Light Up the Lamp Ch 1*
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The hockey goal taunts Gil, sun shining on the red pipes, white netting bright in the morning light.
He wipes blond hair off his forehead, adjusts his shirt stuck to his back, and grips his hockey stick.
Carefully, he pulls the puck back, sets it on the heel of the blade, squinting through the heat and the sting of salt in his eyes to focus on the top corner of the net. Shifts his weight, moves the puck forward, back, and then shoots with a quick snap of his hands, the push-pull of his arms, the sweet sail of the puck toward—
“Shit,” he says.
“Can’t hit the side of the barn there, can you, Gil?”
Gil has better aim throwing his stick like a javelin at his youngest brother. Joey sidesteps it, laughing, and the stick clatters to the driveway.
“Remember how good you used to be at scoring? Maybe you can ask the other team to make the net bigger when you’re on the ice,” Joey says.
“I can score. I’m just lulling you into a false sense of security for when I play you this fall.” Gil grabs the puck where it sits against the garage door, the paint scuffed from years of shots and bank passes. “If you make the roster, that is. I hear your team has a seat with your name on it to watch the game from the press box with the rest of the scratched players.”
Joey grabs Gil’s stick and holds it just out of reach. “Front row seat to watch you hit the end boards over and over and over again instead of the net, Gilbert.”
Joey’s tall, but Gil’s always been taller, and he yanks the stick back. “Don’t call me that.”
“I’ll stop if you can beat me. Target shooting, best of ten. Tommy, you get to play winner.”
Tommy doesn’t even bother to look up from where he’s lounging on the grass, scrolling through his phone. “No.”
Joey kicks a stray puck at him. “You’re no fun.”
“Shut it, Joey. I gotta practice.” Gil lines up another shot.
Gil ignores him, eyes on the net, feeling the weight of the puck as he stick-handles, moving it gently front to back on the blade of his stick. Easy, familiar, just as he’s done since he was old enough to stand up, Dad bending over him and guiding his hands, drawing the puck back, shifting his weight, sending the puck toward the net.
And off the post.
The metal rings and the glint of the sun hurts his eyes.
“Nice,” Joey says.
“Leave him alone,” Tommy says. “We’re having a pleasant morning together.”
No, Tommy’s having a pleasant morning, lazing in Baltimore’s September sun with a cup of coffee. Gil’s working and absolutely sucking at it, fewer pucks finding the back of the net than the scarred garage door beyond it. Embarrassing for an NHL center heading into his tenth professional season. Even more so when Joey grabs Gil’s stick and pots a goal right away, spinning in a circle as he cheers for himself.
Gil taught him how to shoot like that, back when they’d been kids and the only way to tell them apart was their staggered heights. Gil used to line Joey and Tommy up, lecture them on how to stand, how to move their hands, how to flex the stick to store up power and release the puck with a snap, flinging it past the goalie before he could react.
Though Tommy had eventually signed up for choir, the middle school play, and trumpet lessons, Mom driving him while Dad took Gil and Joey to the rink. And then Joey had taken a puck off the nose, Tommy had needed glasses, and so they no longer looked identical. Now they’ve scattered: long-legged, broad-shouldered, and blond still, but off on their own lives, back together for just this week.
Tommy rolls onto his stomach, ignoring it when Joey whacks his ass with Gil’s stick, prodding him to move.
“C’mon,” Joey says.
“I can’t. I’m allergic to hockey. And I have to practice my speech,” Tommy says.
Gil glances over him, the same slim, long frame as Joey and Gil, but none of the bulk from life as a professional athlete. You should work out more, Gil had told him when he’d arrived the other day and Tommy had tucked his finger into his mouth and aimed it for Gil’s ear, as if they weren’t all in their late twenties but in middle school all over again.
“Nobody cares about your speech,” Joey says, “and it’s family game time. You and Gil against me. I can take on my two big bros.”
“Give me my stick back,” Gil says.
“Give Gil his stick back,” Tommy says, grabbing it from Joey and trying to wrestle it away. “He’ll break out into hives if he goes too long without obsessing over his shot. And please, everyone cares. How often do I get any recognition compared to my famous brothers?”
