the second in the one life, one love series
|18-year-old Niklas was laughing as his 3-year-old sister, Izzy, raced into his arms after he got home from practice. It was amazing how, even if he was only gone for a couple of hours, she still missed him that much.
“Nicky! I missed you.” Izzy announced, squealing as Niklas picked her up and placed her on his hip.
He smiled and kissed her cheek, causing her to giggle.
“Were you a good girl while I was gone?” He asked, raising his eyebrows.
Izzy giggled again and shook her head at him.
“I always good.”
He chuckled and carried her into the kitchen, where mom had a nice lunch set out for him. He licked his lips at the sight of the Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes on his plate. Mom laughed at his expression and he shot her a playful glare.
“Mom, stop laughing at me.”
Mom just shook her head.
“Don’t glare at your mother. Eat while it’s warm.” Her voice was playful, teasing even.
Niklas sighed and did as he was told.
Izzy was giggling the whole time at her older brother and started giggling even more when he raised his eyebrows at her.
“What do you think you are laughing at?”
Izzy shook her head and point at his plate.
Niklas lowered his gaze and began to eat while mom burst out laughing.
“She’s turning into me.” She said with a wink at Izzy.
Niklas tried not to laugh while Izzy simply grinned.
A few minutes later, Izzy put her hand at her throat and whimpered, feeling thirsty.
“Mommy, can I have my bottle?”
Mom nodded and handed her daughter the bottle. Izzy took a sip of it while Niklas looked at her worriedly.
“She looks a little pale mom. I hope she’s not catching something.”
He felt his sister’s forehead. It was burning up.
Izzy squirmed and pulled at her shirt.
“I hot mommy. I hot.” Tears were welling in her eyes.
Mom slowly picked her up and felt her forehead.
“She is rather hot. Nicky, go run a lukewarm bath for her please.”
Niklas got off his chair and sprinted into the bathroom. He made sure the water was lukewarm before running back out to tell mom it was okay.
Later that day, Izzy was sleeping in Niklas’s lap on the couch. Her fever was broken, but she was tired so they decided to let her sleep.
Niklas brushed the sweaty hair back from her face and sighed.
This little girl still meant more to him than anything else in the world. He was rather protective of her, not only because she was his little sister, but because she had autism. He never realized how much autism could affect a family…..he knew now, that was for sure.
Izzy sighed and woke up, looking around with rather burly eyes.
“Nicky?!” Her tone was panicked, almost like she was scared of her Nicky leaving her.
Niklas squeezed her hand, letting her know he was there.
“I’m right here love. How are you feeling?”
Izzy shook her head, making a face as she did so.
“Sick. Me no like it.” She pouted, expressing her dislike of being sick.
Niklas did his best not to laugh at her expression. He didn’t like it either-he hated feeling weak and tired all the time. That was what being sick did to you.
He was about to reply when Staffan came in the room.
Izzy weakly waved at him and Staffan frowned, wondering why she wasn’t smiling like usual.
“What’s wrong with my girl?” He sat down next to his older brother, eyebrows raised.
Izzy half-smiled at her older brother’s words and made a face.
Staffan felt her forehead and sighed.
“You don’t have a fever.”
Niklas readjusted the half-asleep Izzy in his arms and let her rest her head on his chest.
“She did earlier Staf. It finally broke but she’s tired and actually got sick earlier.”
Staffan frowned; worried as his little sister fell asleep in Niklas’s lap.
“I hope something serious isn’t happening to her.”
Niklas shook his head.
“Staf, it’s probably just a virus. Mom would’ve taken her to the hospital if something was seriously wrong.”
Staffan nodded, the worry still showing in his eyes as he gently grabbed Izzy’s hand.
“I know Nicky. But we both know how worried we get when she gets sick.”
“Yeah, I know Staf. But she’ll be fine. She’s a tough girl when it comes down to it.”
A few days later, Izzy was her usual, playful self.
Niklas was sitting on the couch watching T.V when Izzy came up behind him and hit him with her little pillow.
