My Last Day Without You
Chapter 2: Penalties and Recoveries
by Quinn D.K.
Henrik's slap shot went wide and missed the net completely.
Fuck- whack- my- whack- life- whack!
Henrik looked up from the line of pucks he had destroyed to see his teammate
and best friend, Xavier Brunner, leaning toward the ice from the players' box.
Xavier was showered and dressed in jeans and a Knights tee - maroon with their
silly dragon logo. Suppressing another profanity at his missed shots, Henrik
skated over to the bench.
"What do you need, Xav?"
"The other guys are getting dressed. They wanted me to ask when you were done,"
Xavier said. His French accent remained thick as ever but his English had
improved immensely since joining the Knights as a defenceman last year. "We
need our captain if we are to celebrate la
victoire over lunch, non?"
Henrik yanked off one of his gloves and removed his helmet. "You can head off
Xavier's dark eyes narrowed slightly. "Something is bothering you."
Henrik took a seat on the bench and ran his fingers through his sweaty brown
hair. "And what would that be, Xav?"
"Ah, well, you know what they say about Friday the 13th," Xavier replied
Henrik appreciated the tactful way his friend danced around the issue. Tomorrow
was February 14th. A day full of pink hearts and candy that had filled Henrik
with dread ever since a very particular February 14th a couple of years ago. A
day that resurfaced from the dark corners of his mind to beat down his
concentration. He was thankful he'd manage to put the looming date out of his
mind during last night's game to see the Knights to victory against Toronto. As
the team captain he was responsible for his men; just the thought of freezing
up during a game made his gut twist.
"I'm fine," Henrik said, even and imperceptible.
Xavier took a seat next to his friend and sighed, deeply. "Don't lie, Hank. You
were on fire yesterday, but since this morning you've been- how do you say-
overthinking everything. You nearly broke your foot kicking the weight machine
at the gym. Then you snapped three sticks at practice and you're still here
pounding the ice. There's... more on your mind than just the day and date,
Henrik took off his second glove, saying nothing. He should have known Xavier
would see through him. Though they'd only been teammates for one year, they'd
played hockey together on and off as friends for the better part of a decade.
"Mon dieu, you Swedes! So frosty and
quiet. Always so afraid to speak up and stand out."
"You're thinking of the Danes," Henrik grumbled.
"Same thing," Xavier shrugged as he smoothed the end of his mustache. It was a
Movember affectation that he decided to keep, much to the amusement of his
Henrik tried not to laugh, despite his own concerns. "If I tell you what's on
my mind, you can't repeat any of this to the guys. Clear?"
"Of course," Xavier nodded. He knew better than anyone that Henrik's privacy
meant the world to him. The Portland Knights were solid guys, but he had to
lead them, keep them centered, and command their respect. Henrik couldn't do
that if they were gossiping about his social life - even if it was largely
Henrik wiped the moisture off his neck with a towel. "I met someone this
morning. A boy."
Xavier's eyes lit up. "Hank, this is wonderful! Félicitations!"
"No, no," Henrik cut in, "It's not. I made a fool out of myself. I was too...
eager with him."
"We are men, Hank." Xavier slapped his chest proudly. "We are always eager."
"But I'm not just a man. People look up to me. I can't lose control of myself
like that in front of someone."
Xavier gently tutted and shook his head. "You've spent the last two years
focused on everything but yourself. We aren't in Toronto for much longer, my
friend. I feel that your jeune homme
will allow a second chance if you give yourself one."
Henrik unlaced his skates."You don't know what you're talking about."
"I know you. I know you've never mentioned a boy or dating to me before. You
don't tell me anything unless you think it's important."
Henrik pulled off a skate with a sigh. Boy,
do I ever hate it when he's right. "I don't know what I'm supposed to
do. I'm not great with problems off the ice."
"Do you want to see this boy again?"
"Of course I do." Henrik took off the other skate and let it fall to the floor.
"But like you said, we're only in Toronto for the day."
"And the day is still young! Go get to know him. Spend the rest of your time
"You don't think he'd find it strange? The day before Valentine's Day?"
Xavier shot him an amused look. "You are Henrik The Viking Ford. This boy, is
"No, you dolt. He's seen me."
"Then he will not care what day it is, considering who his beau compagnon will
be." Xavier reached over and pinched one of Henrik's bearded cheeks. Henrik
stifled back a laugh and gave Xavier a rough but brotherly shove.
"I am shocked more boys don't throw themselves at your feet."
