Double Major

By: Catherine Gayle

“Wasn’t it wonderful?” Noelle gushed. “I don’t think it could have been any more perfect. And this,” she added, waving her hand around to indicate everything in the reception, “it’s like a piece of heaven in here.”

I could have said the same thing about her, but I figured we had better move on so we didn’t clog up the receiving line. I winked at her and stepped away. “We’ll catch up with you later.”

Nicky kissed her other cheek, as charming as ever, and we moved along. I took a minute to talk to Babs, who seemed antsy to get out of his tux, or maybe just out of the receiving line. When I got to Sara and Jonny at the very end, they were clearly distracted and didn’t want to talk long. It didn’t bother me. I moved out of the way, standing off to the side until Nicky finished up.

Sure enough, there was a bar along the opposite wall with a pair of bartenders working it. I wanted to snag Nicky and keep him away from there as long as possible. When he turned around, I nudged my head toward an empty table nearby, well away from the bar, and waved him over to join me. He scanned the whole room with his eyes first, but then he did finally come over and take a seat.

“Keeping me away from the booze?” he joked, but there was something more serious in his tone.

I shrugged.

“Thanks.” He turned over the glass at the place setting in front of him and reached for the pitcher of water near the center of the table. “It’s not easy.”

That was the closest he’d come to talking about it. Maybe with anyone. It was hard to know. The league had a policy of protecting its players’ privacy when it came to things like this, so unless Nicky wanted to talk, the other guys on the team and I would never know.

“There are ways to make it easier,” I said, trying to gently ease us into the discussion.

“Like getting involved with your foundation?”

“If you wanted to. But that’s not the only thing out there. It’s not your only option.”

He nodded and sipped from his glass, but he let his eyes wander back to the receiving line. With the glass still in his hand, he pointed toward Noelle, lifting his chin in her direction. “What are you going to do after you retire if she doesn’t fall in love with Sweden?”

He was already changing the subject. I supposed we had gotten as far in the talk of his addiction as he was prepared to take it, then. That was all right. I knew better than to push. All I could do was make sure he knew I was around if he needed to talk or wanted help.

I sighed. “That’s the million-dollar question.”

“You should compromise,” he suggested. “You could spend half the year in Portland and the other half in Gothenburg.”

Now that was an idea with some real merit. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself. I mean, I’d already been doing that, myself, throughout my NHL career, and we didn’t have kids in school that it would affect.

After we’d been sitting there talking for a few minutes, the rest of our table started to fill in. Ray Chambers, Andrew Jensen, and Aaron Ludwiczak, a few of our Storm teammates, sat with us along with Jeremy and Dina Connor and their kids. Connor must have been one of Mr. Campbell’s teammates back in the day. He’d been a teammate of mine for about a month during my rookie season with the Islanders before he’d been traded. We said hello and spent a few minutes catching up, but it wasn’t long before the meal was being served and the reception activities were underway, preventing any of us from talking too much.

I turned my attention to the row of tables along the front of the room where the two couples and the entire wedding party were seated. Noelle caught my eye and lit up the room with her smile, but when I passed my gaze over to Jonny and Sara, I was baffled at the angered looks coming back toward my group, particularly from Sara. Her eyes were blazing in a way I’d rarely seen in the few months I’d known her. Jonny seemed as though he was more upset that she was angry.

I scanned my table, trying to see what could have riled her so thoroughly. The only thing that seemed problematic was that Razor kept pulling his cell phone out to check it. I caught his attention and indicated for him to put his phone away so he wouldn’t keep causing a distraction, and then I returned my attention to Noelle.

She’d turned to listen to Zee, who was thanking everyone for coming out, and she had the most serene expression on her face. Maybe I needed to give Nicky’s suggestion more serious thought. Because if I couldn’t be sure Noelle was happy, there was no chance in hell I would be, whether we were in the country I loved or not.

NOT EVEN CAM’S hand holding mine, enveloping me in the peace of his steady presence, could keep me from teetering on the edge of a serious flip-out moment. I was trying to hold it together because this was Dana and Rachel’s day and therefore not an appropriate time for me to confront my fucking mother and cause a huge scene, but it was taking every ounce of restraint I could scrounge up to keep my ass in my seat and my damn mouth closed.

Yes, I’d promised Cam that I had no intention of doing anything right now, but I was having a hard time keeping that promise. I couldn’t have guessed that she would have the fucking audacity to plop herself and her replacement family down with a bunch of Cam’s teammates, right in front of me where I couldn’t help but see her. All of the nerve endings in my body were screaming to march over and really lay into her, especially because she hadn’t even done so much as look at me. Not once. Not during the ceremony. Not when she and the wife-stealing bastard she was married to had come through the receiving line with her other children. Not now. Not at all.

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