"Forward crossovers? Are you kidding me?"
Doug stared at the page in Anton's USFSA rulebook covering the Preliminary Moves in the Field test, which he'd just learned existed less than a minute ago. That revelation had come about sixty seconds after learning there were tests at all.
"Worried you'll fail?" Kate asked from behind him. She came into view around his right side, doing flawless back crossovers in a tight circle around him. She smirked as she passed.
"I can do crossovers in my sleep. Why the hell do I need to take a test on them?"
"Is just formality," Anton said from the side of the ice. "You have to qualify to compete."
"Who came up with that?"
"Someone very smart, I would think," Kate said loftily. She switched from back crossovers to a series of turns on one foot, still circling dizzyingly around him. "After all, without the tests, just anybody could walk on the ice and make a fool of themselves at competitions."
Bitch, Doug thought, glaring openly at her. If she wasn't the only ticket back to the ice he was ever likely to get...
"Enough," Anton said. He'd been saying that a lot in the past two weeks. "Douglas, we start with forward stroking. Katia, you will work on these skills beside him."
Kate stopped almost mid-turn, so abruptly Doug thought he saw her teeter just a bit. "What?" He could practically see the hair on the back of her neck stand up in outrage.
He snickered. "We wouldn't want anyone to make a fool of herself," he said.
"It will help you to skate as one," Anton said over the sound of Kate's growl. That was another sound Doug had heard a lot in the last several days. "And never hurts to perfect basics."
"My basics are just fine," Kate said, looking inches away from murder.
"So you will show Douglas how it is done," Anton replied, smoothly switching tactics. Doug wondered how he managed to stay so calm around her. He suspected vodka had something to do with it.
Doug started to stroke forward around the rink. If the tests were a hoop he had to jump through to skate—and his recent attempts to get onto any team in the NHL that would have him had taught him plenty about stupid requirements—then might as well get them over with as quickly as possible. He knew what he was doing. He'd knock them out in a week, tops.
"No no no," Anton called. "Not like that."
Doug slowed, leaning so that he could turn and glide back to the coach's spot behind the boards. "What? You said the first test is stroking. Anybody can do that."
"There's a pattern," Kate said primly. "You can't just rush off like you're chasing after a puck. You may have noticed we don't use them."
Doug could think of no fewer than a dozen things he'd like to do to her with a puck, none of them polite. He restrained himself from detailing them out loud.
"Show him, Katia," Anton said.
With a huff, she skated to a corner, just past where the red goal line would be on a normal sheet of ice. She collected herself into a straight-backed posture, her arms held out to her sides like a tightrope walker. After a breath, she started forward along the short end of the rink, using four little strokes to build up speed.
On her right foot, she curved around until she reached where the dot ought to be, at which point she bent her knee and pushed off onto her left foot. "One," she called. Smoothly, she set her foot down, changed her weight, and pushed off again. "Two." She did it again, and by the time she'd stroked six times, she was at the other end of the rink. She leaned far over to her left and swooped into four powerful crossovers before repeating the whole thing down the other side of the rink. After the second set of crossovers, she squared her shoulders and sailed forward, right leg extended, until finally she placed her right foot behind her left and stopped in a move Doug had, admittedly, yet to master.
The woman had power, he'd give her that. God, he'd like to see her play hockey.
"Now, Douglas," Anton said as Kate skated back to them. "Katia, skate next to him, please."
With a glare that could've melted steel, she went back to the starting line and waited, hands on her hips, for Doug to join her.
With a shrug, he skated up to her and held out his hand. She looked at it with an expression of extreme distaste. "You have to do it on your own at some point."
He pulled his hand away and stood up straight. Kate put her arms out to her sides, and after she'd given him a sharp look, so did Doug. Anton counted. "And one, and two, and..."
They skated. Doug cautiously stretched his back and neck to match Kate's elongated form, his chest pushing forward and his chin sticking out. His weight moved forward over the blade.
Just as he was about to set his other foot down for the next stroke, his toe pick scraped the ice and sent him sprawling forward with a crash.
"Ow," he couldn't help moaning as his knees, elbows, chest, and chin all reported in.
At the boards, he heard Anton sigh. When he recovered enough to look up, he found Kate standing several feet away, her hands on her hips, slowly shaking her head. Meeting his eyes, she actually clucked her tongue. "I can't wait to see your spiral."
