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Coach Z

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When I was a child, I grew up by the River Lea.
There was something in the water, now that something's in me.
Oh, I can't go back, but the reeds are growing out of my fingertips.
I can't go back to the river.
— Adele, “River Lea”

 

 

 

 

 

Kenny
I cant believe you lied to me
10:32 AM | 06-27-09

Kenny
Actually i can
12:52 PM | 06-27-09

Kenny
Hope ur ok
7:26 PM | 06-27-09

Kenny
I thought that were best friends but i guess not
2:44 AM | 06-29-09

Kenny
Considering u couldn’t fucking tell me s/t this big
2:46 AM | 06-29-09

Kenny
Wtf did u think id even do???? Fuck
3:05 AM | 06-29-09

Kenny
Fuck you jack
3:06 AM | 06-29-09

Kenny
U kno 5th round still counts, u could come here w me
1:32 PM | 06-30-09

Missed a Call from Kenny
12:01 AM | 07-01-09

Missed a Call from Kenny
1:33 PM | 07-04-09

Missed a Call from Kenny
5:23 PM | 07-04-09

Missed a Call from Kenny
10:58 PM | 07-04-09

Kenny
Wtf won’t u pick up your phone???
11:01 PM | 07-04-09

Missed a Call from Kenny
2:33 AM | 07-05-09

Kenny
Jack please
2:37 AM | 07-05-09

Kenny
This radio silence is rly selfish of u tbh
2:56 AM | 07-16-09

Kent Parson
Wouldnt read deadspin if i were u
4:45 PM | 07-17-09

Kent Parson
In fact dont read anything
5:16 PM | 07-17-09

Kent Parson
Happy birthday, Zimms.
12:05 AM | 08-03-09

There’s a knock on Jack’s half-open bedroom door. A second later, it swings open all the way and his mother appears, holding the cordless phone out to Jack.

“Phone’s for you, dear,” Alicia says.

Jack frowns. He thought that he was pretty much done with talking on the phone for a while after fielding calls from what seemed like his entire extended family yesterday. He’s pretty sure he’s never had so many calls on his birthday in his life, and he’s never wanted to deal with them less, either. The conversations had been more about what wasn’t being said rather than what was, and Jack had been exhausted by it almost immediately.

“Who is it?” he asks, getting up off his bed and walking over regardless.

Alicia just shrugs and presses the phone into his hand. He gives her his most exasperated look, but she’s unperturbed.

“Hello?”

“Jack, hello!” says a vaguely-familiar deep voice. “This is Josselin Leclair calling. How are you today?”

It takes Jack a second, but he manages to connect the voice and the name with his old Pee-Wee hockey coach. “Oh, Coach Leclair, hi,” he says, wondering what the hell this is about. “I’m well, how are you?”

“I’m good, thank you,” Coach Leclair says. “Listen, Jack, I heard that you’re going to be sticking around Montréal for a while, is that right?”

“Uh, yes, sir,” Jack says, hoping he doesn’t sound as bitter or defensive as he feels about it. Alicia is still hovering next to him, looking for all the world like she wants to take the phone back and demand answers. Jack takes a step away from her just in case.

“Well, I’ve got a job opening that I thought you might be interested in. How would you feel about being an assistant coach for the Conquérants Pee-Wee AA team this season? You could come back and see your old stomping grounds, what do you say?”

“I, uh—”

“It’s a paid position, of course, and the certification won’t be a problem for you to get, I’m sure. It’s just a couple online courses,” Coach Leclair barrels on. “What do you say? The kids could use someone who’s been there sometime in the last decade.”

“That’s, um, a really generous offer,” Jack says, because wow, is it ever. Jack’s already come up with at least three reasons why he’d be the worst choice for an assistant coach from a purely logical standpoint, including but not limited to his current status in the media as a probable cocaine addict. “Thank you for thinking of me. Would it be all right if I took a bit to think about it? And talk it out with my parents?”

“Oh, sure,” Coach Leclair agrees amiably. “I’ve given you pretty short notice, seeing as training camp starts this Saturday, but a couple days won’t make a difference. Would you like me to email you some more information? The team’s schedule and the like?”

“That’d be great.” Jack ignores the way his mother is staring so intensely at him that he thinks her eyes might well pop out of her head and waits for Coach Leclair to find a pen before spelling out his email address for him.

“Now, my phone number will be in the email, so just call me back when you’ve decided and we can go from there,” Coach Leclair says. “Take care of yourself.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Jack says. “You, too.”

Alicia is on his case as soon as he hangs up. “What did Coach Leclair want?”

Jack blinks down at the phone, a little shell-shocked. “He offered me a job.”

Jack cuts his steak into smaller and smaller pieces. The dining room is silent enough that Jack can hear the clock on the wall ticking and every clink of cutlery against china seems to echo. He flicks his eyes from his mom to his dad and then back down to his plate.

They have family dinner every day at six sharp. Nobody has missed a single one since Jack came home from rehab. Jack thinks they used to eat together when he was really little, too, but it definitely fell to the wayside as he got older and had hockey practice after school. Then he left to play in the Q and, well.

They eat together now. It’s supposed to help them bond, even though Jack’s fairly sure sitting in silence isn’t really a bonding activity.

“Eat your food,” Alicia says softly, giving Jack a look. Jack puts two of his tiny pieces of steak in his mouth and chews.

Bob clears his throat. “So, Mom tells me you got an interesting phone call today.”

Jack swallows his food and nods. “Yeah. You remember Coach Leclair?”

“Of course,” Bob says immediately. “Coaches Pee-Wee. I see him at events sometimes.”

“He offered me a position as assistant coach,” Jack says.

Bob noticeably brightens, then frowns. Jack wants to be sick. “That’s awful generous of him. Did you accept?”

Jack shakes his head. “I said I would think about it.”

Bob nods. “And?”

“I don’t know,” Jack says.

“What don’t you know?” Bob asks, his voice taking on an edge that has Jack struggling not to physically recoil and Alicia shaking her head at Bob. Bob frowns down at his plate.

“If I should,” Jack says, breaking the tension.

“Why not?” Alicia asks.

Jack shrugs. “I’m not exactly assistant coach material.”

“Nonsense,” Alicia scoffs. “You’re great with kids, you always have been.”

“Okay, yeah,” Jack says, because that’s true enough. He likes kids, especially kids who play hockey. They’re always so enthusiastic about it; it reminds Jack of how he used to be. “But no one’s going to think I’m a good role model.”

