AN: Yes folks, an actual update. Let's see if I can finish this story this time (encouragement will definitely help on that front). Actually, I'm curious to see if I even have any readers still out there. Thanks to Jenn1 for the inspiration to get back to this story.
The ceiling of my bedroom was boring to look at but other than shutting my eyes it was the safest place to look. I had insisted that my blinds stay shut, not wanting to look outside as I was trapped inside for time being. Seeing my hockey gear only reminded me that I wouldn't be skating for awhile. I didn't feel like reading, the book that I had picked up after Dwayne's phone call lay beside me on the bed, and as I wasn't in much pain in my current position I didn't feel like tempting fate by moving.
There was a knock on my door.
"Come in," I called, not looking away from the ceiling.
I heard the door open. "Are you up for visitors, honey?" I heard my mom asked.
I shrugged my shoulders, which was a mistake as the movement hurt. I only hoped my mom didn't notice my wince of pain.
"I'll send them up then," she told me, retreating from the room but leaving the door open.
As I listened to her retreating footsteps, I wondered about her plural use of the word visitor. The only one of my current teammates that I could think of that would stop by was Alex and she had already told me that she wasn't going to be able to make it until this evening. There was a time when I would be expecting the Ducks but not now, especially as my father had banned them from the house.
Slowly, I eased myself into a sitting position. It may have been comfortable but whoever had come to see me, I wasn't about to face lying flat on my back. Trying not to cause my ribs to protest too much, I moved the pillows against the headboard and scooted back in the bed a little. By the time I heard footsteps on the steps again, I was settling back against the pillows and headboard and hoping the pain would ease up soon.
There was definitely more than one set of footsteps coming toward my room, and to my surprise it was Charlie, Jesse, Guy and Connie who entered my room.
"What are you guys doing here?" I asked.
"Checking on a friend," Charlie replied without missing a beat as he lead the small group into my room.
"But my Dad. . ."
"Is out of town and your mother said we could stop by," Charlie said, cutting off my protest.
I allowed myself to smile with that explanation, glad that my mother was on my side.
"Unless of course you don't want to see us," Charlie continued, sounding unsure.
Jesse, Guy, and Connie were hovering around the door, clearly not sure if they should continue into the room or not. I started to see that perhaps my greeting hadn't been as welcoming as it should be.
"Of course, I just wasn't expecting you," I replied, waving slowly for the other three to come further into the room. I hoped I was successful in hiding the pain the movement caused.
"Your mother didn't tell you we were coming?" Connie asked, as she Guy and Jesse moved from the doorway.
I shook my head, as Charlie sat carefully down on the bed next to me.
"I guess maybe she wanted to surprise me," I added.
"Looks like that was accomplished, huh Cake-Eater," Jesse commented, a huge grin on his face.
"Congrats on the win last night, by the way," Guy replied, the first one of us to actually mention the game.
"Thanks," I said, though I didn't feel the same elation as I usually did over a victory. Maybe it was because I knew my victory meant my friends had lost.
An awkward silence fell over the room after that reply. I tried to think of something to say to fill it but nothing came to mind.
"The others are going to stop by at different points today," Charlie finally said. "Bombay suggested we split into groups and not overwhelm you all at once."
"It'll be nice to have more visits to look forward to throughout the day," I replied, smiling and feeling relieved. The fact that they wanted to come see me at least meant that they still cared.
"So, you planning on using this to skip some school?" Jesse asked, a grin on his face.
"Not if I can help it. My doctor said I can go back on Monday if I feel up to it, but the real test is whether or not my mom is going to let me."
"Man, I think I'd milk it as much as I could," Charlie replied. "I hate school."
"It's not so bad," I replied.
"Spoken like a true preppy," Charlie joked back.
"Hey, leave him be. School isn't all that bad," Connie interjected, siding with me.
The earlier tension had seemed to have left us, and the five of us continued to chat about little things for awhile. I even remembered to give them the news I had gotten from Dwayne that morning. As I expected, they were all ecstatic which made me only more wishful that I was still a part of the Ducks, a loss last night and all.
Eventually, Jesse, Guy and Connie said they were going to leave. They promised to spread Dwayne's news to the others. Instead of leaving with them, Charlie hung back. The footsteps of the other three were just fading away when Charlie broke the silence their departure had left.
