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The Risk (Briar U): Epilogue


St. Paul, Minnesota

The last time I went to the Frozen Four, it was to cheer for my dad’s all-star crew: Garrett Graham, Summer’s brother Dean, and the two Johns—Logan and Tucker. And they won the whole damn thing. I was happy, of course, but nowhere near as ecstatic as I am during this Harvard versus Ohio State game.

The score is 3–1, Harvard. There are five minutes left. It only takes a second to score a goal, so yes, we don’t have it in the bag. It’s not a guaranteed win, and I’m not sitting here counting my chickens before they hatch. But I have a good feeling about it.

Beside me, Jake’s parents, Lily and Rory Connelly, are cheering themselves hoarse. They’re actually pretty fun to watch a hockey game with—Lily gasps any time anything happens, literally anything; Rory, after every hit, winces and proclaims, “Well, that’s gonna hurt tomorrow.” You can tell they’re not huge hockey fans. They don’t know much about the rules and they don’t seem to care. But any time Jake has the puck, they’re on their feet screaming their lungs out.

I wish Dad were here, but he’s watching the game at home in Hastings. However, he did call in a favor and arrange for this private box for us, which means we have the best seats in the house…and lots of privacy for Jake’s folks to cross-examine me.

During both intermissions, the questions came hard and fast.

Where did you meet Jake?

How long have you been together?

You know he’s moving to Edmonton, right?

Do you think maybe you’ll move there, too?

You could transfer schools, his mother had said, her expression so hopeful that I almost laughed.

When they turned their attention to the ice, I glanced at Jake’s friend Hazel and asked, “Are they always like this?”

She smiled wryly, answering, “This is kind of a big deal for them. Jake’s never had a real girlfriend.”

Okay, fine, I’m not going to lie—it warms my heart that I’m the first girl to meet Jake’s parents. Hazel doesn’t count; they treat her like a daughter. And, I’ll be honest, the girl’s been making an effort. She’s asked me about my classes, my interests, as if she genuinely wants to get to know me.

She doesn’t like hockey, though, and that’s always a strike. I still can’t believe I’m watching the most important game in men’s college hockey with three people who don’t like hockey. Figure that one out. On the bright side, my dad has been texting all evening with his thoughts on the game, which is nice.

I like our relationship now. It’s easy. And I haven’t heard from Eric since the night we went to rescue him. He’s barely even crossed my mind, in fact. I’m finally putting that part of my life behind me and focusing on what’s in front of me.

And what’s in front of me is incredible. It’s Jake, traveling like lightning across the glossy surface of the ice. One minute he’s at the center line with the puck, the next he’s in front of the crease taking a shot.

“GOALLLLLLL!” yells the announcer.

The entire arena goes absolutely bananas. It’s 4–1 now. Maybe I’m starting to count those chickens, after all. At least a couple of them. The eggs are cracking, anyway, and I can see a beak. Those chicks are coming, because it’s 4–1 and Harvard’s got this. My man’s got this.

Jake’s family is on their feet again, screaming. So am I. My phone buzzes about ten times in my pocket. It’s probably my father. Or maybe Summer, who’s also at home, watching the game with Fitz and the others, including Nate, who’s my friend again. Hell, the texts could even be from Hollis. He’s been very chatty with me since I saved his relationship with Rupi. They’re officially together now, and he really seems to enjoy telling people he has a girlfriend.

Which makes me wonder if, like Jake, Hollis never had one before. Either way, I’m happy for him. Rupi is nuts, but in a good way.

The clock winds down. I watch it with pure joy stuck in my throat, in my chest, in my heart. Jake deserves this. He deserves to end his college career with such a major win. He played brilliantly tonight, and I know he’s going to be equally brilliant in Edmonton.

As the buzzer goes off, the rest of Jake’s teammates fly off the bench and swarm the ice, and it’s pandemonium. The boys are overjoyed. Even Pedersen looks genuinely happy. Not in a smug ‘we won na-na-na-na-na-na’ way. In this moment, I can tell Daryl Pedersen actually loves his players and this game. He might play it dirtier than most, but he loves it just like the rest of us.

My phone buzzes again. I finish hugging Jake’s parents and then reach to check it. I assume it’s from my dad, but it’s a voice-mail alert. Which tells me the previous buzzing was a phone call. And either I’m hallucinating or that actually says ESPN on the caller display. Probably a telemarketer with one of those speeches—“Is your cable provider giving you all that ESPN has to offer?”

But a telemarketer wouldn’t leave a message. Would they?

“Guys, excuse me for one sec.” I touch Lily’s arm and walk several feet away to check the message.

The moment the caller says her name, I almost faint.

“Brenna. Hi. It’s Georgia Barnes. Sorry to call you on a Saturday evening, but I’m working late to organize my new office. I wanted to touch base with you now, because starting Monday I’ll be absolutely swamped. I got your number from Mischa Yanikov, the stage manager at HockeyNet. But let’s keep that between us, because I don’t know if grabbing your number off your résumé and giving it to a competitor was all that kosher. But it’ll be our little secret.”

My heart starts beating faster. Why is Georgia Barnes calling me? And what does she mean she’s at her new office? At ESPN? Does she work there now?

Her next sentence solves that mystery.

“Anyway, the press release hasn’t gone out yet, but I’ve officially left HockeyNet. ESPN made me an offer and, let’s just say I’d be stupid not to accept it. They’re letting me hire my own assistant, and I’d love for you to come in and interview for the position. If you do get the job, I’m aware you’re still in college, so obviously in the fall we would need to discuss a schedule that suits you better. Maybe this could be a work placement or—I’m getting ahead of myself. For all I know, you interview terribly and that’s why Ed Mulder let you go. But I have a feeling that’s not the case.”

Her confident chuckle makes me smile.

“Anyway, give me a call when you get this.” She recites her number. “I’d love to schedule an interview. I think you’d be a good fit for this position. All right. Talk soon. Take care.”

The message ends and I stare at my phone in shock.

“Everything okay?” Hazel comes up beside me.

“It’s fine.” I shake my head a few times. “It’s all good.”

All good? No. It’s better than I could ever imagine. I have an interview at ESPN to work as Georgia Barnes’s assistant. And Jake just won the national championship. This is the greatest day of my life.

All I want to do now is get downstairs so that mine is the first face Jake sees when he exits the locker room. I’m officially his groupie. But that’s okay, because he’s my groupie. We root for each other. We’re good for each other. And I can’t wait to find out what the future holds for us.

The End


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