“I have work to get done.” Gil plucks his stick back. His training binder laid out on the edge of the driveway lists all his off-season workouts: morning cardio and mobility exercises and a series of skill work, strength training tomorrow, and a set of conditioning drills before his flight takes off back to San Diego. He’s got only days until training camp starts and with it preseason, and then the eighty-two games waiting for him between October and April. Maybe when he was Joey’s age, four years younger, he could get away with shirking his workouts, but at twenty-nine, he feels it when he doesn’t get his stretches done.
And he can quite clearly tell when he doesn’t work enough on his shooting.
Whatever. He can score. Joey’s being an ass. Gil’s just a bit off today, feeling the oddness of being back here at Dad’s house, in this old neighborhood with too many memories.
Gil stares at the net, visualizing the puck flying from his stick and hitting the top corner with such force the net rocks back, unmoored from the pavement. Eighty-two games and then as deep into the playoffs as the San Diego Mountain Lions can manage. Farther than last year, hopefully, if he can do enough to help the team forward from the first round to the second, and from there to the conference final.
It’s possible. Their general manager is making the right trades, the new rookies on the team are filling spots in the lineup that were weak last year, and more than for any of the last nine seasons Gil has played on the team, this is the one where there’s a real chance at winning the cup.
He lets that excitement spread through him, energy pumping in his arms, his hands, as he moves the puck back and forth, setting up his shot and letting it fly.
Straight past the side of the garage and over the lawn in an arc that clears the back fence.
Gil throws his stick onto the grass. “What the hell is wrong with this thing?”
“Hey, remember,” Tommy says as he climbs to his feet. “We’re having a nice morning gearing up for tonight when you two clap politely as I, and I alone, get recognized at our old high school for my accomplishments. I’ll go get your stupid puck. Try counting to ten, Gil, deep breaths.”
“Don’t,” Gil says.
“Don’t get your puck?” Tommy laughs. “Don’t tell me that missing the net, of all things, is what’ll make you finally take a break. Can we do literally anything other than hockey? Please, pretty please?”
“I have another puck,” Gil says. An entire bucket of them.
But Tommy’s walking backward toward the back gate, hands clutched over his chest, eyes comically wide. “If I return the wayward puck maybe we could talk about something not related to hockey. The weather? Dad’s awful attempts at cooking? Gil’s chronic singledom?”
“Don’t bug the neighbors,” Gil says. “And I’m not chronically single.”
“Try a little move called dating, not just hooking up with a revolving cast of characters. And it’s not ‘the neighbors,’ it’s the Martins. Not that you’d remember, avoiding them for years.”
“I haven’t been avoiding—Tommy, no.”
“Tommy, yes.” Tommy grabs the top of the fence to peer over it.
“You’re going to break it.” The wood of the fence is old and worn with winters and summer sun. Once too tall for any of them to see over it, now Tommy’s barely up on his toes as he waves.
“Mrs. Martin,” Tommy calls over the fence. “Hi, good morning, can we get our puck back? I take full blame for it nearly sailing into your pool. You know neither my adorable younger brother or my perfect older brother would in any way possibly be responsible for any hockey paraphernalia ending up in your yard.”
The Martins’ pool. Gil grabs his stick, picking at the tape on the blade. Had he forgotten that? The diving board, the ladder that always pinched his fingers, the pool vacuum he’d once been terrified of and then had later laughed at as Joey madly splashed away from the same harmless thing.
No, he remembers. The shining, clear water, the yard, the back porch, all on the other side of the tall, weathered fence, behind the gate that’s been latched closed for so long.
It swings open on hinges that squeak, Julie Martin already smiling as she steps through.
“Tommy, look at you. And it’s Julie, please, you’re all grown up.” She reaches up to hug Tommy, her brown hair pulled back, streaked with gray that never used to be there. “How are you? Oh, all of you are here? Joey, Gil, look at you three, it’s been so long.”
Gil digs the toe of his stick into the grass, poking at a dandelion that’s managed to work its way up next to the driveway, a lone weed in Dad’s neat lawn. “Hey,” he says softly.
