“She shoots, she scores!” I pumped my fists in the air. “All day, dude. That’s how it’s going to be. All day.”
“Whatever, bitch,” Nathan shook his head; his jaw flexed and he ground his teeth.
“Whatever, bitch. Drink up, and take off that shirt.” The crowd cheered, especially the girls.
Nathan pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it to the floor. He held the red cup with his teeth and flexed his chest, one pec at a time, starting with the right before bouncing the left. Now I’m not big on bodybuilders, but my eyes moved up and down and across his chest like a painter’s brush roaming over a canvass.
“That’s the last goal you’re going to get, Anna.” Nathan turned his head toward his friends, and winked.
“Ah, poor baby. I don’t think you know me.” I shifted my weight on a heel and snapped my fingers. “I’m the table hockey champ of Vancouver!”
“Vancouver Washington, you dumb fuck!” The onlookers and I laughed.
Yes, I said table hockey championships. It exists. I’ve been playing for years because having a native Chicagoan die hard Blackhawks fan for a dad kind of makes hockey the center of my world. He’d stream Hawk’s games when they weren’t on national TV. And as Portland Winterhawks season ticket holders, we’d drive across the river and watch dozens of home games every season. We even packed the Ford and drove up I-5 to watch our boys play in Seattle against the league’s fucktards, The Thunderbirds. And, while other dads gathered their friends for poker or blackjack, my dad and uncles and their friends crammed into the cold garage, huddled around an old table hockey set, and played for hours. They’d drink beer and smoke cigarettes, twisting and pushing the rods and guide the plastic players around the rink until one of them would shoot and light the little red lamp behind the net. Sometimes the men threw dollar bills into a shoebox and played until someone walked away with everyone else’s beer money. Most of the time, it was my dad. I’d sit in my bed and fall asleep to the yelling and screaming erupting from the garage. It was a drunken old lullaby.
Mom wasn’t like dad. She was born in a small town outside of Nashville. Her mom stayed at home and took care of four kids while my grandpa fixed shoes and pumped gas for a meager living. My mom helped her mother make lunch before school, and dinner when classes and homework was done; and the family sat down every night and ate at a small round table. On the weekends, mom went to church, where grandpa was a minister. From the stories she told, there wasn’t a week that went by in her childhood without her stepping foot in that church. She passed that tradition down to me.
It was OK when I was little; going to church was fun because we’d eat donuts and draw pictures in Sunday school. My teachers smiled and patted my head when I won bible trivia. And sitting with new friends was cool. Most of my friends at school went to different churches, or didn’t go to church at all. I loved church back then. But things changed when I hit the 7th grade.
That’s when we started getting deep. There weren’t any more coloring books about Jesus’ teachings, and no more Gospel crossword puzzles. We moved from that fun stuff to talking about what a messed-up world it is outside of the church and how if we weren’t careful, we kids would fall into those traps and be walking down the road to hell. And it got worse in high school. While my friends from school were at the park or jammed into basements playing video games with boys, I learned about modesty and how my interest in good looking boys, and how well they might kiss, would transform me into a sinning teen mom. I rolled my eyes in class, and gnawed on gum during the service. I wished mom would let skip Sundays and let me hang out with my dad and the rest of the guys in the garage.
I never talked back because mom never hesitated to draw a wooden spoon faster than a gunfighter in those western movies that dad watched. I’d make my best sandwiches as fast as I could because the faster we go them done, the sooner we’d take them to the garage. Those moments of watching a game, before mom dragged me back to the kitchen were precious. And I still remember the day when everything changed.
A thin cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air when mom and I walked into the garage. The smell of old sweaty men hit my nose hard; I would have waved my hand in front of my face but I carried a plate full of sandwiches. Mom followed me into the garage; the pitcher of beer sloshed in her hands as she walked. Mr. Oaks, who was retired and lived across the street, touched his temple with a finger and smiled at the goodies in my hands. His twin sons were there too. One lived in Seattle and the other was a teacher somewhere in Idaho. My leg bumped dad’s motorcycle’s pipe and I jumped because I remembered burning my other leg the same way last year. But, the bike was cold so I was ok. Mom and I squeezed through the guys packed in the one car garage and set the beer and sandwiches on a small table.
