Face-Off at the Altar

By: Toni Aleo

Markus Reeves wasn’t an idiot.

Well, at least, he didn’t think he was.

Some might disagree, but he thought he was a pretty competent dude.

Especially on the ice.

One thing he was sure of was that hockey was hard; it wasn’t some pussy-ass sport. It took guts, it took stamina, and above all, it took heart. He had all three of those things—and more—but he was starting to realize that college hockey was nothing like playing in the AHL.

As Murphy slammed him hard into the boards, taking the puck as Markus slowly slid down to the ice, he was pretty sure he would never make it out of that rink alive. At least, not today.

Today, he sucked major ass.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault but his own.

He was the one hungover.

As he slowly got back to his feet, fighting back the bile in his throat, he shook his head before taking off down the ice to get the puck back. This wasn’t him; he wasn’t that kind of player, the one who caused problems or sucked. He worked hard, he trained hard because he loved his sport, and he wanted the big dream. The endgame.

The NHL.

But ever since he was sent down to the minors while his best friend, Jace Sinclair, went straight into the NHL playing for the Panthers, Markus felt his dream wasn’t within his grasp. He felt like a failure and like he would never succeed. He had been feeling a little down about it—well, if he were to be honest, he would admit it was more than just a little down. He felt like he was at rock bottom.

And to top it all off, he was jealous of his best bud.

As much as it made him sound like a child, he felt as if it wasn’t fair. He knew he was as good as Jace, maybe even better. His buddy was young, wild, while Markus was older, smarter, and knew how to make the plays to get ahead and when. Yet, Jace made it. He was voted Rookie of the Year last year and was killing it, personally and professionally. He had the life. The career, the wife, the kid…all before the age of twenty-one.

Meanwhile, Markus was almost twenty-five, not where he wanted to be careerwise but also drinking and fucking through his feelings.

And it was getting pathetic.

He wasn’t focused anymore. He couldn’t see the endgame because of all the feelings he had inside of him, and that was downright tragic. He was proud of Jace, loved him like a brother. Actually, he was his brother, his family. Markus knew that, so he knew he shouldn’t feel what he was feeling, but it was hard. He was worried that his time would never come. That he’d be stuck in the minors, playing for the Jacksonville Ninjas, the Nashville Assassins’ farm team, instead of playing in the big leagues and being a star.

Which wasn’t fathomable because Markus Reeves was star status, damn it.

Well, not today. Today he was shit.

“Reeves, what the fuck are you doing?” Jimmy St. Marc, also known as Coach Saint, yelled. Markus dug in, sweat dripping down his forehead, his cheek, and off his jaw. Fighting for the puck in the corner, he won it, sending it to the point where his roommate, Jordan, shot hard but was blocked. Thankfully, though, his other linemate, Bennett, was there, going over the goalie’s shoulder and scoring.

But no one cheered. They all knew they were a mess. It hadn’t been a star season for the Ninjas. They had been sucking since the beginning of the season, and maybe that was another reason Markus was so down. How was he supposed to get ahead when the team sucked? Everyone knew that Elli Adler, the owner of the franchise, wouldn’t be looking if they were failing and not producing.

But just in case they didn’t know that, Coach Saint came across the ice, his voice filling the rink. “You guys are fucking sloppy! I can’t even comprehend why you guys would think Elli Adler would want any of you!”

Duh, Markus thought as he gasped for breath, following the rest of his team toward where Saint was waiting for them, his face bright with anger. Saint wasn’t like Markus’s old college coach on the Bellevue Bullies, Coach River Moore, whom he loved and still talked to daily. Saint was a young coach, wanting to prove he was the best, which resulted in lots of cutting the team down instead of lifting them up. And that was another reason Markus was over this team. But River had told him, time and time again, this was his stepping-stone. He just had to keep climbing.