"Seriously, they put this on a test?" Doug said, staring at the diagram for something called a Forward Circle Eight. Skating in a circle. Really? Who couldn't do that?
"Right foot. Outside edge," Anton grunted from his bent-over position. With a big marker in his hand, he was skating backwards while drawing two large circles abutting each other, each about fifteen feet wide. "Katia," he commanded when he was done.
"They're too big for me," she said, but skated to the center of the two circles anyway.
"Is challenge," Anton said. Kate rolled her eyes. "Douglas, you are not so tall, but taller than Katia makes bigger circle. You understand?"
Kate settled herself in her knees, took a breath, and skated the two circles, first on her right foot and then on her left. She skated up next to Doug when she was done, her hand on her hip. "Your move."
Doug had done edge drill after edge drill in youth hockey. He knew what he was doing. He stood in the middle of the figure and started out.
He remembered to keep his weight back so he wouldn't trip over that damn toe pick. He started on a strong edge, deeper than the circle Anton had drawn really called for. He risked aiming a self-satisfied smirk at Kate.
Then he realized he was going off the circle, curling back towards his starting point. Frantically, he adjusted his shoulders—which way had that long-ago skating teacher taught him, into or out of the circle?—but none of his flailing helped. His blade wobbled wildly as he kicked his free leg backwards, forwards, out to the side, and finally, an inch from tipping over, set his left foot down on the ice.
"Needs some work," Anton commented diplomatically as he glided back to the center, humiliated.
"Some?" Kate snarked. "You're going to have to pull him around the circle."
"Hey," Doug snapped, just as Anton said, "Katia..." She rolled her eyes again at the warning. "I work with him," Anton said. "You, practice."
In a huff, she skated off to do some complicated-looking spin. Anton skated behind Doug and put his hands on his shoulders. "Face outside circle," he said, and twisted Doug's shoulders so hard he was pretty sure he felt something in his spine snap.
"Jesus!" he cried, at the last minute remembering to keep it soft enough that Kate wouldn't hear.
Anton grunted dismissively. "In figure skating, whole body controls blade. Keep shoulders like this." Under Anton's iron grip, he didn't have much choice. "Push off." Doug pushed off, and Anton guided him along the line. "Free leg back." Doug thrust his left leg, which had been wandering out to the side, behind him. "Now forward," he said a second later when they reached the top of the circle. Doug cautiously swung his leg forward, noticing how it seemed to help him turn back toward the center.
Just as he'd gotten used to that, Anton whipped his shoulders around to face inside the circle. This time, he couldn't keep down his shout of surprise and pain, and Kate aborted her spin entrance to give them a curious look. "Are you trying to break him in half?" she asked in a tone that implied she wasn't opposed to that particular course of action.
"Back to work," Anton called back to her. "You must be lower."
Kate's face scrunched into a hateful grimace, and she turned sharply to start her spin again.
"You were watching her?" Doug asked.
Anton shook his head. "She is never low enough in sit spin."
Doug filed that nugget away for future reference. Getting further down than Kate in a sit spin was going to be first on his list when he started learning spins.
Speaking of which... "Hey, when do I get to start doing the good stuff? You know, jumps, spins?"
His voice must have carried, or else Kate was just getting bored practicing on her own, because she said from startlingly close by, "He can't even do a three turn and he wants to start doing double Axels?"
"I can do a three turn just fine." He just couldn't hold on to the run out, much to Anton's dismay. He'd never needed to playing hockey. As long as he got turned around and kept the puck in sight, nobody cared how he looked doing it.
Anton looked between them consideringly, then said, "Let's see what waltz jump looks like."
"What's a waltz jump?"
Kate rolled her eyes, but took off with three back crossovers, then held her left leg off the ground for a moment before turning forward to step onto it. After a moment riding the edge, she somehow leaped off of it into the air. Doug watched in thinly-disguised amazement as she seemed to float, staying up an impossibly long time and covering an incredible amount of distance. She turned while she was in the air to land smoothly on her right foot, her arms stretched out and something that almost looked like a smile on her face.
Doug fought off the cold certainty that he was never, ever going to be able to do that.
"We start smaller. Turn around," Anton said from behind him. Doug turned to his left to face the coach, who let out a sigh of relief. "Thank God."
