My Last Day Without You
Chapter 7: About Time
by Quinn D.K.
Violet coughed up her mouthful of tea.
She thought her eyes were deceiving her at first, the byproduct of her lack of
sleep and concentration. What was supposed to be a relaxing day working at home
became damage control for her little brother's sudden loss of a job, which then
evolved into a full afternoon of dogsitting a very, very energetic young corgi.
So when Violet thought she saw an article on TMZ with the frenzied headline 'GAY HOCKEY CAPTAIN CAUGHT IN SEX SCANDAL WITH
FORMER POPVIRAL JOURNALIST', she couldn't blame herself for thinking
she'd fallen into a bizarre, backwards daydream.
Her heart racing, Violet pulled the iPad closer to her face and squinted in the
dim late afternoon light of her den. Below the headline was a picture of two
men, shirtless from what she could see, affectionately embracing on a bed. Her
brother Ezra was on the right, his face frozen in a very unfortunate scowl.
Henrik, the very tall and very hirsute man she met a mere hour ago, was cuddled
beside him. There was no denying how intimate the two of them looked (Ezra's
unattractive expression aside).
She knew immediately that the photo wasn't a fake. For one, she had quite the
talented eye for such things as a retoucher for Elle Canada magazine. But more
importantly, she recognized the ugly plaid pattern of the bedspread in the
picture. Violet detested the thing and offered to buy Ezra higher quality
bedding nearly every time she visited. And there it was. Plain as day. The
backdrop of her little brother's sex scandal.
"Jesus Christ," she said aloud. At her feet, Rhubarb perked up - perhaps
sensing that his owner was in the news. "Not you, Rhubarb. You're gonna want to
sit this one out."
Hoping to find some logical explanation, Violet read the full article, her eyes
feverishly combing every word and comma. Her palms were so moist with sweat
that the iPad was slipping from her fingers.
She didn't even bother to read the article's comments, which had already
tallied into the late hundreds and were likely full of braindead, homophobic
rhetoric. After a quick search Violet found that numerous other sites had
picked up the story, too: Gawker, Deadspin, Perez Hilton, ESPN, news outlets
both local and American. Memes were already spreading. Many inexplicably
depicted Henrik and Ezra as SpongeBob characters.
Fucking internet weirdos.
Leaving Ezra and Henrik alone with that Valentine's gift basket wasn't an
accident on her part. She was a modern woman, damn it. She was sex positive.
And Ezra deserved to relax. She just hadn't anticipated that a revealing
memento of his afternoon would go goddamn viral.
Violet replaced her iPad with her phone and hit speed dial on Ezra's number.
The call connected almost immediately to voicemail. It was already full.
Rhubarb let out a confused yip as his tall ears perked. Violet pulled him onto
her lap. "Sorry, boy. I'm okay. I'm okay." She stroked his cinnamon-colored
fur, her tense eyes staring right through him.
It's your owner I'm worried about...
Ezra scooped out the last of the double chocolate chip cookie dough and gently
slid the baking sheet into the hot oven. Henrik was just getting out of the
shower and Ezra wanted to surprise him with a few baked goods. A friend who was
currently enrolled in culinary school as a pastry chef taught him the recipe.
Seemed simple enough, plus there
was something about home baked cookies tasted better when they were being
"Found this on your dresser," Henrik announced as he entered the kitchen. A
towel was draped around his waist but he was otherwise naked, his wet hair
handsomely combed back. Ezra was so overloaded with renewed lust that he almost
didn't see his brown leather artist portfolio in Henrik's hands.
"Oh, that? It's just for my sketches. They're not very good."
Henrik leaned against the counter. "Your art, you mean? Can I see?"
It was hard to say no to a man in a towel, he had to admit. "Did I mention
they're not very good?"
"One of my guys on the Knights, Lukas Bjornlund? Great man and very modest,
almost to a fault. Always talking down his offensive play. Thing is, he's by
far the best center on the team. The most creative, too. So pardon me for
saying that I don't believe you," Henrik handed the portfolio back to him. "You
don't have to show me if you don't want to. But I'd really love to see your
favourites, at least."
