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Exiled
Author: Brenda Rothert

 


CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Archer

 

Win or lose, you played like a champion. I’m proud of you.

I read the text from my grandpa as the plane descended. When I switched off my phone’s airplane mode, I ignored the waiting texts from friends and teammates and went right to his message instead. I’d read it before—many times. He sent it nearly two months ago, just after my hockey team was eliminated from playoff contention in a game I’d scored two goals in.

If only I’d known it would be the last text he’d ever send me. Teddy Holt had been more than just my grandpa. He was also a decorated Vietnam veteran and a pro hockey legend who still held several records. He’d always seemed larger than life—immortal.

A massive heart attack snuffed out his light in a matter of seconds, and my world would always be a little darker without him.

“I can’t believe how blue the water is,” Micah Maxwell, a defensive player for Vancouver’s pro hockey team, said to me, his face glued to the plane window. “I’ll be spending hours in that water every day.”

Nodding my agreement, I returned my phone to my pocket, checking to make sure my grandpa’s lucky quarter was still there. A fellow prisoner of war in Vietnam gave him that quarter before he passed away from malnutrition. Grandpa had carried it with him everywhere until giving it to me on my twenty-first birthday. I’d kept it close every day since.

“You think they’ll have hula dancers?” someone asked from the row behind us. “I’ve always wanted to hook up with a hula dancer.”

“No, dipshit. It’s not Hawaii,” someone else answered.

I tuned them out, leaning closer to my own window on the private plane taking us on the final leg of our journey to the primitive island we’d hopefully be living on for at least the next month. I’d been eager for this day to arrive since I’d agreed to represent my team, the Minnesota Mammoths, on a reality show called Exiled.

There were thirty-two players aboard—one representative from each pro hockey team. To keep the details of the show confidential, we hadn’t been told much about what we’d be doing. Whatever it was, I was all in. I planned to bring home the gold for my team by winning this competition.

“Gentlemen,” a woman said from the front where she stood facing us all. “Since the drinks were flowing on this flight, I’ll remind you that my name is Angela Salvatore, but everyone calls me Sal. I’m a production assistant for the show. I can’t answer most of your questions, but the good news is, you’ll know everything soon.”

Everyone cheered, and she glanced down at a paper in her hand.

“Okay, so we’re landing in about twenty minutes,” she continued. “From there, we’ll be taking ATVs to the launch point for the boats that will take us to the island.”

“Are we getting lunch?” someone asked from the back.

“We will provide sandwiches and drinks before boarding the boats,” Sal said. “I suggest you eat and drink everything you’re offered, because it’s probably the last real meal you’ll be getting for a while.”

I’d bulked up in the past couple of weeks, knowing I was going to drop weight while doing this show. We’d been told access to food could be sporadic, and I wanted to be prepared.

“There are thirty-two of you on this plane,” Sal said. “Only sixteen will make it onto the show, though.”

Gasps and groans sounded as that news sank in.

“Why’d you fly us all here if you’re only taking sixteen?” Micah asked, aggravated.

“Everyone gets a shot,” Sal said diplomatically. “Sixteen will make it, and sixteen will spend tonight at a really nice resort in Fiji and fly home tomorrow. We have another nondisclosure agreement for the sixteen who make it.”

One of the flight attendants told Sal she had to put on her seat belt. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes, and did a mental run-through of who was representing each team. I knew most of them, but a few I’d never spoken to. If part of this game involved being on teams or having partners, I wanted to choose wisely.

Rod Larimore, a first-line winger for Boston, would be my stiffest competition. He was a talented natural athlete who could’ve played pro hockey or baseball, but he’d chosen hockey. They called him Golden Rod, because he had a Midas touch whenever he had a hockey stick in his hands.

Our plane landed at a small, private airport, and I grabbed my overnight bag, nervous energy racing through me. I’d do whatever I had to do to make it onto this show and not be one of the sixteen guys who got sent home on the first day. It had long been a pipe dream to be on one of the reality shows I liked watching. I wasn’t afraid of the challenges dreamed up by producers—I’d swim, climb, or run my way into this competition, because I was representing my teammates. No way would I let them down.

In a way, I was playing for my grandpa too. Even though he wasn’t here to see it, I wanted the world to know Teddy Holt’s grandson was worthy of his last name.

Sal yelled out directions as we descended the plane stairs. The humidity made me break into an immediate sweat. It was hot as hell—even worse than I’d expected from a tropical island in June.

“Anything you brought with you must be in your bag, and your bag must be added to this pile!” Sal called out. “No cell phones, wallets, photos, or personal items of any kind. If you’re caught with anything other than the clothes and shoes you’re wearing and the items we give you, it’s grounds for removal from the show.”

She didn’t seem very old—maybe thirty—but Sal wasn’t intimated by this group of athletes. She wore dark-rimmed glasses and a faded Red Sox cap.

Hmm…Red Sox? If she was a fan of Boston’s baseball team, was she also a fan of their hockey team? I couldn’t let Rod have any sort of edge, so I’d have to keep my eyes wide open.

After I kissed my grandpa’s lucky quarter, I put it in my bag of personal effects. I was uneasy about leaving my stuff, but I had no choice.

Once we’d all emptied our pockets, sent final farewell texts to family members, and turned our bags over to be loaded into a van, we climbed onto the ATVs that would take us to the boats.

I was psyched. I never would’ve applied to be on a reality TV show—my hockey schedule wouldn’t have allowed for the commitment. But the league was on board with this one, using it as an opportunity to rally fans around their teams and hopefully gain some new fans.

Not only was I competitive, I’d learned survival skills in Boy Scouts. I could tie knots, start fires, and navigate through dense forests. Though I learned all this in the woods of Iowa, I could apply them on an island too. I’d just sweat harder and have a deeper tan by the end.

Piece of cake.

After a thirty-minute ride, we arrived at a dock where everyone grabbed sandwiches and loaded onto two boats.

I was taking in the view when Rod walked over to me, grinning.

“Dude, if you’re still here when the season starts, the Mammoths might have a shot at winning,” he said.

“Shit, man. I’d put my team up against yours any day of the week.”

His expression turned serious as a moment of silence passed.

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