"What? What'd I do?"
"You spin same way as Katia. Will be identical on ice. Mirror pairs possible, but..." He shuddered. "Bitch to choreograph."
About a third of that made any sense to Doug, but he gamely asked, "So what do I do?"
Anton led him through a slow-motion version of the jump, starting from the forward outside edge Kate had leaped off. Doug had jumped plenty in hockey skates, but it was always on two feet, to get around a stick or the puck. This was different. Very different.
At least he was sort of expecting it when Anton yanked his shoulders around to face outside what he insisted on calling the circle, even though Doug wasn't skating in a circle. "Don't turn before you jump."
"So when do I jump?" He was starting to slow down. Maybe that was a good thing.
"When you are ready."
Doug looked at the ice ahead of him. He took a deep breath, tried to remember what Anton had told him to do with his arms, and stepped into the air.
"Not bad," Kate said as he came down hard on his right foot, the toe pick scraping the ice before he settled onto the rocker. "Next time try getting it off the ground."
He glanced at Anton, who wore a stony expression. "We try on wall."
The next morning, Doug woke up before his alarm, which was set for an already painfully early six AM. He'd spent the night running waltz jumps in his dreams, takeoffs and landings and shoulder positions, and everything in him wanted to be out on the ice doing it for real.
For once, he beat Kate to the rink. The dawn light that came through the long row of windows was watery and thin, and it amplified the chill off the ice. The only sound was the hum of the compressor that kept it cool. When Doug stepped on the ice, the slice of his blades on the surface seemed harsh, loud as thunder. He couldn't remember ever being on the ice alone, not even one teammate around.
After a quick warmup, he set up for the jump. Two back crossovers, glide on the right foot, step forward on the left. Breathe, and jump.
The first one cleared about six inches. Pathetic. He set it up again, trying to remember when to pull his shoulders back. He got it right, could feel it helped, but it didn't overcome the fact that he'd rotated too soon and come off the side of that damned toe pick, rather than rocking through the front. It gave up whatever height correcting his arms had added and nearly sent him sprawling when he tried to land sideways.
Doug scraped to a stop. He closed his eyes and remembered Kate soaring through the air. He took another deep breath and set up the jump again.
This time, this time, it was right. The moment he felt himself rock fully through the rocker and onto the bottom of the toe pick, he stepped up with his free leg and brought his arms through. By the time he landed (perfectly, first on the toe and then sinking down through the rest of the blade, his knee bent and his left leg stretched out behind him), a fierce grin had taken over his whole face.
He slowed and skated back over to the tracing. There was the entry edge, the smallest of divots where he'd launched off the big point at the bottom of the toe pick, and then the landing edge continuing along the same curve.
And in the middle, the empty, clean ice where he'd flown.
"That was good," he heard from the boards.
He raised his head to see Kate, in practice clothes but without her skates on yet, watching him with what might actually be considered approval on her face.
"For a beginner," she continued, shutting down whatever spark of appreciation had just been showing. "You might even get enough height for the Axel in a decade."
He grinned at her anyway. Now he knew the secret he'd seen in every movement she made on the ice, the one that, much as he hated her some (most) of the time, he'd wondered about insatiably. Now he knew what it felt like to fly.
"You sure we can't just do these all at once? Later?" Doug asked, nervously, waiting at the boards at the Sky Rink at Chelsea Piers. They were at the Skating Club of New York's February test session, where Doug was slated to take his Preliminary and Pre-Juvenile Moves in the Field tests on this frigid, gray morning.
"Not possible. No one could remember them all at once in right order," Anton said, somewhat absently, as he scanned the schedule posted on the plexiglass lining the rink. "Warm up in five minutes. Then you skate first in group."
Doug quickly scanned the rubber matted area for a trash can. In the absence of a pre-game helmet, that would have to do.
"Don't blow it," Kate piped up from his other side. "You can't take the freeskate test until you pass moves."
"I got that already, thanks," he gritted out.
Anton patted—more like slugged—his shoulder. "Skates on. Warm up in ten minutes."
Far sooner than seemed possible, Doug found himself alone on the ice, trying not to wither under the gimlet eye of an ancient judge sitting bundled up in one of the penalty boxes, clipboard and pen in hand.
