The Doppler Effect
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Inspired by Bennie's When Destiny Falters which was inspired by Sliding Doors. Basically, Micke must make a choice that could possibly change his life. Lucky you gets to see both sides. If you're feeling particularly lucky, choose with him and see how the life you chose turned out. Pay attention to the dates so that you don't get confused.
Dedicated to: Mae! For the awesome title and cool link.
Rating: R for language
AN: I love Cheese Sandwich! This is foofy Cheese Sandwich fun. Don't be bitching to me about lack of characterization/emotions/depth/etc.
AN2: Pitea really did throw a big shindig for Holmstrom when he won the Cup, even though he only played in one playoff game and poor Micke had to watch him win it.
Mikael let go.
His left hand no longer supported his daughter’s back and his right wasn’t holding up her chin. She closed her eyes and let her arms spread out wide.
“See,” he murmured, “all you had to do was relax.”
“Really?” she chirped back. “I’m doing it?”
He said yes and she snapped her eyes open. She lowered her chin and picked up her head so she could see.
And promptly sunk.
He chuckled and watched her swim back to the boat. “You almost had it there,” he called after her. He climbed into the boat to find her already swaddled in a towel.
“I’m too heavy.”
She seemed to be pouting so he patted her head. “Yeah. You’re as big as an elephant.”
Her jaw dropped. “Am not!”
He pulled a cooler out and waved a sandwich and juice box at her. “They’re not peanuts, but I don’t think a little elephant can complain.”
“I’m not an elephant,” she said, refusing to budge.
He shrugged and pulled out another sandwich for himself and began to eat it. “Are you sure?” He was referring to the sandwich so he smiled when she replied.
“Yes. Baby elephants come from mommy and daddy elephants. And you’re not an elephant.”
“Are you sure?” She raised an eyebrow and he countered by touching his nose to his arm, raising it up like a trunk and making a noise like an elephant. She squealed and clapped her hands, giggling. He patted the seat beside him. She scrambled from where she was to sit down beside him.
He handed her the sandwich and put the straw in the juice box for her. “Do it again,” she urged.
He obliged and his mother clucked her tongue from the other side of the boat. “I always knew I raised an animal.”
“Can you do it, Grandma?”
The two chatted back and forth while Mikael munched on his sandwich. He glanced out across the water, waving at a few friends. It was summer and the Luleå HF’s season had ended a while ago. It was his day with Emmy; Stina was visiting some friends a few towns over. They had spent the morning and early afternoon with his parents out on the boat.
When they arrived home his answering machine was blinking the number ten. He ignored it and let Emmy help him microwave a couple of t.v. dinners. He put the phone on silent and after dinner he popped a bag of popcorn to go along with a video. Emmy watched half of ‘Lily the Golden Goat’ before falling asleep. He carried her upstairs to her room. She murmured something unintelligible; she talked in her sleep just like her mother. He smiled, watching her sleep for a few minutes before heading back downstairs.
He pulled the video out and Gwyneth Paltrow flitted across the screen, running through the subway. Mikael flipped off the television and went to bed.
“Pick up, Micke. I know you’re there. Pick up.” Don Meehan’s voice floated through the kitchen.
Mikael ignored it again, piling Emmy’s plate with pancakes.
“Why’s your agent calling you?” she asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
“So that I can spend more time with you.”
“Why are these pancakes black?”
He smiled. “They taste better that way.”
“No, they don’t.” She grinned and stuffed another forkful in her mouth. “I’ll eat them because you made them.”
“That’s very nice of you, Emmy.”
“I know,” she replied, eyes snapping. “I’m a very nice elephant.”
He laughed and this time when the phone rang, he picked it up. “Hello, Don.”
“Hey Micke. I’ve been calling you for the last week. Where have you been?”
“Out.” He motioned to Emmy, raising his arm to imitate a trunk. She laughed and paraded around the kitchen, trumpeting like an elephant.
“I see. Emmy there with you?”
He held out the phone. “Hello, Don!” she yelled into the receiver. Mikael bit back a laugh; he doubted Don’s eardrums were still intact.
“A screamer. Sounds just like Stina.”
“Be nice, Don.” His daughter heckled him, echoing his sentiments. She tried to crawl up on his lap but he held her at bay by placing a hand on her forehead. It was rather comical and he was soon distracted, forgetting Don. “Huh, what’s that you say?” he repeated for the second time.
“Are you still interested in the NHL?”
“What?” He dropped his arm and Emmy attacked his stomach. He stood up, motioning for her to be quiet.
“I asked if you were interested--”
“Yeah, yeah, I heard you. Get on with it.”
