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Can I come over and braid your hair?

Tessa stares at her phone. She swears she’s been having a perfectly normal conversation with Scott, up until now.

Are you back yet? (She was.) How was dinner? (Dinner had been good. They’d gone to a Cajun seafood and steak place and Tessa had had the pecan pie for dessert. She may have told Scott rather a lot about the pie, because pie, and because it’s the first dessert she’s eaten in a month.) How’s your family? (She’d teased Scott, reminding him he’d seen them a few hours ago and that he should have changed his mind and come out with them. Her mom and her sister were great, and by the way, how would Scott feel if they eschewed international competition going forward? Ontario was clearly where it was at.)

Now Scott’s saying he wants to come over and braid her hair. They’ve been in Mississauga for Skate Canada all week, and granted, Tessa’s bone-tired, but she doesn’t even know where to start with that.

I don’t even know where to start with that, she messages.

Scott’s reply is instant. Let me in and I’ll explain?

Tessa walks to the door of her hotel room and unlocks it, staring at her phone the whole time as if somehow this will start making sense. She assumes she’d be doing him a favour if she agrees, but beyond that she’s at a loss.

Scott comes in and flops face down on her bed. He’s still in the fitted sweats he was wearing earlier but he’s changed his t-shirt to one of the old, worn CSOI ones he’s loathe to get rid of. She recognises the small hole in the back, by his hip. She closes and locks the door. Her purse is on top of the nearby dresser and she takes the opportunity to tuck her phone in the side pocket so she doesn’t forget take it to the rink tomorrow. She’s going to want to get pictures with everyone she’s been catching up with this week.

‘I’m in trouble,’ Scott says, voice muffled.

‘I’ll say,’ Tessa says. ‘If you’re drooling on my pillow, we’re going to have words, Moir.’

‘Words, eh,’ Scott says, voice still muffled.

He sits up and makes a show of examining Tessa’s pillow. ‘Drool free,’ he declares. ‘See for yourself, Virtue.’ He tosses the pillow at Tessa, who manages to catch it before it hits her square in the chest.

‘Interesting way to convince me I should do you a favour,’ she says dryly.

Scott winces. ‘Yeah, sorry,’ he says.

She can tell he’s tired too from the way his eyelids take longer to drag open with every blink. He’s holding tension in his shoulders in the way he only does when he’s exhausted and she watches as he starts playing absently with the back of his neck. The muscles in his forearm flex with each dip of his fingers. She looks away. ‘Does this have anything to do with why you changed your mind about coming out with us?’

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘So, can I?’

‘You said you were going to explain,’ Tessa says. She’s standing by the foot of the bed and if their relative positions make this feel like an interrogation, that’s because it is, a little. Her mother and Jordan had been looking forward to spending time with Scott. Tessa had been looking forward to spending time with Scott. Not that she hasn’t already been spending a lot of time with him outside of training, because she has; certainly more time than during their last competitive season three years ago. Back then Tessa had spent most of the time they’d had spare to build the beginnings of a life beyond skating, and Scott had been doing the same thing, but with his girlfriend at the time. She and Scott probably wouldn’t have seen each other at all that year outside of training if it hadn’t been for that TV show they’d agreed to do. Proof that everything has a silver lining, she guesses.

‘Nicole’s been called out to BC for work for a couple days,’ Scott says. ‘She left Friday and she’s not due back til Wednesday.’

Nicole is Scott’s brother’s wife. ‘Oh,’ says Tessa. She’s beginning to see. ‘Ella’s Halloween costume.’

‘Ella’s Halloween costume,’ Scott agrees.

Tessa frowns. ‘You can’t just buy a wig?’

‘Charlie promised.’

‘And Charlie can’t do it?’

‘I owe him a favour,’ Scott explains. ‘About a million favours, actually. He’s called one in.’

He looks at her with imploring eyes, and yeah. He could ask her to do anything for him, probably, and she would.

Tessa glances at her wristwatch. It’s getting late, but it’s only the gala tomorrow. Putting on a good show for the audience doesn’t require the same intense focus as competing does. ‘Fine, yeah, you can practice on me.’

‘You’ve a lifesaver, T,’ Scott says, flashing her smile she knows well. It’s a smile he uses on other people; people he feels he needs to win over for one reason or another. He doesn’t need to use that smile on her.

‘You can cut the charm, Moir, I said yes.’

Scott’s smile falters and she realises abruptly that she must sound snappish. ‘Sorry,’ she mutters. ‘I’m just—’

‘—tired from this whole week? Yeah, I get that,’ Scott says. The shadows under his eyes are noticeable in the harsh overhead light.

‘Sorry,’ she says again, not just because she snapped at Scott, who doesn’t deserve it, but because he’s tired too. There’s nowhere she’d rather be but here: skating again, competing again; and she knows Scott feels the same, but she could do with feeling the hard work they’ve been putting in a little less. She feels like they both could.

‘Hey. It’s okay, T’, Scott says. ‘Let’s leave it to tomorrow, yeah?’

She doesn’t want him to go, is the thing. She feels like she barely saw him the two years they weren’t competing, even though they’d done lots together, really. Shows and interviews and appearances mostly, but still. They’d counted. She’s gotten used to spending all her time with Scott again and it only makes her want to see more of him. She feels at ease when she’s with Scott, at peace; and at the same time like she’s challenging herself, all the time, to be the best person she can be.

‘No, let’s do it tonight,’ she says. ‘I’m curious to see exactly which Princess Leia you’re going to make me look like.’

Scott pulls his phone out of his pocket. ‘Ella wants something called the crown braid?’

Tessa squints at the screen. A young Carrie Fisher is staring at something not captured in the frame, a guarded, almost suspicious, expression on her face. A thick braid circles the top of her head.

‘Pretty,’ Tessa says.

Scott shrugs. ‘I didn’t think it was going to be so complicated, I thought I could do two normal braids and just kind of pin them up.’ He gestures to explain, using hair he doesn’t have. Tessa smiles, charmed by his expressiveness.

‘I found a tutorial online,’ he continues. ‘That’s what I was doing instead of going out, research. There’s more to it than that, apparently.’

‘Yeah, no, that’s a Dutch braid,’ Tessa says. ‘Did you eat?’

She watches as Scott drags his thumb over his screen. ‘Room service,’ he says, sounding distracted. ‘Anyway, I sent you the photo.’

She’s still mildly annoyed that he’d bailed on them at the last minute but glad he at least remembered to eat. ‘Good,’ she says.

Scott looks up from his phone and he must catch something showing on her face. ‘What?’

‘I was looking forward to having dinner with you tonight,’ she admits.

