The Outsider by Christopher J. Cronin - HTML preview

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there was no answer at the door, they called the police. They found her in bed. We have to go to the law office tomorrow and discuss her will.”
She looked like she was about to speak again, but couldn’t find the right words.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
“I know, Daniel. I’m sorry too.”
“Let me know if there is anything I can to help in any way, Mom.”
“Thank you, Daniel.”
Baer, Werner and Associates was the prototypical law office; volumes upon volumes of bound law books crammed into bookcases buckling under the weight, offices with walls of diplomas, accolades, and family accoutrement; elder looking men, dignified with thousand dollar suits and seventy dollar haircuts; and finally, the cheery receptionist at a cherry front desk.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes, we have an appointment with Michael Sullivan.”
“Your names, please?”
“Sarah and Daniel Adams.”
“One moment, please.”
The cheery receptionist left her cherry desk, presumably to fetch Mr. Sullivan. She soon returned with Mr. Sullivan in tow, who seemed out of place with the décor of the office, as he seemed to be much younger than any of his co-workers.
“Hello Sarah, Daniel. I’m Michael Sullivan, the executor of Mrs. Hickey’s estate. Please, come to my office and discuss the terms of the will. In the interests of expediency, I will show the part of the tape which pertains to you.”
We sat in Mr. Sullivan’s office in front of a television and VCR which held the last words of my late Aunt Mae. Sullivan turned on the video, and the static gave way to my Aunt Mae, sitting composed, facing the camera. The words Aunt Mae were about to speak, although I was unaware of the consequences they were going to have in the future, seemed common and typical for the situation at hand. Nothing would indicate about how my life was going to be turned upside down, and how the words uttered forth from Mae’s mouth would have an ironic twist in the future.
“To my niece, Sarah, for your unquestionable devotion and selflessness, I leave you my house and all the belongings contained within, including automobiles. In addition, a savings account at Rockland Federal Credit Union is in my name with you as the beneficiary. May you use this money to better your life for yourself and my nephew, to move away from the unfortunate neighborhood in which you currently reside and live a life which you so rightly deserve. To my…”
Sullivan rose out of his chair and turned the TV off. I looked at my mother, who had tears in her eyes, then looked down at my feet, trying to soak up the contents of the tape. New house? Money? I didn’t want a new house, but the money was sure was nice. Money was something we didn’t have, but a house, or rather an apartment, was what we did have. An apartment near friends, near school, near my life. Exultation turned to indignation as I knew that my mother had already made her decision.
“We’ll be in touch, Ms. Adams. Here’s my card.”
“Thank you.”
“No, I’m not leaving.”
“Daniel”, my mother said, “this is an opportunity for us to better ourselves. We finally have a chance to get out of this terrible neighborhood and live a better life. And God help me if I let this opportunity get away without taking a hold of it. This is chance to leave it all behind, Daniel. You can get away from all the troubles you’ve had in the past. Not many people get a chance to start over. Daniel, you would be stupid not to take an opportunity like this and run with it.”
“I don’t care, Mom. I’m happy with what I’ve got here. You’re asking me to just get up and leave all this? Huh? What about what I want, what I have here? I don’t want to move, plain and simple. And why do we need new house? What we’ve got is fine.”
“Do you really like hearing gunshots every night and dodging drug dealers on the way to your car? Daniel, the heartaches, all the troubles we’ve had to go through, with barely being able to pay the rent every month and not always having food on the table? That’s what you want? You want to continue living like this? Daniel…” the words caught in her mouth as she attempted to choke back tears. “Daniel, we need this. For us. Please, Daniel. Please.”
For as long as I can remember, it’s always been me and my mom. I never really knew my father, only getting a curt, angry response from my mom whenever I asked about him. All I ever managed to glean from our conversations was that he left her when she was pregnant with me, and she never heard from him again. I was the only man in her life, and she proved that time and time again by doing everything in her power to make me happy. She’d often work extra hours during the holidays to buy me things that I really wanted (like my Xbox), and I can remember her working 70 hour weeks during my freshman year because I needed new skates. I wasn’t a little boy anymore; I was a man in my mother’s eyes, and I knew that a man had to sacrifice for his family. Seeing the pain in my mother’s eyes crushed me. She deserved this. She had sacrificed so much for me, and it was time for me to be a man and sacrifice for her. “Okay, Mom.”
My Corsica rumbled around the corner of Third and Main to Big’s house. My mother told me that Aunt Mae had two seasonal cars in her garage that were hardly ever used. I thought it kind of ironic to have two cars and never drive. Once the paperwork went through, Aunt Mae’s 2000 Crown Vic would be in my name. Maybe the Crown Vic would start every time I turned the key, as opposed to my Corsica which started when it felt like it. Big was on his front stoop, smoking a cigarette.
“Danny, what’s up, kid?”
“Hey, Big, what’s shaking?” I took a drag off his cigarette.
“You looked like somebody just ran over your puppy. Still upset about your Aunt?
“Yeah, amongst other things.”
“What else?” he inquired.
“Big, I’m moving. To Branton.”
“Where the fuck is Branton?”
“That’s where my Aunt’s house is.”
“Damn. I guess that means you’re leaving Central too, huh?”
“Yeah, I don’t have a choice. I gotta go to Branton High. I looked into staying at Central, and athletic rules said you hafta attend the district where you reside, or some bullshit like that.”
“Coach know?”
“Yeah, I saw him in the principal’s office when I was getting my transcripts sent over.”
“He’s gotta be pissed.”
“More upset than anything. We talked for like an hour. But he understands. He knows I don’t wanna leave.” I shook my head in disdain. “This sucks, Big. This was gonna be a big year for us. We were a shoe-in for the Super 10. Now I gotta play for Podunkville High.”
“What division are they?”
“C. Not nearly the skill level in our division.”
“So you’ll burn these kids.”
“That’s not the point. I’d rather stay at Central and have a terrible season than go to Branton and score 100 points.”
“Well, you know me and the crew are here for you.”
“I know. Thanks, Big.”
I walked to my car and opened the door. “Big.” “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Where is Branton anyways?”
“About 20 miles south of here. It’s much, much different than Boston, Danny.” “How different.”
“Much. It’s only about 15,000 people, one high school, very small commercial area. But it is on the beach. It’s a bit of a change compared to what we are used to.”
Great.
We pulled into our new house. Since everything inside was given to us, moving in was simple enough. I had my clothes, my hockey equipment, and my Xbox. My mother, being a woman, had enough clothes to open her own clothing store. It took about an hour to unload the car. “A bit of a change” was an understatement. The house was freegin’ huge. Since there were four bedrooms in the house (the master bedroom defaulting to my mother), I had my pick of the remaining three. I picked the biggest.
“So, what do you think.”
“It’s big, Mom.”
“It’s better than our ratty old apartment.”
“Yeah.”
“I know this is tough for you, Daniel. But really, it’s the best thing that could have happened to us. You get a fresh start and we don’t hafta penny pinch anymore.”
“Yeah.”
“We’re going to Branton High tomorrow to get your schedule set up.”
“Ok.”
If Central High was a pay-be-the-hour motel, Branton High was the Ritz. Everything was new and immaculate, and it didn’t have the same, stench, that Central had. I took in the newness of everything as we stepped into the principal’s office.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m Sarah Adams, this is my son Daniel. We just moved to Branton and we’re looking to get Daniel enrolled and his schedule set up.”
“Ah, yes, Adams. Paperwork came in today. Have a seat.”
It took all of ten minutes to set up my schedule. English, Pre-calc, History, Art, and Spanish. Hopefully these classes weren’t any harder than they would be at Central. Once my schedule was finished, we thanked the secretary and were set to head out when the hockey coach came in.
“Daniel Adams?”
“Yeah.”
“Coach Brimmer. Pleased to meet you.” We shook hands. “Have a few minutes to talk?”
“Yeah.”
“Ms. Adams, if you would excuse us for a few minutes, I’d like to talk a bit to Daniel about the hockey program. Feel free to get more acquainted with the school.”
“Ok. I’ll see you in a few minutes, Daniel.”
“Aight, Mom.”
Coach Brimmer doubled as Athletic Director. He was short and stocky, maybe an athlete in his days. If those days ever existed, they were long behind him. His hair was long and graying in the back, a feeble attempt to compensate for his rapidly receding hairline, while his nose was bulbous and red at the end. I was covered in a spray of spit as he opened his mouth to talk.
“Daniel Adams. I’ve heard about you. First freshman to ever win City League MVP, and then you repeated as MVP Sophomore year.”
I stared.
“Boy, did we ever get the luck of the draw. You’re an excellent talent, Daniel. You’re gonna be a star on this team. We got a great shot at the title this year with someone like you on our team.”
“I know.”
“Confident, too.” He chuckled. “Wait til I tell the team. They’re gonna be ecstatic.”
Whoopdyfreegingdo.
“We start training in October, and captain’s practices start at the end of September. Usually, that’s a chance for the captains to evaluate the new players, but there is no need to evaluate you. I’m sure I’ll run into you when classes start.”
“Yeah”, I intellectually replied.
He extended his hand. “Well, good luck with getting situated, I’m sure this isn’t easy for you.”
“Yeah.”
I shook his hand and then met my mom outside.
“So?”
I shrugged my shoulders. I seemed to be doing that a lot lately.
“Oooooook.”
Classes started a week later. I could tell a lot about the town by the way people looked at me. I was a new kid. And that made people edgy. I dressed differently than everyone else. I didn’t sport the popped collars and gelled hair that these kids did. My baggy jeans, big hoody, and sideways titled Red Sox hat was a style that seemed to offend people. I was stared at in the hallways, in the classroom, at lunch, and leaving after school. This happened for a week or so. Then I blended in. The one benefit Branton had over Central was that I could walk from class to class without a fight in the hallway or something getting in my face for looking at them funny. Life seemed easier here and less threatening. I shrugged my shoulders. I really need to stop doing that. Days turned into weeks, and eventually the first captain’s practice was held at Rockland Rink, only a few minutes from the school. There was no way I could have missed the first practice, even if I wanted to. I couldn’t take a crap in the bathroom without seeing a flyer for it.
