By the time Tom got back to the locker room, everyone else had left, so he had to suit up hurriedly and huff it down to the ice. Luckily, they were just doing skate warm-ups when he arrived, so he hadn’t missed much. Coach still made him do five extra laps, though.
Tom was feeling pretty good about the decision he’d made back in the skate room. Actually, he was feeling really good about it, so much so that he was able to focus and hone his skills accurately. He was playing with a kind of perfection and finesse that he’d been missing for a long time. He was mastering every drill his coaches threw at him, and they noticed.
“Wow, Tom,” remarked Coach John, “with the way you’re playing today, I almost feel bad for making you skate those extra laps.”
“’Almost?’” A smile quirked up at the corner of left wing’s mouth.
“There’s never a complete excuse for tardiness, Tom,” joked Coach John. “Now I want everybody to do ten rushes, goal line to goal line, and meet me back over here next to the board.”
There were a few groans, but the team did as they were told. Line rushes normally sucked, but Tom didn’t seem close to running out of energy any time soon. He was wondering what kind of plays Coach wanted to show them when a voice called out to him from the stands.
“You’re really on your game today, Milsom! Did you sneak someone into the locker room to show you some stamina exercises?”
Tom spluttered. “You wish, Skies.”
“I must say, I’m a little offended you didn’t ask me,” Charlie continued, taking a few steps down the stands. This week, his hair was blue with red fringe. A large, expensive-looking Nikon camera hung around his neck.
It was at this point, as Tom was damning Hank for allowing free admission to Mountain Lions practices that Alex cut in. “Be careful what you wish for, eh Charlie?” He winked.
“Oooo, now wouldn’t that be a scandal?” Charlie teased. “’Missoula Mountain Lions Captain and Star Center Alex Day Sleeps with Crazed Male Fan’—I can already see the headline on my blog.”
“Well, we happen to have an excellent PR team--“ came a voice from the opposite side of the arena, “—so I doubt that’ll be happening any time soon.”
At the sight of their general manager, the Missoula club straightened up and stood at attention. Charlie Skies—who actually was on good terms with Hank because his blog kept people in the stands on game nights—just smirked. He turned and began to walk back up the steps towards the exit. “Your loss, Day,” he called over his shoulder.
“See you tonight, Charlie!” Hank called back. Tom couldn’t tell if he was annoyed or joking. He could see, however, that his manager was stressed (although over what he couldn’t be sure.) Hank had one hand thrust into the pocket of his suit pants as the other scratched the back of his head. He kicked at a small pile of ice chips while he stood next to his brother at the dry-erase board, waiting for the last few players to file in.
Once everyone had gathered, John began to speak. “Okay, guys. Game’s at seven tonight. Be here at five-thirty. The Marlies are mostly blind passion and no strategy. You are gonna have to watch out for their defense, though; they’ve improved since we played them in December. You just need to stay focused and listen to each other out there. Okay?” They nodded.
“It’s gonna be pretty packed tonight,” Hank said as he removed his hand from his head and pushed his glasses further up on his nose. “It’s getting close to playoff season, and we all know that the fans would love to see us go this year. I know you have it in you, and so do they.” Hank indicated their supporters with a nod toward the presently empty seats all around them. “You are all talented. You are all great players, and I believe—if you can work together cooperatively and pool your talents—that we could really do it this year. Winning isn’t everything, of course, but not many companies sponsor hockey teams that don’t.” He smiled sadly. “Anything you wanna add, Coach?”
“I thought I was the poetic one in this family!” John joked, lightening up some of the heaviness in the air from his brother’s speech. “The only thing I would add, boys, is to just play your best. Do it for your friends and families, sure, but do it for each other.”
“And with that, John reclaims his title as ‘the Poetic One.’ We’ll see you tonight, guys.”
There were murmured “thanks’ and “see you”s as the Mountain Lions skated back to the dressing room. Tom searched for Vondell and, spying his friend from his signature dark curly hair, made his way toward him.
“Hey,” Vondell greeted with a smile.
Skipping all formalities, Tom jumped straight to his point. “Vondell, I want to get over Charlie. And I need your help.”
