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Don't Let Go, Okay?

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“So have you ever gone ice skating before?”

Steven turned his attention away from the window to Connie, whose hands were clasped in her lap.

“Only a little bit,” he said with a shrug. “I might have gone once or twice when dad took me to the ice rink in Charm City. It was pretty cool—and not just because it’s an ice rink.” He proudly grinned at his own joke.

Connie let out a burst of soft laughter. “That’s good. I haven’t gone all that much, either. My dad tried to take me before, but I never got the hang of it. I’m a little nervous to try again.” She gave him a weak smile as she leaned back against the van seat.

“Hey, that’s okay. Maybe I can help you out. It’ll be fun, I promise!” Steven said, throwing his arms out.

Connie’s smile grew. “That’d be great, Steven!” She glanced at her feet, kicking against her seat, then back up and over to the front seat. “How much further, Mr. Universe?”

“We’re almost there, actually!” Greg called from the front. He tossed out a quick thumbs up. He tilted his head forward. “Charm City was always a nice place. Pretty quiet, too. We really should visit more often.”

Both Connie and Steven peered through their windows. The van breezed along the road, passing only a few cars drove on such a quiet day. Snow blanketed the sidewalk, but the flurry they drove through on the way had vanished by the time they got into the city. They passed by a fast food place, McQueen, and at least two coffee shops before arriving at their destination: the Ice Box, neighboring a one-floor mall. A collection of cars were parked in the lot in front of the indoor rink.

Inside, Greg paid for Steven and Connie’s admission, who secured the paper bands around their wrists.

“Aren’t you going skating, too, Mr. Universe?” Connie asked.

“As fun as that might be, I think I’ll be sitting on the sidelines today. Let’s get you two some skates.” He jabbed a thumb toward the adjoining counter that read “RENT SKATES.”

Once they approached the counter, the man behind it asked for their shoe sizes. He handed them the appropriate-sized ice skates, and Steven and Connie exchanged excited grins.

Greg trailed behind them as they sprinted through the doors that led to the ice rink.

The ice rink itself had a big crowd. Since it was one of the few rinks in Charm City—and also the one nearest to Beach City—they weren’t too surprised. Nonetheless, the three of them found a good spot to sit down and store their things.

As Steven and Connie replaced their boots with the skates, Connie glanced back into the ice rink, where various types of people skated across. Some kids had training bars to help them skate around without falling.

When a couple breezed atop the glistening ice while holding hands, Connie felt a blush rise to her cheeks. Her focus faltered, and she struggled to stand straight before they actually walked onto the ice.

“Ready?” Steven asked with infectious enthusiasm that she wished she could feel.

“You bet,” Connie said through a forced smile.

She started off slow, gripping the edge as she stepped onto the ice. Professional skaters made it look so easy, when in reality, sliding on thin blades was no walk in the park.

Still, it could have been worse. She moved a few feet forward, staring down at her feet. Unfortunately, her hands slipped away from the edge, and Connie found herself stumbling forward. Her legs wobbled, and her body tilted forward. Teeth gritted, she kept thinking, Oh, come on, don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall!

“How’re you doing?” Steven asked once he skated to her side.

She straightened her posture. They were both able to skate side by side. It made her feel a little bit more at ease.

“It’s okay,” she responded. “It’s not that bad, actually. How about you?”

“Heh, it’s okay. It’s not easy.”

They made a turn around. Steven began to fall forward in a less than graceful manner. Connie leaned over and reached out. She managed to catch him by the arms, giggling under her breath, which frosted over in the air. “I can see that. I’m amazed those professional skaters can do all those crazy tricks! I doubt I could ever do all those jumps and spins.”

“They probably practiced a lot,” Steven pointed out. “Maybe you can do all that someday.”

Connie’s face felt warmer. “Heh, maybe.”

Steven pushed himself forward, while Connie stood alone for a few moments. With a loud sigh, she thought about clinging to the edge again. But no, she had to at least try! Her eyes followed Steven, how despite his clumsy movement, he seemed to be doing alright. There was no stress across any part of his face. 

