2020 by Adelyn Zara
Alek strode into the cafeteria as if he owned the room. Although hockey was not a high school sport, Alek brought popularity to the school district with his accomplishments. When the whispers of becoming professional started early in his junior year, Alek took full advantage of his new fame, enjoying every minute of it including the female attention that came with it. Unlike other girls, Maddie Holmes did not pursue Alek. Yet she allowed him to possess her and dictate her very move once they connected.
Some kid near the cafeteria entrance door saw Alek as he came in. As this was the time when upper classmen ate their lunches, the student’s observation caused a rippling of excitement throughout the room as others joined him in their awe.
“Alek? Alek’s here!”
“Look at him! I think he’s bigger.”
“Not possible. But definitely older looking.”
He heard it all even though he was on the opposite side of the room, his gait now a swagger as he stood straighter, his bright green eyes glittering in the overhead fluorescent lights. Realizing that he was still a popular guy on campus, he nodded at those looking at him in awe.
Sighting the familiar long brown hair, Alek approached her table. He watched as Maddie’s girlfriends’ faces showed shock and maybe jealousy, their mouths all opening in surprise. Moving his fingers to his mouth to ask for quiet, he placed one hand on Maddie’s waist. She jumped, then turned to view Alek who plastered a big kiss to her startled lips, forcing his tongue into her mouth.
A few girls oohed and ahhed over the public display, something that was so familiar the year before and ignored by the cafeteria chaperones because of who Alek Grambler was.
Maddie brought her head back, a sucking noise ending the wet kiss.
“Alek! What are you doing here?”
“Can’t say, ‘Hi, I’m glad you’re here?’” Alek asked.
He wrapped both arms around Maddie, demonstrating his possession to all who were still gawking at him.
“It’s bye week, baby,” he said while watching her shocked face. “I’m home for four days.”
Maddie’s eyes lit up, then switched to a panicky look, darting back and forth, her hand set loosely on his shoulder, while he continued to kiss her neck.
“Alek … c’mon, stop it … it’s lunch time.”
“Never stopped us before.”
“Well, yeah, but …”
Sara, one of Maddie’s friends interrupted when she asked, “Is it true that you’re the regular goalie now, Alek?”
“Yep,” Alek released Maddie and stood with his shoulders thrown back, his wide chest thrust out in pride. “St. Croix hurt himself, had to have surgery. Then Holtlund broke his leg. No one left to be goalie ‘cept this guy.”
He pointed a finger at his chest, puffing it out even more with arrogance.
“Wow,” another girl with short blond hair chimed in. “Your rookie year and you get to play!”
Why do girls have short hair? Do they think that’s attractive?
Instead of answering her, Alek nodded, then tugged at Maddie’s hand.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“I’ve got class in fifteen –.”
“Never stopped you before,” Alek said as he turned back toward the cafeteria door.
Maddie pushed some of the silky brown hair back over her shoulder.
“You heard me.”
Alek plopped back down on the cheap motel bed, shocked.
Pregnant. No! Not now.
“Are you sure?”
Maddie pulled a t-shirt over her head, knowing that their frantic lovemaking was over, maybe forever.
“I’ve had the test. I have an appointment with a gyno tomorrow. Maybe you could come with me?”
“Do your parents know?”
Alek was surprised when he ran his hand through his roguish hair and discovered the sweat that was beginning at his hair line.
“You haven’t told your friends yet, have you?”
“No.” Maddie was pulling on her jeans. “Not yet.”
As she finished dressing, she said, “What should we do, Alek?”
“WE!” Alek exploded. “What do you mean we? I thought you were on birth control! I thought we were safe.”
“Nothing is one hundred percent effective.”
Maddie picked up a pillow from the bed, held it to her chest as if it would protect her from Alek’s wrath. Alek, noting the safeguarding move, scoffed at her fear that he might –
What? Hit her? I don’t hit people. That’s my old man’s thing, not mine.
“You’re sure it’s mine?”
