In an effort to prove that all of the abuse his drills inflicted upon his youth hockey team was fair, Jamie Decon had spent the morning both leading and participating in practice. By the time they were done with the warm-up, the stretching, the one-on-ones, and the short scrimmages, Jamie started to feel it. Sweat trickled down his head, turning his ginger hair a shade darker and dripping from the tip of his nose onto the frozen ice.

As they worked on group breakouts and special team plays, Jamie happened to glance over at the entrance to the ice to see the Jackal’s main goalie.

The coach’s whistle fell from his mouth to his chest, where it dangled on a thin string. Jamie called over, without looking in the boy’s direction again. “Nice of you to finally join us, Sinclair. Harding’s been doing a great job in practice without you. Maybe I’ll have him start next game?”

There was silence for a few moments, apart from the scrapes of skates against the ice and the slapping of sticks against pucks. Then Sinclair spoke, “Coach, can I have a word with you?” His words were muffled by his facemask.

“Right in the middle of a practice at the moment,” Jamie said, crossing his arms over his chest and keeping his eyes on the practice, though not really paying attention to it anymore. He certainly wasn’t keeping pace with the boys running their plays. “In case you forgot, we’ve got a big game Sunday. And Sunday, in case you forgot, is tomorrow.” It was the first game of the season, actually. And with the extra two teams added to the league this year, a strong start would be imperative.

“Please, Coach? It’s important.” There was something in his voice that didn’t sound quite right, and Jamie had never known the kid to be late to a practice in the three years he’d been on the team.

So Jamie skated over to Clayton, the assistant coach, and patted his back. “You got this?”

Clayton nodded. “Conditioning drills next, right?”

“Right. Work ‘em hard but don’t kill them. They’ll need their legs for the game,” Jamie replied, then headed across the ice the long way, by the boards. When he got there, he could see that, though Gary Sinclair wore his mask, he wasn’t dressed for practice otherwise. “Let’s talk in the locker room,” Jamie said, gesturing toward one of the two locker rooms recreational users of the facility had access to. Jamie led the way inside and stayed on his feet—or his skates, rather—even though Sinclair sat down on the bench. “Now, what’s so important?” he asked.

Sinclair looked up at him through the eyes of the mask, and then he closed his eyes and hung his head. His shoulders sagged and his body shook with quick, strong sobs. “Didn’t… know… who else… just… woke up… and…”

Hockey players, even the young ones, didn’t typically cry so easily. Instinct took over as Jamie sank down onto the bench as well. Though he was surprised, he tried to remain calm. “Hey, it’s okay.”

The kid shook his head. “No!” he sobbed. “Shit.” He reached under his mask and wiped at his face or rubbed his nose or something, snuffling. “It’s not okay. It’s not fucking okay at all!”

“Fine,” Jamie said, his voice a little quieter and a little more soothing. “Maybe it’s not okay right now. But tell me what’s wrong and I’ll do my damnedest make it okay. And start with catching your breath so you can say more than a few words at a time.”

Sinclair choked and coughed but it took another minute or two for him to stop crying. “M’sorry.” He sniffed a few times and gave a sound that hinted that he was just a second away from more tears.

“Take a deep breath,” Jamie advised. He thought about reaching over and patting the boy’s back, but decided against it without knowing what the matter was. “Can you do that for me? A deep breath? Nice and slow.”

Sinclair gathered his strength and inhaled deeply. When he exhaled, it was shaky. But he tried again, in and out, and sounded stronger. He cleared his throat and looked back up at Jamie. “D’you promise not to overreact?” His tears already threatened to return.

“Cross my heart,” he said. “Now what’s wrong?”

Sinclair’s hand shook a little as he lifted up his mask then pulled it off his head completely. He turned, showing Jamie his face. There was the same short-but-shaggy, dirty-blond hair and deep blue eyes as the kid always had. But it was impossible to miss the additions: a scabbing-over cut on one cheek amidst a sea of smaller scrapes, huge blue and purple bruises on both sides of his face one of which encompassed his left eye entirely that was almost swollen shut, and a nose which was so crooked it had to be broken. Jamie had seen far worse during his years in hockey, but he still had to bite his tongue in order to keep his promise about not overreacting.

“My dad came home,” Sin said softly, looking down at his lap. “He and my mom are trying to make it work again. And when he found out I was still gay… the bastard kicked the crap out of me.” He sniffed again and gingerly rubbed his nose.

Jamie sprung up and retrieved a roll of toilet paper from one of the stalls. He pulled off a few pieces as he walked back. Then he sat down and gently pressed them to Sinclair’s face. The boy winced but stayed in place as Jamie dried it for him. Jamie handed the roll over. “Blow your nose gently, and give me a minute to get my shoes on.”

“You’re not going to my house!” Sinclair exclaimed, alarmed, sitting up straighter and grimacing as he did so.

“No, I’m not.” Though he was sure he’d be able to deck the kid’s old man with one good punch and though he wanted to do more than that, it wouldn’t be a very good example for any of his kids about how to handle these situations. “Those injuries look bad. You need to get checked out immediately.”

“No hospitals!” Sinclair breaking out in a panic at everything Jamie said wasn’t a good start. “They might call my parents and… I don’t want to report this.”

There had to be more to this story, but Jamie wasn’t going to pry. “I understand.” He patted Sinclair’s back comfortingly and the boy winced again. Jamie pulled his hand back immediately, terrified he’d done damage. “Shit, your back, too?”

“All over,” he whispered. Jamie could tell from his voice he meant all over. “But no hospitals!”

Shaking his head, Jamie answered, “Not a hospital. There’s a clinic my friend works at. They’re very discrete. I promise you’ll be okay.” Jamie quickly changed into sneakers and grabbed his jacket. Still warm from the practice, he knew he wouldn’t be warm once he walked outside in the cool autumn air. On the way out, he popped over to the rink and yelled over to Clayton, “I have to take off.” He consciously avoided using the word “emergency” so as not to alarm anyone, especially Sinclair. But Clayton seemed to understand the urgency.

“Sure,” Clayton nodded. “No problem. I’ve got this.” He already had the guys doing sprints from one blue line to the other. Jamie was glad he had someone so capable to take over for him in case of emergencies like this; Clayton was going to make an excellent coach one day. He could have had his own team this fall, but had chosen to stay under Jamie’s wing. Not that he could blame the guy; the team was full of great players, and it was hard to leave a bond like the one the Jackals had.

Which was why Jamie wasn’t too surprised that Sinclair would come to him about this and why Jamie was going to do everything in his power to make sure Sin was taken care of.

Jamie led the way across the mostly deserted parking lot with the boy just behind him, limping so much that Jamie found himself slowing down and spending some extra time searching for his keys. He’d seen enough people roughed up on the ice to know you could never trust your eyes when it came to injuries, but the fact that Sinclair was upright and walking on his own had to be a good sign. Once the car was unlocked, Jamie tossed his skates and Sin’s mask on the backseat before getting in. His breath came out as a cloud from the mid-autumn cold, and he switched on the heat the moment he had the car started. “It should warm up soon,” Jamie assured Sinclair. “Buckle up.”

Sinclair fastened his seatbelt, slumped in his seat, and rested his elbow on the car door by the window. He put his hand to the side of his head, using it and his bent arm to hide his face fairly well from people who might look in from the side.

Worried about the kid turning the waterworks back on, Jamie’s hand made a hasty movement to turn on the radio, the volume soft though that didn’t hinder the heavy metal any. “You know, you don’t have to be ashamed.” Jamie pulled out of the parking lot, signaled, and turned onto the main road. “It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Sinclair swallowed hard. “Can you save the pride speech, Coach? Please? I already told it to myself, like, a hundred times last night. It’s not that I’m ashamed… I just don’t like people staring at me.”

Jamie could understand that, having been roughed up noticeably more times than he could count, and he knew what it felt like when it didn’t have to do with hockey. “So… it’s a bit of a drive from here. You don’t have to talk, but I’ll listen if you want to get it off your chest.”

Sniffling, Sin launched into the explanation with no further prompting. But he spoke rather matter-of-factly about it, with little emotion and no curse words peppering his speech as they had done in the locker room. “My dad was there when I came home from school yesterday. I heard him tell my mom that his drinking wasn’t a problem anymore, that he could control it, but he had a couple beers before and during dinner. The family made it through most of the meal all right, but then he focused right on me. I tried to get around the issues I knew bothered him, tried to stretch the truth. When that didn’t work, I tried to lie, but he saw right through it. That’s when I realized he didn’t really care about my answers. He was just looking for an excuse. He was going to keep the pressure on until he found something he could use.

