A Medicine for Melancholy
Summary: On March 11, 2003, the Los Angeles Kings traded Mathieu Schneider to the Detroit Red Wings for Sean Avery, Maxim Kuznetsov, a 1st round selection (Jeff Tambellini) in 2003 and a 2nd round selection in 2004. This story starts begins around then and ends approximately a year later. Or maybe three. Sean's story began April 10, 1980 and it hasn't ended quite yet.
Pairing: Avery/Hull, Avery/Kuznetsov
Disclaimer: MforM is a Ray Bradbury title. Considering Max was stuck in Russia or in the minors during this time frame, this story is highly improbable.
He’d leave a half-used roll of Tums on the chair or the individual sized packages of Sudafed scattered around the house, on the floor, like hidden nuts. As if he was a squirrel or something. Sean didn’t bother questioning Max’s habits--he passed them off as Russian idiosyncrasies. It was, however, slightly embarrassing if anyone came over and happened to sit in the couch only to find small crushed pills of varying colors littering the cushions.
“What the…” Ian had started, and Sean’s face burned, but he hid it well and when Ian had glanced up from the crushed purple powder in his hands he only saw Sean shrug and mouth “Max.”
Max sometimes talked about being slow and dumb on the ice, and the reasoning behind his trade to Los Angeles. It was never, in his mind, about Mathieu and the Wings getting stronger. No, according to Max, it had to do, of course, with Max, and his ineptitude on the ice or his small grasp on the English language... Sean sometimes wondered if Max was right--if the trade was more about Sean than it was about Mathieu, but Sean really wasn’t one for flattery, and he just wanted to play and was glad for the opportunity, even if it was in L.A.
Though Max worried about being slow and dumb on the ice, his reputation for being so had shifted and moved off ice as stories about Max’s strange habits leaked to the rest of the team. They were all quite befuddled and amused by his antics, and Sean, wanting to fit in, had gone along with them and laughed it up at Max’s expense.
Lappy and the gang would take him out for drinks and “show him the town” (a tour that had lasted several weeks, and had taken him to the same strips of now familiar streets) and someone would make a crack about Max. They’d all prod him (though not very hard) for stories, and while Sean had very few (he hardly knew Max), he’d stretch the few he had into longer, more elaborate stories, or just flat out lie.
Max-stories always made everyone smile--even girls who didn’t know who Max was smiled or laughed--and Sean came to the conclusion that the world was a happier place with Max-stories. A night without a Max-story was somewhat hollow, and he felt bad when Max hadn’t done anything the afternoon before and he had nothing to share.
Sometimes he caught himself staring at Max during lunch and was thankful he didn’t have a stick in his hand. He feared he might poke or prod him. “Do something funny,” he’d poke. “C’mon. I need more stories.” Poke. Poke.
He made the mistake of telling Matti a Max-story during training camp. Matti didn’t smile, and it was Sean’s best Max-story, so he knew he had crossed some unspoken line. Perhaps all the Europeans stuck together or something. Maybe his captain hid Tums and cough medicine and little vitamins around the house too.
“Aren’t you his friend?” he had asked.
“But… Flintstones vitamins,” Sean reached, repeating himself and waiting for Matti to smile. He didn’t. Sean frowned and finished tying up his laces. Max wasn’t exactly his friend; he was a makeshift roommate who paid his bills on time and left medicine all over the house. He insulted Dandenault far more often and he considered Mathieu a friend, more so than the man he was living with. Not that he was insulting Max. He was just telling the truth. It wasn’t his fault Max-stories were so funny.
Sean was careful with whom he told Max-stories to after the incident with Matti, but one night when he was drunk he accidentally told a Max-story to Max. By no means had he planned it, and though drunk, he still considered himself quite lucid. Or lucid enough to realize what he was doing but not lucid enough to stop himself from doing it.
“…Sudafed underneath his pillow!” he howled.
“I don’t. Keep it under. My pillow,” Max had replied, stilted and slow.
Sean had realized his mistake, but it wasn’t as if he could do anything about it so he just shrugged. “Maybe you just forgot you put it there.”
If Sean stared hard enough at him he could see Max chewing up the Tums tablets and frothing at the mouth like a rabid dog. He smiled. That would make a pretty good Max-story, so he asked Max what he thought of it. Max frowned and left the living room for his bedroom. Sean wondered briefly if Max was some kind of soft core drug addict, but in the end, he doubted Tums were very addicting.
He followed Max into his bedroom a few minutes later and flopped onto Max’s bed. Max lifted his pillows in the air, and Sean was disappointed to find nothing underneath.
“Didja move them?”
Max shook his head. He stared at Sean for a few minutes and then reached into a drawer in his end table. He fiddled with the cardboard box, ripping it open eventually and pushing a few red pills out of the silver foil. He placed a few under his pillows.
Tired, Sean yawned. “Why’d you do that?”
“You looked sad.”
Sean nodded slowly. He balled his hands up into fists and opened and closed his hand, practicing one finger at a time until it looked like a wave at a baseball park. He touched his cheeks; they were wet, and he was slightly confused. His head, and further, his mind felt disconnected from his body--that slightly fuzzy, floating feeling. Not that it was all that different or new, but it did feel surreal, and his mind rambled and bumped into things, unable to focus, and did Max really have Sudafed underneath his pillows? Los Angeles was really far away from Detroit.
Max kissed him and it seemed farther.
He laughed, not caring if Max would be hurt by the noise. God, Max was a nut job. He had red pills under his pillows and left other pills all around the house like nuts. If Sean closed his eyes he could even see squirrel-Max hiding them.
He did, and for a moment he laughed at Max and his bushy tail and tiny pills, but then he realized his mistake and threw up all over Max’s bedspread.
He wanted proof. He wanted something tangible--something he could grip in his fist and scream out, “See!” to the world… just to show them. To show them he existed.
To show them that they existed. That he was once part of a “we.” That he was once in love and that Brett loved him back, and that the fucking world screwed the two of them over and sent him to LA, where the lights blinked brightly against their black backdrop and left him with a cold feeling in his stomach.
Los Angeles was a segregated city, and he felt even more alone as he drove to work: he took the 405 to the 105, and followed the bug-like rear lights of the car in front of him until he reached his exit. He tried taking side streets, but it seemed too personal and he felt like he was trespassing as he passed house after house with their chain link fences and dried, yellowed grass. It was the small things--the broken flower pots or the Barbie dolls on top of the sloping roofs--that resonated in his brain like snapshots or polaroids and he felt as if he was invading their memories and their lives and seeing something he shouldn’t be.
So he stuck to the gray freeways with their concrete pillars and ever changing billboards. He watched them change as the months flew by, and the knife in his side twisted every time he saw the men pasting a new ad up. His only consolation was that normally they pasted the new one right on top of the old one. So if, for some strange reason, he found himself a hundred feet up and he had a pocket knife, he could cut away the layers and see what used to be.
Sometimes he wished he was a billboard, and that someone could cut him open and see who he used to be, and who he used to be with. That someone could run their knife from navel to chin and push aside his fleshy innards and see the drunken fights, the impromptu pizza and beer runs, and the way Brett touched his face as they lay in bed at night.
But he wasn’t a billboard, and he had nothing. He had nothing to show the world or scream from the top of a rooftop. He didn’t even have a photograph or a memento. And even if he did, it would take only one match to erase it, and it was like… Like they never existed. No one even knew, and the secret that made him warm and smile to himself while he dressed or ate breakfast or practiced, made him sick to his stomach now.
He just wanted… something.
He squeezed his eyes shut, tracing a face with his memory and not his fingers. He swallowed hard, wondering for the briefest of seconds whether he wanted Brett there in the flesh, or if he just wanted a stupid photograph. It was easier to be melodramatic and blame his poor play on a photograph; Brett’s absence was a comforting scapegoat. And Max would rub his back and breathe against his neck while he stared at the photograph--maybe squeezing a tear or two out every now and then, and sighing.
It was easier, and he didn’t have to think about the fact he had lost Brett before he had ever been traded.
He’d never been, and he’d never be Brett’s equal.
Brett Hull scored 50 goals without blinking, debased important figures to the media, and his voice oozed sex and importance, and Sean couldn’t quite place what else it was behind that raspy laugh that made him shudder.
He’d always been like that too, which didn’t seem fair to Sean. That confidence and gut, and even when he was still trying to break out from behind his father’s shadow and prove to the world that he was Brett and not Bobby’s son, he was still… something else, and everyone knew he was different.
Sean wasn’t much of a goal scorer.
Unfortunately, it was so much more than goals that set Brett apart from Sean. He could score 700 and he’d never be Brett’s equal. And he wasn’t that different from any other player bouncing back and forth between minors and the big league.
Because of this inequality, and respect, Sean never approached Brett. Intimidation and maybe a pinch of distance too--Brett was up there. Brett was a star.
A Dallas Star, once.
So it was Brett that approached him. Brett that bridged that distance. Brett that invited himself over. Brett that leaned in. Brett. Brett. Brett.
Brett had a way of doing that. Pushing himself into places where he wasn’t wanted, and making those places and people and lives accommodate him, and somehow… changing them, so that he became their everything, so that even though they didn’t originally want him, now they couldn’t imagine life without him.
Not that Sean had ever not wanted the attentions of Brett.
But he wasn’t always the recipient. Or, rather, sole one.
Brett pushed himself into Texas, and even though he was in Detroit, still managed to nudge and push himself back there every couple of months. Sean sometimes wondered whether this was good for… Texas. Every time it seemed Texas had recovered, and seemingly moved on, Brett would return via rumors, articles, or a plane ride.
“What am I? Just a warm place to put it?” he had screamed all those months ago.
Brett could return to Texas. Brett could return home, even though Texas wasn’t his home anymore, because he had made it his home. The world seemed to stretch itself to accommodate him. After all, why shouldn’t it? He was Brett Hull.
Sean was no Brett Hull. He didn’t entertain any fancies that he was, either. He was fully aware he could never be Brett Hull; he could never push himself into lives where he wasn’t wanted. He could never make them accommodate him, need him, want him, love him, if they didn’t want to.
He honked his horn at the shitty LA traffic. He applied a little more pressure, because it felt better, it felt good to push his flesh against something hard and unyielding, and it made more noise than he could croak out of his throat, and right now he wanted to scream.
He wondered why Brett never wanted to. He wondered how someone over 600 miles away could command more attention than he could, less than three feet away.
“He’s just my friend,” Brett had sighed, and it had all the sounds and echoes of a lecture with Professor Hull and his silly, naïve student, and Sean didn’t have to wonder--he knew Brett wanted him to feel like a child as he stood there, whining and complaining about how Brett wanted to go down to Texas for the three day weekend instead of spending the free time with him.
Sean caught himself, sucking in breath as he braked yet again in the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Because it hurt. It hurt because he’d never been to anyone what Brett was to everyone, but it hurt more now because he had never thought. Thought. Because before it had just been Brett. Brett who pushed his way into other people’s lives.
But maybe it wasn’t just because he was Brett. Maybe it was because Brett was up… there. Texas was too, and, well, Sean wasn’t quite sure where he stood, but he knew Brett was above him. That meant Texas was above him too, despite what any map said.
It was like somebody popped a balloon in his face and all the air was rushing straight at him. He sucked the air in, and it seemed like he could finally breathe as the traffic opened up, and he sped the rest of the way on the 405 and side streets until he reached his apartment.
They were equals. And maybe that’s why they were so close.
Sean didn’t think that was quite fair either. That somehow certain people were just born with traits that made them better players, or better companions, or better… just better.
Max was home, and warm, and when Sean pushed against him--his hands on his shoulders--he was hard and unyielding, and he could feel the flesh and the bones beneath his fingertips. Max still left Tums and vitamins all over the house, but Sean was only concentrating on what Max felt like, and god, Max was such a freak.
The guys in the locker room still teased him about living with a freak, and he supposed he should feel bad, but… It never got back to Max, and the insults just didn’t feel real. They were so far away. Farther than 600 miles.
The extra two cookies really weren’t worth it, Sean thought.
When he was small, he was only allowed two cookies, and then three, and then his mother said he could have five when he was older. When he was grown up. When he moved out of the house. When he got a job.
He imagined he was up to twenty five cookies by now.
Somewhere along the line in Detroit, Sean figured that things probably wouldn’t work out with Brett. Brett, after all, was Brett, and he was Sean, and surely that couldn’t last. Because Brett was Brett, and Sean was Sean.
It made more sense, and that thought was actually quite reasonable when he was in Detroit and caught up in the quiet tension and the way Brett kept looking at him from across the room, and then staring at the laces on his skates.