“What?” Maddie’s composure collapsed, her arms dropping the pillow. “You own me, you bastard! I can’t do anything without your permission! I can’t even go to dances with my friends without -.”
Alek stood, his bare upper torso, muscular and sculpted, having no impact on Maddie.
“That was one dance,” Alek said, dismissing it.
“Yeah! One that you wouldn’t let me go to!”
Maddie stared back, trying to dredge up enough strength to keep up with Alek’s surging anger.
“All my friends went,” she said. “Some went alone. But you wouldn’t even let me do that!”
Alek didn’t answer, still stuck on the news that Maddie was pregnant.
“You probably had one of your old football friends watching me,” Maddie said as she jammed a foot int a tennis shoe.
“Now what?” Alek asked, not hearing her statement concerning his possessive nature. His mind was racing, trying to find options. “See a doctor and get rid of it?”
Maddie’s face turned red.
“I don’t want an abortion,” she stated. “This is our kid!”
She pointed to her flat stomach.
“A little bit you, a little bit me. I think that’s cool.”
A lot of us. Shit.
At the first practice after the bye week, Alek went through his routine of scuffing up the ice in the goalie crease, trying to focus on hockey. Worries kept Maddie’s news front and center.
Shit. Last thing I want: A kid.
From across the rink, one of two coaches called out instructions for a drill.
As it began, the other players circled from the center line to the goal, sending in goals for Alek to stop. Usually, this excited him, made him edgy and ready for play. Today as each one came flying toward the net, he went after them as if they would explode the entire arena unless he caught them.
Intent on not allowing any breaches, Alek didn’t pay any attention to which player was shooting pucks his way. He just reacted, almost without consciously being aware of his defensive move. He listened for the telltale swishing of air as a player launched a puck toward the net, the stick’s cracking sound as it connected. He heard the forceful wind helping the small object toward him, the sound as it hit the goal’s standards, tinny, hollow.
One landed in his mitt. A second later, without really thinking, he threw it back to the ice.
Damn . . . a kid. Not ready for a kid.
This one he deflected with his stick.
She said we were safe. She said she was on birth control.
This puck sent him to his knees which he brought together as he sunk to the ice, butterflying his legs, causing the thick padding to span almost the entire length of the goal.
Should’ve used a condom. Stupid …
Another one sped toward the goal, bouncing off the rim of the goal cage. For a moment, Alek woke up to reality.
Damn. That was too close.
Just like this pregnancy shit … too close.
Both arms went up to stop the speed of the next one.
What’ll I do?
Alek split his legs again, the puck going to his left, stopped by his pads.
Marry? No. Never wanted that.
The mitt did its job again.
No way in hell!
Down to his knees.
It’s Maddie’s fault. She should’ve done better.
This one hit his thigh, stinging, the force of the shot almost too much. Alek gritted his teeth. As he circled back to the center, the player who sent the puck turned to see Alek’s face, nearly impossible given that a goalie’s mask completely covered it. But Alek could see the guy’s big, evil smile because his face was uncovered.
Slaker. You bastard. Think you’ve got me? No way.
His mind drifted back to Maddie, the baby, the situation, just as – SLAM! – another puck came up high. He caught it with ease, threw it down on the ice.
It’s her responsibility. Not mine.
Two pucks came in, causing Alek to do the splits and raise his mitt. Both were stopped.
I was clear with her about this. Wasn’t I? No kids, no marriage. Not now.
Another one sent to his chest area, deflected by pads. Slaker was laughing as he turned away from the net.
Damn. These are getting real!
Don’t want a kid.
Tell her to get it fixed.
No, she already said that isn’t happening.
Shit. What do I do?
Four at once?
“Hey!” Alek yelled out. Two were deflected off his pants and one he caught. One puck went right into the net.
His teammates laughed, continuing to send in numerous pucks without any timing. Alek felt as if he was being pelted in a game of Dodge ball, unable to avoid the tiny, black objects which felt like the hard, rough balls of his childhood.
