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[personal profile] taliahale
Title: The Relative Merits of Citrus
Author: [personal profile] taliahale
Fandoms: Hockey RPF
Word Count: 16147
Ratings/Warnings: Teen
Pairings: Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith/Kelly-Rae Keith, Brent Seabrook/Dayna Seabrook, Abby Sharp/Patrick Sharp, Brandon Bollig/Andrew Shaw
Characters: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kelly-Rae Keith, Dayna Seabrook, Abby Sharp, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Bollig, Andrew Shaw, Corey Crawford, Andree Gilbert, Jessica Kane, Colton Keith, Carter Seabrook, Stan Mikita
Summary: When career-ending injuries keep Kane and Toews from making it to the NHL, they turn to their family businesses. Jonny's expanding into Patrick's market. (He only wishes that was a euphemism.) Everything sort of goes downhill from there. Featuring: rec league hockey, flirtatious emails, fabulous female roommates, gratuitous references to Twilight and the Mighty Ducks, not-so-secret identities, and an overabundance of junk food.

or

That ‘You’ve Got Mail’ AU nobody asked for.
Author’s Note: Written as a pinch-hit for svmadelyn's Hockey Holiday Exchange. Hazel, thank you for the stellar prompt.

Prompt: Blackhawks, Kane/Toews, "Nobody likes a liar, Kaner," Jonny says, but Patrick thinks it's bullshit by the way he's trying not to smirk.

For those uncomfortable with the emotional infidelity in the film, it's not at play here. However, the aftermath of the loss of a parental figure is a plot point, as is the subsequent loss of the inheritance and occupation left behind by said figure. The character's death takes place off screen and several years prior to the story. A character makes a joking reference to a male character kicking a female character's ass, though it's referring to business competition not a physical altercation. A character accidentally ingests too much cough medicine. He's intoxicated while alone with someone he doesn't particularly like or trust, but he isn't taken advantage of in any way.

Thanks, as always, to the inimitable S for the super-speedy, incredibly last-minute beta. You're a lady and a tramp. Thank you for talking me out of titling this 'Miracle on 53rd Street.' Any remaining errors, particularly in judgement, are entirely my own.

Formatting note: emails from Jonathan/stanley19 will be in italics, emails from Patrick/hockeybro88 will be bolded.

Available at AO3 if you prefer.



 



Patrick is huddled on the couch, toasty beneath the lopsided Blackhawks quilt Erica made him two Christmases ago.  Last night’s Sabres/Bruins game is muted on the flatscreen.  He’s watching halfheartedly, hunched over a steaming mug of Folgers Instant.  Jessica is banging around the kitchen, muttering to herself.



“If Wisniewski calls me one more time, I’m gonna kick his ass.” Jessica strolls into the living room with a ‘Buffalo is for Winners’ travel mug in one hand, weatherbeaten leather satchel in the other.



“Wiz has eighty pounds on you, easy,” Patrick winces into his coffee when another shot gets past Miller on-screen.



“And?” Jessica hooks the strap of her satchel over one shoulder so she has a hand free to flick Patrick’s ear.



“And he wouldn’t stand a chance, so take it easy on the guy,” Patrick pauses the game, turning to grin at his little sister.  



“I’ll see what I can do,” she rolls her eyes.  “I’ve got to get my piece on this NHLPA negotiation bullshit finished by tomorrow, so don’t expect me for lunch today.”



“No worries.  Go kick Bettman’s ass for me, yeah?”  He raises his right fist for her to bump.



She grins crookedly and returns the fistbump.  “You should get ready, Patty.  Shawzy’ll kill you if he has to wait outside in this weather.”



“I’m quaking in my skates,” Patrick rolls his eyes, hitting the play button.



“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  A bunch of us are grabbing drinks at Fatpour tonight.  You in?”



“Yeah, sure.  Sounds good.”



“See you later, bro.”



Patrick waits for the sound of Jessica’s key in the lock and then dives for the laptop he’s hidden under the quilt.  He powers up and opens his Gmail.  One new message.



 



Stanley19 (stanley19@gmail.com)



to me



Subject: David




I have a brother.  His name is David and he's three years younger than me.  He loves hockey just as much as I do (which I'd never admit and you'll take to your grave, too, okay?), though our love of the game takes a different form these days.  As kids, our dream was to play on the same line in the NHL--me at center, him on my wing.  Win a couple of Cups, maybe a gold medal or three.  Then I took a bad hit, and I was never really the same.  ACL injury.  I rededicated myself to my coursework and now I have a job that I'm good at, a job that I love, and mostly outgrew my childhood dream of hockey stardom.  David, though--he’s never known when to throw in the towel.  His last few years have been a succession of more and more depressing minor league teams.  




On the nights he calls me from the road, lying in a hotel in the middle of nowhere, still high on adrenaline and so happy I can hear him smiling, I sometimes wonder who made the right call.




I don't know why I feel like I can talk to you about this stuff.  Maybe it's the safety in the anonymity of the internet, maybe it's just that you understand what it's like to walk away.  Whatever it is, I'm glad you're there to listen.




On a less morose note: don’t you love the start of hockey season?  It makes me want to drop everything and hit the rink with a freshly-sharpened pair of skates.  If I knew your address, or your name, I’d send you a brand new puck so you could savor the refreshing scent of vulcanized rubber.  As it is, I hope you’re enjoying the game and the fall air as much as I am.



 



--



 



Jonny’s perusing the Trib’s sports section and enjoying a Five-O bagel sandwich from CBA when Abby barrels into the kitchen.  Her blonde hair’s been tamed into a sleek ponytail and she’s dressed in a smart skirt suit, but she’s barefoot and a little wild about the eyes.



“Those assholes at Bauer want to renegotiate their contract, again,” she says, shoving a K-cup into the coffeemaker with more force than necessary.  She slams the lid down and presses ‘BREW,’ turning to scowl at Jonny.  “So now I get to rearrange my whole morning to go over there and pull their heads out of their collective asses."  Abby stuffs a couple of Strawberry Pop-Tarts in the toaster and adds, "Oh, and the Bruins won last night, so Marchy will be completely insufferable.”



Jonny nods in agreement and Abby orders the coffeemaker to hurry the hell up before rushing out of the room.  She returns a minute later, four inches taller in a pair of violently red strappy heels.  “For luck,” she insists when Jonny raises judgmental brows.  “Don’t forget we’ve got the Bettman dinner.”



“That’s tonight?” Jonny lowers the sandwich half in his hand.



“Don’t even think about flaking on me, Toews,” Abby puts up a warning finger before snapping the lid on her travel mug.



“You know I hate that guy,” Jonny says, shoulders slumping.



Abby blows on slightly burnt fingers after wrapping her Pop-Tarts in a paper towel.  She makes her ‘I feel no pity for you, weakling’ face and Jonny knows exactly what words are about to come out of her mouth.



Everyone hates that guy.  Don’t make me take it to your mother.”  Jonny sighs and nods.  “Great, I’ll see you tonight.  And wear a tie, okay?  It won’t kill you to look nice.”  She takes a sip of her coffee and adds, "No stripes."



Jonny waves her off, taking an excessively large bite of his sandwich.  He’s going to smell like onion for days.  Once the sound of heels clicking across the marble tile fades, he slides his laptop over to check his email.  There’s still a little time before he needs to head to the site.



 



Hockeybro88 (hockeybro88@gmail.com)



to me



Subject: hey, man




Sometimes I imagine we’re old teammates, just shooting the shit over emails to catch up, like we’ve known each other since juniors.  I pretend we’re childhood friends, instead of how things are.  You know, two randos who started out arguing over the Blackhawks defensive strategy on a message board for obsessives like us.  I wonder what you're up to, and then I just open my browser and smile, ‘cause look!  Stan says hi.  And that almost beats that crisp Chicago air on my walk to work.



 



--



 



Jonny is still a little scattered when he arrives at the site, thinking about how just an email from him makes Hockeybro smile.  He’s idly daydreaming about taking Hockeybro skating or to a game, nodding along to whatever Crow’s saying.  Something about the progress of the new store and the contractor and shipping and who knows what else.



“Awesome,” Jonny says, looking around at the exposed wall studs of the ground floor.  “Drywall guys coming today?”



There’s a hint of a smile playing at the corners of Corey’s mouth.  “I just told you there’s gonna be a week delay.  You haven’t heard a word I said since you got here, man.”



“No.  No, I haven’t,” Jonny smiles back.  “Sorry, Crow.  No clue where my head’s at.  I’ll get it together, promise.”



“You met somebody, didn’t you?” Corey’s smile widens, brown eyes crinkling with obvious pleasure.



“Of course I didn’t meet somebody.  When would I have met somebody?” he asks, sounding defensive even to his own ears.  “The only people I see enough to date are you and Abby.”  And Jonny doesn’t want to think about how pathetic that is, so he changes the subject. “I think we should start with the local advertising, let the neighborhood get used to the idea of us coming in.”



“Smooth segue,” Corey’s grin dims.  “This is Hyde Park, Toews. You really want to announce you’re bringing in the evil superstore?  They’ll picket the place before we open.”



“They’ll get used to it,” Jonny waves a dismissive hand.  “First they’ll hate us, but we’ll sucker them in with our selection, low prices, and--”



“Celebrity signings,” Corey finishes for him, giving a little 'jazz hands' type gesture.



Jonny rolls his eyes and flips Corey the bird.  “We’ll win them over.  For now, can you get the guys on putting up a sign?”



“Whatever you want,” Corey shakes his head, wandering off to chat with the foreman.



 



--



 



“Yo, Shawzy.” Patrick nods at Andrew, who’s waiting in front of the store with his hands shoved deep into his coat pockets.



“Morning,” Andrew says, elbowing Patrick with his hands still in his coat.



“God, don’t you love hockey season?” Patrick has to jiggle the key a little in the lock.  He should probably oil that, or something.  “Puts the clientele in a good mood, right?” he opens the door and flips on the lights.



“Sure,” Shawzy says, sounding skeptical as he flips the door sign from ‘Shove Off, We’re At Lunch’ to ‘Get In, Loser’ and follows Kaner towards the back of the shop.



Patrick snags a box of pucks and gives them a sniff with a small grin, thinking of Stanley’s email.  “Smell that?” he offers the box to Shawzy, who’s shrugging out of his coat with a bemused expression.



“Hockey pucks?  Dude,” Shawzy’s eyes grow comically wide and he lowers his voice to a whisper.  “Bossman, are you high?”



“Yes, Andrew,” Patrick deadpans, shoving the box back onto the display rack.  “I toked up before coming into my place of business.”  He motions around the empty shop and asks, “And who exactly do you think is listening?”



Shawzy flushes and throws his hands in the air.  “I don’t know!  Somebody could!”



“Sure thing,” Patrick rolls his eyes, hanging his fleece on the rack next to Shawzy’s massive puffy coat.  Andrew’s mom worries about her baby’s delicate constitution.  “Would you mind getting together the holiday mailers?  We should probably get ‘em sent out by next week.”



“Monday at the latest, I promise,” Shawzy nods, grabbing a pen and his shift checklist.  “I’ve just got this killer Anatomy exam on Friday.”



“No big,” Patrick says opening the safe to pull out the day’s bank.  He’s whistling the old Hockey Night in Canada theme as he heads to the till.



“Seriously, what’s gotten into you?”



“Nothing!” Patrick says, unlocking a register.