Scott’s expression is half-puzzled, half-pleased. ‘You see me all the time,’ he says, the tinge of a question in his voice.

Tessa shrugs, not quite sure how to explain that it’s somehow not enough. She never wants Scott to feel like he’s not enough.

‘You said you’d come out and then you bailed at the last minute without saying why. I was—’ she stops, because she hates this part; hates admitting that she feels things about people. Even Scott. She starts again, because this is Scott. ‘It made me feel like you didn’t want to spend time with us. With me.’

She knows as she says it that it’s not true, that it can’t be true; but still, that’s what it had felt like. Fuck feeling things, anyway. ‘It upset me,’ she admits. She almost wants to apologise for saying it, but she doesn’t.

‘That wasn’t it at all, Tess,’ he says earnestly. ‘I just kind of—panicked. About Ella. I didn’t ever mean—I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you,’ he promises.

‘I’m beginning to see why you owe everyone all these favours all the time,’ she jokes.

She’s pretty sure that the favour Charlie’s calling in is the result of something far more serious than blowing off a dinner engagement. She knows his brothers held him up when they could, after Sochi. It’s not a very good joke, but Scott still laughs. He always laughs when Tessa’s trying to be funny.

‘We’ll sort it out later,’ Tessa says. ‘You can buy me a piece of pecan pie sometime. And you can always do two braids and pin them up if you can’t get the Dutch braid to work.’

‘Charlie promised Ella a crown braid,’ Scott says glumly. ‘Um, do you mind—can you wet your hair? One of the tutorials I was reading says it’s better to have damp hair.’

‘Right, to control flyways,’ says Tessa.

Scott looks at her speculatively, and she knows what he’s going to ask before he even opens his mouth.

‘I fly back to Montréal tomorrow, remember,’ she says. ‘Or I would.’

‘You’re the best, T,’ Scott says. He doesn’t try to lay on the charm this time. He says it like he means it. She turns and heads to the bathroom so he won’t see the blush heating her cheeks.

The basin of the sink is too small for Tessa’s head to fit under the tap so she uses a hairbrush instead. The ends of her hair are sopping by the time she’s done. She blots the excess water with a towel, fingers shaking, and has to talk herself out of the nerves that have come on so suddenly, for so little reason.

When she gets back to the other room she finds Scott sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing that she can see. He’s moved the chair from the desk to sit in front of him, facing away.

‘You ready?’ Scott asks once she’s hung her towel on the door and sat down. ‘You want a book or TV or anything?’

‘Good thinking,’ says Tessa. She jumps up and grabs the remote. It’s late enough that the news is playing when she turns on the television mounted over the dresser. Tessa knows she’s been up past 11pm in recent memory—they’d gone out to celebrate winning gold at the Autumn Classic only a month ago—but right now doesn’t feel like it. Right now feels like the middle of the night and she’s twelve and doing something illicit. Knowing twelve-year-old Tessa, either reading under the covers with a flashlight or climbing out her window and walking seven city blocks to sit on the fence next to the road to get on to the expressway. She’d loved absorbing the energy of the quiet streets lined with trees, the sky spread overhead like a blanket, and the different energy of headlights and taillights and people to see and places to go. She’d loved knowing she could be asleep in her bed, but wasn’t.

Scott’s phone is halfway across the bed, screen dark. He doesn’t seem like he plans on consulting it. ‘Cocky, aren’t you, Moir.’

‘I, um, memorised the tutorial,’ Scott says. ‘Or I think I did. We’ll see, eh.’ A row of bobby pins still on their stiff piece of card are on the bed next to Scott’s thigh, along with Tessa’s wide-toothed comb. He’s playing with a couple of hair elastics, rolling them over and over between his fingers.

When he finally touches her hair it’s a relief. It’s a balm. He’s gentle, untangling the occasional knot slowly and methodically, and she doesn’t know why she’s faintly surprised. She’s always safe with Scott.

‘I need to get this out of the way for now,’ he says, separating out a section of hair at the front of her head. ‘Are you okay if it goes in front of your face?’

Tessa smiles, amused and a little touched. ‘You forget I get my hair done all the time,’ she says. ‘Here.’ She takes the section of hair from Scott. He passes her an elastic and his fingers drag briefly against hers, warm and electric. ‘You came prepared,’ she says, just for something to say.

‘The only thing that’s gonna keep us from going to Pyeongchang is if Charlie kills me first,’ Scott says.

They’ve been holding their own since returning to competition and Tessa’s certain that if they keep putting in the work, they’ll be at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Taking home gold is their goal; it’s absolutely their goal, but they haven’t been talking about it explicitly. Not recently. Not with each other. Marie and Patrice tell them all the time how great they’re doing, and also that they need to do seven hundred things more to improve. Tessa soaks up their guidance like a sponge. They’re here for so many reasons, and one of them is to win.

Tessa doesn’t want to jinx the feeling she has that it’s going to happen for them. That everything’s going to happen. Maybe that’s why she hasn’t brought up Pyeongchang lately with Scott. They talk about their daily and weekly and monthly goals all the time. They talk about their yearly goals and about all the things they want to do in the short break between this season and the next. They talk about what they miss and about why they’re glad they came back anyway. She knows that in the backs of their minds, all the time, there’s the Olympics.

They haven’t talked about Pyeongchang lately, and it’s good to know that Scott knows that they’re going to make it.

She feels Scott separate the hair below her left ear into sections. He starts braiding, pulling in sections of Tessa’s loose hair as he goes. Sandie Rinaldo drones on in the background, anchoring the news.

‘Can I make a suggestion?’ Tessa says.

‘Sure,’ Scott says. He sounds like he’s only half-focused on what she’s saying, the rest of his attention on her hair or the TV or his own thoughts; Tessa doesn’t know.

‘You need to braid a lot more tightly than that,’ she says.

‘But—’ Scott starts. Tessa can practically hear him stop himself from saying anything further. It’s one of the things Scott doesn’t get to do; not anymore. He doesn’t get to tell her he doesn’t want to hurt her. Not when it’s Tessa’s own body that does that, not Scott.

‘Okay,’ he says instead. He takes out her braid and combs his fingers through her hair, and maybe this was a mistake. Maybe this was a big mistake. She wants Scott’s niece to have a good Halloween, but maybe she should have said no, just this once, when Scott had asked for her help. Scott touches her hair all the time when they skate, but this is different. This is more intimate; more fragile. This is terrifying.

‘Okay, thanks,’ Tessa says, and it’s a dumb thing to say; she doesn’t know why she’s thanking him. His hands have stopped and are resting, warm, on the back of her neck. Her skin is so sensitive she swears she can feel every single one of the grooves dug into the tips of Scott’s fingers.

