The wind was brisk and the clouds were dark. The Excel Energy Center was packed with hockey fans, mostly Wild but some Columbus Blue Jacket fans. These two teams had already played each other in the preseason, with Columbus coming up on top. The Wild hoped they could do better this night, especially considering it was their home opener. They did not want to disappoint their fans.
Trevor dressed slowly in the locker room; every move was purposeful. He was thinking about what Heather had said at the coffee shop. Give it his best… What was his best? He always tried to play well and score goals, but he knew there was more. He had to care about this team. He was not sure if he could do that.
“Hey, Clifton,” a light voice said.
Trevor turned to see the captain walking over to him. He nodded to him in greeting. “Hey, Ethan.”
“Good luck today,” Ethan said. “Show us what you’ve got.” He gave him a small smile.
“Alright,” Trevor said half-heartedly. He turned back to his locker after he left. Soon, he was ready to go. He took a deep breath and turned back around. This was it. He had to make a good impression at their first game.
“Are you excited?” said Justin, walking up to him and clasping him on the shoulder.
“I guess so,” Trevor said.
Justin grinned. “It will be great. You’ll see. Come on, we’re starting.”
Trevor watched him walk away. Well, this was it. He would try to help the Wild win their first game. That was the best he could do at the moment. He knew Heather and Liam would be watching him from the great seats he had given them. He would not mess up.
He felt invigorated when he heard the roar of the crowd as he skated onto the ice. Everyone was dressed in red and green. He turned his head away from the stands and focused on what he was doing. He had to impress this team so that they would want to keep them. He knew that meant keeping fights to a minimum. Fine. He would play their game. At least for now.
After skating around the rink a few times, the players practiced shooting goals. Trevor enjoyed this time of warming up, but he was itching to start the game. The time came soon enough. He got into the second line in the middle with Justin on his left. His eyes were focused on the puck on the center of the ice, his muscles tensed.
Then they were moving. The rush made Trevor feel great. This was better than any preseason game. This mattered. The crowd was bigger and louder. There was nothing else like it.
The Wild won four to two. Trevor assisted in a goal, but he did not make one himself. That was fine; he would get his chance soon enough. He felt elated as he skated around, celebrating with his team. This was how a season was supposed to begin! They were on the road to New York next. He felt more confident about their chances than he had in a while. This was their chance.
“Good job out there,” Justin said to him as they walked back to the locker room.
Trevor was too high on endorphins to remember that he did not like him. “Thanks. You too.”
“Are you thinking about sticking with us for awhile?”
Trevor shrugged. “We’ll see.” There were worse teams he could have been sent to, he had to admit. Though, if the Blackhawks ever called for him, he would be in Chicago in a flash.
Heather was there to meet him with Liam when he reentered the stadium. She had a big smile waiting for him. “That was awesome!” she exclaimed. “I forgot how fun it was to watch a hockey game.”
“Even if it is Minnesota?” Trevor teased.
Heather smirked and rolled her eyes. “I never cared about that rivalry as much as you did.”
Trevor shrugged. “That’s true.” He turned to Liam. “What did you think, kid?”
“It was cool,” Liam said. “It was great being so close. I understand more now. Good job winning!”
Trevor smiled. “Thanks.”
“Can I meet the team now?” Liam asked with a grin.
Trevor frowned. It had not occurred to him that this was something the boy would desire. He wondered if he should have offered earlier. It seemed too late now. Many of his teammates had already headed home. He glanced behind himself. He saw Justin talking to some fans, and he got an idea. Looking back at Liam, he said, “I’ll let you meet one.” He turned his head again. “Hey, Justin! Come here!”
Justin glanced at him and nodded. A few seconds later, he jogged over to meet him. “Hey, Trevor, what’s going on?”
“This is Liam, the kid I’ve been looking after,” Trevor said, motioning to the boy. “He wanted to meet you. Liam, this is my teammate, Justin Turner.”
Justin looked down at Liam and smiled. “Hi there, buddy. How did you like the game?”
At first, Liam stared at him with wide eyes. Then he grinned and said, “It was awesome! I think I like hockey.”
Justin chuckled. “Well, that’s good.” He looked up, his eyes landing on Heather. “Who is this pretty young woman?”
