My Last Day Without You
Chapter 11: And Then You

by Quinn D.K.

"I don't have time for this," Ezra said. He couldn't keep the tremor out of his voice.

"Then I'll try to be succinct." Patrick sounded identical to his Dateline interview, frosty and precise. "I'm quite aware of what's transpired between you and Henrik today. I believe most of the continent is. I wish to impart some advice, as someone who was once intimately entrenched in Henrik's so-called 'secret life'."

Ezra knew he should have ended the call the moment Patrick made his identity known, but he had a hard time tearing himself away from the man's voice. He felt like the victim in a slasher movie being toyed with by a masked villain.

"Cut your losses and leave now," Patrick said. "Henrik will never let anyone or anything become as important as hockey. You will always be second, third, or fourth best to him. If you're lucky. The man has no compassion, no heart."

"That's not true," Ezra said immediately.

"No? I have a few contacts at the Portland Knights' PR firm and I've heard that Henrik's about to broadcast an apology on TSN. Apparently he's going to tell the world that meeting you was a mistake. Doesn't sound all that compassionate to me."

He gripped the sides of his iPhone so hard he could have sworn he heard it start to crack. "You don't know what you're talking about."

"No? Hm. We'll see by the end of the night. You're young, Ezra, and you deserve better than a man who thinks nothing of you. Don't waste your time on him. You'll never come first."

Ezra wished he had something witty and biting to jab back with but all that came to mind was a storm of profanities. He ended the call without another word said. He wasn't sure who he was angrier at - Patrick for his parade of slander against Henrik - or himself for maybe, possibly considering the kernel of truth buried in what Patrick had said.

"Ez? Jesus, there you are!" Vi appeared from across the street and ran to him. "What happened? Did you guys-" The look on her brother's face stopped her cold. She folded him into her arms and held him there, in the middle of the busy sidewalk in front of the fanciest hotel in the city.

"I need a drink."

"You never want a drink."

"I think I'm entitled to one tonight."

Ezra and Violet found their way toward The Draught, a small pub across the street from the Fairmont Royal York. It was packed even for a Friday night and Violet had to use some creative elbowing to get them a booth. As they settled in, Ezra decided he liked the atmosphere. Something about the crowd distracted him from his own thoughts. He hoped the worst of it had escaped his system outside with his sister.

"We don't have to be so close to the Fairmont, you know. We could go somewhere closer to midtown." Violet worried the edge of a drink menu between her fingers. She didn't ask what happened in the hotel, but she didn't need to.

He shook his head and got up. "No, this is fine."

"Are you mad at me?"


"At Xavier?"

"No. Vi, I'm not mad at- look, I'm getting something from the bar. You want anything?"

She sighed. "Just water."

Ezra made his way to the bar in the middle of the room. Violet wasn't the only one staring - several more patrons ogled him curiously, whispering to each other, confirming or questioning their recognition. He tried to ignore it but by the time he reached the bar to order his drink, a rather large man approached him.

"You him? You're that boy, right?" The man's deep-set eyes searched him top to bottom. He was older with a bit of a paunch, a salt and pepper beard, and his hair hidden by a Jays baseball cap.

Oh, great. A sports jock.

"Just trying to order a drink," Ezra said calmly. "That's all."

"How come you're not with Henrik?"

Ezra ignored him and tried to flag down the busy bartender.

"I tell ya," the jock continued, "A man like that? I wouldn't let him out of my sight. You two not together anymore or what?"

Ah. A gay sports jock.

"That's really nobody's business."

A deep snort of disbelief. "Maybe you shoulda thought of that before putting that picture on Twitter."

Ezra walked further down the bar, hoping the man would take the hint. He was too tense for this right now, too fragile. But the sports jock followed.

"You know, there's a reason you two didn't work out," he continued, his loud voice rising above the din of the pub. "Henrik's a real man. And real men don't want a cute little snack like you. They want a full meal. You get what I'm saying?"

"I get that you're capable of metaphors," Ezra said dryly. "And I'm very proud of you. Gold star. Please leave me alone now."

"If you and the Viking really are done, tell him I said hi. I'll treat him right. Something you obviously couldn't do."

"Hey." The voice didn't come from Ezra but someone behind the sports jock. For a fleeting, unreal moment he thought it was Henrik dashing to his rescue. But it was Xavier who appeared out of nowhere, so driven and serious that Ezra didn't recognize him at first. "The young man asked you politely. Now move before I move you myself."

The jock sized his opponent up and backed off, grumbling under his breath. Xavier brought his arms around Ezra and pulled him close. The intimacy - while startling - was welcome. "I'm sorry," Xavier whispered. "I'm so sorry."