“Josselin must,” Bob points out.

“Yeah, but…” Jack struggles to find the words. “What if he… what if he’s not thinking of me? I’m not twelve anymore.”

“I think he knows that,” Bob says wryly. “He’s probably watched some sports news lately.”

“Bob,” Alicia says admonishingly, “it’s not as if those reports are true.”

“No, exactly,” Jack says. “They’re wrong, but they’re not that wrong. Maybe he thinks I’m not that person, but I am. I am screwed up.”

“Don’t say that,” Bob says sharply. “You’re sick, and you’re handling it. I think you would be stupid to turn this opportunity down.”

Jack stares at him. Bob stares back, eyes stony, until Jack looks down. It’s hard to wrap his head around the fact that he’s handling anything at all. He’d spent a hell of a long time spiralling out of control, and he still feels like he’s only hanging on to sanity by his fingertips.

“I want you to do what’s right for you, Jack,” Alicia says after a few minutes of familiar silence, “but I think your father is right. All you’ve done lately is lie around the house. That’s not good for you at all. We’re not going to start charging you rent or anything, but you need to do something. If not this, then something else.”

“I do things,” Jack protests. “I tend the garden. And I go to therapy.”

Alicia fixes him with a look. “It won’t be summer forever. And what would Dr. Albert say about this?”

Jack sighs and considers that. Julie would ask him what he wanted to do, and when Jack thinks about it like that… he wants to do this. His parents are right, he can’t sit around doing nothing for the rest of his life. He wants to get back on the ice, even if it’s not the ice he should be on.

“Fine,” Jack says. “I’ll do it. I’ll call Coach Leclair after supper.”

Alicia beams at him, and Bob smiles too. “Proud of you, son,” he says after a moment.

Jack doesn’t really believe him, but he nods anyway. It’s easier. “Okay,” he says.

Jack makes sure to get to the rink early on Saturday, double and triple checking the schedule he printed off to make sure that he’s got the right one. He’s early enough that the doors are still locked, and he stands awkwardly in front of them, his hockey bag weighing down one shoulder. It’s a crisp August morning, the grey sky and bit of a chill in the air promising rain later that day, and it reminds Jack of the time he’d spent standing in this exact spot over the years, waiting for one of the coaches to arrive because his dad had dropped him off early.

Jack doesn’t recognize the silver SUV that pulls in next to his truck, but he does recognize the man who gets out of it. He’s a little older, with a lot more grey in his hair and deeper lines in his face when he smiles at Jack and waves, but he’s unmistakably Coach Leclair.

“Just like old times, eh, Jack?” He shifts his bags so he can shake Jack’s hand, his grip strong and steady, then steps around him to get at the door. “We’ll get you some keys, you can take over set up and let my old ass sleep in.” He looks up from unlocking the door and winks at Jack. Jack smiles tentatively.

The arena looks much the same as it did when Jack spent most of his life there, but Coach Leclair shows him around anyway. The office spaces are completely new to him, and he learns he’ll be sharing a desk in Coach Leclair’s office with the other assistant coach.

“Not that your predecessor was in here much, but it’s good for last minute paperwork. The desk is basically a glorified filing cabinet,” Coach Leclair jokes.

Jack makes what he hopes is an amused noise. “Is he going to be here today?” he asks of the other assistant coach.

Coach Leclair looks momentarily confused, then nods. “Oh, yeah. She’ll be here.” He grins. “Cyrille is a great girl, you’ll get along with her.”

Jack wants to crawl under the desk and pretend he’d never said anything at all. He considers apologizing for the assumption, but decides to just keep his mouth shut. Instead, he offers Coach Leclair the folder of papers that he emailed Jack, now printed and completed.

A girl that Jack assumes must be the aforementioned Cyrille comes in while Coach Leclair is looking the papers over and signing them. She’s very short, not even reaching Jack’s shoulders, and her platinum blonde hair is pulled into a tight curly ponytail. She gives Jack an appraising once-over, one eyebrow raised, then blows a bubble with her gum and snaps it. She sticks a hand out toward Jack. “Cyrille Durand,” she says.

“Jack Zimmermann,” he replies, shaking her hand. Her hand is tiny in his, but she has a death grip that makes him wince.

“I know,” she says dismissively, dropping his hand abruptly. “What’s the game plan for today, Coach?”

Turns out the plan is remarkably similar to how training camp had worked when Jack was one of the players. It’s different, being the one checking in kids and directing them to their correct dressing rooms, but it’s a good kind of different. It’s a position of responsibility, but not so difficult that Jack feels overwhelmed by it.

Most of the kids’ parents recognize him, and those who don’t, their kid does. Jack gets a lot of wide-eyed stares from the kids and conspicuous not-asking from the adults. He knows a few by name, and those people greet him and tell him he’s looking good before they leave.

“What are you doing here?” asks one of the last kids to check in, a gangly boy with spiky dark hair and a judging expression on his face. Jack stops flipping through his papers looking for the L section, caught off guard.

Casimir,” his mother hisses, scolding. “Sorry,” she says to Jack.

“It’s okay,” Jack says awkwardly. “I’m here to help out Coach Leclair,” he adds, directing it at Casimir.

Casimir doesn’t look convinced, but he doesn’t say anything else either. Jack finds his name on the list and highlights it. “Dressing room three,” he tells them. Casimir’s mother shepherds him off with another apologetic glance at Jack.

Jack takes the minute before the next arrival to close his eyes and wish he was in his bed. There aren’t any people there, he thinks bitterly, and then he thinks of his mother’s disapproving face and snaps himself out of it.

Once he’s double checked the list to make sure everyone in Group 1 has arrived, Jack makes his way to the bench. Most of the kids are already on the ice, skating haphazardly around, and Jack sits down to take his skate guards off. The arena is loud with the sound of kids shouting and skates scraping along the ice, and it’s all painfully familiar. Jack gives himself a moment to soak it all in before he steps out onto the ice.

Coach Leclair is there, but he’s talking to the A team coaches, and Jack doesn’t want to disturb them. He skates slowly toward Cyrille, unsure of himself. She’s surrounded by a bunch of kids—mostly older ones, if Jack is judging correctly—who are talking excitedly at her while she smiles and listens attentively. She glances up and sees Jack, and her smile drops for a second before returning so quickly that Jack doubts what he saw. She gestures for him to come over, though, so he does.

“You all know Jack Zimmermann,” she says to the boys when Jack is closer. Jack tries not to cringe and gives an awkward wave.