Brett talked more before they ever started dating. They sparred in the locker room and on the bus and on the plane and behind closed doors even when there wasn’t an audience. When Brett stopped, Sean assumed it was because Brett wanted to be SERIOUS. SERIOUS with Sean, SERIOUS about a relationship. SERIOUS. Sean assumed that it had all been for an audience, that Brett was different behind closed doors. That the man who drew him close, teased him, told him to shut up was something that only he was privy to.
Brett told the media that he only spoke when he had something important to say. That made most everything he said “important,” and ironic and funny and so Brett Hull because he never stopped talking. But then, it also made Sean smile, because it meant as Brett’s words dwindled with him, that the words he was saying were more important. “Shut up, Sean”s were more affectionate, “I love the way you make me feel”s translated to “I love you”s, and when he spoke, he spoke of Sean, and that made Sean important.
Silences didn’t need to be filled, and Sean sighed when Brett would say his name. It meant something, and Brett chose his words deliberately.
Then something changed.
To tell the truth, Sean always imagined somebody new would come along. After all, Brett was Brett, and Sean was Sean, and surely Brett would find somebody new despite the way Brett said his name and spoke quietly to him behind closed doors. A new rookie, or maybe a trade, would catch his interest and he’d pat Sean on the head and send him on his way. He’d return from Texas, glowing and apologetic, and Sean would nod and pretend to understand, or he’d catch Brett with a teammate when he returned home too soon from the grocery store.
But that’s not what happened.
He’s still not quite sure what exactly happened, but he knew that it wasn’t any of those scenarios.
But something happened. Something had changed the way things had always been.
Silences weren’t quite as comfortable, but Sean never spoke up lest he jinx what comfort was left. Brett never spoke up either, and Brett had said it himself: he spoke up when things were important. If anything had happened, Brett would have said something. There was no need to impose his paranoid imaginings on Brett.
Sometimes when he’d leave the cap off the toothpaste and squeeze from the middle, or drink the last of the orange juice and put the empty carton back in the refrigerator, he’d see Brett’s jaw clench, but he never said anything. They were trivial things; they weren’t important.
Or Brett would have said something.
He would have said something if the way Sean hogged the remote bothered him. He would have said something if he was unhappy. He would have said something if he had found somebody new. He would have said something--told Sean to stop with the jealous rants.
He would have said something. Brett would have said something to save their relationship.
He stayed quiet, though, and his eyes burned intensely, and his lips burnt more, burnt more on Sean. He’d smile and stare at his skate laces from across the room. He’d practice, and break one of his sticks, and yell at the equipment manager, and then break another stick, and Dave would tell him to hit the showers early and cool off. He’d argue with Nick and Stevie about where the team would eat on the road, and stalk off and slam a door if they chose a restaurant he didn’t like.
There were whispers and glares, and jokes about p.m.s.-ing, and Sean would roll his eyes at them all, and follow Brett back to their hotel room. He’d find him there, sitting on the edge of the bed, illuminated by the light of the only lamp on in the room. Sometimes he’d stand just inside the room and wait for Brett to say something, but usually Brett didn’t. And sometimes he’d sit next to Brett, their shoulders barely touching.
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” And Brett would rub his temple, or his eyes, and then smile, or kiss him, or pull him close, and then they’d order room service. He mumbled more words to the front desk than he’d ever mumble to Sean on those nights, but it didn’t matter to Sean as long as they lay side by side in bed, pressed against one another.
He didn’t need words. He didn’t need Brett to say anything.
Brett picked a fight with Boyd one day after a loss. He tore into him, blaming Boyd for the loss, his lack of goals, his plus/minus. Mostly everything. He chose the wrong person to pick on though, and Nick and Igor jumped to Boyd’s defense. Though they mostly lashed out at Brett, and didn’t really talk about how Boyd had created two turnovers that led directly to goals during the game.
Sean had expected Stevie to be the first one to stand up, to say something to Brett, but instead Stevie had watched Sean. He looked more concerned than angry, and whispered something to Brett before Brett had indignantly stalked off, still harping about Boyd, albeit a bit more sheepishly and quietly.
Stevie stared at him some more, and Sean wondered why, but not for very long as he hurried to finish dressing in order to catch up with Brett.
Brett didn’t come home that night, and when he showed up the next morning, he was wearing a new shirt that Sean didn’t recognize, and he was very sorry, but things just weren’t working out. Sean had asked why, but when Brett didn’t answer, Sean didn’t press any further, immediately knowing that there was somebody else.
Brett tried to temper the ending of their relationship with “I’ll always love you, but…” and “I still love you, but…” But when, to Sean’s chagrin, he began to cry, Brett shut up.
The next few weeks of practice were hell, and things became worse when Sean found out that Brett really hadn’t found somebody new. Mrs. Yzerman showed up with cookies for the rookies, things for charity for guys to sign, and the shirt Brett was wearing the day he blew up at Boyd. Stevie, apparently, had kept forgetting to bring it to the Joe, so Mrs. Yzerman had brought it herself. She told him there was no need for him to return the shirt he had borrowed.
So Brett had spent the night at the Yzermans. Sean sucked on this tidbit while holding his breath and stealing a cookie. That meant Stevie had probably talked to Brett. Probably knew why Brett had broken up with him.
He had stared at Stevie from across the room, stuffing another cookie in his mouth, and trying to quell the desire inside him to ask Stevie what had happened. Because he still didn’t know. It had happened earlier, months before when he’d noticed the change and his mind had kept repeating the line, “He would have said something.”
“A-Pup?” Stevie had said only a week before Sean was traded to LA. He stared right back at Sean, and Sean tried to visualize their conversation before he actually opened his mouth up and allowed his heart to spill out.
He imagined Stevie would pat him on the head and say, “Well, aren’t you all grown up, with your first heart break and all?”
Not that Stevie was a cold or blasé person, but there wasn’t much for Stevie to say anyway. Telling him what had gone wrong months ago wouldn’t help Sean now. Telling him wouldn’t turn back the clock. He could only pat him on the back and tell him this was part of growing up.
“Tell Mrs. Y to come by more often. She makes the best cookies.”
Mrs. Yzerman bubbled with pride, and she puttered around the room like a doll: the perfect housewife. She smiled and kissed Sean on the cheek, thanking him and handing him some extra cookies before leaving.
He chewed them slowly, afraid he’d choke on them. His throat tightened up despite his best efforts, and he couldn’t breathe, coughing, and his eyes watered as Dandy whacked him on the back.
“Slow down dere, buddy.”
He wiped his eyes and laughed, and smacked Dandy with a towel he found lying on the ground.
Afterwards, when he was in LA, all grown up and traded, his new teammates dragged him to one of the best cookie places in the city: Diddy Riese.
“You can get three cookies and a milk for only a dollar. One cookie is only one quarter,” Lappy explained.
Cookies?, Sean had initially wondered, but it was a way to unwind and be a kid again, Lappy had said, and enjoy something simple.
“And you know that any of the women you meet here actually eat,” Steve chimed in.
They laughed, and someone started talking about real Canadian women while Sean stared at the bright white menu. Even Max who barely spoke English had chosen his cookies and paid for them while Sean stood there, still staring up at the menu.
“Can’t choose, eh?” Lappy said. “Well, Mister NHL, now that you are no longer bouncing back and forth between the two leagues, you don’t have to choose. You’re a big boy; you can have as many cookies as you like.”
Sean smacked Lappy upside the head and that got more laughs than Ian’s original comment. He finally settled on plain old chocolate chip, and as he was leaving the store he realized something.
The two cookies weren’t worth it at all.
The summer was strange. And long.
Sean went home, but the walls in his room seemed to move in on him, suffocating him, and he left. His mother complained that he hadn’t visited home enough, and he’d miss going over for dinner on Sundays, but he needed to get out. Some place where he could breathe.
Sean supposed it could have been worse: the Wings could have won a Cup.
He would have spent the beginning months of summer thinking about celebrations and champagne and who Brett was celebrating with. Instead, he watched the boys down the street nearly go all the way; he watched the gut wrenching loss in his apartment in Ontario. He talked to Lappy on the phone, and of course, there was the tinge of sympathy, but he, like most of the other Kings, was annoyed by the attention.
Now, he wondered what Brett had been doing since their early exit. The summer two years ago had been so short. Sean watched his team win it all, and the summer was just a blur with the help of Brett and a lot of alcohol. He couldn’t place any particular event, other than Brett’s day with the Cup, and all he could really recall now was a warm kind of feeling. Even that wasn’t particular. Just warmth and something. Happiness. Or contentment. Love. Or Brett.
He didn’t have anywhere else to go, so he went back to LA. That wasn’t quite true. He had friends, but they’d also have questions, and he preferred his quiet solitude. And maybe he could breathe in a city that didn’t know his face. Or rather, didn’t care to. Indifference, and maybe some of that would rub off on him. He’d like a large dose of that.
He was surprised when he unlocked the door and heard someone puttering around in the kitchen. He’d spent enough time in LA to know he should probably run out of the apartment by now, but against his better judgment he stepped forward to investigate.
It was Max. He hadn’t gone home to Russia, yet.
After the previous year’s debacle maybe the team had told him not to go home at all. Or maybe, Sean imagined, they told him to go home and lose his paperwork again, and this was just Max’s pathetic attempt to garner pity, or perhaps just stall and hope that in a few weeks they’d change their minds and tell them that they really did want him back.
Want him back, Sean scoffed, so that they could trade him away for a stronger, better model.
Max smiled, catching Sean off guard and his mind stumbled, reeling and backtracking, apologizing, even though he hadn’t said anything out loud. Even though he doubted the Kings even wanted to trade him. Just random, bitter thoughts--he wasn’t quite sure where they came from, or why he’d thought them. Only that they were in his mind, and his face grew warmer--accompanied by a prickly sensation on the back of his neck: guilt, and he smiled back too widely.
“Want some lunch?”
Mexican leftovers and Sean’s eyes darted over to the package of Tums, half open, the silver foil wrapper winking at him from the table.
He could feel his ears burn as Max stared at him, waiting for a response, and sorry sorry was the new mantra. He thought about all the stories. Sorry sorry. Thought about yellow tablets. Sorry sorry. Red pills under pillows. Sorry sorry. “Sure.” Sorry sorry.
The pills piled up behind his eyes as he sat at the table and ate day-old, microwaved, lukewarm, slightly soggy leftovers.
He probably could have apologized by washing dishes, but they had eaten off of paper plates. So when they fell into bed later Sean tried his best to place as many apologies as marks on Max’s skin.
It was amazing, really. He still loved Brett. It still hurt to think about him. He was in his early twenties; things like this weren’t supposed to affect him. At least not for very long.
He was lying in bed with Max, watching cartoons. They passed a box of cereal and gallon of milk back and forth between commercials. Max was sitting up, cross-legged with his bowl in his lap. Smart, thought Sean. He was lying down, balancing the bowl precariously on his chest. Each shaky breath threatened to make it topple, milk spilling down his sides. Tickling, brushing in one long stroke, but no, that was Max, Max’s hand, and Sean paused, spoon midair, staring at Max, Max’s hand.
“What?” He felt his hand shake, milk spilling onto his neck.
“I like this show.”
A million things in his head, and he was thinking, you idiot, of course you like it, why else would we be watching it, and duh, it’s awesome, that’s why you like it, and why are you touching my side, and you pill popping, pill crushing, pill hiding freak, why are you telling me you like this show, it’s in Japanese, you can’t even understand what’s going on--
Only, only he couldn’t say any of it because he couldn’t even remember what it was they were watching. He’d zoned out, and he looked up and maybe it was Captain Planet on the screen, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Yeah,” was a safe answer.
“I like you, too.” His head, curled into his chest, eyes peeking up every few seconds, and it was like he was a fucking girl in third grade, professing his love--his like-like, and Sean thought about the last few months, the last year, the last season and barely month of games, and focused especially on the last week, the week he’d spent with Max since he’d left his home up north to come here, to come to LA and escape from everything. Of course, he hadn’t. All he’d really done was make out with Max for a week.
“Yeah,” he said, and the phone rang, and he desperately wanted it to be Brett. Brett, calling and wanting him back. Brett, calling and proclaiming his like-like. Brett, please, God, let it be Brett.
It wasn’t Brett. That should have been obvious. Especially to Sean, so he hated that his stomach still dropped when he heard the telemarketer on the other end.
Max didn’t mind his “yeah,” and Sean supposed he didn’t really mind Max’s “I like you, too.” It was just there. It didn’t change much. They just spent longer making out in the mornings. Except during this one cartoon that Max really liked.
The thing about LA was that cell phone service was always great in the quiet, strict places like churches and movie theatres and museums, but it was awful in Sean and Max’s apartment, which was like this huge white zone in the service area.
