Taking in a deep breath, I rise off my bed early the next morning with a bit of a headache and a light burning sensation in my mouth. I guess I had one too many last night and that second wing was a bad choice on my part. I better thank A.J. for calling me that taxi and Ulrich for driving my car back to my apartment building and helping me up to my apartment.
With a yawn, I slip out of bed and walk to the bathroom, quickly taking my morning piss and looking in the mirror. I have some light bags under my eyes, but I think it's just an effect of the beer I drank last night. At least I can remember everything that happened, even me heading to the bar's bathroom for a minute to ease my nauseous stomach.
It's a bit early, a little after 7:00, but seeing as I have a day off and I'm already awake, I think the gym is probably the best way to start it off. Once I'm slipped into some workout clothes, I grab a few bottles of water, quickly swallow two Tylenol to help with my headache and head to Rock's. About twenty minutes later, I pull into Rock's parking lot and take my small gym bag and step inside.
I see that it's a busy morning and that there are a pretty good number of people in here. "Wow, you're here on a Saturday. This is a surprise."
Rock's standing behind the counter, smiling at me. "Hey, Rock," I say, walking up to the counter. "I have a day off from practice, so I wanted to make up for the missed day."
"No worries," Rock says. "No Adam this time either?"
Feeling a bit dejected, I can only shake my head. "No," I say. "He and I still haven't spoken."
Rock lets out a long breath. "No offense, Tanner, but I can't say I blame him."
"I know," I say. "I fucking hurt his nephew, Rock. It was an accident, but I still hurt a kid who never did a thing to me."
"I think there's more to it than that, Tanner. Sure, accidently hurting Adam's nephew is one thing, but calling his brother and brother in law faggots right to their faces? If that doesn't say 'gigantic asshole' I don't know what does. Have you even thought about apologizing to Adam?"
"Yeah, dozens of times. But I can't seem to suck it up and call him. He probably hates me with every inch of his body right now and would want to punch me on sight."
"You're probably right about him being pretty pissed, Tanner. If he does punch you, you deserve every bit of that punch. But I don't think Adam would want to punch you at all."
My curiosity arises. "What do you mean?"
"Adam came in here yesterday for a workout and he and I talked for a little while. He was pretty torn up about everything that happened between you two. He was angry that you called his family faggots, but he understood that hurting Cole was an accident and even felt a little bad about almost punching you. He seemed like he wanted to talk to you, but thought you'd be afraid of what would happen."
Adam wants to talk to me? I rest my elbows on the counter and run my palms over my face at the realization. "So what're you going to do?" Rock asks me.
"I honestly don't know," I reply. "I want to talk to Adam too, but I don't know what's going to happen between us. I'm afraid I might accidently insult his brother or his brother in law again."
"Are you starting to see that gay people and straight people are really no different when it comes to things like masculinity?"
"Somewhat? I'm trying to understand it a bit more, but I only started trying to understand it last night after I talked to this guy for a while. But it's a really hard adjustment for me. You know about my philosophy, right?"
"I do, and I don't agree with it in the least."
"Well, I've followed it ever since I was 11 years old and it's really hard to break something you've lived by most of your life."
Rock lets out another sigh. "Tanner, I know you think that men should be as masculine as possible, with both bodies and mindsets, but have you ever thought about adjusting your philosophy? Making a bit more accepting?"
His words hit me hard. Changing my philosophy? That's like telling me to stop breathing. "I-I really don't know, Rock," I say. "I mean, my philosophy is what drove me to have the body I have today, and I'm incredibly proud of that."
"But your philosophy also caused you to lose your closest friend and it's keeping you from accepting your new coach."
My head snaps up to meet Rock's eyes. "H-How did...?" I start to ask.
"I'm the owner of this gym, Tanner. I know some facts about all of the people who have memberships here. When I heard that Gregory Natick was taking over as head coach of the Kings, I went to my membership files and did a little information digging. Yeah, I know he's gay. And I know that you're having a difficult time accepting that a gay guy is taking over the Kings."
I look back down at the counter. "He just took my team from me, Rock. Do you know how much that hurt? He just walked onto the team, announced that he was now in charge, and took my title away from me. It made me so mad, but...it also felt like a little piece of me died..."
A hand falls onto my shoulder and I see Rock staring at me. "I know it hurts, Tanner, and it's going to take some time getting used to, but ask yourself this: is Gregory destroying the team? Is he good at what he's doing?"
My mind races through my thoughts of yesterday, remembering how hard practice was, but also thinking back to the results we got after just a single day of practice. "He's...insanely good," I say, forcing the words out. "He helped the defense yesterday by leaps and bounds, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I were still in charge of the team..."
"Maybe, Tanner, you could see things from Gregory's perspective. Maybe he wants to help the team just as much as you do. I mean, you heard about how much he did for the Providence Bruins, right?"
"Gregory helped a team that he'd never been a fan of turn themselves around to become the number one team in the AHL. Now, maybe he wants to do the same for the Kings."
Is Rock right? Does Greg want to help the Kings instead of taking my position away from me as revenge for high school? Taking Rock's sigh for myself, I stand back up straight and secure my bag. "I have some things I need to think about, Rock. Next time you see Adam, tell him I'd like to talk too."
"Can do, Tanner. Work up a good sweat."
Rock holds his fist out and I lightly bump it. I walk into the gym and see that even more people walked in while I was talking to Rock. I was planning on using one of the treadmills to work out my legs, but all the ones in the main gym are being used. So I decide to head up to the second level of the gym, hoping to find a new means of exercise.
I get up to the second floor and see that there aren't nearly as many people up here. The main gym is where all the standard gym equipment is: free weights, bench presses, weight machines, and things of the like. The second floor is mainly used for things with a lighter exercise load, like mats for things like yoga and crunches, exercise balls, and resistance bands.
As I gaze around, I see that there are even a few treadmills up here that aren't being used. Rock never told me about them, so it comes as a surprise to me. I walk over to one of the treadmills and set my bag down next to it before stepping on, the machine coming to life as I step onto it.
I see that the treadmills give the people on them a nice view of the bottom floor of Rock's gym, which holds several basketball courts and the Olympic sized swimming pool. I grab my iPod (yes, it's 2023 and iPods still exist) and secure it to my upper arm with the band it's attached to and slip the ear buds into my ears.
Finding my working out playlist, I let the music play and set my treadmill to a good seven-mile an hour jog. It takes me a minute, but I find my comfort zone in the jog and I lose myself as I jog, letting the music fill my ears. I just downloaded this band, 'Our Name Is...', a few months ago and they've quickly become my favorite band.
They helped to bring pop rock and punk rock back from the dark ages of music (the time a few years ago when music was nothing but overplayed bubblegum pop and unintelligible songs that made me want to shoot myself every time I heard one of them). They're loud and fast, my favorite kind of music and I let them take me away.
I haven't anything new from them in a while now, since their worldwide tour ended a few months ago. But the leader of the band, Brain Mosley, has sent out a lot of tweets saying they're in the middle of writing a new album, which I'm so fucking excited for that I can't stand the wait for it to release.
