Dante woke up feeling like he could fight God and win. A 5-1 victory at home to start the season, followed by a night out with the boys? He had buns of steel and a titanium liver. He was invincible.
Or that was what he thought until he rolled out of bed and tripped on last night’s pants, which he’d left in the middle of the floor. He managed to catch himself before he fell, but he stubbed his toe on the corner of his dresser.
Maybe his mother was right and he should’ve looked for a place with one of the other guys on the team so he’d be more motivated to pick up after himself. It also would’ve prevented this whole weird loneliness thing he had going on. He should’ve been used to it—he was an only child—but he’d spent his adolescent years with billet families, and then last year he’d had Flash’s whole family around whenever he was home.
He might’ve felt kind of weird about his gay porn experiment if he’d had a roommate, though.
Practice was optional this morning, so Dante took his time waking up. He limped into the kitchen for coffee, flexing his toes to make sure he hadn’t broken anything, and considered the results of the experiment.
Conclusively, he was bi. For a few minutes after the revelation he’d sort of stared at his dick in shock, wondering what had taken it so long to clue in his brain. Dante had seen a lot of naked guys in his life.
Then he remembered what the locker room smelled like. Anyone who could think about sex despite the olfactory assault of twenty-three dudes competing to create the world’s rankest hockey gear stench should have their brain studied for science.
Now that he’d made up his mind, he wanted to tell his parents. It wasn’t that he didn’t have secrets from them—he had boundaries, even if they were flimsier than a lot of people’s. He just didn’t like the thought of them not knowing. He wanted them to have a clear picture of their son.
And, okay, he also wanted some advice. Dante was not accustomed to discretion, and the idea of living in the closet made him feel like he was going to break out in hives. But coming out would be a pain in the ass.
Also, Abuela was going to flip her shit.
Dante pulled his coffee toward himself and hunched his shoulders as he thought about it. His grandmother loved him, had doted on him as a child. They’d always been close. He’d looked forward to long weekends at her house, just the two of them making flautas and working in her garden and occasionally watching one of the milder telenovelas.
Of course, she’d also insisted on dragging him to Mass. Dante had a hard time sitting still as an adult—it was torture as a child.
Dante hadn’t been to church with her since he was old enough to play travel hockey. Maybe things had changed. Or maybe Abuela still nodded in approval at everything the priest said.
He wouldn’t really know until he talked to his dad. And since he wasn’t planning to attend practice, he had time this morning.
But when he picked up his phone to make the call, he found it littered with notifications from the team group chat, news sites, missed calls, and a text from his former billet sister. Madre de dios. Did he get traded?
He opened the text first. Rina was a straight shooter; he could trust her to get right to the point.
She’d sent a link, along with the message hope your friend is ok. Send him my best.
NHL Superstar Gabriel Martin’s Secret Gay Love Affair
There was a picture of two men together, taken in a bed. They were both shirtless. Dante didn’t recognize the man on the left, but the one on the right was obviously Gabe. His eyes were closed.
Oh motherfucker. Had the guy taken a picture while Gabe was sleeping? What a fucking scumbag. Who did that?
Dante stared at his phone for another three seconds.
Then he cursed, scrambled up from the table, and ran back to the bedroom for his pants, all while dialing his phone. Gabe’s phone rang and rang, but he didn’t pick up.
Last night’s jeans smelled like vodka, but he wasn’t going to waste time looking for clean ones. He pulled on the first clean T-shirt on the top of his laundry pile and struggled into it. Keys, keys, keys—whywasn’t Gabe picking up?
Dante didn’t have his address. He had no idea if Gabe would be at home. Where was Dante even going to go? Practice?
Maybe Gabe wouldn’t be there—he was hardly out to his closest friends; Dante doubted he wanted to face the whole team—but Dante could go nip any asshole comments in the bud. He could… he didn’t know. Make it clear to everyone that Dante had Gabe’s back, for whatever that was worth. He was already late for it, but better late than never, right?
Fuck, he really hoped he didn’t have to punch anybody. In the bigger picture, Gabe was an important player. He was one of the best wingers in the league. On the ice, he was irreplaceable. Anyone else with his skill would’ve been made captain years ago.
But he didn’t want it. He kept to himself. He didn’t let his teammates get close.
Dante just hoped that didn’t mean they’d be ready to turn on him.
He pulled into the players’ lot driving way too fast and parked like an asshole. Gabe still wasn’t picking up his phone. Fuck. Dante shoved his cell into his pocket and booked it for the locker room—
Only to skid to a halt before he could run into Coach St. Louis in the hallway. “Baltierra.” She inclined her head, but her eyes were narrowed. “Don’t you check your messages?”
Dante said, “Uh.”
He couldn’t get a read on her. There were rumors that she spent the off seasons in Vegas, bluffing her way through the highest-stakes games and taking unsuspecting yuppies for all they were worth.
After a moment she softened a bit. “Practice is canceled today.” She waved her hand vaguely. “Given the… circumstances… front office wants to present a united front.” Dante could practically hear the air quotes. “Which means they have to figure out how to do that.”
Right. Of course front office didn’t know either. “Oh,” he said. “So is there gonna be, like, a meeting…?”
“The details are in the email,” she said evenly. Coach should’ve been a lawyer or something. “You ran in here pretty fast. Do you have something you need to say?”
Dante deflated. All the urge to do something was still there, but there was nowhere to put that energy. He couldn’t do anything. “No, I just… I wanted to be here for Gabe. In case I could… help.” Ugh. He hated how childish that sounded.
But Coach surprised him by smiling—a small, wry thing, but a real one. “You’re a good kid, Dante. I’m sure he’d appreciate it if he were in any state to think about anything other than damage control.”
“Wait, he’s here?”
“You boys must’ve had quite a night after the game. He came in looking like he’d pledged a frat last night, said he forgot his phone on the dresser. He had no idea….”
Jesus. Dante hoped everyone else had gotten the message and stayed home. “Is he still here? Can I wait for him?”
She pursed her lips and looked him up and down. “You swear you’re not here to give him a hard time?”
“Coach, I’m here to punch anyone who tries.”
She let out a long breath as though considering. “All right. He’s up in the PR office talking to Tricia. I guess there’s no harm if you wait outside. But for fuck’s sake don’t make this worse.”
“I won’t!” he promised, already backing away. “Thanks, Coach!”