A Trick of the Light
Disclaimer: Dude, as if I owned anything.
Summary: Post Arnott-McKay/Nieuwendyk-Langenbrunner trade; Arnie reflects on said trade and his relationship with Petr Sykora.
AN: Inspired by the lovely Roswell fic by the same name: A Trick of the Light by Maggie. *sigh* How I love her.
I never planned Texas.
I have my day planner from last year. And the year before that, and the year before that. I don’t know why, but I just can’t seem to let go. And seeing each year’s planner all lined up in a perfect row, their spines aligned and smooth against the wooden shelf it just--it just brings me comfort. Something tangible from the past that I’m able to hold onto.
Every now and then, when my thumb feels that uncontrollable urge to twitch, I go into my office and pull 2001 off of the shelf, and I flip back to March. I stare at the two dates--one on either side of the spine-and I wonder why there isn’t a big fat red note scrawled, and circled, marking the trade.
And then I remember.
I never planned Texas.
I remember hearing the news. I remember gasping for breath, clutching the cell phone in my hand until my fingers ached. I remember Petr prying my fingers open so he could speak to Wade and figure out why I was refusing to breathe, refusing to move.
He stared at me after speaking with Wade briefly, and I swear, I saw his heart break. I saw it break and crumple, and fall to the ground, dust meeting dust, and I couldn’t breathe, but I could see all this, and I remember thinking quite distinctly that I hadn’t planned any of this. I planned the car ride out to the restaurant, I planned the reservations, I even planned the salmon and the hollandaise sauce I knew Petr was going to order, and then end up spilling all over his white linen shirt, but I did not plan this. I didn’t plan sitting in a car outside of said restaurant, gripping the steering wheel and struggling to breathe.
Petr finally broke the silence with some tragically stupid and loving words, and I stared at him, eyes wide, wondering why he was talking when I was sitting there clutching the wheel to my brand new red Lamborghini, barely breathing and just traded to the Dallas Stars.
He was falsely cheerful, and we went ahead with dinner because I had planned it, after all. He ordered salmon complete with hollandaise sauce, and I ordered steak, because I always order steak when we go out to restaurants on days we aren’t playing, and he sat across from me making polite conversation, and blushing when he spilled yellow sauce all over his white linen shirt. I stared at the yellow globs; I stared through him, and all I could think about was packing. I was staring at Petr’s face and he was smiling, but all I saw were my suits and shirts hanging up on their wooden hangers, waiting for me to come home and pack them.
“We have to go,” I said, standing up, throwing bills down on the table, and walking out before Petr could protest. He followed, like I knew he would, and I drove him back to his apartment. He reached for me, but when I flinched, as if on cue he reeled backwards, his clumsy hands searching for the door handle as he stared at me.
I took off before he could say anything--tires squealing in my head, rather than his voice. I went home and packed immediately. Folding slacks in thrice, and jeans in twos, and hanging my best suit up to be worn to the airport the next morning, I filled all my luggage to the brim and cried when I realized not all of my clothes would fit.
I spent the night painstakingly choosing which clothes to pack. I debated for hours, and disgusted with myself, I stuffed all my clothes into the hamper. I packed an old dress shirt still hanging in the closet, my underwear, black socks, and all my shoes. I decided buying new clothes in Dallas would be easier.
I talked to Mike, and he gave me the number to his personal assistant. She gave me Carl’s number--an unassuming, short bald, man who while didn’t close stores for personal fittings like he had with Mike, always kept a long rack of clothes by the dressing rooms.
I stare at the seemingly endless row of hangers and clothes in my closet. Neatly they line up and I brush the shoulders of a few blue jackets ridding them of invisible lint. I step back and exhale, and it sounds like contentment, and it sounds like happiness, and it sounds like pride. And staring at the wooden hangers, staring at the way my closet flows from white shirts to darker colors, and jeans to slacks, and casual suits to the lone tuxedo near the end, I smile with the knowledge that I am proud.
I am proud of my closet. Proud of my life in Texas so far. Proud of my career.
I slide the closet doors shut in my bedroom, staring at the mirror, and I smile at my reflection. But then something flickers, and I turn quickly from the mirrors, and away from the room. I glance backwards and sigh. It is just a trick of the light, and I run a hand through my hair.
The doorbell rings and it is Tina, my maid. My mother scoffs at the idea of a maid, but I am twenty-seven, a bachelor, and I like a neat house.
I also enjoy the casual screw and after she scrubs the tub, I invite her up to my bedroom. She writhes below me and I fantasize about French maid skirts and aprons, even though Tina wears white polo shirts and shorts.
She leaves when it’s over, and I curse myself for inviting her up before she finished cleaning the bathroom. I think about the grime on the tiles and how she won’t be back for another week, and I wonder how quickly mildew can grow, and whether it’ll be easier to just move to a new house rather than deal with the mess.
