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.”

···

Gracie arrived halfway through practice and sat in the second row by their bench. She talked with one of the other player’s girlfriends, a sad-looking girl with long black bangs. Occasionally Gracie cheered for Riley or Shane, whoever was responsible for the puck at the time. She did this at most of their practices. When she wasn’t there, neither of them played as well. This afternoon the color of her sweater reminded Riley of the stripe in the middle of an Andes mint.

Practice wasn’t going well. Sidiak was blocking Peeler, and Mylo was moving too slow, so Riley tried to score from further than he usually attempted. He hit the puck hard and fast, but Shane instantly flung it back out onto ice. Riley knew Shane’s face was smug under his mask. They ran another drill, and this time Peeler shouldered past Sidiak and Riley passed to him, but Shane blocked that too.

“Motherfucker,” Peeler cursed.

On the last play before their break, Riley took one more shot, this time at closer range while both Peeler and Mylo tried to fling off the defense. Shane didn’t react fast enough, and the puck flew past his right skate before he could slide to his knees.

“Fuck!” Shane hissed through his mouth-guard as Peeler thumped Riley on the back.

Riley could hear Gracie and the sad girl cheering for him, even though their voices were muted by the sound of skates scraping against the ice. Riley started to skate towards Gracie as soon as their coach blew the whistle, but he heard Shane behind him, skating fast. Too fast. Riley turned—and was momentarily blinded by the pain as little silver stars erupted from the corners of his eyes. Shane had jammed an elbow into Riley’s ribcage.

“Shit, Kublewitcz! What the fuck?” Riley yelled.

Shane grinned at him. “Good shot, Williams,” he said, giving Riley another thump on the back before he skated away, in Gracie’s direction. He dropped his mask on the ice.

“Fuck you,” Riley muttered. Coach Ortman was yelling something at the team, but Riley wasn’t listening. He moved slowly, a few feet behind Shane as he did a few spins and sprayed ice and made Gracie laugh. Even the sad girl laughed. Riley almost whacked Shane’s mask with his stick.

Gracie waved at him as he skated passed. “Go Williams!” she cheered.

But Coach Ortman’s voice drowned hers out. “Williams, get your ass over here. Huddle up,” he yelled. “Kublewitcz, pick up your shit.”

Riley joined the huddle. He watched Shane snatch up his mask and skate over.

“Save your cutesy shit for after practice, Kublewitcz,” Coach Ortman muttered, when Shane finally joined the circle, next to Riley.

“You’re playing well,” Shane muttered. “Especially after being a yuppie for so long.”

Riley knew that Shane expected him to laugh, but ignored him. Riley was just as good as some of the guys who went CHL right after college; he was better than some. He was better than he thought he would be, and so far into the season, the Cutthroats were undefeated.

···

Riley slowed the Dodge to let people pass. A few of them stumbled, and some laughed and waved at the car. They were bundled in coats and jackets, though a few of the girls were wearing short skirts. Gracie shook her head.

“It’s freezing,” she said. “And it’s not even late enough to be drunk.” She glanced at her phone before throwing it back in her purse.

“Check mine,” Riley said, handing it to her. “Maybe he texted me.”

Riley wanted to be pissed at Shane for making him drive through the crowded bar district on a random Wednesday night when the temperature was fifteen degrees below freezing. But he wasn’t.

“Not a word,” she said.

“Weird.”

Shane had texted Riley earlier saying that he and Gracie should meet up with them. He and Peeler were already at the Three Lions. Riley asked when they should meet. Shane had responded, “Now.” Gracie had halfheartedly agreed. She’d muttered something about having to change out of her leggings into a dress. Then they’d driven twenty minutes and walked around the bar, upstairs and down, but Shane wasn’t there. Neither was Peeler.

Riley had to slow the car again for more jaywalkers.

Gracie sighed. “You should just pull over. This is stupid.”

“I can just drop you at the apartment.”

Gracie shook her head. “Just pull over. I’ll call him.”

Riley pulled into the almost empty parking lot of a Chinese restaurant and waited as Gracie dialed Shane twice.

Her mouth turned into a straight line. “What the fuck is he doing?”

