After he got fired, the first thing Riley did was fold the Santoshi Dragon. He’d wanted to make it ever since he’d seen its twisted form in Masterful Origami, but he’d been pushing to meet another extended deadline. Riley started with intuitive creases, just to map out the shape. After a few minutes he was able to form the hard-edged jaw, though he struggled with the curvature of its spine. An hour passed with little progress, so he set it aside to reread the email Shane had sent him a few weeks before. Riley had thought about the subject line earlier that day, when his boss was screaming at him. It read: “Williams get your ass back here and play some HOCKEY!!”

Riley read the email eleven times in-between folding the first row of fangs in the dragon’s mouth. Among Shane’s other updates, he wanted Riley to know that the Denver Cutthroats would be holding tryouts, since their center was turning forty and wanted to retire. Shane ended the email with a suggestion that Riley think about it. Riley could hear his voice in the final words, “Let the fucking cities build themselves!”

Riley lay on the carpet of his bedroom, on his back, thinking about hockey, and cities, and the dragon. He fought sleep, even though it was the first opportunity for a perfect, eight-hour sleep he’d had in a long time. Riley didn’t know if he wanted to play semi-pro hockey. He didn’t even know if he could. He probably wasn’t good enough anymore. Riley didn’t know if he wanted to move back to Colorado. He didn’t like the mountains. He did like Chicago, except for the loneliness. He liked the money he’d made as a city planner; semi-pros made shit money. Riley sighed. He just wanted to talk to Shane. They hadn’t talked in over a year. Riley called him, expecting him not to answer on a Friday night, but Shane picked up on the second ring.

“Hey, Williams,” Shane said. “Give me a second.”

Riley waited until the bar clamor in the background quieted, and they talked for a long time, about hockey, about getting fired, about coaches, about bosses, about training, about getting married. Shane wanted to marry Gracie. They talked for so long, actually, that Riley forgot about the dragon; it was still half-formed on the windowsill. After Shane hung up, Riley slept, undisturbed, for nine hours and forty-six minutes, with no dreams. The dragon stayed unfinished, baring its tiny fangs, until Riley finally unfolded it and pressed it against the bottom of his gray duffel bag and covered it with neatly stacked hockey socks and underwear and two reams of multi-colored construction paper.

···

The drive to Shane’s apartment only took an hour with Shane consistently going twelve over the speed limit. He’d offered Riley his futon until he found better accommodations.

“That thing is shit,” Shane said when they walked into his dark living room on the third floor. “It’s like sleeping on a weight machine,” he added, flicking on the light. He shouldered Riley’s duffle bags, while Riley carried the containers of Thai.

“It’s not that bad,” Gracie said. She held out her hands to take the food.

Her fingernails were painted the color of storm clouds—almost the same color as the walls in Shane’s apartment. Most of the furniture was small and angular, silver, or black. Shane liked midcentury lines. Riley told him that once, and Shane had laughed for five minutes. The apartment was what Riley had expected, except cleaner. There was one framed photo on the top shelf of an empty bookshelf of Gracie laughing in a blue dress. The blue made her hair look more red than blonde. In real life, it was something softer—more like gold.

Shane dropped Riley’s bags by the futon and searched the containers for fried rice. “I got you Massaman curry. Got an R on it,” Shane said. He sat on the futon, and popped a container open on his lap.

Riley thanked him, but he wasn’t hungry; he actually felt sick—maybe from the plane ride or the drive, or the cold, or the smell of smoke and sweat and Thai that stained everything in Shane’s apartment. He almost excused himself, but then Gracie offered him milk, water, beer, or purple Gatorade. She wrinkled her nose after each suggestion.

“Actually, I make this really good tea,” she said, before Riley could answer. “Shane, where did you put the tin with the tea?”

Shane’s attention was on the Red Wings. Before he could answer, Gracie already opened and closed a row of cabinet doors.

“The little silver box?” He watched her wrench open a few drawers. “I didn’t move it.”

She was in the middle of a sigh when she found the tin. Gracie asked Riley a lot of questions while they waited for the water to boil—was he so excited to play hockey again, did he sleep with one pillow or two, was he a dessert-person? He tried to keep up, but her voice was so soft—it reminded him of the sound sharpened pencils make when they brush against clean paper. She also asked a few questions about their time as roommates and teammates, most of which Shane answered with their more memorable stories, like the time he’d almost killed another team’s mascot, and the only reason he hadn’t was because Riley told one of the refs to kick Shane in his bad knee.

The kettle on the stove shrieked above their laughter, and Shane, as if the sound reminded him of it, said, “Riley, tell Gracie the story of how you got fired.”

The laughter stopped in Riley’s throat.

“Yeah, Gracie, listen to this. Riley actually got fired for being too good,” Shane said, still laughing. He patted Riley on the shoulder. “Can you believe that?”

