A Jolt of Disappointment

“You have a thing for Dean’s sister.”

“Naah,” I say, but it’s a halfhearted denial at best.

“Really? ‘Cause it sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself that she’s not right for you.” He grins. “Is it working?”

I sigh in defeat. “Kind of? I mean, I’ve managed to keep my hands off her all night.”

That gets me a laugh. “Look, Colin—can I call you Colin?” His jaw drops. “I just fucking realized I’ve never called you Colin.”

Garrett literally shocks himself into silence, until I let out a growl of impatience.

“Sorry,” he says. “That just blew my mind. Anyway. Fitzy. On paper, Wellsy and I don’t seem like we’d work, right? But we do, don’t we?”

He has a point. When I first saw them together, I couldn’t make sense of it. Hannah was an artsy music major. Garrett was a smartass jock. They’re opposites in so many ways, and yet they really do click as a couple.

But Summer and I… We’re not even on the same piece of paper. From what I’ve seen and what Dean has told me, she’s drama-llama at full force, all the time. She craves the spotlight. I shy away from it. It’s bad enough that our games are televised every Friday night on the local New England network. And the major games make it to ESPN. Makes me cringe to think of strangers watching me skate and shoot and brawl on some huge screen.

“All I’m saying is, keep an open mind. Don’t fight it.” He claps me on the shoulder. “Just let it happen.”

Let it happen.

And, fuck, it absolutely could happen. All I’d have to do is smile in Summer’s direction, and she’d be in my arms. She’s been sending out interested vibes left and right. But…

I think what it boils down to is that she’s out of my league.

I play hockey. I’m fairly intelligent. I’m good-looking, if we go by my success in the chick department.

But at the end of the day, I’m that nerdy kid who would hole up in his bedroom playing video games, trying to pretend his parents weren’t fighting like cats and dogs.

In high school I had a brief moment where I tried expanding my horizons. I started hanging with a nihilistic crew who got a charge out of rebelling against any cause. But that came to an abrupt end when they got into a brawl with some kids from a neighboring school, and half the group was arrested for assault. I quickly reverted back to my loner state after that, not just to save my place on the hockey team, but to keep from giving my parents new fighting ammunition. I listened to them scream at each other for two hours about who was to blame for me running with a “bad crowd.” It was easier just being a loner.

Needless to say, I didn’t have girls like Summer throwing themselves at him. And I didn’t party with my teammates after hockey games, so not even the puck bunnies wasted their energy on me.

In college, I’ve made more of an effort to be social, but deep down I’m still the guy who wants to remain invisible.

Summer is the most visible person I’ve ever met.

But Garrett’s right. I’m being a judgmental bastard. She might come off as a bit spoiled and superficial at times, but she deserves a chance. Everyone does.

Hannah’s already back at the table when Garrett and I return. “Cutting it close!” she scolds, pointing at the big clock. It’s two minutes to midnight.

I frown, because Summer’s not with her. Dammit. Where is she?

I’ve decided to take G’s advice and stop fighting it. I’m going to give in, kiss the hell out of her when the clock strikes midnight and see where it goes from there.

“One minute to go, boys and girls!” the DJ’s voice thunders.

I give the room a visual sweep. Summer’s still nowhere to be found.

I want to ask Hannah where she is, but Hannah’s got her arms looped around G’s neck, and they only have eyes for each other.

“Thirty seconds!” shouts the DJ.

All around me, people are coupling up or gathering with their group of friends. Allie and Dean are already making out. Hollis has reunited with the brunette he was dancing with earlier. Hunter must have tracked down one of the girls he’d been dancing with.

Still no Summer.

“TEN!” everyone yells.

The red numerals on the clock tick down in time with the crowd’s screams.

“NINE!”

Each passing second brings another jolt of disappointment.

“EIGHT! SEVEN!”

And then I spot her. Or at least I think it’s her. The strobe lights are going off now, zigzagging over the sea of bodies crammed in the bar. Each burst of light helps me form a clearer picture of the girl against the wall.

“SIX! FIVE!”

White dress. Red ballet flats. The ponytail.

“FOUR! THREE!”

It’s definitely Summer.

“TWO!”

But she’s not alone.

“ONE!”

I wrench my gaze away the moment my teammate Hunter’s mouth hungrily collides with Summer’s perfect lips.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”