I wasn't sure whether he tasted like blue or pink cotton candy, though.
So I kissed him again.
"Blue," I mumbled against his lips.
"What?" he asked, moving back a little to look at me.
"You. Blue." I smiled at him, too drunk to explain myself properly. A proper explanation would have just required more words anyway, and more words meant more time, and more time talking meant less time kissing, and I really wanted to kiss him some more.
"I'm not blue," he said laughing softly and smiling back at me with that shy, crooked little smile that I'd seen so many times before. His eyes were sparkling, and his smile was suddenly the thing I loved the most about him, the thing that made me want to kiss him so hard he couldn't catch his breath, couldn't pull away, couldn't do anything but kiss me back and let me do anything I wanted to him.
"I'm happy," he went on, trying to sweep the lock of hair out of my eyes with the back of his hand, but it sprang back into place as soon as he'd finished, the ends of my hair tickling my cheeks. I cupped his face in my hands and tried to talk, but I couldn't seem to, so I just thought to him, silly boy, I can see that you're happy, nobody smiles like that unless they're happy.
And then I kissed him, sloppily, lazily, greedily, my fingers finding the buttons on his shirt, his belt buckle, the zipper on his pants, the waistband of his boxers, and then my fingers found more and he was groaning against my lips, pushing me back onto the bed and rolling on top of me, mumbling and whispering words I couldn't understand anymore, but didn't have to.
I grabbed his hips, maybe a little roughly, and I guided him, our uncoordinated, desperate motions slowing, easing together, and we started getting used to each other, sizes and rhythms and skin, and I brushed my damp hair out of my eyes so I could watch him, and in the middle of it all, I was happy, just like him.
It wasn't a very good time in my life. In fact, it was a shitty time. I was in a horrible slump. Nothing was going in for me, no matter how hard I tried. Maybe that was the problem, maybe I was trying too hard, and that just made things worse. I liked to think that it was because the coach didn't like me, that he was playing me on checking lines, not giving me the chance to succeed, but it wasn't just that. Things were just wrong.
Things were just wrong. I guess you could say that about my love life at the time, too. It was a fucking mess.
I wasn't returning Jason's calls, and after a while he stopped making them. One moment, I missed him so much my chest hurt, and the next he pissed me off so much I wanted to throw something at the wall. We'd been breaking up and making up for months and I was just so sick and tired of it all that I wanted it to end. For real. Or he'd just keep fixing my broken heart, only to stomp on it as soon as he was done.
So I stopped answering his phone calls. That way I didn't have to talk to him, and that way we couldn't make up.
My clever plan worked for a while, where "worked" meant that I made it through each day thinking about him less and less, except of course when there was a hunting show on a sports channel and I remembered him sitting in a tree with his bow and arrow, or when I talked to Patty and he'd ask about Jason and I'd just stop talking and sigh, or when I found one of his old T-shirts in a dresser drawer and just stare it, wondering whether to throw it away or give it back to him, or just wear it because it was comfortable and I shouldn't let the fact that it was Jason's bother me because we were broken up.
All of that was working swimmingly, right up to the moment when I drove home after practice and found him sitting on the curb by my driveway, looking up with big startled eyes as I pulled in.
Jesus, he'd flown all that way to see me? He stood up, dusting his pants quickly, then hurried over to the car, peering down at me through the window as I finally realised that it was in fact him, and not a hallucination, and that I really didn't want to have to deal with him right after I'd spent an hour talking to my coach and trying to convince him to let me play on the top line instead of fucking around on the checking line where I had no chance to do what I was supposed to do, which was to score, or to help someone else score.
He rapped the window once, loudly, with his knuckles and I started, surprised by the suddenness of his motion.
"Petr, I need to talk to you," he said, his voice muffled by the glass between us, but clearly audible over the sound of the air conditioning.
I wound down my window a little so he could hear me, consciously leaving only a small gap at the top, as if I was afraid that he was going to reach in and grab me or something, which I knew he wouldn't do. I guess I wanted some sort of barrier between us, something external, like a guard, something that I knew would keep us apart.
"I don't want to talk to you. Can't you take a hint?" I snapped, the annoyance I felt about my conversation with my coach coming through in my voice. It didn't hurt that he'd probably think I was annoyed with him.
"Please, just hear me out, I just need to talk to you. That's all I want, just let me explain," he begged, and he raised his hand as if he wanted to reach in and touch me, but his fingertips just hit glass instead, and I was relieved.
"No, Jason." I felt sick inside, as if I was experiencing every single moment like this that had happened between us, all rolled into one. "There's nothing to talk about. It's over."
"I don't care that you fucked him." He said it firmly, and he looked me right in the eyes as he said it, and if he was lying, then it was a lie that he believed too, because I couldn't see the faintest trace of a lie on his face.
"You don't care? You called me a slut and threw me out when I told you!" Just like that, I was furious, and I was drawn into it again, as if we'd just fought yesterday, as if I could feel his hands on my chest as he pushed me out the door, and I felt hurt and guilty and angry at the same time, because who the fuck was he to do that?
"I know he didn't mean anything to you," he said quietly, not getting drawn into the past the way I was. "I know you were sorry."
"What if he did? What if he does?" I lied, averting my eyes.
"Does he?" he asked, his voice shaking a little.
I didn't want to look at him, didn't want him to read my face and know that he was the only person I'd felt anything for in five long years. I stared down my driveway, angry at myself for being that stupid for that long, not saying anything as he waited for me to answer.
"Just let me come in, we can talk, we can work this out. I know we can." How many times had I heard that before? And how many times had we worked it out? How many times did we end up fucking desperately, saying sorry with our hands and lips? I couldn't do it anymore. I didn't want to do it anymore.