How the hell did people do this? he wondered suddenly. His whole life, every time he was on the ice, he'd been part of a team. Sure, there were plays that were his alone, but the game had never depended entirely on him.
His gaze wandered to Anton and Kate, who were flanking the door he'd come through. Kate had spent most of the morning apparently absorbed in a novel, although she'd been quick to insert some snotty remark when the occasion called for it, so the odds of it being an act were high. Now she'd lost the book, and had her gaze glued to him.
Anton bared his teeth in what passed for a smile from him and threw a small thumbs up. Doug took a deep breath and unleashed his most winning smile on the judge. She frowned back at him.
Oh, for Christ's sake. He'd played in the Olympics. He was hardly going to let some crotchety old bat get to him.
He raised his arms out to his sides and started stroking down the ice.
The nerves shook themselves out as he skated. It was weird skating, having to pay attention to how straight his free leg was behind him and needing to point his toe, but he still had to bend his knees to generate power, and the cool air that blew past his face was the same as always. Maybe better, because he didn't have a helmet to block it.
He had a tiny bobble on the right outside edge of his figure eight. It didn't matter. It wasn't fatally flawed, and anyway, everything else was strong, even the spirals he'd labored over, working harder than he'd thought possible to get his free leg up to the height of his hip. Every one of Kate's snarking remarks about how it was too bad the rules didn't permit him to lean on a stick while he did a spiral had urged him to greater height, until finally Anton had pronounced it adequate.
So did the judge. In the lobby a few minutes later, when Anton handed him the comments written neatly in each of the six boxes on a sheet of paper with his name at the top, it was with a look of outright pride. Whether he was proud of Doug or proud of his own success at molding a hockey player into a figure skater, Doug couldn't say, nor did he care. What he cared about was the word "Pass" written at the bottom of the paper.
"Yes!" he shouted, pumping his fist in the air.
Kate, who was sitting at a nearby table and trying to pretend she was more interested in her novel than the test results, almost dropped the book. Her head shot up, her eyebrows reaching for her hairline and her mouth open wide enough to catch flies. "He passed?"
Doug waved the paper in her face. "Read it and weep."
"I could if you'd stop flapping it around." She snatched the comment sheet from his hand and skimmed it. "It says your posture needs work. You broke at the waist on the back crossovers." She read further. "But your power and speed were extraordinary for this level. Good edge quality."
"Russian training," Anton said, and yes, he was definitely gloating.
Kate shrugged and handed the paper back to Doug. "It's just the first moves test. Six-year-olds pass it every week."
He was high enough that even Kate's usual negativity couldn't puncture his bubble of happiness. "We'll see if you say that when I pass Senior moves."
"Senior moves is a long way from the Olympics."
"And a long way from Pre-Juv, which you are doing in fifteen minutes," Anton said firmly. "Now is time for stretching. Keep warm."
Doug obediently dropped into a calf stretch, but as he did so, he couldn't help throwing a smug smile over his shoulder at Kate.
"Today, jumps. Salchow," Anton announced the morning after Doug utterly destroyed—if he said so himself—the Preliminary and Pre-Juvenile moves tests.
Kate rolled her eyes. "I'll see myself out, then, shall I? I'll be in a nursing home by the time Lead Boots figures out how to hook his entrance."
Doug felt his eyes narrow, but managed not to say anything. He'd figured out that what Kate really wanted when she insulted his skating was to get a rise out of him, and he took a grim satisfaction in not giving it to her.
Anton, unflappable as always—Doug still suspected vodka—said, "You work on triple while Douglas learns single." At another roll of her eyes, no doubt a warning that she was about to say she didn't need to work on that particular jump, Anton continued, "Flip."
An outraged squawk escaped her mouth. "No pairs do triple flips!"
"So this pair will be first."
She sneered. "In your delusions, maybe." But she skated to the other end of the rink and started preparing for a jump. Doug and Anton watched her do a left outside three turn and raise her right leg. She slammed the toe pick into the ice and vaulted off of it, turning twice in the air before landing neatly on her right foot.
Despite himself, Doug was impressed. She made it look so easy.
"Was only double," Anton called.
Even from across the rink, Kate's glare was impossible to miss. "Have you ever heard of warming up? Or is that too soft and American for someone who walked uphill both ways in the snow to the rink in Siberia?"
