The following is an original piece, written by Holly A. Phillips in 2007. It’s a story based on her favorite hockey player, Sean Avery. Read previous sections of this story here, here, here, here, and here (okay, so it’s kind of long).
Walking usually cleared my mind, but it was still buzzing when I reached the stadium. The lines into the building were the longest I’d seen. It was going to be loud in there. The locker room was noisier than usual, too.
“Black, bro, this is it,” 32 said. “Beat that ass.”
“Planning on it,” I said.
“Dude, you hook up with that chick finally?” 45 asked.
“Oh, c’mon man,” I said. “No, and if I did, now isn’t the time to bring it up.”
“So you did then?” he asked. “I saw some new bitches in your 94 tickets, what’s that about?”
“Seriously man, it’s a big game,” I said. “Pull it together.”
I needed to make my own advice. I couldn’t tell if it was because Kate was coming again or because of the Kings. The stadium was packed. I hadn’t played for a crowd this size in a long time. When I took my place on the ice, front left, the Kings paired me with a new player. Figured.
“Bring it on, Fucker,” he hissed.
I kept my mouth shut. I was the night’s target, as usual. I didn’t need to say anything. Whoever the motherfucker was, he’s been warned about me all week. He could see the bruises on my neck and the leftover black eye on my face. It was going to be a long game. We got the puck first and were gaining on the Kings from the start. One of our rookies roughed up their wingman, sending them both into the box. The Kings always went straight up the middle, so I tried to keep the puck to the side. It was working.
I got my first penalty in the top of the second period. It was minor — persisting in an altercation — but it still cost me two minutes. It was obvious the Kings had been told not to fight with me. Anything I tried to stir up, they ignored. In the box, I studied the game. It was 4-3, Kings. My lip was bleeding. I was waiting for the Kings’ goalie to pull a low blow — he’d done it before. He’d pull his mask off in the middle of the play to start the whole thing over. But we had one more period to tie it up and then win it overtime. I couldn’t get worried now.
My teammates were able to sneak a play behind them and score while I was in the box. We were tied 4-4. I spent the rest of the second period actually playing; moving the puck — but we didn’t score. At half time, I looked for Kate again, but didn’t see her. I knew she had to be there though; we were on good terms this time. In the locker room, coach warned me about penalties in the third period. He said they were probably going to gang up on me, since they hadn’t done much in the first half. He was right.
We lined up before the puck dropped and the banter began.
“Black, you still a badass? Let’s fight,” 24 said. I gritted my mouth guard.
We got the puck after the drop and tried to pass it to the goal from the side. But 12 was blocked — tripped by a stick. But now we had the advantage: Power Play. Only four of their players were on the ice.
“Why don’t you get yourself in the box, Black?” 35 said. I didn’t look at him. I was waiting by their goal, hoping to slap it in at any moment.
“Well, well, look who’s being a badass now,” he said. “Did mommy tell you to ignore the bad boys?”
Damn. These motherfuckers wouldn’t let up. I wanted to swing at him; knock him out like I usually would. But there wasn’t much time left in the period. If we scored, we’d win without having to go into OT.
Two more minutes. I skated to the middle of the rink and found myself back in front of 24.
“Fucker, you’re back?” he said. “Back for more 24…”
“More of what?” I said. “You haven’t done anything. Pussy.”
He did nothing.
I looked behind me to see 12 with the puck again. He was crossing the blue line and there was a clear shot to the goal if he passed it to me. He saw I was open, made the pass, and I skated forward to the goal. The Kings’ goalie wobbled back and forth, ready to block. I went to the side and brought my stick back, ready to shoot. But as I slapped the puck forward, I fell. Someone had pushed me. When I hit the ice, my chin caught me; I big my tongue. I heard the sirens. Goal. I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. 10 seconds. Game over, we won.
We skated past the Kings, and shook their hands, all mumbling the same thing: “Good game.” It wasn’t the way I’d pictured seeing those guys again after skating with them for nearly eight years. But it was work; people got traded and then had to compete against each other. We’d play them again and maybe they’d win. Yeah, right.
I hurried through my locker room routine and went outside to see if Kate was waiting. I searched for her, careful not to talk to anyone else. I had learned my lesson. Through all of the jerseys and foam fingers, I saw her. She was standing in her heels that made her average height, and her hair was down and thick. She was wearing a Rangers’ button.
“Hey there,” I said.
“Hey, congrats,” she said as she hugged me. She smelled good.
“Nice button,” I said. She laughed.
“I’m conforming to the masses.”
“Don’t change too much,” I told her. “I like you like this.”
“You alright?” she asked. “That last fall looked pretty painful.”
“I think I’ll be fine.”
“What now?” she asked.
Home,” I said. “You coming with me?”
“Sure,” she said. “You walking?”
“Of course,” I said. The reporters were just leaving the ice and making their way toward me. “Hurry.”
I took her hand and we walked out of the Garden fast, quick enough to escape the mob. I wasn’t going to deal with it this time. When we got back to the apartment, Kate came inside. We sat on the couch under the Chanel painting. She’d insisted I put ice on my chin; I did it just to appease her. I was drifting in and out of sleep. Soon, my sheets stopped smelling like peppermint. Instead, they smelled like Kate — and I hoped they would for awhile.