Power Plays & Straight A’s by Eden Finley

1

Foster

As soon asI walk through the front door of my childhood home, I’m being yelled at. “It lives!”

Welcome home.

I throw my brother a middle finger while I dump my bag of laundry on the ground next to the kitchen. “Some of us don’t get summer vacations.”

Seth stands from the couch in our parents’ living room, the floorboards creaking as he makes his way over to me while I pull orange juice out of the fridge and drink from the carton.

“Correction,” Seth says. “You could have a summer vacation, but you choose not to. Also, I drank out of that five seconds ago. You’re totally drinking my backwash.”

I practically choke and have to fight to keep juice from coming out my nose.

Seth laughs. “We shared a womb. A little spit won’t kill you.”

“And you wonder why I don’t come home more over the summer.”

I stayed on campus with half the team and helped our coaches run the Colchester University summer hockey camp to scout for promising high school players.

Since Colchester is a Division I school, the competition to get into the camp is fierce. Making sure the kids vying for next year’s spots don’t kill each other is a full-time job.

Plus, it’s an excuse to play hockey year-round, and what moron would pass that up?

Seth takes a seat on a stool at the kitchen counter. “I need a favor.”

I eye my brother. My twin. Supposedly. We’re not identical. And not only because I keep my hair short on the sides and meticulously styled up top while he has unruly hair that sits loose around his neck. Our bone structure is different. I have a square jaw, his is rounder. He has a cleft chin, and I don’t. His eyes are even a lighter shade of brown than mine. We’re the same height, but I have the physique of an athlete. Seth looks and dresses like a librarian.

People can tell we’re brothers, but they’re generally taken aback when we tell them we’re twins.

Seth blinks at me, waiting for me to say yes to this so-called favor, no questions asked.

“I’m not agreeing to anything before you tell me what it is. I’m not that dumb.” I lower my voice. “Anymore.”

Seth laughs. “So, you know Zach. My bestest friend in the whole world.”

The name catches my interest. “Where is your shadow? You two are usually joined at the hip.”

“He flew home for the last week of break to see his parents before he starts his grad program.”

I scoff. “Overachiever.”

Zach is our age, but he took so many extra courses over the last few semesters, he graduated an entire year early. He’s a little awkward and a lot cute. He has a major nerd vibe going on, which apparently my dick likes a lot. But Seth made it clear I wasn’t allowed any of those thoughts when they became roommates and friends freshman year at the University of Vermont. He called dibs—in the friendship sense. Sweet, little, two-minutes-older-than-me Seth is straight as an arrow.

Those two minutes are more important than people think.

Twins are born on the same day at the same time, but the oldest still has privileges the second born doesn’t. In our case, our mom and dad named us after their mutual friend who’d set them up. Meaning my brother scored the guy’s normal, everyday first name, and I got his last name. Foster. It’s Australian for beer. Wanna take a guess how many times I heard that growing up? Fucking countless.

Pair that with our last name Grant, and if it’s not beer jokes, I get Foster Grant sunglasses remarks. Our parents didn’t really think that one through.

“So, the favor …”

“Get to the point faster, Seth.”

“Well, the thing is, his grad program isn’t at the University of Vermont.”

“Where is it?”

Seth avoids eye contact. “Colchester.”

“My school? He thinks he’s got what it takes to be a mountain lion?”

Mom and Dad wanted Seth and me to go to the same college. The best we could do was rival colleges in the same town.

And when I say rival, I mean not even frenemies. The hate is strong between our campuses.

Colchester is newer and bigger. UVM is … stupid.

“Colchester offered him housing and tuition, and he doesn’t give a shit about sports, so it doesn’t matter if he’s a catamount or a mountain lion. Which, by the way, are both types of cougar. How original of your school to choose a mascot that’s basically the same.”

“Catamounts are extinct.” I mutter, “Like most of the professors on your campus.”

Seth sighs. He’s never been big on school spirit. “I was kind of hoping … I was hoping you’d keep an eye out for Zach on campus and, like, be his friend?”

Oh, how the tables have turned. “Sorry. Can’t. That goes against the stay away warning you gave me the first time I ever met him. I don’t know which rule to follow, Seth.”

“You’re still not allowed to hit on him.”

My gaze darts around the open-plan kitchen and living room and toward the hallway down to Mom and Dad’s bedroom.

“They’re not here,” Seth says. “But that does raise another point—”

Ugh. He’s going to bring up the whole telling them I’m bi thing. Again. My argument that I’m waiting to be in a relationship with a guy for it to even matter to them was vetoed when Seth found out I was seeing a guy last year.

I had to explain to my poor naïve brother there’s a difference between dating someone and fucking someone.

He hasn’t brought it up since.

Until now

“Why does Zach need a friend?” I change subjects, hoping he will drop the conversation about me coming out.

“You mean apart from the obvious?”

“The obvious?” I know what he’s saying, but I’m playing dumb.

Zach is adorably nerdy but ultimately unapproachable. During the handful of conversations I’ve had with the guy over the last three years, he’s either given one-word answers or rambled about some obscure topic.

“If it was up to him, he’d never go out or talk to anyone. He’d spend all his time in his room studying.”

“Oh, the horror! Someone looking out for their future!”

“It’s not healthy. And he knows no one at Colchester.”

“He’s twenty-one. He should be adept at making friends by now.”

“Have you met him?”

It’s not that I don’t like the guy or that it’d be too hard to be friendly with him, but I won’t exactly have time this year to play hero. That’s my brother’s forte. He was the same all throughout school. He’d find the loneliest kid and befriend them. It’s admirable, but fuck, I spent most of my childhood trying to fit in a box that felt too small for me. I’m the selfish brother.

I need to focus on hockey this year, plain and simple. I can’t see myself chasing after some nerd, no matter how cute he is and no matter how many times I’ve jerked off to him over the last three years. Seth wanted me to stay away from him, so I have. He can’t go changing the rules on me now, especially when I can’t be distracted this year.

Nothing can come between me and hockey. End of story.

But then my brother averts his gaze, and I get the feeling there’s more to this.

“What aren’t you telling me?” I ask.

“Nothing.” Seth’s voice is all high pitched.

I lean on the counter, bringing our faces closer. I know when my brother is lying; it’s obvious in the way he refuses to look at me. “Liar.”

“Okay, fine. He … he had a bit of trouble with some guys on campus last year.”

“What kind of trouble?” The growl that comes out of me is completely involuntary.

“Juvenile stuff mostly.”

“How surprising coming from UVM students.”

“Don’t start.”

“So, what, some guys were picking on him? What is this, high school?”

“I figured if you saw anyone hassling him, you could maybe help him out. But I forgot how proud you Colchester jocks are. Forget I said anything. Sorry for trying to look out for my friend.”

Damn it. Now I feel guilty.

He doesn’t even need to ask me. I might not be the type of guy to actively seek out those who need help like my brother does, but if I saw someone harassing Zach, or anyone for that matter, I’m not the type of asshole who would sit back and not do something about it.

I’m a hockey player. One NHL bound. Hopefully. We’re not known for backing down from a fight. We’re usually the first to run toward one.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t use this situation to my advantage.

My gaze goes to my weekly laundry sitting by the front door. “Okay. I’ll look out for your friend.”

“Thank—”

If … you do my laundry.”

Seth looks horrified. “All your sweaty hockey socks?”

“Take it or leave it.” I stand to my full height and head for the stairs up to my old room.

Seth doesn’t let me even reach the first step. “Fine. Deal.”

I keep walking while I try to hide my face-splitting grin.