“The Toronto Maple Leafs. They’re interested in acquiring your rights from Phoenix. But only if you’re interested in returning the NHL.”
“No shit. No shit!” Mikael clamped a hand over Emmy’s mouth.
“No shit, Micke. Mats Sundin. First line. They need a quality winger on the right side. They called me up and I’ve been trying to call you ever since.”
Emmy wrestled from his grasp and began running around the kitchen table chanting her newly learned expletive. Mikael followed, still stunned by Don’s words, until he was yanked back by the cord. He had tangled himself up, still hadn’t answered Don’s question, and his daughter was yelling “no shit” over and over like a broken record when his ex-wife walked through the door.
“Stina,” he exclaimed.
“No shit!” yelled his daughter.
“Micke, you still there?”
“I’ll call you back, Don.” He hung up the phone and tried to disentangle himself. “Stina, I was--” He fell down in a heap on the kitchen floor. Emmy giggled and clapped her hands.
“Teaching our daughter some new words?”
“I’m an elephant,” Emmy said proudly. “Daddy says you’re an elephant too.”
“Stina, I--I--” He flushed and finally pulled himself free. “I didn’t say that,” he stammered.
She smiled and turned her attention back to Emmy. “You are, are you?” Emmy nodded emphatically. Stina touched her nose to her bicep, raising it up and down. “Really? Me too.”
He stood underneath the hot water, letting it slick down his body as he mulled Don’s words over. He stared at the smooth tiles as he let his mind wander.
Was he interested in going back to the NHL? After so many injuries, so much heartache, bad luck on good teams, bad luck on bad teams…did he really want to return to instable job security? Did he really want to grind it out day after day, skate through injuries for possibly nothing?
Did he really want to leave Piteå and Emmy behind?
She was one of the main reasons he had returned to Sweden in the first place.
The idea of winning a Stanley Cup though…that gnawed at the back of his head. As well as possibly joining Mats on the top line.
When he had left Phoenix he had been so sure of his decision. He knew it was the right one, at least at the time. He and Don had even had the foresight to think about changes in the future: drawing up an escape clause from his five-year deal with Luleå. Now was the time, the only time he had to get out of it and return to the NHL. Once the season began with the Bears again, he would be stuck until 2005.
He sighed. Because he had been ignoring his calls, he only had a limited amount of time to chew on the question before he’d have to let Don, and the Leafs, know his decision. He twisted the nozzle, turning off the spray, and stepped out of the shower, preparing to towel off.
He must’ve been in there longer than he previously thought because the mirrors were all fogged up and even the tile flooring was misted over. He took a few steps and suddenly fell backwards, limbs flailing about in every which direction until his head hit the lip of the tub.
“Fuck!” he screamed out, cradling his head and rocking back and forth on the floor. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered to himself. Eventually he sat up, the back of his head throbbing. He ran a hand gingerly over the back of his head, feeling a bump. He hissed and pulled his hand back, grumbling and groaning about his own clumsiness.
He smiled slightly, noting that at least Emmy hadn’t been around to learn another word from him. He stood up carefully and made his way to the bedroom. He threw the damp towel on the chair in the corner and slipped into his boxers before falling into bed. He fluffed up the pillows and pulled the sheets up around his chest.
The phone began to ring and kept ringing, but he ignored it.
He was making coffee when the phone rang again. Still undecided, he let the machine pick it up yet again.
“My daddy is a hippopotamus. My daddy’s a giraffe. My daddy is an elephant. He always makes me laugh.” He heard Emmy’s giggles and picked up the phone.
“Hi Daddy. I made that song up just for you. Did you like it?”
“Very much so. Are you going to become a singer when you grow up?”
“No.” More giggles.
Mikael furrowed his brow. “Emmy, why are you calling? Did your mom give you permission to use the phone?”
“May-be,” she said in a singsong voice.
He sighed. “Emmy, you know you’re not allowed to use the--”
“Morning, Stina. Emmy was just telling me that--”
“Yeah, well, your agent was just telling me that you’re planning on moving back to North America--back into the NHL,” she snapped.
Why had Don been calling her? He knew the two of them were divorced. “I--well,” he stammered. “Nothing’s been decided yet. And why did Don call you?”
“Because you haven’t been picking up the phone. So he’s been bugging me and God knows who else. He probably already talked to your dad too.” Her voice sounded strange. It seemed strained and forced.
“Oh? Oh! Is that all you can say, Micke? Are you going back or not?”
He winced. Her voice was hurting his ears as it raised an octave. “I don’t know yet.”
“Well, you better figure it out and fast. And tell Don to stop calling me.”