“It’s about fucking time.”
Maybe it was Hank and John’s pep talk, or maybe it was Tom’s finally clear head and sounds skills, but either way, something had changed in the Missoula Mountain Lions after that practice, because they started winning. Like, a lot. Like, sixth in the league with eighty-three points a lot. And then suddenly they were in the playoffs, and no one was really sure how.
Meanwhile, Tom’s solution to getting over Charlie was to start going out more. Any time the team went for post-game victory drinks, he came. He went to the record store with Michael and Ed—who had, he found, music tastes that quite resembled his own—after practice a few times. He even let Dan and Phil drag him to some Canadian Bar called the Hoser Hut. (He thought it was a little weird how everyone apologized so much, but he liked the free doughnuts.)
The one thing Tom found himself doing most often, though, was hanging out with Vondell. He and Vondell had hung out on previous occasions of course, but never like this. In their first post-season week alone, Vondell and Tom had gone to the movies (twice), shopped at Missoula’s sole goth store (it was the only place Tom could buy his Tripp pants), had a cookout at Vondell’s house (since Tom lived in an apartment), and visited a modern art gallery.
The night before the third game in the quarterfinals, Vondell was over at Tom’s for a carbo-loading party. Spaghetti, bread, lasagna—all were being consumed by the plateful as the two friends sat side by side on Tom’s couch. They were watching another playoff game, the New York City Slash Girls vs. the Norfolk Admirals, to size up their competition.
“I hope we never have to play them,” Vondell said, stuffing a forkful of pasta into his mouth. “They look pretty… intense.”
“Yeah…” Tom agreed as he chewed.
Although the AHL was a men’s league, the great city of New York, in all its diversity, did not have an equivalent women’s hockey club. Several women, after being unable to procure enough members and funding to form their own team, protested when they were rejected from the men’s team. Citing the Civil Rights Act and threatening a lawsuit, they were finally allowed to join. Over the course of a few years, more and more women joined the team until, ironically, its male members were actually in the minority. The team name was also changed from the New York City Stockbrokers to the Slash Girls to fit with the image the team’s coach wanted to depict: tough, precise, and even badass women who could take care of themselves.
“Well,” Tom supplied as he took a bite of his piece of French bread, “it’s unlikely we’d have to play them. I mean, they’re in the Eastern Conference, so the only way we would end up against each other is if we got to the Cup. Which is highly doubtful.”
“Why do you say that?” Vondell asked, turning away from the television.
Tom gaped at his friend incredulously. “What, seriously? You think we can make it to the Calder Cup Finals?”
Vondell shrugged. “Yeah. Why not?”
Tom continued to stare. Vondell pushed pasta around on his plate as he elaborated.
“Well, Alex is about as aggressive of a center as you can get without getting sent to the penalty box every other minute; Charlie, as I’m sure you may have noticed in the three years you spent ogling him, can block shots better than Captain America’s shield; Dan and Phil, even though they’ve only been here for half a season, know more about keeping the puck up than any of the defensemen we’ve had in the past four years; Ed and Michael would be the top scorers on the team if Coach subbed them in more often—“
Vondell had been rounding off player names and specialties successively, but it was at this point he paused. He shot a brief glance up at Tom before returning his gaze to plate. He continued, but this time his speech was slower and quieter.
“And you are, without a doubt, the best and most talented hockey player I have ever met, or seen, and unquestionably the best one I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. You always know what everyone else is thinking, and you can still score, even with all three of their forwards and both of their defensemen coming at you. You- you don’t let anybody get in your way, and you won’t pay attention to anything or anyone if you think they aren’t important. You’re the most intelligent and thoughtful person I’ve ever met, and—“ Vondell stopped, as though he said something he shouldn’t have. He shoved a forkful of lasagna into his mouth and shrugged as a way of finishing his sentence.
“I think you’re leaving something out,” Tom said after a pause.
Vondell’s eyes widened as his head snapped up to look at Tom. “And what would that be?”
