In the spirit of Christmas and deadline pressure, I’m giving you two chapters of Robbie and Paul at a mall in Detroit a few days before Christmas.
Also, you get a sneak peek of the Thunder 2018 Calendar that exists only in my head right now. Robbie being a saucy minx on the side, Paul with a picture his sister can hang on her wall on the right. (photo of Paul by Dan Skinner at DWS Photography)
What months should they be? I’m thinking August for Paul. Robbie going to catch pneumonia dressed like that.
You know Georgia has that calendar up in her room. She puts a happy face sticker over Robbie’s naked hips. Robbie’s mom gives them away to her T.A.s for Christmas presents. She asks Robbie to get them signed.
Paul turns the calendar directly to Sergei’s month and puts it over their bed. Robbie retaliates by turning it to Jansson who, for reasons known only to him, has gone full hipster in a hideous orange and brown plaid coat. Paul moves it to over the toilet. From then on, there is no telling where the calendar will pop up and who’s potential naked ass will greet them. Eventually, though, it ends up staying on Sergei’s photo because, well, really, have you seen the man? They don’t even change it when Sergei and Alex come over leading to Alex complementing them on their taste in art and offering to show them the full monty outakes for the right price.
Bryce got talked into posing even though he insisted he didn’t belong because he was retired. Dakota gives Bryce endless crap about it and insists on being there for the shoot. He offers various props including Clarice (Bryce’s pet chicken, lovely Buff Orphington that follows her around), both dogs, (Lucifer also follows Bryce around, he’s like freakin’ Doctor Dolittle or something) and a pair of overalls and a pitchfork (which they actually own) until the photographer kicks him out. They have epic sex afterward, and Dakota pays the photographer for copies of all the photos.
17 – ROBBIE—I WANT TO SCREAM I LOVE YOU FROM THE TOP OF MY LUNGS
Robbie approached the giant Twelve Oaks shopping mall the way he imagined most people approach a trip to the dentist. Hockey players got used to the dentist real quick. Arms crossed, he frowned up at the marble and glass Mecca of consumerism.
Paul paid the Lyft driver and pushed Robbie forward with a hand in the middle of his back. “C’mon, Mr. Crankypants. It will be fun.”
This close to Christmas, the mall was packed. People streamed around Paul and Robbie’s bodies like water around a rock. The whole place was decorated with a tasteful ostentation that somehow implied Christmas without specifically identifying which light-and-poinsettia-filled winter holiday they were celebrating. Soothing instrumental versions of Christmas music floated across the parking lot.
It was the last place on earth Robbie wanted to spend one of his very rare days off. He almost begged off, but when he turned to Paul, he knew he wasn’t going to.
Paul looked like a kid in a candy shop. Or a teen at a mall at Christmas.
Robbie sighed. Entering the mall somehow felt like he was betraying everything his parents had taught him. And that they would know the minute his foot touched the faux marble floor and sense a disturbance in the fair trade shopping force. “Okay, okay. I’ll go. But you have to lead.”
Immediately, the visual and audio assault on his senses overwhelmed Robbie. And the heat. It had to be fifty degrees warmer inside than out. He clawed his way out of his wool overcoat like it was suffocating him, almost elbowing a child in the face as he did.
Paul removed his coat with much more grace.
“How big is this place?” Robbie asked, staring at the high ceilings and store-lined hallways that seemed to stretch out to the horizon.
“Never been in a mall this big?” Paul asked as he navigated them through the crowd, threading his way through the people like he was on the ice.
“Never been in a mall, period.”
Paul stopped walking. “Never been in a mall? Where do you get clothes from?”
Robbie shrugged. “Target? Thrift store? I don’t know. I have some places online I shop when I need something new.”
Paul shook his head as if he’d never heard of anything so strange in his life. “Did you grow up on a commune or something like that?”
Kind of, Robbie realized, but he wasn’t getting into that right now.
“I grew up outside of Cleveland, thank you very much. I just didn’t go to malls. Besides,” he continued defensively, “it’s not like we need a whole lot of clothes. I mean, we spend half our life either in hockey uniforms, workout clothes, or a suit.”