"Stop, it Xav." The truth was that Henrik experienced way more than his fair
share of propositions from other guys, even before he had publicly come out. To
his surprise, the majority of men he attracted were much like him - brawny,
solid, working class types who couldn't be bothered to shave. But Henrik wasn't
interested in hooking up with his mirror reflection - where was the fun? The
challenge? The excitement? Ezra represented something different, a type of guy
he'd never paid much attention to before, but now it made sense. Ezra was
headstrong and independent, no doubt, but he could tell he had a gentle soul.
Like someone Henrik could... well... take care of.
Take care of. The words echoed in his
mind. Wow. You might want to hit pause
before ordering those his-and-his towels, Viking. You don't even know Ezra's
His thoughts weren't exclusively driven by romance, either. Henrik knew the
moment he laid eyes on Ezra that he craved the touch of his smooth, lean body,
to experience those full, lush lips, to feel his hands trailing down skin and
Xavier cleared his throat, bringing his teammate back to reality. "Once we're
back in Portland, we won't have any time for fun. Four games in the next week
and we've got a ruthless training schedule. Take this time for yourself, Hank.
Nobody will hold it against you." He squeezed one of Henrik's massive
shoulders. "And perhaps s'envoyer en l'air will
you be a little friendlier and a little less..." Xavier's face twisted in
an angry, monstrous expression - a pantomime of Henrik's ferocious
Pfft. 'S'envoyer en l'air'. Henrik had
been around the man long enough to know all his various euphemisms for getting
laid. "If you don't get out of my sight I'm sending your body back to Bayonne
wrapped in the Swedish flag."
"What ever happened to international diplomacy?" Xavier rose to his feet with a
sigh. "Just think about what I said, yeah?"
Henrik watched him leave and mulled over his friend's words. Xavier was right -
it was midseason and their schedule was only growing more hectic with every
passing day. Today was the only time off they'd have in a long, long while.
Henrik grabbed his things and headed to the empty arena's dressing room to
shower and change, hoping he could clear his head before deciding what to do
next. As he undressed, he hoped Ezra was having a less complicated day than
his, and that he got that promotion he was so excited for. The corner of
Henrik's mouth tugged. He remembered being that young and that excited to
experience what the world had in store for him.
By 11 am, Ezra was on the bus back to his apartment. After a couple of tense
hours waiting for his boss to arrive and drop the good news on his lap, she
ended up dropping something entirely different on him.
Ezra was fired.
He, along with the entire pop culture reporting team, had been made redundant
as the result of 'corporate restructuring', as Heather delicately worded it.
The news came at him with the force of a sledgehammer. Was the last year of his
life just one big waste of time? He lost so many hours whittling away word
counts on pieces about Rihanna's vacation photos and the minutiae of Tom
Hardy's beard. Hours he could have spent doing something, anything of actual value.
A pervasive numbness gripped Ezra, blurring the memory of leaving Heather's
office, sweeping the contents of his desk into a banker's box, and leaving that
wretched, self-consciously hip workspace for the last time. He was dimly aware
of the fellow passengers on the bus, most of whom had given his sad face a
passing glance. It couldn't have been more obvious that he'd just been laid
off. If you were on public transit mid-day with a banker's box in your arms,
there was probably a tragic reason behind it.
"Stupid," Ezra muttered to himself, closing his eyes to the bright, thundering
world around him.
Stupid. That's exactly what I am for thinking
a job at a company whose slogan is just a hashtag would be anything but short
term. Stupid for getting so excited about a promotion that was only in my head!
Stupid for bragging about it to Henrik like it was a done deal...
Henrik. Ezra was mortified beyond belief that such a horrible day intersected
with meeting the nicest, most decent, most unbelievably gorgeous man he'd ever
laid his eyes on. A man that he totally fumbled an intimate moment with in his
former office's elevator.
A man who was now long gone from his life.
Ezra pushed open the door to his condo and dropped the banker's box to his
feet. A rush of paws against the hardwood floor announced the excited arrival
of his pet corgi, Rhubarb. Ezra smiled and bent down to scoop up the furry loaf
of bread into his arms.
"Hey boy." He tried not to sound sad.
Rhubarb sniffed and licked at his face enthusiastically, charged with the
primal excitement of being reunited with his owner a few hours earlier than
usual. Ezra relaxed a little, enjoying the ridiculous animal's affection. He
kissed the dog between his tall ears and walked them both to the couch. Rhubarb
repositioned himself on Ezra's lap and laid flat, staring up at his owner
"Yeah, yeah," Ezra stroked his furry belly. "I know the drill." Rhubarb's
tongue drooped lazily from his grinning mouth. Ezra couldn't help but smile -
the little guy always put him in a good mood, no matter how crappy and long his
days were. He decided, for Rhubarb's sake, that he wouldn't let himself sulk
over his temporary unemployment, or his lost chance with Henrik.
