Hi everyone. This is a very important message from me. I'm here to let you know that after I finish 'Is It Possible...?' and 'My Secret', my time on this site will come to an end. This is a decision I've been thinking about for a while now and I've finally decided that these two stories will be my last.
The reason for this decision is because when I started writing on this site, I wrote for fun and for my enjoyment. Now, it isn't much fun anymore. I'm tired of hearing that my work isn't good enough, I'm tired of getting hate in my mailbox because there was something in the story you didn't like, and I'm tired of feeling frustrated, exhausted, and depressed.
But I promise all of you that I'll finish 'Is It Possible...?' and 'My Secret.' After that, RichardAdams will disappear. I'm sorry for this, but it's my choice and I'm sticking to it. Thank you to all of you that have stuck with me through all of my stories. I hope these last two will satisfy you just as much as 'Am I...?' and 'Could I Be...?' did.
Thank you again. I hope you enjoy Chapter 7 of 'Is It Possible...?'
By Monday next week, the sports center and ice rink are back to normal, with the building not feeling like an oven and the ice once again...ice. We fall back into our practice routine, working hard as the season starts in a little over two weeks. And to be honest, we're all feeling the pressure of the upcoming season.
Don't get me wrong. We're always on edge when the new season is about to start, but this year we're all just a bit tenser. We're practically a new team, for God's sake. We've never played the hockey we're playing now, with both offense and defense getting stronger as the days go by. I just hope this new strategy works at the start of the season.
My studying on all the other players and teams is making my head feel like it's going to explode. I've only been studying for about a week now and I feel like I've studied more in this week than I did in a year at the University of Michigan. Greg's managed to help me study every time I asked him for help and he's helped me learn a bit more.
It's Saturday and I'm currently in a peaceful slumber, dreaming of when I was still a junior in college and when The Wolverines and I made it to the finals of the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship. I'm pleasantly enjoying watching old highlights of me and my former teammates when the horrible blare of my alarm clock wakes me.
My eyes slowly open in disgust as I slam my hand down on the clock, shutting off the sound. I slowly rise off my bed and rub my hands over my face, getting the sleep out of my eyes before I slide out of bed and stumble into my bathroom. In my pre-dawn daze, I manage to take a shower and get my teeth brushed before slumping back into my bedroom and getting on some workout clothes with my eyes closed.
I get my shoes on and quickly pack my bag with a change of clothes before walking into the kitchen and grabbing a bottled coffee from the fridge. I quickly drink half the bottle and pack a few bottles of water in my bag. With my keys, phone, wallet, bag, and underwear (I made sure I got those on first), I step out of my apartment and ride down to the garage.
I stuff my bag in the trunk and take another swig off my coffee before getting into the driver's seat. I've been picking up Greg every morning this week at quarter to six and I feel like I'm going to die every time I wake up. Humans aren't meant to be up before the sun! But some people, namely Greg, like to get an early start.
My hand slides the key into the ignition and turns the car on and I drive over to Greg's apartment building. At least there's barely anyone up at this ungodly hour, so the drive over isn't terrible. A little over five minutes later, I pull in front of Greg's apartment building and find him already waiting outside, his normally slicked back hair in a disheveled style that actually looks styled on him.
The car rolls up to the front door and Greg and I exchange a wave before he places his own bag in the back of the car and slides into the passenger's seat, a small cup of coffee in his own hand. "Hey," I say.
"Morning." Greg places his coffee in the cup holder before getting his seatbelt on. "You look exhausted, Tanner."
"I feel exhausted. How the hell do you manage to look and act the same waking up at five in the morning?"
"I've been waking up at this hour for about six years now, so I guess I'm used to it. You ready to go?"
"More or less." I shift the car into drive and start to head over to Rock's. As I pull out of the small turnoff and onto the main road, I look over at Greg. "So what's the plan for today?"
"Well, we agreed on starting out with a workout and then heading over to the soup kitchen for a little while. After that, I have no idea. Is there anything you want to do?"
I laugh it off. "Okay, there is one thing I was going to do a little after noon today, but I don't think I should try and get you to be involved with it."
"And why's that?"
"Because I'm helping a few of my friends at their bar during the lunch rush. I'm waiting tables."
Greg turns his head to me and I see an incredulous look on his face. "You? A professional hockey player is waiting tables at a bar?"
"It's a sports bar and I go there pretty often because the food is really good and I like spending time with my friends. You remember A.J. Williams and Ulrich Consort, right?"
"Your old teammates? I had a few classes with them in high school."
"Well it's their bar and I owe them a favor. So I'm waiting tables for a few hours today because there are a few waiters that have the day off today. I was going to ask you if you wanted to help with the process, but I couldn't ask something like that."
"Why not? You've been helping out at the soup kitchen a lot, so I think I owe you for that. If it helps lighten your load, I'd be glad to help."
"Are you sure? Waiting tables is a lot of work."
"I worked as a waiter for two years when I was at Stanford, so I know how to wait tables. It's no problem, Tanner."
I smile over at him. "Thanks. I owe you one."
"Consider us even for all the days you've volunteered at the soup kitchen with me."
A few minutes later, we drive into the parking lot of Rock's Gym and grab our stuff and head in. The gym opened just a few minutes ago, so when we walk in, Rock's still in the middle of setting up the display at the front desk. He hears us walk in and I see his eyes widen a bit. "Morning, Gregory," he says. "Tanner, I'm still surprised you're managing to come in here before the sun comes up."
"Don't remind me, or I will be forced to punch something," I say.
Rock grins at my statement. "So another workout for the coach and star captain?"
"Just like every morning," Greg says.
"Well, feel free to use whatever's available, which is pretty much everything since no one really shows up until about 7:00. If you need anything, I'll be here for the next few minutes and then I'll be in my office doing a bit of paperwork."
"Thanks, Rock," Greg and I both say.
We both give Rock a pat on the shoulder and head for the locker room. We walk in and I smell that it's been freshly cleaned, judging by the subtle smell of cleaning agent and bleach. We walk over to two lockers and I stuff my bag in one of them. Once I have my phone, ear buds, and armband, I grab two bottles of water and shut my locker door.
I look over at Greg and almost drop everything I'm holding. Greg is standing a few feet away from me, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer-briefs. "Um...w-where'd your clothes go?" I ask.
Greg looks up at me. "They're in the locker with the rest of my stuff."
He reaches into the locker and pulls something black out. "But...why aren't you wearing them?"
Greg suddenly reaches for the waistband of his underwear and slides them to his ankles, leaving him completely naked next to me and leaving me in a state of shock. I watch as Greg steps out of his underwear and places them on the bench in front of him before taking the black piece of clothing in his hand and stepping into it and sliding it up his legs.
I see that it's a square cut speedo, like the one I saw him wearing a little over a month ago, but this one's black. Greg secures the swimsuit around his waist with a snap, but I'm left staring at the man next to me, who was naked just a few seconds earlier. Okay, now there are two new questions on my mind: why was a staring at a man as he stood naked next to me and why did I find myself glancing at his dick?
Greg takes his underwear and tosses them into the locker before pulling a swim cap and a pair of goggles out. "I haven't gone for a good swim in a little over a week, and it sounded really good when I woke up. Plus it's a full body workout, so I can fill in my quota for today."
He shuts his locker and grabs his goggles and swim cap before starting to head to the pool. "You going to workout?" he asks me.
I shake my head out a bit. "Y-Yeah, I just...need to get my phone into the strap. I'll just be in the main gym and maybe I'll take a short run on one of the treadmills upstairs."
Greg nods and goes and grabs a towel and heads off for the pool, leaving me alone in the locker room. I feel the energy in my legs start to give out and I fall onto the bench and let my head fall into my hands. I'm so fucking confused right now that I almost want to cry to let out all of my frustration.
I just want answers to what's going on with me. Why do I feel myself change so much whenever I'm around Greg? My whole body is warm right now and I feel a lot of heat around my groin. My hand slams against a locker behind me and I quickly slip my phone into the armband and attach it to my upper arm before slipping in my ear buds and heading to the gym.
My feet carry me to the free weights and I quickly and aggressively jump into my workout. I need to get these thoughts out of my head, and right now working out is probably the only way to get them out. Within a minute, my arms and shoulders start to feel the burn I both love and hate.
With music blasting in my ears, I lose all track of time as I go around the gym and work on my arms, chest, shoulders, and core. But at least while I'm working out it's the only thing on my mind. I start to come back to reality and find myself coated in sweat and am lying on the floor with a bottle of water in my hand and my lungs gasping for air.
The clock on the wall says 7:00, so I've been going at it for a little more than an hour. I think I have enough time for a short run, so I rise off the floor and head for the second floor, which is completely empty when I get up there. I step onto a treadmill and ease into a comfortable jog.
As I get into my comfort zone, I look down at the pool and see only a single person in it: Greg. Just like the first time I saw him swimming in that pool, he's moving through the water as swiftly as a dolphin. Even from up here, I can see the muscles in his body working at top speed, pushing and pulling Greg through the water.