“You, of course.” Tom smiled. “You’re too humble; without you, we wouldn’t be the team we are today.” Vondell began to protest, but Tom cut him off. He began ticking things off on his fingers.
“You’re faster than everyone else. You have the team record for most hat tricks. And without you, I certainly wouldn’t be all of the things you just listed. Well,” he added after a moment, “I’d probably still be the most intelligent person you’ve ever met.”
Vondell smiled and gave Tom a playful shove. After a beat, Vondell asked, cautiously, “So, you really mean that? You’re glad we’re… teammates?”
“No, Vondell. I’m glad we’re friends.” Tom put his hand on Vondell’s shoulder.
Vondell smiled again, but this time it seemed… pained. He stood up and walked over to the stove. “Do you want some more spaghetti?”
“Uhh, no, thanks, I’m good.” Something in Tom was off. Something didn’t feel right, like he’d swallowed his bread too fast and gotten crumbs stuck in his throat. Vondell sat back down on the couch, and as the two focused back in on the game, Tom found himself leaning in a little closer to his friend, smiling whenever he cheered, and getting that weird feeling in his chest at the way his eyes lit up after a goal. If anyone asked, Tom would chalk it up to pre-game nerves and too much lasagna.
The next evening, the Missoula Mountain Lions won 3-2 against the Seattle Northerners. The Northerners beat them in the following game, after their center Liam Dryden scored the winning goal in overtime. The Mountain Lions took the next two games, winning the series and advancing to the conference semifinals after a signature Tom/Vondell/Alex goal in the last period of the second game.
The semi-finals were where things really started to heat up. The Mountain Lions were up against one of their toughest rivals, the Alaska Outlanders, who were seeded third in the league.
“Nice to see you again, Day,” Outlanders captain Ben Cook had sneered at the first faceoff. “You still fucking that goalie of yours? Or you move onto one of your wingers?”
As soon as the whistle blew, Alex slapped the puck into the net before either team could touch it.
“At least I’ve got game.”
They won than one. And the next. They even won the game after that, but that was where the streak stopped. The semi-finals were best of seven, and the Outlanders took advantage of this at the end of the series. They fired back in game four, shutting out the Mountain Lions 5-0. The Missoula team wasn’t able to take back the reins until game six, after again losing in game five 3-1. Ed made an impossible goal in the last period, dodging both Outlanders defensemen, Tom Bacon and Myles Dyer, to give the Mountain Lions a 2-1 edge, ending the series in their favor and avoiding what would’ve been a grueling overtime.
It also gave Alex something he never thought he’d have: a genuine handshake and congratulations from Benjamin Cook himself. “You guys are gonna make it this year,” he told Alex. The even crazier thing was that Alex believed him.
Alex had mulled over this for the three days in between playoff series to keep his spirits up. He had walked around in something of a haze for about a day until Charlie had forced him to snap out of it because it was seriously getting on his nerves. He loved him dearly, Charlie had told Alex, but he had this bad habit of being an arrogant idiot sometimes.
“I’m not that bad, am I?” Alex asked him a few days later at the grocery store. It had been bothering him in the back of his mind since the incident, which, Alex realized, might mean Charlie had a point. “I mean, I’m not constantly stuck on myself, right?”
“Alex, you are a wonderful person,” Charlie began, weighing a few oranges on the scale. “You’re a fantastic hockey player, a great housemate—“ Charlie paused and glanced around to make sure no one was in immediate earshot (he was kind of paranoid about that kind of stuff) before continuing in a whisper, “—and the best boyfriend I’ve ever had.” He set the oranges in the shopping cart and met Alex’s gaze. “You just have a bit of an ego.” He shrugged.
“But it’s not... a problem, is it? I’m not like this all the time, right?” Alex pushed the cart down the aisle as Charlie began to peruse the bananas.
“No, I think you just let what Ben said get to you. You took it as a direct compliment, where he probably meant it for the whole team. That’s all.”
Alex was still not convinced, and it must have shown on his face, because the next thing Charlie asked was: “Is there something else you’re not telling me?”
Alex considered this for a moment, then guided Charlie over to the deserted pasta section so they could talk in private.
