March 13, 2014

Chapter One of On the Surface, Book 1, In the Zone Series

“How old were you when you lost your virginity?”
Tim Hollander considered his friend Alex’s question as he perused the selection of free weights. “I was thirteen,” he replied with a straight face.
His other friend, Jason, scoffed. “The fuck you were.”
Tim chuckled. “All right. I was twenty.”
“Twenty?” They both looked at Tim, shocked.
Tim, Jason and Alex were working out together in Jason’s home gym. Once upon a time, the three of them had played for the New York Rangers, and even though they’d eventually moved to different NHL teams, they’d remained good friends. Now over a decade later, they’d been professionally reunited as San Diego Barracudas.
“I was a fucking late bloomer,” Tim said. “I cared about hockey more than I cared about getting laid. Sue me.”
Jason’s home was within spitting distance of one of the most exclusive beaches in San Diego, so the three of them had a fantastic view of the surf as they worked out. These days, players had to come into training camp in peak condition. The off-season was no longer a couple of months of vacation and then a month of getting back in shape. In today’s NHL, you couldn’t afford to ever get out of shape.
“Hey, I don’t give a shit when you lost your virginity,” Alex said. “I’m just trying to help you find a number.”
Tim’s old jersey number, twenty-one, was taken.
“How old were you?” Tim asked Alex.
“I was sixteen. Marissa Monteleone,” Alex said with a grin. He punched some buttons on the elliptical. “What sweet fucking pussy she had. I swear to God it tasted like peach pie.”
“My first time was with a girl named Alison,” Tim said. “At the Calgary Hilton.”
Alex blinked. “No shit. At the draft?”
Tim nodded as he picked up a pair of dumbbells and started doing curls. “It was a good year,” he said with a laugh.
“I’ll say. Sex and hockey, that’s about all I need or want in life,” Alex said. “That and beer. Can’t forget beer.”
Jason got onto the stationary bike. “You know, I appreciate a stroll down Memory Fucking Lane as much as the next guy, but I thought we were trying to find Tim a new number.”
“I do want a new number,” Tim replied. “I told you, I don’t want anything from last season to haunt me now and that includes my number.”
“Wait a second,” Alex said, grabbing the handles of the machine and starting to work. “Let me get this straight. You’re getting rid of that butt-ugly polka-dot tie?”
Tim scowled. Like a lot of players, Tim had a preference for particular items of game day clothing. “First of all, it wasn’t butt-ugly, and yes, I got rid of it.” He looked at Jason. “Did you think it was ugly?”
“Hell, yes.”
Tim scoffed. “Well, let me know the next time someone nominates either one of you fuckers for a fashion award.”
They all chuckled.
“So, what about the number twenty?” Alex asked. “You have good memories of your first fuck, right?”
Tim nodded, increasing the resistance on his bike. “Sure I do. Twenty would be okay.”
“Unfortunately,” Jason said, “the pussy inaugural number twenty is out. That’s Carpenter’s number.”
“Shit.” Tim looked at Alex. “Does your number have a special significance?”
“That’s how long my dick is.”
Jason laughed. Alex wore the number eleven.
“Seriously, Alex,” Tim said.
“It’s just my lucky number,” Alex said, picking up the towel hanging on the handlebar and wiping the sweat from his face.
“I don’t have a lucky number,” Tim said.
Swearing, Jason glanced down at the odometer on his bike. “You know what? I’ve put in three miles talking about this. You’d better pick something by the time I hit ten.”
“Fuck you, Jase,” Tim said. “It’s not like we’re deciding what to eat for lunch. It’s my number, damn it.”
Tim didn’t want any bad mojo following him. Past couple of seasons, he’d spent too much time on the third and fourth lines and had been a healthy scratch more than once. Sitting out games without being injured was one of the most humiliating things that could happen to a hockey player. When the coach scratched you, he was basically saying, “You’ve been playing like shit. Show me during practice how much you want to win and we’ll see if you play in the next game.”
Then the trade had come through. Initially, he’d been devastated. After twelve years, the Blackhawks didn’t want him anymore, and for the first time he’d seriously considered quitting the game he loved, even though he’d always planned to play as long as he was physically able.
But after a period of disbelief, anger and hurt, he realized this could be a fresh start. A second chance. He’d be playing with Jason and Alex, just like the good old days. They’d always been magic together on the ice, and his two friends seemed pumped for the opportunity.
And yet he still secretly wondered if maybe it was time he hung up his skates. He had plenty of money. He had his health. He could find himself a woman and settle down somewhere. Or maybe travel the world. He wanted to see Europe, maybe Japan. Playing with the NHL, he did more than his share of traveling, but all of it in North America.
“Where are we going for lunch?” Alex said, breaking the silence. He addressed Tim, who was now doing some triceps work. “San Diego is a hotbed of craft microbreweries. We could go to Zethus. Great pale ale, great food. Huge burgers and fresh-cut fries. Their ribs are good too.”
