The skies were clear on the October morning. St. Paul residents wore light jackets and warm hats as they went about their business. Several people were outside raking leaves, but most were inside preparing dinner, including Trevor. The apartment kitchen was shaped like an “L.” The countertops were sparkling white; the Chicagoan liked to have a clean kitchen. The whole place was beginning to smell like chicken and herbs.
“Liam! Can you set the table?” Trevor called from the kitchen while he was busy stirring a pot on the stove. He had to admit, it felt good to cook again. He often did not have the time because his hockey games were at night. Usually, he had to go out to eat or reheat something quickly. Home cooked meals were so much better. He hoped Liam and Heather would appreciate it as well.
The kid hopped into view. “Ok, Trevor,” he said. He was dressed in a complete cowboy outfit. He had a plaid shirt, a belt with a big buckle, a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and two toy guns attached to his belt. He pulled out the guns and shot them before putting them back and rushing into the kitchen.
Trevor shook his head. “You’ve been watching too many westerns.”
“I’m a Texan!” Liam said with a grin. He opened a cupboard and pulled out some plates. “Who is coming over again?”
“Her name is Heather Kernan,” Trevor said calmly. “She went to high school with me in Chicago.”
Liam grinned cheekily. “Are you two in love?”
Trevor flushed. He momentarily forgot what he was doing. Then he glared at the boy angrily. “No,” he muttered. “We’re just friends.”
Liam smirked. “Right.” He carried the plates to the kitchen table.
Trevor had just finished cooking when there was a knock on the door. He was about to go get it, but Liam rushed past him first, crying, “I’ll get it.”
Trevor did not complain as he followed the kid to the door. Sure enough, Heather was standing there when the boy opened it. She smiled down at him. “Hello, there,” she said. “Who are you?”
“I’m a cowboy!” Liam said confidently. He brought out his guns and pretended to shoot her.
Trevor shot him a look. “Cowboys don’t shoot ladies.”
Liam frowned and put his guns away. “I’m sorry, lady.”
Heather chuckled. “It’s alright.” She bent down to get to his level. “My name is Heather. What’s yours?”
“Liam!” the boy said happily. “Trevor is taking care of me.”
Heather smiled before standing up. “That’s what I was told. Do you like it here in Minnesota?”
Liam shrugged his little shoulders. “It’s cold and I don’t understand hockey.”
“We’ll have to strap some skates on you one day,” Trevor commented. He wanted to see if he could convert a Texan; he often thought that if they just tried hockey, they would find that they loved it.
Liam’s eyes widened. “You mean skate… on ice?” He seemed afraid at the idea.
Trevor raised his eyebrows. “You’ve never ice skated before?” He knew Texas did not have any frozen lakes or ponds, but surely they had indoor rinks?
Liam shook his head quickly. “No. I haven’t even been roller blading.”
“It’s fun,” Heather assured him. “Trevor would take good care of you.”
A small smile appeared on the boy’s face. “I know,” he said softly.
Trevor suddenly felt uncomfortable. He coughed awkwardly; he did not like the way the kid talked about him. Time to change the subject. “Dinner’s ready. I made chicken alfredo.”
“It smells good,” Heather said. “I hope it tasted good too.”
Trevor smiled slightly. “We’ll see.” He returned to the kitchen to get the food. Soon, he had everything at the table set. He sat across form Liam with Heather to his right. There was a minute of silence as they all dug into the food.
“This is great!” Liam exclaimed happily with his mouth full.
Heather smiled and nodded. “I agree.”
Trevor shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly. “Thanks.”
Heather turned her interest to him. “So, tell me what has happened in your life since high school. How was Ohio State University?”
“It was great,” Trevor said. “I had a lot of fun, and I met some cool people. I loved playing college hockey. I only opted out of my senior year because I wanted to get started with my professional career as soon as possible. I thought I was ready and I wanted to take the chance to get ahead early.”
Heather nodded. Her face had a contemplative look to it. “I understand, but don’t you think it would have been a good idea to complete college and get an education so that you would have a backup plan in case this hockey thing doesn’t work out for you?”
Trevor was not offended by the suggestion. He knew Heather was just trying to give practical advice. That just was not the way he thought. “I don’t need a backup plan,” he said emphatically. “Hockey is all that matters. If I can’t succeed in the NHL, then I have nothing else. Nothing else would be worth it. I have to go all in on this.”
