The Jackson Lunta Snow Dance Song: Chapter 3
A downloadable package of this chapter (.pdf, .epub, and .mobi) is available in the Sparkler Monthly Issue #059 back issue.
“Vinter! Nilson! Lunta!”
clap clap clap
Coach Niemi announced the lineup, his words punctuated by applause that echoed off the painted brick. The Barrie visitors room was familiar in the way that all locker rooms on the road were–variations on a theme, all blurring together during months of travel. Once on the ice, locale hardly mattered.
“And Hasenkamp in net!” Coach finished with a wave of his clipboard, and left the team to prepare.
Sammy finished a meticulous tape job on his stick, then sat back to watch a dozen pregame rituals performed. Hockey players were a superstitious bunch, subject as they were to the whims of fate. One could play his heart out, but a bad bounce or a ref’s capricious eye could be the difference between victory and defeat, and so they each quietly built their hexes, trying to wrest control back into their own hands. Across the room, a defenseman squeezed some Gatorade onto the floor and drew in it with the blade of his skate; a third liner was patting his stick, whispering sweet nothings against the tape. Ahlberg held his rock. He had found the little piece of float copper by the lakeshore, and had carried it with him since, turning it in his hands until the edges shone.
Jackson just sat, eyes shut and hands resting on his knees, somewhere far from a locker room in Ontario. Maybe he’s in the blizzard, Sammy thought as he leaned back, closed his eyes, and began to count his breaths. If Sammy were to adopt a new superstition, he could think of worse candidates. In his mind, the wind began to blow.
“Pff, that one’s so gay.”
The words crawled over Sammy like a spider down the back of his shirt. A few stalls away, two of the rookies were quarreling over a shared music playlist, listening with one earbud apiece.
Sammy hated freezing like this, loathe to draw attention, quietly baking in his own embarrassment and frustration. He had expected this sort of thing to bother him less with exposure, but it still stung every single time–countless little papercuts still oozing blood.
I’m the captain, he thought mournfully. Fuck. I should say something.
“Hey! Schmelt! What’d you just say?” It was Racine who stood, one foot in its skate and one still in a plastic sandal, cupping a hand to his ear.
“I was just… But dude, he listens to…” The boy’s cheeks had gone red under their dusting of acne.
Racine dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Don’t know, don’t care. You know the rules, bud.”
“What is this, some fuckin’ swear jar?”
“Pony up the cash before next practice, little baby shithead,” Racine said, and began to lace up his other skate.
Slowly, Sammy relaxed. Although he knew that Racine enforced the team’s Respect in Sport policy more to shake down the rookies than out of any altruistic impulse, he was nonetheless grateful. The team’s party fund grew and the hidden papercuts bled, and the rest of them were none the wiser.
“Hey, Sammy,” Jackson said. “Boys were saying you’re close to the team record for points in the regular season? Kickass.”
Sammy wondered if Jackson was intentionally trying to change the subject. A good team player, that one. Nice assist.
Sammy forced a smile. “So they tell me.”
“Wanna break it tonight?”
A few seats away, Ahlberg perked up. “Right! Points record!”
“Don’t jinx it,” Sammy said, and then all six-foot-four of Ahlberg was coming at him, tripping over his own feet, his hand outstretched.
“Here.” Resting in Ahlberg’s palm was his lucky rock. Sammy took it gingerly, running his fingers over its irregular surface, veined with the same blueish green as the Mystics’ home jerseys. It was still warm.
“Thanks, man,” Sammy said, and the grin on his face this time was genuine.
Sammy didn’t realize he had done it until he saw his teammates react. It was a solid goal–his second of the night, putting them up by three–but as soon as the puck hit the back of the net, the bench began screaming and Vinter lost his mind, spinning him around and shouting in his ear. Caught in a frantic tangle of limbs, it took Sammy a minute to realize that the heightened celebration was for him.
The Mystics were a newer team. Maybe they weren’t leading the league, maybe they weren’t one of the storied franchises that had Memorial Cups in their past, but to be even a footnote in the team’s history felt good. That wasn’t the reason for Sammy’s grin, however, as he skated by the bench, bumping his glove to his teammates’.
