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Egotistical Puckboy: Chapter 33

EZRA

STANLEY CUP FINAL

IF ANYTHING, Anton’s game only got stronger after our relationship became public knowledge. Ollie Strömberg and Caleb Sorensen might be known as the first out players, but Anton and I will forever be known as the first couple in the NHL. And if we take out the game tonight, we will also be the first couple to win the Stanley Cup.

As we hang out in the visitor locker room before we need to get ready, I can’t help thinking the odds are stacked against us. We’re fighting it out with Vegas, in Vegas, in the longest seven-game series of my life. Three of the games, Vegas won easily. The other three were hard-fought, two of which were won in overtime. Vegas has sailed through the playoffs, while we’ve had to fight tooth and nail just to be here.

After our great regular season, the playoffs have almost killed us. Every single game, we pulled the win out of our asses. Somehow. Making it this far has been nothing short of a miracle.

I know better than to go into this with a defeated attitude, but it’s hard to tune out.

The voice inside my head trying to psych me up reminds me that Vegas might’ve had it too easy. We could use that to our advantage if we’re smart.

Some of the guys are stretching in the weight room, and others are sitting near their cubbies, trying to get in the zone. That’s where I am too, but my phone buzzes in my pocket.

Normally, I wouldn’t piss off the team by taking it, but when I see who the video call is from, I know they won’t mind.

I hit the Answer button and yell out to everyone. “Hey, guys, say hello to Westly.”

There’re rounds of shouting from all angles of the locker room along with a few “We miss you.”

I face the phone back toward me. “Aww, they love you.”

“No,” Diedrich yells. “It’s that Ezra is more tolerable when West is around.”

“What about me?” Anton asks.

“If anything, Ezra has been a bad influence on you,” Diedrich says.

I take that as a compliment. “That’s true. Anton’s not so uptight anymore. Not since he’s been getting the—”

Anton’s hand slaps over my mouth. Then he leans in so West can see him. “Hey, West. One day, you really need to teach me how to shut this guy up.”

“You know one way,” I mumble.

He releases me. “Huh?”

“Nothing.”

“I thought so.” His big palm pats my leg. “I’m gonna go stretch.”

“Good luck tonight,” West calls out to him.

“Is that why you’re calling? To wish my boyfriend good luck? What about me?”

West winces. “Is it still way too weird hearing you say boyfriend. I don’t like it. It’s unnatural.

“That sounds mildly homophobic of you, Westly Ann Dalton.”

“Ann is not my middle name. Also—” He gives me the finger. “It’s not because you’re two guys. It’s because you’re you. Last summer, you couldn’t even say relationship without calling it a thingy.”

“Well, I did say you and Jasper were so cute it made me want a relationship thingy. So I went out and got one.”

West shakes his head and mutters, “So unnatural.”

“Love you too, brother.”

A low growl comes through the phone.

“Ah. Jasper’s there, I’m guessing?” I yell, “I mean in a platonic way, dude! You might find Westly’s boyish good looks attractive, but I need my men to be rugged, manly men who don’t faint at the sight of blood.”

“Okay, on that note, I’m going to go,” West says. “I just called to wish you good luck and to apologize for not being able to be there.”

“It sucks you’ll miss out on this year’s queer collective meetup. You’re going to miss Anton’s initiation.”

“I know. I wish I could be there, but—”

“You have a billion kids. I get it.”

West’s gaze flicks off-screen, and when his bright green eyes meet mine again, they hold something like regret, but I know for a fact Westly doesn’t regret retiring to be with his family.

“This was our dream,” West says solemnly. “I might not have made it, but you will. Drown out everything around you, and do what you do best.”

The need to lighten the mood hits like it always does. “I don’t think I can have sex on the ice. That won’t win us the game. I should focus on what I do second best.”

“I can’t even with you …”

“Sure you can because I’m me, and you’re you.”

West smiles. “Go win this thing.”

“No pressure.”

“Hey, you’ve gotten further than any other year you’ve played. Even if Tripp doesn’t let a single puck past him tonight and you walk away empty-handed, you’ve played in a Stanley Cup final. You’ve worked hard for this.”

I have. This is what I’ve been working for since my dad put me in my first pair of skates before I could even walk properly. He called me last week, but I didn’t answer it because nothing’s changed. Even after swearing at him, the only times he has made contact were to tell me what I’ve done wrong on the ice. I’ve let his calls go to voicemail ever since.

His latest was to tell me he’ll be here tonight. It almost makes me want to throw the game because I know, without fail, if we win tonight, he’ll want his photo op.

I’ll do it for him to keep family drama out of the press, but that’s all the time I have for him.

He might have been in the NHL for five years, but he wasn’t able to make a big name for himself. Still, whenever I succeed, he’ll ride those coattails as much as he can. He’s the reason I’m so good at what I do. He’s the reason I am where I am today if you ask him.

If anything, the pressure he used to put on me as a child could’ve crippled any desire I had to play in the NHL. It’s lucky I love the game more than I hate him.

Both of my parents love to brag about their NHL-playing son, but neither of them wants to be an active part of my life. I have no delusion that winning tonight will change any of that.