“Hi,” he says. He wishes he wasn’t, but he’s thoroughly intimidated by these six young boys staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” one of them asks. He gets elbowed in the side by the kid next to him, but no one takes back the question.

Jack balks, glancing at Cyrille for help, but she’s just looking at him intently, like she’s interested in the answer. “I, uh. Am gonna help out Coach Leclair,” he says, uncomfortably parroting his earlier self.

“All season?” one of the boys asks.

“Yeah, all season,” Jack confirms.

“Huh,” the boy says.

There’s an awkward silence, and everyone is still staring at Jack, so he tries to fill it. “Did you guys play last year?”

They all nod. “We all want to make AA again this year,” one of them tells Jack seriously.

Jack nods seriously back as Cyrille laughs. “I hope you all worked hard this summer,” she says. “Or was it all popsicles and TV?”

There’s a chorus of protests mixed in with guilty expressions behind their face masks. Jack stifles a laugh.

Just then there’s the piercing shrill of a whistle, and they turn to see one of the other coaches waving a hand to call them all over. The boys are off, mock racing each other, and Cyrille smirks at Jack before following them. Jack hangs back a bit and is surprised when one of the shorter kids does as well. He tugs gently on the sleeve of Jack’s coat, and Jack looks down into huge blue eyes. “Guess what!” the kid says, grinning.

“What?” Jack asks.

“My parents named me after your dad! My name’s Robert,” he adds unnecessarily. “Everyone calls me Roddy, though, because my last name is Rodzinski.”

“Oh,” Jack says. “That’s…” weird and unsettling and a bit unfortunate, probably, is what he wants to say, but he settles for, “cool.” Roddy grins at him before skating ahead. Jack resolves never to think about him being named after Jack’s dad ever again.

The day is set up in alternating ninety minute blocks with Groups 1 and 2 switching off. Jack hangs around for most of Group 1’s first session, feeling too uncomfortable to make any corrections. Some of the kids are pretty bad at even just skating, and Jack’s toes itch to show them how it’s done. Intellectually he knows he could—he’s in a position of authority here. But he also knows he’s the only new assistant coach, and it seems right to hang back for now.

He gets to leave the ice half an hour early to start checking in arrivals from Group 2, and he feels much more at ease carefully highlighting names. Maybe he should’ve just gotten an office job if he was going to feel so out of his depth on the ice.

The day doesn’t really improve from there. Three more people ask him what he’s doing here—one of them is an adult, which throws him for a loop. He gives his now-stock answer to all of them. Halfway through Group 2’s first session, a tall, built kid skates up to Jack, stopping a mere metre away, and stares at him for a good thirty seconds. Jack stares back, slightly afraid he’s about to be jumped by a twelve-year-old, until the kid nods and skates away.

Cyrille happens to be near him at the time, and Jack throws her a panicked look. She must take pity on him, because she skates over to say, “That was Theo, though everyone calls him Bear. He’s the current AA captain.”

“What was…” Jack trails off, gesturing in the hopes it’ll indicate the entire incident.

“I have no idea,” Cyrille says, shrugging. Jack is distinctly not comforted.

There’s a break from two until four, during which Jack sits in the concession area, picks at a sandwich, and hopes no one will talk to him. Nobody does. The last session ends at seven that night, and the boys are all gone by seven-thirty. Jack is heading toward the exit, stretching his toes inside his shoes in an attempt to get some feeling back in them and wondering what they’re having for family dinner (now rescheduled to occur half an hour after Jack is done work), when someone grabs his arm and drags him out of the hallway.

It’s Cyrille, and she backs him up against the wall in the alcove next to a supply closet, leaning in close to him. “Listen, Zimmermann, let’s get a couple things straight,” she says in English, pointing an accusing finger at him. Jack’s brain struggles to keep up with this series of events. “First and foremost, if you fuck up these kids, I’ll fuck you up.”

“Um,” Jack says.

“No, I’m not done,” Cyrille says. She’s hovering so close that Jack can smell her watermelon gum. “If you’re just here for an easy ride, you can leave, okay? The other assistant coach last year was a washed-up deadbeat just like you, and dude? These kids aren’t here for you to learn something about yourself.”

Jack can’t help it; he snorts.

“What, you think this is funny?” Cyrille hisses.

“No, no,” Jack says, though he does find Cyrille’s apparent moonlighting as a tiny ball of righteous rage pretty amusing. “I just—I’m not here for the kids to teach me anything new about myself.” He laughs again. “I have a therapist for that.”

Cyrille narrows her eyes, appraising. “I’m going to make you do all the paperwork,” she tells him gravely.

Jack shrugs. “I… like paperwork?”

“Hm,” Cyrille hums speculatively, then switches back to French. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you,” Jack says, watching her walk toward the back door. He heads in the other direction, shaking his head incredulously. When he’s finally sitting in his car, he takes a deep breath and rests his head on the steering wheel for a moment. “That could’ve gone better,” he mutters to himself, sitting up and turning the keys in the ignition.

But on the other hand: it could’ve gone worse. He didn’t have any public breakdowns, he stayed all day, and he might want a drink pretty bad right now, but he’s fairly confident that he’s not going to let himself have one. And, most important of all, he’s not completely paralyzed at the thought of going back for more tomorrow, though thinking about an entire year ahead of him is another story.

One step at a time, he reminds himself. One step at a time.

Dr. Julie Albert’s office is small and simple. The walls are a dark shade of blue, and there’s a bookcase on the far wall and a desk pushed against the wall adjacent to the door. Opposite the desk is the focal point of the room: a plush red couch with a multicoloured afghan laid neatly across the back. The first time Jack entered the room, early morning the day after returning home from rehab, the stark difference from the pale greens of hospital walls made him think that this therapy thing might not be quite as bad as it was at rehab.

He was wrong. The couch might be comfortable and the afghan cozy, but Julie is ruthless.

She looks just as kind as ever today, leaning back in her gigantic office chair and smiling at Jack when he comes in. He sinks down into the couch and wonders, as he always does, if she’d let him have a nap instead of talking about his feelings.

“How are you today?” Julie asks.

“Good,” Jack says, shrugging. “Got up early and went for a run, had breakfast, now I’m here.”

Julie nods. “Did you have a good birthday last week?”