I stepped into one of the locker rooms, and silence ensued once the door shut. I walked to the far wall as eyes followed me, put my bag down, and sat down. They kept staring. What the hell were they looking at? As I looked around the room, everyone had the same haircut, the same bag, the same everything. There were twenty black and red bags in the locker room, and my blue and red bag stood out like a white guy at the million man march.
Finally, someone stood up and swaggered over. He stood about 5’8, had broad shoulders, and piercing blue eyes. He had a tough expression on his face, as if I stepped on his territory. As he opened his mouth to speak, I noticed his two front teeth were chipped.
“Who are you?”
Did this kid think he was tough talking to me like that? I didn’t like the directness of the question.
“Dan.”
“Adams?”
“Yeah.”
What the hell? How did they know my name? Maybe Brimmer already informed them.
“Coach told us to expect you. Said you were some hot shot from the City League.
I stared, feeling my blood boil, and shrugged my shoulders. Goddamnit.
Then his hard facial expression broke, and he laughed. “I’m just giving you a hard time. I’m Mike Taggert, nice to meet you. People call me Tags for short.”
I immediately relaxed and we shook hands.
Everyone else in the room introduced themselves. All sophomores and freshmen. Due to my superior ability to infer, I came to the conclusion that there were probably two locker rooms, there other locker room consisting of juniors and seniors.
“Is this the entire team?” I inquired.
“No. The juniors and seniors are in the locker room down the hallway. You’re in the wrong locker room.”
Sherlock Holmes would be proud.
I turned towards Taggert. “So are you a freshman or a sophomore?”
“Neither. Senior.”
“So why are you in here?”
“For sake of sanity”, he quickly replied.
Oh.
It was evident five minutes into practice that if Branton, in Brimmer’s words, was one of the best teams in Division C, and I was running a clinic on the best team in Division C, that I would be the leading scorer in Division C. I shrugged my shoulders. Again. Not that there was a need for it. I guess I’m a creature of habit. I thought back to the conversation with Big and thought about the poetic irony. 100 points seemed attainable. Nevertheless, it appeared that the Branton hockey heroes seemed threatened by my presence. When you walk around the supposed best defensemen on the team and make him drop his jock and question his sexuality, in that order, people are going to take notice. They are going to notice it even more when you do it repeatedly.
I received a centering pass in our defensive zone and swooped wide as I entered the offensive zone. Captain America Brian Kallock stepped up to pokecheck the puck, and I effortlessly dragged the puck around him and cut in, only to be encountered by another defenseman. Quickly shifting my hands over, I put the puck through the defenseman’s legs and buried it upper corner. Kallock skated to the bench, broke his stick in half, and sat down. I skated by while Kallock stared, and pondered whether he was gonna kiss me or jump over the boards and strangle me. After all, I did make him question his sexuality after embarrassing him twice already during practice. I was hoping for the latter.
“You’re lucky there’s no contact.”
I smiled at him. Then shrugged my shoulders. “Maybe.”
“What are you smiling at?”
People tend to get nervous, and pissed, when you smile at them. Maybe he was being flirtatious and liked my smile. I sure hoped not. I always had a cocksure attitude, and being cocky got me into more scuffles than I can count. Maybe me being cocksure had made Kallock cock-sure. Of mine. I decided to capitalize on his anger.
“I’m smiling at you cutie.”
“Fuck you.”
“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”
“Who do you think you are?”
“I’m having trouble deciding. But I do know that you’re my bitch.”
“Yeah?” he said, standing up.
“Yeah. See you in the showers, cutie.”
I spent the rest of the practice targeting Kallock. I was in his head, and there was nothing more I hated than a kid who thought he was better than he actually was. Finally, Kallock snapped. After receiving a pass at the offensive blue line, I looked up to see Kallock leaving his feet to crosscheck me in the throat. I casually dropped to one knee as he flew overhead. I skated in uncontested, deked left, and slid the puck in five-hole. The rest of the team jeered Kallock as he stood up. Their jeering turned to constraining as they rushed over to prevent him from skating over and biting my head off.
“Fuck you, pussy.”
“I don’t fuck on the first date,” I explained to him.
That pissed him off. Even more so. He started to skate towards me again before being herded off the ice by a few of his teammates as I headed to the freshman-sophomore locker room. Welcome to the world of Branton High Hockey. I showered, headed outside, and was stopped by two kids on the way to the Vic. “Hey, Adams.”
I looked over.
“Mike Cooper.” Cooper stood about 5’ 10”, and maybe weighed 150 pounds soaking wet. His off-color green eyes and blond hair seemed like a product of mix and match genetics. He had a cocky smirk on his face and sported big horse teeth when he opened his mouth to talk.
“Rick Emerson.” Short and chubby, if a human mated with a cocker spaniel, it would produce Emerson. The big, droopy ears, chubby cheeks and squinty eyes were definitely traits I observed in cocker spaniels. Poor bastard.
“Hey”, I acknowledged.
Emerson spoke up. “We’re captains, along with Kallock and Jim Gardiner. Kallock didn’t wanna come over and introduce himself.”
“Isn’t that a shame.” I quipped.
“Don’t worry about him. He’s one of the best defenseman in the state and doesn’t like it when he gets beat.”
In the state? Yeah, right. He would have been the seventh defenseman at Central.
“You’re a good player. We’re glad to have you on the team”, Emerson said. Off to my left, I saw another player approaching. Cooper nodded to him, and Emerson said, “Dan, this is Jim Gardiner.” We shook hands.
“What’s up” Gardiner said. I nodded. Gardiner was about six feet tall, blond hair, blue eyes. A prototype for an officer’s position in the SS.
Now it was Cooper’s turn to speak. “We just wanted to introduce ourselves. Anything you need, just say the word. We’re trying to make it smooth here for you.” Yeah, right.
“Thanks.” I got in my car and as I drove away, I saw Emerson, Cooper, Gardiner, and Kallock all standing together and watching me as I drove away. Kallock was big, but chubby. Black hair, brown eyes, a darker skin tone. Summoning my Sherlock Holmes powers, I decided that they were comparing notes on me. The discourse I had with Emerson and Cooper was more to size me up if anything. I shrugged my shoulders as I took the right turn out of the parking lot.
Captain’s practices happened every Friday until the week of first week of December. Then, the “real” tryouts happened. I use term loosely because Coach Brimmer already had his team picked. Those few kids on the cusp had a chance to prove themselves because it was a chance for them to be elevated to hero status in Branton. Tryouts were also used to determine who was playing with whom and where. I learned my place about ten minutes into the first “tryout”.
“McDougall, Doublet, and Adams, face off against Cooper, Emerson, and Gardiner”, Brimmer shouted.
Hmmmm. The three people so eager to meet me were on a line together. After 30 seconds, I saw why they were on the same line. McDougall and Doublet were average, while the other line had a solid chemistry. Cooper really wasn’t any good, but he was better than McDougall and Doublet. By default, the three best players played on the same line. Now I saw why they were so eager to meet me. Maybe my presence threatened to break up their line. Go Go Sherlock powers. I guess I was a second-line player here. Sad. I guess I’d hafta deal with it. Two weeks of practice, and I was still on second line, despite me single-handedly dominating the first line. And Kallock. Stupid Kallock, such a prick. The last day of practice was following by a rah-rah speech from Brimmer, telling us about how it was a new year, how we have great leadership, and that no one could touch us in the conference. “No one could touch me”, I thought. That’s what makes us untouchable. God, I was so cocky. I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.
Brimmer made a point to speak about team policy. The punishments here were stricter than at Central. Any kind of violation that involved drugs or alcohol carried an automatic five games. If anyone got suspended from school, they missed whatever games fell during that suspension. Any negative progress report from a teacher or a failing grade in a class forced that person to sit out until a satisfactory report was issued, if it all, at the end of the next grading period. Any disrespect or back talk was an automatic game. Any police involvement or suspected crime immediately kicked someone off the team. “Blah, blah, blah” I thought. I’d come a long way since my troubles at Central, so I didn’t envision myself having a sudden bout of alcoholic, drug-induced, disrespectful back talking all whilst on a crime spree.
After practice, Cooper pulled me aside. “Hey, Adams, spaghetti dinner at my house. Little tradition to start off every season. See you there.”
“Aight, cool.”
The spaghetti dinner at Cooper’s was the first of many that season. Apparently, there was a spaghetti dinner before every game that season. Can’t beat free food. I headed into the kitchen and ran into Cooper, Emerson, Gardiner, and Kallock.
“Hey, Adams”, they said. Kallock just stared.
“Hey.”
“Soda’s in the fridge” Cooper said.
“Thanks.” I helped myself to spaghetti and meatballs and headed into the living room. Those four were always together. Maybe that’s what gave them their chemistry. Where you saw one, you saw the other three. I overhead them talking about how it was their year this year, and how their line is gonna be the most productive and talented in the conference. No sooner did their conversation tail off did a well-endowed brunette plop herself down next to me.
“Danny Adams?”
“Yeah.”
“Hi. We have Spanish together. I’m Meghan. Mike’s sister.”
I didn’t recognize her, because I sure as hell wasn’t staring at her face. That’s great, I thought. Who are you friends?
“Yeah? Where do you sit?”
“In the back.” She smiled coyly.
I nodded. We chatted for a while. Well, she talked. I stared.
“I heard you’re really good at hockey. I can’t wait to see you play.”
“I guess I’m alright”, I responded.
“Well, good luck in the game tomorrow. I’ll be watching.”
“Thanks.”