“Before I knew it, he raced upstairs to my room. I screamed for him to stop, but he tore the place apart. My schoolwork, my magazines, he ripped it all and threw it in my face. He found last year’s trophy and started using it to break everything else. He smashed my room to pieces—stuff on my shelves, the mirror over my dresser, my stereo system. And when he was done with my room, he… started on me.”

“Sin,” Jamie interrupted. “I know I asked, but if you don’t feel up to this, I’ll understand.”

Sinclair shook his head. “Do you know that feeling when you let in a goal—one you really should have had? You feel like you’ve let your whole team down, and all you want to do is skate right off the ice and yell at yourself. But you know that if you do, your coach’ll put in the backup goalie. You wouldn’t have a chance to prove yourself and, even worse, the other team would think they got to you. So you shake it off and get back in there, even though it’s painful.”

Realizing he was gripping the steering wheel tightly, Jamie nodded and tried to relax his arms. “Go ahead.”

Sin did so, with a deep breath. “It didn’t matter that I was pleading with him to stop. I don’t think he could hear me by then. And I didn’t know what to do, Coach. I just lay there on the floor, on top of my broken stuff, calling out to my sister and my mother but… my Mom walked away. He kept beating me as though he could beat it right out of me, just like he used to try to do before he went away. He kicked and punched the more I yelled, so I tried to be quiet. He was screaming so much at me, I don’t remember all of what he said. But I remember him telling he wouldn’t have a faggot for a son, that I was old enough to know better. He said that if I didn’t stop …” Sinclair paused to cough. “He said he’d kill me. And then he kicked me in the crotch until I puked.”

From the look of him, Jamie thought he might get sick again right now. “You need me to pull over?”

Sinclair shook his head. “No, but do you have… Kleenex?”

Jamie kept a box of tissues in the armrest between the two seats. He popped it open and let Sinclair take the whole box.

Sinclair blew his nose and groaned at the pain. “It took a while to get moving again. When I finally got to my feet, I went to clean up and found he’d locked me in my room with something in front of the door so I couldn’t get out.” Sin dabbed at his eyes. “I grabbed my laptop, some clothes, and anything close at hand that wasn’t broken— I don’t even know what I grabbed exactly— and I shoved everything into a duffle bag. Then I climbed out the window. I was in so much pain that I didn’t do a very good job of escaping.

“He must have heard the thud of the bag or me falling the last four feet… must have… because he came storming out the back door. I scrambled away as best I could. I hit him with the bag and ran for my car. He pounded on the side with his fist so hard I was scared he’d break the window. But I locked the doors and peeled out. He didn’t follow.

“Do you know how hard it is to find a payphone nowadays? Everyone has a cell phone except for me, apparently. So I drove around until I found a gas station that had one. I cleaned up in the bathroom as best I could. None of the friends I called would let me come over. I don’t know if my parents called theirs or what but I couldn’t even get some of them on the phone.

“I ended up going to the mall and spending the night at the top of the parking deck. I tried to get some sleep, but my mind kept playing with me… and then I did finally fall asleep and overslept for practice. I already had my gear in the back of the car and I meant to go to practice, really I did, but when I got there I just hurt so much… I’m sorry, Coach.”

Jamie took his eyes off the road to meet Sinclair’s briefly. “You have absolutely nothing to apologize for.”

“I missed practice. And I ruined your day.”

“Shut up!” Jamie laughed. Sinclair did not join in. “Or I absolutely will give you a pride speech.” He looked over at Sinclair again, with all seriousness. “Thank you for confiding in me.”

Sinclair nodded. “And you for listening.” He sounded relieved to have finally gotten that off his chest. He scratched at his arm and stared at the car radio and the time display. It was just before noon.

“You haven’t eaten since last night, have you?” Jamie asked, automatically pulling into the first fast food place he passed. “What do you want?” Sinclair slumped lower in his seat and didn’t say anything. “Look, it’s my treat. And if you don’t pick something, I’ll have to guess. Let’s see… a jalapeño and bacon burger with cucumbers and extra onions…”

Still not in the mood to laugh, Sinclair shook his head. “Just a regular burger and fries,” he said. “M’not very hungry.”

“Do you drink soda, or do you want a milkshake? Water? Juice? Milk?”

“Pepsi’s fine,” Sinclair replied.

Jamie drove toward the drive-in window, then thought better of it and pulled into a parking space instead. “Sit tight. I’ll be right back.” When he was right back, as promised, they ate in the car. The kid practically inhaled the burger and almost swallowed the fries whole. Jamie, who had ordered his usual two cheeseburgers, pretended he was stuffed after one. He offered the second to Sinclair, who ate it quickly, smacking his fingers as he licked them clean. “You sure you don’t want anything else?” Jamie asked, sipping his milkshake and putting the car in drive again. “Dessert?” Sinclair shook his head.

Though he didn’t entirely believe him, Jamie headed toward the clinic again. And, again, Sinclair sat with his arm up so that cars passing by wouldn’t see him. Jamie waited for a straight section of the road then reached back and searched around. He handed over his old, broken-in Timber Wolves baseball cap. “Here. The shadow’ll hide a little.” Sinclair quickly put it on, pulling the brim down a lower than was usual.

He kept the hat and his head down on as they headed into the clinic. Jamie pointed out an empty pair of seats right as they entered, and Sinclair sat immediately. Having been in there before for blood tests, Jamie knew the layout and procedure. It was a fairly laid-back place, with no pressure and receptionists who were kind and sympathetic, even though they’d probably seen it all a hundred times. He told the woman behind the Plexiglas that they wanted to see Olly, and she told him he was in luck because he was seeing walk-ins today. Then she handed him a clipboard full of forms to fill out.

Jamie said down next to Sinclair and leafed through the information. He pulled off the pages about blood tests and result delivery. And he took the page about paying for medicine for himself. “Do you want…?” He didn’t need to finish.

“I’ll fill it out myself,” Sinclair said. He clicked the pen and started scribbling. “I don’t know my social security number,” he said, after a few seconds.

“That’s fine. Just fill out what you do know,” Jamie reassured him.

But Sinclair paused a second later, staring at the blanks. “I don’t… place of residence…?” Jamie understood. Things like this sometimes changed once people cooled down. There was a chance he might go back home, though Jamie seriously doubted he’d let the kid go home after all he’d heard. He would sooner spring for a room at a four star hotel than send Sin back home.

“Leave it blank,” Jamie said. “But put down my phone number. That way they can contact you through me if need be.” Jamie gave him his cell phone number.

When the kid wrote down his birth date, Jamie called attention to it. He was also somewhat relieved to know the boy was officially eighteen. “Last week? You should have told us! Would have made you a cake, Sin!”

“Do you bake?”

Jamie shrugged and shook his head. “Change that to my boyfriend would have baked you a cake.”

“Oh,” Sinclair nodded. “I cook,” he mumbled and looked back down at his forms.

Sinclair wasn’t so sure about all his medical history. He didn’t know his pediatrician’s name, but he remembered the name of the family practice. And he had no idea when he’d had his last tetanus shot. Jamie assured him that he had to be up-to-date with his vaccinations in order to be part of the GYHL.

He walked the forms back to the desk when Sinclair was done, and not five minutes later, a nurse appeared in the doorway by the office. “Gary Sinclair?”

Sinclair tensed up in his seat and looked imploringly at Jamie. “Will you come back with me?” he whispered.

Jamie nodded, determined. Sinclair wasn’t a minor and Jamie wasn’t a family member, but he’d go as far as he could for the kid. The fact that he lived in the same house as Olly gave him some sway as well. The nurse led them to an examination room and told them Olly would be by in a minute.

Sinclair was jumpy. And he didn’t take off his jacket. “So this doctor… he’s a friend of yours?” He straightened the paper covering on the examination table he was sitting on.

Nodding, Jamie answered, “We live in the same house.”

“But he’s not your boyfriend?”

“No, no. Just a good friend. A great guy. Knows his stuff. You know the coach for the Hyenas?” Sinclair nodded. “He’s my boyfriend.”

“Really!” Sinclair rubbed his arm again. “Can’t get us inside knowledge of their strategies and all, can you?”

“I’m afraid not. But I can’t blame you for asking. They’re looking pretty good this season.”

“Not as good as us.” The enthusiasm Sin usually had for hockey seemed muted, so Jamie had a feeling the kid was too nervous for more small talk.

Olly came in not long after, in the shortest wait Jamie could ever remember having at a doctor’s office. He and Olly clapped each other on the back. “This is Gary Sinclair, my star goalie,” Jamie started the introductions. “I want you to take good care of him.”

“Hello, Mr. Sinclair.” Olly scrubbed his hands in the sink and pulled on new plastic gloves from the box on the counter. Then he rolled over to the exam table on a stool. “I’m Dr. Walsh, but everyone calls me Olly so feel free to do the same.” He looked at Sinclair’s face with kind eyes. “Looks pretty bad. Before I take a closer look, may I ask if it’s just your face or elsewhere as well?”

