A Guy and A Girl
NA – contemporary romance
"Chelsea." Kendall nudged her friend in the ribs. "Is that one of your dad's guys?"
"Who? Him? No way. He's just a hockey wannabe. Ooh. Check the two getting out of the cab." Chelsea giggled. "I love the day before training camp starts. It's guy heaven."
"Shift your eyes right." Kendall placed her finger on Chelsea's chin and pushed. "Check the butt on that one."
The male object of their fantasies reached into the trunk of a cab, turned, and dropped a huge equipment bag on the ground. He shifted and pulled out a smaller duffel bag, which he slung over his shoulder. After tossing money to the driver, he hoisted the first bag onto his back and headed into the building.
"Oh my." Chelsea blinked. "I can just see the report on that one. Over six feet tall, weighing in at some solid heart-melting weight. This player is best known for his scoring and seduction of the coach's daughter."
"Has your dad, even once in all the years he's been Vipers' coach, let you near a player?"
Chelsea winked. "There's always a first time, and no time like the present." She headed towards the main entrance. "Let's go."
Hooking her fingers onto the belt on Chelsea's jeans, Kendall pulled her back. "You mean in there? Your dad'll kill us if he catches us. And if he doesn't then my mom will."
"Kendall, keep the vision of that guy's butt in your mind and follow me." Chelsea grabbed her friend's wrist and pulled her towards the arena.
After passing through the long hallways decorated with photos of hockey teams and coaches, Chelsea eased the conference room door closed while her father stepped up to the podium.
"Welcome to the Vipers' summer training camp. I'm Coach Henderson. I'll be honest with you all. Camp's going to be tough. Not a walk in the park. Break a rule, can't handle the pace, don't…"
Tuning out her father, Chelsea surveyed the assortment of future hockey hopefuls. She bit her lip and poked Kendall in the ribs. "There. Cute-butt's sitting next to the exit." Could a guy get any hotter?
"Oh, I think I'm in love. Cute-butt and smexy." Kendall giggled.
"Ssh." The team physician, Doc Johnson, waggled a finger at the girls.
They refocused on Chelsea's father. "This is John Foster." He paused while a man walked on the stage next to him.
"He'll go over the rules, housing arrangements, practice schedules, training workouts. In other words, your life for the next two months. Next will be Doc Johnson. And lastly, Marjorie Rivers."
Kendall smiled at the mention of her mother's name.
"She's our publicist and will be talking about photo day and team promotion. Mid-May the Vipers arrive and then the real work begins. Good luck, gentlemen. I leave you in John Foster's capable hands."
As John handed out booklets, Coach Henderson walked to the back and stood next to his daughter and her friend. "Checking out the new recruits?"
"I must say, Mr. Henderson, you've got some prime beef here." Kendall smiled. "I wonder if I can talk Mom into doing shirtless shots on photo day?"
Chelsea's father shook his head. "This is not a stable for you to pick a stallion from." He herded them to the door.
"Oh, but Dad, we just want the basics. You know, goals scored, assists, telephone numbers, married or available?" And anything else you got on Cute-butt.
"Out. Out. This is serious hockey business. Wait in my office. Grab some food on the way up. I don't want you two in the room with thirty young hockey players." Before Chelsea replied, her father shut the door.
"He never lets me have any fun. Someday he's gonna have to realize I'm not eight anymore."
"Think about that, Chelsea. He knows you're a girl and you aren't eight. There's no way in hell he's going to let you and thirty hormone-stuffed male hockey - ooh!" Kendall pulled on the front of her T-shirt, cooling herself. "Is it getting warm in here or is it me? Girl, there's enough fantasy material in that room to keep me hot all summer."
"And probably half the winter." Especially if I could play with Mr. Hottie. "Let's get some food."
Kendall scooted around the corner.
"Hey." Chelsea limped along behind her friend. "Not so fast. A little sympathy for the walking wounded. Sprained ankle here."
"You weren't so slow when we went to the meeting. And this involves free food. Gotta get it before they let the players in the room." Kendall stepped into the reception area.
Chelsea stood behind her friend, surveying the tables laden with sandwiches, vegetable platters, dessert trays and rows of drinks. "Look at all this. Why do they even bother making it look attractive? They're hockey players. They'll just grab stuff and scarf it down."
"I'm hitting the dessert table first." Kendall laughed, handing Chelsea a bottle of cherry-flavoured water.
"Hunter? Hunter Connolly?"
Standing before Hunter was a person with a very familiar face; short dark hair, light brown eyes, and a small scar on his chin. Hunter broke into a grin and held out his hand. "Zach? Oh man, it's so good to see you. I'd heard you'd signed with the Barons."
They man-hugged, slapping each other's backs. "Did, but busted my knee. Had the surgery and now I'm working on getting back into shape. Barons said I should spend the summer in a training camp."
Hunter stepped back and chuckled. "I knew you'd make it to the big leagues."
"What've you been doing since...uh...you know? Sorry to hear about the Timberwolves. That had to be rough."
"Went to Europe for a few years. Played in some semi-pro leagues then decided it was time to come home." Hunter stepped closer to the table, grabbed a pop and pulled the tab.
Zach picked up a plate and placed several sandwich halves on it. "I pity those Europeans having to deal with The Hunter."
"You're The Hunter?" An eager-eyed recruit stood next to Zach. "I've heard about you. I was hoping to play against you when I got up to Division A, but you disappeared."
Glancing at the younger Vipers hopeful, Hunter swallowed a mouthful of his drink. "Why do I suddenly feel old? Are you even eighteen yet?"
"Will be August fifteenth."
"Gawd, I'm playing with seventeen-year-olds. All of a sudden, I'm the mature one?" A player crashed into a table, interrupting their conversation. "Zach, you got a roommate?"
