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Ready to Suffer, Ready to Hope

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1.

The flight to Toronto was a welcome reprieve from the fretting she’d endured from her friends and family over the last few weeks. Granted, she was only seventeen and she was moving to a different country but it wasn’t the first time she’d ever left home, or even lived away from her family. However, everyone seemed to view the Canadian border as some kind of a last frontier. In their mind, beyond it was a frozen wasteland.

The first thing Kaitlyn was supposed to do when she got off the plane was to call her mother to tell her she’d arrived safely. Now she was standing in Toronto Pearson Airport, somewhere between the gates and the baggage claim and she didn’t want to make the call. She knew she had to, otherwise her mother would raise hell and possibly start a war between the US and Canada, but she didn’t want to her mother’s overly concerned voice, asking for the tenth time if she shouldn’t send that old ski-suit, the one Kaitlyn had outgrown two years ago.

In theory, all the fussing would have been a welcome distraction from her own worries, but when she was trying her best to keep a positive outlook it ended up grating on her nerves.

The object of her actual worries was probably waiting for her in the arrival hall.

Logically she knew she was being overly worried. The tryout had been a success and it had been Andrew who had contacted her. Still, having two partners quitting on you, well, no one could blame her for being a little bit insecure.

The phone call to her mom ended up being short and sweet. The wait at the baggage claim was anything but, so she ended up texting Paul, letting them know they might have to wait for longer than they anticipated.

Finally, when she got through to the arrival hall she found Paul standing there, smiling warmly, and it had to be Andrew who was lurking behind him, his hair flopping over his face.

Paul embraced her and bid her welcome. Maybe not quite fatherly but Kaitlyn could feel a protective streak in him, could sense that he felt she was a little too young to move so far away from her family. A tiniest bit of irritation managed to break through but she would show him that she was tough.

When she turned to Andrew, he lifted his hand in a greeting and gave her a smile which wasn’t really a smile, more like a facial spasm.

He was just as nervous about this as she was. They were both still young and finding another partner wouldn’t be that hard if this didn’t work, but she felt burnt already. The look Andrew was giving her she could read alright. He was feeling burnt as well.

Hopefully they’d clear this out on the ice.

 

2.

If Andrew’s calculations were correct, he and Kaitlyn had officially been a team for six months and 14 days. In many ways, it felt like he’d never skated with anyone else but it also felt like the time had flown by. Here they were in Germany, competing at the 2007 Junior Worlds and it was actually their third international competition together. And while their standing after the compulsory dance didn’t offer them a big chance of a medal, it was still a possibility. Oh, how he wanted a medal. Maybe it was a bit strange that someone as competitive as him felt more at ease competing as a part of a team than on his own. Not only did he have to rely on himself to do well but also another person to do the same but when he had a partner like Kaitlyn who was of the same mind and whose skating style complimented his, it stopped being so strange.

The old school kitsch charm of the silver samba for the compulsory dance certainly didn’t play to their strength - in fact Andrew was already fed up with the routine and wanted nothing more than to never skate it again, but they were also on the Canadian team for Worlds in Tokyo so he had to persevere. Their original dance routine, not to mention their free dance, were more to his liking. There was more room for drama and expression there.

They were waiting at the practice rink, for the men, who would be finishing their final practice before their short program. Those who would compete in the first half had already left for the main rink, but those in the second half were still there, including the Canadians. Two of them he didn’t know very well, Patrick and Kevin, as they were a bit younger than him, but Joey he knew a bit as he was closer in age. They took their skating very seriously and so did most of the other guys there. It was only the tiny French dude, Andrew believed his name was Florent, one of the Americans and an energetic Swede who seemed to be aiming to have some fun there.

Getting on the ice was always a relief for Andrew. It sometimes felt like when he was off the ice, the only thing on his mind was getting back onto it.

The practice was going well, and despite the other team’s music they did their steps and twizzles and lifts. It looked like they might improve their standing. Then their original dance music played and they went through their routine. The final lift might look simple enough to the untrained eye but it had taken them time to get it right, the balance and the timing. Still, it was confidence Andrew felt as he grabbed onto Kaitlyn, feeling her strong biceps underneath his fingers.

Then everything went wrong.

Several things happened at once. As soon as Kaitlyn lifted from the ice, Andrew felt his insides freeze up as he felt how wrong his grip was, but the momentum kept lifting Kaitlyn and then a split second later, Kaitlyn’s weight shifted in a way it wasn’t supposed to shift. All he sensed was a painful gasp from her. Using his free hand he took hold of her waist as he aimed to halt them.

