Authors: Jennifer Comeaux
Crossing the Ice
Copyright 2014 Jennifer Comeaux
Cover Art Designed by Sarah Schneider
Cover Models: Alexandria Shaughnessy and James Morgan
Photography by Ann Bowes-Shaughnessy
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used.
To all the skaters who have inspired me with their beautiful performances.
Table of Contents
There was nothing quite like the sound of ten thousand people gasping at once.
Especially when it was because my butt had just slammed into the cold, hard ice.
I scrambled to my feet and caught up to my partner Mark as fast as my skates could take me. I’d dreamt of this day all season — skating in front of our home American crowd at the World Championships in Los Angeles. But the dream had quickly become a nightmare. Two falls already in our free skate and we still had one more throw jump remaining.
Courtney Elizabeth Carlton, you are going to land this throw if it’s the last thing you do!
Mark set his hands on my hips, and we glided on a backward curve until he sprang me into the air. The bright lights and the large Staples Center crowd blurred around me as I pulled my arms in tight and spun three times. My right blade hit the ice for the landing, but my body tilted dangerously forward.
A surge of panic took hold of me, shaking me into action. I touched the ice to steady myself, and I sighed with relief as I avoided splatting again.
Small moral victory.
The final furious notes of Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto guided us to the end of the program, and the crowd gave us a warm and sympathetic ovation. Mark lowered his eyes to the ice, his sandy brown curls flopping over his forehead. He was already blaming himself for our mistakes. I’d skated with him for nine years, since I was twelve and he was fourteen, and I could read him better than anyone.
I reached up on my tippy-toes and put my arms around his shoulders. At five foot four I was tall for a pairs skater, but Mark still towered over me. He gave me a tight hug in return, and we took quick bows to all four sides of the arena. I was thankful my dad hadn’t been able to get away from the Boston accounting firm where he worked, so only my mom was in the audience. Hopefully Dad hadn’t found a live internet feed of the event. He had enough stress to deal with at his job without watching us give our worst performance of the season.
Our coaches Emily and Sergei greeted us with quiet hugs as we exited the ice. I held onto Em and let her familiar lavender perfume surround me. She’d always been as much like an older sister as a coach to me, and I needed her comforting embrace now more than ever.
“I don’t know what happened on the flip,” I mumbled against her blazer, thinking back to my fall on the first throw jump.
She patted the back of my beaded gray dress. “We’ll look at it on the replay.”
While we made our way to the kiss and cry, the designated area where we’d wait for the scores, I noticed a grim look pass between Em and Sergei. The young married couple had coached us our entire career, so I could read them just as well as I did my partner, and I knew exactly what that look was all about.
Our placement here, along with that of the other American team, would determine how many pairs the U.S. could send to the Olympics the following season. In order for the U.S. to field the maximum three teams, Mark and I needed to finish no lower than seventh or eighth here. The current U.S. champions had already skated well and had done their job in helping to secure three spots. Now everyone was looking to us to do our part, but with our two falls, the chances of us finishing top eight were… well, I’d go out on a thick limb and say less than zero.
The four of us squeezed onto the bench in the kiss and cry, and the camera in front of us lit up. Mark lifted his hand in a feeble wave. “Hey, everyone back home. Love you, Zoe.” He blew a kiss to his long-time girlfriend.
I peered up into the stands, searching for Kyle, my own significant other, who was a competitor in the men’s event. I’d had to miss his short program earlier, but we’d met up at the hotel, and I’d been ecstatic to hear he was in second place. At least one of us had given the home crowd a reason to cheer.
The image of Mark and me in the kiss and cry appeared on the super-sized video board hanging over the rink, and our weak smiles showed clearly on the HD screen. I looked down and smoothed my blond hair and the two braids woven through my up-do. Next to me Mark fiddled with his water bottle and muttered questions to Em about our failed jumps. The judges were taking an extremely long time with the scores.
When the numbers finally came up on the screen, my stomach dropped. They were worse than I’d expected. I bent forward and held my head in my hands while Sergei rubbed my back. Peeking through my fingers, I got a glimpse of our placement and cringed at how far we’d fallen in the standings. I could already hear the fans on the internet message boards discussing our ineptitude and bashing us for not coming through for American pairs.
We moved backstage, and after Mark and I put on our media-friendly faces and met the press, Sergei and Em circled us into a small huddle. Sergei’s blue eyes deepened with conviction as he looked back and forth between Mark and me. Many of my fellow skaters swooned over him and declared him the hottest coach in the sport, but to me he was just the guy who’d coached me since I was a kid. Sure, he was good-looking, but he was like my second dad.
“This wasn’t the ideal way to end the season, but you can learn from this,” he said. “As soon as we get home next week, we’ll go over everything that happened here and find out where we need to make adjustments. Then we’ll put this behind us, turn the page, and get started on planning for next season.”
