Mark walked into the locker room, looked around, and spotted me. A huge grin swept over his face as he glided over to where I was sitting.
“I didn’t know if you’d make it tonight. How are you doin’?”
“Hey. I’m fine. I just didn’t sleep at all last night. I don’t know. It just happens sometimes.”
“No. Not really. From like one o’clock on or something.”
“Damn! Are you up for this?”
“I don’t know. I did sleep today, so yeah, I’m cool…I guess.”
“Cool. Anyway, I’m happy you’re here,” he said with that smile again. That smile that more or less melted me.
We took the ice and for a half hour the coaches skated our asses off. It wasn’t even funny. Everyone was panting. Folded in half.
The coaches set up the rosters, and when I skated over to my bench, I saw that I was without Mark, or Derek. I wasn’t too sure how things would go tonight, but maybe Derek got to say what he wanted last night. Maybe he’d stay off my back.
A few shifts into the scrimmage, Mark skated near me and said “be careful tonight Danny. Derek’s been talking about taking your head off tonight.”
That’s just what I didn’t need to hear tonight. Why is he such a prick to me?
A few shifts later, Derek and I were on the ice at the same time. They were holding the puck in our zone and Derek made sure he was close to me at all times. He was jabbing me, slashing, chopping, elbowing, and basically taking whatever cheap shot he wanted. There were no referees, so it was up to the coaches to decide when he’d gone too far. So far nothing was said to him, so I started to worry about where that line was in the coaches mind.
The puck squirted into the corner and I made a break for it, to try to clear the zone. Derek was right on my heals, and when I pivoted off the boards, he came crashing in hard, with his gloves right in my face. A for sure penalty. And plenty painful as well. But as I skated away from the collision, checking my jaw, to make sure it wasn’t broken, I didn’t hear a whisper from any coach toward Derek. I skated back to the bench, fairly pissed off about the flagrant injustice.
Over the next half hour, Derek continued to cheap shot me, every chance he got. He went as far as a cup check, which had me saying to myself, ‘one more cheap shot, and I’m gonna lose it.’
The very next shift, I cleared our zone and skated across my blue line to follow the play. I didn’t realize Derek was still behind me, until he chopped me right in top of my laces with the blade of his stick. I collapsed in agonizing pain. At the same time I heard the goalie behind me shout “HEY!,” and the coach shout from the bench yell “DEREK!” ‘Finally’ I thought to myself, as I tried to work my way back to the bench, dangling one leg. It hurt so bad, I was choking back tears, wondering if he broke my foot. I sat at the end of the bench, bent over, pissed off, and in no mood to talk to anybody. My coach came over to see how I was doing. I lied, and said I was fine.
I wasn’t sure if I could skate on my foot again, but I was seeing red. I just sat there for a while, watching the clock. One more shift with Derek. One more. That’s all I wanted. I’m not above revenge and he’s been asking for it all night. I stood up and it felt like my foot had more or less gone numb. I waited until there was about ten minutes left in the session, and I took another shift. I could definitely feel some pain in my foot, but my adrenaline was through the roof. I think it hurt a lot more than I was allowing myself to believe.
Once in a while the stars align themselves perfectly, and when you have a friend like Mark on the other team, knowing exactly what you want, and how to help you. What happened next was the universe smiling back at me.
Mark scooped up the puck behind his net and slashed his way into the neutral zone. He passed the puck over to Derek, who was skating along my side of the ice. I backed up a few strides and waited for Derek to close the gap between us. I waited for him to look down at the puck, to start his deke, and a stopped and lunged myself forward into him. I left my feet and targeted his head with every thing I had. A totally illegal hit. My fists powered right through his forehead and he slammed down to the ice like he skated right into a brick wall. I had never hit anybody that hard in my life. The impact to the ice knocked the wind out of him and his eyes were looking in opposite directions. He laid motionless for about thirty seconds, before he even realized what happened. He found his wind again and saw me hovering over him. Everybody else was stunned silent, kind of hanging around the vicinity. Nobody really knew what to do, or what to say.
I watched as Derek tried to put back together the last minute, and when he figured it out, he eyed me with intense hatred.
“You little piece of shit” he mumbled, as he tried to pick himself up off the ice.
I skated up to him, looking him dead in the eyes. “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT MOTHER FUCKER?! LET’S GO! LET’S DO THIS!” I screamed at him. My adrenaline still peaked. I would have fought him right then and there. I quit caring about the stupid tryouts. Them assholes let it get to this. Screw them and their stupid tryouts. I’ll play house league. I don’t care. I just want to settle this with Derek.
He stood shakily, and backed away from me a little bit. I pressed forward, but didn’t get to far before I was grabbed by one of the coaches.
“You! Locker room. Now. Derek. Bench.”
Suddenly, with my adrenaline deflated, I felt spent. The throbbing pain in my foot came flooding back. I started to slowly hobble my way back to the exit. My fragile emotions were a tangled mess. For the second time tonight, I found myself choking back tears.
A moment later, I felt my arm lifted up and slung over a shoulder, as another arm reached across my back, holding my waist.
“Let me help” Mark said, supporting my aching body.
He walked me all the way down the tunnel and into the locker room. Mark helped me sit down and sat down on the floor at my feet. He started to untie my skates and pull the tape off of my socks, covering my shin guards. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Mark quizzed.
