Here is Chapter One of Just One of the Boys. We hope you enjoy!
-Leah and Kate
I’m not sure why everyone in the movies gets so down about moving. In my opinion, moving is pretty darn awesome. New house, bigger room—finally out of suburbia and into the big city! Most kids would be devastated to go through twelfth grade in a new school, but I prefer to look on the bright side. I already have a bucket list of things I want to do in Chicago before school starts…and I’m not talking about deep-dish pizza or Wrigley Field.
It’s what I’m doing right now.
I take a deep breath as I lace up my skates. The sound of the lace slipping through the grommets is reassuring. All the mottos and mantras every coach has drilled into my mind repeat in my head. Believe in yourself. Visualize yourself as a winner.
Because this isn’t any ordinary practice. It isn’t even a game.
This is the tryouts for the Chicago Falcons.
I grin over at my twin brother, Alexander. He shakes his head and runs a hand through his straggly brown hair.
“Don’t be nervous,” I say.
“Easy for you to say, Al,” he mumbles.
I strap on my helmet. When we’re like this, we’re pretty much identical. Same height, same smile. Our old teammates back home used to get us confused all the time.
I throw on one of the plain white jerseys they’ve given us. The black number is my only identification out there. I tuck my long hair into my helmet and go through my breathing again. Skates are laced, pads are tied, and my helmet is on. Only thing to do is head out onto the rink.
When my blades hit the ice, it’s like I can breathe, as if I’ve been drowning and finally coming up for air.
It’s all in the crisp smell of the rink, the cold air flowing over my face as I do a few laps. This may be a new arena in a new city, but once I’m on the ice, it’s all the same. My stick is like an extension of my hands. My skates feel like a part of me.
As I do a few laps around the ice, I picture it in my mind’s eye: playing for the Chicago Falcons. Not only are they one of the biggest junior league hockey teams in all of North America, their players are also a favorite of NHL scouts.
A jab of longing rings in my chest, but I push it back. Okay, whatever, I know an NHL scout will never look at me— due to having the wrong parts and all — but that doesn’t mean I can’t play here. This league is still highly competitive and the players…well, they’re good.
And I know I’m good enough to join them.
The Chicago Falcons may never have had a girl on the team before, but technically the league doesn’t have any rules against it. I know I can out-skate and outplay any boy in these tryouts. All I have to do is show the coach what I’m made of.
Someone bumps me from behind. I don’t even have to look…twin sixth sense, and all that. I give Xander a smile he doesn’t return.
I can see it in the way he’s skating. His knees lock, and his strides are jagged.
“Hey, just play your game,” I say.
We take a couple practice shots at the net, but he misses every time. “Everyone here is so big,” he says.
I look around. At 5’9, we’d be considered tall in a normal setting. But in the hockey world…well, we could use a couple more inches.
“No one’s as fast as us.”
“No one’s as fast as you,” he says.
“Yeah, well,” I bump him on the shoulder, “you’re always right behind me.”
“What if I don’t make it…” he mutters softly. “Then all these years…it’s all been for nothing. Just don’t show me up out there.”
I roll my eyes. Xander can be so melodramatic sometimes. But I’m used to it. We’ve been playing hockey together our whole lives. I know Ma would prefer if I stuck to figure skating, but there’s just something about the stick, the puck, and the pure rush of adrenaline when hitting the net that I can’t resist. And Xander — well, he tags along for everything I do.
Xander was always stronger than me, so I had to adapt. Learning to outskate and outplay the boys was the only way to keep my blades on the ice. I topped my last league in points and shoot-out goals.
The coach skates out to the middle of the rink; he’s big, with a half bald head and one of those moustaches that looks like it belongs on the bottom of a Zamboni. White-haired and wrinkled, but built like an ox. I gulp.
He doesn’t have to introduce himself for me to know who he is. Coach Zabinski. I wonder if any of the other players here did a full history check on him like I did. I could ace a test on “Zabinski Stats from 1978”. As an ex-NHL player, you would expect him to have one of the best teams in the league, but the Falcons haven’t made the playoffs in years.
I’m about to change that.
Right now, he’s lecturing the group on what it takes to be a Falcon, but I don’t need to hear it. I know it. I know I have what it takes.