"Alright, alright," Ezra relented. He never shared his drawings with anyone
other than his sister and a few friends. Pushing his nervousness away, Ezra
laid his portfolio open and flipped through the pages. "It's mostly character
sketches. Faces, different angles, things like that."
He pointed out drawings of famous actors and musicians, public figures,
friends, iconic fictional characters. Henrik nodded along, eyes wide, mumbling
"They look so real," he almost touched a page but didn't. "Like I could just
reach into the paper and touch their faces."
Ezra wanted to explain that photorealism was something most artists could do -
it was putting one's own unique spin on something that proved hardest to
master. He flipped over to a section of his more cartoony work. His most
detailed drawing was the Sailor Scouts reimagined as post-apocalyptic Mad Max
warriors. Unlike his previous artwork, the realism was pared down to an
exaggerated, animation-like style.
"These girls are my favourites. How familiar are the Swedes with Sailor Moon?"
Henrik laughed. "My little cousins in Philadelphia love Sailor Moon. But I
don't think they've ever seen them like this before."
Smiling, Ezra showed him more: Wonder Woman as a rowdy 1920s-era flapper girl,
Luke Skywalker updated into a Brooklyn hipster, the Power Rangers revised as
archetypes from the Final Fantasy series. "This is the stuff I love doing,"
Ezra explained. "I call it reinventive fanart."
"It's fucking brilliant." Henrik's eyes scanned the edge of the page and saw a
figure he didn't recognize. "Who's this guy?" He tapped a finger against a tall
man wearing goggles and a futuristic, neon exoskeleton over a flight suit.
Clutched in one hand was a simple Victorian pocket watch.
"Ah," Ezra's face went red. "I don't have a name for that guy yet. He's an
"Kinda. The pocket watch gives him the power to travel through time and space.
He's using it to find his lost love. It's still a rough concept but I'd like to
develop it more. I don't know yet."
Henrik stood behind Ezra and wrapped his big arms around the boy, holding him
close against his damp skin.
Ezra's entire body warmed. "What's this for?"
"You should see yourself when you talk about your art. You get so excited. It's
"Wow, he thinks I'm cute. Sir, you are as bold as brass."
Henrik squeezed him tighter. "You should be sending your stuff out to comic
book publishers. I'm serious."
Ezra turned, the hockey captain's arms still entwined around his waist. "You
think so? I don't know if my stuff is ready."
"Looks ready to me."
"I don't think I'm prepared for all those rejection letters just yet."
Henrik frowned. "You won't know until you do it, right? And if someone like
Marvel or DC doesn't hire you right away, there's always those smaller
companies. I'm sure they have apprenticeship programs for new artists."
Ezra's eyes clouded with uncertainty. Taking such big risks was never his
thing, especially for something as high stakes as a new career.
"It's just a thought," Henrik added.
"Yeah, maybe. Who knows."
They kissed lightly, then again with more urgency. Mmm. Something about it felt
strangely (but agreeably) domestic. A man in a towel holding him in his
kitchen, cookies in the oven...
Cookies. His mind snapped to the
forgotten treats. In the oven. Is something
"Shit!" Ezra broke their embrace and switched the oven light on. "I forgot to
set the timer. Fuck, fuck, fuck."
"I was, uh, just about to ask what that smell was."
Coughing, Ezra removed the baking sheet from the oven. All but one cookie was
burnt to a blackened, useless crisp. "Ah, that's just fantastic." His culinary
school friend would have had raked him over the coals for wasting perfectly
Henrik chuckled as he nudged a burnt edge. "This was going to be our
post-coital snack, I take it?"
"Man, I never forget the timer. That was dumb."
"I was distracting you."
"Well." Ezra slid his hands up the man's biceps and then around his neck.
"You're very good at doing that." Their lips met again and Ezra melted into it,
moaning softly. It was the best possible compromise - Henrik was one thousand
times more delicious than any cookie.
