“Well, yeah, but—”
“But nothing,” I cut in. “I’m not gonna hang our hopes on the possibility that our season might be deemed good enough to move forward. I’m gonna bet on us kicking Princeton’s ass this weekend. Got it?”
“Yessir,” Dmitry mumbles.
“Yessir,” some of the younger guys echo.
“I told you, you don’t have to call me sir. Jesus.”
“You want us to call you Jesus?” Brooks blinks innocently.
“Not that, either. I just want you to win. I want us to win.” And we’re so damn close I can practically taste the victory.
It’s been…fuck, I don’t even know how many years it’s been since Harvard won the NCAA championship. Not during my reign, anyway.
“When was the last time the Crimson won the Frozen Four?” I ask Aldrick, our resident statistics guy. His brain is like an encyclopedia. He knows every piece of trivia there is to know about hockey, however miniscule.
“1989,” he supplies.
“’89,” I repeat. “That’s almost three decades since we called ourselves national champions. Beanpot games don’t count. Conference finals don’t count. We keep our eye on the ultimate prize.”
I conduct another sweep of the room. To my irritation, McCarthy is checking his phone again, and not at all discreetly.
“Seriously, do you even know what was being done to my dick when you texted about this meeting?” Brooks gripes. “Chocolate syrup was involved.”
A few of the guys hoot.
“And all you wanted was to give us the speech from Miracle? Because, yeah, we get it,” Brooks says. “We need to win.”
“Yes, we do. And what we don’t need are any distractions.” I give Brooks a pointed look, then direct the same sentiment at McCarthy.
The sophomore is visibly startled. “What?”
“That means you, too.” I lock my gaze to his. “Stop playing games with Chad Jensen’s daughter.”
His expression turns stricken. I don’t feel bad about outing McCarthy to whoever didn’t know, because I’m pretty sure everyone and their mother already knew. He wears his hookup with Brenna like a badge of honor. He’s not sleazy about it by engaging in locker-room talk, but he also can’t shut up about how beautiful the girl is.
“Look, I’m not one to usually tell you guys what to do with your dicks, but we’re talking about a few weeks here. I’m sure you can keep it in your pants for that long.”
“So nobody is allowed to hook up?” a junior named Jonah pipes up, aghast. “Because if that’s the case, then I’d like for you to call my girlfriend and tell her that.”
“Good luck, captain. Vi’s a sex maniac,” Heath says with a snicker, referring to Jonah’s longtime girl.
“And wait a sec—didn’t you leave the bar with a hot redhead the other night?” Coby demands. “’Cause that doesn’t sound like you’re practicing what you preach, bruh.”
“Hypocrisy is the devil’s crutch,” Brooks says solemnly.
I smother a sigh and hold up a hand to silence them. “I’m not saying no hookups. I’m saying no distractions. If you can’t handle the hookup, don’t do it. Jonah—you and Vi fuck like bunnies and it’s never affected your performance on the ice. So keep fucking like bunnies for all I care. But you—” McCarthy receives another stern look. “You’ve been screwing up in practice all week.”
“No, I haven’t,” he protests.
Our goalie, Johansson, speaks up. “You missed every shot on goal during the shooting drill this morning.”
McCarthy is dumbfounded. “You stopped all my shots. I’m getting shit because you’re a good goaltender?”
“You’re our top scorer after Jake,” Johansson replies, shrugging. “You should’ve gotten a couple of those in.”
“How is it Brenna’s fault that I had an off day? I—” He stops abruptly and glances at his hand. I assume his phone buzzed with a notification.
“Christ, you’re proving Connelly’s point,” a forward named Potts grumbles at McCarthy. “Put your phone away. Some of us want this meeting to be over so we can go home and crack open a beer.”
I swivel my head toward Potts. “Speaking of beer… You and Bray are officially banned from all frat parties until further notice.”
Will Bray balks. “Come on, Connelly.”