Rationally, he knew Paul was only teasing him for what Paul took as a lack of opportunity, not an aversion to malls. But, still, he couldn’t help feeling attacked. More than once in college he’d had to defend his unwillingness to give his money to corporations with what he felt were deplorable business practices.
Granted, it was easier to find fair trade coffee in Oberlin than in Northern Minnesota, but it wasn’t that much more work if you knew where to look.
He wasn’t some social justice warrior, despite what they’d called him. He just had a conscience, okay? He couldn’t enjoy something he knew someone else had suffered to produce.
Paul ignored his prickly defensiveness and rolled his eyes. “No matter what you’re wearing, you need underwear. And that’s what we’re here for. The whole team is tired of your K-Mart specials,” Paul said firmly as if he had won an argument. He strode confidently into the crowd towards a destination only he knew.
“Like I’d shop at K-Mart,” he called at Paul’s back.
As Robbie kept an eye on Paul’s blond hair bobbing above the crowd, Paul must have realized Robbie wasn’t following him. He stopped, ran his hand through his hair and turned back to where Robbie still stood.
His eyes crinkled and he smiled wide as he caught Robbie’s eye.
He looked so adorable and sexy with his sparkling eyes, wide, white smile and his biceps straining the sleeves of his Seattle Thunder branded T-shirt that Robbie couldn’t resist smiling back.
Robbie noticed more than one head turn to see who Paul was looking at like that. He’s with me, he wanted to say. He wanted to go up to Paul and plant a big wet one right on his mouth and see how the shoppers would react.
Unfortunately, knowing how Paul would react kept him from doing it. He suddenly had a lot more understanding of how Drew must have felt when they were dating. Robbie didn’t hide his relationship from his teammates and friends, but as Paul had rightly pointed out, it wasn’t like he was leading Pride parades in his uniform or anything.
“Come on,” Paul said, coaxing Robbie forward with a curl of his fingers like he was teaching a baby to walk. “You can do it. One step at a time.”
“Jerk,” Robbie said with a grin as he closed the distance between them.
When he was close enough, Paul grabbed his arm and pulled him into a one-armed side hug. “It will be fun. And if you’re really good, I’ll buy you an ice cream afterward. Okay, little buddy?” has asked, knuckling Robbie’s head.
Robbie swatted his hand away and twisted out of the hug. “You’ll buy me dinner. And maybe a movie.”
“It’s a date,” Paul said, waggling his eyebrows.
It kind of was. Which made Robbie wonder. “Are you sure you’ll be okay with that? With us hanging out like this in public?”
Paul’s guilty look confirmed Robbie’s suspicious. Paul wasn’t as okay with it as he wanted to be.
“I think we’ll be okay. No one knows us here,” Paul said, the light in his eyes dimming.
Robbie felt like a jerk for bringing it up. Paul was so different in private, so enthusiastic, it was easy for Robbie to forget how new it all was to him. Closeted, Robbie reminded himself ruefully. What went on behind closed doors was one thing. In public, he was a straight boy.
Damn it. But it wasn’t forever, Robbie told himself. Eventually, Paul would realize how ridiculous he was being, and that no one cared.
Except maybe the fans. And the press.
Fuck. Stupid. The whole homophobia thing was ridiculous. Robbie put the blame directly on people like Paul’s father and the church leaders who were telling them how evil gay people were. Why couldn’t they just live and let live?
“You okay?” Paul asked.
Fuck them, Robbie thought. Whoever they were. He wasn’t going to let them ruin his first day out with Paul.
“I’m great,” he said with a big smile. “And I’m at your mercy. Teach me your bourgeois ways.”
“Ooh, big words. Sexy. Keep that up, and I might buy you popcorn, too.”
Paul kept up a stream of talk as they walked through the mall.
Robbie half-listened, making what he hoped were appropriate responses but mostly enjoying the way Paul’s southern accent rose and fell almost like a song as he spoke.