She smiled and walked away as she looked over shoulder and eye-fucked me. Well nice to meet you, too. Hopefully I’ll be watching her after the game tomorrow. I hung around for a while, and then headed into the kitchen, where I said the obligatory thank you and goodbye to Cooper. I headed home, thinking about the game tomorrow. I was excited. Very, very excited.
Hockey in Massachusetts is like football in Texas. The town is excited for every game, and starting the second week of December, work schedules are cleared to make way for game schedules. Even the has-beens come to the games, reliving the glory days and how they supposedly ran the school when they were there. Move on guys. It was ten years ago. Regardless, the rink was electric. The first game of the season might as well be a local holiday. Little kids littered the stands in their youth jerseys, parents wore old hockey coats, and students filled the stands as a light aura of alcohol was emitted.
Brimmer came in and called us together. “Gather round boys. First game of the season, let’s not disappoint. We got the team this year to go all the way, and we all know that. Let’s go out there and show Oak Creek that Branton is the team to beat this year.” Brimmer then headed out into the hallway, leaving his captains to lead us to the ice.
Cooper stood up. “Let’s get a ‘Marauders’ on three. 1…2...3…”
“MARAUDERS.”
Kline the goalie led the procession as Cooper, Emerson, and Kallock waited by the door to high five us as we headed to the ice. Pennywise’s “Bro Hymn” blared deafeningly as the crowd cheered and shook the glass. Holy shit, I thought. These people are hockey mad. While at Central, I never saw this many people at a game. Both parents and students had jobs and could rarely afford to miss work to watch a game. I guess it was a little different here in Branton.
We could barely hear Brimmer as he shouted at us on the bench. Warm-ups ended, and the line of Cooper, Emerson, and Gardner lined up against Oak Creek’s first line. The referee dropped the puck, and somehow the rink got louder. Two minutes later, my debut in a Branton uniform was about to begin. I won the draw in our zone, quite easily, and Bernie Andrews handled the puck behind the net. I tied up my man, then spun off and headed up ice. McDougall handled the pass from Andrews, to my surprise, and passed to me as I exited the zone. I had a crazy adrenaline rush, and my stick felt like an extension of my arm as I effortlessly skated up ice and entered the Oak Creek zone. I curled away from the defenseman, and saw that McDougall and Doublet were still at center ice. “What the fuck”, I thought. “Hurry up.” I saw the Oak Creek center back checking, and realized that by the time Slow and Slower got here, the Oak Creek line would already be back in their zone. I pushed off and headed to the corner, with the defenseman and center both closing in. I broke hard in the corner, spraying the defenseman with ice shavings as he came in to hit me. I banked the puck off the boards behind my back and spun away from them both. As I picked up the pick in the middle of the face-off circle, I saw the remaining Oak Creek defenseman ready to defend me. I got him to open up, and I fired the puck between his legs and over the goalie’s shoulder. The place erupted. My teammates jumped me in front of the net as the goal celebration song came on. I skated to the bench and high-fived my teammates.
“Thataboy Danny!” Brimmer shouted, muffled by the crowd’s singing of the song and high-fiving each other. The loudspeaker crackled as the scorekeeper prepared to announce the goal. “Branton goal, scored by number 10, Daaaannnnyyyyyyyy Adddaaammmsssss. Assisted, by number 13 Briiiaaannnn McDooouuggalllll, and number 6, Berrrnnnniieeeeee Aaaannndddrreeewwsss.” The announcer wasted his breath announcing it a second time, as the crowd erupted after the initial announcement. “That’s Adams, from McDougall and Andrews at 4:30. The black and red monster that was our fan base started on the Oak Creek goalie right away, pointing at him and calling him a sieve. I caught my breath on the bench, soaking up the excitement of the fans.
The cat was out of the bag. The Oak Creek coached had me double-teamed the rest of the period, leaving the first line to do the remainder of the scoring. They were unsuccessful. Very unsuccessful. Cooper was set-up in front of the net four times, fanning on two, shooting one wide, with the last one fluttering lazily toward the goalie. With me being double-teamed and my linemates unable to do anything on their own, our offense stalled. The red and black monster quieted. With the score knotted up at 1 after the first, we headed to the locker room where Brimmer flipped out.
“1-1? 1 to fucking 1? Are you shitting me? What the fuck is the matter with you guys? You suddenly can’t shoot? Can’t pass? You guys weren’t even playing hockey out there. Cooper, what the fuck is the matter with you? You should have four goddamn goals at this point. A blind kid with one arm would have put in three of them. If you can’t fucking score after being set up like that, I’ll put someone out there who can. Some leadership that is. Don’t fuck up again.”
Brimmer walked out, and Cooper stood up. “He’s right guys, I fucked up huge. I’m not on my game. We need to pick it up as a team. We’re better than this, and we know that. Bring it in and get a ‘Marauders’ on three. 1…2…3…”
“MARAUDERS!”
Cooper didn’t pick us his game, evidenced by his breakaway 30 seconds in and subsequent stuffing by the Oak Creek goalie. The black and red monster roared when Cooper broke away uncontested, then fell silent when the goalie easily handled his attempt. The first line skated back to bench, and my line came out next. The double-teaming continued, and any time I touched the puck, two players immediately converged. I iced the puck after a long two minutes on the ice, and Brimmer shouted for a line change.
“Adams, stay out there. Emerson, Gards, play the wings.” Hmmm. Maybe I would fare better with two kids who had a better shot of keeping up with me than my current linemates. I won the draw back to Kallock and he immediately passed to Emerson, who was left open because Oak Creek lined up two men strong in front of the net. Emerson banked the puck off the boards past the defenseman, and I picked it up while Gardiner skated up weak-side. The black and red monster began to stir. I crossed the blue line, and Gardiner and I broke in two on one. The Oak Creek defenseman skated backwards, inching closer to Gardiner to cut off the pass angle. The goalie was positioned for the shot, while the defenseman tailed away and picked up Gardiner. I faked the shot, and the goalie took the bait and dropped into the butterfly. I snapped a shot over his shoulder blocker side, and the post made a reverberating “ping” as it ricocheted off the post and in. The black and red monster roared, and I was met in front of the Oak Creek net and swamped by my teammates, with the exception of Kallock, who skated to the bench.
“Nice fuckin shot, Adams” Emerson sneered. “Do you know how to pass?”
“You’re kidding me, right? You were tied up. The defenseman would have broken up the pass” I retorted.
“Whatever.”
The black and red monster swayed as we proceeded with the obligatory high-five. The new second line of McDougall, Doublet, and Cooper stepped foot on the ice, not before Cooper shot me a look that would have stripped the paint off a steel drum. “Fuck you too”, I thought.
With the exception of my line, Oak Creek walked all over our team. Kline the goalie had 30 saves through two periods, and we headed into the locker room up 2-1. Brimmer was still pissed. Cooper pouted. After bitching us out during the intermission, we headed back on the ice. I continued playing with Emerson and Gardiner, much to the chagrin of Cooper. With five minutes left in the game, Oak Creek was pressuring hard, winning the pucks in the corners and adding a new edge to their physical game. On my next shift, I gained the blue line and dumped the puck in, which caused the Oak Creek defenseman to face about and chase the puck down. I covered their center as the defenseman turned to head up ice. I read the play perfectly. He took two strides and passed the puck to the center. He gathered the puck just in time to look up ice and see my shoulder smash into his chin. I threw all of my 5’ 11”, 185 pound frame into every hit. He crumpled and the crowd roared. Pleased with myself, I picked the puck up and skated into the Oak Creek zone. Both defensemen were out of position since they didn’t expect their center to get decapitated after receiving the puck. I glided through, resulting in a minibreakaway on the goalie. He hesitated for a split second, expecting the shot, and that’s all I needed. I feigned the shot and he flopped like a dead dog. I skated around him and tucked the puck in. Too easy. I threw my hands up and exulted, then curled away from the net and expected to be met by my teammates. The only one who met me was Anderson, a defenseman. Kallock, Emerson, and Gardiner were already headed toward the bench, getting ready for the next line change. At least I had the crowd, and their hats, which they threw and chanted my name as I skated to the bench. Fuck the high-fives. If they weren’t gonna congratulate me on the ice, I didn’t expect congratulations on the bench.
While the referees clear the hats off the ice, the scorekeeper announced my third goal. “Branton goal, his third of the game, scored by DAAANNNNYYYYY
AAADDDDAAAMMSS. Unassisted. Time of the goal, 11 minutes, 34 seconds of the third period. That’s Adams, his third of the game, unassisted.”
The black and red monster became louder now, knowing the game was in hand. My name was chanted as the puck was dropped following the goal. I couldn’t help but smile. I felt a sense of satisfaction and triumph, complete with the feeling that this was going to be my year, my show. No one else’s. Fuck Emerson, fuck Cooper, fuck Gardiner, and fuck Kallock. They can talk all they want about how it’s their year, how they were going to win the conference. Without me, they would be lucky to win a game. I didn’t see any of them running a clinic out on that ice. My thoughts were interrupted by Brimmer calling for my line to head back out on the ice.
“Powerplay. Let’s go fellas”, Brimmer shouted.
The Oak Creek defenseman was called for slashing with only 30 seconds left, and if Oak Creek had any inkling of a comeback, it disappeared like the last piece of pizza in a house full of fat people. We lined up strong side in the Oak Creek zone, and Emerson won the draw back to Kallock. He crept up the right side of the boards towards the corner, drawing the Oak Creek defenseman towards him. Emerson squared up behind the net as he received Kallock’s pass. Pushing off slightly, he made his way to the left side of the net as the Oak Creek players formed a tight diamond in the zone. I lined up along the boards, completing the overload setup and called for the pass from Emerson. He looked up and curled back towards the corner, only to lose the puck in his skates. The Oak Creek defenseman jumped on the loose puck and quickly swiped it away. I intercepted the weak clearing attempt and looked up to see the forward at the top of the diamond press towards me, forcing me down the boards. I dug in, heard the crunch as the toe of my skate dug in, and I beelined for the net. The defenseman was stationary, his first mistake, and watched the puck instead of my body, his second mistake. Any decent defenseman would have watched my body. I dug in with my left skate, put the puck between his legs, and curled around him, picking up the puck behind him. With the puck on my backhand, I cut in towards the goalie, moved the puck towards my left, and the goalie went down, kicking out his right pad with his left acting as the plant foot. I moved the puck back to my right and tucked it in onehanded behind the goalie, watching the puck glide across the line. I raised my hands, and the monster roared. The clock showed one second. Again, expecting the celebration, my teammates were already heading for the bench, with only Anderson waiting to congratulate me. What is this shit? Why am I not being congratulated? Is it because I took Cooper’s spot on this line? If that was the case, these kids needed to grow up. Acting like a bunch a six year old girls who didn’t get their way. It was pathetic.