She sighed, and he could tell by the tone in her voice that he and his answers were exasperating her. “Mikael, you aren’t seriously considering this, are you?”
“Sure, I mean--”
“What do you mean ‘sure’? Come on, Mikael, don’t you remember why we got a divorce in the first place?”
“My being in the NHL had nothing to do with--”
“Of course, it did!” she yelled back. “You can’t cut it there, Micke. Stay in Sweden where you’re near friends and family. Where you have a stable job and less travel.”
It was like being back in Tampa Bay and Philly all over again. “The hell, I can’t.” he spat. “I was third in voting for the Calder. I was on the top line for the Flyers--”
“Was! Was, Mikael! Not after the injuries. Everyone knows you’ll never be as good as you were before all your abdominal strains.”
He struggled to contain his temper, but her voice kept nagging at him, and what the hell was that high pitched noise in the background? “Shut up,” he said softly.
“I will not. Someone has to talk some sense into you. Jesus, Mikael, think for once.” He closed his eyes and bit his lip. “Think, Mikael. So you sign for a year on some hack team and then you injure yourself mid-season. Next season they won’t want you and then what will you do? Crawl back to the HF? Real loyal, Micke.”
He must’ve said it louder than he thought because she was silent for a few moments.
Her voice began again, quieter, but much more even. “If you go back to the NHL you’ll never see Emmy again.”
He sighed. “Sure I will. I can come home during breaks, three day weekends, and I’ll have summers off.”
“No, you don’t understand. I’m not going to have you flittering in and out of her life like that. She needs to have a strong, stable father figure.”
“I can do that. I can be that.”
“Not in the NHL an ocean away. You sign with a team over there and I’ll make sure you never see her again.”
“You can’t do that,” he replied, flabbergasted.
“Make a decision, Mikael. Make the right decision, Mikael.” She slammed the phone down, ending the conversation.
Mikael bit his lip and rested his forehead on the cold, smooth surface of his table. He suddenly had a headache.
As he sat in bed that night he couldn’t help but think about Stina’s words.
Make a decision, Mikael. Make the right decision, Mikael.
Right decision? Ordinarily, he’d just assume she meant her decision, but the thought still stuck in his head.
Or rather, in the pit of his stomach. What was the right decision? He missed the NHL so much. More than he thought. But to give up Emmy in return? He couldn’t bear to do that. It was why he headed home in the first place, why he tried so hard to reconcile with Stina.
But worse than the decision-making was the other nagging thought in his stomach. Was there a right decision? Was one choice wrong and one choice right? Or was there only one choice? Or were there infinitely many choices? If he made the wrong one, how would he know? And if he did, what would happen? Would it invariably catch up to him? What if this was his one choice? What if this was the one that could make or break his life?
What if he chose wrong?
He turned on his side and gripped the sheets in sudden fear. What if he had already made the wrong choice?
He shook his head though. Idiotic thoughts. He had a decision to make. He stared up at the ceiling, sighing. He closed his eyes and recalled Emmy’s birth. How nervous he had been; how he had done stretches in the room to try and calm himself down.
And how he had passed out cigars to all his teammates in Philly and how Eric had razzed him for buying such cheap cigars.
Both events had made him so inexplicably happy. He smiled in remembrance.
He opened his eyes and suddenly knew what his decision would be. He rolled over and turned off the lights, ready to call Don in the morning.
Mikael punched the numbers so rapidly that he had to redial. After two rings, Don picked up. “Hey Don.”
“Micke, I’ve been trying to get a hold of you--”
“Are the Leafs still offering me a deal?”
“So they’d acquire my rights, sign me to a one or possibly multi-year deal, and then I’d have to fly out to training camp in a few weeks, right?”
He was grinning from ear to ear, excited just thinking about it. “Tell them yes, Don. Tell them I want to be a Leaf.”
He could hear Don smiling too. “Really? Wow, that’s great, Micke. Real great. And I’ll see what I can do about a multi-year deal. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”
“No problem. Bye.”
He hung up the phone still grinning and dreaming about the upcoming season.
“Hi Don, it’s Micke. How are you?”
“Good, good. The wife’s good too.”
“Great.” He paused, unsure as what to say next.
“Mmm?” He played with the cord on the phone.
“You called me.”
“Right, I…uh, it’s about the deal with the Leafs.”
“Still interested, right?”
His mind screamed “yes.” Even his lips itched to tell Don “yes.” But instead he found himself fumbling over some speech about home and Emmy and the Bears.
He could hear the disappointment in Don’s voice and it echoed his own sentiments. But it didn’t matter. Emmy was what was important. He had spent a good deal of time in the NHL, even got close to winning a cup. He didn’t really need to go back, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized that he didn’t even want to go back.