“Okay, I didn’t tell you at first because I didn’t want you to freak out like you normally do about this stuff.” Charlie frowned, but nodded for Alex to continue.
“Do you remember how I made that slapshot in our first game against the Outlanders?”
“Yeah, that was a fantastic goal, but I don’t see what it has to do with—“
“At the faceoff,” Alex continued, cutting in, “Ben said something that really… upset me. That’s how I was able to make the shot. Because I was so pissed off.”
“Well, yeah, guys talk smack all the time on the ice. What did he say that was so different?”
Alex paused. “It was about us,” he confessed finally, in a low voice. “He… knows we’re together.”
Any sort of composure Charlie had had before completely shattered. “But- but- no,” he stammered. “He couldn’t have figured it out. Could he? Are we that obvious? We’re careful, right? I mean—“
“Careful about what?” a voice interjected.
Alex and Charlie whipped around to find a sandy-haired man in jeans and glasses behind them. He carried a notepad, with a pencil stuck behind his ear and looked at them expectantly as if they should recognize him. Journalist.
“My name’s Tyler Oakley, by the way,” he said extending his hand. “I work with the Missoula Morning Sun newspaper. Is now a bad time for an interview?”
Alex and Charlie looked at each other dubiously.
“It’ll take two minutes. Promise.” He held up his pinkie as proof of his honesty.
“Yeah, all right, you’ve got two minutes,” Alex said finally. He glanced up at the clock over the deli counter. “Go.”
“How are you preparing for the next game against the LA Monkeys after the devastating 4-1 loss yesterday?” He had pulled his pencil out from behind his ear and had it poised to write in his hand.
“Coach John has us training as hard as possible without wearing us out,” Charlie said. “He’s extended practice by half an hour on game days and almost an hour on off days.”
“What’s your strategy for tomorrow’s game?”
“Are we allowed to tell him that?” Charlie asked Alex, who was still watching the clock.
“We plan to hit them pretty hard,” Alex said, picking up the question for Charlie. “We’re making sure to work out all the kinks in our lineups so we don’t have any more, as you said, ‘devastating losses.’” He resisted the urge to use finger quotes.
“What was the most difficult thing about playing them?”
“Los Angeles has a fantastic coach and owner. I guess having one man as both of your bosses really gives the team a good sense of unity and structure, which is why they come on so strong.”
“Are you implying that the Mountain Lions coaching staff is unorganized?” Tyler responded quickly, seeming to think he’d caught on to some lead.
“No,” Alex said, trying not to sound indignant, “I’m just saying Philip Defranco knows how to run a team. I have a lot of respect for him.”
“We couldn’t ask for a better coaching staff,” Charlie chipped in, obviously trying to keep the interview positive. “The Green brothers have always been more than kind to us, and we’re very lucky to have them.”
Tyler looked disappointed for a moment, but charged on to his next question. “Charlie, you’ve been called a local hero and an inspiration. What do you say to that?”
“Oh…” Charlie blushed a little and rubbed the back of his head. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t say I’m a hero; I haven’t done anything very heroic. I mean, I’m just a kid who likes to play hockey. As for being an inspiration, I hope I’m inspiring other people to do what they like for a living, hockey or otherwise.”
“That’s two minutes,” Alex announced. “Thank you for your time and if you’ll excuse us—“ He began pushing the cart down the aisle as Charlie followed alongside it.
“Actually, I had one more question,” Tyler said, following them. “You two are together, right? Like, you’re dating and all?”
Alex and Charlie stopped dead in their tracks. This is not happening. Charlie resembled a blank white sheet.
“That’s an extremely unprofessional and frankly rather ridiculous question, and we decline to answer it. Charlie and I would like to keep our personal lives private, and we ask that you respect that. Thank you, and have a nice day.” With that, Alex stormed away, Charlie following immediately behind.
“I think we have a problem,” Charlie said in a small voice after a moment. “What’re we gonna do, Alex?”
“I don’t know. But we have to do something. Soon.”