Wow, I sure do ramble sometimes. I look down at my treadmill and see I've already run almost five miles and I'm only a little winded. As I continue to jog and listen to music, I look down at the swimming pool, a few people already swimming in it. In one of the middle lanes, I see one guy's going at it hard, moving through the water like there's nothing there.
I watch as he continues his laps, not letting up for even a second. He finishes four more laps before slowing to a stop on the right side of the pool. He floats for a minute, catching his breath, before rising out of the pool. I see the guy has a very impressive body, not one muscle out of place on his completely hairless torso.
The man reaches up and slips the swimming cap off his head, revealing a head of soaking wet black hair before reaching for the goggles on his eyes and slipping them off, revealing two burning amber orbs that I can recognize from even up here. Greg?! Jesus Christ, I can't seem to get away from him!
Greg shakes out his head, spraying water everywhere and turning his hair into a bit of a mess before he runs his fingers through it and slicking it back. I watch as Greg reaches for a towel and starts to dry off his body. As much as I want to turn a way, I can't get over how perfect his body is and how much it's changed since we were in high school together.
I think he even rivals me when it comes to muscle definition and he fits his square cut swimsuit. I continue to stare at Greg as he dries off, almost in admiration toward him. And it looks like I'm not the only one. I see a group of young woman looking down at the pool as well on my right, all of them whispering to one another and a few of them blushing as well.
I continue to watch Greg as he throws his towel over his shoulders, grabs his swim cap, goggles, and reusable water bottle that was on the side of the pool, and heads in the direction of the locker room. Once he's out of sight, I come back to reality and I see that I've already passed six miles, my usual requirement.
I shut off the treadmill and step off, dripping in sweat. I turn my music off and stuff my iPod and ear buds back in my back before picking it up and heading for the locker room as well, my legs feeling a bit wobbly after all that running. As I drink my bottle of water and stepping into the locker room, I grab a towel and head for a spare locker and start to undress.
Once I'm out of my sweaty workout clothes and everything's in the locker, I wrap my towel around my waist and head for the showers. I absentmindedly walk into one of the shower stalls and hang my towel on a hook before turning on the shower, letting the warm water run over me.
I wet myself down and allow myself a bit of extra time to enjoy the feeling of getting clean. "Fancy meeting you here, Tanner."
I nearly jump a foot in the air and turn to my left and see Greg standing in the stall next to mine. "Jesus fucking Christ," I say, holding my hand to my chest. "You scared the shit out of me."
"I've been in the showers even before you came in here. How did I scare you?"
"I...guess I wasn't paying too much attention."
Feeling incredibly embarrassed, I reach for the soap dispenser and run the soap over my arms and shoulders. "Sorry if I scared you," Greg quietly says.
Taking in a breath I turn and look back at him. "No, it's not your fault. You just said something and I wasn't paying attention."
Greg just nods once. "I...didn't know you were a member here," he says.
"Yeah, I've been a member at Rock's for a few years now. Rock and I are good friends and the gym is one of the best in the city."
Greg nods a bit more and everything goes back to us not saying a word. God, I can feel the awkwardness in the air. As I wash the soap off my body, I glance over at Greg and see he has a razor in his hand, but I don't see any shaving foam on his face. Turning my head a bit more in Greg's direction, I see that there is shaving foam, but it's not where I expected it to be.
Is Greg...shaving his chest? "You shave your chest?" I ask.
I see Greg freeze completely and I see a bit of color come to his cheeks. "Um...yeah," he quietly says. He suddenly lets out a quiet chuckle. "I bet it's no surprise to you that a gay guy's shaving his body hair."
"I didn't say that. I just asked if you shave your chest. I don't see that as a gay thing. A lot of professional athletes shave their body hair."
"Yeah, but I'm not an athlete."
"You could've fooled me by the way you were swimming a little while ago."
Oh shit, did I just say that out loud? That was supposed to stay in my head and I'm mentally kicking myself for actually saying it. "You were watching me swim?" Greg asks me.
Feeling heat in my face, I can only nod a bit. "I was using one of the treadmills on the upper floor of the gym and I saw you swimming. You're pretty damn fast."
I see Greg's a bit red in the face too, from embarrassment I assume. "Thanks," he says. "Um...but I don't shave my chest so I can move faster through the water. I shave it because...because it grows really weird on me."
"How do you mean?" I ask, suddenly curious.
Greg sighs to himself. "It grows in weird clumps on my chest, which makes some spots look like they have more hair than other spots. So I shave it off because, frankly, I think it looks a lot better this way."
He moves into the spray of the showerhead and rinses the foam off his chest. I see that there isn't a single hair on his chest and, yeah, it does look pretty good. It helps to show the muscle that he has in his chest. Feeling that I've been staring too long, I go back to my shower and start to run some shampoo through my hair.
Once I get my hair washed, I see Greg's in my middle of washing his hair himself. And for some reason, I see myself looking at Greg's chest again. It's damn near perfect, looking like it's been chiseled from stone. My face starts to get a bit warm again and my heart starts to race and...why the hell am I getting a getting a boner?!
I look down and see my dick is still in middle of rising to full mast, and I don't know what's causing it. Thank God for these shower stalls, otherwise I'd be standing here next to a gay guy with a hardening dick. "Tanner, I know the signs of getting a hard-on and I know you're getting one right now."
I jerk my head toward Greg, and I see he's looking over at me with a deadpan face. "W-What?" I stammer. "I-I don't..."
"Flushed face, deep breathing, elevated heart rate judging by the pulsing in your neck, and a slouched over position. All the signs that someone, namely you, has an erection."
And all I want to do right now is crawl into a hole and die of embarrassment. "Tanner," Greg continues, "I honestly don't care if you have a hard-on right now. Remember, I have a minor in physiology, so I've gone through enough anatomy lessons to not be bothered by a guy next to me getting a hard-on, and I mean that in a completely non-gay way."
"I-I don't even know what caused it," I confess.
"They happen to all of us, Tanner. A lot of them are unintentional. The best thing to do is think about something difficult and it'll go away."
Greg goes back to his shower and I'm left with this thing between my legs. Okay, something difficult. I think through the resources in my mind and look for something that could even be called difficult. Ah! The play patterns of the New York Rangers! Okay, let's see. The Rangers like to run a two-three offense to defense pattern, only sending two guys to try and score while leaving the other three behind to defend.
The two offensive players combine both speed and power to get past the opposing defense to score. When the opponent tries to score, the defense shuts them out, resulting in a low scoring game. And there we go. Boner's gone. Thankful that that's over with, I shut off the water, grab my towel and dry myself off.
The shower next to me shuts off as well and Greg starts to dry himself off too. I'm dry before him, so I wrap my towel around my waist and head back for the locker room. As I start to change into my casual clothes, I hear a locker behind me open and close, so I can tell Greg is standing behind me getting dressed.
