“I can’t do this anymore! I can’t live this lie. I’m really not like that – you know I’m not.” Alexei sobbed.\

Fenn laughed quietly.

“Always the drama queen eh? ‘Course you can. Been doing it for the whole season. Why would one more match make such a difference?”

“Don’t be so hard on the Count!” her twin, Jesse said. “It’s gotta be taking a toll you know. All this hiding from the team and making out it’s because…” he paused to give the proper emphasis with added air quotes “‘the Count’ is a huge superstar who can’t change and shower with the mere mortals who make up the rest of the team. Whereas we all know it’s because… ”

“Don’t say it! Please don’t say it!” Alexei begged. “Saying it makes it more real and makes it even harder to act the part.”

“Well then,” said Jesse. “But you know why it’s hard for us to take you seriously. Anyway, just get through this last match in your own inimitable style and you can enjoy the big reveal.”

***

“Down with the Aristocrats. Down with the Aristocrats…” chanted the visiting fans clustering around the Dragons’ goal for the first quarter. The home fans were quiet for bare seconds then a low growl started at the far end of the rink. It grew in volume and ferociousness as it travelled down both sides of the rink. The smaller number of Dragons fans packed tightly together and increased the volume of their chant but they were overwhelmed by the home fans.

“Aristos, Aristos, A-rist-ooos,” echoed around the rink as the team mascots led their teams out onto the ice. The young lads dressed in team colours led the adult hockey players on a circuit of the rink before coming to a halt in the middle.

The Dragons’ mascot was poised to go off. His team were ready. But Brian, the Aristo’s mascot was standing hands on hips, tapping his skates in feigned impatience. Most of his team were in their places ready for the game to start. Most of his team. But not the Count who was dawdling in front of the Away fans, taunting them. Count Alexei Radowicz was a fine player, but there was no doubt that the Aristos fans and many of the opposing fans came solely to see the Count’s performance before and after the match.

Brian sighed theatrically and skated over to the Count. The Count bent down and whispered something in the child’s ear, pointing out a large man in the crowd. Sensing everyone’s attention on him, the man levered himself to his feet, lumbered down to the front of the stands and threw himself against the reinforced plastic wall that separated watchers from players. Nose to nose with the Count, he mouthed obscenities and beat on the wall. The Count danced a little jig on skates and then pirouetted in front of the man, pulling faces at him and the crowd. Eventually, Brian made it through the press of fans and tugged at the man’s shirt. He offered the man the Count’s cloak and the Dragons fan found himself draped in black that proudly proclaimed “Aristos! Western B. C’s Finest”.

Skating rapidly over to the commentary box, the Count begged a microphone.

“You see,” the light tenor voice drawled, the Polish accent even more pronounced than usual, “This is how I win over our fans – one at a time.”

The entire crowd erupted, Dragons fans outraged and Aristos fans laughing and cat calling. Dropping the mike, Alexei skated back to the centre and the referee started the game.

As usual, the Count’s play was impeccable. Each time another Dragon found himself driven into the side of the rink while Alexei skated off with the puck, the Dragons fans grew quieter and quieter. Every time Alexei took the puck, Aristos scored. The rest of the team provided the support and chorus for the Count’s leading role. Finally the last quarter of the last match of the season was done. The Aristos would be going up next season.

Back in the star changing room, Alexei showered and changed quickly into typical Count clothing. There were autographs to be signed and the infamous cloak to be verified as genuine. The fans would expect Count Alexei style flamboyance. They might get more than they bargained for today, Alexei mused.

Duke and Gracie, the team bully boys were waiting as Alexei came out of the changing room. They hustled the Count towards the waiting knot of fans.

“Coach says, sign the damn cloak and maybe ten other autographs and then stop,” said Gracie. “Leave ‘em wanting more.”

Alexei signed everything. Then the minders pulled Alexei away.

Coach wants you at the team meal tonight!” said Duke. “Wants you to celebrate with the team. Doesn’t want you slipping away with your beard and her brother tonight!”

“But we don’t want you there, do we Duke?” said Gracie. “Aristos don’t need you any more. We’re going up. You got us there but next season we’ll do it without you, you pervert. Think we don’t know why you hide in a separate changing room do ya?”

“I’m sure you don’t know,” said Alexei, suddenly uneasy. “Why are we heading out the back of the rink. I’m sure Coach said the team meal was at the Steam Shovel tonight.”

“Told you, we don’t want you there,” said Duke as he landed the first punch, right in Alexei’s stomach. “We had a good team, then you came along and started all the crowd baiting and stuff. Used to be the games were about playing well. We even had the occasional fight on or off the rink. Now, it’s a fucking circus and people don’t come for the hockey no more.”

“We’re gonna put a stop to it. We’re gonna put a stop to you. When we’ve finished with you, you ain’t gonna play hockey again, pervert,” said Gracie pushing Alexei to the ground amid a hail of punches and kicks.

“Wait, wait guys!” Alexei screamed. “I was going to retire from the team tonight anyway. You don’t need to do this. I was going to tell Coach and every one on the team.”

“What, that you’re a fucking boy lover?” asked Gracie as his meaty fist found Alexei’s jaw again.

“No,” Alexei sobbed, spitting out a mouthful of blood and a broken tooth, “That I’m a girl!”