Chapter 1. Oakley
As my team skates off the ice for the final time this season, I choose to stay behind to do one last lap around. For most of my teammates, this is just the end of another winning year. To me, this is the last time I will ever skate in this arena as the Captain of the Penticton Storm. I can’t help but let myself feel a little nostalgic. This arena has been my second home for the past three years.
The bitter cold nips at my skin through my thick jersey as I look out into the empty stadium. Endless rows of beyond uncomfortable brown seats look back at me as my eyes try to memorize every last inch of space. It was this place that helped me truly rediscover my passion for hockey. It’s where I watched my mom and sister scream and shout with their cheesy signs at every game. It’s where I met so many special people. It’s the place that showed me that I could, and can be a leader.
Piles of white snow are scattered in my path as I continue to skate my way around the rink.
It’s peaceful. The only sound to be heard comes from the ripping of the ice under my skates and my short, ragged breaths as I push myself around the boards. It’s rare for it to be silent like this—quite a contrast from the screaming crowds during a game or our head coach’s angry screams after a heart-wrenching loss.
I reluctantly step off the ice after a few more minutes and walk down the long hallway that leads to our muggy, sweat coated locker room. I pull the door open and almost smack right into Andre, my best friend, and our star defenseman.
Andre turns and slaps me on the back as we walk side by side over to our cubbies. “So, this is it, eh?”
“I guess it is,” My shoulder’s drop almost immediately when I see the hurt flash across his auburn colored eyes. “You won’t miss me that much; you boys can carry your own,” I add hastily in an effort to lift our spirits.
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re way too humble?” He raises a brow at me and lets out a loud chuckle.
“Last time I checked, you preferred when I’m humble. Something about not stealing all the ladies away from you?” I tease before sitting on the bench in front of my cubby.
His eyes widen for less than a second before he covers his shock with his usual flashy smirk. “I just tell you that to make you feel good, buddy.” Sitting down beside me, he began to unlace his skates. “I am slightly worried that I’ll lose my touch without my number one wingman, though.”
I roll my eyes and scoff playfully. Andre doesn’t have any issues in picking up women. I’ve known him for fourteen years and I’ve never seen him with the same girl twice.
“You know that you don’t need my help in that department, but hey, maybe this is a good thing. It might give you a chance to pay attention to the stuff that really matters. The team is going to need a new captain.”
The panic in his features is immediate as he reels back from my comment. “You know how hard It’s going to be to try and fill your shoes. I’m already trying to get the defensemen to spend less time chirping and more time actually defending. I get a headache just thinking about keeping that entire shitstorm of a team focused.”
I grab his shoulder and give it a tight squeeze. “Just think about it, man. You know you have my vote.”
“Hey, don’t be getting too sentimental on me Oakley, I’ll see you Thursday, yeah? Don’t you dare bail on me!” Standing up from the bench, Andre hikes his hockey bag over his shoulder and heads to the door.
“Wouldn’t dream of it; see ya, man.” I wave him off, not missing the eye roll he throws my way before swinging open the door and heading out. As I’m yanking my jersey over my head, Coach yells for me. I quickly change into a pair of sweatpants before heading to his office. “What’s up, coach?”
I watch as he sits down behind his desk and motions for me to take a seat on the grey two-seater couch that rests against the opposing wall.
“Hell of a season you boys played. You’re not the same kid you were three years ago, thank god,” he laughs.
I flop down on the couch before placing my hands behind my head. “I think you owe yourself a clap on the back for that one, Coach.”
His contagious laugh fills the room before he settles back against his leather chair. “Sure as shit I do. I take full responsibility for your success as Captain.” Ah yes, the joys of being captain. Don’t get me wrong, I love the team, and I’m honored to have been the guy everyone looked up to, but man does it get draining. Both physically and emotionally.
“Don’t go getting cocky now, old man,” I chuckle.
Looking over at all the team pictures scattered across the room, a burst of pride shoots through my chest. The last three years of my life were spent playing with the same guys, learning from each other as we dealt with the encouraging wins, and the agonizing losses until we eventually moved on to win our first Western Canada Cup together.
I’m going to miss it.
“Do you know what team you’re heading to yet?”
“Yeah, Vancouver. Not too far from mom or Gracie. It seemed like the right fit.” I look down at the pen on his desk and study it like it’s the most interesting thing in the world.
He gives me a pointed look. “Vancouver? I thought you wanted to go out to Ontario? You know your mom wouldn’t want you to give up your goals for her or your sister.”
I internally groan. Of course, he wasn’t going to leave it alone. “It doesn’t matter what my mom wants, they need me,” I say shortly. This is really the last thing I want to talk about right now. Ever since my father passed away when I was thirteen, I had taken over the responsibility of taking care of my mom and little sister, Gracie.
A twenty-two-year-old driving home from a party drunk as all hell ran a stop sign and rammed into the driver’s side of my dad’s truck. He was killed on impact. Watching my mom struggle, to be a single mom, trying to keep both of her kids in their desired routine and hobbies was one of the hardest things ever. It wasn’t a hard choice for me to make to help her out, as best as any fourteen-year-old can. But I knew that there was no way I was quitting hockey; I live and breathe the damn sport. It was, and always will be my passion.
I get that from my dad.
I remember sitting on the couch with him eating pizza and watching Hockey Night In Canada every Saturday night in our Vancouver Warrior’s jerseys. The silly old man never could pick a good team to cheer for. Even at the age of seven, I knew they were a shitty team, but they were his favorite, and that’s the only thing that ever mattered to me. Some days are harder than others, but we make do.
“Oakley? Are you listening to me?” Coach asks, annoyance written clearly on his worn-down features.
“Sorry Coach, what did you say?”
“I said, what do you plan on doing once you have been drafted? You know you’re going to have to leave them at some point. This is your dream.” He’s giving me that familiar determined stare, trying to convince me to change my mind.
Too late for that
“I haven’t thought that far yet. I don’t want to think that far yet,” I say while looking down at my shoes. I am far too drained for this conversation. “I really need a shower, coach, I’ll be back this week to get all my stuff. We can talk about this then.”
He lets out a long sigh, but nods reluctantly. “Go on then. I’ll see you next week. You did good tonight.” I force a small smile on my lips and give my head a nod before quickly rising from the sofa and leaving the office.