Feeling my common sense fade away for a second, I turn around ever so slightly and feel my mouth drop open. I'm staring right at Greg's bare ass and I can't turn back to my locker. I feel my face getting red again and my heart starts to beat even harder than before. Why can't I look away from Greg's ass?
I mean, there's nothing about it that...well, it shows how hard Greg works out. It looks pretty firm from over here and I notice that even though Greg's skin is slightly tanned, the tan is even on his ass. Does he sun bathe naked? I wonder. What the fuck am I doing?! I'm staring at another man's ass, for Christ's sake!
Thankfully, the closing of a locker door shakes me from my daze. I quickly spin back to my locker, trying to relieve the heat in my cheeks (in my face, I mean). I quickly throw on my white t-shirt and black khaki shorts and start to slip on my socks and sneakers when I hear a locker close for a second time.
I look up and see Greg in a red tank top underneath a grey plaid collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and light blue board shorts with a leather necklace around his neck and a few leather bracelets on each wrist. His black hair is back in its usual slicked back style, not a hair out of place.
Greg finishes tying his sneakers, slips on his glasses, grabs his bag and rises off the bench. I see that Greg really isn't afraid of showing off his new body to the world, and I see that now, thanks to his new body, his clothes fit him really well and it looks like he got a bit of a fashion sense over the years.
I finish tying up my shoes as well and stand up with my bag over my shoulder. Greg and I stand in silence for a few moments. "Well," Greg says. "I guess I'll see you at practice Monday."
"Yeah, see you." Greg gives me a curt nod and starts to leave the locker room, while I stay where I stand. Before I even know it, my voice leaves my throat. "Hey, Greg?"
He stops where he stands and looks back at me. "Gregory," he says, but with a lot less acid in his voice than before.
"Sorry. Um...do you have any plans for the day?"
Greg gives me a confused look. "Some in the morning and early afternoon. Why?"
God, this is so embarrassing. "Uh...I-I was wondering if it would be okay with you...if I could, I don't know, just spend the day with you?"
The look on Greg's face shifts to complete surprise and he's left there with his mouth open a bit. It's the first time in a while I see any kind of emotion from Greg besides confusion and anger. "W-Why would you want to?" he asks.
Unable to meet his eyes anymore, I look down at the locker room floor. "I'm...I'm trying to understand gay people a little more, and someone I met last night suggested that I try to spend a little time with one to see what it is they really do. You remember my philosophy, right?"
Greg's face now turns to one of disdain. "Unfortunately," he says.
"Well, I'm trying to adjust it a bit. I lost one of my closest friends because of my philosophy and I reacted badly to learning that his brother was gay. I want to fix that, but it's really hard for me because my philosophy is something I've followed for most of my life. Changing it is going to take me a bit of time.
"So...I'd like to ask for your help with this. Would you be willing to let me spend the day with you so I can understand things a bit more?"
Greg gazes up at the ceiling for a minute or two, thinking my proposal over before looking back at me. "I'll tell you what, Tanner," he says. "I'm willing to let you spend the day with me, but you have to do whatever I do without any complaining or whining. I'm not going to have you do anything that will make you uncomfortable, but I do things that you've probably never done before. If you're willing to go along with it, then you can spend the day with me. Are you okay with that?"
I think about Greg's counter offer for a minute before I look back at his amber eyes. "Okay," I say. "I'll do whatever it is you do."
Greg nods once and secures. "Okay, well let's get going then."
He turns and starts to walk out of the locker room, me following closely behind him. We walk out of the gym and into the parking lot into the warm early morning sun. "So where are we going?" I ask.
"I'll tell you when we get there," Greg replies.
"Okay," I say, being a little suspicious. "Where's your car?"
"I don't have one yet. I take the bus most places. I've only lived in L.A. for a little over a month now, so I haven't had the urge to get a car yet."
"Well, I have a car, so how about we drive to wherever it is we're going?"
Greg stops and stares at me for a moment. "Fine," he says. "Just follow my directions and we should be able to get there in about fifteen minutes."
I nod and Greg follows me to my car, where we stuff our bags in the trunk and I climb in the driver's seat and Greg slips into the passenger's seat. "Nice car," he says.
"Thanks," I reply, igniting the engine and slowly backing out of my parking spot. "I bought it a few months ago. Which way should I turn?"
"Left, then turn right onto Jefferson Boulevard."
I nod and turn onto the street and Greg and I sit in silence for a minute, the air in the car very tense. "Do you mind if I play some music?" I ask.
I reach for the radio and turn up the music. Almost immediately, I hear 'Our Name Is...' flowing out of my speakers. And even better, it's my favorite song: 'Turn It Up!' "Can you raise the volume a bit a bit?"
I look over and see Greg looking over at me. "The radio?" I ask. "Uh...sure."
My fingers turn the dial on the radio and the car fills with the loud beat. "Sorry," Greg says, looking down at his lap. "I just really like 'Our Name Is...' I have since I first heard their songs on the radio."
"Really?" I ask. "Um...I have too."
Greg looks over at me, a bit of surprise in his face. "I never took you for a pop rock, punk rock kind of guy," he says. "I always thought you were the kind of guy that liked that shitty bubblegum pop from a few years ago and maybe a bit of heavy metal."
I snort out a laugh. "Are you kidding? I fucking hate bubblegum pop with a passion. Metal's okay, but I like to understand what the singer is saying. 'Our Name Is...' helped bring music back to something good and it revived the failing music industry from its death by electronic dance music, terrible pop songs, and the overplayed hip hop genre."
I glance over at Greg and see he still has a bit of surprise on his face. "Sorry," I say. "My younger brother's in the music industry, so I know a bit about music and the trends it's gone through."
"What does your brother do?"
"He tours with bands while trying to find a permanent place in a band. My brother's a monster when it comes to the guitar. I'm actually surprised someone hasn't signed him yet, but he's managing to make enough money right now helping bands to live a comfortable life by himself."
"Where does he live?"
"Anywhere the band he's working with lives. He spends most of his time in L.A., but often moves around the country if a band he's working with is going on tour."
"Do you have any other siblings?"
"I have a younger sister and an older brother. My sister's working on her residency at a hospital just south of L.A. and my brother's serving overseas off with the Navy. My younger sister and my younger brother are twins. Do you have any siblings?"
I turn the car onto Jefferson Boulevard and look back at Greg. "I'm an only child," he says. "Turn left onto the street up ahead."
We pull up to a stoplight and I turn when the light turns green. "So what's this thing we're going to?" I ask.
"We're almost there, so I'll tell you when we're there. Just keep driving straight and I'll tell you when to turn."
I nod a bit and look back at the road. I've never been to this part of the city. It seems a bit more run down than the rest of it. I see a lot of people just sitting against the sides of buildings, several of them in tattered clothing and with a few suitcases and bags. "Turn right into that parking lot right there," Greg tells me.
Seeing the parking lot in question, I slow my car down and pull into it, quickly finding a spot and shutting off my car. Greg and I step out and I find myself looking up at a very large brick building with only a few windows on it. "I suggest you bring your bag with you," Greg tells me.