By the time of their game the next day, Alex and Charlie still had not figured out what to do about their private lives steadily becoming more public. (They had, however, finally fine-tuned their lineups and emerged victorious over Los Angeles 3-1.)
The mounting problem had been weighing so heavily on Charlie’s mind that it cost them game three when, distracted, he missed a goal he normally would have caught easily.
It had also been causing something of a rift between Alex and Charlie. Charlie felt that they should just lay low and try not to be seen together too much, whereas Alex thought they should try to schedule an interview with Buck to set the record straight. (To his credit, Tyler had not kept the last question when the Missoula Morning Times ran his article. He had also done a good job of not making Alex sound like suck a touchy prick.) Alex still felt the need to dispel any kind of rumors that may be circulating.
Meanwhile, Tom had been nearly oblivious to all of his former crush’s relationship turmoil as he now had some of his own. (…Again.) Tom and Vondell had been continuing to hang out together often, even though Tom had confidently felt he’d gotten over Charlie almost a week ago. He hadn’t told Vondell because he really enjoyed spending time with him. They had long and intelligent discussions about politics, life, everything. Tom was thrilled to have finally found someone whose intellect could keep up with that of his own, rather than fall far below what Tom considered interesting. He had always liked having Vondell as his best friend, but Tom had been wondering to himself whether they were becoming something more, or if he was just imagining things. Tom didn’t know what he was going to do, but he had a feeling he didn’t have very much time before it became a problem.
He had to figure things out. Soon.
The series with the Los Angeles Monkeys proved to be the longest and most trying of all the Mountain Lions had played so far. It was a back and forth of wins and losses, and the games themselves were never short on action. In game four, Phil scored in an empty net, one of only a handful of goals he’d scored in the post-season. Game five included a hat trick by Los Angeles captain Joe Bereta, and game six a last minute goal by Michael against Steve “the Ewok” Zaragoza, the Monkeys’ goalie.
By the time game seven rolled around in mid-May, both teams were exhausted. The Mountain Lions were still a relatively small team, which meant that most of their players were active for long periods of time during games, which were two or three times a week. Management was also getting antsy; whoever won game 7 won the conference finals and advanced to the Calder Cup finals—the Stanley Cup finals of the AHL. Missoula had never won the Cup before, and hadn’t appeared in the Calder finals since the Green brothers took over. Los Angeles, however, had won the Cup not long after its founding eight years ago, and was looking to replicate its success. The city’s hockey fanbase had grown and their sister NHL team, the Los Angeles Kings, were also on track for their respective Cup, so it would mean a lot if both teams could bring them home.
In the end, only one could win. After a scoreless first period, the Monkeys came out of the intermission fired up, and two points courtesy of fierce forward duo Elliott Morgan and Lee Newton. The Mountain Lions responded with a goal from Ed at the end of the second period and Missoula was able to take back the lead after a goal from each Alex and Tom. After several nail-biting close calls and narrowly avoiding an overtime, the clock ran out and the Mountain Lions had done it.
Most teams that had just lost their chance at going for the Calder would have immediately left the ice, but Defranco ran his team with respect and made them shake hands as a show of good sportsmanship. Joe gave props to Alex before having to skate over to console his daughter, who had been crying because she was upset her daddy had lost the “big important game.”
The coaches shook hands firmly and Defranco clamped his hand over John’s shoulder as he wished him congratulations.
“One hell of a series, Phil,” John said as the press began to clamor in all around them. “Same time next year?”
“Bet on it,” the other coach said, smiling.
Their celebration did not last long, however, as the Mountain Lions found out the following day who their competitors for the Calder would be: the Slash Girls.
And in games one through three, they found out just how woefully unprepared for this they were.
Even with all of John’s brilliant coaching, the Slash Girls always seemed to be one step ahead, anticipating their every move. After three games of being wiped up and down the hockey rink, it was looking like the end of the line for Missoula. “The little team that could” was about to become “the little team that could have,” and John was at the end of his coaching rope. He looked so broken, so tired in the locker room before the fourth game, the past few weeks clearly having taken their toll.
“Just…” He trailed off, looking around the room at the players he felt he’d failed after trying so hard to do right. “Just remember how far we’ve come,” was all he could think of to say.
