Volume 2 of the Something in the Water series arrives Tuesday, January 30!

Chapter 39: Lone Star State [Slapshot!]

Chapter 39: Lone Star State [Slapshot!]

dallas_downtown

“Hey, rookie.”

Cal glanced up, blinking sleep from his eyes. Luis smiled down at him, reached out and ruffled his hair. “Keep ya waiting long?” he asked.

Cal blinked a couple more times, shook his head. “Nah,” he replied, covering his mouth with his hand to stifle a yawn. “Nah—not at all.”

Luis gave him this knowing look. Cal ignored it, got to his feet, shouldered his bag instead. “They sent you down here to collect me?” he inquired, lifting a quizzical brow.

“Figured ya’d want to see a friendly face,” the brown-eyed man replied.

“Huh. As if I’d want t’ see your ugly mug, ya wanker.”

He trailed the older man through the airport, out into the fresh morning air. It was a bright, sunny day, and he squinted at the suddenness of it. The sky was brilliantly blue above them, dotted with a few scudding, white cloud—a testament to the slight breeze.

They hopped into the airport taxi, and Luis gave the cabbie the team hotel address. She considered it for a moment, then nodded and punched it into her GPS.

Luis pivoted back around, met Cal’s gaze. “There was some fuck up with the hotels,” he explained. “Otherwise, yeah, we would have likely just sent you a text with the address and told ya to cab it over.”

“Polite,” Cal mumbled, leaned against the cool glass of the window to peer at the myriad of towering skyscrapers against the big, open Texas sky.

It was his first time ever traveling to the Lone Star State. He could probably get used it, he thought; this weather was so much more pleasant than the chill of October in Pennsylvania, the nighttimes frosts and the threat of snow in the mountains of Harrisburg.

Being from Sunshine Coast in Australia, Cal wasn’t exactly a fan of winter weather. They hardly ever got snow; he remembered it happening once, seeing snow for the first time further south, in Sydney (or Melbourne? He couldn’t remember). They’d gone on a ski trip once.

But that had been in the very distant past, before Cal had learned to skate, before he’d even known there was such a thing as hockey.

He knew he was a bit of an oddity in the hockey world. And really, all the international play hadn’t been easy on his family, but he’d made it. He’d been drafted into the IHA at eighteen, but told he needed to develop. He’d been sent down to the farm team. He had yet to play a game in the IHA. He’d been bounced around a bit too; this was his second year in Hershey—and his third in America overall. He was turning twenty-one in a few days.

Luis was a bit of an oddball too, really. His name was a dead giveaway—he was Hispanic. His parents were Mexican immigrants who ended up in the Detroit area. Motor City was all about hockey, and Luis grew up, like most boys his age, loving the game. Nonetheless, it hadn’t been easy for him—Cal knew he got called some nasty things on the ice. Sometimes, people tried to kick him out of the dressing room, seemed not to know he was one of the players. Just ‘cause of the way he looked—dark hair, brown eyes, darker skin.

Cal couldn’t say he hadn’t thought Luis didn’t belong at first either, but he’d felt more and more that if anyone didn’t belong in that locker room, it was him. He was the one with the accent. He was the one who didn’t know anything about America. (Not that the Americans he’d encountered knew much about Australia, most of the time—kangaroos?) Luis, Luis had grown up there.

But, whatever the reason, they were both outsiders to the hockey world in one way or another. And Cal was pretty sure that was what had made them such fast friends; it didn’t matter that Luis was American, had had tons of support in terms of finding an arena, a team to play on. His family wasn’t oceans away from him. He saw that Cal was a guy that wasn’t supposed to make it to the big leagues—kind of like he himself. Everyone had counted them out.

Luis had bounced between the IHA and the Patriots in Hershey. He was twenty-eight now; he hadn’t stuck in the league yet, so they were hoping …

He was kind of like an older brother, which Cal appreciated. He’d taken Cal under his wing, showed him the ropes.

Cal hadn’t exactly been happy that Luis had been called up, that he hadn’t started this season in Hershey. He’d felt it acutely—the lack of guidance in the locker room, the absence of a familiar presence.

Even if it shouldn’t have happened, he was glad Luis had come to fetch him from the airport. Already, he felt less lost. Visiting Dallas, Texas, for the first time, traveling from Harrisburg here, finishing one game and being carted off, then shuffled onto a plane at first light—it had been a very disorienting twenty-four hours for him.

