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 Nine

Waterbury, Connecticut - December 26th, 2000

"So what do you do in your spare time?" Matt asked me.  I was in Matt's van, driving to Ron's home in Waterbury.

"Ah, not much.  I don't have any," I replied.  I was a little nervous.  It would be the first time I would see Ron since he had gotten sick.

"Come on, tell me some stories.  What's Cincinnati like?  Do you get to meet any NHL guys?  You been any fights lately?"

"I've got this cool scar," I said, rubbing my forehead where the puck had hit me.

"Nah, you can hardly see it now.  You're going to have to try harder to get hurt and get a really cool scar," he said.  "Come on tell me some stories."

"It's pretty much the same as Mississippi," I said.  "Except a hell of a lot colder.  Matt," I started, trying to change the subject, "how does he look?  Does he look the same, or really sick, or... what?"

"He lost a lot of weight, and of course all his hair fell out, but,... hey, listen.  Don't make too big a deal out of it.  He knows he's sick.  What he really wants is just to remember what it was like to not be sick.  Talk to him like you always have.  Tell him what's new, what's going on in your life.  Tell some old stories, you know, reminisce."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

"Of course I'm right, am I ever wrong?"

"Oh boy," I laughed.

"So you seeing anyone?"

The question totally through me off guard.  I wasn't sure I had heard him right.  "Huh?"

"Are you seeing anyone?" he repeated.

"Oh, uh, no.  Well, I don't know."  He glanced quickly over at me, raising an eyebrow with curiosity.  "Well, I met this guy and..." I stopped.  "You want to hear this?"

"Yeah," he said.

"All right," I continued.  "He's hispanic, a little bit older.  I met him in a bar."

"How much older?" Matt asked.

"He's 27."

"Wow, you go, stud."

"Well I haven't even been on a date with him, but we..." I stopped again.  "Why?  All of a sudden, you're asking me about this part of my life?"

Matt continued driving without saying anything.  He nodded his head a couple of times.  Finally he said, "I don't know, Nick.  Maybe I felt like I might not have been fair but..."  He paused.

"Yeah?" I prodded.

He shook his head trying to think of something to say.  Just then he turned right into Ron's driveway.  "Well, anyway.  Here we are.  Let's go see our buddy!" he said, forcing a smile.  He seemed relieved to have reached our destination, avoiding the question.

Ron looked worse than I thought he would.  There wasn't a hair on his face, and his bushy eyebrows were gone, leaving his face stark and naked.  He had a Carolina Hurricanes hat perched on his head.  He was thin, real thin, and I could almost see the outlines of every bone on his body.  But I followed Matt's advice and got on to the better times we had had.

After a while, we got around to his favorite subject... hockey.

"So what do you think about the Kapanen situation?" Ron asked, his eyes sparkling.

"What do you mean?"

"You didn't hear?" Ron asked.  I shook my head.

Matt chipped in.  "He broke his ankle Christmas eve in Detroit."

"Really?" I said, dumbfounded.  "I was flying in from Cincinnati that night, I had no idea."

Ron continued.  "That frees up a spot on the Hurricanes roster for a left wing."

I chuckled.  "I wouldn't get too excited, Ron.  I'm sure they'll call up Byron before me."

"Hey you never know.  They like to get those rookies out there and see what they're made of," Ron said.  His eyes were twinkling as he thought of the prospect of me, one of his protégés, skating in a professional game.

Matt clapped me on the back.  "Better get those skates sharpened, boy.  Or at least lay a cheap shot on Byron in practice to free up another spot."

I laughed.  "I couldn't do that.  Byron's the only guy in Cincinnati I actually like."

"It's a competitive sport, Nick.  Maybe a 2X4 to the knee of Byron isn't such a bad idea," Ron said.

My mouth dropped open and I stared at Ron.  Matt quickly added, "You could get that guy that Tonya Harding hired."  My eyes bulged out of my head and I turned my attention to Matt.  With that, Matt and Ron burst into laughter and pretty soon we were all rolling on the floor.  Tears were pouring down Ron's face.  I thought to myself how nice it was to see Ron so happy.  For a minute, all of us forgot why we were there in the first place.

Cincinnati - January 6th, 2001

I dropped my luggage on the floor and collapsed onto my sofa in my apartment.  It felt so good to be back at my place after being on the road for so long.  The trip back home had been really therapeutic.  Despite Ron's physical appearance, he was as strong as ever and that had reassured me.  Seeing my friends and family after being away for so long had been nice as well.  I also realized how normal and insignificant life was in my small town.  Hockey had taken me all over the country as well as the world, and I realized being away from New Milford wasn't all that bad.

