Chapter 13

The day of the final regular game of the season arrived and Vera had given up on any heroics from Gil Conway or the coach but at least Conway hadn't told Gianni of his girlfriend's attempted intervention which saved her the embarrassment of having to admit to Gianni that she tried to back him up publicly.

Vera was eating lunch with Gianni, Carly and Alyssa when Carly noticed Gil Conway approaching their table.

"Here comes Mr. Handsome," Carly said with a smirk.

Vera looked up with fright when she saw Gil standing at the table, but he was looking at Gianni and not her. Oh God - what if the team captain outed her right there and then?

"Final Game of the regular season tonight, Attie," he said to Gianni. "You comin'?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Gianni replied.

"Say, why don't you suit up one last time?" Gil innocently asked, still not looking at Vera.

"Oh, I couldn't do that," Gianni said with embarrassment.

"Sure you could!" Vera said before she could stop herself.

"It wouldn't be fair to Fitz," Gianni said.

"Fitz is okay with it," Gil reported. "And he'll be available if anything happens to me. But we want you with us for the last game."

"Wow, Gil, that's awfully gracious of you," a flattered Gianni responded.

"Yes, real thoughtful and nice of you to consider Gianni," Vera said, hoping she sounded sincere and not sarcastic.

"So, whatta say?" Gil asked, his eyes still trained on Gianni "I'd love to have you backing me up one last time."

"Well, sure, okay, thanks a lot," a humbled Gianni replied. "It would mean a lot to me to be on the bench one more time."

"Good, see you tonight," Gil replied, finally throwing Vera a subtle look before he turned and walked away.

Vera now knew that Gil Conway was one of the good guys and that she'd never bad-mouth him again. He could have easily ignored her request and nobody would have known. But he stood up and finally did the right thing – better late than never.

"Isn't that great?" Vera asked Gianni. "You get to wear the uniform one more time."

"Best seat in the house," Gianni smirked. "You mind sitting alone?" He worried.

"We'll go with her," Carly volunteered.

"We will? Alyssa asked with surprise. "I hate hockey!"

Vera was nervous when she entered the hockey rink that night knowing it was Gianni's final fling, his swan song, his finale, his ending. But it was great to see him out on the ice again, carefully skating with his teammates and when the game began he was back in his long absent but familiar place on the bench as the backup goalie.

Gianni was smiling and cheering on his teammates as the game progressed and the back-up goalie genuinely looked happy and for that reason Vera was happy too.

It was a meaningless game but Gil played flawlessly as usual and the Green had a 4-0 lead late in the third period. With two minutes left, Greenville called time out and Gil Conway slowly skated out of the net and headed for the Greenville bench.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," the Public Announcer spoke through the loudspeakers. "Now in for Gil Conway, #19, Gianni Flematti. Flematti, Goalie."

Gianni was probably the most surprised person in the rink. His teammates stood on the bench and clapped as the coach and Gil motioned for the backup to put on his mask helmet and take the ice.

A crying Vera stood with her hands over her mouth watching in amazement as Gianni slowly skated out toward the net while carefully putting on his mask helmet and holding his stick.

Vera saw Gil look her way and he gave her a wink. Vera gave him a wave, blew him a kiss, and she mouthed 'Thank you'.

The Greenville faithful recognized the importance of the moment and they too stood and cheered on the back-up. Most knew about the accident that ended The Flem's career but here he was on the ice one last time.

The Green defense did their best to keep the puck out of their own end knowing that Gianni wasn't able to do much with his neck injury but the opposing team got the puck on a breakaway and one of their players took a wicked slap shot that Gianni barely reacted to but it hit the crossbar behind him and ricocheted away.

The opposing team maintained possession of the puck and with about a minute left a second shot on goal was made – this time directly into Gianni's waiting glove for a save!

Vera exhaled with relief and she jumped up and down in excitement. "Great save! Great Save!" She screamed over the roar of the crowd. "Did you see that save?" She asked Alyssa. That goalie's great!" She laughed.

Vera realized that she was crying but she didn't care. "My back up," she said to nobody in particular as the last few seconds of the game ticked off the clock.

When the final buzzer went off, the entire hockey team circled around Gianni and offered their congratulations, thank yous, and farewells. Gianni took off his helmet and let out a sigh, realizing it was all over.

He slowly started skating for the bench when he saw Vera yelling at him as she came running out from the stands, slipping and sliding her way across the ice and jumping into his arms in an Ice Castle-type moment as the fans gave them a cheer.

"My back up!" she said as she gave him a kiss. "I love you."

"I love you too," Gianni laughed as he happily hugged and kissed her. "You're the best back up ever!"