Back in the locker room, I was more well-received by the rest of the team, Kallock, Gardiner, Emerson and Cooper aside. Brimmer came in with another rah-rah speech, congratulating us on a good “team” effort. Team effort my ass. More like an Adams’ effort. Brimmer left, and Cooper stood up, ready to give his “captain’s perspective” on the game. Being bumped off the first line was gnawing at him. He gave a short, quick speech telling us how well the team played, and wrapping up his “speech” by stating that there was a party at his house to celebrate the victory. Party? I can roll with that.
Chapter 12
I headed home to shower and change for the party at Cooper’s. My mom met me with a hug and a kiss, telling me how proud she was. I was floating. No better way to make a big impact in your first game than single-handedly winning it for your team. Recaps of the game played through my head as I showered and changed. I couldn’t get over this feeling of euphoria. This all seemed too easy, too simple. I had a couple of hat tricks while I was at Central, but I never potted four in a game. I headed out the door, smiling, knowing that this year was going to be a big one.
I jumped in the Vic and turned on the radio. I was singing alone when my cell phone rang. “Hey, Big, what’s good?”
“Danny, what’s up? How did your first game go?”
“We won, 4-1. I scored all four.”
“Well, listen to you, Mr. Hotshot, Mr. Four-goal-game.”
“Big, it was too easy. These kids are nothing compared to what we’re used to. How did you guys do?”
“7-0 over Latin.”
“Damn. You guys aren’t missing me too much then, huh?”
“C’mon, Danny. You know that we would rather lose every game this season and have you on our team than win every game and not have you there.”
“Thanks, Big. How’s the rest of the crew?”
“You know, same ol’ same ol’. Shanny’s still wrecking people, Jonesy’s still making defenseman look stupid. And well, Jimbo, you know how goalies are. Jonesy’s gotta work extra hard without you there to dish him the puck, but he’s making due. We miss you though, win or lose. You know that.”
“I wish I was there, man. I’ll just hafta show Branton how it’s done by us Central boys.”
“Those suburban boys are too soft. Nothing like a ruffian such as yourself to toughen them up. Gotta show ‘em how to play dirty sometimes.”
I laughed. “You know it, Big. Aight, I’m on my way to a party right now. I’ll hit you up later.”
“Aight, man. Peace.”
“Later.”
I pulled onto Cooper’s street, parking at the end of very long line of cars. Rap was blaring from every open orifice of the house, and all the windows were open despite it being a ten-degree December night. One-beer queers and two-can Sams were strewn about. Literally. I strolled in and saw Taggert yukking it up with an average-looking girl by the door.
“Adams. What’s up?”
“Hey, Tags.”
I pushed a passed-out kid out of the way and sat down. An extremely drunk Anderson came stumbling over. “Heeeeeyyy, Adamsh.”
“What’s going on, man?”
“How many did you shcore tonight, like twenty?”
“Close enough.”
“Yeah, man. Adamsh 20, Oak Creek, 1. WOOOOOOO.”
I had to break out a drunk dictionary to decipher his last sentence. Minus the exclamation, of course. I’m sure the whole party heard it.
“Anyways, beersh are in the fwidge. Help-p yourshelf.”
“Thanks.”
I grabbed a beer out of the fridge and made my way back to the couch, only to see Meghan sitting in my seat. “Hi, Danny.”
“Niiiiiiiiiice”, I thought. Maybe this can be my fifth goal of the night.
“Great game tonight. I had no idea that you were that good. I mean, four goals. Wow.”
She nudged in closer to me.
“Thanks.”
Closer.
“Without you thing, they probably wouldn’t have won that game.”
“Probably not”, I responded.
She chuckled. “Well, aren’t you cocky?”, emphasizing the last word by actually reaching over and grabbing my crotch. That took me by surprise.
“I guess a little.”
“Oooooh, I’d say a lot more than a little.” She stood up and grabbed my hand. “Come on.”
Wow. This girl must really like hockey. She showed me how much she liked hockey when she locked her bedroom door and pushed me onto her bed. She began straddling me, rocking slightly back and forth, and kissing me on the neck.
“I have such a thing for hockey players. Especially good ones. And you, Danny Adams, are an amazing hockey player”, she said. “And you’re really cute. Those periwinkle blue eyes could make any girl melt” she continued, doing so as she unbuttoned my pants. Periwinkle?
“Woah, hold on. Isn’t your brother downstairs?”
“Yeah, he is. But he’d rather drink and be stupid. He knows that everyone comes upstairs and fools around. But there are so many people downstairs, he won’t notice us missing.”
“Alright” I said, feeling more relaxed.
“Unless my dad comes home.”
“What?”
“Relax, Danny. I’m just trying to get a rise out of you. Aaaaand,” she said, rubbing my groin, “it appears it worked. My dad is working the overnight shift, and my mom goes out with hockey moms after the games.”
“Ok. Lemme grab a condom outta my wallet.” Gotta wear a helmet before you go to war. Meghan got off me, slowly and teasingly undressed, then laid down on the bed.
“Come on, hockey stud. Scoring comes easily for you, doesn’t it?” she cooed, opening her legs and guiding me inside of her in the process.
Yeah, it does. I scored my fifth goal in style that night. And my sixth a half hour later. Life is good.
Sundays were an off day from hockey. Therefore, most of my time was spent on homework assignments and a sundry of other pertinent tasks. The end of December meant the end of the term, which meant final exams and term papers. Forever the procrastinator, I left all my terms papers until the week before they were due. I knew it would come back to bite me in the ass. English was only a five pager, history a ten pager, and Spanish was a two page composition. In Spanish. That was probably the worst of the three. Regardless, it had to get done, so I planned to spend my entire Sunday afternoon on English and Spanish. I started my day at 8 with breakfast and the morning paper. My mom had a stupid grin on her face as she handed me the Sports section. I just looked at her quizzically. She nodded down at the paper. “Read.”
I stared down at the headline on the paper. “Adams’ Four Goal Outburst Carries Branton to Opening Night Win.” Sure as shit, there I was, caught on film scoring my fourth goal. Hey, alright. I could get used to this. I thought of my own headline. “Adams’ Four Goal Outburst Demotes Cooper to Second Line.” My internal subtitle read, “Scores Later that Night with Cooper’s sister.” Hahahaha, go to hell, Cooper.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, Mom.” I didn’t even realize that I was laughing out loud.
My Sunday was productive. I wrote my Spanish, (of course with a little help from an online translator), and wrote four out of five pages for English. Things seemed to come too easy for me with my new Branton gig. Forever the pessimist, what goes up must come down. I was hoping to never come down. Jeez, pessimism and procrastination seemed to be my two strongest charateristics. And shrugging my shoulders was the namesake mannerism. If I didn’t have this talent that so many Branton kids would screw over one another to have, I wouldn’t be much. I’ll keep my character flaws to myself.
Monday practice, Tuesday practice, Wednesday game. Thursday practice, Friday practice, Saturday game. This was the life of a Branton hockey player. My hockey life was a little more dangerous, if you will. Every time I touched the puck I had to duck or sidestep a flying crosscheck from Cooper. Hey, Cooper, a little pissed about me taking your spot? Wear your heart on your sleeve, pussy. Not only was Cooper attempting to cheapshot me, Kallock, Emerson and Gardiner spent the practice giving me hospital passes, setting up Cooper for his flying decapitation attempts. They were all pissed that Cooper was somewhat removed from what was supposed to be “their” season. Well, tough shit. So Mommy and Daddy told you that you were the greatest? Well dick, I’m better. Deal with it. The thing I noticed about Branton kids is that hockey seemed to be everything they had. Being a hockey player in hockey crazy Massachusetts was any guys’ ticket to girls and notoriety. Remove hockey from the guy, and there goes his notoriety. It seemed somewhat juvenile that all these kids seemed to think that they were the best hockey players in the state. I remember that first captain’s practice when Kallock was described as one of the best defensemen in the state when his skill level was equivalent to that of the sixth or seventh defenseman at Central. None of these kids were good enough to play at the next level. I knew I had the talent to go somewhere. But I also wasn’t relying on hockey to get me everywhere in life, like all these kids were. They had such a twisted sense of reality. I had to shake my head when I heard them talk about how good they were. There’s more to life than hockey, guys. Even when you’re good. Which none of you are. Find something else to do.
Nearly a week after our opening night over Oak Creek, we traveled to Smithfield. I wouldn’t have called it a game, because I played the first period before I was told to undress. We were up 9-0 in the first period, and I chipped in with three goals, skating with what Brimmer referred to as “the first line”. Tough luck, Coop. Being up that much against a team as bad as Smithfield was a sure victory, so the first and second line made way for the third and fourth lines to get some playing time and finish up the game. I focused on the game while Captain America and the goon squad talked about how good they were. It’s easy to make a kid fall over with a deke when he can’t stand up, Cooper, Jesus. Kallock bantered on how he wrecked two kids in the same shift. Wow, saving the world one check at a time. I rolled my eyes and watched the rest of the game as Smithfield was routed 16-0.
