Hi everyone. Sorry about the long break. I was off from school and I needed to have a bit of time off to both relax and unwind. I've been hard at work on 'Is It Possible...?' and am still reworking 'Am I...?' for a contest I'm going to try to enter. Unfortunately, because of contest rules, I can't have any sex in the story so that's a bit of a let down. But it lets me focus on the buildup of Josh and Leo getting together and allows me to switch some things around and take out certain scenes and add new ones.
But I also have a bit of bad news. My new semester at school is starting and that's going to have to be my main focus for a little while until I settle into my new routine. Don't worry. There will be a new chapter up next week. But I'm unsure of whether or not I'll have a new chapter the weeks after that. Be sure to stay updated on the site to make sure.
Thanks you all again for your support of my stories. I hope you all enjoy Chapter 6 of 'Is It Possible...?'
The season is fast approaching and we're still working hard at practice, Greg continuing to push us to our limits and forcing us into exhaustion. But it's actually starting to get easier as time goes on and I find myself standing up rather than collapsed on the floor of the locker room more times than not.
The Kings are looking better and better and we look like we're becoming more unified and a tighter unit. It made what we looked like last season seem like peewee hockey. It's Friday in the middle of September and rather than being on the ice, I'm changing in the locker room while everyone else is working on drills with assistant coaches Warren and Jacobs and the trainers.
Greg wanted to have a meeting with me about something he didn't specify, and I'm a bit worried. I can never guess what Greg's thinking half the time, so I have no idea what this meeting's about. I change into my t-shirt and jeans and walk to Greg's office (it used to be Coach Barker's, but I haven't been in there since last season so I'm wondering if Greg's changed it at all.).
I walk up to the room and rap my knuckle against the wood. "Come in," says the other side of the door.
I turn the handle and step into the office and am surprised by what I see. Coach Barker usually had the office strewn with papers and was actually a bit messy with old coffee cups and empty bags of chips everywhere. This actually looks like the office of a coach. Everything is in an orderly fashion on the desk and I don't see any sort of crumb on the carpeted floor.
There are a few picture frames on the wall and a few more on the desk along with a mounted TV hanging on the wall next to the door that's playing a hockey game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburg Penguins. Staring up at it intently is Greg, who's sitting behind his desk with a pad of paper in front of him and a pencil in his hand.
I carefully step into the room and shut the door behind me. "You wanted to see me, Coach Natick?" I say, in the respectful tone I've come to adopt at practice.
Greg glances over at me and grabs a remote next to him and presses a button on it, pausing the video on the TV. He rises out of his chair and I see he's in a light blue collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows that's tucked into black slacks with a red tie around his neck. It's pretty different from the sweatshirt and jeans I usually see him wearing during practice.
He walks around the desk and up to me. I see he looks pretty tired. "Go ahead and relax a bit, Tanner," he says, with a bit of fatigue in his voice. "I need to get a cup of coffee. I'll be right back."
Greg walks past me and out of the office while I step over to the chair in front of the desk. With nothing to do until Greg comes back, I look around his desk and see a framed picture. Standing in the picture is Greg, surrounded by about two dozen people in colors of gold, white, and black, all of them with hockey sticks along with a few plain-clothed people on the left and right sides.
Greg is in the middle of the group, wearing a black suit with a gold tie that has a few flakes of confetti on it and is holding a silver trophy in his hands. I see he has a bright smile on his face and every person in the photo is the same, but the eyes of all the players are bright red for some reason. At the bottom of the photo I see a handwritten message.
'We love and will miss you, Coach Natick. You've helped us more than we could have ever imagined and we can't thank you enough for all you've done. We wish you the best for the future and hope you'll visit some time soon. -2023 Playoff Champions, Providence Bruins.'
This was Greg's sendoff from the Providence Bruins. "That was both a special and emotional day for me."
I turn around and see Greg standing in the doorway with a cup of coffee in his hand. "Sorry. I shouldn't have been snooping," I say.
"Don't worry about it. I put that picture there so people can both see it and so I can look at it whenever I'm in here." He walks over to my side and looks at the picture. "God, I miss those boys."
"When was this from?"
"That was just about thirty minutes after we were awarded the Calder Cup for winning the AHL playoffs. The Dunkin' Donuts Center was empty and I called the team, my old assistant coaches and trainers to the ice. I told them I had nothing more to teach them was resigning as head coach.
"The faces they made broke my heart. I mean most of the players were in their late teens or early twenties. They were still kids who needed someone to guide them. They were on top of the world after winning the playoffs for the second year in a row, and what I told them brought them back down to earth. Hard."
"Is that why their eyes are red in the photo?"
Greg nods as he stares at the picture. "A lot of them broke down into tears when I told them. Some begged me not to go. But I felt it was time to let those kids to learn to be the best players they could be without my help."
"But they're smiling in the photo."
"They were just trying to be strong for me. I think it was because they didn't want to seem weak in front of their coach. We took the photo to commemorate our final game together. Not even a minute afterword, they started crying again. To be honest, I did too. I really miss them sometimes."
I set the picture frame back down on the desk and look down at Greg. "Do you...do you ever regret leaving them behind and coming out here and coaching the Kings?"
Greg immediately shakes his head and smiles. "Not in the least. Sure, those boys were the first team I ever coached professionally and they'll always have a special place with me, but I don't regret leaving at all. I felt it was my time to go, so I left. They're adults now and they're stronger than they were when I first met them. They're all going to do great things even without me as their coach."
I nod and look back at the photo for a second. "So what do you call me in here for?"
"Oh right. Go ahead and take a seat, Tanner. We have some things to talk about."
My throat tightens at hearing that and I slowly sit in the chair while Greg sits back down in his own chair, taking off his tie and unbuttoning the top button of his shirt. He takes a sip of his coffee and looks at me, his amber eyes almost burning through me. "First off, Tanner, this meeting is nothing bad. We're just here to watch and learn."
I breathe a sigh of relief. "What do you mean watch and learn?" I ask.
"Look back at the TV." I turn around in my chair and look at the TV behind me. The image starts playing and I hear Greg set the remote down. "You're going to watch this game with me and help me analyze the play patterns of both the Capitals and the Penguins."
I look back at Greg. "Analyze their play patterns?"
