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Times like this I wish I was back in Finland and had never come to America to play hockey. If I were still in Porvoo none of this would be happening. I’d not be sitting here with a stuffed nose and a broken heart. I’d not be regretting calling my best friend – my only friend to be honest – crying like a little boy who had lost his puppy. I’d not be so torn into tiny bits, not knowing what end was up or if I’d even have a place on the Rush tomorrow.
If I were home I’d be far away from this mess my life was now. I could be fishing in the Porvoojoki River with my cousin Aarne, catching little but enjoying the sights of the red shore houses that line the waterway. We’d be snacking on Karjalanpiirakka, made by our mothers for the fishermen – us – to carry with us. How I missed those little pies, as well as my mother’s arms.
Aarne and me could be walking down the cobblestone streets of Old Porvoo, snickering to each other about the tourists on day trips from Helsinki. Maybe we could stop at a chocolate shop and try to wheedle free candy from the shopkeeper as we had as boys. Elo and Aarne Gugläken, together again.
But no, I was here in Carlisle, my eyes scratchy and red, my sinuses blocked, staring at some stupid newspaper social page, my heart breaking into little bits, lost. The rap on my door startled me. I shot to my feet, drug the back of my hands under my eyes, and went to see who was here. There in the cold stood Taz and Mike, looking as if they’d made the thirty-minute ride under a cloud of worry.
“Goog, you look like someone ran over your dog,” Taz said, pushing in around me, his fingers linked with Mike’s. I was glad they’d worked things out. Taz loved Mike. Mike loved Taz. People in love should be together. Before my father had died five years ago in a boating accident, I recall him grabbing my mother, hugging her close, and telling her, “Sata sydäntä ei ole tarpeeksi kuljettamaan kaikki rakkauteni sinulle.”
A hundred hearts would be too few to carry all my love for you.
That was the kind of love they had had. That’s the kind of love Mike and Taz have. And that is the kind of love that I want to have but can’t for so many reasons, the biggest right now is that he’s getting married to someone else.
“I shouldn’t have called you,” I mumbled as I flopped back to the sofa, wadding up the social page into a small little ball. “I’m sorry I did that. You and Mike were rekindling. Me calling and interrupting was wrong. I was just…being me. Stupid. Big, dumb, fish-brained Finn. Go back to Harrisburg and pick up the romance you were making.”
“Okay, first of all you are not dumb.” Taz sat down beside me, Mike disappeared into the kitchen to do something, make coffee probably, or maybe just let me and Taz talk in private. “You are big and fish-brained.”
I grunted and stared at my big stupid feet resting on my stupid carpet.
“Goog, buddy, I was kidding. You are not fish-brained, you’re a good guy, smart and skilled on the ice. The fans adore you. You’re sweet and goofy and kind-hearted.”
“And stupid. Stupid to call you from a date, stupid to get upset about Sam.” I stood up. “Go get Mike and go back to Harrisburg. I’m done being stupid over this.”
Taz pushed to his feet. “Here’s the thing, Mikey is in there making coffee, so we all can talk. He likes to make coffee.”
“I really don’t,” Mike called from the kitchen.
Taz rolled his eyes. “He does, he’s just being prickly. Listen, the thing is, we’re here and we’re staying, so you might as well lower yourself back down, and tell me what this whole thing is about.”
I shook my head. Big, stupid blond head. “No, you should go. Go now and forget I called. We can’t talk about this, none of this. We’re both…him and me are both…too much lies has been spoken now. Too many,” I quickly corrected. “Too many lies. Too many heartaches.” I grabbed Taz by the arm and jerked him toward the door. “It’s better he stop being honest and cover it up. It’s all been covered up so long, all of it. It’s dead now. Best to let it be.”
Taz ripped his arm from my hand, planted his feet, and glowered at me.
“Stop pushing me around,” he barked.
I grabbed for his arm. He gave me a shove. I shoved back. And then Mike was there, squeezing in between us, pushing on Taz with one hand and me with the other.
“You don’t know nothing about it!” I roared around Mike, who was kind of wide-eyed with anxiety. Guess being sandwiched between two hulking hockey players tussling with each other would make a smaller man nervous.
“I would if you’d just fucking talk to me you big dope!” Taz shouted back. With a sharp nudge, he knocked his man aside, and stepped right into my space, his hands latching to my big stupid head, his fingers biting into my scalp. “Talk. To. Me.”
He placed his brow to mine. I closed my eyes so not to see all the emotions in his gaze.
“Talk to me,” Taz said again, softer this time.
“Him and me we had something one time,” I said on a reedy exhalation, eyes squeezed shut. “When I came over from Liiga to play here we had a thing…”
“Yeah, I did the math on that one,” Taz whispered, his grip on my skull softening. “I don’t understand any of this to be honest.”
I leaned into him a bit, my legs feeling wibbly-wobbly. I opened my eyes so that I could see my friend. “Me either, but this wedding to this girl is a sham, I know him. He’s not into women, at all, not like me who date them sometimes. I just…it’s dead now. Him and me, what we had, what we felt… I thought maybe after he came out but no, he’s retracted it all.”
“Wait, what? He retracted coming out? How is that even possible?” Taz held me still, his fingertips buried in my overly long hair. He was looking right at me now, right into me. “Why would he do that? Why would he agree to marry someone he isn’t attracted to? Why would he say he was gay and then a month later say he wasn’t?”
“Henry,” Mike murmured. We both looked at him. Well, I looked once Taz turned my head in Mike’s direction. “Please, don’t tell me you don’t see the correlation between all of this? Numerically it lines up perfectly. Mostly perfectly…okay, there are some incongruities possibly, but I suspect Henry is orchestrating this somehow.”
“Do you think Henry has something he’s holding over Sam’s head?” Taz asked his boyfriend then turned my head back so that we could gaze at each other. “Does Henry know about this fling you and Sam had when you first joined the Rush?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think so, we were super careful. Sam and me, neither of us was out…so many lies,” I sighed. Taz released my head and hugged me hard.
“It’s okay bud, we’ll get this mess all straightened out.”
He patted my back and I threw my arms round him, snugging him tight. I wasn’t sure there was any way to straighten out the web of lies Sam and I were caught in, but Taz sounded so sure and I was so sick and desperate…
*a new episode appears each Sunday, check the master list for updates.