Pris gets some advance warning when she hears the suite door slam shut. Enough time to take off her headphones and turn towards her door before Anaïs throws it open so hard that it rebounds against the wall.
“Oh my god,” Ana says.
“Oh my god, Priscilla,” Ana says again.
“You know Eric?”
Pris frowns. She’s met Eric a bunch of times. He’s more Ana’s friend than hers, but he seems like a cool guy. She’s not sure how he could’ve inspired this level of door-slamming. “Of course I do.”
“I just found out, he’s on the hockey team.”
Pris’ mouth falls open. Chest heaving, Ana nods.
“Oh my god,” Pris says.
They take this information immediately to Andrew.
“Oh my god,” he says.
“We know,” Pris says.
“No but, oh my god,” Andrew says. “This could be it. This could be the opening we’ve been waiting for.”
“The what?” Rohan looks between the three of them, with the bemused innocence seen only in freshmen. “What opening? What’s the big deal with the hockey team?”
Andrew sighs heavily. “It’s not about the hockey team, not really.”
“It’s who’s on the hockey team,” Ana says.
“Who?” Rohan asks.
Andrew pauses for dramatic effect. “Adam Birkholtz.”
Rohan gapes. “Wait he’s—he’s real?”
“Oh, he’s real,” Andrew says, tapping out a mournful chord on his keyboard. “Just as good as the legend, and three times as unattainable.”
The three of them were there for the historic moment. Bright-eyed freshmen, filled with enthusiasm, they’d had no idea how everything would change when they sat down at a table in Norris’ group meeting space (aka talking acceptable) on the second floor. Which was surprisingly empty: one table full of big guys in baggy shorts and Nike sandals with socks (football players, maybe), and one with a few members of the PowerNotes huddled around a stack of black CDs and a pile of label stickers.
Just freshmen, Pris, Ana, and Andrew already knew how things worked. They nodded at the other group, who nodded back, neither saying anything. They took a table on the far side of the room, putting the jocks in between them as a buffer.
“Think they just got out of practice too?” Pris had said, carefully not looking back over at the PowerNotes.
“Probably,” Ana twisted a dreadlock meditatively around a finger. “I hear we all practice around the same time, to discourage spying.”
“And defection,” Andrew added darkly.
“Shhh,” Pris looked around them quickly. “What’re they even doing in Norris anyway? Isn’t their turf out by the Student Center?”
Andrew was opening his mouth to answer when he was cut off by an uptick in volume over at the table of hoodie-wearers.
“—Telling you, this song is the song of a generation,” the guy with the mustache said, slamming both hands down on the table. “It’s poetry, sheer poetry, not to mention a super sweet anthem of female desire. Can we talk about the music video? Maybe we shouldn’t talk about the music video. It might just blow your little mind right out of your face.”
“Whatever, Shits,” a one of two snapback-wearing guys said, raising his hands in surrender. “I’m just saying, it’s not exactly what I’d pick for warm-up music.”
“What could possibly get you more pumped up than the eternal quest for digits?” ‘Shits’ said.
“Besides,” the blond guy in the glasses said, pausing in what looks like a 16-square game of tic-tac-toe with the black guy sitting next to him. “The BPM is downright magical. The thing’s perfectly structured, song-wise.”
“Yessss,” his opponent said, taking advantage of the guy’s momentary distraction to lay down a few extra x’s. “Lay that musical knowledge down on us, Holster. Work that magic, bro.”
At first, it sounded like someone had started playing the song. But no one was looking at a phone, they were all looking at ‘Holster’, who was bobbing his head, punctuating the beats of the song by punching the guy next to him in the arm.
He was beatboxing, somehow creating five different sounds and an electronic bass line all at the same time. His buddy sand the opening few lines, Holster grinning at him for a second through the magic his mouth was making without losing a beat.
“Is this… ‘Call Me Maybe’?” Ana asked after a few stunned seconds, in a tone of hushed wonder.
“It’s so much more,” Andrew said hollowly. “It’s so much more than ‘Call Me Maybe’.”
There was a clatter from across the room, one of the PowerNotes having pushed her chair back so quickly that it had fallen over. Without picking it up she dashed from the room. The other PowerNotes were just staring at the guy, open-mouthed.
“Pris—“ Andrew was getting to his feet.
“On it,” Pris said, pulling out her phone to take a subtle recording as Andrew bolted out of the community space.
And that’s how the legend of Adam Birkholtz was born. Well, first he was “library guy,” since it took a little legwork to figure out that what his buddies at the table kept calling him wasn’t, in fact, anything close to his real name.
In the years since, the Samwell Soundwells had not been able to woo Adam Birkholtz. Despite multiple e-mails, artfully placed flyers more or less wallpapering every streetlight around the hockey frat house, and more than one anonymous gift of the Soundwells’ last CD slid under the front door. Nothing had come of it, except for the repeated polite response of “hey, thanks! I’m pretty booked up with hockey stuff though.” Andrew has a whole folder of these emails lovingly saved.
It’s been going on for almost three years now, but none of them are giving up on this. It’s not recruitment anymore, it’s a quest.