Seeing their coach so defeated reminded the team of the things they’d all sacrificed to get to that point (sanity, health, sleep) but no one had given up more than their coach. It was a silent decision they all made that night that they would pull together and win for the man who’d believed in them the most.
The Mountain Lions won game four 5-2, and the newspapers the next morning all ran the same: “It’s Not Over Yet.”
While the Mountain Lions didn’t intend to completely turn the tide of the series the way they did, they couldn’t say they weren’t proud of themselves. And so was their coach. He did what Hank called his “Happy Dance” at seemingly every available minute, regardless of who was watching.
The next game was certainly no walk in the park, but the Mountain Lions were able to edge out the Slash Girls 4-3. After a boarding penalty sent one of their defenders, Sarah “Craze” McAdam, to the penalty box, Alex was able to score a goal against their vulnerable goalie and clinch game six for Missoula 2-1.
They had done it. They had fought back and held on, and now they were going to play for the actual freaking Calder Cup. No one on the team had ever been to finals like this before. Phil and Dan had played in the World Junior Hockey Championships for Canada once, but were knocked out early. This… this was different.
“’Great moments are born from great opportunity.’” Coach John was pacing up and down the locker room, minutes before game seven, his hair wildly puffy. “Herb Brooks said that. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the movie Miracle. Great film. A little cheesy, sure, but it has a good message: the impossible is always possible. I could not be any prouder of you all than I am right now. We beat Seattle. We beat Alaska. We beat Los Angeles, and you’ve proven to me that we’re capable of beating New York. And are we going to?”
“Of course we are! Because you’re all talented, and because we have thousands of people out there in those stands who believe in us! Now go prove them right!”
With that, the team was jumping up off the benches and cheering. They lined up and were lead onto the ice to thunderous applause. Tonight was their night.
Period one started out with both teams on fire. Each scored a goal, Missoula’s by Ed and New York’s by Lucy Jones. In the second period, the Mountain Lions were able to stay on top of the Slash Girls by scoring another goal (courtesy of Tom) and staving off any more scoring.
By the third period, both teams were beginning to run out of steam. Substitutions were made in rapid succession, but since Missoula was so short-staffed, John was forced to play some of their more amateur players in order to give others rest time. Unfortunately, this lead to one of their more inexperienced defensemen, Chris Kendall, giving up a goal to Ramona Mitchell, tying the score at 3-3 at the seven minute mark.
With three minutes left and still a tie score, Alex begged John to put him in. The coach steadfastly refused.
“But Tom and Vondell are all alone out there! They need me!” Alex cried. He could hear Charlie’s voice in the back of his mind chiding him about that narcissism thing again, but he ignored it.
“They’ll have to manage with PJ,” John said, not taking his eyes off the game. “I don’t want you getting hurt out there, Alex.”
“Please, just put me in instead. Tom, Vondell, and I can score a goal and end this before we have to go into overtime. No one wants that. That’s where people are gonna get hurt. Just give me a chance. Please.”
John studied the center in front of him, then looked up at the clock. 2:21 left.
“Fine,” he ceded. “I don’t normally let anyone else do my job, but I think you may be right.” John flagged down the ref and Alex skated onto center ice to take his place for the faceoff.
The referee dropped the puck and what happened next was later described by some spectators as “magic.” Alex won the faceoff and took the puck down the ice, around the opposing center and left wing. Vondell held off the right winger as Tom and Alex passed back and forth, right between the defense’s skates. Alex shot, and then suddenly the puck was in the net. The arena was practically shaking as fans jumped from their seats to cheer. His teammates raced over to hug him and whack his helmet in congratulations, but Alex didn’t let them celebrate for too long.
“We’ve still got two minutes, guys,” he said. “We’ve gotta keep them off for two minutes.”
In those two minutes, Dan and Phil played what Coach John would later call “the most heroic defense I’d ever seen.” The rest of the team made sure they were never left alone, either.
With nineteen seconds left, victory seemed certain. Certain until, that is, one of the Slash Girls took a shot on goal.
