We did it! We won gold at Nationals! I had every confidence we would. How could we not? Lara and I had better chemistry on and off the ice than any of our competitors, including the team from Boston who’d gotten married last year.
As seniors in high school, we had the added benefit of youth and primal tension, a deadly combination when acting out a seduction on ice. If only Lara saw me as more than a friend. Someday she’d realize how perfect we were together, and I’d stop having to fight off every guy she met. At least her little boy toys never stuck around for long. Who wants to date a girl whose figure skating partner couldn’t keep his hands off her?
I didn’t mean to connect with Lara physically as much as I did. Her body just magnetized to mine like we were meant to be together. Whenever we were within a ten-foot radius of each other we couldn’t help getting closer. And within each other’s personal space, well, let’s just say we shared each other’s personal space.
When we returned to school in January after spending an extended Christmas vacation in Tennessee for Nationals, we came home to a hero’s welcome. Everyone knew we’d qualified for the Olympics, and we were thrust into the spotlight as celebrities.
Lara’s infatuation with her wrestler had become “so last year” and she was already scoping out the Team USA snowboarders, downhill skiers and speed skaters, hoping to snag a “real man” on the “international stage.” Her words, not mine.
The only real man she needed at the Olympic games was the one already holding her hand. She just didn’t know it yet.
We had a fifty-pound weight limit for our luggage so I didn’t have a hard time lifting Lara’s suitcase onto the conveyor belt that would take our bags to be loaded onto the plane. I hefted mine up as well and we handed the lady our boarding passes.
Lara’s attention was elsewhere as she relied on me to get us checked in. She was turned completely around and leaning against the ticket counter smiling at a couple of the guys from the bobsled team.
“They’re too old for you,” I muttered low enough so only she could hear me.
“Last year’s junior champion snowboarder is not, and he is standing right behind them,” she said, her voice laced with innuendoes.
I turned to see Gilbert Snider smirking at Lara. I lifted my chin in greeting then turned back around to give my attention to the lady at the ticket counter. Gil was cocky but harmless and definitely young enough. He was probably our age if he’d been the junior champion less than two years ago. I still didn’t want him flirting with Lara.
“Oh my gosh, there’s Thomas Lamb!” Lara hissed with excitement, practically bouncing on her toes. She grabbed my arm like I was her bestie, and we were hanging out at the mall giggling about cute guys.
“Who?” I feigned ignorance even as my blood boiled at the thought of Lara spending any amount of time with Team USA’s top speed skater for the past three years. He was a player. Worse than a player. He was known to party in the off-season and had been caught on video last summer stoned and hanging all over some girl at a club in Los Angeles. Yeah, not happening. I would not allow my partner to get mixed up with a guy like Thomas Lamb. “Why don’t you stick with the cocky little snowboarder and leave the speed skater in the fast lane where he belongs.”
“Jealous?” she asked playfully.
“You wish.” I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her in the direction of the gate where we’d be heading through security and customs, preparing for international travel. “There will be plenty of time to flirt with guys once we get to the Olympic Village.”
“Yes, there will,” Lara said, not picking up on my sarcasm. She hugged me with excitement and kept her arms around me as we walked toward security. If any of the guys were still watching us, maybe they would think we were a couple and give up the game before we got to the arena. As an added assurance, I leaned over and kissed the top of Lara’s head, snuggling close to her fiery red hair.
“You smell good,” I said. “Did you change shampoos?”
“I know exactly what you’re doing and it’s not going to work.” Lara shoved me away playfully. “You’re trying to distract me and make the other guys back off.”
“Why would I want to do a thing like that?” I gave her my most innocent expression.
“You don’t want me to have any fun.”
Oh, I wanted her to have fun. I just wanted her to have fun with me.
“You’re going to have so many girls hitting on you that you’ll barely notice how many guys are hitting on me.”
I doubt that, I thought. “What girls would want to hit on me?” I asked.
“Chelley Houston, for one,” Lara said. “Didn’t you notice her flirting with you at Nationals?”
“I had one thing on my mind at Nationals,” I said. You, I thought.
“The Winter Games,” she assumed. “I get it. That was on my mind too.”