I turned to look at him again, staring at him steadily, and his eyes widened in surprise. He looked uncomfortable and unsure. He was used to me giving in; he wasn't used to this.
"And after we work it out, then what next? You fly back to Dallas and you fuck Dina and everything is back to normal for a while? I pretend that I don't mind until one day I can't pretend anymore and Teemu happens to be pissed at Paul and we end up fucking again? You know the rest of this story." I could feel my face flush with anger, and I wanted him to be gone. Before he could bring back any more memories, before he could make me say something I would really regret.
He swallowed hard and looked down at his feet; he was remembering other things, too. He took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, then mumbled, "I'll leave her. I'll leave her for you."
My heart stopped just for a moment, and then I got angry. Angry at myself, because before I could stop myself, I'd hoped for a moment that it was true, that he'd really do it. He meant it, that I knew, he'd meant it every single time and that had me hope every single time. But he'd never done it, and I knew he never would.
"No, you won't," I said curtly, trying not to let him hear the way I felt inside. "You couldn't do it before, and now you're married to her, and you have Chase."
That did it. The name of his son defeated him, and he didn't say anything else or try to stop me as I opened the gate and drove away from him, watching him get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.
Mac was sitting near me in the locker room, both of us removing our gear after practice. It had been a good practice; me, Teemu and Mac were developing some good chemistry, and I already knew where Teemu liked to lurk so I could make quick backhand passes to him from behind the net, but Mac was picking up on my tendencies too. I think even Carlyle was happy with the way things went.
As I started to remove my shoulder pads, I noticed that Mac was watching me with a little smile on his face. I raised an eyebrow at him questioningly, and he said, "You're smiling again."
I was a little startled, not because I wasn't aware that I was smiling, but because it sounded like a strange thing to say. Why would he say something like that? Why would he notice something like that?
"You haven't been smiling all that much, not compared to before the lockout." He shrugged a little awkwardly, looking away. "It's nice to see again, that's all."
Of course at this point, I'd stopped smiling because I was feeling self-conscious that he'd been watching me. I forced a chuckle and said, "It was a good practice."
"Yeah, it was," he said, as he took his shirt off. "Maybe this is it, maybe it'll keep going good for the rest of the season."
I looked at him sharply, trying to figure out what he meant by that. It was no secret that Burke was trying to trade me; he'd even held me out of a game against Buffalo, but nothing had come of that. It didn't take a genius to figure out why I was being shopped around--I had only five goals and we were over two months into the season at that point. Was Mac trying to pretend he didn't know or expect it in an attempt to make me feel better or something?
The thing is, part of me wasn't sure that staying there was what I wanted. I was reluctant to go somewhere else; being traded meant that I'd failed there and I was too stubborn and proud to accept that without a fight. But another part of me believed that Anaheim wasn't where I should be anymore. It wasn't the same team from three years before, when we'd quietly gone all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Mac had finished undressing and was making his way to the shower. I'd always felt bad that he hadn't been a part of that run because of his concussion. He'd never even made it to the playoffs before. It felt fucking horrible when we lost - I can't even begin to describe how bad - but at we'd made it there, and it was amazing. He hadn't shared that experience with us, and he deserved to.
Jason didn't try to see me again after I'd left him standing at the end of my driveway, and the phone calls from him stopped, too, so I thought that was it; it was really the end. I felt relieved, free, almost, but I also felt like I'd lost something that I'd never be able to get back. It's not that I thought I'd never be able to fall in love with anyone else, but it wouldn't be like being in love with him. I'd never have the things that made us us again, for the rest of my life, and that really hurt.
And I missed the fucker. Missed his stupid voice, and the way he didn't seem to hear half of what I said on the phone, and repeat back what he'd thought I'd said - something completely nonsensical, like "there's Dutch chandeliers on the lawn" - sounding as if he thought I was insane.
Maybe that was his strategy, to leave me alone so I'd miss him. Maybe he figured that if I missed him enough, I'd answer the phone when he called the next week, and I did, because I was an idiot.
"Hi, Petr," he said quietly.
I sighed. "What do you want?"
"I want to see you." His voice was rough, tired, and his speech was slightly slurred, like he'd been drinking.
"I don't want to see you," I said, trying to keep my tone neutral. I tried to ignore the part of me that was trying to come up with a real answer, because it didn't matter; it shouldn't have mattered.
"I left her. I told her I was leaving her, and I packed a bag and I left." He was dead serious; I could tell that he'd really done it, but at the same time I couldn't believe it. That wasn't what happened. Jason went on "hunting trips" or "fishing trips" or "scuba diving trips" to get away from her for a couple of days. Jason never did things like tell his wife that he was in love with another man, that he was leaving her for him.
But that was what he was telling me he'd done. The words came over the phone one by one as I sat there quietly, picturing him standing on a street somewhere with his bag on his shoulder, looking miserable, and I could see that clearly, but I couldn't picture him saying those things to her. Not the Jason I knew.
"So let me in," he ended, and I thought that was a weird thing to say. Let him in? Let him into my heart? That wasn't the kind of thing he'd say. What then?
"Let you in? What do you mean?" I asked, confused.
"I mean let me in," he said, breathing heavily into the phone. "Open your gate."
I sprang to my feet, went over to the window, and looked out onto the street, and there he was, dimly lit by the streetlamp, standing in that same spot where I'd watched him from my rearview mirror, as if he'd never left.
And I think that maybe if he hadn't been standing right there, I wouldn't have given him another chance. I would have told him that it was too late, and that I couldn't be with someone who made me sad almost as much as he made me happy.
But he was standing right there, and I let him in.