Riley looked down at his phone. He thought about the time when Shane was supposed to meet up with him at Boone’s Tavern and never showed. Two and a half hours later, Riley found him playing trivia with a teammate at Buffalo Wild Wings. They were in third place and wanted to win. Shane was just stupid sometimes. Riley didn’t tell Gracie that, even though he wanted to. He wanted to apologize to her about the leggings. She could’ve worn them under the dress, but he didn’t mention that either. He just stared at his phone and thought about how warm the car was. He wanted to take off his coat.

“I just don’t understand why he wouldn’t look at his phone for forty minutes,” she repeated. She was looking at Riley. She was waiting for him to say something, so he stared out the window at the crumbly brick building in front of them and tried to decide what to do. When Riley finally made eye contact with her, she looked amused.

“You should shut off the car,” she said. “It’s bad for the environment.”

Riley felt stupid with his seatbelt still on. He wanted to unbuckle it, but that would suggest that they were going to sit there for an extended period of time. Were they? Why was she smiling? Because she could sense his indecision? Because he looked uncomfortable? Why did she have to be so pretty and nice and also care about the environment? Riley shut off the car, and the air turned silent.

“Shane’s probably just drunk,” Riley said. He grabbed his phone. “Or maybe something is going on with Peeler. I’ll call again.” Part of him hoped Shane would answer so he and Gracie could get out of the car and walk back to Three Lions, but neither Shane nor Peeler picked up.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Riley said and dropped the phone in the cup holder.

He started to reach for the keys but stopped as Gracie unbuckled her seatbelt and slipped off her coat; it was one of those puffy ones that swished with all her movements. She draped it over her shoulders like a blanket and lowered her seat as far back as it could go.

“I’m tired,” she said, lying back and turning to her side to face him. “And this is so stupid.”

“Yeah, sorry about—”

“The seat is way more comfortable like this. Try it.”

Riley paused and looked at her for a second before unbuckling his seatbelt and reaching for the handle. He leaned back. Blood was rushing through his body. The car was quiet except for their breathing. He turned to face her.

“Yeah, it is comfortable,” he said. “Sorry about tonight—”

“Don’t apologize, Riley. It’s not your fault,” she said. “Why would you apologize for something that’s not even your fault?” She closed her eyes like she was going to sleep.

Riley didn’t know why the fuck he did it. It was so stupid and fast and presumptuous and wrong and weirdly timed and perfect and exactly what he wanted to do but never thought he would actually do. He kissed her. He did it quickly before she knew what he was doing; he moved towards her and slipped his hands around her head and pressed his lips against hers, not that gently, and waited for her to do something—and it was easily the most uncomfortable kiss he’d ever given someone because of the sweat under his coat, and the dropping temperature, and the uneven distribution of his weight against the console, and their chins scraping, and because for a split second he imagined Shane tapping his knuckle on the passenger side window—but then Gracie’s mouth moved against his, and her tongue slid against his bottom lip.

Riley’s secretary, ex-secretary, Lucy, had told him once about an idea she’d come up with when she was in a sorority. “I think there should be like a rule or something, where girls wear wristbands depending on their availability. Like we could wear red, yellow, and green ones, and red would mean ‘not available’ and yellow would mean ‘proceed with caution,’” she’d explained.

“So green means go, then?” Riley had asked, cognizant of her flirting, but overworked and apathetic and probably stupid.

“Yes. Green means ‘go.’ If all women wore them, everything would be so much less complicated.”

Riley saw green with Gracie. He felt green as she tried to unzip his coat, and he tried to help and keep kissing her at the same time. Once it was off, he moved to her side of the car, as close as he could possibly get to her lips, her hands, her breasts, her eyelashes. She let him press his warm body against her cold skin. His hands found the place where her waist narrowed before curving into her hips. Gracie was mint-green—no, she was actually almost more blue than green, and he didn’t know what that meant, but suddenly just kissing her didn’t feel like it would be enough, and he wished they were in the backseat. He pulled his lips away and opened his mouth and heard his voice make the suggestion. Blood rushed against his temples, and his body tightened while he waited for her answer.

