Since Hat Trick takes place during a high school hockey season, one of the chapters happens during Thanksgiving Weekend. It’s a crucial chapter for many reasons, not the least of which that it’s the weekend for the all-important rivalry game between the Central High Falcons and their cross-county competition.
To celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m giving away an autographed paperback over at Goodreads. You can enter through November 30 using the link below:
And below is an excerpt from the Thanksgiving chapter of Hat Trick. In this chapter, Simon and Alex are not out to their team yet, but Simon’s best friend Jackson has been let in on the secret.
I arrived at the pond after eleven with my backpack and skates. I was late. Everyone else skated around, goofing off with the pucks we stored here. The ice looked good. The cold snap of the past two weeks had put some good ice down.
We hoped it would solidify in time for today—our preferred day for the pond hockey opener. Setup happened over the past couple days—checking the pond for soft spots, getting the logs we use for benches into the right place, and bringing out the equipment we kept out there during the winter. With the trees already bare, all that was missing to complete the picture was snow, but that likely wouldn’t happen for another month.
As much as I loved playing hockey anywhere, the pond was my favorite place; probably because it’s where Jackson and I started out with Leo and some of the others.
“About time you got here,” Leo called out as he skated backwards, passing a puck back and forth with Chris.
“Sorry. Got stuck at home.” I sat down, pulled off my shoes, and worked quickly to lace up my skates.
“Hey. Happy Thanksgiving.” Alex sat down next to me.
“Hey,” I said as we bumped fists. “How’s it goin’?”
“Good. How’s your turkey day so far?”
“Eh. Zack came home earlier than expected. I got stuck having breakfast, which was mostly Dad and Zack trying to talk and order me out of Michigan.”
“Still? That hasn’t died down?”
“It does, until Zack brings it up, which sends Dad on a tirade all over again. Thankfully, they got distracted by some football pre-game.”
“I’m sorry, man.” Alex held out his hand to help me up and he squeezed my hand extra tight. I squeezed back in our covert hug.
I selected a stick from the collection leaning against a tree and hit the ice to warm up. This gang—me, Alex, Jackson, Leo, Aaron, David, Chris, Brent, Max, Marc, and Doug—had played here for years now with Alex as the most recent addition last year. We were lucky to have a good pond so close to our houses. It was a good shape; mostly oval and about half the size of our school rink.
Leo called everyone together. We were a raggedy bunch, dressed in sweats with layers of shirts, sweaters, or hoodies; no real gear for most of us except gloves and sticks. Doug, on the other hand, wore most of his pads since he was the one deflecting pucks.
“Okay, everyone’s name is in the hat.” He pulled four slips of paper from his Falcons hat. “We’ve got Aaron…Chris…Marc…and Simon against the rest of us. Aaron, call the coin in the air.”
“Okay, tails, so we are home,” he said.
We broke to get jerseys—red for home and white for away.
As soon as we were back on ice, Doug grabbed a puck from the top of the net.
“Okay guys, here we go…GO FALCONS!” He threw the puck across the ice and the game was on.
Marc got it first and skated towards Doug, but Jackson swooped in and stole the puck. Jackson skated towards the neutral zone and, as he crossed the invisible line—marked only by two trees we’d used for years to signify the single blue line we used in this half-ice game—he passed quickly to Alex who skated in towards Doug.
I flipped into defensive mode and skated backwards as Alex came toward me. I swung my stick out and knocked the puck away from Alex, sending it to the sidelines. Alex was quick to regain the puck, though. I came in behind him, got my stick under his, scooped the puck out, and quickly passed to Aaron.
Another quick pass got it up to Marc, who was already in the neutral zone. Marc sent it back to Aaron, who moved it to Chris. Chris fired at the net and it went past Doug’s shoulder and dropped in.
“And that’s one for away,” Doug said. Doug fished the puck out and dropped it in front of Leo to get us going again.
Twenty minutes into the game, I was back on defense against Alex who tried to get by me along the edge of the ice. Ultimately we grappled until we both fell off the ice. As we went down, I managed to send the puck towards the neutral zone. I heard a cheer go up from Aaron, indicating he made the goal off my sloppy pass.
“I think you did that so you could fall on top of me,” Alex said quietly.
“Maybe. You’ll never know for sure.” I got up, brushed off some dirt and leaves, and helped Alex up. Once again, we squeezed hands extra tight. The touch made my heart beat faster than it already was. I think Alex felt it to because we grinned at the same time.
“Okay,” Leo said, “ten more minutes and we’ll break.”