Back on the bus, after the bags were packed and we were getting ready to leave, someone’s dad walked on the bus. I didn’t know who he was at first.
“Nice game tonight guys, or lack thereof” he finished with a chuckle. “Here are some cookies and soda for the ride back. Enjoy.”
“A smattering of “Thank You, Mr. Cooper” ensued. I leaned over to my bus buddy Taggert and nodded in Mr. Cooper’s direction.
“Yeah, Cooper’s dad.”
“What’s his deal?”
“President of the Booster’s Club for the team. He’s in charge of fundraising and shit like that.”
“Cooper’s dad is President of the Board. And Cooper is a captain. Is that how things work around here?” I said sarcastically, fully expecting it not to be true.
Tags chuckled. “Believe it or not, yeah. It’s truly pathetic. Guess who else’s dad is part of the Booster’s Club?”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. Cooper’s dad is President, Emerson’s dad is Secretary, Gardiner’s dad is treasurer, and Kallock’s dad is Chief Blowhard. Just like his kid.”
“So you’re telling me that kids play here based on what their parents do for the team?”
“Yeah, it’s always been that way. My brother graduated four years ago and he was stuck playing on third line because my parents weren’t on the Boosters or didn’t line up to get in Brimmer’s thong. You seem to be the exception. Brimmer has no choice but to play you.”
“Regardless, that’s ridiculous. To be honest Tags, you are better than everyone playing above you. I just can’t see why they are playing over you.”
“Simple answer. Doublet and McDougall had brothers that graduated two years ago who weren’t half bad. Light years better than their brothers. Brimmer has some far-fetched hope or blurred vision that McDougall and Doublet are going to be as-good or better than their brothers. There are kids skating third and fourth line who would do more for this team in one shift than the first two lines would do for the whole game.”
“Ridiculous.” I shook my head. “Back in Central, you played based on skill. If parents lined up to jump the coaches’ bones, it hurt their chances more than it helped them. There was none of the ‘presidents of the Booster’s Club’ bullshit. It was all about talent, straight up.”
“Well, this is Branton. This is a town where parents will screw over somebody else’s kid for a half-chewed piece of bubble gum rolling around in a sewerpipe. According to the Booster’s Club, all their kids are going to play Division 1 hockey somewhere. And they’ll do anything to advance their own kids, because it’s all they have. My parents want me to go somewhere based on skill and hard work. At least I got smarts”, he chuckled.
I shrugged. Not that the situation called for it. “All I know is that I have the talent to play at the next level. I haven’t been coddled by my Mom and told I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread like half the kids in this town. Most of these kids have probably never left Branton. If they left this town and saw there’s more to life than just hockey, their perspective on life would be much different.”
“I know, Danny. I don’t plan on playing hockey in college. I know I’m not going pro. My parents told me a long time ago that I was to just have fun playing hockey, then when it’s done, it’s done. Move on to something else. I’ve realized it. Kids here haven’t.”
The end of our conversation brought the end of the trip. My conversation with Tags opened up my eyes to how Branton hockey was run. One simple rule summed it up: Kiss ass, and you’ll play. Unless you’re me, and nasty. Otherwise, have Mommy and Daddy wipe your bottom for you and do everything they can to give you false hope and lead you down a dead-end road. I shrugged my shoulders, got into my car, and drove off.
With my term papers passed in and all my finals completed, the end of the first trimester came to a close. I’ve always only done enough to get by, and my three C’s and two B-‘s were indicative of that. Good enough to play hockey, and that’s all I cared about. I probably didn’t care as much as the goon squad. The end of the trimester meant a few weeks off of school, which allowed me time to catch up with my Central crew. I called Big and got no answer, so I called Jonesy and Jimbo later on that night. Both had the same sentiments I did; we all needed to chill out and catch up on things. After the Christmas Break tournament, I told them, we would all get together and chill like old times. The Christmas Break tournament was held over the course of three days, with the elimination games Tuesday and Wednesday and the championship on Thursday. The upcoming tournament games were going to be harder than our previous two season games. Our first game was against Dunn, one of the better Division C teams in the state. Better teams result in better games for me. When the competition is tougher, that’s when I step my game up. Having a larger than usual crowd helped too, since the student body had nothing better to do except drink and party and not worry about classes.
The game definitely didn’t start out in our favor. Captain America got called for tripping thirty seconds in, giving Dunn the momentum early in the game and a tally only fifteen seconds into the power play. Dunn’s momentum carried them the rest of the period, with only Kline keeping us in the game with twenty first period saves. Dunn had done their homework on me; I was shadowed the entire first period and slashed or hacked every time I touched the puck. The slashes and hacks were going uncalled, which just added to my aggravation of having an unproductive first period. We went into the locker room down 1-0.
Brimmer came in throwing stuff and screaming, as I learned to become more accustomed to the more the season wore on. We were called lazy, scared, timid pussies that shouldn’t drag our skirts next period. Real eloquent, Brimmer, you dick. The two assistant coaches just stood next to Brimmer, maintaining their pre-programmed drone-like actions. Cooper, always the peg boy for Brimmer, just reiterated Brimmer’s exceptionally eloquent motivational speech, even though Cooper was probably the biggest pussy on the team. Seizing his time to shine, he took a stab at my on-ice production.
“Coach is right, guys. We’re playing scared out there. Take the hit along the boards and then make the pass. If you don’t wanna get hit, you shouldn’t be out on that ice. And start shooting. We put four shots on net in the period. We won’t score putting four shots on net. Since we can’t seem to get the offense going, we need the other lines to step up and pick up the slack.”
Cooper was looking at me as he said it. So I smiled at him. He squinted, then looked confused. I laughed and put my helmet on, and headed to the ice.
When I don’t play up to my expectations, I take it pretty hard. I know I have the ability to change the outcome of a game if I really want to. So I stepped my game up the second period, using the Dunn defensemen as food for the black and red monster. Everything that could have been done to the Dunn defensemen, I did, and did it with anger. I was sick of getting stuck and hacked every time I touched the puck, so the first shift of the game I broke the wrist of the first idiot to took a hack at me. When the refs weren’t looking, of course. Nobody in the arena knew what happened when they saw the Dunn forward skating to his bench without his stick, clutching his wrist in obvious pain. Catching up to the play as Emerson dumped the puck into the Dunn zone, I made a beeline for the poor bastard I was about to hurt real, real bad. Since I was a lefty, I came into check the Dunn defenseman with my right shoulder, using my body as I cover for the butt-end I flashed out at the last second. I hit the Dunn defenseman square in the ribs and he hit the ice like a ton of bricks, losing the puck in the process. I scooped it up, cut quickly in front of the net, and buried the puck behind the goalie. The Dunn center, obviously pissed at my clear lack of sportsmanship, crosschecked me in the face after I scored the goal, giving us a powerplay. The black and red monster was not yet satiated, but frothing at seeing the goal and subsequent powerplay opportunity. The monster would have to wait to eat, because the powerplay never got off the ground. I just got more motivated as the game went on. The bastard I butt-ended had some choice words for me, with my responding smile only pissing him off.
“Fuck you”, he so eloquently introduced himself.
“You’re the one getting fucked. All game, pal.”
“Keep your head up, pussy.”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll keep my head up to look at the score after I put two more goals in.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“I can count to two. That would give me three. See, I can count.”
“You’re dead, smartass.”
My promise to my new friend would have to wait until the third period. The second period was marred by penalties, and my tally would be the only one of the period. Cooper pushed me aside on the way into the locker room.
“You got away with two boneheaded plays right there. You won’t be so lucky the third time”, he said.
I wasn’t having it. “Fuck you, Cooper. Start talking shit when you actually start scoring goals.” His face fell, and he looked like he was about to cry. Nobody in his entire life had probably ever talked to him like that.
“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he blurted.
“Whoever the fuck I wanna be. Right now, I’m the offense. Pretty soon, I’ll be the hero. So shut the fuck up, sit back, and watch, bitch.” I headed into the locker room, leaving Cooper speechless in my wake.
Brimmer was a tad more optimistic this intermission, calling us just pussies, as opposed to lazy, scared, timid pussies. Maybe I should suggest sensitivity training for him. Cooper was too pissed to talk, muttering only, “Good period, guys, let’s keep it up.”
I kept my promise to my new friend. A late second period penalty by my newfound friend carried over into the third, so we got the advantage of a fresh sheet of ice and the powerplay. I didn’t waste any time in fulfilling my promise. Gardiner lost the draw, and the Dunn defenseman received the puck and slowly skated backwards, waiting for his team to get into position. Emerson pressured him, causing the Dunn defenseman to attempt a blind pass to his partner. I dug in quickly and rushed toward the other defenseman, deflecting the puck over his stick, breezing by him, and shooting a knucklepuck under the goalie’s left arm. The clock read 14:54. It took all of six seconds to take a 2-1 lead. I made it a point to skate past the penalty box, making eye contact with my new friend and holding up my index finger. He replied with a simple, “Fuck you.” Clearly, he was a man of eloquence. The black and red monster showed its’ appreciation by chanting my name and calling the Dunn goalie a sieve. I chuckled. Passing Cooper on the way back to the bench, I told him to grab some popcorn because the show was about to start. I think him and my new Dunn friend took the same eloquence classes, as he replied with a “Fuck you.”
Cooper was pissed about me disrespecting his captaincy, because on his first shift of the third period, he hit a Dunn defenseman from behind, ejecting him from the game and giving our team a five minute penalty. “Nice fucking job, you idiot”, I muttered to myself as Cooper skated off the ice.
“Shut the fuck up, Adams”, Emerson shot over.
“Fuck you Emerson.”
“What?”
“Fuck. You. Want me to spell it out for you?”
“HEY, CUT THE SHIT!” Brimmer shouted. “Focus on the game.”
Dunn didn’t waste their five minute powerplay, scoring two goals before our penalty kill finally settled down. The black and red monster was quiet now. The energy it emanated was no longer existent. We had our backs against the wall with a little less than six minutes left. Crunch time.
