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Tacker (E-Book)

Tacker (E-Book)

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I am not okay.

Fifteen months ago, my life was turned upside down when the plane I was piloting went down. Injured and trapped in the wreckage, I had to watch my fiancée die a painfully slow death, which is something that can really mess with your head.

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Since that day, I’ve had little desire to do much of anything. Except play hockey, that is. Because that is the one place where the bad memories are banished and I can escape my pain.

But off the ice, I’m spiraling out of control. Losing the grip on my life and putting myself and my career in danger. Now, thanks to a string of bad decisions, I’ve been ordered to complete therapy in order to stay on the team.

The problem? Nora Wayne, my beautiful and somewhat unconventional therapist. I can’t buy into the brand of happy clappy crap this woman is feeding me. What could she possibly understand about the type of loss that I’ve suffered? How does she know anything about finding happiness after losing the most important person in your life?

Turns out, I’ve got a lot to learn, and she’s just the person I need to break through those walls I’ve erected.

I am not okay.

But for the first time in a long time, I know that I will be.

Read Chapter One

Chapter 1

Tacker

“Three Three December,” I say into the headset. “I’m having some issues with the primary attitude indicator. I’d like to climb a bit.”

I glance over at MJ. She always used to snicker when I’d say “attitude” indicator. Most people think it should be “altitude,” but no… it’s called an attitude indicator. She thought that was hilarious.

How many times has she sat in the copilot seat of my Cessna 335, glancing out at the world with pure joy on her face? She loves to fly as much as I do, but she’s always content to let me have the controls. Though she loves being up in the air, she’s never had a desire to pilot.

I’ve never seen her look scared before, and it causes my anxiety to skyrocket. She doesn’t even look back to me, her eyes squinted and peering through the windshield, trying desperately to locate the horizon.

The radio crackles, then the controller replies, “I’ll be able to issue a higher altitude in two miles. Copy?”

“Roger that,” I reply, resolving to hold steady for that long. I’m at twenty-six-hundred feet, flying through fog as thick as pea soup. My attitude indicator—perhaps the most important instrument on my dash that shows my plane’s orientation relative to the horizon—is fritzing out. Without clear skies, I can’t find the fucking horizon and I’m at risk for spatial disorientation. My request to climb to a higher altitude is to get us above this mess.

Get us to safety.

I don’t risk taking my hands off the yoke to grab MJ’s for reassurance. So instead, I say, “Hey… think you’ll let me take a little peek at the dress?”

It’s the reason for our trip. We’re flying from Dallas to Houston for the last fitting of her wedding dress. Then, in two short weeks, we’ll be married.

MJ—short for Melody Jane—and what I’ve called her since I first met her in Dallas, tears her gaze away from the foggy air surrounding us and gives me a quick glance. “Not a snowball’s chance in hell.”

I don’t dare look at her, only able to see the sharp twist of her head from my peripheral vision. But I grin, loving her sass even in the face of true danger.

“Cessna 121 Papa Papa,” the controller says over the radio. “I’m going to have you make a slow left turn heading southeast, then climb to seven thousand feet. You should have seven miles visibility but some light rain.”

“Roger,” I reply, glancing down at the attitude indicator. The horizon line sits flat, telling me I’m flying straight as an arrow. I hope to fuck it’s working correctly now because I’m going to have to rely on it heavily in just a moment.

This time, I do take a moment to look at MJ, and she slowly swivels to meet my gaze. This left turn is all going to be dependent on that indicator leading me through the fog.

“I love you,” I say solemnly. Not a goodbye. Just a reaffirmation.

“I love you, too,” she replies, and I start to turn the plane.



Terror clutches me so hard I can’t breathe. I come flying out of my nightmare, soaked with sweat. My mouth is wide open, but no scream comes out. I never screamed as we were going down, but MJ had. It had been loud, piercing, and filled with horror. I can hear it vividly ringing in my ears right now, even though my nightmare didn’t progress far tonight.

Sometimes, I relive the entire crash.

Sometimes, it will only be a loop of MJ’s last moments alive. She hadn’t been killed instantly. We’d both been trapped in the wreckage, and I had to watch her die a long, torturous death. That was the worst nightmare I repeatedly suffer.

Scrubbing a hand over my face, I wonder what time it is. I don’t have a clock, and I don’t wear my watch to sleep. My phone is plugged into a charger on my bathroom vanity. The only thing I have in my bedroom is an inflatable air mattress covered with a fitted sheet, a fleece blanket, and two pillows.

