The Play (Briar U, #3)

We’re absolutely wiping the ice with Eastwood College on Friday night, and it has nothing to do with Kriska’s weak glove. We’re simply on fire and they are not. Kriska stops shot after shot, but five—count ’em, five—light up the lamp. I’d like to say I contributed more than one, but the hockey gods decided to spread the wealth. The first goal was mine, but the next four went to various teammates.

I don’t know what happened to Eastwood’s defense, but the D-men didn’t show up to play tonight. Kriska is all alone in the net batting off pucks like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix. Any time a Briar player gets a breakaway, the goalie’s face turns snow white behind his mask, because he knows he’s in trouble. The Eastwood D-men are either scrambling to keep up with us, or tangled up in the corners providing endless rebound opportunities for Briar.

Our fans scream their approval. This is a home game, so our school colors, black and silver, make up a massive expanse of the stands. Damn, it feels good to be back, to be breathing the crisp air in the arena. The chill tickling the back of my neck only heightens the adrenaline coursing in my blood.

I’m on the bench. Two minutes left in the third period, but there’s no way Eastwood is scoring five goals in two minutes. I glance over. Con’s beside me. We’re on the same line this year, along with Matt, and the three of us are a forced to be reckoned with. This line is going to take us all the way to the finals.

“Je-sus, that was a crazy crosscheck,” I praise him.

We’re both out of breath. Our last shift was a penalty kill, during which Conor landed a bone-jarring hit on an Eastwood forward.

“Dude, my ears are still ringing from it.” His grin gives off a toothy, wolfish vibe thanks to the mouth guard half dangling from his mouth.

“We needed you last season,” I admit. “We didn’t have a lot of goons.” Meanwhile, our biggest rival Harvard had the goon of all goons, Brooks Weston.

But Conor only transferred this year from a college on the West Coast. He’s a California boy, with his surfer hair and laidback attitude. Yet there’s nothing laidback about him when he’s smashing other dudes into the boards.

Coach keeps us on the bench as the clock ticks down, letting our third and fourth lines enjoy the action. We’re in no danger of losing the game, and the extra ice time helps to develop them as players. The boys manage to hold Eastwood, and our first game ends in a shutout.

Everyone’s in a celebratory mood as we file into the locker room to shower and change. Arrangements are made to go to Malone’s, the bar in Hastings where the hockey crowd usually gathers.

“You in?” I ask Bucky.

“Yeah. Just gimme a couple minutes. Gotta make sure Pablo gets his dinner.”

I choke back laughter.

On the top shelf of Bucky’s locker, the team mascot is tucked away in its brand new coral-pink drink cozy. With the utmost care, Bucky reaches for Pablo Eggscobar.

Jesse, who’s wandering by in a towel, spots the egg in Bucky’s hand. “What the hell, man! Can’t you see Pablo’s hungry?”

“Feed me,” a singsong voice drifts from across the room, courtesy of Velky, our international student from Sweden.

In the day and a half since Pablo joined us, things have taken an evil turn. A few of the guys decided to be dicks about it and fuck with Bucky, texting him at random times throughout the day and night from the egg’s point of view. Usually in all caps. Messages along the lines of: FEED ME! PET ME! LET ME OUT TO TAKE A DUMP!

However, like my friend Mike Hollis, Bucky is rubber and we’re glue, and nothing anyone says or does ever bothers him. The fucker decided that sticking to a care schedule actually makes sense. Then he discussed it with Coach, and now we’re all sworn by the honor system to treat Pablo like a real pig. Reasoning being that if we don’t, then any time he’s in our custody we’d toss him in a drawer and forget about him.

Bucky’s the only one treating it seriously. The rest of us are just excited to mess with each other.

“Here, Pablo, eat your dinner,” Bucky tells the egg.

The egg says nothing because it’s a goddamn egg.

“I feel like I’ve traveled back in time to pre-school,” Matt remarks. He shakes his head. “I’m not pandering to an egg, dude.”

“Aw, well, that’s too bad,” Bucky answers smugly. “’Cause tonight’s your turn with him.”

“No, it’s not. It’s Conor’s,” Matty protests.

“Nope. Refer to the schedule.” Bucky did a random draw this morning to determine who has custody of the egg and when. My turn is next week.