Well, not really.
But he supposed he would start to feel that way once HF’s season started up again.
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it and it really is for the best.”
“You don’t have to convince me, Micke,” Don said softly.
“Talk to you later.”
He hung up the phone and began to sob.
No, he didn’t want the NHL. Not one bit.
He hit his answering machine and it played back Emmy’s song.
He had made the right decision. He was sure of it.
He had made the right decision. He was sure of it.
Saying goodbye to Emmy was hard, but he was sure he would be able to convince Stina he’d be a good father even away from Piteå. Maybe he could even convince her to come out to visit him in Toronto.
He did another set of leg presses before standing up. He was called over to the other side of the weight room where he helped spot a rookie. He watched him lazily while striking up a conversation with Mats. They chattered back and forth in Swedish until Mats hit the showers.
Mikael followed a few minutes later. Getting dressed, he smiled to himself. He already felt comfortable, like he had found his niche. Pat had already pulled him aside and complimented him on his work ethic. He hoped that if he had a good camp, and a decent start in the preseason games that he’d have a chance at joining that top line when the season began.
He smiled. He couldn’t wait.
He didn’t know if he could take it anymore.
Emmy had watched “Lily the Golden Goat” five times in a row already.
“Oh no!” she gasped.
“Emmy,” he groaned. “The little girl gets saved in the end. Remember?”
“Maybe this time she won’t.”
“No. Lily always saves her. Every time. Just like last time. And the time before that.”
“We should watch just in case.”
He groaned and slapped his forehead.
The phone rang and he sprinted to the other room to pick it up, glad to be distracted. “Hello?”
“Yep. How are you doing?”
“Great. I’m at home with Emmy. And you? Are you still in Finland, that God-forsaken country?”
Janne laughed. “That would be Sweden. But no, I’m at training camp. You boys starting up soon?”
“Yeah, a few weeks.”
“Mikael, are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said unconvincingly.
“You don’t sound very--”
Janne’s voice was cut off by Emmy’s screams of “Daddy! Daddy!” He dropped the phone and raced to the other room.
She was still sitting in front of the t.v. She looked up, face beaming. “Lily saved her,” she announced happily.
He sighed in relief.
“Let’s watch it again, Daddy.”
He groaned and walked out of the room.
Mikael smiled, answering each reporter’s question diligently. He had scored two goals and assisted on two others, so he could sit there answering questions all night if he had to; he felt fantastic.
He had a slow start as usual, but had been on a streak for the past seven games, prompting much attention from the media. He was still heading up the second line, but he had quality ice time, so he wasn’t one to complain.
Not only was he on a hot streak, but so were the Leafs. They were first in their division and conference. Lines were clicking, the defense seemed solid, and Curtis was putting up amazing numbers in net. Mikael hadn’t felt this great, or this exhilarated to be playing since his first few years in Philadelphia.
Mats waved off the media and Mikael was finally able to finish getting dressed. He shared a cab with Darcy Tucker back to the hotel. The two picked up their messages from the front desk and the woman grinned as she handed Mikael his.
He glanced suspiciously at the pile of faxes.
“What are those?” Darcy asked, looking over his shoulder.
He shrugged, unfolding the pieces of paper. He laughed when he saw what it was.
Darcy stared at the drawings, puzzled. “Who’s faxing you caricatures of goats?”
“Focus, Renberg, or you’re sitting the next shift out.”
Mikael gulped water, nodding to let his coach know he heard him. He stared out onto the ice trying to follow the game, but it was useless. His mind kept wandering. He kept thinking about Janne’s call a few days ago. As much as he loved hearing from his friend, he also hated hearing about how he was faring in the NHL.
And every time a blue Djurgården jersey whipped by he couldn’t help but think about Toronto and what could have been. They had gotten out of the gates early and seemed fairly strong. The media was already picking them as favorites in the East.
He, and the Bears, on the other hand, hadn’t. They Bears had a shaky start and he, well, he hadn’t even started. He struggled night in and night out. When he focused he showed flashes of brilliance, of his former self.
The problem was that he wasn’t focusing.
All that he could think about was the NHL and what could have been. The more he watched the games on t.v, the more depressed he became.
He heard a scream and realized he had missed his turn to jump over the board. With one less body on the ice Djurgården had easily scored.
“That’s it, Renberg! Hit the showers.”
He stared down at his skates, slinking off down the tunnel to the dressing room. He sat on one of the benches holding his head. He was letting his team down, he was letting himself down, he was…
…a complete mess.
He pulled off his helmet and heard it hit the floor with a thud, not caring.
How did he get to this point?