“Elsewhere,” Sin mumbled.

Olly nodded. He opened a cabinet and took out a paper gown. “Then you’d better change. Jamie and I will step out for a few minutes and give you some privacy if you think you can change into this on your own.” Sinclair said that he could.

They went into the hallway and closed the door. Olly sighed deeply. “Shit.”

“You can say that again,” Jamie said. “He showed up to practice like that this morning.”

“So it wasn’t hockey-related?”

“God no. I would have taken him straight to the emergency room if it had been. Strict league policy about injuries. He says it happened last night.”

“The injuries did look more than a few hours old,” Olly confirmed. “Why didn’t he go to the hospital last night?”

“Scared they’d call his parents.” Jamie said it leadingly, so his words were weighted with meaning. He would not betray Sin’s confidences, but Olly got the message. “I guess I’ll have to wait outside while you examine him, right?”

Nodding, “That’s the drill. You want a magazine or something? You can go wait out by chairs and I’ll call you.”

Jamie shrugged. “If it’s all the same, I’ll just stand here.” He regretted the decision once Olly had knocked and been told to enter. The hallway was long and overly bright with fluorescent light. Nurses and patients passed by, giving him looks, and not all the people visiting the clinic looked even as good as Sinclair did.

The door opened and Jamie jumped aside as Sin came out, paper gown and all. Without the layers of clothing to mask the injuries, Jamie saw the way Sin carried himself—not the confident goalie who owned his crease that Jamie had grown to know over the years. He held one of his arms to his chest and bruises of all colors and sizes covered his neck, arms, and lower legs. Sin’s eyes met Jamie’s, trying silently to communicate something—neediness?

“Just going for some quick X-rays,” Olly explained. “It’ll just be a few minutes. Mr. Sinclair, would you like Jamie there for moral support?”

The young man’s response wasn’t exactly a whimper, but it wasn’t a plain ‘yes’ either. There was a moment of indecisiveness, followed by the smallest and weakest of nods.

Jamie had had plenty of X-rays over the years thanks to minor injuries suffered on the ice rink, especially if you counted ones at the dentist. However, the moment he watched Sin lie down on the table in the small room, all Jamie could think about for a moment was Nicholas Stromson. Nicholas Fucking Stromson. That bastard had been so good at knowing just where to hit and how hard to hit so that it looked like Jamie had just gone one round too many with a puck.

“Jamie? You’ll need to step out for a second while I push the button.”

Blinking, and realizing Olly was pulling him backward, Jamie gave Sin a reassuring smile and a brief squeeze of the hand before leaving. He was back in as soon as he could be, helping Olly gingerly move Sin into another position for another picture. The whole thing really did take only a few minutes, and Sin leaned against Jamie on the walk back to the examination room, his limp a little worse now.

The results had to be discussed in private, so Jamie hovered in the hallway again, moving aside to make way for wheelchairs and people shuffling past, staring down at the floor. Olly was back out again before Jamie’s worry completely overtook him. “That’s one lucky kid,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot worse.”

Somehow, Jamie couldn’t go as far as to call Sinclair lucky. “Do you think it’d be okay if he stayed at the house a few days? He doesn’t have anywhere to go.”

Olly rubbed his face and wouldn’t look Jamie in the eye. “Ah, I think you’d better ask Nik and Sweetie about that. But what about the county? Child Protective Services? There are programs—”

“He’s eighteen. And still in high school. Doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have a cent. And he slept in his damn car last night. I don’t think he’s got a lot of options here.”

Olly sighed. “That’s rough. Call Nik and Sweetie first though, all right?”

Jamie promised he would. Olly knocked on the exam room door and they both went in. Sinclair was just attempting to zip up his jacket, but not being very successful at it one-handed. One hand was visible only, the other one hiding under his jacket along with an arm that was bent in a sling. Automatically, Olly walked over and helped with the zipper.

Sin had a white bandage over the bridge of his nose and a clear plastic bag beside him with what looked like a month’s supply of gauze in it. Olly scribbled something on the patient chart he had sitting out on the counter then turned to face them both. With care and a little grunt, Sinclair hopped down onto the floor and slipped his sneakers back on. “Okay, Mr. Sinclair. I’m going to prescribe some pain killers for you, some ointment you can use on those abrasions so they don’t get infected, and something to put on those bruises to help them heal just a little faster. But I’m afraid that it will just take time for the worst of it to go away. You can try putting some heat on the bruises. It’s been too long to use an ice pack, but warmth helps some people significantly in the first seventy-two hours.” He handed the prescriptions directly to Jamie. “These can be filled at any pharmacy.”

“Great. Thanks, Olly.” He clapped the man on the back again. “I appreciate you fitting us in.”

Sinclair nodded his thanks as well as Jamie directed him out, putting the baseball cap back on for him on the way. “Nice guy,” the kid said. “He was really… careful not to make anything hurt while he was checking to see if anything was broken.”

“And is anything broken?”

 “My nose,” Sinclair said, gesturing. “My upper arm’s sprained; he put it in a sling for me. I’m supposed to keep from using it as much as possible. And he said it’s a miracle my ribs aren’t broken, just bruised.”

“Glad to hear it.” He smiled warmly. “You’re a strong guy. And as someone who’s had his fair share of injuries, it doesn’t sound like anything you can’t recover from.”

Jamie headed outside with him, and Sinclair made a beeline for the car. It wasn’t until he was inside and buckled in that something suddenly occurred to Sin, making him sit up straight. “Wait! We didn’t pay!”

“It’s a free clinic,” Jamie explained. “No payment necessary.” As a typical middle class, white kid from the suburbs, Sinclair looked understandably shocked at this. “Some people think it’s important to provide care for all people, not just the ones who can pay for it. No one gets turned away. Of course it’s just a clinic; they don’t do surgeries or anything like that.”

“How does it stay open?”

“Grants and donations. My housemates and I give a lot. We pool our money a few times a year, for example.”

“How much is a lot?”

Jamie shrugged. “A million or two.” He saw Sinclair’s eyes bug out at this. “It doesn’t go as far as you’d think. But a lot of people give, and it adds up in the end. It’s important to take care of our own, you know?”

Sinclair nodded and was silent for a while. He stared straight ahead at the road as Jamie drove toward the CVS drug store which was near the rink. Jamie heard another sniffle and looked over to see Sinclair fighting the urge to break down again. “Hey, hey… don’t fall apart on me now.”

Sinclair sniffed hard and blinked back his tears. “Do you know what the worst part of this is?”

“Having to spend so much time with your ol’ hockey coach?” Jamie joked.

The kid apparently missed the humor in that as well. But he didn’t clam up, either. “It’s that it was my parents, my family. How do I…” Angrily he pulled a few more tissues out of the box as tears fell freely.

“One day at a time,” Jamie said softly.

He coughed and kept talking. “I mean, I’ve taken the taunts from the kids at school. I’m used to that. And I could handle it from strangers who don’t know me. But these were people who are supposed to love me!”

“I know.” Jamie took a hand off the steering wheel and gently patted Sinclair’s head at the top, on the hat. “Believe me, I understand what that’s like.”

He looked over, eyes wet and wide. “Your family?”

“Not my family. But someone I loved who was supposed to love me. He hurt me pretty badly when I was just a few years older than you are now.”

“Because you’re gay?”

“Not exactly. It was because he wanted me to be something I wasn’t. And because he didn’t want me the way I was.” Jamie kept his eyes on the road but took a deep breath. “And it’s never left me, even after six years of therapy.” He cleared his throat. “I’m just saying I understand.”

Sinclair nodded. He noticed they were turning into a shopping center. “I know I look like a piece of meat but I don’t really need the medicine or whatever. You can just…” He shrugged. “Drop me off at my car or somewhere. You’ve done enough for me already.”

“Drop you somewhere?” Jamie repeated, eyebrows raised. “Are you kidding? Where are you going to go? Live in your car? How much money do you have at your disposal? How are you going to eat? Do you even have a savings account?”

“I can’t pay for medicine,” Sinclair blurted out. He bit his lip and looked away.

“I know,” Jamie said. “But if Olly says you need it, then you need it. Money’s not important, and I don’t mind dropping a couple bills for it.”

“Coach…” he said weakly.

Jamie parked the car in front of the CVS, unbuckled his seatbelt, and turned in his seat to face Sinclair. “You came to me for help, and I promised you I’d make everything turn out okay, remember? That includes medicine and finding you somewhere safe to stay until you’re better.” He glanced toward the store. “I think you’ll have to come in and fill out more exciting paperwork. We’ll try and make it quick.”