Anton waved dismissively. Kate's glare intensified, and then a frustrated growl that would not have been out of place coming from a mountain lion emerged from her mouth. She stomped—even in skates, she managed it—over to her water bottle on the boards.
Shrugging, Anton turned back to Doug. "Salchow."
Gamely, Doug performed a left outside three turn and hung on to the back inside edge. At least that had gotten much better since he'd started this insanity. He tried to hold on to it until it popped him in the air, like Anton said it would, but he was going to fall off the edge if he didn't jump now, and he'd had quite enough of falling these last few weeks. So he swung his right leg through and leapt into the air.
"Not—" Anton started, but Doug cut him off. "Not long enough, I know. How the hell do you hold that?"
Whatever Anton was going to say was preempted by an unholy racket from the other end of the rink, the sound of a body hitting the ice and sliding. Both turned to see Kate come to a stop within inches of the boards, her left shoulder and butt cheek having taken the brunt of the fall. After a long moment, she groaned and slowly got to her knees.
"Like that," Anton said. "Just do it. Nike, yes? Even if you are falling. Fall after good entrance."
With a sigh he didn't bother to disguise, Doug set up for the Salchow again, even as Kate began the crossovers into her next triple flip.
Late that afternoon, after listening to Kate's carping for the entire hour they'd practiced the lifts they'd need for their first pairs test program, Anton had finally called the day done and stalked off, muttering what Doug suspected were absolutely filthy curses in Russian. Doug turned to Kate with a glare. "If you hate being lifted so much, why didn't you go into singles?"
She regarded him coolly. "Maybe I just don't like being lifted by you."
"Nice try, sweetheart, but I've read your press. You've hated every one of your partners, as far as I can tell."
She looked down at the ice with something that might have been embarrassment, assuming she felt human emotions like that. "Why pairs?" he asked again.
Still looking at the ice, she pressed her lips in a thin line before finally saying, so softly that he could barely hear her, "The triple Lutz. I've never landed one." She glanced up at him, and her tone turned matter of fact. "You have to have it to win. I don't."
He stopped the words "And your flip isn't looking too good either" from coming out of his mouth. He rubbed his left knee, which ached from several Salchows that had gone wrong this morning. From the way she'd winced when he touched her thigh in a lift, he could tell she was feeling the effects of her many failed triple flips.
"And I—" she stopped short, as if rethinking what she'd been about to say.
Her mouth moved for a moment without sound coming out. Finally, she said, "In pairs I can fly higher than I can alone."
Before he could say anything, she turned and skated over to the boards, grabbing her skate guards and stepping off the ice in one swift motion. Doug watched her go, his mouth hanging open a little, before he finally started to smile.
"This is a stupid spin," Doug said after he'd recovered from nearly falling over his toe pick onto his face. He'd been trying—and failing—to find his balance on a camel spin all afternoon, and it was really starting to piss him off.
"Can you really pass that judgment if you can't actually do the spin?" Kate wondered from several feet away, and Doug clenched his fist. At the rate they were going, him punching her in the face was going to be the grand finale of their Pre-Juvenile pairs test program.
He turned to Anton. "Why does this even exist?"
"Because it is difficult. Try again." Doug groaned. "Keep right shoulder back. That is why you keep falling in."
Doug set up for the spin again, thought about keeping his right shoulder back, and promptly went over his toe pick onto the ice.
After checking to make sure he hadn't split his chin open, he gave Anton a baleful glare. Anton shrugged. "Right shoulder now too far back."
"That's it," Doug said as he pushed himself up and brushed the snow off his jacket. "Nothing in the rules says we can't just do a sit spin for this test." He'd actually read the section of the rulebook about it when they started working on camel spins the week before.
He liked sit spins, actually. They looked a little dorky, but it was a hell of a lot less painful to fall out of one than it was for any other spin.
"You'll have to learn it eventually," Kate said. Doug was about to snap back at her, but then he realized she hadn't actually insulted him. In fact, it was the first time he could recall her actually saying anything that indicated she thought he might make it beyond the current day.
"Katia is right," Anton confirmed. "Is on next test."
"And once you figure it out, we can move on to more interesting things," Kate said. After a quick windup on her right inside edge, she pulled into a camel, her back perfectly straight—that was another thing that bothered him about this spin; he was pretty sure camels had humps—and then dipped her head, her free leg flying up in counterpoint and her right hand brushing the ice. She did it again and again as she spun, so fast that she almost started to blur.
As she finally started to slow, Doug remembered to close his mouth, which had dropped open somewhere around the second time Kate had thrust her head toward the ice. She exited the spin on her right foot, her arms spread wide. Her expression was just a bit glazed from the rpms she'd just pulled. It took her a second to focus on Doug, and her voice didn't have quite the same level of cockiness he'd come to expect when she said, "See?"
Doug couldn't help himself; he gave her the satisfaction of nodding. Anton slowly clapped his hands. "Best I have seen you do. Where was this three months ago, hmm?"
If he didn't know ice ran in the woman's veins, Doug might have sworn the slightest hint of a blush passed over her cheeks. "Just make sure he can do it well enough to put in a program some day," she snapped.
Anton gave them both a considering look. "For now, maybe we try pair spin."
"Uh, isn't that what we were doing?" Doug asked.
"Side by side spins are next to each other. Pair spin, you and Katia spin together."
"You mean like..." Doug had a bad feeling that he knew where this was going.
"Douglas, bend knees. Like sit spin, but both feet on ice."
Cringing inside, he did as he was told. A few feet away, Kate started to look slightly horrified.
"Katia, leg back. Just lunge for now."
Kate slowly skated toward him, still with that disgusted—or maybe scared—expression on her face. Doug was pretty sure his wasn't any less terrified. She bent her right knee and extended her left leg behind her, the side of her boot resting on the ice. Doug felt his legs start to tremble from holding a squat for so long.
"Douglas, hands on Katia's back—yes. Katia, put hands on his shoulders." Gingerly, Kate rested the tips of her fingers on his shoulders. Anton clucked disapprovingly. "Trust him."
Kate pushed her fingers a little further up his shoulders until her palms were touching his jacket. She leaned against him ever so slightly, just a small percentage of her weight, at the same time raising her extended leg off the ice.
It was at that point that Doug's thighs gave out. When he collapsed, he took Kate with him, and they ended up in a spectacularly ungraceful sprawl on the ice.
Kate screeched as they fell, while Doug's yell was cut off by the impact of her chest on his. He landed hard on his back, and for a second saw black as he tried to breathe. Memories of being body checked by burly East Germans came to mind.
Kate's head hung roughly over his chin, and her curly black hair tickled his nose. He'd kept his hands around her waist out of an instinct to grab something, anything, as he was falling, and he slowly realized she was still in his arms.
Come to think of it, being body checked had never felt quite like this.
While he was processing that, Kate snarled and got to her feet, using his shoulder entirely intentionally as leverage. He winced as she pressed the aching joint further against the ice.
"Tomorrow, squats off-ice," Anton commented.
"So maybe in five years we'll have a basic pair spin?" Kate snapped. "In case you haven't noticed, we have less than two until the Olympics." She cast a disgusted look at Doug, who was still lying on the ice. "Call me when I can trust him to be there." She turned and stepped off the ice, then, muttering, stomped into the locker room.
Something that felt suspiciously like shame made Doug unable to meet Anton's eyes as he stood up slowly, feeling every part of his body that had crashed to the ice protest. "Maybe she has a point," he said softly.
Anton made a dismissive sound low in his throat. "No," he said, with a certainty that pulled Doug's gaze up to meet his. "You are each the other's only way back. She knows this." He nodded as if it was settled, which Doug wasn't at all sure about.
"We work more tomorrow. Pair spin is on next test."
Doug did a double-take. "Wait, what? No, it's not! I looked it up!"
If ever a shrug had looked shifty, Anton's did. "I signed you up for Pre-Juv and Juvenile pairs tests at session next month. Needs to be done now to have time for Senior test before Sectionals."
"What? Why didn't you tell me?!"
Anton raised his hands slightly, either in supplication or, possibly, defense. "I did not want to scare you."
"Damn it, Anton!"
Many, many days that began with knee-breaking numbers of squats later, Doug learned the spin and passed the two tests. But the rift that had opened—well, re-opened—between him and Kate never closed. He'd thought they were approaching the ability to at least not hate each other, but they'd now been back to strained tolerance for over three months.
It didn't matter, he told himself. She was his only way back to ice beyond that rented by the bar league in Duluth, and he could put up with almost anything for that.
He was landing some double jumps now, which was frigging amazing, even if his right thigh did sport a bruise more often than not from bad landings. He'd been neglecting his next Moves in the Field test, because frankly moves were boring compared to the jumps and spins, but with the next test date approaching, Anton had started to insist.
"Why would anyone come up with this?" he complained one day as he stumbled over yet another bracket turn. "It's not...it's not efficient." If he'd tried to do this when going after a puck, the entire opposing offense line would've passed him while he tried to figure out where each arm and leg went.
Kate did a perfect forward outside bracket in front of him. He glowered in her direction.
"It's like a magic trick," she said. "Your body's going one way, but you turn the other."
"This isn't magic," he scoffed. "A no look pass, that's magic. The other team's all over you; you can't see your guys, but you just know someone's there and you slide it on over..." He mimed passing a puck backwards through his legs. "Some dumb turn is never going to compete with that."
Kate's expression darkened. "Then why don't you go back to playing in your pond league if figure skating is so second-rate?"
"That's not what I said!" Except, well, it sort of was, he realized. "I wouldn't be here at six o'clock every morning if I didn't think it was worth it."
"You have a funny way of showing it."
"I am just as dedicated as you are, sister."
"Tell me that when you can bother to care about getting it right."
"Wha—" Doug didn't get out more than a squawk of frustration before Kate turned and skated towards the other end of the rink.
Simmering, Doug torqued his shoulders against his hips and attacked the bracket pattern again. Over and over he ground them out, forward outside to back inside, then the reverse, until he found himself at the opposite end of the rink. Anton was waiting there, a smile lurking under his moustache. "What?" Doug snapped.
Anton slowly skated along his tracing. "Very nice," he said, pointing at the last bracket. "Almost test quality." Doug's surprise must have shown on his face, because Anton's smile widened. "Distraction sometimes very helpful for not overthinking." He cocked his head in thought. "Maybe before next test I put you and Katia alone together." He glanced at Kate, who was pointedly not looking at either of them as she traced a figure eight. "Maybe I give you padding first."
"Kate," Doug said when he got on the ice the next morning, his partner having noticed his entrance to the rink and then ignored him while he tied his skates. "Kate!"
She finally looked up from her intent study of a loop tracing. "You don't have to yell," she said calmly.
"Seems like it's the only way to get you to listen." She started to turn away again, and he clenched his fists. "Wait! I want to talk to you!"
Kate raised an eyebrow.
"I want to apologize for yesterday. I..." He hadn't really thought about what to say after that. Kate was starting to look impatient. "Look, this kind of skating is incredible. I never knew it could be like this. I..." He thought about the double loop he'd landed yesterday. "I love it."
For a long moment, Kate said nothing. Her perfect, perfectly blank face gave him no idea what she was thinking. Then she cocked her head toward the center of the rink. "I was thinking," she said, starting to skate away. Bewildered, he followed. "For our senior test program, there's something I've been wanting to try. There's a Canadian dance team who does it..."
As she described a move that would have both of them skimming the ice with their entire bodies, stretched out and balanced on a single blade, Doug realized that this was what forgiveness looked like from Kate Mosley. He should have known. He'd met her father, after all.
"What's this thing called?"
Doug's senior pairs test fell nine days before the deadline to register for Eastern Sectionals. Failing the test meant twenty-eight days before he could try again, by which point the deadline would be gone. Not going to Sectionals meant not going to Nationals. Not going to Nationals meant no chance of the Olympics.
He had to pass this test.
By now he was familiar with the Sky Rink and the gaggles of nervous little girls in glittery dresses that populated it during a test session. He even had a favorite place to freak out when Anton wasn't mercilessly driving him through off-ice warmup exercises. It was conveniently near a trash can.
He didn't get to settle there this time. As soon as he and Kate had changed into their—blessedly simple—costumes, but while they were still wearing their shoes, Anton had them practicing footwork from the last third of the program. And then all the lifts. And then the pairs spiral position. And then it was time to go on for the six-minute warmup.
While Kate was re-tying her skates after the warmup, Anton pulled him aside. "You have turned from very good hockey skater to very good figure skater," he said gruffly, patting Doug's shoulder. "Because of this, you will pass this test." He glanced at Kate. "Also because she will kill you if you do not."