And tonight, he would play his very first IHA game. Maybe he’d only play a shift or two, maybe Coach would just keep him benched. But he’d wear the Stars jersey, he’d stand in the same locker room as Tremblay and Robinson and O’Neill, and he’d be part of their team. Maybe he’d score a goal. Maybe he’d get a sweet feed from Tremblay and—

Luis shouldered him, lifted his eyebrows when he caught his attention. “Hey, rookie,” he chortled, “feet on the ground, blades on the ice. Get your head on straight. We got a game to play.”

 

*

 

Dallas was not much like Helsinki, that much Timmo knew. Here, it was bright and sunny and warm. Home would be cold and dreary, full of moody mists and frost in the morning.

So it was a very strange thing that Dallas was one of the few places in the US that alleviated his homesickness.

Dallas was full of cowboys and Mexicans, things that made Timmo lift an eyebrow. It was full of guns and hunters, ranchers and oil magnates, and just about every stereotype that he’d ever learned from watching bad American TV when it finally got ported over to Europe decades later.

But Kyosti was also in Dallas, and that made it bearable.

Timmo didn’t know how the other Finn did it, really. He’d managed to make Dallas feel like Helsinki, in his tiny little corner of it. His house was small, painted red. It had a coziness to it, a hominess, without being overly cramped. Reminders of home overflowed from every shelf, from every nook and cranny—Moomin and the Groke, Finnish flags and lions, carved Sami people with their painted red cheeks, little Viking dolls waving Finnish flags. Everywhere, everywhere, reminders of his home so far away.

Timmo supposed it was Kyosti’s way of dealing with his homesickness. Timmo tried to forget about it, actively pushed all reminders of home away. He remembered, his first couple of seasons, he’d get so excited if he thought someone might be speaking Finnish. They almost never were, but his ears pricked right up and his heart would slam in his chest, and he’d be ready to burst out with some Finnish greeting or another, only to realize that they most definitely were not speaking Finnish at all.

It was easier to forget. Home was where he went in the summer; it was where he’d spent his childhood. America was work, and at work, he spoke English, dealt with his North American teammates. He followed their customs and watched American TV on the initial broadcast. He tried not to get excited about news from Finland.

Kyosti was the complete inverse. He didn’t watch TV. He only had DVDs he’d brought from home, all with Finnish subtitles or a Finnish soundtrack option. And he streamed the news, followed Finnish news media instead of English outlets. He always knew what was going on at home.

Perhaps that was really the best part of visiting Dallas; Kyosti invariably would send him a text—a Finnish text, so lovely to receive—asking him around for coffee. And he had coffee from Finland, brewed it like they did at home, and he served salmiakki (even though neither of them actually liked it) and other Finnish treats, and they spoke about their lives, their careers, their families, the news, the world, in Finnish.

Timmo always felt right at home when he visited Kyosti.

Not so today. It started much the same: Kyosti invited him around for coffee, but now he had a new address. And gone was the cute little red house that looked like a cottage. Now there was a big house, a sprawling yard. And now there was a fancy car in the driveway, and Timmo frowned, because this seemed wrong, all wrong.

Kyosti grinned at him—same old grin, same old Kyosti—and invited him in. Timmo still took his shoes off at the door.

The house was big and bright and open. Airy. There was nothing about Finland anywhere.

It looked like Timmo’s place in DC.

“What happened?” he asked, glancing at the half-floor upstairs, the winding staircase up to it.

“Mm?” Kyosti asked, lifting his brows.

“You moved,” Timmo said, gesturing. He’d thought Kyosti was perfectly happy in the old place. He hadn’t signed a new contract. He hadn’t gotten a raise.

Timmo literally could not think of a reason the other Finn would suddenly sell his house and move to a place like this.

“Yeah,” Kyosti said, and woosh—that was the sound of the point sailing over his head. He smiled guilelessly, and Timmo sucked in another breath.

He didn’t want to be so blunt as to ask why, but …

He wanted to know. He wanted to know where Little Helsinki had gone.

Instead, he asked, “Did you just move?”

“In the summer,” Kyosti replied as he went about fixing the coffee. Timmo recognized the brand; that hadn’t changed at least.

Footsteps in the hall, almost drowned out by the sound of liquid gushing into the mugs. Timmo glanced over his shoulder.

“Sugah, did your little friend come by?”

Kyosti lifted his head, turned to the girl who had now entered the kitchen. She looked at Timmo, smiled winningly; her teeth were almost blindingly white. “He is not so little,” Kyosti replied. “This is Timmo—Timmo, Jessica.”

