Authors: Julie Anne Peters
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Social Issues, #Adolescence, #Dating & Sex, #Homosexuality
It was a CD. Dixie Chicks. A current of warmth surged up from my core.
The smell hit me before I got to the basement. "Faith, didn't I ask you not to burn incense down her?" A stick was smouldering on her dresser. Her shrine, I should say. It was littered with all these ghoulish winged creatures, weird religious symbols, and crucifixes. The stance of incense permeated everything.
Faith dunked the incense into a glass of water, scowling at me through the mirror. She'd taken extra care to cake on the white makeup. On, that didn't bother me as much as the hands she always had in her mouth. She chewed her fingernails until they bled. Apparently Goth advocated self-mutilation.
"Where are you going?" She spit out a cuticle and followed me to the end of the partition separating our spaces.
"Swim meet," I mumbled.
"Can I come?"
Unzipping my duffel, I answered, "You wouldn't want to." I replaced my damp Speedo with a dry one and checked to make sure I had my contact case and goggles. "Ever wonder why we're called the Southglenn Starfish? Because Starfish don't swim." I crossed my eyes at Faith.
She didn't smile. She never smiled. She droned, "It'd be better than staying here with June and Ward Clever."
I laughed. Oh, my God. Did Faith have a sense of humour? "I thought you were into torture and sacrifice."
She pivoted and left. Oops. Not funny, the truth. I peered around the partition to tell her it was a joke, but she already stuck on her earphones and started fiddling with her CD player. The crap she listened to: Flesh eaters. Tapping the Vein.
I dug around under my bed for m portable CD player. I hadn't used it in a while. It was dusty. I checked the batteries. At the bottom of the stairs, I heard the strike of a match. Damn her.
My best event was the fifty freestyle and I still came in dead last, Oh, well. It wasn't like I was bringing down the team – we were all lousy. Our goal, according to Coach Chiang, was to finish out of the toilet, just once.
It was a pipe dream.
Unfortunately, the med relay was scheduled right after my sprint events, and I was so exhausted I barely got off the block before the race was over. As I hauled my dead carcass out of the water, gasping for air and feeling lightheaded, my eyes deglazed on the audience.
Cece was there, standing to the side of the bleachers with a group of girls. No one i recognised. She had on these khaki flight pants and a T-shirt with a check mark. The shirt said, JUST DO IT, and underneath in parentheses, WITH GIRLS. She saw me and hitched her chin up a little in acknowledgment.
If my facial muscle were functional, I might've smiled. What is she doing here? I wondered. Well, duh. She came to see someone swim. Who? Brandi wasn't on the team. Another girl?
I tore off my swim cap and shook out my hair. Soggy and self-conscious, that's how I felt. Coach handed me a towel. "Nice job," he lied.
"The didn't record my time, did they?"
He smiled sheepishly. "'Fraid so. Thanks for filling in, Holland. It's nice to have someone I can count on."
"To swim their personal worst," I muttered, draping the towel over my head. His sneakers squished on the tile as he heeded off to BS with the other coach.
"I was getting ready to call out the Coast Guard."
I yanked the towel off my face.
"Shut up," I said, and snapped her with the towel.
She caught the end and held it. "We're going to a dance at Rainbow Alley, if you want to come."
"What's Rainbow Alley?" I peered over her shoulder at the girls.
"It's a gay teen centre," she said.
A spike of fear lodged in my spine. Why? I wanted to spend time with her, get to know her. But at a gay teen centre? What if she thought … ? What if it meant … ? The static in my head crackled. "Um, thanks, I can't. I have to ride back on the bus with the team." My eyes were drawn to the wet tile under Cece's feet. Unlaced high-tops. How cool.
"I could follow the bus and take you from school." she said.
"I have to get home."
She looked at me. Saw through me. She knew I was lying and wheeled around.
"Cece." I caught her arm. Then dropped it when my hand caught fire. "Thanks for the CD. I played it all the way here. It's awesome."
She smiled again, a slow, suggestive smile. Then she winked and jogged to catch up with her friends.
She was such a flirt. It always made me hurl when girls acted that way. Kirsten, for example. The way she came onto guys. So obvious. With Cece, though, it was different. With her, it was … sexy.
