Star basketball player Chelsea “Nitro” Keyes had the promise of a full ride to college—and everyone’s admiration in her hometown. But everything changed senior year, when she took a horrible fall during a game. Now a metal plate holds her together and she feels like a stranger in her own family.
As a graduation present, Chelsea’s dad springs for a three-week summer “boot camp” program at a northern Minnesota lake resort. There, she’s immediately drawn to her trainer, Clint, a nineteen-year-old ex-hockey player who’s haunted by his own traumatic past. As they grow close, Chelsea is torn between her feelings for Clint and her loyalty to her devoted boyfriend back home. Will an unexpected romance just end up causing Chelsea and Clint more pain—or finally heal their heartbreak.
PLAYING HURT is told from alternating POVs…This excerpt (excerpt #4) is told from Clint’s viewpoint, and comes just prior to Clint being forced to remember the most tragic event of his life…
I take a deep breath of sweet summer air. Birds in the branches above me chatter small-talk; ducks follow their mother down the lake, single file. The clucking ducks remind me, a little, of the tourists trailing mindlessly behind me. They chatter to each other, none of them paying enough attention to their feet; I can hear their sneakers stumble off the edge of the trail every once in a while.
I glance over my shoulder at the first two people in line behind me. A father and daughter, obviously. I peg the dad for a runner. His daughter’s about twelve, wearing an awful pink GIRL POWER T-shirt and clutching her phone like it’s somehow going to save her from dying out here in the woods. She smells like grape bubblegum and the comfort of a childhood bedroom. She blushes when she catches my eye.
Even though I’ve tried to deny it, Earl was right about the MAKING EYES junk. Every single summer, younger girls like this one get crushes. Blush at one guide, then another. Twirl hair around fingers, get all giggly.
Frankly, a crush from a twelve-year-old is just plain embarrassing. Especially with her father watching. But the occasional older girls who come to the resort have a tendency to get a little goofy, too. And I wonder, sometimes, what good a summer fling really does the girls who are old enough to have them. What GOOD is something so short-lived it’s practically disposable? Throw-away love. Maybe it’s okay for Todd or Greg, but I don’t get the point.
I’ve just started to hope, with everything I have, that Little Miss Girl Power won’t spend her entire vacation traipsing around after me, when she glances at the trail ahead of us and gasps.
“LOOK,” she says, pointing at the tattooed tree. At least, that’s what we’ve always called it here at the resort. And that’s exactly the way it looks—like the body of some old heavy metal rocker. Covered in hearts and letters. Some painted. Some carved with pocket knives. Every summer romance that’s ever played out at Lake of the Woods has been etched into the skin of the tree.
She’s just the right age to be infatuated with the idea of love. To maybe even be infatuated with the idea of heartbreak. I think that sometimes, heartbreak looks adult to little girls like this one. Same as lipstick or high heels.
I look at the tree even though I really don’t want to. And I find it, instantly, like I always do every time my eyes hit the bark: CLINT & ROSIE. At the bottom, near the thick, gnarly roots that poke up out of the ground. As I stare, I can still fell the tiny glass bottle of red model paint I’d held in my hand while crouching to paint our names down there. God, I was younger even than Girl Power back then.
ROSIE, ROSIE, ROSIE. I MISS YOU…