He's swimming his laps like he'll never be able to swim again, pushing his body to the limit of what it can do. He looks absolutely amazing as I watch him swim lap after lap, never slowing down for even a second. Greg reaches the end of the pool and comes to a stop and floats in the water, his body heaving as he searches for air.
He reaches up and pulls off his swim cap and goggles and shakes his wet hair out. Greg rises up out of the pool and takes a seat on the edge before falling to his back to the tiled floor. He doesn't seem to be moving and it concerns me. I see I've jogged about two miles and feel it's enough. I stop the treadmill and hop off and jog down to the ground level.
I quickly reach the pool area and see Greg still hasn't moved. I run over to his position, my heart racing both from exertion and a bit of fear. The water underneath my shoes causes me to slide to a stop just a few feet next to Greg, whose eyes are closed and is breathing deeply and slowly. "Greg! You okay?"
Greg's eyes slowly open and he sees me standing over him. "Tanner, when'd you get here?"
"A few seconds ago. Are you okay? I saw you fall back onto the tile from upstairs and you weren't moving."
"Oh." Greg sits up and rubs his eyes. "I pushed myself a little harder than I normally would in the pool and I guess I fell asleep or something when I got out."
"More like you passed out." I kneel down next to him and rest my hand on his shoulder. "Do you have a history of fainting? Because last week you passed out after getting up off my couch too fast and now you just passed out when you got out of the pool."
"No, I don't have a history of fainting. But I talked to a doctor about my passing out spells a few days ago and he told me my blood pressure was a tad lower than the normal pressure. He gave me a bit of medication for it and told me that my blood pressure would return to normal in a little while."
Low blood pressure? "Does he know what caused it?"
"He did a full checkup and didn't find anything wrong with me physically; told me I had a clean bill of health. So I'll just take the medication until I run out and get another checkup in a week." He smiles over at me. "Thanks for being concerned, Tanner. I'm really fine."
I nod a bit and get back to my feet. "Have you been swimming for the last hour?"
"And you're just stopping now?" He nods. "How many laps have you done?"
"I think maybe a hundred or a hundred and ten. I stopped counting about ten minutes ago."
I raise my eyebrows in surprise. "You swam more than three miles?" He nods again. "You're really committed to staying in shape, aren't you?"
"I don't want to go back to being the skinny kid I was, and I'm pretty damn proud of the progress I've made over the last ten years. So I want to stay in the shape that I'm in now." He raises his arms over his head and flexes them, forcing his large biceps to protrude out of his arms. "Yup. Damn proud indeed."
My crotch twitches at the sight of Greg's flexing arms, but I will myself to calm down. "I'm probably going to head to the showers," I say. "Are you finished for today?"
"Yeah, just about." I hold my hand out for him and help him to his feet. "Thanks. I'll meet you in there. I just need to dry off a bit."
I nod and start to head for the locker room. Once I'm inside, I let out the breath I've been holding since I saw Greg flex his arms. They were fucking perfect, but how come I've never reacted like that when I saw one of my teammates or Adam doing that? They do it all the time. So why is it Greg made me feel as if all the air was sucked out of the room?
I step over to my locker and start to peel off my sweaty clothes and toss them onto the bench. With my shoes and socks off, I grab the waistband of my shorts and bring them to the floor, leaving me in my underwear. I'm about to pull those off too when I hear the door to the locker room open and my body freezes.
That can only be Greg. I take in a deep breath to try and calm myself down, not even knowing why I feel the need to try and calm down. Act natural, act natural, act natural. Greg's footsteps get closer and I start to place my clothes into my locker. In my peripheral, Greg steps up to his locker and opens it up.
I glance over and see he's still pretty wet and his towel is hanging around his neck. My eyes dip to his waist and I see his speedo is sticking to his waist like wet paper and seeing it forces me to swallow. Remembering to act natural, I take my underwear and quickly strip it off and throw it into my locker.
I grab my towel and wrap it around my waist. "I'll see you in the showers," I tell Greg.
He nods and I head for the showers, willing myself not to look back at Greg and his soaking wet body. I step into a shower stall and place my towel on the hood outside before turning on the water. For a few, peaceful seconds, I just enjoy the feeling of washing the sweat off my body. That is until images of Greg flash through my mind.
Fucking damn it. These things are happening more often now. But for some reason, I find myself wanting to see them more. My throat clenches up and I rest my head against the tile wall of the shower stall, tightly closing my eyes and just breathing. I start to feel the backs of my eyes start to prickle and quiet, shaky breaths leave my body.
God damn it. I'm fucking crying. I'm 28 years old, and I'm crying like an 8 year old for no fucking reason. But all this pent up frustration from the last few weeks has been killing me. And to be honest, it kind of feels good to let it out after just holding it in for so long. "Tanner? Are you okay?"
I turn to my right and see Greg standing in the middle of the showers, a towel around his waist. Crap, he saw me crying. "Y-Yeah, I...I just got a bit of soap in my eyes. I'm fine..."
I quickly step into the spray of the showerhead and pretend to wash the 'soap' out of my eyes. Greg steps into the stall next to me and turns on his shower. "Are you sure you're okay?" he asks me again.
My head nods in answer. "Yeah. I'm okay. I guess I'm just a bit nervous for the upcoming season. It's only in a little over a week."
"I know how you feel. It's going to be my first NHL game as a head coach. I'm nervous as all hell."
I nod a bit and quickly finish up my shower. I dry off in my stall and wrap my towel around my waist before stepping out. "Try to be quick," I say to Greg. "We're supposed to be at the soup kitchen in about thirty minutes."
Greg nods and I turn and head back to my locker, the images of my coach still going through my mind at a blinding speed.
I wait until Tanner's left the shower area before I release the breath I've been holding for what feels like an hour. I grab the dividing wall of my shower stall for a bit of support so I can try to recollect myself. Ten years, ten fucking years, and I still have a crush on him like some preteen girl. I'm 28 years old for God's sake!
There's nothing more I would want than to be with him, but I know he's as straight as an arrow. I heard rumors all through high school about how Tanner was sleeping with girl after girl. It really sucked to hear all that because I liked him so much. And even after ten years, I still like him just as much as the first day I saw him.
But those feelings disappeared for just a little while after the explosion. I was just so pissed that my life was so horrible and how Tanner helped to make it miserable for me. So for the next three and a half years, I didn't feel a thing for Tanner. But after Brody and I chose to break up, the feelings came right back.
He's become so much hotter over the last ten years that it's nearly impossible to stay flaccid around him. Hell, watching him take off his underwear in the locker room almost made me sprout wood right then and there. Thankfully I had enough self-control to wait until I was in the stall, and now I'm as hard as a rock.
For the love of God, he's stunning. He looks like he's added another fifteen pounds of muscle onto that body of his, he's gotten a few scars on his face from the fights he's been in that are so sexy, those dark green eyes that seem to shine whenever he smiles, the perfect amount of hair on his chest and stomach, it's all amazing.
There's no way I'm going to be able to walk out of this shower with my dick at full mast. God knows how Tanner will react. He's made a lot of progress when it comes to accepting gay people, and I'm really proud of him for it. But if he sees a gay guy standing next to him with a boner, I don't even want to think about what will happen.
I get a few pumps of soap from the dispenser into my hand and coat my palm and fingers in the slick substance. Reaching and wrapping my hand around my hard dick, I begin pumping like a madman. It's not even ten seconds later that amazing pleasure covers my body and I choke back a moan as I cum.
My orgasm slowly subsides and I release my dick, now soapy from me jerking it so hard. I use my foot to sweep my cum down the drain and wash the soap off my hand and dick, suddenly feeling a bit of shame. I just masturbated thinking about my straight friend, my player no less. What the hell is wrong with me? That's like gay guy rule number one: never fall for the straight guy.
Sighing to myself, I turn off the showerhead and step out of the shower and quickly dry off before heading back to my locker. I walk back into the main locker room and see Tanner's half-dressed, wearing only his underwear and a pair of shorts. He glances back at me, smiles a bit, and turns back to his locker and pulls out a t-shirt.
I walk over to my locker and get my casual clothes out before stripping off my towel and stepping into my underwear. Tanner finishes getting dressed and takes a seat on the bench, pulling out his phone and waiting for me. I pick up my pace a bit, quickly throwing on my t-shirt and pulling my jeans over my underwear and taking a moment to get my socks and shoes on.
Fuck, why do I have so many fashion accessories? I mean I like the bracelets I wear on the weekends, but Tanner probably thinks it's stupid, along with the necklace I own. Nevertheless, I get them on and quickly pull my dark purple cardigan sweater over my white-t-shirt and slip my glasses on.
I stuff everything into my bag and shut my locker. "Ready?" I ask Tanner.
He looks up at me and I hear him stifle a laugh. "I think you're forgetting something."
He's looking up at my hair and I reach up to feel in there's anything in it. What I feel feels like a gigantic mass of mad scientist hair. Fuck, I forgot to slick it back. "Damn it. Do you mind waiting another minute?"
"Not at all. Go ahead and take care of the wet dog on your head."
I roll my eyes and grab my hair gel out of my bag and rush over to the locker room mirrors. Getting the right amount into my hand, I start to tame the wild beat that is my hair. "Sorry if I'm taking so long," I call out to Tanner.
