I CAME home because I had to and, after four missed Thanksgivings, it was about time. Throughout college I never got home for this holiday because of the hockey tournament schedule. Michigan always got invited to a tourney over the holiday weekend and that meant travel, Thanksgiving dinner in a hotel, several games, and general exhaustion by the time I got back to school. My parents and younger brother understood; our extended family didn’t. So it was a big deal when I came through the door Wednesday night.
“Mitchell, you’re here,” Trevor said as he tackled me into a hug at the front door. “Excellent!” Trevor was tall, thin, and every bit the track star. He stood in stark contrast to me—more muscled, shorter, stockier. “The aunts are already here and eager to see you.”
“Really? I didn’t think the siege would happen until tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” He took my suitcase. He looked down the hall to see if anyone was coming or listening. “They brought presents,” he whispered. He read the look of horror on my face and nodded. “Yup, sweaters. They’re breaking tradition and going on a cruise for Christmas so they decided to deliver early.”
“Mine’s yellow and aqua.”
“Mitchell, is that you?” Mom called out from deeper in the house.
“Yeah. I managed to catch an earlier flight.”
“Fantastic. I’ve got leftovers from dinner. I’ll heat you up a plate.”
“Sounds good. I’ll get the rest of my stuff and be there in a few minutes. Take that on up, will you, Trev? I gotta get my gear out of the car.”
“Got a game while you’re here?”
“Don’t know. Mikey talked about setting one up. Don’t know if he did or not, but I came prepared. You can come along if you want; it’ll get you away from the aunts for a while.”
“Yes, please,” he said, going up the stairs.
I went back into the crisp November air. Even if Mikey couldn’t get a game together I wanted to get some ice time at the old rink, so it was worth hauling the bag of gear on the plane. Trevor was waiting in my room when I got there.
“Want to shoot pucks in the morning? I was gonna call the rink, get the alarm code, and make sure six o’clock was okay.” There were still benefits to working at Wonderland Rink through high school. They’d let me keep a key, even though it had been years now.
“That’d be cool,” Trevor said.
“Excellent. Am I gonna have to drag you out of bed, or you going to get up on your own like a normal person?”
“Normal is not getting up at five-thirty, but I can handle it.”
“Mitchell, your dinner’s ready, and there are people eager to see you.” I pictured Mom at the foot of the stairs calling up. Some things never change.
“Time for the sweater, isn’t it?”
“’Fraid so, bro. Maybe you can wear it to the rink tomorrow. You know they’d be thrilled if they saw you wearing it in the morning.”
“Maybe I’ll wear it on the way home from the rink.”
“WHEN did you get a slap shot?” I was stunned and I knew my face showed it. It wasn’t often that Trevor surprised me on the ice.
“I’ve been working on it,” he said. “I’m trying to get on an intramural team come fall. I figure I can run in the spring and play a little hockey in the fall. It’ll beat tryin’ to get in some pick up, which is always overcrowded.”
The metallic clank of the rink’s front door echoed across the ice. Trevor and I looked at each other and shrugged. On a holiday morning we hadn’t expected to see anyone else. The rink wasn’t due to open until noon, so even the staff should be hours away from coming to work.
I took the puck off Trevor’s stick and started skating around in random patterns. “Come on Trev, get the puck back.”
As soon as he started to skate, I turned on the backward speed and put some distance between us. We kept at it for a couple minutes before he finally faked me out and took the puck.
“And Mitchell Turner has the puck stripped off his stick by his persistent brother, Trevor.” A man stood on the first level of bleachers, applauding.
“Holy shit! Alex Goodman.” I hadn’t seen Alex since we finished high school. We were cross-county rivals then. I had a pretty wicked crush on him too. He’d gotten even better looking during the past four years—a red goatee now accentuated his blazing red hair. The tight, long-sleeved workout shirt showed off his chest in eye-popping detail too. I sprinted to the boards where we bumped fists and shook hands. “I didn’t think we’d run into anyone else this morning,” I said. “What are you up to?”
“Came down to get some ice before spending the day with the family. Man, it’s been forever. I don’t think we’ve seen each other since you guys knocked us out of the race for the state championship our senior year.”
I thought about that for a moment. “I think you’re right.”
Alex was built—all I wanted to do right now was feel up his biceps. His green eyes were as mesmerizing as ever. I’d had a hard time concentrating on face-offs against him because all I’d wanted to do was stare into his eyes and get to know him.
The one time I’d seen him away from a rink was during the summer between our junior and senior years. I ran into him at the mall. I don’t remember what we talked about, but seeing him in shorts that showed off his muscular, lightly haired legs and a T-shirt that clung to his chest, made that day perfect. It was jack-off material for months as I imagined what was under those clothes and what I’d like to do to him if I could get him naked.
“What are you up to these days?” I asked.
“I cover sports for the Free Press—Michigan and Red Wings hockey during the season and then whatever they assign me to in the off. What about you?”
“Working in sports marketing out in San Francisco.”
“Nice,” he said. “Sounds like a sweet gig.”
“It’s pretty good. We do a fair bit with the Sharks, so I like that part a lot.”
“I wrote about you some while I was interning during school. You certainly earned your keep during college.”
My face got hot. I must have turned several shades of red. His eyes were working on me just like they used to, making it hard to focus. “Thanks. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.”
“You play out west?”
“Hell yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. What about you?”
“Couple times a week.”
“Listen, a friend of mine is trying to get together a pickup game for Saturday morning. You interested?”
“I’d love to. We’ll see if I can take you in a face-off like I used to.”
“I won a fair number of those.”
“Really?” He raised a red eyebrow in surprise. “That’s not how I remember it.”
“You want to try it right now?” I was setting myself up to fail. I was already loopy from seeing Alex. The pressure in my cup was proof of that.
“You’re on.” He hopped over the boards and we skated toward Trevor who was taking shots on the far side of the rink.