Keeping the room dark, I traced the familiar steps from my bed to my desk. My dad always got up early. Fishermen rose with the sun, so on those rare days when I managed to wake before his alarm, I did my best to stay quiet. He deserved the rest. Soon enough, he would be on his boat, checking cages and casting his nets. Most of the money came from lobster these days, but he always caught fish for us.
Since my brother, Brandon, died, I laid out my close at night – like he used to do – tugging on sweatpants in the dark with whatever sports bra I’d managed to dig out of my drawer. They were all the same style. I’d gotten them in bulk after my last growth spurt. Tugging on my brother’s old Boston Marathon t-shirt and a hoodie, I slung my sports bag over one shoulder and crossed it over with my school satchel. I kept my stick by the door with my shoes, so shuffling down the stairs, careful not to knock the rails or slam the bags against the walls, I flicked on the coffee maker on my way the backdoor.
Dad always said we had the money for two sticks – one for school and one for home, but I never found another stick I liked, so I kept Brandon’s old stick by the door and stored my actual stick in the rink. I could always use Brandon’s if I needed. Wasn’t like he ever used it much. He was the swimmer. Always on his own on purpose when competing and otherwise. After he died, the whole school talked about what a tragedy it was. Swarms went to the counselor’s offices, but I think they were just scared because someone as healthy as Brandon getting cancer stole away their invincibility.
I never thought I was invincible. Brandon said I was too practical. He wasn’t a dreamer either, but he probably hadn’t expected the cancer any more than the rest of them had. Mom hadn’t died of cancer, after all. Dad always used to say Mom’s family went two ways. Either they died young on drugs, or they lived to be a hundred. Brandon didn’t do drugs.
Biking to practice along the back shore was my favorite part of the day. Only fishermen seemed to get up before dawn in Port Edmond. Well, at least after the first of November. My breath curled white around me, leaving my skin to prickle with the cold when I glided downhill, but it wasn’t bad enough yet to need a jacket despite the frost covering the ground. Only tourists and private school kids wore jackets in Port Edmond before the first snow that stuck. We’d had sprinklings on Halloween, but they didn’t last the day.
In the quiet and dark of pre-dawn twilight, only the churning ocean and the occasional squeak of my bike’s brakes made any sound. All the street lights glimmered. A snaking trail of light along the shore where soft sand beaches would fill with colorful towels and bodies in the summer, but as winter crept steadily closer, only the birds would venture there in the dark. Even the dedicated surfers would wait until after sunrise. Coves and crevices where the soft tan sand became rough rocks were the best for those. Their waves crashed in curls, growing with the tide. But before dawn, it was just me and the beach – not even a single footprint marking that another person had ever been there. The night tides had washed them all away.
An hour took me almost to dawn, and though the rink remained dark, a single car sat in the parking lot. Gliding up beside it, I knocked on the window.
“Morning, Beni,” Mike grumbled. He’d been up probably just long enough to drive across the street from his house. With eyes clenched shut, he trudged to the door with his coffee in hand. “Don’t you have actual practice this afternoon?”
Twisting the key, he glanced back at me. “Congrats on making varsity, by the way.”
And that was exactly why I had to practice twice as hard. I had skated and handled my stick well enough to be varsity last year as a sophomore, but people had always been a little weird about a girl on the ice hockey team. While the school rules stated any team which did not have both a men’s and a women’s side had to consider players of the opposite sex, almost nobody actually ever used the rule. Probably why it was still around. Each year, staying on the team was an uphill battle. Now that I made it to varsity, I had to make sure they had no reason to get rid of me. Sophomore year without my friends was a nightmare.
Flicking on the lights, Mike headed to get the rink ready for their actual opening while I headed to drop my gear off in the locker rooms. I didn’t have much time before school and getting Mike to wake up daily at seven in the morning was hard enough when the first lessons didn’t otherwise start until after nine.
Skates on, I headed onto the ice. I did my handling drills before bed. Mornings were for sprints. Biking warmed me up, so I went straight into racing across the ice. Short side to side first followed by the long ways. If I could get from defensive position to the opposite goal faster than the other players, I had a better chance of actually having the puck during the game. None of the guys would avoid passing to me if necessary, but when they thought of who could get them out of a pinch, I wasn’t their first choice unless I was the one right in their faces – but that was last year. This year should’ve been like freshman year. Sean, Geoffrey, Lincoln, and Ryan liked me well enough. Sean and Geoffrey were friends, and Lincoln was fair to whoever Ryan liked – probably because they were best friends. Maybe Ryan being the captain this year would change things. The two of them were a year older than the three of us, and if Ryan welcomed me in like usual, maybe everybody else would too.