‘Be right back,’ Scott says. He takes his hands away and she has to bite back a whine at the loss. Instead she holds her hair off her face and watches a story about the upcoming EU-Canada Summit in Brussels. She listens to the sound of running water. When Scott comes back and runs the wet brush through her hair, her hypersensitive neck feels every bristle.

He sets the brush aside and resumes his work on her braid. Maybe saying Scott should work her hair more tightly was another mistake in a long line of mistakes, because he’s actually pulling as he braids, and she can feel it. He’s so close she can feel the heat from his body; she can feel his breath on the back of her neck every time he dips his head and—

‘Tell me if it’s too tight,’ Scott says, and Tessa has to, because she does that now; she tells him anytime the pain is too much. She hates it but she does it anyway. It helps that since they’d trained themselves to re-distribute the tension they’d been putting on their smaller muscles, she’s been in so much less pain. It helps that they’re vigilant about sustaining that initial training.

She nods to let Scott know she agrees, and she shouldn’t have done that; she really should not have done that, because he’s right in the middle of pulling strands of her hair into place when she moves. She moves, and he moves in counterpoint, and she’s sure he doesn’t mean to, but it happens anyway: Scott pulls harder, hard enough that he drags her toward him by her hair. It all happens so fast, but not fast enough that she can’t hear herself horribly, embarrassingly, make a guttural, involuntary noise. She shuts her eyes, mortified. Maybe Scott hadn’t heard, maybe if he had heard he wouldn’t realise—

Scott’s hands have gone still. ‘Tess?’ he asks, his tone curious.

Tessa swallows and manages, somehow, to speak. ‘Just braid my hair, Moir.’

Scott’s laugh is delighted. ‘Virtue. Was that—was that a sex noise?’

Tessa’s facing the opposite direction but she’s still glad for the hair that’s obscuring her face and hiding her from Scott. ‘You don’t know this,’ she warns, invoking their age-old rule. If he doesn’t know this about her—and he won’t, it’s the person asking who decides, that’s how this works—then what’s just happened is off-limits for any and all joking around.

It’s like how Tessa doesn’t know about the time Scott said he knew where he was going and got them lost at their first international competition; when he got angry and threw a rock at a sign neither of them could read and then cried. It’s like how Scott doesn’t know about the time Tessa got bubble gum stuck in her hair and cut it out herself and her hair stuck up all the time at practice and took ages to grow back. Or how Tessa doesn’t know anything about that time back at Arctic Edge where she’d accidentally walked in on something she definitely wasn’t supposed to see—and thinking about that is not going to help Tessa right now, not at all, so she stops.

They tease each other mercilessly about most things, so the list of things they don’t know is pretty small. Most of the things they’ve made off-limits since they’d hit their teens have been sex things. Tessa really, really doesn’t want to have to think about Scott knowing what she sounds like when—

‘Gotcha, Tess,’ Scott says, voice easy. He goes back to braiding her hair. Tessa does breathing exercises until her face cools and her heartrate goes back to normal. If she had to choose one person in the world in front of whom to accidentally make sex noises, it would be Scott, so she guesses this could be worse.

She notices that Scott’s hands have stopped moving. ‘Fuck,’ he mutters. Tessa makes a questioning noise.

‘I started going over the middle strand of hair when I did the crossover instead of under. Not for the whole thing, just the last part,’ he explains. He sounds annoyed with himself.

Tessa has a feeling that Scott wouldn’t see the humour in his use of skating terminology right at this particular moment, so she doesn’t say anything. She feels him fasten an elastic partway through the braid he’s been slowly building. His fingers take out the French braid she hadn’t even noticed he was working, and she’s prepared for his hands in her hair this time, but not for the way his fingers keep combing through her hair after the braid is out. Finally, he starts braiding again, slowly; probably taking the time to do the crossover right. She starts laughing then, only trying to stop when her head is bobbing too much for Scott to continue.

‘What,’ says Scott.

‘“Crossovers”,’ Tessa manages, wheezing. Clearly the breathing exercises she’d done hadn’t gotten rid of all of her earlier tension.

‘You’re hilarious,’ says Scott.

‘No, you are,’ says Tessa.

Scott tugs lightly on the loose part of Tessa’s hair in retaliation. He does it casually, like it’s not at all in reference to what just happened, and she breathes a sigh of relief. They’re going to do this; they’re going to put her misstep behind them.

Scott had pulled gently at her ponytail sometimes when they’d still lived in Canton, as a way of saying bye or hi or hey. He’d stopped, eventually, when she’d asked him to. He’s started doing it occasionally since they’ve come back and she’s found, surprisingly, that she doesn’t mind it. There’s something about how tactile Scott is that makes her feel connected to him, kind of in the same way the complicated handshake they’ve developed over the years makes her feel connected to him. She likes when he runs his hands idly over the ponytail she wears during practice, or casually brushes flyaways from her face. It’s fine that she likes it. It’s not hurting anyone.

The news switches from national to local and Tessa changes the channel so they can watch the London news. For values of watching that involve Tessa peering around the hair hanging in front of her face, anyway. Mostly she listens to a story about volunteer firefighters in Lobo Township.

Scott’s fingers have made it around to the front of Tessa’s head, to just above her right ear, and even though she can’t see it she knows there’s a braid now hugging the top of the back of neck. Scott tells her he’s going to need to work facing her for the rest and guides her hand to his so she can hold her loose hair in place. She stands and Scott shifts the chair she’s been sitting on. When she sits down she has to pull the chair forward and slide her knees between Scott’s so she’s close enough for him to reach her hair. She breathes a sigh of relief when it isn’t awkward. She thought she’d been quiet enough, but the wry twist to Scott’s mouth makes her reconsider. She bites back an apology. She has nothing to apologise for.

She passes her hair back to Scott, careful not to touch his fingers this time, and he begins working the braid across the top of Tessa’s head. She’d thought Scott’s hands at the back of her head had been a lot, but it turns out that was nothing compared to what’s happening right now. There’s still the profound contentment as he touches her; still the stubborn jolt of electricity whenever his fingertips graze her skin or her scalp, but now there’s the added complication of seeing as well as feeling.

She’s this close to Scott all the time when they’re training, but there’s never the chance to slow down long enough to really see. There’s always the next element to practice or the next run through to complete, and even when they’re not training; even when they’re eating or wandering through their new neighbourhood or trying valiantly not to fall asleep in front of Scott’s TV, she doesn’t really feel she can justify just—staring.

