Mac often tried to imagine himself waking up in bed with another man.
He was thirteen when the fantasy first appeared out of nowhere from the ether of otherwise normal hormonal thoughts. It was his first warning of his sexual preferences at a time when his sexual feelings were rarely that clear or specific.
He was not as frightened by it as he figured he should be. Nowhere near as frightened as he was once it became a real possibility.
Being gay and a pro athlete was always a volatile and inconvenient combination. Mac told himself normal gay men wouldn't and in fact couldn't understand it. Couldn't understand what it was like to have to relive the stressful experience of coming out basically every year.
Some guys might play for as many as five different teams before the season was over. That was an awful lot of awkward conversations; it was far more convenient not to have any of them.
Most gay guys couldn't understand how much was riding on the arbitrary recommendations of an important few. There was always some excuse that could diminish the stats: you played with stronger teammates; you played in a weak league; you didn't earn your ice time. Everything was about "intangibles." Did the scouts like you? Did the coaches like you? How big was the bet the team's marketing department had put on you?
Everyone knew the system had certain biases: tended to favor Canadians, tended to favor big guys, tended to favor major junior leagues over college teams. Nobody knew what sides of the biases gay was on, and sure as hell there were a whole bunch of hockey players who did not want to toss away their careers by being the first one to find out. Mac wasn't convinced a normal guy would ever understand this, and he knew he could never wake up next to someone who didn't. Anyone who was going to look at an indefinite stay in the closet as a sign of bad faith in a relationship was just not going to work as the boyfriend of a hockey player.
But then Leo Fritzgerald joined his team.
Fritzy was like him; they shared the same risks, the same ambitions, the same career. Fritzy understood him, wanted the same things he wanted, and never acted like Mac's refusal to make a stand for his sexual identity was a reflection on his character or their relationship.
Plus he looked cute when he was asleep.
Mac brushed a few locks of hair off Fritzy's forehead and delighted at how the lightest touch made Fritzy's nose crinkle, his eyes squeeze tighter together, and a blanket-covered shoulder shrug to further enclose him in sleep. A kiss produced more squirming.
"Meh... Leave me alone."
Mac smiled. The whine was sweet, less bothered, more coy and leading. Rather than apologize or argue, he placed the sloppiest kisses all over Fritzy's cheekbone and forehead.
Fritzy responded by shoving Mac onto his back. By the look in his coal-colored eyes and the smirk on his lips, Mac assumed he intended to pin him down and take his revenge in ways Mac could not object to. At least he was moving that way, hovering over him with morning lust fogging up his vision, pushing his weight up onto his right arm and yelping as it slid through the gap between their single mattresses.
Mac laughed, even as his lover freed his arm and slapped him lightly across the chest.
"Asshole," Fritzy grumbled, a smile lingering on his lips. He lay back on his side of their makeshift bed and stared up at the ceiling.
"I was thinking," Mac began. "Just now, about when I knew I was gay."
"Yeah. When did you know?"
Fritzy pressed his lips together and hummed deep. He seemed to chew over the question, flipping through millions of memories to identify just the right one. He turned back and studied Mac, his gaze ticking up and down Mac's body--perhaps trying to predict how Mac would react to the story, perhaps trying to imagine what had triggered Mac's own revelation.
"You smell like garlic," he concluded, his eyes barely open and his lips smacking together as he ran his tongue over his mouth and tried to clear the sticky feeling of morning breath off. "Everything you touch smells like garlic."
"Then it's a good thing you're not a vampire, isn't it?"
Fritzy smiled and worked deeper down under the covers. He slid his hands around Mac's waist, pulling himself closer until Mac could feel him nuzzling his back. No one would look at the two of them and figure Fritzy for the cuddler. He was broad, aloof, with beady black eyes and a default position of arms crossed over his chest. It was these features that had secured him a job pulling beers way into the night at the local sports bar. He came home smelling like an ashtray soaked in hops, which Mac figured topped garlic any day. But the flutter in his belly as Fritzy gnawed lightly on the bottom of his shoulder blade made Mac less inclined to point this out.
"Come on, it's almost ten," Mac said. "I have to go to work."
"Yes, the pizzas would be bland without it."
Once the hockey stopped, so did the paychecks. Every summer they had to compete with illegal immigrants and high school kids for the dregs of part-time employment. Landscaping, construction, bartending, retail--lots of retail--all to earn enough money to survive until hockey returned.
Usually Mac went back home and found some farmwork through people he knew. It was unglamorous but simple work. The sunburn replacing muscle pulls, the rumble of diesel engines filling in for the hum of refrigerated rinks. He found comfort in the fields, the vastness of the blue sky, and tried not to break his back loading trucks.
But as the house he shared with his single teammates started to clear out, a different idea took root.
It was Mac who talked the team manager into letting the two of them stay in town for the off-season. The team management had to pay rent on the Colony--the stubborn, slummy colonial where they boarded their single hockey players--anyway. Why not have two stocky, mean-looking hockey players around to keep an eye on it?
It was Fritzy who pushed their beds together in the center of their room so that he could rub the sleep out of his eyes on Mac's shoulder.
They just had to pay utilities and personal expenses. No escape from the burden of summer jobs, meaningless grunt work while waiting for the nip of frost to come back.
At first Mac didn't know how he felt about the idea of playing house. He definitely wanted to spend the summer with Fritzy--especially if they had to go back to playing straight once training camp started--but he wasn't sure how he felt about sleeping in the same bed. Or even separate beds side by side with an uncomfortable groove in the middle where the mattresses touched.
He didn't know how they were supposed to work as a couple, if that was what they were. Everything he knew about building a relationship with someone used male and female figures.
Then one night he'd kissed Fritzy behind the ear and heard the content murmurs made in response from his sleeping partner.
Okay, they could try it. Maybe it would be fun.
Fritzy draped his arm around Mac's waist, and Mac's head felt fluttery and light. Fun, yes, that was the word for it.
"Fritz," he whined. "I can't be late again."
His partner's fingers were unsympathetically slipping down his abs, making his morning erection perk up and pay more attention. Mac shifted onto his back and stared at the numbers on the bedside clock. If he skipped a shower and didn't consider how slutty it was to show up smelling of sex to flip pizzas, he could probably make it.
Well, then, no time to waste. He wiggled down under the covers, wetting his lips and searching for the most sensitive skin to tempt with his tongue.
Fritzy hissed as Mac's cheek grazed the base of his cock. His hands were suddenly clamped down on Mac's shoulders. He kicked the covers away; the look on his face was not what Mac expected.
Fritzy ran the side of his index finger gently over the same skin that had brushed against him.
"Is this your terribly unsubtle way of telling me I can't blow you until I shave?"