He's already grabbed his bag from the trunk, so I get mine as well and close and lock my car. Greg leads me up to the building and we stop just outside the door. "Do you have the time?" he asks me.
I quickly check my phone. "Uh...a little after 8:00."
"Perfect. We have plenty of time. Now, Tanner, I'm going to warn you that this place is going to be a bit of a culture shock for you. So be prepared."
Culture shock? I don't have time to ask as Greg walks inside the building with me close behind him. As soon as I step in, I find myself in what appears to be a large gymnasium filled to the brim with tables and chairs. Greg continues to walk toward the back of the room, where I find a fair-sized group of people already standing.
Greg walks up to the group and calls out. "Trent! Need a hand with anything?"
A head poked up in the middle of the crowd and he smiles at Greg. He weaves his way past people and up to us. "Gregory! Great to see that you could make it in today!"
"I wouldn't miss it. I also brought someone along to help us with everything."
The man, Trent, a man of an average body frame and height with sandy brown hair who looks to be in his late thirties, looks over at me and his eyes widen a bit. "You brought Tanner White?! Goddamn!" Trent steps over and looks up at me. "We really appreciate you coming by to help us with this, Tanner. Trent Boric. I'm the man in charge here."
Trent holds his hand out and I take and shake it. "And what exactly is 'here'?" I ask.
"Tanner, this is a soup kitchen." I look over at Greg. "This is a place where volunteers serve donated food to people who are down on their luck and can't afford to buy food for themselves. You and I are helping to volunteer to serve food to homeless men, women, and children."
A soup kitchen? So this is what they're like. "Oh," is all I can manage to say.
"I said it would be a bit of a culture shock, didn't I?" Greg asks.
"Yeah, you did. I'm not really shocked, I've just never been in a soup kitchen before, even to volunteer."
"Well, now's a good time to start," Trent says with a smile. "The doors open in about an hour, so we still have plenty of time to get everything ready. Seeing as you two are probably the strongest people here, I'm going to have you carry boxes of food so we can get it cooked up. Sound good?"
"Works for me," Greg says.
I just give a nod. "Great!" Trent says. "We have a few boxes in the back that are ready to be brought to the kitchen so we can get the food cooked. Just carry them into the kitchen and set them down. Thanks again!"
Trent quickly leaves to go back to the group of people he was with before. "Well, c'mon," Greg tells me. "Those boxes aren't going to move themselves."
Greg and I set down our bags against a wall and I follow Greg to the back of the building, where we find a little over a dozen large boxes. "Be careful," Greg tells me. "If we drop a box, some food might not be useable and it won't be used to serve people. They're heavier than they look, so try to be careful lifting them."
I nod and go and grab a box. I carefully lift the box and feel that it's easily forty pounds. "What kind of food is in here to make it so heavy?" I ask.
"Those are the eggs," Greg replies, lifting a box of his own. "They're one of the heavier boxes, so try not to lose your grip, or we're going to have a very messy floor."
I secure the box in my arms and follow Greg as we make our way to the kitchen. We walk into a brightly lit room and see there are several people in here as well, all of them wearing aprons, hairnets, and gloves. "Hey, everyone," Greg calls out.
The eight people in the kitchen all turn to Greg and smile. "Hi, Gregory!" they all call out.
I see Greg smile and he sets the box down and I do the same with mine. "Here are the eggs and dry pancake mix," he says. "By the way, this is Tanner White. Yes, the Tanner White from the L.A. Kings. Tanner, this is Melanie, Jeff, Scott, Lisa, Marcel, Daniela, Virginia, and Carl."
I smile at the men and women and they just stare back at me, a mouth or two open. "Tanner's here to help with serving breakfast this morning," Greg continues. "I hope you all can get along nicely."
The group in front of me smiles at me and I manage to return it with one of my own. "Should we get the rest of the boxes?" I ask.
"Yup," Greg replies. "If you guys need any of our help, just let us know and we'll try to help. Don't work too hard."
"Nice to meet all of you," I say. They all give me a wave and Greg and I continue to grab boxes. "They all seemed nice."
"They are. I've been volunteering here ever since I moved out to L.A. and they pretty much welcomed me with open arms. It's almost as if we've been a family ever since."
"And they all know you're gay?"
"They do. Everyone who volunteers here does." Greg grunts as he hoists up a large box of bacon while I grab another box of eggs. "None of them care about it and a few are bi and gay too. Some of them were actually homeless themselves at one point."
We start to carry more boxes back to the kitchen. "They were?" I ask.
"Yeah. For some gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, they end up homeless because their parents throw them out of the house for being who they are. I even have a friend from college who was thrown out of his house by his parents. But he was a lucky one and his parents begged him to come back home to them. Now they have a great relationship."
Greg and I set our boxes down and go back to get more. "What about the people here?" I ask.
I notice a change in Greg's face and it looks...sad. "Some of them haven't spoken to their parents since they were kicked out," he says. "Their parents never accepted them and some haven't even seen their parents in years."
Feeling a bit ambitious, I go a bit further. "What about you and your parents?" I ask.
Suddenly, I see Greg's face fall even further to the point of almost looking to be on the verge of tears. As I start to ask what's wrong, another voice cuts me off. "Hey, Gregory!" Greg and I turn and see Trent walking over to us. "Some of us need a little help setting up out front. Can we get your help with that? And Tanner, do you mind taking care of the rest of the boxes?"
"Sure," Greg says very quickly. "I-I just need to drop this box off in the kitchen and I'll meet you out there."
Greg suddenly takes off for the kitchen and Trent goes back to the front of the building, leaving me along and a bit confused. Did Greg just dodge my question? Maybe it's a touchy subject for him. I dismiss the thought and continue to carry boxes to the kitchen, but a small part of me continues to think about it.
About forty minutes later, everything is set up for breakfast. The people in the kitchen needed a bit of help, so I volunteered to help with the pancakes. Thanks to Mom and Adam, I managed to learn how to cook a little bit over the years. Once everything's cooked and ready, I head to the front of the building, where a few more people have arrived to help.
The chefs bring several trays filled with food to the front of the room and set them on a long table that a lot of volunteers stand behind. "Confused?"
I see that Trent's appeared on my left side. "A little," I say.
He chuckles to himself. "Okay, here's how everything works. When people come into the building, they walk over to the far left side of the table and grab a tray. They walk along the table, where we offer them food and they either say yes or no and they keep going. When they get everything they want, they take a seat at a table around the room and eat their fill. We usually have enough for people to get a second helping of food, so a lot of them come back to get more. Got it?"
"It's pretty much like a cafeteria line at school."
Trent laughs a bit more. "It's exactly like that. I'm going to stick you on beverage duty with Gregory, so head over to the right side of the table and just wait for people to come over to your station, ask if they want something to drink, pour it for them and they'll move on their own. Be sure to smile while you're doing it. Get ready. Doors open in a little over a minute."