“Taggert, skate with Doublet and McDougall.” Brimmer shouted.
I offered encouragement to Tags as he walked by. “Come on man, show ‘em what you got. This is your chance. Show Brimmer he’s a fool for not playing you.”
As soon as Tags stepped on the ice, it was clear that he was nervous, carrying a grand piano on his back and having feet for hands. He botched a pass from McDougall, then lost his footing as he turned to chase the Dunn winger. I felt his pain. That was me my first few games at Central, but unlike Tags, I knew that I was gonna have another shot. I was hoping Tags took advantage of this chance.
Anderson laid a check on the Dunn winger carrying the puck in with a resounding thud and subsequent cheer from the monster. Doublet skated the puck up ice, with Tags shooting up the right side and McDougall trailing slightly behind the play. Doublet crossed the blue line with a wide arc, drawing the defenseman to him, and dropped the puck off to McDougall. Tags streaked in uncontested towards the net, McDougall hit him on the tape, and Tags deflected it over the shoulder of the Dunn goalie. The monster roared, and Tags raised his arms. I was more happy for Tags than anything else. He was a kid with talent who just couldn’t catch a break in this town, and I was glad that Cooper’s stupidity and rashness had led to this chance for Tags.
He was clearly overjoyed as he skated to the bench for the high-five, pumping his fists and rejoicing. His energy got the rest of the team charged up, and with the momentum in our favor late in the game, it was exactly where we wanted to be. And the stage was set for me to play the hero, cramming it up Cooper’s ass. I was more driven by a desire to shut Cooper up for my own personal gratification. I love putting people in their place, and there was no more opportune time that now.
We changed lines on the fly, and I hit the ice pumping, looking to force the play and cause a Dunn player to make a mistake. The Dunn winger dumped the puck in, and I took residence along the boards, waiting for the breakout. The Dunn center and winger tried to double team Kallock, but he got the puck up the boards to Gardiner, who banked it off the boards and skated around the Dunn defenseman. Emerson was a step ahead of his man, giving us a three-on-two if we made no mistakes. Gardiner skated up ice with the puck, challenging the defenseman to pokecheck him. He crossed the blue line, drawing the defenseman towards him, and dropped a quick pass to Emerson who immediately one-timed it on net. I saw the puck bounce off the goalie’s pads in slow motion, and I knew that the puck wasn’t going to hit the ice before I got there. Amidst the flecks of ice shavings, I saw the puck turning end over and end, and I took a swing at it. I heard the distinctive crack as I made contact with the puck and saw it disappear as it blended in with the goalie’s black pads. I quickly put the brakes on in case of a second rebound. Time stood still, and I stood frozen in front of the net. I saw the referee’s eyes moving, and then I saw his arm shoot out perpendicular to his body. I don’t know how it went it, but I didn’t care. The tiebreaking goal went in, courtesy of me, with just under a minute to play. I went into my new goal scoring celebration and pumped my fist as I was mobbed in front of the net. The animosity Emerson and Gardiner displayed earlier was gone, caught in the moment of a big goal and newfound life late in the game. The monster, sensing the kill, began to prep its’ prey for the final blow, bellowing it into submission. Dunn called a timeout as the goal was announced.
“Branton goal, his third of the game, scored by number 10, DAAAANNNYYYYY AAADDDDAAMMMMSSS. Assisted, by number 26, Rick Emerson, and Number 13, Jim Gardiner. That’s Adams, from Emerson and Gardiner, at 14:37.”
Brimmer took use of the Dunn timeout to outline our own strategy. “Ok, guys, they’re gonna try to freeze the puck in our zone and pull their goalie. It is crucial that we win this draw and clear the red line. Adams, I want you on the draw.” Gardiner stared at me, obviously pissed that I got the nod over him. “Let’s get a Marauder’s on three. 1…2…3…”
“MARAUDERS!”
The monster was hungry for dinner. 23 seconds was about 24 seconds too long. I won the draw back easily to Kallock, who cleared the red line and lazily dumped it in, trying to eat up each valuable second.
20 seconds. My newfound friend on Dunn picks up the puck and heads up ice, passing it off to his winger.
16 seconds. The winger one-times the pass to the center.
14 seconds. The center carries the puck over the red line, flips it towards our goalie, and the Dunn goalie heads to the bench.
12 seconds. The Dunn winger skates hard to our goalie, who immediately freezes the puck as soon as the winger arrives.
11 seconds. The referee drops the puck for the faceoff, which I easily win. Kallock coughs the puck up, Gardiner loses his coverage which allows the Dunn winger to fire off a point-blank shot, which is smothered by Kline.
9 seconds. The puck drops and takes a funny bounce, skittering towards the Dunn wingers, who are lined up two on the strong side. The Dunn winger takes Emerson out of the play and lets the puck go to his teammate, who fires a quick shot…
8 seconds. It rings off the post with a resonating clang and ends up in the corner. Kallock hustles to the corner to retrieve the puck and gets rattled by the extra skater.
6 seconds. The extra skater picks up the puck and skates behind the net, looking for the defenseman creeping in from the slot.
3 seconds. The pass comes into the slot, the defenseman one-times the puck, and it sails over the net, cracking against the glass.
The time ran out and the monster rejoiced, no longer having to wait to enjoy the catch. Our bench erupted, overjoyed and exhausted from an emotionally draining win. We surrounded Kline, who finished up with 40 saves on 43 shots, an impressive feat, nonetheless. The time came for the post-game handshake and some parting words for my Dunn nemesis.
“Nice game…nice game…nice game…Told you I’d score three…nice game…”
“Good game…nice game…nice game…Fuck you, pussy…nice game…”
Brimmer brightened up with the win, congratulating us on a hard fought win and solid team effort. He made special emphasis on the play of Kline, who kept us in the game. The captains, however, were not as grateful and commending as Brimmer was. Cooper was embarrassed and pissed off about being kicked out and the fact that I put him in his place, and Gardiner was pissed that I was chosen to take the draw over him. Tough luck, fellas. Can’t step your game up, then the big boys will. It’s gotta be embarrassing for the captains when a couple of no-names come out of nowhere and steal their thunder. The only respectable thing Cooper did was congratulate Tags on his goal while acknowledging his own stupidity. Brimmer came back in, telling us to take a night off and relax because we had another game tomorrow night, albeit against a weaker team.
I got undressed, picked up my bag, and headed outside. I was stopped by a reporter for a few questions.
“Hi, Danny. I’m Arnie Fischer from The Patriot Ledger. Mind if I ask you a few questions?”
“Uh, sure, go ahead.”
“Great. Tell me your thoughts on the tonight.”
“It was a real test for the team tonight. Players that needed to step up did so, and I hafta mention Nick Kline, who pretty much kept us in the game tonight. Mike Taggert filled the void left by Mike Cooper and gave us a big goal when we needed it.”
I had a feeling that last comment was gonna come back to haunt me.
“Good, good. What do you attribute to your success so far this season?”
“Uh, being able to step on the first line and be that clutch player that a team needs. Also, having played two seasons in Division A has obviously been a big help to my game.”
“Great. One more question. Do you think you will be able to keep up your torrid scoring pace for the rest of the season?”
“Yup.”
“Wow. You’re a confident young man. Thanks for your time.”
“No problem.”
I was used to reporters from the previous two seasons at Central. Being quick and to the point was key, because anything long-winded tended to get misconstrued. I continued the trek to my car and saw Brimmer, Cooper, and his dad in an animated discussion by the car. Usually, personal conversations like that are none of my business, but it was one word the piqued my interest and made me lend my ear. The word was “Northeastern.”
Why Northeastern? Northeastern was a Division 1 hockey program. I had often entertained the possibility of going that, albeit while at Central. Transferring to Branton had put a damper on any prospective Division 1 suitor. I listened to more of the conversation.
“That was a boneheaded play, Michael. You’re a captain, you need to lead by example”, said Cooper’s dad.
“Yeah, I know it was stupid. My emotions got the best of me.”
“You’ll never get to play at Northeastern if you get kicked out of games and get stupid penalties.”
Oh my god. Did he honestly think he could play at Northeastern coming from Division C Branton? What fantasy world was he living in? I had a better shot when I was at Central, and even still, it was a long shot.
Then, Brimmer chipped in. “You know, Mike, I’m going through hell and high water to get scouts here to look at you. I’m cashing in all my chips for you to get looked at. But playing stupid like that won’t get you anywhere.”
Even Brimmer was in on this fantasy world of Cooper’s. Even he had to know, being a coach, although a terrible one, for the past 20 years, that Cooper had no shot at a place like Northeastern. I heard enough. I got into my car and drove off.
I heeded the advice of Brimmer and called it an early night. I dreamt that night of winning a state championship, followed by another dream where I banged Cooper’s sister. I should probably call her up again, cuz boy, was she fun. I woke up the next morning to an empty house with my mom at work, so I cranked the radio and strolled around the house in my boxers while making my power breakfast of bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. The rest of my day was spent playing NHL 2006 on Xbox and pumping my body full of water.
Come game time, I was ready to go. I did hafta live up to my promise of a torrid goal scoring pace, so playing a weaker team like Monmouth would enable me to do so. Brimmer’s pregame speech was one of pure arrogance and cockiness, referring to Monmouth as a “mere speedbump on the road to the state championship”. Boy, was he wrong.
Kline couldn’t stop a beach ball. He let up four goals in the first period on five shots, and even the weakest shots gave him a problem. It just added to the enigma of the goalie; on top of his game one minute, down in the dumps the next. If Brimmer was smart, he would have pulled Kline in favor of the back-up Cavelli to give us more of a chance in the game. Kline acknowledged his sloppy play after the first period, taking sole responsibility for the four-goal deficit. Brimmer harped on Kline’s poor goaltending and laid into us for getting dominated by a team like Monmouth. “You guys”, he said, “are above and beyond a better team than them. Go out this period and show it.”