It was a couple of weeks after my talk with Carlyle and he'd gone back to hating me. Maybe he'd never stopped; maybe he just put me back on the top line so that I could be given the opportunity to fail. No goals? No assists? No power play time, no overtime, no shootout attempts.
I had hoped that I could make it work out, that I'd be able to prove to him that I was willing to do whatever it took to help the team, but I couldn't thrive the way he was using me. I tried to understand him, to do what he wanted, but I don't think he ever really tried to understand me.
It was becoming pretty obvious to me that I was on my way out after all. Burke hadn't told me or my agent anything, but I hoped that I would end up in New York, playing for the Rangers. Jaromir had been trying to put in a good word for me over there, and Marty Straka, who I'd admired since I was a kid, playing for Plzen, our hometown, was there too, along with some other Czech guys.
And after I'd accepted that a trade was imminent and that I would be leaving Anaheim, it became obvious what I was going to do.
I was going to Disneyland.
"Hey Petr, you free tonight? It's Sami's birthday, some of us are going to dinner to celebrate." Mac had hurried a little to catch up with me on my way out to the parking lot, and he was smiling at me hopefully.
"Umm, I had plans..." I considered going to Disneyland another day; I liked Sami and it would have been nice to celebrate his birthday with him before I was gone.
"Oh yeah? What are you doing?"
"Well, I was thinking of going to Disneyland," I said, feeling a little embarrassed.
Mac chuckled a little and asked, "Who are you going with?"
"Umm, it was going to be just me, actually," I answered, uncomfortably.
"By yourself?" he asked, incredulously, making me feel worse. "Well, that's no fun. Don't you have anyone to go with you?"
"No, I don't, everybody hates me." I narrowed my eyes at him.
"Sorry, it's just that it's not the kind of place you go to by yourself, you know?" he apologized, smiling at me.
I shrugged. "Don't know; never been there."
"You've never been to Disneyland?" His eyes widened in surprise. "You've been here for over three years and you've never been to Disneyland?"
"Two years--last season we were locked out," I said, pointlessly. "And I've never had a reason to go there. Nobody with kids has visited, and none of my friends have ever wanted to go."
And Jason had never wanted to go there; not that I'd complained. We had so little time together during the season that I'd always preferred to stay in when he'd visited.
"Oh. Why the sudden interest now in going, then?" We stopped just inside the door to keep talking, knowing that there would be a few autograph hunters outside.
"I want to go while I still can." I hoped that he would understand my strained smile, and that I wouldn't have to explain further.
Mac didn't smile in response and there was an awkward silence. I was about to make a "well, I should go now" exit, when he started talking again.
"How about you come to Sami's birthday dinner tonight, and we go to Disneyland together on Monday?" he asked quietly.
I blinked at him, taken aback. It was a completely unexpected thing for him to say. We'd always been friendly to each other, but we weren't close, and we'd never really hung out together, just the two of us; it had always been various dinners or clubs with a bunch of teammates around.
"You mean it?" I asked, not hiding my surprise.
"Yeah, I went when I first got called up, and I haven't been back since. I want to check out the California Adventure rides."
"Well, sure!" I grinned. "Although, I don't know whether going with another grown man is an improvement over going by myself."
Mac shook his head and said he'd see me later that night and left.
I got home after dinner, a little drunk from the red wine that had flowed freely at our table, and seeing that it wasn't too late, I called Jason.
It rang for a while, and I was preparing to just leave a message when he answered.
"Hello," he said, sounding tired and distracted.
"Hey. Am I calling too late? I can call tomorrow."
Jason sighed. "No, now is fine."
"Is something wrong?" We'd made up that night the way we usually did, without talking, without explaining, without apologising, without lying. I'd smiled when he messed up my hair the next day after I'd taken ages to get it looking just right, and I'd retaliated in kind, but all he had to do was run his fingers through his hair to get it looking normal again, and I pretty much had to start the whole process all over again. Of course when I was done, he'd just tackled me and sat on my chest while he undid all my work. In the end, I'd just given up and we stayed in together; maybe that had been his plan all along.
"I uhh..." he trailed off, and there was an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. He sounded like that when he was guilty, when he'd done something to hurt me.
Oh God, not again, I thought. Please, not again.
I was about to ask what had happened when I heard it, unmistakable even over the crappy connection.
It was the sound of a baby crying.
It was Chase.
He was at home.
He'd gone home.
He'd gone back to her.
It was like Chase's crying had broken some kind of spell, and Jason started talking again, babbling to me. "Look, I didn't mean to--Dina called me, she said Chase was really sick, and she'd given him his medicine and he was still crying and he wouldn't stop and she had to call someone. I had to come. It's just until he gets better. Look, nothing's changed between us."
And he was right, nothing had changed between us, nothing at all.
I hung up and I turned my phone off, and I stripped and got into bed. He'd done it to me so many times before, and he'd disappointed me every time. I should have been used to it by then, my heart should have hardened, and I should have been able to swallow and make all the hurt go away, but I couldn't. It worked the other way around; every time he did it, it hurt more, like every betrayal had the weight of previous betrayals added to it.
I couldn't cry; there was nothing left that tears could come from. He lied to me, he lied to me. Even when I'd set the past aside, when I'd taken that chance, when I'd given myself to him, when I'd given all of me, he'd walked away from me. There was nothing left of me to cry because I'd given everything up to him.
Mac nudged my shoulder gently. "Contain your excitement, Petr, everyone's staring."
"What? I'm not..." I noticed that he was grinning at me, and I realised that he was just joking. "Oh. Sorry, I was just thinking about something."
His smile faded a little, and his tone became gentle when he said, "It's not under your control, so try not to worry about it, okay?"
