A/N Thank you to my amazing beta, Robzbeanie. Same day – that's seriously impressive! Also big thanks to Tor for prereading! xoxo
After work, I settled in at the pub for a beer. As usual, I sat alone. The place had started off packed with the regular five o'clock crowd, but it quickly trickled out – 90% of the guys going to hockey, the other 10% going home to their wives who had had enough of the commitment.
After I slammed down the last inch of foam from my beer, I walked to the arena. The snow was deep and it was cold, but nothing in Twilight was ever far.
I'd passed by the arena many times since I'd been back in town, but this was the first time I'd stepped inside. To say I was shocked would have been an understatement. The smell of deep fried food and the pungent sweat smell of damp hockey equipment sat permanently in the air. Thick, black rubber matting that was curled up and torn at the edges covered the floors, and picnic tables were spread all over the lobby with the words "fuck," "hi" and various other profanity scratched in the multiple layers of bright paint. Surrounding the ice surface, the boards were scuffed and covered in age-old advertisements that had peeled and faded. Most of the companies listed as sponsors had long since gone under. Flags were hanging from the roof above the ice surface with the names of every minor hockey player in each age group for the last 15 years – the once shiny white banners now a dull shade of yellow.
The changes I saw in the Twilight Arena were definitely not for the better. The place was falling apart at the seams. A benefit to this event Charlie was working on was that it would bring income to the town – and damn, did they ever need it.
I headed towards the top row of the bleachers, hopefully out of sight of the players down below. A mishmash of multi-coloured practice jerseys skated around the ice in a series of drills. The guys had to start out on one end of the rink, skate through pylons with the puck and line up a shot on the net. Then they moved to the other side, where they started a series of conditioning drills – jumping over the blue line, dropping to their stomach and getting back up, skating backwards. Overall it was simple, straightforward, amateur stuff.
After they finished their drills, they split into teams for a scrimmage. I picked out certain players right off the bat. Emmett was a big guy on a regular day, but when you added skates and equipment, he was huge. His downfall was speed – some of the heavy skaters had no problems getting around him with ease. Jasper was completely the opposite – the guy was insanely fast, but he lacked control. His head was always down, and stopping was not a strong suit.
Jacob was probably the best player of the bunch. He was well-rounded – a combination of speed, size and skill. I had never really been close to him, but over the years he had seemed like a decent enough guy. Unlike many in the Twilight crowd, he wasn't a big drinker, focusing on school and now his job. It was reassuring to see that there was at least one person who could possibly stand up to some of the pros, but I still wasn't entirely convinced.
"So, whaddya think of my boys?" Charlie asked, surprising me as he clamped a heavy hand around my shoulder.
"I don't know," I mumbled.
"Better than you expected?"
"Well ya, but–"
"Dad – I brought you hot chocolate!" Bella's voice called out from the bottom of the bleachers. She had her hair tucked up under a fuzzy green toque, her long parka swallowing up her petite figure. "That you, Edward?" she called out as she tried to peek around Charlie.
"Hey," I said with a dorky half-wave. Why she made me feel like such a loser, I didn't know.
"Sorry – I should've grabbed you one, too, but I wasn't sure you'd make it. How's it going out there?"
"Looking pretty good, today," Charlie grunted, as he folded his arms across his chest. "They just need some polishing up, but the talent's there."
"Jacob's good," I added, trying to be somewhat positive.
"Do you think you're gonna help?" Bella asked, her eyes peeking up at me as she took a sip from her steaming foam cup.
"I, uh–" I stalled. "What are you thinking for commitment?" I directed at Charlie, drawing the focus off myself, allowing me another few seconds to think.
"I'm thinking practice every night after work. These boys need their jobs, and we can't be takin' from that. I know you're hesitant, but what do you say you try it for the first week? Bring out some drills, guide the practice a bit? And if you hate it, you'll have helped anyway."