She sees Scott all the time, but not like this. Even sitting he’s in motion and she watches, mesmerised, at the way he keeps tilting his head back to keep his hair out of his eyes, exposing his neck; at the way he’s always had of working his mouth and tongue when he’s focusing. She has to stop herself from reaching up and smoothing his hair off his forehead. She has to stop herself from reaching over and tracing her fingertips along his jaw. She doesn’t want to expose herself, or break his concentration.

She would almost prefer awkwardness to this; to his attention on her the same way it is when they’re on the ice, but hitting differently. It’s easy for her to focus on their goals when they’re working. Here, though—

She shakes her head without thinking about it, and Scott pauses; tries to catch her eye. She looks away, embarrassed to have been caught staring. Scott’s doesn’t resume braiding her hair and when she looks at him he’s still watching her, a question in his eyes.

‘Just braid my hair, Moir,’ she whispers.

She thinks his eyes flick to her lips for a second before his fingers start moving again in her hair. He’s squarely in front of her now, the veins on the inside of his forearms so close she could tilt her chin and put her mouth on the softness there, lick lines on his skin all the way back to his heart. She closes her eyes, and it helps, but she can smell Scott, not even his soap or shampoo or deodorant or aftershave, but Scott, and she can feel his breath on her face and the light pressure of his knees against her knees, and always, always his hands, so goddamn careful, in her hair.

She feels him weave in the last strands he’s picked up from in front of her left ear and then there’s just her loose leftover hair to be dealt with. It seems to her that this takes Scott forever, even though all that’s left to do is a plain braid; nothing fancy or even complicated. Finally he’s tying off her hair with an elastic and curving the braid he’s just finished alongside the braid already woven into the back of her head. She feels the cool metal of bobby pins slide against her scalp.

‘All done,’ he says.

She opens her eyes and all she can see is Scott: the curve of his lips, the kind slope of his nose, the sweep of his eyelashes across his cheeks as he blinks. His expression is serious. His eyes meet hers for a split second, and then they’re focusing somewhere behind her. The television is still on. She bites down on the urge to cup her hand to his cheek; bring his attention back to her. She can see his pulse beat under his skin, next to his jaw, and she has to bite back another urge to kiss him there, just lightly; just so she can feel him. Her mouth is so dry she has to make a point of swallowing before she speaks. ‘What do you think?’

His eyes meet hers. ‘What if I don’t want to forget,’ he says, and there’s something strange in his voice; something she can’t pin down.

She knows exactly what he means. She knows he means more than the needy, embarrassing noises he’d pulled from her earlier. There’s a part of her that’s been expecting to have this conversation, in some form, for a while now. An unspoken tension has filled what space exists between them ever since they came back. It hasn’t been unpleasant, and it hasn’t affected their work, so she hasn’t pushed for more. She hasn’t wanted to risk what they have. And they had said they would focus on their skating until Pyeongchang, to the exclusion of everything else. They had said no distractions.

‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea,’ she says softly.

He nods, and it’s almost imperceptible, except that she’s watching. It seems as if her response is what he was expecting. Tessa’s both relieved and—oddly disappointed. She hates disappointing Scott. She tells herself that’s not what this is. She’s projecting. She’s prioritising the agreement they’d made, is all. They’d both decided. No distractions.

‘Do you want to forget,’ says Scott, and his voice—

She closes her eyes, recognising the longing in his voice for what it is. She doesn’t want to forget. She wants to know that Scott remembers her no matter what. She wants him to think only of her; for them to weave their lives off the ice together as firmly as the crown braid is woven to her scalp. But Scott is Scott—he’s almost always had someone, some other girl, almost the entire time Tessa’s known him; and Tessa is Tessa—she needs to put everything she has into a relationship; otherwise how can it possibly work? Just look at her parents, and how that had turned out. She can’t say yes to Scott; she can’t say that she wants to forget, but she can’t say no either.

‘Scott,’ she says, willing him to understand without her having to explain.

‘Tess,’ he says back, not giving her an out.

He keeps looking right at her, giving her space but clearly wanting an answer. He deserves an answer. He deserves everything. Certainly, he deserves more than she can give him right now. She can give him friendship and partnership and she can pretend he doesn’t already have her whole heart just so she can give him that too but—she can’t give him anything more than what she’s giving him right now. She can’t.

‘Not—not forever,’ Tessa says. ‘Just—’

She doesn’t want to say Pyeongchang because it seems like it’s so far away, but Scott’s being honest with her; he’s not ignoring the tension they both know is there, and she needs to be honest with him.

‘Pyeongchang,’ she says.

Tessa studies his face for any sign that he doesn’t agree. She doesn’t know if she’d change her mind if he doesn’t, but she wants to know. Finally, he nods; half to himself, she thinks. ‘You’re right,’ he says. ‘You usually are.’

She pulls him to her. ‘Not always,’ she whispers.

‘Don’t start being wrong now,’ he whispers back, and she can’t help the laugh that startles out of her. Scott’s forehead rests against her own and she feels more than hears his answering laugh; the vibration pulsing between them.

‘I love you, Tess,’ he says.

‘I love you too,’ she says. It doesn’t seem like enough. She takes his hand in hers and brings it to her. Scott hasn’t taken his eyes off her and she thinks for a wild moment about just kissing him right here on the inside of his wrist; sucking a mark into his skin and not stopping. His t-shirt hangs loosely and it would be so easy to tug it down at the neckline and bring her mouth down on Scott, everywhere on Scott. She tries to focus instead on his hand, suspended between them. She kisses his knuckles. It feels formal, and a bit silly, but somehow necessary. She sets his hand gently on his thigh and her eyes are drawn again to his face, searching. He can’t hide from her; not anymore. Not since they’ve come back together.

He sees her looking and smiles. ‘Don’t—’ she says, then stops. Don’t pretend you’re okay with this when you’re not. Don’t lie to me.

She smooths his hair back from his forehead, over and over. ‘Don’t,’ she says again.

‘I just need time, Tess, is all,’ he says, softly.

She nods, not trusting herself to push words past the tears suddenly clogging her throat.

She inches backwards in her chair until there’s enough room to stand. She runs her fingers over the back of her head, exploring Scott’s handiwork. ‘I’m going to check it out,’ she says. ‘Can’t wait to see for myself what you did with my hair, Moir.’

Scott’s still sitting on the edge of the bed, looking up at her. ‘You want space?’ he asks. He sounds almost, but not quite, like himself again.

Tessa thinks about it. She feels like she’s fallen hard on the ice. She feels like she’s had the wind knocked out of her, even though she knew it was coming; even though she did it to herself. The thing about Scott is, he always understands what she’s feeling. There’s no one else she’d rather be with right now, not even herself. ‘Nope,’ she decides. ‘You?’