Messes can be tricky; especially if they spread and move. Move, like Petr did, when he was traded to Anaheim last summer. That was unexpected and unplanned, and caught me off guard, especially when he showed up on my front steps unannounced.
I like Tina. She comes every Tuesday at 3 p.m. and wears a white polo shirt with the emblem of her company stitched over her left breast.
Petr showed up Thursday morning, and I had to cancel my afternoon of riding around on my motorcycle. I resented him all morning for ruining my plans, but then we went swimming and I slipped back into our old patterns. I felt a rush of excitement as I slipped back into the comfort that we once had in New Jersey. His skin was beautiful and I could still see the impressions of my hands, months old, on his body, and I traced them, eliciting the same sounds from him that were burned into my memory.
I was happier than I had been in months, and when the phone rang, I reached over to the bedside table to turn it off, but my hand hit nothing but air. I recalled that my apartment in New Jersey had tables by the bed, but my house in Dallas had none.
I stared at the ceiling, listening to the phone ringing and echoing through my house until the answering machine picked up. Petr rolled over and I smiled, but I didn’t feel the same fullness as before, knowing how unplanned this visit was, how unplanned this aspect of our lives was, and how quickly it could all change again.
I swallowed as he lazily stretched out in bed. “I’m supposed to go down to the shop and see how my bike is coming along today. And then maybe we can go get something to eat at West Creek? They have this great old movie theatre out there too.”
He smiled, eyes shut. “Let’s just play it by ear.”
I shifted. “Well, I think I had a pretty good plan. West Creek is right by the shop and--”
“Jason.” He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “Jason, you don’t always have to plan things. We’ll go to the shop and then we’ll… let’s just be spontaneous, okay?” He sighed and rolled back over.
“I want to eat at West Creek.”
His back stiffened, and then a moment later, “Okay, we’ll go.”
I threw the covers back, stepping out of bed. “You don’t have to go with me. I’m not forcing you.”
I brushed my teeth as he ambled out of bed. When he approached the bathroom, I shut it, locking it. I hopped into the shower, letting the water drown out his soft knocks on the door. He was asleep when I reemerged from the bathroom, and I dressed quickly. My thumb twitched softly as I drove down to the shop. I listened, annoyed, as Bob explained to me how the parts he needed for my bike were delayed in the mail. I blamed it on the heat as I apologized to him for my anger, and I could see him sliding the blocks around in his head and shuffling me into the “overpaid rich asshole” category. I mentally recalculated my steps, pondering what I’d have to do on future visits to change his view of me.
Upset, I left the shop and slipped into my car, and promptly began to melt. I turned the air conditioning on full blast, and it cooled my car, but not my face, and I stared at the black asphalt, gripping the steering wheel and watching the heat rise off the road.
Someone knocked on my window, and I imagine my face broke out into shock, and then happiness as Petr opened the door. I was able to relax and breathe normally again.
“I’m hungry. Do you know any good restaurants around here?”
We drove to West Creek, and had the best sandwiches ever, and I stared at him, sitting across the table from me, my chest swelling with something that felt like love. We watched a movie later at an old movie theatre and I held his hand, and never wanted to let go.
I close my eyes, and for a moment I can still feel the palm of his hand in mine. His hands were cool like paper, and my hands were hot and wet, and I ache just thinking about it. I walk downstairs and make myself a snack from the refrigerator. I cut the sandwich perfectly in half, and sit in my freshly vacuumed living room to watch highlights on Sports Center. I watch the results unfold from the previous night’s games, and nod in agreement with the anchors, even though I already know the results from the paper.
I stretch my muscles when the hour recap is over and put my dishes in the dishwasher before returning to my office. I fish a key out of the second drawer in my desk, whistling a tune as I walk down the hallway towards the downstairs guestroom. I pause briefly at the lock, remembering Petr’s hand on the doorknob, testing it.
I bite my lip, then shake the memory from my head as I open the door and sit on the bed, staring across the room at the closet. It’s always the same--this feeling as I sit here. The fear, the worry, a tinge of excitement, and overriding it all the guilt, and the shame, and knowing that maybe this is wrong--that every time it’s wrong, but also knowing the feelings that rush through me while I’m doing it. That this is so utterly right and just feels… like it fits, and I’m able to blur the image of my mother crying or looking at me in disgust in my mind.
I think that Petr--I stop, shaking my head before I can even think that thought, and stand up.
He had tested the door, rattling it and frowning.
“Jason? This door is locked.”
“It’s the guestroom. I thought you were staying in my room,” I called, laughing from inside the living room. Laughing made me feel more at ease, and I hoped it washed away any of Petr’s unease, and perhaps questions as well.
No such luck, however, when he returned, standing in front of the TV, in front of Sport Center and blocking my view. “Jason? Why is the door locked?”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t have a dead body in there, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
He sighed, frustrated. “I know that…it’s just… I don’t like having locked doors in the house.”