The only upside is that none of the other a capella groups have managed to get him either.
This Eric Bittle situation is an advantage the Soundwells had never considered before, though. Because Anaïs and Eric Bittle are actually friends, and Eric Bittle is actually on the hockey team, and this year he’s actually living in the same house as Adam Birkholtz.
“I don’t know,” Ana says. “If this makes things weird with Eric, I’ll have no one to trade panicked looks with at Pride parties, and then bail to Serpico’s with. You have no idea how much I need that. No idea.”
“You’re not like, spying or anything,” Pris says. “You’re already friends with Eric, you’re even in the same terrible philosophy class together. So just, like, keep being friends. Hang out. Chat, whatever. He can come over here, you can go over there, you can just, you know. Check it out.”
“So. Spy, basically.” Ana says flatly.
Pris smiles weakly. “Well…”
“If I lose my only non-crazy Pride friend from this, I am holding you and Andrew entirely responsible, okay?”
The Soundwells already have a beatboxer. He prefers to be called Rocco, he’s barely 5’4”, and he had no problem with Adam Birkholtz when he was pretty sure the dude was a) no real threat to his standing in the group, and b) probably not as good as everyone said anyway.
This new Eric Bittle thing though. This has him worried.
Even more so once Kathy finds those YouTube videos of some kind of jock sing-along party.
Rocco has a little bit of a problem with Adam Birkholtz now.
It’s not spying if the spy and the spy-ee both actually enjoy it, right?
Especially if there’s cookies involved.
“You’ve never been to a game?” Eric stares at Anaïs like she’s some kind of monster. “Not even once?”
“My dad got me the season tickets thing my freshman year,” Ana confesses, “but I was so busy, and got all wrapped up in other club stuff, so it just… never happened?”
Eric looks as though he almost wants to take back the peanut butter cookies he just set in front of her, but he doesn’t, because he really is the coolest person in Pride or out of it. Which she knew already, even before he invited her back to the hockey house (or “haus”, according to the welcome mat) after class.
“You have to see hockey live, you have to,” Eric says. “Seriously, you have to. Our team is great! Holster— come in here for a second—“
Ana sits up ramrod straight in her chair, completely mentally unprepared for the legend who sticks his head around the doorframe, pushing his glasses up his nose.
“I hear and obey, Bitty, especially and particularly if there are cookies for me. Those are cookies for me, right?”
Eric waves a hand at him, which apparently counts as permission, since he takes six.
“This is Ana, and she’s never seen hockey live. Tell her how tragic this is for her.”
“So tragic,” Adam Birkholtz says, only a little bit spitting crumbs across the table. “Completely. You need to come to a game, we’re fucking rocking it this semester.”
“You’re in the Soundwells, right?” Neither Adam or Eric notice the little squeaky shocked noise Ana makes. “You guys burned it down at the show last week, it was epic. Rans cried. He’ll say he didn’t, but he totally did. There’s a man with some strong feelings about the Boss.”
He boxes out the opening measures to “Dancing in the Dark,” except in an arrangement that seems to utilize about a dozen more inflections and sounds than the one they’d worked up for the medley.
Ana pushes past the shock after a second. “You were there?”
“Sure, we saw the flyers outside, thought we’d stop by. I did a capella in high school for a few years, so, you know, I gave it my professional assessment.”
He grins at her, and points a finger gun across the table (dropping a cookie). “My professional assessment is: you guys burned. It. Down.”
“The flyers work,” Ana whispers into the phone.
“Ana, what? I can barely hear you, what did you say?”
“I said, the flyers work, we should put like, so many more up there, all the time, every week, he did a capella in high school where are the videos we need them we need them all.”
“Ana, you need to speak up, I really can barely hear what you’re saying.”
“I can’t, I’m in their bathroom. Gotta go, Eric needs help with the next batch. I’m going to find out who this Ransom guy is, I think this could be his weakness. Bye, bye bye bye, remember, more flyers.”
“Wow,” Pris says, tugging a little at her borrowed Samwell hoodie, staring around at Faber’s huge windows. “This place is gorgeous.”
Fabiana, who had leant her the hoodie and has enough school spirit for the entirety of the Soundwells combined, shakes her head mournfully. “I can’t believe you guys have never been to a game. You know we’re good, right? Like, it’s a big deal? The hockey team gets on ESPN. There are commentators with opinions about them.”
“Yeah, but—“ Pris waves an arm around them. “This is gorgeous.”
“LEED Gold Certified,” Fabiana says, lounging back against their metal bench seats like they’re way more comfortable than they really are. “Totally renovated a few years ago, totally eco-conscious, totally badass.”
“I have hot dogs!” Ana says, stepping over the row behind them to plop down next to Fabiana. “That’s the thing to do, right? Get hot dogs.”
“Yes, good job,” Fabiana says warmly, smiling at Ana. Pris raises an eyebrow at her. Fabiana frowns and takes her hotdog. “So, do you guys know anything about hockey, or do you want me to explain—”
Ana waves a hand at her. “Please. There’s no need. We’re just here to see Eric, chat a little after the game or in between rounds or whatever, and get some intel on Adam Birkholtz. Hockey is so not the point.”
