First Chapter: Superfan
What do a bunch of hockey players do during the weeks after they’ve been eliminated after Round 1 of the playoffs? Lay around my apartment to watch more hockey, apparently. Although I really don’t mind. These past two years have been crazy, and maybe we all need a breather.
Last season we made it all the way to the finals. It was the ride of a lifetime. And it didn’t come easily to me. I’m only twenty-five years old, but already my career has had more ups and downs and bumps than an aging roller coaster.
I’m not one of those guys who rocketed from obscurity to success. There have been moments when I was sure my hockey career was over before it started. There have been terrible disappointments. But now I’m coming off my best season ever.
Though it ended abruptly ten days ago when my defense broke down during overtime and allowed a play that I was helpless to stop. When the puck whistled past my ear and dropped into the corner of the net, nobody even blamed me.
Not much, anyway. But I’m a goalie. You get used to it.
Suddenly, our season was over. We were all on summer break, but you can bet that none of us had planned a vacation. Who would tempt fate like that—by trying to guess which date in May or June we’d suddenly have a lot of free time? Not this guy.
The first thing I did was fly home to Northern California to spend a few days with my mom. But now I’m back, a little uncertain of how to spend my precious summer weeks.
I’m not the only one, either.
I’m sitting on the center cushion of my sofa, wedged between my old roommate, Leo, and my current roommate, Jason. And Jason’s girlfriend, Heidi—who is my roommate now, too—is perched in his lap, so there’s four of us on one couch.
At least I have a seat. Our teammate Drake is sprawled out on the rug, and our team captain O’Doul has dragged a kitchen chair into the room for his own use.
We’re watching Game 6 of Round 3, between Dallas and Los Angeles. Nobody in this room is rooting for Dallas. Not after last year’s overtime loss of the championship. We hate that team. A lot.
I have a good feeling about tonight’s game, though. The series is three to two in L.A.’s favor. And L.A. has the momentum. Dallas is going to get a taste of humility tonight. I can’t wait to see it happen.
“Who wants to rent a house on the water in early August?” O’Doul asks, poking at his phone. He’s surfing AirBnB rentals.
“Sounds like fun,” Jason says. “You think you can find something even though it’s already June?”
“Dunno,” O’Doul grumbles. “Cape Cod and Fire Island are all booked up.”
“Of course they are,” I mutter. “Shh, you guys! Power play. Gaborova can make this happen.”
“L.A. can’t win it tonight,” Jason says. “They look tired.”
“Bullshit!” I argue. “Dallas is playing scared. They lost two in a row. Now they’re gonna choke.” Ask me how I know.
“You’re the only one who thinks L.A. can win tonight,” Leo says.
“Really? I think the L.A. fans beg to differ.”
“We’re just managing our expectations,” Heidi says from Jason’s lap. “This is so stressful. Maybe if someone brought me a drink I could relax.” She bats her eyelashes at her boyfriend.
“Great idea. What are we drinking?” Jason asks.
“Hard liquor,” his girlfriend says. They grin at each other like a Hallmark movie couple. It’s kind of disgusting. Then again, my roommate used to be a grumpy beast, and now he’s in a good mood all the time.
Also, Heidi is a really good person, as well as a great cook. Since she feels a little guilty for moving into what was once a bachelor pad, she always makes enough food for three. Tonight she fed me roast salmon over pureed potatoes with wilted garlic-spinach on the side.
So I muddle through somehow.
“What’s in your liquor cabinet?” Leo asks from my other side.
“You could go look,” I point out. “Don’t ask me to get you a drink during the power play.”
“L.A. can’t capitalize,” Leo argues. “Ever since they changed their third line they never score on a power play.”
Even as he’s saying this, L.A. makes a crummy pass. It lands neatly on a Dallas stick, and I groan.
“Name some towns in the Hamptons, Leo,” says O’Doul.
I’m glued to this game, but our captain is trying to find a beach house to rent?
“Southampton, East Hampton, Westhampton,” Leo drones.
“Well, duh!” comes the reply. “I tried those first.”
“Don’t forget Bridgehampton,” Heidi says. “Sagaponack. Montauk. And Quogue.”
“Quogue?” O’Doul grumbles. “I dunno if I could vacation somewhere with that name. It sounds like a plumbing product. Unplug your clog with a Quogue.”
