A strong wind hurled snow and ice against the houses and tore branches from the trees. The temperature dipped into the single digits. Everything was harsh and cold. Wild fans were bundled up in warm jackets, hats, and scarves as they walked into the Excel Energy Center, huddled together with their friends. The players were attempting to warm up as well by padding their uniforms to keep out the cold while on the ice.
There was a definite chill in the air as Trevor walked into the locker room. His teammates kept giving him quick glances, looking away when he caught their eyes. He tried not to let it bother him as he readied himself for the game. They were in Canada facing the Blue Jackets. Trevor did not have high expectations for the game. The only thing his team had proven to him over the course of the season was that they knew how to disappoint. Then, that was what all major Minnesota sports teams were known for doing. Why had he come here?
Sure enough, the Wild lost three to two. Trevor did not have enough energy to be angry. He noticed how some of his fellow players grouped together to console each other. That had never attracted the Chicagoan. A loss was a loss. Nothing could make it hurt less.
David passed him as he skated off the ice, roughly pushing him with his shoulder as he did so. Trevor glared at him but said nothing. It was over. There was no use in getting into petty arguments. He trudged into the locker room gloomily.
Heather’s face came to his mind, and he shut his eyes.
Why was she all he could think about in the past 24 hours? Her and the kid. And Justin. Trevor had never wanted to take care of Liam. Why should he feel this way now? And he had never liked Justin. And Heather…
Heather was the only one who made sense to him now. He felt a deep longing in his heart to get her back. It was affecting his training and his work; it threatened to consume him. Would it ever go away? He had to push her to the back of his mind. He was strong; he could get over her. Yet, a tiny voice of doubt in the back of his mind continued to nag him. One thing was for sure, if he could not learn to cope with the loss, he would have no future with the NHL.
The wind had died down, but the temperature remained the same. There were no clouds to keep in the heat. The cold tasted bitter in Trevor’s mouth. For once, the winter felt to him as it must have felt to countless others: dreary, hollow, and dead. There was no life; everything was cut off. He felt like all joy and happiness had been sapped out of his life. Even his one passion, hockey, now seemed like a drudgery that it was his duty to engage in.
He thought breaking off all of his relationships would fix his problem, but it had not. Why could he not go back to the way life used to be?
Something had gone terribly wrong. He had miscalculated somehow. All he knew was that he could not return to his former life. After his time with Heather, with what she had shown him and made him feel, he could never be the same again. Life could never be the same. How could he go back to a time before he had experienced the things he did and felt the things he had felt? That he still felt deep in his heart? Even if he should never see her again, which seemed likely considering their exit from each other’s lives, he knew she had profoundly impacted his future.
But what future was that? What way as possibly open for him now that was not before? He was unsure. Currently, his future seemed to consist of endless, agonizing pain. He did not know how long he could last in such a state. He felt driven to action. He wanted to do whatever it took to get rid of the emptiness and brokenness inside of him, no matter what the cost or if he thought he deserved it or not.
He found himself walking along a lake. It was a long, narrow lake with a sidewalk around it and benches every several yards for summertime gazing. There were a few skaters on the ice, but otherwise the park was barren. Therefore, Trevor was surprised when he saw an elderly couple, both wrapped up in heavy coats and scarves, sitting on a bench, gazing out at the lake.
He found himself stopping before them. “Aren’t you cold?” he asked.
The couple looked up at him with smiles that creased their faces. “We’re pureblood Minnesotans,” the man said with a twinkle in his eyes. “We can bear through the harshest weather.”
The woman took the man’s bear hand in her own mittened ones. “Our love will keep us warm,” she added.
Trevor could not take her seriously; it sounded too cliché. Before he could say anything else, the man pointed to the skates Trevor had slung around his shoulder in case he had decided to make use of the ice and said,
“Are you a hockey player?”
Trevor nodded. “I play for the Wild.”
“The Wild?” the man exclaimed. “In my day, it was the North Stars.”
“I know,” Trevor said flatly. He looked the couple up and down. He still could not believe that they could choose to be out in the cold. It was fine for him, but they were old. Old people were more vulnerable to this type of weather. “Shouldn’t you be in Florida or something? At least for the winter? It would be better for your heath.”
“Oh, that would be awfully boring,” the woman said. “Where’s the excitement? Life’s challenges are what test your strength and bring out the best of you.”
Trevor raised his eyebrows. “You’re sure this is what you want?” He could not understand why anyone would want to remain in this state.
“I spent much of my youth running after what I thought I wanted, but I realized that everything I needed was all that I had left behind me,” the man said. He smiled at his wife. “Isn’t that right?”
The woman returned his smile. “It sure is.” She patted his hand. “As long as we’re together, we’ll survive, no matter where we are.”
“Why Minnesota?” Trevor pressed.
“You have to learn to appreciate what you’re given,” said the man.
The woman nodded. “Yes, Minnesota is cold, taxes are high, and tempers are quick to arise in the winter, but there is much beauty as well. You have to know how to pick the good out of the bad and focus on that. It’s the only way to get through life.” She chuckled. “Trust me, I’ve lived long enough to know. If you’re looking for perfection, you’re never going to get it.”
“Have you found a good woman to spend the rest of your life with?” the man asked.
