25. friendtervention.

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"Tweet!" The referee's whistle screeched, snapping me out of a daze

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"Tweet!" The referee's whistle screeched, snapping me out of a daze. I was standing in front of the my team's net and I had no idea what just happened in the game. I'd forgotten I was even in the game.

As the blare of the buzzer followed, I realized that the other team just scored a goal-- right in front of my face. I had been so zoned out that I didn't even realize it happened, which was alarming. Shaken, I skated off to the side for a line change. Coach Jackson was waiting for me.

"Russell!" He barked. "What the hell was that? Did you even see the puck? Remember the puck, that round black thing you're supposed to be chasing around and shooting into the net?"

In truth, I hadn't. I was so consumed with thinking about Ryan that my head hadn't been in the game the entire period. It showed.

"Sorry Coach," I said apologetically.

"Take five and get your head together," he ordered me sternly.

Obediently, I sat down on the bench, grabbing my water bottle from the side. I had just been placed in an unofficial timeout— now, my teammates would be forced to take on extra ice time because of me.

Snap out of it, I chided myself. Pull it together.

I didn't have it in me to re-live what happened last year. Coach sure as hell wouldn't put up with it either. Any major slips and I would be off the team; no chances, no questions, no excuses.

But I already felt myself slipping.

And now I was going in circles. I couldn't date because I needed to focus on hockey; I couldn't focus on hockey because of Ryan; I couldn't date Ryan because I needed to focus on hockey (and also, she was my roommate). Rinse and repeat. It was like trying to untangle a ball of impossible knots.

One giant clusterfuck.

I tried to shelve it for the time being and skated back onto the ice after my five minutes ended, making a conscious effort to remain present for the remainder of the game.

In the end, the results were mixed: I didn't zone out again but my performance wasn't exactly stellar, either. It had been several games since I had scored or even facilitated an assist.

After I showered and changed back into my clothes, I walked out of the locker room to find Coach Jackson waiting for me out in the hallway. My stomach sank. I was dismayed, but also not overly surprised. I just hoped this wasn't the end of my varsity hockey career.

He motioned for me to join him in his office across the hall. Head down, I complied, sinking into in the brown leather chair across from his desk.

He cleared his throat and looked at me, scrutinizing me, before speaking. I felt like a kid at the principal's office.

"Russell. What's going on with you? There's been a real decline in your performance over the past few months. You went from my star player at the start of this season to acting like a third or fourth line forward lately. Frankly, it's disappointing."

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