Frederick had always loved skating. His dad joked, “Frederick learned to walk so early just so he could learn to skate!” which was such a dad joke , but it was true. Frederick loved skating. It was the closest you could get to flying without being in an airplane, and the one time he’d been on an airplane, it had actually sucked. He’d been wedged in between Edward and Dad in the middle seat in the middle aisle of the plane and Dad had been really upset because they were flying to Uncle Dave's funeral in New York, and he’d made Frederick do homework instead of letting him watch TV.
But you didn’t have to do homework on the ice. You could speed around and go so fast and get so far and if you went fast enough no one could catch you and stop you or tell you what to do. At first Frederick had taught himself, or learned from Edward or Sophie, or the other neighborhood kids, but then he got so good Dad wanted him to play hockey. Sophie, who was the coolest person Frederick knew (even though she was his sister), played hockey, so Frederick agreed.
Hockey was super fun– almost better than just skating!- so he kept at it, and Sophie and Dad started being real serious about making him better at it. Mom did too, in her own way. She usually knitted when she wasn’t working or cleaning or cooking, but now she kept looking stuff up online and filling out forms to get him equipment and ice time and to get him onto really competitive teams.
Frederick felt bad about how much time Mom had to spend on it, but Sophie told him not to feel bad.
“Mom’s really good at it,” said Sophie, with a shrug. “And you’re really good at skating– even better than I was, at your age. You let her be good at what she does, and you just be good at what you do.”
So he asked if he could learn to figure skate too, and Mom began sorting through her forms and every Friday he got closer to really flying through the air in toe loops and flips.
The only problem with that was that when Mom became so good at filling out forms that the Darcy Foundation dragged Frederick across the St. Lawrence River to skate in the really fancy rinks in Montreal, some of the other kids playing against his Pee Wee team were real dicks. The amount of chirping he got was twice what the other guys got, even though he was the fastest guy in the rink with the best edgework (Coach had said so! To Mom and Dad, so Coach wasn’t just telling a Concerned Mother what she wanted to hear). And the other teams kept fighting him when they couldn’t stop him.
On the day his life changed, Frederick got the breath knocked out of him in a fight and had to go sit out the last few minutes of the game in the penalty box even though he was the one injured and was just ending a fight, not starting one. He was too busy fighting to get his breath back and feeling really mad that he had gotten in trouble instead of the kid who’d made dumbass “Indian war cries” at him when someone knocked on the plexiglass. Frederick looked to this right.
A really pretty Asian girl in a a really fancy, puffy white jacket with her black hair up in a high ponytail stood there, waving shyly at him. He recognized her. At least, he always saw her working on jumps with other girls while his team was getting their gear on for practice.
Frederick glanced at the game, but no one was paying attention to him. He scooted further down the bench. “Hi?”
“Hi,” she said. “Um– I, um–” She looked flustered, but gathered up her courage and stammered out, “I don’t think it’s right they put you in the box. That other kid was being really mean. Like, racist mean.”
What? Frederick stared at her.
People usually told him to shake it off or not listen, or not to dwell on it, and instead talk about how cool the summer powwow was (or about "the historical antecedents of community based restorative justice," according to Edward, a phrase which Frederick 100% did not understand).
Frederick didn’t know how to react to anyone openly acknowledging that the other guys were being racist dicks except with a blink and a, “Uh… thanks.”
“I have an ice pack,” she squeaked out, holding it up. It had Hello Kitty on it. “For– for your eye?”
“Uh, it’s not that bad,” said Frederick. He’d never hear the end of it if the rest of the team spotted him with a Hello Kitty icepack. She looked so disappointed, though, Frederick found himself saying, “That’s nice of you, though. Do you have a class or something after this?”
“Ice time,” she said. “I’m trying to land a double axel.”
“Oh those are cool,” said Frederick. “We’re doing axels in the Friday boys class, but I can’t land one yet.”
“Um, I could….” The girl dropped her ice pack into her bag and started pulling at the zipper, even though it wasn’t stuck. “Um… I mean, my mom just said my coach called and she’s running late, so um– I mean, if you’re free? I could help you. I can’t do a double but I can land a single, and my coach told me that trying to teach something to someone can help you learn it better, but like, my sisters don’t skate, and my stuffed animals can’t either, so like… it would be really nice of you if you’d let me teach you? Just until my coach got here. And only if your parents let you stay!”