He could hear Kaitlyn’s labored breath as they stopped and he got a chance to look at her. Her face was contorted into a grimace.

“Are you okay?” he asked and to his horror, she shook her head, seemingly not able to speak.

Alerting Paul and the medics, all he could do was to pat Kaitlyn in what he hoped was a soothing manner before she got proper help. Then she was whisked off by the medics, with Paul following them, and he was left standing there.

He waited at the rink for news but it was Kaitlyn herself who emerged from the infirmary room, looking pale with one hand in a sling and what looked like an icepack strapped to her shoulder. Paul followed.

“Yeah, I dislocated my shoulder,” Kaitlyn said, her voice grim.

Andrew’s heart sank; they would have to withdraw and it was a major bummer.

“The doctor said he was going to give her a shot in the morning,” Paul said. “They said it was a risk she’d dislocate the shoulder again if you compete tomorrow but it would be up to Kaitlyn to decide.”

“We’re competing tomorrow,” she said, her American inflection more pronounced than it had been for months. “But I think I need to rest now.”

They didn’t really speak on their way to their hotel and what followed was a pretty restless night for Andrew. There was a sort of helplessness when you couldn’t fix what was wrong yourself. He wanted to make everything better for Kaitlyn.

The next morning he had to travel alone to the rink, because Kaitlyn had gone ahead to see the doctors.

He hung around as the other skaters came in, and he saw some of the other teams look at him, then look for Kaitlyn. He gave a weak smile to Vanessa and Paul and Joanna and Mitchell as they walked past him, receiving smiles from them in return.

Finally, Kaitlyn showed up, with her shoulder taped and a determined look on her face.

“Look, I know you’re probably beating yourself up, but that’s not what I need now.” Her tone of voice felt hard, almost crystalline. “I need you to be confident. We’re not going to repeat what happened yesterday. We’ve got this.”

Looking at her, he felt the urge to hug her to him, probably too much of a sentimental gesture for her. But he also felt the urge to put his game face on and make some fierce tango on the ice.

And that they did.

3.

Training in Kitchener-Waterloo had been a case of them being big fishes in a little pond. So the next step was onwards to a bigger pond in Toronto. Improving, getting a better standing, that was the point of them being out on the ice every day, being passionate about a sport that way too many people didn’t even think was a sport.

While the reason for the move had been professional as was the idea for her and Andrew to become roommates in Vancouver, it was difficult for Kaitlyn to explain it to her family.

“Wait,” her mother had said when Kaitlyn had called her to tell her, amongst other things, about where she’d live in Toronto. “You’re not… are you?”

“I’m not what?” Kaitlyn had said, fearing what her mother was thinking.

“You and Andrew… you’re still just professional.”

The thing was that in all honesty she couldn’t tell her mother that she and Andrew were just professional. That indicated that all their communication was on the ice or about their work on the ice, which was for from the truth. They had become friends and were going to be roommates more based on that fact than their professional relationship. Plus it saved money.

While Kaitlyn gave what she thought was reasonable justification, her mother remained not completely convinced, so from then on, every phone call home meant that she’d have to explain that she and Andrew were not a couple.

Which meant she couldn’t really talk all that much about what they did in their free time because she knew her mother couldn’t imagine a boy and a girl who weren’t dating, who would be spending time together like they did.

It was convenient and they liked each other’s company.

Kaitlyn hung up the phone after yet another frustrating call with her mother, in which her mother had been suggesting that Kaitlyn should see a doctor about getting birth control. What on earth was she supposed to reply to suggestions like that? First she would have to ignore the fact that she was already on birth control and secondly, it often proved impossible to argue with her mother. Saying as little as possible often proved the best strategy but that was usually frustrating as hell.

She was standing in the kitchen, rubbing her temples when Andrew walked in, with groceries.

“Hey, something’s up?” He said as he unloaded the bags on the counter.

“Nothing really, just Mom being Mom.” Kaitlyn gave Andrew a defeated look before craning to see what Andrew had bought. He was a very good cook for a guy his age. She had nothing on him when it came to cooking. Plus going with him abroad always meant some kind of culinary excursion. Yet the fact he was such a good cook and took pleasure in making food meant that they were pretty conscious of what they were eating.