‘Nah, I’m good, Virtch.’

She reaches out a hand and pulls him off the bed. His fingers weave themselves with hers, reassuring and warm.

 

Tessa weaves her fingers with Scott’s as they stand side by side in front of the bathroom mirror. Her crown braid is fuzzy with flyaways, and lopsided, and quite possibly the most charming thing she’s seen in her entire life.

‘It looks great,’ she says.

‘Really?’ Scott asks.

‘You want constructive criticism right now? Seriously?’

In the mirror she sees Scott run a hand through his own hair. ‘Yeah, probably not,’ he says. ‘There’s kind of a weird horizontal part at the back, though,’ he says. ‘It didn’t look like that in the pictures.’

‘When you pull the braid tight just make sure it’s sitting over the roots of the hair that’s furthest from Ella’s forehead,’ says Tessa. ‘It’s pretty easy to fix. It’ll keep the braid at the front from being so close to her forehead, too.’

Scott repeats her instructions back to her, frowning in concentration. She squeezes his arm. ‘I’ll send you a link,’ she says. Impulsively, because she’s been thinking about it, she adds, ‘You’re going to be such a good dad.’

A smile flickers across mirror Scott’s face and disappears. ‘Do you—’ he starts, and she can’t for one second let Scott think he wouldn’t be. Scott’s kind and gentle with everyone and especially with children. His nieces and nephews adore him. Tessa’s nieces and nephews adore him. He’s gone to such great lengths already to make Ella’s Halloween a special one. He’s going to be a great dad.

‘—Yes,’ she says. Mirror Scott presses a kiss to mirror Tessa’s head. ‘I think about it sometimes,’ Scott confesses. His voice is muffled in her hair. ‘Children.’

She leans her head against Scott’s shoulder. She knows Scott wants kids. He’s talked about it before: what he wants to do after. After Pyeongchang. After Tessa, maybe. But—maybe not. After tonight, maybe not.

After a long moment Scott pulls away. ‘I should—’

Tessa puts an impulsive arm around his waist.

‘Tess,’ he says, quiet and strained. She pulls away, not wanting to keep him anywhere he doesn’t want to be.

‘No, it’s okay,’ he says. ‘Tess—it’s okay.' He touches her wrist and when she doesn’t pull away, he pulls her into his side. She buries her face in his shoulder. He glides his palm gently over her braid.

‘It’s done now, you don’t need to worry about messing it up,’ she mumbles.

‘Are you kidding?’ he says. ‘It’s a work of art. It’s gonna be my legacy. Three-time Olympic medallist who? I only know Scott Moir, hairstylist to the stars.’

She laughs and wipes at her face with the sleeve of his t-shirt.

‘Careful, Virtch. You’re gonna wanna keep that as a souvenir.’

She meets his eyes in the mirror. ‘My hair or your shirt?’

Scott pretends to consider this. ‘Both,’ he says.

She laughs, and Scott smiles. They’re silent for a moment. Tessa in the mirror wraps a tentative arm around Scott. Mirror Scott leans heavily into Tessa’s touch. ‘What about your children,’ Tessa asks, softly,

She expects Scott to make a joke, maybe something about the hair of children of hairstylists, but instead he just shrugs.

‘Hey,’ she says. ‘We settled this. Your children are going to be so loved, Scott. They’re going to be cherished. You’re going to be an amazing father.’

‘Don’t—’ he starts.

‘Don’t what,’ she says, when he doesn’t continue.

‘You can’t know that.’

‘I can,’ she insists.

‘World-famous hairstylist teams up with world-famous psychic,’ Scott jokes.

Tessa doesn’t laugh. She’s pretty sure she knows what they’re not talking about. She lets herself continue being honest with Scott. She makes herself open her mouth and just start talking. ‘I think about it too,’ she confesses. ‘I think about them, I mean. Um—children.’

Scott steps in front of her then, real Scott replacing mirror Scott in Tessa’s line of sight. He wraps his arms around her waist and she wraps her arms around his neck, and it’s the two of them, of course it’s the two of them. It’s the two of them and at the same time it’s only Tessa, until that moment when something in her flounders and then rights itself, and her lungs are expanding and contracting in tandem with Scott’s lungs, and the two of them are breathing as one; Tessa’s whole world made safe as houses. ‘I think about our children,’ Tessa says, into the hollow of Scott’s throat, and it’s the most scary thing she’s ever said to him, and the least scary.

He hugs her tightly for a moment before releasing her only enough so that she can breathe. She doesn’t know what she expected: for Scott to be surprised, for their rhythm to falter, maybe, but he keeps matching her breathing the entire time, as if all she’s done is confirmed something he already knows. ‘I do too,’ Scott says, and yeah, now that he’s said it out loud, Tessa realises she knows it’s true, even though he’s never said it before.

Things are different between them since they’ve come back. She doesn’t know why, but she thinks she knows how. They’re less afraid to let each other know how much they mean to each other. They’re less afraid to be honest with each other, even when they’re saying something the other person doesn’t want to hear. They’re more afraid of losing each other. Or Tessa is, anyway.

They stay inside their world, just the two of them and their shared, imagined future, until Tessa yawns and breaks the spell, and their rhythm.

‘I should go,’ Scott says. ‘I’m tired.’

‘You mean, I’m tired,’ says Tessa.

‘Yeah,’ Scott says. He runs a finger lightly over the front of her crown braid. She closes her eyes and leans into his touch, just for a moment. Then she opens her eyes. ‘See you at breakfast?’

Scott snorts.

‘Okay, brunch,’ she counters.

‘Brunch,’ he agrees. ‘Except, shit—we’ve got the practice, yeah? For the gala?’

Tessa makes a face. They do, in fact, have the practice for the gala.

‘Easy come, easy go, Virtch,’ Scott jokes. His eyes go serious and his face softens. His voice softens. ‘Tessa. Tess. T.’

‘Goofball,’ she says, fondly. ‘Scott.’

She kisses him on his cheek, as she often does; and he kisses her on her cheek, as he often does, and none of it feels any different than usual. She’s so relieved. They’re going to be okay.

 

They’re going to be okay, but she can’t stop thinking about it while she gets ready for bed: what they said to each other. It’s huge, in the same way committing themselves to competing again was huge. At the same time, it seems almost—anticlimactic. Like they’re dusting off an old exhibition routine; something they already know; something they could perform in their sleep.

She messages her mom. Hey, is it strange that Scott and I talked about having kids together and we haven’t even really kissed?

She doesn’t realise it’s after midnight until her screen lights up with a new message. She winces.

Please tell me you’re not pregnant, is her mother’s response.

Tessa rolls her eyes. You could just say, ‘You woke me up and I don’t appreciate it’.