Jack spent the time he wasn’t fielding phone calls on his birthday watching the History Channel in the loft and trying not to think of all the fun things to do when he turned eighteen that he used to dream up with his friends—well, mostly with Kent. The things had mostly involved bars and parties, and those are both places Jack can’t and won’t let himself go to now, even if he had friends to go with. His mother spent the afternoon making him cake, and his parents sang to him and made him blow out the candles at family supper, and it was a hell of a lot of things Jack didn’t want to deal with and didn’t feel like he deserved.

“Well, it wasn’t the best birthday I’ve ever had,” Jack says.

“Do you want to talk about that?” Julie asks. Jack is well aware that the only reason she’s giving him an option is because they talked last week about how his expectations for his eighteenth birthday were nothing like the reality, and he doesn’t have any desire to rehash that. He shakes his head, and Julie nods. “What did you get up to for the rest of the week?”

“Oh, I, uh, got a job,” Jack says. “I’m assistant coaching my old Pee-Wee team.”

“Wow, that’s quite a big change,” Julie says, eyebrows raising with interest. “How did that come about?”

Jack tells her about Coach Leclair’s phone call and that the first two days of training camp were this last weekend. He spends a good few minutes explaining the process of splitting the kids up into teams for practice games, and how they’re going to use those games to evaluate team placement. It’s virtually a parrot of how Cyrille had explained it to him the day before, and when Jack falls silent at the end of it, Julie just looks at him expectantly.

Jack knows that look. It’s the look she gives him when he’s not being open enough. He frowns, avoiding her gaze for a moment, then says, “I felt kind of weird.”

The look disappears. “Weird how?” Julie prompts.

“Um,” Jack says, “like I wasn’t supposed to be there?”

“Why did you feel like you weren’t supposed to be there?”

Jack shrugs. “I don’t know. It was just weird.”

“Okay,” Julie says. “How did your dad react to it?”

“Uh,” Jack says, caught off guard by her not pressing his avoidance of the question. “He said I’d be stupid to not do it. And that he was proud of me. He, uh… he says that a lot lately.”

“Since family therapy?” Julie asks, though Jack is pretty sure she already knows the answer is yes. They spent quite a lot of time in those sessions talking about expressing positive emotions to each other.

“Yeah, probably,” Jack answers anyway. “I never know what to say, though.”

“To your dad?”

Jack nods. “I just end up saying okay every time.”

Julie looks thoughtful, twirling the pen she never takes notes with around her fingers. “Would you say that you felt the same way at work that you do when your dad says he’s proud of you?”

“Uh,” Jack says. Now that he’s thinking about it, they are remarkably similar feelings of being out of place and awkward. Which is how he feels most of the time, really, but… “Yeah, I guess so.”

“What do you think makes you feel like that?”

Jack’s not dumb; he can see that they’re back to the question about why he felt like he wasn’t supposed to be at the arena. Julie has a knack for taking the conversation in circles like that, and Jack falls for it every time. It doesn’t mean he suddenly has an answer, but the patient look on Julie’s face means that she’s settling in to wait for him.

He stares at the seascape painting on the wall and thinks about what makes coaching and his dad’s praise similar. “I guess, uh,” he says slowly, “they’re both things that I didn’t expect to have.”

“Okay,” Julie says, “and you feel…”

“Like I shouldn’t have them,” Jack says, more sure of his words now. “I was supposed to play in the NHL, and I fucked it all up.”

“So you think you don’t deserve to coach these kids and have your dad be proud of you?”

“That’s not—” Jack cuts himself off and stares at the floor. That might not be what he said, but Julie’s right. “I don’t,” he mumbles.

“Why not?” Julie asks.

Something about the soothing tone of Julie’s voice hits a nerve. “I just don’t,” he snaps. “I was supposed to play in the NHL.”

“What makes you think you won’t still play in the NHL someday?” Julie asks. She has one eyebrow slightly raised, and the soothing tone is gone now. “You didn’t even go undrafted.”

Jack laughs bitterly. “I think me being here answers that question.”

“Hm,” Julie says, “I disagree. Just because you didn’t take the path you wanted to doesn’t mean all the other paths are closed off.”

“I couldn’t hack it,” Jack insists.

“Maybe you aren’t ready yet,” Julie concedes, surprising Jack. “But I said someday, if you decide that’s what you want. And I think one of the first steps on your new path is realizing that you do deserve what you have.”

Jack shrugs and looks away. There’s a long moment of silence before Julie speaks again.

“Did you have an assistant coach when you played Pee-Wee?”

“Yeah,” Jack says. “We had two, I think, but I only remember Dustin.”

“Did you like him?”

Jack shrugs. He’s trying to figure out where Julie is going with this, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. “We all did, yeah. He was nice to us.”

“Why don’t you remember the other one?”

“I think he must’ve just done things in the office or something,” Jack says, suddenly acutely aware that he’s probably going to be that assistant coach that none of the kids remember. He would have thought he’d be okay with that, but it’s actually a pretty sad idea.

“Okay,” Julie says. She leans forward slightly, and Jack braces himself for a tough question. “Do you know how Dustin ended up coaching your team?”

Jack shakes his head.

“Do you think he deserved to have his dad be proud of him for his job?”

Jack frowns. He doesn’t even know if Dustin had a dad in his life, but he knows pointing that out would be fruitless. That’s obviously not the point of the question. “Sure,” he says. He can already see the hole he’s digging for himself with the shovel Julie handed him.

“So why should Dustin’s dad be proud of him but your dad not be proud of you?”

“It’s different,” Jack says immediately. He doesn’t even care that he’s at the bottom of the hole now, because it is different. Dustin wasn’t the no-good, couldn’t-hack-it son of an NHL superstar. “There’s no way Dustin’s situation was anything like mine.”

Julie sits back in her chair. “Is it really that different? Don’t answer that now—I want you to think about it, and we’ll talk about it next week.”

Jack sighs and nods. He hates therapy homework.

Training camp gets easier once Jack settles into a routine. Jack’s main responsibility is taking notes on each player during the mock games, which is so easy for him that he probably goes a little overboard. Everything Jack read in both his coaching certifications and the general regulations has stressed that Pee-Wee hockey is mostly about building skills, teamwork, and the love of the game rather than intense competition, but it’s not like there’s no competition. The boys are still getting split into teams based on skill level, and Jack gets to put his critical eye to good use.

He’s made nice with most of the staff—save Cyrille, who greeted Jack today by dumping two binders bursting at the rings into his arms and saying “have fun” before walking away. The rest of the staff are easy because they seem to trust Coach Leclair’s judgement, but the kids are still keeping their distance. He’s not sure whether it’s his fame preceding him or that he’s actually acting intimidating, but either way it’s not good. He doesn’t need them to love him, but he does need their respect if he’s going to pull his weight as an assistant coach. He just has to figure out how to earn it.

