And The Fox Declared to the Hound…

Tuesday, September 3rd

Tuesday, September 3rd

It’s been two days since the break-up. I haven’t seen Connie at all since then. I’ve seen Dwayne once or twice—mostly he’s been glaring daggers at me. Still upset at me for upsetting Connie, no doubt. I don’t know if the other Ducks know, yet. I don’t know if Connie and Dwayne have said anything to them. I don’t know if I’m ready to face them. I know I’m not ready to face Connie. But ready or not, I don’t have a choice. Our first practice is today.

I dawdled around in my room, waiting until the last possible moment before heading over to the ice rink. Somehow… I just don’t have the heart to play. I haven’t had the desire to since last year. It makes me wonder how much of my love of the game came from Connie. I still feel so empty…

When I reach the locker room, the team is already half-dressed. I walk to my locker and start opening the lock, very much aware of the utter silence that descended the moment I walked into the room. Oh, they know all right. The question is, what did Connie and Dwayne tell them? The silence is oppressive, I feel like it’s choking me. But I can’t break it. My own voice is too small, too weak. It doesn’t belong here.

My suddenly numb fingers fumble with my skates, unable to tie the laces. They won’t stop shaking… The rest of the team finishes with their gear and files out of the locker room. Not a one of them says a word to me, though Charlie stops to pat my shoulder on the way out. I’m grateful for that one gesture, it gives me the strength to finish getting myself ready. I have a feeling I’m going to take a real pounding on the ice today…

I stand up and take my helmet and stick from my locker. Banks is waiting for me at the door. I curse under my breath. I’d forgotten all about his weird behavior at the end of last year. It wigged me out something awful and I didn’t look forward to a repeat performance. But for some reason, since it’s just him, my voice isn’t choked off in my throat anymore. I even manage to make it sound halfway cheerful, “Hey, Banks. How was your vacation?”

And damn but I forgot how annoying that little smile of his is… “It was fine. We stayed at my uncle’s house in the country. I’d forgotten how much family I have, though… It seems to get larger and more daunting every time we go over there.”

And there he goes with being talkative again. This guy makes no sense. But it’s so nice to hear someone’s voice directed at me that I’m willing to overlook the strangeness of it all. I even manage a genuine smile for him, “That’s great, Banks. I’m glad you had fun.”

He smiles back, then proceeds out to the skating rink. I don’t feel quite as alone anymore… maybe that was the point. I screw up my courage, and with Adam’s smile and Charlie’s silent support firmly in my mind, I go to join my team.

It starts to go wrong from the very beginning. After warm-ups Coach Orion assigns us to teams for a brief scrimmage. It’s me, Goldberg, Fulton, Tyler, Mendoza, Banks, and Averman on one team, and Charlie, Portman, Kenny, Gaffney, Connie, and Dwayne on the other. Oh brother… This is going to be fun… I’m not on the ice more than a minute when Dwayne first checks me into the wall, not too hard, just hard enough to let me know he means business. Once the game gets moving my team gets control of the puck. Averman’s heading down the ice with it, sees me, and passes it. Mistake. I get my second check into the glass. This time I get the wind momentarily knocked out of me.

I take a quick breather under Coach Orion’s watchful eye. He’s not going to say anything, not unless it gets out of hand. Charlie’s got the puck now and he’s heading down the ice straight for our goal. Fortunately for our team, Banks gets in his way. I push myself back out onto the ice, ready to get back in the game. Seeing me in scoring position, Banks passes the puck my way. Stupid, stupid, stupid. That’s the third time in four minutes that I’m down on the ice with Robertson smirking over me. I’m getting a little sick of this.

Banks skates over to me and holds out a hand to help me up, “Are you all right?”

I can’t help a small growl of frustration, “Peachy.”

He frowns, “Dwayne really seems to have it out for you today. He isn’t usually that physical a player…”

“Yeah, well…” I feel a sudden insane urge to laugh… or cry… I’m not really sure which, “I suppose the feeling’s mutual. I’ve had about enough of falling down.” Banks claps me on the shoulder, we line up in the center of the rink, and the game starts up again.

