I know, I know, it's been about forever. I was in the mood to finish up this chapter... hopefully, eventually, I'll finish the story. In honor of completing a history midterm, I award you all with this. Maybe there are still some people who remember this story out there.

Hope you enjoy.

Laura

Ch 5

Adam sat on the bench in the locker room in front of his locker. He took out the ever present roll of tape in there and turned it over in his hands for a few minutes. All of this had been his life since childhood. This had been his sports locker for the past four years. It was hard to think that he'd have to leave it behind.

As he began to tape up his wrist he heard the door open and someone walk in tentatively. Knowing that the Ducks were all out on the ice Adam figured he knew what it was.

"What is it you said Coach? That first day of JV practice. You have to know defense to have the confidence to deal with the curve balls life throws you off the ice?" he asked, finally turning to look at his coach.

Orion nodded and walked over to Adam. "That's about the gist of it," he said as he straddled the bench and sat next to the star player. He picked up the hockey puck that ways lying on the bench and began to turn it over in his hands.

Adam sent his coach a wry smile. "I'll take it this was what you were talking about."

Orion let out a sigh and hung his head before looking at the teen again. There was something else in Adam's eyes that hadn't been there before. He couldn't really pin it down.

"Not exactly. I hate to lose one of my best players."

Adam let out a bitter laugh. "Yeah well, no real way around that."

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Orion asked, laying a hand on Adam's shoulder.

Adam paused for a moment, but it wasn't necessary. He knew he needed this more than anything else. One thing to prove to himself that he still had it. "I want one last time with the team Coach. Please don't begrudge me that. This is practice, we all go easy on each other. After my recent stay in the hospital they're going to go beyond easy on me." And that was a truth that hurt. He didn't want to be anything different to them than he had always been, but there was nothing he could do to change that.

Orion gave him two strong pats on the back and stood. "Alright, suit up and get out there."

"Thanks Coach."

Adam sighed and focused on his locker again. The way the gear was stacked, the jersey. "Guess this is it." He wondered if he could ever manage to really let it go. In a few minutes he'd be later than he wanted to be. "Let's get to it."

~*~

An hour later everyone filed off the ice and into the locker room. Everyone was busily giving Adam pats on the back and telling him he'd be up to snuff in no time. Julie was just looking at him with her big eyes as if she was trying to figure out what the right thing to do was.

Eventually she walked over to him and tapped him lightly on the shoulder with the end of her stick. "Not half bad."

The team was half way to dressed when Charlie took the front of the dressing room. In order not to miss his little speeches, Julie and Connie made sure they were always wearing stuff under their uniforms that made it easier.

"Alright guys, today's practice was good. It's crucial now if we want to be our best to work as hard on our issues as ever before. If you see a problem with someone else, please don't hesitate to bring it up. Everyone should be ready and willing to accept constructive criticism from other members of this team and use it to their advantage.

"I've known you all for years, so I know how you play, you know how you play. We can all tell when someone else is not at their best and we should all feel free to point that out. It's not an insult, it's honesty."

Jesse's hand instantly shot up. When Charlie finally nodded at him, he spoke, "So if I were to tell you your triple deke is a bit off you'd honestly consider it?"

Charlie narrowed his eyes and glared at Jesse as some of the others began to chuckle. "But it's not."

"I thought we were supposed to be open," Averman piped up.

"Yeah man."

"Is it a problem?"

"Not really," Jessie said with a grin. "Just keeping you honest Conway."

"Thanks. Now for schedules and the roster for the playoffs as coach has given me."

Adam looked from Charlie to his watch, to Charlie again, to Julie, back to Charlie and his watch again. There was no prolonging the inevitable. "Hey Charlie, let me have a moment."

Charlie stopped a bit surprised but smiled and stepped back. "Sure Banks. The floor is all yours."

His eyes locked with Julie's and he watched recognition spring into her eyes. He'd explained what he was going to do to her, and now he needed her to ground him for this speech. "This is a lot harder than I thought. I never thought I'd have to do this, but I'm going to have to ask you guys to take the State Championship without me this year."

"What?"

"No way."

"You kiddin Cake eater?"

"No."

Tears started to prick his eyes. "Hey, I hate this. I... I figured this year we'd take the Championship together one last time as always, but plans don't always work out the way you think they're going to. I met with the doctors who ran my tests the other night, and they've diagnosed me with non- Hodgkin's lymphoma. Cancer." He heard the gasps of his teammates, but couldn't bring himself to look up at them. "In a few moments my mom is coming by to check me into the hospital. I held her off for as long as possible to take my last practice on the ice with you guys..." he smiled, and added, "and girls. I've played on other teams before, but I've never felt as at home or loved my teammates so much as this one and I'm glad I got to play one with you all one last time. Play hard, fly straight."

