The Play (Briar U, #3)

Hunter and I talk for another twenty minutes about his fictional wife, her nagging, and his infidelity, and I begin to notice a trend in his responses. A complete inability to put himself in her shoes.

Lack of empathy, I write down, and draw a little star around it.

As he finishes another long-winded anecdote that paints his wife as the villain and himself as the innocent victim, I can’t help but be impressed by how he just threw himself headfirst into this assignment. And he’s doing such a solid job, which is…ugh, it’s sexy as hell, if I’m being honest.

I’m about to ask another question when Hunter sits up. “Let’s stop now. I’ve officially tapped out my knowledge about…my condition,” he says vaguely. “Got to do some more research before we keep talking.”

“This was fun,” I admit. “Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, it kinda was.” He slides off the loveseat and raises his muscular arms above his head to stretch them out. His T-shirt slides up as he does this, revealing abs of steel.

My jaw drops. “Oh my God. That is so unfair.”

“What?” Hunter’s dark eyebrows furrow.

“Have you seen your abs? Who the fuck has abs like that?”

His confusion gives way to a smug smile. “I play hockey. Every inch of me looks like that.”

Once again, my cheeks feel a bit warm. I’m trying hard not to picture what the rest of him looks like beneath his clothes, but I have a feeling he’s not exaggerating. His physique is bonkers.

I notice my phone light up on the nightstand and go over to check it. It’s been on silent, and Nico texted twice during the past hour. One message thirty minutes ago, and another just now.

NICO: Hey bb I’m gonna have to bail on sleepover 2nite. Car died after work. Battery probs. Gonna get it towed to the garage in Hastings and pick it up in the a.m. b4 class.





NICO: R u mad





I type a quick reply.

ME: Not mad, babe. Disappointed, tho.





“Everything okay?” Hunter asks as he zips up his hoodie.

I shrug. “My boyfriend canceled on me. He was supposed to stay over tonight but his car battery died. I guess he needs a new one or something.”

“Bummer. I’d invite you to play pool with me and the boys tonight, but I need a break from chicks.”

“Yes, I imagine all the female attention must be excruciating.” I think about the cute girl from yesterday, the one who went out of her way to make him lunch and he totally spurned her. “Come on, I’ll walk you downstairs.”

But before I can reach the door, Nico calls. “Oh, I need to answer this,” I say as we leave the bedroom.

I have no choice, because whenever I miss a call or text from Nico, he has a tendency not to answer when I call or text back, even if it’s half a second later. I don’t get it. Way too many people do that. How are they not available five seconds after contacting me? I swear, it’s like they send a text and then hurl their phones into the river.

“Hey,” I say hastily. “What’s up?”

“Just wanted to check in,” Nico says. “I’m gonna shower soon and then I’ll probably crash early.”

“Why—oh, right, you need to pick up your car.”

“Pick it up?”

“Because you got it towed to the shop…?” I remind him. From the corner of my eye, I notice Hunter curiously listening in. I urge him to walk faster as we descend the stairs.

“Oh no, actually, I got a jump from Steve. He had cables in his truck.”

“Wait, so you got the car started?” Then why can’t you drive here? I want to ask, but force myself not to.

“Yeah, I did. But I don’t want to drive it again tonight in case the battery dies again,” Nico says as if reading my mind. “I’m gonna get it checked out in the morning. But I’ll see you tomorrow night, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Love you, mami.”

“Love you too.”

I’m frowning as Hunter and I reach the front door. “The boyfriend?” he prompts.

I nod slowly. “I guess he got his car going with jumper cables, but the battery is still messed up? I’m not sure. I don’t know much about cars.”

“Sounds a bit shady,” remarks Hunter. “Using the ol’ car broke down excuse to avoid seeing someone.”

“Really?” I challenge. “Do you often lie about your car breaking down to get out of a date?”

“Often? No. Have I done it? Yes.”

I glare at him. “Well, not everybody is a liar like you.”

He doesn’t take offense. Just grins. “Gee. I didn’t mean to hit a nerve.”

“You didn’t.”

“Uh-huh. Anyway. My boys are waiting. Later, Semi.”