Her mother messages back immediately. You woke me up and I don’t appreciate it. Also, you know you can call me any time. Day or night.

Tessa knows. She knows how lucky she is in her mother. Another message appears on her screen. Also. Honey. It’s you and Scott.

And that’s not really an answer, except that maybe it is. She doesn’t know if it’s strange, what she and Scott have, but maybe she doesn’t need to know. Maybe it doesn’t matter even if it is strange. Maybe she and Scott can just keep skating and figure everything else out later.

Her phone lights up again, startling her from her reverie. Her mom’s asking if she’s okay. Tessa has no idea, but she tells her she is and that she’ll see her tomorrow, after the gala.

What she and Scott have is all she knows, but that doesn’t stop her second-guessing. Talking to Scott had felt right, though. They don’t have to do things in the expected order. They haven’t done things in the expected order. Scott had had three Olympic medals before he’d gotten his GED. Tessa had had three Olympic medals before she’d been able to even halfway manage her pain. They’d skated together for a year and change before they’d started actually talking to each other.

It’s not until she’s brushing her teeth that she remembers to take pictures of her hair. She manages a self-deprecating but flattering photo on her sixth try and deletes most of the duds. She keeps the photo where she’s somehow got one eye open and one closed because Scott will think it’s hilarious. She should have remembered to ask Scott to take pictures before he went, really. Most of the time she can’t help but smile, looking at Scott. Asking him to take a couple of photos she could post to Instagram wouldn’t have been too much to ask.

She sits down heavily on the edge of the bed. Maybe all of this is too much to ask of Scott. Maybe it’s too much that she wants to press pause on what they have right now while at the same time playing out the future she so desperately wants. Maybe it’s too much to expect him to be okay. She’s not convinced she’s okay. She’d looked happy and sad and wistful and exhausted in the photos she’d just deleted: all her emotions jumbled together on her face for anyone to see.

She tells herself that having everything in the open now will make it somehow better; somehow easier. Goals make everything manageable. Scott makes everything manageable. She hopes he doesn’t think this is going to be easy for her; she hopes he knows how much—

She takes a photo meant only for Scott, one where he can see everything that’s on her face and in her heart. She looks like she doesn’t know whether she wants to laugh or cry, but she thinks that’s okay. She thinks Scott will understand.

Then she takes another photo of herself, one where she tries to capture the feeling Carrie Fisher conveys in the still Scott had shown her earlier. Looking at it again, Leia looks guarded, yes; suspicious, yes; but also like she’s allowing herself maybe, just maybe, to hope.

Leia has inspired so many people, especially girls and women. She remembers running around with Jordan when they were little, both of them pretending to be Princess Leia because Princess Leia was the best and neither of them wanted to be anyone else. Her mind is swirling too much for her to remember a single thing Leia ever said, so she scrolls through the quotes section on IMdB for Return of the Jedi. The selection she has to choose from is overwhelming and in the end, she picks the first quote she sees that speaks to where she is right now. It’s not overtly inspirational but she’s always liked the particular scene it’s from: Han and Leia in a strategy session to destroy the Death Star, surrounded by people but taking a quiet moment to appreciate and support each other.

She drafts an Instagram post with the flattering photo and the one where she’s channelling Carrie Fisher and captions it, ‘General, you can count me in.’ After a moment she adds ‘Crown braid credit: @scottmoir14,’ and hits share.

She sends Scott the two photos she’s shared on Instagram plus the other two photos. Scott sends her back a thumbs up emoji and a zzzz emoji almost immediately. She’s smiling and setting her phone on the table next to the bed when another message appears, this one just a photo. Scott’s hair is standing up off his forehead and he’s squinting blearily at the camera. She thinks he must have been in bed with the lights out when she messaged. She can’t really see his eyes, but his jaw is soft, and he’s smiling.

 

He’s smiling when she approaches their usual table the next morning. She had kept her crown braid in while she’d been sleeping, and she’s kept it in this morning. It’s even more lopsided than it had been the night before, and the hair surrounding it is unkempt cloud, but she doesn’t care. She thinks Scott’s smile grows wider when he notices, but it’s brief, slipping from his face far too easily. He looks withdrawn and exhausted. Her heart lurches at the sight of him. ‘Talk to me,’ she says. It’s not a request.

It’s supposed to be another unseasonably mild day, but Scott goes up to their rooms to get their jackets and Tessa’s scarf anyway. She gets them each a croissant and hot drink to go from the coffee shop tucked to one side of the lobby. She places the paper bag with the croissants carefully in the pocket of her jacket and wraps her scarf around her neck while Scott holds their cups. It’s chilly when they step outside and she’s glad to have something warm she can wrap her fingers around. She tilts her head, picking a direction at random, and Scott nods in agreement.

‘Talk to me,’ she says again, more gently, once they’ve been walking long enough to have warmed up. She’s pretty sure last night’s plan to keep skating and figure out things later was, in retrospect, naïve. She’s pretty sure they’re going to need to figure some things out right now.

Instead of answering, Scott unzips his jacket one-handed: a long impatient pull. It’s shaping up to be as warm as the forecast promised and Tessa adjusts her scarf so it loops around her neck only once instead of three times. There’s probably a correlation between mild weather and the number of trick-or-treaters out and about. She makes a mental note to buy a couple more bags of candy for Monday.

Scott takes a swig of coffee. She watches him swallow, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. When he finally speaks it’s slowly and carefully, like he’s been maybe sitting with his thoughts for a while. Like he’s been maybe on his own with whatever’s going on in his head for far too long. ‘You looked sad in that picture you sent me last night,’ he says.

Tessa considers this. ‘I am sad,’ she admits.

He stops in his tracks and she stops too, clutching the paper sleeve on her cup of coffee laced with hot chocolate.

‘Part of me—a huge part of me, Scott, you have no idea—wants to say fuck everything but this.’ She gestures between them, forgetting about her drink. It goes flying, most of it ending up on Scott’s t-shirt, obscuring the already obscure design scrawled across his stomach.

‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ she repeats, flustered. She knows Scott won’t care, but she cares that she’s flung her coffee all over him. At least it’s cooled enough to not be scalding, judging by the liquid that splashed on her hand.

She waves away Scott’s concern; it doesn’t hurt. She’s more worried about him but he’s fine, he says. She steps back, hands useless at her sides, while Scott wrings coffee out of his shirt. It pulls tight at his shoulders and chest, accentuating the strong lines of his upper body. She looks away, tired of being reminded of what they can’t have.