He goes around divvying up tasks to everyone else while I head over to where the drinks sit. I see Greg is already here, so I stand to his left. "So is there something I should ready myself with?" I ask.
Greg laughs in a similar manner to Trent. "You sound like you're ready to go to war. All you need to do is ask if someone wants something to drink, give it to him or her, and smile while you're doing it. Be aware, things may get a bit depressing. It was for me the first time."
Depressing? What does that mean? "We're open!"
I look over to the front door and see Trent opening it. Within several seconds, people start to walk into the building, a lot of people actually. People of varying age, race, and ethnicity walk into the building, many of them wearing tattered clothing and looking like they haven't washed in several weeks.
My chest suddenly tightens at seeing these people. "Wow," I quietly whisper.
"Yeah," Greg says. "Shawn's managed to help a lot of the homeless population by directing taxes into helping homeless shelters and providing more food and supplies for them, but a lot of them are still out on the streets. It's really sad. Some of them even have kids to take care of, but don't have the means to care for them."
I continue to watch as people continue to enter the building and a long line starts to form. As people continue their way down the line, the first person gets to the end of the line and steps in front of Greg, who offers the man in front of him a warm smile. "Hi, can I get you something to drink?"
"Um...coffee would be great," the man hoarsely replies.
"No problem. Cream or sugar?"
Greg bends down and produces a Styrofoam cup. He takes a thermal and pours some coffee into the cup before adding a small bit of sugar and cream to it. "Here you are," Greg says, continuing to smile at the man.
The man returns Greg's smile and takes the cup from him. "Thank you," he says.
The man continues down the line and grabs a fork and knife before going to grab a table. Another person, a young woman, walks up to Greg not even two seconds later. Another person walks past the woman and stops in front of me. I see it's a young boy who looks to be maybe 16 years old.
The boy has a few dirt marks on his face and his short light brown hair is incredibly dirty. He looks like he's on the verge of tears and he doesn't look up. But I put on my best smile and look down at the boy. "Hi, can I get you a drink?"
The boy looks up at me and I see his eyes widen. "Y-You're Tanner White..." he quietly says.
Seeing the boy's reaction makes me smile even more. "I am," I reply. "I take it you're a fan?" He nods. "It's always nice to meet a fan. Thank you for supporting the Kings. Can I get you something to drink?"
"U-Um...just some juice would be good."
"Apple or orange?"
I bend down and grab a Styrofoam cup and grab the carton of orange juice on the table and pour some into the cup before handing it back to the boy, who graciously takes it. "Thank you," he quietly says.
He quickly moves down the line and then to a table. "That was Elliot."
I look over at Greg, who seems to be staring off at the boy. "Is he...?" I start to ask.
Greg nods before I can finish my question. "Yeah, he's gay, but he wasn't kicked out of his house. He ran away from home because he was too afraid of what would happen if he told his parents he was gay. So he ran away from home about a month and a half ago and cut off all his hair so police wouldn't be able to recognize him. He's a scared kid, but I think meeting you might have helped him a little."
I look out at the tables and see Elliot sitting by himself, eating his food in very small bites. I feel my heart reach out to the kid, who's probably terrified beyond belief. I continue to offer drinks for the people in the line, who all react in a similar fashion to Elliot. After about thirty minutes, everyone has their food and is seating and eating away.
Greg and I stand at the table, waiting in case anyone else wants seconds, while several of the other volunteers walk around the room, talking with the people and giving them encouraging smiles. I keep feeling this deep pain in my chest at seeing all of these people, how they're so much less fortunate than I am.
As I continue to look out at the crowd, I don't hear the body walk up in front of me. "Um...may I have some more orange juice, please?"
I look down and see Elliot standing in front of me, the Styrofoam cup in his hand. "Oh, sorry," I say. "I wasn't paying attention."
I take the cup from Elliot's hand and fill it with orange juice and hand it back to the kid. "Thank you," he quietly says.
God, I can hear how torn up this kid is. He's a teenager. He shouldn't be living out on the streets. No one should. "Hey, are you okay?" I ask.
Elliot looks back up at me. "What do you mean?"
"Look, you're what, 16?" Elliot nods a bit. "I heard about your story. Shouldn't you go back home? Your parents are probably worried sick about you."
Elliot shakes his head. "I can't. If I do come back home, my parents will just kick me back out onto the streets again."
"Because you're gay?"
It takes a second, but Elliot nods ever so slightly. "They don't know that I am, and I was too scared to tell them that I am gay. If I go back home, I'm afraid I'll just end back up on these streets, but with the knowledge that my parents don't love me anymore."
He takes his hand and wipes his eyes with it, making my chest hurt even more. "Elliot," I say. "Don't you think you should give your parents the benefit of the doubt? Maybe they'll love you just as much as they did before they learned you were gay."
"I don't want to risk it," Elliot replies, his voice breaking a little bit. "I love my parents, but I'm so scared of losing them that I'd rather run away from home then tell them the truth and maybe lose them as a result."
"But isn't running away losing them too? And don't you think that your parents are in the same situation as you are right now? They've lost their son and are probably incredibly broken up about it."
I see Elliot's face start to put the pieces together. "Elliot, tell me this," I continue. "What makes you think your parents wouldn't accept you if they thought you were gay?"
"W-Well, my mom always talked about wanting grandchildren, so I'm afraid that if I tell her I'm gay, I'll break her heart."
"Isn't there surrogacy and adoption? You can still have a kid even if you're gay."
Elliot stumbles on his words for a second. "But...my dad always talked about how he's thought I'm going to go to college and get loads of girls because I look like him."
"Well, now you can get loads of guys because you look like him."
Elliot glances around, trying to find another excuse. "B-But, aren't gay guys less masculine than straight guys? I'm scared that my parents will think less of me because I'm gay..."
Oh crap. This is the same problem I'm trying to fix. I quickly try to think of a solution to this problem, when one walks into my peripheral vision. I glance over and see Greg handing some food to a middle aged man. "You see that guy over there in the plaid shirt with the black hair and glasses?"
Elliot looks in the same direction as me. "Yeah?"
"What do you see when you see him?"
Elliot stays quiet for a few seconds. "I see a really fit guy who looks like he won't take shit from anybody, has masculinity pouring off him, and is pretty damn hot."
I choose to ignore that last part. "Well, that guy's gay too," I say. "And he's the new head coach of the L.A. Kings."
Elliot looks back at me, his eyes wide. "H-He is?"
"Yup. He told me himself a while back. And you said it yourself that he has masculinity pouring off him?" Elliot just nods a bit. "Well, that answers your question, doesn't it? A gay guy can be masculine."
Wow, did that just come out of my mouth? And did I actually mean it when I said it? I glance over in Greg's direction and see...that...I'm not entirely wrong. "And some guys aren't as masculine as others," I continue, not understanding why I'm still talking. "Some are a bit more feminine than others, but you, Elliot? You seem pretty masculine to me."
Elliot glances down at himself, but continues to look at the floor. "You play a sport?" I ask.