The black and red monster was agitated. Rarely seeing a deficit, an unusual quiet played over the monster. The only life the monster showed early in the second period was giving Kline a Bronx cheer when he handled a fluttering puck from the blue line. I knew that getting the crowd involved in a game can give the team an emotional boost. Seven minutes in, I intercepted a lazy pass back to the defenseman, and pushed off as hard as I could. I could feel my jersey flapping behind me and I know that once that jersey gets going, the only attempt to stop me is to shoot me from the stands. I broke in, faked left, and buried it top shelf on the helpless Monmouth goalie. The monster was happy now. As I was accustomed to, I received no congratulations from my linemates, only being lauded by Anderson and Taggert when I got back to the bench.
“Nice goal, Danny” said Tags.
“Thanks, man. He had no idea what I was gonna do.”
“Even if he had clairvoyance, he still wouldn’t have stopped that.”
I laughed. “You think you’re getting out there tonight?”
“Doubt it. Now that Cooper is back, there’s no need for me.”
“That’s bullshit, you could definitely give us a lift right now. More so than Cooper.” That drew glances from Emerson and Gardiner. I stared back, and Tags laughed. “If Kline can pick his game up, we’ll win this”, I said.
“Yeah”, Tags agreed.
Kline didn’t pick his game up. Six more goals in the second period for Monmouth overshadowed the two more from me and one from Doublet. Down 10-4 to a team like Monmouth was embarrassing, and Brimmer let us have it. We were scared, timid, lazy pussies again, along with being a disgrace to the game of hockey. Nice, Brimmer.
Kline was pulled in favor of Cavelli, who shut out Monmouth in the final stanza. I potted one more, while Cooper and Emerson each put one in, but it wasn’t enough. Monmouth was on to the finals against Washington, who trounced Dunn 9-1 later on that night. We were in the consolation game against Groton.
I was pissed about the loss, and I discussed it with Tags after the game.
“Kline had a tough game tonight”, I said.
“Definitely. He must have been tired from last night’s game”, Tags responded.
The goon squad rolled by and eyed me and Tags.
“Fuckin pricks”, I muttered.
“Heh. Second that.”
I repeated my routine from the day before, rocking out to some AC/DC and G-Unit while relaxing with some NHL 2006. Since we were in the consolation game, we played at 5 instead of 8. I still felt tired from last night’s game, but this game shouldn’t have been a bad one. It turned bad for me when Brimmer came in for the pre-game speech.
“Ok, guys, a little change in the lineup tonight. Cooper, you’re playing with Emerson and Gardiner. Taggert, you’re with McDougall and Doublet.”
What? Why wasn’t I in the lineup? I figured out why when Brimmer pulled me aside as we headed to the ice.
“You listen to me, Adams.” Brimmer was in my face, spitting as he talked. “You got a fucking problem with my coaching, you come to me and talk about it. Don’t run your fucking mouth and think I won’t find out about it. You can sit on the bench until you smarten up, and if you have fuckin’ suggestions about my coaching, I DON’T WANNA FUCKING HEAR THEM!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Shut the fuck up and get on the ice.”
What the fuck just happened? I didn’t criticize Brimmer’s coaching to anyone. All I said last night was that had Kline played better, we would have won. Did Cooper and the goon squad think Tags and I were talking shit about Brimmer when they walked by last night? I noticed a guy in a jumpsuit with a clipboard, and it meant only one thing: college scout. Cooper thinks he’s good enough to play college hockey. That fucking piece of shit. He had to have known there was gonna be a scout in attendance tonight. Playing first line would give him more exposure. Weasel. And since Groton wasn’t a strong team, he would look like a good player.
He took advantage of the increased ice time, scoring two in the first period, much to the delight of the black and red monster. I knew it was Cooper who framed me when he sat down after the first period and shot me a smile. I wanted to walk over there and kick his teeth down his throat. I looked back at him, and mouthed “you fucking pussy”. He smiled again as Brimmer came into the room.
“Good first period, guys. Kline, glad to see you rebounded. Cooper, excellent first period, man. One more quick one and you got the hatty. Looking good out there, keep it up.” That just added to Cooper’s shit-eating grin, and he just pissed me off more the longer it stayed on his face. I played one 45 second shift at the end of the game. I was too pissed off to focus on my game, but I did make some kid wanna take up chess when I laid him out at center ice.
Cooper was overly excited about his hat trick and dicking me over. He congratulated us on a great game and told us that Brimmer informed him we had tomorrow and the next day off, to give us some down time for the holidays. I would love my Christmas present to be able to take a nail-studded bat to Cooper’s face, along with the rest of the goon squad. On the way to my car, I was stopped by Brimmer.
“I hope you learned your lesson. Don’t run your fucking mouth.”
“Lemme ask you something”, I said. “Who came to you and LIED about this?”
“Don’t worry about it. Have a nice Christmas”, he sneered.
I managed to keep my mouth shut and swallow my pride as I made my way towards my car. I checked my cell phone and had a missed call from Shanny. “Yo, Danny, we got tomorrow off and no game tonight, so lemme know if you wanna get together with the crew. Hit me up, lata.”
That would do me some good. Rolling with my Central crew would take my mind off all of the drama going on right now. I called Shanny and told him that what we all needed was for them to come down to Branton, drink a few beers, and crash at my house. He agreed, and he arrived two hours later with Big, Jonesy, and Jimbo.
“OOOOOO, look at you, living in luxury. Should I call you ‘sir’? Big quipped.
“I know I can call you ‘bitch’”, I shot back.
That drew a laugh.
“Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humor, Danny”, said Jimbo.
“I haven’t changed, baby.”
“Yo, let’s get some grub. I’m starving”, Big pleaded.
“Big you are always hungry. You fatass”, Jimbo ribbed.
Big rubbed his belly and replied, “It’s a fuel tank for a love machine.”
We hopped in the Vic. “Yo, Danny, you got any Royce in here?”
“Yeah, Big, pull it outta the CD case.”
“Word. Put on ‘Boom’.”
“You got it”, I said.
I heard the “click, click, click” and the song began. Big was doubling as a hungry man and rap artist, reciting the lyrics perfectly.
“I’m the verbal-spit Smith Wesson, I unload with sick spit the quick wick could split a split-second, bomb with a lit wick expression, you here a tick tick, then you testing…”
“Yeah, yeah, uh, break it down, Big.” Jimbo was egging on Big to freestyle.
“Yo, yo, I’m one-half amaretto, four-eighths cocoa,
If I don’t get me some ass I’m gon’ go loco,
Don’t talk shit to Big and Co.
Lest I knock your teeth out with a hammer blow
My man Danny’s tearing it up in Branton,
And now I’m gonna pass the mic and hear him start jammin…”
It’s been forever since I freestyled. But I couldn’t disappoint Big.
“I blow by you with speed unparalleled and unequal,
You don’t like the fact you got burnt the first time? Here’s the sequel.
Sweet like sugar, but fat-free like equal
Stick around for a minute and get ready for the prequel.
These Branton pricks with their two-inch dicks,
I’m starting to get tired of this schtick,
Wait for the boom cuz here comes the tick,
I’m about to tear Cooper’s head off right quick.”
“Wooooooo Danny, you been practicing? That was some good flow. Who’s this Cooper cat?” Big asked.
“Yo, get this. This kid is team captain. Not nearly as good as any of us. He’s captain because his dad is presidents of the Booster’s Club for the team. I took his place on first line, so he and his crew are all pissed. I’m pretty sure he went to our coach before our game and said I talked shit about him so I would get benched. I played one fucking shift today man, one shift. He played first line and scored a hat trick, but my mom could have scored a fucking hat trick against this team.”
Jimbo chimed up. “Are you serious? That’s some pussy shit right there.”
“The kid is a pussy. That’s how the whole team is. In this town, if your parents don’t hold some position on the Booster’s Club, you don’t play. My boy Tags is real good, but he doesn’t play because his parents don’t line up to blow Brimmer.”
“Brimmer the Coach?” asked Big.
“Yeah. He’s a huge prick. Big fish in a small pond. Thinks he’s hot shit.”
We pulled into a pizza joint on South Street which was a popular hangout for Branton kids. We walked into a packed house, who all turned and stared, not used to seeing someone of color in Big.
“Wow, little unwelcome, am I?”
“It’s ok, Big. They’re not used to seeing someone who’s not white. Everything here is cookie-cutter. They don’t like chocolate chips in their cookies.”
We found a table in the back, stopping by Tags’ table for introductions and small talk.
“Sorry about the game today, man”, he said.
“It’s ok, not your fault. You played well.”
“Thanks. But I wouldn’t have played if Brimmer hadn’t benched you. Why did you get benched anyways?”
“Apparently, I was talking shit about his coaching style. The only person I talked to after the game last night was you, and you know I didn’t talk any shit.”
“I know. Do you think someone made it up?”
“Yeah, and I know who.”
“Who?” Tags leaned in, inquisitively.
I shot him a guessing glance, and said, “Who do you think?”
“Cooper? What a child.”
“No shit. But we’re gonna grab some grub. I’ll catch up with you later.”
“Cool.”
“Is that your boy?” Big asked.
“Yeah, that’s Tags.”
“He ain’t too big.”
“I know. But he’s quick as hell.”
Big just nodded in acknowledgement.
As luck would have it, there was an empty table behind the goon squad. I had my crew lean in close and informed them that Cooper and his crew were sitting at the table in front of us.
“That skinny prick is Cooper? I would snap that kid in half”, said Big.
I overhead the conversation at the goon table. Cooper and his Northeastern fantasies, Kallock being courted by Division 3 schools, Emerson and Gardiner going to play juniors next year. I often wondered what kind of garbage their parents fed these kids. None of them were going anywhere; they might as well look for a good intramural team to play for in college, because they sure as hell weren’t gonna play for the school.