“A pleasure!” she said, grabbing his hand and shaking it firmly. “Ya’ll just get in?”

“Yes,” Timmo replied cautiously, withdrawing his hand.

“Where ya’ll from?” she asked as she moved around the island, joining Kyosti on the other side of it. “Oh, Sugah, don’t use them mugs—here, didn’t your Mama teach ya better’n ‘at?”

She pulled out two different mugs, winked at Timmo. “Ya gotta get out the fine china when guests come ‘round.”

Kyosti looked at the mugs, then glanced at Timmo. “Oh,” he said, “all right. Sorry, Jess.”

She elbowed him. “Don’t worry ‘bout it, Sugah, ah’ll teach ya some manners yet.”

She waltzed away, heading into the next room, which looked like it might be the dining room. Sunshine poured in through the windows.

“I’m goin’ fer a ride now!” she called. “Ah’ll see ya’ll later—nice t’ meet ya!”

The door banged shut, and Timmo blinked a couple of times, then looked back at Kyosti.

“What?” the younger man asked.

Timmo tipped his head to the side.

Kyosti brought the mugs over—the first mugs, the ones he’d originally filled. The ones they always used, the ones that had come from Finland. He slid one across the marble surface of the island. “She rides horses,” he told Timmo after a moment.

Timmo lifted his brows in response.

Kyosti glanced about. “We are starting a horse sanctuary,” he said.

Timmo said nothing still. What could you say to that?

The younger man cleared his throat, squared his shoulders. He wouldn’t look Timmo in the eye. “We both like horses,” he said. “They are beautiful animals. Her father is a veterinarian, they see plenty of sick animals.”

“Mm,” Timmo said at last and, although he tried very hard to make it sound like he wasn’t judging, it was harsh.

“We met in the summer, we were helping at another place …”

Timmo sipped at his coffee, then said, “So, when is the wedding?”

Kyosti started. The color drained from his face. “What wedding?” he asked at last.

Timmo set his cup down with poignant click. Kyosti shook his head furuiously. “It’s not like that!” he cried. “Jess and I—it’s not like that at all!”

Timmo surmised he must have still been making the face of skepticism, because Kyosti balled his fists, reiterating, “It’s not like that!”

“Okay,” Timmo said finally, then peered down into his mug. It was rude not to finish what had been served, but he also had the distinct feeling he should probably go, before he made a bigger ass of himself.

He didn’t believe Kyosti in the slightest. But if that was the story he wanted to maintain, then Timmo was going to have to play along for now.

He glanced at his phone. “I should probably go,” he said. “Team meeting.”

“I understand,” Kyosti said, but it rang hollow, and Timmo wondered if he’d ever get invited back. It wasn’t a good idea to piss your host off, usually.

He left without another word—he’d likely done enough damage. He snuck one last, furtive glance around the place as he tugged his shoes back on.

He wasn’t sure if he wanted to come back. The hominess, the coziness that he’d associated with Kyosti’s abode was gone.

His homesickness most certainly wasn’t.

There were times when it got so bad, he wondered if it was worth staying in the IHA. He knew that it was the best league in the world—the cream of the crop, really. All hockey players knew it. Everyone vied to get into this league, and those who made it were revered as kings. They had arrived. They had made it. Everyone else was just toiling along, trying to make it to the top of the heap and, when that failed, watching their hockey dreams slowly vanish.

He made his way back to the hotel with little issue. He tried to ignore the Texan accents in the lobby, how they reminded him of how far away from home he was.

He headed upstairs to his room. He was rooming alone for this stop. Q was mixing them up again, and he knew Oaks had friends in Dallas. Normally, the two goaltenders kept to themselves—Adrian is probably Timmo’s best friend on the team.

But in Dallas, Oaks was a bit of a party boy; it was his hometown after all. So it was better to keep them apart, and that meant Timmo was usually alone. That was often fine; he had Kyosti to visit, so he and Oaks kept separate schedules.

Which was why he was so confused when he opened the door and found a guy with strawberry blond hair tossing his clothes out of his duffle bag like he owned the damn place.

Timmo stood there in the doorway for a moment, watching, trying to discern what, precisely, was going on.

The guy paused at last, glanced up at him. “Oy!” he cried. “Bloody ‘ell, ya got me, mate!”

Timmo blinked. The guy sounded … British? Timmo had watched a lot of BBC at home. It was how he’d learned any English at all.