Heather smirked slightly. “You were always apt to place all your eggs in one basket.” She shook her head. “It’s a big risk, but I guess sometimes that’s the way to go.”
“I’ll be fine,” Trevor said, though he was not entirely sure he believed it himself. “I will succeed.”
“That’s a good attitude to have,” Heather said with a nod.
“I know what I want to be when I grow up!” Liam exclaimed.
Heather turned to him and smiled. “What, sweetie?”
“A doctor!” Liam said with a gleeful grin. “I want to help people get better. I don’t like to see people sick and hurt.”
Trevor was intrigued by the boy’s answer. It was not what he would have expected him to say. “You should become a doctor for people’s minds,” he stated casually.
“What do you mean?” Liam asked with a frown.
“A psychiatrist,” Trevor said. “Work with people who have something wrong with their heads.”
“You mean crazy people?” Liam said in horror.
Heather laughed. “My brother is a psychologist. He doesn’t have a medical license, though, so he can’t prescribe any drugs.”
“Sometimes natural is the best way to go,” Trevor commented. The conversation had him remembering how his mother had tried to get him to see a therapist when he was young. It was an interesting idea, but he did not think he would ever do it. He was nothing wrong with people going to therapists; it was just that therapy was meant for people who could be helped. Nothing in Trevor could change, so why bother trying to fix it?
“So, you were drafted by the Stars?” Heather prompted him.
Trevor was brought back to their earlier discussion. He nodded in between bites of food. “That’s right. Because I had participated in the NCAA, I skipped the minors and went straight to Dallas. I spent the summer there. It was terrible.”
“I don’t like the summer either,” Liam said. He frowned. “I mean, I like that there’s no school and I can play more, but it’s too hot. They should have summer in the fall! That would be better.” He grinned at his idea.
Trevor and Liam both laughed. “I don’t think that would go over too well,” Trevor said.
“But good idea,” Heather added.
Liam shrugged. “It was worth a shot.”
Heather looked back at Trevor. “I know you didn’t like Texas, but how was the team?”
“Ok, I guess,” Trevor said without much emotion. He moved his food around with his fork. “I did not like that it was the franchise I had grown up hating. I encountered North Stars fans every year. But my teammates were alright. I got decent playing time.”
“But you weren’t where you wanted to be?” Heather said.
Trevor shrugged. “I didn’t start as many games as I would have liked. Other teams don’t pay much attention to players who aren’t looked upon as leaders.”
Heather watched him carefully. “Was your playing time the Stars’ fault or your fault? They were the ones who traded you, right?””
Trevor shifted uncomfortably, not liking the implication; she saw too much. He noticed Liam watching him intently as well. “I had chances to move up, but I was just not motivated enough. My coach thought I would do better in Minnesota. If it had been any other team but the Wild, I would have defiantly agreed.”
“What’s wrong with the Wild?” Liam asked after swallowing food.
Trevor sighed and shook his head. “It’s complicated. You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Liam made a face. “That’s what grownups say when they don’t want to explain things.”
Heather smirked in amusement. “Trevor doesn’t like Minnesota.”
Liam frowned. “Oh.” He turned to the hockey player. “Then why did you come here?”
Trevor sighed. “I didn’t have much of a choice.”
“You always have a choice,” Liam stated in a matter of fact way.
“I wish it were that simple,” Trevor mumbled.
“Let’s finish this delicious meal,” Heather said in a happy tone. She glanced at Trevor. “I’ll tell you what I’ve been up to later.”
“When I finish eating can I go play?” Liam added excitedly.
“Of course,” Trevor said.
Liam began to quickly stuff spoonfuls of food in his mouth. A minute later, he swallowed and said, “I’m done!” Without waiting for a response, he dashed off to his room.
“Have fun!” Heather called after him. She looked at Trevor and smiled. “He sure is an energetic little guy.”
“Yeah,” Trevor murmured. He was not sure what to think about the kid. He wished he would not talk so much, but there was an innocence about him that he liked. He felt he was worth protecting.
“Why are you taking care of him anyway?”