"No worries. I don't mind waiting for you."
The sentiment in his words makes me smile and I finishing getting my hair in order. I walk back and see Tanner's standing holding my bag for me, still looking down at his phone. He looks up when I walk back in. "Aren't you going to be hot wearing the sweater?" he asks, handing me my bag.
"Won't you be cold? Today's a cold snap. It's supposed to be in the upper fifties until later today."
"I think I'll be fine. I have a sweatshirt in my car if I need it. Ready to go?"
I nod and we head out of the locker room and head out to the parking lot, giving Rock a wave as we leave. We place our bags in the back of Tanner's car and climb in the front. "You've really come to like volunteering at the soup kitchen, haven't you?" I ask, buckling my seat belt.
"It feels good to give back to others." He turns on the car and starts to back out. "I've been fortunate my whole life to not have to worry about a thing, so helping people that are down on their luck, even just a little bit, is a great feeling."
About fifteen minutes later, we pull into the soup kitchen parking lot and grab our stuff and head in. The group of volunteers is already setting up the main table and I see Trent helping set up. "Trent! What do you need help with?" I call over to him.
The man looks up and sees the two of us and smiles. "Great! The muscle is here!" Trent walks around the table and over to us. "Good thing you're here. We're running a bit behind and we need help getting the food into the kitchen. Then if you could help cook up some of the food, that be fantastic."
"No problem," Tanner says. "Where should we put our bags?"
"I'll take them off your hands and put them with the rest of the bags." We hand Trent our bags and he smiles at us. "Thanks again, guys! We have about an hour until the doors open and I think we've only cooked about a quarter of the food we need. Get a move on! If you need any help, I'll be out here!"
Trent turns and heads for the back of the building to put our bags away. "Let's get to work," I say.
Tanner nods and we head to the walk in fridge, where much of the cold food is stored. Tanner grabs a large box of meat and I grab a few cases of eggs. We relay food to the kitchen and get all the stuff in there within ten minutes. Virginia walks over to us and claps her hands frantically. "C'mon! C'mon! We need all the help we can get! Throw on a hairnet, put on an apron, get some gloves, and get your butts to work!"
For a woman in her mid-sixties, Virginia is a woman you don't want to cross when she's working. Tanner and I quickly put on the necessary clothing and stand in front of Virginia, awaiting orders. "Tanner, you're the better cook between the two of you, so you're helping with pancakes. Get to it."
Tanner nods and goes to Jeff and Scott. "Gregory, you're helping me and Daniela with the eggs. It may seem easy, but when you're cooking eggs for a few hundred people it gets to be overwhelming."
I follow Virginia over to a large griddle, where Daniela is already cooking some eggs. Daniela's a young woman in her early twenties and starting volunteering here as a requirement for one of her classes at Cal State. She found to really like it and has volunteered here every weekend since then over a year ago.
She glances at me and Virginia approaching. "Hi, Gregory," she says sweetly.
"Hi, Daniela. Where can I help?"
"Just crack a few eggs and scramble them. I'll tell you when they're ready."
She motions to a crate of eggs and I quickly crack half a dozen onto the hot griddle and grab a spatula. "Will it take long to cook these?"
"A couple of minutes is all they need. Just make sure they don't stick to the griddle or we'll start chocking on smoke." I nod and move the eggs around on the griddle, breaking the yolks and turning it into a bright yellow mixture. "So how the friendship with you and tall, broad-shouldered, and sexy over there?"
She glances over at Tanner, who's working with Jeff and Scott on the pancakes. "I told you before, Daniela," I say. "Tanner and I are just coach and player on the ice, friends off the ice."
"That doesn't mean you don't like him."
And almost instantly, my face reddens. "Am I really that obvious?" I whisper.
"No, I just see you staring at him sometimes."
Great. "Well, either way, there's no way I'll be able to go out with him. It's a known fact that he's straight."
"Are you sure about that?"
I snap my head at her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean have you ever seem him with a girl? Either in high school or now?"
"Well...no, but in high school, I kept hearing through the grapevine about how he was sleeping with a lot of girls, some older than him and in college."
Daniela suddenly laughs to herself. "Are you kidding? Gregory, sometimes you're the most gullible man I know." I'm lost. "Do you know the likelihood of a high school boy getting in bed with a college aged girl? That girl would either have to be really desperate, or really drunk."
"But he looked incredibly mature for a high school kid."
"Trust me on this. When a girl hears that a kid is just old enough to vote, they drop him like a sack of potatoes, no matter how hot they are. My roommate last year almost hooked up with a guy who had snuck into a party one of the frats was having. He had just turned 18. When he told her, she pretended to have one too many and proceeded to run to a bathroom to 'puke her brains out.' The guy left a minute later. Eggs are ready."
I take the eggs I was cooking and toss them into the heated bin next to the griddle and throw another half dozen eggs on. "But there's still the possibility that he slept with some high school girls." I say.
"Gregory, I know for a fact that a lot of girls in high school aren't as skanky as you think. Sure, some can get a bit freaky, but never take it all the way. A lot of them don't want to risk getting a baby. That's what kept me in my studies and out from underneath a guy."
Daniela clamps her spatula on the griddle, making me jump a bit. "Gregory. Stop being such a worrywart, as my mom always says. The worst you that could happen is that he says no."
"Or he report me to the NHL board and file a sexual harassment charge against me for coming onto him and make me lose my job as coach of the Kings."
"Gregory, you know Tanner wouldn't do that. You two have become really close, haven't you?"
"We have but...God, this is making me want to punch something."
Daniela reaches over and hands me a package of bacon. "Punch this. It's incredibly satisfying."
I rest the bacon on the countertop and give it a good hard punch, letting out a bit of my frustration. Daniela was right. It is satisfying. But...it's not enough. All I get out of it is the knowledge that Tanner's too far out of my reach.
A few hours later, the breakfast rush is over and we're all busy cleaning up. Why didn't I start volunteering a long time ago? This stuff is actually a lot of fun. I just wish I had more time for it. But with the season starting soon, I'm not going to be able to come here as much as I would like. But I'll still come out whenever I can.
I really should thank Greg for bringing me out here. I never thought it would be this enjoyable. Once a few bags of trash are thrown into the dumpster out back, I return to the main dining hall and find Greg. "Hey, ready to go?" I ask him.
"Yeah, let me just go thank Trent. Can you grab our bags?"
"No problem. I'll meet you out by the car."
Greg nods and goes to find Trent while I grab our bags from one of the offices and head out to the parking lot. It's actually cooler than I thought it would be, so I toss our bags into the trunk and pull out my black sweatshirt I keep in here for emergencies. As soon as it's zipped up, Greg walks out of the building and over to me.
We climb in the car and start to head over to Get The Puck Out. "Do I need to get ready to do anything for this?" Greg asks me.
"Not really. A.J. and Ulrich will give us both waiter shirts and we just jump into work. Do you need a refresher on how to wait tables?"
"Be courteous, respectful, and smile until your cheeks hurt."
"You got it. And if there's an unruly customer, A.J. notices and usually takes care of it quickly. So you don't need to worry about it."
We continue to make small talk as I drive us through the streets. Not long after, I pull in front of Get The Puck Out and park the car. "Nice name," Greg says as we step out.
"Yeah, I like it too. Grab your bag."
Greg and I get our bags out of the trunk and walk into the bar. Since it's just now 11:00, there aren't any customers yet. "There's my favorite hockey player!"
We look toward the bar and see A.J. standing behind it, cleaning a few glasses. "Hey, A.J.!" I call over to him.
Greg and I walk over to the bar, Greg looking a bit nervous as we get close. When we step up I see A.J.'s mouth drop open. "Gregory? Is that really you?"
Greg smiles a bit. "It's good to see you again, A.J."
A.J. sets the glass he was cleaning down and walks around the bar and up to Greg. He wraps Greg in a tight hug, laughing as he squeezes him. "Jesus Christ, dude! You look awesome!"
Greg looks a bit unsure, but returns A.J.'s hug. A.J. lets go and holds Greg by the shoulders, still grinning. "What the hell happened to the five and half foot guy I worked with in Prob/Stat?"
"He grew up," Greg says, with a smile.
"No shit you did!" A.J. turns to the kitchen. "Ulrich! Get out here! You need to see this!"
There's a bit of rustling in the kitchen and Ulrich walks out a few seconds later, an apron around his waist and...a paint mask around his neck? I don't even want to know. "What's up?" he asks A.J.
A.J. gestures to Greg. "Take a look at our old classmate."
Ulrich's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. "Holy shit! Gregory!" Ulrich quickly walks over to Greg and gives him a hug similar to the one A.J. gave him. "God, ten years and you change this much! All I have to show for ten years is that I look more like my dad."
"You look good too, Ulrich," Greg says. "It's great to see you both again."
"So what's it like to coach our favorite asshole here?" A.J. asks.
"Hey!" I protest.
"Tanner's a hard worker," Greg says. "He has every right to be the captain of the Kings with his level of skill. He's been studying every player and every team in the NHL for the past week." Greg turns to me. "Henry Crispin."
