Double Major

By: Catherine Gayle

In all honesty, I hadn’t been worried about her brothers or our puppy or the house. Chris had been thrilled with my idea of turning the downstairs bedroom into a memory room when I’d suggested it yesterday, and he and Ethan were taking care of getting everything moved into the house and unpacked while we were gone. They were doing the things that brothers do—the kinds of things that they would have done for her all along if she hadn’t been so stubborn about insisting she was the one who had to always take care of them. There was no cause for concern about her brothers or the house or the dog.

It was just the idea of taking her away from her comfortable surroundings, separating her from what she’d always known and sharing more of my life with her, that was bogging me down. I wanted her to be part of it all—don’t get me wrong—but I didn’t know how overwhelming it would be for her. She’d hardly ever left the state of Oregon in her entire life, and I was asking her to come with me to another country where everyone spoke a different language, where she would be without her brothers and friends and puppy, and where there was nothing to remind her of home.

You’ll be with me, silly, so everything will be fine, Noelle had reminded me time and again, as though my presence was all that she would require to adjust. And we aren’t staying forever.

That was just it, though. Every time she mentioned that we weren’t going to be there forever, I started thinking about what was in store for us in a few years. I might want her to come back to Sweden with me someday, to stay for the rest of our lives. Not today, but maybe in four or five years, once I was ready to give my body a rest after almost two decades playing in the NHL. Plenty of Swedish hockey players came to North America for their careers like I had. But after they retired? They almost all went back home to Sweden. Guys like Mattias Bergstrom, who had been the Storm’s assistant coach last season but would be the head coach in the upcoming year, were the exception to the rule. I didn’t know if I wanted to be another exception.

In general, we Swedes loved our country. We loved the people. We loved the lifestyle and the weather. We loved the food. We loved everything about it. Spending several years in this part of the world in order to make money and invest in the future was something we were willing to give up…for a time. A few years, maybe even a decade or more. I just wasn’t sure I was prepared to give it up forever.

But that didn’t change the fact that I wanted Noelle to be my forever.

One good thing about our upcoming trip was that it would give me a much better idea of how she might react if I brought up the idea of living in Sweden after I retired. Could she leave her brothers in the States to come with me? I didn’t even know if it was something I could ask of her, and yet if I didn’t, I would have to leave my family behind so I could stay with her.

No matter how I looked at it, one of the two of us was going to be losing a part of ourselves in the bargain. One of us would have to leave a piece of our hearts, our souls, behind. Of course, if I didn’t intend to remain in Portland with her, why was I so concerned with buying a house and making a memory room? I really didn’t know where my head was, so I couldn’t imagine how Noelle would take it when I presented the idea to her.

“I hate standing in lines,” Nicky muttered beneath his breath so quietly I barely heard him. “Makes me anxious.”

He was going to be on the same flight with us tomorrow, heading home to Sweden for the remainder of his summer. He’d stayed behind in Portland after the season finished, getting some treatment for the issues that had kept him off the ice throughout the majority of our playoff run.

He still hadn’t admitted that it was an addiction he was suffering from—at least not to me—but I’d spent enough time around enough addicts since I’d started up the Light the Lamp Foundation to recognize the telltale signs. Maybe he wasn’t ready to say he had a problem yet, but that couldn’t change the fact that he had one.

I was going to keep close to him today, just in case. He was a fellow Swede, and that made me feel somewhat responsible for him. Besides, Noelle had duties to fulfill as one of the bridesmaids, so I wasn’t going to be able to spend the time with her for a bit. There was bound to be alcohol at the reception—champagne, at the very least, and maybe an open bar. I didn’t want to see Nicky end up back in the hospital getting his stomach pumped again, and there was no telling what he might have already taken.

That was the thing—I didn’t get the sense that he was an alcoholic. It was far more likely to be drugs of some sort, maybe even prescription drugs, and when he drank, the alcohol only exacerbated the problem. My goal for the reception, and maybe for afterward, as well, was to keep him as far away as I could from anything he might inadvertently hurt himself with. That was why I’d spent time with him yesterday during the rehearsal, why I’d latched onto him as soon as I’d seen him arrive before the ceremony today, and why I was keeping him by my side now.

When we got to Noelle in the receiving line, I leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. The scent of her flowers tickled my nostrils. “Du är så vacker, älskling,” I murmured before pulling away. She was so beautiful she made my heart lodge in my throat.