Henrik looked up suddenly. "Hey, what time is it?"
Ezra glanced at the oven's digital clock. "It's quarter to five. Do you have to
"Not yet, no. I just thought it was later."
"You're not worried about the press conference, are you?" It was hard to
imagine Henrik worried about anything, the man was so solid and self-assured.
"No matter how well you do in a game, these reporters still find a hardball or
two or three to throw at you. I've done hundreds of these damn things and I
still hate them. Wanna know the funny thing? I've gotten into fistfights during
games with guys who have a hundred pounds on me yet nothing makes me more
nervous than the press box."
Ezra frowned. "They can be that cruel, huh?"
"Wouldn't say cruel, but they're definitely not here to kiss your ass. A lot of
them are more interested in getting a reaction than an honest interview."
"You know what I think you should do tonight?" Ezra grabbed a burnt cookie and
placed it on the counter. "Put a hockey puck on the table in front of you.
Announce to every reporter in that room that every time someone asks you a
question you don't like..." Ezra smacked the cookie into the sink with a butter
knife. "...you'll whack it with your hockey stick right into their stupid
"I like it," Henrik said with a great laugh. "That's the best advice I could
ask for. Shame you can't be with me for all my conferences."
Ezra paused a second longer than he should have. "Yeah," he managed. "Right."
A corner of Henrik's furry mouth tugged down. "Sorry. Was that a weird thing to
"No! Not at all." His voice made him want to cringe - it got all high and weird
when he was trying too hard to sound casual. Ezra released his arms from the
man's neck and swallowed a hard lump in his throat. "I'm just going to go throw
on some pants."
Ezra clapped a hand against his bare thigh as he slipped into the hallway.
After their shower he slipped into a t-shirt with a pair of underwear and
stopped there. Now, he was grateful for the excuse.
Henrik dropped his towel and pulled on the pieces of his suit that he'd
discarded in the living room. The mood in the apartment had dropped
considerably and he knew that it was his own damn fault. Ezra had disappeared
into his bedroom ten minutes ago and still hadn't come out.
That's what you get for trying to be funny,
Viking. Glowering, he zipped up his pants.
The two of them came to an understanding earlier that day. They were 'on the
same page', as they called it. Whatever happened between them wouldn't go
beyond Henrik's time in Toronto. Ezra didn't want the long distance thing. That
was fine, he wasn't fond of it either. If Henrik was going to dive into a
relationship after years of being out of practice, he definitely wanted it to
be with someone he didn't need a plane ticket to spend time with.
The other guys in the Knights knew that Henrik was one extremely perceptive
captain. "Perceptive in a spooky way," goalie Nicholas McCullough said once. If
someone had just broken up with their girlfriend, Henrik knew, because it lent
a very specific sloppiness to a man's skating pattern. If the wingers weren't
getting along with each other? Henrik knew that, too, because those foggy,
annoyed looks on their faces screwed up their aiming.
Suffice it to say, Henrik suspected something had been up with Ezra all day. A
kind of push and pull had developed between them, a yearning to get closer,
then a resistance. Their tense moment in the kitchen only confirmed what he'd
already been thinking.
And you're relieved, aren't you? Because
you've been feeling the same goddamn way as him and you were too scared of
being the first one to say it.
Henrik buttoned up his shirt and caught the reflection of his solemn, serious
face in the surface of the living room television. He couldn't deny it anymore.
Henrik didn't want his time with Ezra to end after tonight. He didn't want
today to be the last day he'd hear Ezra's voice, kiss his beautiful lips, or
run his fingers through that soft head of hair.
As much as it pained him to admit, Xavier had been right when they spoke
earlier that morning. Since that fateful day two years ago when Henrik admitted
to a roomful of slackjawed journalists that he was gay, his focus had been
entirely on his career. It was really his way of compensating. The buzz from
his announcement focused solely on his sexuality, not his accomplishments as an
athlete or his continued charity work with Portland's Stand for Children
Leadership Program. So he doubled down on his role as a captain and mentor -
and his personal life suffered for it. The nights he didn't spend with his team
or the charity were empty and quiet. There was no one to hold, watch a dumb
movie with, take to a nice restaurant...