My mind snaps to attention and I take in a deep breath. "Henry Crispin, a starting defenseman for the New Jersey Devils, six foot six, two hundred fifty one pounds. He scored eleven goals last season and had seven assists, totaling eighteen points last season out of the thirty games he played in.
"He had a total of seventeen penalty minutes for two roughing calls, a hooking call, a stoppage of play call, two high-sticking calls, and a spearing call that resulted in a bruised rib of an opponent. In forty-seven face-offs, he's won thirty, and his playing style is mainly high speed."
Ulrich and A.J. are left baffled. "How many players do you know?" asks Ulrich.
"I think I'm up to four hundred and sixty three. Just another five hundred to go..."
"That and another sixteen teams," Greg says.
"Don't remind me..."
A.J. and Ulrich both laugh at us. "Wow," A.J. says. "What the hell happened to you two? Back in high school, it was pure animosity. Well, one-sided animosity. Now, it's like you two have been friends for years."
"We came to an understanding a little over a month ago," Greg says. "Tanner apologized for what happened in high school and I forgave him. Now, we're spending weekends together and are becoming closer."
"Yeah, and Greg's helping me to understand how gay people and straight people are no different when it comes to things like masculinity. He's really helped me a lot and I feel like I know much more about it now."
"Good, now you can be less of an asshole," Ulrich says.
I punch Ulrich in the shoulder playfully, but with enough force to hurt a bit. "So are we working?" Greg says.
"Yup," A.J. says. "You both are going to be waiting tables for the next few hours, and the lunch rush is our busiest time."
"Do you two get a lot of business?"
"We've been named best bar in the city for the last three years," Ulrich says. "My wings are famous here."
"Yeah, famous for almost killing people," I say.
"You're just jealous that I have a license to buy ghost pepper extract and am the only person in the state that's allowed to use it."
"Can't that stuff kill you?" Greg asks.
"Only if you add too much to a mixture. I add the right amount so it feels like your tongue is melting, but it's not enough to cause permanent damage. I also add pure habaneros, scotch bonnets, assorted spices, and a pinch of devil tears."
I never heard about that part. "Devil tears?" I ask.
"Shavings from the skin of a Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, the world's hottest pepper. A single ounce of the pepper shavings cost me $600, and I have ten ounces of the stuff in the back. It's enough to last me a few months before I need a new shipment"
I feel myself sweating already. "So why tell us this?" I ask.
"To prepare you for the service today," A.J. says. "Last night, we sent out a special offer, saying that if someone could finish an order of Ulrich's improved wings in under ten minutes, six wings total, they can eat and drink here as much as they want for the next year. We're expecting a big turnout today."
"How big?" Greg asks.
"We put an ad in the L.A. Times and paid the local news to endorse this offer," Ulrich says. "So we're thinking several hundred people will show up just to try and beat it."
My two best friends can be real idiots and real geniuses sometimes. "Be aware," A.J. says. "When you're bringing the food out to the customer and that order happens to be the wings, you both are going to have to wear gloves. The customers will too."
"Should I ask why?" I say.
"One word," Ulrich says with an evil grin. "Napalm."
Greg and I both gulp. A.J. claps his hands together. "Okay! We have about fifteen minutes until the first people show up, so let's get you two your uniforms! Oh, and Tanner? We also put in that you'd be serving today, so expect fans."
Hooray. My friends are using my name for profit. "I need to start prepping the wings," Ulrich says. "If you hear someone scream, they got pepper dust in their eyes. Call 911 if it happens."
Sometimes I think Ulrich actually does try to kill people with his food. A.J. leads me and Greg to the back of the bar, where the serving station is. He tosses us two t-shirts. "I'll take your bags and put them in my office," A.J. says, taking our bags. "Once you're changed, just toss your shirts and jackets in there too and meet me back out front and I'll give you a few more instructions."
A.J. goes off to his office and back out front and Greg and I start to change out of our shirts. "Is Ulrich a sadist?" Greg asks me as he pulls off his sweater.
I laugh. "No, but he does like to test the limits of how much heat people can take. I tried his wings in the past and I felt like I was going to die after a single bite."
Greg laughs too and we change into the t-shirts: two black t-shirts with Get The Puck Out on the left breast. We put our shirts into A.J's office and head back out front, where A.J.'s waiting. "Here are your towels, your order pads, and a few pens," he says, handing us the items. "You both know how to work a P.O.S., right?"
We both nod. "Good. Since you both have waiting experience, there's nothing more I really need to say. But when someone orders the wings, after you put the order in, bring them a waiver from the bar and have them sign it."
"A waiver?" Greg says.
"It says that they know what it is they're doing and that the restaurant is not responsible for any bodily injury, permanent damage, or death that may be caused by consuming the wings."
"You've got to be kidding," I say.
"Actually, I'm not. Those wings have the potential to kill someone if they're not careful. Thankfully, the hospital is just two blocks away. And when you bring the wings out, be sure to bring them out with a pair of gloves and some goggles."
"They need to eat them with goggles?" Greg asks.
"If they get the sauce in their eyes, it can damage the cornea."
"Why the hell are you serving these wings?" I ask.
A.J. just smiles. "Because we can. If I were you two, I would go and meet with the other waiters and waitresses so you can get acquainted. I'll be behind the bar getting ready for those midday drinkers. Good luck and have fun."
He returns to his position behind the bar and Greg and I introduce ourselves to the five other waiters: Maggie, Peyton, Randy, Darrel, and Crystal, along with the hostesses Lisa and Carmen. Greg and I are assigned two sections next to each other and help to set the tables up for the customers. Once we're all done, I hear the front door open.
I glance over and see a man, woman, and a preteen girl walk into the bar and up to the hostess station. Lisa walks them over to a table and I see that it's in my section. "First table," Greg whispers to me. "Good luck."
"Thanks, I might need it."
With a deep breath, I walk over to the table and put on my best smile (good thing I put in my tooth today). I step up to the table and smile down at the family. "Good morning, and welcome to Get The Puck Out. My name's Tanner and I'll be your server today."
The family stares up at me wide-eyed. "My God, the ad wasn't lying," the man says to his wife.
"We should come here more often," the woman says. "Maybe they have other athletes here."
"Is this your first time here?" I ask.
"Y-Yes it is," the woman says.
"Welcome and I hope you enjoy your time here. Would you like to start out with some drinks?"
"Um...could I get a Bud Light?" the man asks.
"An iced tea for me, please," the woman says.
"A Diet Coke, please," the young girl says.
"No problem. I'll get those for you right away. Take your time and look over the menu."
I walk over to the bar and leave the family in disbelief. It's always fun to see reactions like that whenever I meet fans. A.J. quickly gets me the drinks and I return to the table and hand them out. "Do you all need a few more minutes or do you have any questions?" I ask.
"I have a question," the man says. "This ad we saw on the news this morning told us that we could get free drinks and meals here for the next year if we finish a challenge."
"I didn't see what the challenge was. May I ask what it is?"
"If you can finish an order of our hottest wings within ten minutes, you get all your meals and drinks here free for the next year."
"How hot are the wings?" the woman asks.
"It's a blend of ghost chili extract, habanero peppers, scotch bonnets, assorted spices, and a pinch of our secret devil tears, so they're the hottest wings you'll ever eat. You're required to eat them while wearing a pair of gloves and safety goggles and you'll have to sign a waiver before you can eat them. Are you up to the challenge?"
The man exchanges a nervous glance with his wife. "How many wings are there?" the man asks.
"Half a dozen."
He looks to his wife again before looking back at me. "I'd like to give it a shot. One order of wings."
I quickly write down the order on my pad. "And for the lovely wife and daughter?"
"I think I'll try the sliders, medium, please," the woman said. "My friend came here and tried them before and said they were amazing."
"Your friend has good taste."
"Could I just get a cheesesteak, please?" asks the daughter.
"Absolutely. I'll put those orders in and I'll get you that waiver. Be right back."
I quickly put the order into the P.O.S. and hear Ulrich calling out the order in the kitchen, sounding a little too happy when he calls out the wings. A.J. hands me a waiver from behind the bar and I return to the table and hand the man the waiver and a pen. "Be aware, the bar is not responsible for any injury, permanent damage, or even death that may come to you by eating the wings," I say. "If you accept the risks, sign at the bottom."
The man takes in a breath and sings the bottom of the paper. "Thank you, sir. Your food should be ready in a little."
Once I return the waiver to the bar, I see there's a couple seated at another table in my section. For the next few minutes, people start to file into the bar, quickly filling up the tables. I find that a lot of people in here are here to try the wing challenge. As I put in an order, Ulrich calls back to me. "Table fourteen's up!"
Three dishes slide out to me, along with a pair of disposable gloves, goggles, and a small timer. "Put on gloves before you take those out!" Ulrich tells me.
I find a box of gloves in front of the service window and quickly get them on before putting all three dishes onto a tray. I take a look at the wings and see that they're damn near black from the sauce. It's so strong that even when I'm resting the tray on my shoulder, I can smell the wings, and it hurts.
Winding through the bar, I get to table fourteen, where the family sits. I hand the woman and daughter their dishes before handing the man his gloves and goggles. He gets them on and I take the basket of wings and place them in front of him. In less than a second he reels back from them like it's a poisonous snake. The wife and daughter take a quick whiff and have a similar reaction.
