bonus chapter #4

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I shuffled off the elevator and down the hall to our apartment, feet lead-like from exhaustion. The uptight building manager dimmed the lights in the evening- claiming energy-savings, but we all knew that 'energy' was code for 'money'- and in the winter, the effect was gloomy.

It hadn't been my finest effort on the ice tonight. The end result had been our third loss in a row. Not fatal in terms of securing a playoff spot... but not a great streak for the first half of the season.

Our coach, Todd, was pissed and told us so, citing very specific and personal reasons why. Several of us were singled out... including me. I could own it— my focus wasn't there. Those pre-6am wake ups and the general lack of sleep all weekend probably hadn't helped. Or that specialist appointment looming over my head.

My pride was wounded from the chewing-out I'd received, but my head was still on straight. This, too, would pass. We still had time to turn things around.

That's not to say it didn't sting. It did. But I liked to think that I'd come a long way in terms of attitude. My first season was a different story; I didn't take the losses well. Frankly speaking, I wasn't all that used to losing.

College was a big fish, small pond scenario.
After, I had come to terms with the fact that I was plankton in an ocean full of sharks.

When we didn't make the playoffs that first year, it was a shock. I was crestfallen. Even though I knew it was stupid to have such high expectations as a first-year rookie. I sulked in my man cave for the better part of a week, coming out for minimal amounts of food, water, or the admittedly all too infrequent shower. Ryan had brought me trays of food, trying to tempt me, like some kind of prisoner on hunger strike. Eventually I came around, mostly due to her influence. She blushed whenever I said it, but Ryan was what kept my feet on the ground.

After I ended my hermit stint, she sat me down and read me the riot act- nicely, because it was Ryan, after all- and I finally saw the light. I realized that playing on this level, while frustrating, was making me better. Now, a few years in, my game was sharper than it had ever been, even if there had been some bumps along the way.

The change in perspective had been the key to staying sane ever since. I got my ass handed to me on a regular basis, and my ego had been checked accordingly. In the broader scheme of things, though. I was still delivering, and I was having fun doing it.

On nights like this, I tried to focus on the positives. Middle of the pack in the NHL was nothing to sneeze at. Besides, not many people got paid well to do something they loved. And no one else had Ryan.

In the scheme of things, I was lucky.

The key turned in the lock and I pushed it open, revealing a spotlessly clean apartment. Tile gleamed, counters shone, the lights sparkled. Ryan must have been working the entire time I was gone. For the life of me, I still didn't understand why she refused to hire a cleaning service. We could easily afford it, but whenever I brought it up, she just said that she didn't mind cleaning and that the idea of someone else scrubbing the toilets made her feel uncomfortable. I didn't get it, but I didn't argue.

Ryan skipped over to greet me as I walked in, a little smile on her face. "Hi!"

"Hey." I grabbed her by the waist, leaning in for a kiss.

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