“You know I’m going to stand here and not do any work until you tell me, right?” Shawzy leans on the counter, turning the puppy eyes up to eleven.



Patrick triest to resist the eyes for a moment, then sets down his bank bag.  “Okay.”  Shawzy’s face splits into a wide grin.  “Calm down,” Patrick says.  “It’s not that exciting.  I’ve just been talking to this guy.”



“Oh, ‘talking,’ huh?” Shawzy wiggles his eyebrows and makes a rude, not to mention anatomically unlikely, gesture.



“We’re just emailing, pervert.”  Patrick sometimes wonders why he hired Shawzy.  Then he remembers he can make Shawzy do all the kids’ skate fittings and it makes sense.  “And I’m thinking about stopping, ‘cause I just...whatever, I think I’m overly invested, which is just a bad idea.”



“Where’d you meet him?” Shawzy asks, blunt fingers drumming against the scarred surface of the oak counter.



“We got into an argument about line changes on a Blackhawks message board,” Patrick admits, counting out bills and paperclipping them into bundles for the registers.



“Seriously?” Shawzy laughs.



“Yes, seriously,” Patrick throws the empty bank bag at Shawzy, who easily bats it away.  “You’re such a dick.”



The bell over the door rings and they turn to see Sharpy yawning into his Starbucks cup.  “Why’s Andrew a dick?”



“I’m making fun of Kaner and his internet boyfriend,” Shawzy says, ducking the plastic whistle Patrick snags from the glass bowl on the counter.



“Sure you are,” Sharpy yawns again, heading for the stockroom.



The bell above the door rings and Brandon’s strolling in ten minutes late like he owns the place.  “Morning, assholes,” he says, pausing to stare at the way Patrick and Shawzy are leaning towards one another across the counter.  “What’re you girls whispering about?”



“Internet dating,” Shawzy says, ignoring Patrick’s baleful glare.



“Tried that once,” Brandon says.



“Yeah?” Patrick tries not to be interested and fails.  “How’d it go?”



“Great conversationalist, terrible in bed.”



“Thanks for the pep talk,” Patrick throws another whistle and hits Brandon square in the face.  Shawzy’s laughing so hard he nearly falls over, and Brandon looks smug despite the way he’s rubbing at his nose.



 



--



 



“New store’s looking good,” Jonny says,glancing out the window of his mother’s corner office.  The room's sparsely decorated, since she spends most of her time at HQ in Winnipeg, but there's a thoroughly embarrassing picture of Jonny on her desk.  David's a blur in the background, but Jonny's front and center in a Batman costume from Halloween in 1995.  



"That's good to hear," Andrée says.  "I'd heard rumblings of a delay with the drywall."



“Taken care of.  We should open according to your timetable.  Corey and I are a little concerned about the response from the neighborhood.”



“Any initial animosity will pass, darling,” Andrée looks up from her computer with a breezy smile.  “I’m afraid I have some sad news.”



“What’s that?” Jonny asks, dropping into the chair in front of her desk.



“Southside Sports is going out of business,” she reaches across the desk for a high five.



Jonny rolls his eyes, but shifts his paperwork to one hand and complies with a small smile.  “So sad to see the indies go.”



“We’ll buy them out to add to the new store’s inventory, of course,” Andrée says.  “I’ll pass along the details to Abby.”



Jonny nods.  “Did that digging you asked.  Only competition in the neighborhood’s going to be,” he looks down at his notes, “The Great Outdoors, a camping supply store, and 53rd Street Shinny.”



“Donald’s store?”



“Who?” Jonny looks up to see his mother frowning.



“Donald Kane.  The man was an institution in Chicago hockey.  I thought they closed their doors when he had a heart attack a few years ago,” Andrée shakes her head, mouth still downturned.  “He was always kind to me, a woman in a ‘man’s business,’” she says the last in a hard tone.



“Looks like his grandson’s running it now,” Jonny consults his notes.  “Patrick T. Kane II.”



“Well, if he’s half the businessman his grandfather was, we may have some actual competition,” Andrée smiles.  “Though I doubt he could best you, mon cher.”



 



--



 




My mother is one of the most genuinely kind people on the planet.  She’s also completely terrifying and known for thoroughly destroying the competition in our line of business.  No mercy.  It’s something I love and hate about her.




People always talk about weird stuff that happens on public transportation, but I thought it was a sort of urban legend type deal where you haze the kid from the small town.  But on the Metra today, an Elvis impersonator and a gorgeous drag queen done up like a young Dolly Parton got on at the 27th Street station.  They did an acoustic cover of 'Islands in the Stream' for my near-empty car before getting off at 53rd.




I’ll be the first to admit that I have a caffeine problem, but people in Chicago take it to a whole new level.  I pass seven cofee shops, including four Starbucks, between my apartment and my office, and they always have lines out the door.  Why is that?




Confession: I’ve read the Twilight series at least a dozen times.  My sister gave me the box set as a joke, to ‘widen your literary horizons, bro,’ but I was immediately hooked.  The creeptastic way Edward watches Bella sleep, the ridiculously overblown melodrama.  Every damn time I get suckered in by the forbidden romance.  You should totally read this shit, Stan.  The whole series is solid fucking gold.



 



--



 



Sharpy storms into 53rd Street Shinny, curls askew, his red cashmere scarf blowing dramatically behind him.  “You need to see this,” he says, flipping the sign to ‘Shove Off, We’re at Lunch’ and motioning for everyone to follow him.  A few blocks down, Patrick points at the painters carefully filling in the lettering on the new building.



It reads ‘Gilbert & Sons - Bringing Sports to 53rd Street’ in cheerful red lettering.



“We’re screwed,” Shawzy says, slumping against Brandon.



“Completely,” Brandon agrees, slinging an arm around Shawzy’s shoulders.



“We’ll be fine, guys,” Patrick says.  



“But...they’re way cheaper than us,” Sharpy says.



“These superstores are full of assholes who don’t know the first thing about what they’re selling or what they have in stock,” Patrick shrugs.  “It’s totally impersonal.”



“But...cheap,” Brandon says.



“Our customers are loyal, Bolly.  The store’s been around for fifty years.  I don’t see us having to board the place up just ‘cause some competition moves into the neighborhood.”



“Whatever you say, bossman,” Brandon shakes his head, swinging Shawzy around so they can head back to the store.  He's murmuring something in Andrew's ear that has the younger man nodding and blushing with a pleased little grin.



“Stop looking at me like that,” Patrick snaps at Sharpy as they follow the poster boys for unresolved sexual tension.



“Like what?” Sharpy asks, frowning up at the hair the wind's insistently blowing in his eyes.  He really needs to stop putting off that trip to the barber.



“Like I’m delusional,” Patrick sighs, tugging nervously at his knit cap.  “I know it’s not good news, okay?  There’s just...nothing we can do about it.  No need to worry the kids.”



Sharpy studies him for a long moment, then nods.  “Okay.  Let’s get to work.”



 



--



 



“You’re gonna kick Andrée Gilbert’s ass,” Jessica says, poking Patrick with a socked foot.  They’re on opposite ends of the couch, eating Chinese food straight from the cartons and occasionally yelling at the Sabres sloppy defense on-screen.



“Thank you for suggesting I beat a middle-aged woman, Jess, that’s incredibly classy of you,” Patrick says around a mouthful of Mongolian beef.  He takes a swig of his beer, stuffing his chopsticks into the carton and swapping the beef for a paper bag of egg rolls. "Uncool."



“Don’t talk with your mouth full, grosso,” Jessica throws a fortune cookie at him.  “And you know what I mean.  Her, like, metaphorical ass.”  She pulls the band off of her braid, shaking loose the long, brown strands.  



"You're so eloquent, Jessica.  It's like somebody should pay you to write for a living," Patrick gets a sharp jab to the leg with chopsticks for his wit.



“You and the store are going to be fine.”  Jessica pokes him again, more gently.



“I just...maybe it’s a sign,” Patrick studiously avoids his sister's gaze, unseeing eyes glued to the cheesy Chevy commercial that’s cut into the game.



“A sign of what?  The neighborhood’s slow yet inevitable demise?”  Jessica tucks her hair behind her ears and takes a sip of Coke.



“That maybe it’s just...time.  It’s not like running a hockey equipment shop is my, like, calling, or anything.  I just sell people gear.”



Jessica leans against the couch arm, “Patrick Timothy Kane II, you don’t ‘just’ anything.  You loved every moment you spent in that store with Grandpa,” she chokes up for a moment, smile growing wobbly and eyes glassy with unshed tears.  “And I know he’d be so proud of you for doing everything you can to keep it going.”



And Patrick’s not ashamed at all when tears start streaming down his face.  He's embraced his lot in life to be a frequent, ugly crier.  Jessica scoots over, taking the crumpled egg roll bag from his trembling hands.  She drops it on the coffee table and presses her forehead to his. “I know, Pat,” she whispers, pulling him into a tight hug.  “I miss him, too.”



When they’ve both gotten back some semblance of control, Pat wipes his face with a grease-splotched paper napkin.



“Aaand they lost by four."



“Of course they did,” Jessica shakes her head and cracks open her cookie.  “‘You will live long and enjoy life.’  Well, I better enjoy it if it’s gonna be long.  What’s yours?”



Patrick snaps his cookie in half, removing the fortune and stuffing both cookie halves in his mouth.  He chews while he reads, unable to suppress a small smile.  After swallowing, he reads, “‘An admirer is poorly concealing their affection for you.’”



“Oooh, got yourself a new beau?” Jessica giggles and settles against his side.



Pat wraps an arm around her shoulders and rests his chin atop her head.  “Maybe.”



 



--



 



“Well, there’re my favorite Hawks!” Jonny grins as the boys run into the echoey entrance of the new store.  He crouches to hug them, then stands with only a slight wince at the pain in his knee.  When he has one kid balanced on each hip he greets their mothers.  “Kelly-Rae, Dayna, good to see you.”



“You too,” Dayna says before hiding a yawn behind one hand.  She wacks Kelly-Rae on the arm when the other woman giggles.  “Shut up, you’re just as exhausted as I am.”



Mom,” Carter wiggles impatiently, which Jonny takes as his cue to set both boys down.  “You guys can go do mommy stuff, now.  Uncle Jonny will take care of us.”



“Is that so?” Dayna raises mock-surprised brows.



“Yesss,” Colton whines, and Kelly-Rae rolls her eyes.



“Seriously, I’ve got this covered,” Jonny assures them.  “I’m sure you could use some time to yourselves while the guys are out of town.”



“You’re a saint, Jonathan Toews,” Kelly-Rae leans forward and kisses him on the cheek.  “Thank God your mother threw that fundraiser all those years ago, or I have no idea who their favorite sitter would be."



"Some education student who doesn't know anything about hockey, probably."  Dayna kisses his other cheek and adds, "We’re going out for sushi after yoga, so you’ve got them till eight-ish.”



“Sounds good,” Jonny looks down at Colton and Carter.  “What do you guys say we go on an adventure around Uncle Jonny’s new neighborhood, huh?”



“You guys are opening soon?” Dayna smiles indulgently as the boys cheer, looking around the largely empty interior of the building.



“Yeah, just putting the finishing touches on the place.   I thought they might have fun running around the store before we get more stock in, burn off some energy,” Jonny shrugs.



“Sounds like a plan.  You boys be good for Uncle Jonny, okay?”



“Okay!” Colton and Carter chorus, waving as their mothers walk away.



“Well, who’s up for a little floor hockey?”