He knew Paul was a little self-conscious of it and tried to suppress it as much as could. But when he was excited or tired or stressed, the accent came out. He couldn’t wait to hear Paul whispering dirty things in his ear with that soft drawl.
So far, Paul wasn’t much of a talker in bed. Robbie would work on it. He counted the people checking Paul out as he imagined how Paul would sound saying some pretty specific things.
He’d counted six women, two teenaged girls, and five guys, and worked himself up into a bit of a state by the time Paul stopped in front of Nordstrom’s.
“That okay?” he asked Robbie.
“Huh?” Robbie blinked at the store and tried to remember what Paul had been talking about.
Paul’s eyes dragged down his body, stopping on the bulge in his jeans that was a little larger than normal. “Distracted?” he asked with the lift of an eyebrow. He crossed his arms over his chest, flexing as he did.
Oh, damn, he must have caught on to Robbie’s mild obsession with his arms. Two could play at that game. Robbie stepped close enough to whisper in Paul’s ear. “I was remembering how that accent sounded when you begged me to let you come.”
Paul stepped back, mouth open in shock and admiration. “You are a right bastard, Robbie Rhodes.” He stuck a hand in his jeans pocket, discreetly adjusting himself.
“Only until we lose,” he promised.
“I’m gonna make you pay for that,” Paul threatened.
Robbie couldn’t wait.
18 – ROBBIE—BUT I’M AFRAID SOMEONE ELSE WILL HEAR ME
Buying underwear at Nordstrom’s was nothing like buying underwear at Target. There, Robbie’s biggest problem was packages hung on the wrong hook, and he certainly never tried them on.
“You can’t try on underwear,” he hissed at Paul who was flipping through the tables of various types of briefs laid out like an underwear buffet. Robbie shuddered to think how much they cost.
“This is the kind I like,” Paul said, holding up a dark green pair. “Tommy Johns.” He read from the label. “They have a no wedgie guarantee. That sound nice, but I don’t think they’ve ever been in a locker room. Ooh, a ‘contour pouch that nestles the boys.’ My boys like being nestled, that’s for sure.”
Robbie flipped the tag towards him to read the price. “What? Thirty-four dollars for one pair of underpants?”
A few heads turned towards them.
Paul moved so they stood side by side at the display. “You like the way they look on me?” he asked in a low voice, eyes on the table in front of them.
“Yeah. A lot.”
“Well, I would like to see you in these, okay? Anyway,” he said a little louder. “It’s not like you can’t afford them.”
Robbie made a frustrated sound.
“What?” Paul asked, turning to face Robbie. “What is your problem with spending some of your extremely hard-earned money on something nice for yourself? It’s not a Ferrari. It’s underwear. Something you have to have anyway and something you wear every day.”
“I know. It’s just –” Robbie picked up the tag of another pair on the table that was even more expensive than the first pair. He flinched, but his hand lingered on the cloud-like material, betraying him. As usual, what his body wanted and what his conscience told him was right were at odds.
He slid his fingers deeper into the neatly stacked pile of briefs. They did feel awfully soft.
He searched for a way to explain his hesitancy without sounding like a douchebag or like he was judging Paul for the way he lived. Because he wasn’t. Really. He didn’t expect everyone to have the same standards.
Paul noticed Robbie fondling the underwear, and sensing potential capitulation, pressed his argument. “It’s thirty-four dollars, dude.” He held the briefs up by the waistband, waving them like a flag. “Say this pair lasts a year and you wear it once a week. That’s less than a dollar a day for the ability to cradle your ass and the boys in some comfort and style. I think you can swing it. Hell, go crazy, get seven, one for each day of the week and it still wouldn’t make a dent.”
Robbie sighed. “It’s not just the cost and the fact that it makes me feel kind of pretentious to buy fancy underwear. I worry that with every pair of these I buy, I’m consigning another eight-year-old Vietnamese kid to a short life of drudgery in a sweatshop.”
Paul blinked at him. “You are ree-fucking-diculous. That’s the first place your mind goes? For the record, you have no idea where these are made.” He rolled his eyes. “Secondly, who do you think makes those Fruit of the Loom specials you’ve been wearing?”