This time I’m ready. If Robertson wants to turn this into a damned wrestling match, then so be it. The minute he has the puck I go straight down the rink at him. He doesn’t even see me coming. He goes down hard against the boards. By the time he’s up, I’ve already got the puck halfway down the rink. He’s after me in a heartbeat, fury practically radiating from him. Just in case he manages to catch me again, I pass the puck over to Russ. Dwayne sails by me in pursuit of the puck. Too late. Russ already put it in the goal. One point for our team. I give Russ a high five on the way past. I gotta learn how to do that knuckle-puck thing one of these days…

Back to the center. Charlie gets the puck and takes off with it, Mendoza in hot pursuit. Unfortunately, Luis still has trouble stopping from time to time… like when he hasn’t been practicing all summer… Before the Hispanic boy can crash into him, Charlie passes off the puck to Connie. Being the closest one to her, I move in to try to intercept the pass. At this point, I’m not even thinking about relationships, or break-ups, or vindictive new boyfriends, I’m just caught up in the game and homing in on the puck. I intercept the puck and try to take off with it… but Dwayne’s stick gets in my way. I try to break my fall and nearly break my wrist for my trouble. The dull ache lets me know, in no uncertain terms, that I’ve done a number on it—a sprain at the very least.

Coach Orion finally blows the whistle. By then I’ve pulled myself to my feet and gotten my glove off. My wrist is already starting to swell up. Terrific. I yank off my helmet with my good hand and glare over at Dwayne. Even Connie looks a bit upset. Oh wonderful, he’ll probably blame me for that, too… Coach Orion skates over to me and examines my wrist. I can already see the anger in his face. He turns to Dwayne and says, very calmly, “Care to explain what the hell just happened here?”

Dwayne shrugs, “I’m not sure, Coach. It looked to me like Germaine tripped.”

Charlie’s the first one to protest the obvious lie, “Probably because you stuck your stick under his skate, Dwayne.”

The coach motions for them both to be quiet, “Guy, I want you to go get an ice pack for that wrist, all right? Then come back in here and take it easy for a bit.” With a pat on my shoulder, he dismisses me and turns back to berating the rest of the team.

Once I’m out of view of the others, the silence returns with a vengeance. I’m starting to feel numb again. The others may not have been out to get me like Dwayne was, but they didn’t stop him from doing it, either. And now this… I struggle out of my pads and skates and grab an ice pack, wrapping it painfully around my left wrist with an ace bandage. I cradle it in my other hand and firmly tell myself that I’m not going to cry. It’s just a sprain. It doesn’t hurt that badly and it’ll heal in a week or so. Faster if I’m careful with it.

Deep down inside, I know that isn’t what hurts so badly… What hurts is the alienation, the feeling that even among my friends, I no longer belong. What a horrible feeling… I don’t really want to go back out there, but if I don’t, someone will surely come after me. There’s no help for it. Cradling my injured wrist in my other hand I make my way back out to the rink. The others have resumed the game and I sit quietly down next to Coach Orion.

He wordlessly examines my wrist, then turns his attention back to the game. I figure that’s the end of it, until I hear his quiet voice raise in question, “So, you want to tell me your version of what happened out there? It’s not like you to be so clumsy on the ice, Germaine.”

I shrug, not really willing to talk about it, “I haven’t practiced much this summer. I guess I tripped.”

He gives me a sideways glance and frowns, “You know how I feel about people lying to me, correct? Especially members of my team.”

Hunching down over my wrist to avoid his eyes, I nod. He sighs, “Well, then whatever is going on between you and Dwayne, I hope that you can get it straightened out. You’re just lucky we don’t have a game coming up. There should be enough time for that to heal before our first one. Just be careful with it, OK?” Another nod. He smiles, claps me on the shoulder and says, “Go on. Get out of here for a while. I’ll see if I can talk to Dwayne later and find out what his problem is.”

I leave without another word. I know damned well what Dwayne’s problem is. But I’m certainly not going to tell Coach Orion. I make my way slowly back to my dorm room and flop down onto my bed. I don’t really want to do my homework. I don’t really want to do much of anything. Maybe a nap would be a good idea… Before the thought is even complete in my head, I’m fast asleep.

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