And where I used to despise it, in the last couple of months I have realized that I’m worth more than that. People always make a big deal about not turning your back on family. You respect your elders, and cutting people out of your life is wrong, but putting up with toxic relationships because you share DNA with someone is way too stressful, and I don’t know why people do it. I can’t believe I did it for so long.

I’m worthy of healthy relationships. It is possible to love me.

Just ask Anton and his family.

Anton’s parents are nothing like mine. They drove up to North Carolina when we played there. They seemed so loving and caring even if they had reservations about Anton and me being out. And when they said, “We don’t want either of you to be hurt,” I almost damn near cried because no one has ever cared about me before.

Maybe Westly has, but not … not like that. In one meeting, I felt closer to Anton’s parents than I ever have my own.

Anton comes back from stretching as Coach walks in to give us his pep talk before telling us to suit up.

My leg bounces while Coach tells us to go out there and play the game of our lives.

Anton places his hand on my thigh and squeezes, trying to reassure me and calm my nerves. “We’ve got this,” he says quietly so he doesn’t interrupt Coach.

I really hope so.

It’s just another game.

One more win. That’s all we need.

It’s not the end of the world if we walk away empty-handed.

Only, no matter how many times I tell myself that, my stupid inner voice reminds me that this isn’t just one more game.

It’s the fucking Stanley Cup.


Heading into the third period, the score is two apiece. Vegas scored early in the first, and we followed it up with a goal of our own. Then when we scored in the second, they turned around and evened it up. It’s like neither team is willing to let the other get away with holding a lead.

Now we need to seal the deal.

I was really hoping Anton would get his sixth hat trick for this season and put him on a very short list of guys who have done that, but at this rate, he’ll have to be happy with the amazing five he did get. There are still only thirty or so players on that list.

Time ticks down, and neither team manages to put one past the goalies. Both Tripp and Griffith are having a tight game.

I swear every time we’ve gotten remotely close, Tripp gets bigger and takes up the whole net.

In between plays, I skate past him. “Come on, man, you guys won three years ago. Give us something. Please.”

Tripp laughs. “You know I’m immune to your begging, dude. Try harder.”

And try harder, we do. We manage to spend a chunk of time in our zone, taking shots on goal and getting shut down every time.

I may love Tripp Mitchell to death off the ice, but holy shit, I want to break one of his legs. Or his arms. Either one. I want him to not be so damn good. Just long enough for one of the B’s guys to score.

Then, with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, Dex intercepts a pass between Diedrich and Larsen.

Dex comes flying at Kosik and me, but Kosik and I have played defense together for a long time now. We make sure to keep his path blocked while getting ready to break off if Dex passes to one of his wingers.

He doesn’t.

He tries to split us, but Kosik and I hold strong.

Dex gets so close, I can see his smirk, and that’s when I know things are about to go downhill.

He looks like he’s about to take his shot. Griffith throws himself on the ice, while Kosik and I create a wall the puck can’t get through. But instead of shooting, Dex passes to Walker.

There’s a practically empty net, and Walker is in prime position to score.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

This is it.

This is the end.

There’s no way Kosik can get in position to block the bullet Walker is about to unleash.

Then, as if in slow motion, Walker pulls back for a killer slapshot, but on the follow-through, Anton gets in the puck’s way. It bounces off his pads, and then it’s an all-out scramble to take possession.

Diedrich gets to it first but is shoved from behind. Then there’s a mess of bodies, and I lose sight of the puck, but as soon as it gets loose, I’m on top of it. So is Vegas though.

I crash into Selby but come out victorious when the puck hits my blade.

Anton has already detangled himself from the others, and I quickly pass to him.

And then he’s on the breakaway of his career. Anton shoots before the Vegas guys gain on him.

Tripp raises his glove as he does the splits, trying to protect as much of the net as he can, but it’s no match for Anton’s shot.

When the lamp lights up, I almost fucking cry. If I really wanted to make a scene, I’d kiss the hell out of my boyfriend right here on the ice.

But I won’t. Because Anton might be out now, but he’s still private. Instead, I practically crush him in a hug.

The team celebrates until Anton reminds us it’s not over yet.

“Don’t let these guys tie up the score again. I for one am sick of overtime.”

What’s even worse is Coach calls Kosik and me off, so all I can do is sit back and watch.

I swear the clock has never moved slower, and for the full one and a half minutes, I hold my breath.

Anton looks cool under pressure out there. He’s confident. But I can’t help that my superstitious side is in overdrive. I can’t celebrate yet.

We haven’t won yet.

Why the fuck is one second so slow let alone ninety of them.

When the final buzzer sounds, a weight lifts off my chest. While everyone else jumps over the railing to celebrate, I’m slow to respond.

I shake it off and storm the ice, looking for the one teammate I want most. And when our eyes lock, Anton flies toward me like a bull on skates. We almost topple over when we slam into each other, but somehow, we manage to stay upright. Then Anton does something he’s never done before.

He kisses me in front of twenty thousand people and a shit ton of cameras.

What do you do when your lifelong dream comes true?

You create new dreams.


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