Hat Trick Overtime: A Classic Winter’s Night
By Jeff Adams
“That was rough,” Alex said. “But, oh my God, Simon, we just played hockey on a baseball field!”
Yes, we’d just lost in overtime to Western Michigan in the semis of the Great Lakes Invitational. But we’d played the game outside at Detroit’s Comerica Park. The team was a mix of emotions, shifting between the disappointment of the loss and the thrill of GLI moving outside as part of the events around the NHL Winter Classic. As Alex and I departed the stadium with our teammates, my excitement was hard to contain. I was somewhere between walking and bouncing as we headed out into the crisp night.
“I knew we’d play GLI,” I said, “but for our first to be outside, in a baseball stadium is unreal. The pond at home will never quite be the same after playing here.”
“Right!” Alex said, focusing on the overall experience rather than the loss. “I thought Consol was the pinnacle of places I’d play, but tonight was spectacular. It was a crushing loss, but still an amazing game. You don’t often get that combo.”
We laughed and playfully bumped into each other before I took Alex’s hand in mine. Tonight was our seventeenth game as Wolverines and we were having a solid season so far with a regular season record of 10-3-2. While we were hopeful our season would end with a trip to the Frozen Four in April, it would be difficult to top playing GLI outside.
It was a testament to how well the team accepted us that we could walk hand-in-hand and not have anyone question it. Of course, pretty much everyone knew we were a couple before we arrived in Ann Arbor since we’d met most of the team after signing our scholarships. There were some teammates who kept their distance, but the majority of the guys were friendly. On the ice, however, we were a solid unit and no one’s life outside the game mattered.
We were on the hunt for dinner. It was near eleven o’clock and the streets were bustling. The Hockeytown Winter Festival was winding down for the night, but there was still plenty going on.
“Guys,” called out our captain from the front of the group, “there’s a Hard Rock not too far from here. How’s that sound?”
Affirmative murmurs came from all around. Danny, another freshman and one of our best friends, gave the loudest response, “I think we’d eat anything right now. Let’s go.”
“Hard Rock it is.”
Now we moved with purpose.
“Could you believe the roar of the crowd?” Danny asked as he fell in beside us.
“Right? That was five times larger than anything that can fit into Yost,” Alex said. “I didn’t expect the sound to be so resonant.”
“And it’s different when you’re on the field,” Danny continued. “I went to the Classic when it was at Wrigley. There were a lot more people there, but it seemed louder here.”
“Oh cool, you’ve been to a Classic,” I said.
“Yeah. I wasn’t gonna miss it that close to home. We had crap seats, but it was still one of the best games I’ve ever been to. You didn’t go when it was in Pittsburgh?”
“No one else in my family wanted to go, and the tickets were too expensive for me to do it on my own. I’m psyched for this year, though.”
“Me, too,” Alex said. “It’s the first year it’s been close to me.”
“I’m glad we can just walk to the stadium,” Danny said. “No traffic, no fuss. Just like for football games.”
The entire team was going to the game, along with the staff, friends and family. We got a group deal on decent seats. It would be spectacular to watch hockey with over a hundred thousand other people.
“Can you imagine what the Big House crowd would sound like from the ice?” Danny said.
“Hopefully you’ll find out,” I said. Danny was one of the Wolverines that hoped to go pro after college. “And we’ll be there to watch.”
As we walked along Woodward Avenue, Danny, Alex, and I, along with another freshman friend, Trent, discussed the game, dissecting various plays and where we should’ve executed better. We also sprinkled in chatter about tomorrow afternoon’s consolation game against Michigan State. Hopefully we’d come out of that with third place overall.
I clutched Alex’s hand extra tight as I caught sight of an explosion of sparkly Christmas lights. It looked like the street dead-ended right into it. It was that breathtaking and I couldn’t hold back a gasp.
“What?” Alex asked, interrupting Danny’s game commentary.
“Look.” I pointed at the lights ahead.
“Uh-oh, I think someone has fallen into some Christmas wonder,” Trent said.
“You know Christmas is over, right?” Danny added. “That’s just waiting to be taken down.”