I was startled--how could he possibly know what I'd been thinking about? Did Teemu tell him what was going on? But I hadn't told him anything about Jason since that night, so he couldn't possibly have told him. Then I realised that he hadn't read my mind after all, and that he was talking about me being traded, and I calmed down.
Not that I was cheered up any by the reminder; I wasn't sure why I'd thought that going to Disneyland was better than staying at home and moping. It wasn't like the Magic Kingdom was going to magically help me get over Jason.
I faked a smile and nodded at him. "I'll try. Thanks for coming with me today."
"Nah, I've been waiting for an excuse to come again, I should be thanking you." He threw an arm around my shoulder and gave me a squeeze. "Just don't tell anyone if I scream in Space Mountain."
I laughed and promised I wouldn't. Mac looked really good when he smiled like that. I turned away, telling myself that it was a bad idea to start thinking of him as anything more than a teammate and a friend. He probably wasn't into guys, for one thing - a very big thing - and I tended to develop crushes on my linemates, and that almost always turned out to be a bad thing.
Correction: always, I thought, swallowing as I tried yet again to stop thinking about Jason.
We went all over the park, went on all the rides that weren't too kiddy, and we talked while we waited in line. Of course, after I'd realised that I found him attractive, I couldn't get that out of my mind, and I was uncomfortably aware of how I liked the way his eyes widened when he got to the exciting part of whatever story he was telling me, and the way his jeans clung to his ass.
I tried to put an end to those thoughts by yelling at myself internally after each one, but I think just ended up giving myself a headache. And his ass still looked good.
What the fuck was I doing lusting after my straight linemate? The guy had taken pity on me and had been trying to cheer me up all day, and my dick had decided that meant it was open season on him.
"Cotton candy!" Mac blurted, as a cotton candy cart came into sight.
"You want to get some?" I asked, peering at him strangely.
"No," he answered, looking very caught, and starting to blush slightly.
"You sure? We can share," I suggested, walking straight towards the cart.
"No, no, really it's fine!" he protested feebly, following me. "I don't want any."
I ignored him and bought two bags of cotton candy anyway - one pink and one blue - and handed the blue one to him. He accepted after a slight hesitation, then started demolishing the contents.
I watched him in amused silence for a while before commenting, "You really like cotton candy."
He sighed and said, "I do."
"Here, have the rest of mine," I said, offering him the rest of my bag, which was still more than half full. "Why did you say you didn't want any?"
Mac munched some of the pink cotton candy at me wordlessly.
"Well?" I prompted him.
He just shook his head stubbornly, and refused to say anything until I finally changed the subject. I'd never seen him behave so weirdly before. He still had a nice ass, though.
My phone rang while we were in line for the Matterhorn and when I saw that it was Jason calling, I immediately sent it to voice mail. Mac raised his eyebrows as if to ask who was calling, but I just shrugged at him in response and he didn't say anything.
I checked my voice mail later while he was in the restroom, and Jason had left me a message.
"Hey Petr, it's Jason. Look, me being here--it's just temporary. Just until Chase gets a little better. And I'm going to tell Dina she can't just call me and expect me to come over like this anymore. It's just--he's my son, you know? I'll come to see you as soon as I can. Please don't be mad at me."
I didn't even notice Mac standing next to me until he tapped me on the shoulder. I'd been mad at myself for being attracted to him, but it had kept me from thinking about Jason, so maybe it was the lesser of two evils.
I deleted the message.
We had dinner at the Blue Bayou, a restaurant in the starting area of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The atmosphere was surprisingly good, considering we were dining under a fake night sky with the recorded sound of crickets chirping around us.
But maybe it didn't matter what the atmosphere was like because we'd had a few bottles of wine between us, and by the time we'd finished dessert, I felt really, really good.
It occurred to me that it was getting pretty late, and that the park was probably closing soon. "Hey, we didn't go to California Adventure. That's what you came to see, isn't it?"
Mac just smiled and shook his head. "I can come here again another time; I just didn't want you to be a big fat loser going to Disneyland by yourself."
We both laughed at that, but I understood what he'd left unspoken--I wouldn't have the same opportunity to come any time I wanted to because I wouldn't be around anymore. Instead of making me sad, it just made me laugh more, because I was thinking about missing Disneyland. How many times would I ever want to go to Disneyland, anyway? It had taken me three - no, two - years to go there in the first place.
"It's not a joke, Petr," he said, trying to look serious, which just ended up looking dumb because he was too drunk to be serious. "I really do mean you're a loser. You're a loser for leaving."
"I'm not leaving," I objected and balled up my napkin, then tossed it at him, hitting him in the chest. "I'm being traded. Probably. Totally different thing."
"Well, you're not going to be around anymore, right? So that means you are leaving." Mac picked the napkin up from his lap and threw it right back at me, hitting me in the face. I glared at him, but he wasn't looking at me anymore; he was looking down morosely, twisting his own napkin with little fists. "I wish you weren't."
I shrugged. "It's not your fault the coach hates me. Unless you've been telling him bad things about me; in that case it is your fault and you have a lot to make up for. You should wash all my cars. And buy me dinner for a week. And carry my equipment bag. And..."
"I don't know about all week but I'll take care of tonight," Mac said, chuckling a little as he picked up the check and glanced at the total, then counted out some twenties from his wallet and tossed them on the table. "And this isn't an admission of guilt, by the way."
"Oh no, of course not, you buy dinner for me all the time anyway," I said, because Mac had never bought dinner for me before. We stood up to go, and I realised immediately that I was way too drunk to drive home. "Hey, what time does the park close?"
He looked at his watch as we made our way out of the restaurant, squinting and bringing his wrist closer to his face as he tried to make out the time. "Uhh... right about now."
"I can't drive," I said. "You?"
