Chapter One

It was a beautiful day when the Class of 2008 freshmen athletes moved in to Weaver House. To Cain Winchester it seemed like a good omen. He remembered helping his older sister move into her college dorm the previous year. It had been raining buckets and all her stuff got soaked. But today was nice. Warm, but not oppressively hot, as it had been during the football camp Richard Aiming Academy required all its returning and prospective football players to attend over the summer. There was even a slight breeze that made it easier for the people moving in their stuff.

Most of Cain's possessions were still there from football camp. Coach Alderman had let them know who made the cut before the five day break preceding move in day. All he'd really had to do was move his belongings from the temporary dorm to Weaver House.

Things were good at Aiming, Cain decided, as he began taping up his Redskins posters. Even if his coaches were demanding and borderline psychotic, Aiming was a good school for athletes – the best athletic high school in the nation actually. Playing ball here practically guaranteed a college scholarship to the university of his choice. Aside from that, Aiming had a really cool mascot: the Red Horsemen. All around, Aiming was so much better than the high school Cain would have been attending back in Pennsylvania, playing on the JV team for two years because varsity was reserved for juniors and seniors only, getting almost no media coverage, and having the overused Eagle as a mascot. In fact, things at Aiming were pretty much perfect. That's what Cain thought until he found out who was to be his room mate.

The door squeaked open then hit the wall with a loud bang as the newcomer kicked it the rest of the way open so he could step inside. Cain nearly groaned out loud as he recognized fellow freshman football player, Cassidy.

Cassidy glanced around the room once taking in Cain's choice of décor before he dropped the two boxes he was carrying on the unmade bed on what was to be his side of the room. He caught Cain's eyes and gave a slight nod, then turned away and began unpacking.

Cain sighed. He didn't dislike Cassidy, per say. Cassidy just seemed like the kind of guy who would be hard to live with. For the most part he was antisocial and withdrawn. When provoked, he was volatile – and Cain wasn't exactly sure what would provoke him. All he knew was that one of the other prospective players at football camp had tried to pick a fight with him. Cassidy punched that guy's lights out then gave the guy's friend who tried to help him a black eye and split lip. Somehow Cain doubted either of those guys had made the cut. Coach Alderman was all about two things: winning and aggressive action. Cain couldn't really see him letting two upperclassmen who'd been beaten by one freshman on the team.

"So you're my roommate?" Cain asked when it became apparent Cassidy wasn't going to speak.

"Looks that way," Cassidy said. He didn't even bother turning around.

"Do you know if any other freshmen got on the team this year?"

"No."

"No, you don't know?" Cain asked, "Or no, no one else made it?"

"The latter," Cassidy told him.

Cain decided to make one more attempt at conversation with his new roommate. "Did you have a good break?"

Cassidy stopped unpacking and slowly turned to face Cain. "No, I didn't," he said bluntly. The look on his face made it clear that he was not interested in discussing it.

So much for civil conversation, Cain thought. "Sorry to hear that. I'm gonna go see if anyone needs help moving in." As he was leaving he noticed Cassidy unrolling a Dallas Cowboys poster and groaned internally again. Yes, he decided, we're going to have some problems.

"Hey! I know you!" were the first words Adam Lovell heard as he stepped into the room whose door bore the same number that was etched onto the key in his hand.

Adam looked up quizzically at the boy who'd made this claim – presumably his roommate since he was already unpacking. "Beg pardon?" he asked, studying the long haired boy in front of him. He did look vaguely familiar, like someone Adam might have known back before . . . well, known several years ago, but Adam couldn't place him

"I know you!" the other boy insisted. "I went to hockey camp with you for three years, remember? But you weren't there this year."

"Yeah . . ." Adam found himself wishing that he'd been assigned to a room with someone who didn't know him at all. Making a clean start at Aiming would have been better . . . even if this guy didn't know anything about what had happened. Adam didn't want him asking why he wasn't at hockey camp or anything else along those lines.

"You my roommate?" the boy asked instead.

"I guess so."

"Cool. I'm Spencer."

"Adam."

"You need help carrying the rest of your stuff in?" Spencer asked. "Or are your parents already on it?

