If there’s one thing Nursey doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to about living at Samwell, it’s having to drive places. In New York, what isn’t in walking distance is in biking distance, what isn’t in biking distance is accessible by the subway, and everything outside of the subway isn’t really worth visiting. Samwell, however, is sort of in the middle of nowhere. Dex and Bitty acted like it was some kind of urban center, just an hour out from Boston, but to Nursey, it was suburbia at best, and that required a car.
Nursey was thinking about all this because he was currently gripping the wheel of his seven year old Hyundai Sonata, weaving his way through the roads that surrounded Samwell’s campus, searching for a lost frog. He really hated driving, but Whiskey had called him at midnight and told him about how one of the newest team members had apparently left the Haus halfway through the annual start of the season kegster and no-one had seen him since. Nursey had called the guy four times, and it kept going straight to voicemail, so either his phone was dead, or he didn’t want to talk. Unfortunately for him, Nursey wasn’t the kind of captain who let his players stew in their emotions. He knew better than that.
It was close to 1 AM when Nursey finally pulled onto the gravel road leading to the lakefront. The water was still, a cool black mirror that reflected the stars, the firebugs, and the boy sitting at the edge of the lake’s pier. He didn’t move at all when he heard the car pull up, just kept staring out into the distance, across the lake. His feet didn’t quite touch the surface of the water. He had put his shoes and socks back at the place where the pier met the road, where Nursey stood, pulling off his sandals and walking softly to the edge. The new guy took a deep breath when Nursey sat down. He could hear it rattle.
“How’d you find me?”
Nursey looked up at the moon. It hung heavy over the lake, a warm yellow color that gave the night a comforting sort of glow. He looked at the boy next to him, probably barely 18 and out of the house for the first time, scared stiff and not sure what to do outside of act tough and, apparently, run away if things got overwhelming.
“I went to your dorm first. Your roommate let me in, told me he didn’t know where you were. I saw a picture, though. Of you out on a lake, holding a fish. I figured this was as good a bet as any.”
The frog exhaled and looked down at the lake. His hands were still shaking, and Nursey could tell that his eyes were getting wet. A breeze was coming off the lake, and it ruffled its way through their hair. Nursey didn’t say anything. It wasn’t him who needed to talk right now.
“Back on my old team, everyone called me Jones.”
Nursey just looked at him.
“Some of the guys-Will and Chris?-were talking about nicknames, and one of them, the one with the Sharks hoodie, asked me what mine was. It was Jones, but like, I really fucking hate that name.”
His hand was still shaking, Nursey pulled his legs up from where they were dangling off the pier and turned to face the frog completely. His eyes were more than just wet now, he was crying, no holds barred, and Nursey was torn between not wanting to see his teammate hurting, and knowing that crying was good sometimes, that this guy needed to let whatever it was that made him run so far away off his chest.
“I just-fuck, listen, I know it sounds stupid, but I’m a shitty hockey player, and that’s why my nickname was Jones, because that’s average, and that’s all I am at best, and being at that party with Jack fucking Zimmerman and Justin Oluransi, who’s like, the best defensive player that the Sharks ever had, and even you, you’re the captain, you’re one of the best players in college hockey PERIOD and I’m just some random guy from Minnesota who doesn’t even deserve to be here, on this team, with so many people who’re practically icons-”
Not-Jones broke off them, voice cracking in frustration. He stared angrily at the lake, tears streaming down his face, trying to keep from sobbing.
“Your name is Karam, right? Karam Hashmat, Number 37, from West Hill, Minnesota?”
Karam looked up at Nursey defensively, face flushed. Nursey could see the dark circles under his eyes, and he felt the familiar pang of worry for this kid. The hardest part of being a captain, for Nursey, was realizing he couldn’t fix everyone’s problems, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to try.
“Okay, Karam, first things first? No-one is going to call you a name you hate. We’re a team, and we can’t be that if we’re also being dicks to each other.Second, I’ve been playing hockey since I was a kid. I’ve played with Jack and Justin and Eric Bittle and fuck, Chris Chow, the guy in the Sharks hoodie? Give him two years and he’ll be dominating the NHL, he’s the best goalie that this sport’s ever seen, and I’d bet my life on that.”
“Is this supposed to be helpful?”
Nursey gave Karam a small nudge with his shoulder, smiled at him gently.
“Yeah, bro. Give me a sec, I’m getting there. My point is, I’ve seen some great players in my day. I can tell who’s great, and who’s bad, and who’s average. Coach showed me your tapes, Karam. We need a center who’s great, because Whiskey is a badass but he won’t be here forever, and I think you can be that guy. Fuck what anyone else says, I can tell who can do this. Everything, your stats, your tapes, your drive in practice, none of that is average, and it sure as fuck isn’t bad.”
He looked at Karam earnestly.
“Dude, I believe in you.”
Karam glanced up at Nursey, tears still coming, but slower now, with less urgency.
“Do you mean that, Captain?”
Nursey grinned, and stood up. He put out his hand for Karam.
“100% my man. Now lets get back to the Haus, you can crash on the couch and make Bittle cry before he goes home to Providence.”
Karam laughed, and grabbed Nursey’s hand to help pull himself up. Nursey slung his arm around Karam’s shoulder as they walked back to their cars, the moon still softly glowing in the night sky behind them.