Nathan tips his glass of whiskey toward me. “Congratulations, little brother.”
“Let’s not congratulate him too much. She hasn’t said ‘I do’ yet.” Adam wears a hopeful smirk. Rhett elbows him, but Adam plays it off like he didn’t just insinuate that my fiancé is going to leave me standing at the altar.
Ignoring my soon-to-be (like fifteen minutes soon) brother-in-law, I hold up my own glass and smile at Nathan. “Thank you for being here.”
“Cheers!” Maverick calls enthusiastically. He slings an arm around my shoulder and then drains the rest of the expensive whiskey we got for the occasion.
Today I’m getting married. My groomsmen and I are hanging out in a suite at the resort where Ginny and I will vow to love each other forever. Nathan is the only one related by blood, but the other three are like my brothers, too.
In the years since we all graduated Valley U, we’ve stayed close. Group text messages blow up my phone daily, and every summer, we take a week-long vacation together. I’m playing professional hockey, and my teammates are great. Some have even become good friends, but the friendships I made with these guys, living in that apartment near campus, playing video games, drinking too much, and being idiots—it’s the kind that I know I’ll carry with me forever.
“My turn,” Mav says. Then adds, “We each prepared a speech for you.”
“This outta be good.” I grin and watch as Maverick sets his glass down and pulls a bottle of Mad Dog from the inside pocket of his jacket.
He clears his throat, and a serious expression settles over his usually playful features. “I remember the first time I saw Ginny. Long, blonde hair, cute, little nose, long, tan legs…” He trails off with a dreamy look in his eyes. “I thought, now that’s a girl I could fall in love with.”
He breaks into a smile, and his gaze slides to me. “Nah, just kidding. I mean, I did think it, but then, I took one look at you with her and knew you were a goner. Ginny walks in a room, and you fucking light up, man. It’s some real inspiring shit. I could get teary just thinking about it, but Rhett made me promise I wouldn’t cry today, so I’ll end it there. I’m really stoked for you, buddy.”
“Thank you,” I say as I embrace him. “Love you, man.”
“Love you too.” He grunts. “Squeezing me a little tight, though, bestie.”
“I know.” My tone is sweet as candy, and I hold on a few seconds longer. “That’s for almost falling in love with my girl.”
He groans when I release him. “I was kidding.”
“It wasn’t funny,” I say, but I’m smiling.
Mav takes a pull of Mad Dog, then hands it to Adam.
Holding the bottle by the neck, Adam clears his throat. “I know I wasn’t always a fan of you dating my sister, but all I have ever wanted for her is to be happy.” He brings a fist to his mouth, coughs, and adds, “For some reason, it looks like that’s with you.”
The guys all laugh. Talking louder again, he says, “So, congrats, Heath. I’m honored to stand with you today and watch while you marry my baby sister.” His voice drops again, and he coughs so that his final words are barely audible. “Assuming she goes through with it.”
The fucker smirks as he takes a drink and then passes the bottle to Rhett.
“Way to keep me from sweating it.” I pull at the neck of my shirt. Looking at my final groomsmen, I say, “I hope you have something more inspiring.”
Rhett’s lips pull into a small smile. “I had a whole big speech prepared, but you know what? I’m just really happy for you. Happy for all of us. Let’s go get you married.”
He takes a drink and then hands it to me. I finish the bottle with a grimace. “Had to be Mad Dog, huh?”
Maverick slaps me on the shoulder. “Had to be.”
We all share a hug, and then Nathan leaves us to check how much time we have left before we need to get in our positions.
“Nervous?” Rhett asks.
“Nah, not about marrying Ginny. I can’t imagine life without her. But I know there are a lot of people out there.”
“She went a little overboard with the guest list,” Adam agrees while nodding.
“She’s just excited,” Mav says. “Wants everyone to see what a catch you are.”
The other guys snort.
“It’s time,” Nathan says as he steps back into the room.
A calm washes over me. Maybe it’s the alcohol settling in my system. Maybe it’s that I know these guys have my back no matter what, or maybe it’s just that I know as soon as Ginny is by my side, nothing else will matter.