"No," Adam said quickly. "This is all I have."

Spencer raised an eyebrow at Adam's solitary duffel bag. "Wow. You didn't bring much."

"I don't need much," Adam told him. "I'm just here to play hockey."

Spencer opened his mouth but before he could speak a booming voice from out in the halls cut him off.

"All right everyone! If you could gather together in the common room for a moment, please. This won't take but a minute of your time."

Spencer and Adam exchanged a glance then Adam slung his duffel bag off his shoulder and onto the floor before turning back toward the hall. They made their way to the common room along with the rest of their housemates, or at least the ones who were already there.

In the common room they were greeted by an elderly man with a wrinkled face and gray hair, but surprisingly muscled arms. "All right," he said, giving the thirteen assembled freshmen a warm smile. "It looks like just about all of you are here. First of all, welcome to Richard Aiming Academy. I'm Athletic Director Martin Armstrong. This is Weaver House, one of the athletic dorms, so all your neighbors are fellow athletes. Some of you are probably even on the same teams. Why don't we go around the room and each of you can introduce yourself and your sport. Anyone want to start?"

A perky blonde with a face pretty enough to appear on one of those teenage chick magazines immediately raised her hand and stood from her seat on the sofa. "I'm Tamara Truman," she said, flashing a bright smile, "and I'm on the cheerleading squad."

The redhead sitting next to Tamara gave her a scornful look and put her own hand in the air. "I'm Sabrina Lawrence, and I'm on the soccer team," she said, not bothering to stand up like Tamara had. "I play a real sport."

"I'm Natalie Greene," said the brunette on Tamara's other side. "And what the hell is that supposed to mean?" she demanded.

"Exactly what is sounded like it meant," Sabrina said coolly. The challenge in her voice was unmistakable.

"Ooooh! Cat fight!" Spencer looked excited.

"Come on, ladies, no need for any hostilities," Armstrong interjected.

"Well she –" Natalie started, but was cut off by a friendly looking boy on the other side of the room.

"I'm Cain Winchester. I play football. Quarterback." He gave everyone a disarming smile. "I know that Aiming's already got a really good first string quarterback so I'll be alternate, but on the bright side, that just gives me more time to watch the lovely ladies cheering us on."

"Alex Shepard," said a tall boy with a shaved head, lounging in one of the easy chairs. "Swim team."

Spencer seemed disappointed about the potential cat fight being headed off, but got over it quickly, at least by all appearances. The freshmen continued introducing themselves and their sports to one another. Adam couldn't really keep track of their names or what teams they were on. There was a basketball player, a volleyball player, a couple runners, and another football player but Adam couldn't remember which was which after they had finished the introductions. The only one whose name stuck was the third hockey player who'd be living in Weaver House, Trent Winters. Adam figured there would be time to learn the names of the other people he was living with later.

"Excellent," Armstrong said once they were finished. "I expect that I'll be seeing quite a bit of you all throughout the next four years. We're very glad to have each and every one of you here. If you have any problems, you can always come to me. My office is in North Hall and my door is always open to athletes. I just wanted to stop by and meet you all, but before I go, are there any questions?"

"When do practices start?" Adam asked. He hoped it would be soon. There hadn't been many opportunities for him to practice since winter ended, and he wanted to get his touch back as quickly as possible.

"The schedules for all athletic training will be posted on a bulletin board in the cafeteria," Armstrong told him, "But I'm afraid there won't be any official hockey practices for quite some time. There are rules detailing how early we're allowed to form our teams and how hard we're allowed to work you that we have to adhere to."

Adam frowned and glanced out the screen door where a large patio was visible. Beyond that was a small but vacant parking lot. Maybe he could practice some roller hockey out there after this orientation nonsense was over.

"I don't have a roommate yet," said one the girls who'd stayed out of the almost-argument preceding Cain's intervention.

Armstrong glanced down at the notepad in his hand. "You're Giselle?" he asked. "You do have a roommate. It seems she hasn't arrived just yet. She should be here soon though. Any other questions?"

No more hands were raised. Adam was glad. He was anxious to leave.

"No? Alright, then. I'll leave you to get back to unpacking. Once again, welcome to Aiming."