Frederick blinked again. “I guess? They couldn’t get time off work so I’m supposed to take the bus home… but the bus comes every half-hour.”
“I’m sure my mom could drive you home,” said the girl, brightening like someone had just switched the lights on inside her. “Let me go ask her.”
“I live pretty far from here,” said Frederick, but the girl didn’t seem to hear him. She had her hands spread out to keep her balance, and was trying to speed up the awkward clop you had to use when walking in skates on solid ground.
The game buzzer sounded then, so Frederick forgot about the figure skating girl, until he saw the girl and an Asian woman who was very obviously her mom waiting at the side of the rink.
He had to admit, he was super intimidated by the girl’s mom. She had on earrings that were probably diamonds, and she had the same fancy haircut Frederick usually only saw on newscasters.
“Hi there–” the woman scanned the back of his jersey “-Wentworth. I’m Mrs. Elliot. My daughter said you needed a ride home? Where do you live?”
Frederick glanced back at the other guys, who were making stupid kissy faces at him and crowing that Mr. Twinkle Toes had a girlfriend ooooh . “Uh, it’s okay, really–”
“Nonsense,” said Mrs. Elliot, glaring coolly at the dicks on the team. “I enjoy long drives.”
“Um, I live on the Kahnawake Reservation? Is that… too far?”
“That will be a lovely drive,” said Mrs. Elliot. She smiled at him again, before saying with careful interest, “I’ve seen you in the Friday classes I think– your jump classes are right before Anne’s. You’re quite a gifted figure skater! But I suppose your parents put you in it to help with edgework in hockey?”
“Oh,” said Frederick, startled, “thanks. I, uh… I just do it cause I like it. I like the jumps.”
“I do too,” said the girl (Anne?) eagerly. “They’re my favorite part of figure skating.”
Mrs. Elliot ran a hand indulgently over Anne’s head, smoothing down her already smooth ponytail. “Go on then. Make sure you do all the warm-ups Coach Russell told you to do before you start. Do you need to change your skates, Mr. Wentworth?”
“Um, you can call me Frederick,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve got them in my bag, but uh–” he turned quizzically to the girl. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to share your ice time, um…?”
“Ohmigosh,” said the girl, turning red. “I just realized– can't believe– I totally forgot to tell you my name! It’s Anne! Anne Elliot. Anne Chan Elliot! That’s my full name on my birth certificate.”
Frederick tried not to laugh, because it was clear Anne was embarrassed. “I’m Frederick Wentworth.”
Anne clambered onto the ice with a relieved look and a hurried, “Come out when you’re ready ok? I’m just gonna do laps.”
Anne Chan Elliot was really good on the ice. Focused. Really graceful. And really nice too. Frederick didn’t know if her coach was right about teaching helping you to learn something, but Anne did help him figure out he wasn’t pulling in his arms and legs fast enough to get actual airtime, and when Coach Russell came, Anne was even nicer and gave up some of her time so that Coach Russell could help him jump– which he did. It was awesome.
“That’s some very fast improvement,” said Coach Russell, though she kept looking at his blackening eye with suspicion. “You both need to work on controlling your speed going into a jump, so why don’t you two play Follow the Leader? Frederick, you go first. Anne, you try to match his speed and his footwork, no matter how he changes it.”
Frederick started slowly at first, because he wanted to talk to Anne, and also felt bad for taking up so much of her (probably very expensive) practice time. Coach Russell had a million photos up on the wall of the lobby, and she had lots of skaters she took to the Olympics. Once, when he was waiting for the bus, Frederick had taken the time to look at every photo on the wall and seen that Coach Russell had gone to the Olympics three times as a singles skater, and had gone back as a coach every single Olympics after that. “This is way too nice of you. You know you can just tell me to beat it, right? And take your ice time back?”
“Are you tired?” Anne asked, worried. “You did play a game–”
“No. But, uh– you honestly want to keep practicing with me?”
Anne turned red again. “Only if you want to. I don’t want to, like, keep you if you don’t, but um….”
“Why are you being so nice?” Frederick asked, bewildered. “We don’t know each other.”