“Gil’s fault this ended up in your yard,” Joey says, taking the puck when Julie hands it to him.
“I think I’ve heard that one before,” she says. “I didn’t know you three were visiting. Joey, how’s Texas?”
“Hot,” Joey says. “But it’s good, the team’s alright.”
Walk over there, Gil tells himself. Be polite, say hello, and apologize for bothering her.
He manages a quick, small wave as he eyes the yard behind her, the edge of the trampoline, the patio with its grill, the old elm tree with the tire swing hanging from a branch, the rope frayed and faded.
“Joey, I’ll play. First to ten goals, let’s do it.” Gil gestures for Joey to toss him the puck, trying to talk loudly enough he doesn’t have to listen Tommy and Julie—Mrs. Martin still sounds more natural—catch up. Close the gate, he wants to call to Tommy. Latch it, lock it, the Martins on their side of the fence and the Roussins over here.
“Phone call.” Joey scoops his phone out of his pocket. “I’ll be right back.”
Gil stays rooted in the driveway. He can see the gate, still hear them chatting. He needs to focus. He has his training plan he has to finish. His lunch to eat, plain chicken breast and spinach and brown rice and a protein shake, the right mix of fuel to recover from his workout this morning and prepare him for tomorrow. Then, reviewing plays the assistant coach just emailed to the team, working through drills ahead of the first day of training camp—and hammering shots into the net until he’s so well practiced it’s impossible to miss.
Which he should be. Ten years of professional hockey and here he is, sending the puck wide of the damn net. How good he used to be at scoring, he hears Joey say and frowns.
So no, he’s not going over there to catch up with the neighbors. The Martins. Focus, he tells himself. Stick in his hands, puck on the blade, pulling it backward, forward, shifting his weight—
“Holy shit!” Tommy yells, loud enough Gil looks up.
His chest goes cold, and then hot.
Sebastian with a beard and short hair.
He—oh. He grew up. His hair combed over, the sides clipped, and his body filled out, a dark blue T-shirt clinging to his chest, jeans hugging his thighs.
Grinning too, hugging Tommy, muscled arms around Tommy’s back, a smile dimpling Sebastian’s cheek, shining in his brown eyes.
The smile fades when he sees Gil.
Gil ducks his head. The puck, his stick, his hands—it feels like there’s thick mud he has to drag against as he moves the puck back and forth.
He’s working. He’s practicing, he’s not—
“Gil, look who it is!” Tommy shouts. “Get the hell over here! Sebastian fucking Martin, it’s been so long, I missed you, man!”
“Tommy, I didn’t know you were in town,” Sebastian says and his voice.
That hasn’t changed, the deep rumble it had settled into after the awkward change of adolescence, or how his mouth moves over the words, the shape of his lips as he—
Yeah, he’s still hot. Still really, nearly unbelievably attractive, distracting in how he stands, long legs and the frame of his torso, how he moves, just the way he talks.
No. Focus. Gil stares down at the puck, moving it faster, back and forth and back again. He’s worked hard to get Sebastian out of his head, and right now, the beginning of the season waiting for him, isn’t the time to let the past creep back in.
“Just till tomorrow,” Tommy says. “Two of us have training camp, and I have the good sense to go back to my job that doesn’t involve getting crushed by oversized men while vulcanized rubber is flying around, trying to hit me in the face.” He laughs and smacks Sebastian’s arm. “Look at you, how are you? It’s been ages.”
“I’m good,” Sebastian says and Gil moves his hands even quicker like he can drown out that voice with the tap tap tap of the puck against his blade. One, two three, he counts. One two three, one two three. “Heading out later today, or I’d love to catch up.”
“Aw, too bad, we’re off to the high school tonight. They’re doing a whole start-of-the-school-year arts thing and I got invited to talk about the music program. Can you imagine that? A Roussin up there, not talking about hockey, but instead my own glorious career in teaching kindergarteners how to play piano?”
“Not hockey?” Sebastian asks and Gil doesn’t look, he can’t look, he won’t look, but he can hear the ghost of a smile in Sebastian’s voice. “No way.”