Niklas fake-gasped and turned around to see Izzy’s playful little smile and her sparking blue eyes.
“What do you want, love?” He grinned, looking at his little sister with love in his eyes.
Izzy hit him on the arm again.
“Pway.” She pointed at her little hockey stick on the ground.
Niklas picked it up and pretended to slap-shoot her with it.
Izzy giggled and took it from his hands, mocking his actions.
“Wike dis?” She faked the movement, but it was much clumsier than Niklas’s.
Niklas got off the couch and went up behind her, placing his hands over his wrists.
“Turn your wrists a little more up,love.”
He helped her with it a few more times before he decided she could do it on her own.
“Show me how you do a slap-shot, love.” Niklas said, kneeling in front of her.
Izzy licked her lips before mocking the same movements she had practiced with her brother just minutes earlier.
Niklas smiled and held out his hand for a high-five.
“Yes, love. That’s how you do a slap-shot.” He said, laughing as her hand hit his.
Izzy smiled and threw herself into his arms, burying her face in his shoulder.
“I wuv my Nicky.”
Niklas couldn’t help the warmth that spread through his heart when he heard her say that. It was always this way when she said that to him. He loved her right back…more than anything in the world. He told himself if it made her happy, he would give up playing hockey for her.
“I love you too, Izzy.”
Izzy couldn’t help the shiver that went down her spine as she followed her older brother to his locker room. She loved hockey and watching her brother play, but she didn’t really like being in the same room as his teammates. Although she loved messing around with “her wicky” at home, she didn’t like how some of his teammates messed with her.
“Hello, Nicky! Hiya Izzy!” A voice that was so familiar called out.
Izzy’s eyes lit up. Henrik Zetterberg was her favorite player in the locker room besides her brother. Not only was he smart and a good player, but he treated her like a princess. He had even let her make her own nickname for him: Hankie. Sure enough, the voice did belong to Henrik. The little three-year-old went ahead of her brother and found Hank standing near the doorway of the locker room.
He was smiling, but the minute he saw Izzy his smile grew wider and his eyes sparkled with playfulness.
Izzy sprinted towards him and threw herself into his arms.
“HANKIE.” She squealed.
He laughed and picked her up, bouncing her in his arms.
“How’s my princess huh?” He reached out to kiss her cheek.
Izzy giggled and turned away from him.
He gasped at her in fake surprise and she laughed, turning back towards him to kiss his cheek.
“I missed you Hankie.”
He laughed and flipped her upside-down, causing her to giggle.
“I missed you too, princess.”
She was only three years old, and yet she had changed his life drastically. Before he met her, he hadn’t really known about autism or how different they were from normal people. Not different in a bad way, of course, but different just the same. He had often seen people doing the same things she did: flapping their arms or spinning, but he had always thought it was something they loved to do. Now he knew it wasn’t something they LOVED doing, it was something they felt was natural for them to do. He felt sad when his teammates messed around with her or mocked her flapping, but it never seemed to bother Izzy…at least that she showed on the outside.
Hank broke out of his thoughts when he felt a light little slap on his cheek.
He looked up in mock surprise at Izzy, who was patting his face with both hands.
“Izzy, didn’t Nicky teach you not to hit like that?” He raised his eyebrows at her.
She giggled and shook her head.
“No, not weally.”
Hank gasped and looked up at Niklas, who was laughing at the situation.
“You never taught her that?” His tone was light and teasing.
Niklas rolled his eyes and gave Hank’s cheek a light pinch.
“Of course I did you goof. She’s teasing you.”
Hank rolled his eyes and readjusted Izzy in his arms before taking her inside the locker room.
Jordan Stalks, the 19-year-old from Stockholm, burst into laughter as Izzy started flapping her arms.
“You look like a little bird learning how to fly.” He teased, mocking Izzy as he started flapping his arms.
Finally, Izzy broke. It was amazing how at three-years-old she was able to hold in her emotions for so long, but she couldn’t take it anymore. She sprinted into Niklas’s lap and burst into tears, surprising almost everyone in the room.