Mac didn't answer, but somehow the shitfaced grin on his face told me that the answer was no.
"Got any ideas for something we can do until one of us gets sober?" We were walking along slowly together, headed back in the general direction of the park entrance. At least, I assumed that's where we were going; I was just following him.
"Sorry, too drunk to think of anything," he laughed, his arm brushing against mine as the zig of my path crossed with the zag of his. I put an arm around his shoulder and pulled him close, causing us both to veer wildly to the side of the street, and we both laughed, and I almost leaned in to kiss him. Instead I laughed at him, and myself, and Disneyland, and the Mighty Ducks, which was the dumbest thing you could ever name a hockey team.
Oh God, I'd almost kissed him.
The thought suddenly registered, and I practically jumped out of my skin; my heart raced and I was instantly sober, as if I'd been shoved into a freezing cold shower. I'd been so close to actually doing it that I'd even known what I was going to do - I'd have cupped his chin, turning his head to me, and I'd have kissed him lightly, just the barest brush - and it scared the fuck out of me because I could have done it.
I was going crazy inside with fear and adrenaline, feeling like I'd just stopped myself from stepping off the edge of a cliff, and my blood was pounding in my ears so loud it was all I could hear. I glanced at Mac and he was smiling--he didn't seem to have noticed what I'd almost done, thank God. He was still happily stumbling along with me, laughing loudly even though I'd stopped, guiding us along.
I thought about Teemu and the secret he'd been able to keep so well, even from his wife; the one I'd managed to find out by pure chance, by being in the wrong place at the right time. It had been fine, of course, perfectly all right because it was me who had found out, but what would Mac do if he found out about me?
As he started babbling to me about various things, I couldn't stop myself from thinking up scenarios - all of them bad - as we got onto the shuttle to take us back to the parking lot. Mostly, it was his expression that I kept thinking about. Shock at first, maybe shock for a long time, then what else? Disgust? Anger? Mistrust? Fear? Hurt? I tried to keep the thoughts out of my mind, but it was like trying to play a game of whack-a-mole that wouldn't end.
We'd gotten off at the parking lot, and I was vaguely aware that I had been following Mac's lead for a while, and he'd stopped. I stopped as well and looked at him, trying not to stare at his lips. We were standing next to my car and he was looking at me expectantly.
"Well?" he prompted.
"Well," I responded, my mind completely devoid of anything else to say.
"I don't suppose you can drive yet?" he asked, hopefully.
I shook my head. I definitely wasn't in the same mood I'd been at the restaurant, but I definitely wasn't sober enough to drive.
"What the fuck do we do now?" Mac grinned and leaned against the passenger door, sticking his hands in his pockets.
"Get cabs. I'll come back for my car tomorrow." I sighed.
"You want to come over to my place and play foosball? I'd beat you, then I could remain undefeated champion and bring it up every time I talk to you from now on." He was bouncing a little on his heels, like he still had energy to burn.
I should have just turned him down and gone home. He would have understood, it was late and we'd spent all day together at Disneyland. I could have said no; it would have been easy to say no. The last thing I needed was to spend more time in his presence, obsessing over the near kiss and constantly checking him out then worrying about whether he'd catch me checking him out. I was doing it right then, looking at his hands, watching his thumbs rub idly against the denim, then looking between his hands.
I had to go home. Say no, say no, say no.
I opened my mouth to speak, and he lifted his head up and smiled at me, slightly awkward, a little shy, a little hopeful, beautifully earnest, and I said, "Sure."
Jason called while Mac was in the kitchen, getting beers for us. He was ahead in foosball three games to one because he had an extra pair of hands while I was struggling to get just one of mine working properly.
I stared at my phone for a while, reading every letter of Jason's name carefully before I answered. I hadn't wanted to talk to him all day - I hadn't been ready to talk to him - but I answered anyway, because suddenly talking to him seemed fine; I was drunk, and I was strong and brave and superhero invulnerable as I stood there, hundreds of miles away from him, believing my own lie that he was nothing to me and he had no power over me, as if I could decide just like that and turn everything off like there was a switch. Lights off, TV off, Jason off.
"Petr?" he said urgently, his voice bouncing off me, seaching for the chink in my armour. "I'm coming tomorrow morning. Early. I'll be there before you wake up."
"You can't," I protested, watching Mac as he made his way to me, a bottle of Molson in each hand. "You can't come tomorrow. You can come yesterday."
"What? Yesterday? Petr, have you been drinking?" His voice went very soft, and he sounded worried and a little annoyed.
"Of course," I answered. "I'm busy. Bye."
I hung up on him and took the bottle of beer Mac was offering with that winning smile, and in exchange, I gave him one of the bags of cotton candy he didn't know I'd bought for him in Disneyland.
"One more game," I said weakly, even though I had absolutely no intention of getting up off the couch, where I'd sprawled gloriously after my last defeat. I didn't plan to move at all, except to get more comfortable. Or to pee, which I suppose counted as getting more comfortable.
"Petr," Mac sort of wheezed, apparently just as weak. "I'm ahead thirteen games to two. I don't think you're coming back from this one."
"Don't tell me what I can't do!" I said sternly, but that just sent him into a fit of giggles. I sighed deeply. "Fine, you win, you're the champion. You get to gloat for one day. Congratulations."
Mac had his arm around my shoulder and he pulled me closer to him, so my head was resting on his shoulder. "It could be more than one day. Remember Buffalo? Nothing happened then."
And then I felt it, the press of warm, soft skin against my forehead. Just a touch, but long enough for me to be sure that there had been contact, and long enough to recognise the feel of lips.