‘Tessa,’ Scott says gently, and she realises she’s started apologising again. She stops. She picks her empty cup off the ground but there aren’t any garbage cans in sight, so Scott slips it over his cup. It’s not really an area of the city make for walking. To her left there’s a plaza containing a row of chains and big box stores; the huge parking lot between the stores and where they’re standing already half full. To her right there’s six lanes of traffic and then another parking lot and another row of stores. The sidewalk here feels like an afterthought. They’re the only pedestrians in sight.

‘Tessa,’ Scott says again. She looks at him. ‘I have some idea,’ he says, ruefully.

‘It wouldn’t be us,’ she says. ‘It wouldn’t be me.’

‘It wouldn’t,’ he agrees.

‘I’m not—I can’t do both,’ Tessa says. They start walking again, Tessa leaning into Scott so she can hear him over the Saturday morning traffic.

‘I respect that,’ Scott says.

‘I know you do,’ Tessa says.

Scott’s quiet, but she can tell there’s still something on his mind. ‘Spill,’ she says, bumping her hip into his.

He doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t say anything, and they must be halfway to Etobicoke by now. She stops, and Scott stops with her. ‘Or, you know, don’t,’ says Tessa. ‘You don’t have to say anything you don’t—'

‘—You weren’t just saying that to make up for not wanting to—’

‘—No,’ says Tessa. ‘Scott; God, no. And it’s not that I don’t want to, Scott.’

‘I’m flattered,’ Scott says, dryly.

‘You should be,’ Tessa says, just as dryly.

‘Yeah, well, Virtch,’ he says.

She has no choice but to respond with ‘Yeah, well, Moir,’ and she can practically feel the tension between them easing, just for a moment; just on the strength of their familiar ribbing. There’s nothing else to say, really, so she just—stands there, uselessly, until Scott takes her hand and they start walking, fingers laced together, back the way they came. She can tell from the way his thumb worries the inside of her wrist that he can feel the tension settle again, same as Tessa.

‘Will you—’ Scott starts.

Tessa waits, but he doesn’t finish. Instead her offers her his drink. She takes a sip of lukewarm coffee and goes to hand him back his cup. It takes her half a step to realise Scott’s not with her anymore. He’s standing in the middle of the sidewalk, hands shoved in his jacket pockets. He’s looking everywhere but at her.

‘It’s going to be me, though,’ he says. ‘After Pyeongchang, it’s me, you won’t—it’s me, right?’

He sounds as uncertain as she’s ever heard. Tessa thinks her heart might hurt more in this moment than it did even in Sochi, where they’d tried so hard, together, and it still hadn’t been enough.

‘Yes,’ she says. There’s a ledge separating the parking lot from the sidewalk and she sets Scott’s cup on it so she can hug him properly. He falls against her, clinging, but she clings to him just as tightly, relieved that this is something she can do. Of course it’s Scott. It’s always been Scott.

There’s a bus stop with a bench advertising local realtors a few metres ahead. They brush away the leaves that have fallen from a nearby red maple, young and spindly enough that it’s staked to a post sticking up from a weedy circle of grass. The chill from the concrete seeps through Tessa’s leggings when they sit.

‘It’s you for me too, T,’ Scott says. He hasn’t let go of her hand since they’d started walking again, even when they’d been clearing dusty leaves from the bench. He takes his hand away now, unconsciously, she thinks. Runs both hands through his hair. Looks away. ‘It’s always been you,’ he says, lowly.

Tessa doesn’t know if she believes that. Scott’s always had someone else. At the same time, she does believe it. There’s something between them that’s been inexplicably theirs for a long time now, even if they’ve never tried to quantify it quite like this before.

The leaves littering the ground are deep purple, soft in the middle but starting to dry and curl everywhere else. Tessa picks up a leaf and places it on her knee; smoothes the edges. It’s not something she hasn’t already guessed; Scott being in love with her. She’s guessed, but she’s so pleased it’s true that she doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know what to say that she hasn’t already said, and anyway, Scott’s miles away from where they’re sitting, watching traffic go by. For all that he’s more comfortable sharing his emotions than Tessa, she knows he gets overwhelmed too. She traces the veins on the leaf with her fingertip, giving him space.

She’s tempted to keep the leaf, but that would be silly. It belongs out here with its fellows. She bends to place it gently on the ground and when she straightens her stomach growls. She digs the forgotten croissants out of her pocket and offers Scott the one that’s less squashed. Neither of them have eaten and he’s probably as hungry as she is.

They sit eating the flaking croissants in an almost comfortable silence. They’re joined thigh to shoulder, leaning into each other, and that’s comfortable too. When she’s done eating Tessa shakes the crumbs off her jacket and goes back to get the paper cup she’d left on the ledge. The coffee’s gone cold so she tips it into the dirt underneath the bench, avoiding the leaves. She folds the paper bag from the croissants into a tight square and tucks it inside the cup, which she then crushes and puts in the pocket of her jacket. She’ll recycle it properly when they’re back at the hotel. She checks her watch. They still have time before they need to be anywhere. Not a lot of time, but some.

‘You should have come over,’ she says. ‘Last night. Instead of worrying, I mean.’

She feels Scott shrug.

‘Next time come over,’ she insists. ‘Promise you will.’ She doesn’t want to think of Scott alone in the dark.  Not when she could help.

Scott’s silent a for a long moment. ‘What am I promising?’ he asks.

She glances at him. He’s staring out at the road in front of them. The light on the corner changes and car after car swings past, heading into the parking lot. Tessa waits for a break in traffic.

‘Promise you’ll come over if you want,’ she says.

His eyes meet hers, just for a second. ‘I don’t think that’s a very good idea,’ he says.

‘Why not?’

He shrugs. An elderly woman with a wheeled shopping cart trundles by and gives them a kind, impersonal smile. Tessa makes herself smile back, then turns to Scott. ‘Why not?’ she presses.

‘Because I’d want to be over all the time,’ he says, finally.

She swears her shoulders drop ten metres in sheer relief. Scott puts a steadying hand to her back and she can feel the warmth of his palm through her thin jacket. She doesn’t want what they have to end, either. She doesn’t want to have to give up all the time they’ve been spending with each other when they’re not training. Things have been so much better between them since they’d made the decision to come back. There’s no one she’d rather be with; no one she’d rather talk with. She loves the time they’ve been spending together.

She’d spend the rest of her life with Scott, if she could.

‘That’s okay,’ she says slowly, testing something out. She straightens, Scott’s hand sliding off her back and coming round to rest on her thigh. He turns to look at her, curious, and she know he must hear the same strangeness in her voice that she does. She sucks in a breath of autumn air; keeps talking so that her brain doesn’t have a chance to catch up with her mouth. It’s a feeling she’s testing, not a thought. ‘Lots of people practically live together before—before they get married. Promise you’ll come over if you want to.’