"What's there to hate?" Bella asked, confused. "I thought you love hockey – Charlie's been talking up your stats all week!" Charlie rolled his eyes at her, crossing his arms tighter across his chest. He looked almost embarrassed.
"I don't hate, I mean – I do. Love hockey. I'm just out of it. Out of practice. I don't even know," I stumbled. I was such a loser. "Alright – I'll try it out for a bit," I finally caved.
"Good. I'm glad, Edward. Why don't you come out tomorrow – get at this right away," Charlie nodded.
"Sure. Tomorrow's good," I replied.
"Oh hey–" Bella cut in. "About your knee – Charlie told me all about it, and I just thought I'd tell you – I did some work as a physio assistant while I was in school. If you ever want to run through some new exercises or anything, I could maybe help a bit?"
That was a surprise. My injury wasn't something I liked to talk about at all, but coming from Bella, combined with the genuine offer, I didn't feel as angry about it as I normally would have.
"Um, thanks. I'll keep it in mind."
"Ok, well, I'm getting a poutine. See you guys in a bit!" she smiled, and headed off.
Charlie and I watched the last little bit of the practice without much more conversation between us. After the guys left the ice, we headed to the canteen for a burger and to catch up with Bella.
I stuck around out in the lobby, not too sure what to do with myself. Part of me wanted to leave, but staying felt like the right thing to do.
A few minutes later, the guys started filing out from the locker room. Emmett waved to me and headed in my direction, his bag loaded with equipment strung over his arm, his curly hair stuck to his head with sweat. Jasper followed behind him, but kept his distance.
"Dude – you still fuckin' reek," I groaned at the stench radiating off him. It was an ongoing joke that dated back to when we were kids – Emmett's equipment always smelled the worst. "I thought you'd have outgrown that by now."
"Smell of success, Cullen. You see that goal out there?" he beamed, his goofy grin lighting up his face.
"That cheap shot? Pfft," I teased.
"So what's the scoop with you? I saw you talkin' to hottie-Swan and Charlie up there. You doing this thing?"
"Yeah, I'll be out there tomorrow. Just coaching – maybe just temporary," I shrugged.
"Well, alright. Sure you've got some tricks up those skinny-ass sleeves," he joked, punching me in the arm. "See ya tomorrow, eh?"
I waved at Emmett and gave Jasper a nod, which he returned, then spotted Bella chatting with Jake by the canteen counter. He was leaning right into her, and they were studying something closely on the palm of his hand. It bugged me. Badly.
"Looking good out there, Jake," I said from behind him, hoping to break them apart a little. It was crazy of me, but I felt jealous. I had no reason to be jealous. I was such a mess.
"Oh shit, Edward! How are ya? Thanks man! See what Bella did for me today?" he said as he thrust his palm in my face. "I sliced it open at work." A thick gash with crooked black stitches stretched out across his palm.
"Dude," I murmured.
"I was just making fun of her 'straight line'," he teased, giving Bella a light jab to the side.
"Hey – the cut was crooked!" she cried. "And don't – you'll get your sweat on me," she scrunched up her nose and pushed him aside. "Go pick a table. I'll grab our food." Jake gave her a salute and made his way to the condiment station with a spring in his step.
"You guys are friends?" I asked as the gears in my head started moving. I knew that Bella was newly back in town, and by the looks of things, the two seemed close.
"Me and Jake? Oh, yeah. We go way back," she smiled, though she looked a little confused at my question.
"Nice 'handy-work' there," I said stupidly, immediately wanting to face-palm myself.
"Ha! Good one. I'm not the best with stitches."
"But you know some stuff about physio?"
"Yeah, some," she shrugged. "Why don't you come by the health centre? We can look at the exercises you're doing now, and see if I have anything to add. It's probably a good idea if you're gonna be skating again."
I considered her offer. It meant more time with her, and I wanted that. I was drawn to Bella – her upbeat personality was infectious – such a contrast to the usual dull and dreary of Twilight.
"Ok, I will. I haven't put on skates since I was hurt. It's probably a good idea."