“I know. I know, okay.” Robbie rubbed his head. This is why he didn’t shop. It was exhausting, with ethical pitfalls everywhere he looked. Sometimes he felt like he could grow his own cotton and weave his own clothing and still feel bad that he had used the wrong dye or something.
Sometimes a person just wanted some nice underwear. Was that a crime?
Paul twirled the shorts around his finger. “Maybe this will help. I refuse to look at or touch those tighty-whities anymore. You either –”
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” a voice called from behind Robbie.
A salesman, Todd according to his name tag, smiled at them. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”
A good-looking thirty-something guy in a subdued but classy suit and a strong gay vibe, Todd’s smile made it clear that he had overheard everything, even the sentence Paul had left unfinished.
Robbie hoped Paul didn’t pick up on that. If Paul realized people were assuming they were a couple, their quasi-date would definitely be over.
“I think I can help,” Todd said. “I’ll be right back.”
He came back with an armful of different cuts and colors of underwear. He also had a few pairs of what looked like pajama pants and some T-shirts.
“All of these brands are made within ethical guidelines. See?” He showed Robbie the tag.
The tiny words swam in front of Robbie’s eyes. Shaking his head, he handed the briefs and the attached tag to Paul.
“‘Independent, objective, non-profit team of global social compliance experts,’” Paul read out loud. “’Safe, lawful, humane, and ethical manufacturing.’”
That did make him feel a little better. “Thanks, Todd. I know it’s kind of obnoxious.”
Todd shook his head. “Not at all. It’s a valid concern, and I’m here to address all your concerns. Would you like me to set up a dressing room for you?”
Robbie paused and put down the underpants he had been fondling, looking at it in a new, much less pleasant, light. Had somebody else tried this exact pair on? “You can try on underwear?”
“Yes,” Todd said, lips tight as he fought a smile. “Over your current attire, of course.”
“Of course,” Robbie echoed.
“Take your time, look around some more,” Todd told him. “I’ll set up a dressing room, and then I’ll be back.”
“I think what you have is more than enough.” More than enough. There was no way he was going to buy all that.
Todd didn’t blink an eye when Paul followed him into the dressing room. He simply asked them if he could get them coffee, tea, or something else perhaps. The whole thing made Robbie uncomfortable.
“Really, no, thank you. I know you must be busy with Christmas stuff. I’ll be fine.” Being waited on like this was excruciating. He just wanted the nice man to go away now.
He shut the door with a sigh. Unsurprisingly, the dressing room was the biggest one he’d ever been in. He hated that there was a small part of him that didn’t hate it.
Paul made himself comfortable on the small, padded bench along one side of the small room while Robbie kicked off his shoes and took off his jeans.
Paul wrinkled his nose.
“Yeah, I know you hate them. The whole world knows.” He picked a random pair off the pile Todd had set up neatly on a table in the corner. “Some people like them, you know. Like, really like them. As in ‘I have a folder of pictures of guys in white briefs on my computer’ like them.”
“Are you doing this for me?” Paul asked.
Something in his voice made Robbie pause with the new underwear halfway up his leg.
Paul looked a little shell-shocked, and a lot turned on. He liked that idea a lot apparently.
“Well, yeah.” Hadn’t the whole thing been Paul’s idea? Robbie wasn’t the one offended by his normal underwear.
“You hated the other ones. I mean…” He broke off, blushing. Now that he thought about it, it did seem like a pretty intimate thing to be doing for someone he had just started whatever it was they were doing.
He wasn’t just buying a specific type of underwear because Paul said he wanted to see Robbie in them, he was trying them on in front of him. In front of a guy he’d only really known for four days.
Sure, he’d changed in front of Paul plenty of times already, but the locker room didn’t count. Hell, his grandmother could walk into the locker room, and he’d probably keep changing.
“You’re making me nervous now,” he said to Paul, yanking the boxer briefs up all the way.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No. You might as well just sit there and perv on me since it just hit me that’s the whole reason we’re here.” His cock thickened at the thought. Even two pairs of underpants couldn’t hide it.