“Emmy!” He picked his daughter up, swinging her around in the airport. He hugged her, smoothing down her hair with his hand. “I missed you.” He glanced over at Stina, mouthing her a “thank you,” before pulling back to look at Emmy.
“I missed you too. So did Lily.” She held up a plush stuffed animal that resembled a goat. “We watch you on t.v. all the time.”
“You do, do you?”
“Yes. And I told all the kids at school that you were my daddy. And I told them that you wore a blue uniform, but sometimes a white uniform too. And that you were the best hockey player ever.” He set her down as she continued to ramble. He clasped her hand and the three weaved through the throng of people in the airport.
“How many points do you have, Daddy?” she asked once they were inside a cab.
“How high can you count to?”
“Hmm…well, I have more than that.”
“Like twenty plus one?”
“More than that.”
“Twenty plus a million.”
She sat back, fiddling with her stuffed animal. “I thought so.”
Mikael grinned, staring out the window at the city. Being away from Emmy during Christmas was hard, and after talking things over with Stina she had suggested the two of them fly out to Canada. Despite her misgivings at first, she had eventually understood why he had taken the job, and promised to help make things easier. She said something along the lines of realizing how integral he was to Emmy’s life.
He sighed in content. Sometimes he missed Emmy and his home in Piteå at night, but today she was here visiting him, his team was leading the league in wins, and he had never been so sure in his life that he had made the right decision than he was right now.
The Bears had managed to turn their season around; they could even make a run at the championships if they kept their game up. Mikael had begun to score again, but sporadically. He couldn’t shake the funk he was in. Tomas had even pulled him aside to see if anything was wrong.
But nothing was.
Emmy was doing well in school and he saw her a lot. Even more now that Stina was dating. Tomas had asked if that was it, but Mikael knew it wasn’t. He even asked about his father who had a heart attack a few weeks before. That had been stressful, but his father was fine now.
Tomas shook his head, telling him he might miss the Olympics if he kept his current streak up. He sighed, offering to practice with him, but Mikael blew him off.
Instead he went home, had a beer, and watched Toronto play Dallas. He forced another down as his eyes began to blur, and another for good measure so that he wouldn’t have to think.
He could barely contain his excitement. The Leafs had been on a thirteen game unbeaten streak and in a short while he’d be playing for Sweden in the Olympics. He couldn’t wait to see his old buddies like Jorgen. And because he’d been playing with Mats for a while, they might even put the two of them on the same line since they had a feel for one another.
He smiled despite himself while watching ‘Sports Center.’
“Are they talking about you again or something?” John sat down next to him on the couch.
He kissed his neck. They’d been going out for three weeks; Alyn had introduced them. “You’ve got a goofy grin on your face.”
“Oh no.” He smirked. “They should be though.”
John raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you’re that good?”
“Better.” He grinned and kissed John.
He couldn’t have been happier.
He hated who he was, who he was becoming. So bitter over where he was in his life. He even found himself snapping at Emmy. She didn’t deserve that.
And when he wasn’t snapping at her, or yelling at his t.v, he was bottling his anger inside. He’d become frustrated over simple things during practice, or lose his cool during a game, and take it out on some unsuspecting opponent. He watched his game suffer and then slide. He’d get caught deep in the offensive zone, take shifts that were too long, and forget to back check.
But most of all, he hated how he felt when all those other feelings went away, leaving him with only a dull ache. He doubted he’d play in the Olympics. He had been chosen a while back, but he doubted they’d let him off the bench if they’d been privy at all to his recent play. His father’s health was slipping. And Stina looked so darn happy. When she said she was even thinking about marriage, he had kissed her. She pulled back immediately and looked like she wanted to slap him, but stopped when she saw the look on his face. Instead she just stroked the side of his face and told him things would get better: that he’d meet a nice girl eventually and that his game would pick up.
He started crying and told her that he loved her and wanted to marry her. She stroked his hair and told him he was just confused.
He couldn’t agree more.
Maybe he was bipolar or something. Angry one minute, listless the next. Happy and elated to spend the day with Emmy one moment, crying over a stupid hockey game on t.v. the next.
What had he done to get to this point?
Mikael bit his lip. His stomach was flip-flopping, but he couldn’t turn back now. He had tried a few times before and had chickened out. Well, not today. He opened his mouth and spoke quickly.
“I--I think I love you.”
John beamed and squeezed his hand. “I think I do too.”
Tentatively, he stroked the side of John’s face. “I--I t-take that back.” He was a bundle of nerves, tripping over the words.
John pulled away. “You do?”
He nodded furiously. “I know I love you.”
He was pulled into an embrace. John kissed him softly and Mikael melted against his soft lips. “I love you too,” he whispered against his mouth.