Suddenly his teammates were increasing the speed of their volleys, most laughing at the improbability of Alek being able to stop that many. Trying to do so, Alek stopped thinking about Maddie, the baby, or anything as he moved around like a rag doll, certain that his teammates were purposely setting him up for failure.
Alek missed two shots. Slaker, team captain, slid to a stop behind the net, laughing at Alek.
“Too much for you, Rookie?”
Slaker maneuvered to the front of the net, lining up with Alek, two big bodies aligned, helmet to helmet. Both formidable, large men.
Slaker’s foul breath added menace to his taunt.
“Think you’re good just ‘cause the coach lets you play with the Big Boys?”
Alek continued staring at the older, more experienced player.
Keep it up, Slaker. I can stare at you all day.
“You got this gig cause no one else is around. Management had no choice but to bring up a rookie. But here’s where you prove yourself. Can you handle more than one puck? Can you?”
Alek leaned in, his mask touching Slaker’s.
“Why would I ever have to? You can barely hit one, Old Man.”
Slaker reached for his chin strap, pulled off his helmet and threw it on the ice. Recognizing the time-honored invitation to fight, Alek did the same.
The two men’s arms were in constant motion, a confusing tornado of blue and white arms rising, striking, then rising again. Slaker, taking a break from a punch, seized Alek’s jersey and pulled him out of the net. Alek grabbed back, ripping Slaker’s jersey so that it shredded off. Then they were both at it again, but this time Alek raised his fists toward the other man’s face, landing blow after blow, the welts around Slaker’s eyes turning puffy and red with the repeated onslaught.
“Grambler! Cut it out! This is practice!” the coach called from across the rink.
Still the hits kept coming, with Slaker now aiming for Alek’s face. As the fight continued, the two giant men were losing strength and balance, sliding all over, their skates pushing them into the gawking players. Most were encouraging Slaker, yelling instructions to a ten-year club veteran. They ignored the building angry force in the Alek’s punches.
Slaker backed off for an instant, giving Alek time to reach out and grab a stick out of a startled teammate’s hand. Raising it once above his head, a malignant gleam in his eyes, Alek brought the stick down on Slaker’s uncovered head.
The coach was skating over.
Alek didn’t register the coach’s warning or Slaker’s motion that he wanted to give up. Several players surrounded the two men, one brave enough to get between Alek and Slaker, the vicious assault ending in Slaker’s blood on the ice. Arms hooked back by two of his teammates, Alek allowed the stick to fall as his brain finally registered his craziness.
“We’re done!” the coach called out. “Grambler, meet me in the G.M.’s office in fifteen.”
Never had the locker room been so quiet. No one spoke. The team medic secured Slaker in a private room while the others went on with showers, dressing, casting an accusing eye at Alek before leaving. When he was cleaned up, Alek glanced into a mirror, noting his own facial bruises blossoming. But there was no blood.
As he entered the General Manager’s office, Alek took note that the head coach was present along with the two practice coaches and the general manager. All four men were solemn, staring at Alek as if he had transformed from the up and coming newcomer that they were hopeful would lead them to future victories into the scourge of the hockey league.
“Grambler, I’ll give you a chance to tell me what the hell happened out there!” the Head Coach yelled.
Alek hung his head, his mind trying to come up with something defensive. Maddie, the baby, and Slaker’s taunts all seemed stupid as he sat there with seasoned hockey professionals.
“My mind just wasn’t on the drill.”
“No, shit!” one coach called out.
Another shifted his positioning to face Alek.
“We expect rookies to miss a few pucks during that drill and you were not – you never do! You were amazing,” he said, then rubbed his chin. “But I’ve never seen anyone hit a teammate as hard as you did. In practice!”
The head coach interrupted. “And with a stick! Slaker needs a ton of stitches for the damage you did today! He’s off for at least a week!”
The General Manager, who’d been rolling a pen between his fingers, now addressed the situation. Although his tone was low and quiet, his words were forceful.
