Winter and I walk out of the dressing room, side by side. It’s the final night of the WBRF championships.
The crown jewel I’ve chased my entire career. The one I’ve always fallen short of. The one I’ve clawed my way back from injury to make a run at this year.
“In the stands with your mom and everyone else.” She glances down at her clipboard, all business tonight.
“Doctor Hamilton?” one of the guys calls to her from a bench as we walk past. When we turn, he holds his hand up. His thumb is pointing in the wrong direction. “You think I should go to the hospital? Or can we patch this up here?”
“Well, Jude, I think your thumb is broken and you’re probably going to need surgery.”
“I don’t wanna miss the last rides though. Gotta see our boy here take it all.” He grins at me like the maniac he is.
Winter sighs, checking her watch. “You fucking bull riders are nuts,” she mutters before glancing at me. “I’ll be out right away.”
I smirk and shoot her a wink. “Sure thing, Doc.”
I catch the tail end of her eye roll as she turns back to Jude, speaking in a matter-of-fact way about ligament damage, splints, and painkillers.
Going on the road has been a hell of a lot more enjoyable since Winter took a position as a tour doctor. Sure, it means she’s constantly patching up a bunch of dumb bull riders, but all the guys adore her and her no-nonsense approach.
And I love having her and Vivi with me at every event. The entire crew is here in Vegas for the finals, which means Vivi is in the stands. The guys have almost taken her in as one of our own. She hangs out behind the scenes with a bunch of cowboys, so we’ve all but guaranteed she’s going to have a trucker mouth when she grows up. Not to mention a bunch of protective uncle figures.
I already feel bad for whatever boy comes sniffing around her.
I chuckle to myself as I walk down the long corridor, calm and collected, considering what I’m walking into.
The lights hit and the roar of the crowd gets louder the closer I get to the ring. Rhett is there waiting. I think he’s more nervous than me.
But I have a good feeling. I have the same feeling I had the night I met Winter.
A knowing. A gut instinct.
Tonight’s my night.
“Ready?” He claps me on the back as I approach the paneling.
“You realize only one cowboy has sat this bull for the full eight?”
I laugh, because you have to be at least a little nuts to do this for a living. “About to be two.”
Rhett nods, his jaw popping. “So you’re going to—”
“Rhett.” I grip my friend’s shoulder. My mentor’s shoulder. “I could not have asked for a better coach. Thank you for all you’ve done. But…” I glance out into the stands and try to make sense of the feeling of familiarity that consumes me. “I just want to soak this up tonight.”
He nods, slaps my shoulder and steps away, giving me the space I need.
My routine passes in a daze. I get through all my steps. I don’t look around for Winter, because I know she’s here. I swear it’s like I could sense her approach. Without even seeing her, I know where she is, exactly which fence panel she likes to sit on and watch me.
Vivi is here. My mom. My friends. I swear my dad is here too.
And suddenly, this stadium feels an awful lot like home. Like every single person I care about is here to cheer me on. Like after years of doing my own thing I’m not alone at all anymore.
The ride is a montage of pictures that flicker through my vision. The rope. My hand. The gate. A buck. A turn. My mind is blank. All I see is that buckle I’m about to win.
All I know is that the thing I’ve sworn I was going to get since I was a boy is about to be mine.
All I know is that when I leap off that bull’s back and chuck my helmet up into the air, Winter is in my arms before it even hits the ground.
All I know is that this win is only important for a few moments. Because when Winter whispers in my ear, “Hope you’re ready to do this dad thing again, because there’s another Theo doppelgänger on the way,” nothing is more important than us.