Echo Lake was crowded by the time Seth and I got there. Thank God Faith didn't come. She said she had plans; I imagine they included burning me in effigy. She'd walked in on the rather heated exchange Mom and I were having about me inviting Faith. Sorry, I just couldn't picture Goth on skates. I spotted Leah and Kirsten circling the perimeter of the lake, their heads together, talking. Seth said, "I'm going to go check out the hockey game, see if we can get in." He sprinted for the south shore where an open match was in progress.
I cut across the lake and drew up beside Leah. "Hi, Holl," she greeted me. "How was your meet?"
"Nobody drowned," I said.
"How could you tell if they did?" Kirsten quipped.
Leah whapped her.
"I shouldn't talk." Kirsten refastened the Velcro on her ski mittens. "You couldn't pay me enough to wear a swimsuit in public." Her face suddenly lit up. "There he is. See you guys later." She skated off.
Leah and I watched her speed toward the shore, where Trevor had emerged from the men's room. Wearing hiking boots, I noticed. I arched eyebrows at Leah.
"He doesn't skate," she explained.
"Thank God he's potty-trained."
She smacked me. Kirsten scraped to a stop near the path, spraying Trevor with ice crystals. She threw herself at him, engaging him in a lethal lip-lock.
"Where did she find this kid?" I asked Leah. "At Toys R Us?"
"Holland, that's mean."
I blanched. "I'm sorry. It's just –" None of my business, that's what it was. So what if Kirsten had worked her way through the seniors and juniors and was starting in on the babies? It was no fuzz off my muff.
"She really loves him," Leah said. "She thinks she's finally found her perfect match."
"Law of averages," I said, "when you strike out that many times."
"Holland." Leah looked shocked.
I winced. "I'm sorry. I'm just being catty. I hope he is the one." We should all find the man of our dreams, I thought.
We glided by the hooky game and Seth called, "Holland. Leah. They're going to need relievers in a couple of minutes. Tell Kirsten to come, too. It's co-ed."
I pulled up at the gate. Leah said, "I'll go tell Kirs. I don't really want to play today."
"You're kidding." I frowned at her.
She took off. Weird. Leah had been dying for the lake to open so we could get up a hockey game every weekend, the way we used to. Was she mad at me now for dissing Kirsten's boyfriend? I was just kidding around, sort of. Geesh.
I tightened my my laces and did a couple of knee bends to limber up. As I was slipping my mittens back on, Kirsten sprinted through the gate and scraped up beside me. "Something wrong with Leah?" she asked. "She seems kind of distant lately. Ever since Christmas, really. Have you noticed?"
"Um, yeah." I hadn't, actually. Had I been that self-absorbed? That out of it? Leah was my best friend. I should've noticed.
Kirsten added, "I'm worried about her. She's hardly said three words to me all week." We peered across the lake, where Leah was off by herself skating figures. "Has she talked to you?"
"No," I admitted.
"If she tells you what's wrong, you'll tell me, right?"
"Yeah, of course." Wow. Leah really didn't seem her usual cheery self. "I hope it isn't Conner," I thought aloud.
Kirsten's eyes widened, "No way. They's rock solid."
Conner was Leah's boyfriend. More like fiancé. They weren't officially engaged, but only because they'd decided to wait. Conner was a year older than Leah. After graduation last year he'd joined Americorps and moved to Atlanta. The plan was for Leah to follow in the spring.
I liked Conner, snob that he was. Oh, I just had Beemer envy. The guy was loaded. He'd take Leah out to these romantic restaurants on the weekends when he was in town and drop a hundred bucks on her. A big night out with Seth meant a booth at Wendy's instead of the drive-through.
I hadn't talked to Leah at all beyond our daily lunchtime chatter. Inexcusable. I vowed to catch up soon.
The lodge at Echo Lake provided hockey sticks and helmets, if you didn't bring your own. The blue helmeted goalie raised his hand and called, "Relievers." Three or four players skated to the bench to take a breather.
Helmets were removed and handed around. Kirsten asked, "What colour are you, Seth?"
"Blue," he answered. "I'll be goalie, unless you want to."
He was addressing me, but Kirsten piped up, "You go ahead." She snatched the last blue helmet out of my hand. "I'll be your guard, Seth." She winked at him and tossed me her red helmet.
Did she do that on purpose to irk me? Sometimes…
Seth crooked a finger my way.
"What?" I selected a hockey stick from the rental rack.
I obeyed. He smooched my face between his ski gloves. "Good luck," he said. "You're going to need it."