We skated hard, each of us earning the break. Even in the chilly air we were all sweating as we came to a stop. Break time meant our other Thanksgiving Day tradition could begin–snacks. Everyone brought something and this year’s spread included hot chocolate, donuts, corn chips, and sandwiches. We sat on the logs and munched to power up for the second half.
After ten minutes of eating and chatter, Leo called us back to the ice.
As Doug strapped into his leg pads, I stood next to Alex since he was my man to cover on the ice.
“You ready to try and stop me from scoring?” Alex asked, jostling my stick.
“Maybe you’re going to have to stop me. We’ve yet to prove you can.”
Doug tossed the puck across the ice and we started moving. Aaron pick up the puck and I moved quickly past Alex towards the blue line. Aaron passed to me and I went just inside the offensive zone and sent a slap shot at Doug. It seemed to go right through him and into the net.
“Nice shot, Roberts,” said Doug as he sent the puck back into play.
“Thanks,” I said, skating up ice so we could start again. “Great pass, man,” I shouted over to Aaron who gave a quick nod of acknowledgment.
“See,” I said as I skated near Alex, “still unproven that you can stop my offense.”
Leo was already on the move with the puck. He went around the net and sent the puck to Jackson, who sent it into the neutral zone to Alex. He tore in to the offensive zone and passed to David. David did a fake slap shot set up and Doug went to the far right of the net. David slipped the puck across to Alex who faced a wide open net. Seeing that a goal was about to be scored, I slid across the ice to block Alex’s shot—like I’d done in practice a couple weeks before.
The puck hit me square in the chest, sending a stinging pain through my upper body.
“Owwww,” I cried out.
A jersey, four layers of shirts, and a hoodie provided little protection. The guys gathered around and Leo and Alex helped me up.
“Man, that was stupid. At least you,” I poked Alex in the chest as I spoke, “didn’t score.”
I raised my eyebrows and gave him an impish grin. I bent over to pick up my stick and groaned. It would be a couple of painful days that would leave a colorful bruise. It was bad enough to get hit like that in full pads, so this was going to be nasty.
“All right,” I said as I skated around in circles to take my mind off the pain. “Come on, let’s get going before we have to end this.”
I took the puck and skated away and eventually made a pass over to Marc. We played until a little after two o’clock when Jackson called the game.
“Sorry guys,” he said. “I’ve got to get going. Dinner is promptly at 2:30 and if I’m late I won’t hear the end of it.”
“Oh, sure,” Aaron said. “Call the game just after your team pulls ahead.”
“Of course, ensuring we walk away winners.”
Everyone skated off the ice, except Doug and Leo who broke down the net. Aaron grabbed all the sticks and wrapped them up. The bundle was tucked under one of the logs.
Once the net was stowed, Leo tossed his skates over his shoulder and said his goodbyes. Everyone scattered for home and eventually it was down to me, Alex, and Jackson.
“I’ll see you around ten tomorrow?” Jackson asked.
“Yeah. I’ll pick you up, then we’ll get Alex and be on our way.”
“How’s the chest?” Alex asked.
“It hurts.” I pulled my jersey off, unzipped the hoodie, and pulled up the shirts. I saw the angry redness across my right pec.
“Dude, you really let him have it,” Jackson said.
“I’m so sorry, Simon. I didn’t expect you to pull that out here.”
“Shit, guys, I gotta go,” Jackson said, looking at his watch. “See you in the morning.”
He grabbed his skates and duffel bag and jogged off.
Alex and I stood silent for a moment, enjoying the peace. He put his hand gently against my chest.
“It was a stupid move,” I said. “Effective though.”
I gave Alex a soft kiss, which he eagerly returned.
We walked away from the pond.
“I wish I could spend more of the day with you.”
“You want to come over? Mom and Dad would love to see you.”
“I doubt I’ll be able to get away. We try hard to fake the tight, loving family thing on Thanksgiving. This skate is about all I’m allowed out for.”
“Well then, I’ll call you later and see what’s going on.”
“I’d like that.”
I leaned in for another kiss, which became a very deep, long one.
“I’ll see you tomorrow for sure,” I said, as I let go of his hand and headed for home while very much wishing I could go home with him instead.
* * *
It was after ten and I was stretched out on my bed, comfy in sweats and reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream for lit class. My phone gave three quick vibrates to let me know a text message had arrived from Alex. It said he was standing in my driveway. That was odd since he’d never come here and odder yet because he didn’t mention coming over when we talked an hour ago.
