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This is a glimpse of an unpolished first draft. This hockey novel will be the first in a three-book standalone romance series about Colorado Storm hockey players. This series begins after the teams wins a championship. Team captain, Christopher, returns to his small hometown in Minnesota with the Cup and sees the girl he could never have, Summer.
The Biscuit in the Basket diner is completely packed, with a twenty-minute wait. For a weekday, it’s only ever this busy on the Fourth of July, since a lot of locals like to come in after the parade and get some of mama’s special Red White and Blue Waffles. But it’s not the Fourth of July. That was a week ago.
Even over the excited chatter of our customers, I can hear the sharp sound of a coffee cup dropping and the gasp of a few patrons. I weave around the tables and dash behind the counter.
“I’m sorry, Summer,” Mr. Wilkins says as coffee wells on the countertop, not yet spilling onto the floor. I pull a well-used rag out of my back pocket and start to soak it up.
“It’s fine,” I chirp, knowing that he’s been having a hard time lately with his Parkinson’s.
“And on Christopher’s day, too.”
“Don’t you worry about it. Are you going to the event today?” I ask, knowing full well what his answer will be. It’s everyone’s answer.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” he replies.
“Want a fresh breakfast?”
“No, dear,” he says, looking down at his soggy eggs. He barely had a chance at it.
“Nonsense, it’s on the house.”
“You said it yourself, it’s Christopher’s day.” I scribble his order down and slide it into the ticket holder. From the kitchen, Mama grabs it and gives me a quick nod and knowing smile.
“When are you getting out of here?” she asks me through the window as she cracks eggs.
“Ten minutes. I’ve already got my equipment packed. Becky’s here and she brought Tom. I think they’ve got a handle on it.”
“Great,” Mama replies and turns around to the stove.
“Give it a few minutes, Mr. Wilkins, she’s working on it,” I tell him and refill his coffee.
Over by the door, a pack of boys comes in, and everyone in the diner looks at them with huge smiles on their face. I think I’m even doing it. You don’t have to read the names on their letter jackets to know who they are in this town. If hope were light, those boys would be blinded by it now, especially with how everyone is looking at them today.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I was that age. It’s only been six years. We believed in our boys just as much back then. Every pep rally, every game, every high, and every low, even the most tragic loss, the town of Fossebridge, Minnesota was there. It’s no wonder people took off work today.
My smartwatch starts to vibrate and I know it’s time to go because I can’t be late for this. Before I can even make a move, there’s a text from my best friend Esme ordering me to get my butt to the airport. Her control issues really need to be checked at some point. I reply with the thumbs up emoji and go to get cleaned up. The last thing I need is to show up with frizzy hair and dried jam on my hands. I do what I can with my hair, by letting it fall out of the messy bun and using the small comb I keep in my bag and then put on some of my favorite vanilla lotion after scrubbing clean. After a glance in the mirror and a quick pinch to my cheeks, I get on the road to the airport.
The drive takes a little under an hour, and I pass the time listening to one of my favorite playlists, the one that’s perfect for this time of year when the fireflies illuminate the trees by the lake at night. When the humidity just might kill you, but you still get cold in the mornings. Everyone here loves the winter when the lake freezes over and you can drop a puck on the ice. Not me. Maybe it's being named after the season, but I love these long summer days.
It's hard to find a parking spot, but I make do. I pull out all my video equipment from the trunk of my ancient Honda Civic and haul it over to the terminal. There’s a hoard of fans and photographers camped around the baggage claim, so it’s not exactly hard to find where I’m going. I locate my kind and head straight for the men with the video cameras.
"Mind if I set up here?"
"Not at all," one of the guys wearing Sports World credentials says. Then he winks at me. I flash him a polite smile, just grateful for the space.
Like a pro, I strap on my stabilization vest and attach my precious baby to the arm, all the while feeling my new buddy’s eyes on me.
“Is that a DVX200?" he asks.
"Huh," he says, and I don’t stop the eye roll. He’s not looking at my face anyway.
"Not what you were expecting?"
He gives me a funny look for calling him out.
"Who you with?"
"Fossebridge Weekly Telegram," I answer and show him my press badge. It’s the first time I’ve ever worn it. In fact, Esme and I made it just for today, because everyone in Fossebridge knows each other already.