Feeling the urge to get out of there as quickly as possible, he grabbed the duffle and left the room before anyone could really react.

Julie felt all eyes fall on her in Adam's absence, and realized why he had wanted to be out of there so fast. "Yeah it's true. I... I've gotta go."

And she sprinted off after him, leaving the rest of the Ducks alone to sort out what had just happened.

Julie rushed out of the building and saw Adam sitting on the curb with his duffle bag next to him. She jogged over to him and sat down on the curb.

"You're still here," she breathed out, trying to get her breath back. She had needed to just be with him again, and hadn't realized it until he'd walked out of the locker room.

"Yeah. I don't think Mom was sure what time we'd be done." A slightly sad small smile was playing on his lips. "I half expected her to have been here and come storming down to drag me out."

Julie took a moment and let her head fall on her shoulder. "It's going to feel so odd to finish out the season without you," she said, and tried not to let tears fall down her face. She was going to be strong for him. It was the least she could do. "I'm used to seeing you fly over the ice and score from my position in the goal."

"You'll do fine, and I'll be there." His arm snaked around her shoulder and his hand began stroking her softly. She wondered why it was Adam who was comforting her when it should have been the other way around. "If I can't be on the ice I'm at least going to be there."

"Good." She nudged him slightly, if she was feeling more sure of everything she would have socked him in the shoulder, but things were different now. "You better be there in the box with Coach when we take the State Championship."

"Of course."

Julie lifted her head to look up at him. "You'll call me when you're settled and stuff right?"

"Yeah."

The distinct urge to hit something that had been building in her since they had heard the news welled up. It was better than tears. She leaned her forehead against his. "I hate this."

"Preaching to the choir."

"Adam!" Mrs. Banks' voice called. The couple looked up to see her car directly in front of him. "Sorry, but we really have to go."

"Yeah Mom, I know."

He looked back at Julie as if he wasn't sure. She clapped a hand on his shoulder. "Go. I'll be here." She stood with him and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I love you."

Adam took her head and kissed her on the lips. "I love you too," he whispered.

Then he was off and into his car, throwing his duffle in the back seat and not looking back at it. Julie watched as he and his mother squabbled over something or other, it seemed like she wanted to buckle Adam's seatbelt for him.

Once the car started rolling away Adam leaned out and waved at her. Julie found herself lifting her arm and wave back without really thinking about it. She waved until the car was out of sight and then she found herself sitting back down on the curb in a near collapse. Finally she allowed herself to bury her head in her hands and let the tears come

~*~

Connie sat on a bench out in the local park wondering what exactly was supposed to happen next. Things like this didn't happen to people like Adam. He was a good kid, with a really good life, great friends, fabulous talent and a girl like Julie. He was the kind of guy everyone wanted to hate, but you couldn't because he was just too damn nice about things. Some would say that it was karma for having good things happen to him. But he didn't deserve it.

And Julie sure as hell didn't deserve it.

"Hey."

Connie lifted her head and looked up at Guy standing over her. She managed a half smile for him, all the while wondering why all of a sudden he was open to talking to her. "Hey."

Guy was focused on his feet and she watched him kick at the ground. "So I was thinking. I've been stupid. I miss you Connie, and not in a romantic sense, but in a friend one. Just being around you." He looked at her finally and gave a half shrug. "Some dreams die hard you know? Especially ones that you've been having for years. And now with Adam and everything..." Guy took in a deep breath, "everything is up in the air and I don't want to let our relationship get to a part where we can never get it back. So what I'm trying to say is, I'm sorry."

Connie looked down and shook her head. "Guy, you don't have to apologize."

"Yeah, I do," he said, sitting down next to her. He went to put his arm around her but thought better of it. Instead the ended up folded in front of him. "I mean it was stupid, building the rest of my life around you. No one finds the love of their life when she stops their heart walking in to their kindergarten classroom."

Connie flushed, flattered. It wasn't often that she was seen beyond a girl jock. "It's not really stupid. But you did? Plan your life around me?"

"Yeah." Guy wasn't looking at her, and pulled his shoulder in a careless shrug. "It's just some stupid thing."

"Tell me about it?"

He gave her a look that said he thought she was crazy. Knowing she could get it out of him, she pouted and then grinned when he sighed.