"I'm pretty sure you've done this before, Tanner. You're going to watch and see the plays of both teams. You're looking for offensive patterns, defensive patterns, passing patterns, things like that. Sports are also about strategy instead of just strength and speed. You need to be able to outsmart our opponents and do things they won't be expecting."
"So I'm just supposed to watch and take notes."
"I think I'd rather be out on the ice with the rest of the team."
Greg raises his eyebrow in annoyance. "Tanner, you're the captain of the Kings, aren't you?"
"Well being a captain also means you have more responsibilities than the rest of the team. You're the face of the Kings, you're a playmaker, and you're the one everyone looks to for help. If you can't help anyone, then you're not meant to be a captain. This is supposed to both help you and the team.
"If you breakdown the patterns of another team, it helps our team beat them when we play them. So be aware. You're going to start having homework."
My stomach drops at the word. "Homework?"
Greg bends over behind his desk and comes back with a large cardboard box filled to the brim. "In here are videos of every team in the NHL from the last three seasons and rosters of every team. Along with the video we're going to watch this morning, you're going to go home and start studying every single play pattern of every single NHL team and you will know the stats of every single active NHL player by the time the season starts."
My mouth drops open as Greg sets the box down on the desk with a loud thud. "Are you fucking kidding me?! There's no way I can learn all this shit in three weeks! Gre...Coach Natick, this is insane!"
"I would consider yourself lucky, Tanner. Since the NHL stopped preseason matches four years ago, you have more time to learn all this in time."
"But there must be hundreds of hours of video in here! And it'll take me days to read through all of these books! It's impossible for anyone to learn all of this in three weeks!"
Greg lets out a long sigh. "Open any book in there and pick out any player. Don't tell me the team, just say the player's name."
A bit apprehensive, I reach into the box and pull out a book without looking. I flip open the book to a random page and see a picture of William Skyurk, an offensive player for the Montreal Canadiens. "William Skyurk," I say to Greg.
"Look at the page and pay close attention to everything I say." I look down at the page and hear Greg taking in a deep breath. "William Skyurk, starting left winger and captain of the Montreal Canadiens, six foot one, two hundred seventeen pounds. Last season he scored twenty-one goals and seventeen assists, accumulating thirty-eight points in his thirty-six games.
"He racked up a total of twenty-six minutes in penalty time on three roughing calls, a hooking call, two tripping calls, four slashing calls, a high-sticking call, and two delay of game calls. He likes to try and deflect off of other players' skates to try and score a goal and has never been in a fight in his four year NHL career. Did I miss anything?"
Holy shit. He just read this page word for word without skipping a beat! "H-How...?" I start to ask.
"It's just like studying for a test at school. Read it over and over again until it gets stuck in your head."
"B-But didn't it take you a long time to learn all this?"
Greg suddenly laughs to himself. "I started learning all this stuff a little over two weeks ago. This Capitals Penguins game that's on the TV right now is the last one for me to watch and every single player, stat, pattern, and record from the last three NHL seasons will be burned into my brain."
He learned all this shit in two weeks?! I couldn't learn this stuff in two months! "How in fucking hell did you manage to get all of this stuff memorized?" I ask.
"It's like I said. You just need to study it until it sticks in your head. It's really not that hard, just a lot of stuff."
"Aren't there, like, eight hundred players in the NHL?"
"Nine hundred and thirty-two." Fucking God, he's not kidding is he? "If it makes you feel any better, I'll help you learn everything in this box. It might help you learn it all a bit faster."
I raise an eyebrow at Greg. "You'd honestly waste hours with me, trying to help me learn all this stuff?"
"You're one of my players, Tanner. My captain no less. If you're not up to par with knowledge on our opponents, then it makes the team weaker. I want to see you be the best hockey player you can be. And if it takes hours of memorizing all this shit, I'll spend the whole time with you."
I feel my heart suddenly skip at beat at Greg's words for some reason. Why is it this is happening more and more to me? I don't think I'm doing anything really different, so why? "I...really don't know what to say, Coach Natick."
Greg suddenly chuckles to himself. "Just wheel that chair around my desk, take a seat, watch and take notes. The game just started, so you haven't missed a thing. I'll grab you a pad of paper and a pencil."
I take my chair and wheel it to the other side of the desk and Greg places a pad of paper and pencil in front of me, along with two bottles of water. Now that I'm back here, I see Greg has a mini-fridge underneath his desk. He takes a seat next to me and takes a quick sip from his coffee. "Ready?" he asks me.
"Remember what I said and just watch out for patterns. They're everywhere."
Greg takes the remote and presses play, unfreezing the picture on the TV screen. How the hell am I supposed to find a fucking pattern with all this shit moving by so fast? I don't see how...wait, what was that? I swear I just saw something. "Um...could you rewind a few seconds?" I ask Greg.
He glances over at me and picks up the remote and rewinds the video fifteen seconds. "Did you see something?" Greg asks me.
"Maybe, but I can't be sure unless I see it again. Could I also be looking for tells from certain players?"
"Absolutely. If there's a pattern on a team or from a player, be sure to write it down."
We look back at the screen and I see what I saw before. Alexi Sharman, the starting center of the Pittsburg Penguins, passes between his two wingers. Just as he receives a pass, I see a small dip in his hips before he sends it to the opposite winger. When he gets another pass, Sharman raises his right skate and plants it back down on the ice before sending a slapshot toward the net.
The Capitals goalie, Nicholas Calgary, manages to block the shot and attempts to get it under his glove, but a stray Penguin manages to kick the puck away and regains possession of it before sending it back out to Sharman. He plants his right skate back on the ice before taking another hard swing at the puck. The frozen rubber flies toward the net, but just soars a little too high and collides with the glass.
Players scramble for the puck and I point at the screen. "You saw that, right?" I ask.
"Sherman? Yeah, I noticed it. Hockey players have a lot of habits that they unconsciously have while playing. You, for example, choke up a few inches on your stick when you're about to take a shot on goal. It adds power to the shot, but at the same time a goalie can notice you getting ready to try and score and prepare for it."
I choke up on my stick? "What you just saw was Sherman's habit: dipping his hips a bit when he's passing and planting his right skate when he's about to shoot. It's a fairly difficult habit to see because a lot of hockey players plant their skates when they're going to take a shot. But other players mainly do it once in a while to try and generate torque in their bodies, increasing power in their shots.
