William Poindexter shakes out his hands, takes a deep breath, and raps his knuckles against the doorframe.
“Hey coach, do you have a minute?”
Coach Hall looks up from the mess of papers on his desk with a smile, gesturing to one of chairs in front of him with the pen that’s in his hand. “Sure, come on in, Will.” He waits for the freshman to sit before stating, “You did some good work out there today; your last shift in the final scrimmage had us all talking.”
Will keeps his eyebrows from flying to his hairline, but only just. “Really?”
He felt clumsy during this morning’s practice--ice time was hard to come by over the summer and he’s more than a little rusty--and frankly he’s still trying to get passed the shock of being recruited to Samwell University, so hearing his new coach lay on the praise like that makes him forget for a moment why he came to his office.
Coach’s smile softens. “Really.” He shuffles some of the papers around before folding his hands on the desk and leaning forward. “So, what can I do for you?”
Right. Will clears his throat and presses his palms against his thighs. “Um, well, the due date for this season’s fees is coming up, and I, ah, I think I’m going to have some trouble meeting that deadline?” He phrases it like a question, unsure of how the admission will be taken, and fully prepared to be met with disappointment. He knew the financial commitment going into the semester; he knows he should’ve planned for this, and that’s what he expects to hear from coach.
The thing is, he did plan for this. He worked his ass off all summer; repairing boats with his Uncle Nolan, stacking shelves at the hardware store for his family friend, Mr. Riley, and spending every spare minute working out, desperately trying to put on weight to prepare for his first season as a Division I NCAA athlete.
Not that he thought he had any chance of playing serious minutes this year, not when the top lines are full of players like Jack fucking Zimmermann, but he wanted to be prepared anyway and prove he’s willing to put in the work. So, he was ready.
And then the heating and cooling system in the house broke and his Uncle John went on a rampage about how ‘this wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for Will’s mother and her useless fucking kids freeloading all this time’, and there went most of his savings. Of course, if Will wasn’t such a fuck up and was able to fix the damn thing himself, he could’ve saved thousands of dollars and John would’ve never had to know about the repair--
“I’m glad you spoke up, Will.” Coach Hall startles him out of his spiral and the easy smile on his face settles his nerves. “You’re not the first player to need financial help--athletic scholarships are great but the limits that the NCAA puts on them don’t do us any favors, here--hockey is an expensive sport. That being said, team dues are more of a Captain responsibility than a coach's responsibility, so you’re better off bringing this up with Jack.”
Fuck. “Oh, um, are you sure? I wouldn’t want to, like, bother him or anything…”
“Don’t worry, son, you won’t be a bother; it’s part of the Captain gig. Just let him know you’ll need more time to get the money in, he’ll understand.”
“Right, more time,” Will swallows roughly. “I’ll, uh, I’ll go see if he’s still around.”
Coach nods. “Keep up the good work, twenty-four.”
He leaves the office, dropping the tense smile the second he’s out the door, and his mind whirrs.
Okay, I have a two-hour block between STAT and College Writing, I can pick up an extra shift at the dining hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays if I run to class afterwards. And then there’s Wednesday afternoon; I probably don’t need all that time to do homework and study, I can work a couple of hours then, too. So, that would be seven hours at least; at twelve dollars an hour that’s eighty-four extra per week before tax. Dues are five-hundred per semester and I have the seventy-eight dollars in my savings account so I can have the money in--
Will stops in his tracks, turns to slam his back against the wall of the hallway he was stalking down, and presses the heels of his palms into his eyelids. “Fuck.”
Even if he works himself to the brink of a mental breakdown, it won’t be enough, not while he’s still paying off the medical bills from his broken ankle last summer, and contributing to his sisters’ braces, and, of course, the nine-hundred he gives his Uncle for rent that the fucker definitely just drinks away; not to mention the cost of being a student when his scholarship barely covers tuition.
He drops his hands and tilts his head back until it thunks against the wall. The whispered, “fuck” is wetter this time.
His captain picks that moment to come down the hall towards the docks, and Will only has a second to school his face into something a little less full of despair before he’s spotted. He must not have done a very good job, because Jack does a double-take; nodding at him briefly before freezing and turning the full force of his Captain Stare on Will.
He gulps. “Hey, cap.”
“Poindexter,” Jack frowns. “Everything alright?”
Digging his nails into his palms, Will manages to answer, evenly, “Um, actually, I have to talk to you about something.”
Jack’s frown deepens. “Okay…”
“So, um, I just talked to coach about, uh, team dues?”
Understanding dawns on his captains face and he nods, prompting him to go on.
“Look, I know it’s part of my responsibility as a player and I’m going to pick up some extra shifts at work so I can get the money as soon as possible, but I still haven’t ordered my books for the semester, and I just paid for my uniform, and--”
“Dex.” Jack’s voice is stern, but his eyes are kind. “It’s okay.” He startles Will by putting a gentle hand on his shoulder. From what he’s seen of his captain so far, the man isn’t exactly a hugger.
