Bitty was stress baking. It was barely over a month into fall semester, and their first game was in a week. Sure, the team was a well-oiled machine with a intense desire to win by this point, but Bitty knew any mistakes would fall back on him. He was the captain now, and that made him liable for his boys. They followed his lead, and Bitty was terrified now that it was finally sinking in that this was actually real. He still could barely believe he was elected, let alone unanimously. The last thing he wanted was to let everyone down. The coaches moved him from right wing to center after the banquet in spring, and he was only just now getting used to the slight differences the change made. He was lucky to have Ollie and Wicks as brilliant forwards alongside him on his line.
He realistically knew that he was overblowing the situation. Bitty replayed every conversation with Jack about this very train of thought and focused on what Bitty would tell him.
“Every time you’re out on the ice, honey, it isn’t just you out there. Your team relies on you, sure, but they’re your team. You’re doing this together and any shortfalls are never entirely on you. You’re a fantastic player and that will remain true regardless of any mistakes.”
Bitty wasn’t so sure if that last part really applied to him. He knew his strengths on the ice, sure, but was he actually a good player? At least, one that warranted him making captain? He had full trust in his boys. That wasn’t going to change. It was himself he seriously doubted. Bitty closed his eyes for a moment, gripped the edge of the countertop, and let himself breathe. The longer he thought about the approaching game the worse he felt. But not thinking about it seemed impossible. He reopened his eyes.
The dough lining the pan on the counter was only half molded, and a bitter grin stretched across Bitty’s face when he realized that was exactly how he felt. Unfinished.
Chowder sat at the kitchen table, silently watching his captain throw himself into preparing quiches. He munched on one of the freshly baked cookies from earlier with a thoughtful expression on his face.
“You seem a little stressed, Cap.”
Bitty almost laughed aloud at that. Instead he cracked a smile and met Chowder’s eyes. He’d never tell the rest of the team, but he thinks if he had to choose a favorite frog Chowder would quickly beat them out.
“You might have something there, Chowder.”
“Sorry.” Chowder frowned. “Do you want to talk about it? I, uh, I know I’m not the best person to give you advice or anything, but I know I always feel better about stuff after talking to you. Plus, Farms says I’m a pretty okay listener.”
Bless this boy. Bitty set the now filled pie shell on the counter and sighed. “I suppose you have a point. Normally I’d call Jack, but I just know he’s as stressed as I am for near the same reasons and I don’t want to bother him over me being silly for no real reason.”
“Let me get this in the oven and I’ll join y—” Bitty cut himself off when his phone rang. He quickly shoved the quiche into the oven and checked the caller ID.
He mouthed a quick apology to Chowder. “Hey, Momma.”
“Dicky! I’m glad I caught you. I just know y’all have your hands full with the big game this weekend.”
Bitty swallowed around a lump in his throat. “Yeah, Momma. The boys and I are training hard to prepare.”
“Now don’t let this interfere with your studies, alright?”
“Of course, Momma.”
His mother hesitated, and it made Bitty instinctually tense up. “Dicky, I have a little bit of a surprise for you. A good surprise, don’t fret.”
“Oh?” Bitty was still weary. He wasn’t sure where this was going, but there was still a slight possibility it wouldn’t be good despite her assurances.
“I thought that since you’re a captain now—which we’re so tickled about, we really are!—we thought we’d fly on up to see your first game this weekend! I know it’s only been a near two months since we saw you, but we do miss you terribly.”
“I miss you too, M—wait, we?”
“Well, yes! That’s part of the surprise. Your Daddy is so proud, he’s managed a way to get the weekend off to fly up with me for the occasion. It’s been a while since he’s seen you play in person, and we thought you’d be thrilled to have us both up there cheering you on!”
If Bitty wasn’t stressed before, he definitely was now. The last time Coach saw him play hockey in person was during his football team’s off week his sophomore year in high school. He hasn’t had to worry about his eyes on him for six years. Bitty swallowed again and did his best to feign excitement.
“That’s great, Momma! I can’t wait to see the both of y’all up here. Don’t you let Coach think he’ll be able to get out of the same tour I gave you, neither.”
“Ooh, I am so excited to see you, Dicky. I’m sure you’ll do so well. Well, I’ll let you go get back to whatever you were up to before I interrupted you. I love you, and we’ll see you soon.”
“Love you too, Momma. I, uh, can’t wait to see y’all.” Bitty knew his words sounded a little hollow, but the dread settling in his stomach made it hard for him to sound as bubbly as usual.
After hanging up, Bitty sank into the chair opposite Chowder and pressed his face onto the cool wood with his hands in his hair. He groaned loudly.
“Like I said, I’m not the best at this, but I definitely think that conversation made whatever’s stressing you out worse.” Chowder seemed very confused, but his concern was well-meant.
“Coach is coming to the game on Saturday. And hoo boy if that ain’t a complicated situation.”
“If that’s what’s bothering you, can’t you just pretend he’s not there or something?”
Bitty sat up and let himself breathe in deeply and then sigh heavily. “That’s looking like my only option.”
“We’ve got your back, Cap. All of us, uh, not just me.” Chowder grinned awkwardly.
Bitty smiled. “I know.”
He flipped the conversation on Chowder, feeling too emotionally exhausted to continue focusing on his own issues, and asked the goalie about Caitlin. Chowder immediately brightened up and began rambling on about how she convinced him to take the same elective course as her that semester and that he was already thoroughly enjoying the extra time he got to see her during the week. Bitty egged him on with short questions while he waited for his quiche to finish baking, really only half listening. When the timer went off, Bitty made his excuses and ducked out of the kitchen and headed up to his room once the dish was on the counter to cool.
The UGA banner on his bedroom wall seemed to mock him.
He resisted the urge to rip it down.