Riley shook his head and got up to get his tea, something the color of an orange peel, but Shane persisted. “Dude, tell her about how that asshole threw that shit you spent forever working on. He just fucking threw it in the air. It’s a crazy story,” he added, before stepping out on the balcony and lighting a cigarette.

Riley didn’t want to tell that story, especially not to Gracie. He tried to make it sound funny and pointless, but her expressions—wide-eyed surprise that turned to narrow-eyed indignation at his boss’ haphazard toss of Riley’s drawings, the perfect slanted rows of streets, and the gravelly way he’d yelled, “Riley, you are one of the best planners I have, but you are too fucking slow!”—and the way Gracie touched his hand felt awkward and familiar and made Riley feel like a hero and a loser at the same time. She told him she’d made cupcakes if he wanted one; they were on the counter in the white box. Riley pretended to need something out of his bag.

As Riley dug around for construction paper, he saw the dragon remains, still flattened under his hockey socks. Gracie had joined Shane on the balcony with her own cigarette, one of those slender clove ones that Riley had previously thought were lame. He realized, however, that he’d been wrong; they were sexy.

He refused to think about how sexy they were; instead, he sat on the futon and began to fold the Kusudama Flower out of light pink paper. It was a flower he’d made many times, so he could do it from memory. A frightening image passed through his mind, though, as he tried to fold—he saw himself, and Shane, dressed in their faded green Cutthroat hockey gear, in their early forties, still fit but their stomachs starting to round out. They had toothless grins on their faces; his own smile wasn’t quite as genuine as Shane’s.

Riley pushed the thought away. He was in Denver now, a new, gray city, a place where he could work less and play hockey and occasionally smoke weed—something he never got to do in Chicago since he worked all the time. Riley reminded himself that he had everything he needed—thirteen pairs of underwear, four pairs of pants, six shirts, ten pairs of thick socks, one jacket, all new hockey gear, construction paper, and Masterful Origami by Jun Maekawa. He had his best friend, Shane Kublewitcz, who looked happy as hell out there on his balcony, blowing mushroom clouds with one of the most beautiful girls Riley had ever met.

He could survive this. He drew the petal lines on the sheet of pink paper—a pink that reminded him of the color of a tongue, or a brain, or the wilted petals on a lily. Shane’s abandoned hockey game glowed silently on the television in front of Riley as he worked, folding and folding and watching the paper blossom in his fingers.

“I can’t believe you still do that shit,” Shane said, as he joined him on the futon and turned the volume up. Voices shouted at them about save percentages as Riley breathed in the smoke from Shane’s clothes and focused on smoothing out unwanted creases. Gracie shut the sliding door to the balcony and smiled at the two of them as she walked by. Riley almost convinced himself that he could thrive.

···

Shane walked into the locker room later than the other players with his goalie gear slung across his shoulders and one of Gracie’s white boxes with the red string tucked under his arm. He dropped the box on a bench near Riley and let the box fall open to a jumbled array of chocolate-dipped truffles and peanut butter bars, previously aligned in perfect rows. As their teammates shifted toward the box, Riley retreated to a corner, but Shane stopped him and held out a tiny truffle.

“Eat it, Williams, or I’ll tell Gracie you don’t like them,” he said, smiling, an exceptionally confident smile considering he was missing a tooth.

Riley laughed and took the truffle, but suddenly a balled-up sock flew in their direction. It brushed against Riley’s arm before Shane smacked it to the ground.

“Kublewitcz, what’d your fiancée make this time?”

It was Sidiak, the dick-measuring defenseman. Riley hated him. Sidiak always said “fiancée” like an asshole.

“Is it something we can fuckin’ pronounce?” Sidiak asked, taking three truffles and throwing one at the right-winger standing nearby. Riley felt the chocolate coating collapse against his palm.

“Keep your nasty ass socks to yourself, Sid,” Shane said, and lightly shoved him.

“Asshole,” Riley muttered but instantly regretted it when Sidiak raised a translucent eyebrow.

“What was that?” Sidiak asked.

Shane looked surprised too, but he moved between them. “My fiancée,” he said, mimicking Sidiak’s stupid accent, “made little chocolate ball things and peanut butter and jelly bars.” He gave Sidiak another shove. “And they are delicious as fucking usual.”

Sidiak eyed Riley for a few seconds before turning his back on both of them to ravage Gracie’s box. Riley exhaled. Fucking Sidiak. And fucking truffles, not “little chocolate ball things.” He wrapped his melted truffle in red paper and folded it into fours. He found tape and sat on the bench.

“What’s up with you?” Shane asked.

Riley shook his head. He began winding the tape around his hockey stick. He wound the tape as precisely possible in small, cyclical movements. “Nothing. I’m fine.”

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