"Fine. We were going to get married on a hockey rink, I'd just won the Stanley cup. You were coaching a local girls hockey team while trying to get Women's hockey made professional. And we'd be wearing our hockey jerseys, me my dark one, you a light one. And I told you it was stupid."

Connie could almost see it. It was probably something he had decided when they were ten and had never deviated from. "It's sweet. I would have had to put my foot down and do it my way," she told him flatly, and got a laugh out of him, "but still sweet."

Guy's laughter died out and she caught him biting his lip. "So, I'm guessing we're friends again?"

Connie smiled at him in reassurance. It never made any sense to her how a guy like Guy, who was gorgeous and exceptionally talented, could be so insecure at sometimes. "I don't think we ever weren't. Not really."

He grinned back at her. "Sounds good to me. Just one request."

"Yeah?"

Guy looked pensive all of a sudden and he looked out at her with serious eyes. "I don't want to know about guys in your life alright? Not yet at least."

"Alright," Connie said with a nod. She'd known that would be it, and she understood. It was something she would have wanted had the roles been reversed.

"Cool," he said, sending her a lopsided grin she'd missed all too much. Connie tried to block out the feelings of longing that were sprouting up inside her.

"Want to go shoot around? We've got a massive hole to fill in the next few games, we should probably practice."

Connie smiled at him. "I'll skate circles around you Germaine."

"We'll see. You're not bad," he paused a beat before adding, "for a girl."

Connie narrowed her eyes playfully as she jumped to her feet. "I'm not a girl, I'm a Duck."

"You're both," Guy said smiling back at her. "It's what makes you good."

Adam couldn't help the bitter feelings that were flowing through him. It was a beautiful late February day and while his friends got to hang out and do as they pleased he was stuck in a white sanitary room with a tiny rectangle for a window. It felt like a prison and he wondered what crime he had committed to get sentenced here.

He was shaken out of his thoughts by his mother asking, "Do you want me to stay sweetie? Because I can."

Adam looked up from his spot on the bed. She was still standing by the closet where she had been putting away some of his clothes. He could see the worry lines that were beginning to cover her face and got the distinct impression that she wanted to be here just as much as he did. "It's alright Mom. You have places to be."

"No I don't, really. I just--"

"Go," he interrupted. "I'll be fine."

She came over and hugged him gently. He could tell she wanted to hold him tighter but was probably too afraid to hold him any tighter as if she would break him. He hated that treatment from just about everyone. Julie had missed the opportunity to sock him in the shoulder earlier, something she never did. He didn't want things to change between him and everyone else because his body had decided to attack him.

He waved her out the door and then sat down on his bed. The other side of the room that he figured must belong to his roommate had flowers and a few pictures. Adam decided he might as well take out some stuff to make his side of the room less dreary.

A few minutes later an orderly came in the door with a boy in a wheelchair. The orderly left him in the middle of the room, gave Adam a smile and a nod before backing out.

The other boy stood rather shakily and managed to make it to his bed. Eventually he turned his head towards Adam and extended a hand. "Hey, you must be Adam. Jamie."

"Hey," Adam said, taking the guy's hand and shaking it. They dropped hands and just sort of watched each other. Uncomfortable Adam spoke again. "Sorry, I'm not exactly sure what to say."

"It's alright. Not much one can say."

Adam sat on his own bed. "So what are you in for?"

Jamie laughed a bit. "That's what it feels like doesn't it. Second go round with Leukemia. You?"

"Non-hodgkins lymphoma."

"Lovely." Jamie's gaze began to fall over all of the stuff Adam had laid out, hockey, pictures of the team, of his family, of Julie. "Whoa, knockout there."

Adam looked at the picture of the smiling blond girl. "Yeah. That's Julie."

"Cheerleader?"

Adam looked at the picture he'd put out on the bed stand and tried to equate the word cheerleader with the girl in the picture. He burst out laughing. "Please," he managed through gasps, picturing the look on Julie's face if she were called a cheerleader, "never ever let her hear you say that."

"What? I figured guys like you dated cheerleaders."

That stopped his laughter. "Guys like me?" Adam asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Jocks," Jamie clarified.

"Some sure," he said with a shrug. "Luis mostly. Julie is the goalie on my hockey team. Best in our league really. Best all around."

"For now."

Adam heard the comment and chose to ignore it. He didn't want to think of things that way, but a part of him already was. Here he was, trapped in a place where time only mattered for sleeping, eating and medication, while the world outside was going to pass him by. It really felt like only a matter of time