Then—the drills begin! Skating, shooting, defense.
Scrimmage after scrimmage.
My heart pounds, working overtime in my chest, and my muscles tense with each length of the rink. I know I need to concentrate on my game, but I can’t help eyeing up the competition.
Here I was thinking I was going to play with the best of the best. Instead, I’m surrounded by glorified goons. I should know all about that, figuring my own boyfriend is one of those goons now playing in Detroit. But that’s not what the Falcons need. They need a playmaker, a speedster, an all-star.
THWACK! My favorite sound. My puck hits the netduring shooting trials.
BRIING! I cringe as Xander’s puck sails off the post.
“Goddammit,” he swears as he skates up beside me. “You’re killing me here, Al.”
I nudge him in the ribs. “Maybe I’ll make you my roadie.”
Finally, the whistle goes, and we surround Coach Zabinski.
I take a deep breath, quieting the nervous energy within me. I concentrate on the crisp, familiar smell of the rink. The warmth of my body beneath my pads and jersey. The feeling of my feet, attached to my skates, grounded to the ice. It’s like a lifeline.
Around me, the others shuffle and pant. A few shoot dirty looks my way. Should have skated faster, then maybe I wouldn’t have stolen the puck from you. Xander’s face is flushed, his eyes downcast. He knows it. He didn’t perform to a Falcons’ level.
I stare at Coach’s mouth, nearly hidden behind his Zamboni moustache. Say it. Say the names of those who made it.
I tighten my mitt around the stick. This is my moment. “All right,” Coach says, his voice a raspy grunt. “You played hard out there. Some harder than others. There has to be more than potential to make the Falcons. You have to have skill. Passion. And you have to skate hard.” I swear he looks at me through his forested eyebrows. “Only four of you made the team. The rest — well, try again next year. Or don’t, and save me the trouble of cutting you twice. Ready? Okay.”
My heart threatens to rip right through my jersey. But he looked at me. I skated hard.
“Number fifty-two. Howard. Congratulations.” A whoop goes up from a thick dude with mutton chops. “Number twenty-five. O’Donnell. Congratulations. Number eighty-nine. Stickly. Congratulations.”
My lip tremors. Only one spot left. There’s a part of me that feels like I should reach out and take Xander’s hand… but not here. Not now.
“Number seventeen. Bell. Congratulations.”
A flood of relief and adrenaline floods through me. A smile threatens to break my face.
“You did it!” Xander says, forcing me into a huge hug. He’s got a matching grin, but I know his face better than mine. His eyes are downturned, his mouth too wide.
“I’m sorry, buddy,” I say. I know I should control myself, but I can’t. “I did it! I’m on the Falcons! I’m a Falcon!”
I jump up and down, pounding my skates into the ice until shaves of frost fly away like wings. The other chosen ones have gathered around Coach Zabinski as the losers skate off to dwell in their suckiness.
I’m a winner. A Falcon. And all those boys wish they could have skated like me!
My face is sticky with sweat and hurts from smiling. The first girl to ever make the Falcons! I skate over and throw my helmet off, shaking out my long hair. The air is so cool on my face and—
Coach stares at me as if I’d just told him football was the most interesting sport in the world. His left eye twitches.
And he’s not the only one. The other chosen ones— Mutton Chops, O’Poodle, whatever their names were—are giving me that same gawking look.
“What?” I finally snap.
Coach clears his throat. He looks down at his clipboard and then back up at me, then down at his clipboard. “N-number seventeen? Al Bell?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Short for Alice.”
“Alice. Well, wouldn’t that have been nice to know.” He clears his throat again and pulls his clipboard to his chest. “I’m afraid I made a mistake. I meant to say the other Bell. Number forty-four.”
Xander, about to step off the ice, turns. “Me?” “Yes!” Coach calls. “Come here, son!”
“What are you talking about?” I say, my voice raising an octave. “You called MY name! You said number seventeen! That’s me!”
“Dude,” Howard scoffs, “you’re a chick.”
A growl rises up my throat. “And I outshot you three to one. I don’t know why the hell Coach wants you on the team, figuring how bad your stick handling was but—”
“You want me?” Xander skates up right beside Coach. “Me? On the Falcons?”
