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Authors: Jennifer Comeaux

Crossing the Ice (23 page)

BOOK: Crossing the Ice
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“Zip it. Both of you.” Em flagged down our waitress. “Can I get a glass of merlot?”

Mark and I both stuck to water, and we all silently examined our menus until the waitress came back to take our orders. After she walked away, Em took a long sip of her wine and slowly set down the glass.

“Court, I wish you would’ve been honest with us,” she said. “I had my suspicions about you and Josh, but I wanted you to come to me.”

“How did you know?”

“Have you forgotten that Sergei and I snuck around for a year? I know all the signs.”

I avoided her gaze as I folded my straw wrapper into tiny squares. “I’m sorry. We didn’t want to keep this from you, but we knew there was going to be backlash from some people.”

“You think?” Mark snapped.

I looked up at him. “If I’d known Stephanie was going to turn this into a circus, I would’ve told you from the beginning.”

“Sergei is talking to Stephanie about how she handled things,” Em said.

Mark snorted. “Did he draw the short straw?”

Em ignored his comment. “I want to make sure this isn’t going to be an issue between you two. Whatever needs to be said should be said now and then we need to move on.”

“So you’re okay with her dating Josh?” Mark asked.

“I’m going to trust that Court and Josh have entered into this relationship carefully, and they’re prepared to handle competing against each other.” Her big blue eyes focused steely on mine.

I’d been coached by Em and Sergei for so long that I knew all their strategies, all their ways of getting the responses from us they wanted. The purpose of her statement was to make me think long and hard about whether I’d made the right choice. It was also to show Mark she had confidence in my decision, whatever that might be.

“I think tonight Josh and I proved we can handle it,” I said.

“Then as long as you maintain that professionalism, I don’t have an issue with this,” Em said.

Mark let out an angry laugh. “Of course you don’t. You dated Sergei when Chris didn’t want you to, when everyone thought it was a bad idea.”

My eyebrows shot up, and Em shot Mark a dark glare.

“I don’t appreciate the attitude, and that was a very different situation. There were a lot more issues since Sergei was my coach. Those issues don’t apply here.” She turned to me. “I don’t like that you lied to all of us, though. That part I do have a problem with.”

“I really am sorry we didn’t tell you. I realize now it would’ve been better to be up front with everyone.”

“We need to have honesty and trust between all of us in order to work as the best possible team,” Em said.

I nodded and made eye contact with Mark. “I know, and I promise it won’t happen again.”

He tapped his thumb on the table as he mulled over my apology. When he didn’t say anything, I fidgeted in my seat, anxious he was going to tell me he didn’t believe me.

“Mark, do you trust that Court will put your partnership first?” Em prodded him.

He gave me a hard look. “You swear you’re not gonna flake on me?”

“I’ve wanted to be an Olympian since I was ten years old. I’m going to fight for this with everything I have,” I said slowly, making sure he heard the resolve in every word.

“But what if Josh breaks up with you right before nationals?” Mark asked. “What if that’s part of the plan? Stephanie stirs up the first round of trouble here, and then he goes in for the kill when it’s crunch time?”

I groaned and covered my face. “How many times do I have to tell you Josh is nothing like Stephanie? He’s not using me. He’s had a crush on me for eight years!”

“Really? That’s so sweet,” Em said.

“What took him so long to make his move? Jeez,” Mark said.

I looked down at the table. “It’s complicated.”

I wasn’t going to get into Josh’s shyness and our failed first kiss. That wasn’t anyone’s business but ours.

“And getting involved
now
isn’t complicated? He picked the worst time possible,” Mark said. “I’m telling you, if he does anything questionable, anything to hurt you—”

“He won’t,” I said firmly.

“Josh is a good guy.” Em backed me up.

The waitress set down our plates, and I took a bite of my sandwich. My stomach felt a little more settled than it had when we’d started this conversation. Now to get through the meal peacefully…

“I’m holding you to your word.” Mark picked up a French fry and waved it at me. “And I’m still gonna keep an eye on Josh. And his evil sister.”

“You’re a great partner to look out for Court,” Em said.