He'd spent so long telling himself that was all okay. But it became
increasingly difficult to ignore the truth: it wasn't making him happy.
And now, there was one person who did.
A rustle of wind blew Ezra's hair from his face as he surveyed the courtyard
below his building. He'd been standing in the small outdoor balcony off his
bedroom for about ten minutes before he debated going back inside. He wasn't
sure he wanted to. The things Ezra had been terrified of all day were bubbling
to the surface and he didn't know if he'd be able to face Henrik without
completely breaking down.
Time's running out, his mind
chastised. You can't brood outside forever.
Before he could argue any further with himself, the balcony door slid open and
Henrik stepped out. He was back in his handsome blue suit again.
"Took me a moment to realize you had a balcony," Henrik said sheepishly. "I
didn't notice it from your bedroom before."
"Well, we were a little busy last time." Ezra tried to sound like his old
cheery self but he didn't think it worked.
Henrik put his hands in his pockets and joined Ezra by the terrace. He watched
the trees sway in the cold wind below. "Should I comment on the view? Or should
we... start talking?"
Ezra's stomach did backflips. In the distance, cars trapped in traffic honked
their horns, drowning his fears in a sea of noise. "Maybe we should talk."
"I think so too. You remember back in the ice rink? What we both said to each
"'If we're both on the same page then no one gets hurt' and 'Whatever happens
today won't mean anything.' I remember." Ezra couldn't even look at him. God, this is awful.
"Do you think that's still true?"
Ezra couldn't avoid this forever. "No, I don't."
Henrik breathed like a crushing weight had finally lifted. "Yeah, I don't think
"So where does that leave us? What does it mean?"
"It means I want to see you again, Ezra. And you want to see me too... I think."
Ezra's brows furrowed. "Of course I do. Fuck, I really, really do. Are you
kidding? This has been the weirdest, most ridiculous, and flat-out greatest day
of my life." The encouraging smile on Henrik's face only made what he was about
to say that much harder. "But that doesn't change how I feel about dating
someone who lives on the other side of the continent. And in another country!"
"I know," Henrik said quickly. "I get it, absolutely. I feel the same way. But
what if this is actually worth taking the chance? It's just like your drawings.
You won't know until you actually start sending them out."
The hockey captain moved closer. "If you want this just as much as I do, why
are you fighting it?"
Ezra's lips parted but no words came out. He turned away, his face burning, his
eyes watering. Crying in front of Henrik was the last possible way he wanted
their day to end.
"Well. I'm scared."
Fuck. I sound like a little kid.
"Scared of what?"
"I'm scared that we'll try to make something between us happen and we'll fail.
And then today, this perfect day,
will become an ugly dark stain that I won't be able to think about without
remembering that failure."
Henrik allowed himself a moment to absorb the words. "I don't think you're
scared of us failing. I think you're scared of letting yourself be happy."
"Because if you're happy and something does go wrong, it'll hurt that much
"But that's a risk we all have to take, Ezra. That's a risk I'm taking, too.
You don't think I'm scared? You don't think this is all new for me as well? I
promise I'm just as terrified as you are. More, actually."
Ezra couldn't respond. He wanted nothing more than to hide. Hide from what he
was feeling, hide from the reality before him, hide from the future in front of
Henrik grasped both of Ezra's upper arms and stared down into his face. "I
don't ever plan on doing anything that would ruin your memories of today. I
Ezra's lips curled into a gloomy grin, his voice resigned and knowing. "But you
don't know the future, Viking."
Henrik's eyes sparked. An idea formed. "You know what? Hold that thought, I'll
be right back."
Bewildered, he watched Henrik disappear into the bedroom and shut the curtain
behind him. A minute or so passed until the man re-emerged with a scarf wrapped
around his neck and mouth and Ezra's bicycle goggles covering his eyes. The
impromptu disguise was so ridiculous that Ezra couldn't help but laugh.