“So, she was trying to flirt with me, huh?” I asked. Maybe if I made Lara jealous, she’d realize how much she liked me and quit going after snowboarders and speed skaters and bobsledders. With my luck she’d meet some alpine skiers and we’d start the process all over again.
Lara was smoking hot. Guys just naturally flocked to her. But there was so much more to her than beauty. They didn’t know about the way she had encouraged me and assisted me to learn to be a world-class skater. When Lara had joked about being my crutch, she wasn’t far from the truth. If she hadn’t been holding my hand for the past thirteen years I may have given up when the training got tough.
Other guys also didn’t know how smart Lara was, or how much she cared about turtles, or how she volunteered on Sunday afternoons at her grandma’s retirement home to paint the fingernails of the little old ladies who could no longer see well enough or hold the brush steady to paint their own nails. They didn’t know that one of the reasons Lara was so driven to be the best at skating was to live out her mom’s dreams after she got pregnant for Lara right before figure skating regionals her freshman year of college.
They didn’t know.
But I knew. And I was going to treasure every special little secret Lara kept hidden behind those feisty green eyes.
We settled in on the airplane and Lara kept turning around and waving to different friends and flirting with various guys. I didn’t realize we’d be joined by her friend Chelley until she was hefting her carryon into the overhead compartment and giggling with Lara about Thomas Lamb, lamenting that he got to sit up front in first class while we were stuck all the way back here in coach. As if flying across the world to the winter games and living for several weeks in the Olympic Village wasn’t prestigious enough.
My initial thought about this being a long flight was pushed aside by the prospect of flirting with Chelley for the next twenty-three hours. Right in front of Lara. Yeah, I could make good use of this time.
As soon as the girls were settled, I reached across my partner’s lap and held out my hand to shake. “How ya doing Chelley?” I asked in a sultry voice. Then I winked at Lara as if to convey my appreciation for her pointing out that Chelley was attracted to me.
Lara’s jaw dropped but Chelley placed her hand in mine with apprehension, biting her lower lip and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear. “I’m good, how are you?”
“Looking forward to taking you ladies to the winter games,” I said. “Nice free skate, by the way. Your triple-triple combination was impressive.”
“Thank you,” Chelley said. “I didn’t realize you were watching.”
“Well, you know, my partner and I are joined at the hip, and she loves watching her best friend skate, right Lara?” Might as well throw it out there that I recognized Lara and I were inseparable and get that conversation out of the way.
“Um… right.” Lara cleared her throat, her glare still trained on Chelley and my adjoined hands right above her lap. “You totally deserved the gold.”
“Thanks! I’ve really improved the height on my jumps.” Chelley released my hand and leaned closer, her eyes darting back and forth between me and Lara. “Can you guys keep a secret?”
“Sure.” I leaned a little closer too so that my arm was touching Lara’s.
“I’m planning to do a quad toe loop during my free skate.”
“You are not,” I said with sincere awe. She would be one of very few women in the world who could even attempt them. No wonder she won National Championships and was heading into the Olympics as the skater to beat.
“I do them all the time in practice,” Chelley said. “Just not in front of most people. Gotta keep my secret weapon under wraps until the last minute.”
“Dang. I’m impressed.” I seriously was. No fake flirting involved.
“I’ve never even attempted one,” Lara said with a creased brow. “I’d hate to compete against you.”
“Well, I could never compete with what you guys do.” Chelley lowered her gaze again. “Jumping is one thing. Being thrown across the ice is totally different.”
“Have you ever thought about pairs?” I asked, totally engaged now. I almost felt bad that I was leaving Lara out of the conversation. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, still leaning forward to face Chelley. “We could show you some moves.”
“I would love that,” Chelley said.
“Yeah, we could,” Lara said with fake enthusiasm. She unexpectedly laid her hand on my knee. “We’re really good together.”
“Yes, we are.” I winked at Lara, for real this time, and smiled softly. I considered lifting her hand from my knee and lacing our fingers together, but I wasn’t done flirting with Chelley, and we hadn’t even left the tarmac. By the time we landed in Beijing, either Lara would declare her undying devotion to me, or slap me across the face.
(As always, feedback is greatly appreciated. -Julie)
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