Reili Yamanaka, in what seemed to be some kind of fit of rage, swung her hockey stick like a tennis racquet and sent the puck soaring toward the net. Time seemed to move in slow motion as Charlie reached up, up—and caught the puck just as the buzzer sounded and Reili was given a penalty for high-sticking.
They had done it. They had actually done the impossible: the Missoula Mountain Lions had won the Calder Cup.
Alex raced over to Charlie, ripped off his facemask, and—before he knew what he was doing—kissed his boyfriend. Full on the lips in the middle of the arena, with television cameras filming their every move.
Charlie’s eyes widened and he pushed Alex away. They were going to get booed out of the stadium, or shot, or beaten up, or fired, or some horrific combination of all of those, Charlie was sure.
But the crowd kept cheering. In fact, it even seemed… louder. And people had definitely noticed them. Fans were even throwing flowers in their direction.
Charlie looked at Alex incredulously. “Are they-? Do you think--?”
“I think everything’s gonna be okay from now on,” Alex said staring up at the spectators all around them. He pulled Charlie close.
Across the stadium, a similar epiphany was being had by a certain curly-haired right winger.
“TOM!” Vondell called, searching for his teammate through the noise and confusion.
Pushing his way past Phil and Dan, Tom skated over to his best friend, grinning.
“Tom, there’s something I have to tell you!” Vondell shouted over the din.
“What is it?”
“I’m in love with you! I have been for the past year and a half! All the stuff I said back in your apartment? It was all true! You really are the most important person in the world to me!”
Vondell didn’t think it was possible, but at this, Tom smiled even wider.
“I-I think I like you too! The past couple of weeks have been some of the best in a really long time. I like you, Vondell; you’re great company, and I think I’d have to agree with you when you say you’re the most important person in the world to me!”
At a loss for anything else to say, Vondell pulled Tom into a bone-crunching hug. They stayed like this for a moment until they heard a voice echo over the noise on the loudspeakers.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” it said. “It is my honor to award this year’s Calder Cup trophy to the Missoula Mountain Lions and their general manager and head coach, the Green brothers!” John and Hank accepted the trophy and hoisted it, together, over their heads.
“I also must present the Jack A. Butterfield trophy to this year’s playoff MVP! Would Alex Day please come to center ice?”
Alex and Charlie skated over, hand in hand, as Alex accepted his award. John gave his speech first, thanking their families, friends, their supporters, and his team. “My wife used to tell me that ‘imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.’ Well, after imagining this for so many years, I guess I’m going to have to find a new future to reminisce about. Thank you.”
Alex, too, thanked his fans and teammates, family and friends, but added someone who wasn’t in John’s speech: his boyfriend. “Charlie and I have been through a lot together, and with this announcement, we’re sure to go through a lot more. We thank you all for your support and kindness over the years, and we hope you’ll show us the same courtesy now.” Alex paused to stare at the beautiful boy next to him. The crowd had lulled, and in the silence, one voice shouted, “Aw, go on, honey. Kiss him!”
“Thank you, Mr. Skies,” Alex said before handing his microphone to Hank and dipping Charlie down to kiss him, thirties style, straight on the lips. The audience’s cheers were the loudest then than they had been the whole night.
“Hello, my name is Alex Day.”
“Bit weird seeing yourself on TV, isn’t it?” Charlie teased.
“Oh, shut up,” Alex said, throwing a handful of popcorn at him.
“Hi! My name is Charlie McDonnell, and I also play for the Missoula Mountain Lions.”
“We’re here today to tell you that if you can play, you can play.”
Clips of Alex and Charlie at practice rolled while Coach John’s voice narrated.
“There’s nothing unathletic or unprofessionally athletic about being gay. It’s really important to know that all the things you want to be and all the things that you believe, and all the things that you dream about aren’t made impossible by being gay. Go to youcanplay.org for more information on the strides we’re taking here in Missoula and across the country to let our fellow athletes know—“
The commercial cut to a scene with the entire Mountain Lions team standing in the ice rink of the Target Center, in full uniform, as they said, “If you can play, you can play!”