“Who cares, it’s pretty!” I said, not letting them douse my enthusiasm. “Can we be late to dinner and go see?”
I looked to Alex with a big grin and a wide-eyed look of please-do-this. He had a similar face that he used occasionally. Neither of us could resist when it was put out there.
“I’ve got no choice here guys,” Alex said to Danny and Trent. “Besides, he’s right, it’s pretty spectacular.”
“Fine, go off on your own,” Danny said, sarcastically. “We’ll save you a couple seats. Depending on how long you take, we may still be waiting for tables. I can’t imagine they’re going to have immediate space for us.”
We reached the intersection and realized the lights were coming from a park. There were lots of smaller trees brightly lit, and a skating rink at the base of a huge decorated tree. I’d never seen anything like it, except on TV. It was Christmas on steroids. I loved it.
“See you in a few,” Alex said while I focused on the lights.
“You’re right,” Trent said, “we won’t get seats quick. We could check it—”
“We’ll catch up with you when you’re done,” Danny said, cutting off Trent. The team had rounded the corner and I saw the Hard Rock’s sign from where we stood. Danny grabbed Trent by the arm and lead him off.
“Glad Danny had the good sense not to come along,” Alex said, watching them leave as we waited for the light to cross the street.
The park, Campus Martius Park according to the sign at the entrance, was wondrous. Every possible surface was covered in lights.
Alex thought I’d gone light crazy in our room since I’d strung up small colored lights around the window, along the shelves of our bookcase, around the door frames and even criss-crossing our ceiling. I was a sucker for Christmas lights. It was the first time I’d decorated away from home, and he gave me permission to do whatever I wanted.
“Can you imagine what this would look like if it was snowing?” I said.
“If it was snowing, you might explode from the whimsicalness of it all.”
We walked and looked at the booths that were still selling gifts, many with clearance signs indicating that New Year’s Eve was the last day they’d be here. Alex stopped at one that served hot chocolate. It was, no doubt, the clear, glass vat of dark chocolate churning behind the counter that grabbed his attention.
“This one’s on me,” I said as I stepped to the counter. “Two mediums, with whipped cream, and cookies, too, one chocolate chip and one peanut butter.”
“Just look at it.” Mesmerized, Alex watched the chocolate being ladled into the cups. “It’s so thick. I’ve never had hot chocolate like that. We may ruin our dinner.”
The excited look on his face must have rivaled the one I had when I caught sight of the lights.
“It’s hard to knock a dinner of chocolate and cookies,” I said.
“And Christmas lights, especially when it’s with you.” He planted a quick kiss on my cheek.
We found an empty bench, sat with our treats and watched the goings on in the park.
“It’s weird not being home for Christmas, but this,” he motioned with his hand to all of the Christmas grandeur around us, “is worth being away.”
“At least our families understood having Christmas early.”
After finals we went home for a week, but had to get back before Christmas to prepare for this weekend. I liked how it worked out. We celebrated Christmas with my mom at Alex’s family’s house on the twenty-third and then headed back to school on Christmas Eve. That gave Alex and me the holiday to ourselves. We enjoyed it. We traded gifts in the morning and spent the rest of the day in bed wrapped around each other. That night, Coach and his wife hosted Christmas dinner at their house. It was a ginormous family gathering where we ate great food and traded hockey-themed gifts. Alex got a spectacularly ugly, but sorta cool sweater featuring a hockey whiteboard with an offensive play diagramed on it. I got a much more reasonable Pittsburgh Penguins snow globe.
“This is amazing cocoa,” Alex suddenly said. “It’s like drinking the middle of a lava cake. The cookie’s good, too. Wanna switch up?”
He held up his half-eaten peanut butter. I took one more bite from the chocolate chip and we traded.
“You know I could sit out here all night, right?” I said through a mouthful of cookie.
“I do. Just like you sometimes lay across our bed for long stretches of time looking up at the lights on the ceiling or sitting at the desk gazing at the bookshelf. I can watch you do that for hours because it’s so cute.”
Our eyes locked on each other. “You know, you’ve had quite the looks today, too.”
Alex’s brow furrowed. “When? Where?”