He frowned. “Who the fuck are you?” he asked, because he wasn’t in the mood for niceties.

The guy got to his feet. “Name’s Callum Kerr—Cal or Cally if ya like.” He offered his hand.

Timmo eyed him warily. Slowly, he dropped his hand. “I got called up, mm?”

“Oh,” Timmo said. “You’re Sebby’s replacement.”

“Sebby … Montclair?”

“Yes,” Timmo replied easily.

“What’sa matter with him?”

Timmo shook his head dismissively. “I think you are in the wrong room,” he said.

“Eh, I can count, thank you. They do teach us that–”

“No,” Timmo said, “I just …”

He paused again, lifted a brow. “I’m the goaltender,” he said.

Cal blinked, glanced about, then shrugged and said, “So?”

Timmo restrained a sigh. “I don’t usually room with … other people.”

Cal considered that for a moment, then said, “Well, mebbe it’s a new tradition fer ya, we’ll see which way the tilt goes.”

“Hmmm,” Timmo said, already annoyed. He didn’t like all of these changes to his routine. It did not bode well.

A knock on the door drew their attention away from the disaster zone the room had become. Luis poked his head in. “Oh, hey, T-bone,” he said, “five-minute warning bell from Q.”

“Thanks,” Timmo replied. Luis gave him the thumbs up, then withdrew.

“Five-minute warning bell?”

“It means get ready.” Seriously, did the rookie know nothing? What did they do in Hershey? What the hell did they do … wherever this guy was from?

Five minutes later, they were downstairs in the lobby, milling about. Q was pretty notorious for that—telling them to be there, then being late himself. He either liked to make them wait or he was giving them a grace period so they didn’t need to face the wrath of their coach.

Sy wandered over, because of course he did. Timmo wasn’t really in the mood to deal with the captain—Sy meant well, but he was such a mother hen. It drove Timmo mad.

“Hey man,” the green-eyed center said, “how’s it going?

“Mmm,” Timmo replied.

“Ready for this?” Sy inquired, apparently undeterred.

“Hm.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it, man. Dallas isn’t doing so hot right now, their goaltender’s got one of the worst records in the league–”

Timmo’s eye twitched. If Kyosti’s stats were shit, it was probably because he was spending too much time thinking about horses.

He kicked himself mentally. There was no use in getting worked up about it. What was there to even be worked up about? He wasn’t sure. Kyosti and he were ex-pats, hockey players—potential friends, potential comrades. They played for different teams though, so it wasn’t like they needed to be friends. They were more like co-workers who had jobs in different branch offices and both were competing for funding, or something.

So it made no sense why he’d be so upset about Kyosti moving or starting a new venture or getting himself a girlfriend. It wasn’t like it was even any of Timmo’s business.

“You got this,” Sy said, leaning in a bit, and he smiled brightly, and Timmo kind of wanted to punch him.

He grunted his assent instead and pulled away. Sy would simply chalk it up to him trying to get into his pre-game headspace. Goalies were weird, and everyone knew it.

Timmo was never going to tell them otherwise. He was pretty sure he was perfectly normal, but whatever. If people thought he had weird rituals and superstitions about what he had to do before a game, then they could think that.

(Not that he didn’t have weird pre-game rituals. There were just things you had to do to get yourself psyched up. The other guys did it too—it wasn’t just him and Oaks. He had no idea why goalies got such a bad rap about it.)

He was silent and brooding on the bus. Everyone left him well enough alone, expecting that he was just working on whatever weird pre-game ritual now.

Then it was into the locker room. Then it was time for warm ups. He didn’t join in the game of soccer the other guys started up. He rarely did; he liked it well enough, but he needed to focus on stopping pucks, not kicking a ball around.

He peered out onto the bench, then headed out to survey the ice. He stood there, just staring out at the empty ice pad, envisioning scrums and plays, the way the puck would bounce across the ice toward him. He inhaled deeply. The ice smelled slushy. It was one of those things he’d come to know after spending too long in too many arenas; ice had a different smell when it was on the verge of melting. The arenas in the southern half of the US tried, but they had a particularly hard time with it. Dallas was pretty good as far as it went; Miami probably had the worst ice in the league.

“Hey.” That was Ted, one of the trainers. Timmo glanced up at him. He lifted his brows. “Good to go, bud?”

“Sure,” Timmo replied easily, and Ted jerked his head toward the tunnel. That was his cue to leave. He had to get into his gear. Then it would be time to warmup on the ice.

