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The Penalty Box by Becky Moore

The Penalty Box
by Becky Moore

XOXO Publishing

eBook ISBN: 978-1-897521-47-2

Justin “The Monk” Magnum announces his retirement only five games into the season. He wants to get out of the spotlight, start a private practice as a physical therapist, find a wife, buy a house, get a dog, and just settle down. A year later, he runs into Olivia Casey—quite literally.

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Chapter One

One year ago.
“Ah, come on!” groaned four or five of the reporters in the crowd after the initial shock silenced the crowd. The jackals were quick to recover however, and wildness erupted within the buzzing arena of sports journalists scrambling to be the ace reporter to get the first shocking statements out of The Monk.
“Justin—Mr. Mangum. Why would you retire now, when you’re at the height of your strength and your game? The Oak Leaves could really use you on the wing after last year’s championship season.”
“Mr. Mangum, how can you walk away from a lucrative career? You’re an athlete. What will you do now?”
“You’re the first player in the history of the NHL to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy at the end of one season only to retire five games into the new one. Why?”
Why, why, WHY?
Justin Mangum waited out the staccato, rapid fire of questions aimed his way as a result of the unexpected news. The Carolina Oak Leaves had just won their fifth game of the new season. To the world at large, Justin’s decision to retire seemed ludicrous. The Oak Leaves had drawn extremely well from the draft rounds; they’d built another stellar team with a remarkable chance at duplicating their victory. Justin was a bit stunned himself, but had to work hard to keep the smirk off of his face. He had just knocked the National Hockey League on its ass. And the sooner he could finish up the goddamned press conference, the sooner he could tell the reporters who’d hounded him relentlessly for years to fuck off.
Visions of the accusatory glares from his mother and sister following his father’s funeral last week haunted him. In Justin’s mind, walking away from hockey was an easy choice. But facing the malaise of a disappointed press pool was devastating. He didn’t owe anybody anything. He’d played his heart out and given up nearly a decade to the sport—missing countless holidays and family celebrations for training and games—and for what? To be on the road when his family needed him most? To have seen his dad midsummer before the season began because he was too busy playing in golf tournaments and working the press angle for the team? Well, he was done with that crap.
Coach Dan “Rocket” Thornton sat to Justin’s left. He covered the microphone in front of him with one hand and leaned over to whisper in the sweaty ear of his star player. “Son, you’ve got to say something.” He popped a couple of Rolaids into the other hand and tossed them into his mouth, downing them with a big swig of water from the glass that sat in front of him.
Justin took a deep breath and looked at his teammates—giants standing heads and shoulders over the normal sized members of the national sports media. Like him, they were still suited up, sweaty, stinky and waiting with bated breath to hear what their friend had to say.
“Hey Monk—does this decision have anything to do with your father’s death last week?”
Shit! That was it! That was the final straw. Justin blew out an angry breath and rolled his shoulders. He pointed at the offending reporter. “Swift, you’re out of line with that question. You know, for the last nine years I have answered every question you have ever asked me. I let you shadow me during my first year in the NHL and you have the balls to ask me that?”

 

A murmur went through the crowd. The sound bombarded Justin’s ears when it mingled with the swift intake of breath; at least the bastard had the decency to blush. Rocket reached over and tried to put his hand on Justin’s shoulder again, but the kid shook it off.
“It’s no secret that most of the guys in the league call me The Monk, is it? Well, I’m going to be thirty over Christmas and I have never had the good fortune of kissing my wife or playing with my children. I’ve never spent the summer playing at the beach or going skiing in the winter time. Hell, I’ve never worked with a single physical therapy patient and my university degrees tell me I could open a practice tomorrow. And do you know why that is?”
He reached a shaky hand out and picked up a dewy water bottle sitting in front of him. He eyed the crowd warily over the bottle as he drank a long pull of the lukewarm water. His stomach threatened to rebel, but he forced his way through the nervousness. Puking in front of the whole world was not high on his list of goals for the evening.
“How can I get married and have kids when I’m never in one city long enough to have a ceremony or procreate? Hell, how can I get to know a woman well enough to ask her to be my wife? I couldn’t even take enough time off to get to my dad after he was hit by a drunk driver two weeks ago. When he came out of his coma for a few hours, my mom couldn’t reach me on the ice in time for me to fly home and see him. But don’t worry—she was sure to tell him I loved him before his final breath. So, yeah, Ed Swift, my father’s death has quite a bit to do with why I’m retiring. I’m tired. I’m lonely. I’m ready to go out to dinner and eat without you people reporting to the whole world what I ate. I’m ready for some new hot shot to take my spot in the limelight.” He took a deep, fortifying breath. His hands shook as they dragged tiredly through his hair. “It’s time.”
The team, which had been watching quietly from the back of the room, started pushing their way through the throng of reporters to make their way to Justin. Most looked shocked, some angry, and some sad. Justin braced himself to have the living shit beat out of him on national television.
Rocket spoke next. “Justin and the management have been in discussions for his retirement since the season began. The news saddens us and it comes as quite a shock, but we support his decision. He’s given nine good years to the team, both in Hartford and in Raleigh, and we’re going to miss him…on the ice.”
He appeared fairly calm to the reporters, but Justin could feel the hand on his shoulder clenching and unclenching. “And though he won’t be an official physician on the team’s books, we expect a number of our players will be seeing him off the ice at the physical therapy practice he’s planning to open here in Raleigh.”
Justin smiled. “I’ve had a great career and I love this town. But my heart is really not in it anymore. Your Carolina Oak Leaves have a tremendous team this season, and Erik Neilson will soar to greatness in my old position. I appreciate your interest in my career and the coverage you have given to me and the Oak Leaves over the years. Thank you.” He reached out and shut off the microphone, cutting off the possibility of further response.
His teammates had made their way to the front of the crowd and were climbing onto the stage to grab Justin in a series of bear hugs. He looked over at Rocket and noticed he was wiping tears from his eyes unabashedly. The guys passed him around, pounding him on the shoulders and back with affection and he finally let go. Tears spilled over onto his cheeks and he smiled as the memories of his hockey career ran through his mind. These were good friends, and good teammates. He would miss their constant companionship, but this was the right decision. It was time to move on to the next chapter of his life, and damn it, he was ready.

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2 Responses to The Penalty Box by Becky Moore

  1. beckymoore says:

    Looks great Renee! Thanks so much for including The Penalty Box!

  2. lrwirum says:

    Wow love the sound of this one. Another book I really need to check out. :-)

    Larena

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