“People aren’t so nice to me either– I mean on the ice sometimes,” said Anne, hesitantly. She kept glancing away from his face to his feet. They were going at the same speed, but not quite matching the time they pushed off, or on which foot. “So I, um– I know we don’t know each other, but I know how it feels. Sometimes in warmups in novice competitions, people like… pull their eyes and stuff, even though my dad's white and I was born here and so was my mom.”
Anne’s head jerked up, her eyes wide with shock. “You can’t say that!”
“Why not?” asked Frederick, thinking figure skaters! to himself. Which was dumb because he was a figure skater too (sort of), and he swore more than Mom and Dad liked, but whatever, Anne was looking at him, startled and saying, “Well, it’s– it’s not nice, is it?”
“It isn’t nice when they do that kind of stuff to us,” said Frederick. “Why do we have to be nice when they’re not?”
Anne didn’t really have an answer to that.
“Look at that,” said Mrs. Elliot, as they skated by. “It didn’t take Anne long at all–”
“Arms out,” called Coach Russell. “Frederick, Anne, good work matching. Try speeding it up a little.”
They didn’t talk then because they had to focus more, and then Coach Russell asked Frederick to match Anne, which was even harder– though Anne caught on quickly and tried to make it easy for him. She didn’t go very fast at first and she kept exaggerating what she was doing until he caught on. Then they went as fast as speed skaters, just for fun, and only stopped when they were laughing too hard at how impossible it was to turn while going that fast, and Coach Russell told them to try skating backwards if they had mastered going forward so quickly. It was actually really fun, trying to do something this different– though he also kept hearing weird bits of conversation from the adults.
“-fewer pairs skaters, yes, but you really can’t start training until the boys hit puberty and gain more muscle mass,” said Coach Russell.
“He has the build for it, doesn’t he?” asked Mrs. Elliot. “And you know Anne. She’s so sweet, everyone always wants to talk to her, but she never starts conversations. But today –”
Then when they passed again:
“--ould make it to the Olympics as a singles skater,” said Coach Russell, sounding doubtful. “But you are right, at twelve, it is late not to have a double axel yet, so she would be behind, but if we started at the novice level in pairs–”
The next time they came around:
Mrs. Elliot said triumphantly, “And look how well they match each other! My husband’s as eager as I am to see Anne at the Olympics, so–”
Frederick turned to Anne at that. “Your mom says you want to go to the Olympics?”
Anne looked up distractedly– it was her turn to follow him, and he kept adding in swerves to make it interesting– and said, “Um, well, I guess it’s silly, but–”
“No way!” Frederick protested. “The Olympics are so cool! I love the Olympics. I always watch them.”
“Me too!” Anne exclaimed. “My dad went to the Olympics years and years ago. He’s a ski jumper.”
Frederick couldn’t help but be impressed. “He went to the Olympics? Really?”
“Yeah,” said Anne. “He said it was the best time of his life, even better than when he and mom got married, even! He’s like… a lot closer to my older sister? But he’s really happy and talks to me a lot more now that I’m trying to get ready to compete. Do you compete?”
“Nah. Just in the Pee Wee League for hockey.”
Anne looked at him curiously. “Would you want to compete? Like, for figure skating?”
Frederick considered this. “Competing,” to him, meant hockey and only hockey…. which he really liked , but the other guys on the ice could make him so mad sometimes it sometimes wasn’t fun. Being on the ice with Anne so far was really fun. She liked going fast and doing jumps and she was probably the nicest person he had ever met? “I dunno. Maybe? I like jumps but I don’t think I know enough to like, go to the Olympics.”
“Not now ,” said Anne, smiling up at him. “You’re like... what, my age?”
“Me too. You don’t go to the Olympics until like, fifteen or sixteen maybe. That’s years away. You learned the axel so fast I bet you could!”
Frederick was really pleased by the compliment– no one had ever said they thought he could go to the Olympics before, and glanced back at where Coach Russell and Mrs. Elliot had their heads bent together. “Pairs skating, that’s when the guy throws the girl into the air, right?”
“Yeah, it looks so fun on TV,” said Anne, clapping her hands together and then throwing them up to demonstrate. “Like, woosh! Up in the air!”