 



--



 



“Uncle Jonny, look, can we go look at the skates, can we?” Carter tugs on the hem of Jonny’s sweater, pointing at an unassuming brick building.  There’s a selection of hockey gear in the display window, which is etched with ‘53rd Street Shinny’ in scrawling, old-fashioned script.



Jonny looks at the time on his phone, then the chalkboard sign labeled ‘Unless Abducted By Aliens We're Open:’ followed by the days of the week with accompanying operating hours.  “Sure, why not?” he pushes the door open, trying not to be charmed by the tinkling bell that merrily announces their entrance.



The shop’s pretty busy for early evening.  What looks like half a midget team is crowded into the stick section, surrounding a good-looking guy in a faded Esposito jersey.  He’s giving a demonstration on proper stick handling, saying, “Most of your grip should be coming from your fingers, not your thumbs, guys,” with a smile that’s charming the kids and dazzling the hockey moms.  Carter zooms off to join the crowd, but Colton sticks closer to Jonny, wandering towards the collection of Blackhawks memorabilia near the back.



They’ve only been looking at the signed pucks for a few moments before a voice asks, “You guys need help finding anything?”



Jonny turns to dismiss the clerk, but freezes with his mouth agape.  The guy’s a few inches shorter than Jonny, all wide blue eyes and messy blonde curls.  He’s smiling warmly, hands tucked into the pockets of his faded jeans as his gaze moves from Jonny to Colton.



“I, uh--”



Jonny’s awkwardness is cut off by Colton’s cheery voice.  “You have so much Blackhawks stuff!”



“We sure do,” the blond guy crouches down so he can look Colton in the eye.  “You a big fan?”



“Oh, yeah!  My daddy--”



“Practically lives at the United Center, he loves ‘em so much,” Jonny cuts off Colton, ruffling his hair.



“Is that so?” the blond laughs, straightening.  “Who’s your favorite player?” he asks Colton.



“Number two!” Colton says, before losing interest in the exchange.  He gives the clerk a friendly wave before wandering over to join Carter.



“He’s adorable.”



“Yeah, Colton’s a good kid,” Jonny nods.



“So, did you need any help?” the blond gestures at the collection with raised brows.



“Oh, no, sorry.  The boys just saw the hockey gear in the window and I’m terrible at telling them no,” Jonny admits.



The blond laughs and shakes his head.  “I don’t know how you dads do it, man.  I love kids, but they’re, like, adorably sneaky and permanently exhausting.”



“Oh, I’m not--Colton and Carter are my friends’ kids.  I’m just babysitting so their moms can have some ‘grown-up time.’”



“Ah,” the blond nods in understanding, blue eyes darting to Jonny’s ring-free left hand.  “Well, if you change your mind about needing help, I’m Patrick Kane,” he extends a hand.



Shit.  Shit, not a clerk.  This charming, happy, stupidly-cute guy is Patrick Kane, owner of 53rd Street Shinny.  Jonny hesitates for a fraction of a second before taking Patrick’s hand.



“Jonathan. You can call me Jonny,” he says, shaking Patrick’s hand a beat too long, distracted by the way Patrick’s cheeks dimple as he smiles.



“Nice to meet you, Jonny.”



“Yo, Pat!”  One of the two guys manning the registers is waving in their direction.  “Could use a hand for a sec!” the shorter one, who looks all of twenty years old, yells.



“Duty calls,” Patrick says, scratching the back of his neck as he looks up at Jonny.



“No problem,” Jonny says.  “I’ll just go check on the boys,” he nods in the direction of the crowd.



“Kay.  It, uh, was good talking to you, man.”  Patrick turns and heads for the counter.



“You--you too,” Jonny mumbles when Patrick’s already out of earshot.



 



--



 



“Dude,” Shawzy says after the counter rush dies down, “who’s Mr. Tall, Dark, and Serious you were flirting with?”



“We weren’t flirting,” Patrick protests, eyes flicking to where Jonny is standing next to two adorable boys.  He’s listening with a perfectly earnest expression as they chatter and point at the selection of teeny tiny pads.  “He’s just some guy--said he was babysitting.”



“Uh-huh,” Brandon smirks when Patrick blushes.



“Shut up,” Patrick hisses, because Jonny’s approaching the counter with an armful of merchandise and two miniature humans.  Pat’s not going to be embarrassed by his own employees.  For once.



“Hey, Patrick,” Jonny says, smiling as he sets his purchases down at Shawzy’s register.  “The boys found some stuff they couldn’t live without.”



Shawzy starts to scan the stack, blade guards and pucks and laces, carefully wrapping and placing each item in a bag.



“Is that so?” Patrick smiles back at Jonny before looking down at Carter and Colton.  “When I was your age my family would come to visit from Buffalo.  I could never leave the store without picking up something new, either.”



“Is that you?” Jonny asks, nodding at a framed photo on the wall behind the counter.



Patrick turns and his smile grows a little sad, but he nods.  “Yeah, that’s me,” he points to the laughing boy in the picture.  Little Patrick has the same errant curls and blue eyes that seem a size too large for his thin face.  “And that’s my grandpa, Donald Kane.”  The man in the picture is tying a pair of hockey skates onto Patrick’s feet, smile half hidden by a full beard.  They’re both decked out in Mikita Blackhawks jerseys.  “This was his store.”



“You guys would come back, right?” Brandon asks, leaning his elbows on the counter.



“Uh, yeah, definitely,” Jonny nods, looking between the three men smiling from the other side of the counter.



“See, Bolly?  That’s why we won’t go out of business,” Patrick punches Brandon on the shoulder.  “They’re opening up a Gilbert & Sons down the street,” he adds to Jonny, who tries to look surprised by this news.



“Gilbert & Sons!” Carter is beaming.  “That’s Jonny’s--”



“Occasional guilty pleasure,” Jonny says, hand covering Carter’s mouth.  “How ‘bout you guys go check out the Blackhawks stuff while I take care of this?”  He gently pushes them in the direction of the memorabilia corner, where they run off to with no argument.  “It’s fun to look around a place that big every once in a while,” he adds, pulling the wallet out of his back pocket.



“No, yeah, I get it,” Patrick nods.  “But there’s really something to be said for knowing the staff at your local shop, you know?  My grandfather ran this place for over forty years, practically established the neighborhood.  Wasn’t a kid who played hockey who didn’t come to him for advice.  What stick to buy, what sort of skates should he choose, is he cut out for his position and all that.  And he made time for every one of ‘em.  Never forgot a face or a name, either,” Patrick shakes his head, expression wistful.



“Total’s gonna be $70.38,” Shawzy says.



“It’s...right.” Jonny’s relieved to find he has enough cash.  He’s not sure they’d recognize his name, but he’s relieved not to risk it.  “Mr. Kane, he was like the whole neighborhood’s grandfather.”



“Exactly,” Patrick nods, gracing Jonny with another of those blinding grins and an exuberant finger-gun.  “Anyway, he left the store to me, and I’m gonna pass it on to my kid.”



“You have kids?”



“Oh, not--no.  I don’t have kids, now.  But, you know,” Patrick shrugs, “eventually there may be a Patrick Timothy Kane III running around in here.  I'd call him Trip, you know for the III, triple, it's a family name and--anyway.  No, I don't have kids, but someday.”



"That sounds nice," Jonny says, eyes dropping to where Patrick's nervously biting his bottom lip.



“Right, well,” Shawzy passes over Jonny’s purchase, carefully packed in a canvas tote bearing the 53rd Street Shinny emblem on one side.  “You’re all set.”



“Thanks.  Boys!” Jonny shouts to Carter and Colton.  “Come on, don't wanna be too late for your moms!”



“You boys enjoy,” Patrick tells Carter and Colton, who are busy racing each other to the door.



“Well, wait for me!” Jonny sighs.  “Thanks for the help.  It was a pleasure meeting you, Patrick,” he adds, before hurrying after the boys.



“Oh, no, you're right, bossman.  That didn’t look like flirting at all,” Brandon smirks.  He gets a sharp elbow to the ribs for his trouble.



 



--



 



Sharpy comes out of the stockroom, iPad in hand and reading glasses low on his nose.  “Gilbert & Sons has been open for a week and we’ve already done $1500 less than this week last year.”



Patrick nearly loses his footing, gripping the top of the ladder with white knuckles.  “Well, that could just be a fluke.  We’ve had shit weather all week.”



“Sure, Kaner,” Sharpy says, watching as Patrick returns to hanging red and black garland on the wall behind the registers.



“Oh, God,” Shawzy says, some of the drama in his tone diminished by the elf hat perched jauntily atop his head.  “What if we have to close?  I’m never going to find another part time job that works with my class schedule, and then I’m going to be broke, and then I’m going to be homeless!”



“Don’t be an idiot, mutt,” Brandon socks Shawzy on the arm then continues threading cranberries and popcorn.  “You could just move in with me.”  Shawzy ducks his head and steals a handful of popcorn, cheeks a brilliant red.



“Guys, we are not going to close,” Patrick says, for what already feels like the millionth time, and slides down the ladder.



The bell over the door is accompanied by the black and red bell wreath, sending a chorus of ringing through the shop.  Stan Mikita walks in, Team Canada toque pulled low over his ears, and looks around the empty shop with a worried frown.  Patrick’s known Stan for years; he was a friend of Donald’s and used to come in pretty regularly to sign things for fans, or just to chat.



“Stan!” Patrick hurries over, shaking the man’s gloved hand.  “I didn’t know you were in town, it’s so good to see you!”



“I came as soon as I heard, are you doing okay, kid?” Stan clasps Patrick’s hand in both of his own.



“I, well, we’re glad to have you,” Patrick’s taken aback, hand falling from Stan’s grip.  “I heard you’ve got a new book coming out; when should we set up a signing?”



“Oh, it won’t be out until January.  Will you still be open then?”



“We’re fine, Stan.  Aren’t we, Sharpy?”



“No change at all,” Sharpy agrees, shoving his reading glasses atop his head as he shuts off the screen of his iPad.



“Well, let me know if you need help with anything, you hear, Kaner?” Stan says, voice stern.  “Rallies, we could get the paper to write something,” Stan nods and starts for the door.  “That hippie chick they’ve got writing a column at the Trib would be livid about this,” he adds, pausing in the entryway.



“What hippie chick at the Trib?” Brandon asks.



“Jessica something-or-other,” Stan says.  “This is just the sort of social injustice that’d piss her off.”



The door shuts in a jangle of bells and the chorus of Patrick’s asshole employee’s laughter.



 



--



 



“He called me a ‘hippie chick,’ seriously?” Jessica unbelts her trench coat and adjusts the neckline of her dress, leading Patrick up the last flight of stairs to the Christmas party.



“That’s not the point,” Patrick says, yanking off his earmuffs.  “Stan Mikita thinks the store’s in trouble!”



“The store is fine.  Mikita’s had one too many blows to the head,” Jessica says, knocking on the apartment door.



The door's answered by a pretty blonde.  Her eyes brighten when she spots Jessica.  “Jess, darling, how are you?”



“Great!” Jessica smiles and hugs the hostess.  “Abs, this is my brother Patrick.  Patrick, this is my friend Abby, from book club.”



“Nice to meet you,” Abby shakes Patrick’s hand and waves them inside.  “We’ve got food, drinks, and more Blackhawks fanatics than you can shake a stick at, so I hope you don’t mind excessive hockey talk.”



“Pat loves hockey,” Jessica assures Abby.



