Palo Alto Weekly 34th Annual Short Story Contest
Adult Honorable Mention

To Be King

by Tjasa Kmetec

Author Bio

Tjasa Kmetec was born and grew up in Palo Alto, graduating from Gunn High School. She is currently a rising junior at Smith College where she is double-majoring in French and English. She is also a swimmer for Smith College's NCAA team.

Inspiration

I'm inspired by children, especially as they grow up and encounter moments of grave reality in their protected worlds. That perspective is interesting to me, that childish, innocent, possibly naive, yet incredibly astute outlook on "adult" issues. I wrote this story because I felt like I could relate to the main character's fear of growing up and the loss of something she never knew was so precious.

Sometimes they say I'm getting too girly to play. That's what they say, but it's not true. I'm the best street hockey player on our block, in our whole neighborhood, even. Danny Wright and Christopher Kingston and James Harcroft and all of them--I'm better. The other day they tried to keep me from joining in. Like, Christopher Kingston stole my stick and held it over my head and James' stupid little brother Malcolm laughed at me while I jumped up and down trying to grab it. Malcolm is a little kid, he's only like nine years old, I'm eleven the same as James, but everyone chooses their teams like they have to make sure they don't get me and Malcolm. As if Malcolm Harcroft is even on my level. The other day he hit the puck into Mrs. Wright's car as she was pulling out of her driveway. She didn't even turn off her engine, she just jumped out of the car and chased us down to the other end of the cul-de-sac. She grabbed Danny by the back of his shirt and screamed at him for like ten minutes: What were you thinking! You could have killed me! You could have killed yourself! Or one of your friends! Is that what you want? You're going to have to find the money to get that dent out of my car, mister and so on. He kept trying to tell her it was Malcolm who had done it, but Malcolm was gone. He'd run inside as soon as he saw the puck spinning toward the car.

Doesn't matter. They all know I'm better than Malcolm, even if they pretend like they don't. Who was it that scored that time from the other end of the court? Who was it that knocked over the defensive line so that Christopher could play the puck right into the net? Hell yeah, that was me.

The word "Hell" is something Christopher taught us. It feels pretty cool saying it like the way they do in the movies James and I like to watch. What the hell, man! A hell of a lot. Freaking hell! Hell, no. Hell, yes. Hell, yeah. We're pretty creative with it, especially Danny. He can say it like ten times in a single sentence. I once said it in front of my mom and she freaked. She grounded me for a week and I wasn't allowed to play outside with my friends the whole time. But James Harcroft snuck in through my window and hung out with me which was good. James is such a nerd. I was like I'd kill to be able to play outside right now and he just shrugged and sat down next to me, pulling out his homework.

Yesterday I walked into James' house looking for him and Malcolm. All the rest of us'd been waiting for them out on the street so we could get a game or two in before it got dark. Our parents hate it when we play after dark, which makes no sense because as soon as it hits 5 o'clock the street lights turn on and then it doesn't really make a difference. Besides, if someone tried to kidnap me I'd just fight them. I'd use the toe of my stick to hit them in the stomach and then, when they're doubled over, I'd use the butt to knock them down. I'd fight like hell. I'd be fine. Besides, I could probably run faster than anyone else here. I probably could. I'm fast as hell.

But I was walking into James' house and ran into his older brother, Charlie. So, just to keep track, James has two brothers; Malcolm (younger, stupid, annoying), and Charlie. Charlie is sixteen and my stomach tickles when he looks at me. I've never really talked to him. James is standing right behind him. Your girlfriend is here, Jamey Charlie smirks at me. And James' face turns so red it's like someone hit him. I can hear Malcolm giggling somewhere behind me, that jerk.

Wait, I'm forgetting something. It's that earlier in the day, before all the stuff I'm about to say, I was playing hockey and I'd just scored and James was sort of half carrying me around like I was king of the world and Christopher Kingston and all the other kids on my team were bowing to me and it was really fun, especially when Danny Wright got so mad he spun his stick weird and hit the puck straight into his own goal and almost cried, saying hell this and hell that. It was probably around noon. That isn't the thing I'm forgetting. The thing I'm forgetting is that my mom dragged me away, right in the middle of all the bowing, to go shopping. I mean she literally grabbed my arm and dug her fingernails in until I would go with her. I was pretty pissed because I was enjoying being the hockey king and also because she wouldn't say why I had to go, she usually just goes shopping on her own or unless she thinks that it would be a good punishment for me or something like that, but she wasn't mad at me or anything yesterday, she just wouldn't say. We got there and it wasn't grocery shopping like I had thought, we were at the mall. We were outside the store my mom buys her clothes at. Like, this store is for real women; Like, pretty embarrassing, fancy underwear and bras and everything. And that's just it. She was buying me a bra. Three bras. She said I needed them now that all girls need them at some point that I'm just growing up that it won't change a thing that I'm still just the same. She made me try them on. She made me wear the pink one out of the store even though my t-shirt was too big and if the collar even adjusted a little bit you could see the stupid pink strap pulling at my skin. The stupid sales lady had makeup painted up and through her eyebrows and she said I looked grown up. I don't want to look grown up. I want to play hockey. I was king of the world today, don't people get that?

So then we drove home. The whole way back I stared out the window and tried to focus on the trees as they whizzed by on the side of the road. Tried to focus on each individual tree until it was gone, behind us. And then, when we got home, I went back outside to play hockey but James wasn't there I went over to his house and I felt like okay okay nothing's different nothing's changed no one can tell a thing and then Charlie was there too and his face made my stomach full of butterflies and James' face was like someone had turned him into a tomato and Malcolm's stupid, stupid laugh was just so freaking obnoxious I can't even describe it. I was standing there and I knew my face was red too and that James was looking at me and so was Charlie and I was looking at Charlie. And this is the part I'm scared to say. Charlie reaches into my collar and snaps my bra. I can feel it slapping my skin and it really, really hurts like nothing I've felt before in my life. Like, it was the slap of a thousand bras, from all the thousands of bras I'm going to be forced to wear when I'm actually grown up. He pulled it so high that I had time to see James' face, I could see that he saw it too. Stupid Malcolm probably saw it. Charlie laughed and said she's getting pretty, Jamey and walked away.

I can hear Christopher Kingston laughing outside but I can also hear him on that day, holding my stick above my head and taunting me. I can hear Danny Wright's voice rising in what the hELL from outside but it's almost like he's in here, too. Their voices drifted in through the open window. It was Saturday. Summer.

Now I'm sitting in my room. James came earlier but I wouldn't let him through the window. He tried to climb in but I pulled his hair and pressed his fingers back until he let go of the ledge. He cried. But I don't think it was because of the hair-pulling.