The old man left through the back door. Adam, along with most of the other students, immediately started back toward the hall.

"What the hell is up with these curtains?" one of the cheerleaders – Natalie, Adam thought – demanded, the scorn in her voice stopping several of the athletes from departing. "They're hideous."

"I put them up," Giselle said defensively. "I think they bring the room together nicely."

"Are you kidding me?" asked Natalie. She motioned almost violently toward the crimson strips of fabric that framed the closest window. "They completely disrupt the energy flow of this room. Don't you know anything about feng shui? Red is a horrible color to have in your living room. It increases the risk of fires!"

"You've got to be kidding me."

Natalie spun toward the speaker – the brown haired, hard eyed football player whose name Adam couldn't remember. "What? You like these ugly things?" Natalie asked incredulously.

"Feng shui is a load of bull," he told her. "I saw a TV show where they had five different alleged feng shui experts come in and rearrange a living room – always returning the furniture to its original positions before they came. No two of them put more than one piece of furniture in the same position. One of them drew up plans to redo the room's entire color scheme. Another brought in half a dozen plants and tacked them onto the bill. A third one didn't make a single change and one other wanted them to knock down a wall."

"That doesn't mean it's a load of bull," Natalie insisted. "You know, I think you're a load of bull."

The football player smirked. "I think whatever you've got stuffing your bra is a load of bull."

Cain was quick to intervene again. "Hey, come on, Cassidy, ease up. We're allowed to have different opinions here."

"I'm just expressing mine," Cassidy said, looking thoroughly apathetic.

"Hell yeah, freedom of speech!" Spencer stepped forward to give Cassidy a high five. Cassidy ignored the gesture and just looked at Spencer.

"And I think your hair makes you look like a pansy."

"WTF, man?" Spencer asked, outraged.

Cassidy stood and started toward the hall but paused at the room's threshold. "Oh, and the curtains are hideous," he announced before exiting.

Spencer bounced back from the insult quickly and remarked in an ironic tone, "Well that was friendly."

"I think friends are the last thing on his mind," said Sabrina.

Natalie looked at Sabrina and sniffed. "You're one to talk."

"Likewise, cheerleader."

"You know what? Screw you!" Natalie snapped and stormed out of the room.

Adam watched her go, bemused. Introductions were turning out to be more interesting than he'd anticipated them being.

Giselle turned toward Sabrina and flashed her a grin. "Way to go!"

"I've never been able to stand cheerleaders," Sabrina said. She looked meaningfully at Tamara who still remained in the room.

"Is it that you can't stand us or can't understand us?" Tamara asked.

Sabrina's smile was pseudo-sweet and she spoke in a tone to match it. "It's that I can't stand you."

"Do you even know anything about cheerleading? Or are you asleep for half the game? You must be if you think cheerleading's not a sport."

Tamara's declaration was followed by several seconds of silence, then –

"You paraphrased that from a T-shirt motto, didn't you?" Giselle asked.

"Yeah, she did," Sabrina said without missing a beat. "Half the cheerleaders at my middle school used to wear those stupid shirts. I bet she has one too."

Tamara scowled. "I think it's really shallow how you make assumptions about my sport when you know nothing about it."

"What assumptions am I making?" Sabrina wanted to know. "Tell me, when's the last time that a cheerleader got on the cover of Sports Illustrated?"

"Well . . . well when's the last time the US won the World Cup?" Tamara countered.

"The men's team? Never. The women's? Well, why don't you go look that up."

"Come on, guys," Cain cut in again. "We're going to be living together. We should be trying to get along."

"What's life without a little drama?" Spencer asked.

Cain ignored him for what would be the first of many times in the coming years. "We're all obviously very different people," he said, "but we're stuck with each other for the next four years. Unless we want to turn Weaver Hall into a war zone, we should at least make an effort to respect each other's differences . . . or at least not openly antagonize each other for them . . . right?"

The girls exchanged glanced. "Whatever," Sabrina said finally, and walked back into the hall. Giselle followed.

"Well." Spencer turned to Adam, grinning madly. "I can already tell, this year's going to be great. Want to take bets on how long it's going to take for the girls to get into a real cat fight?"