She finds the abandoned ice rink quite by accident: Sam pisses her off one too many times, she takes off in a blind rage, and somehow finds herself in a part of town she's never been before.
It's not the first time she's gotten lost since moving to Essen. But when she ducks into an old building to try and get her bearings, and finds the ice rink in the back - vacant, and looking like it's been in constant use - she can't help but give into temptation.
There are skates all neatly lined up in the dusty locker room. She takes a pair that's more or less her size and heads down to the rink, flushed with the thrill of discovery. She taps her Uplink and does a quick search on the Net: apparently this place used to be called the Steinkamp Center back in the '10s, before the owners retired and the place went up for grabs. It's surprising the rink still works (and if part of her urges caution because there's no way it's still safe after so many decades) but the urge to just get out on the ice is too strong.
She spends an hour gliding, spinning, generally making a fool of herself. (She loves ice-skating; she's just not very good at it.) But it's an hour where she doesn't think about Sam, or about her father spamming her Uplink with useless postcards from Argentina, or about her Biology exam next Wednesday.
It's quite possibly the best hour she's had in Essen.
She doesn't make it back to the rink until five days later: Sam grovels, begs, pleads, in full view of her friends, and finally she forgives him, and he looks so damn grateful that she can't hold onto the anger. The doubts, though... they're still there, gnawing at the corners of her mind, and one day she finally grabs her own skates - tossed in the back of her closet by her mother, who'd assumed (quite sensibly) that they couldn't possibly be of any use now - and heads back to the rink.
Someone's on the ice when she gets there.
Her first instinct is to turn back, wait for the guy to finish and sneak in when he leaves. But she feels a sudden rush of proprietary aggression: she found this place first, it's the only spot in this forsaken town where she can really let go, and she's not about to give that up. Whoever this guy is, he'll just have to share.
So she slides into the ice, trying to skate and watch the newcomer at the same time. She moves in slow, wide spirals, gradually getting closer to him. He doesn't seem to notice, caught up in a routine that has him jumping and spinning in place.
She notices two things right away: he's a good skater, and he's kind of cute.
When she passes within arm's reach of him, he pulls off some crazy maneuver she's never seen and suddenly he's on the other side of the rink. She's forced to amend her first observation: he's a really good skater.
Finally he slows, then stops, looking directly at her. She changes course as best she can and glides to a halt next to him.
"Hi." he says, giving her a friendly smile. She returns the gesture and adds a mumbled compliment about his form (because she really has no idea how to phrase you're like a skating god or something to a total stranger).
To her surprise, he seems wistful as he looks at the ice. "I've had a lot of practice."
Something about him compels her to extend a hand: maybe it's because he's pale and thin and looks totally harmless, or because there's something very sad in his eyes that she can't quite place.
"I'm Jenna." she offers.
He considers her for a moment - evaluating her by some unknown criteria, perhaps - and takes her hand, shaking it firmly.
"I'm Roman." he replies.
It turns into a regular thing: they meet three times a week and skate together. Turns out he has had some professional training, though he doesn't like to talk about himself very much. It's all she can do to get the basic details out of him: he's 30, he moved to Essen from some farm in the middle of nowhere, and he loves skating as much as she does. He even agrees to teach her some moves, just for fun.
It takes her a while to rationalize the fact that she hasn't told Sam or any of her friends about Roman. It's not that she likes him: Roman's already told her that he's gay (though he'd seemed surprised at her lack of reaction, as though he expected her to make a big deal about it - how 20th-century was that?). It's more that, like the rink, she enjoys the notion that she found Roman, that in some way he belongs to her and only her.
And he's smart, in a way that most people she knows aren't. He gets her talking about Sam one night, about the problems they've been having, and at one point he puts his hand on hers and says: "You can't fake your way through a relationship. Be honest with him, and with yourself. Trust me, that's the only way to make it in the long run."
She takes his advice to heart, calls Sam up the next morning and they have the talk they should've had a long time ago, and it ends with tears and smiles and the future seems that much brighter.
She's grateful to Roman for the advice. Which is why she doesn't push when she realizes how often he deflects her questions about him, turning the focus back to her own life. She doesn't understand why he's so evasive: for a while she imagines he's a criminal, conjures up visions of all the things he might've done that would cause him to go on the run.
Two weeks after their first meeting, she looks him right in the eye and says: "What are you doing here?" And as she asks him, she realizes that she's never seen him leave the building - he always walks her to the door and she never thinks to look back. Is he living in this dump?
Roman's eyes glaze over for a long moment, like he doesn't actually know the answer to her question. But then his lips twitch and rise up in a warm smile. (Later she'll recognize it as the look people get when recalling a beautiful memory.)
And he says: "I'm waiting for someone."
After three months, she's comfortable enough with Roman to consider him a real friend.
And when she realizes she's never going to see him again, it hits her hard, like a punch to the gut.
The day starts like any other: he's teaching her how to drop to her knees and slide across the rink with a hand in the air. It's a very graceful yet very bombastic move, and she wonders if he's ever done this in front of a crowd, if he's listed in a book somewhere. She could just tap her Uplink and run a basic search, but it'd ruin the mystery.
So she practices the move as he skates alongside her, and that's when she hears a third pair of blades scratching across the frozen surface.
Roman's the first to look up, and... she'll never be able to describe the change that overcomes him. The pale, flickering candle is gone: he's a bonfire now, eyes ablaze, skin golden, suddenly solid in a way he hadn't been just moments before. He lets out a halting breath and stands on the ice, transfixed.
She cranes her head back from her starting position and sees him standing on the edge of the rink: a tall boy with dark hair and darker eyes, looking at Roman like... like...
The way Sam looks at her, sometimes.
And Roman is hurtling across the ice, so fast she can barely see him move: clumsy, faltering, half-blind with tears. The boy catches him, swings him around, plants a deep kiss on Roman's lips.
"Mein lieber, mein lieber," he whispers, and she feels a twinge of awkwardness, a sudden realization that she's intruding on a private moment that, by the looks of it, has been a long time coming.
She tries to sneak past them, but he calls her name as she passes.
"This... this is Deniz." Roman says, wiping his tears away. "The love of my life." he adds (somewhat unnecessarily, after that display).
And she can see, right away, why Roman loves this man. He's unguarded, open, clasping her hands warmly even though they've just met. He's younger than Roman, she can tell: around her age, maybe.
She fumbles for something insightful to say, and comes up with: "Is he the one you've been waiting for?"
As ice-breakers go, that's one she'll never use again: Deniz looks crestfallen, turning to Roman with a look that's almost certainly guilt. But Roman touches the tip of a finger to Deniz's lips.
"Don't." he whispers. "None of that matters now."
He reaches out and pulls her into a hug, whispering a soft farewell in her ear. As she leaves, she hears the two of them skating in perfect synchronicity. And though every instinct is screaming inside her to turn back, to take one last look at them (because somehow she knows she won't find him here again), she keeps her eyes fixed on what's ahead of her.
There's a flare of bright light in the corner of her eye, and the rink is silent again.
She never makes a conscious decision to stop visiting the Steinkamp Center, but she can never seem to find the time anymore. Finals come up, then she's applying for college, then Sam proposes completely out of the blue and it all happens so fast.
Life goes on. That's all that really matters.