Violet: You need one.
Sloane: I’m too nervous to drink.
Violet: Yeah. You look pale. Need a little color in your cheeks.
Sloane: No one cares about the color in my cheeks tonight, Vi.
Violet: You’ll look better on the news this way.
Violet: They have Buddyz Best!
I’m so nervous I feel like I could puke. I’ve got my elbows propped on my knees and my fingers tapping together in an anxious flutter.
“Girl, you give me anxiety just looking at you.” Harvey’s warm hand lands on my back.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life.”
“Never?” His brow quirks.
I suck my lips in into my mouth and shake my head quickly. “Never.”
“I mean, if tail-babies can’t make you nervous, then I’d have thought a Stanley Cup game would be a piece of cake.”
“Harvey, good lord.” I drop my head into my hands on a laugh. “Is the tail-baby thing ever going to stop being funny to you?”
He shrugs and grins down at the ice. “Probably not.”
I want to pretend the joke isn’t funny, but the truth is I’m so sick with nerves right now I could hurl all over my maroon Grizzlies jersey with Gervais emblazoned across the back.
It’s the same one I bought all those months ago. It feels monumental somehow. Lucky.
And considering it’s almost the final period of play in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight, the Grizzlies are going to need all the luck they can get. It’s their last chance to close the series out and win it all on home ice.
Their season has been nothing short of miraculous. They went on a hot streak just before Christmas and stuck with it. Those points catapulted them far enough into the standings that they made the playoffs.
Barely. But making it is making it.
They’ve fought long and hard. I know they’re tired. Jasper is sore and ready for a break.
It’s been a long, trying year, but it’s also been the best year.
A second Olympic gold medal in February.
Us. God, that still sounds so good to me. The “us” part of our life is so damn good. So damn easy. It feels so damn right.
Something about admitting it out loud, about really accepting it, has lifted a weight from Jasper. He’s still quiet and introspective but now he smiles.
Under the cover of dark, we crawl out onto the roof of our little house in Chestnut Springs and talk about life. Fears. Plans. Babies. We talk about everything because we always have.
“What you smiling about, Sloane?” Harvey nudges me, obviously watching me while I zone out and stare at the grizzly bear logo painted at center ice.
“I’m just . . .” I shrug, regarding the buzzing arena. “Happy. Even if they lose tonight. Everything feels . . .”
“You’re both settled. Figured out what counts in life. It’s the people. Not the things. Not the acclaim. The people.”
“Yeah. Speaking of people. My mom still driving you insane?” She’s been living at the house for six months now, and she and Harvey bicker like an old married couple. I really can’t make heads or tails of it.
I’m not sure I want to.
“That woman,” he mutters. “It’s like after years of keeping her opinions to herself, she’s just blurting them all out left, right, and center. It’s an opinion surplus sale in that house. Buy one, get ten.”
I snort a laugh before the row of people heading our way catches my attention. Beau, home safe but still walking gingerly, leads the charge. He’s followed by Rhett and Summer and Violet who made the trip back just to take in this game.
A few seats down Cade has his new baby girl, Emma, strapped to his chest in a carrier. He’s all proud papa, eyes more on that little bundle than on the game. It does weird things to my ovaries watching him.
Willa is her usual playful self, sitting beside Luke trying to show him how to toss popcorn up in the air and catch it with his mouth.
It just keeps hitting them both in the face.
No matter what, seeing everyone here to cheer Jasper on warms my heart. He needs this. Deserves this.
We’re not up in the box. We’ve taken over almost an entire row of the stadium behind home net. Filled it with Eatons. Filled it with family.
Maybe not the family he was born into but the one that wanted him the most. The one that will do anything for him.
A buzzer sounds as Violet shoves a beer out in front of me and takes her seat. “Here. Drink it.”
She shimmies the plastic cup, making it dangerously close to spilling over. “You will. It’s Buddyz Best. You love this shit.”
I smirk down at the golden lager. It’s true that I love this beer. But not because it tastes good. It’s because I remember drinking it the night Jasper broke me out of that farce of a wedding. I remember drinking a pitcher of it while Jasper leaned over my back and taught me how to play pool.
The dog on the label makes me smile, and the memories it drums up make it taste fucking delicious.
I take a deep swig, and my nerves settle as I watch my man skate onto the ice from the bench. He glances up in our direction, and Beau waves the giant poster board sign he and Rhett made in his direction.
I watched them make it. Like the children they are, they giggled while sprinkling sparkles over the glue they used to spell out the words.
It reads: Jasper Gervais is my #1 stud!
Jasper tugs his helmet on, probably rolling his eyes from behind the cage.
Rhett yells, “Marry me, Jasper!” right as Summer elbows him in the ribs. It wouldn’t be an Eaton family outing without some type of insane shenanigans from the boys.
But once the timer starts, everyone settles into a tense silence. I should watch the game, but I spend huge stretches of time staring at Jasper in the net.
His incredible focus. The way he carries his body. The speed of his reflexes. He’s not just good at hockey, he’s a generational talent. He gives me chills.
And if I’m being totally honest, it riles me the hell up that he’s so superior. I’m so attracted to that part of him. His passion and tireless commitment to being so good at his sport.
I admire that about him. We connect on that level. When we need to train, there are no hard feelings or whining about time spent apart. We both pursue our passions, and we’re both better at what we do for having the other’s support.
The crowd gets loud as the opposing team burns down the ice toward Jasper’s net. He squares off to face the attackers. Just by standing in the net, he blocks so many of their opportunities to score because of his height advantage.