“Isn’t anyone going to watch the—” I break off on a gasp as disaster strikes. A Dallas D-man makes a blind pass to his wing. It never should have worked. But as I stare at the screen in horror, the wing shoots, finding the L.A. goalie’s five hole.
Dallas scores in the seventh minute of the game.
“See?” Leo says calmly. “L.A. isn’t gonna knock out Dallas tonight.”
“Yeah they are!” I argue because I’m in a mood now. “This will fire them up. Just you wait.”
“The waiting would be better with beer,” Leo prods. “Just saying.”
“Fine.” I get up, full of nervous energy. “I’ll check the fridge.” I don’t need to watch the Dallas fans celebrate, anyway.
“There’s three six-packs in there,” Heidi says as I extricate myself from the sofa. “A Brooklyn lager and two ales from... Whoa! Silas!”
Heidi’s outburst makes everyone turn and look at the screen again. The cameraman is cruising the best seats in the house, and the commentator is pointing out the team owner and various celebrities in the audience.
And—holy shit—there it is, the celebrity face that fills my dreams. Delilah Spark, the most celebrated new singer-songwriter in the world, is in the second row at the fucking Dallas game. As I stare at her exquisite face, the commentator says exactly what I’m thinking. “This is incredible! Who knew that singer-songwriter Delilah Spark was a hockey fan!”
“Holy moly!” Jason yells. “Dude!”
“This is your chance!” O’Doul laughs.
Heidi gives a little squeak of excitement. “Now you have something in common! Something besides, you know, mooning over her and playing her music all day and all night.”
I can barely hear them, though. I’m still glued to the screen.
“Delilah Spark made the gossip pages last month when she left her on-again-off-again boyfriend, music producer Brett Ferris…” the commentator drones.
My friends all howl. “She’s single, man!” Leo yells. “Get in there!” someone else adds.
“Aren’t you hilarious,” I drawl. And I already saw those headlines about her breakup. But at the moment, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. Because I’ve just noticed something awful. “She’s wearing a…” Could it even be true? “A Dallas jersey.”
The room erupts. Drake howls, and O’Doul throws a paper napkin at the screen. “Ooooh!” Heidi wails. “Plot twist!”
“That is rough, man,” Jason says, shaking his head. “So tragic. You think you know a girl.” He laughs, because he thinks it’s a simple irony.
Slowly, I walk into the kitchen. I’m suddenly grumpy as fuck. I’m used to taking a lot of flak for my obsession with Delilah Spark, even if my interest in her is slightly less pathetic than everyone assumes.
Still, it’s not like I know her. But Dallas? It’s like a knife to the heart. It also makes no sense. Delilah is a California girl.
I pull out my phone and open Twitter. I follow exactly sixty-seven people on Twitter—teammates, other hockey friends, sports commentators, and Delilah Spark.
Sure enough, she’s been tweeting about the Dallas matchup. My first hockey game! Someone tell me the rules.
The tweet has 834 likes already, and dozens of replies. Don’t watch the puck, watch the players! And, All you need to know is that if the lamp turns red, they scored. And, Hockey players are hot! Etc.
I tweet a reply, even though I doubt she’ll see it. I’m a big fan of yours, but I have to know why you’d support Dallas. Will they even let you back into California after this?
Shoving my phone into my pocket, I don’t feel any better. Why couldn’t her first hockey game be mine?
I open the fridge. Heidi has stocked us up on beer, just as she said. I take all three six-packs out, grab an opener, and carry the whole lot into the living room. “Nobody better be in my seat,” I grumble.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Drake says from the floor.
There’s a knock at the door as I’m setting the beer down on the coffee table. “Get that like a good rookie, would you?”
“When am I done being the rookie?” he asks, getting up anyway.
Castro snorts. “The minute there’s someone else we can call ‘rookie.’ You see anybody like that here?”
“No.” Drake opens the door to find Georgia, Leo’s wife. She’s dragging a beanbag chair behind her. And also Bayer, our recently retired teammate.
There’s a chorus of happy sounds, because we never see this guy anymore. “He’s alive!” someone shouts. “Tell us everything.”
“I would, but there’s a game on.” He kicks the beanbag into place against the wall for Georgia. “Are we ordering pizza?”
“Let’s do it,” Heidi says. “Who has a phone?”
