Benji wakes up early, bikes to the forest, and walks the last few miles to the kennels owned by his sister, Adri. His other sisters, Katia and Gaby, also arrive. Adri slaps Benji for calling his teacher “sweet cheeks”—she loves him, but she’ll kill him if he says such a thing again. The four of them eat a quiet breakfast together, surrounded by Adri’s dogs. This is a yearly custom in remembrance of their father’s suicide. They don’t tell their mother, because she’s never forgiven Alan.
Benji is surrounded by a strong, loving, female support system—one that doesn’t hesitate to call him out on his mistakes. This will prove to have shaped Benji’s character in important ways. The same is true of Benji’s father’s suicide; his sadness and his tendency to act out are rooted in a childhood trauma.
Separately, Benji bikes to the cemetery and sits against Alan Ovich’s headstone. He smokes joints “until the pain is soft enough to let his tears start to fall.” Fifteen years ago, Alan took his hunting rifle into the forest and shot himself. Benji has grown up knowing that no matter how many times adults say, “It wasn’t your fault,” they’re lying.
Like other characters in the story—like Maya’s parents, and later Maya herself—Benji knows what it’s like to bear a heavy burden of guilt. He isn’t to blame for his dad’s death, but logic can’t outweigh the trauma of his memories.
Kevin is practicing in his garden rink at home. Mrs. Erdahl says it’s time to drop him off at the rink. Kevin can see that she’s falling apart as she tells him that they’ve gotten onto an earlier flight to Madrid and that they won’t be able to watch his game. Kevin knows that just means his dad wants to play a round of golf, but that there’s no point in arguing about it—his family always avoids talking about their feelings. Mrs. Erdahl is “approachable and sympathetic” at work, but has never learned how to talk with her son, especially now that he’s grown up. She promises that they’ll come to the final.
Kevin, like Benji, bears burdens that aren’t talked about. He longs for his parents’ approval—not just of his success, but of him as a person. However, despite their constant efforts to promote his success in hockey, they’re much more absent than present in his daily life. Mrs. Erdahl longs for more than that, but it isn’t enough—Kevin, unlike Benji, lacks a loving, motherly influence in his life, and that lack may play a role in his actions in the later part of the book.
Ana and Maya are in the rink cafeteria, helping Kira prepare food for the hockey crowd. Ana keeps teasing Maya about Kevin, since Maya is clearly distracted by thoughts of him. Kira leaves the cafeteria when Ana’s jokes get too suggestive, feeling unprepared for her daughter to grow up.
Kira recognizes that she has to give Maya space to grow up—a significant step, given her constant fears for her daughter. Unlike Mrs. Erdahl’s consistent absence from Kevin’s life, though, Kira’s stepping back is based on a foundation of love and trust.
Kevin rides to the game next to his father. Mr. Erdahl quizzes him on his upcoming English test. He’s always thinking two moves ahead, constantly pursuing perfection. Once, when Kevin complained that Benji’s mother always comes to the hockey games, Mr. Erdahl replied: “My job is to be your father, not your friend.” Kevin had gotten the message: Mr. Erdahl spends millions of kronor on the team every year; Benji’s mom doesn’t.
Mr. Erdahl’s obsession with success crowds out any warm, fatherly touch; it’s not surprising that Kevin has sought that influence elsewhere. Mr. Erdahl’s view of fatherhood seems to be setting his son up for a superficial type of success in life, but doesn’t pay enough attention to Kevin’s formation as a person. This dynamic in their relationship is a something of a microcosm for the way that the town’s hockey culture shapes its boys more generally.
When they get to the rink, Mr. Erdahl just pats Kevin’s shoulder and says that Kevin can tell him everything tomorrow. Their basement is stacked with notebooks full of statistics from all the games Kevin has played. Kevin’s mom can’t help looking back at him as they drive away. They’ve always tried to teach Kevin to be independent so that he won’t become spoiled, but today, he looks like “the loneliest boy on earth.” Soon, Benji finds Kevin and doesn’t ask about the fact that Kevin has tears in his eyes. And Kevin doesn’t say anything about the cemetery. Instead, they walk to the locker room, bantering.
Kevin and Benji each know about the burden of grief the other carries, and they help each other through it by bantering. In a way, they have a lot in common—both deal with the pain of an unattainable father. However, Benji has something to compensate for that (his mother and sisters); Kevin simply doesn’t, so he looks for meaning and approval in hockey instead.
Amat finds Ana and Maya goofing around in the kitchen and stammers out a question—he’s wondering if Maya is free after the game. However, Maya is laughing so hard at Ana’s antics that she doesn’t hear him, and before Amat can repeat himself, Kevin walks in. In moments, he’s making Maya laugh, and he invites her to the victory party at his house after the game. He invites Amat, too, but calls him “Ahmed.”
This is an even worse moment for Amat than yesterday, when Kevin asked him if Maya has a boyfriend. He’s summoned the courage to ask Maya out, but Kevin manages to smoothly slip past him and get Maya’s attention—adding to the humiliation, he (willfully?) forgets Amat’s name, driving home his outsider status.