"Sherman does it every time. If we can get Bradley and Chad to start being sure to look out for Sherman planting his skate, they'll be able to block a lot more of his shots."
So hockey really is about outsmarting your opponents and finding their weaknesses? Somewhere in the depths of my mind, there's a tiny mindfuck going on right now. "You ready to get back to it?" Greg asks me.
I take my pencil and quickly write down a note on Sherman before looking back up. "Play it."
A little over an hour later, the match ends with the Capitals winning 2-1. I fall back into my chair, surprisingly exhausted after watching that game. "It really takes a lot out of you, doesn't it?"
I look over and see Greg's in the same slumped back position as me. "More than I thought it would."
"Analyzing is mentally challenging. It forces your brain to focus on multiple things at once while looking for small details in all of those things. You may not feel it at first, but it gives your brain a hard workout."
Greg stretches his arms above his head and I hear a few cracks from his joints. He lowers his arms and suddenly flaps his shirt a few times. "Is it hot in here?" he asks me.
I don't feel any different at first, but I suddenly feel a blast of hot air hit me, forcing me to flap my shirt as well. "Yeah, it is. Did you open a window or something?"
"No, I've been sitting in my chair the whole time. Holy shit, it's like a freaking sauna."
Greg reaches for his shirt and unbuttons the next two buttons on his shirt, leaving it almost half open in the front. My breath suddenly stops short at the sight of it. Greg's shirt is open enough for me to see the top of his sculpted chest, his pecs looking to try and escape the cotton confines of the shirt.
As Greg continues to try and fan himself, I feel my body temperature on the rise. Sweat starts to break out on my forehead and my heart starts to pound in my ears. What the fuck is going on? Is the heat in here worse than I thought? "Tanner? You look like you're going to be sick."
I look back at Greg and see he's staring at me. "U-Uh...I...uh..." I can't even get two fucking words out! "W-Water..."
Greg nods once and bends down to his fridge and pulls out two bottles of water and hands one to me. I nod a thank you and quickly drink half the bottle. "We should get out of here," Greg says. "There's got to be something wrong with the building."
We both stand up and walk toward the door. I still feel myself sweating as we open the door and I can't get the thought of Greg's smooth, firm chest out of my head. Why can't I stop thinking about it? As Greg and I step out of his office, I feel that it's just as hot outside as it is in the office. "What the hell is going on?" Greg says, sweat dripping down the sides of his face.
"I-I have no idea," I stammer. "Maybe something's wrong with the air conditioning?"
As we contemplate why it's so freaking hot in here, we start to hear moans and grunts coming from the direction of the locker room. Greg and I walk to the locker room and we find the whole team sitting on the benches, many of them having stripped off their practice uniforms and pads and several are wearing nothing but their underwear.
I look over at Greg and see his face is fuming. "Why the hell aren't you all on the ice?!" he yells.
Much of the team jumps at Greg's sudden voice, but none stand up. "Coach Natick," Samuel Garrison, a right winger, says. "We can't play on the ice."
"And why is that, Samuel?" Greg asks.
"Because the ice fucking melted!"
Greg's eyes widen so much I think I'm about to see two eyeballs fall onto the locker room floor. "What the fuck is going on?" he growls. "It's at least eight-five degrees in my office, the ice rink has turned into a swimming pool, and I'm sweating like a fucking pig on a roast! I need answers, now!"
Holy shit, I've never seen Greg this angry. It both scares me a little bit and...makes my heart beat just a bit faster. "Coach Natick?"
Greg and I turn around and see a man who appears to be in his mid-twenties that's a few inches shorter than Greg and is sweating profusely. "Who're you?" Greg says through his teeth.
"I oversee the electrical controls for the building and I came up to tell you we had a small electrical fire down in the basement caused by a stray spark. It destroyed the air conditioning for the building and caused the compressor, which keeps the ice frozen, to shut down."
So that's why it feels like I'm standing in broad daylight wearing a rubber suit. Greg sighs to himself next to me. "How long will it take to fix?" he asks the man.
"It'll take a day or two for the new air conditioning parts to come in and it'll take a day more for us to fix the fried equipment. With no air conditioning, we're going to have to close the sports center until we can get this problem resolved."
Greg rubs his hands over his face in annoyance. "Is there any way we can get this problem resolved any faster?"
"I'm afraid not. Sorry about this, Coach Natick, but right now, this is out of my control."
Greg rubs his face a few more times before letting his hands fall limply to his sides. "Thank you for your help." The man nods and turns and leaves the locker room. Greg turns back to the rest of the team. "Okay, everyone! Due to unforeseen circumstances, we're not going to have practice until next week!
"But that doesn't mean you get to slack off or think this is a free vacation! I expect all of you to go to the gym every day until the air conditioning and ice rink are back to working order! Take the rest of today off before going back to work tomorrow! Dismissed!"
The guys start to rise off the benches and begin to change into their street clothes. I look back to my side and see Greg's suddenly disappeared. Knowing there's only one other place he can go, I quickly grab my stuff out of my locker and head back for the office. I walk back into Greg's office and stop after walking two steps into the room.
Standing in the middle of the office is Greg, shirtless with his back to me. He turns around and sees me before going ahead and jumping a foot in the air. "Christ, Tanner, you scared me," he says, holding a hand to his chest. "For a big guy, you don't make any noise when you walk."
"Sorry. You disappeared from the locker room."
"Yeah, I needed to change my clothes or I was going to sweat through them." He walks behind his desk and comes back with a t-shirt in his hand and starts to slip it over his muscular torso. I feel myself staring as he puts the tight-fitting shirt on. "Don't forget to take the box when you when you leave."
He gestures to the box and goes back behind his desk, coming back with some khaki shorts and sandals. Greg starts to undo his belt and slacks and lets them fall to the floor before stepping out of them and his shoes. I find myself once again staring at the man in front of me, taking in every bit of his body.
I try to look away or even blink, but my body won't listen to me. Is something seriously wrong with me? Over the past few weeks, I've been finding myself staring more and more at Greg. At the gym, during practice, when we're hanging out together, even when he's changing in the locker room and right now.
Why can't I seem to look away from him? Why...why do I feel like I like looking at him so much? "Tanner? You okay?"