He could stare at his phone all day, press any name on his contact list and watch his phone struggle to find a signal, and then, eventually, disconnect. His finger hovered over Brett’s name, and it was always such a gut check to have to pull his finger away, only he didn’t have to while he was at home in LA. He could have four bars, but the moment he’d hit SEND the bars would disappear and the call would end before it had ever connected. He liked that. He liked thinking that maybe Brett was trying to reach him, but just couldn’t. It was stupid, really, to think like that, but he liked it, nevertheless. Like Max liked him.
It was ironic, really. He was in a museum when he got the text message. Service, finally.
He was at the Skirball. He was being artsy and LA with Max. It was kind of hilarious, but fun, and the blinking lights kept them both enthralled for hours. He figured they were cousins, twice removed, with the Japanese cartoons that caused seizures. He and Max liked to watch those. They downloaded fifty of them off the internet.
A statistics exhibit, and the tickers caught his eyes. He loved those scrolling things. Stocks, sport scores, his name capitalized and highlighted because he scored the game winning goal. An algorithm or something, he didn’t listen when the guy explained it, only that he was staring at an entire wall of these scrolling tickers, each with a word or a line from anything--blogs, IM conversations, text messages. Randomly, anything, and they’d all change together: her shoes were SO ugly, MEET ME AT 5, turning over to raining hard tonight and Happy Birthday!
The professor, maybe wanting to please the ladies in the crowd, chose to display those messages with ‘love’ in them. An entire wall filled with I love you, love sucks, love ya, Cheryl loves pickles, QAF means love, named my new dog “Love,” and that was when he got it. The message.
Brett. Wanting to visit.
God damn stupid Max, he thought. Freak, his mind screamed as he ran around the apartment picking up random pills. Indifferent to any mess on the floor or in the sink, just completely aware of any pill, anything that would scream… well, most people knew what Max was like, but he doubted anyone knew how completely complacent Sean had become towards Max’s… whatever it was that made Max do what he did. Freak by association--a fear resting tenderly in Sean’s stomach. He wasn’t sure why he cared so much.
Well. Yes, he did. Brett.
Brett was never too fond of Max. The last thing Sean wanted was Brett to start associating him with Max. Nobody wanted to date a pill-hiding-freak, that was for sure.
“Could you maybe not be here when we get back from the airport?” Sean had offered to pick Brett up from LAX.
Max didn’t ask why; he just left, and Sean started to clean before driving to the airport.
Brett looked better than Sean had imagined. His stomach twisted, but pleasantly. And he knew by the way that Brett smiled at him that Brett felt it too. There was just so much between them, all these memories and feelings, more than when they had half a country to stretch out between them, and because of their closeness it just pressed against Sean’s chest all the more, until it was right in his face and he didn’t think he could stand it. He managed to breathe and make a stupid joke, and Brett laughed.
Lunch was better than perfect and Sean felt the two of them slipping into something more familiar, something that made his heart ache because this was too good. But it was real, and that mattered. Real, unlike the plastic faces surrounding them at the restaurant. He never really noticed before--sure, he could he could tell when a girl’s tits were fake, but L.A.’s plasticity, its fakeness never really hit him until now. Everything was so shiny, but Brett--he was real. No tummy tucks, no face lifts--say no to Atkins, to the Zone, to popping Ginko and Echinacea and Golden Seal--goldenrod?--what the fuck ever. Brett didn’t need any of that shit--he was above it all. He was better than it, better than all the faceless shiny strangers sitting around the two of them.
“Fuck. This place is awesome.” Brett flashed a wide smile and Sean couldn’t tell if he was being facetious, so he just nodded. He agreed, though. It was awesome. It was awesome to have Brett there with him in L.A.
Sean took Sunset back to his apartment so that he could point a few places out to Brett. Brett approved, smiling, but when they reached Sean’s apartment his smile faltered. He reached out to stop Sean from grabbing his bag, but ever the thoughtful host, Sean was already up the first flight of stairs with it before Brett was even out of the car.
He sighed once inside, and Sean recognized that sigh, but tried to ignore it. “Sean, what are we doing here?”
“Dropping off your stuff before we go out.”
“I already told Cheli that I was staying with him.”
“Then why didn’t you ask him to pick you up from the airport?”
“You offered.” And it sounded like an accusation, and maybe that’s what it was.
Sean was tempted to throw back, “Then why the fuck didn’t he fly you out in his charter airplane?” but he stopped because this conversation was becoming all too familiar, pushing them in a direction Sean had no desire to traverse again.
“Well, might as well stay the night if you want to check out L.A. You can head over to Cheli’s in the morning.” It was all so very logical and Sean was proud of himself as he carried Brett’s bag into his room.
“This is your room,” Brett said behind Sean’s shoulder. “You only have one bed” managed to sound exactly like, “and you’re sleeping on the couch, right?” That stunned Sean because hadn’t they just had the best lunch--hadn’t Brett felt it at the airport? Whatever it was that had fucked things up before, wasn’t that gone? Hadn’t it been left in Detroit? Hadn’t things changed since then?
Wasn’t L.A. awesome?
“Sean,” Brett said so softly that it was patronizing--the pity, the aww, A-pup’s still in love with Brett.
Sean sat down on his bed and Brett looked past him, wouldn’t look him in the eye at all as he talked. “Sean,” he repeated as if that explained everything, explained why Sean still loved him and why Brett had said all those months ago that he had loved Sean too, but just couldn’t be with him anymore.
“God, don’t you still feel something? It can’t have all gone away.” He could be embarrassed by the way his voice broke, but this moment was too important. Brett closed his eyes, his face pained, looking like he wanted to be anyplace but here. Looking like he knew this might happen, but he chanced it anyway. “I mean, you didn’t leave me for someone else. You told me you still loved me even when you ended things. So what was it? What is it now?”
Brett sighed and Sean hated that sound now fiercely. When he opened his eyes and his mouth, he stared beyond Sean again. And when Sean turned to look at what he was staring at he saw the tin foil backing of a square of Sudafed pills--two puckered openings and a pair of red pills resting near his pillow.
Fuck, Sean moaned inside his head.
Why couldn’t it be raining? Freak rain storm, please, he begged. Only this was Southern California and its perfect weather, and he was drunk and wearing flip-flops, walking among the bright lights of night and searching for a patch of darkness. Not anything dramatic or dirty, like a darkened alleyway with trashcans and homeless men, but something simpler without the yellowed, sometimes neon, glare. It was just that it was so constant and pervasive and he just wanted a break. Something cold and quiet, so it wasn’t a surprise when he found himself by the shore.
Cool and dark--all gray, not black. More blues than anything, but close enough to satisfy him and he felt the water change the texture of his clothing. A little heavier, a little softer, molecules of salt and crash and wave entering the weave of his shirt, resting on forearms and clinging to his legs, and so he sat, weighed down by it all.
It took his ears a while to adjust to the noise, or the lack there of. So much more quiet than the rest of the city.
Despite it’s proximity he had never really gone to the beach. Been a few times, but hadn’t lain out, hadn’t lived there properly like he should have. And maybe that was it. Maybe it was because he lived in the city and rented a place. Maybe it’d be different if he owned a house in Malibu like Cheli. Surrounded by white noise constantly--the hustle and bustle of the city. The cars and the people, and even the streets talking back, but it didn’t really register anymore. He funneled them all out. Could barely hear them now, just the outskirts of his ears, so he moved closer to the ocean to further tune them out until he could only hear the waves.
When he was a kid his family moved. Used to be when he’d go to bed and the lights went out, the lights went out. Pitch black, and his mom would leave a nightlight on in the corner that was so bright in comparison that he’d end up kicking it out of its socket and then feeling by touch his way back to the bed. It wasn’t even a matter of letting his eyes adjust. It was dark.
And then they moved, and there was no need for him to walk, hands stretched out, creeping cautiously, hips and feet hitting furniture. The lights outside illuminated his room and after a while he could make out everything in the room. He could see his arms, make out his body as he lay in bed at night. A stunning discovery at first and disconcerting that he could no longer open his eyes and see nothing. Though now that he thinks about it, perhaps the former should have been more disconcerting.
Being able to see had its advantages: his stubbed toes were grateful.
He was certain, of course, that because now he could see that suddenly he could see everything. Such clarity and detail, but then as he grew accustomed to the city lights’ presence, it became more difficult. Shapes now, smudged edges--just enough to navigate, but without the sun or a lamp it was possible, probable, highly likely that he’d miss something--in a corner, behind a shadow, resting on the table three feet in front of him.
He sat and thought about shadows, shapes draped over him. Sticky ones with blonde hair and big mouths. He wanted away from the bright city lights because they were a constant annoyance--harsh and honest, and simultaneously manipulative and deceiving, casting colored light over the city to make it look different--sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different from the light of day. And really, now all he wanted was darkness. To open his eyes and see nothing, to roll over in bed and reach out and feel skin under his finger tips, muscle hard and unyielding giving way to soft fat, a body willing to absorb him, to swallow him whole, to accept him. Something akin to whatever he and Max had, where he could just be, but something more. Where he had more than a bouncing board, something beyond hard, unyielding muscle.
Maybe that was what he wanted months ago: to cry out his love and have it bounce back to him. For Brett to acknowledge Sean’s feelings and return them perfectly. Now he was no longer sure. Of what he once wanted.
Desperate. He was so utterly desperate for so long, grasping at straws and cookies and Tums and searching for meaning, and answers to why. Desperate to go home. Desperate for Brett. Little longing to be less pitiful or get over this.
It had been awkward afterwards--after the big reveal--and Brett phoned a cab to take him to Cheli’s. Sean found a friend named Jack and another named Floor, but when Max came home suddenly the apartment felt too small for all four of them. Sean wanted to blame Max. Max and his stupid pills and stupid… Maxness. But, of course, now that he knew, the Sudafed on his bed seemed kind of moot.
Max shook his head at him and even though all the lights were off in the apartment, Sean knew what he saw in Max’s eyes and it pissed him off enough to scream a “fuck you” before slamming the front door and taking off down the street.
He ended up here, at the beach, swallowed up partially by shadows and now he was desperate to sink further into them. To open his eyes and see nothing, as opposed to the bright neon lights inside his head. The semi-darkness even mocked him, reminding him of the details he missed. He had once guessed correctly the reason why Brett had left him, but his ego wouldn’t allow him to believe it beyond that one conjecture, because it was too bright and too harsh and he preferred general shapes of imprecise ideas. Enough to help him get through it all without hurting himself further or stubbing his toe.
Now all he wanted was darkness. To lay in it and be six years old again and wait for his mother to wake him up in the morning.
He woke up the next morning and his sandals were missing. So was his wallet, but at least he wasn’t raped or murdered. Well. Unmetaphorically.
He had always hated that: the patronizing, though well-meaning person who said, “Well, at least you’re still alive.”
Sean would argue that this wasn’t exactly living. The difficult part of that argument now, though, was that it required a well-meaning person—a counterpart willing to tell Sean that everything would be okay, that he was better off without Brett, that Brett would rue the day he’d let Sean get away, that Sean would fall in love with somebody twenty times better than Brett. Only, Sean was alone in L.A. and barefoot.
He started walking towards the city. He hoped he wouldn’t step on some crack whore’s syringe. Though, that would make the story better. Not that he’d ever tell this story to anyone; girls were suckers for sad stories not pathetic ones. If he were twelve, he might tell his mom—although, he’d have to change the names around. It wasn’t that his mom didn’t know he was gay when he was twelve. More like she’d go find the boys and beat them up.
Only he was no longer twelve.
Early morning and if he was home, he’d have heard the clink of glass, a homeless man rifling through his trash and sorting out the acceptable recyclables, his next door neighbor screaming, moaning that it was too early for this shit. He wasn’t home though so he placated himself by watching men unload delivery trucks, newspaper boys(men) stocking bins, behind him he heard the hum of a machine sifting through sand, cleaning up cigarette butts. Labor lost--or invisible--and he thought nobody worked in L.A. An environment of distractions and too many diversions to properly apply yourself—a play that had to be seen, a club that was so hot right now, a four star restaurant, the party to end all parties—and Sean had heard that this was supposed to add more balance to your life, but he found the scale was always tipped, skewed towards the play and party aspect. It was a bit disconcerting to watch people carrying boxes, stacks of newspapers before the city woke up. This wasn’t New York; the city did sleep, but Sean had always slept with it.
A coffee shop was the first store that was open, but he hesitated because a sign said, “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service.” If only he’d hesitated that first time Brett leaned in then maybe he wouldn’t be in this predicament. He’d at least have shoes, he was sure of that.