“You can tell me all about it while you dice these carrots and celery stalks for me,” Andrew said, pulling up his recipe book with classic French recipes he’d bought in Paris last year. Even though he wasn’t completely fluent in French, recipes were no problem for him. Kaitlyn loved that Andrew was adventurous and ambitious in his cooking. Somehow it kind of made the food at her family’s house even better when she went there.

“Take a wild guess,” she said, as she savagely chopped up a carrot.

“Either it was her constant worries about you being stuck in this “awfully cold country” or that we’re sleeping together,” Andrew said sagely.

“The latter one. Now she wants me to take birth control because it’s “only a matter of time because that’s what happens when a beautiful girl and a handsome boy share living quarters”. I couldn’t say anything to that. She’s just… I know she means well and I know she has a bit of a dated view of the world but… really?”

“I’d be frustrated as well,” Andrew said, rolling the beef chunks he’d cut up in flour. “But her heart is in the right place and she worries about you. As long as she isn’t really snooping in our business or demanding that we marry, we should be okay. Come on, put what you’ve diced in the pot and let’s finish up here and watch Desperate Housewives while it’s stewing.”

As they sat in the lounge chairs Andrew’s cousin had lent them, Kaitlyn hoped they could get a couch soon.

4.

What do you do when your skating season has ended in January and you’re missing out on the biggest skating event of them all, the Winter Olympics? You take your Four Continents Gold medal and go on a weekend trip to New York with your skating partner. And only tell those who need to know about it.

They’d won the Four Continents because number one, they were pissed off having missed the Olympics in Canada due to a measly 0.3 points, and number two, the field wasn’t that deep. But win it they did and now they could breathe and allow themselves to feel and then get over the disappointment of not getting onto that Olympic ice. Waiting four years for their next chance was a long time even if they were young.

So it was New York for them. Spreading their wings outside of the skating world bubble, relaxing and having fun. Andrew had already decided on some of the restaurants he wanted to try out but Kaitlyn was a bit keen on going clubbing. She even had a fake ID and everything, since she wouldn’t turn 21 quite yet. Not that she intended to drink but a fake ID should make it easier to get into the clubs she wanted to visit.

It wasn’t that hard to convince Andrew to tag along with her. He loved dancing almost as much as she did. It was almost required of them, being ice dancers who had to take quite a bit of dance classes as well to do the steps in skates.

Nothing was like getting lost in dance in the middle of a dance floor in a club, with the bass thumping. Something they rarely got the chance to do.

Maybe that’s why they always kept forgetting that going clubbing had its drawbacks, so to speak.

A tall, dark and handsome man and a blonde girl with the-girl-next-door good looks drew their fair share of attention. Especially when they were off the dance floor. Sometimes the attention wasn’t such a negative for Kaitlyn, not when she got free drinks out of it. But the perks usually didn’t last, and soon enough she had to get rid of guys who were into her when she definitely wasn’t into them.

Meanwhile, Andrew was the ultimate ice prince, being disinterested in anyone who approached him. It was usually him who got them to the dance floor.

This time around, in a club Kaitlyn couldn’t remember the name of, Andrew had lasted about ten minutes before he wanted to go to the dance floor. A song with a strong beat and a saxophone was playing and the beat had a samba-feeling to it, so somehow they ended up doing samba steps on the floor, a little more booty-shaking though than they were used to.

Thankfully New Yorkers didn’t gawk at their dancing skills which wasn’t an uncommon occurrence when they went out clubbing. Which made it so much easier to get lost in the dancing. Soon enough they let loose of the dance hold and got lost in their own world. Kaitlyn could feel the bitterness over not making the Olympic and the World team leave her mind and it felt freeing. Like the next time she’d get on the ice, she’d have a clean slate.

Hours later, they had made their way out of the club and were sitting in a cab on their way to their hotel.

“We needed that,” Andrew said, with a wry smile on his lips.

A content sigh was the best answer she could give.

 

5.

In Andrew’s recollection, he’d hear the crack as Kaitlyn’s left foot took the brunt of the impact as she’d crashed into the boards. Logically he knew he hadn’t heard her bone crack but his memory seemed to play the moment in slow motion in his head with added sound effects. In reality, she’d travelled out of his hold while he was spinning so he didn’t even see clearly when she went into the boards.

Kaitlyn was now in Toronto and he was stuck in Detroit. He still skated every day, Anjelika standing in for Kaitlyn and every day he liked skating a little less. There was no faulting Anjelika, even though she hadn’t competed for over a decade and wasn’t as strong as she probably had been then, she was still an extremely skilled skater. There were reasons why she had two World titles and an Olympic silver in her collection.