Mark and I both nodded. One of the things I loved most about our coaches was their positive attitude. They never belittled us, and they didn’t let us dwell on bad performances.
Em put her arms around our waists. “Enjoy the rest of the week here. Watch as much of the skating as you can. Let it inspire you.”
I nodded again more fervently, my spirits lifting as my thoughts went to Kyle. Watching him reel off powerful quadruple jumps and triple-triple combinations always inspired me… in very different ways. It made me both want to work on my jumping technique and to have my way with him. And once he was finished competing the next night, I planned to finally do the latter.
The following night Mark and I were back at Staples Center but only as spectators. Mom had already flown home, so I’d enlisted my partner to help me cheer on Kyle. First we had to contend with the throng of people milling on the concourse. With Mark close behind, I snaked through the masses, zig-zagging around the lines for concessions and souvenirs.
After passing the McDonald’s stand, we entered a small clearing in the crowd where we could finally regain our personal space. I was about to let out a breath but then stopped.
Coming straight toward us were Stephanie and Josh Tucker, the brother and sister pair team who’d finished two spots behind us in fourth at nationals. For a moment I was confused as to why they’d be at the event, and then I remembered they lived in L.A. How could I forget? We’d competed against them for years, and Stephanie flaunted their wealth and Hollywood connections every chance she had. Josh, the older of the two, had always been much quieter. I could count on one hand the number of times we’d spoken since we’d shared an awkward experience as teenagers.
I didn’t feel like making small talk, especially after our disastrous skate the previous night, so I put my head down and veered to the right. I didn’t make it two steps before Stephanie called my name.
Groaning inwardly, I pivoted to face them. Anyone who saw them together would know they were siblings. Two years apart in age at twenty and twenty-two, they both had the same rich shade of brown hair, clear blue eyes, and creamy skin. Even the long slope of their noses was identical. But there was something different in their eyes. Stephanie’s examined me with critical scrutiny, while Josh’s watched me with guarded interest. I stood taller and straightened the denim jacket I wore over my green sundress.
“Josh and I were just talking about you two,” Stephanie said in the fake-nice voice that seemed so natural to her.
Josh slanted a dark glance in her direction, but she paid him no attention as she continued, “We’re so excited about moving to Cape Cod and working with Emily and Sergei.”
Moving to Cape Cod? Our training site? Working with
“Come again?” I sputtered.
“They told you we’re going to be training together, didn’t they? We finalized all the details earlier this week.”
I stared open-mouthed at her, my voice stuck in my throat. Mark and I were Emily and Sergei’s only senior team.
were supposed to be their priority for the Olympic season. This had to be a mistake. I looked at Josh, and he avoided my gaze as he bent his head, shaking it ever so slightly.
“They haven’t said anything to us about it,” Mark piped up beside me.
“Oh.” Stephanie touched her French-manicured hand to her mouth. “Sorry, I guess we weren’t supposed to share the news yet.” She couldn’t sound any less sincere in her apology.
“So you’re moving across the country?” I asked.
“After Josh graduates from UCLA in May,” Stephanie replied. “We think Emily and Sergei are the best coaches to help us get on the Olympic team.”
Josh continued to stay silent, alternating between shooting subtle daggers at Stephanie and looking anywhere but at Mark and me. He shoved his hands in the front pockets of his dark jeans and turned halfway toward the approaching crowd like he was ready to escape the conversation.
“They are the best,” I said, realizing how dazed I still sounded.
Stephanie folded her arms and gave me a pointed glare. “It’s a shame there will only be two spots for pairs on the team.”
My face filled with heat, and I hated that my pale cheeks likely revealed my emotions.
“We gave it everything we had,” Mark said, mimicking Stephanie’s pose. “It was a tough competition.”
She hummed softly in response, and her eyes narrowed, her critical gaze sharpening. “It wasn’t—”
“We should get going.” Josh finally broke his silence.
Well, I didn’t know much about him, but being willing to shush his sister earned him some points in my book.
“Right. We have to head upstairs.” Stephanie showed us her glossy ticket. “We have seats in one of the corporate suites.”
Of course they did. I refrained from rolling my eyes at her obvious display of showing off.
“Enjoy,” I said tersely.
I watched as they walked away, Stephanie’s ridiculously high heels clicking loudly. Josh pushed his hand through his hair and appeared frustrated as he spoke to his sister. She waved her ticket at him as if she was dismissing whatever he said.
“What the hell?” Mark said. “How could Em and Sergei take them on without talking to us about it?”
I had no answer for him. I couldn’t wrap my head around this. Em and Sergei had talked all along about doing everything they could to help us get to the Olympics. For them to bring in one of our main competitors and not even discuss it with us didn’t make sense. Even though Mark and I hadn’t been as successful the past few years as had been expected of us, I didn’t think our coaches had stopped believing in our potential.
“There has to be more to the story,” I said as I headed for the nearest section of seats, sidestepping a boisterous group of teenagers.