 



--



 



“Shit, what’s he doing here?” Jonny snags Abby by the elbow, dragging her behind the Christmas tree.



“Who?” Abby peers around the tree, pushing down a branch for a clearer view.



“Patrick Kane!”



“Patrick K--oh, Jessica’s brother!  You know that book club I’ve gone to twice a month for the last three years?  Jessica’s in it.  I thought it’d be fun to invite her this year, and she brought her brother as her plus-one.  How do you know him?”



“I’m about to put him out of business with the Hyde Park store,” Jonny says.



“Oh, that’s...that’s too bad?” Abby offers.



“Worst best friend ever,” Jonny glares at her.



“There is no way in which I did anything wrong, Jonathan Toews.  Now, you can’t hide back here, it’s our party,” Abby says, giving him her best ‘be better’ stare.  It’s pretty effective.  “Go, just, make nice.  Hide in the kitchen if you really have to.  But no causing a scene, I’m not breaking up any fights this year.”  She whirls off in a whisper of blonde hair and emerald silk.



“Awesome,” Jonny shakes his head, ducking through the crowd as he heads for the kitchen.  Where, because the universe is a cruel, cruel place, Patrick is standing alone, loading up a plate.



“Oh, hey!” Patrick smiles when he looks up and sees Jonny.  His smile dims at Jonny’s expression.  “I’m, uh, Patrick, from--”



“53rd Street Shinny, yeah,” Jonny nods and snags a beer from the fridge.  He takes a long drink to cover his nervousness.



“Right.  It’s Jonny, yeah?” Patrick shifts on his feet, all boundless energy and earnest grins.  Jonny wants to grab him by that awful striped tie and kiss the hell out of him.  He should maybe lay off the drinks.



“Yeah.” Jonny nods.  He spots a picture of him and David fishing on the fridge and shifts to block it from Patrick’s line of sight.  “So, who dragged you to this boring party?”



“Doesn’t seem so bad from in here,” Patrick circles the island, browsing the selection of hors d'oeuvres.  “My sister’s in Abby’s book club.  You?”



“Same.”



“Your sister is also in Abby’s book club?” Patrick laughs, loading his plate with hummus and veggies.



“No, I don’t have a sister,” Jonny flushes, picking at the label on his bottle with a thumbnail.  “I mean, I’m here because of Abby.”  Not a lie.  “She’s an old friend.”  Still not a lie, even if he’s leaving out how she’s also his roommate.  “And I should probably get back, I was supposed to be grabbing her a drink,” he fibs, snagging a second beer from the fridge.



“Oh, sure,” Patrick looks a little disappointed and Jonny valiantly refrains from kissing the pout away from his mouth.  “Nice seeing you, again.”



“You, too,” Jonny says, heart pounding in his chest as he flees the kitchen.



 



--



 



“Oh my God, Patrick, what is wrong with you?” Jessica punches him on the arm.



“Nothing, what the hell?” Patrick manages not to drop his plate, but only just, which means Jessica’s getting the glare he normally reserves for Salvation Army Santas, Red Wings fans, and shoplifters.



“What were you doing getting all friendly with Jonathan Toews?” she steals a carrot off of his plate, digging into his hummus like she’s entitled or something.



“I--how do you spell that?” Patrick scans the crowd, wondering where Jonny disappeared to.  He spots Abby, beerless, and frowns.



“I don't know.  Never mind, that doesn’t matter.  Don’t you know anything?  He’s the oldest ‘Son’ in ‘Gilbert & Sons,’ you idiot,” Jessica whacks him on the back of the head.  If he didn’t know that violence was how she showed affection, he’d be seriously pissed off right now.  “You were flirting with the enemy!”



“I’m not--he isn’t--I’m gonna kick his ass,” Patrick shoves the plate at Jessica, who looks happy enough to take it off his hands.  He goes searching through the crowd for Jonny, and Jessica better be misinformed because seriously shady.



Patrick spots Jonny standing on the balcony, shoulders hunched under the chill of the December wind.  He opens the door and slides it shut behind him.



“Sorry, the guests aren’t allowed--” Jonny turns and sees the stormy look on Patrick’s face, “--out here.  Hi, Patrick.”



“Tell me you’re not Jonathan Gilbert, or Toews, or whatever the hell.”



And Jonny must look so incredibly guilty, because Patrick’s expression just went from mild showers to Hurricane Sandy.  “Look, I’m sorry I--”



“No.  No talking!” Patrick puts up a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose with the other.  “You, you came into my store and--were you spying on me?  You probably rented those children!”



“I didn’t--I did not rent Colton and Carter!” Jonny sputters, spine snapping straight and ire rising.



“Well, of course I should take you at your word.  Seeing as how you’ve been so honest and forthcoming up to this point!” Patrick says, hands dropping to his hips.



“That’s--okay, fair.  But I was not spying on you,” Jonny reaffirms, scowling when Patrick huffs a derisive laugh.  “There’s no reason for me to--you did, what, about $300,000 in sales last year?”



“How would you know that if you aren’t spying on me?”



“I know business and I know hockey!” Jonny shouts, throwing a hand in the air.



“No, I know hockey!” Patrick shouts back, getting up in Jonny’s face.  “You’re in the business of overstocking some faceless building full of people who don’t give a shit about the game!”



“Oh, I’m sorry my successful company lacks the integrity of 53rd Street Shinny.  Which, really, is a nice enough specialty store.”  Jonny’s pissed, but he can’t help thinking about how blue Patrick’s eyes are and how his mouth is all of eight inches away and if he just leaned forward and down--  “And yeah, I went into your store and bought things like anyother paying customer.  It’s not a crime.  I’m the kind of asshole who likes to buy the affection of the children in his life.  Your store was the only place in the neighborhood for what they wanted, which is, thankfully, no longer the case.”



Patrick’s cheeks are flushed a blotchy, vivid, unfairly fetching red.  “You--I--you just--”



“Everything okay out here?”



They both turn to see Abby in the doorway, shivering in her party dress.  Her tone implies everything had better be okay out there.



“Yeah, no, I was just leaving,” Patrick says.  “Thanks for having me, Abby, you have a lovely home.”



“Thank you, Patrick,” she flashes him a genuinely pleased smile and backs inside so he can pass.  Patrick leaves without a backward glance.  Abby turns her steely gaze on Jonny, who’s cold, buzzed, pissed, and oh-so-unfortunately in lust.  “Oh, Jonny,” Abby sighs, reaching out for his hand.  “You are so very, very fucked.”



 



--



 




Is there anyone who drives you to distraction to the point where you’re...I don't know how to put it.  Unintentionally mean?  It’s like, when you see that person there’s something about them that makes it so you can’t even think straight and BAM.  Suddenly you’re acting like a dick!  God, you probably think I’m a total jerk, now, because as far as I can tell through email you’re about the nicest person I know, but.  I thought I’d share anyway.  Definitely not Mr. Perfect over here.




I know exactly what you’re talking about, but instead of getting nasty I get completely tongue-tied and can’t think of a single thing to say!  I’m straight-up envious of your asshole abilities.  For instance, what should I have said to the creep who recently reduced my entire career to a geographical footnote to his?




Would that I could switch places and be an asshole for you.  Gotta warn ya, buddy, it’s usually followed by instant regret.  Do you think we should meet up IRL?



 



--



 



Patrick’s lived in Chicago since he was eighteen and never once, to his knowledge, ran into Jonny.  Now it’s like the asshole is stalking him or something, because he’s everywhere, being all friendly and charming and trying to make nice with Patrick and it's unfair.  Jonny’s browsing the produce at the winter location for Patrick’s favorite farmer’s market, inside of Experimental Station.  He’s three spots ahead in line when Patrick goes to pick up Sharpy’s inventory day coffee.  He's playing a game of pick-up basketball in the park down the street from Patrick's apartment.  And now, he’s gone too damn far.



“You have got to be shitting me,” Patrick bites down on his mouthguard, keenly aware of his rising blood pressure.  It’s their last game before Christmas and he won’t stand for this.



Shawzy does a lazy loop around the net to stop at Patrick's right.  "Hey, Antti," Andrew nods at their goalie, who's folding himself into painful-looking stretches against the boards.  "What's wrong, bossman?"



“Since when were they letting complete assholes in our league?” Patrick adjust his grip, ignoring the twinge in his left wrist.



“Well, Bolly’s on our team, so at least two years,” Sharpy offers, gliding up as he puts on his helmet.  “What’s the problem?”



“That,” Patrick points to the far side of the rink, “is our problem.”



Looking unfairly attractive in an orange jersey, the other team’s 19 is none other than Jonathan Toews.



“Son of a bitch,” Brandon looks like he’s ready to start a fight here and now, pulling off his gloves.



“Put those back on,” Shawzy orders, wacking Brandon across the ass with his stick.  “You don’t beat him up unless Patrick says so.”



They all turn to Patrick expectantly.  He sighs, the truly weary exhalation of the long suffering, and shakes his head.  “We’re better than that, guys.  Come on, let’s get warmed up while we wait for Jess.  She got stuck in an interview, but she should be here any minute.”



 



--



 



“That,” Abby says when Jonny strolls out of the locker room, “was ridiculous.”



“Hey, Abs, great to see you, too.  How was work?” Jonny deadpans, hitching the strap of his equipment bag so it rests more securely on his shoulder.



“Great like always, asshole.” Abby grabs his chin, tilting his head so she can examine the purpling that's blooming into a vibrant black eye.  “You and Kane seriously need to chill out.  I get that you got off on the wrong foot, but I can tell you like the little guy--”



“He’s not that small,” Jonny mumbles, knocking Abby’s hand away.



“Oh, sweetie,” Abby says, sad smile twisting her mouth.



“Blocking the way, much?” a familiar voice snaps from behind Jonny.



“Sorry,” Jonny steps aside and part of Patrick’s team files out, looking the worse for wear.



“I’m sure you are,” Jessica says.  She’s glaring, not at Jonny, but at Patrick, whose split lip is swollen to nearly twice its usual size.  “Always nice to see you, Abby.”



“Likewise,” Abby smiles.  “Hi,” she gives the others a little wave.



“Abby,” Jessica says, yanking a knit beanie on over her sweat-damp braids, “this is Brandon, Andrew, Antti, and Patrick.  Guys, this is my friend Abby.  Be nice,” she orders.



And hell if Sharpy and Abby aren’t giving each other googly eyes.



“Two Patricks, eh?” Abby raises one perfectly arched brow.



“One is vastly superior to the other,” Sharpy runs a hand through shower-damp curls, looking like a Disney prince in worn Carhartt.  “I’ll let you figure out which all on your own.”



“I’m sure you will,” Abby’s smile turns sly and Jonny needs out of here yesterday.



“Abby, we’ve gotta go, we’ve got that thing,” Jonny shuffles his feet, not looking at either Patrick.



“Oh, really?” Abby turns on him with an assessing glare.  She must see the desperation in his eyes, because she nods and looks to Jessica.  “Call me, Jess, we’ll catch up,” she says, eyes on Sharpy, who’s flashing her his brightest smile, “maybe grab a coffee?”



“Sounds great,” Jessica agrees.



“Right, well, we’re off.  To the thing,” Abby rolls her eyes.  They’re fooling precisely no one.