Sinclair kept the hat on and kept close to Jamie instinctively as they entered. Being inside the clinic had been easier, clearly, as everyone expected something to be wrong with him. But in a retail store, people frequently stared at him. Jamie thought of telling Sinclair to pretend the injuries were from some incredible hockey game, but he knew that would just hurt him in the long run. Not wanting to be stared at was one thing, but being ashamed of himself and lying because of it was another. That wasn’t a fun road to go down.

The man behind the counter at the pharmacy looked like he’d already had a long day, even though it wasn’t even two in the afternoon yet. Apparently they were busy on Saturdays, even though most doctors’ offices were closed on the weekends. “Dropping off or picking up?”

“First one and then the other, I hope,” Jamie said as he dug the prescriptions out of his pocket and handed them to Sinclair.

“New or return customer?” the pharmacist asked in a way that sounded like he’d asked the same question a hundred times an hour. The pause following his question was an answer already, and he had already begun getting out the forms when Sinclair told him he was new there. “Step aside and fill these out completely. I’ll need two forms of ID.”

The paperwork was at least three times as long as it had been at the clinic. Jamie made the decision to have him put down Jamie’s address and phone number. And Sinclair insisted on listing Jamie as someone authorized to pick up his meds for him. Most of the set of forms involved current medications being taken, specific illnesses he had now or had in the past, and any history of allergies to particular drugs. Sinclair, mercifully, had practically nothing that would be of any importance.

He waited for the pharmacist to finish checking out a customer purchasing medications then Sinclair handed everything over. The pharmacist compared names, then studied his photo IDs and looked at Sinclair. Nervously, Sinclair tipped his hat up a little, letting the man study his face. It only took a few seconds as it was clear to him why these particular medications were being prescribed. “They should be ready in about fifteen or twenty minutes,” he said, glancing at his computer. “Will you be waiting or picking up later?”

Jamie spoke up, “I’ll be waiting for them. Thanks.” The pharmacist glanced over the paperwork to be sure permission had been given, nodded at finding it all in order, and repeated the bit about fifteen or twenty minutes. He handed Sinclair’s IDs back and the two left the line.

“I have some other things to pick up,” Jamie said. “I can putz around here for a while. Do you want to go sit in the car?”

Sinclair nodded gratefully and Jamie tossed him the keys. The fifteen or twenty minute wait actually turned into twenty-five, by Jamie’s watch. But it wasn’t a great concern to him. He’d glanced outside a few times to see Sinclair slumped in the passenger seat with his eyes closed. He had to show his ID to claim the prescriptions, and the pharmacist checked him out with all his other purchases at the same time.

He met Sinclair’s gaze as he headed out of the door, motioning that he’d just be a minute longer. Sinclair nodded and slumped down further in his seat. Jamie walked over to the bench a few feet to the right of the door and sat down on it sideways. He took out his phone and, after thinking a moment, dialed the club’s 800-number.

It ran six times, and then Nik answered. “You’ve reached Sthtrokesth. Can I help you?”

“Hey, Nik. It’s Jamie. Is Sweetie there? I need to talk to both of you right away. It’s about the house.” Once again, he avoided the word ‘emergency.’

“Let me go get him.” Jamie heard the receiver being set down on the desk, heard footsteps, and heard muffled voices. Jamie thanked his luck that they were both there and he’d only have to give this one try.

The next voice he heard was Sweetie’s. “Hey, babe. You’re on speaker phone.”

“Great,” he said, taking a deep breath like the ones that had worked so well for the kid earlier. “I’ve got a bit of a situation here. One of the boys in my hockey club was bashed pretty badly last night and kicked out of his house. He’s literally got nowhere else to go so I was wondering if I could bring him back to the house to stay for a few days while we get things sorted out.”

There was silence. Lengthy silence. And Jamie couldn’t figure out what was taking them so long to answer. Heck, he’d expected instant replies that it was more than okay and even some offers to help. But all he got was silence. Nerve-wracking silence. And then, “Has he seen a doctor?”

A bit taken aback, “Of course. We just got through at the clinic and the drug store. And now I need to know whether I can take him home or whether I should get him a hotel room because the kid needs a place to stay.”

“He’sth not a dog. You can’t justht call usth up and asthk if you can bring a boy home.”

“What the hell?” Jamie tried not to look as agitated as he felt, because he was pretty sure Sin was watching him from the car. “I live there, too—”

“But you don’t pay for the house, do you?”

Jamie’s eyes went wide. “Fuck you, Sweetie! You know I’ve tried to give you rent a half dozen times since I moved in but you won’t take it. And if it wasn’t for my wanting to be with you I’d still have my apartment and this wouldn’t be a problem. It’s my home, too, and this boy needs my help. I didn’t even think I needed to ask.”

“Well, you do need to. And I’m glad you called first,” Sweetie said. “Look, we feel sorry for him, really. But we can’t go taking in your whole league.”

“I’m not talking about the whole league. I’m only asking about this one,” Jamie replied through gritted teeth. “His name’s Gary Sinclair and—”

“We’re not running Nik and Sthweetie’sth Housthe for Indigent Homosth,” said Nik.

“We can’t help every kid that needs our help,” said Sweetie.

Jamie snapped back, “Maybe you should try. You’ve got the room. You’ve got the resources. I don’t see why—”

“No, you don’t,” said Sweetie, with a sigh. Jamie heard some muffled voices, but couldn’t make out a single word. Finally, “He can stay the night. Just until you get this sorted out.”

“Thank you,” Jamie replied curtly. He ended the call without giving them a chance to say anything more. Then he gave himself a few seconds to cool down before heading back to his car. He slid into the driver’s seat, restraining a sigh.

“Everything… all right?” Sinclair asked cautiously. Then, quickly, “Because if it’s not, I understand. You’ve done more than enough. I already feel guilty about the meds.”

“Knock it off,” Jamie interrupted with a chuckle. “It’ll be okay.” He felt like he was trying to reassure himself just as much as Sin. “I’ll drive you over to the rink and then you can follow me back to my house. You can take a shower and get a decent sleep and a bite to eat. Then I’ll sit down with you and we’ll figure out what to do from there.” He reached over and took Sinclair’s hand. The squeeze was tighter than it had been in the X-ray room, but Sin didn’t protest. “You don’t have to worry any more.”

Sinclair gave him a weak smile. It wasn’t very comforting, and one side of his mouth went higher than the other because of the bruises and split lip. But it was the first time Jamie had seen the kid smile all day and it meant a whole lot to him.

“Here…” Jamie reached into the CVS bag and pulled out a disposable heat pack. He took it out of its package and folded it to activate it. “Put this on your face or your arm or ribs or wherever it’s most bruised.” Sinclair pressed it to his cheek and winced at first, then sighed and closed his eyes. Jamie started the car.

The parking lot was full when they got back to the rink. The Jackal’s practice had ended long ago, but it was a Saturday and there was probably a birthday party going on in addition to the public skate. After a series of directions from Sin, Jamie stopped right behind Sinclair’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. A glance inside told Jamie the kid had definitely spent the night in it. There were bloody napkins balled up on the passenger seat. In the back he saw the duffle bag and backpack and another bulging bag that obviously held his hockey gear. Jamie also noticed the aforementioned trophy that each of the Jackals got last year for winning the tournament. It was bent and bloodied and Jamie averted his eyes out of instinct. “It’s just a few blocks up Callpepper. You’ll follow me? I mean, you can drive all right?”

“I managed last night,” Sinclair said, not sounding particularly reassuring.

“If you have a problem, honk your horn and pull over. I’ve got a housemate who owns a garage, so we can have it towed if we need to. Drive safely and stay close behind when we get to the front gate. I park in the garage, so park behind my car but outside. All right?”

Sinclair agreed. And, given the choice to bolt now and have nothing else to do with this, Sinclair chose to stay with Jamie. In fact, he followed closely the whole time, not wanting to lose Jamie in traffic.

It wasn’t very far to the house from there. But Jamie was relieved to have Sin in his rear view mirror during the whole trip. Before long, Jamie drove up to the large, iron gate that surrounded the house. He leaned out of his window to type the code into the panel then drove through quickly enough for Sinclair to follow before the gate closed. The driveway was long, but there was a good view of the house immediately, a view that got better as they headed up and to the right. Jamie drove around the right side to the garage, pressing the button on his sun visor to raise the door. The garage was otherwise empty, not counting a beat up old Chevy someone couldn’t bear to part with; Jamie had never asked who. Apparently there was a lot that Jamie had never asked.

He turned off the engine and climbed out of the car. Sinclair was doing the same, looking up at the huge house, his eyes wide open. “You live here?!”