“So, yeah, I’m thinking about playing for the Harbor Wolves next season”, I heard Emerson say.
“I’m being talked to by Suffolk and Salve Regina”, I heard Kallock say.
“All I know, is that I’m playing for Northeastern next season.”
I had heard enough. Standing up, I made eye contact with Cooper, and calmly said, “Oh really? I didn’t know the Northeastern women’s team was looking for practice players.”
“Fuck you, Adams.”
“Good one, Cooper.”
“Shut the fuck up, Adams”, said Kallock.
“Nice, two solid comebacks in a row. Those who sleep together must think alike.”
“Enjoy your time on the bench today, prick?”, Cooper retorted.
Both tables were standing at this point, causing the entire pizza shop to look over. Anyone standing in the pizza shop knew that what was about to transpire couldn’t bode well for the Branton kids.
“Oh look, the coat rack can talk”, said Big.
“Who let you out of your cage, monkey?” Cooper shot back.
Then, Cooper pushed Big. That was a big, big mistake on Cooper’s part. Big had grown up kicking the shit out of kids for making comments about his color, and I’ve seen him handle tough kids with relative ease. Anyone from our area knew Big wasn’t to be trifled with. I shuddered at what Big could do to a suburban wimp like Cooper. Since Cooper made the first sign of aggression, Big could claim that he was acting out of self-defense. Big’s eyes glowed with an anger that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I saw him clench his fist to strike Cooper in the face, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Jimbo grab a pizza pan off a nearby table and hit Cooper square in the face. Not really self-defense, but hey, to each his own. Cooper crumbled to the floor in a mess of blood, and Kallock took a step forward and sucker punched me in the face.
Pandora’s Box had nothing on that mayhem that unfolded in the Branton House of Pizza. Chairs and tables were knocked over by retreating patrons as fists flew from every angle. Every frustration I had against Cooper and the goon squad was wrapped around every punch that I unloaded. I squared off against Kallock while Big had Cooper pinned to the ground. Shanny was powerbombing Emerson through a table while Jimbo and Gardiner wrestled on the floor. Jonesy stood by on guard in case someone else jumped in the fight, which after seeing the Branton kids get absolutely trounced, no one was stupid enough to even consider it. Cooper cried for help as Big unloaded blow after blow. Emerson picked himself up from the shards of the table he was just unwillingly put through and tackled Big off Cooper. Shanny cried out, “Where are you going? I’m not done with you yet”, and smashed a chair over Emerson’s back.
We were city kids. We did whatever it took to win, and in Jimbo’s opinion, using a pizza pan for other purposes than its intended use fit within those guidelines. The pizza shop employees had called the cops after Jimbo rearranged Cooper’s face with the pizza pan, and were en route. Seeing red, I summed all my aggravation into one punch and hit Kallock square in the mouth, feeling his teeth loosen as I followed through. Cooper scrambled to his feet and took refuge behind a chair. Big chased him down and delivered a face crumbling blow that knocked Cooper clean off his feet. I had Kallock pinned and was in the process of smashing his nose through his face when I was pulled off him and thrown up against the wall.
“Don’t even fuckin think about fighting back, punk.”
I managed to steal a glance over my shoulder and saw officers swarming the pizza shop, separating the combatants and slapping cuffs on. It took two officers to pull Big away from Cooper. After the melee was cleared, myself and the rest of the crew were pushed up against the wall in cuffs, while Cooper and his crew were on the ground. We were pulled away from the wall and roughly seated on the curb while an officer paced before us, carrying a menacing facial expression.
“So, you think fighting each other is the solution to everything, huh? You think punching each other’s faces in is gonna solve anything? You know I could bring you all up on all sorts of charges right now. Destruction of property, assault and battery, aggravated assault, disturbing the peace, the list goes on.” He paused, shooting us another menacing glance. “I understand some of you are Branton hockey players, right? What would Coach Brimmer say if he was here right now? He sure would bench all your asses, guaranteed.” He gave us another cop stare. “I’m going to overlook this little escapade, and let you all off with warnings. If I show up to a call in the future and it involves ANY of you, you will wish you were never born. Understand? Get the fuck outta here, and I never wanna see your faces again.”
We were uncuffed first and escorted to my car. The officer and I met eyes, and I glanced at his badge for future reference. “Cooper”, it read. Has to be a coincidence.
Back in the car, we waited until we were on the road to start congratulating each other on kicking the daylights out of Cooper and the goon squad. The adrenaline was still pumping and we were high-fiving each other.
“Nice idea with the pizza pan, Jimbo”, Big said.
“I didn’t like how that muthafucka called you a monkey.”
“You beat me to the punch, literally. You always are the fucking crazy one, Jimbo.”
“Those kids had no clue who they were fucking with. What made you grab the chair Shanny?” I asked.
“I didn’t appreciate him running away from me and jumping Big. So I had to teach him a lesson.”
“He definitely learned something.”
“We should be in big trouble right now, though”, said Jonesy. “I can’t believe we got let off with a warning.”
“I think I know why”, I said.
“Why?” asked Big.
“Well, the cop who spoke to us, his name was ‘Cooper’. I have a hunch that if may have been Cooper’s father.”
“The kid’s dad is a cop and chief head-giver for your team? Is this a hockey team or a government?”
“I’m not sure if it’s his dad or not. But the fact that we were let go first might have something to do with it. I’m gonna ask around, because it doesn’t seem right.”
“Yeah. Let’s go drink some brews”, said Jonesy.
“I hear that”, Big agreed.
“Yo, Danny, where can we go?” asked Jonesy.
“There’s a lighthouse two miles from here that everyone goes to and drinks. They build a big bonfire and everyone gets hammered. It also doubles as a boxing ring when kids need to settle a score. I doubt we’ll see Cooper and those kids, though. His dad will probably make him go home.”
That got a laugh out of the crew. We got shitfaced that night at my house after reneging on the lighthouse due to the single digit temperatures. We recapped the fight and reminisced about the days at Central, but a tick in the back of my head told me that the fight tonight was only round one in a very long bout. I cracked my beer and grabbed a new one. Things were about to get ugly.
My mom and I have always enjoyed simple Christmases. Not having enough money kinda makes you see Christmas as a time for appreciating family as opposed to material things. But now that my mom came into some money with Aunt Mae passing away, she bought me a few nice things to celebrate a worry-free Christmas. “I’m so proud of you, Daniel”, she told me. She brought out an Easton Synergy with a red bow on it. “The guy at the hockey store told me it was the best stick on the market. The best stick for the best player on the team.” She winked. I blushed.
“Thanks, Mom. Really.”
“I love you, Daniel.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
We had one day of practice, followed by a game the next. The practice was light, composed of mostly shooting and passing drills. Cooper and the goon squad would have to wait for the next practice to pass me hospital passes and attempt to cheapshot me. Brimmer still had it out for me, promoting Cooper to the first line and putting me back on the second line. He wasn’t done with bitching me out. In a short, quick burst, he said “Don’t bring your city trash, troublemaking friends around Branton again. I mean it.” Fuck you, Brimmer. Of course I didn’t say it out loud, because I was already in the doghouse and didn’t need my playing time cut any more. But the fact that Brimmer knew about the ordeal the other night just led me to believe that the cop in charge of the situation was actually Cooper’s father. Which also proved that he had his finger on the pulse of this town and probably had some clout when he wanted to use it. He thinks his kid has what it takes to get somewhere, bad, and it seemed that he was willing to skirt the rules for his own kid in order to do so. I happened to be the obstacle which impeded his kid from getting anywhere, which made me the odd man out. Damn.
Our next game was against run-of-the-mill Williams Beach, our neighborly rival. Branton and Williams Beach despised each other, from the selectman all the way down to family pets. Fights were bound to break out amongst the fans, and depending on where the game was would dictate if the cops got involved or not. More often than not, Tags said, that when Williams Beach kids came to the games at Branton, there was almost always a fight, and the Branton cops would only intervene after the Williams Beach kids had gotten beaten up bad.
Consistently a .500 team, Williams Beach dominated bad teams, and got dominated by the good ones. This game, Brimmer said, should be no contest. Maybe no contest for an Adams-led squad. My cockiness was getting to be too much. Having fourteen goals through four games would do that to anyone, but those fourteen goals were as easy as banging Cooper’s sister. Hahahahahahaha. Before addressing the team, Brimmer pulled the goon squad and myself out in the hallway, and it wasn’t for a pep talk.
“If any of you pull that shit again, I will kick you off this team so fast your head will spin. Captains or not. You need to lead by example, and you guys are lucky as fuck that Mr. Cooper was on duty, because otherwise, it could have been a hell of a lot messier. Cut the shit, and play as a team. This little rivalry dies right here. RIGHT NOW! Get in the fucking locker room and act as captains should.”
I strolled back to the locker room with a cocky swagger. Looking straight ahead, I whispered, “You always gonna hide behind your daddy, Cooper?”
“At least I have a daddy, orphan.”
If Brimmer wasn’t there, I would have kicked Cooper right in the mouth. I didn’t care if I had a skate on or not. He was a wiseass little prick who didn’t learn his lesson from one beating already. Maybe a second one would do him good. I needed one last parting shot before heading into the locker room.
“What happened to your face, Cooper? Did you bite down on Brimmer?”
He stopped midstride, unsure of what to say back. Chalk one up for the Adams camp.
We blew out Williams Beach 9-0. I potted four goals, bringing my season total to eighteen. I’m sure no one in Branton history had scored that many goals in six games. It just proved that I was head and shoulders a level above these kids; a man amongst boys. What made it even sweeter was that for the goon squad, this season would dictate their next four years, blinded by the absurdity of being told they were good enough to play college hockey. I knew I was good enough to play Division 3, maybe Division 1 after a year of juniors. My mom wasn’t gonna fill my head with unrealistic thoughts; she knew there was a bigger world out there and more important things in life besides hockey. For these Branton kids, it was all they had.