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Authors: Jennifer Comeaux

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BOOK: Crossing the Ice
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Josh extended his arms out on both sides, and the muscles in his back flexed in turn. I imagined exploring the contours of each one of those muscles, trailing my fingers across his hot, slick skin. My body flushed even more, and I looked away from him, breaking my pose. Liza glanced at me, and I quickly went back into form and closed my eyes. Staring at Josh wasn’t going to help me feel calm. Quite the opposite was happening as my heart rate had kicked up another notch.

The temperature seemed to be rising, and I became more jittery with each pose. Sipping water wasn’t providing enough sustenance. I had only eaten a light snack earlier as Em had recommended, and I worried the heat with the lack of food were taking its toll. Why had I thought this was a good idea? I’d almost passed out at a Red Sox game once on a sweltering July day. My body was used to spending its days in an ice rink, and it was currently screaming at me,
What
the hell is
all this heat?
We were close to the end of the class, though, so I didn’t want to make a scene by leaving (and having Stephanie gloat that I couldn’t hack it). I could power through a few more minutes, right?

I shakily performed the final two positions and toweled off my sweat-caked face as soon as class ended. My head felt very light and fuzzy, and I looked toward the door.
Air. I need air.

Josh turned to me as he wiped his own face. “What did you think?”

His voice seemed a great distance from me, and black spots began to blur my vision. My legs didn’t feel as if they were part of my body anymore.

“Court?” he said, sounding miles away. “She’s really pale.”

I tried to move for the door but stumbled and Josh grabbed me. He wrapped his arm around my waist and steered me to the exit.

“We’re gonna go outside, okay?” He held my water bottle up to my lips. “Try to drink some water.”

I took in a little bit of the liquid and continued to drink as Josh helped me sit on the bench in the hallway. The cooler air made me feel like I could breathe again… like I wasn’t smothering in a rainforest.

“Put your head between your knees,” Liza said as she sat beside me.

Bending forward, I rested my forehead on my knees, and the blood in my body rushed upward, giving me further relief.

“I’ll go get a wet towel,” Josh said.

Liza rubbed my back, and I breathed deeply, slowly regaining the clarity of my senses. I lifted my head slightly and saw Stephanie standing in front of me.

“You are so pathetic,” she said. “I bet you pulled this little stunt just to get Josh’s sympathy.”

I blinked a few times and gingerly straightened my back. Stephanie looked down at me with a snarl of disdain.

“You think she’s faking it?” Liza squeaked. “What is wrong with you?”

“I know the only reason she came was to get closer to Josh.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “No, the reason I came was to irritate the hell out of you. Almost passing out wasn’t part of the plan, but I’m glad I succeeded with my goal.”

Josh returned and sat next to me, and he pressed the cold towel to my forehead. “You feeling better?”

I put my hand on the towel to hold it myself, and our fingers touched, shooting a tingle down my spine. I knew for sure I was better because I hadn’t been able to feel anything when Josh’s arm had been around me a few minutes ago.

“Much,” I said.

“Do you want something to eat?” Liza asked. “I think I have some trail mix in my gym bag. I’ll go get it.”

She scurried toward the locker room while Josh watched me with concern. I leaned back against the wall and gave him a little smile.

“Sorry for all the drama.”

“You don’t have to apologize. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Stephanie made some kind of noise in her throat. “I told you this wasn’t for everyone. I hope you won’t make the mistake of coming back here again.”

“Steph.” Josh glared at her. “Jeez, back off.”

“What? You want her fainting in the middle of class next time? Having to call 911?”

“I won’t be coming back.” I set the towel on my thigh. “I listen to my body when it gives me a warning.”

Stephanie smirked. “Well, it’s good you have a little bit of sense.”

She left just as Liza came back with a plastic baggie of trail mix. I devoured a handful of nuts and chased them with a gulp of water.

“I can take you guys home and bring Em back to get her car,” Josh said.

I waved off his suggestion. “I’m fine to drive. The cool air and food was all I needed.”

“You sure?”

