zane says.

I nearly choke on my beer for the second time. "Y-You mean...?" I start to ask.

"Jesus Christ, Tanner," A.J. says. "Watch TV or look up the news for once. The whole nation knows that Zane and Eric have been in a relationship since they were in college."

So this guy, this professional baseball player that's one of the best in a long time, is...gay? "One order of sliders and one order of extra spicy wings!"

Two plates are places in front of me and Zane and I see Ulrich take a seat on my right. I take in a deep breath of my slider, savoring the meaty smell, but another smell fills my nose that makes me reel back. "Ulrich," I say, "those aren't your specialty wings, are they?"

"They are," Ulrich says. "Zane's the only guy who can eat them and not shed a tear or even a drop of sweat."

"When you're raised in Texas, you learn to take some heat from some good wings," Zane says, taking a large bite of a wing.

Dear God. I've had Ulrich's specialty wings in the past and I couldn't even make it past two bites. Ulrich came up with the recipe for them when he was still in college and he tested them for the first time with his floor mates in his dorm. He proceeded to send two of them to the hospital because their tongues swelled a bit and one's throat started to close. Ever since, Ulrich has been testing mouths to their limits.

I lean over a bit and take another whiff of the wings, but I can't get any closer to them because it feels like my nose is on fire. But Zane's just eating them like they're mild wings. It's hard to believe a gay guy can take all that pain. I take one of my sliders and quickly devour it in two bites, me not tasting much of it.

My focus goes back to the TV, where Eric is still standing in the batter's box, two balls and a strike against him. The pitcher on the mound winds up and throws a scorching fastball toward the plate. Eric's foot slams down into the dirt and the bat rotates forward at a blinding speed and I hear a loud crack from the speakers.

The ball flies toward the outfield and gets further and further toward the fence, toward the awaiting crowd. The ball flies way past the fence and lands in the upper decks of the outfield, a home run. Eric casually jogs around the bases, a smile on his face. But I can tell it's not a conceited smile. It's a smile that tells me that he's just having fun playing the game.

But as Eric rounds second, I see the shortstop walking in the direction of a jogging Eric. "Oh shit," I hear Zane quietly swear. "Here we go again."

The shortstop of the Red Sox proceeds to ball his fist and throws a wild punch at Eric. Just when I think I'm going to see a player on the ground, I almost drop my second slider back onto my plate. Eric, with lightning fast reflexes, brings his hand up and catches the punch in his hand and proceeds to glare at the shortstop.

From the point of view of the camera, I see the shortstop looking incredibly scared as he looks up at the giant Eric. Umpires rush toward the two players while the other umpires rush toward the dugouts, keeping players from storming the field. The audience starts to boo and a lot of people in the bar start to boo as well.

The umpire proceeds to eject the shortstop and while I expect a lot more booing from the Red Sox crowd, they instead start to cheer for the ejection of the shortstop. I even see Red Sox players on the field applauding the call as well. The shortstop storms off the field and into the dugout, where I see the Red Sox head coach looking incredibly pissed.

The umpire lets Eric continue his circle of the basses, the crowd actually cheering him on and I see the third baseman give Eric a pat on the back as he heads for home, where the catcher is standing there applauding with the crowd. Eric steps on home plate and the crowd erupts in cheers and applause.

Eric takes off his helmet and his cap as well. He waves his hat above his head, which gets more cheers from the crowd and it leaves me very confused. "Why are they cheering?" I ask. "He's on enemy turf."

"It's because he didn't fight back." I look over at Zane, who's looking at the TV with a smile on his face. "They applauding because Eric did the exact opposite of what anyone else would do: he didn't fight the shortstop. Even if they see a player on an opposing team do something that's great, they always appreciate it and that player earns their respect and admiration.

"Eric has been doing that ever since he became a professional baseball player. Players have tried to hurt him on the field several times in the past, throwing wild pitches at him, trying to trip him as he runs for a base, and some, like that shortstop, have even tried to physically attack him. But what does he do to them in return? Nothing.

"Eric may be a big, testosterone-filled baseball player, but he's actually a bit of a pacifist. He doesn't like to fight people, but if he feels that he's in danger, he won't hesitate to let people know they made the biggest mistake of their lives." Zane looks over at me, his smile fading. "You saw how that shortstop looked after he had his punch blocked by Eric, right?"

I nod a bit. "Eric can make people see they made a huge mistake trying to fight him. He doesn't make people know that he can kick their ass blindfolded, but he lets them know that they just destroyed their reputation as a player and will probably face fines and even suspension from the game."

"But why do players fight him in the first place?" I ask. "Did he do something wrong to them?"

"Eric didn't do anything to the players," Zane says. "They're trying to hurt Eric because he's gay." Zane sets the bone in his hands down on the plate and wipes his hand on a napkin. "That's the one thing you don't understand, Tanner. Eric's had to struggle to show that he belongs in the Major League, show people that, even though he's gay, he can play like you wouldn't believe."

"So that crowd and the players are cheering for him because they're accepting him as a player?"

Zane nods and smiles a bit. "You're starting to get it. A lot of those people in the crowd were actually booing at first because Eric got a home run. They were actually expecting Eric to fight the shortstop, but Eric didn't. He earned that crowd and the Red Sox's respect for not fighting. And that gesture to the crowd with his cap? That was a thank you from Eric for the cheering and for accepting him as a player and as a person.

"They're seeing that Eric being gay isn't affecting him as a person and he's just a great baseball player, not 'that gay baseball player.' Tanner, if I were you, I'd try to start to understand that while gay people and straight people have different preferences when it comes to being with someone, they're all people.

"Maybe you could follow a gay person for a day and see how they live their life. You'll see that we do the same things straight people do: go to the gym, pick up groceries, work jobs, a lot of us are actually pretty boring."

Zane laughs a bit and picks up his beer. "Think about it, Tanner. Maybe it'll help you to understand things a little more." Zane downs the rest of his beer and sets the glass back down on the counter. "A.J., can I get another beer?"

"No problem."

A.J. takes Zane's glass and quickly washes it out before going and filling up the glass with fresh beer. "I need to get back to the kitchen," Ulrich says. "It's close to 7:00, so the dinner rush is going to start coming in." And sure enough, about a dozen fresh faces walk into the bar. "Yup, work, work, work..."

Ulrich hops off his stool and walks back to the kitchen. A.J. sets the fresh glass of beer in front of Zane, who hands A.J. a few more bills. A.J. goes to take care of the new customers and to help another bartender, leaving Zane and me alone. As I start to mull Zane's advice over, I smell something incredibly spicy fill my nose.

I cough a few times and I look to my left and see that Zane's holding out a glistening red wing. "Want one?" he asks. "They're really freaking good."

It's been a while since I've tried Ulrich's wings, so I think 'what the hell...?' "Thanks," I say, taking the wing from Zane.

I stare at the wing in front of me for several moments, already feeling sweat on my forehead, before I take a large bite out of it. It's not even two seconds before it feels like I've eaten napalm. I manage to swallow the meat, although I can't even feel myself swallowing it, before grabbing my beer and chugging it, trying to relinquish the burn on my tongue.

Zane laughs at my misery. "I knew that would happen!" he says, still laughing.

I try to say 'fuck you' to him, but it comes out as "Phuuk oou!"

Zane keeps laughing while I keep trying to get the burning to stop, with Zane, A.J. and several other customers around me laughing.



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