"Um...I'm on the track and field team at my high school. I'm a javelin thrower."
"Seems like a masculine sport to me. Are your parents proud of you for it?"
"Yeah, I set the county record in furthest distance thrown."
"And did being gay affect that record at all?"
Elliot looks back at me, his face a little brighter than it was a minute or two ago. "No."
"So do you think that your parents would be disappointed that their son is a great athlete, a nice young man, and even a bit of a looker?"
Did that last part just slip out of my own mouth? But it looks like it had an effect on Elliot, because I hear a small chuckle from him. "I don't think so," he says.
I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell phone and hold it out to Elliot. "I think your parents want to hear their son's voice."
Within a second, I see the bases of Elliot's eyes wet a bit. He carefully takes the phone from my hand and taps the screen a few times before holding it to his ear. The next few minutes are filled with quiet sobbing on both ends of the line.
Fifteen minutes later, two police cars and an ambulance are in the soup kitchen parking lot with Elliot in the ambulance getting looked at for any injuries. His parents are standing just outside the ambulance, looked incredibly relieved to see their son alive and well. The majority of the people in the dining area have already left, so only a few stragglers and the volunteers remain.
As I help clean everything up, I feel a body walk over to my side. "Nice work."
I glance over and see Greg standing next to me. "With what?" I ask.
"I overheard your conversation with Elliot a little while ago. You helped him overcome his fear of coming out to his parents and helped that family come together again. And I think the season tickets I gave Elliot and his family will help bring them closer together as well."
I toss a bit of trash into the garbage bin next to me. "It...just felt like the right thing to say to the kid," I say. "I mean, he looked so broken up over running away from his parents because he was afraid to tell them the truth. I think he just needed someone to tell him everything was going to be okay."
"And that's what a lot of people like him need: someone to support them. A lot of kids who are like Elliot are too afraid to tell anyone they're gay because they don't want something bad to happen to them as a result. They all need someone that's out there to tell them that they'll be there to help them past the hate and disapproval. If they knew that, then maybe a lot of them would be happier."
"But hasn't there been a huge jump in approval of things like gay marriage in the last seven or eight years?"
"There has, a huge amount actually. Public opinion of same-sex marriage has gone up, with 74% of people supporting it. But 20% of people still don't support it and the rest are still undecided on the topic. That 20% is where the homeless kids come from. They come out, their parents don't accept it, and they're out on the street fending for themselves. It's always incredibly sad to see."
"Well...what about you?"
Greg looks over at me. "What about me?"
"Did you have someone to support you?"
All of a sudden, I see the same look from earlier pass over Greg's face, that look of sadness and depression. "Hold on a sec," Greg tells me.
Greg walks away from me and I see him walking in the direction of Trent. The two have a quick conversation and Greg turns and walks back in my direction and stops next to me. "Trent said you and I can go. The rest of the guys can take care of what's left of cleanup."
A bit confused by the sudden announcement, I grab my bag and Greg grabs his. Greg and I thank everyone and we head out into the now ambulance and police car free parking lot and head to my car. "So are you going to tell me if you had support or not?" I ask, placing my bag in the trunk and climbing in the driver's seat. "And you never finished explaining your parents to me."
"I'll tell you in a little while over food," Greg replies as I turn on my car. "You can eat, right?"
"I didn't have breakfast, so I'm pretty hungry."
"There's a good diner I know about that's not too far from here. We can eat there. Turn left onto the street and just follow my directions until we're there."
I pull out of the soup kitchen's parking lot and turn onto the street, following Greg's directions as we wind through the streets of L.A. After about ten minutes, Greg tells me to pull into the parking lot of what appears to be a small restaurant, Brock's Diner above the front door. I park the car and Greg and I climb out and walk up to the building.
We walk in and I instantly smell the fragrance of sizzling bacon, making my mouth water a bit. "Why, Gregory! Haven't seen you in a few days!"
I look over and see a fairly large black woman standing behind a hostess table with a smile on her face, looking in Greg's directions. "Sorry, Loni," Greg replies. "Just been a bit busy lately."
"No worries, baby." The woman, Loni, looks over at me and her mouth drops open. "Oh, my God! You brought one of your players with you! Tanner White, even!"
"Tanner and I are spending the day together, hoping to be able to understand each other a little better since I'm new to the team," Greg says. "Can we get a booth for two?"
"Sure thing, baby." Loni grabs two menus and holds them under her arm. "Follow me."
Greg and I follow behind Loni and I gaze around the restaurant. The first thing I notice is how much chrome there is in here, the large jukebox in the corner of the restaurant, and the vinyl seat covers, so it gives off the feel of a retro fifties diner. Loni leads us to a table and seats us both down and hands us our menus.
She takes a step back and smiles at us again. "A waiter or waitress will be by in a minute to take your drink orders."
"Thanks, Loni," Greg says.
Loni turns and heads back to the front of the restaurant, leaving me and Greg alone as we look over the menus. I quickly decide on a simple breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon. A young waitress with the nametag Miley on her chest walks up to our table and smiles at us. "Hi, welcome to..." she starts.
Her sentence stops short and I see her staring at me wide-eyed. "Y-You're Tanner White, aren't you?" she asks.
I smile up at her. "I am."
She shakes her head out and continues to stare at me. "Sorry, I know I shouldn't stare, it's just my family and I are fans of you and the Kings."
"It's no problem," I say. "I always like meeting fans. Thank you for supporting the Kings."
Miley smiles brightly and pulls a pad of paper and a pen from her pocket. "Can I get the two of you something to drink?"
"Just a coffee is fine for me," Greg says.
"I'll take a Coke, please," I say.
She quickly writes down the two orders. "Okay, I'll get those for you two right away. Please take your time with choosing what you'd like to eat."
She turns and walks back in the direction of the kitchen, a bit of a light spring in her step. "Does it ever get annoying for you to have fans come up to you wherever you are?" Greg asks me.
"Not at all," I reply. "I was just like them when I was a kid, looking up to hockey players like they were gods. I don't like disappointing my fans, and I'm always grateful when they show their support for me and the team."
Greg nods a bit, looks down at his menu a bit more, and sets it down. Miley comes back with our drinks and we tell her our food orders, Greg choosing to have a vegetable omelet and wheat toast. Once Miley leaves a second time, I look at Greg. "Don't you want some kind of protein? It'll help to wake you up a bit."
"I had a protein shake this morning, and I don't eat meat, so I'm okay, thanks."
"You're a vegetarian?"
"I am. I have been for the last six years."
"Don't you ever miss meat?"
"Sometimes, but tofu and meat substitute help a bit. Plus, I get a different kind of meat every once in a while, so I think that makes up for it."
A different kind of meat? I think it over as I take a drink from my Coke, only for me to almost spit it out all over the table. I look back at Greg and see him smirking at my reaction. "Did you just make a penis joke?" I ask.
"Took you long enough for you to realize it," Greg says, revealing a small smile that shows his perfect teeth.