I lifted my head up quickly and looked at him, shocked. A gentle forehead kiss was way beyond the limits of gay behaviour brought out by alcohol in straight guys. He reacted to the suddenness of my movement by sliding violently away from me to the far side of the couch where he stayed, eyes wide and nervous.
As sure as I was of what I'd felt, I still doubted it at the same time because it went against everything I knew about him. Had I hallucinated it? I'd been wanting him all evening - all day - and maybe I'd just imagined what I'd wanted him to do.
Or had I been the one who had kissed him? I'd narrowly averted disaster earlier, and maybe I hadn't been so lucky this time. Oh God.
"Did you just kiss me?" I blurted in a stupid panic, breaking the awkward silence.
Mac stared back at me, an expression of horror mixed with confusion slowly appearing on his face.
"On my forehead," I clarified, as if that was the big sticking point, as if there was no issue with him kissing me, it was just where he kissed me that was potentially a problem.
"Yes," he said nervously. "Sorry, was I being too forward? I thought that you-"
"Forward?" I almost yelled, interrupting him. I had no idea why I did that. Maybe I just felt an overwhelming to stop him from talking anymore, and it seemed as good a way to do it as any. Probably better than punching him in the face, which could easily have been my backup method of stopping him.
Mac was starting to blush furiously, obviously embarrassed. "I'm sorry, I guess I read you wrong, I thought today you were--it seemed like you were into me. God, I feel so stupid now."
"No, I was--I am." I said, not fully believing that I was having an actual conversation with him, and not dreaming about it.
The look of embarrassment was replaced by confusion, and some degree of pain. "Then why did you freak out when I kissed you?"
"I didn't know that you're gay," I said, defensively.
"I'm not," he replied, then seeing the look of complete bewilderment on my face, quickly added, "I'm bi."
"Oh." I sank back onto Mac's couch, staring at the ceiling light until it started hurting my eyes. I looked away, my vision overlaid by its afterimage as I looked back at him.
"You didn't know?" he asked, finally starting to look neither horrified, embarrassed, confused or pained.
"No." I was mostly calmed down, too, by that point, and it started to sink in that the thing I'd wanted to do all day, the thing that I'd had to stop myself at the last moment from doing and almost given myself a heart attack over, was the thing that he wanted to do too.
So I did it.
And I noticed that he tasted like something.
I woke up the next morning feeling pretty good. However, when I opened my eyes and started to sit up, a swarm of tiny daggers started stabbing my brain repeatedly, so I closed my eyes and let my head sink back onto the pillow, whimpering softly.
Mac stirred next to me on the bed and mumbled, "Petr, you awake?"
I grunted in reply and turned slowly and carefully - just in case the daggers started attacking again - onto my side to face him and braved opening my eyes a sliver to look at him. His eyes were wide open and there was a short, even layer of stubble on his face. I'd never seen him like this before, only clean-shaven, and the sight made me smile.
Mac smiled in response and we both moved in for a kiss. To be honest, he tasted like he'd been drinking all night and touching anything at all, even with my lips and tongue, seemed to hurt, but somehow it was good anyway, because it was him.
I wriggled closer to him until we were chest to chest, and I wrapped an arm and leg around him in a loose full body hug as I kissed him a few more times, my lips tingling. We were both warm, hot almost, but we kept the blanket on. I felt like it was keeping us in our own little world, and nothing could hurt me in there.
My phone rang, and the daggers started stabbing again full force. Mac and I stopped kissing and groaned at each other in shared pain.
"Turn your fucking phone off," he pleaded, folding his pillow over to cover his exposed ear.
I steeled myself and got up, staggering heroically to the spot where I'd tossed my pants and grabbed my phone out of the pocket. Jason was calling and I vaguely remembered something about him, and this morning, but I couldn't remember what it was so I sent it to voicemail to restore the blessed silence, then turned the phone off and dropped it.
Mac waited for me to feebly make my way back to bed, then flung the blanket over me immediately, encasing me in warmth. I kissed him again, thinking that I could get used to all of it, how soft his lips were, the scrape of his stubble against my beard, and the stickiness of our bodies as we shifted against each other.
I wanted to tell him how I felt, how good he made me feel, but my swollen tongue wouldn't let me speak, and I just assumed that he'd know as I drifted back to sleep.
It was early afternoon when I woke again, feeling much better than I had earlier, although not exactly in the mood to run a marathon or anything. Mac was up already - had been for a while, judging from how cold the sheets were where he'd slept - and I got out of bed slowly, wondering whether he'd gone home before realising that he was home.
"Mac?" I called out, as I made my way down the hallway after putting my pants on.
A muffled response from downstairs confirmed that he was still there and I went into the bathroom to take a piss. There was a small basket of potpourri on a shelf that smelled faintly of roses. I wondered if an old girlfriend had gotten it for him, or if he'd bought it himself.
I washed my hands in the sink and splashed water on my face, checking the damage in the mirror as cold droplets of water ran down my chest. I didn't look as bad as I'd feared; perhaps I looked better than Mac did right now; perhaps he'd cleaned up and shaved, and looked like the Mac I saw show up for morning practice, or at breakfast when we were on the road.
I heard footsteps on the stairs as I reached for a towel to dry my face, and soon after, Mac peeked into the bathroom, a shy smile on his face. He'd wrapped a white towel low around his waist and I was happy to see that he hadn't shaved. I decided I wouldn't let him for the rest of the day, not while we were together, not while I had him.
"Hi," he said softly, standing awkwardly at the doorway, as if he was afraid to come in.
I walked over to him and slipped my arms around his waist, tilting my head down to kiss him. "Hi," I murmured, smiling as I felt him hug me comfortably, relaxing against me, skin against skin, exciting because being with him was so new. "What have you been up to? Making me breakfast?"
