“Language,” Dad scolds.
I’m already flying out of my seat. I forgot about Jake’s bracelet. I forgot to give it back to him, dammit.
After my talk with Dad the other night, I went upstairs to take a shower and I remember shoving the bracelet in my nightstand. And I spent most of Thursday and Friday at Summer’s, because even though my basement is ready, I haven’t moved back in yet because I didn’t want to be alone. I’m afraid that if I’m alone I’ll just be thinking about Jake all the time. I completely pushed him out of my head these past few days. And since he wasn’t on my mind, neither was his good-luck charm.
He’s playing Michigan today. Crap. Why hasn’t he called or texted? Hasn’t he noticed he doesn’t have his bracelet?
“I have Jake’s good-luck charm,” I blurt out. “He gave it to me before we broke up and I totally forgot to give it back, and he’s playing today in Worcester!”
Coaching hockey players for more than two decades, my father has undoubtedly encountered a crapload of superstitions, charms, and rituals. So I’m not surprised when his expression turns grave. “That’s not good.”
“No, it’s not.” I gnaw on the inside of my cheek. “What should I do?”
“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.” He sets down his cup and scrapes his chair back.
“What are you doing?”
“You don’t mess with a man’s ritual, Brenna.” Dad checks his watch. “What time does the game start?”
I’m already looking it up on my phone. “One thirty,” I say a moment later.
Right now it’s eleven. It’ll take an hour or so to get to Worcester. Relief fills my chest. I can make it there long before the game starts.
Dad confirms my thoughts. “If we leave now, we’ll get there with plenty of time to spare.”
“You think I’m really going to let you drive the Jeep in a panic? Christ. I shudder just thinking about the mailbox destruction you’d be leaving in your wake.” My father snorts. “I’m driving.”
Jake’s not answering his phone or responding to my texts. It occurs to me that maybe he blocked my number, but that would be a total dick move. He’s the one who broke up with me. He has no reason to block my number. Unless he thought I’d be one of those girls who called him five hundred times begging for a second chance? If so, then I guess he didn’t know me at all.
The alternative is that he’s too focused on his game-day rituals and isn’t checking his phone.
There’s a light drizzle outside, lazily sliding down the Jeep’s windshield. In the passenger seat, I wonder if there’s another way to get in touch with Jake. I don’t have Brooks’s number, and I deleted McCarthy’s. I suppose I could do some online investigating and track down their social media accounts, but that requires a level of panic I’m not feeling right now.
There’s lots of time, and when we get there, I’ll be bound to run into a Harvard player or someone who could send a message to a Harvard player. Hopefully, I can simply give the bracelet to someone who’ll pass it on to Jake, without me ever having to see him. I’m not sure what I would say if I saw him. Plus, he’s already accused me of being a distraction. Seeing me right before a crucial game might mess with his head.
When we pull into the arena, Dad bypasses the parking lot and drives directly to the entrance. “Get out here,” he orders. “I’ll park the car and meet you inside. Keep your phone on.”
A thought suddenly occurs to me. “Oh no,” I say in dismay. “We don’t have tickets.”
“Sure we do. I called Steve Llewellyn when you were getting dressed. Told him I needed a favor. There’ll be two tickets waiting for us at the box office under your name. Standing room only, though. It was too last minute for anything better.”
Llewellyn is the head coach of Michigan. I guess it helps to have a father with connections. “You’re the best.”
I hop out of the car and dart toward the entrance. As I pick up the tickets, I call Jake again. He doesn’t answer.
Although the game doesn’t start for nearly an hour and a half, tons of people are already streaming inside the arena and filling up the stands. I glimpse a sea of Harvard fans, along with the gold and blue Michigan colors. I scan the Crimson portion of the crowd for anyone who looks familiar. Nada. Then I search for any signs that might tell me where the locker rooms are. I spot one and take off in that direction.
I’m approaching the corridor when I finally encounter a face I recognize.
It’s Jake’s friend Hazel.
