Not the Only One

DISCLAIMER:  Yada yada yada.  This story is pure fiction, all names and characters are made up and any similarity to real persons is not only a coincidence, it's damn eerie!  Of course, I make no claims about the sexuality or opinions of the real athletes who are mentioned in this story.  You'd have to ask them yourself.

Part Twelve

Raleigh, North Carolina - Entertainment and Sports Arena - January 26th, 2001

"Fat lady, bald guy, little kid... damn!"  I skated around again.  "Same lady, old guy, bald guy again.... nope."  Again I went around.  I was scanning the audience non-chalantly, searching for Shane.  I knew he'd be behind the goal in the first couple of rows if he had used the tickets I left for him.  He had called the day before and I had managed to get him four tickets.  It was nearing the end of our pre-game skate, but the last lap proved to be the winner.  I spotted three guys and a girl shuffling towards four empty seats.  Shane was in the middle.  "Awesome," I thought to myself, as a sly smile cracked my lips.

After a brief pep talk, the starting lines made their way to center ice for the national anthem.  Then the puck dropped and the game got under way.  The first line got in the Caps zone deep before the puck flew over the boards from a deflected shot.

"Second line," Paul yelled out, and I hopped over the boards and onto the ice.  I was skating with O'Neill and Gelinas.  It was a pretty physical line and I had been enjoying it.  The bad guys had to deal with them so they weren't being as physical with me, giving me more room on the ice and more shots on goal.  Simon was opposite me on the faceoff and we jostled for position.  O'Neil won and got the puck back to the point.  I went to the net just as a slapshot went screaming by.  It bounced off the goalies right leg and came right out to me.  I had the whole net to shoot at and I wasted no time.  I buried the puck in the back of the net.

The fog horn went off and 18,000 fans jumped up screaming.  As I celebrated the goal I couldn't help thinking that Shane saw the whole thing.  Not a bad way to the start game!

And it wasn't my last of the night.  Late in the 2nd we were down 2-1 on a penalty kill when I got into the clear on a breakaway.  I raced in and somehow totally deked out the goalie.  I went around him and had the whole net to myself.  The crowd erupted and I was pinned against the boards, probably right in front of Shane and his friends.  Again, not too bad of a feeling.

By the time my next line shift came I was feeling pretty damned good.  I had been skating in the big leagues for almost a month and was confident and relaxed.  I had two goals tonight and was absolutely piling up the points.  When you're riding this high in life, that's usually where the ground gets shaken right out from underneath you.  I never saw it coming.  The hit that is.

We had gotten the puck deep into the Caps zone and we were working the boards.  I was in front of the goal trying to create havoc.  O'Neill had control of the puck and brought the puck out from behind the net.  I cycled in around behind the goal in case he got in trouble and needed to dump it to me.  He did get in trouble but sent the puck to the point where one of our defensemen ripped a screamer at the net.   It went wide and crashed into the boards next to me.  I scooped out the puck and turned around to get out to the front of the net to try and get a shot.  I looked up just in time to see Brendon Witt's ugly face just before he nailed me.

Raleigh, North Carolina - Raleigh Community Hospital - 2 hours later

My eyes fluttered open.  Everything  was white and fuzzy.  I blinked several times trying to remember where I was.  I was confused.  What had happened?  I remember waking up, having lunch, and then... everything was blank.  I looked around, and a minute later realized I was in the hospital.  I tried to sit up, but as I elevated my head I nearly blacked out from the pain.  I groaned and collapsed back onto the bed.  My groans must have alerted someone because I soon heard a soft female voice.

"Nick, Nick can you hear me?"

"Yeah," I mumbled.  I opened my eyes and made out a pleasant looking nurse.  Except she had two heads.  Well, maybe I was seeing double.

"Nick can you tell me your last name?"

I thought long and hard.  "Brewer?"

She nodded her head.  "Can you tell me when you were born?"

"Halloween, 1982."

"Can you tell me where you are?"

"The hospital," I mumbled.  It hurt to talk.

"In what city and state?"

I thought about it.  Then I thought about it some more.  And then I got really scared.  "I don't know," I sobbed, practically in tears.  I didn't know where I was or what I was doing there and it scared the hell out of me!

She patted me on the shoulder.  "You've got a concussion, hon.  You were hurt in a hockey game.  Try to rest sweetie.  I'll be in to check on you soon."