“So, do I get to vote on what I like?” Paul asked, fingers wrapping and unwrapping around the ends of the bench.
“Yeah, sure.” Robbie frowned. “This is stupid. I can’t tell how these feel over my old ones.”
“Try them on with nothing underneath,” Paul said.
“I can’t do that!”
Paul rolled his eyes. “If you don’t like them, I promise I will buy them. They’re my size, too.”
“Fine,” Robbie said grudgingly. He pushed both pairs off at the same time, feeling awkward standing there in a nothing but a T-shirt.
The whole thing felt kind of slutty. He liked it. In the mirror, he saw Paul behind him, staring at him with a mixture of desire and what almost looked like fear. He’d caught that look in Paul’s eyes before. It was gone before he could analyze it.
Paul caught his eye in the mirror as he separated the briefs. His expression spelled trouble for Robbie. Good trouble.
With a grin, Paul reached out and ran his hand over Robbie’s naked ass.
“Don’t —” Robbie started to say but was cut off by Todd’s voice calling from right outside the door.
“Everything okay in there, boys?”
Cut it out, Robbie signed
“Just great, Todd,” Paul called out. “Y’all wouldn’t happen to have any bottled water, would you?”
“You can’t ask that,” Robbie whispered, insulted on Todd’s behalf. “He’s not your servant.”
“Of course,” Todd replied. “Still or sparkling?”
“Still for me, please. Robbie?” Paul ran his hands around the front of Robbie’s thighs, light dragging his palms across the soft hair.
Not helping, Robbie signed to Paul even as he answered the question. “Nothing, thank you.” Robbie hoped his voice didn’t sound too strangled. His dick had noticed how close Paul’s fingers were to it.
It was hard to hear Todd’s footsteps over the plush carpeting, but they both held their breath until it felt like he must be gone.
“Cut it out,” Robbie said as Paul pulled him in closer.
“Don’t want to.” His hands caressed Robbie from knees to hips, scratching through his pubic curls, around the curve of his ass, and along the crease of his thighs.
Paul dug his fingers hard into the tops of Robbie’s thighs. “You have the sexiest fucking legs.” He leaned forward and pushed the T-shirt up so he could kiss the small of Robbie’s back.
“Gargh,” Robbie said less-than-intelligently, yanking himself out of Paul’s grasp. “So not helping,” he said, pointing to his rapidly growing cock.
“Oh, it’s helping me.” He reached down and swooped the silky dark-green boxers off the floor and threw them at Robbie. “Try these on now,” he said voice low and eyes dark with lust.
God, Robbie felt like he’d been at least half-aroused forever. Watching Paul squirm on the hard bench only fueled the fire. Maybe Paul was right. Maybe he was a sadist and a masochist combined because he loved this game they were playing.
Turning to face Paul fully, Robbie made a show of bending down and slowly stepping into the expensive boxer briefs. He pulled them up just as slowly in a kind of reverse strip-tease.
The feel of the material against his skin distracted him from his evil plan. “Oh, my God,” he sighed as the pants settled like a silken hug around his hips. The front pouch did, in fact, cradle his junk perfectly.
These were the best things he’d ever had against his skin.
Paul’s expression was deservedly smug. “See?” He stood up and crowded into Robbie’s space. “Just let me…” He stuck his hand down the front of Robbie’s underwear and adjusted his package.
He pulled back far enough to get a look at his handiwork. “Fuck,” he said reverently. “Turn around. Shii-it.” He dragged the word out long and sweet.
“Hey, boys. I’m back. And I got some snacks, too. Just in case. You still doing okay?”
Paul opened the door, making sure Robbie wasn’t visible. “Thanks, dude. And yeah, we’re definitely taking those green ones. Can we get one pair in every color you have?”
Todd smiled and handed him two water bottles. “I brought one up for your friend, too, just in case he needed something to cool him off,” he said, voice laden with innuendo.
“Thanks, Todd,” Robbie called from behind the door.