“That’s really flying,” said Frederick.
“You know, that’s how I always feel when I’m doing my best skating,” Anne said eagerly. “No gravity anymore. Like that song from Wicked !”
Anne nearly stumbled. “You’ve never heard of Wicked ? I mean, you’re a boy, you probably wouldn’t, but it’s so good !”
Coach Russell came back on the ice then, and had them both practicing axels until their time was up– though Frederick thought it was weird but also probably important that as soon as Anne landed a double Coach Russell made her stop and instead got Anne to learn how to land a single at the same time as Frederick. Which they could almost kind of do, by the end. At least, because Anne was so consistent (ha, he had remembered his vocab words for the week after only reading them once, suck on that Edward!) Frederick figured out how to jump at the same time she did, even if he had trouble landing at the same time.
“Hm,” said Coach Russell, when a couple of other figure skaters pointedly took to the ice and began warming up. “Frederick, that black eye of yours– that’s from your hockey game today? How often do you get in fights like that?”
“Uh,” said Frederick. The answer was ‘a lot’ but he could tell that fancy Coach Russell, in her shining white skates and pearl earrings and Team Canada jacket from the last Olympics, would not like that answer. “It’s just part of hockey.”
Coach Russell sighed. “I will never understand why that’s an Olympic sport. Artistry versus animalistic violence. Which shall we preserve as the apex of humanity? Never mind–” she said, as Anne and Frederick exchanged confused looks “-come on, our time’s up. Let’s clear the rink. Frederick, how would you feel about figure skating a little more than you are now?”
“Good?” Then he remembered Mom and all her forms and said hastily, “But, uh, my parents probably wouldn’t like it? I’m really busy all the time after school anyhow—” Next to him Anne was wilting , like the plant he kept forgetting to water in his room. He felt bad. He didn’t want to admit that he didn’t figure skate more because it would take money his parents didn’t have, but it felt like lying to pretend he wasn’t interested. “I had a lot of fun today though. You’re fun to skate with, Anne.”
Anne turned red again and couldn’t look him in the eye. But she was smiling.
They got off the ice and sat to take their skates off– or at least, Anne and Frederick did while Mrs. Elliot cleared her throat and Coach Russell put her elbows on the rink railing and leaned back on them to study him and Anne.
“Anne,” she said, drawing Anne’s name out, in a thoughtful kind of way. “You’ve told me in the past that you like pairs skating, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I like it a lot,” said Anne.
“I think you could do very well in pairs,” said Coach Russell, looking at Anne consideringly. “You’ve got the build for lifts, and once you learn something you’re very consistent. It’s just getting you to learn it where you struggle; you get blocked whenever we try to increase the difficulty. But in just one session with Frederick, you broke through that block.”
“Have you ever considered pairs skating, Frederick?” asked Coach Russell. “I think you and Anne could make a really great team. I’d be happy to talk with your parents about it, and uh–” she paused and glanced at Mrs. Elliot, who nodded “-because there are so few pairs skaters– and only one pair in Seniors, at our rink, at the moment– there are a number of subsidies we could offer to help with training. If you and Anne decide you’d like to skate together competitively, of course, and your parents are willing.”
Frederick had to admit that out of the hockey game and the jump practice with Anne today, skating with Anne had been a lot more fun. Which was weird and backwards because Anne was a girl who liked Hello Kitty and musicals. If someone had asked him that morning ‘do you want to skate with a girl who tells you about songs from Wicked, or do you want to score two goals and then get in a fight at a hockey game?’, he would have definitely chosen the hockey game. He looked at Anne.
Anne looked back at him, all hopeful and smiling and said, kind of shy, “I, um– I had a lot of fun today. It’d be nice to practice with you again.”
“Well,” said Frederick, considering, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask my parents?”