“Way,” Tommy says. “Come over for a couple minutes at least, ’cause you’ll never guess what we’re doing. Playing hockey, what a surprise, right? Rescue me, please.”
Gil pulls the puck to his backhand, twisting to handle it smoothly, the muscles in his arms burning with the effort. It’s good practice, he tells himself, to be off balance like this. It takes more of his attention to keep a steady rhythm, to move the puck as naturally as on his forehand.
“I would, but I’ve got to get packed up. Hey, good to see you though,” Sebastian says. “If you’re ever in town, give me a shout.”
Yeah, because Sebastian can’t pick up the fucking phone himself.
Gil aims for the net, hands slippery on the stick as he shoots.
He hits that top corner. One, he thinks. Four more in a row and he’ll be satisfied.
Tommy probably will call Seb, knowing him. Good luck getting Sebastian to answer, though. Plenty changes over the ten years since they last talked, but that? Gil drops another puck onto the pavement. No, it’s Sebastian and some things always stay the same.
Light Up the Lamp Ch 2
In the kitchen, Gil fills a glass with water and drinks it straight down. When he fills it again, he presses the glass to his forehead, letting the chill soothe the burn of his face.
Seeing Sebastian again. Seeing him here, in their little neighborhood outside Baltimore, suburbia stretching around them with cul-de-sacs, cookie-cutter houses, trees all the same height and shape.
It was a stroke of good fortune that of the maze of streets they’d moved to when Dad had bought the place, their house shared a fence with the Martins’ backyard. A boy your age, maybe you’ll make friends, Mom had said, smoothing his hair back from his face, bouncing Joey on her hip when she’d dropped them off here, Tommy wailing in his car seat.
Yeah, they’d certainly become friends. And then some.
He chews a piece of ice hard so hard his teeth hurt.
Enough. The season’s starting; he can’t be just standing around playing memories over in his mind. Dad’s home, tucked upstairs in his office as he gets ready to coach his team’s training camp, going over the drills he plans to run, putting together the lines he’ll use for preseason games. Gil should go up there, while he’s got Dad face to face, ask if he can interrupt him with a question or two, rather than the distance between them all season so that Dad has to message him after games with pointers.
Don’t make that pass, Gil finds on his phone most mornings after a game, the text coming through late in the night after
Dad’s watched his and Joey’s shifts and made notes for them. Shoot that yourself. You’re not out there to let someone else play the hero.
At least Dad bothers to text. Gil casts a look at the window over the sink and its view of the backyard, the Martins’ roof beyond it.
Yeah, he’ll go upstairs, sit with Dad, and get back to stick-handling and shooting tonight, when it’s cooler out, when he doesn’t have to deal with the glare of the sun making aiming harder than it has to be. For now, he can enjoy the peace and quiet of being back here in this kitchen he grew up in, the living room with its huge couch, Dad’s office with the walls covered in framed jerseys and team photos. His old bedroom too, decorated the same ever since Mom took him to get a bedspread more suited for a teenager than a kid and then bundled him inside with it when Dad was out. He still loves that deep green she’d picked out for him, no matter how small that twin bed feels now.
Joey crashes down the stairs, swinging around the bottom of the banister and jumping onto Gil hard enough he rocks back a step. “Guess what?” he shouts into Gil’s ear.
“What?” Gil flails for the counter to hold onto. “You got what?”
“Traded,” Joey yells. “Gil! San Diego! We’re going to play together!”
“That was my agent on the phone. The trade just went through. I’m not going back to Houston, I’m playing with you!”
Gil lifts him off the ground in a hug. “You’re coming to San Diego? To the Mountain Lions? With me?”
“With you, you fucker! I’m calling your equipment manager right now. I want the locker next to you, I’m gonna tie your skates together before every practice.”
“Rookies in the back,” Gil says. “Nice try, you little shit. You get a seat next to the bathroom, gotta work your way up if you want to sit with us big kids.”
“Party in the hot tub at your place. Dibs on your spare bedroom, ’cause I’m bringing—”
“No, no cats, you’re not bringing that mangey—”
“Mr. Stanley and I are moving in,” Joey crows.