She’s managed to surprise him. He stares at her, slack-jawed, but she’s not taking it back. He can say no, and they can go from there, but Tessa’s done pretending she doesn’t love Scott as much as it’s possible to love another person. Not when she knows he loves her back.

When Scott finally speaks, he sounds a little desperate; a little stunned. ‘I want to,’ he says. ‘I promise, T. You won’t be able to get rid of me, I’ll be yours for life. You’ll get sick of me.’

‘I couldn’t,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t ever.’ She curls into Scott’s side, rests her head on his shoulder; uses Scott’s body to shelter herself from what they’ve said. It’s not that she doesn’t want it, it’s not that she’s not humbled and thrilled that he wants it too, it’s just so—huge. It was huge last night but today it feels out of control.

‘Hey,’ Scott says. He shifts and she can see his face, open and shining.

‘Hey, she says, and she can hear how uncertain her voice sounds.

His expression dims, just a little, and she shakes her head, trying to tell him it’s not him; it’s her.

‘It’s okay, Tess,’ he says. ‘We’ll figure it out. We’ve got time. Together, okay?’

She breathes in, and tries to believe it. She breathes out, and it’s the two of them. Tessa and Scott. Scott and Tessa. ‘Together,’ she agrees.

The lingering tension between them twists and sharpens and Scott reaches for her, runs a hand gently along the top of her braid. He’s so close. ‘Can I kiss you,’ he says, quietly, his thumb tracing her jaw.

She wants this. Right now she wants it more than she’s ever wanted anything. There’s something thudding under her palm and she recognises it as Scott’s heartbeat. She’s lifted her hand, she realises, and is pressing it against the front of Scott’s damp shirt. She keeps her hand on his chest as she looks into his eyes. They’re warm and soft; a familiar mix of too many colours to name. They grow darker as she watches; and that’s familiar, too. Not knowing whether Scott wants her back hasn’t ever been her problem. She lowers her eyes to Scott’s lips. His mouth is moving, saying words that she can’t seem to hear over the sound of his heartbeat in her head. She shakes her head; tries to focus. Breathes in, and Scott is here. Breathes out, and Scott is still here.

‘—I can wait, Tess,’ he’s saying. ‘I can wait for everything, Tessa, I just—’

‘—Please,’ she whispers. She drags him to her with a hand twisted in his shirt. She means the kiss to be a promise, and it is, it will be, but what starts slow and soft turns suddenly, surprisingly desperate. She’s pulling at Scott’s hair before she realises she’s doing it; when she does, she doesn’t stop, just tries to be more careful. Scott’s hands are under Tessa’s jacket, under her t-shirt, digging into the muscles just above her waistband. Everything Tessa hasn’t figured out how to say and everything Scott isn’t saying either is still between them, but the tension feels different. Less cerebral; more corporeal. Scott’s mouth is pliant under hers and she pushes further, dragging her tongue against every part of him she can reach. She pulls off so she can breathe and he whimpers, bereft, and god, that wasn’t something she knew she needed to hear until right now. His hands at her hips tighten before letting go altogether. She whines in protest but then he’s with her again, or almost. His hands hover at the back of the neck; she can feel them, and then she feels one hand rest heavy on her head; feels his fingers spread and push against her scalp and up under her braid. ‘C’mon, Tess, let me hear you,’ Scott mutters, right in her ear. There can’t be much give at all but she feels him curl his fingers around what’s afforded him and yank, and she feels that in her core. A moan scrapes from her throat, and Scott smiles against her mouth, satisfied, and oh, that’s a smile she wants to feel again and again.

She doesn’t want to stop but she’s dimly aware that if they keep this up they’re going to scandalise all the people sitting impatiently in their cars, waiting for the light to change. Assuming they haven’t already. She’s aware they’re going to have to go back and get ready for the gala or they’ll be late. Tess mouths this last realisation against Scott’s jaw, fascinated by the way she can feel his groan of disappointment flutter underneath his skin before he pulls away. He can’t go very far until he extracts his fingers from her hair; he does this, carefully, their faces so close together their foreheads nearly touch. Impulsively, she kisses the freckle under his left eye.

She makes herself put some distance between them on the bench. Scott’s breathing takes a long time to become less ragged and its comforting, somehow, to know that they’re in this together. She’d felt at least one bobby pin come loose and fly away when Scott had his hands in her hair, and she feels around on the ground by their feet until she finds it. She sticks the purple maple leaf she picks up into the pocket of her jacket for safekeeping and sticks the bobby pin back in her hair.

She pushes the rest of the bobby pins that came loose back into place and waits for her heartbeat to slow to something sustainable. She waits for her blood to cool and her nerves to stop tingling. It’s hard, because Scott won’t stop smiling at her, not just with his mouth and his eyes and his whole face, always so expressive, but almost, she thinks, with his whole body; with the way he curves toward her even from half a metre away. She knows she’s smiling back; she can feel it in the curve of her own mouth. She can see it in the way Scott’s eyes soften as he looks at her. She wants to sit on her hands to keep herself from reaching again for him. Her compromise with herself is to hold his hand the whole way back to the hotel. She lets go only at the last possible moment, so Scott can get changed.

 

She waits, too, until the last possible moment to take her hair out its crown braid. She’s outside the women’s dressing room, lifting a hand to her head to start taking out pins, when Scott asks her to wait. He takes a picture of Tessa in her deep purple exhibition costume with the cinderblock wall as backdrop. She feels a smile split her face at nothing more than Scott fiddling with his camera settings. His eyebrows furrow like he’s never seen a phone before in his life and when he looks at her just before he takes the picture, wonder in his eyes, it’s for all the world like he’s never seen her before, either.

Scott kisses her braid when he shows her the picture; slides his hand under the spaghetti straps on her dress so his palm is flush with her back; whispers into the skin at her shoulder than he’ll wait for her forever.

He sends her the picture while she’s waiting to board her flight back to Montréal. She doesn’t share it with anyone. She’ll send it to her mother and sister later, but for now she clicks on the heart at the bottom of her screen and adds it to her favourites. At twenty-seven she already has a lifetime’s worth of memories; she’s been so incredibly lucky, but nothing makes her feel luckier than today.

Her braid is fuzzy and lopsided in the photograph and so is the rest of her: the sequins on her costume blurred beyond recognition; her whole body at an angle because Scott had caught her unable to keep still. He’d caught her moving; shimmying; making the fringe on her costume fly. He’s captured her looking straight at him, smiling as wide as she knows how, promising him everything.

Right now there’s nothing she wants to remember more than this.

//