I shake my head out and look back at Greg, who's now fully dressed in a black sleeveless sweatshirt over a white t-shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers. "I...I think the heat in here is just getting to me a bit."
Greg nods and grabs another bottle of water from his mini-fridge and tosses it to me. "Be sure to drink it slowly. You might get sick if you try to chug it."
I nod a bit and take a few sips of my water while Greg grabs a gym bag from underneath his desk and lifts the box off his desk. He steps over in front of me and holds the box up in front of me. "Be sure to start studying. I know it's a bit daunting, but I know you can learn it all, Tanner."
I take the box from Greg's hands. "Um...thanks."
"If you need any help with any of this, just give me a call. I'll see you tomorrow morning at the gym, Tanner."
Greg secures the gym bag on his shoulder and walks past me. Before I know what I'm even doing, I turn back to the door. "Hey, Coach Natick?"
Greg turns back to me. "Practice is over for the day, Tanner. Gregory's fine."
"Okay. Um...do you have any plans for the rest of the day?"
He raises an eyebrow at me. "Since I was expecting to be helping with practice today, I didn't have anything scheduled. What's up?"
"Um...would you, I don't know...want to come over to my place and...help me start to learn this stuff?"
I see Greg's eyebrows twitch up a bit. "You want me to come over to your house?"
"I-I mean, we could go somewhere else and try to learn this stuff, but..."
"No, I didn't mean it like that. I was just a bit surprised. You and I have spent a lot of time together outside, with the volunteering and stuff like that, but...this would be the first time I've ever gone over to your place. Wouldn't the thought of having a gay guy in you house be a bit...off-putting?"
"Hey, don't compare me to the guy I was six weeks ago. Yeah, I'm still learning how gay guys can be the same as straight guys mentally and physically, but I think I've made a lot of improvement since we started hanging out. And...you're my coach and I kind of need your help..."
My face feels like it's burning from the inside out from me blushing so hard. Greg takes a few steps back into the office. "I'm sorry, Tanner. I shouldn't have made that generalization. You've definitely changed a lot from the guy I saw over a month ago, and it's a fantastic improvement. Yeah, I'll come over to your home and help you start to learn."
"Um...great!" God, I sounded a little too eager there. "My car's parked just outside."
I get a good grip on the box and walk past Greg, hearing him following behind me. We step outside and feel that it's actually cooler out here than it is in the sports center. We get to my car and place our stuff in the trunk before climbing in and heading over to my apartment, much of the drive just casual conversation.
Not long after, we're finally at my building and I'm parking my car in the garage. "You live here?" Greg asks as we're stepping out of the car.
"Yeah, is something wrong with it?"
"No, it's just a lot different from my own apartment."
We grab our stuff from the trunk and start for the elevator. "How so?" I ask.
"The apartment building I live in is just a standard apartment, nothing really special about it. One bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchen, stuff like that. This place is pretty high end."
"I've lived in my apartment here for about five years now. It took me a little while before I managed to start earning enough money to afford new furniture and appliances." I press the button outside the elevator and the doors open and we step inside. "Is your place a nice one?"
"Like I said, there's nothing special about it. It's just a place for me to sleep and take a shower. Its layout is similar to the apartment I lived in when I was a kid."
My mind flashes back to when Greg told me about his childhood, how he was living with his drag-addicted mother in a run-down apartment outside of Beverly Hills. Does he still think about it? How his childhood was so much harder than everyone else's and how he found his mother dead on his couch?
The elevator dings and we step out on my floor. I lead Greg to my door and I unlock it and we step in. I hear Greg let out a low whistle a few steps inside. "Damn. Nice place."
"Thanks, I like it too." I walk over to my kitchen counter and set the box of books and videos on top of it and let my bag fall to the floor with a thud. "You want something to drink? I have water, soda, energy drinks..."
"Energy drinks? I never took you as the kind of guy that would drink that crap."
"My roommate got an endorsement deal with an energy drink company and now he has the crappy drinks out the ass. He doesn't even drink them that often, and yet they take up half the fridge."
"Water's fine then."
I go and grab a bottle of water for Greg and a can of Coke for myself. "So how do you want to start this out?" I ask Greg.
"Yeah. Should we just start watching videos or do you think we should crack open the books?"
"Books would probably be best to learn on your own time, since it would seem less like studying and more like recreational reading. Videos would be good to start with."
I toss Greg the bottle of water and grab a few random videos from the box and walk into the living room, setting my can on the coffee table and grabbing a disc out of a case. "Devils and Red Wings, 11/13/22," I say, looking at the writing on the disc. "You labeled all of these?"
"Just so I can remember which game was which." He takes a seat on the couch and takes a few gulps of his water. "I would get a few pencils and some pads of paper so we can remember what we saw."
Going back to the kitchen, I find a few pads of paper and some pencils in a few of the drawers and walk back into the living room, taking the disc and sliding it into my Blu-ray player. I grab the remote and take a seat on the couch next to Greg, popping the top of my soda and grabbing a pencil. "By the way, how long would you be willing to stay here and help me?"
Greg turns to me with a smile on his face. "For you, Tanner? As long as it takes."
My chest immediately tightens at hearing that. I barely manage to return his smile as I press play on the remote and start to watch the game. Within a few minutes, the room fills with the soft scribbles of pencils running over paper. Did all these players have all these tells over the years? Because I'm finding them like nobody's business.
From small movements of the arms, to almost unnoticeable shifts in their skating paths, I'm finding things that could be warnings, from checks, to shots, everything. In no time, I've filled out four pages of notes on a few individual players alone. I glance over at Greg to see how he's doing and I feel my breath stop.
He's so...focused on the things at hand. His face is locked in complete concentration as he watches the game, not even noticing that I'm looking at him. I should be looking back at the game, but I can't turn away from looking at Greg's face. What the fuck is wrong with me?! It's just a face for Christ's sake!
But as I continue to stare at Greg, I start to notice things about his face that I never noticed before. His jawline is hard and square with a bit of stubble on it, his cheekbones are high and tight, his nose is neither too big nor too small and is perfectly straight, his mouth is covered by full, light pink lips, and his eyes...
