**This is our gift to you, our readers. If you find a small error here and there be gentle… let email@example.com know and we can fix. **
I slid the paperwork to one side, and made room for my laptop, pulling up the statistics from the last game and staring. I seemed to do a lot of that in the two weeks since I’d left Carlisle. Not even the numbers were helping, and I could kick myself for the mess I had made of everything.
I should have just left Taz alone.
No rumors had hit me about a potential trade with him in the middle of it, but I’d holed myself up on this top office with the views of Harrisburg, and I wasn’t going to hear anything unless I actually interacted.
I uploaded the feed to the spreadsheet and ran my standard calculations, wincing when a peak showed I’d clearly entered a number wrong. Inputting Ten having a ten-goal game was the error, and he was good, but not that good. I retyped the one that should have been there and reran the routine.
Then I did some more staring, and Taz’s words were on repeat.
When I get back from this stupid road trip, I am driving to Harrisburg, and we are going on a date.
I hoped he didn’t. I wished he did.
I’d waited with anticipation when the road trip had ended. He hadn’t arrived or contacted me. Worse, he’d put up two hat-trick games, and it was as if being apart from me hadn’t affected his hockey at all.
So why am I so messed up?
That was an easy question to answer. Even though I knew it was for the best, actually a small foolish part of me, nestled deep in my heart, thought maybe there was a chance for us. Then my analytical brain told me that I’d finished it, and that was the right thing to do. Messing with our careers for an affair was something we shouldn’t just take off the table. No, we should push it to the floor and grind it to nothing.
I love him. He said he loved me.
I opened my messenger app, checking for messages.
“We’re done,” I snapped at my stupid inner voice.
“You talking to yourself, Mikey?”
I closed my eyes. Even with my back to him, I knew Adler would be there, smirking at me. He’d taken it upon himself to annoy me at every turn. Him and Stan both.
Stan visited every morning, with bagels, and sage advice. This morning it had been something about rubber ducks and tractors. Or at least I think that is what he said. Some of it was in Russian, and the rest was told with his tenuous hold of sentence construction and thick accent. I could handle Stan, mostly by smiling and agreeing with him. But Adler hung around way longer, and sometimes I think he did it just to annoy me.
“What do you want?” I swung my chair to face him. I asked him the same thing every day, and he always smiled at me and gave me an answer that was along the lines of ‘just visiting’.
This time he looked more serious.
“We have an issue with Connor,” he said.
Connor Hurleigh, Captain of the Railers, 82, 43, 35, 78, 49.
“Go away, Lockhart,” I went to turn back to my desk but stopped when he sighed.
“It’s an analytical thing,” he said.
I stopped and turned back to face him. “What?” I couldn’t help feeling suspicious, but in the last two weeks, Adler had peppered me with questions about everything from my opinion on deep dish pizza to the stats for the Dallas Cowboys. He always finished by saying that I should come down and skate and that it would help my head. And every time I told him the truth, I couldn’t skate very well, and it was statistically likely I would break something. This was a new kind of thing, and I couldn’t help being slightly intrigued. At least if I had a statistics problem, I could get my teeth into maybe I could stop refreshing the messenger app to see if I’d received a message.
“I think there’s an issue.”
Adler frowned. “Like I know what the issue is.”
“Then who sent you up here?”
He grinned then. “Coach Madsen,” he said.
“Why is the defensive coach worried about stats for one of our forwards?”
Adler made a low moaning type of noise, then huffed. “I don’t know, okay. They just need you to come downstairs. Call him if you want.” Adler gestured at my desk phone, but I was already intrigued enough to get my ass up and out of my chair, following Adler to the elevator and waiting for it to arrive. From the top offices to the coach’s room was five flights, and it wasn’t long before I was outside Coach Madsen’s office knocking on his door.
“Come in,” he said, and I went in to find him right behind the door.
“Have a seat,” he instructed, “I’ll be right back.”
I sat down, and the weirdest things began to happen.
First, it was Ten, who decided it was essential to explain how he and Coach Madsen were able to find support on the team and wasn’t that good?
Then Arvy was at the door, giving me a thumbs up, and saying that he was cool with everything.
Stan, in full uniform, unable to actually fit through the door, told me that Elvis did something or other and that birds fly in wiggly-piggly lines. Whatever that meant. I just nodded at him.
Dieter stood for a long time just staring at me, and then with a serious expression informed me that life was too damn short.
When Erik walked in, nodded, and walked out, I’d pretty much given up on understanding any of this.
So, I turned away from the door and resolved to ignore everything until Coach was back and we could have a rational discussion about Connor’s stats.
I should have known what was happening, I should have realized that this supportive, friendly, meddling, team had a motive in getting me here. I just wasn’t ready for what happened.
“Did any of that help,” Taz said from behind me. “I have Trent Hanson on speed dial if I need him.”
*a new episode appears each Sunday, check the master list for updates.