Floor cool under foot but supplied with a shirt, he stepped inside. A TV was on in the corner. It had to be easy to be a newsman in L.A.: earthquakes, freeway chases, riots, bank robberies, unimaginable wealth and poverty, police corruption, celebrity and excess and that was just in the morning. His name wasn’t in the ticker that scrolled along the bottom of the screen, and it was humbling to think that he didn’t matter, that having his heart ripped out didn’t have an effect on the world. It was indeed still turning.
At that point he knew he was just being maudlin, but for Christ’s sake, his shoes had been stolen. “Can I borrow a phone?” He knew he was a mess but it still stung when the cashier flinched when she looked at his face. He was about to tell her off, spit in her face, when it hit him that he was shoeless and he needed her more than she needed him. She, in fact, didn’t need him at all. Nobody did in L.A.—the service sector so akin to the entertainment industry that dominated the town and permeated everything. A smile while serving your latte, a grin while fucking you or stabbing you in the back, but in the end you were just a faceless customer, an anonymous fuck that was easily (and readily) replaced by the millions that flocked here, hoping to make it big. Everybody looked out for themselves in L.A. which forced you to become independent and strong or made you move back to Oklahoma and your boring (previous) life.
He found a phone, found a way back home, and cancelled his credit cards. Max wasn’t around when he got back so Sean ate the last of his cereal and wrote, “need more milk” on the message board.
Sean decided this year he wouldn’t be sent down the minors. He’d mature into the player that L.A. had insisted Ken Holland throw into trade. He could take momentary solace in the fact that Detroit had first balked at the idea, even if they had eventually gone through with the deal. L.A. had wanted him, though, and he’d make himself invaluable this upcoming season.
Promises were freely given away in L.A.: I promise you’ll get the job, I promise I’ll leave my wife, I promise this is the first time this has ever happened, I promise that if you give me $500 now you’ll receive a check for $500,000 next week.
Sean knew L.A. didn’t retain sole custody on this feature, but it offered a kind of justification, a way to ignore the tightening in his stomach when the words flowed out of his mouth. After all, he figured there was some kind of promise allowance; everyone had to do their part to fill the monthly quota.
Sean hadn’t made any promises to Max; he’d made them to himself. This should have made it easier on him when he broke them, but somehow it didn’t. It annoyed him. He considered himself fiercely loyal, and here he was—betraying himself.
It’d been two weeks since Brett had spoken to him, and roughly three weeks since Sean had bought milk. He’d bought the half-gallon on the last grocery run and now, clearly, since they were out of milk—clearly demarcated on the communal message board—clearly it was Max’s turn to buy milk. They went grocery shopping every few days—the store was just a block down the street and the only things that they stocked up on were sugar free Jell-O, milk, and cereal. They only bought what they’d consume that night or the following morning. Once, they decided to stock up on meat, but now all of that was frozen and probably covered in freezer burn, and would never be eaten since they broke their George Foreman grill.
Sean glared at Max as they walked down the dairy aisle. Clearly, Max should be picking up a gallon right about now. Now. … Now.
“Hey, man, uh. I keep thinking there’s something on this aisle we need. But um. I can’t remember.” Smooth, Sean thought.
“Salsa is in the other aisle.”
Sean narrowed his eyes and watched Max turn the corner into the next aisle. He wanted to think, “No wonder Brett never liked you,” but he’d stopped thinking about Brett two weeks ago. One week ago. Three days ago. Anyway, he’d made the decision. He wouldn’t be pining away like some puppy. In fact, he was mostly over Brett already.
He grabbed two gallons of non-fat milk and met Max at the checkout counter. He dropped them with a thud on the conveyor belt behind the groceries Max had already unloaded from their cart. “See!” he wanted to scream at Max. He was definitely adding $2.82 to Max’s part of the utilities this month.
“That is a lot of milk.”
“Well, I’m thirsty.”
Max stared at him and then dropped a plastic divider behind his Claritin and before the two gallons. “Good for you.”
This was like some kind of Jedi mind trick. Max wanted him to flip out and start screaming, but Sean wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. “What the hell is wrong with you?” and he moved the divider behind the gallons.
“I’m lactose intolerant,” and then Max slammed the divider back where it once was, images of Max asking for extra parmesan cheese on his ravioli, drinking milk with his cookies, cereal, every fucking meal they ate at the apartment, all flashing through Sean’s head and Sean didn’t know how to respond to this new passive-aggressive Max.
Training camp began and things went back to normal. Well. Sean pined over Brett even though he knew the truth, he hung out with Lappy and the gang and made fun of Max even though it was no longer funny, and he bought milk once a week even though he promised he wouldn’t until Max did. It was disappearing at such a rate that Sean was pretty sure that not only was Max drinking it, but he was probably pouring glasses down the sink.
Sean didn’t know what to do about that. He couldn’t exactly accuse Max. After all, it was a ridiculous accusation. Even if Sean thought it was plausible. It just sounded… so stupid and childish. And whenever he thought about saying something to Max, his stomach twisted and he just asked Max for some Tums instead.
They were still living together, still carpooling to El Segundo together, still getting stuck in traffic together. Things were exactly the same if Sean just squinted his eyes. His friends took him out for drinks and when he got home, he fucked Max after talking behind his back all night. Whispering stories and one night he fucked up, screwed himself and then told Max about it afterwards when he got home.
“You told Ian?” Max screamed, and Sean swore he could see a milk moustache on his upper lip. Even if it was dark and he was half-drunk.
“No,” Sean scoffed. But he had, and Max no longer believed him. Sean offered to let Max fuck him, which in his mind sounded like an awfully nice—conciliatory, really—gesture.
“What?” Max spat and that stung a little bit.
“I didn’t mean to,” was on the tip of his tongue, but instead he found himself rambling about how the team was trying to pair Max with Tim Gleason—the guys had been talking about it right in front of him, and could anyone blame him for speaking up?
“On the ice, you idiot,” Max ground out. “He’s my defensive partner.”
“Ian’s cool,” Sean said, brushing it all away. Ian hadn’t exactly been cool though. True, Ian had known he was gay and didn’t care, but his face scrunched up when he learned about Max. “But all that shit you’ve said about him,” Ian had said, which Sean was pretty sure was Ian’s way of saying politely, “But that guy’s a total freak.”
“I know,” Sean had said and Ian had just stared at him until Sean told him he had to go.
L.A. was a laid-back place, and Sean kept reminding Max of this: “Don’t worry; this isn’t Michigan.” But that just made Max glare at him. He couldn’t win for losing.
Max fucked him hard, and the next morning in traffic, the more Sean thought about it, the more he realized that Max was lucky Sean had been that drunk and that it hadn’t been half bad or he might have taken a swing at him. Sean also supposed he could tell Ian that he had just been really drunk too.
Congestion and traffic was something an Angelino planned into his life; travel was measured in minutes, not miles. Sean never managed to plan right, or maybe he always did, because he was always in traffic and its presence was comforting. L.A. never failed him in that regard. Last season he couldn’t breathe, but now its pressure was reassuring.
“Tonight’s game should be good. I can’t wait to plaster that fuck, Shane Doan, to the glass,” he rambled. Last season he was in the playoffs with the Monarchs, but he wouldn’t get sent down this season. He knew he was making a splash at camp. All these kids kept wanting to fight him--up and comers who wanted to make a name for themselves and what better way then to take him on? He ignored them for the most part, choosing his fights well and only pummeling guys he knew he could take.
“We aren’t moving,” Max said.
Sure enough, they weren’t. Minutes passed and they didn’t budge, Sean craning his head but the SUV to the left, right, in front of him blocked his view. “Must be an accident ahead.”
Max mumbled something in Russian that sounded like “no shit,” which stopped Sean from asking Max if he wanted to blow him in traffic.
If Sean wanted to get blown by someone who wasn’t his teammate, it wouldn’t be that difficult. That was a nice thing about L.A. He certainly couldn’t get away with it on one of the Canadian teams—none of the original six, except maybe New York. Probably Hickvillle, Nowhere, too, but that was more or less self-preservation. Anyone who opened his mouth in the middle of nowhere understood fear, and how this would ruin them just as much as it would ruin Sean and his career. But Sean would be nowhere near Hickville, Anywhere if he kept his nose clean and away from all minor league hockey.
L.A. though. L.A. was filled with people who understood discretion. Within his first week of arriving in L.A., Sean already knew who the gay celebrities were, how they took care of their beards. A little gossip around the locker room, whispers in the corner Starbucks—everyone knew everybody’s business, but nobody said a thing. Wink wink, nudge nudge, and it was a relief. Everybody was in on the secret; nobody was shocked. They all nodded at the tabloids—knew that, saw that, old news, so true, not true because they didn’t go far enough… But only in the inner circle. Outsiders, tourists, anyone who wasn’t Hollywood who believed what they read was ridiculed: you read that trash?
A kind of brotherly attitude: yeah, I can make fun of my brother, but you sure as hell can’t. Yeah, I know the truth, but you can’t. You don’t get to.
Sean liked that. Sean supposed L.A. was like Hickville in one regard. It wasn’t exactly mutual respect that kept the quiet when he fucked gay actor playing straight, but a ‘ruin me and I’ll ruin you’ attitude. Sure, everyone sort of knew already—they had their suspicions, but suspicion fortunately didn’t carry much weight.
Despite this, Sean hadn’t done much of anything in L.A. He blamed Brett. Brett, weighing him down in a very real way, and how was he supposed to have a superficial fuck when he had that kind of albatross around his neck? Drugs, anorexia, vanity—issues that were so L.A. and Sean could imagine the vapid fucks rising like hot air balloons, while he stayed grounded by the weight of his very real heart break. He was on a different level than all of them.
Besides, he had Max. For now, that was enough.
Max still refused to buy milk, but Sean supposed he had become accustomed to Max’s obstinance because his brain didn’t make a fuss whenever he picked up the tab. He was the bigger man; he could buy the milk.
Sean was falling into a comfortable routine and the season had barely just begun. That foretold good news—no way would he end up in minors this year. Last season he had been too on edge, too consumed by Brett, but now he was thinking and seeing clearer. Minimalism and simplicity—within his life and the game as well. He was only focusing on the present—maybe the next shift, but that was it. If he thought too far ahead then he found he became too consumed with it: when was Brett going to call him, when was Brett going to realize his mistake, when was that stuck up Andy McDonald going to be back out on the ice so that he could give him a forearm to the face… These questions always seemed to get Sean into trouble.
It was better for everybody, better for his game, if he just thought about now. Now just happened to be Max. It was a good deal—playing professional hockey, fucking a professional hockey player nearly every day of the week. He could get used to it. He could like it.
In truth, Sean did.
Sean wasn’t a complete idiot. At a certain point he realized it wasn’t all one sided. He wasn’t avoiding fucking other people because they were too L.A. with their petty troubles. This was no longer merely convenience. Convenience was Tina’s microwavable burritos in the freezer section. This was. Well, something.
Max was less on edge, no longer shot Sean dirty looks when he brought home gallons of milk. The gap between what was and what ought to be was smaller. Sean was more at ease when he was at home, when he was with Max. Max was from Detroit; Max was the antithesis of Brett, and this may have been why it all started, but it didn’t explain why it had continued.
Well. Max liked him and put up with him, and that was two reasons. If Sean was smarter he wouldn’t have renewed his lease, but he had. He told himself that he was just too lazy to move his stuff, but Sean was always acutely aware of when he was lying.
When Max kissed him, the world melted away. It disappeared and this was as close to blank, to white that Sean ever got. His thoughts, his ideas, his dreams, his fears were shoved into corners and boxes and closets, no room for anything extraneous--only how this felt, and it felt good to be wanted.
They had become roommates on the road and in L.A. by way of convenience—stick the two new guys together, and it had made sense at the time to get an apartment together. That previous season they had both bounced back and forth between minor and major, amateur and big league, and Sean couldn’t imagine getting anything by himself, anything permanent, because he hadn’t thought the trade would be permanent. At the time it was just some awful dream, a nightmare that had gone on far too long, but he’d wake from it soon enough. He just had to give it time.
Now, though, Sean was perfectly aware of the situation, that L.A. was indeed happening. Time to lose the teddy bear, the blanket, the remnant of home. Max had been a comforting distraction. Then Brett came to town and ruined it all, with his sighs and truths. Max still distracted Sean from his thoughts, but Sean could no longer console himself afterwards with the idea that this was just a blip in the Sean and Brett saga. It wasn’t going to go: Brett, Max, Brett.
And so, Sean should have cut Max loose, should have cut all ties, because this didn’t mean anything, this was unimportant, Max was unimportant, Max was just a distraction.
Sean was ready to play his Hollywood part, ready to date his celebrity girlfriend, be the athlete with the chip on his shoulder, twirl his evil moustache and denounce a fourth-line center or two. He knew what was expected of him. He knew what his role was on the team.