I practically shove him out the front door. Maybe if I get rid of him fast enough, that little seed of doubt he created won’t take root.





5





Hunter





I’m the first one to arrive for Thursday afternoon’s team meeting. I never used to be early for these things, but now that I’m team captain I’m trying to lead by example, so here I am, alone in the media room.

The Briar hockey facility is top-of-the-line, so we have a sweet A/V set-up. The large auditorium-style room offers three rows of tables with huge padded chairs, and a massive screen to watch game tape on. We’ve been studying film on Eastwood College all week. They’re our conference rivals, and we’re matched up against them for tomorrow’s first official game of the season.

I’m not too worried. Eastwood’s roster is not particularly strong this year—ours is. Even with Fitzy, Hollis and Nate Rhodes gone, the team still has a solid lineup. Me, Matty, an excellent goalie, and some of the hottest high school players Coach Jensen recruited for the freshman class.

After the team voted me to take over for Nate, our former captain, I called him up asking for tips on how to keep morale up, how to motivate the boys, how to actually lead, but he didn’t have much advice. He said the dynamics change every year with the ebb and flow of new faces, and that I’d learn as I go along. It’s simply a matter of navigating your way through thirty-odd egos, and keeping everybody pumped up and focused on the task at hand: winning.

Speaking of new faces, there are quite a lot of them this season. At the end of August we held open tryouts, an event that serves to showcase players who weren’t recruited out of high school or those who try out for the hell of it. One of my new favorite teammates is the result of those tryouts—Conor Edwards, who saunters into the room as I’m settling in a chair in the front row.

Con’s a self-proclaimed fuckboy, but he’s not as douchey as you’d expect. He’s actually quite decent, with a dry sense of humor that I appreciate.

“S’up, captain,” he says before yawning hugely. He rakes a lazy hand through his sun-streaked blond hair, drawing my attention to the purple hickey on his neck.

He reminds me of Dean, the older brother of my roommate Summer, and a good friend (and former mentor) of mine. Dean was unapologetically sexual when he attended Briar. He didn’t care if everyone knew he was constantly hooking up. And his manwhore ways didn’t hurt his reputation either, because every chick who met him wanted to get naked with him. But his girlfriend Allie is the only one to ever steal his heart. They’ve been living together in NYC for the past couple of years.

Conor sits beside me. A few seniors stride in and settle in the top row. “Yo,” they greet us, nodding hello.

We nod back.

Matt Anderson enters next. With Fitz and Hollis gone, I guess Matty’s my best friend on the team now. He’s the only black player on the roster, drafted by LA last year. I hope he officially signs with them, because it’s a great franchise to play for.

“Hey,” Matt says.

The room begins to fill up. We’ve got about two dozen starters, and then the rest of the roster is made up of benchwarmers and guys who still need a lot of development. And although Mike Hollis graduated, there is always, without fail, a Hollis type on every team. The lovable idiot, as Brenna calls him. The honor this year goes to a sophomore named Aaron, except everyone calls him Bucky because he looks like that character from the Marvel movies.

Bucky hates it, but the thing about nicknames is, they stick—whether you want them to or not. Just ask our senior left-winger Treeface, sometimes shortened to Tree or T, who one time four years ago got drunk and lamented how sad it is that trees don’t have faces and can’t see the birds who make nests on them. I’m pretty sure John Logan is responsible for that nickname.

Munching on a bran muffin he probably grabbed from the team kitchen, Bucky approaches the front row. “Did you talk to Coach about it?” he demands while chewing with his mouth open.

I play dumb. “About what?”

“The pig, dude.”

“The pig,” echoes Jesse Wilkes, a fellow junior. He was on his phone, but now he’s focused on our conversation.

Fuck. I was hoping the subject would quietly be forgotten.

“No, not yet.” And I don’t plan on it, I want to add, but I haven’t found a way to finagle out of this one yet.

The guys are insisting we need a team mascot, while I personally don’t see the point. I mean, if we were somehow able to strap a pair of skates on a polar bear and have him perform double axels on the ice between periods, then, sure, great. Bring it on.

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