He looks up at me. "That is the strongest thing I have ever smelled in my life."
"Are you still willing to try the challenge? It's okay if you don't."
He takes a few breaths. "No, I-I'll do it."
I take the timer and set it for ten minutes and place it on the table. "The timer starts when I say go. Please do not try to tamper with it, because I do know how long ten minutes is. Ready?" The man nods and holds his gloved hand above the basket. "Go."
He grabs a wing and takes a large bite of it. No less than five seconds later, his face turns bright red and I can see tears pouring out of the corners of his eyes. He throws the wing back into the basket and grabs his cup of beer and quickly drains the whole glass. He sets the glass back down on the table, gasping for breath.
He daps his eyes dry with his napkin. "There's no way I can eat those. It like I was suffocating the second I took a bite."
"Are you giving up?"
"I think I have to. They're too spicy."
I stop the timer and see it's only been thirty seconds. "Would you like to place another order?" I ask.
"Just...chicken tenders please. Something with no spiciness to it..."
I smile at the man and take the unfinished wings, along with the gloves, goggles, and timer and return to the kitchen. "Ulrich, your first victim couldn't get past a single bite. And now he'd like an order of chicken tenders."
Ulrich grins evilly. "Excellent."
Three hours later, and not a single person has been able to even get past a wing. Hundreds have tried, not one has managed to get it down. But at least it's giving the bar a lot of great business. Many of the customers say they'll return to the bar with friends and family. A.J. and Ulrich couldn't be happier with the result.
The lunch shift is winding down and only about a dozen tables remain, none in my section. I take a breather at the server station and quietly nurse my water. "Hard shift."
Greg appears to my left, holding a water of his own. "No kidding. My feet are killing me."
"But it's been a lot of fun. Thanks for bringing me here."
Greg smiles up at me and my heart skips a beat at seeing it. "No problem," I manage to say.
A.J. walks over to us and smiles. "Thanks for your help today, guys. We couldn't have gotten through this shift without your help."
"It was nothing, A.J." I say.
"It looks like the rush has just about ended, so you two can go ahead and head out. If you ever want to come back in a work for a little while, don't hesitate to ask."
"Are you just saying that because you didn't have to pay us for today?" Greg asks.
Greg and I roll our eyes and head back to A.J.'s office to change out of our waiter shirts. "This was pretty fun," Greg says, stripping off his shirt. "I forgot how nice A.J. and Ulrich were."
"They've always been nice. It's just their nature."
As Greg and I finish changing into our normal clothes, we suddenly hear a cheer from the dining room. We exchange a look, grab our bags and head out to investigate. What we find is a large crowd of people surrounding a table. "Ten minutes on the clock," A.J. says. "Ready?"
"Go for it," says a familiar voice.
Greg and I cross the dining room and push our way to the front of the crowd. Sitting at a two-person table is a man I've met only once before, but he helped me to change who I was. Zane is sitting at the table with a basket of wings in front of him, gloves on his hands, and goggles on his eyes. But I'm paying more attention to the man sitting across from him.
This is actually the first time I've seen him in person, and he's just as huge as I've seen him on TV. Eric Swanson. Probably the greatest professional baseball player of the last decade. He's sitting back in his chair with a glass of what appears to be Coke in his hand and is smiling across the table at Zane while keeping a safe distance away from the smell of the wings.
A.J. holds the timer in his hand and presses the button. "Go."
Zane takes a bite out of the wings and while I expect the same reaction I've been getting for the past few hours (sweating, crying, screaming, etc.), I don't get any. Zane just chews the wing like it's a mild chicken wing. "These have gotten a lot better, Ulrich," Zane says when he finishes his bite.
Everyone in the room is in shock. How the hell is he eating those things?! They're nothing but heat! But he's just eating them like they're nothing special. Zane continues to eat the wings and I see that not one bit of the sauce is getting on his face. I didn't even think it was possible to do something like that while eating a wing.
But not even five minutes in, Zane picks up the last wing and devours it in just two bites. He tosses the bones back into the basket and sits back in his chair with a smile on his face. The crowd cheers for the tattooed man, having seen him eat wings that will register about three million units on the scoville scale.
A.J. stops the timer and smiles down at Zane. "Six wings in four minutes, twenty one seconds. You win."
"Those were some damn good wings," Zane says as he pulls off the gloves and goggles.
"I made that recipe specifically so even a person with your level of heat resistance wouldn't be able to eat it," Ulrich says. "Looks like it's back to the drawing board..."
"NO!!" everyone in the restaurant says as a whole.
Ulrich makes a pouting face and sulks back to the kitchen. Everyone else returns to their tables or to work. "The man with the never ending stomach still lives," Greg says with a smile.
Zane turns and looks at him and smiles brightly. "Gregory! Great to see you!" He stands up and gives Greg a hug. These two know each other? "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Sorry, I've just been a bit busy with work."
Eric stands up too and stands over Greg, smiling down at him. "My favorite coach has come made an appearance after almost two months."
"Hi, Eric." Greg gives Eric a hug as well. "You've gotten bigger, haven't you?"
"Just a bit." Eric looks over at me and smiles. "So you're the Tanner White Zane was telling me about a little over a month ago."
"U-Um...yeah. I'm Tanner White. I'm a really big fan of yours, Eric."
"Likewise. I've been a Kings fan for a few years now. Zane told me a few things that you two had discussed when you first met."
I shift my gaze to the floor. "Um...yeah, we did."
"But I can see that you're becoming a better person by hanging out with Gregory all the time. The guy's a good man."
"How do you know each other?"
"He lived in the same dorm as me and Zane when we were in college. He was a transfer student and we introduced ourselves to him. He was pretty shy and insecure at first, but he opened up to us after a little while. But when people started to see what a stud he was, he opened up even more."
I glance over at Greg, who's talking with Zane. "Um...yeah, he's a pretty attractive guy," I quietly say.
As soon as I look back at Eric, he's smiling at me like he knows something I don't. "Yeah, he's a hell of a looker."
Why is he saying that? I look at Greg again and hear Eric's words echoing in my head. He's a hell of a looker. Yeah...he really is...
A few hours later and I'm in full on frantic mode. I can't find anything to wear! Tanner's supposed to be here any minute and I'm still standing in my underwear! God, why is it so hard to find something to wear? I'm just going to a dinner. But...it's with Tanner's family! I can't go over there dressed like a slob!
My bedroom is strewn with clothing, from slacks, to dress shirts, t-shirts, jeans, every clothing item you can think of. I'm about to reach for a shirt when I hear a knock at my apartment door, making me freeze. God, I'm so fucking nervous. I walk out of my bedroom and to the front door and look through the peephole.
Standing in the hallway is Tanner, staring down at his phone screen. He's wearing a pair of dark blue jeans and is wearing a light grey collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He's clean-shaven and, although his dark brown hair is too short to style, it looks like he at least kept it in order.
God, he looks so gorgeous. Taking in a breath, I open up the door and Tanner looks up from his phone. "Hey, sorry I'm running a bit behind. I can't decide what to wear."
Tanner gives me a look up and down with widened eyes before smiling. "You sure as hell can't wear that to my parents' house."
What does he mean? I look down and see...oh, fuck. I'm standing here in my underwear. Eric steps into my apartment, still smiling. "I...completely forgot this was all I was wearing," I say.
"No worries. Do you need any help choosing what you need to wear?"
"If you'd be willing."
I lead Tanner to my bedroom and we step inside. "Jesus," Tanner quietly says. "Looks like a bomb went off in here."
"Yeah, a bomb named 'Gregory Natick.' I just...can't find something that isn't too much or not enough."
"Just throw on an outfit like the one I'm wearing. It's all you really need. It's dinner and a relaxing evening. Not going to some fancy ball."
Tanner looks through my closet and pulls out a shirt that's still hanging on a hanger. I see it's one I bought a while ago, but never really wore. It's a navy blue, slim collared shirt with the sleeves pre-rolled up so they stop midway on the forearm. "This is good," Tanner says, thrusting the shirt at me.
I take the shirt from him and he goes to my dresser, quickly finding where I put my jeans, and pulls out some worn dark blue jeans with a belt in it and tosses them at me. "Now just put those on with your usual accessories, slick your hair back, and we're all set."
A bit reluctant, I grab a black tank top off my bed and put on the collared shirt and jeans. Then come the shoes, both of my bracelets, and my necklace, before going to the bathroom and slicking my hair into its usual style. Tanner appears in the bathroom door, leaning against the doorframe. "See? You look good."
I take a look in my mirror and see that this actually does look really good. "Yeah, I guess I do. Thanks, Tanner."
"Now, grab whatever it is you need and let's head over to Beverly Hills. We're supposed to be there in a little over half an hour."
I quickly get my phone, wallet, and keys and follow Greg out of my apartment, locking it behind me. We ride down to the ground floor and get to Tanner's car outside. Once we're in, we head to Beverly Hills.
