By: Catherine Gayle

But I had to do it anyway. I had to drop. I had to trust that they would be there to catch me or I’d never earn back their confidence.

So I took a breath and shifted my weight backward, keeping my spine and legs all in a straight line, and I let the words of the Serenity Prayer fill my mind as my body fell back through space.

I landed in their waiting arms, my pulse having gone through the roof in about 0.002 seconds flat.

“Oof.” RJ was right by my head. “You don’t look like it, but you weigh a fucking ton.”

“Try catching his big ass,” Soupy said, and everyone laughed. They put me down on my feet and cuffed me on the head and joked around, and then we moved on to the next guy.

None of them balked at me being one of the guys catching him. No one tried to back out of the drop because I was involved. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I tucked it away in a corner of my mind, hoping they would remember that I had come through for them in this the next time I was in the net. Hoping they would take this memory and let it color how they saw me as a teammate, not just as some guy falling backward with a blindfold on.

After everyone finished, we took a charter bus back to the team’s practice facility in Portland, and we all went our separate ways. We’d been gone four days, so most of the guys wanted to get home to their wives and girlfriends and kids. A few of the younger guys decided to head out for some dinner and then maybe a night at the bar. I came up with a quick excuse when 501 asked me if I wanted to go with them, telling him I’d promised to meet with Jessica once we were back in town.

It wasn’t a lie. I did need to meet with her again. It just wasn’t going to be today. All I wanted was to go home and kick back for a bit, and no matter what, bars and I didn’t need to be near each other right now.

501 took off with Babs and the others; I got in my car and drove home.

There was a cab in the driveway when I pulled up in front of my house—one of the van types with a handicap tag and the kind of sliding door that would allow for wheelchair access. Weird.

I hadn’t been expecting anyone, so I got out of my car tentatively. But all my hesitation fled when I saw Elin’s big eyes peeping at me through the window. My twelve-year-old niece gave me a goofy grin, and then I saw her ten-year-old brother, Hugo, looking at me, as well. Emma must have brought them for a visit, although I couldn’t for the life of me understand why she wouldn’t have let me know they were coming. I would have been better prepared. I would have made plans for fun things to do with the kids on my days off. I could have had rooms ready for them.

It wasn’t like my sister to be so spontaneous. With three kids, a tremendous amount of planning and preparation would have to go into planning a trip from Sweden to Portland. Trepidation crept up my spine. I left my bag in the trunk and headed around to the other side of the van to open the door. Nils, the youngest of the three kids at seven—and the one who looked most like their deceased father, Gabriel Larsson—leaped out into my arms the second I opened the door. I hugged him to me, but then shock raced through me.

A man I didn’t recognize unfolded himself from the vehicle, his staid expression betraying nothing. Was Emma finally dating someone, then? To my knowledge, she hadn’t been on a date since Gabe had been killed in duty while serving in Afghanistan nearly three years ago.

Gabe had been tall and fit, his soldier’s body similar to that of an athlete. This man had a build much more akin to someone who spent his days behind a desk. “Nick,” he said, holding out a hand for me to shake.

It didn’t surprise me that he knew who I was, whoever he might be. I shifted my nephew to my left side so I could get my right hand free. Then I took his, gripping it tight. “Yes. And you are?” It was curiosity coloring my words, but he blanched as though they’d been an accusation.

“Henrik Anders.” No explanation of what he or any of them were doing here. Nothing beyond his name. He just moved to the grass next to the van so the other two kids could clamber down and for my sister to come through.

Emma didn’t climb out like the rest of them had, though. She moved a motorized wheelchair into the hydraulic lift the cab had been outfitted with and the driver lowered her down, and my entire world imploded.

My hand started shaking, and the tremors quickly traveled through the rest of my body, so intensely that Henrik reached to take Nils from my arms and set him on the ground. I wanted a fucking pill. I wanted a whole fucking bottle of pills, and a keg to wash it down with, and even that wouldn’t be enough. That all-too-familiar itch was burning through me so fast it was all I could do to keep my feet on the ground, to not climb back into my car and do whatever it would take to get my fix.

“No,” was all I could say. It came out as a sob. Or a scream. Or a prayer. I didn’t know how it sounded to anyone else’s ears, only how it scratched against the throb of my own pulse pounding through my brain. It was all those things at once, all the things I couldn’t say and had never wanted to even let myself think.

She couldn’t have it, too. She couldn’t be this far into the disease without me knowing. Yes, we had known since not long after Nils was born that Emma had the genetic makeup for ALS and that she might end up with it just like Dad had, but not now. Not so soon. Not so young. She was only thirty-three, four years older than me.