But he also knew that people underestimated him. He wasn’t just a pest; he had legitimate talent. His goals weren’t flukes or sitters. He was tired of constantly defending himself, telling the press how good he was, how much better he was than idiots like Darcy Hordichuk. Sean wasn’t dumb though; he knew he’d have to continue to pay his dues. He needed to spend the entire season with the Kings to prove the naysayers wrong. And he would. He had to.
He didn’t need to sign the lease, room with Max, stay with him. And yet he had. He had wanted to, and Sean wasn’t quite sure how stupid that made him, but he supposed the figure was fairly high.
But Sean didn’t care, didn’t care for anything but this for a while.
Sean didn’t care for wheatgrass. He got health food, but he didn’t get this, didn’t get yoga and acupuncture, crystals or any of this new age crap. He thought it was dumb and he said so.
“Meditation isn’t dumb,” Ian said. “It helps me focus.”
“Yeah, but… meditation is all about peace, and you’re preparing to pound some guy’s face in. That’s a bit… like opposite.”
Lappy snorted. “A bit like opposite,” falsetto high, and mocking, “is fucking around with a guy you make fun of every chance you get.”
Sean’s face burned. “I. Don’t.”
“Whatever,” Ian said, ending the conversation. It stayed in Sean’s mind though.
It stayed in Sean’s mind through pre-game Oprah, and her ‘Remember Your Spirit’ segment, that he’d accidentally watched one day and now he couldn’t not watch because he’d been on such a tear as of late on the ice ever since he’d started. It stayed with Sean because this time he felt the slip. He felt his misstep, the miscalculation and it reminded him of Detroit. He’d been so cocky right before he’d been sent down, right before Brett had ended it all.
And Lappy’s comment was a bit below the belt. Where did he get off saying such things? Especially out of nowhere; Sean didn’t like to be blindsided.
Sean didn’t like the idea of karma or reincarnation, because he didn’t care if what Brett did to him came back to Brett ten-fold, or if in the next life he was the next Wayne Gretzky for having to put up with all this shit in this lifetime. Because it didn’t change now, which was all Sean cared about. He was tired, and god dammit, he just wanted to be past all of this; he wanted to fast forward and get to the good part. It was stupid and he was tired of waiting, waiting in line, waiting in traffic, waiting for his coffee, waiting for Max to buy milk.
He wanted to go back to early summer, when he was upset about Brett and Max bought milk and liked him. It was less awkward, less complicated than this, where things still sucked where Brett was concerned, but now maybe Sean didn’t trust that Max would be around when he got home after a night out. His worlds were dangerously close to spilling over, and he’d never had to worry before that his Max-stories would get back to Max. But that wasn’t quite right, because he’d once told Max a Max-story, so Sean supposed that he’d never before cared whether or not Max knew what he said behind his back.
It hadn’t mattered; he didn’t care. Only now he was all mixed up, because Brett had been everything, but now Brett could no longer, could never be everything, because there was such finality to their relationship that was never present before. Never present before, but now was, thanks to one simple visit which somehow also managed to fuck up what he had with Max, which shouldn’t have mattered because he didn’t have anything with Max, but now it seemed all he had was Max, but there was no finality to that. In fact, there was more uncertainty now then there had been in June. In June, he ached, but believed things would change. And then in August when Brett had called, he had been more than certain.
Now, November looming, a month into the season and Sean had never played better, never irritated the opponent more, never taken so many good penalties. He’d never been so sure of himself on the ice, so sure that he wouldn’t be sent down. A year ago, he’d been so upset as he bounced back and forth between the leagues; he couldn’t find his footing, blinded by emotion, and Brett had supported him, spoke encouraging words over the phone until he found himself in the NHL again. He’d doubted his play, doubted Holland, Lewis’ abilities to see how good he was, but he’d never doubted Brett or their relationship. And now he was coming into his own, but Max wouldn’t even buy milk.
Everything was backwards, and he knew L.A. would be different from Detroit, but he never expected this. Quacks spouting scientology, Jews for Jesus, numerology, astrology, magic on every corner. He didn’t need some New Age banshee talking about destiny and the lack of coincidences; he knew about Providence. But Sean was of the opinion that he wasn’t meant to be here—there were no spiritual lessons to be had in L.A. ‘Spiritual Groundhog Day my ass,’ Sean thought. His relationships weren’t looped on repeat, because he and Max were meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
They couldn’t mean anything, because Sean couldn’t imagine treating something that mattered so carelessly, couldn’t imagine being that terrible. The ache had numbed over after Brett left, and perhaps he pined more out of habit than anything, but this piercing in his side was new and awful and Sean wanted to forget he’d ever noted it.
Brett’s apologies hadn’t meant anything because they hadn’t been what he needed. Sean doubted his would mean anything either; he doubted he was what Max needed. And for once that mattered because Sean was desperate to hold onto Max.
It was an inconvenient time to have this sort of epiphany. They were on a road trip through Western Canada and then through the Pacific Division, and Sean needed to be focused on hockey.
He’d also changed roommates, which hindered the whole desperate, clutching hold-onto-thing. He didn’t even know why he’d done it; it made sleeping with Max more difficult. But he’d done it. The road trip before he spent most of his time trying to get Max alone, thinking up ways to casually lean against him, brush against him, reasons why Max needed to extend his post-game workouts. “C’mon, one more rep” and a slide of his hand against the small off Max’s back. He egged his new roommate on, told him he needed to have another beer, another shot, needed to pass out in another teammate’s room, on the floor, in a chair—it was all comfortable. He was sloppy and careless, trying to kiss Max while Max’s new roommate was in the bathroom. Max hadn’t been a fan, hadn’t understood why they were no longer road roommates, made annoyed noises when Sean reached for his belt buckle while his roommate was in the shower.
Sean couldn’t explain; he didn’t know why he did half the things he’d done. It wasn’t exactly necessary for him to elbow McDonald after he’d just slammed him into the boards, but he’d done it anyway. He wasn’t even angry at him. He’d just done it. Things like this just happened, and he wished people were more understanding. He didn’t deserve to be put on double-secret probation. Most times he didn’t even do anything—he just found himself in the middle of a situation that somebody else started.
He’d been the cause of this, though, and Max rolled his eyes when Sean raised his eyebrows, caught his eyes across the bar.
“No,” he said when Sean palmed his key, left fingerprints inside his pockets.
“Why not?” Sean asked, prepared to ignore any response and opening Max’s door.
“Because,” and Max hissed, even though they were alone, “I don’t know when Jason’s coming back from the bar.”
“So?” And Sean was reaching for Max’s belt, this new dance becoming too familiar and Sean wasn’t sure what he thought of it—reaching, always, and cool metal beneath his fingertips.
“We have to be careful.”
“Sex isn’t careful,” Sean teased, his hand on the front of Max’s pants. “If it is, you’re doing it wrong,” he heard Brett whisper in his ear. Always taking risks and Sean closed his eyes, lips against Max’s neck, saw Lewis placing Brett on the point during a power play, heard Brett tell the press that he could play defense. It was a joke, though: offense being the best form of defense and, of course, Lewis was an idiot for putting Brett near the blue line.
Max sighed. “You should go.”
“What?” They were in Canada—Sean couldn’t remember which city, suddenly lost. Los Angeles had seeped into him and now he was clueless, unaware of what went on in other parts of the country.
“I’m. I’m tired.”
He’d forgotten that things like this happened. He felt something in his stomach, like an ulcer from too many lattes. L.A. was the be-all, end-all and Max was tired, and Sean was tired of this road trip, two games in, ready to go back.
“Okay.” Sean left, closing the door, more unsteady than when he’d opened it.
By Dallas, he was drowning. Flailing, taking dumb penalties, and he had nothing to grasp onto. He should have been smirking with Dallas stumbling, Mike Modano a shadow of his former self, but.
This was decidedly not what he wanted.
That made the smirking part a little bit harder. Well, he wanted Dallas to lose, but he didn’t want this. It was difficult to boast about beating a team that had beat itself. Sean managed to do so anyway in a post game interview, Ian sidling up to him afterwards, making a smartass remark. They’d asked his opinion and he was gong to damn well give it, as if he gave a shit if someone was upset he’d called the Stars pathetic.
“Just.” Ian paused, searching for the right thing to say, or maybe the right way to say it. “You know, back it up on the ice.”
Sean knew what that meant, because he’d had a similar conversation with Stevie in Detroit before he’d been sent down, before he’d been traded.
“Of course, man,” and that seemed to smooth things over. He wasn’t able to say anything like that in Detroit. Detroit was too full of legends, playoff-wearied vets, and he couldn’t say to Stevie that he would improve his play because, despite his bravado, he didn’t know if he could. Brett was his bravado until he found his own voice, and started believing it. It was easier in juniors to believe what he said about himself because he actually stood out. How could he stand out on a team of Federovs, Hulls, Yzermans, Shanahans, Larionovs? He couldn’t. He had a small niche, a small part and all he could hope at the time was that he filled it well, and better than anyone else. When Stevie came to him, Sean realized how replaceable he was.
Brett spoke up and that was so reassuring. Brett probably couldn’t comprehend how important that was and how often Sean would use those words in the future, to draw strength from.
With the Kings, Sean couldn’t quite explain it, but he felt more important. His contributions didn’t keep a rolling wheel well greased; rather, they were an important part of getting the wheel going. Somehow he mattered more, his voice had more weight, and Ian nodded and believed him, and Sean believed himself too.
It was an exhilarating kind of power and hockey, perhaps, had never meant so much to Sean as it did now. And now that he was in a bit of slump, on this pretty important road trip, Sean could feel the panic—just a bit—in the back of his skull. It wasn’t anything to be too worried about, but he felt off and was anxious to return to before. Not before before--and that made him laugh, a hoarse, incredulous sound—but maybe just a week prior when he felt settled. Routine more important than any hockey player can stress, and Sean had fallen into one that wasn’t perfect and wasn’t what he had originally envisioned, but worked despite all its problems. It worked for Sean, and he wanted it back. He liked it, he liked Max, and there it was gnawing at his skull—the milk and the reaching and Max was tired and avoiding him, and that made Sean bite his nails.
Drowning, flailing, nails too short to grip and Sean was desperate, wild when he approached Max on the team bus. Risky, careless and Sean heard “careful” curl around his ear as he sat down next to him.
“Hey. Shit game, right?” Light, light, keep it light, and Sean’s stomach twisted as it remembered the last time he’d been this eager to please.
“Yeah, I had a pretty good view.”
Sean wanted to tear his eyes out—stupid, stupid, he berated, because Max had sat on the bench for most of the game. Backpedaling, but thinking had never been his forte and so Max said something before he could.
“I heard your interview.”
“Oh, you did?” Sean grinned. He wanted to put his hands on Max, hold onto him for dear life so he could breathe again.
“You were…well, you.”
“Always,” Sean said. Max smiled.
Sean held Max’s hand and he couldn’t catch his breath.
Wind knocked out of him and it took him a moment to recover, a moment to assess the situation and memorize faces. Next shift out, he delivered a knockout punch: boarding call, five minutes for fighting, and his coach told him to sit in the locker room and not bother coming back. He’d scored the lone goal in the contest, but his reckless play had banished him to the locker room. He was too much of a liability, was what he read in Murray’s eyes.
Max had been watching from above, in the box and was waiting for him in the exercise room. They’d both been terrible as of late and maybe, Sean thought, it was all the travel, throwing them off balance on the ice. But then, mid-kiss, he remembered that he’d scored a goal. He wasn’t entirely off kilter. The goal didn’t quite make up for all the (stupid, irresponsible, Murray said) penalties he had taken, but it was a start. A kind of atonement, but he didn’t especially feel like fasting. At least, not of this, and the seventeen left on the clock weren’t nearly long enough.
His goal was the game winner and they celebrated in the desert. Walking down wide sidewalks, they left one bar for a better one two numbers further up, Sean’s smile wide and open like the sky above them. Ian said something and Sean laughed without really listening.
Pressure in his right palm, and Sean realized he was drinking his beer with his left hand because he was holding Max’s hand with his right. He became more aware of the stares and he let them burn into his skin, warm all over, skin hot to the touch, and he smiled wider. They dissipated or his skin became accustomed to the lookie-loos, and Sean upped the ante, whispering into Max’s ear and keeping his lips there longer than necessary. It was a game, but it wasn’t, and Sean watched Max smile.
There was a kind of power in the knowledge that he had done that, and Sean was mighty, toasting his game winning goal and relishing the feeling inside of him.
Max called him crazy, and Sean pulled him outside, slapping bills on the table, saying goodnight to the guys, and he leaned Max against a car and showed him crazy. A cheap brown thing circa 1988, and he could never do this in L.A. because in L.A. the alarm would have gone off, but now it was surprisingly quiet inside his head.