“I said Bell, didn’t I?” Coach grumbles. “Well, you’re on the team.”
“It’s not fair! I skated circles around everyone here!” I push myself right up under that damned Zamboni. “Coach, give me a chance.”
Coach turns and skates toward the boards. “New players, follow me.” He turns his head back and glares. “And that doesn’t mean you, missy.”
He storms off the ice and everyone follows him. Xander gives a sympathetic shrug as he skates away. I’m alone on the ice.
Okay, correction. Chicago totally blows.
I pull my Jeep into the parking lot of the arena. The late afternoon sun casts an orange glow across the pavement. The wind blows in my face.
The wind always blows in my face here.
Coach Zabinski said the ice would be free after tryouts today, so the boys and I figured it would be nice to come and mess around on the rink before practice starts up again for the season. We meet up in the parking lot, duffel bags hoisted on our shoulders, and head toward the arena.
There’s a bunch of kids leaving; you can tell who’s been cut just by the looks on their faces.
“New recruits,” Tyler Evans says, waving at a couple kids as we head in. His niceness is obnoxious most of the time, but today it just slides off me. Today will be a good day. No drills, no scouts, just good ol’ fashion hockey.
We head past Coach on the way in. I was thinking about trying to feel him out and see if he’s still pissed at me for the end of last season, but he’s getting an earful from some scraggily boy who obviously didn’t make the team.
“Someone’s bitter,” Daniel Sacachelli laughs, clapping me on the back. “I guess we can’t all be Hayden Tremblay.” I know I never fought to get into this league the way these rookies did: I was offered a spot a year ago, when my brother Kevin and I moved here from Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was only sixteen, but I scored more points than anyone else that season.
Yeah, some of the older guys were mad when I started, but they shut up when I hit the ice.
Or when they saw the name on the back of my jersey. Most of the rookies leaving give us a wide berth. They all look so little. Was I this stupid and starstruck when I arrived? I can’t remember.
One of them stops in front of me. “Hayden Tremblay?” he stutters. I try to get around him, but he starts walking backward, his eyes gaping at me. I just want to hit the ice.
“Yeah,” I finally say.
“Oh my god.” He smiles. He’s got a patchy excuse for a beard. “I’m Ned. I just made the team. It’s so cool to meet you!”
“Yeah.” I deke around him.
And here it comes.
“…is so freaking awesome. When he got named the youngest captain in the NHL—”
“Amazing,” I mutter and walk off. Damn it, I don’t even look like Kevin. How did that newbie know it was me? While Kevin resembles a well-kept blond lumberjack, I got the dark eyes and hair from Mom’s side of the family. At least I somehow managed to get an extra inch of height on my older brother. It doesn’t matter that I scored the most points in the junior league last season (despite being suspended five games) when my brother is the captain of Chicago’s NHL team.
I’ll never live up to that.
I throw my bag on the bench, lace up my skates, and head onto the ice. Sometimes I hate how good it feels to be out here. I wish I could just say screw it and walk away from it all…but I can’t. I need this as much as I need to breathe.
A few laps around the rink and we’re ready to play.
“Heads up!” I deke around the net.
“Not again!” Evans groans, reaching with his stick in a last desperate attempt to foil me.
Hah. I slam the puck against the back of the net.
“Get a new move, Tremblay,” Sacachelli says in his thick Long Island accent. Black, oily strands of hair creep out from under his helmet. I wonder why he uses so much hair product when he’s just going to sweat it out on the ice.
I flash a grin. “I will—when you figure out how to beat that one.”
I skate backward, giving them a victorious fist pump. Sometimes I wonder why Ev and Sacs still play with me all the time. I can’t think of a single time in the last year when they’ve won.
“All right, hotshot,” Evans says, showing off some fancy stickhandling. “Let’s see your defense.”
Tyler Evans, Daniel Sacachelli, and I have been playing for the Chicago Falcons for a year now. And with the new season just around the corner, it’s hard not to think about it. Because that’s what playing for the Falcons does. It consumes you. Practice. Game. Eat food, drink water, work out, pose for photos, go to charity events, sleep. “Enjoy” mandated relaxation time…everything is all governed by Coach Z. Relaxation time is not relaxing when it’s forced into your schedule.