Byron had been sent up to the Hurricanes to pitch in with Kapanen's loss.  He was skating the third line behind Gelinas and Battaglia.  I hadn't talked to him since he had been there.  Even though I was in Cincinnati, I was still pretty excited.  The thought that one of my teammates was playing in the NHL was pretty amazing.  He had been there before, but that was before I had known him.  It was sort of like one less degree of separation between me and the big leagues.  We expected him to be gone for the rest of the season, as Kapanen wasn't expected to recover until mid-way through the playoffs, if the 'Canes made it that far... which didn't look like it would happen.  They were having a miserable season.  They were 10 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot for the Eastern Conference.

With Byron gone I found myself in a more important role with the Cyclones.  I had normally shared first line duties with Byron, but with him gone, the spot was entirely mine.  I was getting lots of ice time and had had a productive three game road trip.  I was adjusting to the new face shield I now wore.  I wasn't entirely happy with hit, but I promised myself I'd leave it on till at least the end of the season.

I thought about unpacking my bags and then jumping into a nice hot bath and then bed.  I glanced at the clock it was only 5:00 on a Saturday.  Way too early to be thinking about bed.  I had thought a lot about Verde since I had last seen him.  I wondered if I'd get the guts to call him.  I took his number out of my wallet.  I picked up the phone.  What the hell.  He's probably not even home.

I dialed the number.  After three rings the answering machine picked up.  It spouted off in Spanish, then switched to English.  "Hi, this Julio and Eduard, sorry we can't take your call right now, but please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.  Thanks.  BEEP!"

I paused, thinking warily of who Eduard might be.  I thought about hanging up.  Then I quickly spouted out, "Hey Julio.  It's Nick.  Just thought I'd give you a call.  Call me back if you want, bye."  I hung up the phone.  Who could Eduard have been I wondered, a little jealously.

"Shit!" I said out loud.  I had forgotten to leave my number!  I thought about calling back but that prospect made me even more uncomfortable.  Maybe I would just try another time.  Oh well, at least I tried, I thought.

I started to unpack my things and clean up my place a little bit.  I always tidied up whenever I wanted to clear my head.  The phone rang an hour later as I was cleaning my bathroom.  It brought me out of my daze.


"Nick, it's Verde.  I'm glad you called."

My heart began to beat and I got really nervous.  "Hey, I didn't think you'd call.  I forgot to leave my number, how did you get it?"

"We have this little miracle called caller ID," he joked.

"Oh," I said, feeling foolish.

"So how was the trip?"

"Good," I continued.  "Very nice.  I was able to relax at home and the road trip was good too.  I got a hat trick last night in Kansas City!"

"What's a hat trick?"

"Its when you score three goals in one game.  It's hard to do," I bragged.

"Oh, good for you."

"And how has work been?" I asked.

"Busy," he sighed.  "But I have the next two days off."

"So..." I said.

"So..." he replied.  "Do you want to go out somewhere?"

"Tonight?" I asked, glancing at the clock.

"Sure, unless you have other plans."

"No, I, guess not.  Actually, yeah, hell yeah, I'd like to meet up."

"Well good," he chuckled.  "Where do you want to go?"

"I don't know."

"Are you hungry?"

"I can always eat!" I said.

"There's a good pizza place close to me.  Why don't we get a bite to eat?"

After getting directions to his place, I locked up and left the apartment.  It turns out he didn't live to far away from me and it only took me about 20 minutes to find his apartment.

I rang for him at the front door and he came down to meet me on the street.  He was wearing a black leather coat over a gray shirt and a pair of tan slacks.  His hair was wet as if he had just come from the shower and I could smell cologne on him.  I had gotten dressed up as well and was wearing black pants, a white button down, with a red winter coat.  It was pretty darned cold out.

"Hey Verde," I said extending my hand.

"Nice to see you, Nick.  Come on I'm starving.  Haven't eaten since breakfast."

"Hey you're a doctor, you should know that's not healthy," I joked.

"I told you I'm not a doctor... yet."

We walked a couple of blocks and then entered a small mom and pop pizza place called, "Bruno's"  How original, I thought.  Verde ordered us a medium pizza and two cokes, while I went over and grabbed a booth.