"You don't recognize me?" Henrik lifted his arms did a slow turn. "I'm your
time traveler. The one you sketched but don't have a name for yet. I left the
pocket watch in my other suit."
"What are you doing?"
"You said I didn't know the future," Henrik pulled the scarf off his mouth and
lifted the goggles to his forehead. "But I've traveled all the way here from
the year 2082 to give you a message."
Ezra stared at him with simultaneous disbelief and wonder. He decided, for the
sake of the conversation, to play along. "And what message do you bring me from
2082, oh wise traveler?"
"Your future self sent me here," Henrik began. "To tell you it's useless to
worry about what comes next. To just let things happen."
"Ah. I see I've mellowed out in my old age."
"He - or, actually, you - said that even in his advanced years, he's never
stopped thinking about today. It's never stopped being perfect. And he doesn't
regret a thing about it."
Ah. Shit. Here it comes. Ezra blinked
the tears out of his eyes. He couldn't tell if he was sad or happy. He hoped
for the latter.
Henrik was closer now, one hand on the small of Ezra's back. "Your future self
went on to say you're about to enter some of the best years of your life. That
stuff with your job, your career, you don't need to worry. It'll fall into
place if you let it."
Ezra wiped his face, nodding. "Did my future self happen to tell you this from
his crystal throne in his airship palace?"
"One of his airship palaces," Henrik corrected.
Ezra laughed again. His heart rate began returning to normal. "And did he - I
mean I - mention anything about the two of us?"
"Oh, he forbid me to talk about that. Said it would tear the fabric of time and
space if everything was revealed too soon. But he did say something very
"What was it?"
Henrik bent until his forehead softly nudged Ezra's. "That whatever happens
after today? It's all up to you."
Ezra's hands squeezed around the man's firm, hairy forearms. "You make a very
convincing time traveler, you know that?" They kissed long and soft and deep.
"But if you don't mind, I'd like Henrik back now."
Henrik obliged, removing the goggles and scarf. "Same old captain, at your
service. Look, Ezra. If it's the travel logistics that you're worried about,
I'll be taking care of it. I'll pay for all the airfare. If want to visit me
but you don't feel comfortable staying at my place, that's cool. I'll get you
the best hotel room in the city. I'm good friends with the manager at the
Portland Hilton. And if I'm on the road-"
Ezra pressed a finger against the man's furry mouth. "Henrik."
"I'm talking too much, aren't I?"
"We can figure all of that out later."
Henrik picked up on the wording. "You just said later. Did I hear that right?"
"Does that mean you and I have a... 'later'?"
Summoning all the courage he had, Ezra smiled. "Yes."
Henrik strong arms pulled Ezra off the ground spun them both in a joyously
sloppy circle. Ezra laughed into his shoulder. "What's this for?"
"Just happy," Henrik murmured as he kissed Ezra's hair. "Happy we're getting a
"You're such a bleeding heart romantic."
Henrik's grin returned. "Oh, you haven't seen anything yet."
Their mouths met for another hot, wet kiss. Tongues danced against each other,
fingers dug into shirt fabric, and low, happy moans simmered between lips.
Henrik broke off to catch his breath. "Guess this means we're back on the same
"I think we've always been on the same page," Ezra said. "It just happens to be
in a different book now."
They leaned in for another kiss when Ezra heard something close by the balcony.
It sounded like a high, mechanical snap. "Did you hear that?"
Henrik's eyebrows knitted together. "I did. It sounded like-" He saw it before
Ezra did. Henrik grabbed him and pulled them both to the balcony floor,
shielding themselves behind the terrace.
"What-?" Ezra's heart pounded in his throat. "Henrik, you're freaking me out."
Henrik exhaled sharply. "I saw a camera. With a long white lens. There's a
paparazzi photographer in the courtyard and he saw us."
"Paparazzi? Here? How? Why?"