"How are you really feeling, Adam?"
His question caused me to look at him, trying to figure out exactly what he wanted to know. Did he want to know how I was feeling physically or did he know I was holding something back. I decided to take the easy route.
"I'm sore, but I'll be fine," I told him, downplaying how bad the pain was. Honestly, the way I felt right now, following the doctor's orders for the weekend was not going to be a problem. "I'll come back from this injury just like I did the wrist injury out in LA."
"We both know that's not what I'm talking about," Charlie replied.
I looked away from him, both wanting to tell him how I felt and afraid to less I alienate Charlie. Though I would consider the Ducks my friends, Charlie was without my best friend these days. I knew if I loss his friendship then I might have problem with the rest of the Ducks.
"Talk to me, Adam," Charlie insisted. "Apparently, you've been talking to Dwayne."
I looked up at him quickly. Was he upset that I was talking to Dwayne about what was going on.
"I needed to talk to someone," I tried to explain. The statement sounded defensive even to me.
"I can understand that but why didn't you feel like you could talk to me too? I mean, I can tell you haven't been happy. Every time any of us ask you about practice or a game you give the shortest answer possible and try to change the subject. Are things really that bad?"
"My team hates me, Charlie."
"Come, on. It can't be that bad. We didn't exactly give you the warmest welcome last season either."
"Maybe not, but you guys didn't take pleasure in checking me as many times as possible during practices either. I'm taking hits from players that are suppose to be on the same scrimmage team as me. Practices are like playing against Iceland. It's not limited to the ice either. The scraped hands weren't from tripping over a rock like I claimed. I ran into McGill and a couple of other guys in the neighbor hood and McGill tripped me."
"Adam, you should've told me."
"It's not like you could've done anything. Fulton might make a decent body guard at school but we don't exactly live in the same neighborhood."
"True, but you don't have to deal with everything alone. There might not be much we can do, but we'd at least be willing to listen and maybe Gordon . . ."
"No!" I told him, sitting up. I immediately regretted the action as my ribs protested the sudden movement. With a groan, I sank back against the pillows. I tried to take shallow breaths as I waited for the pain to pass.
"Adam?" Charlie asked, clearly concerned about me.
"I'll be fine," I managed to get out, even as he reached out and laid his hand on my arm.
"Should I go get your mom."
I shook my head. The last thing I wanted to do was worry her for no reason. I was relieved that Charlie didn't make a move to leave my bedroom.
"I just moved to fast," I told him a couple of minutes later as the worst of the pain faded away. "You can't say anything to Coach Bombay, though Charlie," I added, returning to the line of conversation we had been having. "All getting the coaches involved will do is make things worse in the long run, not that Reilly would actually do anything. He's been turning a blind eye in practice as it is. My best bet is to just try to steer clear of McGill and the others as much as possible."
Charlie did not look convinced.
"That should be easy for the next few weeks," I told him. It was the one bright side I had found to my injury.
Charlie was clearly not amused at my comment.
"I don't see what else I can do. The league's ruled and I'm a Hawk but all my teammates see is a traitor. I'd quit if I thought I could get away with it, but my father would never go for it. The way I see it, I'm stuck for the next two years. With any luck, when I get to high school things won't be so bad," I told him, trying to sound upbeat. I didn't think I was too convincing.
"I almost wish the injury had sidelined me for good."
"You don't really mean that," Charlie said, making me realize that I had spoken out loud.
I looked at him. There was no taking the words back now. "I do Charlie. The game isn't fun any longer and my father doesn't care. All he's worried about is me being on the best team and impressing scouts. He doesn't care about me. He couldn't even bother to come home from his business trip when I was hurt and he doesn't care that I'm miserable or that the Hawks don't want me on the team. He's keeping me away from my friends. Nothing I do is ever going to be good enough for him. If an injury ended my chances at making pros then he would have to accept that and I'd be free to do what I want to do, not that I know what that is any longer."
Reaching up, I wiped away a few stray tears that I hadn't been able to hold back. I hadn't even gone into that much detail when writing emails to Dwayne. I felt Charlie squeeze my arm with the hand that he hadn't yet removed but he didn't say anything. I couldn't blame him. I don't think I would know what to say in his place either. Still, the gesture at least assured me that I wasn't alone.