He slid in to seat across from me.  "This place has really good garlic sauce," he said.  "Although I could avoid that if you'd like?" he joked.

"Hmm?" I didn't get the joke.

"You know garlic... breath..." he raised an eyebrow.

"Oh," I said. I glanced away, embarrassed, "Do you as wish."

"Just a joke, Nick, I gotta to keep you on your toes.  So when do I get to come see you play?"

"Anytime you want.  If you can ever get a day off."

"You guys have a game tomorrow ?  Or the night after?" he asked.

"No, we don't have another one until Tuesday night.  Could you make that one?"

He shook his head.  "Nope, got to work."

"Well, there'll be plenty more coming up."

He nodded and took a sip of his coke.  "You look nervous," he said.

I had been glancing around us in the restaurant, and I had to admit, not being discreet about it.  "Yeah, I guess.  This is kind of a first for me."

"Being on a date?" he asked quietly.

"Is this what this is?" I asked.

He nodded.  "Why wouldn't it be?"

I glanced down at my hands.  "I don't know, I just didn't know... well, who's Eduard?"

Verde laughed.  "Are you jealous?"

"No," I objected.  "I guess, I..."

"He's my roommate," Verde finished for me.  "And I don't think he'll get jealous of you.  He's got a girlfriend, so you pose no threat to him."

"Oh," I said, a little reassured.  "He knows you're, you know...?

"Yeah, of course.  But we're still good friends."

"That must be nice," I sighed.

"Are you not out to many people?" Verde asked me.

"I can count them on one hand," I replied.  "You, my best friend back home, and that reporter."

He laughed.  "Ah, yes our reporter friend.  What newspaper did he work for?"  I shrugged my shoulders.  "I can't remember either.  Look at it this way, if he was going to out you he would have leaked it by now.  That news is only good fresh."

"I guess you're right," I said.  We paused as a steaming hot pizza was placed on a tray in front of us.  After the waitress walked away I continued.  "Still, it must be nice to have someone to talk to you."

"Yes, it is really nice.  And necessary," Verde stated.  "Do you and your friend not discuss this?"

I shook my head.  "No, but, things have changed.  He seems more able to discuss it, now.  When I first told him two years ago he just totally ignored it"

"He's getting wiser and more mature," Verde said.  "Things are confusing when you're 16.  He might have needed time to process it all."  I nodded and half-heartedly agreed with him.  "What, you don't think so?"

"It might have been because, well..." I stopped.

"What?" Verde prodded.  His bright green eyes seemed to stare into the back of my head.

"It might have been because we had a little bit of a, um, history."

Verde nodded slowly as this new information registered.  "OK.  I'm going to need a little more information if I'm to offer any advice.  I know how difficult handling a relationship with a straight friend can be."  Then he added, "Eduard and I have known each other since we were five.  He had a tough time adjusting, you know."

"Well, we kind of, you know..."  I felt uncomfortable talking about it.  "Fooled around...  when we were younger."

Verde nodded and took a bite out of his piece of pizza.  He wiped his mouth.  "It's natural.  I think most guys have tried it.  But you don't like him still, do you?"

"No, well...  I know I love him, but I'm not sure how.  Probably, more as a friend.  He certainly knows that I'm not pining after him."

"As long as he knows that, you have nothing to worry about.  You said he's more willing to discuss it, right?"  I nodded.  "And you're still friends." I nodded again.  "I think he's just come to accept you for who you are.  We don't often think about the other side of coming out you know.  Sure, we face a tough road, we have to come terms with ourselves and with other's perceptions of us... But we have to realize our friends and family are facing some issues of their own.  It's hard on them too.  They have to come to terms with who you are as well, and they have to deal with other issues and things too.  Their whole reality, their perception of you, has changed dramatically.  You can't snap your fingers and expect them to adjust to the new you just like that."

I nodded.  "Yeah, I guess I never really looked at it that way," I said.  "I guess I thought since he was my best friend that he would be there for me, support me, you know?"

"Well, does he support you now?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"So, he is there for you.  It took a little time, that's all."

"Whew," I sighed.  "It's nice to be able to talk to someone about this stuff, and get it all off my chest."

He raised his glass, "I'm glad to help.  To many more insightful conversations like this one," he said.  We clinked glasses.

After we ate, we decided to go for a long walk and talk.  It only took us ten minutes before we got really cold and decided we needed to go indoors.