It’s the second intermission of their first game of the day, and Jack is standing in his customary spot behind the bench, idly making final notes on the period and listening to the kids in front of him talking.

“We need to score,” the one on the right, black practice jersey sporting a temporary number 21, complains. “Why isn’t anyone ever open?”

“Maybe you’re not open,” number 11 suggests. “I keep trying, dude, honestly.”

Jack glances from his clipboard to them and back again, eyes skimming over his notes. 21 is Sebastien Gagné and 11 is André Bolduc, both of them new to Pee-Wee this year and both of them with extensive notes scrawled below their names. Most of the notes are positive, but the black jersey team does have a tendency to not follow through. Thankfully, Jack is fairly sure he knows where they’re going wrong.

He leans forward and taps Sebastien on the shoulder. “Hey, uh,” he says, “I have a play that might help?”

Sebastien looks up with wide eyes, then glances at André, who shrugs. “Okay,” Sebastien says. “What is it?”

Jack fumbles with his clipboard, aiming to flip over his paper so he can draw on the back of it. “One moment,” he says. “Get Casimir to listen, too.”

“What?” Casimir snaps when André hits him in the shoulder.

“Don’t look so sour, Wino. Zimmermann’s gonna show us a play,” André says. Casimir makes a face, but he does turn to pay attention.

Jack shows them the play, drawing it out for them and explaining it twice to make sure they’ve got it. “I’ll make sure Coach puts you out there together, okay?”

They all nod, and Jack goes to tell Coach Leclair to try out a 20-21-11 line in the next period. Coach Leclair looks at him curiously, then shrugs. “Will do,” he says.

The black jerseys score less than two minutes into the period, Jack’s line executing the play almost perfectly. The bench erupts with cheers and exclamations of “whoa!” Even Coach Leclair whistles when Sebastien tips the puck in at the corner.

One of the kids twists around to look at Jack. “Is that what you were telling Chicken to do?”

Jack blinks; he’s not sure which one Chicken is, but it’s a safe bet that it’s either André or Sebastien, so he nods. The kid looks impressed, and he turns around and starts whispering with the boy sitting next to him.

Coach Leclair grins at Jack. “You’d better go give the red team some help too or else we’ll get complaints,” he teases.

Sebastien is beaming when he comes back off the ice at the end of his shift. “Did you see that?” he practically yells. “It was like there wasn’t even anyone there!”

Jack can’t help the grin that spreads across his face. He almost feels like he scored the goal himself.

“You have to show us more,” André says seriously as he sits down.

“Yeah,” Casimir agrees.

“Well,” Jack says, starting to actually feel excited, “I’ll be here all season.”

That night after supper, Jack takes over the formal dining room table with the binders Cyrille had given him. They’re a mess of paperwork with the remnants of an organizational system that was clearly never used lurking in the form of mislabelled dividers. Jack could leave it until he has some time in the office to work on organizing it, but he’d rather spend his time at the rink with the kids, and besides that, he figures that the faster he gets it done, the more likely Cyrille will at least respect his work ethic.

Jack flips through them to get a sense of the contents—it’s mostly registration forms and liability waivers, some half-assed notes on the players written by someone named Sean (probably the assistant coach responsible for this mess) and better notes by a Jake dated before that, along with assorted schedules and newsletters. Jack looks at the papers, then looks at the partially-shredded dividers and broken rings of the binders, and then makes an executive decision to make a run to the nearest office supply store.

When he gets back, he starts in on sorting the papers by type and year. He’s got piles spread all the way down the table, each one labelled with a sticky note, when Alicia walks in. She picks up a piece of paper from one of the far stacks and peers at it. “What are you up to?” she asks.

“Paperwork,” Jack says wryly. “Make sure you put that back where you found it.”

Alicia carefully places it back in the stack it came from. “This is a lot… of papers.”

Jack snorts. “Um, yeah,” he says.

“Okay, well,” Alicia says, “don’t work too hard.”

She wanders out of the room again, and Jack stands there staring after her for a moment. The exchange had reminded him of the countless times she’d come out to the backyard rink when Jack was practicing by himself and told him something similar. Jack’s not sure he knows how to not work too hard.

He shakes it off and goes back to sorting. It’s got to be done, so he might as well do it.

He’s moved on to putting each year into its own binder with actual proper dividers when Bob comes in. Jack snaps the rings of the 2007 binder shut and looks up at him.

“It’s getting late,” Bob says. “Are you almost done here?”

This, too, feels like the nights Jack would spend on the ice. Usually he would bargain for extra time, tell his dad that he just needed to get this one thing and then he’d be in, but… maybe he should be turning over a new leaf.

“Almost,” he says. “I’ll get it done tomorrow before I go to the arena.”

Bob nods. “I’m sure you will.”

“I’m going to bed now, though,” Jack says, standing. “Night, Dad.”

“Oh,” Bob says as Jack walks past him. “You’re not going to clean this up?”

“I’ll be done tomorrow before work,” Jack repeats. “We don’t need the table, do we?”

Bob looks at the table, then at Jack. “No, no, you’re right,” he says. “That’s fine. Good night, Jack.”

Jack wakes up earlier than is strictly necessary, and even after taking his time with his regular morning workout, he has plenty of time to finish organizing the paperwork before he has to be at the arena. He’s early, and he spends the extra time rearranging the filing cabinet in the office.

Cyrille shows up right on time—and just in time to witness Jack shoving the too-full bottom drawer shut. She raises an eyebrow at him. “How did all that paperwork go?” she asks.

“Fine,” Jack says.

“So fine that you’re shoving it all into the filing cabinet?” Cyrille asks sardonically.

“Uh, no,” Jack says, frowning. “I was moving old things out of the way so we can actually find relevant information.”

Cyrille’s eyebrows seem to climb even farther up her face. “Were you,” she says flatly.

Jack nods. “See, now the binders we need for this season are in the top drawer.” He opens it to show her, and she walks over cautiously and peers in. “Active player information and game notes, other player documentation, templates, letters and info packets we’ve sent out,” he lists, tapping each binder in turn. “The second drawer has all these gathered by year into one binder with dividers. That way we can reference back to them if we need to.”

“Why would we need to?” Cyrille asks, looking at him curiously.