“Beer pong’s fun, I get it, but you two need to abstain. For fuck’s sake, you’re starting to get a beer belly, Potts.”
Every set of eyes in the room homes in on his gut. It’s currently covered by a thick Harvard hoodie, but I see the dude in the locker room every day. I know what’s under there.
Brooks makes a tsking noise at me. “I can’t believe you’re body-shaming Potts.”
I scowl at my roommate. “I’m not body-shaming him. I’m simply pointing out that all those beer pong tournaments are slowing him down on the ice.”
“It’s true,” Potts says glumly. “I’ve been sucking.”
“You’re not sucking,” I assure him. “But yeah, you could afford to lay off the beer for a couple weeks. And you—” It’s Weston’s turn. “Time for abstinence on your part, too.”
“Screw that. Sex gives me my superpowers.”
I roll my eyes. I do that a lot around Brooks. “I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the party favors.”
His jaw instantly tightens. He knows precisely what I mean, and so do our teammates. It’s no secret that Brooks like to indulge in a recreational drug or two at parties. A joint here, a line of cocaine there. He’s careful about when he does it and how much, and I suppose it does help that coke only remains in the blood for forty-eight hours.
This is not to say I tolerate that shit. I don’t. But telling Brooks what to do is about as effective as talking to a brick wall. One time I threatened to tell Coach, and Weston said go ahead. He plays hockey because it’s fun, not because he’s in love with the game and wants to go to the pros. He could give it up in a heartbeat, and threats don’t work on someone who isn’t afraid to lose.
He’s not the first to dabble in the occasional drug, and he won’t be the last. It does appear to be purely recreational, though, and he never does it on game day. But the after-party? All bets are off.
“If you get caught with it or fail a piss test, you know what happens. So congratulations, you’re officially going clean until after the Frozen Four,” I inform him. “You feel me?”
After a long, tense beat, his head jerks in a nod. “I feel you.”
“Good.” I address the others. “Let’s focus on beating Princeton this weekend. Everything else is secondary.”
Coby flicks a cocky grin in my direction. “And what are you giving up, captain?”
My brow furrows. “What are you talking about?”
“You call a team meeting. You tell poor McCarthy he can’t use his dick anymore, you take away Weston’s party favors, and you deprive Potts and Bray of their beer pong championship title. What are you going to do for the team?”
A hushed silence falls over the apartment.
For a second I’m speechless. Because is he for real? I score at least one goal a game. If someone else scores, it’s usually with my assist. I’m the fastest skater on the Eastern Seaboard, and I’m a damn good captain.
I open my mouth to retort when Coby starts to laugh.
“Bruh, you should’ve seen your face.” He grins at me. “Relax. You do plenty. You’re the best captain we’ve ever had.”
“Aye, aye,” several of the guys call out.
I relax. But Coby does have a point. “Look, I won’t apologize for wanting us to be focused, but I am sorry if I’m being harsh on you guys. Especially you, McCarthy. All I’m asking is for us to keep our heads in the game, can we do that?”
About twenty heads nod back at me.
“Good.” I clap my hands. “You can all take off now. Get some sleep and bring your A-game to morning skate tomorrow.”
The meeting adjourns, the group dispersing. Once again, our neighbors are forced to suffer through the footsteps, this time the heavy stomps of two-dozen hockey players thudding down the stairs.
“Dad, may I please go back to my room now?” Brooks asks sarcastically.
I grin at him. “Yes, son, you may. I’ll lock up.”
He flips up his middle finger as he dashes toward the bedrooms. Meanwhile, McCarthy lingers by the front door, waiting for me.
“What am I supposed to say to Brenna?” he asks.
I can’t tell if he’s angry, because his expression reveals nothing. “Just tell her you need to concentrate on the tournament. Tell her you guys will get together after the season.”
They’ll never get together again.
I don’t voice the thought, but I know it’s true. Brenna Jensen would never condone being “put on hold” by anyone, let alone a Harvard player. If McCarthy ends it, even temporarily, she’ll make it a permanent split.