Greg seems incredibly nervous as we get close to Mom and Dad's house. But I'm distracted by something as well: how fantastic Greg looked in nothing but his underwear. Eric's words earlier have been echoing through my head since he said them earlier. And now, I keep thinking of how amazing Greg looks all the time.
But I don't have time to think about that now. I turn one last suburban corner and see the familiar wood and stone house in the middle of the street. I come to a stop just in front of it and park the car. "We're here," I tell Greg.
Greg stares out the window and after a second, I see a feeling of melancholy wash over his face. "Hey, what's wrong?" I ask.
He glances over at me and a sad smile appears on his face. "Oh, I was...just thinking a bit. About the past..."
Oh crap. I forgot about Greg's childhood, how he grew up in a dingy apartment and not in a house like the one I did. I unbuckle my seatbelt and scoot a bit closer to Greg. "Hey, I'm sorry. I should've mentioned it to you on the way here."
"No, it's fine. I was kind of expecting it on the way here. It's just a bit different seeing it."
"Either way, I'm still sorry."
Greg nods and unbuckles his seatbelt. "C'mon. We shouldn't keep your parents waiting."
We both step out of the car and walk up the walkway to the house. "A fair bit or warning," I say. "My parents are very touchy people."
"You mean they're oversensitive?"
"Not at all. You'll see in a second."
I ring the doorbell. There's some loud footsteps on the other side of the door and it swings open a few seconds later. Standing in the doorway with his still huge, hulking frame is Dad, who smiles at me when he sees me. "There he is!"
Dad steps forward and takes me in his large arms, squeezing at the air out of my lungs as he hugs me. "Hi...Dad..." I manage to squeak out.
"Oh...that's what you meant by touchy," Greg says.
Dad releases me and allows me to breathe again before looking over at Greg and grinning down at him. "So this is your coach?" Dad asks me.
"Yeah," I say, getting a bit of air. "Dad, remember Gregory Natick from high school? This is him."
Dad's eyebrows shoot up. "You mean this guy here was that small beanstalk of a kid I saw for the first time at your graduation?"
"Um...yes, sir," Greg nervously says.
Within a second, Dad's arms wrap around Greg and lift him off the front porch, Dad laughing his hearty laugh as he holds Greg in the air. "Son, you sure made a hell of a change! You look like you just stepped out of those fashion magazines my wife reads all the time!"
Greg looks a bit scared that Dad's holding him in the air, despite Dad now being 56. "U-Um...thank you, sir..." he nervously says.
Dad sets Greg back down and continues to grin. "I'm Hank White. You can call me Hank if you like. Come on in! My wife has been looking forward to meeting you." We follow Dad into the house and I take in the smell of the home I was raised in for most of my life. We walk into the living room and I see Mom standing in the kitchen. "Amanda! Our boy and his coach are here!"
Mom looks up from the cooking ingredients in front of her and sees me and Greg and smiles. "Hi, sweetie!" She walks from the kitchen up to me and gives me a hug. I kiss the top of her head and hug her back. "Ugh, we haven't seen you in so long!"
"Sorry, Mom. I've just been getting ready for the season." Mom lets go of me and I motion to Greg. "Mom, this is my coach Gregory Natick. Do you remember him?"
Mom's mouth drops open. "My goodness! I never would have recognized you, Gregory! You look like a completely different person!"
"Um...thank you?" Greg says.
"I mean it in a nice way. Welcome to our home."
"Thank you for having me."
"Would you like something to drink? We have water, soda, idea tea, juice..."
"Iced tea would be nice." Mom quickly gets Greg a glass of tea. "Thank you."
"So, Mom," I say. "What's for dinner?"
"I think you've already guessed what it is I'm going to make, Tanner."
"As always." And my mouth almost instantly fills with saliva at the mention of my favorite meal. "You three go ahead and sit down. I've got dinner covered."
Dad, Greg, and I start for the living room when there's a sudden knock at the front door. "I'll get it," I say.
I break away from the two and head to the front door. When I open it, I see a head of golden, blonde hair and a slim body wearing a nice blouse and slim blue jeans. As soon as she sees it's me, my younger sister jumps up and wraps her arms around my neck. "Hi, Tanner!"
"Hi, Allie! Great to see you!"
I set my sister back down and give her one more hug. Allie's become a beautiful young woman, now being 26, with her wavy hair just as well kept as when she was in high school. She's hard at work, working on her internship at a hospital down in Santa Ana and has just been accepted for a residency at the same hospital, working under a trauma surgeon who she's come to really like (I don't mean in that way. This isn't some cheesy, hospital soap opera...).
Allie and I walk into the house and she immediately rushes over to mom. I watch as my mother and sister animatedly start to talk to one another. I look over into the living room and see Greg quietly talking with Dad, Dad sitting with a beer on the coffee table. There's another knock at the door, and I know that there's only one other person being here tonight.
I walk back to the front door and open it. The man I see wearing a leather jacket over a button down black shirt and tight jeans makes me look up at him. "Did you shrink?" Ethan asks me.
"No, you're just a giant. Now get down here and give your big brother a hug."
Ethan laughs and gives me a hug. Ethan has changed quite a bit from high school. He now sports a few tattoos on both arms and has bulked up a bit and has actually grown another two inches. "Good to see you again, Ethan."
"You too, Tanner. Am I the last one here?"
"As usual. C'mon in. Everyone's expecting you."
I lead Ethan inside, him being careful not to bang his guitar case around (he still carries it everywhere) and he shirks off his jacket as we step into the living room. Allie's sitting on the couch next to Dad now and is staring at Greg as he continues to talk to Dad. "Sorry I'm late," Ethan says. "Got a bit caught up at practice."
Dad stands up and Mom comes out of the kitchen. They both give Ethan a hard hug and let him take a seat on the couch next to Allie, who hugs him as he sits down and places his guitar case in front of him. I take a seat in one of the easy chairs and relax into the comfortable cushion. "So what have you guys talked about while I was on door duty?" I ask.
"Oh, I was just talking to Gregory about how the Kings are looking for the upcoming season," Dad says.
"We still have a few things we need to work on, but we're almost there," Greg says. "We're going to be working on power plays next Monday."
"Great. We really need that."
"Weren't the Kings almost last when it came to penalty kills last season?" Allie asks.
"29th out of thirty-two teams," Greg says. "I think this last bit of practice can really help fix the problems we've been having when it came to having a man down."
"So I take it you've met Allie?" I ask.
"She's a very smart and beautiful woman," Greg says. "She's also very blunt. First thing she said when she saw me was 'who brought in the hunksicle?'"
Allie blushes hard at that while Ethan falls back into the couch laughing. "Allie, you can't be serious! You have a boyfriend!" one twin tells the other.
"Hey, I have the right to call an attractive man a hunksicle. What Drew doesn't know won't come back to bite me in the ass."
Drew is Allie's boyfriend of a little over two years now. He's a fellow intern at the hospital she's working at and while the two have hard hours, they always make sure to have at least one date a week. "And I appreciate being called a hunksicle," Greg says with a smile.
Allie giggles with Greg. I turn my attention to the TV for a second, where the news is on. All of a sudden, the breaking news animation comes on the screen and the anchor appears a second later. "We've just received word that, in a public vote, Texas has voted to legalize same-sex marriage all throughout the state."
Everyone in the room turns to the TV and I see Mom looking in from the kitchen. "53% of the state's population voted in favor of the bill that would legalize same-sex marriage, while 45% of voters voted against the bill. We now go live to a major supporter of the bill that helped to bring this vote to action: Richard Mercer."
Mercer? The picture snaps to a man who appears to be in his mid-fifties with greying dirty blonde hair, an in-shape body, and a very nice smile. "This is a huge milestone in the state of Texas, which is known as being a very conservative state," Richard says. "My own son is gay and is about to marry a man in the state of California. So I wanted to make sure he could get a marriage license in his home state as well."
So this is Zane's dad. He seems like a nice man. "Richard Mercer has been a supporter of gay rights for several years now and has helped to educate many people on the subject," says the anchor. "That education may have been key in the vote of this bill."
"About damn time," Allie says. "This brings the state count to thirty-six."
"Fourteen more and then the mindset of a lot of people will get out of the 1700's," Ethan says.
Ethan and Allie have always been equal rights supporters, so it's no surprise they're all for the same-sex marriage thing. I've never gotten too involved in topics like that. But I'm not sure about Mom and Dad. "Dad, how do you feel about this?" I ask.
He takes a sip of his beer and stares at the TV. "To me, Tanner, love's all the same, no matter who it is. If a person wants to love a tree, more power to them. If a man wants to love a man, or a woman wants to love a woman, then I feel they should have the right to. I'm glad that the country is shifting in the right direction."
"Agreed," Mom calls from the kitchen. "Some people just can't get their heads around the idea of a same sex couple, but if they're happy, then I'm happy too."
I look at Greg and see him looking much more relaxed than before. "I'm glad to hear you're all such supporters of it," Greg says. "It's always nice to know there are allies out there."
Everyone looks over at Greg. "You're gay?" Ethan asks.
"Have been my whole life."
"Damn it!" Allie swears. "It's really true that all hot guys are gay!"
Dad roars his gut busting laugh and Mom giggles from the kitchen while Ethan snickers to himself. "I don't think all hot men are gay, Allie," Greg says with a smile.
