Page 25 of The Keeper

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Vaguely, I hear the buzzer go off a few times. Only one am I certain is for me.

When the coaching staff calls time, I’m sweaty and out of breath as I look up and see that I only let in one goal, while Dante let in eight.

He stares, open-mouthed, at the scoreboard before pulling his mask off, letting it dangle from his fingertips as he processes the reality presented. He looks at me, and his expression turns from disbelief to frustration or anger before he turns and skates toward the edge of the ice, letting himself out, slipping on some blade covers, and disappearing down the tunnel.

As the other guys get their next instructions, I skate off, following Dante, finding him standing in the tunnel, forehead against the wall.

“Castellano,” I say on the approach.

“Fuck off, Lefleur.”

“Why do you let shit get into your head? It’s a drill and you acted like it was an Olympic trial.”

“Look, Manny got hurt and I thought it was my turn. I’ve been here, drilling, working, waiting. I stopped almost every shot in college but since I’ve been here, I can’t get the consistency I need to make first string and now some fucking whiz-kid comes in and there’s no hope at all for any real playing time. Again. I’d prefer they fucking trade me down to the AHL at this point. At least I’d get to play.”

“I don’t know how that feels because I’ve never been second string.” Castellano bares his teeth at me, which I interpret to mean I’ve said something stupid, as usual. Still, I continue, “But I do know how it feels to want something so badly. I want to go back to Montreal. I’m trying to convince them to take me back. If I leave, there’s an opening. You just need to get focused and be ready for when it happens.”

“Why the fuck are you so focused on getting back to Montreal?” He throws up his hands. “Trades are part of the deal in pro hockey. You got a platinum package coming here and this is a platinum team.”

“My life is there. My girlfriend is there. And I think she’s cheating on me. I need to get back to my life and my routine.”

Castellano chuckles. “If she’s cheating on you, you probably fucking deserve it.”

I shrug and chew on my bottom lip. “Maybe so. Listen, I’m not your enemy. I came here because I got traded but I’d leave in a heartbeat if it meant I could go home. I’m going to do my job here, but you have a job, too, which is to be ready for anything.”

He takes a breath and nods curtly, heading back out on the ice to finish practice. I follow, unsure if I’ve made things better or worse for myself.

* * *

Evan makesgood on his offer, asking me to grab a beer after practice. He can’t stay out long, as his wife and kids are waiting on him at home, but he doesn’t seem rushed as we grab a pint in the restaurant that’s attached to the arena. He asks me all about Montreal, says he’s never been there except for games. He tells me about how he met his wife, who worked for the Crush before starting her own public relations firm.

“I wish she’d come back. Scarlett is making me teach guitar to kids at Children’s Services Las Vegas as part of some stunt with the foundation.”

“Well, I can’t say I feel badly for you on that one,” Evan answers. “Even when I was my worst self, I still gave to charity.”

“What was your worst self?”

Evan runs a hand through his hair as he considers. “I guess I thought I was hot-shit. I treated women like garbage. I drank a lot.”

“Sounds like about fifty percent of the guys in hockey.”

“Unfortunately, it can be,” he answers with a slow nod, tapping fingertips against his glass. “All it takes is the right person to turn you around, I’ve found.”

“Mmm. Well, I thought I found that person, but it seems like she’s slipping away.”

“Tell me about her.”

“She’s blond. Petite. Pretty. Smart.”

Evan shakes his head. “No, I didn’t ask what she looks like. I wanted to know what drives the relationship. Why do you care about her? What do you love about her?”

I open my mouth, then close it. “Honestly? I need stability in my life. I need structure and routine. Less so, maybe, as I’m getting older, but I still need it. It’s part of my DNA.”

“You didn’t answer the question at all, man.”

I take a swig of my beer and can’t deny it. I suck at explaining my emotions.

My team captain then starts waxing poetic about his wife, and all the things he loves about her. I listen, but I’m not a big romantic, so it doesn’t sway me in any particular way. Still, I can see he truly loves her and his kids.

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