By: Catherine Gayle

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind; this was where I needed to be.

I bounded down the stairs built into the landscape, moving away from the hubbub of voices filling the rest of the gardens and into the privacy of this rock garden. The bench was slightly damp from the morning rain, but I didn’t mind it. I took a seat and stared, studying everything about the view before me.

Trees lined the other side of the stone wall. There was another cherry blossom, its leaves as orange as the others had been, but it was solitary. Like me. A single tree wasn’t enough to overwhelm me with the same morbid thoughts as earlier. It was just enough to help ease me into meditation.

Before long, I’d forgotten why I was here and how many other people were in the gardens today. No one had come down to pull me from my pensive tranquility, so I had been able to shut everything out and just be.

God, grant me the serenity… Somehow, I fell into reciting the Serenity Prayer silently in my mind. I’d never been a religious person. I believed there was something bigger than me out there, but I didn’t know who or what that “something” was, and I wasn’t inclined to figure it out. Still, saying the prayer had refocused my mind enough to get me through some rough times, particularly in the months after Dad’s death.

I’d learned to use the prayer during one of my numerous visits to rehab. I repeated it now as a reminder that I was not in control of everything, and that it was all right to let go. In fact, recent years had taught me that most of the time it was better that I wasn’t the one in control. Things seemed to fall apart when I was in charge.

A cool breeze blew over me, not enough to make me cold despite the fact that a shiver raced up my spine. I closed my eyes, breathing in the fresh, slightly damp scent on the air, and started the Serenity Prayer again.

“Oh! I’m so sorry.”

The interruption startled me, and I jumped. It was a female voice. I popped my eyes open and swiveled my head toward the sound coming from slightly behind me.

Jessica Lynch stood just at the base of the stone steps, alternating between staring at me and turning her gaze up to where she’d just come from. She tucked a strand of her brown hair behind her ear and shoved her hands in the pockets of her jacket. “I didn’t realize anyone was down here until I heard your voice,” she said. “I don’t meant to interrupt—”

“You’re not interrupting anything,” I assured her. I might not want to be surrounded by bodies on every side, but having a single companion wouldn’t be the end of the world. Besides, I had always liked Jessica in the years that I’d known her.

She was the Portland director of the Light the Lamp Foundation, a charity started by Liam Kallen before he’d become one of my teammates a few years ago. It was an organization that I’d spent a lot of time working with in recent years, primarily because I had a keen interest in their mission. Due to my involvement, I had seen Jessica fairly regularly over the years.

Kally was retired now, but he still spent half the year with his wife, Noelle, here in Portland working in the Storm’s front office. The rest of the year, they lived in Sweden. He did some scouting for the team in Europe while he was there. Kally put a lot of his energy into Light the Lamp, though. When a drunk driver had killed his first wife, he’d decided it was best to channel his grief so something good could come out of the bad. Light the Lamp’s mission was to help addicts make something positive from their lives.

That was something I strove to do every day in my own life. Some days were harder than others, but I couldn’t worry about tomorrow until I’d dealt with today. I was trying to put that into my goaltending, too, taking on a more Zen approach to the game than I had before.

I smiled and scooted over on the bench, patting my hand beside me in invitation. “Really,” I said. “I don’t mind.”

She hesitated for a moment, but then she came over and sat next to me. “Trying to eke out a bit of quiet?”

“Something like that.”

She nodded, not looking at me. Her gaze was focused on the rocks, much as mine had been before she’d arrived. “I could use a little quiet, too,” she said. “The season ticket holder event later is bound to be insane.” A small smile curled her lips, and she pressed her palms flat on the bench on either side of her, curving her fingers down around the edge of it.

“I thought you lived for those moments, getting them to fork over money for your cause,” I teased.

“Hardly. It’s just a necessary part of the business.”

The business being helping people like me. I knew that, and I shouldn’t have made light of it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t joke about what you do.”

“You don’t need to apologize, Nicky.”

But I did need to. Maybe not for her sake, but for my own. I went back to staring at the lines drawn in the rocks, focusing on the patterns and details. It was a combination of straight lines and perfect circles, hard edges and rounded curves. Juxtaposition in everything. Yin and yang, or something like that.