“You are. I haven’t had anybody help me get my gear off since my dad, when I was like 6.”
“Whatever. You looked like you were pretty banged up.”
“Mark. I do appreciate the help. Really.”
He glanced up and gave me one of his smiles.
“You think they’ll be mad you left the ice to help me ?”
“Fuck em’. It’s their fault. They let Derek get way out of line out there. I don’t care what they say. I hope you gave that dickhead a concussion. That was an epic hit.”
“I got him pretty good huh?”
“Dude! It was lights out sister. Promise you’ll never hit me like that. Ok?”
“I’d never hit you like that. Ever” I protested.
“God. I’m worried what my foot will look like when this skate comes off. Probably swell up like a balloon.”
“Well. We’re about to find out” Mark said, while loosening the laces on my left skate. “Here it goes. I’ll try to be gentle, but this skate is like glued to your foot.”
He slowly worked my heel free, and gently rotated it over my foot. The slight movement caused me to suck in air between my gritted teeth.
“I need to take this sick off too, and put on another one. Ok? Then I’m going to get a bag of ice.”
He propped my foot on a chair from the corner of the room, and quickly started to remove his own gear. In less than two minutes, he was standing in just his boxer briefs, rummaging through his bag, to find his clothes. I had the perfect excuse to just watch him. And I did. I think he could sense this, as he flashed me a smile, while he pulled up the zipper on his jeans.
“I’ll be right back” he said, jogging back down the hallway.
“You got any tape?” Mark asked, holding a zip-lock bag of ice. “We should get this on your foot fast. Keep the swelling down.”
“Sure thing doc” I replied, laughing for the first time of the night.
Mark gently lifted my leg and taped the makeshift ice pack, and I sat there wondering how only a day ago, I was planning to shut him out of my life. It amazes me how my mind can get so twisted sometimes. To the point where completely stupid ideas, seem like sound decisions. I just got my dearest friend back into my life, after a long, painful separation. So why would I want to ruin it?
Just then we heard the players walking up the tunnel, to the locker rooms. One of the coaches redirected the players bound for the room we were sitting in, into a different empty room.
He walked up to Mark and I, “how you feelin’ champ?”
“Not too good.”
“The ice should help. Did you get that for him?”
“Good work. That’s what being a teammate is all about. Having your buddies back. Look. I’m sorry about what went on out there tonight. I should have been paying more attention. Derek skated for me last year. He’s a bit of a hothead. I want you to have that looked at tomorrow young man. If you can’t skate, don’t worry about it, ok? I think I’ve seen enough already this week.”
He said the last comment with a wink, and then left Mark and I alone.
“Dude! Did you hear that? He pretty much told you, you made the A team. Aren’t you excited? That’s so cool!”
“Yeah, well it’s only cool if you make the A team too.”
“Me? I don’t know dude…do you think I’ll make it too?”
“You would if I was the coach. You’re wicked fast and you score goals. It’s a no brainer for me.”
“Thanks Danny. That means a lot.”
Mark got up, grabbed all his stuff and told me to sit tight. He ran out of the room and I just sat there helplessly, trying to ignore the painful throbbing in my foot. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I sat there with my head in my hands, wanting nothing more than to get home and climb into bed.
From out of nowhere, I heard “hey killer!”
I looked up with a ‘huh?’ right as Mark snapped a picture of me with his phone.
“What are your digits Danny? You do have a celly, right?”
” yeah. It’s 612-###-####. Why the picture?”
“For your profile. Your picture will display when you call me.”
“Yeah but…I don’t have your number.”
“Oh. Well let’s go. I’ll help you to your car gimpy.”
“Just kidding. Calm down.”
Mark did help me all the way to my moms car. When she saw me hobbling along, with my arm slung over someone’s shoulder. She got out of the car and jogged to us.
“Dear god. What happened?”
“Mom” I complained. “It’s no big deal.”
Ignoring me completely, she continued on. “Here. Here. Can you get in ok honey?”
I plopped down into the seat, none too surprised by my moms overreaction.
“Thank you young man. This is very nice of you.”
“It’s no problem Mrs. Alvers” Mark replied, knowing my mom didn’t recognize him.
She turned to me and quietly asked, “Daniel? Who is this handsome boy? Is he a friend?”
She didn’t speak quiet enough for Mark not to hear. He stepped in by saying “it’s Mark…I used to live…”
“Mark? My goodness how you’ve changed. So grown up and so handsome. So nice to see you again. Danny was crushed when you left us. How is your mother? Tell her hi.”
Mark was starting to turn a shade of red, and appeared stunned by the barrage of questions being tossed his way. I bailed him out by saying “thanks Mark. See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. See ya Danny. Mrs. Alvers.”
He walked away and we drove off. The twenty questions started immediately. I was not too excited about the long ride home. About fifteen minutes later, my phone buzzed. I pulled it out of my pocket and there was a goofy picture of Mark, with his lips puckered for a kiss. The message read ‘now you have my number too.’
I texted him back ‘thanks. Nice picture btw.’
Mark replied with ‘do you want to sleep over Friday…and maybe Saturday?’
‘Cool. C ya.’
I was very excited to be invited to spend the night with Mark, but I couldn’t ignore that I was also nervous, and part of me flat out dreaded the idea. I would go, but I’d have to be careful to make sure I protected my secret.