The desert and its open sky didn’t make Phoenix (Scottsdale? Glendale? The fucking Valley?) feel larger—at least, not larger than L.A.—but it possessed a larger, more impressive landscape. The sky curved at its ends, confirming the world was indeed round, and there were more stars, though it was eerily similar to L.A. All cities tend to be similar, but few places have palm trees, freeways, mountains and buildings sprouting up out of nowhere. Phoenix was better planned, more grid-like than L.A., which had evolved organically—streets and buildings being shoved in wherever, filling in the gaps. So perhaps Phoenix was more like Anaheim.
Anaheim--the final game on the road trip, and Sean kissed Max harder because the light was so much softer here, blessed with more stars and less electricity, which Sean could barely hear in the back of his mind—a kind of hard buzzing remembered.
They stumbled around for a while until they hailed a cab, which took them back to their hotel in Phoenix-Scottsdale-Glendale-Tempe-Mesa-whatever. Sean pulled Max by his shirt collar into his room. “Let’s play cowboys and Indians,” he said, pushing Max onto his bed. An ode to the desert and the claim America had laid on it, Sean put his hands on Max, whispering, “Bang, bang, you’re dead. I killed you.” Sean’s roommate yelled, “Jesus Christ!” and the next morning Max got in trouble for missing curfew even though he’d been in the hotel all night.
Sean laughed the whole flight back to California.
Sean wasn’t laughing in Anaheim. Half-way through the game and he was thrown out—two fights, a game misconduct, and apparently the ref hadn’t appreciated it when he’d voiced his opinion. Murray hadn’t appreciated it either; Max told him that he’d been shooting daggers with his eyes at Sean’s back the entire time the two linesmen had been trying to push him down the tunnel. Sean thought that was bullshit: if it had taken two linesmen to carry him off the ice, clearly that showed the passion he had for the game, and Murray couldn’t get pissed off at that.
Max sat while Sean rode the bike for an hour. He listened to Sean complain about the officials, listened to him yell at the tv, listened to him bitch while he spotted him, nodding in all the right places.
“Christ, aren’t you pissed he scratched you for the second game in a row?”
Max shrugged. Sean thought about the time Brett told him about Calgary, how upset he’d been when the coach was an asshole and refused to play him, how desperate he’d been to leave the place he didn’t feel appreciated him.
Max shrugged and Sean kissed him. Sean found himself talking about L.A., talking about practice, talking about how he and Max should stay after and work on drills together. It was perfect, he said, because he was a forward and Max played defense; they’d help each other get better.
When they got back to L.A., however, fresh off a loss, Murray doubled practice time, which meant he doubled conditioning, which meant Sean was too exhausted to do anything after practice besides shower and drive home.
Sean had been awesome; he’d been on during all the drills, and his muscles burned with satisfaction. Max had been less than stellar. It was strange—keeping such a close eye on somebody else. He’d watched Stevie because he wanted to learn from the best. He’d watched Brett because Brett was Brett. He paid attention to most stars or vets—there was always a thing or two he could pick up. But Max was different, because Max wasn’t exactly good. For every great pass there was a silly blunder. Sean found himself willing Max to make better outlet passes, better choices at the blue line as he watched the coaches take notes. He wondered if Max noticed.
This was decidedly un-L.A., Sean concluded, as they settled onto the couch on a Friday night. He watched ‘Die Hard: With a Vengeance’ sprawled across Max. His hands throbbed from the Icy Hot he’d rubbed onto Max’s ribs; he washed his hands with soap, but go figure. Sighing into Max’s mouth, “This is the best part,” and he missed it, eyes squeezed shut. Sean’s chest began to burn (and freeze) and this prompted him to suggest a shower where he let his hands travel up and down Max’s sides, feeling the notches of his ribs, pressing exploratively until Max jerked away.
Afterwards, Sean made Max rewatch ‘Die Hard’ but he fell asleep before his favorite part. He woke up in Max’s bed and remembered that he hadn’t seen the inside of his bed in weeks. Max was better about laundry than Sean was—his sheets always managed to feel clean.
Saturday morning was slow and lethargic. The cartoons were the only things going full speed as they lay together in bed. Sean drank coffee, fresh from a French press, and Max poured Lucky Charms directly into his mouth from a box.
“Want me to get you a bowl?” and Max turned his head, marshmallows and oat bits hitting his cheek. Sean grinned. “Or some milk?” Blam! Pow! Zap! Boff! in the background.
“I’m lactose intolerant.” Zwa-Zwappp! Kablamo!
Sean’s eyes narrowed. “The fuck you are. You ate ice cream last night.”
“That non-fat, sugar-free, organic ice cream you bought at Whole Foods isn’t ice cream.”
“It’s made from milk!”
“I doubt that.”
Sean doubted it too, but he wasn’t about to agree with Max. He could feel his coffee burning a hole in his stomach as Max turned back to the television. He wanted to call Max out, tell him he knew he was lying, that he saw him drinking straight out of the carton without using a glass (what the fuck was he? Twelve? No respect for anyone else who might want to drink milk without spit in it) but he couldn’t. There was something precarious about the whole situation especially because he’d forgotten it was precarious. There was something stupid dangerous about Robin running into an evil henchman’s lair without telling Batman first, without being prepared—stupid dangerous to run in blind. Sean hadn’t expected Max to still be proclaiming lactose intolerance, and it was unsettling, even more so than the first time in the market.
Sean didn’t want to upset the balance, so he didn’t say anything.
Sean was silent. He didn’t know what to say. Max was placed on the IR—sore ribs—but considering what he’d been up to the night before, Sean didn’t really think it was his ribs keeping him out of the lineup. Perhaps, Murray couldn’t afford to keep making Max a healthy scratch and had to use another way to keep Max out of the lineup. You were sent down if you needed to work on skills, if you weren’t ready to play with the big boys. You were scratched if the coach was pissed at you, if you were injured, if you were beyond hope, if nobody was sure what to make of you. It was purgatory, in a way. Not the NHL and not the minors, but someplace in between where you were judged by your past deeds, past performances, and a decision was made as to where you’d end up.
If the press box was purgatory, then Sean wasn’t quite sure what the locker room was during a game. A subdivision of hell? He’d been kicked out of another game, and this time the assistant coach had told him to shower and then wait in his office. Hardy always gave him a hard time, but this time he didn’t think he could just brush off his words with a joke or two.
Turned out, Hardy didn’t yell, didn’t say much. He sighed and that cut Sean worse. “What exactly do you want out of this season?”
To be the best that I can be, sounded like an Army commercial, sounded facetious, so Sean for once didn’t open his mouth.
Hardy took his silence for some type of answer, some wrong type of answer. “Keep this up, keep that attitude and pretty soon nobody will want you.” He picked up his clipboard. “The Kings aren’t your opponent, you know. It’s the guys in the other colored sweater, remember?”
Sean sat for a while longer in Hardy’s office, desk disheveled with too many papers, walls adorned with pictures of Gretzky, the Triple Crown Line, various newspaper headlines. It was bullshit, Hardy was bullshit, but it was scary bullshit. Kind of like when he said, “Your wife’s a whore,” to the guy opposite him in the circle and the guy paused a split-second before shoving his fist down Sean’s throat. It was an easy way to tell that he’d hit a nerve, said something too honest.
Sean didn’t believe Hardy, because he couldn’t. He was playing the only way he knew how; he couldn’t change who he was. Somebody had to want that.
He left the office and Max collected him outside, drove them to dinner. Dinner was quiet, but in a good way. Sean wasn’t so much inside his head as his mind was just tired, and he let Max provide the small talk.
Later, he pressed against Max and when Max murmured something, he clapped his hand over his mouth. Max stared at him, and with his free hand Sean moved slowly. An inspection of sorts, watching Max’s eyes—the half of his face not covered by Sean’s hand, while he explored. When Max closed his eyes, Sean watched him a little longer before becoming lost in Max’s skin, paying attention only to the terrain ahead, fascinated when Max jerked and suddenly made his body, his spine rigid, and Sean pressed on as Max bucked against him, his hands pulling at Sean’s and pushing Sean off of him.
“That hurts,” he screamed.
Sean panted, bewildered, ecstasy blinding him. “What?”
“I said, ‘take it easy,’ asshole.” Max clutched his side, moaning, but different than before. “I’m on the IR for a reason, idiot.”
Sean flushed--skin hot, different than before. Visions of kids from Oklahoma making their way out west to become superstars flashed through his brain. Dumb kids who gave up everything, lived on the streets, were taken by shady men who called themselves agents, forked over their meager savings, and still believed they’d make it, audition after audition. A bit part in a local commercial before they eventually went home, more jaded, more poor, stripped down to bones and criticism, and their heads ringing with the laughter they heard when they had said, “I came to L.A. because I’m talented and I want to be a star.”
Reality reared her ugly head, and Sean tried to recall if he’d taken a fist to the head during the game because his brain felt mushy and Max was actually hurt. If Max could be injured, Sean could be terrible, could be unwanted. He sucked in air too fast, oxygen corroding his throat and lungs.
“I’m sorry,” he exhaled.
There was a hesitancy to his game, and that was no good either. Guys kept trying to fight him and he looked over to Hardy on the bench, exasperated, because he really wanted to pound them.
He was still looking when his guy went by him, creating an odd man rush. Well, fuck.
He could hear the crowd booing, but they weren’t booing his play. Rob Blake was on the ice, and if there’s one thing people from L.A. hate, it’s people who want more money.
He was riding the bike after the game when Hardy approached him. “I wanted you to respect the team, respect the opponent. I didn’t want you to bend over and take it.” Hardy smirked, waiting, and it took everything Sean had to stop him from jumping off the bike and strangling Hardy. If it was a test, then he’d won as he pedaled faster, sweat pouring off him and Hardy nodding and walking away.
Respect, Sean pondered. Well, he didn’t think Hardy’s treatment was very respectful. Hypocritical asshole. Listening to Hardy hadn’t done his game any good. He was worse off than before when he was taking all those penalties; now, he was useless and seemingly brought nothing to the table. His minutes might as well have been zero for all he was doing. He wasn’t playing like Sean Avery, and that killed him. He wanted to say that at least when he’d been playing before, even if it had been pissing everyone else off, he had been happy, but that wasn’t exactly true. Even then he hadn’t been playing like the Sean Avery he wanted to be, the Sean Avery he’d been at the beginning of the season, that he’d been acquainted with for only a short while but who from then on he thought he’d be with forever.
Sean was desperate to play like that again.
He killed a beer and griped to Ian.
“I don’t know. Just stop sucking,” Ian slurred.
“You’re useless,” he complained.
“No, you’re useless!” Ian cracked, laughing.
Sean didn’t hit his friends, and that was a good thing because if he did, Ian would probably clean the floor with him, even drunk.
Ian was being dragged away from the bar by some buddies, so Sean found a new friend for the night. Max had gone home already, so it took him five minutes instead of one.
“So?” he said when he was finished.
“I…” And the defenseman blushed, shrugging. “Maybe try to do what was working before? You know, when you were playing well. What were you doing different then?”
Sean tried to think. “Tim.” He paused, finished his beer. “Does it look like I know?”
The defenseman shook his head.
“Exactly. That’s why I’m asking you.”
“Well, how would I know?”
“How would I know?”
“Because you’re… well, you.”
Something electric ran through Sean’s body, and already warm from the beers, suddenly he felt sharper as well. Sharper, heightened senses and he was more aware of the way the defenseman leaned in to speak, how close their hands were resting on the bar, and he could feel the heat emanating off him, could smell him, boy mixed with soap and sweat, yes, sweat because he could taste salt, and maybe he was aware of all these things because his face was buried in the defenseman’s neck.
Sean woke up the next morning with dread in his stomach, but he scored a goal in his next game and that was better than any Pepto Bismol.
Sean wasn’t a skilled juggler by any means. But he managed. Maintained, was a better word. Sean maintained.
Max worked himself off the IR and Sean worked himself into the middle of the lineup. Though Max mostly rested while Sean skated his ass off. Hardy would give him a curt nod, and his ice-time was stable. He rolled out with his line every time—Murray never held him back on the bench. He found a place on the second unit on the power play, and his name was in the newspaper, surrounded by praise. Well, comments that weren’t disparaging. A “solid agitator integral to the team’s run” and he never thought “solid” would sound so sweet. “Solid” wasn’t superfluous; “solid” was consistent, and consistency led to wins.
Sean worked his way into a rookie defenseman’s life as well. He didn’t offer advice, he didn’t loan out Carole King albums. He took what he needed and asked for what he wanted. It was an agreeable arrangement. The defenseman didn’t bother him during practice for conversation, didn’t expect Sean to come over every night. He always looked surprised when Sean arrived at his door. Surprised and delighted, and that sweetened the routine. That’s all this was, Sean stressed. He was playing well and this was better than Oprah’s “Remember Your Spirit” segment.