"All very good questions." Henrik lifted his face above the terrace edge. His
blue eyes darkened, turned to stone. "He's still there. We need to get back
Ezra followed him into the apartment, both of them bending low in a strange
half-lurch. After locking his balcony door and drawing the blackout curtains,
he whispered a silent, thankful prayer that they'd been closed their earlier
Henrik sat on the edge of the bed, silent. The grim frown on his ruddy face
said everything for him.
"What should we do?"
"I don't know yet."
"I mean, does this happen a lot? I didn't know hockey players got hounded like
this by photographers."
"We don't. Not unless..." Henrik drifted off.
"Not unless what?"
The man's steel eyes raised to meet his. "Someone tailed us because I'm with
you. There's no other reason. If a pap sees just one player by himself, that's
not much of a story. But if that player just so happens to be the only openly
gay man in the league and he's photographed holding hands or kissing someone..."
He finished Henrik's thought for him. "...then that becomes the story of the
Fuck. Dread sank into the pit of
Ezra's stomach. This must have been the ultimate nightmare for someone as press
and media-averse as Henrik.
Ezra sat beside him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. I just- I just need to think for a moment."
Ezra didn't - couldn't think of the implications of those photos leaking. About
a year ago for a work function, Ezra was forced to give a short introductory
speech in front of an auditorium that had to be the size of a small country.
Being under the spotlight then was enough to make him hyperventilate. The
thought of his picture circulating every sports (and possibly mainstream) news
outlet outright made him want to empty the contents of his stomach.
After an uncomfortably long pause, Henrik spoke. "I should call management. No,
my coach. Give him a heads up on what... might be coming. My phone's been off
all day." His voice was curt, all business.
"Yeah," Ezra nodded quickly. "I should check my phone too."
Henrik left the bedroom as Ezra grabbed his iPhone, still in the same position
on his bed. Pressing the home button only produced a black screen. The battery
Weird, he frowned. Could've sworn it was on a full charge last time I
Ezra once interviewed an up-and-coming pop singer who said that a minorly
controversial Facebook update managed to yield an astonishing number of
notifications for her in only a few minutes. The near-constant deluge of pushes
to her phone sapped the battery almost immediately. The anecdote had always
stuck with him, but surely nothing of the sort was the reason why his iPhone
was currently dead.
As he searched for the charger, his mind raced. Even if the paparazzi's photos
managed to take the world by storm only in the last several moments, could the
Internet have connected his name to it that quickly? He wasn't a celebrity or a
public figure, unlike Henrik.
Okay, just stop, you're making yourself
Finding the white cable, he plugged his phone into the wall and tried to
control his breathing. In the living room he heard Henrik's deep voice speaking
urgently. The walls muffled him but the speed of Henrik's words made that pit
of dread grow even larger. He checked his phone. Still in its initial charging
phase, a blinking battery icon surrounded by black.
Come on. Come on.
Henrik's voice stopped suddenly, like someone pressed pause or mute. The
silence worried him.
"Henrik?" He called at his open bedroom door. No answer. Ezra pressed his
sweaty palms into his jeans, taking a moment to clear his mind before stepping
into the hallway.
His anxiety grew as he reached the living room. Henrik was on the sofa and had
one arm propped on his knee while he massaged his temple. In his other hand was
a Blackberry phone, dangling precariously from his fingers. Ezra saw a blank,
slack look on Henrik's face he didn't know the man was even capable of.
"Henrik? Hey, talk to me. What happened? "
Henrik glanced up, almost surprised, as if hearing his voice from far away.
"That was my coach. I think you should check your phone."
"It's charging. Can you please tell me what's wrong? You're scaring me."
Henrik switched his Blackberry on and tapped something. He used slow, careful
movements, like he was on autopilot. Saying nothing, he handed the device over.
Ezra blinked once, twice, at the screen, then a third time. By the fourth
blink, he started to understand that what he was seeing wasn't a horrible
dream, but a mistake. His mistake, on
display for the entire world to see. 15,000 retweets of a PopViral
Entertainment tweet. No text. Only the somewhat blurred image of Ezra and
Henrik in bed together, reacting in two very different ways to his iPhone's
The arm that held Henrik's Blackberry started to shake. Ezra's entire body
turned both cold and hot, dry and sweaty, drowsy and hyper alert, all at once.