Looking out is one thing. Being insanely paranoid is another.

Em steered the conversation toward less volatile topics the rest of dinner, so we were all in a calm mood when we left the restaurant. Then we saw Stephanie, Josh, and their mom standing in the lobby.

I could feel Mark tense beside me. Just seeing Stephanie’s face again stirred up fury in me, too. But no way in hell was I going to confront her with Mrs. Tucker there.

“If I go upstairs, you’re going to play nice, right?” Em said.

Mark crossed his arms and widened his stance. “Of course.”

Em passed them on her way to the elevator, and she stopped and spoke to them for a few minutes. Mrs. Tucker actually cracked a smile, though it looked like the phony one Stephanie often wore.

Mark took a call from Zoe on his cell, leaving me standing alone as he wandered over to the empty sitting area. I shuffled my feet and took out my own phone so I wouldn’t look like an aimless fool. I wanted to talk to Josh, but the idea of approaching him in front of his mom sounded as appealing as diving into an ocean full of sharks.

I glanced up as Em departed, and Mrs. Tucker’s smile had evaporated. She was speaking to Josh while also treating me to more of her icy looks. Every one of them made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I tried to figure out a way to get to the elevator without going past them, but I’d have to learn how to walk through walls.

Josh turned away from Stephanie and his mom and came toward me, and I froze from the iciest of Mrs. Tucker’s glares. Josh took my hand and intertwined our fingers, but I pulled away.

“Maybe we shouldn’t… here.” I looked over at Mark, and he was observing us just as intently as Mrs. Tucker was.

Josh grasped my hand with both of his. “I’ve waited too long to be with you to watch you from across the room.”

His warmth washed over the coldness I felt from the people staring at us. He stepped even closer and bent his head.

“I’m not happy with how this came out, but I’m happy it’s out,” he said.

“I am, too. I just… I don’t want Mark to get riled up again. And your mom… I assume she knows about us?”

“Yeah, Steph took care of that.” His voice quickly went from soft to hard.

“Shocking,” I said bitterly.

Stephanie and Mrs. Tucker apparently had endured enough of seeing Josh and me together because they disappeared from the lobby. Not before one last haughty glance at me, though.

“What did your mom say?” I asked.

He hesitated and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“That bad, huh?” I chewed on my lip.

“I don’t care what she thinks.”

“You must care a little. I mean, she’s your mom.”

He looked down at our hands and gently pressed mine between his. “Her way of looking at the world is so narrow and so different from mine that I don’t… I don’t understand her at all. So whatever opinions she has about my life, they don’t hold any weight with me.”

My heart hurt for him. He deserved to have a mother who was just as caring and wonderful as he was. I couldn’t imagine growing up with a mom as cold and judgmental as his. I wanted to give him a hug but not in the middle of all the lobby action.

“Walk with me to my room?” I said.

We got into the elevator, and I wrapped my arms around Josh. As he held me tight, the craziness of the night slipped from my mind, and all that remained was the perfectness of how our bodies fit together. I’d missed that feeling so much in the few days we’d been in Lake Placid.

The elevator chimed, and we walked hand-in-hand to my door. Liza was probably asleep since she had an early practice, so we stayed in the hallway.

“How did things go with Mark?” Josh asked.

“We came to somewhat of an understanding. Em was awesome. She really supported me.”

“Yeah, Sergei was the same. Well, after he lectured me about lying and gave Steph an even longer lecture about manipulating the situation.”

“She deserved a lot more than a lecture.”

Josh pinched the bridge of his nose. “I still can’t believe she looked at my phone.”

“I
hate
the idea of her reading our texts. It’s like she invaded the most private part of our relationship.” My throat ached, and I swallowed hard. “God, the things we wrote about that night on the Vineyard…”

I squeezed my eyes shut. We’d texted how we wished we could lie next to each other again, touch each other…

Josh rested his forehead against mine. “I’m so, so sorry. I should’ve been more careful.”

“You didn’t know she’d go to those lengths.”

“I told her the only reason I’m still speaking to her is because we skate together.”