All the boys had remembered, had been waiting for him to cross that milestone. Jackson clasped him around the shoulders, shaking him.
“You did it. You did it!”
Fuck, Sammy loved hockey.
“I feel good,” Sammy said.
He held his ice pack to his face and lay back on the bed, smiling. The endorphin glow of his three-point night still lingered in his system, the rush of a solid win. He probed at the welt on his cheek, where a high stick from one of the Colts’ defensemen had caught him below the visor. He had scored on the resultant power play, so he couldn’t be too bitter.
“Let me see.” Sammy felt the mattress dip as Jackson settled beside him, crunching on a cough drop.
Sammy removed the ice. His throbbing cheek intruded at the corner of his vision; when he had looked in the mirror, the bruise was already coming in, guaranteed to turn every color of the rainbow within a week.
“Oh, that’s gristly,” Jackson said.
“Probably looks worse than it feels. I took some Tylenol at the rink.”
Jackson’s hand wavered over Sammy’s cheekbone; Sammy sat up and offered his face. He couldn’t help the wince, the sharp gasp, when Jackson pressed his fingers to the bruise. His hands were always so cold, as though he had just come inside gloveless from freezing winter weather. His skin soothed Sammy’s aching face, softer than the washcloth full of ice, exploratory touches mapping out the damage. Sammy let his eyes drift closed.
They stayed like that for a bit, Jackson’s hand gently cupping his cheek, his thumb stroking the feverish skin. Sammy began to wonder how long he should let this go on before it got weird–or if he’d already crossed that threshold. He felt a breeze against his lips, smelling of medicinal lemon, and realized it was Jackson’s breath.
He couldn’t help the shiver that ran through him, shaking his shoulders, racing down his spine. He could feel himself flush, caught out. What excuse could he possibly make? He opened his eyes; Jackson’s face was right there, too close, gray eyes staring into his own.
“What?” Sammy asked, on the edge of defensive.
“You look at me.” Jackson’s voice was barely above a whisper. “You think I don’t notice, but I do.”
So he knew. Sammy’s heart felt like it was going to punch through his chest, and Jackson’s hand still hadn’t left his face. The moment felt so heavy, squeezing the breath from Sammy’s lungs. He exhaled shakily.
“I… Don’t tell anybody.”
“We all have secrets, bro.” Jackson smiled, still closer.
Live in the moment, eh, thought Sammy, a little hysterically, his blood pounding in his ears as he leaned in to meet him.
It wasn’t like Sammy hadn’t kissed anyone before. Since junior high, there had been no shortage of interested girls, and Sammy had sporadically taken them up on the offer. It was fine–kind of awkward, take it or leave it–with their long hair perfumed fruity and sweet, and mouths slick with lip gloss, and Sammy could make out with them and not feel much of anything at all. He had wondered if that was just what kissing was like, what all the fuss was about, until…
Until Jackson’s lips opened under his, his tongue pressing into Sammy’s mouth, tasting of honey lemon and everything Sammy had ever wanted.
Jackson kissed with a quiet confidence–sensual, unhurried, like Sammy was a play he was trying to commit to memory. He slid the hand on Sammy’s face down and around the back of Sammy’s neck, tugging at the little curls that ringed his nape, the other hand coming to rest between his shoulder blades and drawing Sammy against him. As Sammy smoothed his hands down Jackson’s sleep shirt and felt the bumps of his ribs underneath, he marveled at how still Jackson was, the cool solidity of his body. Sammy felt anything but–his face throbbing, blood roaring through him, a tension in his core like he was going to melt, or explode, or set the bed on fire.
He wrapped his arms around Jackson, toppling them both to the sheets, and lost himself in the scent of Jackson’s neck. It was multi-layered and fascinating, conjuring up images in his mind: the woody body wash from the communal shower at the rink, the orange rind and spice of his deodorant, and another, deeper scent, like smoke and iron and the crispness of air before snow.
Sammy reached up to weave his fingers though Jackson’s hair, and when he tightened his grip, Jackson groaned against his mouth and shifted against the sheets. Sammy was suddenly aware of everywhere they were touching, hoping Jackson couldn’t feel the desperate hard-on developing in his sweatpants.
“Mm. We should… I dunno, talk about this?”
