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Alexis, as it turns out, is a third. She’s not a strategist or a leader like a skip has to be, not quite, but neither does she have the light touch and gentle kiss of a lead rock: she’s the one who sees a fucked up situation, nods to herself, and barrels her way through it.

Ronnie, who skips for their team, sees immediately what Alexis, even untrained, can do for them, the firm and uncompromising takeout shots that Alexis can throw to clear the way for Ronnie’s rocks afterwards. It’s a quick decision for Stevie, too, who throws lead and who loves the first volley the best, the clear field, the sweet satisfaction of pulling one rock right into the center of the house and another into place as a guard in front of it. It takes longer to convince Twyla, their flexible, all-over-the-place second, to accept that Alexis isn’t coming for her spot, but eventually even Twyla sees that Alexis is meant for the brave move, the show of force, the rare deft draw that she can accomplish but doesn’t prefer to the clear resounding crack of her rock crashing through the other team’s defenses.

Twyla loves throwing guards, shoring up protections for Stevie’s vulnerable draws, crowding the field with staunch protection: Alexis, by contrast, is there to replace the other team’s rocks with her own, taking up space and staking her claim.

It doesn’t start like that, though.

*

It starts because Alexis is avoiding Ted, who has been, like, painfully nice and polite to her ever since he got back from the Galapagos? Even though they broke up and she left him there on his own? And it’s too much to really deal with when your ex-boyfriend of three ex-boyfriendings smiles at you and asks you how your day is going. Alexis has broken up with people multiple times before, but none of them loved her, and she didn’t love any of them, and absolutely zero of them were ever this nice to her when they were broken up.

She would never say it out loud, but Ted’s her first grownup breakup. It hurts like hell, actually. Like Mutt, but worse, because with Mutt, they realized they weren’t in love. With Ted, she still loves him, and she’s pretty sure he still loves her, but.

But. It didn’t work, between them. They figured that out, together, like adults: it wasn’t going to work. In a way, Alexis feels good about that. About knowing enough to know that.

In another way, she’s not so mature that she’s not going to duck into the nearest doorway when she sees Ted coming down the street.

In this case, the door she ducked into is part of some huge building that Alexis has never paid any attention to before, some concrete monstrosity that looks like a warehouse for shady drug deals or maybe a really gross German techno club. But as she stumbles in, she’s assaulted by a wave of noise, vaguely familiar, unlike anything else in the world, loud and crashing, echoing, and . . . cold. The noise is, somehow, cold. The air is cold. Not as cold as outside, but not what you’d expect from a Canadian building in December.

She blinks, and takes in the scene.

Curling. Curling is . . . going on.

All of a sudden, she feels a hand on her arm, gripping her tight and pulling her along, and she stumbles forward in her cute lil white Aquatalia ankle boots, blinking and thinking again about those shady warehouse drug deals.

“So here she is,” the person who grabbed her is saying, loudly. Alexis turns and realizes that it’s Ronnie, who Mom works with on Council, all butch and sweet in some desperately clashing flannels. “Alexis is our third.”

Getting her bearings, she recognizes more people around her: Twyla and Stevie standing with Ronnie, and Patrick, standing across from them, on the ice, chewing a piece of gum. He’s all cute in a cozy cable-knit sweater and pants that actually do his thighs some favours for once, and God, Alexis tries not to think about it too much, but David really scored there.

“Alexis is your third,” Patrick says, in a drawl, like it’s, whatever, totally impossible or something. Alexis shakes her hair back off her shoulder and narrows her eyes.

“That’s right,” Ronnie claims, pretty boldly? Given that she’s lying so, so hard.

“She’s been training with us for weeks,” Stevie puts in, in that super adorable voice that she uses when she needs to lie. Stevie is maybe the worst liar Alexis has ever met. It makes her super attractive, honestly.

“Uh-huh,” Patrick says. “And she’s gonna curl in that outfit?”

“Obviously, I have to change,” Alexis says, using her fingers to flick her hair back in annoyance. Twyla gives her a startled glance, like she didn’t expect Alexis to pick up on the deception, but maybe it’s because Twyla isn’t often called upon to suddenly play a major role in a large-scale confidence game to like, defraud a major pharmaceutical corporation for millions, or whatever. “I’m sorry for being late but I was unavoidably delayed.” She stomps one foot and meets Patrick’s eyes. Alexis, unlike Stevie, is an excellent liar.

Patrick’s eyebrows go up, and he chews his gum, and he turns and pushes off on the ice, gliding along for a few seconds before pushing off again. Really, those pants are doing him all kinds of favours. Maybe David’s dressing him these days. Alexis should ask about that.