 



--



 




I miss my grandpa every day, but today was stupidhard.  I was putting together my traditional hockey stick tree at work, complete with goalie mask topper, and, not gonna lie man, I almost cried when I found this note he’d tucked inside the mask a few years ago.  It was just a few lines, scribbled in that damn-near illegible chicken scratch of his, but I could use his advice right now and it was just--ugh.  I wished he was here to tell me everything will turn out fine and then tuck me into bed, ya know?




Is there anything I can do to help?  What kind of advice do you need?  No guarantees I’d be helpful, but I’ve been told I’m a good listener when I want to be.




I wish you could help.




Is it a relationship thing?




Fuck, no.  Epic dry spell over here, but that’s not the real problem.  My business is...not doing so hot at the moment.  Like, even this old family friend who’d recently come by to let me know he’d be happy to help--he just jumped ship and is helping out my competition.  Didn't even say anything to me, I just saw an advertisement for his appearance at my competitor's place of business.




That’s cold, man.  Not to toot my own horn, or anything, but I’m a pretty successful businessman.  What line of work are you in?




Dude, no specifics, remember?




Well, no idea how helpful I can be without specifics.  I’m guessing your business is pretty small?...




Yeah, we’re not exactly Walmart over here.




Thank God for that :)  Well, then all I can say is that it’s about focus.  Don’t let anything distract you from your goal.  And just because you’re the little guy, it doesn’t mean you can’t win.  Concentration, not strength.




...I’m...sorry not sorry, I’m trying not to laugh at you quoting Mighty Ducks at me, you complete and utter asshole.




The Might Ducks is a cinematic masterpiece, you philistine.  (And you totally recognized it.)  And you said no specifics, so it’s the best I’ve got.




Okay, Coach, I’ll see what I can do. Concentration, not strength.




You’ve got this, man.



 



--



 



“Jess,” Patrick looks up from his laptop, chat window still open.



Jessica’s midchew, but she raises her brows in the universal gesture of ‘I’m listening’ so Pat continues.



“So, the store is really in trouble.”  Jessica sets down her sandwich and reaches across the table to grasp his hand.  He smiles and squeezes back.  “But I’m not going down without a fight.  Would it be totally unethical for you to write about 53rd Street Shinny in your Sunday column?”



“Yeah,” Jessica nods.  “But I’d write it anyhow.”



“You’re one of my three favorite sisters,” Patrick grins.



“Asshole.”  She kicks him under the table, but she’s smiling, anyway.



“We can do this.  Concentration, not strength.”



Jessica snorts.  “Okay, Bombay.”



 



--



 



The next weeks are a blur of blogger email interviews, local newscasts, picket lines, and 53rd Street Shinny crowded with people who’ve come to look, but not buy.



Jonny’s upping the incline on his treadmill and is determinedly ignoring the peppy redhead from Channel 5 when Patrick suddenly appears on-screen.  “Shit,” he says, nearly tripping.



Corey gives him an assessing look and turns up the volume.



“I’m here outside a Hyde Park institution, 53rd Street Shinny, with current owner Patrick Kane,” Red says, all bright smiles and blank eyes.  “Mr. Kane’s business is facing dire economic straits thanks to the opening of a Gilbert & Sons just a few blocks away.  The superstore offers a large selection and steep discounts.”



“They have to,” Patrick says, looking uncomfortable in a jacket and tie.  Someone’s inexpertly tried to flatten his curls with too much gel, and his hair looks stiff and crunchy.  Dammit if Jonny doesn’t find the awkward bastard completely adorable.  



“He’s a complete asshole,” Jonny says, unable to muster up much vehemence.  



"Which is why you've been following him around like a puppy, making moon eyes at him and then sulking when he ignores you," Corey says.



"Screw you, Crow."



“Their sales staff doesn’t know anything about what they’re selling,” Patrick says.



“Hey!” Jonny motions at the TV.



“Can’t hear you, man,” Corey snorts and keeps jogging.



The broadcast cuts to the segment they filmed at the new store earlier in the day.  Jonny’s standing in the middle of the hockey section, looking stiff as he leans against a hockey stick.  “Our prices are lower than theirs.  He can call me the bad guy.”  The interview cuts off to a voiceover of the redhead and Jonny loses his shit.



“Are you kidding me?”



“What the hell did you say that for?” Corey slams a fist on his treadmill’s emergency stop button.



“That wasn’t--they cut out like ten minutes of me talking about how awesome we are!” Jonny turns off his own treadmill, barely suppressing the urge to go punch a wall or Patrick Kane’s perfect face.  “I talked about how great we’ll be for the neighborhood, how we donate money to local teams and charities--”



“And you gave them a perfect soundbite so you look like a dick,” Corey punches Jonny on the arm.



“God, it was inevitable they’d want to turn him into some kind of everyman hero and me into the bad guy!”



“Tazer, you literally said he could call you the bad guy.”



Jonny buries his face in his hands and prepares for the inevitable call from his mother.



 



--



 



Brandon and Shawzy have gone home--possibly the same home, Patrick can't keep up with the intricacies of relationships among the children--the sign’s flipped to ‘Shove Off, We’re at Lunch,’ and the Patricks are standing on opposite sides of the counter, talking over the books.



“After...after all that press and the protests and...no change at all?” Patrick is doing his damndest not to cry.



Sharpy shakes his head, gives Patrick’s forearm a comforting squeeze.  “I’m sorry, man.”



“I just...what am I supposed to do?  What would Grandpa have done?”



They both look up at the photograph of Patrick and Donald.  Sharpy tilts his head like he’s listening, and says, “Well, he doesn’t know, but he digs the hockey stick tree.”



“Thanks, Sharpy,” Patrick leans more heavily against the counter.  He looks around the store, vision blurred by unshed tears.  



There’s the corner where he tried on his first pair of skates.  That’s the stool he sat on when Grandpa told him he wouldn't be the same after the second wrist surgery.  This spot on the counter is where his dad put down the keys and told Patrick that Grandpa had left him the store, that the place was his if he wanted it.



“Look, you wanna tag along?  I’m just meeting Abby for drinks.  She thinks you're adorable, I’m sure she won’t mind,” Sharpy offers, buttoning up his wool pea coat.



“Naw, man, I should probably tidy up a bit before I head home.  Go, have fun.  Woo the girl.”



“I do not woo,” Sharpy grins.  “I’m gonna sweep her off her goddamn feet.”



Patrick shoos Sharpy out the door then unlocks his phone.  He starts a new email and sends it before he can change his mind.




I need your help.  Are you still interested in meeting up?




Name a time and a place and I’m there.



 



--



 



“He’s seriously gonna be waiting there with a copy of Twilight and a Mighty Ducks DVD?” Corey looks like he can’t decide to laugh or cry.



“Shut up, I know it’s awful,” Jonny groans.  “But it’s sort of an inside joke.”



“What if he’s, like, the Elephant Man, or a serial killer?  Or a serial killer who looks like the Elephant Man!”



“You’re a terrible human being,” Jonny deadpans.  “And you’re here to make sure I don’t get murdered if he is a serial killer.  I’m just gonna go in, chat for a few minutes while you earn your best friend cred by waiting out here, then split.”



“Sure thing, Tazer.  Is this it?” Corey points to the sandwich board out front of a small cafe.  Someone’s written ‘Cafe 53 - Try the Gelato (OR ELSE)’ on it in violently pink chalk.



“Yeah, this is it,” Jonny stops, leaning against the stone archway of the adjacent storefront.  “Listen, Crow,” he snags Corey by the lapels of his leather jacket.  “This guy is the most perfect asshole I’ve ever had the displeasure of talking to, and if he’s even one step above the Elephant Man in the looks department, I’m probably going to ask him to run away with me to Winnipeg so we can get married.”



Corey’s face splits into a wide grin.  “That’s great, Jonathan.  Now, can you let go of me?”



Jonny’s hands are frozen, still clinging to Corey’s jacket.  “I need you to look for me.”



“You--seriously?”  But Jonny’s pale and his hands are shaking just a little, so Corey takes pity on him.  “Okay, Jonny, okay.”  He pries Jonny’s fingers free of the creaking leather and walks a few paces to peer inside.  “So, keep in mind that I’m not into dudes like that so my opinion on his relative attractiveness versus his sexual attractiveness is, uh, suspect at best.”



“Does that mean he is the Elephant Man?” Jonny glares at Corey, who’s turning away from the glass storefront.



“So, he has a kind of Kane-esque quality about him,” Corey says, eyes fixed on a point over Jonny’s shoulder.



“Like Patrick Kane?"  Corey nods.  "So he’s short, he’s blond, what?”



Corey flinches, and asks, “Do you think Patrick Kane is good looking?”



“I--why?”



“Because your Hockeybro is Patrick Kane,” Corey admits, meeting Jonny’s eyes.



Jonny darts to the window.  Sure enough, Patrick is sitting at one of the granite tables, sipping on something iced that’s maybe half whipped cream.  Next to his phone is a battered paperback edition of Meyer’s disasterpiece, topped with a DVD of The Mighty Ducks.



“Shit,” Jonny breathes, turning back to stare at Corey.



“Yeah,” Corey agrees.



“I don’t...shit,” Jonny slaps the stone archway with an open palm, feeling slightly steadier at the sharp sting.  “I can’t just let him wait in there, can I?”  Corey raises a judgmental eyebrow.  “Yeah, yeah I didn’t think so.”



Jonny steels himself for a moment, then enters the welcome warmth of the cafe.  He breezes past Patrick’s table and orders a Turkish coffee and a banana walnut brownie, then pretends to look for someplace to sit.  The cafe’s relatively busy.  There’s a healthy number of UChicago students with their laptops and textbooks mixed in with the young couples.  The only open table is next to where Patrick is now pretending to read his book.



“Kane,” Jonny nods, stepping up to Patrick’s table.



Patrick’s knuckles whiten briefly, then he sets his book down and takes a sip of his iced monstrosity.  “Toews.”



“Mind if I take a seat?” Jonny asks, already sitting in the chair opposite Patrick.



“Actually, I’m waiting for someone,” Patrick glares.



“I’ll move when they get here,” Jonny says and breaks off a piece of his brownie.  “Want some?” he offers.  Patrick continues to glare, so Jonny shrugs and eats the piece himself.  “Twilight?”



“Don’t even start, man,” Patrick says before taking another sip of his coffee.  Jonny valiantly tries and fails in his attempts to look away.  Patrick's cheeks hollow and his lips purse around the straw and Jonny may be having a stroke.



He takes a moment to collect himself and smiles, “No, I wasn’t gonna make fun.  I’ve read it.”



“You seriously expect me to believe you’ve read Twilight?” Patrick asks.



“They read it in Abby’s book club, it was lying around.  Wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”



“And?” Patrick looks grudgingly interested.



“It’s terrible, but I could see why you’d like it.  The forbidden romance, the overly dramatic everything, you know,” Jonny smiles at the server depositing his coffee on the table.  “Thanks.  So, what’s with the book and the movie?”



“What?” Jonny looks meaningfully at the small stack on the table then back at Patrick. “Right.  None of your business.  Asshole.”



Jonny laughs.  “Fair enough.  So, your friend running late?”



“No,” Patrick scowls, momentarily perking up when the cafe door opens.  He droops almost immediately when the newcomers are an older couple holding hands.  “Can you just...move to a different table?”



Jonny studies Patrick for a moment.  He looks...tired, mostly.  There are deep circles beneath his reddened blue eyes.  Even Patrick’s hair looks weary, the curls flatter and somehow darker than usual.



“Sure, Patrick,” Jonny says, standing and moving his brownie and coffee to the next table.  He tries not to let the relieved loosening of Patrick’s posture sting too badly.