“Get your own damn place.”
“No fucking way, your pool has a waterfall in it.”
“Who’d they move to free up roster space for you? Or did you go for draft picks only? Poor thing, that’s just embarrassing. What’re you worth, a fourth-rounder?”
“I got drafted higher than you.”
Gil messes up Joey’s hair. “You got drafted in a year when the picks could barely roster an intramural team at any decent division one school.”
“All I hear when you say that is drafted first round, baby.”
Gil fishes an ice cube out of his glass and drops it down Joey’s shirt. Drafted first round, but didn’t get an entry-level contract until after college, he could remind Joey, though it always just devolves from there, one-upping each other with points per season, who’s gotten more ice time, how much deeper the Mountain Lions have gotten in playoffs than Houston ever has.
Gil takes a picture of Joey trying to shake the ice cube out of his shirt and texts it to Mom, the photo flying through satellites to Annapolis with his message My newest teammate.
The stairs creak beneath Dad’s steps, his hand on the banister appearing first, then the rest of him, slowly, stately almost in contrast to Joey pulling a face and dumping the ice cube back into the sink.
“Gil,” Dad says. “Did you hear?”
“Not sure how I couldn’t have,” Gil says. “Tommy heard outside, and Mrs. Martin and—” Sebastian. “Yeah, I heard, we all heard.”
“You mean that horrible shrieking noise?” Tommy pushes into the house. “Joey, what happened? Did you see a bug?”
“I got traded.” Joey tosses his arm over Gil’s shoulders. “San Diego Mountain Lions, a second Roussin coming their way.”
“Two for the price of one ’cause your agent sucks,” Gil says, digging a finger into Joey’s ribs. Joey, living with him in San Diego, filling up the corners of his house, someone to ride to the rink with, chat with on the way home from games. He can’t stop smiling even as he jabs Joey’s side again. “I’m charging rent for that mop of fur you call a pet.”
“Mr. Stanley is gonna rule the house,” Joey says. “Houston, you were great, but we are out!”
“Gil,” Dad says again, his quiet voice cutting beneath Joey’s noise.
“Yeah?” Gil turns at a soft jingle, the click of nails on the wood floor. “Is that—Buddy?”
Joey claps his hands, barging past Gil and kneeling to fuss over the dog. “You here ’cause you heard my big news? Are you, big boy? Look at you, you got old, Buddy! Or is it Mr. Martin now? What’d you do, slip through the gate?”
Buddy is older, gray around his brown muzzle, stiffness to his joints as he wiggles, putting his head down to get his ears scratched. And no, Mr. Martin was Sebastian’s dad, pushing them on the swing, tossing them around in the pool, throwing a football with them, until the day he just wasn’t there anymore, gone in a flash of ambulance lights and then silence as it fled to the hospital.
“He’s here to help us all celebrate,” Joey says. “Aren’t you? Yeah, you are, what a good boy.”
But Buddy pushes past him, tottering toward Gil, nosing into his hand, tail whacking against his knees.
“Hey big guy,” Gil says.
“Buddy!” comes a shout from outside.
Gil freezes. That voice he’s tried so hard to forget lodges in his chest, a dull ache of a bruise he’s ignored for so long, pretending it’s healed.
Quickly, he turns Buddy toward the door. “Go on, go home, that’s a good boy.”
But Buddy backs up into Gil’s legs, tongue lolling from the side of his mouth, head tipped up into Gil’s hands in a demand to be petted.
“Bud!” Sebastian calls from the driveway. “C’mon, I got a treat for you.”
“Hear that?” Gil tries to push the dog toward the door again. “You get a treat, go on now.”
“The treat of the day is getting onto a team that has seen the playoffs in the last decade,” Joey says. “Houston, you ain’t the worst in the league, but damn have I been ready to leave.”
“Dad, aren’t you just so terribly proud of them, playing together? And of me too, standing in a high school auditorium tonight, of course,” Tommy laughs. “Sebastian! Buddy’s in here, and if he wasn’t going deaf from old age before, he is now that he’s gotten so close to Joey.”