I nodded. Josh and Liza went into the practice room to retrieve our stuff we’d left behind, and I sat quietly and ate a few more almonds. A few people leaving the class stopped to ask if I was okay, and I gave them all solid assurances. When Josh and Liza returned, we went to the separate locker rooms to change into dry, non-disgusting clothes. Em wouldn’t want our sweaty grossness all over her leather seats.

We all emerged within a minute of each other and walked out to the parking lot together. The sun had dipped low over the trees, filling the sky with deep orange, and the evening breeze felt vitally refreshing.

“I should’ve been the one apologizing earlier,” Josh said. “I feel bad that I talked you into coming.”

“Don’t be silly. I wanted to come.”

“I’m still kinda hot,” Liza said. “I might take an ice bath when we get home.”

I laughed and said goodnight to Josh, and he touched my shoulder.

“Take it easy tonight,” he said.

I smiled as a much more pleasant warmth filled me. “I will.”

My face couldn’t turn off the smile, and Liza stared at me as we got into the car.

“Hmm…” she said loudly.

I quickly made my expression blank. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said with a little giggle.

She pulled out her phone, saving me from further scrutiny, but she’d definitely picked up on something. Or
somethin’
somethin’
as Meredith would say. I was dealing with enough questions from myself about my feelings for Josh. The last thing I needed was questioning from other people.

Chapter Eight

 

I took the last bite of my grilled chicken and looked at my watch. Thirty minutes remained before the start of my shift, so I sat back and gazed through the restaurant’s large windows. A couple of sailboats floated on the calm water, making me wish I was lying on the beach instead of cooped up inside.

The kitchen door swung open, and Josh entered the dining room with one of the waiters. Suddenly I didn’t care about being cooped up. If I was on the beach, I wouldn’t get to see Josh looking beyond hot in a black button-down shirt and bright red tie. He was still rocking the jeans and Converse, but he’d obviously dressed up for his first night as the house entertainment.

“You’re here early,” I said.

“I wanted to practice a few of the songs in Barry’s book.”

I folded my napkin and gave him a teasing smile. “Nice tie.”

He grinned and adjusted the knot around his collar. “I figured I’d class it up a bit.”

He sat on the piano bench and began to page through the sheet music. I carried my plate and glass into the kitchen, and when I returned I set about making sure the bar was stocked and ready for opening. As I formed short stacks of beverage napkins, a familiar quiet melody froze me in place.

Muse’s piano song.

I looked over at Josh, and he was concentrating hard on the keys, bringing the beautiful tune to life. I circled around the bar and slowly approached the piano. As Josh played, I watched his brow furrow as the notes became more intense, his lips press together as the music drew to a climax.

He kept his focus downward until he hit the final note, and then he looked up with a shy smile that turned all my insides to mush.

“That was amazing. How long did it take you to learn it?” I asked.

“Um… a couple of days. I started working on it Monday night.”

The day I’d told him it was my favorite song on the album. No biggie.

“It sounded incredible,” I said.

“Thanks. It’s all I’ve been doing the past few nights. The perks of having no life.” He laughed.

“You really should do something with that skill… other than playing in an old restaurant on Thursday nights.”

He lowered his head and shrugged. “It’s good to have as a hobby.”

He flipped through the song book, and I excused myself to go back to work. I placed the napkin stacks along the bar, keeping one eye on the piano. How could Josh’s parents ignore his talent and not encourage him to explore his options? If I had an artistic wunderkind, I wouldn’t push him to be a lawyer.

The restaurant was busy right from the opening, so I didn’t have much time to talk to Josh while he ate his free dinner. As soon as he finished eating, he reclaimed his spot at the piano and gave the room a more elegant feel with his smooth tinkling of the ivories.

I was filling a mug with beer from the tap when I saw someone waving from the corner of my eye. I turned and discovered Liza along with Em, Sergei, and the twins. Em and Sergei were staring at Josh and murmuring, but he was too wrapped up in playing a new arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” to notice them. Of all nights, they had to come when Josh was on the piano? They hadn’t been to the restaurant in months.

The hostess showed them to a table, but Em and Liza didn’t sit. They came straight to the bar.