Mac wrinkled his nose. "You wish."
"Oh? That's it, I'm leaving," I said, not moving from the spot as I kissed his cheek, enjoying the feel of the stubble that seemed so alien on him, like it was a side of him I'd never gotten to see before.
"Okay, you do that," he laughed, and kissed me back, harder this time, the kind of kiss that made me think about the night before, when he'd tasted like cotton candy and had been the thing I'd wanted more than anything.
I pressed my hips against his, feeling the towel shift, then come undone, and it fell to the floor in a heap. We both looked down at his dick, half-hard, casually poking my thigh. He didn't make a move to pick the towel up.
"Here, let me take care of that for you," I said, grinning up at him as I sank to my knees.
Mac's phone rang, and he got out of bed to answer it, then went out into the hallway to talk. Hearing his phone ring reminded me that I'd turned mine off, and then I remembered that Jason was here, that he'd come to see me, and I panicked, feeling guilty, then annoyed that I felt guilty, and I started looking for my phone on the floor.
It didn't take too long to find, and I checked the display. I had nine missed calls, and voicemail. I sat on the floor, leaning against the foot of the bed as I listened to my messages.
Mac came back into the room while I was listening to the fourth message from Jason. I'd already heard the one from Burke, so I understood why his expression was so serious. He sat down next to me, resting a hand on my thigh and rubbing it, like he was trying to soothe me.
I finally got to the end of my messages, deleting the last one, just as I'd done with all the earlier messages, and put my phone down by my side. I reached for his hand to hold and he squeezed mine gently. You'd think that I would have had a million thoughts running through my head, about Jason, Mac, leaving Anaheim, all of it finally being over, a new place that was really an old one, being with old friends, leaving new ones, having a fresh start, and ending in failure; all those things I could have thought, and there was nothing, because my mind was blank, and I was devoid of feeling, because everything had gone right and wrong at the same time.
"New York, huh?" he said finally, breaking the silence. "New York's nice."
I could hear my heartbeat, and I could feel Mac rubbing the back of my hand with his thumb. And a thought did enter my mind. Mac in Disneyland eating cotton candy. He eats pink and blue, but he ends up tasting like blue.
"You could speak Czech in the locker room again." He sighed. "I always liked hearing that."
"I should go," I said, sounding harsh even though I hadn't meant to be. "I have a lot of things to take care of, arrangements to make."
He let go of my hand and stood up, turning away from me, and I got up quickly, grabbing his shoulders and turning his body to face me. I kissed him lightly, and he didn't kiss me back, but he didn't stop me from doing it. "I don't want to go; I have to."
He nodded, and I felt guilty again, because I was going to see Jason--just to talk to him, that's all, but I didn't want Mac to know. I sighed heavily, dropping my hands to my sides, unable to meet his gaze. "We both knew this was going to happen."
"I wish we had more time," he said softly, regretfully. "You're flying out tonight, aren't you?"
"Yeah. My flight leaves at ten." I walked away from him, picking my clothes up and getting dressed. He watched me for a while, then started getting dressed himself.
"I'll be at the airport." His voice was firm, and I was a little surprised by the sudden change.
"Thanks," I muttered, and I almost hurried out right then, but I couldn't go without kissing him one last time. Our lips lingered, his stubble scratching lazily against my beard, and I inhaled his scent, a scent that was becoming familiar, but never would. "Thanks for everything."
My car was still at Disneyland so I called a cab, and Mac waited with me on the street until it came. We didn't hug or say goodbye because we knew we'd see each other later. He didn't wave as the cab drove off, and I didn't look back.
Jason was sitting on the curb near the end of my driveway again. I pulled in a little, stopped my car, and got out to join him. I invited him in, but he shook his head, saying that he preferred to stay outside.
I'd called him after I got to Disneyland; he'd already found out that I'd been traded, and he'd assumed that's why I hadn't answered his calls. I let him think that - it wasn't something that I wanted to correct over the phone - and he said he was sorry, and that he'd meet me at my place.
On the drive home, I'd wondered if he was sorry that I'd been traded, or if he was sorry about something else.
I sat down next to Jason, trying not to get too close, but I hadn't showered at Mac's place, and I knew I smelled like I'd been drinking and fucking all night. He acted as if he didn't notice, though, and he took a deep breath, as if he was going to say something that was very difficult for him.
"Look, I know you don't have much time, so I'm going to get to the point." He looked straight ahead as he spoke, and I thought he sounded tired; he suddenly looked a lot older than I'd remembered. "I love you, and I know you still love me."
He turned his head abruptly, and his expression killed the response I was preparing. "But it's not enough, is it? Not enough for you," he said, and then he added, so softly that I could barely hear him, "or me."
I swallowed hard, unable to say anything, and he kept talking. "I thought a lot, on the plane, and today, when I couldn't get you. I thought about what you were doing last night, when I called." He looked at me for confirmation and I averted my eyes, guilty just out of habit, I supposed, because I didn't owe him anything anymore.
"I was pissed off. I'm not going to lie about that; I wanted to seriously fuck up whoever-" He paused and shook his head. "Petr, if there was no Dina, it still wouldn't be enough, would it?"
I looked sharply at him, caught off-guard by his question. I'd never thought about that; Dina had always been the only thing in the way.
"You knew I was telling the truth, didn't you? That I was only there for Chase, and not to be with her." He wouldn't look away from me, and I didn't answer his question, refused to even think about it. When I thought about it later - and I would, for months afterwards - I'd realise that he was right, but I didn't then, because he was still too close to my heart.
"I know it's over," he said, the barely disguised hurt in his voice making me wish for just a moment that it wasn't over. "I'll stop calling and coming here. Fuck, I just--I just couldn't give you up, you know?"
