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Collide: Chapter 52

AIDEN

“CRAWFORD! GET YOUR ass up. We’re going to be late!”

Hearing Dylan’s voice from downstairs so early in the morning makes me unwrap myself from Summer.

“Bus is leaving in fifteen,” he shouts, rolling out his suitcase.

“What are you saying, D? I’m suspended.”

“Check your phone, man. You’re in. Hutchins approved.” A half-asleep Summer comes up behind me with my phone. Messages clutter my home screen and when I look at my email, it sure as hell it says I’m playing. Summer reads it too, and squeals.

“Oh my God. You’re playing!” She stands on tiptoes to pepper kisses all over my face. I’m still processing, trying to make sense of it when Summer slips back into my room as I get a text.

Coach

Coach: Not sure how you pulled this off, but I will drag your ass to Boston if you are not on this bus in twenty.

Bunny Patrol

Kian Ishida: Coach said I can talk if Aiden gets here. Pls hurry!

Dylan Donovan: Weird. I think my car just ran out of gas…

Sebastian Hayes: Just get here. Kian’s been whining for 20 mins.

Cole Carter: Can you tell him to shut up?? I’m trying to nap here.

I can barely comprehend what the conditional reversal of suspension entails, but as long as I’m playing I don’t care. All the campus community hours I put in must have paid off.

“You’re still not dressed? Let’s go, man,” Dylan urges as he runs down the hall with another bag. Driving to the rink on his own is part of his pre-game ritual, so he leaves later than the team.

Summer comes in, carrying my heavy bag. “I packed everything I could think of. You just have to check if it’s all there.”

What would I do without this girl? No matter how many times I’ve told Summer that watching the game with her would be just as good, she was still upset that I wasn’t playing. Sometimes, I even caught her whispering on the phone and sending last minute emails, to try and get me cleared to play. When that didn’t work, she got a petition going. Coach made her shut it down, though, because my expulsion wasn’t unwarranted.

Summer’s rummaging through my things when I stop her. “I love you,” I say, tilting her head for a kiss. I deepen it until she abruptly pulls away.

“Yeah, yeah, you too. Now, go! Your bus is leaving.” She tosses me a change of clothes and runs out of the room. I take the quickest shower of my life and change before heading downstairs.

Summer’s standing by the door with a brown bag. “Here’s a poorly made sandwich for your carbs and a snack for your low fats. Don’t forget to eat your banana.”

“Thanks, babe.” I kiss her again. “You’ll come?”

“Of course. I’ll catch a ride with Amara.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Summer?” I tease.

“She fell in love,” she says like it’s a big inconvenience.

I know then that whatever the outcome of the game, those words sound like sweet, sweet victory.

***

Summer

WAKING UP TO find out I didn’t ruin my boyfriend’s life makes today a good day.

These past few weeks have put me through the wringer.

I spent the rest of that week meeting with Kilner and the dean’s secretary to see if an exception could be made for Aiden’s suspension. None of it worked, and I felt defeated. Even my mom was upset he couldn’t play, but mostly she was mad at me after I confessed to her about the break-in. Her perfect Aiden could do no wrong.

So, when I read that email this morning, I don’t know if it was me or Coach who got Aiden in, but none of that mattered when I saw the smile on his face. He could say all he wanted that sitting in the stands with me is just as good as playing, but I knew he was born to be on that ice tonight.

Turns out the guy Amara took home from the club a few weeks ago, Bennett Anderson, goes to Harvard, and his dad’s a dean. He’s also coming from Cambridge to Hartford to drive us to Boston for the final. It didn’t surprise me because Amara could have any man at her beck and call.

“I’ll get some drinks and meet you guys inside,” Bennett says once we’re inside the TD Garden arena. Walking through the double doors, I spot a small crowd by the entrance.

“Dad?” Lukas Preston is surrounded by fans asking for an autograph, but he slips away from them.

Amara waves. “Hi, Mr. Preston.”