But right now, I don’t have to worry about hitting the net in order to maintain my rep as top scorer. I just have to score to take Sacs’ ego down a few notches.
Back and forth, we burst up and down the rink. A quick deke, a spin, and my puck connects with the net for the third time since we started.
We take a break and Evans pants hard, hunched over with his stick across his knees. He’s smaller than Sacs and I, and somehow managed to make it this far without a single broken nose or lost tooth. “Slow down and let the rest of us have a chance, eh, Tremblay?”
I laugh and slap him on the back. Right now I don’t think I could slow down if I tried.
Sacachelli skates over to me and flicks his eyes to the stands. “Looks like we’ve got a celebrity in the audience.”
My blood goes cold before I even look up.
Why the hell is he here?
I turn and stare into his eyes. Kevin Tremblay. Number Two. Captain of the hottest NHL team in the league. Winner of the Calder Trophy. Current record holder for most points in a rookie season. And my older brother.
My grip tightens on my stick and I turn away. Evans has noticed him and looks up like he’s some damn godly idol. “Are we playing?” I snap.
We get back into the game but I feel Kevin’s eyes on me like a laser. What is he doing here? I lose the faceoff. When I finally muscle the puck back, I take a shot but miss the goal by at least a meter. His voice rings in my head: “You know that move, Hayden. We’ve practiced it. Keep your stick on the ice.”
Heat rises to my face. I can feel his eyes watching my every movement: how I glide, how I hold the stick, how my head is raised. He steeples his fingers beneath his chin, watching, deciding, judging—
“Don’t mind if I do!” Sacachelli flashes me his slimy grin and easily lifts the puck off my stick. “Smell ya later!” He snickers and turns, taking the puck with him.
I look down at my empty stick, then back up at my brother in the bleachers. Stupid Kevin. His voice rings in my head again: “Rookie mistake, Hayden. Think you’re going to make it to the NHL when you lose a puck that easily?” If he hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have lost the puck!
I roar, and my muscles spasm beneath me as I force myself down the ice with a ferocity I haven’t had all summer. Sacs is lolly-gagging ahead, still laughing, getting ready to pass to Evans, who has a clean shot at the net.
I throw my whole body against Sacachelli. He sails across the ice like a rag doll.
I don’t care. This is hockey. The puck is right in front of me. I pull my stick back and smash it against the puck.
The puck sails across the ice, missing the net by a foot. “ARGH!” I scream, throwing my stick to the ground and whipping off my helmet.
Evans drops his stick and rushes over to Sacs. “Dude!” I throw one glance toward Sacs, whose clutching a bloody nose, but looks otherwise fine. Evans is holding a glove to his spurting snoz.
I’ve done it again.
All of Coach and Kevin’s words from last season come roaring down on me. Every single one of their disappointed lectures.
I storm off the ice and into the locker room. I throw everything into my duffel bag in a quick huff. I want to get out of here before I have to talk to anyone. Especially Kevin. But of course, I can’t get that lucky. As soon as I step out into the parking lot, I see him leaning against my Jeep.
Kevin was always faster than me.
“I don’t feel like talking,” I yell from across the parking lot.
“That’s perfect,” he calls back, “because I do.”
My whole body tenses up and I avoid eye contact as I approach him. Kevin’s gaze is so intense that once he gets you in his tractor beam, you can’t escape.
I stand beside him and fumble with my keys. Kevin may be older than me, but he’s slightly shorter, even a little smaller. It doesn’t matter. Standing next to him, I always feel three feet tall.
“What are you doing here?” I grumble.
“I’m worried about you,” he says. His voice is low, a purring rumble like a car engine or a coffee machine. “I haven’t seen you around our house.”
“You mean your house?” I say.
“You know Eleanor and I always want to see you upstairs.” He scratches his thick blond beard.
“Okay. Thanks.” Living in my brother’s basement suite was supposed to give me independence. I don’t need him and his fiancée babying me. I stopped being a kid over a year ago, when Mom and Dad…
I shake my head. I’m not going to give Kevin the satisfaction of a real heart-to-heart.
Kevin walks around to the other side of the Jeep and gets in.
I throw my bag in the back and slam the door. “Where’s your car?”