I did know, I knew every time we'd made up and been happy together until it wore off, and I'd swear that it was the last time, but it never was; I knew what it was like, not being able to give something up, no matter how bad it was for you, because nothing felt better when you had it.
"And now you can," I said, more to myself than to him.
"I have a flight back to Dallas tonight." His hand reached towards mine, just a little, but when he became conscious of what he was doing, he quickly drew it back to his side. "I'm going to try to patch things up with Dina. For Chase."
It stung to hear that, like we'd been in some kind of competition and Dina had won, but that wasn't what it was about, and I knew it. I didn't know what to say to him, whether to wish him luck, or warn him that it was a mistake, or to tell him to go to hell. I went with none of the above. "I'm flying out tonight, too. Maybe I'll see you at the airport."
He nodded, and we both stood up. I didn't want to hug him because I was filthy, and there was no way we could just shake hands, so we just stood there, knowing it was time to say goodbye and not really knowing how to do it.
"You want a ride anywhere?" I asked.
"Nah, I'm fine." He smiled at me. "Good luck in New York. Say hi to Patty for me and tell him girls don't dig guys who spend more time on their hair than they do."
"Yeah, you would know." I grinned at him, and it was a nice way to say goodbye, being playful like we'd been way back when we were on the same team, before we'd started hurting each other.
He waved and started walking away from me, and I got into my car to park it properly in the garage. I'd have to make arrangements to get it to New York. It had come with me from New Jersey, and now it was going back. I thought about how great it was to drive my car there the whole year, and I started to think that I was going to miss Southern California.
At least I'd been to Disneyland.
Mac met me at the airport, just like he said he would. I was sad to see that he'd shaved. I should have told him I didn't want him to, but I didn't get to tell him a lot of things. We had coffee at Starbucks and just talked about trivial things like the wonderful weather I'd be giving up, and baseball scores, and the ways in which I thought he cheated at foosball.
We behaved like we were just starting something together; I couldn't take my eyes off him, and he couldn't stop smiling. I watched the way his lips moved when he talked, wanting so badly to kiss them, to taste him again, and he told me that he would reign supreme as foosball champion. We were willfully ignoring the fact that the clock was ticking, and soon I'd be on a plane, and who knew when I'd be back, and if he'd even be around at the time. I just wanted to make him smile for as long as I could.
"I'm an idiot," he blurted, as I got ready to join the back of the security line. "I shouldn't have waited; I should have asked you out a long time ago."
I shrugged. "Yeah, you have no excuse--you already knew how big my dick is."
"Petr! There are small children and old people around!" he hissed, glancing around in concern for the innocent small children and old people wandering the airport. He couldn't keep the smile from his face as soon as he'd said it, though.
"It's not like any of them are going to see me again." I'd known that it was going to happen, that my days with the Ducks were numbered, and it was something we were all supposed to expect - it was part of the job, the life - but at that moment, I couldn't bear to leave, not when I had Mac right in front of me. "Tell the guys I'll miss them."
"I will; we're all going to miss you too." He hugged me, giving me a short, tight squeeze and stepped back. "Goodbye, Petr."
I got in line and watched him go, and I thought, I could have loved him.
I never really talked to Mac again after that. I thought about calling him a few times when I first got to New York, but then I'd realise that I didn't have anything to say to him, so I never did. And of course I saw him again when our teams played each other, but by then, I was married, and so was he. We'd say hi during pre-game warmups, and he looked a little older every time I saw him, although his smile stayed the same.
I lost touch with Jason, too, something I'd never imagined would happen. We'd been through so much--we'd won a fucking Cup together, and he'd been the centre of my universe for so long, and all of it just faded as time went by. I couldn't remember why I'd loved him so much, just that I did. And I forgot why I'd fought so hard to be with him, because I couldn't even really remember what it was like to be with him anymore.
Jason and I retired at the same time, then Mac a couple of years later, I think. I'd moved back to the Czech Republic with Renata, and I stopped keeping track of what was happening in the NHL, so I wasn't sure. My main concern was trying to help my children adjust to life in a different country than the one they'd grown up in. It felt strange for me to see that my home was so foreign to them, like I'd expected them to somehow know deep down that this was the place that they came from.
I'm lucky; I found the right person, and I guess she thought I was the right person too, because we're still together, and I can't imagine us ever being apart. It's not all good - it never is, is it? - and it's hard to remember to talk, sometimes, about new things, and not rehash conversations we've had for years. It's tough with the kids gone; they would always fill in the gaps between what Renata and I said.
But after all these years, I can still remember that night I spent with Mac. I can almost taste the cotton candy on his lips, and it makes me smile to think how giddy I was, like I'm tapping into some reservoir of joy every time the memories come back.
I liked him very much, but I didn't love him; I couldn't have, not after just one day. But something about what happened stayed with me, clear as day after all these years, and I don't know why. Was it because of the promise that was left unfulfilled? Or was it because we'd had to end things just when they were beginning, when things were the most intense? Was it because things were perfect, because there wasn't time for anything to go wrong?
All I know is that I can never see cotton candy without thinking of Mac, and that I never found out why it had such a strange effect on him. Maybe one day I will call him, and we'll catch up on too many years, and I'll ask him and finally know the answer. But it's okay if I don't; answers aren't as important to me as they once were.
Jason was supposed to be the constant in my life, but nothing remains from that stormy time. People have come into my life and they've gone, only to be replaced by new people, who were then replaced themselves. I've believed that certain things would never change, and been proved wrong every time.
And maybe that's why I've never forgotten the one thing that never changed because it never had a chance to; Mac, Disneyland, drunk, happy, lost, dizzy, candy days.