Niklas held her tightly in his arms and shot his teammate a dirty look. He didn’t understand how Jordan could make fun of a three-year-old, let alone a three-year-old with autism, but he was beyond upset at his teammate. If he wasn’t too busy comforting his sister, he would be punching his teammate in the face.
Hank was sitting next to him and when he heard his teammate’s remark, he felt anger and sadness. Izzy was only three-years-old….plus she had autism. She didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. She was beyond innocent in this situation.
As seeing Niklas was too busy trying to calm Izzy down to talk to his teammate, he decided to step in for him.
Standing up, he walked over to his teammate’s locker, placed a hand on his shoulder, and punched him in the face. Jordon fell to the ground in pain and stared up at Hank in shock.
“What was that for, Hank?”
Hank glared down at him, his eyes flashing with anger and his mouth set in a scowl.
“What do you think Jordon? That was for making fun of a three-year-old who has autism! That’s why she flaps her arms like that. That’s why she loves to spin. That’s why she acts shy around you guys. Her autism makes her do things that normally people don’t do. That’s why I punched you in the face. Don’t even bother asking me if I regret it, because I don’t. How would you feel if Kronner or I were making fun of your little sister? You wouldn’t like it would you? Huh? No, I didn’t think so. Don’t even bother talking to me anymore: I’m done with you. When you can stop acting like an idiot or a jerk, then we’ll see. But until then, we are done.”
Hank turned away from Jordan and sat back down at his locker.
When Coach came in a few minutes later, he instantly recognized the tension in the locker room. He noticed Niklas going back and forth between watching his sister and glaring at Jordon. He frowned, wondering what in the world caused the tension between these two close friends.
Niklas snapped his head up at Coach, sitting straight up in his locker.
“What, Coach?” He bit his lip worriedly.
Coach now felt worried-the only time Niklas bit his lip was when he was nervous-but he pushed back his fear and took a deep breath.
“What’s going on between you and Jordon? I thought you two were close?”
Everyone in the locker room stopped what they were doing to hear Niklas’s answer.
Jordon looked scared and embarrassed, but that didn’t stop him from sending Niklas a dirty look.
“I’m no longer close to someone who makes fun of my sister for being different,” Niklas replied, matching Jordon’s glare with one of his own.
Coach was quiet for a minute before he turned back to Jordon.
“Jordon why would you do that to him? Why would you make fun of her knowing she is different?”
Jordon rolled his eyes.
“Because she looks like a weirdo that’s why.”
Coach gave him one look before he grabbed him by the arm, pulled him up and pushed him out the door.
“I’m going to call your parents Jordon and tell them you are no longer on the team. Very inappropriate behavior.” He closed the door behind Jordan and locked it.
Jordon started whining in protest, but Coach ignored him and turned back to address the team.
“Normally I don’t make speeches like this, but this issue needs to be address.” he began, readjusting his tie.
The whole team stopped to look at him, including Izzy.
“What Jordon did was rude, inappropriate, and unacceptable. Especially when it is done to a three-year-old girl who is having a hard enough time as it is with her autism. This needs to be addressed: wither it’s someone on the other team, your own teammate or your own family member: if they have autism and you make fun of them for it, then you are an idiot. If you want to trash talk someone on another team, that’s fine. But do NOT trash talk them for having autism. If I hear someone doing that, my team or the other team, I will make sure they get kicked out the league. And no, I am not just saying it because of Niklas’s sister, I have someone in my family who has it. And they were made fun of and things almost ended very badly for them. But they got helped and realized that they were perfect just the way they were. So I don’t want to hear about anyone in this locker room making fun of Izzy or anyone else that has autism. Because they will get kicked off the team.”
When Coach finished talking, the whole room was silent.
Niklas readjusted the half-asleep Izzy in his lap and reviewed coach’s words in his head. He shivered at the thought of Izzy trying to do something to harm herself….he was sure that was what coach meant by “things almost ended very badly for them”. Izzy was going to be vulnerable, that was for sure. But he knew he was going to protect her in every way that he could.