Number 29 passes, and Number 17 winds up taking a hard, fast shot.
Not fast enough though. Jasper’s gloved hand moves out in a blur and pockets the puck, making it look easy. I’m panting when he hands it back to the referee.
One hand on my chest, I take another sip of my beer and realize that I’ve nervously drained the entire thing.
The puck drops and the clock keeps winding down. They’re tied at one a piece. Jasper has played his heart out tonight.
I want this so badly for him. The big win. The crowning achievement. God, my body aches with how badly I want this for him.
Thirty seconds remain and the crowd grows quiet. Overtime isn’t a loss but isn’t a win either. It means more time. More chances. More room for tired mistakes.
I can feel the anticipation. The entire arena is thick with it. You could cut it with a knife. Each second is like a drumbeat that reverberates through the stands.
The Gators take a shot and Jasper covers, but not long enough for them to blow the whistle.
And then . . . it happens.
Damon Hart flies down the ice, glancing over his shoulder with a smirk and a little wave at his goalie.
And there’s the perfect gap.
Jasper drops the puck on the ice and sends it sailing straight through that gap. Right onto the tape of his teammate’s stick.
I swear every single person collectively sucks in a deep breath of cold air.
The seconds wind down.
But there are no defenders. They let Damon skate right past them.
He taps the puck back and forth, dekeing left and right.
He fakes a shot.
Their goaltender falls for it and drops to make the save.
Damon takes the top corner, the hard rubber hitting the back of the netting with a whoosh that’s heard through the entire building.
The buzzer sounds and the arena explodes.
Music. Lights. Screaming. Confetti. Every single person erupts.
But I sit still, watching Jasper jump for joy, stick and gloves flying, helmet tossed, he skates toward his teammates with the biggest, most heartrending grin on his face as they pile onto him for the assist and Damon for the winning goal.
I want to remember this moment, this feeling, as clearly as I remember the first day I saw him. Painfully handsome with sad eyes.
Today, when he turns and searches for me in the stands, he’s different.
He’s painfully handsome with happy eyes.
So happy that I want to see them up close. The colors. The way they swirl together. The fine lines beside them. I want to feel his stubble on my cheeks and his heartbeat against my forehead when I drop my face against his chest.
I jog through the crowd, down those stairs to the gate at the end of the rink, and he’s there.
Waiting for me.
Like he always has been.
I let him let pull me onto the ice, straight up into his arms.
“You fucking did it, baby!” I yell at him with absolutely no chill. My hands are in his sweaty hair, my legs around his waist, my eyes on his.
Right where they always have been.
“We fucking did it.” His hands squeeze my ass, and he whispers all gravelly against my ear, “My years of training and your Stanley Cup Maker. The Perfect combo.”
I laugh like a crazy person and kiss his neck. There are cameras and media everywhere. Teammates and family. It’s mayhem. But all I see is him. This moment. A good man who life dealt such an unfair hand, finally getting a win. The win.
“I love you, Jasper Gervais.” I shake my head, tears leaking down my face as I marvel at the man before me. “I love you so damn much.”
“I love you too, Sloane Winthrop,” he says as he glances over my shoulder, back toward the entrance. “But do you know what I don’t like?”
My heart races and confusion blooms behind my brows. How could anyone not like something about this moment? This moment is . . . everything.
I barely notice when he reaches behind me.
I barely notice Beau’s presence, or the big shit-eating grin on his face.
I barely notice because in all his goaltending gear, in the middle of his Stanley Cup winning celebration, my childhood crush is dropping to one knee right in front of me.
With a little velvet box in his hand.
“Do you know what I don’t like?”
His eyes staring up at mine are so clear, so bright, so unapologetically joyful. I’m still confused, still having a hard time catching up with what’s happening right now, even though it’s so damn obvious.
“What?” I whisper, and I wouldn’t think he could hear me, but he must.
Because he responds with, “Your last name, Sunny. I really don’t like your last name.”
And with that, he flips the little box open to show me a ring. A ring I like. A ring I told him about while chugging trashy beer in the passenger seat of his SUV while wearing a wedding ring from another man.
It’s a purple, oval cut sapphire, set horizontally into yellow gold. Surrounded on all edges. It’s quirky. It’s unique. It’s one of a kind.
It’s exact the ring I described to him all those months ago.
“Sloane Gervais sounds right, don’t you think?” His head quirks, damp hair brushing over his forehead. He looks so boyish, all bashful and nervous.
I glance around now, realizing this moment is so much more than just us. It’s the culmination of his life’s work. “Jasper! You should be celebrating right now!” I blurt.
“Sunny, I will.” He laughs, shaking his head at me like I’m amusing to him. “But I want to celebrate with my fiancée. Please, Sloane, let me marry you. Let me make you happy. I don’t wanna be late with this too.”
“Jas.” I laugh, reaching forward and sliding my finger into the ring, hearing a roar of cheers behind us. “You are not late! I didn’t see this coming at all.”
The stone glitters under the bright lights as I flex and wiggle my finger.
“Yeah?” he asks, voice all warm and deep.
I peek back at him, kind of sad to look away from the ring now, and nod.
He laughs and scoops me up into his arms as he reaches full height again, making me squeal. “’Bout fuckin’ time though, eh? You deserved me being early for something after all these years.”
My fingers trail down over his rosy cheeks. “I love you, Jas.”
“Sunny, tell me that’s a yes.”
“It’s always been a yes, Jasper.”
He whoops and twirls me before he kisses me stupid.
And just like that, the boy with the lanky limbs, the caramel hair, and the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen is mine.