“He shoots, he scores!” My dad screamed. He nodded and gave Mr. Oaks a hard high five and almost knocked the old man off his feet. “Get your dumb ass off my table.”
“Fuck you Rick.” My Uncle Max kicked the table hockey legs.
“Fuck you! Lose like a man and don’t take it out on my table.” Dad pointed a thick finger at his younger brother. I’d heard stories about the fights the two of them had when they were young. It usually ended with Dad winning, but half the house would be torn up in the process. They were older men now, but my father was still taller and bigger. His arms were huge from lifting tires and working fixing eighteen wheelers all day.
“Hey you two!” Mom cut the tension with a voice so loud and high I had to put my hands over my ears. She tilted her head towards me.
“Oh please, Claire. This aint no place for her anyway,” Uncle Max said.
Dad shook his fist at his brother. “This is my house and my table, and my daughter can go wherever she wants.”
“Whatever, big brother. I’m just saying girls aint got no place at the table.”
Really?” Dad crossed his arms. “Ten dollars says my baby girl draws first blood.”
“Against me?” Uncle Max stood with his mouth wide open and laughed. “This is a joke, right?”
“Make it twenty.” Dad reached into his wallet and placed a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill on the plastic ice surface.
“Let’s do it!” Uncle Max matched the bet, cracked his knuckles and stepped to the table.
“Daddy?” I said.
Dad swooped me up in his arms and kissed my cheek. His beer breath hurt my tiny nose. “You can do it baby. Just like I taught you. Besides, Uncle Max is just a fat old drunk.”
One of Mr. Oaks sons placed an old crate in front of me; I stepped on it and could barely see over the top of the table. I put my left hand on the outside rod and my right on the center rod. When I twisted it in my grip, the plastic player, the center, spun around in tiny slow circles. I took turns spinning and twisting each rod, getting the feel for the glide and touch.
“This aint no Ice Capades,” Uncle Max said. “You ready to play or what?”
“Yes sir.” I nodded.
Mr. Oaks leaned over the left side of the table and flipped the puck between his thin fingers. He asked us if we were ready, and I nodded.
“Drop the puck, motherfucker.” Uncle Max said.
The puck fell from his fingers and as soon as the sound of it bouncing on the ice hit my ears, my right handed twisted and sent the puck into the left corner. My left wing sprang to life and sept the puck around the boards to the right side where I’d position the right wing. In an instant, the wing flipped it to the middle of the table and I jammed it as hard as I could with my center. The puck bounced into the net and lit the little red lamp.
“She shoots she scores!” I raised my hands and jumped up and down on the crate.
Uncle Max put his hands beneath the table, flipped it over and pushed his way out of the garage while everyone laughed at him. Dad put a twenty in my pocket and held me in his arms while his friends took turns messing up my hair. That night, while sitting in my bed, I smiled from ear to ear. And, I couldn’t wait until I got to play again. After my first goal against a real person, the first of many, and I was hooked.
College was an adjustment because it was a new school with new friends and so far away from home. I moved from Southwest Washington, near Portland Oregon, where the weather was mild and there was a junior hockey team about ten miles away, to a college town on the other side of the state. And, the nearest hockey team played about two hours away. It was sickening. But, to my surprise, the dorm where I stayed had a pair of arcade games, and a table hockey set. Within a few weeks, everyone knew I was the undeniable and undefeated queen of the table.
And then there was Nathan, always playing against his friends, who weren’t any good at all. He’d beat them and strut around the room and raise this little plastic Stanley Cup. He wore an awful Seattle Thunderbirds jersey too. But whenever I challenge him, there was an excuse why he couldn’t play. Until one day, he accepted the challenge, but he wanted to put some steaks on it. Not money though, he wanted to trade goals for clothes. Pervert. But whatever, I knew I was better than him.