Mikael smiled. The moment was perfect; he had no regrets with his decision.
“I love you.”
“You can’t be fucking serious.”
“I do,” he protested.
“Fine,” she spat. “But I don’t love you. Happy? Now can we have a serious conversation?”
“You’re supposed to say you love me back,” he slurred. He was sure that was how it was supposed to go. Well, actually, he couldn’t be quite sure. He had planned this all a few beers ago.
He closed his eyes to jog his memory. Say I love you, check. She says it back, check. Get back together and get married, check. Have perfect life back, check. Yep, that was the plan.
Only she was screwing it up.
“You’re drunk again, aren’t you?” He felt the tears burning behind his eyes. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. “Jesus Christ, Mikael. You couldn’t have waited until later after we talked?”
“Why don’t you love me?”
“You’re a mess. You’re either drunk and angry, or drunk and depressed.” She stared at him, shaking her head in disgust. “I know things have been hard. Your game’s off, your father’s been in and out of the hospital…I understand all that. But Jesus, Mikael. Pull yourself together. Your mom’s afraid you’re going to lull yourself into a depression or something. Emmy says that when she’s over here that you neglect her--too busy drinking or crying to pay attention to her.”
“She said that?”
“Of course not. I had to wrench it out of her. She’s trying to protect you, trying to take care of you. She’s six years old. You’re supposed to be taking care of her, not the other way around. You need to get your act together. I can’t have Emmy--” her voice broke. “Look, I can’t trust you with her anymore. You’re--” She stopped abruptly and looked down at her hands. “Jorgen and I are getting married in a few months.”
“Congratulations,” he sneered.
He watched a few tears slip down her face. “Don’t you even care, Mikael? Don’t you even care what’s happening to you?” She handed him a business card.
“A program,” she said stiffly. “To help you with your…problems. The league gave me the card. They’re worried about you too.”
“Worried that they paid too much for a guy who can’t score.”
She swallowed hard. “Whatever, Mikael. I’m giving you a choice here. Join the program or we go to custodial court. I already have a date picked out.”
He fingered the edge of the card. Choices, choices. What decision had he made to land himself here?
The words sounded strange and foreign in his mouth, but he managed to get them out all the same. He was standing in Darcy’s hotel room, across from both he and Shayne. Shayne hardly ever left the room on road trips and Mikael couldn’t exactly kick the guy out just to talk to his brother-in-law.
So he had to make the revelation to both of them.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Darcy replied. Yeah, he might have figured that out when he walked in on John and Mikael kissing. “What do you want me to do about it?” he continued.
Mikael certainly hadn’t been expecting that. “I--I--what?”
“You’re gay. I got that. What are you doing in my bedroom?”
“I, well--I--” He stopped himself, staring at Darcy and trying to figure out if he was being level with him or not. “You’re the one that ran away when you saw me kissing my boyfriend,” he accused.
Darcy smirked and he wanted to slap himself; his accusation sounded so stupid. “I don’t generally hang around when other couples make out.”
“Oh.” He stared down at his shoes. “So you’re not like…”
“And you’re not going to tell--”
“I don’t think I have to.”
Mikael blanched and snapped his head up. “What?”
Darcy laughed and Shayne smiled. “Just kidding. Dude, you’re way too uptight.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, well…” he began sheepishly.
“So where’s your boyfriend?”
“Back in my room.”
“Tell me again why you’re in my room?”
Mikael flushed before saying goodbye and excusing himself.
“My name is Mikael and--” he stopped, looking around the room. He had joined the program like Stina had demanded, and really he had done it for himself. He stared at himself in the mirror for a long time before eventually making the call. He checked into the clinic after notifying his team and had several sessions privately before this group one.
He stared out among the faces, some staring back intently, others staring down at the plastic chairs. He cleared his throat.
“My name is Mikael and I’m an alcoholic.”
His teammates jumped on top of him and he found himself crushed by their weight. The cold ice seared against his face and hands, which were now gloveless. Something jabbed his back and under normal circumstances he would have cried out in pain, but the ecstasy that was over taking his body pushed away all other feelings that had nothing to do with utter jubilation.
He had just scored the double overtime, sudden death goal that was sending him and his team to the Eastern Conference Finals.
He couldn’t even describe the elation he felt. He seemed to be in a dream. The screams of his teammates barely even pierced through the fog. Mats grabbed him and pulled him onto his feet, slapping him on the helmet. He grinned, grateful for the protection. Darcy yelled in his ear and slung his arm around his shoulders, pulling him into the traditional handshake line.
“This certainly ain’t Tampa Bay, now is it?”