I drifted off to sleep again but it was more like an uncomfortable daze.  It seemed like every half hour the nurse came and woke me up to talk.  She asked me a bunch of silly questions about my life.  But it seemed to run all together and I didn't know if I was dreaming it or not.  I thought about home and hockey and my friends, and Ron.  But something was wrong with Ron.  It came back to me.  He was sick, cancer.  But I didn't live there anymore.  I was in Mississippi.  Or North Carolina.  Slowly things became clearer.  My head started to clear.

I had drifted off to sleep when I was woken up again by someone.  I heard the familiar voice of the nurse.  "Don't try to jar his memory too much.  He's really out of it.  Just talk to him and make sure he's speaking coherently, ok?"  My eyes opened.  The nurse spoke to me.

She asked me my name again and some other strange questions.  Satisfied she added, "Some friends are here to visit you.  Don't tire yourself out there, they can't stay long."

There was a guy with blond hair who had taken a seat next to the bed.  Another guy with a goat-tee who looked about the same age was standing beside him to the right along with a girl.

"Nick, how's the head?" the blond guy said.

"It hurts," I replied.  I must have been looking at him intently.

"Do you know who I am?" he asked smiling.

"Shane, right?" He nodded.  "From the bar, you spilled beer on me, right?"

Shane laughed.  "I thought we had put that behind us, buddy."  I continued staring at him blankly, trying to remember exactly which bar I knew him from.  He continued, "Man that dude really cleaned your clock, huh?"

"Yeah, I got hit, didn't I?" I replied.

"Pretty damn hard," Shane replied.

"Who hit me?" I asked.  Shane shrugged.

"Brendon Witt," the goat-tee guy said.  "He got a game misconduct for boarding you.  He'll probably be suspended for a couple of games."

"This is my friend, Keith," Shane said, nodding at his friend.  "He came to the game with me tonight.  And that pretty lady over there is Kate.  You haven't met them before."

I glanced over at them.  "Coulda fooled me," I said, cracking a smile for the first time.  "I probably wouldn't recognize my own mother right now."  I started to chuckle, and then the others joined in until we were all laughing hysterically.  I was feeling a little better.  But laughing caused my belly to shake and all of a sudden I wasn't feeling as good.  But I couldn't stop laughing.  And then I got nautious.  And the next thing I knew, I was vomiting.

Raleigh, North Carolina - February 4th, 2001

I had had a bad concussion.  I remembered Shane visiting with his friends, and even throwing up all over him, and most of the guys on the team had dropped by as well.  My mom flew in from Connecticut the next day to take me home from the hospital.  I was still groggy the next day.  Doctors forbade me from playing for at least two weeks, and I could only get cleared to play again after a thorough examination.

In the meantime, I was taking time out and resting up.  The grind of professional hockey is grueling.  Of course my neck and head were sore after the the concussion, but my whole body ached for a couple of days afterwards as well.  Playing day in and out takes its toll, and my muscles, after not exercising for a couple of days, were sore.  I would have gotten rest anyway for the all-star break, but it was nice to get the full two weeks.  I had an appointment with the team physician on February 9th to get cleared to play, and until then, I was going to stay the course and just chill out.  The doctors wouldn't even let me on the ice to skate around.

My mom had stayed with me for a week after the accident.  She was absolutely frantic that I had been injured that badly.  But it's a contact sport.  That sort of thing happens.  It was just the mother in her that worried about me.  No matter what I did, she was always going to be worried about it.  I was really flattered that Shane and his friends had come to visit me in the hospital right afterwards.  He had had to lie to the staff and say he was a close friend.  Not too bad to start out a friendship!  At least I hoped it was the start of one.  I hadn't made any friends besides my teammates in my brief month down here.  That night I was going out to see a movie with Shane and his friends.

They came to get me around 8:30 and I climbed into the back of Keith's Explorer.  His friend Kate was in the backseat with me and Shane was in the front.

"How's it going, Nick?" Keith asked.

"Not bad," I said, settling down into the seat.

"How's the head?" Shane asked.

"Still attached."

"We're going downtown to see The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Is that cool?" Keith asked.

"Sure," I said.

"Except," Keith continued, smirking, "I don't remember how to get there, do you?"

"Fuck you," I said laughing.  It was the start to a good night.

