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Desire or Defense: Chapter 32

MITCH

WE MAKE our way back to the locker room once the game is over. My fist meets the metal of the door as I pass by it. Bruce, Remy, West and Colby stare at me. None of them dare to be the first one to poke the bear.

The air in the room is thick, laced with simmering tempers and regret. Or is that just me?

Everyone is quietly removing their gear, no one wanting to break the silence. Even Coach Young seems at a loss for words. I was off tonight, I get it. But so was everyone else. I wasn’t even the only one in the penalty box, although I spent more time there than anyone else.

Finally, West takes a step toward me. “You should’ve sat out, Mitch, taken a mental health day. We get there’s a lot going on, but you’ve gotta be real with us.”

I lunge for him, grabbing onto his jersey and causing both of us to topple to the ground. He’s really going to blame this entire game on me? I don’t think so.

I’ve wanted to mess up West’s angelic face for over a year now, and this is finally my chance. The only issue? I’m worn out, running on barely any sleep, and even my rage isn’t giving me any added strength. I’m spent.

And the thought of kicking West’s butt doesn’t give me the same thrill it did a year ago, anyway.

West easily shifts our weight to where I’m on the floor and he’s holding my arms down. “What the hell, Mitch? Do you really think beating the crap out of your own teammate is going to solve anything? Or make you feel better?” He starts to move himself off of me and I swing at him while he’s distracted.

West’s forgiving mood is gone now, he punches me back, right in the eye. I deserve it. Remy and Coach Young separate us. Coach lets go of West as soon as he’s on his feet again, but Remy keeps his hold on me.

West looks at me, he’s mad, but there’s another emotion there too. Like he’s hurt… not physically, but emotionally. “That article sucked, man. But we’ve all been there. That’s the shitty thing about constantly being in the public eye. We’re here for the world’s entertainment… even outside of the game. And sometimes fans can be cruel. But we’re here… look all around you.” He pauses, looking around the room. I do the same, my eyes catching on Bruce and Colby behind West, looking at me without any anger or judgment. “We are your family. We’re here to support each other. But we can’t do that if you won’t talk to us.”

Remy’s grip on me loosens. He gives me a friendly shake, like the Remy version of a hug. Before I can move away, Bruce and Colby are rushing toward me and wrap me in a giant hug.

I groan. “No, please no hugging.”

But I don’t fight to get away. It’s not an Andie hug, but I guess I’ll take it. After a minute, I brush them off, pretending to be annoyed. I have a reputation to keep up, after all.

“I-I’m sorry guys. Tonight was a disaster.” I scratch the back of my neck and look down at my skates.

“We were all off tonight,” Bruce says.

Coach Young scoffs. “You can say that again.”


We made it back to the hotel last night way too late for me to call Andie, and then this morning we got on our jet too early for me to call her. We have another game tonight in Thunder Bay, then a late flight back to D.C.

I can’t stand not being there with her to make this right. To tell her I’m sorry, to beg her forgiveness. There’s never in my life been something that would bring me to my knees, that would make me grovel and beg… but Andie? Yeah, I’d do that for her. I’d do anything.

I’m still miserable, but my anger has dissipated a little since West knocked some sense into me last night. And he’s right, the whole team has always been there for me, has always been my family in a roundabout way, but I was too stupid to see it. Or maybe I just didn’t want to. Maybe I wanted to wallow a while longer. But I’m done wallowing now. I want to live, want to love, want to do more than just survive. And I want to do it all with Andie by my side.

When we land in Ontario and get settled in our hotel before tonight’s game, I try to call Andie. It goes straight to voicemail. I can’t remember if she’s working today, or if she’s ignoring me. I deserve her silence.

I type out a text instead.

MITCH

Andie, I know I’m sorry isn’t good enough. My head has been such a mess, I couldn’t even think straight. Call me when you can. Please.

Settling in a comfortable armchair in the hotel’s lobby, I call Dr. Curtis. I desperately want to fix this, and to show Andie I’m here for her. But I don’t know how, and I feel like I’m going to mess everything up even more than I already have.

He picks up after two rings. “Well, good morning, Mitch.” His voice is calm like it always is. And I find myself wishing I was in his peaceful office.

“Hey.” I sit back in an armchair the hotel has in their lobby. It’s a Monday right before noon, so it’s completely empty except for me. “I need some help.”