“We can’t have your level of anger on the ice.”
Alek shifted uncomfortably on his feet, his heart beginning to race.
“We could call the police right now; Slaker could press assault charges!”
Alek’s heart now beat so quickly he was worried about it slamming out of his chest.
The General Manager was glaring at him as he said, “ Injure another player? Who’s already successful? In a practice? You’re out, Grambler.”
Alek’s stomach twisted as he heard the death sentence to his career. No one would touch him once word got out that he’d brutalized a star player his first year.
It was after midnight when he snuck in the back door, hoping he could make it to his room without his father yet noticing he was home. But the screen door screeched his entrance. Larry Grambler was instantly alert.
“Who’s there?” he called out. “Diana?”
Yeah, like my big sis would visit. She comes less often that I do.
Alek placed his stick and bag down on the floor as is father raised his voice to yell out, “Mother? Were you—”
Alek entered the small family room hoping to prevent the waking of his mother. His father sat there in his usual dirty t-shirt and jeans, suspenders holding the pants in place. Beer bottles decorated the tabletop as did a cheese popcorn bag that was two thirds gone.
Larry glanced at his only son.
“Eh,” he reached into the popcorn bag. “What are you doing back here so quickly?”
No, ‘hello.’ That’d be too much for him.
After shoving a handful of popcorn into his mouth, Larry got up and changed the channel – again.
“Bingo!” he said as he motioned to the hockey game that was a repeat of the game that night. “You’re on!”
“No, I’m not.”
Alek’s bright green eyes met the muted, aged eyes of his father.
Better get this over with.
“I’m off the team.”
Larry didn’t seem to register it, watching intently. Replays didn’t always include the pre-game show where they interviewed key players and spoke about hockey issues. Instead, Larry watched the skaters go up and down the ice.
“Eh, they aren’t playing any better,” Larry said.
He smashed the empty popcorn bag between his big hands, then sat forward when the puck landed in the Hurricane net.
“Jesus, Alek!” Larry yelled out. “How could you let that one in? That was so obvious, such an easy play! I don’t understand how that could’ve happened! You know better than that!”
“Mom’ sleeping,” Alek warned.
“Eh, your mother sleeps like the dead,” Larry said, shrugging his shoulders, sending popcorn crumbs into the air. “Now, tell me why you let that happen, Alek.”
As Alek debated how to explain what had happened to his father, the camera focused on the goalie, a dark-haired, lanky individual, who’d removed his helmet and was drinking from a water bottle.
“Foster is a last-minute replacement as goalie this evening,” the announcer was saying. “We don’t have more on what happened to Alek Grambler, the Frisco’s first round draft pick, an up and coming star for the league.”
Larry Grambler turned his eyes on his son as the other commentator said, “Equally unusual is that Arne Slaker is out this evening. An upper body injury that happened during practice is what we’re told.”
Alek leaned against the door jam, waiting for his father to erupt.
“Upper body injury, eh?” Larry Grambler ran his hand over his scruffy beard. “And you’re home.”
He looked toward the kitchen where Alek knew he could see the bag and stick on the floor.
Alek took a breath. “I hit Slaker in practice.”
“Hit him?” Arne picked up his empty beer bottle, tilted the empty back before he shouted, “Why the hell would you do that, Alek?”
“I got angry.”
“Angry?” Larry’s voice was continuing its climb up in loudness. “What the hell do you have to be angry over? You’re a goalie on a National Hockey Team at eighteen fucking years old! Do you know how many –.”
“Dad, mom’s asleep.”
“ – guys want that position? How many Canadian and European kids get those positions? For an American kid -.”
“Dad!” Alek moved closer to his father, his hands extending, motioning to the floor as if it would calm the older man down. “You’re going to wake mom up!”
“Tell me what the hell you did, Alexander.” Larry got up and limped into the small kitchen. When he returned, carrying two bottles of beer, he saw his wife coming down the stairs. Hair askew, pulling on her robe, Pat had not noticed that it was inside out.