“Sounds a little heavy,” Tim said. “I don’t want to show up to training camp flabby.”
“Training camp is two months away,” Alex said. “Plenty of time to work off any flab from a burger-and-beer lunch today.”
Jason took a swig from his water bottle and said to Tim, “There’s a good sushi place down the street.”
“Sushi’s good,” Tim said.
Alex grumbled. “Killjoys. One beer’s not gonna kill you.”
“Like you’d stop at one,” Jason countered. “Besides, Zethus is forty-five minutes from here.”
“Then how about KFC then? I could go from some extra crispy. I’ll even go get it and meet you on the sand.”
For a man whose livelihood depended on his physical fitness, Alex drank too much and binged on junk food. Conventional wisdom was “ninety-ten”—eat right ninety percent of the time so you could goof off the other ten. But Alex held to more of a fifty-fifty ratio. His rationale was if his game didn’t suffer, he should be able to eat whatever the hell he wanted.
“Look, if you’re going to pollute your body with that shit, you fucking can do it without me,” Jason said.
What’s wrong with him? Tim mouthed at Alex. Alex shrugged.
Noticing the exchange, Jason narrowed his eyes. “What are we, in junior high? If you have something to say to me or about me, just fucking say it.”
Tim frowned. “I was just asking Alex if you were on your period, because you’re sure acting like it.”
Jason looked like he was going to fly off the handle, when he suddenly blew out a breath instead. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”
“Hey,” Alex said. “When it’s that time of the month, it’s that time of the month.”
Jason nodded, acknowledging the joke. “It’s just…look, we’re all three of us pushing the limit. You hit thirty in our league, you’re on borrowed time. Everyone knows that,” Jason went on, “including the kids that just got called up. Sure, some of them will look up to us, but in the back of their minds, they’ll think they’re stronger and faster.”
“They are,” Tim said wryly.
“Which is one of the reasons I asked you to come over today. We have two months until training camp, and I want to show up in beyond peak condition. They’re expecting to see the three of us skating like old ladies. I think I know how to prove them wrong.”
Alex worked the elliptical but not particularly strenuously. “I don’t give a fuck what anyone’s expecting,” he muttered.
“Alex, you don’t give a fuck about anything,” Jason said.
“Life’s a lot easier that way. Look, as long as I pass the physicals, that’s all I care about. It doesn’t matter what shape I’m in if I play great hockey this season. And that’s what I aim to do.” He paused. “But just out of curiosity, what’s your plan?”
Tim suppressed his chuckle.
“I’ve been working out at this place called Power Play,” Jason said. “It’s one of those sport-specific training centers. I think it’s been doing me a lot of good, but I won’t be able to tell until camp. I think you should come with me so we can work off each other. I think it just might give us an edge on the kids.”
Or at least level the playing field, Tim thought. “It couldn’t hurt,” he said.
Alex grumbled. “I’m in great shape.”
“When you’re not hungover,” Jason said.
“Well, I’m game,” Tim said. He flicked a towel at Alex’s arm. “Come on. If you don’t do it, when Jason and I blow everyone’s minds at camp, I will personally see to it you regret sitting around on your hamburger, French fry, pale ale ass all summer.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll do it,” Alex said with a scowl.
Jason nodded. “Great. We have time scheduled tomorrow at eleven. I’ll email you directions.”
“You were that sure we’d say yes?” Tim asked.
Jason shrugged. “Pretty much.”
They said nothing for a while, each lost in his own thoughts until Jason announced, “Mile eight.”
Tim opened his mouth to tell him to fuck off again, when Alex held up a hand. “Wait a second. Wait a second. I’ve got it. What is your all-time greatest achievement so far? Outside of winning the Stanley Cup.”
Tim held up two fingers. “Twice.”
Alex rolled his yes. “Yeah, yeah, rub it in. Anyway, it’s winning the Rocket Award, right? So your new number could be the number of goals you scored. Or the year.”
Tim smiled. Every year the NHL gave the Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophy to the highest goal scorer in the regular season, and in 2003, Tim scored fifty-seven goals in eighty-two games. Earning that award certainly had great personal significance, but the number fifty-seven didn’t feel right. Three was okay to commemorate the year, but just as he was about to say so, he realized what his number had to be. He felt stupid for not having thought of it right off the bat.
“Twenty-five. I need the number twenty-five.” Putting down the weights, he slid his gaze toward Jason. “Anyone have that number? That was Mollie’s birthday.”
Jason gave a slow shake of the head. “No. No one has that number.”
Tim breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God. He’d already thought he could try for the number six to represent the number of letters in Mollie’s name as a backup, but luckily it hadn’t come to that.
“That’s a great number, bro. Really great,” Alex said with a solemn expression on his face. “I just have one question.” He let the elliptical coast to a stop. “Can we go to KFC now?”
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