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Focusing on playing was hard. I’d called Sam, but he’d never answered. Even now, on the ice, my mind was packed full of Sam and Beth, of their wedding, of the kids that they would make. Things that I’d thought might be the things that Sam and I would do, back when he and me were…well, when we were.
Someone plowed into me, knocking me off my skates to my ass. I blinked hard, spit out my mouthguard, checked my fillings with my tongue to make sure they were still in my teeth, and glared up at Tim Clang, one of our defensemen. He grinned down at me, skated off, and hooted in glee as the white team scored on Alfie. Again. Our starting goalie came slightly unhinged.
“Stupid big putty-head Finn!” Alfie roared then threw his mask across the rink. I slowly got to my skates, trying to avoid the irate French-Canadian’s deadly glare. There was no way not to be seen. I was three feet from the goal. The goal scored on him that I was supposedly helping to defend as part of our usual one-on-one drills was sitting on the ice in the net. Coach Cole liked to mix us up, saying that forwards needed to know how to defend just like defensemen needed to know how to score goals. The Rush and the Railers wanted well-rounded players who could do it all. “You stand there like a big tree, staring at the ceiling! Did you not hear me shouting at you?!”
“No, Alfie, I’m sorry. I was thinking about—”
All kinds of French flew out of him. He whipped his stick at the glass and skated off the ice. I looked at Tim who was just as shell-shocked. Alfie had that effect on people. Then I glanced at Taz standing with the others by the boards. His mouth hung open just a little, as did Coach Cole’s and the rest of the Rush.
“Okay, well, we’re going to call this drill over. Someone go find the spare key to the showers!” Coach roared and we all scrambled to do his bidding. “Goog, give me a minute would you?”
I nodded, threw Taz and Rick a look, and then skated over to where Coach sat on the away bench, his arms folded over his Rush jacket, his deep green eyes unreadable.
“Sit,” he said. I sat. “Okay, son, what was that all about?”
“Well,” I muttered then paused. “Alfie got mad because I—”
“No, Goog, I know why Alfie got mad. I need you to tell me why you let Tim Clang catch you daydreaming.”
I looked down at my skates. “I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know, or you don’t want to tell me?”
Damn it. I didn’t want to tell him I was moping over a past lover. “I just got some bad news is all, Coach.”
“Is it your mother in Finland?” He sounded really concerned. Coach Cole was a good guy, easy to work with, demanding sure, but fair and usually even-tempered. The polar opposite of Henry who rode Coach like he was a mule instead of one of the most respected coach’s in the AHL. I often wondered what the final straw for Coach would be when it came to Henry.
“No, coach. She’s fine. It’s more a personal thing.”
“Young man, you need to look at me and listen to what I’m telling you.”
I made myself meet his firm gaze.
“Elo, you have an amazing gift. You’re probably one of the top ten wingers that I’ve ever seen come over from Ligga. You’re smart, fast, know the game, and can score. The scouts all raved about you and for good reason.”
“But you also have Henry McAllister looking for a way to get rid of you for some reason. I do not want to see that happen, but you’ve got to work with me here. This lack of attention to where the puck is or even where defenders are is giving that man ammunition. If you would just tell me what it is that has Henry gunning for you…”
“No, Coach, no, sorry, I can’t tell you that because I don’t know why he hates me so much.”
“Okay, that’s fine. Elo, please know that if you ever need someone to talk to, my door is always open. I will fight for you to stay on this team, but you have to start showing us the skills that brought you here or I won’t be able to keep your name on the roster. Are we clear?”
“Yes, Coach, it’s clear. I won’t let anyone get past me like that again. I promise.”
He clapped me on the arm. “Good man. Now go shower and head home for a nap. Game tomorrow night against the Cougars is going to require all of us to be sharp.”
“Yes Coach.” He left me on the bench to think and stew. I sat there so long that Taz and Rick Primula, the other winger on the first line, came looking for me. Rick was a nice guy. Friendly and outgoing. He was one of the fellows I was closest to on the team, not as close as Taz but we were getting there. Hard to be aloof with someone you’re with all the time.
They tried to get me to go with them to see a movie or get coffee or just hang-out and play video games, but I wasn’t in the mood. Instead of doing fun stuff to take my mind off things, I wallowed in the mire. All during my shower I relived the memories of Sam and me in Turku.
Of the times we had spent walking the city – newly in love – visiting the cathedral by the Old Great Square, taking boat rides on the Aura River, feeding each other forkfuls of whitefish gravlax along the river bank, lying in his bed after sex watching him paint. So many memories, all of them washing over me like a flood that swept me up and out to sea.
Those months in Finland had been magical. Special. They were dreams now, fantasies, fuzzy recollections, and sad wishes. Coming back to the States for hockey had slowly killed us. The hiding, the lies, the stifling fear of being outed. The fighting began then, both of us wanting to break away from the chains that kept us both shackled and living lies but unable to do so for so many reasons. His father, my mother, society, the rampant homophobia in sports…
So many reasons. So many lies.
Now, a year and a massive heartbreak later, I found myself standing outside his studio, snow and wind furling around me, pulling on my coat, snapping the thick scarf my mother had knitted for me, staring at his artwork in the windows. They were so Sam. Vibrant, filled with passion. I thought to go inside, to get out of the biting cold, and demand answers from him. I knew he was in there, on the second floor, in his studio, painting. The lights were on upstairs. His car was covered with a light dusting of snow.
Should I go in? Dare I go in? What purpose would it serve?
Answers. It would give you answers. Then you could maybe get on with your life, Elo.
Get on with life. Like find someone else and make the life that I’d dreamed of with Sam, just with some other person. God, that felt wrong, so wrong, way down deep. I spun from the artwork in the windows, snow hitting me in the face now, painful little bits of ice mixing in with the flurries. I shouldn’t have come here. Now I was more of a mess then I’d been before.
“Hey,” he shouted, his voice deep and familiar. I spun to face Sam in the doorway of the gallery. The snow blew into the open door behind him.
“Hey,” I yelled back, the wind nearly drowning our words out. My cheeks were cold, snow clung to my eyelashes.
“You want to come in?” I stood there, staring at him, icy cold hands in my coat pockets, cheeks aching, eyes watering from the bitter cold, not knowing what to do. “Please, come in. I think we should talk.” I shook my head. “I’ve got a bottle of Koskenkorva. To warm you up?”
Should I? Dare I? What purpose would it serve?
“Just one drink,” I shouted to him.
He nodded and opened the door wider. “Just one drink, for old times.”
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