“Go,” Gil pleads. “Buddy, go on.”
But Buddy only spins in place, smiling his doggy smile up at Gil, shaky on stiff legs. Sebastian peers in the door, a leash clutched in his hand.
Tommy waves him inside. “Seb, Joey got traded. He’s really shy about it, so I figured I’d tell you.”
“Mountain Lions!” Joey shouts, hands pumping in the air. “Me and Gil on the same team, can you believe it?”
“Buddy, c’mere” Sebastian calls, patting his thigh. “I’m so sorry, he just darted over here when he saw the gate was open. Come, Bud, let’s go.”
Gil pulls back from the dog, shoving his hands in his shorts pockets, hoping that without petting Buddy, he’ll turn and shuffle away again.
Buddy licks Gil’s knee, his tail wagging harder.
Hey, he should at least say to Sebastian. What’s up, how you been? Something easy and casual, and make it utterly clear how little he cares that they happen to be bumping into each other again.
Though Sebastian could say hi, too. Bother to look at him, not keep his eyes on Buddy, and acknowledge that Gil’s in the room at all.
“Gil,” Dad says. “I need you for a minute. Come upstairs.”
“Of course,” Gil says quickly, and when Buddy still won’t move, Gil steps over him. In his pocket, his phone rings. Melissa, the screen reads. He shows it to Dad as he crosses the kitchen. “My agent’s calling.”
“You need to answer that,” Dad says. “And then we need to talk.”
“And Buddy needs to romp around the house again.” Tommy ushers the dog deeper into the kitchen.
Gil frowns, stepping into the living room as he answers his phone. “Tommy, c’mon, no. Hey, Melissa.”
“Gil,” she says, and he pictures her at her desk in New York, glass windows overlooking the city, a stack of old pucks on her desk she’s collected over the decades. She’s good, Dad had said when Gil had run the idea of hiring her past him. “Glad I got hold of you. You doing alright?”
“Yeah, I’m doing great. Did you hear? Joey just got traded. He’ll be in San Diego with me.” Gil turns his back to the door, trying to ignore the click of Buddy’s nails just outside in the hallway and Tommy’s voice cooing over him.
“I did hear.” She must be in her office because there’s no sound of an airport around her, the hum of a car as she drives to a meeting, or flies to visit a client. Lunch, she’d suggested last time she’d been in San Diego, and he’d found her already at the restaurant, her gray bob easily identifiable at the table, her phone in her hand until she’d spotted him too and slipped it into her purse.
“I’m so excited. He’s totally a missing piece for our offense,” Gil says. “What a great move for the GM to snag him. I didn’t see it coming.”
“I can’t say I saw it coming either,” Melissa says. “Gil, his trade came out of left field, and I’d say that it was behind my back, but I don’t think the GM knew he’d make the move until it was done.”
Go away, Gil mouths at Tommy, who only grins at him, encouraging Buddy through the living room door toward Gil. Buddy spots him and wags his tail so hard his entire body wobbles.
Gil turns away from them. “For Joey? Whichever way it happened, it feels right, don’t you think?”
“For you,” she says. “Gil, it was a three-way trade. Joey to San Diego, and in exchange a draft pick and a prospect from Sacramento to Houston.”
“Sacramento?” Gil asks. Buddy totters into the living room in a jingle of dog tags, his breath huffing in excitement. He shuffles over, his gait an unsteady sway where it was once a bounding leap across this same room, landing on the couch where Gil and Sebastian sprawled, legs tangled, shoulders pressed against each other, the dog wiggling in until there was room for him too. “Isn’t that the minor league team for San Francisco?”
“It is,” Melissa says. “And San Diego’s sending you up there.”
“Gil,” Melissa says gently.
He laughs. “No way.”
“There was an opportunity and your GM in San Diego took it. You’re off the team, Gil, and you’ll be hearing from the folks in San Francisco any minute now.”
“San Francisco?” Gil laughs again. “C’mon.”
“I’m not sure who’ll be calling you. They just hired that new coach and I think they’ve had a lot of front-office turnover too over the summer.”