Her fingers were already feeling cold. Maybe she should’ve brought gloves. And she accidentally forgot her hat in the car! It matched with Steven’s scarf, too.

Her eyes lingered on the skaters, watching the way they moved across the ice. She pushed forward, kicking her feet back, slow and with one foot at a time. A few feet off, Steven looked over his shoulder. Their eyes met.

Steven’s face brightened. He looked ecstatic. “You’re doing great!” He gave her a thumbs up.

Connie blushed again and waved.  

Her foot slipped backward. She gasped when she realized what was happening.

“Whoa... wh-whoa!” Connie exclaimed as she fought to regain her balance. She tripped and fell forward, but unlike when she caught Steven, nobody was there to catch her from falling flat on her face. She’d outstretched her hands to lessen the blow, but still the landing was anything but pleasant.

People around her turned to see what had happened. Her face burned bright red at the attention, as she tried to gather her composure. She ended up sitting on the freezing cold surface.

“Connie!” Steven cried out, rushing over to her.

Connie's eyes turned away from the icy floor and up to Steven. He seemed anxious, despite her not bearing any actual wounds. He was offering her a hand. She took it, and he helped her back to her feet.

“Are you okay?” he asked, still holding her hand.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine!” she replied hurriedly, hiding her face. She skated back to the edge of the rink, pulling her hand from Steven’s. It felt much colder. She crossed her arms as she leaned against the edge. The glass was cool against her cheek.

To none of her surprise, Steven approached her. “What’s wrong?” he asked in a small whisper.

“This is just embarrassing,” Connie muttered, her head bowed low. “I’m just overreacting, that’s all.”

“Whatever it is, you don’t have to be embarrassed,” Steven replied. “You can tell me, you know.”

Connie glanced up at him, her head still down, but she smiled.  “I didn’t expect to become a master at it by today, but… I didn’t want to fall in the middle of a crowd, that’s all.” She looked beyond his shoulder at the crowd of skaters.

Steven looked back, too. If any of them had noticed her fall, they had since then looked away to continue skating. Whether or not the crowd actually saw meant little, however. Turning back to Connie, he said, “You said you never skated before. It’s okay to mess up.”

“No one else knows that. And...” She groaned in frustration. “I can fight off gems with you guys now. I should be able to do something as simple as skate.”

“Hey, it’s okay.” He placed his hand on her shoulder, and her frustrations were slowly melting away. Slowly. “I’m really glad you can go on gem missions with me and fight gems with us. But that doesn’t mean you have to be good at everything.” Steven smiled. “If it helps, I’m not great at it, either. We can both be bad at it together.”

Then an idea hit him, and it was crystal clear on his face. Connie blinked at the way his face lit up. He looked as if he were about to jump with excitement, but stopped himself when he stumbled in place.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Why don’t we try to skate together?”

“You really want to?”

“Of course! What’s the worst that could happen?”

Connie mulled that over, contemplating anything that could happen. Then again, she had faced the worst and then some, all of them with Steven. Her lips lifted into a small smile. “Jam buds?”

“Jam buds!” he cheered, hands in the air.

Connie placed her hand on Steven’s when he put his arms down. She looked at their connected hands for a moment, then at the icy surface. It shouldn’t have been that hard—heck, she’d faced a gem mutant in the freezing snow . She was just overreacting… right?

When her gaze met Steven’s, however, her train of thought slowed. He grinned at her, and it must have been contagious, because she couldn’t help but give a crooked, sheepish smile back. His unwavering enthusiasm gave her the right motivation at the best times.

“Don’t let go, okay?” Connie asked.

“Of course I won’t!” Steven exclaimed.

A small blush ran up her cheeks. “Good,” she giggled, face lighting up. “Now let’s go skating!”

The second she let go of the edge, Connie tightened her hold of Steven’s hand. If she had gripped his hand too tightly, Steven made no complaints. They slid a few feet, and Connie’s legs wobbled a bit, but otherwise, their stances never faltered. Something about having someone hold her hand made it easier.

Especially if it was Steven.

They sneaked glances at one another. Connie found Steven’s excitement adorable; she couldn’t help but laugh. As their smiles grew even wider, keeping their balance was suddenly a problem pushed into the back of their heads.  

