Overnight Sensation

Overnight Sensation by Sarina Bowen


I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


“Gentlemen.” I lift my beer bottle high, signaling the start of a speech. “It was the best of scrimmages, it was the worst of scrimmages…”

The moment I utter my version of Dickens’s most famous opening line, there are groans as well as laughter.

“Oh, brother,” my teammate Bayer complains. “Here we go with another speech.”

“It was the afternoon of victory, it was the afternoon of too few shots on goal. It was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of ‘holy shit, I should run more sprints before training camp!’”

O’Doul, our team captain, snorts as my other teammates shake their heads. They’re used to my antics.

“It was the season of lamplighters,” I continue. “It was the season of exhaustion, it was the autumn of hope, after the summer of despair. We have eighty-two games before us, we have nothing to stop us, we are all going direct to Heaven, except whichever of you asswipes tripped me during the second period…”

There’s more laughter around the long table, so I pause for a swig of beer.

“Does he always quote Dickens after a scrimmage?” asks Heidi, the girl I’ve been eyeing all night. If I’m honest, this little show I’m putting on is for her benefit. Although I’m not sure if I should be trying to attract her or trying to drive her away.

“He usually quotes Shakespeare,” answers Silas, my new roommate. “But I guess it’s more of a Dickens kind of night.”

“In short,” I wind up for a strong finish. “The scrimmage was the same gongshow as last year. And all the noisiest authorities predict—for good or for evil—that every goddamn day of the new season will be a familiar struggle!”

A cheer rises up because I stuck the landing. I lean back against the paneled wall of the tavern and chug the rest of my ale, spilling a few drops of it on my team T-shirt.

“Classy,” Silas snorts. He’s one of our goalies.

“Yeah?” I slam the bottle down on a table that’s already littered with our empties. “Where’s your speech, then? I’m listening.”

“I meant the mess you’re making.” He swats at my shirt with a cocktail napkin, and I grab him quickly into a headlock.

“Fuck,” the goalie says from my armpit. “Let go.”

“You’re just lucky I showered,” I say, not letting go.

Silas laughs, but it’s a fake-out. The second I relax, he wrenches out of my grip and tries to knee me in the balls. I’m saved by my lightning-fast reflexes. I swivel my package out of harm’s way.

“Children, cut it out,” Bayer says with a sigh. “If you knock over the bottles, Pete won’t serve us until we clean ’em up.”

Grinning, Silas and I take our hands off each other. We have some excess adrenaline to burn off. Anyone would.

I’d forgotten how the beginning of a season feels. Training camp has me stirred up inside and raring to go. Dickens had it right. It’s the best of times, and also the worst of times. Sixty guys fighting for twenty-three slots on the opening-day roster. Any player who says he’s relaxed tonight is a goddamn liar.

We’ve just finished the big scramble where all the new prospects skate with the veterans. It’s like Hunger Games on Ice—a flock of youngsters trying to show us up and take away our roster spots. And it’s our job to smack ’em back down to the minors where they belong.

I know all about it. It took me three tries to make the Bruisers’ roster. Last year was my first full season in the big show. I had a killer year with gaudy stats.

Until it all went wrong at the very end. Regrets? I have a few. The stupidest thing I’ve ever done—and there’s some competition for that award—is to imagine that once I made it to the big leagues, things would feel easier.

They don’t. Not ever.

There are a few perks, though. The plush charter jet is a lot more comfortable than riding the bus in the minors. And these days someone else carries my pads into the stadium and hangs ’em up at my locker.

But not one thing in my life is relaxing. Every game is a brutal test of my staying power. Should I fail, there are a hundred other guys lined up to take my place. And after the inglorious way my last season ended, some days I think one of them will.

That was a Dickens kind of day, indeed. They all are.

But tonight we celebrate. I’ve earned this beer. Next week the roster will be posted, and I’m going to be on it. I’m healthy, I’m fast, and I was exactly the kind of playmaker in today’s scrimmage that the team needs.

“I think we should switch to shots,” I say, upping the ante. “Silas, you can choose—tequila or vodka.”

My roommate groans. “You know we have to get up early, right?”

“I’m aware. Rookie!” I snap my fingers. “What’s your name again?”

“Drake,” says the kid.

“Right.” I stripped the puck from young Drake in our scrimmage today at least twice. But he fought back like a beast, and I give him a fifty-fifty chance at making it onto our roster. Now I hand him my credit card. “Ask Pete for a bottle of good tequila and some shot glasses.”

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