I hugged him again, even longer and tighter. He was saddled with two cold-hearted people in his life. I didn’t know how he put up with Stephanie on a daily basis. Mark might drive me nuts sometimes, but he was a good person. He would never be intentionally hurtful like Stephanie had been.

“Tomorrow is going to be pretty important,” Josh said.

I looked up at him. “We have to do well to prove none of this is affecting us on the ice. Em and Sergei are going to be watching us closely.”

He nodded. “We just have to do exactly what we did tonight.”

And if we do that, hopefully Mark and I will come out on top again.

Even though we’d joked around with the trash talk before, I didn’t want to say that to him. It didn’t feel right after all the drama of the evening. I kept thinking about what Mark had said about crushing Josh’s dream. I had to put that out of my mind or switch the focus to crushing Stephanie’s dream. That was definitely something I had no problem using as motivation.

 

****

 

The moment I saw Josh’s face, I knew he hadn’t skated well.

His eyes were filled with disappointment as he and Stephanie came to a stop at the boards after their free skate. I raced onto the ice and tried to push aside my sinking feeling by carving deeper edges.
How they skated doesn’t matter
, I reminded myself.
This is about you and Mark and what you need
to do.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t plug my ears to block out Stephanie and Josh’s score, and it confirmed there had been mistakes. Big ones. I shook out my arms to keep the blood flowing and kept my head down as I glided past the kiss and cry.

Don’t look at them. Don’t think about them.

The short filmy skirt of my burgundy dress flapped over my thighs as I picked up the pace. Mark joined me and took my hand, and we made one more lap around the rink before receiving our introduction. We opened our arms to acknowledge the crowd’s cheers and settled into our starting pose. I had to face the kiss and cry as Mark and I stood back to back, and I saw Stephanie gesturing animatedly at the ice. Josh totally ignored her as he quietly watched us.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and a few seconds later the music began. Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony was a beautiful piece that hadn’t been used much for skating, but I’d fallen in love with it the first time Sergei had played it for us. The sweeping highs and lows gave me a sense of power and strength in every movement I made.

We knocked out the triple twist in the opening section of the program and set up for our side-by-side triple-toe-double-toe-double-toe combination. Our path took us straight toward the kiss and cry at the end of the rink, and I was looking directly at Josh as we sped toward the jump. Stephanie had left the scene.

See the jumps! See the jumps!

I quickly pulled my eyes down to the ice and visualized the perfect combination. In the next instant, I picked into the ice and spun three times, keeping my arms tight to my body. As soon as I landed safely, I jabbed my toe pick into the ice again and whirled into a double, repeating the motion once more for the third jump. Beside me Mark landed a few seconds later, making our combination slightly out of unison, but we’d completed it cleanly from what I could tell. I let out a small breath of relief.

With one of the biggest hurdles out of the way, we relaxed more into the choreography, and I soaked in the power of the soaring music. We nailed the triple Salchows and both throw jumps and flew through our hardest lift. Em and Sergei clapped loudly in support as we skated past them, and I felt as if we were flying even faster than usual.

I moved to Mark’s side, and he grabbed both my hands for the lasso lift. He swung me up and around to get me over his head, but his right hand slipped, and my balance was gone. All my muscles seized as I felt myself losing control and heading downward.

Mark held onto my left hand with a fierce grip, and I collapsed onto his shoulders, practically choking him with my right arm. I slid off his back, slowly loosening my hold on him, and we glided in a stunned daze for a few moments before reconnecting our steps with the music.

We managed to get through the remaining lifts without another disaster, but all I could think about was how many points we’d lost on the aborted one. It was the kind of mistake that didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was a killer.

As soon as the music ended, Mark dropped his head and muttered to himself. I gave him a hug and patted his shoulders while he continued to quietly curse.

“It was a fluke,” I said. “There’s nothing we could’ve done.”

Sergei and Em told us the same thing when we reached the boards. We sat in the kiss and cry, and I jiggled my knees as we endured the long wait for the score. I wanted so badly to ask Sergei what kind of mistakes Stephanie and Josh had made, but I thought it best not to bring them up at the moment.

BOOK: Crossing the Ice
9.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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