Ever since her injury, the weight room at the rink had become Regina’s favourite place to think.
Early afternoon was the best time to go. If you went too early, the kids from the morning session were still hogging the equipment. If you went too late, the hockey guys would push their way in and start sweating all over everything. But despite its modest size, the weight room at the rink was vastly preferable to the meathead infested co-ed gym down the street. Regina didn’t have time to wait for the best machines or fight over the free weights. Not when the Olympics were less than three years away.
After completing her reps at the bench press, Regina replaced the weighted bar with an unladylike grunt that would have made her late mother grimace in disapproval. She’d just increased her weight limit two days ago and it was still a struggle. But it had been easier today than it was yesterday. She was getting stronger, slowly but surely.
Mulan, the skating club’s physiotherapist, gave Regina a hand up. “That was incredible!” Mulan gushed. Mulan rarely gushed so Regina knew she was impressed. “You’re getting so strong. No one would ever guess you were injured.”
“My doctor says I’m a medical miracle,” Regina responded as she towelled off her sweaty brow. “Most people don’t come back from an injury like mine. She even went as far as to say I healed myself on sheer willpower alone.”
Mulan was inclined to agree. “You’ve got everything you need to get back into competition.”
Regina rolled her eyes and took a draft from her water bottle. “Everything but a partner, you mean.”
Mulan’s face fell. “What happened to your tryout with Graham? I thought it went well.”
Regina sighed heavily. “It was a disaster. He could barely get through one repetition of the pattern dance.” I’m not going to make it to the Olympics with a partner like that, she added to herself. I need someone with actual skating skills. Someone who’s on my level.
But finding someone on your level can be a difficult task for a female skater. Girls who want to go into pairs or ice dance are a dime a dozen, but boys… boys were a rarity in the sport. Getting the perfect partner was like chasing a unicorn. If you were lucky enough to find one, it was in your best interest to hold onto him. A male skater can find a new partner in a flash. Girls flock to them if one ever becomes available. But for someone like Regina – an elite level skater coming back from an injury – her options were dwindling by the second.
She’d taken a chance trying out with Graham. He was two years younger than her and a tier below her in the national rankings. In an act of desperation, she’d even tried out with David Nolan – a pairs skater who was thinking of switching to ice dance. That hadn’t panned out either, but there had been a silver lining. Regina’s housemate, Mary Margaret, was a pairs skater and Regina took it upon herself to arrange a tryout between Mary Margaret and David instead.
All those failed tryouts had led her to this: hiding out in the weight room and ruminating about her future while her rinkmates and friends looked on with sympathy but without the ability to help. She needed the distraction to keep from refreshing her profile on IcePartnerSearch every five minutes.
Speaking of which…
Mulan was trying to show Regina something on her tablet. “Did you see this? Robin Locksley just updated his profile. It says he’s willing to relocate now. His home federation must have finally released him.”
“Ugh, not Robin Locksley.” Regina shook her head vehemently. “I’m pretty sure he still hates me for beating him and his ex-partner at the Junior World Championships back in 2011.”
Mulan narrowed her eyes – she always did that when she was thinking, Regina noticed. “Oh come on, he’s a sweetie. I met him when I studying in the UK and he was not the type to hold a grudge.”
Poor Mulan. She may have dedicated her life to working with skaters on their off-ice fitness, but she didn’t have a clue how the skating world really worked. Only the athletes and coaches had all the insider details on the intense rivalries and politics of the sport. Daniel hadn’t understood. He’d never been comfortable seeing his girlfriend be held and lifted by another man. Even Regina’s own father, a recreational adult skater, didn’t understand. Regina didn’t have the heart to remind Mulan that she and her former partner had skated circles around Robin and his former partner at the ’11 Junior Worlds. It had been an upset that the skating community would gossip about for months afterward. Robin and Marian had won every event of the season leading up to Junior Worlds, only to be outskated by Regina and Jefferson in the free dance.