Doug almost, but not quite, laughed.
A second later, the ice monitor nodded at him and he took Kate's hand to step onto the ice. She squeezed his fingers, and for a second he thought it was meant to be encouraging, but then she muttered, "If you screw this up, we can't go to Sectionals. We don't go to Sectionals, we don't go to Nationals."
"I'm aware of that, thanks."
"Just so we're clear."
Doug gritted his teeth and didn't respond. Instead, he skated toward the visitors box, where three judges were buried in down and fur, clipboards at the ready. Kate trailed him slightly, poised as ever, with a studiedly pleasant half-smile on her lips. After greeting the judges, they skated to the center and clasped hands in their opening position.
The music started with a chord Doug had come to know intimately over the last three months, so closely that even with his complete inability to carry a tune in a bucket he could now hum the entire four minutes and twenty-nine seconds of it. He'd always liked music, and frankly thought he wasn't a bad dancer, but he'd never felt it like he did before he started figure skating. The music moved him as much as his own muscles did.
They started good. His double Axel was totally solid, and if he threw Kate any higher on the triple twist, she would've hit the ceiling. They flew through the footwork sequence, hitting every accent in the music with stretched arms or turns or little toepicky hops Anton had made them slave over for weeks (and Kate had singsonged "toe pick!" every time he tripped over one of them, until the day she fell flat on her face during a program run-through and suddenly became very quiet about it).
Two thirds of the way through the program, they started their side by side combination spin with forward camels, Kate calling each revolution out so they'd stay in unison. When she counted eight, they swung their free legs down into sit spins, and at twelve pulled their right arms back and put their right blades on the ice, preparing to change feet to back sit spins. Doug wobbled ever so slightly on the weight change.
He could tell instantly that he was no longer facing the judges each time Kate called the next number, and hunched his shoulders, trying to pull in as much as possible to increase his speed and catch up with her. He thought maybe he had by the time they checked out of the spin.
He managed to shove the mistake to the back of his mind during the final minute of the program, and hit the last jump, a triple toe loop, and the last lift that transitioned into their ending position. He forced a smile on his face.
Many of the other skaters, coaches, and parents at the test session had come into the rink to watch, and a smattering of applause greeted them after the music faded. When Doug pulled Kate up from where she was hanging on his arm, she didn't even pause before she threw her arms around him.
Doug was too shocked to return the hug before she pulled away.
"What..." he started to ask when he found his tongue, but then he noticed Kate was smiling. In fact, she was glowing.
For the first time, Doug realized that Kate loved this. She loved skating as much as he did, and he loved skating more than anything else.
"You did it," she said while he was trying to come to terms with that. "We're going to Sectionals." A grin split her face, and she continued, "We're going to Nationals."
"What about the back sit?" he asked. "I screwed it up. We weren't—"
"It was fine," she said, and squeezed his forearm where she was still holding on. "You always bobble on the change. I slowed down."
This was hands-down the most surprising thirty seconds he'd experienced in the entire past two years.
He was still so stunned that Kate had to point him at the judges, who each looked up from their stone-faced scribbling and acknowledged him with a nod. That meant they didn't want him to reskate anything, which meant either they were planning to pass him—or he'd somehow screwed up so much that even a reskate couldn't salvage it. With Kate still smiling like he'd never seen her do before, he was starting to feel like it wasn't entirely impossible that he'd passed.
Anton threw a heavy arm over each of their shoulders when they stepped off the ice, a gesture that would've immediately been followed by a noogie from any of Doug's old teammates, but Anton was content to just squeeze them so hard Doug temporarily feared for the structural integrity of his ribcage. "Krasivaya," he said. "Beautiful."
Even more beautiful were the test forms, when they got them ten minutes later. All three judges had noted the bobble on the change foot spin, but all three had passed him. Doug was officially a United States Figure Skating Association senior pair man.
Kate's father slapped Doug on the back in a gesture that was just weird coming from him. But Doug quickly forgot about it when he noticed Kate smiling again—smiling at him.
Something fluttered in his stomach at that smile. Something that suggested he wouldn't mind seeing it again. And again, and again, and again.
Doug gulped. He had a feeling a bigger test than even Senior Pairs was just beginning.