"Are you kidding? Look around! Josh Rusden's gay and he was voted most attractive man in the world of professional sports! Eric Swanson tied him for the same title! Then there's Josh's husband, Leo! He looks like he was molded by the hands of God! Zane Mercer! No girl can resist a guy with tattoos and a cute face like that! Brian Mosley of 'Our Name Is...'! His husband Justin! You! Shall I go on?"
Greg laughs to himself. "No, you're fine."
Allie sits back, proud of herself for proving her point. Mom walks into the living room and takes a seat in an open chair. "Dinner will be ready in a little while," she says. "I hope you're hungry, Gregory."
"Starving. Tanner mentioned Fettuccini Alfredo?"
I hear two grumbles from the couch and I see Allie and Ethan holding hands over their stomachs. "Just saying the name makes me hungry," Ethan says.
"You haven't lived until you've tried our mom's Fettuccini Alfredo," Allie says. "It's like taking a bite of Heaven and mixing bits of angel wings in it."
"That's just the bacon speaking for itself, sweetie," Mom says.
Greg suddenly looks a bit upset. "Uh...you said bacon, right?" he asks Mom.
"Yes I did."
Oh crap, I forgot: Greg's a vegetarian. "Um...would you be offended if I picked the pieces of bacon out? I'm a vegetarian."
"Oh, not at all," Mom says. "I'm sorry I forgot to ask if there was anything you didn't eat or were allergic to."
"It's no problem, Mrs. White. And thank you."
"Please call me Amanda." She smiles at Greg and eases back into her seat. As we watch the news and make more small talk, there's another knock at the door. "That must be our last guest."
"We have one more?" I ask.
"I invited him," Dad says. "Could you answer the door, Tanner? I'm comfortable right now."
I roll my eyes and rise out of my chair and head for the front door. I grab the door handle and pull open the door. Standing on the front porch is a man in his early fifties that I've come to respect. He's just a tad shorter than me with greying black hair and an impressive frame underneath a button down light blue shirt and jeans, along with very light brown eyes covered by frameless glasses.
The second I see him, my mouth drops open. "Coach Haier?!"
He smiles at me. "Good to see my star player again. And please call me Scott now that you're less than half my age."
I grab my old hockey coach and pull him into a tight hug. "God, it's been years since I've seen you!" I say. "Are you still coaching?"
"Every day, and I still love it."
"Did my dad invite you over?"
"He did. Your father and I became good friends after you graduated and we've stayed close friends as you've risen in the ranks of the hockey world."
"Well, please come in. Dinner's almost ready and everyone's already here."
I lead Scott (that's going to take some getting used to) into the house and into the living room. "Dad, why didn't you tell me you and my old hockey coach were friends?" I ask as I walk into the living room.
Dad smiles when he sees Scott walk in behind me and walks over to him, giving him a firm hug. "Slipped my mind, buddy," he says.
Once Dad lets go, I see Greg rise out of his chair. "Coach Haier?"
Scott looks over at Greg and, slowly, I see his face turn to surprise. "Gregory? Is that honestly you?" Greg nods and walks over to Scott. As soon as he stops, Scott pulls Greg into a tight hug. "My God, you look fantastic."
Greg stays silent as he hugs with the man who helped him more times than he can count. "First time I've seen you in ten years. I'm sorry I haven't visited more often."
"Hey, its okay. You and I still email each other on a weekly basis, so that's plenty for me." Greg gives Scott one more squeeze and lets go. "Do you want to catch up a little? I'd like to know what it is you're up to."
Greg looks over at Mom. "You two go ahead and talk. Dinner won't be ready for a little while and I need to finish up a few things."
"Thank you," Greg says.
Scott and Greg head back to the front door and I hear them step outside. "They know each other?" Dad asks me.
"Yeah. Scott and Gregory...go way back..."
I prop my arms up onto the railing of the porch and Coach Haier does the same next to me. "Coach Haier, I'm really sorry I haven't come to see you once in the last ten years."
"Gregory, you can call me Scott now, and I guess we're both guilty on that front. I haven't come to see you once either."
I nod and give Scott (wow, that's new) another hug. "I'm really happy to see you again."
He returns my hug. "I missed you too, kiddo."
'Kiddo' was a nickname Scott gave me not long after we met, when I was showing him one of the injuries Mom gave me the night before. He accidently said it when he was bandaging it up and apologized for it, but I actually kind of liked it and it's stayed ever since. It made me feel like I was a bit closer to him than everyone else.
Scott lets me go and gives me a pat on the shoulder. "You really do look great, Gregory."
"Thanks, Scott. I guess I kind of grew up since high school."
"That's an understatement. Gregory, you're a man now!"
I laugh. Scott releases my shoulder and leans against the porch banister. I follow his lead and do the same. "So how's your life been in the last ten years?" I ask.
"Oh, pretty much the same. Still teaching, still coaching, and still loving life despite me being more than half a century old. But I want to know more about you! What the hell have you been doing?"
I smile and look down at my hands. "Well, I went to college and got a degree in sports management and kind of followed in your footsteps a bit: I got into coaching."
Scott smiles over at me and pats my shoulder. "Looks like I rubbed off on you, kiddo!"
"You sure did, Scott. I got a job out in Providence, Rhode Island for two years before moving back out here."
"Providence? What the hell kind of job out there did you get?"
"Um...I was the head coach of the Providence Bruins."
I look over at Scott and see he's looking at me in disbelief. "You're shitting me."
"I'm not. For two years, I did nothing but coach for that team and I loved every minute of it. There was just something about seeing the people I taught succeed that I loved more than anything. And succeed we did. Two undefeated seasons and two playoff championship wins. My time on that team was the highlight of my life."
Scott reaches around my shoulder and pulls me close to him. "I knew I would hear of the day when you did great things, Gregory. I just never knew it would be this great! I'm still seeing the small, skinny, 14 year old kid I first met back in high school! Now I'm seeing a man that's accomplished so much!"
I actually forgot how Scott was one of the only people who could make me laugh no matter how I was feeling. The feeling of him making me laugh again is wonderful. "So are you still coaching the Bruins?" Scott asks me.
"Not anymore. I left after last season."
Scott makes a confused face. "Why? If you liked the job so much, why leave the team?"
"I...didn't have anything left to teach them. They were the best team in the AHL by a long shot and they knew every play by heart. So I left the team and moved back out here."
"So...you're not working right now?"
"No, I have a new job now and I'm coaching a new team. I'm enjoying it just as much as I was with the Bruins."
"What kind of coaching?"
Crap. I was afraid of him asking this. Mark asked me to keep my position as head coach of the Kings a secret until opening game day. But...Tanner's told people he's close to and a few of Mark's friends know about it. So I don't think one more would hurt. "Scott, you can keep a secret, can't you?"
"Sure I can. Is something wrong, kiddo?"
"No, nothing's wrong, but you're going to have to keep this a secret until next week. Yes, I have a new coaching job, but it's not a minor league hockey team anymore. I'm...the new head coach of the L.A. Kings."
Scott's mouth drops open and he stares at me like a deer in headlights. "T-The Kings?! The fucking L.A. Kings?! Gregory, that's fantastic!"
He scoops me up in a tight hug, laughing as he crushes me. "My God, I knew I'd see you coaching a professional team, but I never thought it would be before you were 30!"
"Scott! Can't...breathe! Need lungs...to live!"
He quickly sets me down and I take in a fresh gasp of air. I meet Scott's eyes and he's beaming at me. "I'm so proud of you, Gregory. You've come so far from the guy I first met back when you were in high school. You seem so much more confident now then you were back then."
Scott and I return to the porch banister, but Scott keeps an arm around my shoulders. "Yeah, I guess I have changed," I say. "Back in high school, I was pissed off at the world that I felt betrayed me and left me for dead. My life was horrible, living in a dingy apartment with a drug addict for a mom that died even before I turned 18."
"I'm just glad you've seen the good things about the world, Gregory. But...I'm even more glad that I managed to keep you here in this world."
I glance down at my hands and wrists and see my bracelets have slid up my arms a bit, exposing the two faint, white scars that sit on my wrists. "I'm glad you did too, Scott. I wouldn't be here right now if it were for you, in more ways than one. You saved my life and taught me how to be a coach. Thanks for everything you've done for me."
Scott pulls me closer to him and grins brightly. "There's nothing more I would want to see than you bringing the Kings to a kickass season. Think you can get me some season tickets?"
I laugh and elbow Scott in the side. "I'll send them to you in a few days. I doubt your wife would let you buy them anyway, they're so expensive."
I glance over at Scott and see that his eyes seem to have a nostalgic feeling to them. "Yeah, my wife wouldn't let me buy them. It would take some convincing for my husband to let me get them, though."
My eyebrows shoot to my hairline as I stare at Scott. "Your...husband?"
Scott looks over at me, still smiling. "Yeah, my husband of twenty-three years, and I love him just as much as the first day I saw him."
I can't believe what I'm hearing. The man I've looked up to since I was a teenager, one of the hardest coaches I've ever met, is...gay? "I take it this is a huge shock to you," Scott says. I only nod a bit. "Um...you don't have a problem with it do you?"