“She’s just Liam’s babysitter,” Trevor said with a smirk.
Heather rolled her eyes and lightly shoved his shoulder. “I’m Heather Kernan. I went to high school with Trevor in Chicago. I’ve been in Minnesota since grad school.”
“Ah.” He turned to Trevor and grinned cheekily. “Is she the reason you won’t let me show you around town?”
Trevor frowned, not liking the implication. “No,” he said, glancing down at the floor. Why did everyone always jump to that conclusion? Sure, it was partially true, but he did his best to hide it, even if he could not hide it from himself.
“He never asked me to show him around,” Heather said. “I’ve only seen him a couple times since he arrived, actually.”
“We haven’t seen the Cities at all!” Liam complained.
“Hey, maybe we should all go do some fun stuff together,” Justin said.
Trevor’s head shot up. He felt a mild sense of alarm. “How about no?” He did not need more time for Heather to bond with him and grow to like him, and he definitely did not need to spend more time with Justin.
“You need to do something besides hockey. Don’t be afraid of us,” Heather teased.
“Please?” Liam pleaded. “It will be fun!”
Trevor hesitated. He knew this was a bad idea; they did not need to act like they were a some great group of friends. It was dangerous and did not sound very fun. Yet, he did not know how he could continue to refuse and have them accept it. Besides, Liam did need to see the city. Finally, he let out a heavy sigh while running a hand through his hair. “Fine. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with the idea. When were you thinking?”
“Does tomorrow work?” Justin asked. “We have Sundays off.”
Heather smiled. “Sound perfect.”
“The zoo,” Trevor said emphatically as he looked around. He was surrounded by families and kids. The children were talking excitedly and pulling their parents to their favorite animals. Trevor felt awkwardly out of place. “I can’t believe you brought me to the zoo.” At least the weather was nice and cool. He did not need a jacket, but the cold air felt good on his skin. Thankfully, there was a cloud blocking the sun, so he did not have to feel its heat.
“It’s a pretty big zoo,” Justin said. “And I thought Liam would like it.”
Liam grinned. “This is great!”
Heather smirked at Trevor. “Don’t tell me you’re too old for animals.”
Trevor rolled his eyes. “I’ve never even had a pet.”
“Maybe that’s your problem. You could use a dog,” Heather said with a nod.
Justin laughed. “Just relax and enjoy yourself. We can see an IMAX movie here when we’re done.”
“Sweet!” Liam exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted to see one of those!”
“This is not exactly a great tour,” Trevor said.
Justin shrugged. “It’s hard to see everything in one day. We’ll just have to do this again next Sunday.”
“Great,” Trevor mumbled. He let out a sigh and stuffed his hands in his pockets and he walked along with the group. He was actually feeling relatively calm. It was probably the weather. It would not have gotten this cold in Texas until at least November, and even then it would not stay. This place reminded him of home. It felt good.
“Camels!” Liam said excitedly. He pointed to the middle of an open area where someone was selling camel rides. There was a small line of excited children. Other kids were being pulled away by their parents to visit animals they could see for free.
“Let’s get Trevor to ride one,” Justin commented.
Trevor frowned. “No.”
“Oh, come on,” Heather said, grinning. She started to push him towards the camel. “It will be fun.”
Somehow, Trevor found himself roped into riding the camel. He looked around wide-eyed when he was on top of it. He had ridden a horse once when he was a kid, but this was different. The animal snorted at him. The man in charge smiled at him kindly and told him what to do. Trevor groaned as he was led around the area; children clapped and cheered as they waited their turn. He was glad when the whole experience was over.
“I’m telling everyone at school you rode a camel!” Liam declared when Trevor walked back to join the group.
Trevor rolled his eyes. “Fabulous.”
The next Sunday, the group of four took a tour of the Twin Cities that ended at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre. Trevor was not a big theatre person, but Heather seemed to enjoy it, so he kept his mouth shut. He was reminded of how much he wanted her to be happy, and his mind was already thinking up new ways to help achieve that goal. His mind was on her as he was getting ready for the home game on Tuesday.
“I hope you’re ready to play,” a rough voice said.
Trevor rolled his eyes as he turned around and saw David. “I didn’t see you shoot any goals last game,” he retorted.