They tried on a few different styles, the groping escalating rapidly until Robbie found himself completely naked and pushed up against a wall with a fully-clothed Paul plastered against him.
That was easily the sluttiest thing Robbie had ever done, and he’d never been so turned on in his life. He was so hard it hurt, and somehow the hurting turned him on more.
“Jesus, stop,” Robbie panted, pushing Paul away as far as he could without unclenching his fingers from Paul’s shirt. “I’m gonna come if you don’t stop.”
“Fuck. Me, too.” Paul looked as wrecked as Robbie felt. “Is it just me, or does it make it hotter knowing we can’t?”
“It’s not just you.” Robbie forced his fingers to let go of Paul’s shirt. “Now go sit down and don’t move or Todd’s going to get an eyeful of something I’m sure he’d pay money to see.”
“I’ll be good,” Paul promised. On the bench, he sat on his hands to show how good he would be. It didn’t last.
After a thorough hands-on inspection that left them both hard and panting, Paul declared the boxer briefs that extended a few inches down Robbie’s thighs the winners.
Robbie ended up getting seven pairs of them, some matching T-shirts, and a pair of bamboo lounge pants that were so soft he wanted to live in them.
He blanched at the price as he signed the credit slip.
Paul noticed. “I think I know something that would make you feel better,” he said as they wandered back into the main mall.
“What?” Robbie could practically feel his parents’ withering glares if they ever found out he had spent a couple of hundred dollars on underwear and pajamas.
“Come here.” Paul let them to a gigantic Christmas tree at the intersection of two corridors. It had to be ten feet tall.
As he got closer, Robbie could see index cards hanging from the branches. A sign read “Adopt a Family for Christmas.” Several people were glancing through the cards, making sure to check out the ones near the top and the ones on the bottom as well as the more easily accessible ones near the middle of the tree.
“Pick a card, any card,” Paul said. “It’s something my church does every year. Families in need fill out these cards, and people can pick one or more and play Santa. It’s one of my favorite things.”
He reached through a couple of cards before picking two. “I like to get ones with the teenagers because I feel like they get overlooked. It’s easier and more flashy to buy toys for the little ones, but I hate thinking of some kid who just wants a decent coat so he can be warm on his way to school getting shortchanged because he’s not cute anymore.”
He turned to hand one to Robbie but stopped at the look on Robbie’s face. “Or not. I mean, you don’t have to. I’m gonna, but if it’s not your thing.”
“I want to kiss you so badly right now,” he said, keeping his voice low.
Paul blushed to the tops of his ears. “It’s no big deal. Just thought you could spend the same amount here. Kind of balance the scales, ease your conscience.”
Robbie gave in to his heart, and pulled Paul in for a hard hug. The bags and coats they carried made it awkward, but Robbie didn’t care. From the way Paul hugged him back, he didn’t care either.
“You’re a good man,” Robbie said when the hug ended. He turned to the tree and started looking for two families of his own. It wasn’t much, but it felt good to think of making Christmas happier for a few people anyway.
“What about the people on the top?” he asked, tilting his head to look up the tree.
A young woman in an Adopt a Family T-shirt answered him. “We make sure they get rotated down. We do it a few times a day.”
“That’s great,” Robbie said. She was someone who was making a difference. He bet she did more than play sports for a living.
After a few minutes of thoughtful perusal, he settled on a single mom with three kids, all in a STEM magnet school, and the family of a veteran who only asked for supplies for their service dog. They would get that and presents for the kids and the parents as well.
Tears pricked at Robbie’s eyelids. Tears of gratitude for the amazing life he’d had, of sorrow for all the struggling families, and a little for how much Paul’s thoughtfulness had touched him. He knew Robbie was struggling with the spending and he’d found a way to help Robbie and other people at the same time.
He was a good man. It was eons too early to be thinking like this, but he couldn’t help but wonder if Paul could be someone worth facing the public for.
He was starting to think Drew had been right when he’d accused Robbie of not loving him enough.
Pushing those thoughts away, he gave Paul another quick hug. “Let’s go shopping!”
BONUS PHOTOGRAPHER PROOF OF JANSSON: