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To Charmayne; the best skating
Thanks for all of your tips, incredible
personality, and patience!
I first met Claire Morano when I was three; that was the year that we both stepped onto the ice for the first time. The skating rink had looked so huge then—the music so loud, the lights so bright, the skaters in their sparkly outfits so graceful and in control. My mom held my hand while I stumbled along and tried to keep my footing; Claire had already let go of her mother’s hand, and was trying to move on her own, even though it was only about an inch away from the wall. Since that very moment, we’d always been best friends, and we did basically everything together, although she always seemed to be a step ahead of me.
That’s when I remember first feeling a little spark somewhere—it wasn’t a good one, either, and I knew it; but it almost felt good—like a tiny fire inside me; although it could burn, it kept me going. It was one of those thoughts that starts small, and over time gets rolled and rolled, until it’s one big fireball of anger and jealousy. Sometimes I tried to dash water on it, but the little water that was inside just made the fire flicker a little bit, before regaining its original enthusiasm. For years I kept all of my feelings inside me; and little did I know, I could have stopped feeding the flames if only I hadn’t.
I knew that I could skate—that’s why I kept doing it—but it seemed like I could never live up to what Claire could do.
She was everything that you would want in a daughter, and in a friend—she listened when there was something wrong, and never just dismissed a problem and dealt with it only when it came back to haunt her—Claire knew what was right, and stuck to it. There was no road in the middle with her—she either took the road on the right, or the road on the left, and in school she was the same way. She got excellent grades, and everybody liked her; I noticed that whenever someone spoke to Claire, you could hear their change of tone vs. when they talked to someone else—she got more respect—and I mean, she did deserve it.
But sometimes I felt like my parents would rather have her as a daughter than me.
By our very first skating lesson, she was already tentatively attempting to skate backwards. At the time I was a pretty good forward skater for my age although I couldn’t go backwards—but Claire was better. When our instructor, Lisa, suggested that we take private lessons, she became Claire’s coach, and I met Christie. But that was only the very beginning. The day I let go of my mom’s hand and tripped over my toe pick, I had no idea that one day my little white skates would take me to a much bigger world, and change my life altogether.
“Are you ok, honey?” my mom asked, poking her head into my room.
I sat at my desk, holding a purple gel pen (my personal favorite), and staring absently at the first page of a new notebook that I had purchased the day before. I opened a desk drawer and pretended to be looking for something, not wanting to face my mom.
“Mhm.” I replied.
“Does your leg still hurt? You’ve been quiet lately.”
“My leg is fine, mom.” She came over and sat down on a bean bag chair next to me.
“Is everything alright, then?” I didn’t answer. “Honey, I know that this hasn’t been the easiest season for you, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t skate anymore—I think you should try it again, and things might lighten up a little.”
I sighed. “But mom, Claire just gave away something that she really deserved—she worked so hard with Lisa on that routine.”
“Victoria, she did it because she cared about you, and she knew that you deserved it just as much as she did. It’s not always winning or losing that makes the difference.”
I didn’t speak, because I didn’t trust my voice. Instead, I gazed out the window and wondered if Claire was already at the rink again.
When my eyes focused again on the window itself, I noticed a ladybug crawling up the side. No, wait—there was another one—and another—and another! I blinked, and saw that my entire window had ladybugs all over it. Crawling this way and that, up and down, left and right, it was as if they had a whole little dance routine going; or maybe they were just going about their daily business, but did it in a more organized way than we did. They seemed to move with more harmony, although they occasionally bumped into each other; but maybe that was just a ladybug’s way of saying hello. I decided not to do anything about them—after all, I kind of liked having ladybugs saying hi to me from the window—they were cute. I turned back to my mom.
“Maybe,” I said.
“Do you want to talk about anything that happened?” she asked. I sighed. “I think you said something about a medal?”
“No,” I replied. “That was definitely not where it started.”
I hopped out of the car at five after six in the morning—the session started at six—I was late; what else is new.
“Bye sweetie!” My mom said. “Dad will pick you up at seven-thirty, ok? Oh, and don’t forget this afternoon you’re carpooling with the Haydens, ‘cause I’m a chaperone at Layla and Mike’s dress rehearsal. I love you!”
“Bye Mom.” I answered. Layla and Mike are my older brother and sister—they’re twins, and obsessed with performing arts. Dragging my oh-so-heavy skating bag behind me, I spotted Victoria already lacing up her skates on the other side of the door, and yawned at my reflection in the glass. How was it possible to be so on time every morning? I pushed open the door, and was warmed by a smile from Erica, the rink manager, and the smell of freshly-brewed coffee. Six red benches sat against the wall on the left and snack machines lined the opposite side. At the front of the room was the reception desk, and on either side was a door leading to rinks one and two. A boy and a girl that looked to be about seven were crouching in front of the lost and found bin, furiously digging through its contents. Five or six hockey moms were standing around gossiping, as pint-sized hockey players took their gear out of bags that were bigger than they, and waddled their way to rink two.
“Yeah,” one mother bragged in a New York accent, “I’m here at five-thirty every morning. I just put my d*mn hat on and walk out the door.” She turned to another mother with bleached blond hair who was dressed to the nines—she looked like she was twenty, but it was probably only because her face was so caked with makeup. Her son was sitting at her feet struggling to pull on a skate. “Wow Joey, you moved up to level eight? Great job!” The mother flashed a fake smile that was aimed more at the blond than the kid. “Maybe you’ll catch up to Tommy soon—he’s in level nine—I’m so proud!” I made a mental note to never become a hockey mom.
“Hey Claire!” called Tor. “I finally got a new skating dress—my other one was starting to get tight around the hips. Like it?” She pretended to walk down a runway and pose for the cameras. I giggled.
“Tor… you look great!” I said. And she did! Victoria “Tor” Daniels was a tall, slim girl, with giant brown eyes and dark brown hair which she had pulled back in a bun for practice. Her new skating dress was very pretty—purple with tiny silver sequins scattered across it.
I plopped down on a bench against the wall, and kicked off my disgusting sneakers. Reaching down, I pulled out my skates and hastily stuck a foot in each one after doing a few stretches. Before you start skating, it’s really important to stretch so that you muscles cooperate with you; it sounds silly, but your muscles and your feet are two of your best friends while skating, so it’s important to prepare them for what’s to come.
“Claire, do you mind if I go on without you? I really need like, the whole session to practice my Camel spin!”
“Sure—I’ll meet you in a second.”
“K.” she replied. As I watched my friend disappear through the doors to rink one, I thought about how lucky I was to have her, and I knew that my parents thought the same thing.
I wondered if they’d rather have her as a daughter than me.
When I finished lacing my skates, I looked up and saw Kevin, a hockey player who was my age, leaning against the front desk looking bored, as if he hadn’t a care in the world. If only my skates weren’t on yet, I could’ve gone around back and avoided passing him, I thought. He’d probably been watching me the whole time. Kevin shot a grin in my direction, and winked as I walked by. I ignored him, hating myself for not realizing he was there earlier.
A rush of cold air surrounded me as I pushed open the doors and stepped between worlds. My skate now stood on the line that marked the end of carpeted lobby, and the beginning of the turf that covered the floor around each of the actual rinks. Rihanna’s Please Don’t Stop The Music blared through the speakers, and through the plastic windows on top of the boards around the ice, I could see Victoria practicing. She did a camel spin and went into a sit spin, before a series of backwards crossovers and a double-double combination jump—it was looking good. Ugh—it was way too early for this!
I stepped onto the ice and loved the click-clack of my blades for about the one-millionth time. Stroking a couple of times to get a feel for it, I glided across the surface and did a three-turn and a few backward crossovers. Balancing on the back outside edge of my left skate, I kicked my right toe pick into the ice, and pulled my arms in as I crossed my left ankle over my right, and flew through the air one, two, three revolutions! I could keep jumping forever—it felt as if I was floating; the ice would catch me, and then I could take off again—as long as I could jump, I was fine.
All ice skates have two edges—the inside edge, and the outside edge. The inside edge is the inner part of the blade, and the outside edge in the outer part. To go to the left, you lean into your left outside edge, or your right inside edge. To go to the right, you lean into your left inside edge, or your right outside edge. The only time that you go straight, is when you don’t lean into any edge at all—that’s when you balance on what’s called the hollow. The hollow is a little hollowed out section on the bottom of the blade, and when you balance on it, you leave two tracings in the ice, vs. when you lean into an edge, you only leave one. Some skaters like a really deep hollow to make it easier to lean into their edges.
I landed on the back outside edge of my right skate, but wobbled a little. An almost perfect triple Lutz!
“Morning!” sang a voice from behind me. “That was a great triple Lutz, Claire—you just need to strengthen the landing a little.” I turned, and saw Lisa, my coach, skating over to me with a smile on her face. Her blond hair was done in a French braid, and she had a little silver pin in the top that matched the stripe on her pants. Unzipping her sweatshirt, Lisa sat her clipboard and water bottle on the board next to us that happened to say “The number one choice of hockey moms and dads—the car you’ll love!” with a picture of a Mercedes on it. Another one said “Hockey Fights Cancer—Sign Up Now!” Huh, funny how there weren’t any advertisements having to do with figure skating other than a poster with Yuna Kim’s face on it.
“Oooh!” she exclaimed as she lifted my hand up to take a closer look. “Did you get your nails done?”
“Yes,” I smiled. Lisa was obsessed with manicures. Her own nails were so long they looked almost like claws, and they had some sort of fancy design on them; it looked a little like an optical illusion to me, but she clearly liked them, so I didn’t say anything. We skated over to one of the four red circles in a corner of the rink, and Lisa glided around it, going clockwise on her left back outside edge. The Lutz is the second most difficult jump (after the Axel), because it’s a counter-rotation jump—meaning that although you use your right toe pick, you rotate to the left in the air; so when you take off, your left hip is closed to the rotation.
“Don’t forget to point your toe, and make sure that your posture is correct. Bend your knees slightly, but keep your torso upright,” Lisa said, “and your arms should be positioned at a little over a ninety degree angle, with your right arm in front. Also make sure that your free leg is in the back of you, and not to the side; you should feel a slight pinch above your hip.” She added. I mimicked her movements as she nodded in approval, and felt my own skating dress start to pinch a little. “Good,” remarked Lisa. “Now put it all together, and remember to wait long enough before takeoff.”
Backward crossovers, glide…glide…glide…kick in the toe pick, and lift! This time my landing was perfect. “That was awesome!” exclaimed Lisa. “Do it one more time, and then we’ll move on.” I nailed it again, and finished with a grin on my face. “Perfecto!” Lisa grinned back at me. “Alrighty, now where did we leave off last time?” Without giving me time to answer, she glanced at her clipboard and continued, “Ah ha! Ok…so can I see your layback spin?” I laughed a little, embarrassed. Spins are Victoria’s specialty—not mine. The layback is a spin where the skater rotates laying back from the waist up, with the arms and free leg in pretty positions.
“Okay,” I sighed. Lisa laughed good-naturedly. She’d always had bright, emerald eyes, and they shone whenever she was happy.
“I know the feeling, Claire. Just try it so we can figure out what you need to work on.” As I spun, I was nearly sick from watching the ceiling go round, and round, and round, and round… Finally, I finished the spin. Lisa looked a little surprised.
“Wow,” she said. “That wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t really expect it to look quite that good.” I smiled, despite myself.
“I think you’re definitely ready to incorporate some of these newer moves into your new routine for the regionals, Claire!” she gushed. “You did very well in the last competition, so I’m sure you’ll be fine after you improve your spins a little.”
“Regionals?” My heart started to pound. Lisa nodded.
“They’re coming up in December.” It was the middle of September—that gave me three and a half months to create a routine and be ready for the competition; and I was determined to do well. If I could just pass the regionals, I would go on to the nationals—the biggest, most intense competition I’d ever been in.
I watched Claire skating, and I jumped, feeling that little spark again. She was so good—even her spins which were normally what I did best, were done very, very well. But her jumps! She messed up on one landing, and everything else was flawless! When I looked away, I noticed Kiera Thompson smirking at me. Kiera is a pair skater, which means she skates with someone else, in this case Max, and they think they’re so good—or at least Kiera thinks so. She never shuts up about how wonderfully talented Max is whenever he’s around, and when he’s not, she’s being just as braggy about herself. I felt poke in the ribs, and found her standing behind me.
“Hey Daniels!” Kiera chirped. She batted her eyelashes, and left little specks of mascara underneath her eye. “Sweet combination jumps!” she exclaimed. Kiera had a way of saying things that made them sound sincere, but I’d learned over time that they weren’t. “You know, Max just learned his triple Axel, and he’s already performing it like a pro! I can’t wait for our next competition—my mom already ordered my new skating dress—it’s custom made, and it has rainbow sequins and lace…” she went on, and on, twirling her curly blond hair, until she finally paused for a minute to put on more lip gloss. I suppressed a groan, and before I could politely explain that I needed to go, she started babbling again.
“How’s carrot-top?” she asked.
“Stop calling her that!” I insisted. Carrot-top is Kiera’s nickname for Claire, because she’s the only red-head at our rink with such bright hair, and she’s pretty self-conscious about it.
“Aw, c’mon Victoria,” she said, playfully elbowing me. “Claire doesn’t mind it!”
“Yes she does, Kiera! Stop it!” Kiera just snickered a little, and her blue eyes darted in the other direction, probably to make sure that no one else was listening.
“Is somebody having a bad day?” she cooed. “I think you need some time alone, hm?” she made a sweet little puppy face. “I need to go practice my triple axel now, anyway. Ta-ta!” she called.
She can’t even do a double axel, I thought.
I went back into the lobby for a minute to get a drink, and glanced at the clock. It was six forty-five—another forty-five minutes to go. When I got back to the center of the ice, I did a few pivots just for fun, before another camel spin. After that, I decided to practice something a little different, and started doing a footwork combination. My coach, Christie, wasn’t there that morning, so I had more time than I usually would have to do what I wanted. I did two crossovers and a mohawk before tucking my right foot behind my left, followed by a crossover and then turning and pushing off forward again. It was a fun combination to do, and I did it another couple of times. After a while I got bored, and figured that I had my camel spin down well enough until my next lesson with Christie.
For fun I decided to see how fast I could go, so I bent my knees, and kept my arms out straight, while pushing off with all my energy. My blades ran smoothly over the surface of the ice, and I let the sound and vibration of the scraping noise resonate through me. I decided that I could actually go faster backwards, and when I had gained enough speed to suit my craving, I did a spread eagle and closed my eyes, savoring the feeling of gliding—it was one of my favorite things in the world.
Gliding was one of the first things that attracted me to—and scared me of—figure skating. But after that minor break-through, that was what I loved most about it. Gliding was such a free feeling, though a little bit short-lived. It was sort of odd at first—something that I had to get used to. I mean, when you’re walking down the street you’re not gliding—you’re just…walking. It’s almost as if the ice has this special power to move you even when sometimes you don’t want to be moved. Just walking down the street, the sidewalk doesn’t move you like the ice does when you skate across it. When you’re skating, you’re still moving yourself; you need to control what you do so you don’t fall—but it’s strange how when you don’t do anything at all, you still move—but then again, I guess that is doing something.
Everything in figure skating is based on the numerical figure eight—the tracing that skaters make when they lean into certain edges and glide in the shape of the number eight. In the past, figures were required in routines, but they’ve been eliminated more recently. The skater would start in the middle of the eight, and push off skating on their left outside edge for a full 360 degrees, and then step onto their right outside edge and do the same thing. They would do this three times so that the judges could see how consistent the skater was each time. To be that consistent, the skater has to be tilted on the same angle so that the top and bottom of the figure eight are perfectly round and exactly the same size—that’s what gets the highest marks.
As I mulled over this, I remembered hearing that the regionals were coming up soon, and Christie had told me that I’d qualified.
After practice was over, Claire and I sat in the lobby sharing a bag of M&M’s, chatting about school and life in general. I think both of us looked forward to our little breaks after practice, because although we loved skating, it was nice to be able to relax for a little while and eat M&M’s, which, by the way, are really good!
“So who was that kid who you were flirting with this morning?” I asked innocently. I think I have a problem with teasing people about their “love life”—I know I wouldn’t like to be teased about it, but I can’t help teasing everybody else; it’s really fun, because they get all squirmy!
“Ya know—the one who was standing at the door watching you put your skates on—wavy brown hair, blue eyes…?” Claire gave me one of her “Claire looks,” and I couldn’t help laughing. Do not ask me how she’s able to contort her face into these odd expressions, because I didn’t even know it was humanly possible until I met her!
“Trust me Tor,” Claire said. “Kevin is the last person on my list to ever flirt with!”
“Ohhh! So that’s it! Playin’ hard to get, are we?” Claire gave me a look again, and then turned away so I wouldn’t see her laughing—but I knew she was anyway, because I could see her shoulders going up and down.
“I hate you, Tor!” she said, finally giving in.
“Ah, now we’re getting somewhere!” I continued, liking my ability to annoy her. “So this Kevin kid; hmmm—that has a nice ring to it—Kevin and Claire; what do you think?”
“Tor! Stop it! I don’t like him—he likes me—there’s a difference!” she replied, still giggling.
“Now if I were you, I’d just go for it—I mean come on, admit it—he is rather cute!” Claire’s expression changed, and she turned to me with a little smile on her face.
“He’s ‘rather cute,’ is he?” she asked, her smile growing as she tossed another M&M in her mouth. “Well then, maybe now we’ve figured out who should be doing the flirting.”
“Ah, but that was already decided,” I explained, trying not to get caught in Claire’s trap that was rapidly growing larger. “This morning you two looked like you were about to fall into each other’s eyes—he was standing in front of the door, about to throw his arms around you—it was a romantic moment indeed,” I went on, putting on my best dramatic voice. “It’s fate—star-crossed lovers! Soon it shall be true love.” Claire rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, real romantic!” she said sarcastically.
“Oh come, come now darling. Why dost thou deny thy love? He will protect you against your biggest enemy—for all he needs is his hockey stick!”
“Sounds like you have it down,” said Claire. “You really like him, don’t you,” she said, smiling sweetly. “I’m sure Kevin would be happy to protect you with his hockey stick.”
“Now wait a second there,” I started. “I never said I like Kevin—I was just...helping you not to be afraid to release your inner feelings.” I crumpled up the M&M package, and started walking backwards toward the garbage pail so I could still talk to Claire.
“Come, come now darling. Why dost thou deny thy love?” she repeated mockingly. I gave her one of my looks, although not as convincing as hers, I will admit. I was about to respond to her statement when I backed into the garbage pail, and tried to shove the package into the opening just as it toppled over and I went down with it. Claire laughed so hard she cried!
After practice was over for the morning, my Dad picked me up and brought me home to change and take a shower, before carting me off to school for the day. When I climbed into the car, I practically fell over!
“How was practice, honey? Did you accomplish some good stuff?”
“Seriously Dad,” I said, “Is that really necessary?”
“Accomplishing some good stuff? Of course it’s necessary!”
“No, not that!” I answered.
“Did you really have to wear that much cologne? You reek!”
“Oh, is that how you greet your father, ‘did you have to wear that much cologne? You reek’?” he replied, grinning.
“Well, seriously, it’s a lot!” I exclaimed, as he pulled out of the parking lot and on to the main road.
“Your mother thinks it smells manly,” he said with a wink, still grinning.
“Oh yeah, and when did she tell you that?”
“She has her ways,” my Dad answered. I almost snorted.
“Well then, could you save it for the bedroom or something, because I really don’t think that your co-workers are too keen on fainting the minute you walk in.”
“Uh-uh-uh! Watch your mouth, missy!” he said, hiding a snicker. “Don’t let your mother hear you say that,” he added, “she will ‘not approve of the way you speak to your elders!’” He said, imitating my Mom’s voice. I’m telling you, my father can act like a five year old sometimes. He works for some big company that I don’t understand, and he’s always trying to dress like some well-to-do businessman; and I’m sorry, but it’s a fail! I mean, I love my Dad; he’s great! But sometimes I just gotta break it to him that he has no sense of style!
When school was done for the day, what do you know—back to the rink. I’m not complaining—skating is my favorite thing to do, so I don’t mind practicing at all; but some people think it’s insane how I skate twice a day. However, Tor and I have come up with a couple of helpful ideas for those mornings when you get up and want to collapse. We both sleep in our tights so that all we have to do in the morning is throw our hair up and pull on our skating outfits. Plus, we shower after skating, so that’s totally eliminated from our “getting up schedule.”
Skating tights aren’t always the perfect replica of those comfy flannel PJ’s, but once you fall asleep it doesn’t make a difference anyway, and it’s easier when we have to wake up and push the snooze button eight times. When I arrived at the skating rink after school (this time I was four minutes late instead of five), I hurried to the bathroom to get changed, and did the best I could in figure skates to run to the rink.
I surprised myself by discovering how relieved I was to find that Kevin wasn’t blocking the door again. Oh come on, I chided myself, he’s just a boy! What’s the worst thing he’s gonna do to you? Ok, so there wasn’t anything in particular I could think of, but just the way Kevin looked at me—the little gleam in his eye, and the half grin—it creeped me out!
Icy air enveloped me again once I returned to the ice; a feeling that I never got tired of. The sudden change in temperature—fuzzy warmth to freezing cold—it was a sensation that made my body shiver in a warm way. I gained some speed, and did a spiral; again, Victoria’s specialty. It did my best not to be, but sometimes I was really jealous of her. I mean, she was such an amazing skater! I tried to be good, and I guess I was in most people’s eyes, but Tor got a more admiration, because she seemed to enjoy every minute of it more than I knew how to—she felt every stroke of her skate, every note of music—she drew her audience in to her performance. Every one of her routines was like a journey of emotions; she just put so much heart into it! For me, the sincerity just wasn’t there, I guess.
I know—we’re actually best friends? Yes. Behind my jealousy is an unbreakable friendship. We have never gotten in a fight, and Tor is always there supporting me when I fall. Every competition, whether she’s in it or not (we’ve done many together), she’s right there in the audience cheering me on. And I’m not lying when I say that I do the same for her—it’s not like she’s my friend but I’m not hers, you know? It’s just that sometimes I get emotional in a bad way, to put it simply.
Remarkably though, we never have hard feelings against one another when one of us places higher in a competition than the other. Once, we went to a competition at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, and while I placed second, Victoria placed second to last. I expected at least a few tears like you’d get from all the other skaters, but not one tear shimmered in her eye when Victoria came up and hugged me and smiled and said congratulations. And she wasn’t faking it just to be nice—she wasn’t just saying she was happy for me because that’s what etiquette tells you you’re supposed to do even when you lose—she said it because she meant it.
Whenever I think about that competition or look at the trophy I got, I always get this warm feeling inside, knowing that my best friend is real.
I like undiscovered people. It’s like opening a gift and wondering what’s inside—but the only difference is, wrapping paper is aesthetically pleasing, and undiscovered people are more often less attractive; whether in apparent personality, or appearance. But that’s what makes them so exciting. When everyone else thinks that somebody is boring, or ugly, or has something “wrong” with them in general, that usually makes me want to get to know them a little bit—I can think of more than one or two instances where that person turns out to be someone that means a lot to me, even if not right away.
One of these people happened to be my coach, Christie. I first met Christie three months after I started skating; right after Lisa suggested that Claire and I take private lessons. I can’t believe it—that was already thirteen whole years ago! Earlier, when I had seen Christie here and there around the rink, she seemed sort of quiet—like she didn’t do much. I never saw her skating on her own other than when she was teaching someone, and that led me to believe that Christie was either shy, or didn’t like being the center of attention. It turned out that both were correct.
Christie had long brown hair like me, except hers almost reached her waist, and she had these crystal blue eyes that looked almost grey—it was sort of a different combination, but Christie was pretty; just a little quiet. However, she opened up to me almost right away—I mean, I was only three and a half or four, so that’s really how most people act with little kids: “Oh hi, you’re so cute!” blah, blah, blah… There’s just something about little kids that seems to make people happy. Maybe it’s their uncontrollable energy, maybe it’s the way that they’re not afraid to smile at a stranger; or maybe it’s just the unconditional love that they’ll place in you until you break their trust.
But there was more to Christie than that—she was very down-to-earth—something that I really appreciated, since many of the other instructors were young and pretty (not that Christie was old), knew that they were talented, and didn’t really have a problem with letting you know. Before and after lessons, they were always hanging all over the older hockey players and the guys who skated around making sure no one got hurt. Lisa, Claire’s coach, had probably had twenty boyfriends, maybe more, in the time that she’d been coaching her—no joke!
As for Christie, she’d never had a boyfriend. This always confused me—yes Christie was quiet, but she was the sweetest thing that ever lived once you got to know her; how could anyone not love her? Christie never spoke about her family—she never mentioned a relative even casually in conversation. I don’t think that she felt like anybody loved her as much as she needed someone to.
That made me sad because I knew that my family loved me and always looked out for me, much in the same way that Christie was also there for me. She’d taught me as much about life and handling myself as she had about skating. Even though I have a thing with teasing people about love, I’d never had the impulse to do so with Christie. I’d always known that when I was old enough to be in love, I wanted somebody who loved me for reasons more than appearance or money, and I could never stop wondering why no one seemed to be in love with Christie when she was such a genuine person.
Christie was back at the rink when I got there after school, and she said that she had been browsing some music choices for my new routine, and had decided that I’d skate to Celine Dion’s version of Beauty and The Beast. I was a little skeptical—Beauty and The Beast? Christie has always been a fan of the Disney princesses—but seriously, that’s the kind of music little kids in their first competitions skate to. But Christie said that Michelle Kwan had skated to it, and so could I—she emphasized that it was a good song for spirals and that kind of thing, which I’m good at. The first thing we did to start preparing for the competition was review the scoring system.
During a competition, there are two programs—the long program, and the short program. The short program is first, and like its name, is shorter. The long program is second, and like its name, is longer.
After Christie and I refreshed our memories about the scoring, she started to choreograph my routine. Professional skaters in the Olympics and what-not have both a coach and a choreographer, but skaters like me who aren’t famous or anything, have their coach choreograph their routine. Each day I practiced both before and after school, and my routine gradually got better. When Christie felt good about what I’d accomplished so far, she’d smile and start adding more. I have to say, I was excited about my routine.
After Lisa had picked music for my routine (some symphony or other—I keep forgetting the name), she pretty much choreographed the whole thing before letting me start to learn it—Lisa is the type of person who likes to get things done. I was proud of my finished routine when I finally felt comfortable with it, but sometimes little things are the most fun to do—my favorite part of the routine was when I did a crossover and this fun movement with my hand. I practiced my routine every day for the whole session!
When you’re preparing for a competition, you don’t really have time to learn any other new things—you really focus on perfection as much as possible, and tweaking any parts of the routine that are causing problems. That can get really frustrating; especially when there’s just that one section that you wish didn’t exist! The hard part is, the more difficult the move, the more points you’ll earn. Other than that, there’s really nothing more to tell about competition prep—I mean, all I did was run through the routine over and over, and Lisa would give me pointers here and there.
The regionals were rapidly approaching, and my practices were getting more and more intense. My secret goal was to be as good as Victoria—I was trying really hard to feel the emotion that she had. Lisa had commented that my artistic ability was improving, so that encouraged me, but deep down I was hiding from myself the fact that I really wasn’t “feeling it,” so to speak. One day before the competition, Victoria and I were taking a break in the lobby before our next practice. It was a Friday, and we’d both taken the day off school so that we’d be ready for Saturday. Tor was sitting next to me texting, when suddenly she snapped her phone shut and looked at me.
“Wanna hot chocolate? I’m getting one.” (Did I mention that the Short Hills Skating Arena has perhaps the best hot chocolate on the planet?)
“Uhm, yeah!” I said. She grinned.
“K.” She hopped across the room and fed a couple of dollars into the machine. I heard some whirring for a second, before it automatically poured a cup of hot chocolate and a door opened, allowing Tor to take the cup and bring it over to me. I’m telling you—I never get tired of watching that machine—it’s just so cool! She got another one for herself, and we sat together sipping our drinks. I realized that it was the first time we’d sat together like that since before we’d started to prepare for the competition. I also realized how much I had missed being around her. I mean, we saw each other during practices and everything, but we were each working with our own coaches and didn’t really interact at all in order to stay focused, and it just wasn’t the same as sitting down and having a good chat!
“So,” I said. “Are you ready for tomorrow?”
“Absolutely,” she answered. “Christie and I are really excited!” she blew on her hot chocolate and took a little sip before continuing. “You and Lisa look like you’re really enjoying yourselves, too! I hope you’re as ready as I feel, ‘cause I want to go out there tomorrow, and kick some major booty with you!” I laughed, and I got that warm feeling inside again, noticing how she included me in her statement about kicking some “major booty,” or whatever. Tor is really good at making me laugh; just the way she comes out and says things is really entertaining. It often reflects her personality as a skater—full of feelings, and whatever else she’s in the mood to add.
I would consider myself a dreamer; I like to sit and daydream, and let my mind take me wherever it wants. A daydream can make you anything that you want to be—you can be with a poor person, go to a ball with the Queen of England, win the Olympics, pretend that you’re rain like Stargirl did in Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli—imagination can do absolutely anything. Victoria is creative, but I wouldn’t exactly call her a dreamer in the same way that I am when no one’s around. She’s definitely more comfortable than I am when openly expressing how she feels, but sometimes I feel like that actually takes away from her being able to handle herself when she’s alone. Victoria was quiet for a minute, and when I looked over at her she had a pleasant smile on her face.
“Watcha thinkin’ about, girlee?” I asked. (I know, tell me about it—we have a plethora of nicknames for each other.) She blew on her hot chocolate again and stared at it before saying anything.
“Well, we’ve both been going kinda out of our minds lately with all this competition stuff, so I was wondering if tomorrow after the competition is over you wanna come to my house for a sleepover?” She looked at me expectantly.
“Sounds peachy!” I said.
“Peachy?” she asked.
“Yeah—I’ve always wanted to say that. It means I like the idea!”
“Well then sounds peachy on this side, too!” Victoria replied, and we laughed.
I was ready for the competition.
Yawning, I decided that it was officially going to be a very, very long day! We were almost done loading our car to make the trip to the skating rink where I’d be competing, and although my parents were perky enough and I had had a good nights sleep, I was yawning up a storm! Ok let’s see…skating dress and extra skating dress for an emergency: check! Two pairs of tights (one for an emergency): check! Plenty of bottled water: check! A sweatshirt: check! A bag to stuff everything into: check! A few extra hair ties and a brush: check! Snacks: check! Christie, being my coach and choreographer, was in charge of bringing my music so I didn’t have to worry about that. Ok—looked like I was ready to go!
“Got everything honey?” called my Dad from the front seat of the car.
“Yup!” I called back. We were on our way!
“Aaaand skating for us next, representing the Essex County Figure Skating club is…Ashley Means!” The announcers at competitions always try to be enthusiastic, but they just sound corny, and really annoying! My heart was pounding so hard, I was sure that all of the figure skaters in the rink could hear it. I’d been in tons of competitions before, but that had still never gotten rid of my “ice fright.”
“Are you nervous?” I whispered to Claire, who was standing next to Christie, Lisa and I.
“Yeah,” she whispered back. “Are you?”
Both of our sets of parents were sitting together in the bleachers, probably chatting about why our governor should never have been elected and our outrageous taxes. I was going next, and there had to be a whole colony of butterflies in my stomach by the time the skater before me was only halfway done.
“Are you ready, Victoria?” asked Christie.
“Yup!” I replied with a lot more confidence than I was actually feeling at the moment. The three minutes of the skater’s routine seemed to take forever, and I was getting more and more anxious every second. I shifted my weight from one skate to the other. The music kept playing. The crowd cheered for something. My stomach flip-flopped. I walked on my toe picks back and forth from Christie to Lisa and then back again. The music still kept playing. Finally Christie poked me and I jumped.
“Go ahead—you’ll be fine! Just remember not to rush your takeoff on jumps, and go with the music. I have every confidence in you!” she said with a smile. The other skater took her ending position, and applause rang out from all sides of the rink.
“Thank you Ashley, thank you!” There was a pause and my heart skipped a beat; and then, “Skating for us next, representing the Short Hills Figure Skating Club, here is…Victoria Daniels!” The announcer boomed. This was it—my big moment! Christie gave me a reassuring smile, and I was on.
I skated on to the ice, trying to focus on the gliding feeling over the fact that over a hundred people were all staring at me. My legs and hands were shaking as I found my starting position, took a deep breath, and heard Beauty and The Beast begin to play.
Pushing off, I spun around once and did a bunch of backwards crossovers, doing my best to be as graceful and elegant as possible, and to remember all of my arm positions. After turning around for affect and more backward crossovers, I gained some speed and glided backwards, my legs in a split position, and slowly reached down, down, down, until I was touching the ice. Ok—I was balanced now—I then positioned my hand so that it was a little bit farther away from me, and glided in a circle, using my hand to sort of “mark” the center of the circle. After some more little turns and hand motions to make it interesting, I glided for a minute before putting my right skate in front of my left and gliding in a semi circle. “Both a little scared…” the music went. Now the routine got a little bit harder. I sped up and did a triple Lutz and a double Toe Loop combination. A combination jump or spin is two or more spins or jumps in a row. Yes! Landed them perfectly! After more footwork and a stag jump, which is a variation on a split in the air, I did another turn and another jump.
Now that the beginning was over, I was feeling less nervous, and remembered to smile. The middle of my routine consisted of mostly of jumps and spins, and I began to speed up for my double Axel. Ok—takeoff position, looking over my shoulder, leg back, turn, arms back, kick leg up, and liftoff! One, two, and a half revolutions (or turns) in the air! Just as I was landing, I leaned into my outside edge a little too much, and stumbled on to the ice. My heart sank. I had been so close! But suddenly the crowd was cheering me on, urging me to get back up on my feet. And that’s exactly what I did! I landed the next jump cleanly, and by the time I had finished my very last jump—a double Salchow—I was tired, but inside I was excited, and I tried to express it to the crowd.
Now the end was coming up, and Christie had always pushed me to finish my routines off “with a bang,” since the end is what the audience will remember. Trying to move a little more expressively, I did the footwork with as much energy as I had left; quickly, I repeatedly tucked my skates behind one another going backwards (sort of like running backwards), and kicked as high as possible, touching my ankle—now I was thoroughly enjoying myself! I did three ballet jumps, which are literally little jumps that ballerinas would do in a dance studio—they don’t get any major points, but they look pretty. After that, I did a camel spin (a spin where the skater rotates in the arabesque position from ballet) which went into a layback spin, and ended with an upright spin on one foot. Finally, I gained a more speed, and finished off my routine with a spiral—it felt so good to glide!
I don’t think that I’d ever felt better in my life as I took my ending position with a huge smile on my face. My heart was still pounding, but this time from excitement and the rush of my routine. The wonderful world of figure skating! When I stepped off the ice into the arms of my parents, Christie, and a very jittery Claire, I felt warm all over despite the chill of the skating rink. A few minutes later, Claire did her routine, but after she was finished, I suddenly got the feeling that something was missing. I paused for a minute, and looked around. Just as I was about to open my mouth and ask the question, I saw a familiar figure standing near the wall talking to somebody else; tall and slender, brown hair reaching her waist—Christie? That was a little bit odd; usually Christie would’ve been congratulating Claire with the rest of us.
I looked back over to where she was standing, and took a closer look at who she was talking to. It was definitely a guy, because he was a little bit taller than she, and it was easy to see that he was quite stocky. It looked like they were having a nice conversation, because they were smiling at each other like they were sharing a private joke. Turning, I saw my mom standing behind me with a camera dangling from her wrist.
“Hi sweetie, I just want to grab a quick picture of you and Christie.”
“Oh sure Mom; one second, I’ll get her.” When I walked over, Christie didn’t even seem to notice my presence, so I tapped her on the arm. She turned around abruptly, and smiled at me, a little startled.
“Hey Victoria, uh…lemme guess—Mom wants a picture, right?” I laughed and nodded. She would know, all right! The man she’d been talking to chuckled as well and Christie seemed to remember that he was still there. “Oh, I’m sorry!” she said. “John, this is Victoria, Victoria, this is John—he’s an old friend of mine.” John stuck out his hand and grasped mine so firmly that it was red when he let go.
“Very nice to meet you, young lady! I’ve heard a lot about you.” He smiled again—he had a nice smile—and I blushed.
“Ok, well, I have to get back to her family now for a picture, John. Maybe we can talk again later?”
“But of course.” He waved to me. “Nice talking to you, Victoria!” I waved back, and Christie and I walked back to my Mom.
“Hello!” she said, “Oki-doki; smile nice and big!” (My Mom still treats me a little bit like a baby sometimes.) When we’d finished the picture, I went to look for Claire, and when I went to find Christie again, she’d mysteriously disappeared. I looked for John to see if she was with him, but he wasn’t there either.
Claire skated her routine perfectly—not one mistake—but because I had two more jumps than she, I got first place, and she got second. We were the two finalists.
“Torrie!” She shrieked. “We’re going to the Championships!”
I sat on a bean bag chair in Victoria’s room, munching on the last Oreo in the package. She had her trophy sitting on a shelf against her wall that her Dad had made her—it was especially for her figure skating items worthy of being shown off. My second place trophy was back at my house on my dresser where I could admire it for the next few weeks until I got around to finding a good spot for it.
“Girl, you did some awesome stuff out there today!” I said to Victoria. She looked at me and smiled.
“Thanks, Claire. That means a lot to me.” Our eyes met for a minute, and I smiled back. “So did you!” she added. I shrugged.
“You won, not me!”
“Who cares? You got second, and there’s no reason not to be proud of that! Who cares if I won; you’ve won other competitions that I’ve lost!”
“You’re such a guidance counselor, Tor!” I said with a grin. She laughed. “Can I ask you something?” I asked, suddenly wanting to change the subject.
“Sure, anything,” she replied.
“Did you ask him out yet?” I said with a grin.
“You know who.”
“No I d— oh. You are mean!” she answered with a laugh. “And to answer your question, no, in fact I didn’t, nor am I planning on it. How about you, sweetheart?”
I laughed with her. “No, I’m not.”
The evening continued in the same way while we ate our pizza and giggled over different things. We must’ve stayed up until after twelve o’clock, although I’m not sure the exact time because we were so busy chatting I never looked at the clock. Normally at a sleepover we would have stayed up even later, but we were so exhausted from one thing after the next all day that we fell asleep right after crawling into the sleeping bags we’d made out of blankets.
I woke up only because sunlight was shining down on my face through the window, and Torrie was stirring at about the same time. It was too early to get up, and the house was quiet except for the cuckoo clock on the living room wall that had been tick-tocking all night. I dozed on and off for a little while, until I realized that Victoria was poking me.
“Are you awake?” she whispered as I rolled over.
“Now I am!” I grumbled.
She giggled. “Sorry.” There was a pause before she said, “What did you dream about last night?”
“Not much—I was in a field or some kind of dumb shenanigans like that.” I yawned. “How about you?” I asked, knowing she wanted me to, and that it was the whole reason she’d asked me what I’d dreamed about in the first place. Tor sighed and stared up at the ceiling.
“I was skating with Christie, and when I looked over she was gone.”
“That’s it?” I asked.
“Oh.” Pause. “Why do you think you dreamed about that?” Victoria had always told me that I’d make I really good guidance counselor, so I tried to live up to it since I knew that she appreciated it anyway.
“Oh, I don’t know…I guess just because I couldn’t find her yesterday after you’d finished your routine and we went to have lunch together.” I sensed that there was more to it than that, but I wasn’t sure whether or not to press further.
“I see. Where did she go? Yesterday, I mean.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just said bye to her when we were leaving, so I never got a chance to ask.” Pause.
“And who was that she talking to yesterday?” I inquired. “I didn’t recognize him.”
“I guess, I don’t know.”
“Yeah—it was John—he’s an old friend of hers, she said.”
“Well it looked like she was ready to kiss him, whoever it was.”
Victoria turned at looked at me. “You think?”
“Sure; I’m not suggesting anything here, but they looked like they were enjoying each other’s company.” A satisfied look came over Victoria’s face as she settled back down into her blanket.
“That’s what I thought, too. I mean, she didn’t even realize I was standing right there when I went over to grab her for a picture—and you know how she’s usually really quiet around most people?”
“Well, she didn’t seem that way at all with John. She seemed completely comfortable.” We were quiet for a minute, and everything seemed so still. Suddenly I caught on to what she was saying.
“Wait—so where do you think Christie was yesterday?” Tor smiled a little.
“Well…I wondered if maybe she went out for lunch with John—I mean, none of us saw her in the café, so…” She didn’t have to finish her sentence; I might mention that Tor is very romantic, and likes romantic things—we both knew where it was going. There was another pause. “Could you do me a favor, Claire?” she asked.
“Could you just keep the fact that we had this conversation quiet?”
“Exactly what I was planning to do, Torrie!”
She smiled. “I thought so.”
Claire and I didn’t skate for the rest of the week so that we could catch up on work we’d missed from school, and get back into the routine of things. High school keeps you busy, and I didn’t love the fact that we had to miss a few days to compete, but it is what it is. The following Monday, Claire’s dad dropped her off at the rink like always, and I was there first—like always. I have to say I was glad to be back in my regular skating outfit, even though the sparkly one I’d worn for the competition made me feel sophisticated.
For the next two or three weeks, I spent my time with Christie brushing up on my skills; I focused mostly on jumps, since my strengths are with spirals and spins. A lot of people don’t really understand what spirals are—really, a spiral is just balancing on one foot with your arms out, and extending your other leg out as high in the air as possible. Spirals demonstrate flexibility, balance, and coordination. Gliding is probably the key word for spirals; therefore they can be done in variations, like a spread eagle for example. A spread eagle is the term which describes the position where a skater glides in an arc with their heels facing each other, and their toes pointing in opposite directions. Spread eagles are not strictly considered spirals, but it’s an example of one of the many varied positions of gliding that figure skaters learn.
For me (and in theory), the Lutz and the Axel are the two most difficult jumps, although the Axel is harder. This is mostly because it’s the only jump where the skater takes off going forward, but lands going backwards. (Every other jump is started and ended backwards.) For example, a single jump means that the skater rotates one full time in the air, or one revolution—but with a single Axel, the skater must actually do one and a half revolutions, because if the skater only did one revolution, they’d land forwards. In order to land backwards, they must do an extra half revolution.
Another jump that I struggle with a little bit is the triple flip. Flip jumps in general are easy to recognize, because a skater will do a three-turn (a half-rotation that leaves a tracing in the ice that looks like the number three) before performing the jump. The flip is a toe-pick assisted jump, meaning that the skater will use their toe pick to help them into the air. The hard part for me is actually using the toe pick to generate enough power to push myself off of the ice.
My jumps still weren’t perfect, but a month after the competition, Christie decided that it was time to start my routine for the Championships.
“Your routine must reflect your personality, and you’ll have to skate you best in every possible way—from there things will really start to happen.” She explained. The new routine was more mature than I was used to, since Christie really wanted me to push those jumps. She still made sure that spirals were incorporated, and spins of course. Claire had always declared that I looked “absolutely jaw-droppingly good” when I performed a spiral, so that was definitely an encouragement when I did them.
Suddenly I was jealous of Claire again—she was, in my mind, a definition of a champion. She worked hard, didn’t give up, had skated her previous routine perfectly, gave the crowd a thrill, and in general, deserved first place more than I did. I’d learned that the best way to capture the heart of a fan is to give them a performance that they can almost feel a part of—people like to be enthralled by a performance—not just counting points.
And that’s what Claire did…I think without even realizing it, too.
Suddenly I wondered what Claire thought about me and my skating; she’d told me that I was good and that I captured peoples’ attention—and I know that she wouldn’t lie. But…was that the full truth, or was there something that she left out so that she wouldn’t make me feel bad? I decided to read her face more closely next time she complemented me—deep down I found myself hoping that I was wrong; I hated myself for not believing my best friend.
“Watcha thinking about, hon?” asked Christie as we skated to the center of the ice.
“Oh, just stuff.” I replied.
“Yeah? What kinda stuff?” Christie had always been good at prying things out of me.
“Just me and Claire, and stuff.”
“Is everything alright between you two?” she inquired.
“Of course!” I answered—maybe a little too quickly. She raised her eyebrows skeptically.
“Mhm. And that’s why you’re all jumpy and acting like you have nothing to hide when clearly you do. Do you want to talk about it?” I hesitated. “Why not?” Christie asked, reading my expression.
“Because…” I stopped again.
“Because…” Christie motioned with her hand for me to keep going. “There’s the vehicle, now you need the rest of the thesis!” I had to laugh at that one. How Christie knew that we’d been working on research papers and thesis statements in language arts was beyond me!
“Well,” I began sheepishly, “I was just, um,” I paused before continuing, “wondering if Claire really meant it when she said how good a skater I was.” I actually jumped a little, surprised at how much of a weight had just been lifted off of my shoulders.
“Oh, honey!” Christie said in a tone that would’ve made perfume float right out of its bottle. “Is that what’s been making you sad lately?”
“I’ve been sad?”
“See, you didn’t even realize it, because you were so lost in your own thoughts about how much better Claire is.” All I could do was gape at her, open-mouthed. Christie, I confirmed, was an incredible lady. “But honey,” she went on, seeing my expression again and realizing that she was right, “How could you think that? Have you ever even paid attention to the looks on peoples’ faces when you finish skating? You blow them away with your skating!” She smiled at me, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re just so busy trying to be good when you already are!” I fought tears as I felt that familiar surge of emotions curdling inside me. “People come up to me all the time, full of compliments about you!”
All of a sudden, the rink seemed a little bit brighter.
“Hey Claire!” chirped a perky Lisa as she popped up behind me. “Ready?”
“Yup!” I answered. I also happened to be in a particularly good mood that day, and I was excited and more than ready to learn my routine that I’d perform at the Championships.
“Great!” exclaimed Lisa, “Ok…so sit spins, layback spins, triple Salchow…” she flipped through a couple pages on her ever-present clip board, and listed a few things we needed to go over more to herself than to me. Lisa is one of the youngest instructors at the rink, and is quite the Miss Latest-Fashion—her skating dresses, her practice outfits, her jewelry, even the cord that she wears her ID card on—just everything that she owns is in style. I can’t remember the last time (if ever) that she repeated a hairstyle in two weeks. Today her hair was curled, and she had a pink barrette stuck decoratively to the side.
Lisa is the kind of person who you can tell right away is a lot of fun to be with, but at first, people, myself included, are tentative to open up to her because she doesn’t seem like that kind of person. But over time I’ve learned that there’s more to her on the inside than you’d think. Suddenly I had the impulse to ask Lisa a question.
“Lisa?” She looked up.
“Why did you start skating?” I asked. She was quiet for a moment before replying.
“Well, there are a few reasons,” she began, a thoughtful expression coming over her face. “I liked the way that skaters I’d seen on TV looked, and I was drawn to the fact that they could do something spectacular and make others a part of it.” She paused for a minute and looked back at me. “I guess I just wanted to do something special that would make people appreciate me more if they saw what I could accomplish.”
“Oh,” I said. “I understand what you mean.” She nodded.
“Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering,” I answered.
The layback spin and I were becoming better friends everyday, although I still couldn’t master it completely. Lisa would demonstrate it again and again, her blond curls bobbing as she gained speed, and then she’d watch me do it; her eyes squinting in concentration as she tried to pinpoint my mistakes.
“Make sure you’re not leaning so far back that you lose your balance—if you keep your arm in the right position as soon as you go into the spin it should help.” She suggested. The practice continued with the same monotony, and when she finally sensed that I was a little too frustrated with the spin to do anymore that day, Lisa and I moved on to my double Axel which I did fine, and then a spiral, which was a little more challenging, but not quite so much as the spin.
Just to be on the safe side though, Lisa didn’t include the layback spin in my routine for the nationals, even though I had improved. Instead, she substituted it with a sit spin that went into an upright spin where I held onto my free leg in front of me while spinning with my legs in a split position. This time the end was my favorite part—I’d come out of a double Loop jump, and after footwork and an illusion spin, (a spin where the skater repeatedly touches the ice with the free leg in the air while spinning; as the free leg comes back down to the ice, the skater’s arm goes up from the ice, and then over again.) I finished off my program by running in circles on my toe picks, and then a split jump—split jumps are Lisa’s favorite; she says that they’re a real “crowd thriller!”
That day, I sat in the lobby alone during my “take five” break from practice—Victoria was sick, and Erica said it was ok for Christie to take the day off since she’d have nothing to do. Christie waved to me as she walked out the door and called over her shoulder,
“Tell Torrie I hope she feels better soon!” she left with a smile, and I watched her get into a blue BMW. As the car door shut, I thought I saw the shadow of someone raising an arm in the passenger seat, but figured it was just my imagination. I gulped down the rest of my water, and scurried up to the front desk.
“Hi Erica,” I said. She looked up from her computer screen, although her fingers continued to tap away on the keyboard.
“Hi honey, what can I do for you?”
“Would you mind digging out my lesson sheet? Lisa’s already inside; she just asked me if I could get it.”
“Sure—does she need a clipboard, too?” she asked, winking. I laughed.
“Yeah, I think she’d appreciate that.”
“Alrighty, here ya are!” she said, handing me the pink sheet and a clipboard.
“Thanks!” I answered, hurrying back to the door, only to find Kevin standing there. Thankfully though, he stepped aside like a gentlemen and bowed slightly, a smug look on his face. Lisa was skating absently around and around the center circle when I glided up beside her.
“Got the sheet?”
“Awesome, let’s get started!” Since the Championships were now that main focus, I had momentarily stopped practicing the layback spin so often, and had begun to go crazy aiming for flawlessness. Lisa had my routine choreographed and ready to go five months in advance, since it would be especially challenging in hopes to impress the judges. At the same time, I was trying to save enough time and energy to keep up my grades and focus at school as well.
There was definitely more than enough pressure by the time the nationals were a month away—not only at the rink, but at school, too. As I walked through the halls, I got awe struck stares from people I didn’t even know, as if they were saying, It’s her! That’s the one going to the Championships! And from others, it was just a smile or a nod, or a look of envy like, You’re going to the Championships? Woah—wish it was me! If I was a figure skater, I could probably do it better than you could! And some people just ignored me entirely. It was sort of an odd feeling for Torrie and I, since before our figure skating hobby became known to everybody, we’d just been sort of in between middle and low class.
We didn’t walk around showing off most of our bodies and chasing after boys, although at the same time, we didn’t sit in front of a computer all day trying to figure out how it worked, or sit around doing math problems and reading Shakespeare all day or anything, either. We were just, the normals. Not outrageously popular and gorgeous, and not real nerdy either; we were stuck in between. It wasn’t like we didn’t have friends who were considered nerds, or that there was something wrong with someone like that, but it just wasn’t who we were.
But then suddenly, oh boy, we were like celebrities that took over the school in just days. We went from being the normals to the super populars, all because we were getting ready to compete in to the Championships which neither of us did for attention; we did it because skating is something we love. Boys eyed us during class, and the popular girls gave us nasty looks. I wanted to say, You can have them! Go ahead, take the boys! I don’t want them! But I didn’t. Honestly, by the time the competition was a few weeks away, the attention had long since been getting old; especially because neither of us strove to be the center of attention, and it made us uncomfortable when everyone asked us a million things all at once.
It was as if the only thing that mattered, was that we were doing something big. Because that was the only thing that ever mattered in school—who was doing what, who was going out with who, and who wore what and what they were trying to prove by doing so. No one ever noticed the little things, because frankly, they didn’t care.
I finished lacing up my skates and sat for a minute, staring into space, before heading out onto the ice. Erica waved as I walked through the doors. Music filled the rink, and I watched as Kiera and Max glided through their routine. It was easy to see that Max, as Kiera bragged, was very, very talented—better than Kiera, too. It was also easy to see that Kiera was all over him, and enjoyed holding on to him while they were skating. Gosh, I thought. Did she have to be so obvious?
I carelessly started to run through my own routine, not really bothering to make it perfect. That was when I realized that Christie wasn’t there. Strange—Erica had always let me know first thing if she was sick or had to be out. Ten minutes into the session, Christie came dashing in.
“Victoria!” she panted, “I am so sorry to be late!”
“It’s not a problem Chris—just extra practice time for me! It’s fine.”
“No,” she said quietly. “It’s not ok for me to be late when you have an extremely important competition coming up.” I started to say that it was ok again, but she shook her head and put up her hands to stop me. “No, I’m very sorry.” She said.
For the remainder of the session, Christie was focused on helping me make my routine sparkle. I could see her eyes following every move I made as she started the music and stood at the side. But every now and then when I glanced over, Christie seemed to be half in her own little world; a little smile across her lips—but when she saw me looking at her, she’d snap back to attention, and then gradually drift back off… I really, really wanted to know what she was thinking about, more than I had ever wanted to know something before; Christie is not the type of person to ignore the important things. She had said how sorry she was for being late, and I knew she was sincere, but I got the sense that she was having trouble staying with what I was doing. It must’ve been something extra important for Christie to be drifting off during practice!
At the same time, I was also trying to stay focused, but it didn’t seem like Christie would be totally aware if I too, daydreamed a little, and my mind kept wandering back to John. He’s an old friend of mine. I repeated the words over and over in my head. Suddenly a new question popped into my mind: how did Christie and John meet? She had clearly said that he was an old friend of hers, but how? He didn’t look much older than she did, but John had only come into the picture for me a few months ago. Before then, there was no sign of John as far as I knew, nor did Christie act any differently than she normally did.
Again I thought about the conversation I’d had with Claire; Christie sees John a few months ago at a competition although she says she’d known him for a while. Christie starts acting weird and even comes late to practice. Connection…? The question was, how old of a friend of Christie’s was John, really? And the regional competition was the first time they’d seen each other since…when? A few days? A few weeks? Months? Years? I didn’t know, and the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me that John was somehow connected to Christie’s recent behavior.
I found myself wondering if it was a romantic connection, and I also found myself liking that idea more than the others. I mean, yeah, they could just be friends, they could’ve just been catching up at the competition after not seeing each other for a long time, Christie could just be really stressed out and thinking about everything she had to do in preparation for the huge competition and what-not, but none of those ideas were very exciting. But I couldn’t assume things, I reminded myself, and I still didn’t know for sure whether or not John really did have anything to do with Christie’s life at all at the moment…although again I realized that I was hoping he did.
John had barely said anything to me at the regionals where I met him, but he seemed like a very friendly, intelligent sort of guy, and Christie seemed to really like him. But what intrigued me most, was that Christie, as I had mentioned to Claire, did not seem at all uncomfortable or nervous around him like she usually was around most people. But that’s because they’re old friends, I told myself. But that thought disappeared as quickly as it had come. Knowing that my coach got a long with someone that well other than myself or others that were a part of her personal life made me feel strangely content—maybe she would finally realize that there were people out there who cared about her.
When I stepped off the ice for a minute, Kiera zeroed in on me and came sauntering over.
“I like your routine!” she said dramatically, her voice dripping with sarcasm. I almost laughed in her face at the tone she was putting on, but managed to control myself. Smiling, I replied,
“Thanks, Kiera. I appreciate your compliment.” She just looked at me, clearly annoyed with my reaction. Claire raised her eyebrows when I walked back over to her.
“What was that about?” she inquired. I shook my head.
“Nothing—she’s just being Kiera.”
“What kind of boys do you like?” asked Victoria as I sat down next to her with two water bottles, one of which I handed to her.
“Boys,” she repeated, “What kind of boys do you like?” Random, I thought.
“I don’t know—I guess people who are funny, and not like, jerks, if you know what I mean.” Victoria nodded thoughtfully.
“I know what you mean.” She replied. I opened my mouth to ask her what kind of boys she liked, but she started talking again before I could say anything. “What kind of boys do the girls in school like?”
“What kind of boys do they ever like?” I answered dryly. Tor smiled a little.
“Yeah, well, you’re right—but why do they always go after the ones that they do?”
“You mean the trouble makers?”
“I don’t know—maybe it’s just that sense of independence and nonconformity that draws attention.” I said.
“But why would the girls want to give them attention? I mean, it’s what they want, so if they get it, they’ll just keep doing things they shouldn’t to get more of it.”
“’Cause then the girls get the attention they want, too.” She nodded again. “Why, who were you thinking of?” I asked.
“Ummm…Kiera and Max.”
“What about them?”
“Just…I don’t know—I kinda feel bad for Kiera,” she answered.
“Why? She’s so nasty to you!”
“I know…but she seems pretty insecure about herself. I’m not sure if Max even likes her at all!” Victoria chuckled a little.
“You do have a point there,” I said. “She hangs all over him, and it seems like he’s rather uncomfortable about the whole thing.”
“I know,” Tor said. “I wonder what she’s so insecure about—it’s not like she’s a bad skater.”
“Well, maybe the way she acts is related to something other than skating…like, her life at home, or something.” There was a brief silence before either of us said anything.
“Did you realize that the Championships are only two weeks away?” Tor asked, changing the subject. I grasped my water bottle a little tighter—I hadn’t thought about it, actually. She grinned a little, seeing my expression. “It’s kind of hard to believe, isn’t it? What does your outfit look like again?”
“It’s the blue one, with the lace at the top.”
“Oh yeah, now I remember! Mine’s black and shimmery; I’m reallllly excited to wear it!”
I laughed—Torrie liked pretty things that sparkled. Suddenly her expression grew serious, and she said,
“Christie came late to practice yesterday.”
“Yeah, and she hasn’t done that before—not ever!”
“So…you’re thinking that maybe it had something to do with John?”
Victoria smiled. “How did you know?”
I shrugged. “IDK—it seemed like an idea you might have.”
“Well, yeah. Ok—so I was thinking that.” She sighed and gazed out the door before continuing. “I just have so many questions; I mean, Christie could’ve just come late because she was stressed about the Championships and had a lot to do, but…” her voice trailed off.
“But you don’t think that was the reason?” I suggested.
“So how do you feel about Christie going out with John?”
“Woah, woah, woah!” exclaimed Victoria. “I never said that she was!”
I shrugged. “Well, it seemed like that was where this conversation was going, and we were both thinking it—and you know it—so I figured I’d just say it for both of us!”
“Ok…uh, how do I feel about it? Um, I don’t know, I guess happy…but see, that’s the thing—I don’t know for sure if she is going out with John, and I’m afraid that if I assume things, then I’ll accidentally say something during practice, and then I’ll find out that she’s actually not, and it would be really embarrassing!” she finished.
“Ah-hah,” I said. “What evidence do we have so far that she is going out with him?” Tor looked at me like I was crazy.
“What is this—an FBI case or something?”
I laughed. “Sorry, I just thought it would make it more fun.” Tor rolled her eyes, but I could see that she obviously thought it was funny, too.
“You’re losing your marbles.” She said. I was about to say something else when Lisa poked her head into the lobby.
“Hey girls! Uh…Claire,” she gave me a cheesy smile, “Some five minute break!”
“Oops. Sorry Lisa!” I waved to Torrie. “We’ll chat later,” I promised.
When skaters first learn to skate backwards, they learn what is called the wiggle. The wiggle is literally wiggling backwards—you don’t get very far, but the point is to get used to the movement. After the wiggle, skaters then learn to pull back, leaving a tracing in the ice that looks like the backwards letter “C.” Finally, the skater will learn backwards crossovers. As the skater becomes more advanced, they’ll learn to just pull one skate behind the other instead of actually crossing over. I remember how frightened I was when I learned to skate backwards—before then it had just been something I’d seen other skaters do, and it was and odd feeling when I could do it too. It was the same idea—although even more so—with jumps and spins; they were just movements that I’d seen others do while I wished that I could do them too—and although people had reassured me, “You’ll be able to do that some day!” with a sweet smile, it was just a dream at the edge of my imagination that I couldn’t quite grasp. But when Lisa asked me if we’d gone over the two-foot upright spin (about the easiest spin there is), I practically threw a party!
As I went over my routine with her, I suddenly felt the same way I had all those years ago, when I couldn’t believe that I was about to learn a spin—although now, the fact that I’d be in the Championships in just a week seemed even more surreal to me than anything else ever had.
I watched Claire disappear into the rink behind Lisa, and my mind was a bit overwhelmed with a lot of confused information. All of the “evidence” we had so far pointed toward Christie going out with John—but again, we didn’t know that for sure; it could’ve just been a coincidence that John appeared a little while before the Championships. I smiled a little, wondering what she’d think if she knew how we were agonizing over it. My lesson was over for the day, and I rested my head against the chilly wall behind me and closed my eyes, waiting to hear the beep beep of my Mom’s car horn, but instead, I heard footsteps and then,
“By hon, see you tomorrow!” I opened my eyes and there was Christie, heading towards the exit. I smiled back, and waved.
“Bye!” I called after her. I pretending to be searching for something in my skating bag so that she wouldn’t think I was watching her (which I was). She pulled her keys out of her purse and popped open the trunk of a blue BMW, before loading her skates and duffel bag inside. She slammed the trunk shut, climbed into the driver’s seat, and leaned over towards the passenger seat. That was when I realized that there was somebody else in the car with her. She seemed to be saying something, and then my heart skipped a few beats—they were kissing! Everything around me seemed to freeze; I couldn’t here the tap, tap, tap of Erica typing, the humming machines that kept the rink cold were suddenly silent, and I sat there, not able to move a muscle, praying that Christie would not look up and see me staring at her. Feeling a little dizzy, I tried to open my water bottle, but my hands wouldn’t budge. And then I knew who the person in the car was.
Claire’s face was flushed with excitement when I burst through the doors to the rink, dashing to the side of the ice.
“Victoria!” we shouted at the same time. Claire ran up to me, jumping up and down like a little kid after finding change on the sidewalk. “I finished my routine; I got the triple flip double toe combo!” she squealed. We hugged and laughed about how close the competition was, until she finally asked, “So what is it that has you all excited? You came running in here like there was a murderer after you!”
“You will not believe what just happened!” I exclaimed, taking a deep breath.
“So Christie was leaving, right? And I’m watching her get into her car when I realize that John is in the car too! So then I look over again, and they’re kissing!”
“What?” Claire repeated. I nodded emphatically.
“I was ready to like, die if she saw me watching!” There was a brief pause before Claire said,
“So what are you going to do now?”
I looked at her blankly. “What do you mean?”
“About Christie—are you going to say anything?”
I thought for a minute. “I don’t think so—if she wants to tell me, she will.”
“Good idea—she probably has personal reasons for not telling you already,” Claire agreed.
“Christie and John—ooh la la!” said Lisa. In our excitement, Claire and I had totally forgotten that she was even there. I looked at Claire, and we shared a slightly embarrassed glance.
“Please don’t tell, Lisa!” Claire pleaded. “I don’t think she wants us to know!”
Lisa smiled. “I won’t say a word,” she promised with a knowing smile.
During my afternoon practice, Christie didn’t act especially unusual—once I caught her with an off-in-the-distance-look, but she was a lot more focused than she had been the past few days. I discovered how relieved I was for this—the Championships were a week away! My Mom had long since booked hotel rooms and plane flights, considering that we’d have to fly all the way to Minnesota for the competition. Christie and Lisa would be flying on a separate flight, because they had to get there a little bit earlier in order to make sure everything was good to go.
A few days later, my family and I packed up and got ready to leave. We met Claire and her family at the airport, and were fortunate enough to receive seats that were close to each other. The deal was that I’d get the window seat on the way to Minnesota, and Claire would get it on the way back. Layla and Mike, Claire’s older twin brother and sister came a long, too. They had just graduated from collage with a degree in theater, so it was easy for them to spare some extra time—for Claire and I however, it was a different story. I actually brought my planner, two notebooks, a pencil case, and four binders on the plane so I could do work that I’d be missing! So much for enjoying the window seat. I finished all of my homework, and the rest of the flight was pretty darn boring. Most of the time I talked to Claire, and we tried not to get too uptight about the Championships, although it was hard not to.
As soon as we arrived in Minnesota, we grabbed a taxi and headed for the hotel we’d be staying in, called Wingate by Wyndham. Upon walking in, I tossed my homework and luggage aside and collapsed onto the bed, where I stayed for a few hours until my Mom woke me up for dinner. When I headed down to the eating area, I took a look around for the first time—when we arrived, I was more than exhausted, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open long enough to really take everything in. The hotel was extremely nice, and the rooms quite spacious. The theme was tan—everything was tan in that hotel, although the furniture was accented with other colors. But my favorite part—the pool! While Claire and I spent the first day splashing around in there with Mike and Layla, our Dads worked out in the fitness room, and our Moms went to the rink (instead of us for a change) and made sure Christie and Lisa were making out alright.
After a day of relaxation and eating well, it was very important for Claire and I to get back on the ice so that we would be as comfortable as possible in the new rink where we’d be performing for over one thousand people! So far, the regionals had been the largest competition for either of us, with maybe four hundred people or less—but the US National Championships were a huge deal—we would even be on TV! Claire’s Mom found a parking space in front of the rink, and after unloading all of our skating stuff, we walked inside. The lobby itself was absolutely humongous compared to our little rink back at home, although some things were the same. There were framed pictures on the walls of skaters holding up their medals, and a front desk to pay, etc. etc. And if the lobby itself wasn’t enough, the actual ice rink was at least two times the size of ours!
There was a box of flyers sitting on the front desk, advertising the upcoming competition and emphasizing how everyone should “Dream Big—Join US Figure Skating Today!” After checking in and letting the attendant know who we were, (looking back, it’s still odd to think that everyone knew our names), we joined Christie and Lisa who were waiting at the ice.
There was a minute or two of hugs and conversation, until Lisa implied that we’d better start skating so that we’d be ready to do our routines. The Championships were only four days away!
“Ready, Claire?” Lisa asked. I nodded, although my heart was thumping a little more than at a usual practice where I wasn’t surrounded by reporters and television cameras watching every move I made. Taking my starting position, I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. Lisa said I would get used to it, but I wasn’t used to it yet, and it was a little creepy. I was really hoping that all the attention would help prep me for the pressure at the real competition.
After running through my routine for the last time that day, (I was skating to Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven, and Torrie was skating to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake) I joined Victoria in the lobby like we’d normally do back home—but this time, we barely spoke at all. I think that it was taking each of us some serious adjusting to get used to the sudden change of small to big.
Finally we left, although I think we were both in a bit of a daze still—I mean, it had been our first day of real practice in Minnesota, and things were just so much bigger than at home; not just physical things, but emotional things too—the dream was bigger—Go for the gold! Do your best! Anything is possible when you believe in yourself! (I have to tell you, I was getting pretty sick of those three statements by the end of the second day!) The athletes were more advanced and had more experience, and the rink itself made you feel small, not just because of its size, but also because of the fact that you knew that you were small compared to the number of trophies displayed in a glass case against one of the walls.
I practiced, and practiced, and practiced. I practiced so much that there were times during the three days before the Championships when I even forgot why I was practicing; all I knew was that I had to do it! Lisa was pretty impressed with my ability to work for hours without stopping for more than a few minutes, and Victoria the same. Since we were very little girls, both of us had always been taught to work hard, and we were told that it would pay off in the long run—which it did. I think that that was a big part of what deepened the trust we had in our coaches and parents; they didn’t make things up like some parents did just to make us do what they wanted us to. They taught us things by making us live them and feel them, and realize for ourselves why it was important that we did what they asked us to, and what it would do for us.
The day before the competition, I was reviewing some footwork when Lisa suddenly zipped up her sweatshirt so quickly that it echoed through the entire rink, and a few heads swiveled in our direction. Lisa and I cracked up.
“That was a little loud,” I commented.
“Really? I didn’t think it was that bad.” She answered, raising her eyebrows. I laughed again, and accidentally snorted. Lisa had to hang onto the wall of the rink so that she wouldn’t lose her balance, she was laughing so hard.
“Stop it!” she finally said when she caught her breath again. “You’re like Eddy!” (Her latest boyfriend.) We laughed some more, and then there was a pause before she said, “You know, I think we needed that.”
“Needed what?” I asked.
“To laugh—we haven’t laughed like that in a very long time!” I realized that she was right; we hadn’t—I hadn’t laughed at all in a very long time!
“You’re right,” I said smiling. “We did need that.” The rest of the practice seemed to be a little more light-hearted, and not quite as tense as before. When the day came to an end, Lisa gave me a hug and complimented my day’s work.
“Claire, you are going to do fine tomorrow, so I don’t want you to worry about it. Go back to the hotel, and relax. Have a good sleep, and if you’re going to think about the Championships at all, I want you to think about how it’s going to feel when you win.”
“Or how its going to feel when I lose,” I muttered. But the look in Lisa’s eyes immediately made me regret the words, so I said, “I’m just kidding, Lisa. I feel ready!” and she smiled.
“I feel ready, too.” She replied.
