1. any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity.
“Are you ready?” Ben asks. He comes into the room and shoves a pile of clothes aside so he can sit on the edge of Luke’s bed.
Luke looks around, mentally taking stock of what he’s already done today and what he has left to do before tomorrow. “Almost. I think. I’m mostly packed.”
“No, I mean, like … inside,” Ben clarifies. “Ready to leave. To do this.”
“Oh.” Luke isn’t sure he wants to think too much about that. Because, no, he isn’t ready. He’s been away before. He’s gone on tournaments. Spent nights in hotel rooms. Weeks in training camps. But this is real – permanent. He isn’t going away for a weekend with his team. He’s leaving for good, moving out, moving to a different country. “I guess.”
“Which means, no.”
Luke chews his bottom lip and looks at his brother. Everyone says how much they look alike. Jack, too. Luke’s always loved when people point that out. It makes him feel like he belongs somewhere. Like he belongs to them. They’re his big brothers and his protectors and he hasn’t really needed them to be in a good number of years but he still finds comfort in knowing they’re always there. That they’d drive across town in the middle of the night to pick Luke up if his ride ditched him for a girl; that they’d beat a kid’s teeth in if he called Luke a bad name. Luke hasn’t quite figured how he’s going to exist without them.
He sighs, and sits next to Ben. “Yeah.”
Ben tosses an arm around his shoulders. “You’re gonna be brilliant.”
“You think?” Luke isn’t so sure.
“Rookie of the year. For sure.”
Luke manages a small smile. “That’s called the Calder.”
“You’re gettin’ it, whatever it’s called. I wanna be there at that, whatever, awards banquet thing. Then I wanna go home and rub all my friends’ faces in the fact that their younger siblings are working at McDonald’s and mine is the best hockey player on the planet.”
“Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player on the planet,” Luke corrects. “And thanks, no pressure or anything.”
Ben laughs, tousles Luke’s hair, and lets his arm fall away. Luke wants the contact back. He’s more nervous than he’s willing to admit, even to Ben.
“What if I suck?” Luke worries, folding his hands together in his lap and picking at a hangnail.
“How do you know?”
“Because you don’t suck. This isn’t something you’re doing for the first time,” Ben reminds him. “You’ve been kicking asses all over rinks for your whole life.”
“I know, but …” Luke sighs. “This isn’t junior anymore. Every person in the NHL was the best player on their team when they were a kid. Then they stick us all together.”
“Luke, you went to Worlds. You’ve won cups, you were a first round pick, man. You’re awesome. You’re gonna be amazing.”
“He’s right, kiddo,” Jack’s voice says from the doorway. He comes in and joins them, sitting on the other side of Luke and tugging him in for a noogie.
“Stop,” Luke complains, laughing and shoving Jack off.
There’s a shaky sigh from across the room, and Luke looks up again to find his mother staring at the three of them with her hands clasped in front of her chest and tears in her eyes.
“My boys,” she says, with a watery smile.
“You’re gonna have to stop crying at some point. You’ll dehydrate,” Luke tells her.
“You’re just so young, and you’re going so far away.”
“Not helpful, Mom,” Ben says.
Liz shakes her head, like she’s trying to compose herself. A lump rises in Luke’s throat. “I’m sorry. I’m so excited for you, baby. I really am. We’re just going to miss you.”
“Me too,” Luke mumbles.
“Do you have your passport?”
Luke nods, and points to the backpack he’s taking with him on the plane. “Triple checked.”
“Phone? Health card? Visa?”
“I’ve got everything.”
“You know where you’re going when you land?”
“Someone’s picking me up. From the team.”
“Okay.” Liz smiles again, and fresh tears spill from her eyes.
“Mom,” Luke groans. Tears prickle at his eyes too, and he’s so not crying in front of Ben and Jack.
“Sorry, sorry.” Liz raises her hands in surrender, and then leaves, calling over her shoulder that dinner will be ready in ten.
“You’d think she loves you or something,” Jack jokes.
“Yeah.” Luke sniffs a little and wipes at his nose with the back of his hand. So much for not getting emotional.
“Aww, Lewi,” Ben teases, but he tugs Luke into a sideways hug anyway. Jack wraps himself around Luke from the other side.
“We’ll miss you too. We just won’t cry about it,” Jack says.
Luke laughs. “Okay. Fair enough.”
“Text us immediately if anyone gives you a hard time, got it? We’ll be on the next flight.”
Luke laughs again. He definitely won’t be doing that, but it’s cool that Ben offered. He’s probably serious about it, too. “Thanks. I will.”
“And kick some serious ass,” Jack adds.
Luke swallows over the lump in his throat and tries to keep calm. He can’t quite manage it. This is too big, too scary. He’s doing it – the ticket is booked and the team is expecting him tomorrow so there’s no turning back now – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t freaked out. Excited, too. In a way that makes him feel sick. “I’ll try.”