“What?” he yelled back. He could barely hear; the crowd was deafening.
Mikael was flat on his ass, on the ice again. He looked up to see that it had been Curtis who had bowled him over.
“Why didn’t you score that goal two periods ago?”
The three of them laughed hysterically, almost, and Mikael allowed the two of them to pull him up again. He blindly shook hands, too overjoyed to notice any particulars of who he shook hands with.
Eight more games to go.
Mikael sunk to his knees, staring as the puck trickled by the goalie. He let out a scream, but it went unheard as the entire building erupted into joyous celebration.
He gripped his stick, clenching the muscles in his hands.
‘Stupid, stupid, stupid,’ he berated mentally.
He had gone into Djurgården’s zone with the sole purpose of scoring a goal to end the game and give the Bears the championship.
Instead he had to watch his teammates scramble back trying to cover his man. Instead he had to watch the man he was supposed to be back checking let loose a wicked wrister that handcuffed his goalie. Instead he had to watch as the opposing team flooded the ice as they celebrated their championship.
He let out a cry of anguish and followed his teammates back into the locker room. Nobody said anything; they had had a horrible first half, but had managed to turn their game around enough in the second half to earn a playoff bid. They had struggled and been driven to the brink of elimination, but each time a different Bear had shown up with a clutch goal, clutch block, or a clutch save. They had been so close, but now they…they were just losers.
After the first guy started sobbing, Mikael couldn’t help but join in.
Mikael started crying and he couldn’t stop.
He clutched the large piece of metal, hugging it to his body.
“Okay, Micke. You take a drink and give it up. No need to maul, Stanley,” Darcy teased.
He smiled through his tears and took a drink before Darcy had to practically rip the trophy out of his hands. John sat down next to him on the bench and patted him on the back. “See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Mikael smiled and yelled after Darcy, “Hey, I want that back in fifteen minutes!” He wiped his eyes and face as he saw his daughter run across the room. He let her jump up on his lap and bury her head in the crook of his arm.
“Congratulations, Daddy,” she yawned.
“Congratulations,” Stina echoed. She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek.
“Thanks.” His voice was somewhere in between elation, relief, and exhaustion. It had been all worth it though and he didn’t regret a thing. Don had even called him an hour ago to extend his congratulations and kid him about what he would have missed had he decided not to sign with the Leafs.
John nudged his toe with his foot.
“Oh yeah. Stina this is John. John, Stina.”
“Nice to meet you.”
The two exchanged pleasantries as Mikael just sat back in his locker, looking around the room and reveling in the feeling of being a Stanley Cup champion. Emmy was close to being asleep and was rambling softly about Lily and his return to Piteå in the summer. Darcy and Shayne were hugging their families; a couple of the French Canadians were singing boisterously in French; Mats was giving a speech in Swedish in between swigs of champagne; and various teammates were being interviewed while others teased them and heckled them from behind the cameras. The entire environment was warm and energetic, and Mikael couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world.
He wasn’t stupid enough to think this was the happiest moment in his life; that moment certainly belonged to Emmy.
But it ranked pretty high.
Stina straightened his tie and smoothed out the shoulders of his suit. “You look good, Micke.”
“Thanks. It was a beautiful wedding. Nice reception too.”
She beamed. “It was, wasn’t it?”
He shrugged. “Well, you were in it.”
She blushed and smoothed out the dress she had changed into after the reception. She and Jorgen were planning on taking off soon and Mikael would be watching Emmy while they were away on their honeymoon. After that, well, Stina and Emmy would be moving farther up north to live with Jorgen.
He’d still be able to see her, just not as often as he was now.
Mikael kissed her on the cheek. “Congratulations, Stina.”
She thanked him and flittered out of the room into Jorgen’s waiting arms. Mikael followed, taking Emmy from his mother. His father had passed away a few months ago, but she seemed to be doing well. He held her in his arms while they waved goodbye with the rest of the guests to the two newlyweds who were taking off towards the airport.
Stina smiled and waved one last time to the two of them. Her happiness made her blindingly beautiful and Mikael couldn’t help but remember fondly their own wedding.
And a little less than a year ago he was as happy as she.
He wondered what happened.
It was Mikael’s day with the cup and he took it home. He took John home too.
He visited the local hospital with the cup before heading over to the parade that his hometown had prepared. He was surprised at the large turnout. Everyone seemed so happy for him.
He rode in a truck with John, Emmy, and Stina. His friends and family followed in cars and trucks of their own. He signed autographs, gave a short speech, and then let the fans touch and take pictures with the cup.