“They have a new coach because that team is an absolute shitshow.” Gil steps back from Buddy trying to nose at his legs, hoping for a head scratch.
“Buddy!” Sebastian calls.
“In there,” Tommy says from the doorway, pointing toward Gil.
“No,” Gil says, turning away from their voices. “I’m not going. I’m playing in San Diego with Joey.”
“There’s a flight leaving Baltimore for San Francisco this afternoon, and I’ve got you booked on it.”
“This can’t be right.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“San Francisco?” Gil asks again. “The Sea Lions?”
It’s the wrong city. The wrong team. The wrong damn animal, because Gil can’t trade the Mountain Lions for a goofy-ass seal. His head swims and Buddy leans against his knees, staring up at him with soft brown eyes.
“Buddy,” Sebastian says again, his footsteps behind Gil.
“Please,” Gil says. “No.”
“The Sea Lions practice this afternoon. Their training camp started early this year,” Melissa says. “Given the time change, the flight I have you on will get you to the rink in time.”
“They’re the worst team in the league,” he says.
“Sorry,” Sebastian says and oh, he’s right behind Gil, reaching for Buddy’s collar.
Gil jumps a step back from him. Ten years Sebastian’s avoided Gil and he’s here right fucking now?
“I can’t go to San Francisco,” Gil says, and Sebastian finally bothers to look at him, a quick glance up so Gil’s pinned by both Buddy’s adoring gaze and the sharp flick of Sebastian’s eyes. Gil steps back again, but the couch is there and he’s hemmed in, stuck between the dog and the furniture, his hand gripping his phone too tight. “I can’t play there. Tell me there’s a chance I can get out of this.”
“I know it’s not where you want to be,” Melissa says. “But it’s my job to point this out, so I’ll go ahead and say it. This could be an opportunity for you to play on the first line, to be a real leader in the locker room. You could be the big name on the team, work with the new GM as he builds up the roster. They have a brand-new coaching staff and—”
A pause, and then he can hear Melissa’s quiet exhale.
“Buddy,” Sebastian says softly. “Come with me, please.”
“I can see what I can do about getting you traded again,” Melissa says. “Their GM is new to the NHL, so there might be some strings I can pull there. You have a preference for where you want to go?”
I want to play in San Diego, Gil nearly says. He lives there. His house is there. His buddies on the team, Giffy and Little and Hux, they’re all flying in tomorrow. The guy he’s been sleeping with, Dave, he’s there, and oh yeah, Gil will have to figure that out if Joey’s staying at his place, either put up with his teasing when Dave comes and goes or drive to Dave’s place—
He won’t. Because Gil will be in…
“No, I don’t care,” he says dully. “Anywhere but San Francisco.”
“I’ll see what I can do, but in the meantime, just think about it, okay? The Sea Lions could be a really interesting spot for you.”
“Get me off that roster.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want, then I’m on it,” Mellissa says.
“Thanks.” Gil hangs up.
“Buddy,” Sebastian says. “Buddy, come on, let’s go, okay?”
Gil closes his eyes. Buddy, get out of here, Sebastian used to say, laughing, pushing at the dog, wrestling him and grinning.
Gil draws in a deep breath and bends down, pushing gently at the dog. “Go,” he mumbles, coaxing him toward Sebastian.
He needs to sit down. Pace. Go outside and hurl pucks into the net until the burn of his muscles incinerates that phone call.
“Sorry,” Sebastian says. “He’s just, yeah, sorry.”
Buddy’s doing what he always did, him and Sebastian as familiar with this room as Gil and his brothers are, the huge TV, the gray couch, the framed pictures of Dad playing, the colors faded, the image grainy. Another of the day Dad’s jersey got raised to the rafters, Gil a little baby in Mom’s arms, her belly huge with Tommy. More, of Gil playing as a tiny kid, Gil playing in high school, Gil on his college team, lined up with all those guys—
Sebastian was one of them. Gil frowns and turns away from the picture.
Sebastian without a beard, his hair a messy brown mop, not cut so stylishly.