I was ready. I was confident. I could do it. Or at least I hoped I could. My mind whirling with emotions, I stepped onto the ice, conscious of my shaking hands. In my starting position, I breathed in the chilly air like at home, and all of a sudden my mind cleared. Closing my eyes, I waited for the first note of music, and pushed off with an opening spread eagle. Gaining speed, I went into a sit spin, and then stepped into footwork. Think about the way a swan looks, gliding on top of the crystal water, Christie had said. Try to impersonate that. Feeling the air softly touch my face as I glided through my routine made me smile—my nervous feeling quickly faded into one of freedom and joy. I was barely aware of anything; I didn’t really think about what I was doing, I just did it, and the movements seemed to effortlessly flow from my mind to my legs.
I flew through my double axel, a triple flip, and a double lutz-double toe combo. As the music became richer in feeling, I did some backward crossovers and staying balanced, reached one arm over my head, grabbing the blade of my left skate with the other arm out in front; this position is called a Biellmann. Letting my inside edge guide me, I sprang into a double Salchow; the air seeming to hold me, and then gently put me down again—I felt as if I was floating. A couple thousand faces swirled by in a mix of color as I did a layback spin. The music slowed and I left a tracing of a giant “S” in the ice from a spiral. I finished off a camel spin, and the music started to get louder again, and I began to set up for my last jump—another triple flip. Reaching my leg back, I kicked in my right toe pick into the ice with a lot of confidence. As if in slow motion, I began to lift off the ice, when suddenly, I felt my right ankle twist, and a shooting pain ran up my leg as I felt myself lose control of what I was doing.
That’s the last thing I remember before hitting the ice and blacking out.
I woke up in a bed somewhere, trying to remember what I was doing in this white room with its blank, lifeless walls. Someone was holding my hand, but I felt too tired to figure out who it was. A man in a white coat entered the room, the door screeching as it swung shut behind him. He murmured something to a woman next to him, who left the room carrying something and came back a minute later empty handed. I lapsed back into unconsciousness again, and woke up a few hours later, slightly more aware than before. Christie was sitting next to my parents, who were in chairs alongside my bed, and there was another man with them who I felt like I knew, but his face was partially hidden by my Mom’s head I couldn’t quite place who he was. The man turned slightly—it was John! I tried to move, but the shooting pain in my ankle returned, and I winced slightly. Noticing my movement, my Mom moved closer and started speaking to me.
“Victoria, how are you feeling?”
“Ok,” I croaked. Suddenly I remembered the competition, but I couldn’t quite figure out what had happened. “What about the competition?” I asked in alarm. My Mom quieted me and said in a gentle tone,
“You took a very hard fall, honey, but you’re going to be ok. The doctor says that you broke your ankle, so you’ll have to stay off the ice for a little while.”
I groaned. “But I was so close—I almost had that jump!” I felt like a baby lying there with my Mother stroking my forehead, but at the moment, I didn’t care. Slowly everything was beginning to come back to me. My routine, my ankle twisting suddenly—and the pain!
“Don’t worry about the competition honey—just relax.” But I couldn’t relax—I was getting more and more agitated every minute.
“But what about Claire—she’ll have no one there to cheer for her!” Tears were starting to well up in my eyes now.
“Shhh,” said my Mom, “Claire will do fine—her routine is excellent, and she has Lisa and her parents and brother and sister there for her.”
“But Mom, you don’t understand—” I started to say, but she cut me off.
“Honey, I want you to go to sleep,” she said softly, “Everything is going to be ok.” There was a moment of silence before I asked,
“Why is John here?”
My Mom smiled. “He came to support you guys since he’s friends with Christie.”
“Oh.” I replied.
“Now go to sleep,” she insisted.
I didn’t want to go to sleep, but my eyelids were feeling heavy again, and I couldn’t help but drifting off once more.
About fifteen minutes after Victoria was rushed away in an ambulance, I stepped onto the ice, and loved the click-clack of my blades for about the 1,000,001st time, although not as much as I would have if my friend had been ok. Tears pouring down my cheeks, I tried to concentrate on my routine as I listened to Moonlight Sonata. The notes began to flow softly at first, and so did I. As one moment built up before a jump, I would force myself into it, and then it would pass and a new one would come. It became my subconscious intention to skate for Victoria—my anxiety and disconcertion becoming intertwined in my movements as I kept going with a fierce wanting tugging at my heart.
I closed my eyes and imagined Torrie doing her spiral, a contented smile across her lips. Speeding up, I spread out my arms and my own spiral felt surreal as I soared past hundreds of faces; eyes watching me intently. Looking back, I realized that at that competition, I had skated with more passion and feeling than ever before; just like I had always tried to, but failed in the past. As the music began to play more rapidly, I was beginning to pant, although I moved through my footwork without faltering. I finished off the routine with my illusion spin and a split jump, although I could’ve done it a little better than I did.
By the time the music slowed again and then ended, my spirits had lifted slightly, but as the relief of performing my routine perfectly flooded over me, I burst into tears again, and the rink blurred as I skated off the ice. The crowd was still roaring in appreciation as I hugged Lisa; just like I had always dreamed of—but it now meant nothing with my best friend in the hospital. Taking deep breaths to calm myself, Lisa and I sat in the “Kiss and Cry” area, and waited for my scores.
“And the total score for Claire Morano is…184.0. She is currently in first place!” The announcer boomed. This announcement was received with another cheer from the audience, and I controlled my tears long enough to wave to the cameras and blow a couple of kisses. Lisa hugged me again, and we walked together to the waiting area.
I won that competition, and I didn’t regret anything I did; someone once said, “Do not leave this sport with any regrets, because you’ll think about it every day for the rest of your life.” And that is true.
I cried for Victoria all day—I had pretty much gotten over the fact that she had been disqualified, I mean, what else would the judges have done? It was really just an emotional thing for me—I wished that there was something I could do for her, but the only thing that would heal her was time. As I sat in my hotel room later that night looking at my gold medal, I knew I should have been happy, but I felt like there was a gap in my heart somewhere, although I wasn’t sure why.
I fell asleep late that night, and I woke up a couple hours later with nightmares. For another hour, I tried without success to go back to sleep, but I was restless. Suddenly I knew what I had to do. Quietly, I crept out of bed and left a note on the table next to where my parents where sleeping, should they wake up. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but it somehow felt right at the same time. Fumbling around in the dark, I found what I was looking for, and carefully placed it in a small purse that I had brought with me to Minnesota. Getting out of the hotel was a piece of cake; apparently there was some party for young adults, and I blended in perfectly with the crowd of guests in the lobby.
I knew where the hospital was, because we’d driven by it on the way home from the Championships, although the surroundings looked different in the dark of night. When I arrived at the hospital, no one thought anything of it—the waiting room was actually very crowded—full of people with midnight emergencies. The television blared the news of the figure skater who broke her ankle at the championships, and I did my best to ignore it. The attendant at the front desk didn’t notice me creep by; she was too busy filling out paper work for an old man and his wife. The old man’s hair was rumpled and parts of it were sticking out in awkward angles. His glasses were slightly crooked, and huge shadows practically hid his eyes. A tiny American flag pin was stuck onto the pocket of his shirt. I felt sorry for him.
Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the crumpled piece of paper with Victoria’s room number on it, and dashed through the hospital corridors, my heart pounding. When I reached the correct door, I prayed that I wouldn’t open it and find a doctor or nurse inside—or even worse, find that I had the wrong room. But thankfully, only Torrie lay inside as I opened the door and quietly shut it behind me.
“Claire!” she whispered. “What are you doing here? It’s one-thirty in the morning! Where are your parents?”
“At the hotel,” I answered.
“Are you crazy? Do you know what they’re going to do to you when you get back?”
“I left them a note,” I said a little bit sheepishly. Victoria rolled her eyes, and I was glad to see that her personality hadn’t changed much despite her injury.
“How did the competition go?” she asked. I smiled just a little.
“I won.” I answered. It was strange to think that I was now known as “The National Champion.” A huge grin spread across her face.
“Claire! You won? I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it…” she repeated over and over. “That’s awesome!” she finally exclaimed, her tired eyes becoming a little brighter.
I pulled a chair over next to her bed, and shifted the vase of roses sitting on her bedside table over so that I wouldn’t knock them. “There’s something I want to give you Tor,” I said. A questioning look came over her face, and I told her to shut her eyes. Carefully, I pulled the gold medal out of my purse and gently placed it over her head. “Open,” I commanded, and she did. Victoria’s brown eyes shimmered with tears as she lifted her face to look at me. She was speechless for a moment; her mouth hanging open.
“Claire…You couldn’t, I mean, you can’t…” her voice trailed off, and I leaned over to give her a hug.
“You deserve it more than I do,” I said softly. “You would have won that competition if you hadn’t fallen.”
She shook her head as she started to cry. “No,” she said. “I was jealous of you because you were such a good skater—you don’t even realize how good you are.” She said, her voice shaking a little bit. “I don’t…I mean, you always deserved it more than I did.” I felt a lump in my throat beginning to form, but I held back the tears.
“Tor, I was jealous of you.” She looked astonished as the words settled in.
“Me?” she finally said. I nodded.
“You could always skate with so much emotion, and the crowds always loved you more than they loved me. I can never skate the way you can.” For a minute, we were both silent and Tor looked a little like she might faint again. Finally she said,
“Claire, there is always going to be someone better, and I don’t want you to think that it is me.”
“I don’t want you to think that it’s me.” I replied, and she smiled, wiping her tears away. There was a pause before she asked,
“Can we not be jealous anymore?”
“Let’s not be jealous anymore.” I agreed.
And we fell asleep in Victoria’s hospital room, the smell of roses filling the air.
As I finished, my Mom looked at me in a way that I had never seen her look at me before.
“What about Christie and John?” she finally asked.
“Oh, they got engaged a few days after the Championships,” I said. “Their wedding is next summer.”
My Mom nodded. “I’m glad.” She said. After a minute, she hugged me for a long time. “I really think that you should skate again,” she whispered. “Claire and Christie need you to.”
I looked at the window, and the ladybugs were still there. I sighed, but inside I knew that I would skate again. Claire and Christie needed me to.