“Um,” Jack says. He genuinely isn’t sure, actually, but she’d given him the paperwork to organize, so. “It’s helpful for players we had on the team before? Otherwise not so much, but I guess if someone had a problem with something…”

“Right,” Cyrille says.

“I mean, Sean took such good notes, it would be a shame not to use them,” Jack chances, smiling in a way he hopes communicates that he’s joking.

Cyrille stares at him for a few torturous seconds, then seems to catch on. She snorts. “Of course.”

She turns to go, pausing at the door to ask if Jack’s going to help set up, and Jack hurries after her. He can’t help but be a bit put out that she never actually thanked him or said he did a good job, but he tries to shake it off. Cyrille isn’t even his actual boss, he doesn’t really need to prove anything to her.

Jack is watching the kids in dressing room three between the first two games of the day, idly reading over his notes, when he hears Cyrille, on the other side of the room, say, “Gaudy?” Her voice is so alarmed that Jack is moving before he can even think about it.

“Shhh—” Jack breathes when he spots him. Gaudy is wheezing, his face bright red.

“Did you eat something? Are you choking?” Cyrille is asking. Jack looks around; the other kids have fallen silent and are staring. Gibs, right next to Gaudy, is openly staring with a sandwich clutched in his hand, and Jack abruptly remembers something he read when he was organizing files last night.

“He’s allergic to peanuts,” Jack says. “Where’s his bag?”

Gibs points it out, and Jack digs through the outer pockets until he finds what he’s looking for. Cyrille catches the EpiPen easily when Jack tosses it to her, and she administers it flawlessly. They all wait, tension palpable, until it’s obvious that Gaudy can actually breathe again. The room erupts in loud sighs of relief.

“I didn’t know,” Gibs says, staring down at his sandwich. “Gaudy, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s not your fault,” Jack reassures him. “You good, Gaudy?”

Gaudy nods. “Sore throat,” he says quietly. “And I’m itchy.” He screws up his nose in annoyance.

“Are your parents still here?” Jack asks.

Gaudy shakes his head.

“I’ll call them, then,” Jack says. “I’ll be right back.”

“The rest of you, get your gear on,” Cyrille adds. There are a few grumbles, but everyone mostly obeys.

“I don’t get to play?” Gaudy asks, looking crestfallen. Jack suppresses a smile; he figures Gaudy is probably going to be okay.

Cyrille shakes her head. “You’re going to the hospital, mister.”

“Ugh,” Gaudy complains.

On the second last day of training camp, all the coaches stay late after the last practice to finalize the team rosters. They’ve been actively shifting them around and taking notes during the mock games, so there isn’t too much to do other than have the head coaches look over the final lists and make any last minute changes.

Jack hovers in the back, not too worried about contributing any more than he already has. Coach Leclair hands him the lists near the end of the meeting, already talking to Coach Williams, the A team’s head coach, about his plans for an end-of-summer barbeque. Jack isn’t entirely sure what Coach Leclair wants him to do—file it away? Offer an opinion? He tries to glance to Cyrille for an indication, but she’s facing away from him, talking to one of the A team’s assistant coaches.

Jack looks down at the list. The A team is at the top, and Jack frowns when he spots a name he particularly recognizes. “Uh, Coach Leclair,” he says, “sorry to interrupt, but—”

He stops, caught by the sudden silence and everyone looking at him. Coach Leclair smiles encouragingly. “What is it, Jack?”

“Um, Gaudy—Armand Gaudette,” Jack says. “He’s on the A roster?”

Coach Leclair nods. “Yes?”

“I thought he was AA?”

“We thought he’d be better served by at least a season on the A team,” Coach Williams says.

“I don’t think so,” Jack says. “He might be borderline skill-wise, but his work ethic is hands down AA. Plus he meshes well with a lot of the boys on AA.”

Coach Leclair looks thoughtful. “He’s eleven, correct? Maybe if he had a year to develop we could—”

“I don’t want him to feel discouraged,” Jack says quickly. He knows everyone is still looking at him, but he can’t think about that if he doesn’t want to give in. “He’s been working hard for this.”

“Working hard doesn’t necessarily translate to talent,” Coach Williams points out.

“No,” Jack agrees, “but in this case I think it helps.”

“He’d be taking away a spot from one of the other boys on AA,” Coach Leclair says.

“He deserves it,” Jack insists. “I think we’re looking at a kid who will only improve faster the more pressure we put on him.”

Coach Williams raises an eyebrow. “You’d know, hm?”

Jack shrugs, immediately uncomfortable. “It’s not about me,” he says. “Seriously, I think you’d be making a mistake having Gaudy on your team as it stands. He really doesn’t have as much on-ice chemistry with those kids.”

Coach Leclair glances at Coach Williams. “I’m willing to go with Jack if it’s all right with you. I trust his judgement.”

“God knows he’s taken enough notes on the boys,” Cyrille chimes in, voice teasing. Everyone laughs, well acquainted with Jack’s pages and pages of notes. Jack can feel himself turning red.

“All right,” Coach Williams says. He looks at Jack. “Who are we moving to A to make room, then?”

Jack scans the list for a minute, then says confidently, “Evan Connors. He could definitely benefit from a slightly less intense team environment.”

“Connors it is,” Coach Williams agrees. “Make note of those changes, Zimmermann. Anyone else want a look at the lists before we all go get some shut eye?”

They pass the lists around once more, but no one has any commentary. Jack, as the newest assistant coach, is assigned the honour of being the one to type up the rosters so they can be posted the next day. Jack doesn’t mind that so much. He’s going to need to rearrange his binders a bit as well.

“Thanks for speaking up today.” Coach Leclair says to Jack when they’re on the way out of the arena. “That’s exactly the kind of insight we hired you for.”

Jack shrugs it off, uncomfortable with the praise. “No problem,” he says. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you,” Coach Leclair echoes.

The last day of training camp is more laidback than the rest had been. Jack makes sure to get there before any of the kids so he can post the new rosters on the doors into the ice area. He hangs out greeting kids for awhile, but then he watches one too many look disappointed when they’re A instead of AA and goes to wait by the ice instead.

There are nineteen kids on the AA team, and Jack thinks they all must have eaten sugar for breakfast, because they’re wired. Even after they’ve been made to skate the hardest drills up Coach Leclair’s sleeve and they’re red-faced and breathing hard, they keep yelling and laughing with each other.

“Rowdy bunch we’ve picked here,” Coach Leclair says with humour in his voice when they’re shouting at each other during passing drills.

“At least they get along,” Jack says.

“Yeah,” Cyrille says icily, “for now.”