I unlock mine and hand it to Heidi. Then I open a beer for myself. On the screen, L.A. is looking more alive. “See? They’re going to fight for it. Sometimes being down a goal lights your fire.”
“Or down a game,” Jason argues. “We need a bet. Who’s with Silas that L.A. can win this thing?”
My teammates prattle on, and I’m trying to watch the game. But now that I know Delilah Spark is sitting just to the left of the Dallas bench, I can’t stop looking for her. And every time they cut to a wide shot of the coach chewing his gum behind his players, I get a glimpse. Dark, shiny hair and a smile that knows secrets.
And that green jersey. That’s the part I wish I could unsee.
“Everybody owes Silas fifteen bucks,” Heidi says, tapping away at a food-delivery app on my phone. “If you don’t have change, just make it twenty.”
“Did you remember to order one with—” Drake starts.
“Yes,” Heidi cuts him off. “You think by now I don’t know what everyone likes?”
“My bad,” Drake says from the floor, because he’s not stupid.
Heidi is a full-time assistant to the team’s general manager. Underestimate her at your own peril. “Silas,” she says, “your Twitter is blowing up. Here.” She hands back my phone.
“Really,” I say slowly, taking it from her. Forty-two new notifications. Huh. That can only mean one thing. “Delilah Spark tweeted me back.”
“What?” Heidi squeaks. “Let me see!” She grabs the phone before I can read it. “OMG! Listen: ‘Can’t I be fans of both teams? A Dallas radio station sent me to my first game.’”
“Wait, you’re busting on your idol for wearing a Dallas jersey?” Jason asks, and then everyone else roars.
“I had to ask,” I say, and it comes out sounding defensive.
My teammates find this hilarious. They laugh so hard that beer comes out of Drake’s nose.
“Let me see!” Jason says, and then my phone gets passed around the room, as if we’re all in seventh grade again, and a cute girl passed me a note.
“You have to reply,” Leo says.
“She should wear an L.A. jersey for half the game,” Georgia points out, “so she doesn’t piss off her hometown fans.”
“Ahhh,” says the room, because that’s a good point. Georgia is a publicist, so she has to think of these things on the regular.
“Who do we know at the game?” Leo asks.
“Well, we know all the guys on the ice,” O’Doul says, and I snort. “Can’t exactly ask Gaborova to hand the girl his jersey.”
“Besides them,” Leo argues.
Georgia lets out a little groan and then reaches for her handbag. “You guys are going to make me work right now, aren’t you?”
“Please?” I beg. “You must know someone in the L.A. office.”
“We need an L.A. jersey, right?” she says, poking at her phone. “In a gift bag. And someone to run it down to her?”
“And a note,” I say.
“Ooh!” Heidi squeaks and then pokes me in the arm. “What should it say?”
What indeed? “Say… ‘This jersey has two purposes. First, it will keep you on the good side of your hometown crew. And you’ll also be on the right side of history when L.A. clinches this series in the third period.’”
“They can’t clinch tonight,” O’Doul argues.
“Just you wait,” I snap back.
* * *
But waiting is hard. I eat too many slices of pizza because I’m nervous. L.A. is fighting for it, but halfway through the second period they’re still trailing 2-0. “Come on, come on,” I chant on their next possession of the puck. “You can do this. Dallas is getting complacent.”
“For a reason,” Jason whispers.
“You shut up.”
The stress of the game is compounded by Delilah Spark’s frequent appearance on our screen. The TV camera loves her almost as much as I do. She’s still wearing that godawful jersey, though. I’m trying hard not to see it as some kind of jinx.
But then L.A. calls a time out, and while they enjoy their sixty seconds of togetherness, the camera cuts once again to Delilah. And—holy shit—someone wearing an L.A. jacket is trying to hand her a bag. After a moment’s negotiation with a burly-looking bodyguard, the bag is in her hands.
“Did it!” Georgia yells. She gets up off the beanbag chair and pumps her fist.
“You are such a babe!” Leo says, getting up to high-five his wife. He blocks my view of the screen for a second, and when I look again, Delilah is pulling a black garment out of the bag.
“What’s this?” a commentator asks. “Delilah Spark is getting a gift at her first hockey game. It’s…” Delilah reveals the L.A. logo on the jersey.
The crew in our living room goes wild.
“This is hilarious,” Jason says beside me. “Even if Dallas wins—”
“Bite your goddamn tongue.”