Ezra's nose came up to his shoulder and the scent of Xavier's sporty cologne made his yearning for Henrik so, so much worse. "It's okay," Ezra whispered back. He feared any higher a volume would expose the cracks in his voice.

Xavier nodded to the bartender. "Let's get you that drink. It's on me."


"Henrik, how do you respond to critics who-"

"-been making waves online, especially the confrontation at PopViral's head office-"

"Do you consider that leaked picture at all distasteful-"

"-any truth to the rumors you're being forced to-"

"Where is Ezra Grayson right now and why hasn't he-"

The questions flew fast and furious. Henrik blinked away the bright, angry flashes that danced in his eyes. When he regained focus he saw nothing but eager men and women yelling over each other to be heard. It was nightmarish. If there hadn't been a broadcast crew from The Sports Network between them, he feared the press would have rushed the stage for his attention.

"Okay, enough," Taggert said into his mic. "Give the man a chance to speak."

Henrik, bracing himself under the weight of every eager stare in the room, leaned into the microphone. "I am only here to talk about our win against the Leafs last night. I will not answer any questions pertaining to my personal life, but I will give one statement to address the events of today. Afterward, I will only accept questions about last night's game. Does everyone here understand that?"

He peered into the crowd and saw several nodding heads.

This is it, Viking. This is your time. Just duck and weave and dodge. Get through it.

Henrik pulled out the flashcard. Something else fell from his pocket as his hand retracted, something plastic and the size of a quarter. It hit the floor by his foot. Once Henrik picked it up and brought it to the light, his frown disappeared.

Well, I'll be damned.

It was a green chip from Ezra's Strip Truth or Dare game. The chip that represented a player's ability to ask any Truth or Dare question they desired.

The sight of it melted him. He must have slipped it into his pants pocket at some point that afternoon - he couldn't remember when. Touching the plastic surface to his thumb transported Henrik all the way back to that apartment. He could smell Ezra's shampooed hair, feel the smooth curve of his back, and taste that pouty bottom lip on his tongue.

Worried murmurs started to rise from the crowd of reporters. Taggert whispered fiercely into his ear, "Ford. The apology. Now."

Henrik squeezed the green chip in his hand and lifted his gaze back to the audience. The question marks in his mind vanished.

Show them the kind of man you are, Marta had told him.

For the first time in what felt like forever, he could see everything clearly.


Ezra didn't realize the pub had TV sets mounted along its walls until the owner began switching them on one by one and setting each channel to TSN.

"Va te faire foutre!" Xavier cried from their booth. Beside him, Violet glanced over his shoulder to see the commotion. Each screen flickered with the same images: Henrik and Taggert sitting at a press table, camera lights flashing over their serious faces.

The back of Ezra's neck prickled with fear.

"We can leave if you want," Violet said, tight with concern.

Ezra pressed the pint of ale to his lips. He tasted the bitter, bubbly liquid but didn't allow himself to enjoy it. Since his little clash with the sports jock, more eyes had darted in his direction. The whispers were deafening. Still, he didn't want to bury his head in the sand. He'd rather dig in his heels. "No, let's stay."

"Are you sure?"

He stared ahead, solemn and quiet. "Not really. But I don't think I can avoid this forever."

Henrik's face was ashen, his eyes darker and more hollow. His hair was combed and damp, whether from a shower or perspiration, Ezra couldn't tell. He wasn't looking at anyone directly and his hands fiddled with that same flashcard he pored over in that meeting room. The man's anxiety practically radiated from the screen.

Xavier mouthed a silent prayer and crossed himself. Violet gripped her napkin hard enough to tear it. The entire pub fell silent at once.

Henrik raised his face until it was clearly visible to the nearest camera. "There's obviously been a lot of chatter about certain events I've been involved with today. And I would like to apologize." He took the flashcard and held it before him so the camera could get a good shot. "But I refuse to speak the words someone else has written." With one swift motion, Henrik tore the flashcard in half and let the pieces fall to the table. Somewhere in the press room, a woman unleashed an angry croak.

Xavier half-chuckled, half-gasped. "Je n'arrive pas à y croire!"

In the press room, Henrik ignored the slight chatter that had erupted. "There is only one person I would like to apologize to. And I'm using this opportunity to speak to him directly. If you're watching this right now, Ezra... I'm sorry."

The pint glass slipped from Ezra's hand. It landed upright on his table with a thick clunk and splashed his hand with beer. Several faces snapped in his direction.

Henrik looked directly into the camera. "I hurt you and I wish I could take it all back. You were right when I said that I was expecting the worst. That wasn't fair to you. I left because I was overwhelmed and I couldn't think clearly. I... I messed up."