I got up and looked out the window. He was there, next to my truck. It looked like he had a bag in his hand. He waved when he saw me. I quickly typed out there’s a gate on the side of the house, go through and meet me on the porch and sent the message. His phone lit up in his hand and he read. He waved at me before he took off.
I slipped on my sneakers and bolted downstairs, through the kitchen, and onto the back porch. He was at the screen door when I arrived.
“Hey,” he said, keeping his voice low. “I was getting ready to go to sleep when I decided I really wanted to have dessert with you.”
He held up a paper bag.
“Seeing you is probably better than whatever you have in that bag,” I said, unlocking the screen and opening it. “Come on in.”
In the summer the room was simply screened in, but with winter the storm windows were up and helped keep the cold out. Most of the porch was used for winter storage. In one corner, however, there was a chaise lounge and an electric fireplace. Mom liked to come out there and read when no one else was around. I turned on the fire and Alex and I sat together.
He leaned over and kissed me. I instantly responded. There was no longer the doubt of not knowing what to do when we kissed. I pulled him closer and moaned as our tongues danced around each other. As he pulled back, he put a few quick, small kisses on my mouth.
“Are you sure that wasn’t dessert?” I asked.
“It’s the dessert appetizer and the dessert to dessert.”
I laughed as he took stuff out of the bag: two mammoth slices of pie on plates and sealed in plastic wrap, two forks, and a can of whipped cream. He unwrapped one slice and handed it to me along with a fork and then quickly unwrapped the other for himself.
“Whipped cream, sir?” he asked as he vigorously shook the can.
I held out the plate and he covered both slices.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said.
We dug into the pie as if we hadn’t eaten anything else that day.
“So, I didn’t ask before. Any ideas on where you want to work?” he asked, picking up from our earlier phone call.
I shrugged. “It’s going to have to be somewhere nearby that’ll let me work flexible hours since there’s school, homework, practice, and games. I figure it’s a good idea to get used to working since Dad’s made it clear he won’t support me out of state. I’ll start looking Monday.”
“It at least it should be easier at Michigan. There’ll be jobs made for students with crazy schedules.”
“Yeah. I just need one here for a few months. I know I can do it, I just have to prove it to everyone else.”
“I know you can, too.”
“That was delicious,” I said, licking the fork clean. “Homemade?”
“Yeah, my grandma’s recipe.”
I took the plates and set them on the floor. Grabbing the front of his jacket, I pulled him down on top of me as I laid back on the chair. He took the hint and crushed his lips into mine. Other than stealing some quick, stealth kisses or taking a few minutes at his house to grope each other instead of doing homework, we hadn’t had much time too make out recently.
After a few minutes we adjusted position and I ended up letting out a groan that was more pain than anything else.
“Yeah. You know how it is—move the wrong way and it flares up.”
“I hoped it wasn’t going to be that bad. Let me see.”
I raised my sweatshirt and Alex sighed. He ran his fingers gently over the bruise, which had become a dark blue/purple over the course of the afternoon. He kissed the bruise, gently, several times. His lips tickled the hair around it, which was a fascinating sensation combined with the bruise’s pain. I moaned and ran my hands through his hair as he continued to nibble across my chest. I shuddered when he slipped a nipple into his mouth. He flicked, sucked, and nibbled. It took everything I had not to moan too loud.
Eventually, I brought his mouth back to mine. I made sure to use my couple weeks of beard growth to drive him mad, too, by nibbling on his neck. As we rearranged ourselves again, our hard-ons collided with each other. Despite being fully clothed, the sensation was intense. We both made more noise than we should have.
“Oh man,” Alex said, his face buried in my neck. “I almost lost it right there.”
“We should stop before there’s a mess to clean up,” I said, even though I didn’t want to.
He peppered my cheek with kisses
“Your beard’s coming in so good,” he said as he kissed and rubbed his face against it. “It’s mostly soft, but it’s got some nice scratch, too.”
“It’s not too bad. It needs to fill in a little more if I’m going to keep it.”
A yawn escaped Alex’s mouth.
“I suppose I should go. We both need sleep. We won’t hear the end of it if we show up tired tomorrow.”
I didn’t let him get up right away, grabbing a few more kisses before I released his shoulders.
“Thanks for a great ending to Thanksgiving.”
“You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to kicking County’s ass with you.”
“Yeah. It’s gonna be great.”
He got off me, scooped up the discarded plates and forks, and stuffed them back in the bag. I wrapped my arm around his waist as we walked to the door.
“I love you,” I said, giving him one more, deep kiss.
“Love you, too.”
And just like that he was out the door and I wondered how I was going to fall asleep after that great, unexpected visit.