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Excerpt

I heard the fight before I saw it, but skated over on instinct, sliding to a halt and attempting to work out what the hell was going on. A quick head-count had five guys beating on each other, and right in the middle, Ten.

Coach skated alongside. “What the fuck?” he shouted, and blew his whistle.

Three of the fighters backed off, but Ten and…shit, that was Addison, his line mate. They were still going at it, Ten sliding back, losing his footing and falling on his ass, dragging Addison with him in a tumble and tangle of arms and legs. The crack of a breaking stick had me wincing, and I waded through the shocked observers to the two on the floor. Ten was on the bottom to start with, but by the time I reached him, he was straddling Addison and shouting in his face.

I couldn’t make out the words, not clearly, but I winced at what I did hear. Fag. And that was from Ten. Disgust and disappointment welled inside me. Ten knew me, knew I’d had a boyfriend. He wasn’t a kid who crossed lines like that. I gripped his jersey, and with a tug so hard he flailed, I dragged him upward. Temper made me see red, and I yanked him across the ice. He couldn’t get purchase, off balance, and almost crashed to the rubber when we stepped off the ice.

“Jesus, Mads,” he said, and righted himself with a hand on the boards.

“With me,” I snapped.

The forwards coach skated over, but I waved him away. I was dealing with this, and even though he frowned, my counterpart let it go.

“Five minutes,” was all he said. “Then he’s mine.”

I stamped my way to the changing rooms and through to the skate-sharpening area, which was sound-proofed. I had words to say, and I wasn’t leaving them unsaid. Ten came in after me, and I shoved him aside so I could shut the door.

“What the fuck?” I asked with restrained aggression.

“He fucking started it!” Ten said, touching the lump on his forehead. “Asshole.”

That defense meant nothing to me, and it was my turn to snap. I backed him up against the door.

“If I ever hear you using that word again, I will personally knock you the fuck out.”

I was shouting right at him, eye to eye, and I saw the moment when the temper in his eyes became something else. Confusion.

“I didn’t… I wouldn’t…”

“I heard you, Ten. You called him a fag—”

“No,” he interrupted me, and he sounded so hurt—defensive, almost. “He called me that, said I was showing him up, that I needed to slow the hell down, and then he called me a faggot, and I lost it, okay?”

Now it was my turn to be confused. “I heard you say…”

“That if he ever used the word fag again, I would bury him.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” Ten looked at me like I’d grown a second head, like I had something on my face. He was trying to find something there, and all I could show him was confusion.

“Did you do that for me?” I asked, and abruptly all my strength left me and I slumped against the wall for support.

“Jared—”

“Don’t do that, okay? I’m at peace with who I am, but I don’t need you to fight for me, you get that? You keep yourself safe and you don’t rise to what anyone says.”

“That’s bullshit,” Ten snapped. “That word is offensive and I don’t want it used in that way, demeaning, laughing. I won’t have it.”

“Why? Ten, there are ways of dealing with this. Official ways.”

“He kept saying it, and he knew…”

“Knew what? About me? The world and his wife know I’m bi; I don’t need protecting.” My confusion was growing, and Ten looked like someone had kicked him in the balls and left him to cry in a heap on the floor.

“He saw me, he must have…”

“Ten?”

“Okay, so it’s no big deal, right,” Ten began. “I took a guy back to my room when I first got here, and he saw.”

“What are you saying?”

Ten looked at me. “You’re not stupid,” he said. “I’m gay, Jared. I’m in the fucking closet, and I’m gay. Okay?”
 


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