No. Ezra would persevere. He was resilient, after all. He'd just paid this
month's rent and had enough saved up for March. Plus, Rhubarb was in good
health. Those were good things, things he could concentrate on to motivate him
toward whatever the next step of his career would be.
The thought reminded him of his drawings, which sat in a leather sketchbook on
his coffee table. He glanced at them, thinking of the free time he'd have to
pursue his artistic hobby. Refine his figures, work a little on depth and
distance, upload them to his little used tumblr...
Is that gonna pay your bills, though?
The little voice in his head made him frown.
The phone tucked in his back pocket buzzed. Rhubarb perked up and watched his
owner retrieve it. On his way home, Ezra texted his mom and sister the bad news
- it was probably one of them returning his call. His frowned deepened upon
seeing an unrecognizable number on the screen.
"Ezra." A deep, frank, familiar voice answered.
Rhubarb jumped off his lap as the confused young man stood from the sofa, rigid
and flustered and red.
Fresh from his relaxing shower, Henrik wrapped a towel around his waist and sat
on the dressing room's bench. Water dripped down his hairy, heaving pecs as he
activated Blackberry Assistant.
"Get me the number of PopViral's Toronto office. Er, please."
A few moments later, Henrik made the call. He didn't have much of a plan, he
just needed to hear Ezra's voice again, to remind himself that this handsome
young man who captivated him so utterly still existed.
He spoke with the woman who answered - Henrik guessed the receptionist - and
she responded with obvious discomfort.
"I, um, you see- Ezra actually no longer works here."
Henrik's spine snapped straight. "No longer works there? I helped him to get to
work this morning. This is PopViral, isn't it?"
The receptionist's voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "I remember you.
Tall, beard? Listen, Ezra was laid off just an hour ago."
Shit. He remembered how thrilled Ezra was, how excited and anxious he'd been to
receive what he thought was his one-year promotion. Anger briefly clouded
Henrik's thoughts - What kind of company
would string him along and mislead him like that? - but it was useless
to get mad when the receptionist had nothing to do with it.
"Is he okay? Where is he?"
"He cleared out his desk, he's gone already. I think he could use some cheering
up, you know," her voice lilted knowingly. "You should give him a call."
Henrik ran a hand across the bare, wet skin of his neck. "I don't have Ezra's
number." He heard a ruffle of papers on the other line.
"I don't think he'd be all that bothered if I slipped it your way..."
He wasn't totally comfortable with that - it didn't seem like the chivalrous
way of getting in touch with Ezra. "What if he gets upset?"
"He didn't seem all that upset when he was around you this morning, if you
don't mind me saying."
Warmth bloomed somewhere beneath Henrik's abs. His discomfort aside, he knew
she was right.
After accepting Ezra's number, Henrik toweled dry and slipped on a clean pair
of sweats. He gave his face a once-over in the mirror, scrutinizing the worry
lines around his eyes. He raked his fingers through his beard, which looked
fuller and darker in the dressing room light.
Stop distracting yourself. Man the hell up.
At 6-foot-5 and just about 230 pounds, Henrik was a big, sturdy man. Yet here
he was, frozen at the thought of calling someone who he could easily lift over
his head with one arm. The absurd image made him snort.
Summoning up his courage, Henrik dialed the number. Eyeballing his reflection
again, he started to consider a quick shave when his call connected.
"Hello?" Ezra said. His young, melodic voice was music to Henrik's ears.
"Ezra. This is..."
"Henrik. How...? I mean, hey. I- Rhubarb! Stop!" Something made a noise on the
other end of the phone. It sounded like a dog barking. "Sorry. Hyper roommate."
Henrik pushed off the dressing room sink and paced nervously around the room.
"I apologize if this is inappropriate. The receptionist at PopViral gave me
your number. She... told me what happened."
A silence swelled. He heard Ezra breathe deep and long. "Yeah," he answered.
"It took me by surprise. To say the least."
"I'm very sorry," Henrik offered. He felt useless over the phone and wished he
was right at Ezra's side to comfort him.
"Thanks," Ezra said in a small but brave voice. "Still in a bit of shock, I
guess. But you don't have to apologize for calling. I'm glad you did."
"Would you like to go to lunch with me?" Henrik pushed out in one breath. The
ease of asking the question surprised him, even if it escaped in such an abrupt
"Sure," Ezra replied quickly, if a little taken aback. "That sounds great. Did
you want to meet somewhere, or-?"