"I had a dozen voicemails when I turned my phone back on," Henrik said. "Only
reason I don't have more is my phone ran out of room. My text messages aren't
working anymore, I think I've gotten so many it's actually overloaded the
server, or whatever. Coach thought someone was trying to sabotage me, make me
look like a fool. He thought it was some local Toronto hacker who developed a
grudge after we beat the Leafs."
Henrik wasn't relaying any of this angrily or even sadly. If anything, he spoke
with the distant, faraway voice of a shellshocked man.
Ezra pushed the words from his throat with great effort. "Henrik. I- I'm so
sorry. Jesus Christ, I don't know how this happened. I- I'll delete it. I'll
delete the tweet right now. I still have the account password. I can fix this!"
He took off toward the bedroom. His feet moved as quickly as his heartbeat.
Henrik followed. "It's too late to do anything about it."
Ezra knew that was true. The internet was written in ink, not pencil. The
picture was no doubt already on Tumblr, Facebook, everywhere. But he couldn't
just let the damn thing stay up in its original form. Hands trembling, he took
his iPhone and pressed home. The device blinked back to life. He was right - it
had been slammed with notifications, calls, texts, and voicemails.
"I- it must have been right before we went to shower. I was fumbling around
with Siri, I couldn't see what I was doing. I thought I saw the Twitter app
open but I couldn't- I didn't know-"
"Ezra," Henrik said again. "You have to stop and think."
Ezra reopened the Twitter app but a pop-up notification stopped him cold. "You
no longer have permission to access this account," he read aloud, each word
more panic-inducing than the last. "So now PopViral decides to change the
password? Now?! And the goddamn
picture is still up? Why haven't they deleted it yet?!"
"Hey." Henrik snatched the phone from him and threw it back onto the bed.
"There's nothing you can do now, okay?"
Ezra looped around the room, breathing hard, raking his fingers through his
hair. "Henrik, you have to believe me, it was an accident. I know I've fucked a
lot of things up but I never meant this to happen."
"Stop. Hey, stop." Henrik took his arms, not roughly, but with enough of a grip
to make the younger man pay attention. "You need to calm down. I'm not mad at
"Okay," Ezra said, nodding, composing himself. He was calmer when he spoke
again. "Okay. But I am sorry. What are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Coach Taggert said he's been talking with PR for the past 20
minutes to see if they can spin this in any way that's positive. Highly doubt
they can, though."
Ezra shook his head. "I still don't understand why PopViral hasn't taken it
down. They made us sit through this godawful seminar with the head of Human
Resources on how to handle situations like this. The first line of defense is
to change every social media account password and delete the offending post.
Why would they do one and not the other? What makes this one picture so
They sat down together. Henrik put one big arm around Ezra's shoulders and
pulled him close.
"Did I mention how sorry I am?" Ezra murmured.
"It was an accident," Henrik said, a heavy sigh under his words. "You don't
need to be sorry. We'll get through this."
"Yeah," Ezra said quietly. "I'm with you." He was glad Henrik wasn't angry with
him, though the man still seemed on edge. Not that he could be blamed.
"Gotta say, though," Henrik inhaled. "Never heard Taggert scream that loud
before. Not since we missed the playoffs in 2012."
"Is he mad at you?"
"Oh, he's fucking furious. No coach wants a media scandal for his team. But
that's for me to deal with, not you."
Damn it. Ezra hated hearing that.
Henrik was already catching shit for something entirely out of his hands. "God,
I really wish I could do something,"
he sighed, frustrated. "Some way I could make it right. Like one of those
medieval knights charging up on his horse."
Henrik squeezed his shoulder. "If only there was some kind of fortress to
"Right..." Ezra glanced at his phone again. The thought of the medieval knight
made him recall the creative fiction seminar he went to in university. The
lecturer told him something about a story's hero that always stuck with him:
heroes are the characters that make choices that change the direction of the
'They don't sit around in their castles
waiting for something to happen,' she said. 'They take action. If they're not happy with their
situation, they go out of their way to change it. If a hero is embroiled in a
war, they're the person who leads the charge against the enemy.'