Christ, his eyes are on a different level. The amber color is brighter than any other eye I've ever seen, giving them a sense of life and intellect to them. With his eyes focused on the TV, Greg looks like a hawk waiting to swoop in for its prey. Just looking at his eyes...makes my body completely numb and I feel the world around me slipping away.
It takes me several moments, but I manage to look away from Greg and back to the TV. Time slowly goes by and the hours roll on with me and Greg watching a few hockey games and filling our pads of paper with notes on every team. By the time our latest game finishes, the sun is going down and the room now has an orangey hue to it.
I fall back into the couch, rubbing my palms over my eyes. "God, my head is killing me..."
Greg falls back next to me, rubbing his temples with the tips of his fingers. "I know how you feel. Three or four games a day is the normal intake for me. We watched eight games without a break and it feels like my head is filled with small jackhammers."
"I have some Tylenol if you want some."
I rise off the couch and head for the kitchen, grabbing the Tylenol from the cupboard and pouring four pills into my hand. With two more bottles of water from the fridge, I walk back to the living room and hand Greg the water and pills. "Thanks."
He throws the pills into his mouth and takes a few gulps of the water and I do the same. As soon as the pills hit my stomach, it calls out to me in a low rumble. "I need something to eat," I say.
"Same here. I think the only thing I've had to eat today was a late breakfast."
"How about I order us some pizza?"
Greg suddenly looks down at his feet. "Are you sure I haven't overstayed my welcome? I mean I've been here all afternoon and I figured you'd probably want me out of your hair."
I scoot a bit closer to Greg. "Gregory, I'd probably be eating pizza alone right now if you didn't come over today. I really enjoyed this afternoon, so you spending another hour or two more here sounds pretty damn good to me."
Greg's lips split and I see his teeth flash at me. "Thanks, Tanner."
I return his smile and reach for the phone, punching in the number of a nearby pizza place that I've memorized. "Any preference on what you'd want?" I ask.
"A veggie pizza sounds really good right now."
"Got it." The other end of the line picks up. "Hi, I'd like to place an order for delivery. 2364 Main West 3rd Street, Apartment 1218. Could I get a small pepperoni pizza, one small veggie pizza, and an extra large meat lovers pizza, please? That's it. About fifteen minutes? Perfect. Thank you."
I hang up the phone and rise off the couch to grab my wallet from my bag. As I grab it and turn back to the couch, I see Greg has his wallet out and is riffling through the bills in it. "What're you doing?" I ask.
Greg glances over at me. "Paying for my share."
"Gregory, it's okay. I'll pay for your pizza. You paid for our last breakfast together, so I'll pay for dinner this time."
Greg smiles again and slides his wallet back into the back pocket of his shorts. I return to the couch and grab the money out of my wallet and place it on the coffee table. "By the way, where's your bathroom?" Greg asks me. "I don't think I've gone since we started watching the games."
"Oh, it's down the hall and the first door on your left."
Greg rises off the couch and starts to move past me to get to the bathroom, when I suddenly see his eyes flutter a bit and his face turns several shades paler. His legs suddenly give out and he starts to fall to the floor, but I manage to grab him underneath his arms and hold him up, despite his weight.
I feel my heart racing. "Greg?! Greg, are you okay?!"
It takes a second, but Greg manages to look up at me. His face is pale and sweat is taking form on his forehead? "W-What happened?" he groggily asks.
"You passed out, that's what happened! Please tell me you're okay..."
"Yeah, I'm okay. I just stood up too fast."
He lets out a sigh and gets his feet back under him, but I keep my hands on his sides just in case he falls over again. He looks up at me and his eyes meet mine. A small ball molds in my throat and it's suddenly really hard to breathe. My heart starts to race and my face is quickly getting warmer.
My fingers dig into Greg's sides a bit more, but he doesn't seem to notice. But I notice something: Greg's face is a little pinker than it was a few moments ago. He and I continue to stare at one another in silence and I feel Greg's hands press against my back, making my heart beat even faster.
My gaze from Greg's eyes suddenly goes down to his mouth, where his two light pink lips are slightly parted. I see Greg swallow and it manages to break me out of my daze. "A-Are you really okay?" I ask, letting my hands drop from his sides.
Greg lifts his palms off my back and scratches the back of his head. "C-Could you...do me a favor and just grab my bag for me? I-I need to sit down."
I nod and quickly head for the kitchen where Greg's bag sits. I grab it and walk back to the living room, where Greg has sit back down on the couch. "Thanks," he says, taking his bag from me.
He zips his bag open and rummages through it before pulling out something that looks like a pen. On closer look, I see that the pen is filled with a clear solution and the pen has numbers along the side. Greg takes the cap off the pen and I see a small needle on the end of the pen.
I take a seat next to Greg and look over at him. "What's that?"
Greg sighs to himself and starts turning a dial on the other end of the pen. "It's an insulin pen. I need to take a dose of insulin about thirty minutes before I eat to control my blood sugar."
"Why would you need to do that?"
Greg looks over at me with an expression on his face that looks like shame. "Because I'm diabetic."
The words shock me. "You have diabetes?"
"I've had it my whole life, since the day I was born. It was a defect I had because of my mother's addictions."
Greg takes the pen and presses the needle into his forearm, pressing a button on the end and wincing a bit as he does it. After a few seconds, he pulls the pen out of his arm and recaps it. "But I thought you said you didn't have any defects from your mom's addictions."
"I lied, okay?"
I start to see the color in his face return to its normal hue. "Why did you lie?" I ask.
Greg sets the pen down next to him. "Because I didn't want to seem weak." He wipes the sweat off his forehead. "I don't like to let people know I have diabetes because it makes me feel that they think I'm a weaker person because of it. So I take my insulin in secret before I eat so no one sees me doing it."
"You honestly think having diabetes makes you weak?" Greg closes his eyes and nods once. I carefully place my hand over his and stare right at him. "Look at me." He slowly reopens his eyes and looks over at me. "Greg, diabetes in no way makes you weak. Yeah, it's a disability and a sucky one at that, but that doesn't mean it has to define you.
"You're a strong, healthy man that doesn't take shit from anybody. You are in no ways weak. So don't think that having diabetes makes you weak in any way. You're one of the strongest guys I know, and don't you ever forget that."
Greg stares at me, his eyes a bit wide. "How can you think that much of me when I have this stupid disease that I have to live with for the rest of my life?" he asks so quietly I barely hear it.