Their paths had diverged drastically since then. Regina and Jefferson skated together for three perfect seasons before she got injured in the fall of 2014. Robin’s career had taken a turn for the worse: after one successful season at the senior level, he and his partner Marian were overtaken by a younger team in their own country and displaced from the standings. Their partnership dissolved after that and Marian chose to retire from competition. Robin skated with another girl for a few seasons but they didn’t achieve the same level of success that he’d had before. That partnership ended too, only a few months after Jefferson and Regina’s did.
Junior Worlds had been the catalyst for the decline in Robin’s skating career. There wasn’t a chance in hell he’d stoop so low as to tryout with Regina now. Surely the man had too much pride for that.
“I don’t mean to sound harsh,” Mulan spoke up, rousing Regina from her thoughts. “But there are not a lot of options out there for a skater at your level.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” Regina’s words came out more harshly than she’d intended them to and Mulan winced. “I just don’t see the point of trying out with someone who probably hates me.”
But Mulan had a shrewd look in her eye. “I don’t think he hates you. And maybe… maybe he needs you as much as you need him.”
“Any takers, mate?”
Robin Locksley looked up from his laptop to see his teammate Will Scarlet had taken the chair at the opposite side of the table. “It’s barely been 24 hours since I updated my profile, Will. Good things come to those who wait.”
Will drummed his fingertips against the edge of the table and hummed thoughtfully. “I still can’t help but feel like this is mostly my fault. If Ana and I had finished higher at last year’s World Championships, we both could have gone this year.”
Robin was quick to reassure his friend. “It’s not your fault, Will. The British Federation doesn’t have the funds for keep supporting two teams anyway. This isn’t 1984 when Team GB had the best ice dance team in the world. The days of Torvill and Dean are long over. We don’t have the same influence in the sport that we used to have.”
“But still. To go all the way to North America to find a partner…” Will trailed off, looking distressed.
“In this sport, you have to go where the partners are. North America is the ice dance capital of the world now. I have dual citizenship. It makes sense to broaden my search parameters.”
That was the line he’d been telling himself ever since the British Federation had agreed to release him. It had been a hard year, not being able to compete. After his second partnership fell through, Robin had been left adrift to fend for himself. He’d picked up work coaching younger kids, which had been a trying but ultimately fun experience. But it didn’t compare to the thrill of competition. And if he couldn’t find a partner in England…
“There’s definitely some fine American and Canadian ladies to choose from,” Will remarked as he clicked through a few profiles on IcePartnerSearch. “This Merida girl is cute. And she’s from Scotland! You wouldn’t even need to relocate.” He turned the laptop around to give Robin a closer look.
“I can’t just pick a new partner based on looks. And besides, she’s barely three inches shorter than me. That was the problem with me and Marian. Not enough height difference.”
Will furled his brown and got back to work. “What about Belle French? She’s very petite. And also very cute.”
Robin shook his head. “Too petite. There’s not enough height difference and then there’s too much height difference.”
“Point taken.” Will clicked his way through a few more profiles and made a little gasping noise. “No way. I can’t believe she’s on here!”
“The Ice Queen – Regina Mills!”
Robin practically shoved Will out of his chair to get a better look at the computer screen. “How remarkable. I thought she was still injured.”
“She’d fulfil your height requirement too. Shorter than Merida, taller than Belle,” Will pointed out. “I know you had your differences when you were both juniors, but that was ages ago! You should call her up. Arrange a tryout.”
Robin sighed and looked at the picture on the screen again. She was wearing her hair a little shorter now, but Regina had barely aged in the four years since he’d competed against her. “I never understood why they called her the Ice Queen. She was always the fiery audacious type. That free dance she and Jefferson did to Carmen nearly melted the ice.”
“Maybe you could use a little of that fire in your life,” Will said with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows.
Robin looked at her picture again, transfixed by the knowing slope of Regina’s smile and the glint in her eyes. He could certainly think of worse things than being partnered with her. Perhaps it was worth a shot.
“I’ll see if our coaches can arrange a tryout,” he decided. “Maybe nothing will come of it but I’m going to be in the States next month for that training seminar anyway. Could be the perfect timing.”
“That’s the spirit!” Will clapped him on the back. “I have a good feeling about this one.”
Robin snuck one last glance at the picture and couldn’t help thinking the same thing.