He trundled back down the tunnel, nodded to Mike and Leo, who nodded back. The soccer ball plummeted out of the air and bonked Mike on the head. Timmo bit his lip in an effort not to snigger, then ducked into the locker room.

Adrian waved to him as he shuffled over. “Hey man,” the younger goalie said, holding out his hand for a low-five, which Timmo acquiesced to, slapping his palm with an echoing smack. Adrian’s fingers curled around his; they shook, pulled apart, bumped fists.

“Goalies,” Luke snorted, gave them a grin when they glared at him.

Slowly, they turned back to each other. Adrian gave Timmo a light-hearted punch. “Hometown team,” he said, lifting his dark brows. “Do me proud, yeah?”

“Of course,” Timmo replied, and Adrian grinned.

“’course ya will. It’s like, showdown of the Finns, you in our net, a Finnish guy minding net for the Longhorns.”

“The who? The Cows?”

Adrian laughed, slapped Brenden’s hand for that. Timmo shuffled to his stall, started pulling on his gear. The locker room became increasingly raucous as guys turned away from the hallway soccer game to get ready.

There was a momentary pause when someone—maybe Ty—yelled, “Let’s get some tunes on!”

“Sebs!” Mike barked, and the room froze, all of them glancing toward the space Sebby would normally occupy.

And, of course, he wasn’t there.

Mike grimaced. Sy had fished out his phone or iPod or something, offered it up with a “here,” and Mike groaned, “Ugh, no way, Sy, your music sucks–”

“Fuck you, better than that rap shit you listen to.”

“Probably still better than Brenden’s–”

“Hey.”

“There isn’t anything wrong with country, Leo–”

“Mah heart got broke an’ the sheriff shot mah dawwwwg–”

Timmo sighed heavily, tossed his phone to Mike, who apparently was in charge of music selection now.

The blond d-man blinked as he caught the device deftly. “Seriously?” he asked.

“Sure,” Timmo said, fighting down the sly grin trying to coil about his lips. “Why not?”

Mike glanced at the phone, lifted a brow as he tried to discern Timmo’s interface (the big musical note icon made it pretty obvious which app was which, Timmo was certain). He plugged the phone into the speakers. Seconds later, the room rumbled with the first strains of Timmo’s favorite track. The grin broke free as he glanced about at the startled faces of his teammates.

“I should have known!” Mike screamed over the noise. “Finnish death metal!!!!”

 

*

 

Sebby glanced over at Gabe, then back to the daunting wall of formula. He had no idea where to begin. He could feel his eyes crossing as he stared.

He had half a mind to call his mother. She’d know something about this. She had to.

But then, he didn’t really want to have that conversation over the phone, while he was in the middle of a Target. So instead, he bit his lip and continued to stare at the wall of blues, purples, and pinks, and hoped that something would jump out at him as “right.”

The minutes ticked on. He snuck another look over at Gabe. He was about as useless as Sebby was, perhaps even moreso. He wasn’t even looking.

The redhead caught his eye. “Do you need help?” he asked finally, frowning.

“Yeah,” Sebby sighed. “I … I guess I do.”

Gabe sighed and pushed away from the shelf he was leaning on. “I can ask Wardsy to ask his mother,” he offered, peering up toward the top shelf, lifting his head. He folded his arms over his chest. His watch glinted.

“I know fuck all about this, so …”

“Same,” Gabe agreed easily, plucking out his phone. “What about your mother?”

Sebby shuffled his feet. “I, uh, haven’t told her yet.”

Gabe quirked a brow, but said nothing. He pocketed his phone again. “I would ask my mother,” he said, “but she is sleeping by now. And she would only tell me in Swedish. I do not think that would help.”

“Not really, no,” Sebby murmured. He had not counted on this being difficult.

“Maybe we can look at something else while we wait,” Gabe suggested.

“I guess,” Sebby mumbled, glancing down the way at the clothing section. “Maybe …”

“Sure,” Gabe said, catching his glance. “Clothes are easier—I think. She’s a baby, right? She will grow, so, even if they don’t fit …”

“Right,” Sebby agreed, then marched toward the clothing section.

Gabe plucked up his phone again. “Ry is on his way over here. He says there is too much information.”

They gave each other hesitant grins; they both knew Ryan’s mother was an overbearing chatterbox. Still, Sebby was relieved that at least one of them could get some advice.

He didn’t even know where his own mother was right now. She could have been in Thailand for all he knew.