Jack wants to ask if they had problems with kids not getting along in the past or something, but Cyrille doesn’t look like she’s in the mood for questions, and Jack is still treading lightly around her, so he keeps quiet.

They wrap up early (a reward for good hustle, according to Coach Leclair, but Jack privately thinks he might’ve just been done with the shouting for today). Jack helps collect pucks, disregarding the clump of kids off to the side whispering to each other until one of them breaks off and skates in Jack’s direction. The rest follow at a distance.

“What’s up, JT?” Jack asks. The team clearly wants to ask him something, and JT has either been appointed or volunteered himself to do it.

“What’s your nickname?” JT asks.

Jack thinks abruptly and painfully of Kent calling him Zimms, soft and fond, and says, “I don’t have one,” before he even really knows what he’s doing.

JT frowns. “Well, we want to call you Coach Z,” he says.

“Okay,” Jack says, shrugging. “Sure, call me Coach Z.”

“Good,” JT says. The rest of the team is giggling and nodding behind him. Jack feels oddly like he’s just been given their seal of approval.

“So who’s going to help me bring these nets in?” he asks.

Gaudy and Bear immediately volunteer, and Jack shoos the rest of them off to the dressing room. The warm, tight feeling in his chest stays stuck there until well after he gets home.

The last couple weeks of August pass fairly quickly, with most of Jack’s time occupied by practice and other work-related things. Julie thinks that this job is probably the best thing that could have happened for Jack at this point, and Jack is pretty sure he agrees. He even makes an appearance at Coach Williams’ barbeque, though he feels incredibly awkward, especially when he’s offered a beer and has to decline, and he ducks out early. His parents and Julie tell him that it’s a success that he went at all, but it doesn’t really feel that way.

He and Cyrille spend a lot of time together, not only at practice but also working on material for the Parent Orientation Night in early September. Jack thinks she might be warming up to him more, but she’s pretty unreadable on a good day and Jack’s not about to ask, so he just worries about it constantly instead. In any case, he certainly wouldn’t say they’re friends, and he’s not entirely sure they’re ever going to be.

After so much time thinking about and preparing for it, the actual night of Parent Orientation sneaks up on Jack. It’s meant to be an information session to give parents a good idea of what the season is going to be like for both them and their kid; attendance isn’t mandatory, but it is encouraged. (The main form of encouragement is the free food.) They already know some parents won’t come because they know the drill from years of their kid (or kids, depending) playing hockey, but there are a few whose kids just started to play, and still more whose kid only made a competitive team this year.

Coach Leclair calls the meeting to order right on time with a clap of his hands and a friendly grin. “All right, folks, welcome to the Conquérants Pee-Wee AA family! We’re glad to have you. I’m Josselin Leclair, as I’m sure you know, I do believe I’ve already met most of you. If not, I’m the man your kid’s gonna come home complaining about. That is, if they haven’t already.”

Jack suppresses a smile, but most of the parents laugh at that, so he didn’t really need to. He awkwardly shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket as Coach Leclair continues.

“Up here with me I have my assistant coaches, Jack Zimmermann and Cyrille Durand. They do some invaluable things around here, including a lot of behind-the-scenes work in addition to helping out with the kids on-ice.”

Cyrille waves and says hello, and Jack hurries to copy. His hand gets stuck in his jacket pocket, and he feels like everyone is staring at him as he yanks it out and gives a quick wave.

“They made the PowerPoint presentation you’re about to witness, so if you get bored, I blame them and not my skills as a presenter.” Coach Leclair gives an exaggerated wink, and a few of the parents titter. Jack can still see some of them looking at him. He wishes Coach Leclair hadn’t said that. “If you have any questions, feel free to jump on in. Let’s get started.”

Jack stands off to the side with Cyrille, watching the presentation intently despite knowing the content inside out. He keeps worrying that things aren’t clear enough, but none of the parents ask questions that aren’t either covered later or somewhat off-topic.

“That’s about all you need to know for now,” Coach Leclair says at the end of the PowerPoint. “We’ll be sending out newsletters monthly, so keep an eye out. We’ve got this in booklet form for all of you as well. Jack?”

Jack nods and grabs the stack of booklets from where he’d left it on the table at the front of the room. He starts handing them out as Coach Leclair asks if anyone has any final questions.

“Uh, yes,” says a lady with blonde ringlets. Jack thinks she might be Germy’s mother, but he isn’t one hundred percent on that. “I was just wondering if you could explain how it is a drug addict came to be in a position of power over our kids?”

There’s an audible silence in the room, and Jack fumbles the booklet he’s handing to Tiger’s mother. Brenda takes it from him carefully, giving him a worried look. Jack wishes he were literally anywhere else.

“I think what Denise means to ask,” Wino’s mother Janet says, “is if you could give us some more background on both your assistant coaches’ qualifications?”

Before Coach Leclair has a chance to answer, a dad in the back row snorts. “I think we all know enough about Zimmermann.”

Some of the parents are nodding in agreement. Jack grits his teeth and gives the last booklet to Chicken’s father, who avoids eye contact.

Jack’s heart is beating too fast in his chest. He makes eye contact with Cyrille as he’s walking back to his seat, and she makes a face that clearly says well? at him. He clears his throat.

Obviously he needs to say something or risk them all thinking he’s completely incompetent on top of an addict, but he’s starting to have trouble breathing. He turns around and looks at them all when he gets back to the front of the room. “I’m not a drug addict,” he says slowly and quietly, and then, louder: “I’ve never done drugs in my life.” It’s true enough. He’s never done the illegal kind, at least.

The room looks skeptical. “We’re just worried about our kids,” Denise says, her voice sticky sweet. Jack digs his fingernails into his palms and concentrates on keeping his breathing steady. Cyrille is looking at him disbelievingly, and that hurts more than the rest of them. He thought he’d made progress with her, but she clearly still thinks he’s the cocaine addict she’d assumed on the first day.

“And I’m here to relieve those worries,” Coach Leclair says, his tone calm and sure. “I want you all to know that I select my staff very carefully. Cyrille is an accomplished figure skater and has a great track record with teaching both young figure skaters and hockey players. Similarly, Jack is a highly skilled hockey player, one with near-professional experience under his belt, and there’s nobody who can relate to these kids better than someone who, mere years ago, was exactly where they are. I would not have picked him for this position if I didn’t think that he was the right person, both personally and professionally, to help your kids reach their full potential.” He pauses, seeming to look each and every parent in the eye. “That’s what we all want, isn’t it?”

