Comeback

By: Catherine Gayle


It wasn’t just me they would have to trust to catch them, though. Dropping from a height like that, you had to bring together at least six or seven guys and everyone had to work together to get the job done. So it wouldn’t be too bad. They couldn’t all rush in to save the day and prevent me from proving they could trust me again. I tried to shake off the sense of dread that had overtaken me as soon as I learned what we were doing, tried to convince myself that it would all be all right.

“Let’s split up into three groups,” Bergy said. “Zee, why don’t you take point on that?”

Zee was Eric Zellinger. He’d already been part of the Portland Storm for a few years before I’d joined the team, and he’d been named captain during my rookie season.

He started off by putting himself, Brenden “Soupy” Campbell, and Keith Burns—his two assistant captains—in charge of the three groups, and then he split all the boys apart. I ended up in the group with Soupy, as well as Riley Jezek, Colesy Paxton, Levi “501” Babcock, Marc “Danger” d’Aragon, Nate “Ghost” Golston, and Radar Cernak. It was a good mix of guys who’d been around and guys who were new to the team—and it was also a mix of guys who weren’t necessarily close to one another.

In fact, as I looked around, I realized that all the boys had been separated from their closest friends, the ones they would trust the most. Zee wanted to be sure everyone was really on board with what this exercise was all about, then.

After we listened to instruction about how we should link our catching arms and the distance we should be from the faller, Soupy led our group to one of the risers. “Who’s up first?” he asked.

Danger raised an eyebrow at him. “You’re up first,” he said matter-of-factly. “You’ve got the A. You’re in charge of this group. You show us how it’s done.” Danger was an agitating winger, a guy who’d been brought in for some leadership and experience and tendency to get under the opponents’ skin, and for the two Stanley Cup rings he had, more than for his goal-scoring ability. He was in his late-thirties, and he’d seen and done it all. He may not have been on our team long, but when he said something, everyone listened.

It shouldn’t be Soupy who went first, though, and I knew it. It had to be me.

I was trying to get them all to trust me again, but there was no good fucking reason why any of them should trust me if I couldn’t show them that I trusted each of them implicitly.

Soupy grunted in response to Danger’s assertion, and he was just stepping up onto the riser when I put a hand on his shoulder and shoved him back. He gave me a questioning look.

“Let me. Let me do it first.”

He gave me a long, assessing stare that made me feel as though he was trying to figure out my motive—but I seemed to get that feeling all the time lately, coming from every corner—and then he nodded. “Nicky’s first, then.”

I put on the blindfold we’d been given, stepped onto the platform, and crossed my arms over my chest. And then I waited. The guys grunted and cursed at one another behind me, trying to line themselves up into proper positioning.

“Ghost is the shortest, so he should be at the other end,” Danger grumbled. “We should move 501 up to the head.”

“I’ll move,” 501 added. He was a rookie this season, always willing to do whatever anyone asked of him, unless that someone happened to be his older brother Jamie, who was better known as Babs. It was only when something happened between the two brothers that 501 dug in his heels and let us see another side of him. I doubted it would be long before he was doing the same with all of us, but for now he was the rookie trying to prove himself to a team on which his brother had already made a lasting impact.

“Everybody stay put. Ghost is fine where he is,” Colesy argued. “Let’s just do this.”

“Just fucking decide where you want me,” came Ghost’s deep voice. It was his first season with the team after a trade over the summer. A lot of the media said that the Jets had given up on him too soon; a few of them said he was never going to pan out as the sort of player he could be because he was just too small to really make it in this league. My thought was that most of those who doubted him were more opposed to the color of his skin than anything else about him, and I was pretty sure he agreed with that. The trade had lit a fire under him, and he was bound and determined to prove himself.

“I go? Over there?” Radar asked with a heavy Czech accent, and in my mind’s eye, I could almost see him pointing. He’d been in the league for a few years now, but his understanding of English—at least when it came to anything not specifically hockey related—was questionable at best.

“Stay where you are,” Danger groused. “We’re fine. This is fine. Let’s just do it.”

“Whenever you’re ready,” Soupy said to me.

I had to admit, I wasn’t feeling overly confident that they were ready for me, and it wasn’t just because of the way they’d been arguing about how to line up. In fact, there was some small part of me expecting them to release their hands and back away as soon as I let myself fall. It would serve me right, considering the way I’d dropped the ball on them so many times over the last several years.