“Well, there was the hot chocolate thing just a few minutes ago. But, during the game, every time you were on the bench you looked like a kid watching his first game. On the ice you were all business, but on the bench you kept looking around at everything. Sometimes you’d watch the game like you were a spectator, but sometimes you looked into the crowd, your eyes darting around like you couldn’t decide what to focus on. I nearly made a couple late changes because I couldn’t stop watching you.”
He blushed. A lot. Even in the subdued Christmas lighting, it was clear he was bright red.
“Oh my God. I hope I didn’t look like an idiot.” He tried to bury his embarrassment by taking a long drink of cocoa.
“Well, I didn’t think so, and I don’t think anyone else was paying attention.”
Suddenly the big Christmas tree went dark and loud music filled the park. The Jackson Five sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and the tree lights started to flicker in rhythm to the music.
“And there’s that look again,” Alex said. He put his arm around my shoulders and held me close as we watched.
“That’s mad cool,” I whispered.
Alex laughed softly. “Please don’t get the idea to make the lights in our room do this.”
“No?” I tried to sound disappointed, despite being ridiculously happy.
“No.” He kissed the tip of his finger and touched it to my nose.
The park seemed to stop for the show, even the people on the ice rink stopped along the boards to watch the dazzling lights dance to the music.
As the song ended, the lights returned to being fully lit and people went back to what they were doing.
I leaned over and whispered in Alex’s ear: “Can we skate?”
He looked at me with a cute smirk and raised an eyebrow.
“I know. We just finished a game and we don’t have our skates. But, still…”
He interrupted. “It would be my pleasure to skate with you in the Christmas wonderland.”
We chomped the last of our cookies and washed them down. It was a lot of hot chocolate to drink at once, but it tasted so good. I stood, and extended a hand to Alex with a bit of a flourish.
“May I have this skate, sir?”
“You may.” He took my hand as he stood.
“They’re too cute.” I heard a woman’s voice behind us. I wasn’t sure who she was talking about, but hoped it was us.
Despite being pretty far back in the queue, the line to get skates moved quickly. Before we hit the ice, I texted Danny and told him we weren’t going to make it to dinner.
There were fifty or so people on the rink, going round and round. We stepped out and found a good pace among the skaters–not too fast or slow. Alex, once again, took my hand in his. We tended to hold hands a lot, but something about doing it now gave me goose bumps, like there was extra holiday magic flowing between us.
“This is perfect,” I said after we’d been around the rink a few times as Christmas songs played around us.
The crowd seemed to be mostly college students. Many people skated in groups, but there were several couples and a few singles as well. Some skaters were taking a break, standing alongside the boards or hanging out just off-ice in an area with benches.
“This was a great suggestion,” Alex said. “I didn’t expect it to be so magnificent to skate under these lights, near the tree. We should leisure skate more often.”
“We should, right? Skating doesn’t always have to be about hockey. Have we ever even skated for the hell of it?”
He shrugged. “And this is a lot easier than trying to dance with you.”
“Indeed.” I kissed his hand.
Whitney Houston’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?” started playing.
“Did I miss you requesting this?” His skating picked up speed. I followed suit so we wouldn’t break our handhold.
Alex knew how much I loved this version of the carol. Sometimes I’d put it on repeat, or force it to shuffle up often if I had Christmas music on random. Whitney’s voice was perfect on this song and I could listen to it endlessly.
“Nope. Must be fate.”
Alex didn’t have rhythm when we danced, but he was doing a remarkable job skating to the rhythm of the song, both in terms of speed and how he glided us around people. I matched his speed and moves.
“How is it you can keep rhythm here and not on the dance floor?”
“Am I? I’m just skating.”
“It’s totally in rhythm. Can’t you feel it?”
He shrugged as he kept going. “Just doing what feels right. Skating is more natural, I guess.”
We skated in silence. I let Alex keep the lead as we moved in sync to the song. Since I loved to dance, the sort of dancing we were doing here was a blast for me. As the song came to an end, I twirled us both around for a bit of a showy finish, seamlessly moving us forward as we spun.
“Maybe when we retire from hockey we can become a figure skating pair,” I said.
“I don’t think I’d look good in sequins,” he said while laughing. “I also don’t think either of us wants to pick up the other.”