“Yup. With my boyfriend and Olly and a handful of other guys.” Jamie picked up the bags for Sinclair. Sin insisted he could carry the duffle bag at least, but Jamie wouldn’t hear of it. He closed the garage door behind them before getting his key out and typing another code into the pad by the door. Everyone had to be careful with the doors or the cat and dog might get out.

The strangeness of his day still overwhelming him, Jamie felt a sense of relief at being home again. He looked over at Sinclair. “So, what do you feel like doing first? Do you want to take a nap or have something to eat?” He gestured toward the kitchen which was just ahead on the right. “Or a shower?”

“Um… I’m a little hungry. And… maybe… could I take those pain killers after all?”

Jamie felt stupid for not making the kid take one the second he came out of CVS. “Right this way.” Sin had said he didn’t need medicine, but Jamie should have known better than to trust a hockey player about something like that, even a young hockey player. After presenting the kid with a glass of water and two pills, Jamie rooted through the fridge. “We’ve got a lot of leftover roast beef. I could make sandwiches. Or I could heat up a pizza from the freezer. Actually, I could heat up anything from the freezer. It’s like a grocery store in here. What do you feel like?”

“A roast beef sandwich sounds great.” He didn’t sound all that interested in food, so Jamie tried to keep him talking, keep the conversation light.

Getting out the ingredients, “How much mayo? Everyone tells me I put on too much.”

“Too much is how I like it,” Sin said, scratching his arm through his sling and sleeve. “And lettuce, if you have it.”

“Absolutely.” Luckily, sandwiches were also pretty quick to make. They both had Pepsis with ice and passed a bag of Fritos back and forth. “So… should we talk about your options? Not that you’re not welcome here,” Jamie briefly thought of his phone conversation with Sweetie and Nik and hoped what he said was true. “But maybe you came up with something better?”

Sinclair shrugged as he gulped down his drink. “My grandparents are all dead and my only aunt and uncle live in Colorado, but they’re religious freaks and if my parents don’t want me, my aunt’s not going to take me in or let me near my younger cousins. I could try calling the friends I couldn’t get a hold of last night, but I’d have to look up their numbers online and… I’m not very hopeful. They’re not… those sorts of friends, you know?”

“What about one of the guys on the team?”

“None of them go to my high school. I don’t see any of them outside practice and none of their parents know me. It’d be a bit awkward, don’t you think?”

Jamie thought so. He leaned forward, more seriousness in his voice now. “Have you thought any more about reporting this to the authorities? Filing an assault report?”

Sinclair shook his head. “I don’t want to do that. I do know I probably should but…” He rubbed a fist at his eyes. “Coach…”

“I understand.” Jamie said solemnly, letting the matter drop for good.

Sinclair sighed and looked up at the phone on the wall. “I thought I should start with my sister. My Mom’ll be at her job until eight tonight and my Dad is probably out on his buddy’s boat. But my sister will be at home. Maybe…”

“Maybe they cooled off a little and tried to find you after you left?”

Nodding, “Maybe they said something to her about me coming home even.”

Jamie got the phone for him. “I’ll give you some privacy. I’m going to go get a heating pad for you. I’ll just be down the hall, so call if you need me.” He paused. “I wish you luck.”

“I won’t get my hopes up. If you’d seen their faces… believe me, I don’t expect anything. But even if they’ve given up on me, I haven’t given up on them.” Sinclair looked gravely at the phone for a few seconds longer before dialing.

Jamie found a heating pad under the counter of the downstairs full bathroom. Olly always kept that bathroom well stocked with items, so they could be found in a hurry when needed. Jamie was rather glad he didn’t have to go hunting around the mansion’s other six bathrooms or the closets which were too numerous to count. He tried to walk back as slowly as possible but overheard the tail end of the conversation anyway.

“But can’t you talk to them, Jen? Tell them I’m not a horrible person.” There was a pause. “They did? Well can you get… right. Yes, Jen. No, don’t cry. I’ll see you in school. You won’t tell them I called, will you? Please… Jen, don’t cry. Look, I’ve got to go. Don’t let them see you cry. I’ll see you Monday at school. Bye.” He hung up the phone with a beep and set it down on the table.

He stared at it but looked up when Jamie returned to the room and plugged the heating pad in. Jamie didn’t pry, but didn’t need to. “They called a locksmith over this morning. And they won’t even give my sister a key. Dad completely trashed my room and my mother put my stuff out for the trash this morning. She told my sister to forget about me. Fuck! Why’d my dad have to come home?”

Jamie turned the heating pad on, and it warmed up in a moment. Jamie handed it over. Sinclair put it in his lap and sighed. Jamie sat down at the table. “How was life at home without your dad?”

Shrugging, “Pretty strained already. Mom yelled at me a couple times a week. She never said it was because I was gay… and maybe it was more than that. But I knew she wasn’t happy about it. She said she prayed for me every night and said that I was going to burn in Hell. She kept telling me I could change if I wanted to.  I wasn’t allowed to say anything back, wasn’t allowed to ever talk about it. She signed the hockey league permission form because I gave it to her when she was drunk. And because I think she welcomed any chance to get me out of the house. After a while, we stopped talking… except for the yelling.”

“I’m sorry,” Jamie said softly. “I’m so sorry. But your sister’s still talking to you, right? That’s huge.”

“Jen’s great. She isn’t in any danger, but she deserves better parents than ours. They’re not going to cool down after a day or a week,” Sinclair said, as though only just believing it. He moved to put his head in his hand, but winced as his hand touched the bruises he’d forgotten about.

“Keep heat on it,” Jamie said. He wished he could think of something more helpful to say. He wished his therapist were here to give him a soundbite or two. But Jamie heard a throat being cleared and looked over to find Auntie Al standing in the doorway to the kitchen.

“I got word we were having a guest tonight. I just put fresh sheets on the bed upstairs in the room between yours and the bathroom,” Al explained to Jamie. He looked at the boy at the kitchen table, but he neither let his gaze linger on him nor looked away.

“Thank you,” Jamie said with a nod. He gestured toward Sin. “This is Gary Sinclair, goes by Sin on the ice. Sin, this is Auntie Al.”

Sin put both the disposable and the plug-in heating pads on the table beside his empty plate. He stood and extended his good hand as Al crossed the kitchen to shake. “Sin? That’s not a particularly cheery nickname.”

“It works for hockey,” Jamie said with a shrug. He cleared the dishes, depositing them all in the dishwasher, and stuck the clip back on the chips. “We can’t all have nicknames as great as yours.”

“Auntie?” Sinclair asked, confused and curious.

Auntie Al laughed. “Culture has progressed far faster than I could have imagined, but I guess they don’t make gay slang dictionaries required reading in public high schools yet.”

Jamie explained, “It’s a term for an older or middle-aged gay man, typically effeminate ones. In Al’s case though,” he bumped into Al’s side good-naturedly, “It’s used for a warm, very likeable older gay man who we can’t possibly do without.”

Sinclair gave a nod of understanding and another semi-smile until he turned away to yawn. “M’sorry,” he said. “Didn’t sleep so well last night.”

“Can’t imagine why not.” Auntie Al’s usual quiet, reassuring calmness filled his voice. “As I said, there’s a bed made up for you already. I hope you’ll be able to get a bit of rest.” He paused then added, “You’re safe here.” Auntie Al turned to Jamie. “Do you need any help with the bags?”

“I can manage. It’s just a couple.” He’d set the bags on the floor at the side of the room, and when Sin went to pick them up now, Jamie got to them first. Sin managed the CVS bag; its weight and size were inconsequential. If Jamie angled just right, he could make it out the doorway just fine with both the bags. “So that was the kitchen,” Jamie informed him. “And right across the hall here…” He turned around and backed in through the door. “We’ve got the first floor rec room.”

There were only a few chairs and the one couch right now, though during movie nights the place filled up with seating. Still, Sin whistled at the large plasma screen television, DVD player, and surround sound. “This is nothing,” Jamie said. “You should see the gaming setup downstairs. Or the entertainment room down the hall. That’s where we usually hang out and watch television. But this is where the stairs are. Kind of weird that they’re inside rooms, I know.” He led Sin over to a set of wide, spiraling stairs and started up them.

They went up to the second story of the house and a room about half the size of the rec room. Along one wall was a small fridge, some cabinets, and a microwave. And there was a large table with LEGO bricks scattered upon it and, amidst them, was a giant LEGO recreation of a strange gothic church that was nearly finished. “That’s my boyfriend’s,” Jamie said. “It’s the Church of Saint John at Chesme Palace. I think it’s in Saint Petersburg, Russia. It’s somewhere in Russia. He’s got a thing for Russia. You can look, but if a single block goes awry, he gets pretty damn bitchy.” Apparently, he got bitchy about things not related to LEGO creations as well.