Gil pushes Buddy toward him, a hand on his rump, and Sebastian snags him by the collar. He clicks the leash on and they both step back, Gil too quickly, catching his ankle on the foot of the couch. “Shit.”
“You okay?” Sebastian asks.
“Yeah, just stings.” Gil shakes his foot out.
“San Francisco?” Sebastian asks. “The, uh, the Sea Lions?”
Now you’ll bother to talk to me? Gil wants to ask. What happened to all those times I called you?
He tests his weight on his ankle. Yeah, he’s fine, not getting out of this trade with another ankle injury, this one delightfully timely. “Seems like,” he says.
Sebastian licks his lips. “Gil…”
Gil looks away. A decade ago this fall, Gil had gotten called up to the NHL, a flurry of excitement and nerves and delight at his dreams finally coming true, and in that same moment Sebastian had starting closing the door on him. Them. Everything they’d been and everything they were going to grow to be, gone in a dwindling number of texts, calls Sebastian took a long time returning, voicemails Gil left and never heard back about, all of it so strange, so abnormal for Sebastian that Gil still feels like he’s floundering, a missed step in a familiar staircase, the jolt of such a sudden change sweeping through him yet again.
You had ten years, Gil wants to snap at him. And right fucking now is not the best time.
No, Gil can’t handle this. The Sea Lions, Sebastian—Gil pushes past him. “Dad?”
“Gil,” Dad says softly as Gil walks into the kitchen. “We’ll fix this.”
“You know already?” Gil asks.
“Fix what?” Tommy asks. “Are we screaming again? Or is that just Joey in the other room, calling absolutely everyone he knows?”
“Gil just got traded,” Dad says, his voice quiet. “But no son of mine is playing for that joke of a team. Gil, this’ll be alright.”
“Okay,” Gil says, because if Dad says that, then it will be.
“Traded where?” Tommy asks.
“San Francisco,” Dad says.
“No way,” Tommy says. “Sebastian, isn’t that where you’re living these days?”
Slowly, Gil looks up. Sebastian? Living in San Francisco?
Sebastian’s cheeks flush red as he pulls Buddy along through the kitchen, toward the door. “Yeah, I’m out there.”
“That’s so great, you two can hang out,” Tommy says.
“I’m not playing there.” Gil’s mouth feels numb, his lips, his throat, his whole body. He’s not playing there and he’s certainly not living there.
“Not for long,” Dad says. “I’m calling Melissa back right now, and then I’m getting on the phone with San Diego’s GM and giving him a piece of my mind.”
“Gil and Sebastian together again, just like old times,” Tommy says, ignoring Dad like he always does. “You two gonna hang out? Finally, right? How long has it been?”
Gil nearly laughs. He can picture it now, standing in some bland hotel room in San Francisco, phone pressed to his ear, listening to it ring until Sebastian’s voicemail picks up. Typing out a text that never gets a response, leaving a message that
Sebastian doesn’t bother to return. Missed call, Sebastian’s phone must have read for all the times Gil called him, text after text Gil sent, Sebastian’s reply a handful of words only, until no replies had come at all.
No, Gil’s not doing that again. He’s not playing in San Francisco and he’s certainly not chasing after Sebastian again.
And besides, the real old times between them? That was here in this house, on that couch, upstairs in Gil’s twin bed with its green comforter, laughing, lips chapped, hands searching. Best friends, he’d thought, until that had unspooled and everything fun and perfect and amazing about Sebastian was replaced with a growing wave of silence.
“Sebastian? Buddy?” Julie Martin calls from outside.
“Coming, Mom!” Sebastian shouts back to his mom. “I gotta—um—”
“Bye,” Gil says.
“See you soon,” Tommy corrects, but Sebastian’s backing away, tugging Buddy with him.
No, Gil won’t. Sebastian made that clear enough once and a lot can change in ten years, but not that.
Gil can’t look. Doesn’t look as Sebastian walks away. Just presses his fingers to the bridge of his nose, waiting until he hears the click of Buddy’s nails on the floor, footsteps trailing off, until he can focus his thoughts, a clear, smooth sheet of ice in his mind and he tries to hold onto that image for as long as he can.