“Since when does Josh play the piano here?” Em asked.

I toweled off a wet spot on the polished wood. “He just started.”

“How come you didn’t mention it?”

Liza watched me closely with a hint of a smile, and I hoped she wasn’t about to burst into giggles.

“He uhh… I don’t think he wants Stephanie to know, so if you could not say anything at the rink…”

She gave me a questioning look but kept quiet and left for her table. Liza stayed with me and broke into a full-blown smile. I waited for the commentary to come.

“You like Josh,” she said.

And there it is.

I reached behind me for a bottle of vodka. “Of course I like him. He’s a nice person.”

“No, you
like
like him.”

I let out a solo peal of laughter. “You did not just say that. I haven’t heard that since seventh grade.”

“I don’t hear you denying it.”

“Don’t you need to go order your dinner? Your table is waiting for you.”

“Still not denying,” she sang as she walked away.

Great.
Now she was going to hound me until I caved, which would probably be sooner rather than later. I’d never been good at hiding my emotions.

The activity at the bar died down over the next hour, and after the twins finished eating, Sergei brought them over and sat them on adjacent stools. His arms surrounded them as he stood behind them. Quinn and Alex were the only underage patrons Ronnie allowed.

I smiled and rested my elbows on the bar. “You two are my cutest customers by far.”

They laughed, and Alex said quietly, “You prettiest bartender.”

“Aww.” I touched my hand to my heart. “You’re gonna be a hit with the ladies one day.”

“He already has an admirer at pre-school,” Sergei said. “This little girl follows him everywhere.”

“Fast forward thirteen years and imagine your life with two sixteen-year-old heartbreakers in your house.” I laughed. “Good luck with that.”

“My hair turns gray just thinking about it.”

“I want dat drink!” Quinn pointed to the martini in front of her neighbor. “It’s pink!”

“That’s a drink for grown-ups, Sweetie,” Sergei said.

“How about I make you both some chocolate milk?” I suggested.

“No, I want dat one!” Quinn shouted and bounced in her seat.

“Aquinnah Rose,” Sergei said firmly as he bent between the twins. “We do not yell in public like that. And Court was very nice to offer to make you something special.”

She dipped her head. “Sorry.”

I noticed Alex looked remorseful, too, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet another fascinating facet of their twin behavior.

“Why don’t we go say hello to Josh and let Court get back to work?” Sergei helped the kids climb down from the stools.

“Bye!” I waved.

The three of them stood beside the piano until Josh finished playing the theme from
Ice Castles,
and he motioned for Quinn and Alex to sit with him on the bench. They both looked up at him open-mouthed like he was a rock star. I had to get a picture of the adorableness, so I ran into the kitchen for my phone and quickly snapped a shot from behind the bar.

Should I text it to Josh?

I had a witty comment all ready to go with the photo, but again I wasn’t sure if I should open up that extra line of communication. I tapped the phone screen with my fingernail.

Oh, what the hell.

I typed in his name and scrolled to the message area.

Me:
So
you’re
a hit with the toddler crowd, too. You’re a demographics phenomenon.

I hit Send before I could chicken out and slid the phone into my apron pocket. It wasn’t a moment too soon because Liza was headed in my direction. She would surely have something to say about me taking a picture of Josh.

“I was thinking.” She leaned against the bar and lowered her voice. “If you and Josh hook up, it would be so
Romeo and Juliet
. You know, since you’re on rival teams you’re like the warring Capulets and Montagues.”

I gaped at her, trying to find the right response to her ridiculous metaphor.

“We read it last year in English class,” she added. “
So
good.”

“Josh and I are not Romeo and Juliet.”

“Two teams, both alike in dignity, in Cape Cod where we lay our scene,” she said dramatically.

I recognized the prologue to the play because I’d had to memorize it and recite it in front of my own freshman English class. I’d never thought my life would inspire a parody of it.

“You better not say stuff like that around Em and Sergei,” I said. “I don’t want them thinking something’s going on with me and Josh because nothing’s going on. We’re just friends.”

BOOK: Crossing the Ice
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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