“Stop imagining that, mister crazy guy.” He bumped into me as if he were trying to shake the image out of my head.
We circled around by the tree again, skating at a regular pace with the rest of the crowd. Suddenly two huge guys bookended us, and matched our stride. A shot of fear ran through me as there was a real possibility we were about to be bashed for being too out there.
“Um, hi,” said the big guy to my left. He sounded unsure of himself, which surprised me.
I tried not to be uneasy, but I was. These guys were more than a head taller than either of us and were solidly built. I wasn’t used to having to look up to talk to someone. Based on the extra squeeze he gave my hand, Alex was concerned, too.
“Hi,” I said, glad my voice didn’t betray the nerves.
“Sorry to intrude, but…well…,” the guy continued.
He was interrupted by his friend: “Come on, Jarrod, just ask the question. I doubt they’re going to bite our heads off. You’re Alex and Simon, right?” He pointed to each of us as he said our names.
“Yeah,” Alex said. He looked and sounded confused.
“Told you,” Jarrod said.
“Well why would they be here? They just finished a game. A rink doesn’t seem like the first place they’d go. It’s awesome to meet you guys though.”
There were a few beats of silence. They looked happy. We were baffled.
“Sorry,” Jarrod said, sounding more at ease now, “we’re being rude. I’m Jarrod, as I’m sure you heard. That’s Tony.” Tony waved as we curved around one end of the rink. “We were at the game tonight and we’re fans of you guys. We saw you skating and were trying to decide if you were who we thought you were.”
“Anyway,” Tony continued, “we decided to have a fanboy moment and say hi. So hi,” he grinned, obviously excited. He gestured towards Jarrod. “He’s my boyfriend. We go to school up in Flint and came down for the Invitational. It’s a bonus to skate with you for a few minutes.”
“Very cool,” I said. “It’s nice to meet you guys. I admit, you had me worried. No offense, but you guys are giants. I wasn’t sure if you were going to harass us for holding hands or something. Hockey players or not, I don’t think we could’ve taken you guys.”
“I do know how to lay down some hurt, for sure,” said Tony with a slight laugh. “Actually we both do. High school football. Although neither of us plays anymore.”
“Why not?” said Alex.
“I blew out my knee my senior year,” Tony said.
“And I burned out towards the end of mine. It wasn’t fun anymore, so I walked away.”
“Did you guys play together?” I said.
“I wish,” Jarrod continued. “That might’ve kept me in the game. We met at freshman orientation a year ago. Love at first sight sort of thing.”
We rounded another corner and Tony started flailing, trying to keep his balance. Alex tried to help Tony right himself but ended up crashing down to the ice on top of Tony. We laughed, all of us, like it was the funniest thing we’d ever seen.
“Dude,” said Tony, “you shouldn’t have grabbed on. Once I start to lose it, I’m going down and taking anyone that’s crazy enough to be in the way.”
“Usually I can steady people,” Alex said, standing up as a skate guard came over to see if we needed help. “You were too much for me.”
“We’re good,” I told the skate guard. He nodded and skated away.
Alex offered Tony a hand as did Jarrod. Tony got to his knees and then on his feet.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice announced over the P.A., “the rink will close in twenty minutes. Please start exiting the ice and returning any rental skates to the counter.”
“Damn,” I said. “I don’t want this to end.”
“You guys skate all the time and you want more?” Jarrod asked.
“I know,” I said. “It’s strange.”
“Say, can we get a picture with you?” Tony asked. “Maybe over by the tree?”
“Sure,” Alex and I said together.
We flagged down the skate guard to get picture taking help. He said sure and we handed over our phones. He was patient as he snapped photos of all four of us together, plus shots of just the couples. We thanked him when he was done and then headed for the exit.
“It was great meeting you guys,” Jarrod said. “I hope we didn’t intrude too much.”
“Not at all,” Alex said. “Glad you said hello rather than just letting us skate by.”
“You guys coming to the game tomorrow?” I said.
“Definitely. The outdoor hockey thing is cool. We’re gonna see what kind of Classic tickets we can get. Not sure what’ll be left, but it’s worth a try. You guys going?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “It’s in our backyard after all.”