Gracie looked beautiful and stunned, though he couldn’t tell if it was because of what had just happened or what he wanted to happen. Her dress was slightly askew, her chin and cheeks were tinted pink, and something about the surprise in her expression was so perverse and provocative that he almost kissed her again, but his confidence faltered with each of her small movements—her tug at her dress, her soft hand scraping against her mouth. A timidity shadowed her features—then he saw the tears, tiny ones, almost invisible, clustering in the corners of her eyes, where the top and bottom lashes met.

“Take me back to the apartment,” she said. She grabbed her coat from under her feet and held it against her chest.

Unsure of what to say, what exactly to apologize for, his stomach falling in circles, Riley groped at the floor for the keys. He found them, and his phone, by the gas pedal. He willed himself not to but looked at the screen anyway. He could feel Gracie watching. There was still no response from Shane.

···

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.

He saw patchy beard shove Shane. Riley also saw a few rogue Cutthroat fans in green hoodies bang on the Plexiglas and hold up their phones—their eyes were on Shane. In seconds Shane had patchy beard by the jersey, and Riley forgot about Sidiak, and the game, and the team, and the puck. The puck was gone. Riley had no fucking idea where the puck was. And he didn’t care. More Brampton players were getting involved. He could hear Peeler screaming something at Shane; Sidiak was still struggling against the guy who’d punched him. The referee was descending slowly, in calculated arcs, unsure of which fight to break up first. A Brampton player tried to shove him back, but Riley skated towards Shane.

“Kublewitcz!” Riley yelled, and tried to break through the clusterfuck of gray and green. Shane tore off patchy beard’s helmet and pulled his jersey over his head. Shane’s own mask had slipped and made his face white and eyeless as he slammed his fist against the center’s face. The crowd cheered him on.

The referee finally intervened and tried to pull Shane’s arms behind his back. It took two more Brampton players to get him away from their center.

“I will fucking kill you,” Shane hissed as the ref shoved him away from the net, towards the center of the rink. The Denver fans were ballistic, still beating on the glass for Shane—but his eyes were narrowed on patchy beard slumped against his teammates. The Cutthroat crowd screamed louder for Shane as he spit his mouth-guard onto the ice. Riley was surprised to see so much blood. The ice around it looked painfully white.

Sidiak slapped Shane on the back. “You’re a fucking animal, Kublewitcz!” he yelled, as the others Cutthroat players circled him.

Shane didn’t respond to their praise. His eyes followed the Brampton players as they helped their center back to the bench. After a few seconds, Shane turned to Riley and smiled through the blood in his mouth.

“Fucking look at this, Williams,” he said, spitting more red onto the blue line under their skates. “I bit the fuck out of my tongue.”

···

They were going to the Three Lions. Shane and Riley. To drink, and watch a fight. Shane had decided this shortly after the referees, and the coaches, and the owner, had finished screaming at him. By the time he made this announcement, the rest of the team had slammed their lockers and left.

“We should’ve gone out last night,” Shane said.

Riley was sitting on a bench and knotting the laces on his shoes and trying not to lose it. Shane was standing over him, talking a lot, talking fast. Shane stared at the lockers while he talked.

“Shane, maybe tonight isn’t—”

“Hurry up. Let’s go,” Shane said. He pushed the door open, too hard, and made the aluminum bang against concrete.

Gracie was in the hallway. She made eye contact with Riley for a second, but Shane almost walked past her. She reached for him.

“What happened?”

“Probation.” Shane slowed long enough to grab her hand.

“How long—”

“Nine weeks. I don’t want to talk about it,” Shane said.

Riley stayed a few steps behind them. He thought about saying he had a migraine, which was almost true, but then Shane turned and waved for Riley to speed up.

“You are so fucking slow tonight, Williams,” Shane said.

What the fuck is your hurry? Riley wanted to yell.

“Are you okay?” Gracie asked Shane. They were almost to the exit.

“I’m fine. Asshole shoves me, and I get probation. I don’t want to talk about it—we’re just going out,” Shane said. He tried to pull her closer, but she slowed down.

“Is Riley coming?” she asked. She sounded concerned. For him? Or for Shane?

Riley didn’t know. “Maybe I should just head back to the apartment. I could catch you later—”

“No, you’re coming. He’s coming. We’re all going out,” Shane said. He shoved the door open and held it open for the two of them.