Ezra didn't remember doing it, but he stood. He stood and walked to the nearest TV. He gawked in wonder at the pixels of light that comprised the image of Henrik Ford - the unreadable and gruff and guarded hockey captain who did everything in his power to avoid the media - as he poured his heart out on national television.

For him. To him.

"I don't regret a single thing we've done together. I won't let anyone tell me what we did was wrong and I don't care if we're the only two people who understand," Henrik continued. His voice rose with each word, gaining confidence and purpose with every syllable. "I'm not perfect. But when I was with you today, Ezra... it made me want to be a better man." The color returned to his face, splotches of emotional reds and pinks across his bearded cheeks and down his nose. "You make me want to be a better man."

The cold fear that gripped Ezra vanished completely.

"I didn't like being a called a hero before. I didn't understand what it meant or how I was supposed to live up to it. That word comes with a hell of a lot of pressure. So when you called me one, Ezra, I was confused and scared. But I don't feel that way anymore." Henrik looked down at the table. When he looked up again, his blue eyes were glistening. "I'll be your hero, your Viking, your Superman. If you let me. If you'll have me back. I'll protect you every day that we're together." His voice cracked on the last word. After another beat of silence, Henrik held his head up high and squared his jaw. The look of a man overcoming his darkest fear. "That's all I have to say."

The tears came to Ezra quickly. He wanted to be there beside him, to hold him, kiss him, tell him he wanted everything that Henrik did. He wanted a future, a later, to land safely back on the same page together.

I have to see him. Now.

The thought rumbled through him like a freight train. He grabbed his mostly full pint off the table and walked several booths down to the sports jock. The man glanced up for one small, pithy moment as Ezra smiled, craned his neck, and dumped the entire glass of ale into the man's lap. A moment passed, sizzling the air with shock, and then scandalized voices around them fluttered into a cacophony.

"The Viking says hi," Ezra said with a hardness that surprised even him. The sports jock stared at his soaking lap and froze, mouth agape. Across the room he heard Xavier and his sister unsuccessfully hold back a chorus of stunned laughter.

Ezra made his way through the crowded pub toward the exit, knowing he had the attention of everyone around him. For once, he wasn't afraid.


Henrik's focus went from the astonished faces of the press to his vibrating phone on the table.

"Ford," Taggert hissed from the side of his mouth. "What the hell are you doing?"

Ignoring him, Henrik read a text from Xavier: 'Across the street. He's coming 2 u'

Smiling, the captain rose from his seat. "I'll just be one moment, folks. Or if you'd like to take over, Coach, feel free."

"Ford!" Taggert screamed this time. Henrik let him.

Moments later, Henrik pushed through the front doors of the hotel and was met with a sea of paparazzi photographers. He'd never seen so many at once and his presence lit them like a match. Lights immediately flashed in his face, each click and shutter like a thrown punch.

Henrik didn't care.

He held his arms outward and moved through them, pushing aside every long lens and camcorder that came near his face.

Get out of my way, get out of my way, Henrik repeated silently, desperately. He's across the street, get out of my way, get out-

The path eventually cleared out and Henrik started running, full speed, as a figure emerged from a small pub several dozen feet away from him.


It was really him. He stayed. He waited. He was there.

Their eyes found each other. Henrik ran faster. "EZRA!"

The younger man smiled, so wide and so handsome, his face shimmering with hope and relief. They both ran until they met in the middle of the road. Paparazzi swarmed them on all sides, shouting and jostling for their attention.

Henrik still didn't care.

He scooped Ezra into his strong arms and lifted the boy off his feet until they were swinging in wide circles, fast and loose, not caring if they hit anyone. Henrik crushed Ezra's body to his and took in the scent of his neck, his shirt, his hair, his entire essence. He'd never smelled anything sweeter in his life.

"Henrik..." The word barely escaped the younger man's mouth, strangled with emotion. "I... I..."

"I know." He held Ezra tighter. He wasn't letting go this time. No, not ever.

Cameras flashed and clicked around them. An audience of twinkling cicadas. Voices shouted encouragement and surprise, car horns honked, passersby whistled and hooted, but Ezra and Henrik only saw and heard each other.

"I'm so sorr..." He wasn't able to get the full sentence out before Ezra's lips claimed his, fiery and passionate and consuming. There was so much Henrik wanted to say and apologize for, but for now, it could wait. Especially for a kiss as scorching as this. Limbs entangled and grips tightened around torsos and waists. The world that tried so hard to suffocate them faded into nothing.

When he pulled away from the kiss and absorbed the flushed, dreamy expression on Ezra's face, Henrik realized just how much sense they made together. They fit perfectly - the final two pieces of a long, difficult puzzle.

End of Chapter 11
To Be Continued

(It's not over yet! Stick around for the next chapter!)

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