Trevor hesitated. How was he supposed to explain? He thought back to the encounter with his mom. “His mother urged me to take him to Minnesota because it was better for him there than in Texas. Liam got into trouble with the law somehow. There’s an error in the Texas criminal justice system or something that is not there in Minnesota’s. His mom thought he could have a better life here.”
Heather narrowed her eyes together thoughtfully. “Strange. What exactly did he do that could be so bad? He’s a kid! I thought the juvenile justice system was more about educating kids about how to behave than punishing them.”
Trevor shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve been meaning to call his mother to ask her about it. She said I could ask Liam, but he doesn’t seem willing to talk about it.”
“Poor boy,” Heather said sympathetically.
Trevor nodded. He was just as confused as her, but he did not know what to do at the moment. It was better not to worry about it. He stood up and picked up his plate; Heather did the same. “I can clear the table,” he said.
“No, I’ll help,” Heather said with a small smile.
Trevor did not argue; he knew from experience that it was useless against her. As they brought their plates to the kitchen, he asked, “Tell me about you. How did you come to own a coffee shop?”
Heather smiled slightly. She followed Trevor’s lead in putting her plate in the dish washer. “Well, I graduated from the University of Chicago with a business degree. I decided to attend the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities to earn my master’s. There I met and fell in love with a guy named Jacob.” Trevor felt his heart lurch, but he remained silent. “He was as motivated and dedicated about business as me. He was the manager at Caribou and I became his assistant manager. We both worked hard, and by the time we graduated, we had earned enough money to buy the store. We owned it together. We were planning to get married last October.”
Heather’s smile faded and a sad look crossed her face. “He died in a car accident in September – three weeks before we were supposed to get married.” She had stopped in the middle of the kitchen, a cup in her hand.
Trevor felt his heart break for her. It was terrible that someone like her had to go through something so tragic; she did not deserve it. She needed someone who would love and take care of her forever. Why was fate so cruel? He wanted nothing more to console her and make her feel better, but he knew that was impossible. He had to keep his distance. “I’m sorry,” he murmured.
Heather rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “It’s fine,” she said, her voice barely cracking. She gave him an obviously fake smile. “I’ll survive.”
Trevor scrunched his eyebrows together in thought. “Why didn’t you leave Minnesota? It would seem that staying here would remind you of Jacob and cause you pain.”
Heather let out a light chuckle. “Being reminded of Jacob is exactly why I have to stay. I don’t want to lose the memories, no matter how few there are. I need to keep the Caribou store. It’s like having a part of Jacob with me. I will move on, but I don’t want to forget him and what he meant to me. Staying here is honoring his memory.”
Trevor was silent as he thought about what she said. It reminded him of what his teammate Justin had said about Minnesota and the North Stars. Holding onto the memories by embracing them was not Trevor’s natural inclination. He wanted to escape pain an anything that caused it. Could they really be onto something?
Suddenly, Liam hopped into view and called out, “Trevor, will you be my horse?”
Trevor looked at him and frowned. The idea did not sound appealing at all. “No,” he said flatly.
Liam frowned. “Please?”
“No,” Trevor repeated more firmly.
Liam crossed his arms and pouted. “Fine.” He turned and stomped away.
“Aw, you should be nicer to him,” Heather commented.
“I’m as nice to him as I can be,” Trevor commented. He had done a lot to provide for the kid. That had to count for something, right? Just then, he remembered his dilemma about finding someone to talk care of Liam during road games, and an idea hit him. “Say, Heather, how would you like a second job?”
Heather raised her eyebrows. “What would this job entail?”
“Picking up Liam after school on days where I have to go on the road for games and keeping him until school the next morning,” Trevor said. He added quickly, “I know it’s sudden, but I have no one else to turn to. I don’t know anyone in Minnesota besides my teammates.”
“How much would this job pay?” Heather asked coolly.
“A hundred dollars a day?” Trevor offered.
“300,” Heather said.
Trevor blinked in surprise. “150.”
Heather smirked. “180.”
Trevor blinked. She was good at this. “Fine. Deal.”
“And what about game tickets?” Heather asked.
Trevor shrugged. “Do you want to come to the home opener next Saturday? You can sit with Liam.”
Heather grinned. “Alright. You have a deal.”
Trevor felt relief like a giant weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Liam was taken care of.