“What, I’m busy.”
Rohan sighs, and pushes the sheet music notebook across the table at Rocco. “You can stop glaring at the dude for five seconds to check this over.”
Rocco’s eyes narrow, but do not otherwise move from where Adam Birkholtz is arguing over what appears to be an elaborate powerpoint slide with recently-identified best friend (?) Justin Oluransi.
“Seriously, don’t tell Andrew I said so, but I don’t think anything’s going to happen,” Rohan says. “Just because Ana is friends with one if his friends, that doesn’t mean he’s just going to decide he’s going to give up his spot on a D1 team.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Rocco mutters. Adam Birkholtz glances over, and Rocco bares his teeth threateningly. Which Adam Birkholtz maybe takes as a smile, since he raises a hand and waves cheerfully at him.
“I don’t know about this strategy anyway,” Rohan mutters mostly to himself, watching Oluransi turn and give Rocco an appraising up-down look. “Didn’t work out so great for the Do Re Mimis.”
“Oh, uh, just something Kari told me. Last year they tried to send in one of their freshmen, get her involved in the hockey team so they could have eyes and ears on him, maybe plant some hints and stuff.”
Rocco actually glances at Rohan for a second. “So what happened?”
“In a way, it went great. She’s a booster for the team, is an assistant manager, and blows off Mimi practice for games on a regular basis.”
They both consider this for a moment.
“That won’t happen with Pris and Ana though,” Rocco shakes his head. “I mean, they’re co-captains. The Soundwells are their everything."
“Come on, power play!” Ana screams, on her feet. “Twenty seconds left, fucking destroy them, come on!”
Pris sits in stunned silence, mouth open. “Oh wow,” she says, as Ana accidentally knocks her empty hot dog holder off her lap. “Oh, wow.”
They’ve got a whole new arrangement of non-Disney medleys to work out (Izzy’s idea, to try something a little less overdone), plus the world-altering game changer that is “Uptown Funk,” so Andrew has honestly forgotten to be as rigorous in his progress reports from Ana and Pris.
He’s reminded after Eric Bittle actually joins them for lunch, and although he never mentions Him, it’s still a good conversation about the merits of the Soundwells (Andrew manages a few digs in against the PowerNotes), even if Ana and Pris do seem to feel the need to repeatedly bring up the hockey team. Trying to set Eric at his ease, probably.
“So?” He prompts, when Eric gets up to head to his 3 p.m. lecture.
“Hmm?” Pris says.
“What’s happening there?”
“Oh,” Ana says. And then, realization striking. “Oh.”
She and Pris trade a quick look.
“Uh, well. You know, progress has been slow,” Pris says carefully.
“And we’ve had regionals coming up to think of,” Ana adds.
“Right, and the team’s got an eye on the playoffs, so Holst—Adam Birkholtz has a lot on his plate right now.”
“And he and Ransom have a really seamless play going on defense, the team really wouldn’t be the same without them on the line together, I mean I’d say the game against Cornell was pretty much cinched by that second period play, like, they were magic,” Ana shakes her head.
Pris turns to her. “Okay, yes, but I don’t think you give the freshmen enough credit, Dex and Nursey are really sharpening up, Eric says they don’t get along at all off the ice but the way they play together is getting more and more—”
Ana puts her hands up. “I’m not arguing with that! I’m just saying, Ransom and Holster are—“
“Stop, stop,” Andrew says, voice a little too loud even for the dining hall. Pris and Ana jump, almost like they’d forgotten he was there. “What are you guys even talking about?”
“Uh,” Ana says.
“We might need a little more time to work on this?” Pris suggests.
“Okay,” Andrew looks at their identical expressions of sincere innocence. “But you think spending more time with the team is helping?”
“Oh yes,” Ana says firmly. “Oh yes, it’s definitely helping.”
Rocco’s back to being pretty sure he’s got nothing to worry about as far as his Soundwell status goes. But he’s kind of got into the habit of glaring at Adam Birkholtz, and it’s hard to stop. And, uh. Oluransi too, he ended up catching more of Rocco’s glares kind of by default.
Plus, he wants to make sure Birkholtz doesn’t get any funny ideas anyway. Better safe than sorry.
Which is why he starts going to home games with Ana and Pris. And Rohan. And then Izzy, Lyle, and Chad.
It’s not like Soundwell practices conflict with any of the home games (or games within easy driving range). Not when Pris is in charge of setting the practice schedule.
It would take only the most highly-trained and adept ear to notice the change at games. To pick it out of the crowd and to recognize the pitch, the harmony, the artful tapestry of colorful notes that can be weaved around a simple chant of “hey ho, let’s go.”
To notice it, you would have to have some pretty legendary talent yourself.
Holster grins, and punctuates his pass to Rans with a flawless vocal rendering of an epic bass drop. Well, as flawless as it can be around his mouthgard.
It’s almost enough to make him miss the days of the Optimus Chimes.