“Gee, thanks, Alexis,” Twyla says, earnestly, in a way that she obviously cutely thinks is sotto voce. “We were just about to forfeit the game.”

“Jocelyn was our third, but she had some kind of baby crisis,” Ronnie says dismissively. “Look, if you could cover, just for this one game―”

Alexis thinks for a second, about her options, about going back out into the snow to navigate the poorly-cleared sidewalks in her cute boots, to dodge Ted, to keep on walking to the café where she was supposed to meet with her mother for lunch. Where her life has become routine, and predictable, and some kind of inbetween state, where she’s not with Ted anymore and not quite a thriving entrepreneur girlboss despite her amazing instincts and business acumen, where things are confusing and difficult and, and. Mature.

“I’ll do it,” Alexis says, on impulse. “Sure.”

She has to borrow sneakers from Twyla, which she breathes her way through, and a slider from Ronnie, and a broom from the cupboard upstairs from the rink, which looks very shoddy and more likely to leave bristles on the ice than smooth the way for a rock.

“Now, the goal in curling is―” Ronnie begins, but Alexis shakes her head.

“Um, okay, I’m going to stop you right there,” Alexis says, holding up a hand, and Ronnie’s eyes narrow. “I spent quite a bit of time in the Olympic village during the 2010 winter Olympics? So I have definitely learned about curling.”

“O-kay,” Ronnie says, stepping back. “Whatever, princess, it’s okay if we lose this game. We just need to not forfeit so we can muscle our way to the finals once Jocelyn comes back.”

“Why would we lose?” Alexis asks, standing up and taking her broom in hand. “Are you like. Not good or something?”

Stevie blinks at her, then says, “We’re good.”

“Well, all right then,” Alexis says. “Wouldn’t want to join a substandard team.”

They don’t forfeit the game. They don’t lose, either.

Alexis loves the look that her team gives her when she throws her first successful takeout rock: grudging appreciation, grinning surprise, and in Twyla’s case, gasping, starry-eyed joy.

Alexis glows. She supposes that time in the Olympic village wasn’t a total waste.

“Okay, so. I did not picture myself saying this, but Alexis.” Ronnie pauses, looking puzzled at the words coming out of her mouth. “Do you want to join our team for real?”

“I mean, if you really need me,” Alexis replies, pleased, petting her hand through her hair. “Like. Weren’t you waiting for Jocelyn to come back?”

“I’m . . . sure Jocelyn could use more time to focus on her baby,” Stevie stutters, eventually. Alexis nods at her.

“Okay then.”

As they pack up later, Twyla grins at her and says, “You’re a lot better than Jocelyn.”

So Alexis comes back the next week.

*

She puts together some cute looks for the cool, bright air inside the curling rink; even though the lighting is disastrous, Alexis can at least work with it. In fact, she knows she looks adorable in big bulky sweaters, not that she usually steps on David’s turf like that, but she finds herself loving it, toques and scarves and leggings, oversized Alexander Wang sweaters, a pair of Guiseppe Zanotti sneakers that she hasn’t worn in ages but that suit her new curling aesthetic.

She practices, too, alongside the rest of the team, learning the words for the things like in-turn and out-turn that her old “friends” (wink wink) in the Olympic village hadn’t bothered to teach her. Ronnie shows her all the signals, and Stevie passes her little nips of whiskey from inside her extremely capacious and absolutely precious poofy coat, and Twyla sets her hands on top of Alexis’s hands, startlingly warm in the cold rink air, to show her how to move the rock, the speed, the motion of the hand, the slow and easy motion of letting go.

Twyla’s breath is warm, too, against Alexis’s neck.

“Then you release it. But don’t force it,” Twyla says.

Alexis nods. Maybe, though, she pushes the rock a little harder than Twyla might, a little faster. It’s what makes her a third, after all.

*

They make it to the semifinals, which isn’t surprising, because they’re amazing. What is surprising is that Ted shows up in the crowd to watch, with his dumb beige scarf and his dumb big smile and the halo of goodness around him that still makes Alexis’s heart ache. She wants to run away from him again, but this time there’s nowhere to go; she’s already inside the weird warehouse building and anyway, she has a responsibility to her team.

He waves at her. She waves back. She misses him, sometimes. A lot of times. But she knows that’s not the same as needing to be with him. She knows that, now.

“You played really well,” he tells her, after the game. “You’ve really . . . gotten in to this.” He sounds a little puzzled, in that pleasant way he has of being puzzled.

“Well,” Alexis says, shaking back her sporty, no-nonsense girl-athlete ponytail. “I have many depths.”

“I know,” Ted says, fondly. “I’m cheering for you.”