A light bulb went off in his head. He stood and zipped across his room, a new,
manic energy taking over his body. The words echoed in his mind. They're the person who leads the charge against
the enemy... Ezra pulled on socks, took his phone, and slipped into his
Henrik squinted. "What are you doing?"
"I'm storming the fortress," Ezra said boldly.
"What are you talking about?"
"I know why PopViral is leaving that tweet up. They're a petty, immature
company, Henrik. They're trying to humiliate me. They expect me to sit back and
say nothing because hey, that's just the type of employee I was. But that's not
who I am now, and I'm gonna say that to their faces." Ezra stepped into a pair
of sneakers and laced them up.
"Wait," Henrik held his hand up. "You're going back to the PopViral office? Are
you sure that's... what if they-?"
"It may be too late to stop the media shitstorm but I need to let them know I'm
not taking this lying down." He shrugged. "It's not like they can fire my sorry
ass a second time. What do I have to lose?"
Henrik rose from the bed. "Then I'm coming with you."
Ezra started scanning the room for his keys. "No, you've already been through
enough because of me."
"I'm not letting you do this alone. You're not the only one PopViral is
humiliating." It wasn't a suggestion, but a confident command, a matter of
pride. It wasn't hard for Ezra to see why an entire team of grown men looked to
Henrik as a leader.
"Then let's storm the fortress together," Ezra said with a hopeful nod.
Ezra closed the apartment door behind him and locked it. As he and Henrik
approached the building stairwell at the end of the hall, Ezra's phone buzzed.
He was almost too scared to look at the call display but he when he saw the
name, he relaxed.
"Ez!" his sister cried from the other end of call, "Jesus ball-punching Christ
are you okay? I've been calling and calling and calling."
"I'm okay," Ezra said in his calmest register. "Me and Henrik just found
everything out about five minutes ago."
"Where are you? Are you safe?"
He started down the stairs with Henrik following close behind him. "We're still
at my building but I'm on my way to PopViral."
"What? Why?" From somewhere in Violet's house, Rhubarb barked.
"I'm going to see my former manager in person and tell her to take the fucking
picture down already."
A pause. "Oh, god, Ez, I don't know. What if you two get swarmed by the
paparazzi on your way there? That might just make things worse."
They reached the stairwell landing and entered the ground level lobby. "There
was someone taking our picture in the courtyard a while ago but he was by
himself. We can handle it. I promise."
"Do you need me to do anything?"
Now it was Ezra's turn to pause. The concern in his sister's voice made him
want to crumble. Swallowing a lump, he tried his damnedest to hold it together.
"Tell me I'm not being crazy."
"You're always crazy," Violet said.
"Oh, pfft. Thanks." Weirdly, it's exactly what he needed to hear. "I'll call
you back in a bit."
"I'm here," she said. "I'm always here. You know that."
They said their goodbyes. Henrik touched his elbow. "You alright?"
"I think so," Ezra took in a smooth, even breath. They walked to the vestibule,
ready and eager to leave. They only managed a few steps before they saw the
street outside the building.
Or, rather, the lack of a street.
An immense sea of paparazzi photographers and hockey fans dressed in Portland
Knights jerseys jammed the sidewalk and road, an impossibly intimidating wall
of excited, screaming faces. A titanic chorus of voices, camera snaps, and
blinding flashes rose into the air like a stadium chant as Henrik and Ezra
stood numb behind the glass doors.
The lone paparazzi photographer from the courtyard was now a dim, distant
threat compared to the circus outside.
"Okay," a frightened Ezra whispered. "Time for a Plan B."
End of Chapter 7
To Be Continued
Welp. The buzz about Henrik and Ezra isn't a secret anymore!
Thanks so much for reading. Please forward all
reviews, comments and thoughts about the future of the story to: firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @Quinn_DK