Home > Jersey Girl (Sticks & Hearts #1)(9)

Jersey Girl (Sticks & Hearts #1)(9)
Rhonda James

So, for two days I divide my time between the frat house and the weight room, avoiding Scott like the plague. He texted yesterday, asking where the hell I'd gone. All I said was I didn't want to kick his kid sister to the couch. Little did I know he would see it as another noble gesture on my part. When he started praising me for being such a great friend, it was all I could do not to come clean. We've never kept secrets. We've never had to. Our whole group is like that. We're great as individuals, but even stronger as a team, which makes us a powerhouse on the ice.

"Cage, get in here and sit down," Coach calls out as I'm passing his office after a hard morning of practice. The first two weeks after summer are always an adjustment. Coach keeps us on a strict training schedule during the off-season. But coming back after being apart and trying to mesh with the new recruits always seems to take some getting used to. I mean, you've got the seasoned players who've already established their place on the team, then you bring in new guys who are itching to make their mark. Let's just say the trainers go through a lot of ice due to guys pushing too hard during those first few weeks.

I step into the room, and he motions for me to take a seat across from his desk. "How you doing, son? You looked good out there today."

"Thanks, Coach. It's good to be back."

Kevin Bishop's job involves much more than coaching this team of NHL hopefuls. For the past three years, I've been a part of this team, and he's taken on the role of surrogate father to a number of his players. Guys like me, whose own fathers are over a thousand miles away, often find themselves sitting in this very spot seeking advice or simply sharing minute details of our lives. I'll admit it's nice to know someone I respect so highly is always there for me if I ever need him.

"So, tell me about camp. See any future champions?" He smiles, and I spend the next twenty minutes telling him all about my week in Traverse City coaching a group of thirty hockey hopefuls, all under the age of eleven.

"Sounds like you had as much fun as the kids."

"Oh, yeah. I almost wish I could go back next summer. There was one kid who was really fast, and he was wearing my jersey. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty cool," I grin happily as I think about my week with Tyler.

"I'm glad to hear it. I knew you'd be a great fit up there." He's still smiling, but concern washes over his face as he leans forward and studies me. "Is everything okay? You look tired. You getting enough sleep?"

"Hardly. Rivers' sister transferred here this year, and is staying with us until she can get into the dorms. She's in my bed, and I'm on John's futon at the frat."

He throws his head back, and the rich sound of laughter fills the room. "Cage, you're the only guy on this team who would hand over his bed to a woman and then move out. So, when do you get your bed back? The dorms opened this morning."

"Yeah. Rivers and Ashley are moving her in this afternoon. All should be back to normal when I get home tonight."

"Well, okay then. Everything else going okay? Course schedule, family, girlfriend?"

"I don't have a girlfriend, sir." I shift uncomfortably in my chair. "And my family is good. Spoke with my brother a few weeks ago; he said Mom and Dad are good. "

"Glad to hear it, kid. So, why no girl?" He leans forward until we're eye level and clasps his hands under his chin.

I shrug my shoulders and sit back, putting some distance between us, though I still feel as if I'm being scrutinized.

"What's the point? I don't want to be tied down. I'm headed to Detroit after graduation. I'm slammed with hockey and classes," I give him a list of excuses. Excuses I've firmly clung to since having my heart broken at the beginning of freshman year. Coach remembers all the shit I went through with Vanessa. He knows how I feel about relationships, but I also know he worries about me being closed off to love. "It's just easier this way."

"You make it sound easy, but you can't hide from love forever. Sooner or later it's going to catch up with you. Then what are you going to do?"

"I don't know. Guess I'll just have to skate faster." I stand and make my way toward the door. "Thanks for everything. I better get going."

"Anytime, son. Hey, if you see Masterson out there, tell him to get his butt in here." I throw up a hand in acknowledgement and head to the locker room.

***

When I get back to my room, I find everything is just as I'd left it. There are even fresh sheets on the bed, and a note from Cassie.

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