“Wasn’t there a note?” Heidi asks. “Did she see it?”
We don’t find out, because the camera cuts away again to set up the faceoff.
“You have to tweet her again,” Heidi says. “She needs to know it’s from you.”
“No, she doesn’t.” It really doesn’t matter one way or the other.
“But what if the note fell on the floor?” Heidi presses, and there’s a worried line between her eyebrows.
“Then it fell on the floor,” I say. There are worse accidents of fate. Ask me how I know.
“Let me see your phone,” Heidi says.
“I just want to see if she replies.”
“Tweet something and die,” I threaten, handing it over.
“Power play!” Drake yells, and my attention goes right back where it should be—on the game.
“L.A. can’t capitalize,” Leo grumbles.
But they do! Dallas gives up a goal twenty-seven seconds into the penalty period. And then Dallas has a meltdown, tripping an L.A. player right in front of the ref and drawing a second penalty.
The room goes silent. All eyes are finally on the screen. Forty seconds later, L.A.’s Gaborova scores again, tying up the game.
The Slovak player pumps his fist, and my living room erupts with excitement.
“Told you they could do it!” Leo says, earning a punch from me. “Ow. Kidding!”
“Boys!” Georgia says. “Look.”
The camera pans wide, and there’s my girl again. Now she’s wearing a black jersey and laughing. She takes her phone from the woman sitting beside her, and taps something on the screen.
“This is her tweet!” Heidi says a moment later. “‘Apparently I’m magic,’ it says. ‘Who knew?’ Now her feed is going to be full of Dallas fans begging her to change back into the other jersey.”
“She can’t!” O’Doul yells at the screen. “This is finally getting interesting.”
Heidi nudges me with her elbow. “Look, Silas. She thanked you.”
I grab that phone so fast that I hear laughter.
@SilasKellyGoalie Thank you for the jersey. It seems to be working.
I type back quickly. @DelilahSpark Had to be done. If you could leave it on until the end of the game, it would be much appreciated.
“Oh, my heart!” Heidi coos. “Silas is flirting with a rock star on Twitter.”
“L.A. still probably can’t win,” O’Doul says, just to infuriate me. “They’ve switched up the lines to rest Myerson. That tendon of his isn’t gonna magically heal before the buzzer.”
Unfortunately, he has a point.
The next forty minutes are brutal. When there’s just five minutes left—and still a tie score—I’m as tense and exhausted as if I’d played the game myself.
I don’t know much about hockey, tweets Delilah Spark during the Dallas time out. But five minutes isn’t long, right? What happens if they tie?
“The poor girl doesn’t know the rules,” Heidi says. “She needs private hockey instruction from you, Silas.”
“Yeah,” Jason says with an evil grin. “That’s what Silas wants to give her. Private instruction in hockey.” He takes the phone out of his girlfriend’s hands.
And here’s where I make a big mistake. I look away, watching the faceoff instead of watching Jason. It isn’t until after the play travels down the ice and into a corner that I notice he’s typing something on my phone.
“Hey!” I lunge for it, but he holds it out of my way. “What are you doing?”
“I’m helping you,” Jason says, cocking an eyebrow. “This is what you should say next—‘Let’s make a bet, Delilah. If L.A. scores in the next five minutes, you’ll go out on a date with me.’”
“No,” I say calmly, measuring the short distance between me and my phone. The only problem is that Heidi’s in the way. I need to get it back without clocking her in the struggle.
“This is a great idea,” Jason says, his grin devilish. “You’ll thank me later.”
“Dude, yes!” Leo agrees. “Let’s vote. Who wants Silas to ask Delilah out?”
Everyone in the whole goddamn room raises his hand.
“Not funny,” I say through clenched teeth. I glance away, but it’s just a fake-out. Quickly, I turn back toward Jason as I shoot to my feet.
It should have worked, but when you tussle with professional athletes, anything can happen. Jason and I are well-matched for both strength and sharp reflexes. My hand darts toward the phone, but he anticipates me, his fingers closing around the screen.
Where the SEND button is.
“Did you just hit Send?” I demand.
“I… Um… Let’s see.” Jason looks at the phone in his hand and lets out a nervous laugh. “I’m afraid to look.”
“Oh dear,” Heidi whispers.
I lunge for the phone.