That warm glowing feeling he had felt after he first one the cup still hadn’t dissipated. If anything it seemed to grow even more. He had a ring, a job he loved, John, his daughter, and his family. He couldn’t be happier and he wasn’t sure what he had done to have been so lucky in life. Whatever it was, he thanked his lucky stars for it.
He curled up next to John that night more thankful and happier than he had been in a long time. He thought about the drive he’d have the next morning to Kiruna to give the cup to the next teammate. He thought about his plans for the summer with Emmy and John.
But mainly he just tried to sleep. He couldn’t wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow would be the beginning of the rest of his life.
The scene seemed eerily familiar and he still had a lot of the same feelings he had years ago.
Tomas Holmstrom raised the cup over his head to the cheers and the delight of the crowed. Again, he had wished his friend congratulations, but seeing the crowd cheer for him still hurt. A little less this time since he hadn’t gone to the playoffs, and a little more since he hadn’t joined the NHL and had lost the championship just weeks before. Tomas and the Wings had certainly earned it though, and he wished them the best.
It had been a tough year, and he was glad that it was over. Maybe tomorrow he could begin anew.
Tomorrow. He pulled the covers around himself. Tomorrow would be a better day.
Mikael didn’t wake up.
John called for an ambulance but the paramedics said that by the time he called it was already too late. The hospital notified his parents, who called his sisters.
John called Stina and Emmy.
Mikael woke up to the sound of a phone ringing.
He rolled over in time to pick it up. It was a male voice he didn’t recognize.
It turned out to be a telemarketer. He hung up the phone and tried to go back to sleep, but the moment was ruined. He headed downstairs to make himself breakfast when the phone rang again. It was Emmy calling from her new home up north. They spoke for a while before she handed the phone over to her mother.
He was smiling, content, by the time he hung up. It was a new day and he was feeling better already.
His doorbell rang and he was surprised to see Janne on the other side of the door. He pulled him inside and enveloped him in a hug.
“It’s so great to see you.”
“You too.” He ruffled his hair affectionately. “And I had to come all the way to Sweden--now that’s true friendship.” He rubbed his arms. “I think I’m catching something already. We should head back to Finland.”
Mikael laughed and threw him a mock-punch.
“So you doing anything today?”
“Nope, I’m completely free. Want to head out on the boat?”
“Let me go grab a windbreaker. You want a jacket?” Janne shook his head. He grabbed a hat and a light jacket out of the closet. He followed Janne outside, but paused as he was locking the door.
“Something wrong, Micke?”
“No, I--I just can’t shake the feeling I’m supposed to be somewhere today.”
“Maybe you are.”
He shook his head and locked the door. “Nah, nothing. Strange.” They decided to take Janne’s car. Mikael pulled on his seatbelt and stared out at the road. “But that’s not even the weird part. The somewhere I want to go to is Kiruna.”
Janne shrugged “Well, who do you know up in Kiruna?”
They rode in silence the rest of the way. Out on the boat they caught up on each other’s lives. Mikael teased Janne mercilessly about Finland and Janne teased him about Sweden. It was a fantastic day, better than any he had in a long time.
While they were tying the boat up a woman taking pictures approached them. “You have a beautiful boat,” she said.
She extended her hand. “I’m Sara.”
“Mikael, but people call me Micke.” He smiled and held her hand a bit longer than necessary, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Nice to meet you, Micke.”
“Likewise.” He stared at her, his stomach doing flip-flops. Something about her just… “Would you like to go out to supper?” he said abruptly.
She blushed and he flushed. He couldn’t remember the last time he had just asked some random girl out to supper.
“Uh, sure.” She pointed over her shoulder. “But what about your friend?”
Janne walked up to the two of them. “Oh, him? He’s Finnish. He’s not my friend,” he quipped. Janne hit him upside the head and introduced himself to Sara. The three walked up the hill to a restaurant and spent the night getting to know one another. After they said goodbye at the end of the night, Janne drove him back home.
He opened the car door and turned to Janne. “I’m going to marry that girl.”
Janne laughed. “You Swedes certainly move fast.”
Mikael agreed, said goodnight, then went inside. Getting ready for bed he couldn’t help but think about the past year. It had most definitely been hard and yet, and yet, somehow it had all been worth it. Sure, he hadn’t won a Stanley Cup or even a championship, but he still had Emmy, still had his friends…and he had just met an incredible woman. If someone had asked him a few months ago if he regretted his decision to not join the NHL he would have said yes, but now…
…now he didn’t regret a thing. One might even say he was happy with his decision.
He stepped out of the shower and slipped on the wet tiles. He landed hard on his shoulder and screamed out in pain.
Okay, he regretted not getting rid of the tiles in his bathroom.