The ding of the oven timer startled Riley. He’d been staring at the ceiling for six and a half hours, almost about to fall asleep—but the ding, then the slam of the oven door, made him sit up, and he felt a click of painful relief in his shoulders. He smelled cinnamon and citrus. Gracie was in the kitchen; her back was to him. A finished Kusudama Flower was by his feet, surrounded by scattered sheets of construction paper in shades of pink and green. He heard Gracie sigh and then the clink of something ceramic and heavy on the countertop.

When Shane had arrived at the apartment, a little after midnight, Riley had been waiting on the futon. He’d been counting the endless lines of the ceiling tiles and cussing at himself. He was going to tell Shane. Somehow he was going to tell him—Shane, I fucked up, and I didn’t want to stop, I’m sorry—Riley had to tell Shane because the stillness in the apartment made his heart feel like it was going to rip his chest into two perfect pieces. But when he saw Shane moving across the living room, Riley closed his eyes, and he didn’t move until Shane stumbled past him to the bedroom. Then he’d heard Shane’s voice for a few minutes. The words were fast, but Riley guessed it was an apology. Riley’s heart hammered against his chest as he strained to hear Gracie. He waited for Shane to come raging out of the room.

But Shane didn’t kill him. Everything went still and quiet again, and Riley had shoved construction paper bits against his ears and pressed the silence harder against his brain.

“Morning, Williams.”

Riley jumped. He heard Shane’s voice above him, thick with residual alcohol.

“Morning,” Riley said. Guilt seemed to drip out of the word. He noticed an inky-blue bruise blooming under Shane’s left eye.

“Dude, sorry about last night,” Shane said.

Gracie was looking in their direction.

Riley started to ask him about his eye, but Shane cut him off. “We’ll go out tonight,” he said. “Definitely.”

Suddenly Gracie was behind them with plates in hand. “I made coffeecake.”

Her voice seemed shrill to Riley, but Shane didn’t seem to notice. She set a plate and fork on the coffee-table. Riley couldn’t look at her, so he looked at Shane, who’d already taken a bite.

“It’s really good. It’s got lemon or something on it,” he mumbled, chewing.

“Orange glaze,” Gracie corrected softly before disappearing to the bedroom.

Shane watched her with a mournful expression. “I think she’s pissed about last night,” he said. Riley’s stomach knotted as Shane plucked up the Kusudama Flower by his feet.

Shane inspected the flower. “You should sell these or something.”

Riley watched as Shane carefully unfolded all of the petals to look at the lines. That was the best Kusudama Flower Riley had ever folded.

“Do people really want other people’s origami?” Riley asked.

Shane laughed and tossed the flower on the table. The first time he’d unfolded Riley’s work, when they were roommates in college, Riley had almost punched him in the face. He’d unfolded the Octagonal Star—which had taken Riley an entire afternoon to fold. Over time, though, it dawned on Riley that it didn’t really matter when Shane unfolded his stars or his cranes or his flowers. It was just paper. And Riley actually kind of liked being able to start over with clearer lines.

Riley tried to swallow some of the cake, but it felt like wet carpet against his tongue. Shane had moved to the kitchen for more coffee; he was blinking at something behind Riley’s head. Riley turned to look; the sun was mid-rise, and a perfect sphere, and it was spilling across buildings like a broken yolk. The sky around it was a painful vermillion orange. His resolve to tell Shane was evaporating. Riley was still staring when something small and metal bounced off his knee.

It was the key ring to the Dodge.

“Fuckin’ wake up, dude,” Shane said. He set his mug in the sink. “You can take the car. I’m teaching until two,” he said. “Coach already knows.”

Fuck. They had a game today.

Shane opened the door to his bedroom. Riley heard him say, “Bye, love,” but he couldn’t hear if Gracie said anything.

Shane glanced at Riley as he slipped on his coat. “Sorry again about last night. I fucked up.”

Riley started to speak, started to tell him to stop apologizing about last night, but the door clicked shut, so he stared at the tiny silver ring of keys and tried to figure out what to do. Riley had to tell him. There was no fucking way he could tell him. Riley could split. He could text Mylo and see if he could hide out at his place. He could catch a flight back to Chicago. He had no idea what to do because hadn’t expected to still be in this apartment watching coffeecake crumble next to what used to be the most perfect Kusudama Flower he’d ever folded. He’d expected something else. The bedroom door opened.

Gracie was standing in the doorway. Her eyes were on the plate in front of him. The teacup she was holding shook slightly until she set it on the counter and pushed a strand of hair away from her eyes. She opened her mouth, but Riley spoke first.