He takes a sip of his coffee and sets it back down. "So are you going to tell me about your parents or not?" I ask, feeling a bit impatient. "Just give me something about your mom and dad."
The same look I saw not even twenty minutes ago comes over Greg's face. He stares down at the tabletop and I hear a small voice come from him. "I never knew my dad."
Did I just hear that right? "What do you mean you never knew your dad?" I ask.
Greg looks up at me and I see a deep pain behind his amber irises. "I never knew who my dad was. My mom always told me that he left just a few days after I was born, so I never got to know who he was. I don't even know if he remembers that he has a kid."
"I'm really sorry to hear that. It must've been tough growing up without a dad."
"It was. Sometimes, I just wanted someone I could call my dad to take me out to a sports game, go see a movie, or even go out to get some food together. But...I never got that in my twenty-eight years."
The pain behind Greg's eyes seems to be getting worse with every passing second. "Well, what about your mom?" I ask. "Was she a good role model for you?"
The reaction I get from Greg isn't the one I was expecting. It's a look of what appears to be anger. "She wasn't," he says in a low voice. "She wasn't a role model in the least. If anything, she was the last thing I ever wanted to be."
Why does Greg look so furious? We're talking about his mother, for God's sake. "Do you mind if I ask...?" I start to say.
"My mother was a drug addict when I was still with her," Greg says.
The words shock me beyond belief. "A drug addict?"
Greg clenches his fist against his coffee mug. "Her favorites here cocaine and heroin. She even used them while she was pregnant with me. I'm still surprised to this day I wasn't born with any abnormalities or birth defects. Doctors always told me that I was a one in a million kid."
"You were raised by a drug addict?"
"For eighteen years. Through elementary school, middle school, and high school, I had to deal with her and her addiction." Greg suddenly lets out a small, humorless laugh. "I bet you're wondering why I didn't call child protective services or something like that."
I only nod a little. "Because if I did, I would've ended up in the foster system. God knows what would've happened to me then. And I know you're thinking that my mom was a horrible woman, but in all honesty, she was somewhat decent."
"Even though she always spent a lot of money on drugs, she always made sure that our rent was paid, we had food on the table, and that I had clothes to wear. She had a problem that she needed to get fixed, she knew she needed to get it fixed, but she had been using them for so long that she couldn't stop."
Greg takes a sip from his coffee, his hand still tightly grasped on it. "You know how I used to wear clothes that were too big for me in high school, right?" Greg asks me.
"Yeah, I noticed it more than a few times."
"It was because my mom and I couldn't afford to buy real clothes, so we had to get our clothes from Goodwill. I hated the clothes I wore every day, but they were all we had."
I feel my throat clench up a little at hearing that. I hated Greg because he always wore clothes that didn't fit him. But...hearing that they were the only clothes he had to wear makes me want to punch myself. "No offense," I say, "but I always wondered why it was you often looked like you had just woken up on the very wrong side of the bed whenever you came to school."
"You mean my gross hair and things like that?" I nod. "My mom didn't always make rent payments on time, and whenever she was late, the landlord of our apartment building shut off our apartment's water and electricity until we made the payment. We sometimes would go without bathing for a few days."
"Isn't that illegal?"
"It was, but it was either deal with it, or tell the police about it and have them see that my mom was a user and abuser."
Abuser? What does he mean by that? "What do you mean abuser?" I ask.
Greg lets out a deep sigh and stares down at his coffee mug. "My mom used to hit me...a lot."
My stomach drops right through the vinyl seat and into the floor. "You were abused?"
Greg simply nods his head. "Whenever my mom was high, she would go into these long tirades and rages, screaming nonsense and babbling incoherently. Whenever I tried to calm her down, I was hit, punched, kicked, and clawed. I knew it was the drugs that made her do that to me, but she was the one that did the drugs in the first place.
"It would hurt...so fucking bad, that I sometimes couldn't even walk correctly and had to hunch myself over to make the pain somewhat bearable. Most of the time, I got out of calming her down with a few bruises and scratches and maybe a sprained wrist or ankle. But sometimes, I came out of it with what felt like bruised ribs and pulled muscles.
"I'm surprised almost no one even noticed that I would be standing up straight one day, then hunched over the next. But...at least someone did: Coach Haier."
I almost spill the soda in my hand. "Coach Haier?! My hockey coach?!"
Greg nods again. "He was the boys' gym teacher as well as the hockey coach. During a gym class early in freshman year, he noticed that I was walking a bit weirdly and came and asked me what was wrong. I tried to cover it up, but he saw I had a brace around my ankle and let me take the day off from exercising.
"But the next class, he also saw that while I had gotten rid of the ankle brace, I had a brace around my wrist. He called me into his office and told me to take off the brace. I at first refused, but he managed to grab the brace and pull it off me. He saw my wrist was damn near black it was so bruised up.
"I was forced to tell him that my mom had a drug problem and she hurt me whenever she was high. I begged him not to tell anyone, but he understood what was going on with me. He confessed to me that his best friend when he was a kid was abused on a regular basis, so he and I were kind of in the same boat: the abused, and the one who knows that someone's being abused."
Greg takes a few seconds to catch his breath. "After that day, Coach Haier let me sit out of gym whenever he saw I had an injury because of my mom, but had me make up for the missed days by going to every hockey game and recording every single thing that happened, from goals, to points, penalty minutes, everything.
"I managed to get through a grand total of seventeen gym classes all through high school. The rest of the time, I was sitting with my notebooks and filling them with notes on the patterns of opponents and their hockey teams, strengths and weaknesses of certain players, all that stuff. I got better as time went on, so I kind of owe Coach Haier for helping become the analyst I am today."
I feel my throat clench up even more. Greg actually was hurt whenever I saw him siting in the bleachers during gym, and I thought he was just lying about it. And he was filling those notebooks with stats, not the stupid things I thought he was filling them with. "Um...what about the...crying?" I ask.
"Almost every morning, I saw you sitting in the same spot in the middle of the school courtyard crying your eyes out, but you never made a sound. So...why were you crying?"
Greg continues to stare at his coffee mug. "I...I don't really know why. I guess...I just wanted a different life. All around me, I saw people who had clothes that fit them right, looked like they just stepped out of a spa, and had all the latest styles and technology. I guess I wanted to have the lives they had, where they didn't have to care about whether or not there would be running water when they got back to their houses or if there would be food to eat.
"I had to worry about shit like that every day. I didn't have a car to drive to school. I had to wake up at 5:00 every morning just so I could get to the bus stop on time or ride my bike to school and not be late. I didn't have a laptop to work on my assignments or to do research online. I had to use books from the library and had to write all my papers by hand."
I see the corners of Greg's eyes moisten a bit. "I had to fend for myself for most of my life while everyone else around me had their lives handed to them. I thought my life couldn't get any worse than it did back then. But...it turns out it could have."
Greg sniffs his nose and wipes the corners of his eyes with his thumb. "It was about two months into our senior year when my life hit its lowest point. I came home from school and found my mom on our couch, not moving, not breathing, with a syringe in her hand."