It may have just been routine, but Sean kept it to himself, didn’t spill any school girl secrets when he had slumber parties in Max’s room. Max was healed, but Sean was hesitant to see how far he could push him before he broke again. Softer, slower and nobody would have thought an agitator could have hands this soft, gentle, nimble. Max gave him long, sideways looks so maybe he didn’t think it either. He smiled, though, so it didn’t matter.
Sean took his time with Max, and it wasn’t all necessarily because he was moving more slowly. Life slowed down as he became more centered on the ice. The frenetic energy never spilled over; it was more contained, and he was no longer easily distracted off the ice. He’d cut back on the lattes so perhaps that lessened the jitters, too. He felt like Gretzky as the world slowed down and he could see more clearly the paths he was taking, as obvious as if a line was shooting out of his chest. He could take his time—both passenger and driver, and he liked that. He liked taking control and then watching the consequences play out on Max’s face. Slowly, and the hours seemed longer, the days stretched past 24 hours and Sean spent the extra time with Max. He tried new things, risked a little more to see what he could do to make Max laugh. There was purpose to his movements, to every game he played. There was a bit of swagger, too, as he was very much aware of his abilities. But he was in control of it all, completely inside himself. He no longer felt the pressing need to run up to the press, tell them how good he was playing. It was obvious—the excellence of it all.
With the defenseman it was hurried and electric. Frantic. It was over before it began, he said ‘goodbye’ before he managed a ‘hello’ and always came home to Max. He spent the night the first time and woke up ready to retch. This was easier on his stomach. He moved so fast it was like he wasn’t even there, and at the end of the extra long days, he still spent more than 24 hours with Max.
Sean was alone in his car, couldn’t exactly take the carpool lane from one apartment to another, so he stuck to the side roads and surface streets, listened to KROQ, KIIS, talk radio. Cruise control was impossible at 35 mph, but Sean maintained and gave at least the illusion.
In January, it rained. It rained and it rained and Sean didn’t think it was possible for an entire city to regress, to lose their driving skills, but apparently it was. Like clockwork, Sean expected snow during the winter and idiots who didn’t know how to handle their cars with ice on the road, but this was just water. Rain, and it slid right off the cars.
It didn’t go anywhere, though. L.A. only got rain, and yet most streets didn’t have any sort of drainage system for the runoff. The streets began to fill up, flood, and there’d only been a few inches falling from the skies. Sean didn’t want to think about what this place looked like during El Nino.
Sean felt like a snow plower, speeding down streets and shooting a wave of water up onto the sidewalks in a perfect arc.
“Don’t do that.”
“What if you hit someone?”
“They’d already be wet. It’s raining.”
Sean had been playing well, but the wins weren’t piling up. The bodies were instead. It was a joke, the way that their roster was turning into musical chairs. A guy would get hurt, get sent down, another sent up in his stead, only to be injured and replaced by another kid.
Harder, harder, was the mantra. As they lost skill, they had to pound the ice harder, they had to skate harder, they had to hit harder. Practice was harder and Sean was tired, especially when he strayed from the rink. He kept his nose to the grindstone and he skated, but he used up all his energy at the rink. Life outside was harder to keep up with, even at its new pace. He was too tired to change and launder his sheets so he slept in Max’s bed every night, moved his toothbrush into Max’s bathroom. Thought about moving his clothes in the closet, but that was a bit more effort. He left his dirty socks and boxers on Max’s bedroom floor though.
Tired, and Sean was sick of driving, sick of smog checks, sick of oil changes, sick of always talking about his car. Sean was tired of driving between two apartments, and the second one wasn’t even fun. It was another chore and Sean hadn’t even taken the trash out of the first apartment in three weeks because he was too lazy.
“Hey,” the defenseman said.
“Hey. Let’s do this, huh?” Only it was less of a question as he kissed his way past the doorway.
“Your clothes are wet,” he said afterwards. Sean glanced over to the pile on the floor. Sure enough, the rookie knew the difference between wet and dry. “I can put them in the dryer,” he said, already leaving.
Tired, and Sean woke up the next morning with his clothes folded on a chair in the corner. He rubbed his face then slapped the defenseman’s hand away from him, annoyed. “We’ve got practice in two hours.”
“Optional!” The defenseman smiled too bright.
Sean rolled his eyes. “It’s not optional.” He rolled out of bed and walked into the bathroom, rinsing his mouth with water from the sink.
“You can use my toothbrush, if you want.”
Sean stared at the sink for a moment. “Is this clean?” he asked, pulling a towel off its rack. After a nod, he shut the door and took a shower.
He missed his coffee. He missed his morning newspaper. He missed Max.
“Your phone rang,” the defenseman said, still lying in bed half-naked, watching Sean dress. Instinctively, he reached inside his jeans pocket before he turned to find him waving the phone about in the air. He reached for it and the defenseman pulled his arm behind his back.
He smiled. “Give me a kiss first.”
Sean wanted to punch him. He stopped his face inches shy. “Now.”
His face scrunched up in laughter and Sean fell on top of him, pinning him and then wrenching his arm and Sean’s phone away. “Ow,” he said, rubbing his arm. “It was a joke.”
Sean listened to his messages and then called home, asking Max to bring his bag to the rink. “Do you have any bananas? Cereal?” He wanted to eat something before practice.
“Yeah, in the house.” Right. Sean grabbed his shoes off the floor. “Where are you going?”
“The market. Or a deli. Where’s my wallet?”
“We can just go next door. Mrs. Laperrierre won’t mind an extra person at breakfast.”
Apartments were a joke in L.A. Sean could buy something twice the size of what he had if he was in Detroit. And the defenseman lived in less of an apartment and more of a pool house. This wasn’t L.A. but being a rookie call-up didn’t exactly pay well.
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Sean found his keys under the chair. Maybe he left his wallet in the car.
“Well, uh. I carpool with Lappy, but I’ll just go with you. We can get breakfast on the way.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” Sean walked out to the front of the house to rifle through his car for his wallet. He looked up when he heard footsteps, expecting the defenseman with his wallet. He was wearing athletic shorts, his white t-shirt on backwards and bearing a hockey bag. “Where’s my wallet?” Sean asked.
“I’ll tell you at breakfast.”
Sean hit the button for his trunk on his key fob when he saw movement in the windows from the main house. The defenseman grinned and shoved his stuff inside.
“I can’t drive without my license, you know.”
The defenseman slammed the passenger door shut. “Sure you can. You just tell the officer you left it at home, and submit proof later on. The DMV told me.” Sean sighed. “And maybe you aren’t driving without your license anyway.”
Sean started the engine.
“What size rims do you got on this thing?”
It was difficult not to run the car off the road.
Sean felt like he’d been hit by a car as he soaked in a tub of ice water after practice. One of the newbies had taken a run at him during three-on-three. It was bush league; the entire point of three-on-three was passing and wide open space. It was reassuring when some of the older guys started yapping at the kid. Ian led the dressing-down, but then nailed him against the boards when their practice lines matched up. “See, kid, that’s how you make the hit.” All the guys laughed.
Sean pulled himself out of the tub and toweled off.
Lappy handed him his wallet after he got dressed. Sean started, but Ian cut him off, saying, “Don’t worry. I know you’re not fucking my wife.”
“Where did you get this?” Sean asked stupidly.
“Tim doesn’t know how to do laundry, but my wife does.”
“You don’t think he folded your underwear, do you?”
“I wasn’t exactly thinking,” Sean attempted. Wasn’t thinking, sleep-deprived, honest, I promise this was the first time.
“Right,” Ian said, cutting through any bullshit. “Well, at least you’re aware of your limitations.”
Sean waited for Ian to lecture him, to yell at him, but it never happened. It was utterly cliché and predictable, and right about now in the movie Ian should yell at him and make him realize how stupid this was, and Sean would change his ways while he still could.
“I knew before the wallet,” Ian said.
Sean drove home, aware that Max was two cars behind him, and Sean let his foot become heavy, weaving around cars. It was stupid dangerous in this weather, and the other cars let him know it. He screamed back at them, the noise bouncing around inside the car, trapped. His words kept him company—no radio through the hills, and he was sick of all his CDs. Words pressed up against his chest, inhaling and exhaling letters, tapping out punctuation with his fingers on the steering wheel, and he pulled up to their apartment two minutes before Max despite his best efforts at speeding away.
Sean sifted through the freezer, pushing frozen meat aside and looking for something suitable before giving up and rifling through the fridge for leftovers or something to make into a sandwich. Later, he fell into bed and slept next to Max. Just a power nap, but they lay in bed afterwards, watching the KLTA Sunday movie, a hockey game. Max stretched like a cat, flung his arms and legs out in long lines, rubbing the bottoms of his feet on the bed.
Sean woke in the middle of the night to find Max’s side of the bed empty. He slid his hand along the sheet, and it was still warm. He exhaled a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding.
“Did I wake you?” Max moved from the doorway to the bed, putting a mug on the nightstand before sitting down.
Sean wrapped his arms around Max’s waist, holding him close, his head pressed against his hip. “Where’d you go?”
He looked up when Max didn’t answer to find Max looking at him strangely. He sighed, “I couldn’t sleep. So I warmed up some milk.” Max picked up the mug, offering it to Sean.
“No, I’m good.” He smiled into Max’s skin, mumbled, “I’m good.”
City lights streaming in through the window, and it was better than daylight, better than pitch black dark—softer and clearer than either, illuminating everything Sean wished to see: Max drinking milk in their bed.
The rain hit the dumpster below their window, two stories down, a percussion almost, and it beat out a pattern of words Sean would never say.
February rolled around and so did the All Star Game. Three day vacation because Sean hadn’t been invited and neither had Max. Sixty-five degrees in Los Angeles and Sean burrowed into his parka, his body failing him, California seeping into him and making him think this was cold while Matti froze his ass off in Minnesota.
They spent three days in bed, an island all their own, eating junk food and ordering Chinese, Max saying, “you’re terrible, you’re terrible” when Sean asked for and ate an extra order of spring rolls. Sean felt young and stupid, and far from the intensity, pressure, heaviness of hockey. Sean was playing decently, but the team was going under. Sean hadn’t realized the lightness that was also around all the pressure and stress of a playoff run. Your play mattered, and you knew in April you’d still be lacing your skates up. You still had hockey.
The Kings were going down quickly and Sean didn’t think they had much hope of getting into April. It was different—playing without a prize, playing purely for pride, playing to get better.
Max ordered a movie accidentally from PayPerView and Sean called the television company to cancel. The girl deducted the charge, but the movie still played, and he and Max did it three more times until the company caught on and yelled at them.
Three days became one, and it was hard for Sean to remember when one began and one ended, it all bled together, one long sticky day filled with greasy food, candy, sex and skin. A heady fragrance in the room and Sean was quite possibly drunk, naked most of the time, without clothes the rest of the time, and he was becoming more adept at distinguishing Max’s smiles. Playing detective, and he could solve Max, know everything about him if he really wanted to. He was powerful in their bed, God-like almost as he gave up all control, relaxed this All Star weekend. Sean gave in, cried ‘uncle’ and let himself lay in bed with Max and think of nothing but this.
Matti returned and the season began again. The rookie defenseman disappeared—first on the ice, and then from the roster. But he’d disappeared, been invisible to Sean for weeks. Misplaced like his wallet, but he had no desire to visit the Lost and Found. Ian called him a prick, but Sean doubted Ian really cared—just liked to call Sean names. Sean was glad about the lack of drama over the whole thing. He didn’t know what he would have done had the defenseman made a fuss.
Sean gave his all—second effort his new middle name, and Murray double-shifted him, rewarded him noticeably. Sean took nothing for granted, nodded at Murray, but he’d earned it. He finished every drill at practice, hardly ever had to skate liners. Double secret probation—yeah, right, until.
Swiping at a second chance, and sure, maybe it was in the goalie’s glove, but Salei didn’t need to get in his face. Sean got two, but so did Salei, Murray yelling at the referees over the call so he knew Murray at least liked that he’d driven towards the net, wasn’t pissed at him. “You’re an embarrassment,” he screamed at Salei. “You’re the worst fucking player in the whole God damn league.” They exchanged “fuck you”s, left the box two minutes later only to tangle again, Sean conveniently shoving his stick into Salei’s skates, Salei accidentally ramming his fist into Sean’s helmet. Salei made a joke when he’d wrestled Sean down to his knees, and it was just a joke--Sean said it five times a game to the opposition, to the refs, to Ian and the goalie sitting on the bench—but there was something in the way Salei said it that made Sean anxious in a desperate, dangerous way and he knew he was going to do something reckless in five minutes.