Inside, we all sat and got out of our skates. Alex and Tony took them to trade in for our shoes.
“Can we be fans again tomorrow?” Jarrod asked. “If we print out a picture tonight, can we get it autographed after the game?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “We’ll exit out the player’s entrance, so look for us there about a half hour after the game’s over.”
After everyone got their shoes on, we headed out.
“Thanks for letting us hang with you,” Tony said. “Hope you kick some ass tomorrow.”
“Thanks, man.” Alex said. “Have a good night.”
We all waved and they went off together while Alex and I headed for the hotel.
“I don’t know what I enjoyed more, the game or the skate,” Alex said as we wandered out of the park.
“It’s a tough choice, but I think the skate eeks out the win. Skating with you, to that song, under the lights was a perfect kind of romantic, magical moment.”
“Maybe we can create more magic when we get back to the room?”
He gave me his seductive face as he spoke and, right on cue, I melted.
“You got the stamina for that after the long day we’ve had?” I asked.
We embraced under a tree lit up with white light and he gave me a swoon-inducing kiss. There were a couple enthusiastic whistles as people passed us.
“Kiss me like that and we can do anything you want,” I said once we came up for air.
We walked at a quickened pace to the hotel. I half expected to meet up with the team as they left dinner, but that didn’t happen. Instead, we found Danny, alone in the lobby. He looked up from his phone as we came in the sliding doors.
“Hey, man, what’s up? Everything okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. Just wanted to make sure you guys got back okay. I knocked on your door about ten minutes ago. Since there was no answer, I came down here. You had twenty more minutes before I called you.”
“Aw, man. Sorry we made you wait,” Alex said.
“Not a problem. Just wanted to make sure my friends were home safe, that’s all.” Danny stood and we all headed for the elevator. “You guys have fun?”
“Totally,” I said. “That park was awesome with the lights, the music, the rink.”
“How was dinner?” Alex asked.
“Good. Burgers and stuff. You may get some shit from Cap’ tomorrow for not showing. But no worries, Trent and I let him know you were drawn to the light and I think he understood.”
The doors opened on our floor and we went to our rooms, which were adjacent.
“By the way,” I said, “thanks for steering Trent away from coming with us.”
“You’re welcome. Sometimes that guy has no sense.” Danny unlocked the door to the room he shared with Trent. “See you for breakfast.”
“Later, man.” Alex said. Danny flashed his big smile and disappeared behind the door.
I unlocked our room and Alex pushed me inside. The room was dimly lit as only the bathroom light had been left on. He spun me around to face him and guided me backwards until I landed on the bed. He fell gently down on top of me, and we picked up the kissing where we’d stopped in the park. After a few minutes of having every nerve in my body electrified, I rolled us over so I could be on top. I nibbled on his lips, chin and neck, letting my beard scratch over his skin. I quickly got the moans I expected.
“Come on, get up,” I said as I stood abruptly.
I offered him a hand, which he took. Once he was on his feet, I started undressing.
“Because, you need to get naked.”
I was half done before he started. Once stripped, I got under the covers and held them open for him. He caught up quick. As he stood naked at the edge of the bed, he looked down at me.
“You look incredible, you know that?” he said.
“You’re pretty handsome yourself. You gonna get in here so we can make some of that magic you talked about?”
He got in next to me and I let the covers fall over us. He pressed against me and got back to the kissing. A couple hours passed, during which we tried to stay quiet enough so the guys next door wouldn’t hear anything. We ended up falling asleep in each other’s arms.
© 2013 Jeff Adams
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Will, my wonderful husband, for his ongoing support and helping me get this short ready to publish. My awesome beta readers–Elvis Murks, Michael Offutt and Connor Youngberg–took time out of their Christmas week to offer feedback and I can’t thank them enough for that. The biggest thanks of all goes to the readers of Hat Trick. I love hearing what you thought of the book and I’m thrilled that many of you have asked to see more of Simon and Alex. Look for more in 2014…
If you’re interested to see how this story came together, you can read “Simon & Alex and the GLI Come Together” in the Hat Trick blog.
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