Fucking God. I start to feel moisture tickle the backs of my eyes. "I called an ambulance and they were there in less than four minutes," Greg continues. "They did all they could, but it was too late. My mom was dead..."
A drop of water falls from Greg's eye, but he makes no effort to try and stop it. "I learned that my mom had overdosed on heroin, and it crushed me. I felt that my life was meant for nothing but loss and misfortune. You remember that week and a half I wasn't at school?"
I think back and remember that I didn't see Greg for several days in November. I assumed he had taken an early vacation for Thanksgiving. "I wasn't at school...because I tried to kill myself..."
I don't even know how to react to something like that, so I just stay silent. "I felt that life wasn't worth living anymore, so I tried to end mine. But I woke up two days after I cut my wrists in the hospital. I saw that Coach Haier was in the room with me. He told me that he came to check up on me at my apartment after he heard that my mom had died.
"He broke down the door to my apartment after he felt something was wrong. He called 911 and actually saved my life. I owe him my life for saving me and he helped me to see that my life was worth living, even if I had an unfortunate start to it. What he told me while I was recovering really helped to show me that my life was worth something.
"I had come up with a few plays when I was watching your hockey games and showed them to Coach Haier. He told me that he had used the plays that I came up with to help bring the team to the state finals. When I heard that, I found my purpose in life: coaching. After that, I worked my ass off to become the coach I am today."
So those plays I worked to learn back in high school...were Greg's? "Coach Haier somehow became a father figure to me," Greg says. "It was the closest thing I ever had to a father, and I'll never be able to thank him enough for everything he's done to help me. He even wrote my letter of recommendation to UC San Diego and wrote another for my transfer to Stanford.
"Yeah, my life was hard growing up and crying sometimes helped to relieve the pain a little. But now I'm the head coach of a professional hockey team, I'm comfortable with who I am, I have a wonderful life, and I'm happier than I've ever been."
Greg wipes his eyes a second time and I feel the ball in my throat growing even more. As Greg wipes his eyes, I take the back of my hand and quickly wipe my own dry. "I'm such a fucking asshole..." I quietly say to myself.
Greg looks back at me. 'What do you mean?"
"Back in high school, whenever I saw you, all I saw was how your clothes didn't fit you right, how you never participated in gym class, how you were hunched over and how you always cried and I thought you were nothing. But...hearing all that, I now know that I was so wrong to torment you like I did.
"I just assumed that you were a weakling because of what I saw at a distance. I never knew how much you had to go through. And I only made your life worse for you. Greg, I'm so fucking sorry for everything I did to you. The insults, the tripping and shoving, the destroying your stuff, the explosion, everything. I-I'm sorry..."
I wipe my eyes with the back of my hand again and stare down at the table as I let shaky breaths leave my body. Why the hell would saying sorry ten years later make any sort of difference, you asshole? He'll still hate you. "Tanner, I forgave you a long time ago."
I look back up at Greg and see his face is completely serious. "W-What?" I stutter.
"I forgave you for everything that you did in high school to me a long time ago. Nine years to be exact. Yeah, what you did to me on a regular basis hurt, but I realized that it drove me to become the person I am today. Back in high school, I was this five foot five walking stick with mangled hair and glasses that were too big for my face.
"Now, I'm a six foot tall man with muscles I never even thought I would have when I was a kid, hair that I can actually control, and glasses that actually fit well to my face. I kind of owe that change to you, Tanner."
"Well, back in high school, you already looked like you were a man. You were six feet tall back in freshman year and you already had a body full of muscle. You kept growing and getting bigger as the years passed and I was a bit jealous of it. So after I graduated high school, I used you as the example of the kind of person I wanted to be. Not attitude-wise, but body-wise.
"I started going to the gym when I started college. I fucking hated it at first because I always felt like people were watching me whenever I came in there and started working out. It took me weeks before I actually even saw any results. But I kept working at it, through the burn and the pain until I started to get the muscles I saw you had and that I wanted.
"It was thanks to that that people started to talk to me more and I started to get the friends I had wanted for so long. I made a few friends at UC Davis that I still talk to today and made even more friends when I transferred to Stanford. The ones I made there are some of the closest I still have, and they're all great people."
Greg chuckles to himself a bit. "I guess I should thank you for giving me that kick in the ass when we were still teenagers. It really drove me to change who I was. So...thanks, Tanner."
He offers me a warm smile and takes a sip of his coffee, leaving me with my mouth hanging open. How can he thank me? How can he forgive me? "B-But I treated you so horribly..." I say.
"Yeah, you did. And if I held something like that against you until this day, I'd still have the mindset of a teenager. I mean it would be pretty stupid to still be mad about things that happened over ten years ago."
"But I did it to you on an almost daily basis..."
Greg just shrugs a bit. "They were just words and stupid little pranks. Things like that don't really bother me anymore."
I look back down at the table, unable to look at Greg as I mutter my next words. "Even...even though I almost killed you...?"
For the next few moments, all I get is silence. I expected something like this. How could anyone ever forgive someone that hurt them so badly that they almost died? "Tanner, look up."
I raise my head up a bit, only to have something small hit me in the nose and fall back down to the tabletop. I look down and see a packet of sugar sitting in front of me and I look back at Greg, who has a mischievous smile on his face. "What was that for?" I ask.
"Revenge for almost killing me." Greg grabs the packet of sugar and places it back in the little container of sugar packets. "Tanner, I'm getting the feeling that you're being harder on yourself than I am for what happened back in senior year. And I'm going to give you a bit of advice: get the fuck over it."
My jaw goes slack for a second before I manage to close my mouth again. "Tanner," Greg continues, "did that explosion kill me? Did I lose any limbs because of it? Did I become permanently maimed because of it?"
Is this a trick question? "Uh...n-no...?"
"No. I'm perfectly fine. Now, I'll admit, there was a time when I was furious with you, but now, I just see the captain of the L.A. Kings. You've come a long way from the guy I knew in high school, Tanner. And frankly, I like the new you a whole lot more."
Greg gives me a smile that seems to lift my spirits. I sniff a bit and wipe the base of my nose with my thumb. "Uh...thanks, Greg. That really means a lot to me. And I think I like the new you a lot more too."
"You and me both."
I chuckle a bit and take a small drink from my Coke, just as Miley comes back to the table with your food, setting down both plates in front of us. When she's gone, I grab my fork and dive into my eggs. "And I'm sorry too," Greg says. "I'm sorry for the way I acted when I was first introduced as your new head coach. Now that I think about it, I sure sounded like a dick."
"You did a little," I say, taking in a mouthful of eggs. "But now, I know the Kings are being led by a guy who knows what he's doing and can make us a hell of a lot stronger."
Greg smiles and takes a bite of his omelet. As we continue to eat our breakfast, I think back over the last fifteen minutes, how it was filled with several apologies and a painful story. But I also remember two key things: I felt my heart race whenever I saw Greg smile and Greg didn't correct me when I called him Greg...