Trevor hesitated, and then he said, “No.”
The man smiled. “You should go find one. She’ll drive you crazy (the woman rolled her eyes) but she’ll change your life.”
Trevor frowned. I think she already has. He shook his head. “I have to go. Stay warm.”
“You too, dear,” the woman said kindly.
“Good luck!” the man called after him, but he had already gone.
“Trevor. You’re here early.”
Trevor shut the door behind him as he walked into Coach Harold’s office. The coach had papers spread out over his desk, and he had been leaning over them. He stood up to greet his player when he entered the room, a slightly surprised expression on his face.
“I have to talk to you,” Trevor said.
Coach Harold crossed his arms. “Ok. What’s on your mind?”
“A lot, actually.” Trevor sighed. He figured he better just say that. “I’m not feeling well. I need a few days off to myself.”
Harold looked at him in concern. “Are you sick? Have you had one of our medical examiners look at you?”
Trevor shook his head. His head was beginning to hurt, but he doubted it had a physical cause. “No. I’m not sick; not physically. It’s emotional and psychological.”
Harold frowned. “Oh.” He paused. “We have a therapist we could get you.”
“No, I’m fine,” Trevor said quickly. “At least, I think I will be. There are just some things I have to figure out. I need to get away from here.” He knew life could not continue the way it was. He could not continue playing hockey and acting like everything was fine. He had to try to do something.
Harold’s forehead creased into a frown. “I can’t just let you go without a real explanation. What will I tell the press?”
“I’ll talk to them,” Trevor said. “I’ll explain.” He sighed again. “Look, you know I haven’t been playing my best recently. I’m just not in the game anymore. I think I can fix it, but I need a chance to do that. If I don’t figure this out, I don’t think I can play hockey again. Maybe forever.”
The Coach was silent for a moment. He seemed to be thinking deeply. Then he said, “It’s that bad, is it?”
Harold sighed. “Well, you’re right about your performance. I’ll tell you what: play for me tonight and I’ll give you Saturday off, but I’ll expect you to be back here on Tuesday. That will give you four full days to do whatever it is you need to do. Will that be enough?”
“I don’t know,” Trevor said, “but I’ll take it. Thank you, coach.”
Harold nodded. “Take care of yourself, Trevor. I don’t want to be disappointed in you.”
“Me neither,” Trevor said quietly to himself as he left the office.
The NHL player was unsure how much truth was in what he told his coach. He did not know how he was supposed to fix the mess he had created for himself; he just knew he had to try to do something. He figured he could not get any deeper in the hole he was in; the only way out was up. It was time to start climbing.
But where to start? Heather and Justin’s words filled his mind. He remembered how all of this had begun. Perhaps he could not have a future until he made amends with his past. Was there anything for him back there? If it had the answers, he would have to try. To move forward, maybe he had to first move back. At any rate, it was the only plan of action he had at the moment, so he decided to go for it and see where it led him.
It was a good day for flying. The skies were clear, and the snow was all piled on the grass. It felt unusual for Trevor to be flying without his teammates. He always drove home during the offseason so he could have his car. Traveling on an airplane alone felt different. He felt vulnerable and exposed. Then again, that was all he had been feeling recently.
He had a window seat. He glanced to the right as a large man sat next to him. Trevor did a double take. The man was wearing a Blackhawks hat. But, of course, this flight was headed to Midway.
The man looked at him. His eyes lit up in recognition. “Hey, aren’t you that NHL player from Chicago?”
Trevor smiled weakly. “I am.” It had ceased to matter to him whether anyone recognized him or not.
“Why are you headed to Chicago alone?”
Trevor shrugged. “I need to take a few days off. There are some things I have to take care of.” He hoped he would not ask any more. It was none of his business and he was too tired to explain.
“I can see why you would need a break,” the man said, motioning to the window. “This isn’t exactly paradise. I was here for business. I’m glad to be going back. Get out of here as fast as you can, right?” He chuckled.
Trevor turned away and stared at the seat in front of him. This was what he had been thinking ever since he had arrived. And yet… “It’s not that bad.”
“Well, if you have to live here, I suppose you would say that. But you want to play for the Blackhawks, don’t you?”
Trevor shut his eyes. “That’s the goal.” Was it still his goal? It had to be; he had nothing else.
“Good for you. I hope you make it. If you can play well, that is.” The man chuckled. “Can you believe these people? Do they even care about the Wild?” Trevor glanced at him and saw him shake his head. “Illinois is where it’s at, I’m telling you. This state has got nothing for people like us.”
Trevor looked away. Nothing? Was that true? He thought of Heather and had to shut his eyes again. Sure, she was from Chicago, but Minnesota seemed to be her home now. It was not his, was it? He had never wanted to be in Minnesota. He was going back to Chicago, where he belonged. So why the trepidation?
It was because of what he had to face, he told himself. After he solved everything, he would go back to feeling better. He could feel at peace in Chicago again.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. Trevor tried to sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, his thoughts invaded his vision. He was grateful when they landed. He had to hope that he was making the right decision.
Tension gripped his stomach as he stepped off the plane. He knew he was alone. He was unsure where he was going. This place seemed a more uninviting than he last remembered. Could he really find what he was looking for here? His eyes darkened as he stared out at the city from the airport window. It was time.