“Eleanor dropped me off.” Of course, he planned this whole thing.
I start the Jeep. It creaks and groans and rattles and makes every other sort of noise that reminds you of an old man on a deathbed. It’s a bona fide piece of shit, but I paid for it myself, and I’ll be damned if I let Kevin own another part of me. I may have to rely on him for food, and a place to live, but the less he feels like he’s the savior of my world, the better.
“What do you say we grab dinner tonight? Catch up. Talk about the new season. Falcons got a lot to prove coming up.”
Bubbles of indignation rush through me. “Aren’t you sick of talking about hockey? It’s press release after press release.”
“Come on,” he says, flashing me that smile the newspapers love. The one they put on the cover of Hockey News that read Tremblay Named Youngest Captain in NHL History. “You know we never get sick of talking about hockey.”
My grip tightens on the wheel. “Speak for yourself.” “Hayden,” Kevin says, and puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Talk to me. We’ve hardly spoken about the upcoming season at all.” I shoot a look back at him. His mouth is downturned, brown eyes narrowed. He looks more like Dad every day.
I hate it.
“What is there to talk about?” I snap back.
“Zabinski’s going to pick a new captain,” Kevin says. “Let me help you. We could train together. There’s going to be NHL scouts all over the place this season. I really think you have what it takes—”
My knuckles lose color and the speedometer shoots up another five miles. “I know I have what it takes. What, you think because you’re some big shot in the NHL now that I can’t do it here? I led the Falcons in goals last year—”
“Hayden,” he says, “the Falcons didn’t make the playoffs.”
“That’s not my fault. I wasn’t playing the last few games.” “Exactly,” he says softly. “You were suspended. You weren’t there to lead your team when they needed you. You’ve got to rein it in. You’ve got to focus.”
I turn onto Ridge Boulevard and try to concentrate on the road. “You’ve said all this before.”
“Then listen.” His stringy blond hair falls in his face. “And don’t—”
“Don’t do this. Do that instead. I get it, okay?”
“Don’t interrupt me.” I can feel his glare burrowing through the side of my head. I’m getting on his nerves. I feel like I might be the only one who can. Eternally calm, focused, unemotional Kevin. Captain Stoic. “If you focus this season, you could break records and win—”
“I broke records last season,” I mutter.
“Breaking the record for the most fights in a season isn’t one you should be proud of.”
“And what records should I be breaking, oh glorious capitaine?” We turn off the freeway and onto a road filled with row after row of beautiful high-end condos and houses. “Every record you’ve already broken?”
I pull into the driveway. The stone house with the perfectly coiffed lawn and steeped roof looms before me as my own personal prison. I yank the keys out of the ignition and let them fall on my lap. Kevin runs his hands over his face and rests his head against the back of the seat.
“Look,” he says, “you know if you didn’t want to play in the NHL, I would just leave you alone, right?”
“You’d never leave me alone,” I mutter.
“What I mean is, Hayden, I don’t care if you play in the NHL. Mom and Dad…they never cared, either. But you’re my little brother. I know you. And I know this is your dream. And to watch you just throw it away…”
“How am I throwing it away?” I spit. “I played every game I could last season. I came to every practice.”
“I just want to see you try again,” Kevin says, his hands restless on his lap. “This last year, you’ve just been floating by, and you can get away with it because your 60% is as good as everyone else’s 100%.”
Kevin’s favorite thing in the world is percentages. I’m pretty sure he stays up at night just thinking of ways he can add percentages into everyday conversation.
“But I know what you can do at 100%. Heck, I’ve seen you give 200%! And it’s like you’ve just given up. Maybe you’re angry with me or angry with the world for what it’s done to us. But don’t you see? You’re only hurting yourself.” “I’m 100% done with this conversation,” I say and open the door to the Jeep.
Of course, Kevin can’t just let me go. “Where’s the kid who got up with me at five a.m. every morning to go running? Where’s the guy who stayed at the rink until the Zamboni driver kicked us out? Where’s the boy who did laps around the track wearing weights just to build muscle? Where’s my little brother?”
I don’t even look at Kevin. I get out and slam the door.
“Well, maybe he died, too.”
Just One of the Boys is out October 2nd, 2017