Two hours later we walked out of the movie.  I had a good time, except it was a little uncomfortable at times with the gay sub-plot, but I got through it all right, and without getting too big a boner staring at Jude Law and Matt Damon the whole time.  After the movie it was still pretty early and so we went out to a place called Top of the Hill for a few drinks.  Sipping over coffee, we talked some more.

They were really curious about what it was like to be a professional hockey player.  I told him what I could, but I couldn't really relate it to any other kind of work since its about the only work I'd ever done.  Sure I'd done a few odd jobs, now and then, but nothing big.  It is sort of ironic the way people still view professional hockey as a sport.  When you get to the upper levels of the minors and the NHL, you quickly realize its nothing but a business.  And a big business.  I mean Christ, we're unionized!

They were interested in hearing some of the off ice stories.  How much shit we had to put up with with the media, public appearances, charity work (which of course I didn't mind), dealing with fans, etc.  And then I told them some stories that I probably shouldn't have.  There's a lot of shenanigans that go on when we're on the road.  You get a bunch of brash, competitive guys away from their wives and girlfriends for a couple of days and, well, there's going to be some partying and sex going on you can bet.

It was only half of it.  Teams were pretty tight about what they let get outside of the lockerroom and such.  When you spend as much time as I did with these guys, you became real close.  That's why I never thought about any of them as more than teammates.  You hear a lot of stories about stuff going on in the lockerroom, and not only is it not true, but I find it pretty sick.  Sure my pubes were only now starting to grow back, but that was just initiation.  Face it, these guys are like my brothers.  To think about them in any kind of sexual way is utterly ridiculous.

It got a little uncomfortable when Keith started asking me about my own opportunities for sex on the road.  People seem to think that professional athletes can have any female on earth that they want.  And well, (he says chuckling) it's true.  Of course, I didn't want any females, but I couldn't very well admit that.  I dodged the question by saying that I was in a relationship with a special girl and I was faithful to her on the road.  This seemed to satisfy Keith but then Shane started up.

"Does she live around here?" he asked.


"Long distance, huh?  What's her name?"

"Katrina," I said, after a bit.  I had racked my brains for a name and that was the best I could come up with?

"What's the big secret?" he finally asked.  "Is she a porn star?"  He had a glint of mischief in his eye, that much I could pick up on.

"Nothing, its just..."  I stumbled around trying to come up with an excuse.  "She's very private.  She doesn't like people nosing around in her life, that's all."

It was late and Shane and his buddies had classes the next day so we headed home.  I needed some sleep too, I had a check up tomorrow and had agreed to broadcast a period of hockey on the local sports channel for the Hurricanes.  That should be interesting, but fun too.

I wearily laid my head down on the pillow and closed my eyes.  Sleep would not come easy though.  Getting grilled by Keith and Shane had not been fun.  I hate lying about my lifestyle but, I told myself, it was absolutely necessary sometimes.  But even on the road, as I passed up numerous women who would hit on me in bars and on the streets, I began to notice the confused faces of my teammates.  How was I going to live this lifestyle in this rough and tumble sport.  And if I continued to play and have success in the NHL, how could I live my life under the spotlight of the media and public life?  Weariness eventually overtook my tired body but not before I had tossed and turned for a while.

Raleigh, North Carolina - February 5th, 2001- 5:30pm

I was just getting ready to head over to the rink when the phone rang.  I contemplated not picking it up and just dashing out the door, but something told me not to.

"Hello?" I answered.

"How's the head?" a voice rang out.  It was tired and weakened, but unmistakably Ron's.

"Ron!  How are you!  My head is much better, I'm cleared to play next Wednesday."

"You need to put on some wait Mr. Brewer.  I don't know how you can play at 190 with that frame of yours."

"I've been hitting McDonald's twice a week," I joked.

"Better start hitting Burger King and Wendy's as well."  Ron and I talked for 15 minutes.  He was in good spirits, although two trips to the ER in the last week had left him in a pretty bad state.  I realized next time I was in New York or Boston, I had better pay him a visit.  Time was running out for him.  Ron wished me and the team luck as we headed into March madness and the playoff run.  Come April 5th, when the season ended, we'd need to be seeded at least 8th in the conference.  Right now, we were a point out.