“I bet!” Tired and hurt as he was, Sin couldn’t resist circling the table for a closer look. It was compact and symmetrical, but terribly detailed. There was really no way to accurately describe it, in its unfinished state, apart from it being somewhat circular with one main portion, two wings, and a whole host of towers with spikes and crosses on the top. Vertical stripes of red and white covered the whole thing, there was a big round window over the arched doorway, and arches were part of the wings as well. “It’s amazing, but I thought they were just toys. I played with these things as a kid, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t,” Jamie admitted with a shrug. “I was your typical jock. Climbing trees, organizing neighborhood kickball games, trying to break local swim team records. I suppose that’s why it came as a bit of a shock to my family when I came out. But it takes all sorts.”

“Yeah,” said Sin, with another yawn. He followed Jamie out.

The hallway was long and all the doors lining it were closed. The only thing that broke up the almost endless row of doors was a painting hanging on the wall in the dead center. It was of an absolutely gorgeous, naked man, turned just so. His eyes were closed and his hand disappeared behind his thigh so that only the head of his cock was visible. He looked peaceful in his solitude, even though his rear was slightly flushed. “A friend painted it,” Jamie said. He turned so it was at his back and pointed. “See those two doors without handles? Those are the common rooms with the stairs in them. That’s the easiest way to remember how to get down.” He continued down the hall and stopped in front of a bedroom door. “Can you…” Sin could, and did, open it for him.

Jamie set the bags down on the floor by the bed. “The spare bedrooms aren’t used much. Sorry if it’s a little stuffy, like a hotel room.” Of course, if he didn’t get this situation straightened out with Nik and Sweetie, that was just where the kid would end up anyway.

“It’s nice,” Sinclair said, looking around. The room was sparse, with an armoire, a nightstand, and a queen-sized bed. The sheets sported blue and white stripes and a navy blue comforter folded at the bottom of the bed had a galaxy of tiny gold moons and stars upon it. “It certainly beats the backseat of my car.”

“Do you have something to sleep in?” Jamie asked. “I’ve got a couple T-shirts I could lend you.”

Sin shook his head. “I didn’t pack much. I don’t think my pajamas made it.”

Jamie left Sin alone for a minute to get some T-shirts and a pair of comfortable sweat pants as well. When he returned, he found Sin rooting through one of the bags—the one not filled with hockey gear. “Looks like I have enough clothes for the next few days.” He rubbed his arm and then his nose, winging a little at both touches. “You mentioned a shower?”

“Of course.” Jamie showed him to the bathroom, just next to his room. “And my room’s on the other side,” he said, getting two towels and a washcloth from the linen closet right across from the bathroom. “I’ll probably be there or in the kitchen or entertainment room. The house seems big, but it’s actually pretty small once you get used to it. I won’t be leaving the house tonight so whenever you get up, I’ll be here.”


“Oh!” Jamie popped back over and returned with the gauze and tubes of ointment. “For after your shower. The yellow one is for the cuts, and the large one is for the bruises.” The more he rambled, the more his concern was running away with him. “And don’t use the heating pad under the blankets or it might cause a fire. But there are a few disposable packs in the CVS bag you can use.”

“Coach!” Sin laughed, though without a smile. “I got it. You’ve been great. You don’t have to smother me now.”

Jamie chuckled and patted Sin’s head gently. “Sorry ‘bout that. Have a good shower and sweet dreams.”

Jamie did not see Sin up again until much later in the evening. He looked in on the kid a few times, scolding himself for being overbearing. But he couldn’t help but peek in to be sure Sinclair was sleeping all right. More than all right, Sinclair seemed completely passed out, lying on one side but snoring deeply, probably due to his broken nose. He was curled up under the blankets, a heat pack on the pillow next to him from where it had probably fallen off him in his sleep.

The other guys returned home, one at a time, and Jamie explained the situation to each. Sentiment was generally more positive and much more sympathetic than Sweetie and Nik had been. When Sweetie came home, Jamie gave him the usual quick kiss followed immediately by the cold shoulder.

At dinner, Jamie tried to lead a discussion about Sinclair. But every time he tried to bring the kid up, someone else changed the subject. “I’ll have to officially contact the coaches in the league, of course, and let them know. But—”

Nik passed the mashed potatoes to Pit, making them go through Jamie by practically hitting Jamie in the chest with the big bowl. “You’ll never believe the playlistht Turbo came up with for tonight.”

The more he was practically ignored, the jumpier and more impatient Jamie became. “Sin doesn’t have anywhere else to—”

“I discovered new soap opera on television today, while I was cleaning the entertainment room,” Auntie Al announced. “It looks like it might have some potential.”

Finally, Jamie threw his napkin down and stormed out of the dining room. He sat alone in the entertainment room, resisting the urge to go check on the sleeping kid yet again and the desire to go give his roommates a piece of his mind. He tried to find a hockey game on television, but none of the live games had started for the night and the classic channel was showing Pittsburg versus Philly from the ‘90s; even Jamie couldn’t stomach that.

It was some time before his roommates joined him in the room, by which time most of Jamie’s annoyance had melted away. Nik had already taken off for the club, and with the boys around him, it actually seemed to Jamie like just another typical night at the house.

Another two hours passed before Sinclair must have followed the music and made an appearance. Jamie was sitting on the couch with Sweetie crosswise, his feet in a rather reluctant Jamie’s lap. They were hooting and whistling with the others, namely Olly and Al, as Pit did a badly choreographed but only half-humorous version of Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ as the video played on the television set right behind him. It was Pit who first noticed Sinclair standing in the doorway, smiling at the scene. He froze in place and the dancing drained out of him, as did most of the color in his face. “Jesus Christ, Kid.” He leaned back against the entertainment hutch.

The others looked over at him, instinctively. Sinclair had the baseball cap on again, and looked down so that much of his bruised and scraped face couldn’t be seen. “Sorry,” he whispered.

“What did I tell you about apologizing?” Jamie said. “None of this is your fault.”

Though it was common courtesy to not stare, that was exactly what Pit couldn’t seem to help doing. “Give me the address and I’ll beat the shit out of whatever fucker did this to you,” he said, with every intention of doing just that.

“Pit!” Jamie hissed. “That’s not helping.” Then, louder, “Come here, Sin. Let me introduce you?” It was a question, not an instruction, but Sinclair came across the room to stand next to the couch anyway.

“You met Auntie Al earlier in the kitchen.” Jamie pointed toward an armchair, where the older man was sitting.

Auntie Al raised a hand in greeting. “You definitely look like the sleep did you good. Can I get you something to eat? Cup of tea?”

Sinclair shook his head. “No thanks.”

Narrowing his eyes at him, “You look thirsty and I’m going to the kitchen anyway. How about some juice? I just defrosted a new can of orange-pineapple earlier today.” Sinclair agreed, and Al got the others’ orders before going.

Jamie resumed with the introductions. “And you know Olly, of course.”

“I look different without my white coat, I know, Mr. Sinclair.”  Olly sat Indian-style on another chair with his laptop, naturally, in his lap. He had on old, raggedy sweats now. “Did you put some of that Vitamin K ointment on those bruises?”

Sinclair nodded.

“That’s the drawback of having a doctor in the house. He gets a little anal about what he prescribes,” said Jamie.

Olly laughed. “I don’t remember you complaining about my care the last time you got sick,” he pointed out. “As for me being anal…”

Wanting to avoid both subjects, Jamie waved his hand toward the front of the room. “The bear of a man making a complete ass of himself at the front of the room there is Pit.”

Pit crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Usually I make sure people who meet me for the first time think I’m tough as nails. Looks like I’m already out of luck with you, huh? I can only beg you to not hold what you just saw against me. All right?”

Sin nodded. “Of course.”

“And this…” Jamie said, gesturing. “Is Sweetie, my boy.”

“Hi.” Sweetie gave his hand over and Sinclair shook it. “It’s good to meet you, though I’m terribly sorry about the circumstances.” Abruptly, he gave a stretch and stood. “And now I’m afraid I’ve got to run. Big night at the club.” It was as if he couldn’t get going soon enough. He looked at Sinclair. “Ever heard of Strokes?”

Sinclair nodded. “That’s that gay club over on East 25th Street?”

“Mmm,” Sweetie nodded. “Have you been?”

“No… I…” Sinclair shook his head and looked away shyly.

Smiling, “Well, now that you’re eighteen you’re welcome to stop by some time.”

“He co-owns it,” Jamie explained.

Sweetie nodded. “But as I’m heading out, is there anything you need that I can pick up for you? Medicine you take that you might have… left behind? Anything for school or just something you realize you can’t live without?”

Sinclair had to lean against the couch. “Um… I can’t think of anything.” He didn’t sound like he was telling the complete truth there, but Jamie wasn’t about to push, and neither was Sweetie, apparently.