But she’d been forged in another fire than Kaitlyn and he had been and that difference worked against them and affected his joy. He’d gotten so used to his relationship with Kaitlyn that whatever he was doing with Anjelika felt like technical maneuverings which had very little to do with what he equated with skating in his head.

His almost daily Skype calls with Kaitlyn didn’t ease matters, rather they made him miss her more. Ice dancing wasn’t about having a technically competent partner, it was about the connection and he felt like he’d lost a limb, which might have been ironic to some.

After a rather grueling training session where both Pasquale and Anjelika had yelled at him because he just couldn’t concentrate enough, Andrew sat on a bench behind the boards, untying his skates and feeling a little bit sorry for himself.

And his cell phone went off. With Kaitlyn’s ring tone which was Florence + the Machine’s “Shake It Out”.

When he answered, Kaitlyn said with a breathless voice, not greeting him. “Andrew, I had to call you first… I’ve been cleared, I can go back on the ice.”

With a breath that probably would have been categorized as a sob, he fell the spell break.

 

+1.

There were no rivalries in Canadian figure skating, or at least you’d never get a Canadian figure skater to admit it, with perhaps the except of Toller Cranston. The competitiveness was there and it was never as evident as when the skaters were vying for a spot on the Olympic team.

This time around, Canada had secured three spot in ice dancing and while it meant more chance for the top teams to earn a spot in the team at Nationals, there were still four teams that were real contenders for those three spots.

There was no ‘if they’d get onto the Olympic team’ in the minds of Kaitlyn and Andrew. This time around they would get onto the team and compete in Russia.

Their trajectory through the skating season so far had given them hope.

Still, Nationals was always an unpredictable beast where the scoring tended to appear more sensationalistic than in the international competition. And everyone was on edge because the chances of three Olympic gold medals in figure skating were high.

It came down to keeping their composure; the small amount of nerves that they might have shown in the Grand Prix series had evaporated and they held their own, even with all the media focus on Tessa and Scott.

Secure with their silver medals and an almost guarantee to be included in the Olympics, Andrew and Kaitlyn headed to their hotel after the medal ceremony and the few interviews the media bothered to do with them.

Finally allowing herself to feel the elation, Kaitlyn turned to Andrew as he was closing the doors to her hotel room. There was a twinkle in his eyes she hardly ever got to see.

“We did it,” he said, crossing the room towards her.

“Yeah, we did,” she said, sitting down on her bed, realizing just how tired her body really was. Letting herself fall backwards, she looked up at the ceiling. Of course it would be awesome to medal at the Olympics but the competition was fierce. The Russian teams were out for blood, Natalie and Fabian were literally starving for an Olympic medal, Anna and Luca as well, and then there were gold and silver medalists from the previous Olympics, the darling teams of the ice dancing world.

But now wasn’t the time to lose her head over that. They would train harder than ever, they would prepare mentally and believe in themselves. Worrying about other teams wasn’t what helped people to win in skating, hard work was what would bring home a medal.

“Kaitlyn, you’re thinking so hard that I can almost hear your thoughts.” Andrew was standing close to the bed, towering over her.

“Pssh, you’ve been able to read my mind for a long time,” she said, throwing an arm over her face, like in an attempt to block his probing of her thoughts.

“Yeah,” he said, before letting himself drop down on the bed next to her. His weight made them both bounce a little and she moved a little closer to him. The urge to burrow against him hit her and she was too tired to second-guess it. Rolling onto her side, she nuzzled into his neck. Cuddling had always come naturally to them. When they sat together on a couch, watching something, one of them would end up with their head in the other one’s lap or in a position similar to that. But those were quiet moments, not when they were still high on competition adrenaline and nerves. Still so open to each other so they could be as much in sync as possible. But the need was there and she knew, without having to question it, that Andrew was also feeling this need.

As always, they were on the same wavelength as he turned a little towards her to pull her closer. She slotted one leg between his, savoring the warmth radiating from him.

She couldn’t explain it but there was some recalibrating going on. Like they were shifting from the sort of combative mode they’d needed for Nationals into a mode better suited for the Olympics. Now they were in for a long game even though there was just over a month until they’d compete on Russian ice.

Yet that seemed so far away because in this moment, nothing seemed to exist outside of them two. It was something that needed to be savored.

-the end