“How does a small town paper afford a camera like that?”
“It’s my own.”
He chuckles under his breath, but I ignore it because the chatter dies down and people are starting to move around each other to look toward the door. My palms are slick, which is utterly ridiculous. There’s no reason at all to be nervous, but I am. I’m totally nervous.
I have a job to do, so I film the crowd that’s come out and recognize quite a few people I know and a lot that I don’t. Their excitement is palpable, and it’s taking everything in me not to start bouncing up and down along with them. Some are holding signs and most are wearing number 21. I wonder if they know what I know. I wonder if they remember that it wasn’t his number initially. Do they remember it belonged to Trey?
“He’s coming out,” some dude says to the crew beside me, and they all lift up their cameras with little fanfare.
I turn my camera to the sliding glass door and hold my breath.
“Big Mac! Big Mac! Big Mac!” the crowd chants.
And then the doors slide apart. The crowd erupts in applause and hoots and hollers. I take two steps forward and zoom in on Fossebridge’s favorite son, Christopher MacCormack. The first thing I notice is that he’s beautifully clean shaven, that nasty beard is gone until next April. Knock on wood. He’s also cut his dark hair. High and tight, no flow at all, probably to the disappointment of many across Minnesota. It’s nice to see. Really, really nice. I gulp and stay on track, starting to move to my left to get a shot of Christopher and the crowd in the same frame.
He’s followed by a gaggle of men, one of which is his dad, Peter, and two that are pushing a big chrome case right behind him. His mom, Nancy, is waiting with the crowd.
Christopher waves to the crowd and then shoves his hands into his shorts pockets. Yes, he wore shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops to this, his big day back home. So typical that it makes me want to laugh, but I don’t want to ruin the video.
“Hey everybody,” Christopher greets them. “Thanks for coming out.”
Friends from home approach him and the handshakes start. There’s a man, just shy of Christopher’s six foot and a few inches, by his side providing protection, which is truly laughable considering that Christopher is one of the fiercest defensemen in professional hockey.
I continue to move, circling around this moment, capturing the very spirit of the thing. I’m not interested in reporting news. I’m interested in making this feel like it did as it was happening. Forever.
“So I don’t think you’re just here to see me,” Christopher goes on. “I think you want to see what’s in this trunk, yeah?”
Christopher’s fans cheer in the affirmative.
He takes a few steps back and approaches the men at the chrome case. “Gentlemen, if you would.”
They nod and one unlocks the case and unlatches the lid. Silver shines bright and my camera lens snaps right to it like it’s magnetic. I’m immediately dazzled, as is the crowd. Christopher picks up the cup and hoists it over his head. The crowd erupts as if they watching the Colorado Storm’s game-winning goal in the seventh game of the finals all over again. Christopher lowers the cup to his lips and kisses it like it’s his, because it is for the day, and I capture it perfectly.
When he lifts it back up over his head to sound of even more cheering, he turns to face me straight on, and I zoom in, not daring to look away from my eyepiece. His lips turn up into a slight smile and I see everything in his hazel eyes. There’s a sense of accomplishment, a big dose of pride, a little love and sadness. Today should be one of the happiest days of his life, but I know in my heart that it’s not. It could never be more than bittersweet.
Then Christopher does something that I will have to edit out later. He looks directly into my camera and mouths the word, “Hi.”
There’s nothing like being home, and being home today is extra special because I’ve brought the cup. Winning the cup was the culmination of all of the sacrifices and work and support and faith this town instilled in me. Nothing will quite feel like the moment when I hoisted it for the first time as captain, but bringing it home for Fossebridge, the town that made me who I am is a close second.
My mom arranged for a convertible to drive us down Main Street on the way to the high school for my speech. The streets were lined with people to see me holding the cup to my side like a girlfriend. She sure is sexy and all the things that most boys in this town dream about, but the cup doesn’t hold a candle to Summer Gunderson.
She’s moving around the auditorium, graceful as a cat, with a camera strapped to her body. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen her, but she’s just as I remembered. She’s still got the longest blond hair in town, and dimples that cut so deep they slay me. Her blue eyes are as mischievous as ever. I’ve always been convinced that she sees things most people don’t notice and that’s probably what makes her a great videographer.