"No! No, I don't! It was just a surprise, is all." Scott seems to relax and keeps leaning against the banister. "But...I thought you told me when I was still in high school you had a wife."
"Yeah. Had, being the key word there. My wife left me about thirty years ago, right after she gave birth to our kid. I never heard from her again and I only got to hold my son once before she ran away with him. It felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest when I found out she and my son were gone."
"Wow, I never knew..."
"I don't really like to tell people about it. It's just a painful reminder about what happened. We didn't even name our son yet, so if I try to look for him I'd get nowhere. She ran off before we could get a full birth certificate made, so I don't have a name I can work with. I just hope they're both alive and well."
Scott sighs deeply and stares out in front of him. "I guess as long as we're being honest, I'm gay too," I say.
He looks over at me and smiles. "Are you dating anyone?"
"No, I'm sadly single."
"But you still have the hots for Tanner, am I right?"
How the fuck did he know that?! I never told a single person about that in my whole life! I try to keep my face neutral, but I can feel myself burning from the inside out. "I do..." I quietly say. "How did you know?"
"I saw the way you were looking at him whenever we had a game back in high school, and I just assumed. I'll admit, he's a damn good looking kid, and I can see why you had such a crush on him."
God, this is so embarrassing. "So what're you going to do?" Scott asks me.
"Nothing." Scott raises an eyebrow. "I can't do anything. Tanner's as straight as they come, so what I'm going to do is nothing and hope my feelings for him go away quickly. The only problem is...I don't see them going away anytime soon..."
Scott pulls me into a one armed hug and grins widely. "You never know, Gregory. Looks can be pretty deceiving."
I look over at Scott and the look on his face tells me that he knows something I don't. Footsteps come from behind us and I turn and see Tanner in the front doorway. "Hey, dinner's ready. Better hurry up before we eat it all."
"Thanks, Tanner," Scott says. "We were just about to come in anyway."
"Okay, see you at the table."
Tanner heads inside and I watch him as he goes. Looks can be deceiving? Can they really? Is it possible...? No, there's no way. At least...that's what I think.
Dinner is fantastic as usual. The looks I see on Scott and Greg's faces when they taste Mom's Fettuccini Alfredo for the first time is priceless. A bit of news from Scott is that he's actually gay. I never expected something like that to come out of his mouth. It was a big shock for me and I'm glad Greg taught me well because I know the old me would have flipped the fuck out.
After dinner was spent with a game of charades, a common after-dinner game for the Whites. Scott and Greg seemed to enjoy the game, despite watching Dad as he tried to act out the movie Memento. And we even got a pleasant surprise about halfway through the game. I got a text on my phone from a number I didn't know, telling me to get on Dad's laptop. When I opened the laptop, I saw a call was coming in and a few seconds later, I was met by the face of my older brother looking back at me.
I damn near screamed in shock when I saw him grinning at me. My family flocked around me to see Keith, who none of us have seen in person in more than a year. We managed to talk to him for only a little over ten minutes, but there was no shortage of tears. He managed to say what he could, but couldn't reveal where he was or when he would be home.
Keith's been with the Navy for the last ten years and has been working hard. He's not allowed to tell us what it is he does, seeing as he's always on top-secret missions with the Navy SEAL's. Yes, my older brother is a fully decorated Navy SEAL (you can't tell anyone I said that). He's been serving with the SEAL's for the last four years, and always comes out of whatever missions he goes on unscathed.
We worry about him all the time and are always afraid of someone appearing on our doorstep in full Navy attire to tell us Keith's gone. But my brother's got a good head on his shoulders and doesn't do anything stupid that could put him at risk. We all wish him the best and hope he comes home soon.
A little after 11:00, dinner's just about over and we all decide to head out. I give my family and Scott all hugs goodbye and drive Greg back to his apartment building. He's pretty animated after all the fun from tonight and it's pretty fun to see him acting so much different from the hockey persona he often has on.
We get back to his apartment and I park out front. "Tonight was really fun, Tanner," Greg says. "I never expected your family to be such...interesting people."
"You're just being nice and avoiding telling me that my dad is a bit over the top."
"Yeah, but it's a good over the top. And your mother was really nice. She was always asking me if I needed or wanted anything. It was like she was the perfect hostess. And Allie and Ethan were like a comedy duo. Every time one of them said something, it was like the other knew what the other was going to say and came up with an awesome comeback."
"Well, that's my family for you: my creative father, my loving mother, and my bickering younger siblings."
"And the SEAL of an older brother."
"You're going to keep that a secret, right? Because if you don't the government will make sure you disappear."
Greg laughs. "His secret's safe with me." He glances down at the car's clock and unbuckles his seatbelt. "I need to get some sleep. I'm exhausted."
"Same here. I'll walk you up."
Greg and I both step out of the car and walk into the building and step onto the elevator. "So what do you think about Scott's secret?" Greg asks me as we start to ride up.
"It was a bit of a shock to hear that my old hockey coach was gay. But I reminded myself that my new hockey coach is gay too and he learned almost everything he knows from my old hockey coach. I'm just glad he's happy. I didn't know he had a son in college though."
"He and his husband, Clark, had him twenty years ago, so he was 10 when we were 18. But he seemed like a nice kid from the pictures Scott showed us."
The elevator stops and we step onto Greg's floor and walk up to his apartment door. "God, who the hell turned on the heat on this floor?" Greg asks.
"Yeah, it seems really warm here."
Greg reaches up and unbuttons the top two buttons of his shirt and I feel my heart step. Sitting in front of me is that erotic scene I've seen before that makes me start to sweat every time I think of it: seeing Greg's two firm pecs trying to escape his shirt. My mouth starts filling with as much drool as when I smelled dinner earlier.
Greg pulls his key out of his pocket when we get to his apartment and he unlocks and opens the door. "Thanks for tonight, Tanner. I had a really nice time."
"Y-Yeah! I...I did too..."
I look down at Greg and see him staring up at me. "Are you okay, Tanner? Your face is really red and you seem a bit short of breath."
God, my heart feels like it's about to beat out of my chest from having Greg's amber eyes looking at me. "I...I honestly don't know..." I quietly say.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean...I feel like I'm going insane. For some reason, for the past month and a half, my heart has been beating a lot faster at certain times, I'm sweating a lot more than I should, my throat and chest keep tightening up, and my face becomes flushed a lot more often."
The color of Greg's cheeks fades from their usual light tan to a shade of pink. "D-Do you know what's causing it?"
"No, and it's killing me. But it always happens whenever I'm at the gym, soup kitchen, in my apartment or here. It's scaring the shit out of me, Greg. I mean, look at me! I'm fucking sweating bullets here and my face feels like it's as red as a baboon's ass!"
Greg's cheeks turn from their pinkish hue to a red and I see a bit of sweat on his forehead. "Um...do you think being with someone is causing all this?"
I think it over a bit. "M-Maybe. It always happens whenever..." Greg's eyes widen a bit more when I stop short. "I-It happens whenever I'm with...you..."
A sharp intake of air flies up Greg's nose and he stares at me in shock. "With...me?"
Greg's face is a dark red now and I nod at the question. "I-I find myself staring at you whenever we're at the gym. You look so amazing when I see you swimming through the water, with the power of a shark and the grace of a dolphin. Your smile always seems to light up your face, which I'm starting to find more and more...beautiful.
"But your eyes are what make me stare the most. The bright amber color has the brightest shine I've ever seen in anyone's eyes. They make me want to...be close to you...and I don't know why..."
I choke on my next word, but I don't get the chance to get it out as I feel two hands on the sides of my head. The hands pull my head toward Greg and I feel an unfamiliar sensation on my lips. But my mind register's the feeling a second later: Greg's...kissing me. Greg is fucking kissing me! My eyes search frantically around for an answer to what it is I should do, but after another second, they stop looking.
The feeling of Greg's lips on mine is...intoxicating, euphoric and...so...so fucking hot. As Greg's lips press firmly against mine, I start to push back against his, but I feel those two soft lips pull away. My vision takes a second to return and I manage to focus on Greg, who's as out of breath, red, and sweaty as I am.
My mind if a whirlwind of thoughts right now, from why the fuck did Greg kiss me, to why did I want so much more of it? Greg suddenly looks to the floor and a small voice comes out of him. "I-I'm sorry...I...shouldn't have done that. I'm...I'm going to go..."
Greg quickly moves inside his apartment and closes the door with a quiet click, leaving me alone in the hallway as I hear the lock turn. I turn around to start to head to the elevator, when my legs suddenly give way and I fall against the doorway and slide to the floor. My lungs are gasping for breath and my face feels as red hot as ever.
I don't hear a single noise on the other side of the door and it makes my chest hurt, but not in the way that I've come to like. My fingers graze lightly over my lips, which were just kissed by Greg. And even after Greg pulled his mouth away, the heat I felt still lingers on my own...
I quickly lock the door and fall to the floor, my back pressed against the door. My hands clutch the sides of my head and I grit my teeth together as images of kissing Tanner flash through my mind. Oh my God. What the fuck did I just do...?