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Chapter 2

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Asher

I try to define myself by a few select things.

And I push for clarity in these things. For me, it's always been hockey, maintaining decent grades, and family—making sure my mom and sister are happy. These are undeniably the three biggest facets of my life. And as much as people might think they know me, they don't. And I'm perfectly fine with that, because they don't need to know me. The real me, at least. They just need to know enough to like me.

And they do. They love me. I'm acutely aware of this when my teammates send variations of handshakes and side-hugs my way as a form of greeting. I'm captain of the ice hockey team again this year, but that doesn't come as much of a surprise. I was captain last year, stealing the title from the senior starters when I was just a junior.

Coach has been gearing us up for the game on Friday, and practice is brutal. I'd be lying if I said that I'm not breaking a sweat. Brody Knight, one of my best friends on the team, is already heaving in his gear beside me. I pause to reach for my water bottle, before squeezing water through the cage covering my sweat-drenched face.

Brody and I are both on the same line, and as Eastview's best forwards, we work well together. Zach Chandler is one of the defensemen. He's held the position for years. It used to be a pain in the ass before, when he didn't know how to stop on the ice. Now he's one of the strongest players on the team, and like Brody, he's also one of my best friends.

"Holy shit," Brody groans. "I'm done."

He leans over, still out of breath, but Coach's harsh voice sends us reeling back to our starting points. "Knight, Reed, get back in there!"

Swapping wary glances, Brody and I skate back to our positions. Coach barks on about how Harvey's taking his turns too sharp, and how Miller's taking his too lazy. We've run this drill five times already, and it's grueling, but it's Coach's favorite for conditioning. Miller gets an assist and I manage a clean shot, the goal flaring. I shoot him a grin, and he mirrors me as we take our places again.

After a few more rounds, Coach tells us to pick up the stray pucks and dump them near the crease. Finding a puck, I can't resist the temptation and take a fast slap shot right onto the crossbar, bouncing the puck off it and into the net. The light goes off, emitting a red glow onto the ice. It catches Coach's attention.

"Reed," he yells across the ice. "Do you need a hearing aid, boy? I said collect the pucks, not take a shot! What has gotten into you kids over the summer?"

Ducking my head with a chagrined smirk, I start gathering them up. I look up at Daniels, who's standing near the blue line where Coach wants the pucks stacked up.

"Yo, Daniels," I say, and his head turns toward me. "Do me a solid?"

He gives me a nod and sets his stick down, ready to receive. Taking one from the pucks scattered around me, I slap it across the ice, watching it skid onto Daniels's stick. He quickly taps it to the right next to the rest.

Popping his head up, he taps his stick on the ice, telling me he's ready for the next one. It becomes a quick pattern, and sharp sounds of stick on puck resonate throughout the arena. When I'm done, I skate to the other side, my stick dragging on the ice.

I close in on Brody and Zach arguing. Zach's talking animatedly and Brody's giving him an "Are you serious?" look. Apparently, they'd both been texting the same girl over the summer.

"You two!" Coach barks. "What are you gossiping about?"

"Nothing," Brody mutters dryly, shooting Chandler a death glare. I stifle a laugh. They'll be over it by tomorrow, but right now, it's fucking hilarious. They deserve it. They're hardly innocent, and I can bet my ass they'd both been texting more than just one girl, anyway.

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