Lovely. “Hey,” I greet her. “I’m looking for Jake.”
After a cool appraisal, a flicker of displeasure flares in her eyes. “What are you doing here?”
“I just told you—I’m looking for Jake.” I fidget with one of the beads on his bracelet. I wore it on my wrist for safekeeping. “Is the Harvard bus here yet?”
“Do you know when they’re showing up? Have you spoken to him at all today?”
“No.” She frowns slightly. “He’s not answering his phone. I’m here with his parents—”
My stomach twists. Nope. Not jealous. I am not jealous.
“—and none of us can get in touch with him. Maybe his phone’s dead. Sometimes when he goes into hockey mode, he forgets to do basic things, like charge his tech.”
I hate this girl. I don’t know if she does it intentionally, these I-know-him-better-than-you-do jabs. Maybe I’m just feeling insecure, though. Or maybe she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it. Maybe she knows him so well that it comes out instinctively.
Either way, it’s a good thing Jake isn’t here yet. Now I won’t have to see him, and he won’t see me. He wants to focus on hockey? Congrats, he can focus on hockey.
“When he gets here can you give him this?” I clumsily slide the bracelet off my wrist. Removing it brings a pang of sorrow. It’s like saying goodbye to the last piece of Jake that I have left.
Hazel’s gaze darkens with suspicion. “Where did you get that?”
I set my jaw. I don’t appreciate the not-so-veiled accusation. “If you think I stole it, relax. Jake loaned it to me the other day. I was nervous about something and he said it would bring me good luck.” I have to smile, because something good did come out of it. Dad and I got our fresh start, after all. “Anyway, I forgot to return it, and I drove all the way here, so…” I thrust out my hand. “Could you please give this to him when he gets here?”
“Jake let you borrow his good-luck charm.” Her tone has a dull note to it.
“Yes.” I’m starting to get annoyed. And I’m still holding my arm out like a moron. “Look, I get that you don’t like me—for no good reason, by the way. You don’t even know me. But I care about Jake, same as you. This—” I wave the bracelet at her. “—is important to him. He’ll hate me forever if this bracelet isn’t on his wrist when the puck drops. So can you please just take it already?”
After a moment of hesitation, Hazel accepts the bracelet. She slips it around her wrist and says, “I’ll make sure he gets it.”
I’m alone in the locker room, me versus my thoughts. Voices echo beyond the door, laughter and chatter and the general hum of activity, but I’m good at blocking all of it out. My ritual of silence doesn’t require actual silence. I just need to quiet my brain. Meditate on what needs to be done.
Coach gave me permission to make my own way to Worcester today. It’s unheard of, but I think my less-than-stellar performance at practice these last three days genuinely shook him up. He’s worried I might lose us this game. And he’s right to worry. My concentration is shot. Breaking up with Brenna wrecked me.
I made a mistake.
I made a mistake, and I knew it the moment she left my apartment. Ending it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I acted out of fear, not logic, and it backfired on me, because now my head is even further away from where it’s supposed to be.
It’s ironic. All that bullshit I spewed about needing to rid myself of distractions—which was a total lie to begin with—resulted in creating an even bigger disruption in my brain. Brenna wasn’t a distraction, but this breakup sure as hell is.
So Coach gave me a pass and I drove to Worcester on my own. I found a diner and fueled up with a big, greasy breakfast. At some point I realized I forgot my phone at home, but I don’t need it. Nothing is allowed to exist today beyond this one game. We win this, we progress to the Frozen Four. It’s enough pressure to make a weaker man choke, but I’m not that man. I might’ve been weak about my relationship with Brenna, but I’m not weak about hockey. Never have been, never will be.
Loud footsteps thud out in the hall. For a second I think the rest of the team has arrived early, until I hear evidence of a scuffle. More footsteps, a thump, and an outraged male shout.
“I told you, you can’t go in there!”
“We just need a minute,” someone insists. “Seriously, what the hell do you think we’re gonna do in there? Murder the guy?”