I take my other hand and rest it on top of Greg's second hand. "Because I know you're a fighter. You've fought a different battle every day since you were a kid, and you've always come out on top as the victor. From living with your mother, to having to practically fend for yourself, you've fought hundreds, thousands of battles. And you've won every single one.
"Your diabetes is another battle that you're constantly fighting, and I can see that you're not letting it win. All those battles and you've become the man you are today. That's why I think you're the strongest guy I know, Greg."
Greg keeps staring at me, his amber eyes not leaving my gaze. He suddenly moves forward and wraps his two arms around my back, holding me tightly. "Never in my life has someone told me I was strong or a fighter," he shakily says. "Hearing it from you, Tanner, makes it so much better..."
It takes me a second, but I give Greg a hug back and pat his back a few times. "Just remember that you're you, Greg. Not a guy living with diabetes, not a guy who was raised by a drug-addicted mother, and not someone who had it rough growing up. You're Gregory Natick, my coach and...friend."
Greg clutches me tighter at the word. "Thank you, Tanner." He gives me one more squeeze before letting go and I do the same. For some reason, I feel a pang of remorse at the hug ending. Greg wipes his eyes dry and looks back at me. "By the way, why did you order that extra large pizza?"
A sudden loud couple of bangs come from the other side of the apartment door. "Tanner! Open the door! I left my keys in my room this morning!"
I look back at Greg with a smile. "That's why." I rise off the couch and walk to the door, opening it for Adam, who's standing in the hallway in a sweat-soaked tank top and workout shorts. "You really need to start remembering your key."
"I know, but I was running late this morning and it slipped my mind."
He walks into the apartment and I instantly put my hand to my nose, keeping Adam's scent from destroying my nose. "Holy shit, Adam! Why didn't you take a shower after you finished training?"
"I had a long ass day and I just wanted to use my own shower instead of the shitty one at my trainer's gym." Adam sets his bag down next to the kitchen counter and looks into the living room, where he finds a seated Greg. "Oh, hi. Didn't notice you there."
"Adam, this is Gregory Natick. He's my coach. Gregory, this is Adam Underwood, my roommate and one of my closest friends."
Greg rises off the couch and walks over to Adam. "Nice to meet you, Adam," Greg says, holding out his hand.
I can tell Greg's holding his breath right now so he doesn't have to breathe in Adam's post-training smell. "Same here, Gregory," Adam says, taking Greg's hand.
"You're Nate's brother, aren't you? You have the same last name and you look like him."
Adam's eyebrows rise a bit. "You know Nate?"
"I'm friends with his husband's brother."
"Now that you two have formally met, for the love of God, Adam, take a fucking shower!" I say. "I swear to God, the apartments a floor below us will be able to smell you!"
"Try six floors," Greg pipes in.
Adam chuckles and grabs his bag. "Okay, I'll go and take a quick shower. By the way, I have control of the remote tonight, and I get to choose what it is we watch."
"Yay..." I less-than-enthusiastically say.
Adam walks down the hall to his room and I finally start to breathe again. "Sorry about the smell," I say. "He usually comes home clean from training."
"No worries. I've smelled the whole team after our practices, so that was only a bit bad. It's pretty cool you live with an MMA fighter."
"You know Adam's an MMA fighter?"
"I've watched a few of his fights. He's damn good, and those acrobatic moves he does during some of his fights are spectacular. But he really should be careful when he tries them. He's gotten close to dislocating his kneecap a few times by pushing off the cage and turning his body."
Wow, he saw that Adam has a weakness just by seeing a few of his fights. "I'll be sure to tell him," I say. "By the way, are you still coming over to my parents' house with me to meet them next Saturday?"
"Yeah, I was meaning to talk to you about that. Is there some kind of dress code?"
"Not really. Most of us wear what feels comfortable that day, as long as it doesn't look like you can sleep in it. But dressing a bit nicely is always appreciated."
"And what is it you usually do at these dinners?"
"We'd normally just have dinner together, watch the news for a little while, then maybe watch a movie or play a board game while we all catch up on our lives. We have a lot of fun together and it helps keep us all close."
"That sounds like fun. Should I show up there myself?"
"No, I'll pick you up and drive you over to my parents' house. It'll make things easier and keep you from getting lost along the way."
Greg nods and I hear a knock at the door. "Pizza's here," I say.
I go and grab the money off the coffee table and walk to the door. Through the peephole, I see a teenage boy holding three pizza boxes, one considerably larger than the others. I open the door and give the kid a warm smile. "Hi, thanks for coming."
The kid looks up at me and his eyes widen. "T-Tanner White?"
I notice that I've never seen this kid from Mickey's Pizza, so I assume he's new. "That's me. You a new delivery guy?"
"Great. We'll be seeing each other a lot more than. I order from Mickey's a lot. $34.07, right?" The kid nods and I hand him two twenties and take the pizzas from his arm. "Keep the change. Have a nice night."
The dumbfounded kid nods and I close the door. "Was that a fan?" Greg asks me.
"I'd have to assume so. He looked at me like I was an alien with four eyes and seven tentacles." Greg laughs and I set the pizza boxes down on the counter. "Um...can you eat yet since you took your insulin not too long ago?"
"I took it a little over fifteen minutes ago, so I need to wait a bit more before I eat anything. Can I grab a bottle of water from your fridge?"
"Go for it."
Greg walks over to the fridge and I take my pizza and open it, taking in the smell of cooked meat and melted cheese. I take a quick look at Greg's veggie pizza and have to admit it looks pretty damn good. And then there's Adam's pizza, which has so much meat on it I can't see the cheese. "IS THERE MICKEY'S IN HERE?!!"
The yell came from down the hall. "Yeah!" I call back. "Extra large meat lovers with your name on it!"
Loud thumps of feet running over the hardwood echo through the apartment and Adam rushes into the room, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. He slides to a stop in front of the kitchen table and flings open his large pizza box, his eyes wide with anticipation and a hungry grin on his face as he stares at his pizza.
He takes in a deep whiff of it. "Oh, just what the doctor ordered..." Adam starts to reach for a slice, when I give his hand a firm smack. "Ow! What the hell was that for?"
"You know the rules: no eating in your underwear unless it's just the two of us. We have a guest."
