#31DaysOfWriting: Third Man In

Line Change

The shower’s pelting hot water prickled over my skin and helped loosen my aching leg muscles, strained from ten rounds of suicides, one of Coach’s favorite ways to round out a less than 110 percent practice.

“Pepe’s or Jim’s?” Scott shouted over the sound of the showers.

“I’m thinking Jim’s fries,” I called back.

“I’m going to head over with Mark and Tim and get a table,” Scott said. “Take the Nova.”

“Keys?” I stuck my head under the stream of water.

“In your jacket pocket.”

“See you in fifteen.” I rubbed the soap out of my eyes and just stood there enjoying the hotness of the water.

“You could make it in ten if you’d get your butt out of the shower,” Mark yelled.

Suddenly I was doused with two buckets of cold water. “You guys suck,” I yelled, jumping out of the shower.

“So we’ll see you in ten,” Tim called out. They were still laughing as they left.

I pulled on my Michigan sweatshirt and picked up my Michigan baseball cap. I’d signed a National Letter of Intent with Michigan in the fall, so my senior year was free and clear of decisions and dilemmas. Well, just about. There was still the matter of where Christine would land next fall. Originally, back in the spring, Christine and I had agreed to apply to four schools in the same areas, (we’d initially agreed to the same cities but we found out pretty quickly just how hard that was; art and hockey scholarships don’t exactly attract the same people), and make the final decision after all the visits were done and we’d gone through the application and interview process. But over the summer, I’d spent a lot of time on the phone with the coaches from Michigan and B.U. and I knew that they were the only real choices for me. I figured Christine had to know that, too, that those were the only two schools of the four I’d applied to that I was seriously considering. I mean who wanted to play hockey at Cornell. Or Northwestern. Especially when B.U. and Michigan were knocking down your door to get you to play for them. I’d only applied to Cornell and Northwestern because Christine was applying to Parsons and the Chicago Art Institute; obviously I had no intention of going to either of them.

If Christine hadn’t realized that in the spring and summer, she figured it out this fall, when I signed with Michigan and the local news stations covered it all. To say she was pretty ticked off would be putting it mildly; until that moment, I hadn’t realized my sweet, gentle girlfriend was capable of raising her voice to such an earth-shaking decibel. I responded the only way I could think of — I assured her that the National Letter of Intent only reserved me a spot and that I was under no obligation to go to Michigan next fall. It wasn’t a complete lie. I could still decide on another school, but I would forfeit two years of eligibility and have to sit for two years. That wasn’t really part of my plan, and I figured I had my senior year to convince Christine that Michigan was the place for us. I curled the brim of my Michigan cap and pulled it on my still-damp hair with a smile. I was a Wolverine and that was pretty cool. They’d won eight national titles and were easily one of the most respected and talented clubs.

“See ya, Coach,” I called out as I passed Coach’s office.

“Hey, Miller, got a minute?”

I took a couple of steps into the small, cramped office. No matter how many times I’ve been to Coach Wagner’s office, I can’t help thinking that he looks out of place there. Maybe because of his physical build — he’s easily 6’4”, 240 pounds, and extremely broad shouldered; he almost looks like a professional linebacker. He was still wearing his blue and gold jogging suit.

“What’s up, Coach?” I took off my hat and ran a hand through my hair.

“How do you think the guys would react to some new talent?”

I shrugged. “Mid season? Would be a tough sell.”

“What about you?” He pushed back in his wooden chair, tilting it back on its thick spring-hinge. It gave in easily under his weight, and almost seemed in danger of snapping right off. He clasped his hands behind his head and rested his left ankle on his right knee.

“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “Seems kind of risky.” I curled the brim of my hat with my hands. I looked at him knowingly. “What’d Scott think?”

“Didn’t ask him.”

I nodded.

“No sense getting him worked up until it’s definite.”

I nodded again.

“Someone dropped a name in my lap, Ben Walker. Just transferred in from Boston. I said I’d think about it.” He looked down at the clipboard on his desk. “Looks good on paper, but I’d have to see him play.”

“I met Ben this morning. I didn’t know he played.”

“He was in his fourth year on varsity,” Coach told me, glancing at the clipboard again. “Like I said, he looks good on paper.”

“Maybe he’ll give us an edge.” I shrugged. “If the guys are on board.” We both knew Scott wouldn’t be an easy sell.

“Maybe,” he said as he tossed the clipboard onto the desk. “Maybe I’ll bring him in and run him through a couple of practices with the team,” he said.

“If he’s good the guys might go for it,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure. We’d been playing together for four years. We had a rhythm. I turned to leave, then looked back at Coach, who was studying the information on the clipboard. “What’s he play?”

“What’s that?” Coach asked, looking up at me.

I wasn’t so sure he hadn’t heard me, but I played along. “Ben. He more of a defensive or offensive guy?”

“Let’s see,” Coach scanned the information on his clipboard. “Oh yeah, here it is. Offense.” I didn’t say anything. “He’d be a help on the front line maybe,” Coach added.

I looked at my watch. “Anything else? Scott and the guys are waiting.”

“You going to Jim’s or Pepe’s?” Coach asked.

“Jim’s.”

Coach stood up and stretched. “I’ll give you a lift,” he said.

“Got the Nova,” I told him, jingling Scott’s keys.

“Riding in style,” he said with a nod. “Go on then get out of here. And don’t be giving my wife a hard time.”

Coach’s wife, Martha, was the regular waitress and owner of Jim’s.

“Can’t make any promises,” I said with a smirk.

Coach picked up his clipboard and, speaking mostly to himself, noted, “Miller, several rounds of suicides.” He looked at me, grinning. “Better get a good night’s sleep, Miller.”

I laughed and started down the hallway.

“Oh, hey,” Coach called behind me, “don’t say anything to the guys about Ben. I’ll talk to them when I know something specific.”

“Sure.” I put my Michigan hat back on.

Let’s Chat

What do you think the guys’ reactions will be to a new guy on the team? I’d love to hear your reader perspective. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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