“It’s one nothing. Ladies, what do you think? We should take his pants next, right? I laughed as a couple of the girls at the party nodded.
The puck dropped and I took a quick shot that just missed the net and bounced of the boards in my favor. I spun my center and the puck ricocheted off Nathan’s goalie and flew to my defensive end, where his left wing zipped the puck into my net.
He stretched his hands out like a bird and flexed his pecs while flashing a shit eating grin to everyone in the room.
My eyes widened and my mouth opened as I stared at the puck in my net. Someone handed me a beer and then reality hit me in the face. I needed to lose some clothes.
“Take that corny jersey off,” Nathan said.
My throat dried; I swallowed some beer, closed my eyes and took off the jersey. No problem; I told myself he just got lucky. I was embarrassed but I could handle showing a little skin.
The puck dropped again, and before I could blink, the little red light behind my net flashed red.
“How the fuck?” I said.
“Ha-ha!” Nathan screamed.
I stood still for a minute while the party erupted in teasing and taunting. I couldn’t move.
“Hey, you can’t back out now. A bet’s a bet.” Nathan’s smile hurt my soul.
“Yah. Don’t be like that, Anna. We came to see that ass!” A thin guy in a red muscle shirt nodded. “Take it off. Take it off.”
The gang repeated the chant; I stood still for thirty seconds before gaining the strength to take another drink, and dropped my pants.
“How? I don’t understand.”
“Babe, you aren’t the only champion around here.” Nathan took his phone from his pocket and slid it across the table to me.
I picked up the phone and watched a video of him doing dozens of table hockey trick shots, from every spot on the table. He was amazing, and my heart beat faster with every goal. The video ended with him showing off dozens of trophies in his room.
I looked across the table at Nathan, his thin smile told me I was in serious trouble.
“Shit.” I whispered.
“Here we go. You ready?”
I bent my knees, leaned over the table, and relaxed. Focusing was hard because I felt a dozen pairs of eyes glued to me as I stood there in bra and panties, with my gold cross dangling from my neck.
My center spun his stick when the puck hit the ice, sending a pass to the right wing. The timing was perfect because the wing’s stick flicked as the puck arrived, sending a missile to the goal. Nathan anticipated and blocked the goal. It was ok though because my shooter recovered, sent a pass to the opposite wing, and I shot again. But Nathan blocked yet another shot. This time he recovered and displayed elite skill, working the puck into my net with just two moves.
Nathan crossed his arms and bobbed his head toward the frenzied party. I replayed the shots in my head and stood frozen.
“So,” Nathan coughed into his fist.
After taking a drink, I closed water filled eyes, reached around my back, unsnapped the bra. It fell to the floor and I crossed my arms over my breasts.
“You aren’t going to score like that.” Nathan laughed along with everyone else.
I knew that in the blink of an eye, he’d shoot and score and I’d be standing naked in front of everyone. Everyone knew it was coming, and I prepared myself for it. But, it didn’t work out that way. Nathan took an errant shot, which I recovered and worked up the ice. I took aim at an empty corner of his net and shot. He blocked it. Then he worked the puck back and forth from player to player, keeping it away from me. He could end the game at any time, but he kept me playing, topless, gold cross swinging from side to side.
“You’re an ass.” I stood tall and put my hands on my hips.
Nathan laughed, took a shot, and lit the lamp one final time. Cheers and laughter filled the room.
“He shoots. He scores!” Nathan yelled.
I clenched my jaw tight enough to flex my dimples. My mouth was a thin line and I shot him angry eyes, warning him he should watch his back. I’d get revenge. I wasn’t sure how, or when, but a bitch named Payback would hit him. I shut those thoughts out my mind and drew back into the moment.
It was humiliating, but a bet’s a bet, and I’m a big girl. So, I got naked and picked up my clothes. Some of my peers taunted. Some told me I had guts. A few raised their phones and took pics. I covered myself as best as I could and walked back to my dorm room.
The End. For Now…