What the heck was Lara thinking? Was she that oblivious to me that she can’t even tell I like her? Have I been too subtle? Do I need to do something drastic to make a point?
Maybe I’ve been avoiding this conversation for so long that she honestly didn’t know I was in love with her. How could she not?
Maybe I wasn’t daring and dangerous enough. Maybe I wasn’t a cocky, hot shot, fearless showoff like Gilbert. Maybe I wasn’t a sexy, brooding bad boy like Thomas.
Maybe I was too much in tune with my softer side because I took ballet classes and was a figure skater and she wanted a more manly man.
Maybe she knows I’m in love with her but she doesn’t like me that way and she’s been avoiding the conversation because she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings. Maybe I was reading too much into this and I should just let it go.
We arrived at the ice arena a few minutes later with this tension still hanging in the air between us. This was going to be a grueling practice if we couldn’t even connect off the ice. I missed having my hands holding hers, my arms wrapped around her waist, my chin resting on her shoulder as she leaned her back against me.
I needed Lara.
She was everything to me and I couldn’t imagine my life without her. Was it true that I was using her as a crutch? Could I make it to the top of the leaderboard in figure skating if I didn’t have her dragging me along all these years?
We went our separate ways into the locker rooms without so much as a goodbye and met up with each other near the ice. I arrived first and struck up a conversation with Chelley since she was just coming off the ice from practicing her short program alongside several other ladies’ figure skaters.
Chelley and I picked up our conversation from the night before as if it hadn’t been ten hours ago. We laughed and smiled, and she placed her hand on my arm playfully. And that’s how Lara found us. And she was seething.
I didn’t know what Lara’s problem was. She’d made it clear she wanted to date other guys and not me. She’d practically laughed and patted me on the head when asking if I had a thing for her. Lara had pushed me toward Chelley and now was angry that we’d hit it off. Whatever. I was sick of trying.
When Chelley noticed Lara was standing next to me, she welcomed her into the conversation. “Hey, you two promised you’d teach me some moves one of these days,” Chelley said. “We should totally get together.”
“How about this evening?” I asked. “If we can find some open ice time. I’m not really in the mood to go back to the lodge tonight.”
“Not up for a rematch at the ping pong table?” Chelley pushed my shoulder lightly.
“Um…” Lara interrupted. “I was hoping to go to the lodge tonight.”
“That’s okay,” I said dismissively. “I’m a strong enough partner that I can teach Chelley some moves without your help demonstrating them. You go have fun. We’ll catch up with you later.”
If daggers could fly out of Lara’s eyes I’d be a dead man.
“It’s settled then,” Chelley said. “I’ll go see if I can find us some ice time while you guys are practicing, and we’ll catch up later. Maybe we can meet at the cafeteria and have dinner together first.”
“That sounds great.” Was I excited that a hot, older girl had just asked me out? Yeah, maybe a little. Total confidence boost that extinguished the burn of rejection I’d felt from Lara.
We didn’t speak as we started skating onto the rink, in perfect sync yet not connecting on a deeper level. Within a few minutes, Lara and I were no longer in sync because we weren’t connecting on a deeper level. We started missing each other’s cues, our spins were off-time, one lift was so far off that I had to stutter my footing in order to avoid dropping Lara.
Then there were the jumps. Oh, the jumps. I ended up having to improvise and do doubles to slow my pace to match her triples.
“Lift those knees up!” our coach yelled from the sideline. Coach Lyss Boucher was one of the finest pairs figure skating coaches in the world and had been chosen specifically to help me and Lara reach the highest levels and beyond. But even she had grown complacent because Lara and I were usually perfect in our execution, elegant in artistic elements, and had more fire between us than a chemistry lab. “You can forget about your side-by-side triple axels if you can’t get more height. Lift your knee higher. Higher than that! Do it again. Start over.”
The third time we landed out of sync our coach stormed onto the ice.
“Who are you and what did you do with my future gold medalists?” she demanded. “Why did you change your axel to a double? Are you injured?” Coach didn’t ask if I was injured with any semblance of sympathy, more accusatory.
“No, I’m not injured,” I snapped back. “I had to slow down for her.” I pointed at Lara without looking in her direction.
“Don’t blame me,” Lara said with venom rather than apology. “I tripled my axel. It’s not my fault you can’t jump today.”
“I can land five different quads in my sleep.” I turned to glare at my partner and best friend. “The only thing that is holding me back is you.”
“Maybe you should find yourself a new partner then.” She glided closer spraying shaved ice at me with her forced stop, and lifted her nose in the air. “I hear Chelley Houston is considering pairs. Maybe you can ask her while you’re on your date tonight.”
“I’m not sure we’ll have enough time for a date since I need to babysit you while you’re hanging all over a guy old enough to be your father.”
“Thomas Lamb is not old enough to be my father.” Lara balled her fists at her sides. “He’s barely out of college. And, besides, I’m planning to hang out with Gil Snider tonight, not Thomas.”
“How? Are you going to elbow past all the other girls vying for his attention?”
“Stop it! Both of you!” Coach Boucher stepped in between us. “Off the ice. Now!” She pointed toward the exit.
Most other skaters in the arena looked on with amusement, and maybe a little hope in their countenance watching the dream couple, the pair to beat, imploding before their eyes. Great. Just what we needed.
When Lara and I had slipped the guards back on our blades, we followed our coach into the hallway by the locker rooms, still scowling at each other. Without any further explanation, Coach pointed in opposite directions, one finger toward the women’s changing room, the other toward the men’s.
“Get your skates off, keep your practice clothes on, and gather your belongings. I don’t know what’s going on between the two of you but I’m locking you in a dance studio together where you will work on your short program off the ice until your bodies and minds are so in sync that we’ll need a water hose to pry you apart. Am I making myself clear?”
I almost snickered at her analogy, wondering if that’s what it would take. Our connection was beyond physical attraction, and I understood the reason we had lost that connection was because of jealousy. I knew what I needed to do to make this right and I couldn’t wait to get started. Without another word, I strode toward the men’s locker room, hiding the smirk on my face.
(As always, feedback is greatly appreciated. -Julie)
Click here to read another chapter of Take Me to the Winter Games