Judging by the dark gloom with a bluish cast coming through the blinds, I’d guess it was on the verge of dawn. I’m exhausted. If I lay back down, I might be able to drift off to sleep. However, the thought of falling into a vortex of plane crash terrors doesn’t appeal to me, so I roll off the mattress, careful of the cast on my left wrist. I have a slight fracture to the scaphoid bone, compliments of my idiotic choices of drinking and driving two weeks ago. I’ve got another few weeks in the cast, although maybe I can talk the doctor into taking it off sooner.

Pushing up to my knees, then my feet, I make my way into the small bathroom across the hall. This apartment complex is a dump, and I’d rented a small one-bedroom when I moved to Phoenix in September after having been picked up by the Vengeance in the expansion draft.

I was a pretty unmarketable player, having sat out most of the second half of last season due to the plane crash. Not because of my injuries, though. I came out relatively unscathed except for some deep lacerations. Rather, I didn’t have much spirit of competition left within me and stayed on “injured reserve” with the Dallas Mustangs.

I wasn’t surprised they put me on the auction block for the expansion draft. I was too much of a risk, but apparently not to the Vengeance. They wanted me on their team, and so I thought… what the fuck? Why not? At least it provided me some respite from my demons.

What I found when I came back to playing professional hockey was that as long as I was out on the ice, I was able to keep MJ and her death out of my head.

Step foot off the ice and she occupied everything.

I do my business in the bathroom, wash my hands, then nab my phone from the charger. After I shuffle into the kitchen, I start a pot of coffee. While it brews, I reach into the cabinet and pull out the only coffee mug I have. An Arizona Vengeance one I picked up in the arena fan store when I first moved here. It’s the only drinking container I have in my apartment unless the empty water bottles in the recycle bin count.

My phone lets me know it’s six forty-five, and I wonder if I’ll actually make my nine AM meeting. I have plenty of time. A ten-minute shower and change. A twenty-five-minute Uber ride to the arena—thanks to my license being suspended due to my DUI charge—and probably a five-minute mandatory wait in the front office until I can be granted an audience with Christian Rutherford.

He’s the general manager of the Arizona Vengeance, and he’s expecting me to give him an answer today.

The question?

Will I choose to continue playing with the team?

His offer for my continued employment as a player on the team wasn’t made without a lot of thought and care. He met with Coach Perron and the team’s owner, Dominik Carlson. They discussed the benefit I could provide, and they weighed it against the terrible shadow I’d thrown over their entire program with my antics.

They are not without compassion, although it’s probably misplaced in a man like me.

Regardless, they made me an offer, and I’ve been considering it. Last week, I got called in to talk to Christian. His terms were simple and nonnegotiable.

First, I was going to be fined one-hundred-thousand dollars for driving drunk. He wanted to send a message to the Phoenix community as well as to the hockey world at large that my type of behavior would not be tolerated and would never be condoned.

Really, it was a punishment designed to make me think twice if I were to ever do something so stupid again.

The second requirement was no big deal. I was not allowed to drink alcohol anymore. Not a single drop. If evidence were presented that I had partaken, I would be released from the team with a forfeiture of my contract. This didn’t bother me. I didn’t intend to drink again as it was never really my thing to begin with. MJ didn’t drink at all, so neither did I.

It wasn’t for any religious, spiritual, or health reasons. Neither of us liked the way it made us feel. Besides, the morning after my run-in with the concrete barricade, along with the three-quarters of a fifth of Jack I had drunk, left me vowing never to touch another drop of alcohol again.

The third requirement to my continued employment was I had to attend some sort of grief counseling. The terms were specific. I had to go at least twice a week for the remainder of the season, and I was even provided a list of suitable places I could go. I had to sign a full release so the counselor could communicate my progress back to management. If at any time I was not fully participating, he could release me from the team with forfeiture of contract. If I skipped one session, I’d be released. If I didn’t make progress in emotional healing, I would be released.

It was all very rigid, narrowly defined, and almost designed to set me up for failure if I didn’t know any better.

There’s a big part of me that just wants to hand the team a big ‘fuck you’. The terms aren’t going to be easy. It means I’m going to have to confront my demons.

It means I’m probably going to have to let MJ go. No matter how fucking painful it is to remember her dying beside me in that plane, they’re the freshest memories I have of her. I don’t know if I can do it.

I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve prayed to the only God I know and one who I never called on much until now. I’ve searched my soul for the right answer, but there’s no clarity.

There seems to be no right answer for me, except…

Except if I hand a ‘fuck you’ to the team, my hockey career is over. And for better or for worse, it’s the only thing in the world that gives me some small measure of happiness.

Maybe happiness isn’t the right word, but it sure as hell gives me respite from the pain.

And that has value to me.

I glance at my phone again, noting it’s now six fifty-one. Still time to think on this some more, but I know the clock is ticking ever closer to the decision I’ll have to make—one that will have a profound impact on my future.

No easy task.

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Product Release Date: November 5, 2109

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