I TOOK A deep breath and knocked on the door to Coach Collins’s office.
“Come in,” he yelled from behind the doorway.
I opened the door just enough to slip inside and closed it quietly behind me.
Collins looked up from his computer over his glasses. “Well,”—he leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers behind his head—“look what the cat dragged in.”
“Actually, it’s more like look what Brody dragged in. He told me you wanted to talk to me,” I joked, slowly making my way across his big office to the chair in front of his desk.
I sat and waited for him to talk, but he didn’t. He just stared at me for a long time. First, he studied my face; then he looked off into space and pulled his eyebrows in tight, deep in thought about something.
Finally, he cleared his throat. “I have four daughters, Finkle.”
“Yes, sir. I know that.”
“We had our first daughter and my wife and I were elated. We were over the moon for my second daughter too, though at that point I was already itching for a son. Then we had my third daughter, and I was convinced I could only make girls.” He leaned forward in his chair and took his glasses off, placing them down and folding his hands on his desk. “My wife was done. Three was enough. I begged her for one more. I knew I would finally get my son. After three long years, she agreed to try one more time. We got another girl.”
I laughed, nervously chewing at the skin on my fingers.
“Of course we love all of them, don’t think we could love them more if we tried, but at the time… I wanted a son. When I was hired to coach this team, I was thrilled, but not just because I got to combine my two loves, hockey and coaching. I was most excited about inheriting twenty-three sons.” He sniffed and cleared his throat again. “Two months ago, I didn’t just lose one of those sons to a tragic accident, I lost two.”
Do not cry.
“Finkle, you’re never here. And when you are here, you’re not here.”
I looked down, focusing on a dark spot on the front of his desk, and nodded.
“The big wigs have noticed, and they were here today. They’re concerned about your ability to play this upcoming season. They say you’re not dependable anymore.”
My eyes shot up to his. “I am dependable, Coach. You know that.”
“Do I, Finkle?” he snapped. “How would I know that? I know that we have workouts and practices and you’re always missing. I know that members of your team have called you and you’ve ignored them. I know that you’ve blown off not one, not two but three small charity functions this summer that you were scheduled to appear at.”
I bounced anxiously in my seat.
Am I getting fired?
“I know what happened with Big Mike has been hard on you, son. I get that. But the team has to move forward—” He paused and let out a heavy sigh. “—and if we can’t count on you, we’re going to move on without you.”
“Coach, you know how much this team means to me,” I pleaded. “I’ll do better.”
“It’s not me you need to convince, Finkle. It’s them. And right now they don’t have a lot of faith. They’ve decided in order for you to continue wearing a Wild jersey this upcoming season, you need to see the team psychologist, Dr. Shawn Roberts.”
My shoulders slumped and I rolled my eyes. “Come on! Are you serious?”
“Yes, Finkle. I am.”
“Well, I’m not seeing a goddamn shrink.” I stood up and ran my hands through my hair as I paced his office.
“If you won’t do this, then I can’t guarantee I can protect you.” His warning was stern.
I turned back toward his desk and threw my hands up in the air. “Can I have a few days to think about it?”
“You have twenty-four hours. If you don’t have an appointment set up with Dr. Roberts within that time frame, I’m not sure what will happen.”
The last thing in the world I wanted to do was lay on some shrink’s couch and have him judge me while I went on and on about my fucking feelings. How was that going to fix me anyway? I made a mistake; I just needed time to move past it on my own.
“I really don’t think this is necessary—”
“Lawrence,” he interrupted. “It’s not up for discussion.”
My hands balled into fists and I clamped my jaw down hard before I said something I was going to regret. I turned around and marched toward the door, grabbing the doorknob so violently I’m surprised I didn’t rip it right off the door.
“Remember, you have twenty-four hours, son,” he called out as the door shut behind me.
Really? Son? Fuck you.
I got into the elevator and punched the button for the lobby. I was so angry I could barely see straight. Who did those assholes think they were that they could make decisions for me? Why couldn’t they just let me live my life and do my fucking job? The elevator doors opened and I stomped out, barely missing a group of men standing right outside the doors, and headed straight for the parking lot. I just wanted to get on my bike and drive away. Far away, for hours, and not think about hockey or Mike or Coach Collins or therapists.
Once I got to my bike, I sat down but didn’t start it. I didn’t drive away. Where was I going to go? Even if I drove for two days straight, not only would my problems still be there when I got back, they would be worse.
I felt defeated, but I took my phone out of my pocket.
“This is Mia,” Coach Collins’s secretary answered.
“Hey, Mia. It’s Viper.”
“Hey,” she said, sounding sad. I was so sick of sympathy.
“Would you do me a favor, please?”
“Would you call that Dr. Roberts and set up an appointment for me?”
“Of course. Any specific day or time?”
“I don’t give a shit. Just set it up and text me with the details when you’re done, okay?”
“You got it, Viper.”
“Then go into Coach Collins’s office and tell him I have twenty-three hours and fifty minutes to spare.”
TWO DAYS AGO, Mia had texted me with the time and address of my meeting with Dr. Shawn Roberts. My meeting was in an hour and I was still lying in bed, dreading the thought of going to meet this asshole. I’m sure he was some cocky fuck who was going to tell me to take a deep breath and relax. I hadn’t even met him yet and I already hated him.
Finally, I forced myself out of bed and into the shower. The drive to his office only took me about ten minutes, and I was thankful for that. Small victories, right? I parked my bike outside a boring-looking brown brick building with boring pink flowers in a boring planter out front and checked my phone one more time for the message from Mia.
The elevator opened on the third floor, and I found suite 301 at the end of the hallway.
Here goes nothing.
I took a deep breath and hesitantly pushed the door open. I’d never been in a psychologist’s office before, so while I wasn’t sure what to expect, I kinda figured it would look like a regular old doctor’s office. I was wrong. There was one small couch and no receptionist. Frankly, the walk-in closet at my house was bigger than that office. There was another door on the far side of the room. A light switch next to it had a sign above it that read: Please flip switch up at your scheduled appointment time. Thank you, Dr. Roberts.”