They stepped out into the cold, and tiny silver flakes fell from the black sky onto their shoulders as they walked. Gracie didn’t say anything, and Shane talked about everything except the game. Riley checked his phone for a response from Mylo or Peeler, but then Shane started pointing out the streetlights.

“What’s the difference between these and the normal ones?” he asked Riley. They were the shorter kind with orange bulbs. “Why are these so ugly?”

Riley looked up; the lights made everything look dull and foggy and orange, but he hadn’t noticed until Shane said something.

“Those are more energy efficient,” Riley said. “They’re ugly, but they’ll last longer,”

Shane lit another cigarette. “I guess the orange isn’t that bad.”

They were almost to the bar, and there still was nothing from Riley’s teammates. His ex-teammates? Tonight might’ve been his last hockey game. It might be his last a lot of things, Riley realized as he followed Shane into the bar. The Three Lions was Shane’s favorite bar because they had amateur boxing matches in the basement. Riley didn’t like it because it was small, and crowded, and they played different music from all four corners of the room. A few people yelled at Shane as he and Riley moved towards the bar.

“Kublewitcz!”

“That motherfucker deserved it. Trying to start something—”

“You should’ve killed him!”

A few others cheered. Shane smiled and ignored them. He turned to Riley.

“What do you want to drink?” he asked.

“It’s fine, I can—”

“Just let me get it. Go get seats,” Shane said. He waved down the bartender.

“Are you fucking serious?” Riley asked. He felt light-headed. “You have to get the drinks tonight? Why the fuck—”

“Go. Get seats near the front,” Shane said, turning his attention to a television behind the bar. A fucking soccer game. Shane hated soccer almost as much as
Riley—that, and playing hockey, were the only two things they had in common.

Riley shook his head and pushed his way to the stairs; he just wanted to be away from noise and people for a few minutes—just five minutes of quiet and loneliness. He saw Gracie; she was halfway down the stairs. She hadn’t said a word for the last twenty minutes.

It was darker downstairs. There were fewer people, and the only sound was gloved fist against muscle. It was already the third round, and one of the fighters, the one with a huge pink scar across his chest, was rhythmically beating his gloves against his thin opponent. It looked like it’d be over soon. Gracie found seats in an almost empty row.

“Want to sit a little closer to the ring?” Riley asked.

“Not really,” she said. Her eyes were on the skinny fighter. His ribcage jutted painfully against his skin.

Riley felt a hard tap on the side of his arm. A man with shiny eyes leaned towards him. “Can you sit the fuck down?” His breath smelled like something clear and sour.

Fucking macho-honky testosterone-junkie dick measuring—what the fuck was everyone’s problem tonight? Riley almost flipped him off. Instead he just sat down. He left a cracked leather seat between him and Gracie. He hadn’t felt this in a long time—a tiredness with an actual ache that pulsed in the inner corners of his eyes. He tried to watch the fight for a few minutes until he couldn’t anymore. He leaned towards Gracie.

“Are you going to tell him? After this terrible fucking night?” he asked.

Gracie’s head didn’t move at all; her mouth just turned into that perfectly straight line. “Selfish,” was all she said, and she said the word so quietly it was almost a whisper.

Riley stared at the side of her beautiful face. He almost hated her. Selfish? Who the fuck was the most selfish out of—Shane was walking toward them with the drinks. He handed them their beers and surveyed their row. “What the fuck?” he said. “We should move up.”

“I don’t want to,” Gracie said, taking a sip.

“Why not?”

“It really doesn’t matter, does it? It’s almost over. The skinny one is barely standing.”

Riley heard the drunk man shifting behind them. Fuck. Riley reached for Shane’s arm. “Dude, sit down—”

“Jesus, can you please sit the fuck down?” the drunk man said to Shane. “You and your friend stand up in the middle of a fight—”

Shane looked surprised. He leaned towards the man. “Who the fuck are you? I’ll stand up if I fucking—”

Riley interjected, “Shane, let it go. Just sit down and watch—”

“Shane Michael Kublewitcz, if you don’t sit down right now, I promise you, I will get up and walk out of this bar,” Gracie hissed. Her nails were pressing into the side of Shane’s wrist, making little dents against the skin. “Why the hell would you want to fight any more tonight?”