"Yeah, Carlisle told me. Maybe tomorrow?"
"Sure. Looking forward to it," I nodded, feeling cheesy and ridiculous.
"Bella – I'm gonna eat all your cheese!" Jake called out from across the lobby.
"Ok, I'd better go – I'll see you soon, Edward. "
As I trudged through the snow on the way back to my house, I tried to wrap my brain around what bothered me so much about Bella talking to Jake. I knew I was being a fool – I liked her. I didn't know her, but I liked being around her. She was hot and smart and I was sure that any guy with a dick would think the same, but there was something about her that was magnetic.
Then there was Jake. She said they were friends, yet I couldn't help the jealousy. Jake had a lot to offer – he was well liked, a hard worker, a decent-looking guy. I could see how she'd be attracted to him, and frankly, she was probably better off. What she would see in a bitter, sorry-for-himself reject like me, I didn't know.
Inside the front porch, I tossed off my heavy winter coat and dug around in the back room through my equipment. I pulled out my helmet and shin pads, then dug out my skates. I was tempted to head back to the outdoor rink – which was basically just a bumpy frozen pond surrounded by plywood – for a lap or two, but my skates were so dull that it would have been pointless. I was nervous about stepping foot on the ice again, and the last thing I needed to do was fall flat on my face in front of everybody.
I stuffed my gear that I'd need for the practice in a smaller bag, and headed inside. Carlisle wasn't back from the health centre yet, and Esme was curled up on the couch with a book. She gave me a little wave as I stomped upstairs, but otherwise went back to her story.
I decided to pass the rest of the evening with a half-empty bottle of Royal Reserve and some of my old practice and game video tapes. I needed to come up with some sort of practice plan – if I showed up unprepared, there was no way any of the guys would take me seriously. I had skills to teach them, but this wasn't peewees – it was grown men, and they would all smell bullshit a mile away.
I popped the first unmarked tape in and sat back on my bed, taking a long burning swig from my bottle. I remembered the practice on the tape immediately – it was recorded to be used as a recruitment video and was complete with cheesy dance music. The drill we were running was called "Tight Area Horseshoe." Players lined up on either side of the rink between the blue lines. Goalies and nets were placed at both sides, right next to the boards. A handful of pylons were staggered in front of each lineup, and a coach and assistant were to stand directly beside the net on either end. This drill ran fast – players would carry the puck through the pylons, do a full lap around the circle at centre ice, then drop their puck, accept a pass from the coach and take a shot on net. It was a much quicker pace than anything I'd seen at the rec practice that evening, and I was sure it would shake up the Twilight crew. I marked it down on a pad of paper I had stashed beside my bed and fast forwarded.
Several more tapes – and several shots of whiskey later – I felt like I had a well-rounded practice mapped out. I was looking for a finishing drill – something challenging, but fun – and came up empty-handed. I popped the last video in my stack into the VCR and flopped back down.
"Only two minutes left in the third period – tied up solid at 3 – Cullen passes to Cheney – dodges Newton narrowly at the blue line. Are you kidding? – backhand to Crowley – Crowley stalls at the blue line, passes to Cullen – he's in, he's going–"
It was too late to change it. I knew what was coming.
"And Cullen's rocked by Newton! Cullen's down! Newton scoops the puck – Cullen still isn't up – this could be serious, folks – and the play is stopped!"
It hurt just as much hearing it again. I got up – numb, but not nearly enough – and slammed my hand into the VCR. When that didn't stop it, I jabbed at the power button as if it was the source of all my problems.
It figured – just as I was starting to feel good about something, another thing had to come and shit on my parade. I guzzled down the last of my booze, and without even cleaning myself up for bed, I buried myself under my blankets, begging sleep to take over and get me out of my own head.
My apologies for the wait on this chapter! I've been focusing most of my time on finishing up The Ranch, but the good news is that it is very close to done, so I'll have much more time for Hockeyward. Yay! Thank you for reading and reviewing – I always love to hear your thoughts! xoxo