As I was about to head out the door, the phone rang again.  I figured it was Ron, maybe adding a little bit of wisdom or a tidbit he had forgotten to mention.  It was Shane.  He was wondering if I had any extra tickets.  I told I may be able to get him some.  I would call him back from the rink.  Well, at least he may be there.  Maybe I could even sit with him for a period.

The pre-game passed quickly and I spent most of it doing interviews.  Surprisingly, I wasn't able to score any tickets for Shane.  Ron Francis had practically his whole family and friends in town for his birthday and had snagged up most of the tickets we had available for players.  But the owner, Karmanos, actually heard me scrambling around for tickets and said that I could invite anyone I wanted up in the owner's box for tonight.  That was where I would be sitting.  If I had to sit in the same room as that asshole, at least Shane and his friends could be there.

I called up Shane at around 6:15pm.

"Shane, its Nick.  Good and bad news.  I couldn't get any tickets for you guys.  But, you're invited to sit up in the owner's box with us."

"Hmm," he said contemplating.  "You know what, its not a big deal.  I talked to Kate and Keith and neither of them could come, and I've got an exam next week so I should probably study anyway."

"Shane, we're talking owner's box.  Luxury box.  Catered food, beer, wine, mixed drinks.  Anything you want."

There was a pause on the other end.  "Catered food?  Beer?  All you can drink?"

"Just don't go nuts and trash the place," I laughed.

"Well, studying can always wait," he finally said.  "And you'll be there, right?  I don't want want to hang out by myself."

"Sure, except for the second period.  I've promised NCCS I'd broadcast the second period with them."

"NCCS?" he asked.

"North Carolina Cable Sports," I explained.

"Cool, you're gonna be on the telly!"

"Don't make me nervous," I scolded.  "I've got to do a meet and greet tonight since I'm not skating, so meet in front of the main entrance.  I'll be there and will hand you your pass to get in."

"Meet and greet?" he asked again.

"It sucks," I said.  "I stand outside and greet the fans as I come in."

"All right Mr. Bigshot, I shall meet you outside."

A few hours later

Well I hadn't done too bad in the broadcast booth.  I even made the other announcers laugh a couple of times.  The team was down 5-1 going into the third.  We were getting shellacked.  I got back to the owner's booth and Shane was standing exactly where I had left him.  I chuckled.  He was slowly slipping on a beer, as Karmanos' 22 year old niece continued to hit on him.

I laughed to myself.  "Shane," I said, slapping him on the shoulder.  "How goes it?"

"Ah very well, Nick." he said.  I could tell he was lying.  "Actually I'm going to have to excuse myself.  Gotta head to the lil' boys room."  Oh no, he wasn't going to pawn her off on me.

"Actually, I think I'll join you," I quickly said.  "I've got to shake a leg as well."  We excused ourselves from his niece, Patty, and made our way to the men's room.

"She's something else," I said, chuckling to myself.  Shane rolled his eyes.

"Oh god, make her go away," he said.  At first Shane had seemed pleased to meet Patty.  She was a very attractive girl.  That is until she opened her mouth.  The girl talked non-stop, and about the most boring topics ever.  And she had an incredibly annoying high pitched laugh which she would use whenever she told one of her jokes, which were never funny.  I was actually glad Shane had been there the whole time because it took the attention off of me.  Patty was convinced her and I would make the perfect couple, but my repeated denials and Shane's presence made her switch her focus for the night.

"Too bad you can't even watch some good hockey.  We're getting our asses handed to us," I said.

"Yeah, you want to skip out on this?  I've had enough of Patty for one night."

"I don't think I can skip out on it," I said.  "Sorry."

"Well, I won't make you suffer alone," he said.  "What's listening to her prattle on for one more period?"

I thought about it.  Karmanos was actually busy schmoozing with some local businessmen, trying to convince them to invest in some luxury boxes.  The prick hadn't paid any attention to me at all tonight.  I could probably walk out and he'd never notice.  He had been drinking martinis all night too.

"You know, maybe I could sneak out of here," I admitted.

A few minutes, later, Shane and I strolled out of the ESA into the balmy Carolina night.  A slight breeze was blowing, but overall, it was a pretty warm night.

"Where off to?" I asked.

"I don't care," Shane said.  He seemed to be weaving a bit.

"Are you drunk?" I asked.

He nodded.  "I've been drinking like a fish.  You would to if you had to stand there and listen to Patty."