"I'll pick you up. Our management hires private cars for us when we're away
from Portland. We can decide on a place from there."
"Ah, well then." Ezra sounded impressed. "No one's ever sent a private car for
You should start getting used to it,
Henrik wanted to say, even if it was a promise he couldn't keep. After jotting
down Ezra's address and promising to meet him in an hour, Henrik tossed his
phone into his gym bag and breathed with a renewed vigor and confidence. Almost
like he was...
...invincible. The word hung in his
mind and he decided he liked it.
Henrik grabbed his bag and then caught a glimpse of his current outfit: long
grey sweatpants, muddy sneakers, and a ratty Portland Knights sweatshirt. He
wasn't quite lunch date material yet.
You might want to get your invincible ass to
your hotel room and change first, Viking.
After getting the 'I'm here' text from Henrik, Ezra gave himself one last look
in his bedroom mirror. He was thankful for the allotted hour - showering,
choosing an outfit and grooming his wild, wavy hair certainly needed the time.
The outfit selection took up most of the hour. Ezra needed something that would
be casual enough for hot dogs at the park and presentable enough for a sit-down
meal, what ever they ended up doing. He decided on a simple, long-sleeve cotton
shirt and nice slacks (nice because of
how well they hugged his butt, a feature he wasn't ashamed to say he was proud
"Love you, boy," Ezra kissed the top of Rhubarb's bewildered face before
locking the door and running - actually running - down the hall, down the quick
flight of stairs, and out of the condo building entrance. He was thankful for
the welcome distraction that their lunch represented. Without it, he imagined
spending the rest of the day in a haze fueled by many cartons of Ben and
Ezra stepped outside into the chilly February afternoon air when a mammoth,
charcoal-colored Cadillac SUV stopped in front of him. A man stepped out that
made Ezra steel himself. He took in the sight of Henrik Ford looking big and
handsome and powerful in the most beautifully tailored blue suit he'd ever
seen. The athlete's silk tie was a deep royal purple that highlighted his
"Jesus," Ezra exclaimed. "You clean up nice."
"Thanks, you look great, too. It's very nice to see you again."
"Yeah, same. Really." Ezra's heart thundered. "I thought maybe I'd seen the
last of you."
"Oh, you can't get rid of The Viking that easily," Henrik teased.
"Count me as being thankful, then."
Henrik motioned to the Cadillac. "Shall we? Ned is ready to take us wherever
you want to go."
Ezra couldn't believe he was getting a second chance with someone like Henrik,
especially on a day like this. It was surreal, a queer fairytale. "I'm ready if
Henrik reached out to cup Ezra's elbow, an old-fashioned gesture that took him
by surprise. They entered the backseat and Henrik nodded toward their driver
Ned, an older man wearing a chauffeur hat, the kind that Ezra had only seen in
"Ned, this is my companion for the afternoon."
"Hi," Ezra said, feeling utterly self-conscious as he struggled to buckle his
"Where would you like to go today, sir?" Ned asked.
It took Ezra a moment to realize the sir in question was him. "Me? Oh!" He
locked eyes with his taller companion. "Can you please take me and Romeo here
to Bricco Wine Bar? It's right in the Junction, at Dundas and High Park."
Their driver nodded and pulled into the lane.
"The Junction?" Henrik's dark eyebrows rose. "Not that I know much about
Toronto neighborhoods but I'm surprised we aren't going to Church Street."
Ezra laughed. "Oh, god no. If I take you to Church Street I'd never see you
again. The boys there would maul you. And I'd prefer you alive and unmauled."
Henrik smiled, big and winning, then his expression turned thoughtful. "I'm
glad we're getting the chance to do this. I didn't... like how we left things
this morning. Which was my fault. Entirely my fault."
Ezra shifted in his seat. He wasn't prepared for them to broach the subject so
quickly. "You don't have to-" The word stopped in his throat as Henrik reached
over and took his hand. The suddenness of it stole Ezra's breath.
"Let me just say this," Henrik said gently. "I don't want you to feel obligated
to do anything you don't want to. This is a no-pressure lunch. I'd just be
happy to get to know you for a couple of hours."
Ezra scanned Henrik's face, recognizing seriousness and warmth. "Glad to hear
you say that. Sounds good to me."
Although they both looked off to their separate windows, neither of them dared
to release their hands from each other.
We've got some lost time to make up for,
Ezra wanted to make this chance count.
End of Chapter 2
To Be Continued
Henrik and Ezra, together at last. How do you think their afternoon date will
go? Please forward all feedback and comments to: email@example.com