I kissed him, then dug a skate blade into his boot.
The face-off was won by the red team and we jockeyed the puck up ice. The other five players on my team were decent skaters; I'd seen most of them around or played with them before. Coop, one of Seth's friends, was a wing on my team. He acknowledged me with a grunt. The only other girl with a red helmet pulled up beside me, pivoted to skate backward, and said, "Hi. I'm Dayna."
"Holland." We touched gloves.
She reversed direction and charged off toward the net. Wow. With those thighs, she had to be a speed skater.
We blew a scoring pop, but only because Coop and this other guy on our team hogged the puck. "Over here," I heard Dayna yell more than once, but they wouldn't relinquish control.
Kirsten intercepted a drop pass between Coop and his buddy and sped off toward our goal. Crap.
I caught up with her in the zone and stole the puck back. Took a wide arc and stick-handled the puck down the side, then saw Dayna hailing me and flip-passed the puck over. Coop caught it in the air and hand-passed it to his buddy.
"Dammit," Dayna snarled under her breath as she scraped up beside me. "I had a clear shot."
"I know." We rolled our eyes.
The game went back and forth for the next twenty minutes or so until everyone was pretty wiped. The score was five to four, in favour of the blue team. "Time out," Seth called. The lodge had sent over a vat of hot apple cider and the players swarmed it. I needed to adjust my sock where it was bunching up at the heel. Dayna plopped down next to me on the bench.
"We're taking out Beavis and Butthead," she said. "We'd be up by at least three goals if it wasn't for those jockey jerks."
"No shit," I said. They were totally dominating play.
"If I can ever get the puck, I'm pretty sure I can smoke the redhead."
That was Kirsten. "Okay. I'll do what I can to draw her off. She's got a bad left knee," I told Dayna. "If you can catch her coming around on that side, she doesn't have a quick recovery."
"Yeah?" Dayna's eyes gleamed. "Cool." She crossed one ankle over a knee and cleared her skate blade. "You're a good player," she said. "You on a team?"
"No. I've been playing in rec league since I was like six. You're a
player. Where do you skate?"
"Andersen Rink, at 104th and Sheridan?"
I knew it. Nodded.
"You come here a lot?" Dayna eyed me over her stick.
Before I could answer, Seth skated up with two styrofoam cups of hot cider. "Here, babe." He handed one to me. Noticing Dayna, he offered her the other. What a guy.
"No, thanks," she said, smiling. "You go ahead."
The cider was steaming and spicy and I held it to my face to warm and drift up my nose. Dayna stood, stamped her skates on the ice, and sped off.
I wondered about her. No, I didn't. I knew.
In the second half Dayna bided her time. The hockey jocks not only wouldn't pass, they were hooking and stick checking all over the place. There's no checking in open hockey. Everyone knows that.
A crowd was gathering at the edge and someone called, "You guys about done? We wanna play."
Coop shouted, "One more minute!" He whizzed past me. We were still down a goal. In a blur Dayna bulleted out from behind a blue player and split a seam up the middle. She drove toward Coop's back and body-checked him so hard he went flying. Dayna stole the puck from him and sprinted up the side.
I zipped in behind her. Kirsten passed me by, heading for Dayna, but Dayna crisscrossed in front, almost tripping Kirsten. Dayna took the puck behind the net, going deep. Her eyes darted around until they found me.
I dropped into the slot in front of Seth. He was wary. Seth had great instincts and he knew my best moves. As Dayna drove to the neutral zone, she passed to me.
Seth crouched. I decked him and fired in a backhand. Seth dove for it, face first, but the puck slid under him and into the net.
Red team cheered like we'd won the Stanley Cup.
Dayna skated up to me for a high five. As I glided past Seth, still splayed on the ice, I heard him mutter, "Fuck." I bent, picked up the puck, and dropped it on his back. "I think you mean 'puck.'"
He grabbed my ankle and tried to pull me down, but I escaped. He scrabbled to his feet and chased me around the ice, pushing me into a snow bank at the opposite end. We rubbed snow into each other's faces, laughing and wrestling around. Seth pinned my arms and rolled over on top of me. Kissing me. Kept up the pressure until I was struggling to breathe. "Get off," I ordered.
"What?" he said, looking bewildered. He pushed to his knees. "Did I hurt you?"
"No." Yes. I scrambled to my feet. He always has to ruin it, I thought. We could never just have fun.