"Hey, if he wants to eat in his underwear, that's alright with me," Greg says as he steps back to the kitchen table.
On that note, Adam reaches for a slice of pizza and starts to shovel it into his mouth. "So fucking good..." he says with a mouth full of pizza.
I roll my eyes and take a bite of one of my slices. At least he showered before he came out here in his underwear. Adam takes his large box and relocates to the living room. Greg and I follow him with our pizzas and sit on the couch while Adam takes a seat in a chair. He grabs the remote and flips the TV on, quickly going through the channels while devouring his pizza.
He finally stops scrolling after a minute and falls back into his chair with a smile. "Ah, pizza and watching people being idiots. I call this a good Friday night. I just need a soda and it'll be a great Friday night."
Adam sets his box aside and heads for the kitchen. I'm glued to the TV and watch as a man falls off a skateboard and proceeds to fall onto a rail nuts first. I can't help but groan at the sight. "How can you watch this stuff, Adam?" I ask.
"Hey, when you get punched and kicked six days a week for your job, you learn to laugh at other people in pain."
Adam returns with a can of Coke in his hand and sets it on the coffee table. Greg rises off the couch. "I forgot I need to go to the bathroom. First door on the left, right?"
Greg turns and heads down the hall and I hear the bathroom door close. "He seems like a nice guy," Adam says to me.
"He is when he's not being a coach. When it's time for practice, he turns into a drill sergeant's drill sergeant."
Adam glances down the hall and takes another bite of pizza. "He's diabetic, isn't he?"
I look over at him in shock. "How did you know?"
"Because I see an insulin pen sitting on the couch." I glance to my left and see Greg's insulin pen is still sitting there. "I haven't seen any insulin pens around, so I know you don't have it. So I figured Gregory has it."
"Look, Greg really doesn't like it when people know that he has diabetes, so could you just do me a favor and keep it to yourself?"
"No problem. My younger sister, Riley, has type one diabetes, and she sometimes is self-conscious about it too. So I'll keep Gregory's diabetes a secret."
I hear the bathroom door open and Greg appears a few moments later. "I'm freaking starving," he says, picking up his pizza box.
"Don't you need to wait a bit more?" I ask.
"As long as I don't scarf it down and drink a lot of water, I'll be fine." Greg picks up a slice of pizza and takes a bite of it. "Wow, this is so much better than the pizza I normally get."
"Mickey's Pizza on Wilshire Boulevard," Adam says. "We've been ordering from there for as long as we've been rooming together."
"That's close to where I live. I'll be sure to drop in once in a while."
"Where do you live, by the way?" I ask.
"In an apartment on South June Street. I live alone."
"Wow, that's like five minutes from here," Adam says.
"It's in a pretty inconvenient location, though. I have to wake up early to catch the bus to either get to practice on time or to go to the gym."
"You still haven't bought a car?" I ask.
"I haven't found the need to yet. I don't mind taking the bus. Saves me a lot of money from not paying for gas."
"Either way, it'll be troublesome eventually. The buses around here break down every once in a while and it ruins a lot of plans. So I'm going to start picking you up in the morning to take you to the gym or to practice."
Greg spins his head toward me. "I can't let you be my chauffer, Tanner. Really I'm fine with taking the bus until I decide to buy a car."
"Well that's too damn bad. I can't let my coach drive himself to insanity by trying to adjust to the bus schedule in Los Angeles. So whether you like it or not, I'm going to pick you up in the mornings until you get yourself a car."
Greg sighs to himself. "Looks like I can't convince you otherwise, can I?"
"Then get ready for some early mornings, Tanner. I wake up at 5:00 in the morning and am at Rock's by 6:00, Monday through Saturday."
Well, I can't back out now. Thank God for the invention of coffee. "It's not like Tanner has a life outside of hockey, anyway," Adam says. "He's been single for as long as I've known him."
"Sure, announce to the world that I have no love life."
"Hey, I'm single too," Greg says. "Nothing to be ashamed of."
I'm not sure why, but I feel just the slightest bit of relief in the pit of my stomach. "And I don't see you bringing anyone home, Mr. MMA," I say.
"I don't have time for a girlfriend. Training six days a week from 12:00 to 7:00, gym every morning at 8:00, traveling around the country for fights, I'm surprised I can even find time for friendships let alone relationships. You're only working three quarters of the year. I'm pretty sure you can find time to be with someone."
"Says the guy whose nephew walked in on him chocking the chicken."
Pieces of pizza fly out of Greg's mouth as a loud laugh erupts from his lungs. I join in his laugher as Adam turns a bright red. "Like you two don't need a bit of release every once in a while," he protests.
"Yeah, but I remember to lock the door," Greg says.
The room fills with a few laughs. Time goes on and once the pizzas are finished (Adam finished his before Greg and I even finish three slices of ours), we just sit back and watch Adam's show, groaning in pain for much of it. A little after 9:00, Greg stands up off the couch and stretches a bit. "I should be getting home. It's been a pretty long day. Do you guys know where the nearest bus station is?"
"I'll take you home," I say, standing up too. "It's only a five minute drive from here."
"Are you sure? Don't you feel like you've already done enough for me?"
"I actually feel like I haven't done enough for you, since you've already done so much for the team. So would you mind?"
"If you're offering, I can't turn it down. Let me just grab my bag." Greg heads to the kitchen and grabs his bag off the floor before returning to the living room. "Does he always do this?"
I look over at Adam, who fell asleep about ten minutes ago with a few pieces of pizza on his chest. "Not always. Just after he has a long and tough day at training. I'll wake him up after I get back."
Greg nods and wraps his bag over his shoulder while I grab my car keys. We both walk out of the apartment, quietly closing the door behind us so we don't wake Adam, and ride down the elevator to the garage. Greg places his bag in the back of my trunk and we slip in and drive out of the garage.
Greg directs me where to go as I drive through the streets of Los Angeles. Not long after we set out, Greg points at his apartment building and I turn in. I bring the car to a stop outside the front door and shift into park. "Well, we're here," I say.
"Yup. Oh wait, I think I actually have one more recorded game up in my apartment. Would you mind coming up so I can give it to you?"
"Not at all."
I turn on my emergency flashers and pull my key out of the ignition and Greg and I step out of the car. Once Greg has his bag, he and I walk into the front door of the building and walk to the elevators and start to ride up. The elevator stops on the sixth floor and I follow Greg as he turns and walks down the hall.