Most of the parents nod. They seem pretty subdued by Coach Leclair’s speech. Jack unfurls his clenched hands and breathes out.

“I think we can all agree that everyone deserves a second chance,” Coach Leclair adds, smiling at Jack. Jack tries to smile back, but it feels fake.

“Anyway, that’s all for tonight,” Coach Leclair says. “Please let me know if you’d like to schedule an appointment with me to discuss anything at all related to the team.”

“Thanks for coming, everyone,” Cyrille says, starting to usher them out and shaking people’s hands as they leave.

A few parents try to lag behind, but Cyrille and Coach Leclair are quick to end their attempts at conversation, and eventually they’re all gone. Jack stares at the empty chairs and bites the inside of his lip. “Thank you,” he says to Coach Leclair, swallowing the lump in his throat.

Coach Leclair slaps him on the back and smiles reassuringly. “Nothing that wasn’t true, son,” he says. Jack doubts that, but he appreciates the lie all the same. “Get home and get some rest, will you? Cyrille and I can wrap up here.”

“Yes, sir,” Jack agrees. “See you. You, too, Cyrille.”

Cyrille waves, and Jack leaves before she can say anything. He doesn’t think she’d have anything he wants to hear.

He still feels panicked when he gets out to his truck, and he sits in the front seat doing breathing exercises until he realizes that there are a few parents still hanging around the parking lot looking his way. He drives slowly on the way home, aware that he shouldn’t be on the road when he’s this anxious. He should have called one of his parents to come pick him up. He should have been able to say something to defend himself better. He shouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place.

He gets home safe and ignores his mother asking how his day was in favour of stalking up to his bedroom. He’s going to regret that later, but for now he doesn’t care.

A few months ago, Jack would have dealt with feeling like this by having a drink or taking a pill or both. Now, he lies on his bed, closes his eyes, and does his best to think of nothing but his breathing until he falls asleep.

“What do you think made Coach Leclair say that?” Julie asks.

Jack stares at the clock on the office wall and wishes the second hand would move faster. He would rather be anywhere else, including back in that room with the parents.

“Trying to cover himself, probably,” Jack says. “It doesn’t matter, really.”

“If you want to talk about something else, we can,” Julie says patiently. Jack hates her. “But I disagree. I think something that results in you panicking is something that matters.”

“I didn’t panic because of Coach Leclair,” Jack points out.

“Mmm,” Julie acknowledges. “We’ve discussed how the public’s perception of your breakdown affects you in the past, though. Did you have anything new to add, or was it more of the same?”

Jack tries to come up with something, but she's right, nothing's changed. "The same," he says begrudgingly. It's frustrating to be perceived this way, but unless he wants to tell the entire world what really happened—and he doesn't—there's nothing to do but deal with it.

“Okay,” Julie says. “You’ve also said before that you don’t think Coach Leclair would have hired you if he thought you were a drug addict. Is that still true?”

“Yeah.”

“But you think he didn’t mean what he told the parents about you?”

Jack shrugs.

“Do you think he’s wrong and you’re not the right person to help those kids?”

Jack shrugs again.

Julie waits, and when Jack doesn’t say anything, she sits back in her chair. “Okay,” she says, “we’re going to do an exercise.”

Jack braces himself. Exercises are always hard and generally involve Jack sitting in silence for a long time trying to come up with the solution to the provided scenario that he thinks Julie wants to hear. He’s never sure if he got it right.

“I want you to think about yourself when you were eleven or twelve,” Julie says. “Close your eyes and picture that kid.”

Jack feels stupid, but he closes his eyes and pictures himself at twelve. He’s not a whole lot different from how he is now—shorter and fatter, but just as awkward and unsure of himself.

“Imagine that kid is on the team you’re coaching,” Julie continues. Jack immediately thinks about his younger self on the ice with a nervous expression and a death grip on his hockey stick. “What would you say to him?”

“I don’t know,” Jack says.

“Take your time,” Julie says. She seems to realize that Jack needs more guidance, though, because she adds, “What kind of notes would you take on him?”

“Great skater,” Jack says immediately. “Seems sure of himself on the ice. He has soft hands and is good at creating scoring chances.”

“What about in relation to the other players?”

Jack pauses, sensing a trap, then says, “He’s a real leader.” It’s verbatim from every coach evaluation sheet ever written about him.

“Really? Would he say so?”

Jack shakes his head rather than having to admit out loud that he’s never seen himself as a leader.

“Why not?”

“He doesn’t really… get along with his teammates? I mean, he does, I think everyone would say good things about him, but he doesn’t feel like they’re his friends,” Jack says. He shifts uncomfortably on the couch. He’s glad his eyes are closed so he doesn’t have to see Julie’s expression.

“Do you think leadership is about being friends with everyone?” Julie asks.

Jack shrugs. He thinks she’s looking for a no, but he doesn’t see how friendship isn’t relevant.

“Okay, who are some people in your life that you consider good leaders?”

“Uh, my parents? Coach Leclair, obviously.” Jack thinks about Kent, but saying that would hurt too much. “My history teacher,” he says instead.

“What do you admire about them? Is it just that everyone likes them, or is there something else?”

Jack frowns. “I guess, uh, they’re smart?” he says. “They know how to get people to work together so that things happen. I mean, happen the way they should.”

“Would you say that's something you're good at? When you tell people what to do, do they listen, and does it turn out well?”

Jack contemplates all the things he could do instead of answering that question. He could jump out the window. He could ask Julie if she’s good at those things. He could start trashing Julie’s office. He could smash that fucking clock. He could just up and leave.

He stays sitting. “I guess so,” he says.

“So, with that in mind,” Julie says, “if you were coaching your younger self, what would you tell him?”

Jack still doesn’t know what she wants him to say. He shrugs.

“Would you tell him, a twelve year old, that if he screws up he doesn’t deserve a second chance?”

Jack shakes his head.

“Would you tell him that his life is going to be over at eighteen? That he’s not ever going to amount to anything?”

“No,” Jack says. He can’t imagine saying that to any of the kids on his team.

“Why not? Don’t you think it’s true?”

“He’s just a kid,” Jack protests, opening his eyes.

Julie is looking at him with an unreadable expression. Jack wants to throw up. “How is it any different from telling yourself those things?” she asks. “If he doesn’t deserve that, why do you?”

“He’s just a kid,” Jack repeats, but it’s lacking conviction.

“Think about that for your homework,” Julie says. “I think we’re done for today.”