I laughed.  I was stone sober tonight.  First I shouldn't be drinking in front of my boss since I was only 19.  Second, I hadn't felt the need to since Shane deflected most of Patty's awful personality away.

"You know what I need?" Shane asked.

"What's that buddy?"

"A nice bottle of SoCo.  You northerner's just wouldn't understand."  His southern drawl seemed to be more pronounced after he had been drinking.

"Actually, I would understand.  I've got half a bottle in my place.  The stuff ain't that bad, I guess."

Shane, put his arm around my shoulder.  "Well then, off to your pad to get drunk as skunks!"  Then he headed out to the middle of the road to hail a cab.

It was a short ride to my place.  I didn't live too far from the ESA and downtown Raleigh.  I had pretty big two bedroom place.  I was making some decent money doing spots for some local businesses, so the cash was flowing in nicely.  Plus I figured there'd definitely be a bigger salary for me next year when I inked a new contract.

Shane walked around and checked out my place as I fetched the bottle of SoCo, and some "glasses of rocks" as Shane had requested in his southern drawl.

"This place is pretty nice," he complimented me.  "You've got some taste my friend."

"My mom decorated it," I admitted.  "I actually, don't have much taste."

"Even so, even so," he said plopping down on the couch.  I sat next to him and poured him a little bit of SoCo.  "Come on, don't be a stranger," he said.  "Fill this here glass up."  I did so, filling mine up as well.  I guess he wanted to drink!

"Bottoms up," he said, clinking glasses with me.  I took a sip of the beverage.  It was definitely not my favorite.  I watched bewildered as Shane downed his whole glass in one giant gulp.  "Ah," he sighed, wiping his mouth.  "The nectar of gods!" he said, winking at me.  I looked back at my glass, prepared my stomach and downed the rest of my glass.

"Whoa!" I said, as my eyes bulged out of my head and watered.  The alcohol had gone quickly down my throat, and I was worried it was about to come back up just as quickly.  Shane laughed and swiped the bottle from my hand.

"I told ya you northerners wouldn't understand.," he said, pouring us both another drink.

"Oh, I understand," I gasped.  "That shit is harsh!"  Shane, undaunted, handed me my next glass.

"Bottoms up, cuz!" he said, before downing the whole glass, yet again.

Oh fuck, I thought to myself.  This could get ugly.  Grimacing I placed the glass up to my mouth and downed it in one gulp.  Swallowing hard, I kept the alcohol from coming back up and eventually re-opened my eyes.  Shane, held out another glass of the poison to me.

He laughed.  "Come on yank, whatcha got!"

The next morning

"Nick, Nick," I heard softly.  I was in some sort of dream, but I wasn't sure what.  The voice became more urgent.  "Nick, my arm's falling asleep," the voice, continued, giggling this time.  My eyes fluttered open.  I was on my couch, lying down.  Facing Shane.  Our legs entangled and my right arm draped over his body.  I was suddenly VERY confused!  "Nick, my arm!"

"Oh," I groaned, rolling over off the couch to relieve the pressure on Nick's arm.

"Thanks," he said, shaking it to get the blood flowing.  "You're not very light!"

I rubbed my eyes, the clock on my VCR read 6:45am.  My neck was stiff from sleeping on the couch.  "What the fuck?" I said aloud, pondering why I had woken up in Shane's arms.  Had I done something stupid last night?  Like cuddle up with him after he had fallen asleep.

"Yeah, that's what I'm wondering," Shane mumbled.  Oh shit I thought, maybe I had.

"What are you wondering?" I asked, fearing the answer that would come.

"Why I felt the need to drink a bottle of SoCo with you," he said.  He paused, and then continued.  "But I know I needed to loosen you up somehow."  Then he put an arm around my shoulder and drew me in close.  "And it worked," he whispered, planting a soft kiss on my cheek.

Oh, sorry to leave you hanging here, but I needed to get this off to Nifty.  You'll find out all about what's going on in the next installment.  I promise, and for you French Canadian fans, je te promets.  Everyone check out the Cane's playing against Montreal tonight.  Let's hope they can grab at least one game in the Molson Centre.  If you'd like to be on the mailing list, please let me know.  You have to mention that fact for me to put you on the list.  Don't worry about your addresses, its all sent out bcc.  And I plan to finish this story before the end of the playoffs in early June.  So keep with it.   Thanks.