"Would you like to stop into a coffee shop?" Verde asked.

I shook my head.  "Nah, I hate those places."

"Well, you're too young for a bar."  I laughed.  "My place is right up the road," Verde said.  I hesitated.  "Eduard is home, you shouldn't feel pressured about anything," he said.  "I just want to get out of this cold."

I agreed and we soon found ourselves inside and warm again.  His place was nice.  It opened up to a hallway that led to two bedrooms and then a bathroom.  On the other end was a kitchen and living room where Eduard was plopped down on an easy chair, watching TV.

"Que pasa?" he called out as Verde and I entered the apartment.  Verde yelled something to him in Spanish.  And they chatted away for a few moments.

"Can I take your coat?" he asked.  He hung it up in the closet along with his and walked me into the living room.  "Eduard, this is Nick.  He doesn't speak a word of Spanish so feel free to ridicule him en espanol!"

Eduard laughed and then got up and shook my hand.  I sat down on the sofa and Verde took his place next to me.  Eduard chatted away with Verde in Spanish, giving him some of his messages.  He handed me the remote.  I hate controlling the remote so I passed it on to Verde.  After watching TV for a while, Eduard got up and stretched.

"I've got to do some reading and then I'm going to bed.  I'm exhausted," he said.  He walked toward his room at the end of the hall and called something out in Spanish over his shoulder before closing his bedroom door.  "Mejora sea bueno.  No deseo oír música ruidosa el venir de su sitio más adelante encendido."  Verde laughed.

"What did he say to you?" I asked.

He shook his head.  "Never you mind."

"Come on," I asked smiling.  "Tell me."

Verde looked over at me grinning ear to ear.  "He just said to behave myself."  I laughed.  I guess I would have to take his word for it.

It was only nine o'clock, but I was still pretty tired from all the traveling I had recently done.  I yawned and stretched out, and found myself leaning against Verde.  I figured what the hell, so I kicked off my shoes and stretched out on the sofa, putting my head on his lap.  He put an arm around me and I snuggled into him.  It felt so good to be laying on a warm body.  I could smell the fabric softener of his shirt and could faintly smell his cologne.

He gently tousled my blond hair and ran his fingers over my chin.  I closed my eyes enjoying the feeling of being held again.

I opened my eyes and saw him staring down at me with those emerald green eyes.  They were so fascinating to watch.  "You have really nice eyes," I blurted out.  I couldn't think of anything else to say at the moment.

He smiled, "And you have a very nice body, Mr. Brewer.  It's a shame you don't come into my ER half naked more often."  I laughed.  We sat there, and stared at each other for a while.  Finally he leaned down and kissed me softly on the forehead.  Before he could sit back up I reached for his face with both my hands and pulled him in closer.  We stared at each other intently, and then I kissed him on the lips.  He started to prod me with his tongue and I opened my mouth to willingly let him in.  We kissed passionately for a while and then I broke the kiss.

"Can we go somewhere more private?" I asked.  He grinned and nodded.  Getting up, he took me by the hand and led me back to his room.  Eduard's light was already out.  Quietly we tiptoed into Verde's room and laid down on his bed.  I put my arms around him and pulled him in closer.

We kissed passionately and I moved my hands up and down Verde's strong back.  He raised off the bed a bit and I pulled his shirt off of him.  He wasn't as big as me, but his chest was still slim and defined.  His smooth hispanic complexion was the perfect color and I drank in the sight of him.  He rolled me over onto my back and straddled me.  He kissed my lips again and then moved down around my neck, kissing it and sucking it softly.  He yanked at my shirt and I sat up a little so he could pull it off of me.

He threw the shirt to the ground and looked down at my chest.  He whistled.  "You have such an incredible body," he said.

"Yeah, but I got this horrible scar from when your lackeys tried to stitch me up," I said.

Verde leaned down and kissed the faint scar.  "You can hardly see it," he said.  "Besides, it gives your face a little character," he said.

"What is that supposed to mean?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

Verde smiled, "Well, you have a sort of white and pasty face from spending all your time indoors, skating."  I pinched his nipple in retribution.  "Ow, but yet, its still incredibly beautiful.  I only you wish you were old enough to shave."  Again I pinched his nipple, a little harder.  "Ow, but, but that gives you a nice smooth and sexy look."  He started to trace over my face as he described my features.  "Nice, light blond hair.  Smooth and sexy face, with a nice defined jaw and chin.  White and perfect teeth, at least for now, I'm sure you'll lose them at some point in your career, ow!" I pinched him again.  "But even if you do, you'll still look very strong, and very powerful and lips will make up for it.  Plus you have the two cutest little dimples I've ever seen.  Which is good, because they take the attention away from your crooked nose..."