He slammed Lupul into the boards, because Lupul was smaller, two feet from the boards, and Sean turned around, pointed at Salei, screamed, “You’re the worst player in the whole fucking league,” before he was wrestled to the ground. He covered his head with his gloves, watched Lupul get helped over to the bench by his teammates, waited for the linesmen to start pulling the bodies off of him.
Half the team stared at him, eyes wide, as he was escorted off the ice. The other half kept their heads purposely down, eyes on their skates, their water bottles. He wasn’t sure which was worse: the horror on the faces of those who didn’t think he could do something like that or the disgust and resignation on the others because they knew it was possible.
Sean wanted to break a stick over his locker, throw his fist through the television, but he wasn’t even angry. The heat had left his face the moment it touched the ice, watched Lupul through his fingers and the limbs piled atop him.
A throwaway comment in a throwaway game between two throwaway teams, and the Kings lost by one goal. Murray didn’t yell at him, didn’t even speak to him, as if this was life, as if he’d expected it. Sean didn’t want to think he was that predictable. After all, he played on the edge; the point was that you couldn’t predict what he’d do.
“Why’d you do it?” Max asked him, later in bed. Perhaps Sean had made it a little too obvious that his intended target was Salei and not Lupul.
“I don’t know.” Sean shrugged, then rolled into Max. Gripping Max’s side, hand on rib cage, feeling for cracks, weak spots. Sean waited for Max to drink his milk, fall asleep so that the day would be over and tomorrow would come. He yawned. “Does it even matter?”
“Yes. It matters.” Max sighed. “Are you trying to fuck this up?”
Visions of purple and gold jerseys, lions on the front and an arena in New Hampshire flittering past Sean’s eyes and, of course, he didn’t want that. But this was just one game. He was safe. He could practically do anything. They couldn’t send him down with half the team demolished. So he knew he could get away with it. But that wasn’t why he’d done it.
Sean didn’t answer, fell asleep pressed up against Max, woke up later with a partial impression of him on his skin.
The next morning Max was sent down.
The phone call jarred Sean awake, middle of a REM cycle, and he woke up frantic, ready to fight.
Optional practice and he was supposed to drive to the rink and do some optional laps around the ice to atone for what he’d done, but he misplaced his keys, screamed because he couldn’t find them. Max looked at him like he was crazy but refused to help him search. “Why are you so fucking selfish? Are you jealous because I’m still in the NHL?” Max took a shower and Sean crawled around on his hands and knees, clawing at the carpet and he couldn’t breathe, maybe he was hyperventilating. He gave up looking about the same time Max got out of the shower. He laid on the bed, watched Max get dressed until it hurt to look.
He was winded--skated 50 laps, did 20 Herbies in his mind, and it was more than his lungs, his motherfucking mind hurt and he wanted to tear his eyes out. Worse than a hangover because he hadn’t even drunk, hadn’t even had fun the night before, so this was undeniably cruel.
Max placed a suitcase on the dresser, started filling it, and this was the first thing Sean saw when he eventually opened his eyes. He got up off the bed, ran straight into Max’s back, slamming him into the dresser like he’d hit Lupul the night before.
“Christ,” Max screamed, turning around and catching part of Sean’s head with his knuckles in a barely formed fist. “What the hell?” as he clutched his stomach.
Sean recovered, holding his ear and shaking away the ringing he heard. “He said something about you. That’s why I had to hit Lupul.”
Max looked alarmed. Sean caught his eyes in the mirror above the dresser—wild and desperate, and yeah, he’d be scared of him if he was Max, too. “Lupul didn’t talk to you all night.”
Max’s face changed, but not into what Sean wanted. He looked like he wanted to hit Sean, tell him how fucked up that sounded. He closed his eyes, covered his face, and then seemed almost relaxed when he removed his hands. He sighed. “Whatever. I don’t believe you.”
Whatever, and it was too Californian and Sean wanted to hit Max because didn’t Max realize he was going to New Hampshire?
“Well, it’s the truth,” he screamed when Max turned back around to fill his suitcase.
“I don’t care.”
“Where are my God damn keys? You lost my keys! You hid them—I know it.” He was crying and he felt stupid, tore the apartment apart, making a mess, leaving a trail of pills and vitamins, chucking boxes of medicine at the walls. He stomped his feet, waited for his mom to ask him if he was finished. “No,” he answered and broke a lamp in the living room.
Max came out of his bedroom, shaking his key ring. “I have to pick up my gear before I go to the airport. Do you want me to drop you off at practice?”
“I already missed part of it.”
“Oh-kay,” Max said slowly. “Do you want to drive me to the airport then?”
“And get caught in traffic on the way back?” Sean couldn’t think of anything worse—coming back from the airport and being totally trapped and unable to move.
It wasn’t fine, and Sean wanted to say so, Sean wanted to say a lot of things like, “But, wait, we’re still together, right?” Sean didn’t want Max to be fine with this, to be fine with the way Sean was acting, because Max was acting like it was completely normal for Sean to tear the place apart and scream at him. Max was acting like he didn’t care, as if he expected to be sent down, like it didn’t matter that he was playing awful and would soon be in New Hampshire, 3000 miles away.
“God, Max, why didn’t you try a little harder?”
“Christ, you’re really something.” Max grabbed his suitcase. “Grow the fuck up.” And then he left.
“Just let me fucking through!” Sean was at the airport, having called the front office and asked which flight Max was taking.
“Sir, you cannot go through this part of the airport without a boarding pass.”
He was being harassed by five guys in TSA uniforms.
“I’m trying to explain to you, I don’t have one. I just want to find my friend and talk to him.”
“Perhaps, sir, your friend has a cell phone?”
Sean glared at the guy. He’d already tried that. Max wasn’t picking up the phone. He probably wanted to have the last word. “Just let me go in there. He’s probably stuck in security, taking his shoes off.”
“Sir, for the last time, without a boarding pass—“
“Stop calling me ‘sir’!”
“You need to calm down, sir, and turn around or we will be forced to—“
“This is really important! Sir—“ Sean stopped. “I mean, ma’am, I need to get in there. He’s going to New Hampshire.”
The woman glared at him. “You can buy a ticket at the counter. And they have phones in New Hampshire as well.”
Sean was pretty sure by then it’d be too late. A cross-country flight was a long time.
This was ridiculous, and the security personnel were being impossible. “Fuck you! Let me through.”
He pushed forward, but then was suddenly on the ground. Two of the larger guys were twisting his arms, while another was handcuffing him with plastic ties. “Let me go!” he said, thrashing his legs about.
“Jerry, did he just say, ‘bomb’?”
“Oh, I definitely heard ‘bomb’.”
“Please stop resisting, sir, or we will have to use force—“
“Fuck you! Don’t you know who I am?”
Security punched him in the face. “Yeah, an asshole.”
“Oh, yeah, everybody always wants to fight me. I don’t even know why. I’m a good guy.” He was in a bar in March, celebrating the one year anniversary of his trade. “What’s your name again?”
“Rachel,” the woman said.
In the coming months, she’d become his girlfriend. She’d introduce him to a an L.A. he’d never seen, never been privy to. She’d teach him how to use the paparazzi to his advantage, to use the L.A. lifestyle to his advantage. She was many years his senior, but she partied like she was twenty, like she didn’t have two kids at home. She’d show him the darker side to L.A., the lighter side to L.A., show him L.A. was like any other city, that Sean was too hung up on the fact that it was called ‘L.A.’
Tampa Bay would win the Cup and Sean would travel the world with Rachel. Improbably, the owners would lock out the players and Sean would travel to Finland to play with the Pelicans. He’d leave abruptly after a month, return to the U.S. and play for the Motor City Mechanics with past teammates. He’d tell the press that the NHLPA lied to its members. He’d be critical of everyone involved, and then later say it was the best thing to happen to hockey. Rachel would break up with him via press release. Before the start of the next season he’d disparage French Canadian players, be accused of calling Laraque a monkey or maybe something more horrendous, be fined for diving and then doubly fined for complaining about the fine. He would yell at a television announcer, be held back by teammates from hitting the snide asshole in the face. He’d have a less than stellar relationship with Coach Murray who was sick of his antics, but it didn’t matter because before the end of the season, Murray would be canned. He would play 75 games that season, lead the league in penalty minutes, but he wouldn’t play in the final two games. He would refuse to participate in a drill during practice and get into an argument with Hardy. He would be asked to leave the ice. And then the Kings would ask him to leave for good, cutting ties with him after a meeting with the GM to discuss his (un)importance to the team.
But that was two years in the future and who would have seen that coming?
Certainly not Sean.
“I’m a good guy, really,” he said, and she smiled. “I can certainly be good for you,” and it was his best pickup line yet.
A/N: This fic began with a title. The challenge was to take a Bradbury title and write a story, and I interpreted mine quite literally.
Originally, this fic was only the very first bit, and ended with Sean telling a Max-story and throwing up on Max's bedspread. And then I kept writing. For three years. Originally, this fic ended with Sean telling a girl that he could be her "medicine" but then I threw up all over *my* bedspread.
The medicine for melancholy could have been Max, could have been actual medicine (tums, claritin, sudafed, whathaveyou), until I realized Sean's medicine was being a jerk. So medicine made less of an appearance in the latter half.
I have always had an obsession with milk.
LA made an appearance because I took a soc class and we were discussing poverty. Then I started on the LA stereotypes and went a little crazy. My sister provided most of them, and I used most of them.
Brett Hull broke up Sean for a variety of reasons (immaturity, selfishness, jealousy) but the main one was that he no longer liked being in a relationship with him.
I have the severe problem of repetition and circles, but "it turns me on" (Oh, Vincent, you gross me out) so I do it until it makes me sick. But. I liked the parallel of Tim & Lupul, Sean's silence continually causing him relationship problems, his obliviousness to the Max/Hull/pressbox parallels despite pointing them out himself. And while I used "desperate" more often, I ended up liking "terrible" the best. I like that Sean searches for consistency on the ice, but finds it in his relationships instead. Sean had a chance with LA that he never had with Detroit, and that was to get better, fill a bigger role--mature and grow up, essentially. His game has improved, and he has a spot on the PK and the PP unit. It's a larger role than he probably ever would have had in Detroit, and his game suits LA's style of play. His main problem over the years has been his brain&mouth.
The idea of having nothing to show from a relationship, not even pictures or mementos comes from an awesome Roswell Alex/Kyle fic by Livia Penn, whose site has disappeared.
"The gap between what is and what ought to be" is a Bill Clinton quote from a Jon Stewart interview.
"Sex isn't careful. If it is, you're doing it wrong" is from QAF Season 4.
"Double-secret probation" is from Animal House and is what Sean is currently under.
Sean doesn't have the prototypical airport scene because I read an article where the guy pointed out that these scenes were unnecessary--after all, if they get on the plane before you can profess your love, you can just buy another plane ticket, or you can call them. I wanted Sean to be aware of these (easy) options and dismiss them, because no matter how much he may like Max, he doesn't care about him.
I read a really awesome story on LJ (well, rl story) about a girl who was very angry and bitter at her father, who she felt robbed her of her mother. Her parents divorced after her mother left the family, and her father always spoke badly of her (not unduly. She had cheated on him and so on, but one wonders if he had to share these details with a child). Someone noted that she deserved to "have her real mom, not a fantasy perfect mom, but a woman who had flaws, yes, but who was also intensely magical in her own right." My story is all one sided, and I wanted Sean to be perpetually hung up on Brett because Brett was Brett. That he was awesome because of his play and personality (duh) but also that Brett himself was amazing (despite any flaws). Sean loved him. His love for him and of him blinded him to a lot of things, and I wanted Sean to hold onto that for a (too?) long time. Now, I think that Brett was important to Sean so that's not to say Sean should have let go of him sooner, but Sean also held onto an older Brett (who loved him and told him he was good). A magical and amazing Brett. Which brought him comfort but also allowed nothing to change. Brett moves into the background of Sean's mind as Max's presence forces things to change (but he's still there, as he should be) and Sean becomes otherwise occupied/obsessed. Sean may not be especially fond of Brett at times, but I think the awe remains. And should (because of who he was, who he is blah blah blah probably first guy he ever loved blah blah blah as an adult.. blah blah cakes).
But then. I am in love with Brett Hull. For his play and his person. The guy is humorous and honest and smart and open. Good gosh almighty, he has wit! He has a passion for the game, and when he played he seemed to genuinely enjoy it all. He played with such joy. He gave himself to the game, and I'm thankful that I saw him play and read his autobiography (genius, btw). Brett Hull is awesome. And he loves the Dallas Stars, just like me. And he loves Mike Modano just like me. And he loves loves loves hockey just like me.