“Gracie, let’s just talk about everything later,” Riley said, standing up and feeling pain shoot across his shoulders. Fucking hockey. Fucking futon. Fucking everything. “Let’s just get through today.”

Riley started to move toward the bathroom but stopped when she picked up the plate and dropped it in the sink with a clatter. She reached for a paper-towel and ripped off a tiny, jagged piece to wipe her eyes.

He tried again. “Can’t we just—”

“No.” She held up her hand. Her palm looked soft and lined and pink. “I’m going to tell him tonight.”

···

Riley never expected to be a semi-professional anything. He’d started with soccer at age six—the sport his parents said was more gentle than football. During soccer practice, Riley and his teammates stood in erratic lines, each with his own ball. They practiced shuffling them between their feet and bouncing them on their knees for as long as they could, and Riley didn’t mind this part. The other kids’ noses scrunched up whenever a ball bounced away, but Riley’s ball stayed close to his feet. The problem was playing actual games—the real games where everyone had to wear the same ugly, royal blue jersey and fight for one ball.

Riley would never forget the first soccer game he ever played at Park Hill because there was one fucking ball for twenty-two people and the one ball thing had pissed him off so much that he’d sat down on the cold grass even though both of his parents screamed at him, to get up, to run, to stop crying, and to hustle, and Riley swore to himself that he would never, ever play another game where there was only one ball.

Six years later, he started playing hockey. Tonight, he was twenty-nine years old, and he was dressed in dark green and blue and “Williams” was printed in white against his back, and he wondered if Gracie was in her usual seat by the girl with the bangs. He doubted that she would be cheering for him tonight.

The Denver lineup trudged up the runway, and the defensemen yelled something about killing a Brampton winger, and they banged their gloves against each other’s helmeted heads, but Riley just focused on moving one skate in front of the other. He couldn’t fucking believe he was going to play a game. With aluminum sticks. With one vulcanized rubber disk. With strangers dressed in gray. With Shane.

The Cutthroats neared the edge of the runway, where the cement stopped and turned to ice, and suddenly it was Riley’s turn to propel forward. Shane thumped him on the shoulder as Riley followed his teammates—and the clamor of the Denver Coliseum hit them all at once. The seats were almost completely full, which was unusual for a Thursday. The noise felt unfamiliar— Riley imagined a pack of painted dogs howling, or a plane descending, or water slamming against his eardrums.

Riley skated to the center of the rink for the first faceoff. The ref tonight was short with a square torso, and he held the puck loosely in his purple hands and surveyed Riley and the other center with a disinterested expression. Riley watched the puck. He told himself to just tense up, to stay low, to throw his shoulders around and get the fucking puck into the net, or to Mylo, or to Peeler, or to whoever he could find, to win or lose, and to get the fuck out of there. He could get a hotel by the airport for the night. He could call Coach and apologize for everything, and then maybe he could call Gracie and—suddenly the puck was falling. It fell slowly, and Riley watched it fall to the ice with a profound sense of failure. He’d been watching pucks fall since he was eleven years old, and he still had no idea how he was supposed to get it before the other guy. Luck? Speed? Strength? Focus? Sometimes Riley got it. Sometimes he didn’t.

This time he didn’t.

By the end of the first period, Denver had already fallen behind. The Brampton defense was constant and barbarous, and their goalie stopped three of Riley’s shots. The second period was more of the same. It was disgusting. In the locker-room, Shane slammed his stick against his locker.

“I fucking hate those motherfuckers,” he growled at Riley. “And you and Peeler need to get your shit together. Why the fuck should I try if you never score?” Shane’s jaw was doing that pulse thing—the indentation was forming in his left cheek.

Riley could survive twenty more minutes.

Peeler did a faceoff with the Brampton center—a vicious player with a patchy beard the same color as gnarled ginger root. Peeler lost the puck, and the center was already hurtling in Shane’s direction. The Brampton Beasts circled the Cutthroats like blades of a fan—fast, swooping, consistent. They were fucking good Canadian hockey players. Riley could barely keep track of their passes. He watched the center bounce off Sidiak before crossing the red, then the blue, and then the crowd started shrieking.

“Kub-le-witcz! Kub-le-witcz!”

Riley skated as fast as he could. He was only a few feet from Shane when the puck disappeared behind the pair of Cutthroat defensemen. Riley circled them, squinting, trying to see—when suddenly the puck slid toward the left corner of the net. Riley exhaled as Shane dropped to his knees in time, and the Coliseum erupted with noise. The cheers for Shane were still echoing in Riley’s ears when he saw a Brampton defenseman throw a punch at Sidiak. Riley was about to intervene, but then he heard a string of familiar obscenities.

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