Jackson looked down at him, rosy spots on his cheeks. “Now?”
“Yeah, nah, it can wait. Just…just keep kissing me.”
Jackson laughed, and complied. It was slower now, the kisses deep and languid until the exhaustion from the day began to overtake them and they were hardly kissing at all, just breathing against each other’s lips.
As Sammy felt himself begin to drift off, he mumbled an apology, and felt a hand stroke his hair, the low vibration of Jackson’s chest against his arm. The last thing he remembered was the sensation of Jackson getting up to turn off the light.
Sammy was pulled abruptly from sleep by the click of the door. He had been dreaming of snow drifting over him like a blanket, chilly but somehow comforting as it buried him and held him.
The cold didn’t dissipate upon waking. The wind outside the window had fallen to a dull background moan, the only sound in the room. Sammy realized that the alarm clock on the nightstand was blank, his blinking phone the sole point of light. Shivering, he tried the lamp, clicking it on and off. Nothing.
“Jackson? The power’s out.”
The other bed was empty, its sheets thrown back. Jackson was gone.
As Sammy tugged on his coat, navigating by phone light, he noticed that Jackson’s boots–which he’d tossed by the door–were missing, but his parka was still draped over the back of a chair. Was he just off to speak with Coach, a meeting of the team in this state of mild emergency?
The hall was deserted, lit by the backup strips along the baseboard, the dark stairwell echoing and bleak. Down in the lobby by the front desk, two flashlights bobbed: staff members in subdued discussion. Sammy could ask them if they’d encountered his roommate.
Rounding the corner, however, Sammy heard the rush of air–the outdoor roar of a door being opened. At the other end of the corridor, freezing air still lingered around the exit leading to the back parking lot. Following a hunch, Sammy went out.
The hush deepened outside, all sound smothered by the gently falling snow. The moon, nearly full, shone behind swiftly moving clouds, painting the parking lot silver in the absence of electric light. As he stared out into the night, Sammy felt as though he were the only one left in the world…until he saw him.
Jackson, his back to Sammy, stood where the parking lot abutted a grove of bare trees. He had his boots on, but wore only the sweatpants and thin tank top he had slept in, his arms and neck bare and raised to the sky. Sammy shivered to look at him, and thought to call out–but stopped himself. There was a fragility to the moment, a feeling of anticipation building, as though this were the culmination of all the strange and wonderful events that had clustered around him lately. Despite the darkness, Sammy was close enough that he could see Jackson inhale and spread his arms.
Then he began to dance.
He moved with the same duality that he showed on the ice, grace and power woven in the unfettered joy of a wild thing. Flinging his arms and leaping, he spun in the snow, fierce and primal as something flashing through the forest, half obscured by leaves.
It took Sammy a moment to notice the wind. As Jackson moved one way, it blew with the motion of his arms; as he spun, the flakes were caught in a spiraling cloud with him at the epicenter. The snow fell strongest around him, washed up against him like swells against the lakeshore. It curled around his body, docile under his command as he shaped it, crafting exquisite geometry in the air.
Sammy knew he should feel shock. The impossible was happening before his eyes, but in the midst of an already surreal day there was a rightness about it, an answer to all the mysteries. This was Jackson, untroubled and free, echoing the day Sammy had first seen him on the lake. He was one with the storm.
Jackson eventually seemed to tire and stood, chest heaving, smiling up at the sky. He raised his arms once more, a farewell, and then snow began to slacken, the wind to still. There was a moment of Jackson frozen, statuesque in the moonlight.
The power came back on.
Sammy saw Jackson turn in the light from the vestibule, toward Sammy’s own shadow that stretched out across the parking lot. Sammy had a sudden fear that Jackson would flee into the night like a startled deer, or that he himself would faint, or wake up frustrated to find he had dreamt the entire night.
As Jackson began to walk toward him, Sammy realized that Jackson’s eyes were glowing, a deep blue-moon hue. Standing in front of him was his linemate, the quiet new kid, the first boy he had ever kissed–and layered on top of all that was something else, something ancient and true. Sammy held his gaze.
“Hey,” Jackson said.
He reached out and touched Sammy’s neck with his cold fingers, smiled his wry smile.
“We all have secrets.”
To be continued in Chapter 4.