Alexis’s heart does a flip-flop, the kind she never used to know before she moved here, before Mutt, before Ted. “I’m―” she clears her throat, shakes her chin, takes a breath. “I’m cheering for you, too, you know. You―you know that.”

“I know that,” Ted says.

She heads up the stairs to the viewing area―not really a locker room, just a place where people can watch the curling in the warmth, and where stray brooms and sliders are stored―and bumps into Twyla.

“You played really well today,” Twyla says.

“Yeah,” Alexis says. “You too.”

Her heart flip-flops again, like a fucking epidemic or something, like an actual literal illness, and she swallows hard. Twyla did play well. Twyla threw guards with pinpoint precision, setting the field up for Alexis so she could set it up for Ronnie; she played beautifully.

“Wanna get a drink at the café? To celebrate?”

Ronnie and Stevie have already left, probably to head for the Wobbly Elm; it’s where they usually go after a win. Alexis bites her lip, just for a second.

She’s mature, these days. Grown up. An entire boss. There’s no reason not to say yes.

“That sounds great, Twy,” she says.

So she shares a glass of wine with Twyla at the café, and then she heads home, heart full and skin buzzing, like they shouldn’t be after just a little wine, like they shouldn’t be but are, like her body knows something she doesn’t.

*

They don’t quite win the championship.

It’s not for any lack of being utterly valid at curling, though; Ronnie’s skills as a skip are like, ridiculous, and then Stevie brings the light touch and the super charming hip flask, and with Twyla’s careful guarding and Alexis’s ability to push them through, they are without a doubt? A force to be reckoned with.

They play perfectly. It feels gorgeous, even as the paper scoreboard documents their slow, grinding loss after each end. Alexis finds that she doesn’t mind: that there’s something more beautiful in playing this way, feeling this way together, than in winning.

Ted’s out to cheer for her again, and Alexis thinks that she’ll have to do the same for him, in the summer, when he does his dumb horseback riding thing with the 4H kids. Alexis is not fond of horses, not after what went down in Kentucky in 2011, and she doesn’t much care for kids either, for that matter, but for Ted, she’ll do it.

It comes down to the last end, with their team only trailing by three points: they could do it, and they try to do it, but no amount of brilliance from Ronnie or lip-biting skill from Twyla and Stevie or power from Alexis gets it done. Gwen’s team takes it, and Alexis leans over her broom, panting, wrung-out, annoyed but pleased, too, to have been a part of this.

“Kind of disappointing, after we came so far,” Twyla says, sliding up to Alexis and using her non-slider foot to stop herself at Alexis’s side, not touching her, but stopping so close that she warms the air beside her, displacing the cold.

“Yeah,” Alexis sighs. “Still, any sports game where you escape with your life and the clothes on your back is still kind of a big win, statistically speaking.”

Twyla huffs a laugh. “I hear you. My cousin lost everything on the ponies and had to work for the mob for a year and a half.”

Alexis nods gravely. It’s how things go.

“Wanna get a glass of wine?” Twyla asks.

The rink is clearing out; all the spectators have gone, and most of the players, too.

“Maybe,” Alexis says. She turns to Twyla. “You know what I liked about doing this, Twy?” she asks, pushing back her hair, smiling the smile that People once called impish.

“What?” Twyla asks, with real interest, like she really wants to know. Like she cares what Alexis likes, what Alexis thinks.

“Trying something new,” Alexis says. “It’s worth it, I think. To try things out. Even if you don’t win. Even if you fail, in the long term. It’s still worth it.”

“Yeah,” Twyla breathes. “I get that.” She turns her face towards Alexis, just as Alexis is turning her face towards Twyla. Their gazes catch, like a tongue to a popsicle, and Alexis has to find her breath again.

“Like,” Alexis says, softly. “You never know if something’s going to be good. Or work out. You can’t know that.”

Twyla’s gaze dips down to Alexis’s mouth, then back up again. “I guess not,” she agrees.

Alexis kisses her, soft and deep, with heart, with soul, with meaning, with capitulation to the knowledge that it might only exist for this one moment, that nothing is guaranteed forever.

Twyla uses just the sweetest little move with her tongue, though, and all those deep amazing philosophical thoughts? Kind of leave Alexis’s brain. God. She puts her hand on Twyla’s waist, wrapping around slowly, and does a little tongue move of her own, and sinks deeper into the kiss.

She lets herself forget, for a while, about anything but the way Twyla feels against her, new and warm and thrumming with energy.

When they pull apart, Twyla nudges Alexis’s cheek with her nose, and Alexis’s insides go all melty.

“Still up for that glass of wine?” Twyla asks, her cheeks pinker than usual, even in the cold air of the rink.

“Yeah,” Alexis says. It’s far from her first adventure, and who knows if it’ll be her last. “Let’s try it.”