Coach Russell came home with them, and though his parents were startled and embarrassed at surprise visitors, Mom looked so relieved when Coach Russell talked about subsidies and scholarships that Frederick started thinking to himself that honestly it would be fun to skate pairs with Anne. In the car ride over, she turned out to be actually really cool? She was into a lot of old music he had never heard of, but she introduced him to bubble tea, which was maybe the most amazing drink he had ever had, and she liked a lot of really good movies, not just girly ones, and she played video games! (Pokémon and Zelda, but he was man enough to admit those were both great games and sometimes were more fun than some of the Madden ones.) He didn’t think it would be hard to throw Anne into the air either. He was already pretty tall and strong for his age (at least Dad had said so), and Anne was pretty small. And even before hockey, he had loved just skating , and he didn’t think he was good enough to play in the NHL and therefore play hockey in the Olympics, but if Coach Russell, who had taken all those skaters to the Olympics, said that there were so few pairs skaters he and Anne could have a shot….
“We’ll have to discuss it and get back to you,” said Mom, eventually, “but thank you so much for bringing Frederick home and stopping by.”
“I’m not asking for years-long commitment right away,” said Coach Russell, scribbling something on a card. “Just a month trial run, to see if Anne and Frederick could make as good a pairs team as I suspect they might. Here, I’ve added my personal cell number in case you have any other questions.”
Mrs. Elliot had been quiet for most of this, just smiling fondly at Coach Russell, and now asked, “Frederick, do you have any questions before we go?”
Frederick looked at Anne, who smiled hopefully at him, and then at Coach Russell. “Do you really think if Anne and I competed as a pair, we’d make it to the Olympics?”
“There are no guarantees in competition at that level,” said Coach Russell, “but yes. I think, based on your practice today, you make a good team, and you’re both quick learners and hard workers. If you two put in the work, you could make it.”
Anne looked as happy as he felt and Frederick felt really happy. He wasn’t like Sophie, who was so focused on going to college, or Edward, who had gone all religious on them and was focused so far on the future he was always talking about life after death and trying to tell everyone what their dreams meant. The future was really far away, so what was the point of thinking about it so much? But Anne had made it seem like the future wasn’t that far away at all if the future was the Olympics. And if Coach Russell thought could go to the Olympics–
–well then, maybe he could. Coach Russell had taken a lot of other people to the Olympics. She ought to be able to spot an Olympian when she saw them.
Ha! Him! Frederick Wentworth! At the Olympics! That would be so fun, and he would rub it in the face of every guy who'd ever chirped him for figure skating from now until he was older than Dad.
Mom kept tapping the edge of the card against the palm of her hand long after Mrs. Elliot and Coach Russell’s cars had disappeared from sight.
Dad raised his eyebrows at her. “What do you think?”
“The other moms always told me coaches swoop in on any single male figure skater who looks like he’ll have good shoulders,” said Mom. “I didn’t realize they weren’t exaggerating. But still….” She looked down at the card. “Even just a month of training as a pairs team would give Freddy a lot of opportunities. Even if he doesn’t end up an Olympic athlete–”
“I will,” said Frederick, deciding, suddenly, that he would be one.
Mom and Dad both stared at him.
“Freddy, I don’t think you understand how difficult that’ll be,” said Dad, after a minute. “It’s… a lot of time, and a lot of effort, and a lot of money–”
Mom pointedly handed Dad the card. “But the money's not really a barrier, if he partners with an Elliott of Elliot Winter Resorts , now is it?” She turned to Frederick. “Freddy, honey, if you want to skate competitively with Anne, you can. Don’t worry about the money. Just worry about the time and the effort. You need to understand that if you do this, if you accept Coach Russell’s offer to train you up as a pairs skater, you can’t do much more than school and hockey, and sometimes you’ll have to miss your hockey games to compete. You’ll have to spend a lot of time with Anne.”
Frederick didn’t have a clue what Elliot Winter Resorts was, but he felt very cool and clean and sure of himself, like when he was racing down the rink about to make the goal or make the jump he wanted and he just knew he was going to make it. All he could hear was that scrape of blade against ice as the space between him and the goal narrowed and narrowed into nothing. Hard work, time, whatever. He could do it. “I know. I want to do it. I want to go to the Olympics.”
Dad sighed. “The kid doesn’t lack for ambition, I’ll give him that. Okay, my Olympic medalist– go upstairs and hit the showers. You mom and I will call Coach Russell in the morning.”
Frederick jumped a single axel onto the stairs and raised up both his arms, providing the cheer his parents ungraciously didn’t give him.
“He gets this weird showmanship from you,” said Mom to Dad, fondly.