“So, you gonna be mean to your friend, too?” Jonny asks, turning in his chair.



Patrick sets down his coffee, nostrils flaring, and turns to Jonny.  “No, because he isn’t a total dick who’s trying to put me out of business.”



“That’s not fair, Patrick,” Jonny says.  “It’s not like I set out to put you out of business.  We were expanding, your store was unfortunate collateral damage.”



“‘Unfortunate collateral damage,’” Patrick repeats.  “Are you--seriously?  Are you a Canadian business robot, or something?  ‘I have come to bring you cheap equipment in mass quantities.  Your untimely demise is of no concern,’” he says in an absurd android voice.  “My store may just be collateral damage for you, but I grew up there, Toews.  My grandfather kept that place going for more than forty years.  Do you know what it feels like for him to have trusted me with it and I can’t even manage five years?  Do you get what a failure that makes me feel like?”



And Jonny isn’t sure what makes him feel like more of an asshole: that he thought he could somehow turn this online flirtation around even after knowing it was Patrick, or that even violently angry and exhausted Patrick Kane’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen.



“Patrick, I’m--”



“You know what, no, I don’t have to listen to any more of your patronizing bullshit,” Patrick stands, snagging his book and movie.



When Patrick leaves, Jonny tells himself it’s just the winter wind as the door swings shut that leaves him feeling cold.



 



--



 



“He didn’t show?” Shawzy asks the next day.  He looks almost as disappointed as Patrick feels.



“No,” Patrick says, straightening the boxes of kids’ skates.  It’s like every time he turns his back they manage to get out of size order.  “What if he thought I was hideous and left without even coming in?”



“Bro,” Brandon shakes his head, slapping Patrick on the shoulder.  “You’re not Sharpy, but you’re a good looking guy.”



“Well, maybe I’m not his type,” Patrick says, switching the size seven for the size six.



“I’m sure he had a good reason not to show,” Shawzy says, looking painfully earnest.



Patrick shrugs and says, “Whatever, he’s just a guy I met online.  I’m not gonna get all broken up about it.”



“How long were you waiting?” Sharpy asks, scrolling through invoices on his iPad.



“Maybe ten minutes before Jonathan Toews showed up,” Patrick says, collapsing onto the tiny stool they use when they’re measuring the kids’ feet.



“Seriously?” Shawzy sits crosslegged on the floor.  He's basically an overgrown preschooler.



“Yes, God, that guy is such a tool,” Patrick rests his chin on his right hand, eyes scanning the shelves for any more boxes out of place.



“What was he even doing there?” Brandon asks.



“Drinking pretentious coffee,” Patrick says.



"Maybe your boy saw you with Toews and left," Sharpy suggests.



“Whatever, I don’t want to talk about it.  Don’t you all have stuff you should be doing?”  He shoos them away, taking a steadying breath before standing.



 



--



 




Hey, so I was sorry not to see you last night.  And even worse, this jerk I know (you know the one who belittled my existence at that party?) was there.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except yesterday I finally made the decision to close up shop.  That was my business, btw, I ran a store.  Anyway, the guy who was there, his business took off in my neighborhood and I couldn’t keep up, so he was sort of the last person I wanted to see.




Anyway.  I hope you’re okay and just...couldn’t come for some reason.  It’s okay if you changed your mind about meeting, but it’d be great if you could let me know you’re alright.  I just...somehow you’ve become one of my best friends, which is totally nuts, by the way, and I just...I don’t know what I’m trying to say.  If you want to stop talking I get it, but I hope you don’t.  Stop talking, that is.  I...yeah.



“Dude, you’re an asshole,” Corey says, peering over Jonny’s shoulder at the email Patrick sent that morning.



“I already know that,” Jonny says, burying his face in his hands.



“Like, he was seriously into you and you made him think he got stood up.  On the day he decided to shut down his family business.”  Corey’s making his ‘be better’ face, the one that usually makes Jonny snap to attention like his spine’s made of steel, but today it just makes him wilt like week-old flowers.  “That’s incredibly uncool.”



“Yeah,” Jonny agrees, voice muffled.  He drops his hands and looks up at Corey, who’s standing with his arms crossed.  “It’s just that I’m embarrassingly into him and I fail at basic human interaction.”



“You’re into Patrick or you’re into Hockeybro, ‘cause--”



“Both.  I’m into both.  He’s funny and into hockey and has terrible taste in pretty much everything.  Oh, and he likes kids and he’s fucking gorgeous and his mouth is legitimately obscene, because my life doesn’t suck enough already and--there’s no way to salvage this, is there?”



Corey collapses into the too-small, too-stiff chair on the far side of Jonny’s desk, the one they picked out to minimize the amount of time anyone would be willing to stay for meetings.



“This is gonna take some time to roll back, Tazer,” he says, after a few minutes in which they stare morosely out the windows at the icy banks of the Des Plaines.  “But I think, with a whole lot of help, we can turn this around.”



“Yeah?” Jonny turns from the gray day outside to see a growing smile on Corey’s face.



“Yeah,” Corey nods, and it’s like the sun’s coming out for the first time in days.




Hey--words can’t express how sorry I am that I wasn’t able to make it last night.  I don’t have any excuses, none that would make up for leaving you to deal with someone who doesn’t deserve your time, thought, or energy.  Especially when you’ve already got a lot on your plate.  Please know that I consider you a dear friend, and that if you still want to talk, I’ll be around.



 



--



 



“So...no excuse?” Shawzy frowns, brows furrowed as he boxes up the last of the inventory they’re returning to suppliers.



“No, just said he was sorry.  Seemed pretty genuine,” Patrick shrugs, passing Shawzy the packing tape.



“Did he say anything about trying to meet up again?” Brandon asks.  He’s perched atop the counter where one of the registers used to sit, legs swinging idly.



“No, just said he still wants to be friends and he’s there to talk if I want.”



“That doesn’t really sound like a brush-off,” Sharpy says, sticking shipping labels on the boxes Shawzy already finished taping.



“Not exactly a declaration of intent, either,” Shawzy passes Sharpy another box.  “I think you should ask him if he wants to try again.”



“Really?” Patrick asks.



“Can’t hurt, right?” Brandon shrugs, hopping down and placing a broad hand between Patrick’s shoulder blades.  “Besides,” he adds with a hearty backslap that nearly sends Patrick sprawling, “you’re unemployed.  You’ve got plenty of free time to email him, now.”



“You’re such a dick,” Patrick shoves Brandon away with a laugh.  And maybe today isn’t the worst day ever, just really close.



“Seriously, though, what are you gonna do now?” Sharpy asks, sitting down on one of the bigger boxes, which creaks ominously, but seems to be holding.



“I...I don’t know.” Patrick ignores the pitying faces Brandon and Shawzy are exchanging, because he’s pathetic, but not as pathetic as those two.  “I’ve got enough money saved up that Jessica’s not gonna have to shoulder my half of the rent, or anything, but all I ever wanted to do was play hockey.  Then when I couldn’t play anymore, Grandpa left me the store.  I’m at loose ends, man.”



“Well, there’s plenty of time to figure it out,” Sharpy says.



“You could always go back to school,” Shawzy offers.  His face lights up and he adds, “We could be roommates!”  He’s completely oblivious to Brandon’s glare.  “You’d love being close to campus.”



“I’ve already got my BS,” Patrick says.



“Wait, really?” Brandon’s glare weakens to a slight frown.



“Yeah, Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, focus on the impact of organized sport on modern society,” Patrick says.  “What?  UChicago lets you design your program of study for the major.”



“You are a goddamned constant surprise, Patrick Kane,” Sharpy smiles, affixing the final shipping label.



“I’m a goddamned constant delight, you mean,” Patrick corrects.  “What about you guys?”



“I got a job at one of the campus coffee shops,” Shawzy says.  “But I’m still probably going to need to move out of my place.”



“I’m going to convince Shawzy he should move in with me,” Brandon says.  “Oh, and I’m getting back into acting.”



“Back into?” Shawzy looks poleaxed.



“Yeah, I was a child actor, didn’t I ever tell you?  Anyway, my agent called me up about a pilot they’re filming in town, procedural spinoff for some show about firefighters.”



“Huh.”  Patrick could sort of see Brandon as a TV cop.  He’s got the tall, rugged thing going on.  “Sharpy?”



“Well, uh, it’s not official or anything, but Abby got me an interview for an accounting position at Gilbert & Sons.  I told her I couldn’t possibly--”



“Oh, yes you can,” Patrick punches Sharpy in the shoulder.  “You’ve always been cut out for bigger and better things than 53rd Street Shinny, man.”



“I never wanted to be,” Sharpy says with a shake of his head.



“You guys are all fucking awesome,” Patrick says, feeling brittle, but keeping his tone bright.  “I’ll see you at hockey next Tuesday.  Now get the hell out of here, I’ll lock up.  Shipping guys are coming first thing tomorrow.”



The guys bundle up and head out, and it’s good.  It’s good because if they went any further with this emotional ‘where are you going with your life’ bullshit Patrick was gonna cry surrounded by boxes of hockey equipment in front of his best friends and that’s just undignified.  He turns to leave, but there’s one more thing he has to do.



Patrick takes down the fading photograph behind the counter, and there’s no use trying to hold back the tears.



 



--



 




Of course I still want to talk to you, don’t be stupid.  And I have decidedly less on my plate, now, since I closed the store.  I feel...sort of unmoored, I guess?  It’s like, when I was a kid the plan was just: hockey.  And then after my wrist surgery my grandpa was right there, helping me through school and training me up at the store.  Anyway, it’s the first time I haven’t had a job since I was fifteen and I’m planning on taking a couple of weeks as a mental health vacation.  Is that completely lame?



“I swear to God, Jonny, it’s like everyone I talked to this week has something to say about the Kanes,” Abby says, setting the kitchen table for dinner.



Jonny plates up the steamed kale and baked chicken, wondering if maybe he should’ve added more salt to the sauce.  “What were they saying?”



“Oh, reminiscing about Donald, saying what a shame it is to see the old place close down,” Abby sits and accepts the plate Jonny passes her with a small smile.  “A lot of people wanting to headhunt him, actually.”



“Really?” Jonny tries not to look pleasantly surprised by that welcome bit of news, but by Abby’s smirk he’s failing.



“Yes, Mr. Subtle,” Abby rolls her eyes and tucks into her greens.  “Even your mother was talking about hiring him, mentioned his degree in sports history or anthropology or something.  I don’t know, she knows my French is terrible and thinks it's funny to talk too fast on conference calls.”



“Patrick’s got a degree in sports anthropology?” Jonny’s definitely pulling off the surprised look, now.



“Or something,” Abby shrugs.  “I don’t know if Andrée was serious or not.  Plus a few of our suppliers were interested.”



“And they all just happened to bring up Patrick on their own, eh?” Jonny asks.



“I don’t know what you’re implying, Jonathan Toews,” Abby flashes her best shiteating grin.  “I would never abuse my position or influence to garner job offers for your unrequited boytoy.”



“That...never say that again, Abs,” Jonny wrinkles his nose in distaste.



“Shut up and eat your dinner,” Abby kicks him under the table, but she’s not wearing shoes so it doesn’t hurt that much.



“Thanks, Abby,” he kicks her back.



“Don’t get mushy on me,” Abby says.  “I’ll make you do the dishes.”



“You will not, it’s your turn!” Jonny says, only half-kidding.