“See? Told you we could do it!” he said, squeezing her hand.

“I should never doubt you, Mr. Universe,” she teased.

They started spinning in a circle together, lost in the moment. Like they were dancing, but with awkward feet. Both of their hands locked together and they spun in place. The cold air whisked through Connie’s hair, and Steven started laughing to himself. Connie joined in with lighthearted giggles. Steven stopped only to watch her laugh.

They were so lost in the moment, that they failed to see the pinkish glow coming from Steven’s gem.

Brilliant light hugged them, bringing them even closer.

The crowd’s attention drifted to the glowing pair of children. The pink light reflected off of the ice. Once the light dulled and faded, the two children had vanished. In their place, a taller person with a belly gem stood with their eyes shut.

When they opened their eyes, Stevonnie let out a little noise of surprise.

They glanced down at their feet, even sticking out one foot, and pressed their hand to their hips. A pair of ice skates strangely yet securely fit onto their feet. Along with the skates, Stevonnie donned Steven’s jeans and shirt and Connie’s yellow cardigan. A giggle bubbled in their throat, and unable to control themselves, they started laughing. “Alright!”

Their glee began to fade, however, when their gaze brushed over the bystanders. The skaters’ reactions around them varied:  from jaws dropping, to tripping on the cold floor from lack of focus, to grabbing their phones to text their friends that they wouldn’t believe what just happened. Stevonnie’s stomach clenched at everyone staring. The skaters all looked so  baffled and probably thought Stevonnie was so weird. Sweat condensed on the back of the fusion's neck. They stopped and stood awkwardly at the side of the ring.

For a moment, their breathing became ragged, and their head felt dizzy. Their focus wobbled, and so many thoughts raced through their mind…

Then their eyes closed, and they took a moment to clear their head.

Don’t look at your feet. Don’t look at the people. Just look at where you’re going.

Like they’re skating together.

With a deep inhale, they regained control of their breathing. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. The fog that spread through their head began to fade, and they opened their eyes again.

Eventually, every onlooker turned away and continued their trek around the rink. A little stress fell off their shoulders.

Sighing heavily, they began skating around the rink again. Whether it was the combined mediocrity of Steven and Connie’s skating skills or just that Stevonnie really was multi-talented , they were able to glide across the ice with ease. Something about the smoothness of their skating made their excitement swell.

They jumped, and despite being only a few inches in the air, the feeling was much grander, as if they had leaped over a building. The adrenaline that rushed through them was quick, and once they landed on their two feet, it was gone.

They laughed, throwing their fists up. “Ahaha, yes!”

They glanced to the side. Greg was standing up, staring through the glass, when he spotted them. He waved at them, and they waved both of their arms back with childlike enthusiasm.

Greg’s gaze drifted to the side, and they followed his gaze. Their eyes widened, but that was all they could do before they collided into someone.With a grunt, Stevonnie fell back onto the ice.

A burst of light erupted from them as they fell, and Steven and Connie fell onto the ice, mouths slightly curved with surprise.

“Uhh, s-sorry?” she woman apologized with uncertainty, staring between the two. Steven and Connie glanced up at her, giving the same shy expressions. She opened and closed her mouth, then simply grimaced. “My bad!” With a kick, she strolled forward.

Connie shook her head. Steven turned to her. “You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Connie’s smile alleviated his concern. Her shoulders shook as she laughed. “Rough landing, huh?”

“At least the ice is smooth,” Steven commented.

“And freezing!”

Steven stood up. “There’s that! My butt feels cold now!”

She laughed. “I know how you feel. Wanna take a break from the ice for a bit?”

“Yeah.” Steven nodded. “They have a snack area. Maybe dad can buy us pretzels.”

“With cheese?”

“Totally!”

“You can’t say no to cheesy pretzels!” Connie threw out her arms, then placed them back to her sides. “Though I hope we have more time to skate later. It’s fun.”

“As Stevonnie or…?”

Connie took his hand as they exited the rink. “Doesn’t matter. As long as you’re there with me.”