“What’s happened? What’s happened?” she cried out. Then, seeing her son, said, “Alek! Are you okay? Are you injured, son?”
Alek watched her trip on the last step as her toe caught the hem of her robe. Landing ungracefully, her breath was agitated, her eyes were still trying to ward off the vestiges of deep sleep. Alek couldn’t help but pity his mother.
“Mom, I’m okay.”
“Okay! My ass!” Larry paused from chugging his beer, sending dribbles of the brew along his already soiled t-shirt. “Stupid kid got kicked off the team!”
“Kicked off?” Pat’s dark eyes darkened with disbelief. “How?”
Both his parents turned their total attention to Alek as he shifted on his feet in embarrassment.
“I hit Slaker.”
“What?’ Now Pat’s eyes filled with tears. “What did he do?”
“What did he do?” Larry turned his anger toward his wife. “Just like you, Pat. You’re always taking this kid’s side!”
“I’m sure Alek has a reason,” Pat countered, walking across the room to her son. Placing her hand on Alek’s forearm, she asked, “Right?”
Alek glanced at his distraught mother, noting the tears that were threatening to fall.
She always thinks the best of me, and I am the worst. Shit. Wait until they hear about Maddie.
“He threw down his helmet, took of his gloves,” Alek said, knowing that his parents would understand that action. “We fought. It got out of hand and I ended up braining him with a stick.”
Pat moved her hands to her face, alarm in her eyes.
“You hurt him,” Pat whispered the accusation.
Alek nodded as he looked at his feet, unable to meet his mother’s eyes.
“Well, if he started it …” Pat started.
Larry stood from his chair, shook the empty bottle at his son.
“No doubt your darling son started it all.”
“But you hit Arne Slaker? With a stick?”
Pat shivered at the last thought.
“Isn’t he like one of the gods of hockey right now?” she asked.
Larry threw the bottle toward Alek who caught it as easily as if it were a puck being launched toward his net.
“Doesn’t matter!” Larry’s slurred words were still coming fast and furious. “Slaker’s the best player they got. And now he’s out because golden boy here,” he pointed another bottle at his son, “couldn’t control his anger.”
Pat now put both hands on Alek’s arms.
“What has you so upset that you hit him? With a stick?”
Here goes. Might as well get it over with.
He placed the bottle on the coffee table that separated him from Larry. Running his hands up and down his muscular thighs, he said, “Maddie’s pregnant.”
Silence greeted his statement, quickly followed by the brightening of Pat’s eyes.
“A baby,” she said softly. “A grandchild …”
Larry’s face turned red while he gripped the new bottle so hard that Alek feared it would shatter.
“Well, that’s fucking great, Alek.”
“So, Slaker got mad when you told him?” Pat asked.
“I didn’t tell anyone,” Alek replied. “I just couldn’t focus during practice and he knew it … kept after me … kept sending more and more pucks towards my head. Then I called him out on it.”
“What did you say?” Pat was whispering again.
Alek looked down into his mother’s anguished eyes.
“I told him he couldn’t hit the puck.”
“You told the best player in the NHL that he couldn’t play anymore? Why in hell would you do something like that?”
Larry threw another bottle, this one half full. Alek caught it again, but the glasses’ condensation made it impossible to hold on to. Glass shattered as it hit the family room floor.
“Larry!” Pat went down to her knees, pulled at part of her terry cloth robe, using it to soak up the beer. “You’ll chase Alek away just like you did Diana.”
“Diana’s a whore!” Larry accused, fisting his hands at his side. He turned his face to Alek. “I suppose you think you can just waltz back here and claim your old bedroom?”
“I’ll get a job.”
“Doing what? All you know is hockey!” Larry screamed. As he plopped down into the chair, he grabbed his chin harshly. “I told your mother years ago that your attitude was going to kill us. No! You know what? Get the hell out! I don’t want some loser with a bad temper living with us.”