“Well, if you do, just have Jamie call the club.” Sweetie waved to all on his way out, blowing a kiss toward Jamie and squeezing Olly on the shoulders in a way that meant he wished the doctor would come with him for a word in private. But Olly stayed put.

“Wait!” Sinclair called out. Sweetie turned, walking backward. “Jamie said you own this house?” Sweetie nodded. “Then thank you for letting me crash here today. And tonight. I really… I appreciate it, obviously. But I didn’t realize how much until I woke up. It was nice to be somewhere I was invited instead of just tolerated. And it was good to feel safe for a little while at least. So… thank you.”

Sweetie gave him another nod. “You’re welcome.” Then he turned and left, just as Auntie Al returned with the drinks and some snacks.

Jamie leaned over dramatically and patted the cushion on the other side of the couch. “You’re welcome to stay down here with us a while. We’ve been trying to decide what to watch, without much success. Unless you’re still tired and want to head to bed early.” Grateful as Sin was, Jamie did not want to assume the kid wanted to hang out with him and a bunch of strangers. He wanted to be sure to give him an out.

But Sin accepted the invitation and sat down, doing so stiffly and carefully.

“Maybe I should go get that heating pad for you?”

Sin nodded a bit sheepishly.

Auntie Al, still standing as he handed Jamie and Sinclair their drinks, and gave Jamie a bowl of chips. “I believe there’s a hot water bottle in the bathroom down here. That should work just as well.” He went off to check before anyone else could volunteer to do so. And he was back in a minute with a red hot water bottle.

Sinclair pressed it to his cheek and sighed. “Thank you.”

“So polite,” Al observed, helping himself from Jamie’s bowl of chips and then sitting down in the armchair again. “Are you certain you play hockey?”

Sinclair laughed. “I guess it’s a habit. My parents drummed good manners into me as child, the importance of being well behaved and having respect for others.” He sighed instinctively and Jamie coughed in surprise and had to drink some juice.

Pit’s hands were still clenched into fists. “Respect for others? From the people who did that to you?”

“I didn’t say they weren’t hypocritical,” Sinclair admitted. He moved the hot water bottle to the other side of his face, leaving behind a red flush on his skin around the bruise. “I always thought that ‘love thy neighbor’ bit was a more important part of the Bible than that ‘man lying with man is an abomination’ part.”

Jamie wondered if this kid would ever stop surprising him.

“Oohh!” Olly looked up from his laptop. “How about watching The Ten Commandments?”

Jamie groaned. “Let’s not. I can’t stand to watch that.”

Olly looked put out. “Why not? It’s a great movie. And a good amount of shirtless scenes—”

“Ugh!” Jamie made a face. “But it’s Charlton Heston! That guy creeps me out with all his NRA crap.”

“But you’re not watching Charlton, you’re watching a character in a movie,” Olly argued.

“I can’t separate the two!” Jamie laughed. “Same voice, same face. Every time I see him I’m reminded. Just like Tom Cruise last year when he went all crazy. And how many people turned out to see Mission Impossible III?”

Pit, who was stretching out upon another couch, jumped in, “But he sure as hell looks good dancing in his underwear.”

“Amen to that!” Olly said dreamily. “How about you, Mr. Sinclair? Feel like watching anything in particular?”

Sinclair shrugged, looking a little caught off guard at being addressed so formally. “I don’t know. What are my options?”

Pit let out a huge, rolling laugh and Olly shot Pit a look for it, though it didn’t shut him up. “Movies are Olly’s hobby,” Jamie explained, holding back a laugh of his own. “He’s got pretty much anything you can think of. Everything from the classics to whatever came out last Tuesday.”

“Wow.” Sinclair took the hot water bottle and hugged it to his chest with one arm as he held his drink as well. Every so often, Jamie offered the chips and every time, Sinclair took a few.

“Well, if we do watch something, I say we order Chinese.” While the rest of them had had dinner a few hours ago, Sinclair hadn’t had anything since the sandwiches.

Olly typed something quickly, smiled at the screen, and then closed the laptop. He stretched. “I’ll make the call. The usual?” Jamie nodded. “Anything you especially want, Mr. Sinclair?”

Sin shrugged, but answered. “I really like dumplings.”

“Got it.” He set the laptop aside. “When I get back, I want a decision about the movie.”

“He’s going to kill us if we don’t decide,” Jamie said. “Auntie, any ideas?”

“The Godfather’s always good for a watch.”

“Too violent,” Jamie said, thinking of Sin. Besides the violence, the father-son dynamics might be hard for him to take. “Pit?”

“Meet Me in St. Louis.”

“Oh my God, Pit. You’re such a closet queen!” Jamie laughed. “It’s too vintage for tonight. Sin, do you have any favorites?”

Sinclair shrugged noncommittally. “Nothing mushy. Something with some action.”

The discussion went from clueless and casual to more heated. Dozens of movies were tossed around and discussed. Everything from The Terminator to Trick, from Shakespeare to Peter Jackson, from Rock Hudson to Tom Hanks.

“Ducky took my order. I invited him over, but he can’t stay tonight,” Olly announced as he returned to the room and interrupted the discussion. “He’s got a big paper to work on this weekend. But he’s delivering the food. And have we made a decision, gentlemen?” He headed over to the enormous floor-to-ceiling cabinets along one wall which held about half of his movies. Most of the independent films, older films, and all the porn was kept in the cabinets downstairs.

“We’ve narrowed it down to three,” said Pit. “Ghostbusters, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. It’s your pick or we play rock-paper-scissors for it.” 

Olly, owner of the movies, made the executive decision. “Ghostbusters it is. A little humor sounds excellent right now. And we can keep the sequel on deck just in case we get carried away.” He got out the DVD with ease, having just re-alphabetized his entire collection.

They were barely through the credits and opening scenes when the food arrived, and Ducky with it. Despite their best attempts at persuading, he insisted he couldn’t stay to enjoy the movie with them. Plates, forks, and chopsticks were distributed around, and Al made sure everyone’s glasses were full. Then everyone passed around the numerous cartons and containers and people helped themselves to whatever they wanted. Naturally, one container of dumplings went straight to Sinclair, un-sampled, though Sin offered them to whoever else wanted them after he took half.

Everyone, and Sinclair especially, had seconds to one extent or another. Jamie made absolute sure that Sinclair’s hot water bottle was kept warm, even if it meant leaving the room and movie a few times and hour. None of them required silence to follow the movie, so they freely made comments while watching. Mentioning the Ghostbusters cartoon at the first appearance of Slimer, debating which was the most bang-able ‘buster, talking about careers and fates of the various actors, and discussing the pros and cons of levitating during sex.

Sometime during it all, Sin fell asleep on his side, hugging the hot water bottle to his chest with his good arm. Jamie rose from the couch very slowly and got a blanket. Tables with flip-top lids and excessive storage beneath were fantastically useful inventions. If there were just a Nobel Prize for furniture… He unfolded it with a few shakes and draped it over Sinclair. He paused, making certain the kid was still asleep then he tucked it around him more tightly. Jamie sat down on the couch with Pit so he wouldn’t interfere with Sin’s sleep.

“I know they’re supposed to be miserable all sticky like that,” Olly said at the end. “But this ending always just makes me crave marshmallows.”

Everyone laughed, apart from Sinclair, who snored.

“The kid is as loud as a jackhammer,” Pit said, trying not to laugh. “He snored through some of the best lines.”

Auntie Al smirked. “Oh, and you sleep two floors beneath the others because you sleep so silently? Be kind, the young man has himself a broken nose.”

“Should we give him a lift upstairs?” Jamie asked.

“You and I could carry him well enough,” Pit replied, sizing up the situation.

As the one who knew the extent of Sinclair’s injuries, Olly put a stop to that plan at once. “Better not. You could hurt him badly if you try.”

“Just wake him up and put him to bed,” Auntie Al recommended.

The idea of watching the sequel was quickly abandoned. And Jamie woke Sinclair with his voice, not having to resort to a possibly painful touch. Sinclair woke with a start, but instantly remembered where he was and focused on the television screen as the credits rolled. “Sorry for falling asleep,” he said, wincing as he sat up.

“My dear boy,” said Auntie Al, taking the blanket and folding it up again. “Why do you think we keep blankets here? The most comfortable seats in the house are in this room. I nodded off for a while, myself.” He yawned politely to make his point, though it looked somewhat fake to Jamie.

Jamie stood up and offered a hand to help him up. Sinclair took it gladly and grunted as he got to his feet. “Maybe I should take another warm shower?” he said, moving stiffly.