Interrupting whatever he was about to say, Will goes on, nervousness spilling out in his words. “If I can find PDFs for most of my books and move some bills around I can have the money--”
“Poindexter.” Jack’s voice is urgent when he repeats, “It’s okay. We have a procedure for this sort of thing; it’s why we bother with fundraising--not that Bitty needs an excuse for a bake sale--” his lips twitch, “but the team has funds to cover player hardships. You’ll have to submit a form to the Samwell Student Athlete Board, but that’s just a formality. If you don’t have the money, it’s okay.”
“I--” Will blinks, startled. “What?”
Jack drops his hand and frowns again. “Did you think we’d kick you off the team if you couldn’t come up with five-hundred dollars every semester?”
Yes. “No, but I don’t want the guys to think I’m, like, freeloading, or whatever.”
“Dex.” There’s that disappointment that Will was waiting for. “You are on this team because of your ability on the ice. You deserve to be here regardless of your financial situation. We’re not going to judge you.” He shrugs. “Hockey is an expensive sport.”
Will’s lips twitch into something that’s almost a smile. “Yeah, coach said the same thing.”
Jack claps his hands together. “Alright, if Coach Hall and Coach Murray are both still here we can get started on this now. It’s really just a matter of explaining the situation and we’ll take care of the rest of it.”
His shoulders relax for the first time all day. “Thanks, cap, I can’t tell you how relieved I am--”
“Are you fucking serious?”
Will tenses again, swearing under his breath.
Derek Nurse is storming toward the pair, fists clenched and jaw tense, and the scene would exactly resemble their first day of practice if not for the fact that he’s freshly showered and back in his street clothes. Will still feels the shame of being called out in front of the whole team when he used the wrong term to refer to black people, but he didn’t know that colored people was outdated, okay? His town is pretty much whitesville, USA, and his uncle is a racist asshole, but Will tries to be better than that. He knows he’s not allowed to use the n-word, he understands why black face is problematic, and he gets that he’s privileged as a white person, but, shit, he didn’t know. So when Nursey shouted to get the attention of everyone on the ice during their very first warmup of the season, Will decided to stay away from him; preferring to quietly learn on his own from people of color ( people. of. color. he reminds himself sternly ) on the internet instead of risking another mistake in front of his new teammate with whom he wants so badly to get along.
And then Coach Murray decided they’d be great defense partners.
Of course, coach was right, they are great partners; they have a similar style of play, they work well together on the blue line, and they’re at the same skill level. Outside of being hockey players, however, the two couldn’t be more different.
Will knows Nursey is loaded because he flaunts it every goddamn day--bemoaning the loss of one of his airpods while ordering a new pair, wearing name brand jeans that cost more than his whole wardrobe, covered in intricate tattoos that were definitely more expensive than Will could ever imagine--and he’s not jealous , okay?
Except for all of the ways he is.
He can’t let himself think about what his life could be if he had that kind of money because if he did, he’d never recover from the downward spiral that would send him into. But, god, if only.
They’re completely different people with completely different backgrounds and Will expected a culture shock when he went off to college but he didn’t expect so much hostility and he doesn’t know how to handle it.
So, he doesn’t handle it.
He avoids Nursey and lightheartedly chirps him about hockey when he can’t. If they stick to hockey and nothing else, things can’t go too horribly wrong.
Or so he thought.
Nursey stops right next to Will, but ignores him, meeting Jack’s gaze with a surprising amount of anger, and demanding, “Are we really doing this?”
Before Will can ask what the fuck he’s talking about, Jack says, cooly, “This doesn’t involve you, Nurse.”
“Like hell it doesn’t! If we’re moving lines around because this white boy can’t get over my skin color, then I deserve to know about it without having to overhear a shady hallway conversation--”
“Fuck you, Nurse,” Will snaps. “Not everything is about you.”
“Oh, but it’s all about you, right?”
“Enough,” Jack’s got his Captain Voice on. Will feels himself shrinking in response, but Nurse is focused on him now, still seething.
“You told me you were going to work through it, Dex, what the fuck? This is college, you can’t just run away from people who are different so you don’t have to change your precious world views--”
“Will you shut the fuck up?” Will cuts him off, matching his anger, then surpassing it altogether. “I can’t afford the fucking dues, not that you would know a fucking thing about that, you pretentious asshole.” The blatant insulting is so unlike him that it drains his anger completely. He sighs and runs a rough hand down his face. “Look, I can’t pay my dues so I was talking to Jack and coach about my options, okay? I don’t want a new d-partner, I just don’t want to get kicked off the team.”
Nurse’s face falls. “Shit, Dex, I didn’t--”
Will shakes his head sharply. “Just leave it.” He looks up at Jack who’s watching the two of them with a wary expression and tilts his head towards the coach offices. “Can we…”
“Yeah, c’mon.” With a final nod to Nurse, he returns his hand to Will’s shoulder, guiding this time, and the two make their way back down the hallway.
Will has his back turned and his brain is screaming at him for revealing something he’s so ashamed about to Nursey of all people, so he doesn’t see the way he slumps against the wall, thunking his head on it, pressing his hands to his eyes, and muttering, “fuck”.