They stopped up amid the sleepers and jumpers, all of them in disgustingly pastel colors with cute animals printed on them. Gabe took a glance around, then said, “Maybe this could be fun?”

“Maybe,” Sebby replied, plucking at a couple of things on the hangers. What would Lucy like?

He supposed it didn’t really matter. She was an infant. She’d like to be warm and cozy, he suspected.

“Pink’s for girls, right?” He picked up a sleeper covered in tiny pink kittens.

Gabe scoffed. “She’s a baby,” he said, “she can wear any color.” He paused. “Unless she is a redhead, then red and pink are out.”

Sebby grinned at him. “Dunno if she’d get that gene. If she did, I might have to ask if her mom was …”

He paused, frowned, lifted a brow. Gabe mirrored the expression.

“What?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Sebby said quickly. He whirled about, picked up a tiny blue sleeper covered in soccer balls. “Whaddya think? Is Lu a soccer fan?”

“Futbol,” Gabe corrected instantaneously, then paused, critically evaluating the item. “Maybe—it is the second-best sport, after all.”

“No way,” Sebby huffed. “Basketball is better—hey, maybe she’s a hoops fan.”

“Basketball,” Gabe scoffed. “Really.”

“Hey, just ‘cause Sweden sucks at it–”

He paused, glanced over at the armful of stuff Gabe had collected off the racks. “Ugh, yellow? Really? That would clash with a redhead for sure—and she’s kinda pink right now, so …”

“Yellow is a good color. A Swedish color.”

“And you look horrible in it, don’t force it on anyone else, man.”

Gabe pulled a face. “I will do anything to support my country. Even wear horrible yellow jerseys.”

Sebby rolled his eyes, then paused. “Uh,” he said.

“Yes,” Gabe said evenly, “there are about three or four people watching us. I think we’ve been recognized.”

“Shit,” Sebby breathed.

That was apparently the cue the creepers had been waiting for; one of them, an older woman, waddled up to them, a frown marring her face. She pointed at Sebby accusingly. “You’re that Monty-clair guy, that hockey player. My grandson talks about you.”

It was like a loudspeaker announcement had just boomed over the PA system. An older man with a cart full of groceries had stopped. A younger woman with kids—one a babe in arms, the other no more than five or six—was being all but dragged over by her little boy, who was all but shouting, “Mom! It’s the B’s, they came to visit Target!”

“Now, Andy—they’re just regular people, they have to do their shopping too–”

“Mooooom!”

“Excuse me.” One of the clerks tapped Gabe on the shoulder and he whirled about. She smiled, clutched her phone. “Can I get a pic? My dad’s a huge Bears’ fan–”

“Can I get you to autograph this for my grandson?”

“Uhhhh.” Sebby reared back from the shopping list thrust in his face. The older lady was digging for a pen in her purse.

“Mom! They’re doing otto-grafs, Mooooom!”

“S-sure,” Sebby stuttered, taking the paper and pen gingerly. He glanced nervously at Gabe. The redhead simply shrugged, went back to giving the peace sign for the clerk’s Instagram.

“Awesome!” she cried, taking her phone back from the older guy who’d taken the snap for them.

Sebby handed the pen and paper back to the older woman, glanced nervously at Gabe.

They needed to get out of here. Stat.

The clerk put her phone away, then blinked and whirled on them. “Do you guys need any help?” she asked. Then it seemed to dawn on her where they were. She glanced about, then said, “Are you two lost? What are you doing in the baby section?”

“Look at the hour!” Gabe laughed, flipping his watch around. “Sebs—we are late for the next engagement, aren’t we?”

“Y-yeah,” Sebby agreed, nodding frantically. Gabe grabbed him by the wrist, dragged him toward the door.

“Engagement …?” he heard someone echoing as they marched toward the door.

Ryan was looking at his phone as he entered, head down. He stopped dead the second he was inside, then looked up. He deadpanned at them. “Good grief,” he muttered, then did an about face and headed back outside.

“Let’s do online shopping,” Gabe hissed as they stepped back outside into the tepid sunshine of the fall day.

“Sounds like a plan,” Ryan muttered. “Seriously, are you two stupid?” He paused, made a face at his phone. “Ohhhhh, Gabe … Gabe, Gabe, Gabe.”

“What.”

“I think your next stop is gonna be a chat with your agent.”

Sebby sighed heavily, and Gabe pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know why I’m friend with you,” he said to Sebby.

“I have no idea either,” Sebby replied, watching in horror as his own social media started exploding.

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