“I’ll get you a toothbrush as well. We keep extras upstairs.” Jamie allowed Sinclair to lean on him as they made their way slowly across the room. “Goodnight, everyone,” he called over his shoulder, looking back and smiling. They wished each other the typical good nights and sweet dreams, saying the same to Sinclair as kindly as if he were one of the housemates. Jamie noticed, however, that none of them moved from the room as the two were leaving. He wondered if they were planning on watching the sequel.

Jamie did not get ready for bed, himself until Sinclair was done in the shower and in bed. He made sure Sin had everything he needed and reminded him about what room he was in just in case. Sin sighed as his head gently hit the pillow; he was asleep in seconds.

Jamie had been looking forward to bed almost as much, feeling exhausted and drained after the long day he’d had. He noticed but did not over-think the fact that he did not have to fight for the bathroom. He changed for bed, wearing pajama pants instead of his usual nothing, just in case Sin paid him a visit in the middle of the night.

He stood for a few moments in front of the bed he shared every night with Sweetie then turned and headed to the adjoining room and waded through stacks and boxes of his things to get to the bed from his old apartment. He’d only slept there a few times since moving in, and it was hard to get comfortable.

As Jamie lay on his back in bed, one arm bent under his head, he found he was almost too exhausted to actually fall asleep. He lay there, worrying and thinking himself in circles, racing as though his thoughts were in one of those conditioning drills he’d been putting his team through.

His thoughts were disturbed by a knock on Jamie’s door, and he immediately invited whoever it was inside. It wasn’t Sinclair, however, it was Sweetie. “Can I come in?” Sweetie asked, pausing in the doorway.

Jamie waved a hand dismissively and replied, “It’s your fucking house, isn’t it?”

Sweetie sighed and entered, but closed the door behind him. He walked over and sat down on the bed. “You didn’t come to bed like usual… and you seemed pretty mad…”

“Damn right I’m mad,” Jamie said, sitting up against the headboard and scooting back instinctively into a defensive position. “You were a bitch to me on the phone earlier.”

“I’m sorry,” said Sweetie, genuinely sounding it this time.

“Well, that’s a start at least,” Jamie said. “Care to elaborate any? Because I’ve got to say, you scared me a little. I needed you and I was trying to do something good and you bit my head off for it for no reason.”

Sweetie was quiet, his hands on his thighs, his eyes down upon the bedspread. When he spoke again, his voice was firm but quiet, so it would not travel through the walls. “Not for no reason. Did you think it hadn’t ever occurred to us, this idea of having a place available for wayward youth or hospice patients? Did you ever wonder why Nik and I have a place this big if we intended it to be just the two of us and maybe a boyfriend or two? Believe me, babe, we thought about it.” Sweetie reached up and rubbed his nose. He blinked rapidly, as though blinking back tears.


But the man continued. “Did you ever wonder why we spend our money the way we do, giving to causes and established charities like the clinic and Whitman-Walker, instead of just putting together a foundation of our own? Did you ever wonder why we surround ourselves with people like Al and Pit? Did you ever wonder why we change the security code on the gate and house system every week? Did you wonder why we have round-the-clock security at the club, even during the daytime when no one’s around? Did you wonder why the house and the club are both in both my name and Nik’s? Hell, did you ever wonder what Nik’s real name is? Or what those computers in the room across the hall are doing? Or why I do the taxes myself every year even though it drives me crazy?” He stopped to take a breath, and found he was out of words or energy or both.

Jamie leaned forward slightly. “Are you going to tell me?” Sweetie was silent; not the best sign. “Are you at least going to tell me why it took you so long to say yes to Sin staying here today?”

Sweetie looked up, into Jamie’s eyes. “That’s not my story to tell,” he said. “But I can tell you a little about Steven.” He leaned to the side, reaching into his back pocket to wiggle his wallet out. He flipped through the billfold as he spoke, squinting at it by the light of the moon. “Steven was a young boy I met when Nik and I moved into the area. We took him in because, God, if you’d seen him you would have, too. We had all these dreams and plans and… there were lots of reasons we couldn’t go through with them, even after we bought this house. Not the least of which was watching Steven die from complications due to AIDS.” His voice finally cracked and he stopped looking through his wallet. He reached over to the nightstand and helped himself to several tissues. Then he handed the wallet over, open to a picture of a boy whose stunning good looks could not be hindered by the plastic sleeve the photo was in. He didn’t look like he could have been more than nine and he had a killer smile… a familiar smile.

“I’m sorry for how I acted on the phone today,” Sweetie said, balling up the tissues and tossing them toward the trashcan against the wall. He missed but didn’t get up to put them right. “Gary Sinclair seems like a great guy, and he’s exceptionally lucky to have you in his life, just like I’m lucky to have you in mine.” He took the biggest breath and let it out exceedingly slowly. “The housemates and I have been discussing his situation. And he can stay here as long as he needs to, if he wants to, that is.”

After the opposition he’d heard earlier, Jamie felt stunned. “But Nik hasn’t even met him.”

“He and I talked it over. Nik trusts me. And I trust you,” said Sweetie. “But Nik and I can’t be responsible for him in name. He can use the address, but if he has to put down an emergency contact name for school or anything like that, it’s got to be yours. Do you understand?”

Jamie nodded. He found he didn’t really know what to say about what Sweetie had told him. “Dominic… can you just tell me… did you or Nik kill someone?”

Sweetie shook his head, almost smiling.

“Did you break the law? Rob a bank or blow up a building or…?”

Sweetie paused. “No one died. It was… it was a horrible situation and we got ourselves out of it. But some very bad people weren’t happy with letting it end with that. I can’t…”

Jamie nodded. “That’s all I need to know now, love.” He took Sweetie’s hand and let the man lead him back to their bed. He lay on his back, sinking into the familiar pillows and sheets. Then he stretched his arms out and Sweetie crawled into them. The blankets were wrapped around them as Sweetie moved in close, his head on Jamie’s chest like usual. As restless and introspective as he’d been all day, it took only a minute of lying there, breathing in Sweetie’s scent and basking in his warmth, before he fell asleep.


Jamie woke the next morning to sun streaming in through the window and Sweetie sleeping, curled into his side. A glance at the clock told him he had an hour until he had to be at the rink for morning skate. The Jackals had an early afternoon game he had to coach and then Jamie had to be in net in game with the Timber Wolves in the evening.

He heard a knock at the bedroom door and looked down to be sure they were both decent; they were. Jamie ran a hand through his ginger hair, which he was sure was sticking up every which way. He pet Sweetie’s into place as well. Sweetie stirred as Jamie called out, “Come on in,” and the door opened slowly.

Gary Sinclair was there, a tray in his hand, balancing with help from the sling still on his arm. Behind him was Auntie Al, who was carrying another tray. “Morning,” Sin said. “Sorry if we woke you. I got up early and wanted to make you breakfast. Al showed me around the kitchen.”

“He cooks, too?” Sweetie asked, yawning and rubbing his face as he looked up at Jamie. Jamie chuckled. Both sat up against the pillows and headboard.

“I wanted to thank you for helping me out so much yesterday, Coach,” he said, setting one tray down on Jamie’s lap. “And…” He took the tray from Auntie Al and set it down on Sweetie’s lap. “I wanted to thank you for letting me crash at your house for the day.” He smiled. “I was going to make Nik some breakfast as well but Auntie Al said he doesn’t get up until noon.”

“Even later, if he can manage it,” Sweetie said, looking down at the spread before him. “A late lunch or dinner in bed would be more his speed.”

Jamie was already digging into his stack of flapjacks, slathered with maple syrup and butter. There was also a bowl of fresh fruit and a cup of steaming hot coffee with sugar and hazelnut-flavored half-and-half, just the way he liked it. He took a second bite of the pancakes and sighed. “Incredible. Thank you.” He looked over at Sweetie. “Can I tell him?” Sweetie nodded.

Looking up at Sinclair’s battered and bruised face, Jamie could only see the eyes of a kid who shouldn’t have to deal with the kind of shit he’d been through the last few days. “If you want to, you can stay here the rest of the school year.”

“In fact,” Sweetie added, “if you want to stick around longer, you’re welcome here as long as you want to be here.”

Sinclair looked utterly shocked.

“Aren’t you going to say thank you for that as well?” Jamie asked. “Or are you holding out to make us lunch?”

Sinclair bent over and wrapped his good arm around Jamie’s front, squeezing with a hug. He was careful with how he moved his arm and body, and careful not to spill the breakfast. “Thank you so much!” He raced around the bed and hugged Sweetie as well. “Thank you! If I can do anything to help out… breakfast or chores or anything—”

Sweetie gently patted Sinclair’s arm. “How about you just concentrate on healing and keeping up in school? Tonight we’ll go through the way the house runs and what the ground rules are.”

“Are you okay with that?” Jamie asked.

Sin nodded, smiling his slightly lopsided smile again. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m okay. I’m very okay.”