He said “the house” but it sounded more like “our house” and I wondered when I had added his name to the deed. It had only been three and a half weeks, and I couldn’t recall making any trips to the bank. “Yeah, and I don’t like it when you use up the last of my shampoo.”
“Jason,” he warned, and when I made shooing motions with my hand, he shut the TV off completely. He sat on the couch next to me, and he sighed like an old frustrated man--like my father--and I felt my breath catch because I knew what he was going to say next. I knew what he was planning--I could see the speech formulating in his brain, and I knew he would talk about Anaheim and California being so far away, and how he felt like I wasn’t really committed to making this relationship work, and how it would be so much easier if we just said goodbye now before the summer was over.
My tongue stumbled and tripped in my mind because I hadn’t seen this coming, and I had no idea what I would say to him to make him stay. I had no plan, and I was lost, and I closed my eyes because I could feel him slipping away, but I didn’t know what to do.
“Jason,” he began again, “I don’t understand why you… why won’t you let me in?” I swallowed, eyes still shut, and I imagined him growing frustrated and leaving in a huff, but he continued from across the couch. “Not--not just the stupid guestroom. I mean in--into you, into your life. I’ve never met your family. I’m just seen as a teammate and friend by your brother. You tell me they’re busy and that we have to plan visits, but… but I don’t think you’re ever going to plan that trip because I’ve been waiting for you to plan it for two years.
“And even that! The stupid planning shit. I mean, I figured you just felt more comfortable with things planned in the beginning because you felt uncomfortable around me and our relationship was new but… I feel as if we can’t do anything unless you plan it. I feel like you’re planning our relationship. You’re planning how close you let me get to you, you’re planning how long this lasts, how far we go…
“I can’t… I can’t live like that, Jason. I love you. I love you so much, but I… I just can’t take much more of this. I need you to let me in. Please, Jason.”
And I led him down the hallway, nervous and hand shaking and unlocked the door. Just a normal guestroom with scones on the wall and a green comforter, and I watched as he searched the room, confused, and then discovering, and then shocked and heartbroken and ashamed and disgusted, and watched him run out of the room, and out of the house, and out of my life. I stared at the door, swinging in his wake, and heard the wheels on his rented car squealing.
I finally opened my eyes. “I’m--I’m sorry,” I said, my voice as shaky as his. "I can't." Open the door. Let you in. Not now. Not ever.
He nodded and I couldn’t bear for him to kiss me, knowing it could possibly be the last time ever, so I walked out into the garage, sat on the concrete, and stared at my Harleys while he packed.
I stood up hours later to find him gone, and I stand up now to still find him gone. My heart aches the same as I open the closet and pull out a hanger. I lose my clothes, and swallow--my throat thick and closing as I think about Petr. I pull on the cool material, smoothing it down, and stare at myself in the mirror.
He said he loved me, but I don’t think he really did. You don’t just leave people you love. You don’t leave people you love just because they don’t introduce you to their parents. When he said he loved me… I think he loved the idea of me more than he really loved me. He loved the Jason in his head. When he looked at me, he saw the man he wanted to see-he never really saw me.
He saw something below my exterior that was never there. Below the smooth talking, often loud mouthed guy from Wasaga who liked country music and lots of women and sex, he thought he saw a frightened boy. He thought I was afraid to fall in love. He thought I loved him, but was afraid to let him know that. I think he likened me to a character in a made-for-TV-movie. He thought I had problems, and that my problems were simple fixable things that could be washed away with enough “I love you”s and a two-hour time slot.
But I’m not a stupid Lifetime movie. I didn’t turn to sex because I was afraid of love. I didn’t shirk away from Petr because I was afraid to love him.
He turned away from me. He walked away. He wanted me to be somebody who I’m not.
I sigh, smoothing the material, and giving my reflection a half-smile. I am who I am. I’m Jason Arnott. I’m from Wasaga Beach. I like Harleys and Lamborghinis, and generally blondes with big tits. I once played for Edmonton. I was supposed to be their golden child, but then I was traded to New Jersey. I fell in love and was traded again. I thought, foolishly, last summer that things might work out between us--that a long distance relationship could work. It couldn’t, though, and now I am single again. I do enjoy planning things, and I wear a gold necklace with a Stanley Cup charm. And sometimes…
I stare at my reflection, and the man I see looks tired and sad, and like he wants to make a long distance phone call to Anaheim. I blink, and it is just a trick of the light, and I turn slightly to admire myself: blue suits me.
And sometimes I wear dresses.
AN: I am well aware that not only is the likelihood of Jason wearing dresses extremely slim, we all know he would look very ugly in one. And this Jason digresses from the personality and idea commonly accepted out in the fandom world, but with most ideas without faces, I usually pick on Stevie Y. or Whore, and while Stevie probably would look better in a dress and heels, Stevie is a Wing for life and will never be traded. C'est la vie.