We walk to the last door in the hallway and Greg pulls a key out of his pocket and slides it into the lock. He opens the door a few seconds later and flips a light on. I step in and see that the apartment is a pretty cozy one, with comfy furniture sitting in the living room area, nice appliances in the kitchen, and several stacks of notebooks sitting on the kitchen table.
Greg places his bag next to the table and looks over it. "Where did I place that disc?" he asks himself as he looks.
Seeing Greg's distracted, I start to wander around the apartment, looking at everything there is to see. As I get to the other side of the room, I stop when I find a few pictures placed on top of several bookshelves. I take a quickly look over them and see that many of them are from when Greg was coaching the Providence Bruins, his usual serious glare on his face in most of them.
But a few of them I see are more casual. Greg looks much more open in the pictures and is smiling in almost all of them, save for a few when he probably didn't know there was a camera there. I even see a few pictures where Josh and Leo are in the same shots. They must be from when they went to college together.
Is that Zane? Yup. I recognize the tattoos. He and Greg are engaged in a game of beer pong and standing to the right of Zane is...Eric Swanson? Wow, so they really did meet in college. In another picture I see Greg laughing alongside Eric, so the two must be friends as well. Greg seems to be really happy in a lot of these shots.
I continue to look over the pictures until one makes me stop and stare. It's a younger-looking Greg and another guy, with a good amount of muscle tone, blonde hair, and a sharp face, who's planting a kiss right on Greg's cheek. Bile rises in my throat, but it's not out of revulsion. It feels like it's...out of anger. Who the hell is this guy? Didn't Greg say he was single? Why am I getting so pissed over this? It's not like I care who Greg dates. But...why? "Found it!"
I look back over at Greg and see he has a disc case in his hand and is walking over to me. "Sorry it took a bit. It was buried under my notebooks."
I take the disc from Greg's hand and look back at the picture of the guy kissing Greg's cheek. "Um...sorry about looking around. I was just curious."
Greg sees I was looking at his pictures. "No problem. I kind of did the same when I came into your place."
I smile and once again look back at the picture. "Um...can I ask who this guy is?"
I point at the picture in question and I see a soft smile on Greg's face. He lifts up the picture frame and smiles down at it. "That's Brody. He was my first boyfriend."
My teeth clamp down on my tongue to keep myself from frowning. "You...used to date?"
"For about two and a half years. I met him not long after I transferred to Stanford. He and I quickly became friends after we were paired up for an assignment in one of our sports management classes. One day, he asked me out on a date and I said yes. For the next two and a half years, we stayed together and it was really nice."
"What made you two breakup?"
Greg sets the picture back down where it was. "Brody was given the opportunity to graduate early to start a job with the Detroit Red Wings. He was reluctant at first, because he said he didn't want to breakup with me. But I told him to go and take the internship. It was really hard to say goodbye after dating for so long, but I knew he would do great things with that team."
"Um...are you two still...?"
"No, we've stayed broken up, but he and I are still incredibly close. He's in a relationship with another man and they're really happy together. Brody's still working with the Red Wings and has become an assistant coach. I haven't told him about my new job yet, so I'm hoping to surprise him when the season starts."
The public still doesn't know that Greg's the new head coach of the Kings. Mr. Presley has made sure to keep Greg being the new head coach top secret and plans to reveal his identity on opening game day. He even managed to get that small interview I had with Sarah Guinn postponed until the season starts and I've sworn everyone I've told to secrecy as well. "Our first game is against the Red Wings?"
"No, we're starting against the San Jose Sharks." Greg laughs to himself. "Oops. That was supposed to stay a secret until next week."
I smile at Greg and feel my pocket buzz suddenly. I reach in and pull my phone out and see there's a tweet on my screen from the NHL.
'Breaking News: Red Wings head coach Benjamin Delyn has announced his retirement from coaching due to health complications.'
Holy crap. Talk about coincidence. "Speaking of the Red Wings, look at this," I say, holding my phone in front of Greg.
Greg quickly reads over the tweet. "Benjamin's retiring? I never would've seen that in a million years."
"I knew he was dealing with some health problems, but I never expected it to be serious enough to force him to retire."
"It's a shame. I met Benjamin a few times and he loved coaching with a passion. But I'm glad he's choosing to focus on his health."
My phone buzzes again and I look down at the screen.
'The Red Wings have announced that the new head coach will be assistant coach Brody Mates, who has been an assistant coach of the Red Wings for three years now.'
Wow, universe. You really like to mess with our heads, don't you? I feel myself laugh at the tweet. "Looks like your ex-boyfriend is rising up in the world."
I show Greg the tweet and he smiles like the Cheshire cat. "Oh my God! I need to call Brody right away and congratulate him!"
"I guess I'll take my leave then."
"Oh, sorry. I'll show you to the door."
Greg leads me to the door and I step out into the hallway and turn back to Greg. "I uh...had a nice time with you today, Tanner," Greg says.
"Yeah, I did too. So, I'll pick you up tomorrow morning at a little after 5:30?"
"No, I was planning on taking a day off from the gym to catch up on some sleep. I was going to volunteer at the soup kitchen. Would you want to come?"
"Yeah, I'd like that. So, 7:30?"
"That'll work. I'll see you tomorrow morning, Tanner."
"Yeah, see you. Have a nice night."
Greg gives me a smile and quietly shuts the door. I turn and walk down the hall to the elevator and press the button. The doors open a moment later and I step in and press the lobby button. As soon as the doors close, I fall back against the elevator wall and press my hands to the sides of my head as a shaky breath leaves my body.
My heart's been beating like I've just has a dozen shots of espresso ever since I walked into Greg's apartment. I feel like I'm about to be sick, and I don't know why. I don't understand what's going on with me. These things have never happened to me before, and frankly I'm scared out of my mind.
I just want answers to my questions. Why do I want to be as close to Greg as possible? Why can't I stop thinking about him? Why do I like it whenever I see him? Why does my chest tighten when I see him working out or without a piece of clothing on? Why am I so captivated by those amber eyes of his? Why do I want to hold him close to me when I see him looking upset? Why...why do I want to be the person he wants to be with?
All of my questions are left unanswered.