I wrestled him off me and put him into the headlock.  "My nose is not crooked," I said.

"I think it is, I'll have to straighten it out again."  I squeezed harder cutting down his flow of oxygen.  "Ah, amigo!  Let me up!  Of course its not crooked, I set it and I am an excellent doctor."

"I thought you weren't a doctor yet," I retorted, relenting a bit on the grip.

"True.  But I am an excellent intern and will be an excellent doctor one day."  I let him out of the headlock and before he could say anything else I embraced him and started to kiss him passionately again.  I got on top of him this time and started grinding with him on the bed.  I must have been too loud because he stopped me.  He reached over to his night stand and grabbed the remote to his CD player.

"What kind of music do you like?" he asked, a big smile on his face.

"Anything," I said.  He pushed a button and latin pop started to play.  I frowned.  "Not this, though."

He smiled and pushed another button.  "Let's see," he said.  "You're 18.  I'll try to find something more fitting to your generation."  Dave Matthews started to play.  I shook my head again.  "Well you said you like anything!" he said exasperated.

I laughed.  "Well, I guess I don't."  He frowned this time and shuffled around through a couple more CD's.  This time Madonna came on.  He looked at me.

I shrugged my shoulders.  "Sure, why not."

"What gay man doesn't like Madonna?" he asked as he leaned in and kissed me again.  This time when we locked tongues we didn't worry about being quiet.  I pushed down on Verde with my hips hard and he pushed up with his as we kissed.  Through the grinding I could feel he was hard underneath his slacks.  He started to kiss my neck again and then flicked his tongue in and out of my hear.  It drove me wild.  He pushed me onto my side and reached his hand down to my crotch.  He started to rub up and down on my hard cock.  His fingers slipped off the button and started to undo the zipper.

He got it down and started to reach his hand in my pants before I broke the kiss and pushed him away.  I was panting heavily trying to recover my breath.  Verde looked me in the eyes sheepishly.  "Is this going too fast?" he asked, grabbing my hand.

I looked him in the eyes.  They were full of genuine concern.  "I think so."

"I'm sorry."

"No, please don't be.  I was in to it too."

He sat up and let go of my hand.  He reached down to the floor and handed me my shirt.  I took it but put it back on the floor.  "I don't want to leave," I said.  "Can we lie here together?"

"Of course," he said.  He wrapped his arms around me and we laid back down.  I nestled my head onto his shoulder and relaxed.  It had been a while since I had been so comfortable.

Cincinnati - Sunday, the next morning

The phone ringing tore me out of my dreams and I sat up quickly, groping for the receiver.  I picked it up.  "Hello?"  I glanced at my clock.  It was not yet 5:00 in the morning.

"Hello, is this Nick Brewer?" I heard a female voice ask.

"Yes," I said.  A lump started to form in my throat.  Had something happened to Ron?

"Hi, Nick.  Shelly Long, from the Hurricanes' Travel Bureau.  You need to pack a suitcase right now and get down to the airport.  We need you at Madison Square Garden for a 1:00 game."

I rubbed my eyes trying to think about what was going on.  "What?"

"You've been called up for today's game against the Rangers.  I've got you booked on a 7:15am flight to New York City.  Just pack enough stuff for a couple of days.  If you need to, we can fly you back to Cincinnati tonight or tomorrow to get the rest of your stuff."

"Uh, okay.  What..., where...?" It was early in the morning and I was still trying to comprehend what was happening.

"Everything you need to know will be explained once you arrive in New York.  Someone will be there to pick you up at the airport.  Just get packed and get to the airport.  You're flying on American Airlines, flight 509.  Check in at the gate with a picture ID, and they'll have an electronic ticket for you, ok?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Great, good luck.  Good bye."

"Bye."  There was a click and the phone went dead.  I leaned back in bed and rubbed my eyes.  What had just happened.  Oh my god, I thought.  I've just been called up!  I'm making my NHL debut... in Madison Square Garden!  I jumped out of bed.  This couldn't be happening but it was.  I was going to play against the Rangers, in one of the greatest sports arenas of all-time.

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