Riley saw the tiny indentation deepen against the side of Shane’s jaw as cheers echoed against the basement wall. The scarred fighter had knocked his opponent to the floor.

“We could move,” Riley said, standing up. “Or we could just go. This fight is a joke.” The thin one was barely able to pull himself back up.

“No. He can fucking move,” Shane said.

Gracie gripped Shane’s wrist. “Shane, don’t. Let’s move.”

Shane shook his head. “Why would we move?”

Her voice turned shrill. “What the fuck? You wanted to move ten seconds ago.”

The drunk man’s slurred, sticky voice roared behind them as the scarred fighter pummeled his opponent against the ropes. “Sit the fuck down—”

Riley tried to grab Shane’s arm, but there was no time—no time between when it started and when it was over—before the man’s nose crunched like plastic against Shane’s knuckles, and the skinny fighter got knocked to the ground. The brown blood on the floor felt too familiar to Riley. Shane’s violence stained everything—hockey jerseys, bruises, lined ice, under his fingernails, construction paper, the white boxes with the red string. Shane stained everything. Gracie screamed and cursed while most of the people around them cheered, and the bouncer was silent as he helped Riley pull Shane off the drunk guy and push him towards to the door. Then they were in the cold again—Riley, Gracie, Shane—and they were walking in an uneven line. It was silent except for their steps on the concrete. It was still snowing. Gracie moved the fastest, apart, with her arms crossed. Shane walked closest to the street.

“I’m not sorry,” he said eventually. His hands were shoved in his pockets. His eyes were red. “I’m not sorry about that.”

Riley didn’t say anything. He just kept walking, and watched Gracie move further and further ahead of them. Her hair looked red under the streetlights, and the color reminded him of everything he didn’t want to be.

···

Shane slammed the door to his bedroom. Riley still had no idea where he was going to go. He could go to Peeler’s, but his place really wasn’t far enough. Shane would go there first. When Gracie moved toward the bedroom, toward Shane, Riley felt a ripping sensation along his ribcage.

“Why do you have to tell him?” Riley asked her, lowering his voice. “You know what he’s like. It was stupid.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but Riley didn’t let her. “Just because it happened doesn’t mean you don’t love him,” he added as she moved closer to the bedroom door. “He’s just going to lose it.”

Gracie shook her head. “I’m going to tell him in the morning.” she said. “You need to be somewhere else.”

Her words pressed against Riley’s chest. He nodded and kept his eyes on her feet until they disappeared and the bedroom door clicked shut. Riley began shoving things into his bag—he started with the remnants of paper still scattered around the living room. He’d started multiple projects but hadn’t finished any. Riley moved to the kitchen and searched for a pen. Fucking spoons, fucking tea, twenty rubber spatulas, a fucking million white boxes everywhere, but no fucking pens. When he finally found one, he sat down to write—“Dear Shane, I fucked up,” but he crossed it all out. He wrote, “Kublewitcz, I need you to forgive me. If you won’t, you can kill me. I’m sorry. – Williams.” Riley held the gray piece of paper in his hands and began to fold.

Riley didn’t know how much time passed when he placed the Santoshi Dragon on the corner of the coffee-table. Shane and Gracie were still in the bedroom, and the apartment was still silent. The ash-colored dragon looked malevolently over its shoulder, fangs bared, until Riley picked up his bags and shut the door behind him.

The sun was just barely rising as he walked. Riley tried to imagine everything that could happen, all the possibilities—the first thing he saw was Gracie’s face, except it didn’t look like her face. This face was red from screaming and smeared with tears as Shane destroyed the apartment. He’d destroy the futon, the coffee-table, the glass door to the balcony. Then he’d move into the kitchen and destroy those perfect white boxes with the sharp corners, whatever was on the counter—truffles, bars, coffeecake—he’d slam them against the gray walls and crush them under his feet. Then he’d look for Riley.

Riley sped up. He tried to imagine the possibility of Shane not seeing the dragon, or just shredding it, or swallowing it. There were other possible outcomes, Riley told himself. Shane could forgive him. He kept his head down to stop the early morning cold from burning his skin. Riley wondered what it would mean if Shane didn’t unfurl the monster he’d made—starting with its long spiked tail, moving carefully up the spine, before pulling at the hidden seam that runs along its heart, to study the lines.

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