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I’d never seen someone look as miserable as Alfie did right now. The rest of the team loved having the twins with them. Goog had spent more time with Emma and Carlo than he had warming up. They’d been joint winners of the fan appreciation contest, ten years old, and they did everything together as the Rush agreed to there being two winners. Their parents were watching from behind the glass, season ticket holders, and both grinning widely. The kids were now trailing Goog and Taz around the ice, giggling and so damn happy.
In fact the direct opposite emotion to Alfie who was muttering to himself in net, demanding that people shoot at him, and generally not getting involved with the kids. There’s only so much rudeness that people can attribute to a goalie being weird. There was weird, and then there was rude, and Alfie was more than offensive. I noted that some of the younger guys stayed well away from him, right at the center line, not one of them made an effort to skate around the net, and Goog and Taz were doing an excellent job of keeping the kids away from him.
What the hell? No wonder the Rush was having personnel issues if Alfie was this bad when he’d specifically been told he had to have a happy attitude.
There was nothing happy happening in that net.
When everyone trooped off the ice, I waited for Alfie at the side. He was the last off, as usual, stomping up the ice as if it had wronged him.
“A word, Alfie,” I said, and he met my gaze with a mutinous one of his own.
“Later,” he said, and went to move past me.
I gripped his arm to stop him. He was taller than me in skates, padded to within an inch of his life, but I still found skin and I held so tight he couldn’t get away.
“Now.” I used my best official voice, the one that had helped Stan get his family back from Russia, the one that people didn’t argue with. He’d pushed back his helmet, and I could see the flare of anger in his eyes, and I just stared him down. He tried to pull away, but I didn’t let him go until finally the anger in his eyes died and was replaced with resignation. Then I released him, and he followed me past the changing rooms and to the same place we’d had our last heated debate. I closed the door carefully. Deliberately.
“Talk to me.”
“About?” He couldn’t quite look me in the eye, and I waited until he did, and watched as his cheeks grew pink. “What did I do now?”
“I think the email we sent was specific about how the team was to act on the ice, is there some reason you feel you’re above the rest of them.”
He stayed quiet.
“Are you better than Taz? Or Goog? Should you be up in the NHL with the Railers, do you resent your team? Do you hate your team?” I pushed and pushed and abruptly he snapped.
“I don’t hate the team,” he shouted. “I love the Rush.”
“You could have fooled me,” I snapped back, just as loudly. If he wanted to take the volume of this up to everyone being able to hear him, I would be happy to do that. The kids weren’t close by, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought of my methods.
“I don’t like children on the ice,” he said, even louder. “They shouldn’t be on my ice; we should be concentrating on the game not dragging little ones around the ice like we’re having a family skate.”
He looked a little taken aback like I was messing with him. “They shouldn’t be out there,” he emphasized.
“That’s not your decision to make. That is my decision, and you will grow up, and do as you’re instructed.”
He bristled and cursed again, and then switched to French. I knew he’s trying to trip me up, but I was ready for him.
“This team is fucked up,” he shouted. “Where is all our money, what do we do now? Are we losing our jobs? Will the Railers drop us?”
The questions came out in one long flow, and I abruptly understood a little of what might be going on in his head.
“Is that your issue? Is that why you’re so angry all the time? I’m trying to save this team, and you’re blocking us at every turn. What kind of idiot are you?”
He pressed his lips tight and then shoved past me to leave the room.
No fucking way was he getting out until we’d gotten this done. I had twenty minutes, he wasn’t the starting goalie tonight, and he wasn’t leaving until I knew what was going on in his head. We struggled for control of the door, him using his height advantage, me knowing exactly how to bring the big man down. We wrestled and spun, and then I had him.
Pinned to the ground, sitting on his chest, gripping his hands and pressing them to the ground.
“No more,” I said. “No. More.”
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