David crossed his arms and glared at him. “I’m on defense.”
Trevor smirked slightly. “That’s no excuse.”
“Just don’t mess up,” David growled before turned and stomping off.
Trevor shook his head as he turned back to his locker. What had he done to make that guy dislike him? Oh well. It was not his problem; he had to focus on the game.
“Fun time we had, wasn’t it?” Justin said form behind him.
Trevor sucked in a sharp breath. He had grown to tolerate this teammate recently, but he was still not too fond of him. “It was fine,” he said tightly. When he turned around, he noticed that Justin seemed hesitant about something. “What?”
“I was just wondering,” Justin began slowly, “Is there anything going on between you and Heather?”
Trevor froze. Had he made it that obvious? He forced himself to relax so that he would appear nonchalant. No one could know. “No. Why would you think that?”
Justin shrugged. “Just the way you look at her…”
Trevor pursed his lips. “We’re just old friends. There’s nothing going on.” He turned around to continue getting ready for the game.
“Liam is a lot of fun,” Justin said.
“He’s energetic, that’s for sure,” Trevor mumbled. He was unused to having such a ball of energy running around all the time, and he was unsure what he thought about it.
“He looks up to you, that’s for sure,” Justin said after a minute of silence.
Trevor stopped moving, his helmet in his hands. He felt a heavy weight in his chest and he said almost sadly, “That’s his problem.”
“Do you know what he did to get his mom to send him here?”
Trevor put his helmet on his head and turned around. His teammate seemed worried. “No,” he admitted. “I still have to ask about that.”
“It’s just so weird…” Justin murmured. A second later, he shrugged and smiled. “Oh well. Time to go warm up!”
Trevor nodded, but he waited a moment before heading out to the stadium with his skates. The sound of the crowd cheering made him feel lighter. He was here for them; he had to make sure they were not disappointed. He skated onto the ice with vigor. This was the opportunity to be waiting for. It was time to play his hardest.
The Wild ended up losing the game four to two. Trevor was growing increasingly frustrated. The team’s record was now two to four; the season was not looking very promising. Trevor’s pessimism was growing.
He tried to distract himself by saying good night to Liam at the end of the day. It was not something he did normally, but he needed to get his mind off of his team.
“How do you like Heather?” he asked the kid as Liam snuggled under the covers of the bed Trevor had bought for him a couple weeks ago.
Liam grinned up at him. “She’s great and lots of fun!”
“Good,” Trevor said. He was glad the two liked each other; they seemed like they would be good for each other. He did not want either one to be lonely.
“Can I have a friend over someday?”
Trevor blinked in surprise at the question. “Uh, sure. You’ve made friends already?” It had always taken him a long while to get close enough to anyone to invite them over, and Liam was at a new school too. He supposed this was a good thing.
“Yep!” the boy said. “I’ve made lots of friends. People like me here.” His smile faded. “They didn’t at my old school. Not since I got in trouble. They teased me and called me bad names.”
Trevor found his chest tightening. He hated the thought of someone innocent being treated like a criminal; where was the justice in this world? He was reminded of what Justin had asked him that day. He wished he knew what had happened to the kid; perhaps then he would be able to help him out and make sure nothing like that ever happened again. “Did you really go to jail?” he asked softly.
Liam nodded. “It was scary. There were a lot of big, dangerous people there. I thought they were going to hurt me.” He paused. “Am I bad? The kids at school thought so. They said I wouldn’t have gone to jail if I wasn’t.”
A wave of compassion flowed over Trevor. This was not fair. “What did you do, Liam?”
“I don’t know,” the boy said almost helplessly. “I didn’t think it was that bad. I don’t know what was wrong. Maybe that means I’m bad.”
Trevor shook his head forcefully. “No, you’re not. Sometimes people make mistakes. The system is not perfect. You’re a good boy.” His heart started beating quicker. He did not want this kid to give up like he had, not if he had never actually done anything wrong. He had to figure this out.
“Ok,” Liam murmured. “Thanks, Trevor.”
Trevor nodded. “Good night, kid.” As he left the room, he knew it was too late at night to call his mother. He had it in his mind to contact her as soon as time permitted him.