“It so is not my turn.”



“And to think I ever wanted a sister.”



“You're lucky to have me,” Abby laughs.



“I really am.”




I’m sorry to hear about your store, but it’s definitely not lame to take some time off.  Someone as smart and motivated as you will have no trouble finding a new position when you’re ready to get out there, again.




It was a long-running gag that none of the signs at the store be serious, so when I locked up for the last time, I erased our ridiculous hours sign and wrote a goodbye message.  It reads ‘Nearly 50 years ago, we opened our doors and our hearts to the city of Chicago.  You can keep the doors, but we’d like our hearts back.’  It’s...not so funny, now that I think about it.




My sister, Jessica, keeps telling me I need to get off the couch, but all I can think is that I finally have time to watch games live and I don’t remember it being this terrible to watch them alone.  Sometimes I can almost hear my grandpa telling me to ‘buck up, kiddo,’ and it’s all I can do not to close the curtains and pretend he’s still there in the darkness.  I have the excuse of a truly nasty cold to stay in at least for another few days.



 



--



 



Patrick’s settling in for a long sulk on the living room sofa.  He’s got a box of those weird, lotiony tissues, a bag of cough drops to serve as chaser to the half-bottle of NyQuil he’s already imbibed, and his New Moon DVD is queued up and ready for some werewolfy action.  Then some asshole is knocking on the door and he can’t even send Jessica to answer because she actually has a job and it’s three o’clock in the afternoon.



“How can I help--you,” Patrick says.



Jonathan Toews is standing in his hallway looking healthy and rosy-cheeked in a pressed suit and unbuttoned pea coat.



“I heard you were sick,” Jonny says, nudging Patrick aside and walking into the apartment like he owns the place or something.  Which, well, for all Patrick knows Jonny may actually own the building.  Patrick finally did some Googling and Jonny’s kind of rolling in it.



“From who?” Patrick’s genuinely interested, because when he’s not dying of the plague he’s gonna kick their ass.



“Abby.”  Which is entirely unhelpful, because Patrick actually likes Abby.  Plus her informant could be Jessica or Sharpy, and they’re a couple of wily fuckers so he’ll never pin it on either of them.  “Did you see a doctor?”



“What?”



“Did you go to the doctor?” Jonny asks, studying Patrick’s pale face with those seriou, dark eyes.



“It’s just a cold, people get them all the time.”  And Patrick thinks he should probably be concerned that there’s a near-stranger in his apartment, but he’s more than a little hopped up on cold medicine and he’s slept maybe four hours in the last two days, so he’s having some trouble working up the necessary energy to be worried about much of anything.  “Why are you here?”



“If it’s been a few days already and you still feel this bad, you should see an NP at the very least,” Jonny says, setting a cardboard box and a paper bag down on Patrick’s kitchen counter.  Patrick hadn’t even noticed he was carrying anything.  Suddenly Jonny’s big, cool hand is resting against the hot skin of Patrick’s forehead.  It’s all he can do to keep from butting up against it like a mewling kitten.  “You’re pretty warm.  When did you last take your temperature?”



“I...don’t know?”



Jonny purses his lips and turns Patrick around by his shoulders.  He gently shoves Patrick towards the living room, saying, “Go sit down, I’m just gonna get this warmed up.”



And because he can’t think of a reason not to, Patrick goes back to the couch, bundles himself up in his quilt, and watches the New Moon DVD menu on a loop.  It’s kind of trippy how the camera pans through the trees and zooms in on the cheesy actor stills.



“Drink that,” Jonny orders, appearing out of nowhere with a mug of something insanely delicious smelling, kind of spicy and fruity.



“What’s in it?” Patrick carefully wraps his hands around the steaming drink.  The mug itself was a gift from Erica, probably bought at the airport gift shop.  It’s a boring white and a little on the small side, but it reads ‘Somebody in Buffalo NY Loves Me,’ and it makes him smile every time he sees it.



“Ginger tea with orange slices,” Jonny’s rummaging in the paper bag, which he brought with him from the kitchen.  He pulls out a takeout bowl and a plastic spoon, carefully setting them on the coffee table.  “Drink,” he orders again, and Patrick takes a cautious sip of tea.



It’s amazing.



“This is amazing,” Patrick says, because credit where it’s due.  “What’s that?”  he asks, nodding towards the bowl.



“Creamy chicken and rice soup.  You really shouldn’t have dairy, but--”



“But it’s my favorite.”  Patrick blinks and frowns at Jonny, taking a long slurp of his spicy tea.  “Did I tell you that?”



“Maybe,” Jonny shrugs and relieves Patrick of the now-empty mug and huh.  When did that happen?  “Eat some of this.”  Jonny passes Patrick the now-open bowl and the plastic spoon, then starts to tidy the living room.  When he goes to put the remotes back in their caddy, he asks, “You want me to start this?”



“Nah,” Patrick says around a mouthful of celery and rice.  “Menu’s probably more fun than the movie.”



Jonny snorts, but doesn’t argue.  



“So, how did things turn out?” Jonny asks a propos of nothing.



“How did what turn where, now?” Patrick frowns into his soup, which is disappearing at an alarming rate.  Where is it going?



“At the cafe, when your friend was late.  What ended up happening?”



“He...he couldn’t make it,” Patrick says, swirling the rice around with his spoon.



“Did he call and tell you?” Jonny asks, sitting down on the coffee table with his unfairly large hands resting on his splayed knees.



“No, we don’t have each other’s numbers,” Patrick shakes his head, which is a bad, bad idea.  He winces.  “We’re online friends.  I thought maybe we were gonna be...but I don’t think he likes me as much as I like him.”



“Well,” Jonny stands, “I’m sure that’s not true.  You have many fine qualities that men find attractive."  And Patrick's sure he's heard that somewhere before.  "But if he stood you up, he’s a complete idiot.”



He snags the empty paper bag and crumples it into a tiny ball, which he takes with him...wherever he goes.  Patrick’s almost done with his soup and is fading fast, head drawn inexorably toward the couch arm.



“You’ll get a terrible crick in your neck if you sleep like that,” Jonny says, taking away the takeout bowl and tucking a fluffy pillow under Patrick’s head.  He pulls the quilt from where it’s gotten weirdly wrapped around one cushion and settles it over Patrick’s shoulders.



“Why are you here?” Patrick yawns, trying to focus on Jonny’s face.  He ends up with a double-vision version--twice the serious frown, twice the fun--and tries to remember what else he wanted to say.  “I don’t even remember liking you.”



“You don’t,” Jonny says, sounding oddly morose considering he doesn’t like Patrick either.  “Get some sleep, Patrick.”



“Kay.”  Patrick blinks up at Jonny.  “Thanks for the soup.”



“No trouble at all,” Jonny says as Patrick drifts off in a warm haze of NyQuil and soup.



 



--



 



Patrick wakes up feeling like he’s been hit by a bus, which is slightly better than he’d felt that afternoon.



“Weirdass dream,” he mutters, wriggling out of his quilt to toddle into the kitchen.  “Hey, Jess,” he sniffles, collapsing into the chair opposite Jessica at the kitchen table.



“I don’t know what possessed you to leave the house, but thanks for picking these up, they’re amazeballs,” Jessica says, taking another bite of her donut.



“I...where were those?” Patrick slides the box close enough to read.  It’s from Bridgeport Bakery.  “Dude, is that a bacon bun?” he flips the box open.  Inside there’s an assortment of pastries, including his favorite powidla pączeks.  “Huh.  Not a dream.”



“Wait, who brought these?” Jessica asks, pausing midbite.  “Are these poisoned?  Is someone trying to murder you and I’m going to be an ‘also dead,’ Patrick?  I refuse to be a footnote to your murder.”



“It’s so much more likely the other way around,” Patrick says, snagging a pączek.  He bites it in half, groaning at the explosion of rich, plummy jam mingling with the sweetness of the airy dough.



“True,” Jessica concedes, taking another bite of her bacon bun.  “Well, if you didn’t make the forty minute train ride for fried bliss, who did?”



“I...so I took a lot of cold medicine, but I’m pretty sure it was Jonathan Toews,” Patrick licks the last traces of jam from his thumb.



“No, seriously, was it Sharpy?” Jessica laughs, snagging a cheese-filled donut with a healthy sprinkling of powdered sugar.



“No, I’m pretty sure it was Jonny,” Patrick leans back in his chair.  “I thought it was a weird dream, but he brought me soup and made me tea and got me a pillow so I wouldn’t wake up with a crick in my neck.”



Jessica stares at Patrick for a long moment, like she can’t tell if he’s trying to bullshit a bullshitter, before her grin grows sly.  “I thought you didn’t like him.”



“I don’t!”



"I thought you said he was an awkward creeper who was basically stalking you."



"He was!  Is?  He's a social deficient, okay?  And he's mean."



“He took care of you when you were sick, Patrick.  I’m your sister, and even I don’t do that,” Jessica raises judgmental brows.



“That’s because you’re a terrible person,” Patrick scoots his chair back just in time to avoid her stockinged feet.  “And I don’t like him, he’s just...not as horrible as I first thought.”



“Uh-huh.”



That may be the most judgmental look Patrick’s ever received from a woman covered in powdered sugar.



 



--



 




So, the thing is, I think that maybe we should finally meet IRL.




I’d love to hang out with you IRL.  I’m swamped with a vitally important project atm, but when it’s complete I’d be more than happy to get together.



Patrick’s sitting in one of the tall, red leather chairs at Fatpour to watch the Buffalo Bulls get their asses handed to them by Bowling Green.  It’s an early afternoon game, so the bar’s not too crowded, which is why he’s surprised when someone drops onto the stool directly to his right.



“I’ll have what he’s having,” Jonny says, flagging down the bartender.



“Lakefront Fixed Gear,” Patrick offers, and the bartender wanders off to pour another for Jonny.  “Uh, hi.”



Jonny raises amused brows, though his mouth stays firmly fixed in a straight line.  “Hi.”



“So, I wanted to thank you, um, for coming over when I was sick,” Patrick says.



“No big deal,” Jonny nods his thanks to the bartender before taking a long pull of red ale.  “Not bad.”



“Yeah, my grandpa loved Lakefront,” Patrick says.  “Anyway, it was a big deal.  And Jessica loved the donuts, that was a nice touch.”



Jonny’s mouth twitches up into something almost resembling a smile.  “It was on the way.”



“Sure,” Patrick smiles, looking back at the basketball game on-screen.  “Jesus, down fifteen already.”



“So, you still friends with that guy?  The online dude who stood you up?” Jonny asks.



“Of course we’re still friends!” Patrick scowls at Jonny.  “As a matter of fact, we’re planning to meet in person.”



“Cool,” Jonny replies, flatly.  “When?”  His expression grows interested when Patrick twists in his chair, resolutely staring at the flatscreen behind the bar.  “You haven’t actually set a date, yet?”



“He’s got some big project he’s working on!”



“What kind of project?”



“I don’t know.  He’s some kind of businessman or something.  He said it was ‘vitally important.’  I don’t want to throw off his closer mojo or whatever.”



Jonny snorts.  “‘Closer mojo.’”



“Shut up, it could be a thing,” Patrick elbows Jonny none-too-gently in the ribs.



“Sure, Patrick.  What kind of ‘vitally important’ project could he be working on where he can’t meet up with you for half an hour to grab a beer?” Jonny asks.  “I mean, I’m a businessman and I’ve got time to drop in and have a drink with you.”