“I’m glad you called. What’s going on?”

I explain to him the issue with the article, and how my manager is down my throat, and how I stupidly ghosted Andie for a day and a half. He hums every ten seconds or so, letting me know he’s still there and still listening.

“Well,” he says in his steady voice. I hear wrestling like he’s shifting in his seat. “It sounds like you know you reacted poorly, and that you need to make things right. The only way you can do that is to talk to her. Tell her how you’ve been feeling, how the anger took over, how you’re afraid it’s too much and she’ll abandon your relationship. Lay your heart out there, even if it’s hard. You have to be vulnerable.”

I swallow slowly. “And if she leaves me?”

He waits a few seconds before responding, “Focus on what you can do in the situation. Not what you can’t control. Love is risky, Mitch. You can’t make someone stay. But you can put in the work, and you can communicate with her.”

I nod my head even though he can’t see me. “Yeah, okay. You’re right.”

“Are you still listening to your audiobooks?”

“Yeah,” I tell him with a sigh. Not feeling better after this conversation… but also not feeling worse, I guess.

“Prepare your mind for the conversation with Andie, take a long walk, listen to your book, calm your mind.”

“Okay, I can do that.”

“Good,” he says, and I can hear the smile in his voice. “I have faith in you. And I can tell you really care about this girl. Whatever happens, remember you’re worthy of love, worthy of happiness.”

“Thanks. Hey, Doc?”

“Yes, Mitch?”

I roll my lips together, trying to get the words out. The words I need to say, but am not sure I really want to. “I know my mandatory anger management is done, but can I continue seeing you?”

“Of course.” If he’s surprised, he hides it well. “Should I save your Tuesday morning slot?”

“Yeah, sounds good.”

Fifteen minutes later, I’m changed into joggers, a long sleeved tee, and a puffer vest to keep my core warm. I turn on my noise-canceling headphones, then check my phone, seeing nothing from Andie. My heart sinks but I force myself outside for a long walk. It’s cold here in Canada, but at least it’s not snowing. My new audiobook is a self-help book about building healthy relationships and improving your emotional intelligence.

You know, just a little light reading to calm my stress.

Maybe I’ll go back to the smutty hockey one instead. I cringe at the thought.

Thirty minutes into my walk, my phone rings. My heart nearly leaps out of my chest when I see it’s Andie. I fumble around with my headphones, trying to figure out how to answer the phone while wearing them. Thankfully, I must tap the correct button because I hear her sweet, perfect voice filling my ears. I swear my heart rate calms just at the sound of her, and the stress of the last few days eases just a little.

“Mitch?”

“Andie, thanks for calling me back.”

She’s quiet, waiting for me to speak.

“I’m so sorry. I have a lot to say, I’m trying to find the words—”

“I’m at work. We’re swamped today. Can we talk later tonight?”

I release a heavy sigh. I wish I could go to her right now. But my contract with the NHL and all that. “It’s okay, don’t apologize. As soon as our game’s over tonight, we’re getting on our flight back to D.C. Can we talk tomorrow?”

“Okay, I’m off tomorrow.” She sighs. “I hate that we haven’t talked.”

“I know.” I shake my head. “I’m so sorry. I just—”

A voice comes over the intercom at the hospital. “I’ve gotta go, talk to you later.”

She hangs up before I can say goodbye.


Our game went better tonight. We won 3-2 in overtime. I feel like our defense, namely myself, sucked. So Bruce held us together by blocking forty-one shots from the Thunder Bay Thunderbolts.

How the guys stay focused when they have families back home is a new mystery to me. I always thought they might enjoy having a break, some time away. But no. It sucks. It really freaking sucks.

Being away from someone and trying to sort things out is excruciating. It’s so much simpler to talk things out in person, to see their face, their reactions. To hear their tone clearly.

We get on the team’s private jet exhausted and ready for a few days off. I’m not just physically exhausted, but mentally too. Probably because instead of sleeping at night, my mind has raced. West takes a seat next to me again. Rather than glare at him, I nod my head. A silent We’re good.

His words after our fight are still stuck with me. Look around, we’re your family.

This whole time, I chose to be blind to the family right in front of me. Brothers. A whole freaking slough of them. Half of them annoy the shit out of me, but still.

I don’t sleep during our flight. And I don’t go home afterward. No, I race to my vehicle and then drive straight to Jimmy John’s for some sandwiches.

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