"Yeah, dude." He held up his left hand. "My wife."
Hunter rubbed his chin. "And I suppose she'd be opposed to the three of us bunking together."
"I know your off-the-ice record." Zach snorted. "I'd be opposed to your bunking with us."
"I'm deeply hurt." Hunter placed his hand over his heart. "Teammates are supposed to trust each other."
Zach rolled his eyes and took a large bite out of his sandwich.
"You can bunk with me. My name's Rod Lucas." He'd filled a plate with chips and salsa.
"Yea kid, I'll bunk with ya." Hunter looked around for a recycle bin to put his empty can. "Although I'd rather bunk with someone who shaves."
"But?" Rob's brow furrowed as he munched on a chip.
Hunter tossed the can into the closest garbage. "But what?"
"What's The Hunter doing trying out for the Vipers? How come you're not drafted? You're a legend."
"In your mind. The coach has to make that decision for himself."
Rod gulped down the last of his snack. "I'll make the arrangements. This is so great. I get to bunk with The Hunter."
Trying to wipe the smirk off his face, Zach gazed around the room. He spotted Hunter's equipment bag. He caught Hunter's eye, leaned his head towards it, and gave the name tag Hunter Taylor a small kick. With a shake of his head, Hunter silenced him.
In his rush to get to the office, Rod walked into three people. Hunter chuckled. "Guess I have a roommate 'til he gets cut."
"You should teach him a thing or two before he does."
Zach and Hunter turned their heads.
John Foster, the assistant coach, stood behind them. "You're Hunter. Right wing, forward, centre. Anything that isn't defense."
"Yea." Hunter snorted. "I suck at defense. The concept of trying to keep a puck out of a net is..." He threw his hands up in the air.
"And you're Zachary Brownell. How's the knee?"
They shook hands. "One hundred per cent."
"You two are the oldest ones here. You should teach some of these wet-behind-the-ear pups—" After a moment of loud voices another player smashed into a table, scattering food and drinks. "Excuse me, assistant coach duty calls."
"Hunter Taylor?" Zach raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Thanks for staying quiet. Hunter Connolly died when...he pulled the trigger. Hunter Taylor is trying to make a new start. If I don't respond when the coach calls me Taylor, hit me with your stick."
Zach grinned. "No problem. Guess I should be going. Here's my address and cell." He wrote them on a napkin and handed it to Hunter.
"I'll give you my address when Bug-Eyes gets it and my cell number when I get one."
Hunter followed Zach out of the party and wandered about the arena until he found the entrance to the rink. He stepped on the ice and inhaled. This was the start of his chance to make it to the Major Hockey League. This dream had been the focus of his existence for over fifteen years. Thousands of five-year-old boys dream of it, but only a few had the talent or the drive to get to skate with the big boys. And even fewer had the inspiration of a mentor to lead them to their dream. Hunter looked heavenward.
Mrs. Henderson stretched her manicured hand for the rink door and sighed. The cycle of recruitment camp, training camp, start of the season, player draft, semifinals and finals was about to begin its eleventh year. As she'd walked down the quiet halls, the background of the empty vendor stands, the large pop machines, rows of team, manager or all-star pictures faded from her view. She'd seen them numerous times. This was her husband's life. But what she was on a hunt for was her daughter.
She paused as she passed the rink, pulled the blue door open and peeked inside. Her daughter and Kendall weren't there, but a young man sat on the edge of the boards. His black t-shirt hugged broad shoulders, and his dark hair was shaggier than seemed to be fashionable these days. She walked down the painted concrete steps and stopped near him. "You trying out for the Vipers?"
"Yes, ma'am." Hunter jumped and grabbed the edge of the boards.
Mrs. Henderson bit back a smile. From his reaction, she guessed he'd been daydreaming and hadn't heard her enter.
"Offence." He hopped off and stood.
"Why aren't you at the party?"
"Just a bunch of guys bullsh...bragging about how good they are, what they think they can bench press and how many girls they've...uh...." Her smile told Hunter she knew exactly what he meant.
"Yes, I get it. Been to a few thousand of these myself, and they do become boring."
She laughed and held out her hand. "Feels like it some days. Amy Henderson. I'm Coach Henderson's wife."
He shook. "Hunter Co—Taylor. Nice to meet you."
"What're you doing here?"
"Getting a feel for the place. I like to know what I'm gonna be skating on."
Amy pointed to the rink. "It's called ice. You take water and make it really cold."
"Yes, ma'am, but is it slow or fast ice. I'm checking out the puck marks trying to find out where the sweet spots on the boards are. I can party later. Especially if I don't make the team."
"I'm impressed you're here and not where the free food and drinks are. Shows a sense of discipline. Maybe maturity? Would you like me to put in a good word for you? "
Hunter snorted. "Not so sure on the maturity thing. But, no thank you, ma'am. I can do this on my talent alone."
Amy turned to leave. "I'll leave you to your research. I'm on a daughter quest."
"Baseball cap in blue jeans or blonde in shorts? They came by here a couple of minutes before you did."
"The baseball cap would be my daughter. Thanks, I'll keep searching. Good luck."
Sighing, Hunter returned to the reception, locating his new roommate standing near the food table. His spiked, short, blond hair was easy to spot. He and Rod stored their equipment in their assigned lockers, got their player passes and loaded Hunter's gear into Rod's dad's car.
As Rod drove to their apartment, Hunter watched the cityscape pass by. Great. I'm bunking with a kid and riding in his father's car. Monday at school, we'll probably all be wearing cute little "Hi. My name is" labels. He rubbed his forehead. Hopefully, this time, nobody'll die.