“Yeah, well, don’t you have something at least moderately important you should be attending to?” Patrick takes another sip of his Fixed Gear.



“It’ll keep,” Jonny shrugs.  “You’re seriously not worried about why you haven’t met, yet?  Did he at least tell you why he didn’t show last time?”



“He--no, I’m not worried, ‘cause he’s awesome.  And...does it really matter why he didn’t show last time?”



“Probably,” Jonny says.  “I mean, maybe he’s in a relationship or in prison or something.”



“Because a boyfriend and incarceration are basically the same thing!” Patrick laughs, then winces when Regan misses another free throw.



“They’d both be dealbreakers, wouldn’t they?” Jonny asks.



“Well, I mean...yeah.  Yeah, those would probably be dealbreakers.”



“So find out why he didn’t show.”



“I will!” Patrick nods decisively.



“Okay,” Jonny nods back, smiling into his beer.  “So, how’s the job hunt going?”



“Got a couple of offers I’m mulling over,” Patrick says.  “There are a few manufacturers who want me to do some consulting stuff, guys who grew up at the store, know I know my way around the equipment.  Got a GM offer from Gunzo’s.”



“No kidding?” Jonny’s impressed in spite of himself.



“I know, right?” Patrick’s face splits into a wide grin.  “And they said they’d take on all my old staff if I took the position, but the guys all have stuff lined up, so I don’t know.”



“It sounds like a great opportunity,” Jonny says.



“Yeah.  They’re giving me a few weeks to think it over.  I’m just not sure the whole retail thing was ever really for me, you know?”



“Yeah.  All I ever wanted to do was play,” Jonny nods.



“Really?  I thought you were just a rec league kind of guy.  Figured you for Junior Business League as a kid.”



“No, I went to SSM and everything.  110 points my last season.”



“No shit,” Patrick sets down his beer with a loud thud.



“Yeah.  Took a bad hit, came down wrong.  Now I’ve got a bum knee,” he taps his right leg with one hand.  “Six months of PT and three surgeries.  Holds up okay for most stuff, but it wouldn’t last a season.”



“Trick wrist,” Patrick raises his left hand.  “Only ever gives me shit when it’s damp, but it wasn’t reliable after.”



“Sucks,” Jonny says.  



Patrick feels a twinge of sympathy at the sincerity in Jonny's voice.  Jonathan Toews is probably the most stubborn human being on the planet and Patrick’s seen him skate.  If that’s what he looks like with a bum knee, he must’ve been magic on the ice as a kid.



“Yeah.  Yeah, it does.”



They watch the rest of the second quarter in relative silence, shoulders rubbing companionably together as the bar starts to fill up.



“So,” Jonny says at half-time, “I have important businessman stuff I should be getting back to.”



“Is that so?” Patrick smiles.



“Unfortunately,” Jonny digs his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans, and Patrick can’t believe he’s just now noticing how much junk Toews has in his trunk.  That was an unforgivable oversight.  “But I was thinking I could maybe run into you again this week.  I’ve got an extra ticket to the game on Thursday.”



“Blue Jackets?” Patrick asks.



Jonny slides off of his stool and replaces his wallet.  He pulls his phone out of his jacket pocket and passes it to Patrick.  “Yeah, you in?”



“Hell yes,” Patrick types his info into Jonny’s phone, helpfully labeling himself as ‘Pkane in the Membrane.’  He sends himself a text.  “Kay, now I have yours.  Text me where to meet you.”



“Sure.  See you then,” Jonny heads off with a little wave.



Patrick waves back and turns to the bar.  He starts to pull out his own wallet, but the bartender shakes his head.  “Your boy left more than enough for both of you, man.”



“He--oh.  Great.”  Patrick turns to look out the front windows just as Jonny disappears from view.




How about we meet up this Friday?  It’s the last weekend the rink’s going to be open at Millennium Park.  I’ll be wearing a red Blackhawks sweatshirt and the hideous striped pom pom hat that David’s girlfriend knitted me for Christmas.



 



--



 



“Tomorrow?” Jonny passes Patrick the relish and grabs a handful of napkins.



“We’re gonna meet at Millennium Park,” Patrick says, adding a generous dollop of pickled goodness to his hot dog.



“Last weekend the rink’s open?” Jonny asks.  Patrick nods, following Jonny as he leads the way to their seats, politely apologizing to everyone they pass.  After settling their drinks and food, Jonny bends forward and shouts, “Hey, Colton!”  He ruffles the hair of the boy sitting directly below them.



“Uncle Jonny!” Colton hops up, nearly losing his balance when he leans over to hug Jonny.



“Hey, Kelly-Rae,” Jonny smiles and releases Colton.  He bends to kiss the cheek of the pretty woman clutching the back of Colton’s Keith jersey.  “This is my friend, Patrick Kane.”



“Oh, Patrick!” Kelly-Rae turns her son and plants him more firmly in his seat.  “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” she shakes Patrick’s hand.



“Finally?” Patrick asks Jonny sotto voce.



“He’s been talking about you for ages, but we never saw you.  Dayna and the boys were beginning to think Jonny made you up!”



Patrick snorts, but before he can say anything else the sirens are screaming and the Blackhawks lineup is being announced over the swelling roar of the crowd.



“Yeah, go Daddy!” Colton shouts when Duncan Keith skates onto the ice.



“Holy shit, you didn’t rent those kids, you stole them from the Blackhawks!” Patrick turns to stare at Jonny with wide blue eyes.  Jonny shrugs when Patrick looks around their section with a laugh.  "I can't believe we're sitting with the WAGs."



“Where’d you think I got the tickets?” Jonny unzips his jacket and does a poor job of hiding his smug smile.  "I babysit in exchange for the good seats."



The game is lightning fast and evenly matched, with strong scoring and sloppy goaltending on both sides.  Patrick’s breathless with the rhythm of it, effortlessly one with the crowd like he always gets at home games.  Whenever he turns to look at Jonny, Jonny’s already staring back at him, eyes weirdly soft and smile stupidly fond.  The Hawks pull off a shootout win and Patrick’s on his feet, jumping up and down when Chelsea Dagger starts blaring.



“We won!” he shouts right in Jonny’s face before pulling him into an exuberant hug.



“Hell yeah, we did!” Jonny shouts back, savoring the warmth of Patrick’s embrace before he pulls away, panting and rosy-cheeked.



Kelly-Rae has long since escorted a snoozing Colton out of the stands, and Jonny has only passing familiarity with the other WAGs.  Patrick and Jonny gather their trash and head up the stairs, adrenaline still racing and broad smiles plastered across their faces.  When they’re finally outside and free of the crowd enough to be heard, Patrick turns to Jonny and stops him with a hand on his shoulder.



“Jonny, that was...that was so great, man,” Patrick says, fingers flexing against the fabric of Jonny’s Seabrook jersey.



“Yeah?”



“Yeah, I’m...I’m really glad you invited me,” Patrick lets his hand slide free, brushing along the length of Jonny’s arm.



“I’m really glad you said yes,” Jonny says, unable to look away when Patrick licks his lips.



"I'm gonna take that job."



"Really?  That's great, you'll love Gunzo's, Patrick."



"No, not--so, I got a call from Troy yesterday."



"Troy...Troy Parchman, the Blackhawks' Equipment Manager?" Jonny raises surprised brows.



"Yeah, he offered me the Assistant Equipment Manager position that came open when Reif took that job with the Leafs.  I'm gonna work for the Hawks Front Office."



"Patrick, that's amazing, congratulations.  Is this, should we go out and celebrate?  Grab a drink or something?"



“I should, uh...I should probably head out.  Big day tomorrow and all,” Patrick says.



“Yeah, big reveal,” Jonny nods.



“Mmhmm,” Patrick nods back, suddenly aware of how close they’re standing on the emptying sidewalk.



“You know, I...sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if we’d met a different way,” Jonny says.



“Like we played together?” Patrick smiles sadly, eyes drifting back towards the UC.



“Yeah, maybe.  Or if we really did meet at your store or at Abby’s holiday party.  I would’ve asked you out to drinks or to some terrible action movie.  God, Patrick, just...if I hadn’t been the guy bringing in Gilbert & Sons and you hadn’t been the guy at 53rd Street Shinny, maybe--”



“Don’t, Jonny,” Patrick ducks his head.



“Why not?” Jonny takes a halting half-step closer.



“Because tomorrow’s a big day,” Patrick says, taking a step back.



“Right.  Big day.  I--”  He reaches one hand out as if to touch Patrick’s face, but he pauses, fingers extended in the air between them.  “Good luck tomorrow, Patrick.  I really hope you find what you’re looking for.”  He turns on his heel and disappears back into the crowd.



“Me, too.”



 



--



 



It’s early enough in the afternoon that the kids are still in school and the plaza’s yet to be flooded with last-minute skaters.  Patrick laces up his APX2s and pushes off onto the ice.  He’s maybe ten minutes early, so he starts skating in lazy, looping circles, weaving in and out of the other skaters.



Coming out of a turn, he spots the back of a tall, broad shouldered figure in a red sweatshirt.  Patrick nearly stumbles, eyes following the curve of the man’s narrow waist to the magnificent ass filling out the snug, dark denim of his jeans.  There's a patch of skin visible between his collar and the crooked stripes of his pom pom hat is pale and smooth and Patrick wants to lick it.



“Hey, Stanley!” Patrick shouts.  The man spins around and starts skating toward him and it’s--



“You can call me Tazer, Hockeybro,” Jonny says, sliding to a stop.



“You--I...you are such an asshole!” Patrick punches Jonny on the shoulder.



“Ow!  Jesus, Pat,” Jonny rubs his shoulder with a scowl.



“You totally deserved that,” Patrick pokes Jonny where he’d just punched him.  He hopes Jonny wakes up with a nasty bruise tomorrow.



“Yeah, I did,” Jonny agrees.



“Yeah, well,” Patrick looks up at Jonny and says, “you can probably call me Kaner, now, I guess.”



“Really?” Jonny’s dark eyes dart back up to Patrick’s face and it feels sort of like they’re staring into his soul or something.



“This was a really terrible way to go about wooing me, Jonathan Toews,” Patrick says, firmly, because clearly he’s going to have a lot of work to do, here.



“Is that so?”  The corner of Jonny’s mouth twitches slightly.



“Yep.  You’re lucky you said I was a ‘vitally important project,’ you douchebag.  I was almost hoping it was going to be somebody else.”



“Oh, yeah?” Jonny skates forward until they’re a foot apart.



“Yeah, maybe your friend from rec league, whatsisname, Crow?  The goalie?  He was kinda cute in a hangdog sort of way.”



“Nobody likes a liar, Kaner,” Jonny says, but Patrick thinks it’s bullshit by the way he’s trying not to smirk.



"You'd be lucky to have me, Toews," Patrick says.  "I have many fine qualities that men find attractive."



"I'm aware, Patrick, that fact has not escaped me," Jonny huffs a soft laugh.



Patrick pulls Jonny in by the front of his sweatshirt and yanks off the truly horrible pom pomed disaster.  It leaves him with a rather fetching case of hat hair and a petulant frown.  “I do remember you quoting Mighty Ducks when I was sick, you magnificent bastard."



"Now that's no way to talk--"



"Shut up and kiss me, Jonny.”



“Whatever you want, Patrick,” Jonny murmurs just before their lips meet.



“Damn right." 



And if the first kiss is a little awkward because neither of them can stop smiling, well.  There are worse things.


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