“This is fucking balls.” Matt grabs the plush egg container from Bucky. “Swear to God, I’mma get wasted tonight and eat this motherfuckin’ thing.”

I’m chuckling as I leave the locker room, with Matt and Bucky in tow. Conor and the others are already gone. We meet up with them again at Malone’s, my favorite place in town. Mostly due to its roomy booths, cheap beer, and sports memorabilia all over the walls, which at the moment are shaking from the classic rock song blasting through the bar.

Matt says something, but the loud chatter and blaring music drowns him out. He switches to sign language, nodding toward the bar and making a drinking motion with his hand, signaling he’s going over there to order.

My gaze gives the main room a quick sweep, but doesn’t land on anyone familiar. I weave through the crowd toward the arched doorway to the adjoining room, which houses the pool tables and some more booths along the wall. I spot a blonde head and then a brunette one. The Betty and Veronica of Briar University.

“There’s Brenna and Summer in the middle booth.” I raise my voice so Bucky can hear me.

His brown eyes glaze over. “Fuuuuck. She’s so hot.”

“Who? Brenna? Or Summer?”

“Well, both. But I was talking about Summer. That top she’s wearing is…fuuuuck,” he says again.

Yeah, her skimpy yellow halter top is hot, I have to acknowledge as we near the booth. But I’m gratified that the sight of Summer Di Laurentis no longer elicits a sexual response from me. Even celibate, I don’t particularly want to sleep with her.

I had a thing for Summer when she first transferred to Briar, but unfortunately she had a thing for Fitz. And while I still believe my friend was shady in the way he handled the situation, I’m one hundred percent over Summer. She and Fitzy are happy together, and the more time I spend with her living in the same house, the more I realize she’s not my type.

Summer’s too easy, and I don’t mean slutty. She’s just not much of a challenge. She’s easy to please, easy to figure out. Her transparency was initially why I liked her, but I can’t deny it’s more fun when a woman poses a bit more of a mystery.

Not that I’m solving any female mysteries any time soon. No sex means limiting my exposure to women, because I know myself. The more time I spend with someone, the more I want to fuck them. My roommates are the exception. And as of Monday, so is Demi Davis. My new classmate is fun to talk to, but the best thing about her is her boyfriend.

Brenna bolts out of the booth when she spots me. “Hunter! Jesus, what a game!”

“I know, right?”

“You superstar, you.” She flings her arms around me, which is way more touchy-feely than Brenna usually is. But then I see the two shot glasses on the tabletop. Ah. She and Summer already started hitting the vodka.

“Seriously, I was on my feet the entire time cheering my lungs out,” Brenna raves, and I know it’s not just drunken praise. Brenna Jensen is probably the biggest hockey fan (and expert) in this entire bar. She’s definitely her father’s daughter, even landing an internship at ESPN. She works there on weekends, and afternoons when she doesn’t have class.

“That was the ass kicking of the century,” Summer agrees. “I wish Fitzy got to see it, but I was live-tweeting the entire time, so he can read the thread later.”

I sit next to Brenna. Bucky slides in next to Summer. A minute later Matt reappears with a pitcher and a stack of plastic cups. Malone’s has a new Friday night special—half-price pitchers, baby. I don’t plan on going overboard tonight, because we have another game tomorrow. But a few beers won’t hurt.

“Where’s the nutty one?” Matt asks the girls.

“Who? Rupi?” Brenna snickers. “She’s at home watching Glee reruns.”

“Why didn’t she come out?”

“She doesn’t have a fake ID,” I supply. “And she refuses to get one.”

Summer speaks up, mimicking Rupi’s high voice so flawlessly it’s almost like she’s in the booth with us. “I can’t break the law! I will wait until I am of age, thank you very much!”

Brenna lets out a rueful sigh. “I honestly don’t know how Hollis puts up with her. And vice versa.”

“For real,” Summer agrees. “All they do is scream at each other.”

“Or make out,” I counter.

“True. They scream or they make out.” Summer shakes her head. “There’s no in between.”

“Is he still coming back on the weekends?” Matt asks, raising his beer to his lips. He takes a sip. “I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“He’s home every weekend,” I confirm. “But he spends most of his time with Rupi. Hollis in love is a scary thing to witness, bro. You need to come over this weekend and see it for yourself.”

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