“Good to see you, Amara. How’s school?”

“Oh, you know. Just representing women in STEM every day of the week,” she says. “You guys catch up. I’m going to go find Bennett.”

“What are you doing here?” I ask.

“Watching a hockey game with my daughter. Someone told me being a dad has nothing to do with spending money and everything to do with spending time.”

I smother a smile. “Sounds like a very smart person.”

“She is.”

There’s a twinge in my chest. “How did you even know I’d be here? Aiden only found out this morning that he’s playing.”

“Lucky guess.”

“Preston.” We turn to Dean Hutchins’s deep voice. “Want to grab a beer in the box? I got your favorite.”

My dad clasps his hand with a smile. “Another time. I got my sports buddy right here.”

“Of course, Summer Preston. Great fundraiser last month.”

My eyes bounce between them. “Thank you, Dean Hutchins.”

“Call me Cal. Your dad and I go way back. I bet Divya can tell Summer some of our stories.”

My dad chuckles. “Probably better if she doesn’t.”

Cal shakes with laughter. “Well, you’re both welcome to join us in the box whenever you like.”

“Thanks for the offer, but rink side is the place to be if Summer’s going to give the refs hell.”

I smile. We might not be as close anymore, but he remembers how I am at hockey games. Cal pats my dad’s shoulder before heading for the box. The friendly gesture makes the wheels turn in my brain. “It was you.”

“Hmm?”

“You got the suspension reversed after I called Mom.”

My dad turns to me with a smile.

“You did!” A warmth settles over me. “Thank you.”

He looks taken aback. “Don’t thank me, honey. I know what a big deal this is, and if that boy was willing to miss one of the biggest games of his college career just so my daughter would be happy, I could pull a few strings.”

I lunge to hug him so tight I feel like I’m trying to soak up all the years we missed out on. Our relationship is far from perfect, but this beginning feels monumental.

When we make it to our seats, I almost trip when I see Aiden’s grandparents. “You made it!”

“When Lukas Preston calls to invite you to a hockey game, you don’t refuse. Thanks for setting this up, Summer,” says Eric.

Calling my dad after spring break took a bite out of my ego, but if it means Aiden’s grandparents can see him play I don’t mind. When I asked my dad to send over a driver for them, he was more than happy to provide one. What I didn’t expect was when I called my mom to tell her we didn’t need the car anymore, my dad heard about it and got Aiden on the ice tonight.

“He’s going to be so happy to see you.”

“Coach Kilner let us surprise him in the locker room.” A ring of happiness expands in my chest, and I hope one of the guys got it on video so I can cry happy tears later.

When the Dalton Royals make their entrance Aiden skates along the boards, and we bang on the glass as he glides by, his white teeth gleam through his cage. The rest of the guys are behind him, and of course, Dylan starts to figure skate. The home crowd loves it, and cheers consume the arena when he spins a double axel. It doesn’t last long because Coach shoots him a glare that drops him back to stretches.

When the game starts, I try not to drool over how hot Aiden looks since my Dad and Aiden’s family are beside me. But Amara elbows me like an excited schoolgirl whenever he passes by us or bangs into the boards. Sitting rink side means the referees hate me, but I don’t let that keep me from speaking my mind.

When Aiden scores two goals, and we almost climb over the damn glass in excitement. Each intermission raises everyone’s blood pressure because the game has been tied since the start of the second period. When we resume, it’s a brutal start for Dalton because Sebastian Hayes gets cross-checked badly enough that he’s carried off the ice. The Yale player gets a five-minute major, leaving his team short-handed, and everyone cheers when he’s sent to the sin bin. By the third period, my Dad and I are on the edge of our seats.

Aiden glides across the ice with an ease only he possesses. Every time the puck is in his possession, it’s clear why he carries the title of the fastest NCAA athlete. There’s nothing I love more than seeing him do what he’s passionate about. Even as the last seconds drain and the result is a toss-up, I know he’ll be happy either way.

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