She’s filled out a little bit more and I like those curves. Too much. I can’t take my eyes off her. Well, I guess it’s good to know that some things never change.
There’s a slap on my back, snapping me out of my Summer spell. “Ready, son?” my dad asks.
I wipe my sweaty palms on my shorts because this would be a terrible time to drop the cup. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
As captain of the Colorado Storm, I’ve grown accustomed to public speaking, but this is different. These people know me too well. They remember when I peed my pants on the field trip to town hall. They remember when I broke the window at the gas station with a wild slap shot when we weren’t supposed to be playing in the parking lot. They remember when I got completely fucked up and passed out on Summer’s lawn. They remember practically everything about me. I wonder if they remember Trey just as much.
Coach Bennett finishes up a rousing introduction that has the crowd on their feet and cheering. It reminds me of our old pep rallies. Although those usually took place on the rink. Now that would have been fun. I’m already itching for the ice.
“So let’s give a huge Fossebridge welcome to our own Christoper ‘Big Mac’ MacCormack,” my old high school coach screams into the mic.
The crowd does not disappoint him. I pick up the cup, walk out on stage, and the volume goes up to game seven overtime levels. The rock song they used throughout the playoffs, blasts out over the speakers. I guess it’s only fitting.
After a couple of verses, I set the cup on the table and hug my old coach with the classic man slap on the back. He hands me the mic and leaves me alone to face my entire hometown and then some. My eyes dart around the auditorium and find Summer. She’s off to one side, her face hidden by the camera. Without even knowing why, I’m stuck in place until she finally peeks up at me over her lens, releasing me.
“Hello Fossebridge,” I shout and they go wild. Sweat trickles down one side of my face and I wipe it away with my shirt. You’d think it wouldn’t be embarrassing, considering how many intermission and post-game interviews I’ve given when I’m just drenched in it. That’s not the case today. It is terribly embarrassing, but no one seems to notice. They’re all staring at me with complete adoration. Except for Summer. She’s staring through the lens of her camera. Crap, I’m back on Summer again. I’ve got to get this moving along. I quickly recall the remarks I planned and start.
“Did you ever think that we’d get to host the cup here in Fossebridge?”
There’s a lot of shouts in the affirmative and others that are still in disbelief.
“Well, I always dreamed of this day, just like I’m sure you dream of this day too,” I say and point to the boy’s hockey team that’s seated in the third row. “One day this can be you and I’ll come to your ceremony.”
“Eagles! Eagles! Eagles!” the crowd starts to chant for them and I join in a few rounds. When it dies down, I go on, “It was a tough season for the Storm. We lost Hux for eight weeks to that hamstring injury. Our coach, the great Ben Bliss, had to take a leave of absence. And those dreaded Cougars really had our number. But we were strong. We stuck together. We believed we could win and we wouldn’t hear otherwise.”
That gets a round of applause.
“Well, I’m sure you guys were watching.”
“We sure were, Big Mac,” Mr. Knudsen, my old Social Studies teacher, shouts and makes the audience laugh. I laugh along with them.
“We are a hockey town, through and through. And even if I’m not playing in the great state of Minnesota, Fossebridge is always in my heart. I do it for this town,” I say with spirit and they all cheer.
“I do it for Minnesota!”
“I do it for you!”
Incredible sounds of joy fill up the auditorium.
“I do it for Trey!”
And like that, I’ve dampened everything. The joy drains away, but I keep going, “This win, this was for Trey.”
Summer looks up from her camera and stares at me, her mouth open, her eyes are large and bright.
The applause is different. Slower, quieter, but somehow more intense. Heads turn and look toward the back of the auditorium and that’s when I see Trey’s parents. I wasn’t sure if they’d be here today. They aren’t clapping. They’re barely moving as all eyes are on them.
I didn’t want to make this even harder for them. I’m so fucking dumb. I had some more material planned, but move right on to the next part. “Who wants a photo with the cup?”
And that gets everyone’s attention real fast. Everyone, but Summer Gunderson. She’s lowered her camera and is still looking over at Trey’s parents.
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