My elbow whacked Chris’s forehead for the fourth time that day. He grunted and caught me before I hit the ice. Though I’d skated over half of my nineteen years, I’d never had so many collisions. Of course, until a year ago, I’d never skated with a partner.
I cringed and touched Chris’s sweaty brow. “I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” He brushed his hand through his thick dark hair. “A little head trauma never hurt anyone.”
I laughed wearily and arched my neck, stretching the sore muscles. The cold air wasn’t helping to loosen them. Looking up, my eyes honed in on the red, white, and blue banner above the rink:
Emily Butler and Christopher Grayden–2000 National Silver Medalists
Only four months had passed since Chris and I placed second at our first national championship, but it seemed like a lifetime. The triple twist, the high-flying element we needed to learn before next season, continued to elude me. If we don’t master this move, we’ll never compete with the top teams in the world.
“Let’s try it again.” I grasped Chris’s hand.
We took matching determined strokes across the ice. The burst of wind cooled my face and loosened damp tendrils from my long ponytail. With a quick motion, Chris squeezed my hips and launched me into the air. I wound myself tight and spun but fell into Chris’s strong arms just before finishing three revolutions. My shoulders heaved with a sigh.
Sergei glided around the other practicing skaters. Our coach was often mistaken for one of them because of his youth. He nodded and regarded us with his deep blue eyes. “The rotation is getting faster. Focus on what you did right today. I see a lot of improvement.”
I relaxed into a smile. Before I’d started working with Sergei, I’d heard many horror stories about Russian coaches. Sergei demanded discipline and maximum effort, but his energy stayed positive, and he provided constant encouragement.
Chris and I left the ice and sat on the short set of wooden bleachers. My ankles thanked me as I untied my skate laces and gave them space to breathe.