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Beside the Dancing Sea

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It’s a beautiful spring morning along the coast today! And by beautiful, we mean ‘skies of a slightly less grey than they were yesterday’. Today’s highs are at 15 degrees, and the lows are at 10, so make sure you’ve got a light jacket for those nice spring sea breezes!

As his car hurtles past a white sign saying ‘Welcome to Torvill Cove, Population: 5,387’, Viktor Nikiforov switches channels on the radio. Moments later, he switches channels again just before the catchiest bars of the latest top 40s craze can infect his ears.

After a couple more minutes of fruitless tuning, Viktor finally turns off his radio and rolls down the windows, letting the wind ruffle through his silvery hair. In the passenger seat next to him, his beloved poodle Makkachin pokes his head out the window, ears and tongue flapping in the wind as Viktor drives on.

Already the blue expanse of the ocean is chasing at the left side of his car, along with the majestic sweeps of rugged sea-worn cliffs in the distance, crowned with pristine green foliage. Viktor lets himself cruise along this lonely stretch of highway a moment longer, drinking in the unfolding scenery. God, he’s so excited to reach his new house in Torvill Cove and start writing odes to the beauty of this seascape spreading out before him. This is exactly what the doctor ordered to combat writer’s block.

Viktor pulls into the roundabout leading to the downtown area of Torvill minutes later. Downtown’s a rather generous word for this main thoroughfare. Though the tree-lined ribbon of Market Street seems to extend all the way out to the sea, the buildings along the road all seem to be fairly old and small, and still somehow locally-owned and operated. As he heads down the street, Viktor passes by a bookstore with a sign saying that they also sell souvenirs and gifts, a small public library surrounded by verdant park greenery, and a movie theatre with only three films on the marquee.

Market Street terminates at Dean Street, which, according to Viktor’s phone and the two paper maps lying on the dashboard, wraps around half of the harbour before terminating at the lighthouse. The other half is a boardwalk which terminates at the spires of an old manor house that, according to Viktor’s maps, had been converted into the Yu-Topia seaside resort. Dean Street, on the other hand, is where most of the holiday cottages and beach houses lie. Viktor’s own cottage, which he had rented for the following year, is somewhere along this street.

He finds it without difficulty, as the cottages are all spaced pretty far apart from one another for privacy and quiet. His own is a charming little thing the colour of sea sage, with a wreath of blue roses on the door and little hearts in the white shutters. Makkachin barks excitedly as Viktor pulls up to the curb in front of it, and is first through the kissing gate leading up to the front door as soon as Viktor lets him out of the car.

“Eager, are we?” Viktor asks, as he passes Makkachin to unlock the door to their new home.

It doesn’t take long for them to get unpacked and settled. The majority of Viktor’s belongings are being shipped to him from Manchester and should arrive within the week. He didn’t have to pack up everything in his old flat, of course, as the cottage had come furnished, but he is looking forward to making the place more his own in the coming days.

The cottage is the definition of the word cosy. It’s only one storey, with one bedroom, one bathroom, and a tiny nook of a kitchen. However, the windows are all enormous, letting in as much light as possible; paired with the white-and-blue rustic décor, they make an otherwise small cottage seem impossibly open and airy. A set of French doors lead off the kitchen-dining area to a backyard patio, which in turn leads to a trail down the cliffs to a semi-private stretch of beach and the water’s edge.

The bedroom, despite the smallness of its bed, is also well-furnished in shades of pale blue and white reminiscent of the clouds gathering in the harbour just outside the windows. Both it and the bathroom, which contains a wide porcelain claw-foot tub, ceramic tile accents painted with blue anchors, and a set of soft nautical stripe towels, have access to the patio and the ocean beyond through separate sets of curtained French doors. It would be easy to run directly into a nice bath after a day at the beach, Viktor realises with a smile.

As he sets the last of his clothes into the little walk-in closet in his new bedroom, Viktor has to pinch himself several times to make sure he’s not in a very vivid hallucination. He’s finally here in this lovely and quiet little beach cottage, and the rest of the year seems to stretch out infinitely before him. Time will pass, though, and it will pass faster than he realises, but in the meantime he will stop worrying about writer’s block and deadlines and not even having the foggiest clue what his next novel’s going to be about, and live.

After firing off a text to his agent, Yakov Feltsman, about having arrived in Torvill safely, Viktor grabs Makkachin’s leash. “Come on, Makka, let’s go explore the town!” he chirps.

Perking up, Makkachin bounds to his feet and follows his owner out the door in search of adventure, and hopefully food.

Torvill Cove: A Visitor’s Guide

Welcome to Torvill Cove! One of the hidden gems of the British Isles, this charming seaside town is known for the majesty of its rugged cliffs, the pristine nature of many of its beaches, and the friendliness of its townsfolk! As a fairly small town of only 5,387, Torvill Cove’s locals are a tight-knit community that are always welcoming to newcomers both temporary and permanent.

Main Attractions of Torvill Cove

Torvill Cove Pier and Boardwalk
If you’ve seen postcards from Torvill Cove before, you’ll probably recognise its pier and boardwalk with the Ferris wheel and carousel! Torvill Cove’s pier and boardwalk is your one-stop destination for family fun. Win your loved one prizes at our carnival booths, or treat yourself to one of our world-famous double-fudge waffle cones at our retro-styled ice cream parlour! Both single tickets and day passes are available.

Yu-Topia Seaside Resort and Spa
Previously the ancient ancestral home of the Torvill family, this manor house has been renovated into a modern resort dedicated to rest and relaxation! From the deck of Yu-Topia’s beachside spa, both the ocean and the boardwalk are just mere steps away. Yu-Topia is also known for its Japanese restaurant, which combines the elegance of Japanese cuisine with the comfort of homestyle cooking, as well as its extremely pet-friendly policies and amenities. For booking information, please visit:

Crispino Winery
For visitors willing to drive a couple kilometres inland, the Crispino Winery is a delightful day trip destination for unconventional wine lovers. Boasting stunning panoramic views of the coast from the hills of the estate and tastings of their wines, liqueurs, and jellies on the hour, the Crispino Winery is located just far enough from town to be secluded from the hustle and bustle, but just close enough so you can make it home in time for dinner! If you can’t make it out, try some of Crispino Winery’s fine fruit wines, or their award-winning Torvill Mead, at any of the restaurants in town! For more information, please visit:

Torvill Point Lighthouse
Situated on the soaring cliffs of Torvill Point, this old lighthouse has been run by the same family for generations and is the location of many of the town’s spookiest ghost stories. The current lighthouse keeper, Nikolai Plisetsky, can sometimes be persuaded to give you a ghost tour at night, so enter if you dare...

Whether you’re interested in just relaxing on the beach with your family, trying out our fresh local cuisine, or having daring adventures in the ocean, Torvill Cove will have something waiting for you!

The ice cream parlour on the boardwalk is, as promised by the visitor’s guide, sleek and retro-styled, with checkerboard tile floors and chrome accents on the furniture. The teenage boy behind the counter, on the other hand, looks somehow out of place. Even in a starched and pressed pink-and-white uniform with his blond hair tied back, there’s something aggressively contrarian in his green-blue stare as he watches Viktor peruse the menu.

“You know, it doesn’t take that long to ask for a double-fudge waffle cone,” the kid drawls after a moment. Viktor notices that his nametag reads ‘Yuri Plisetsky’.

He makes a face. “Why would I want to order fudge?” he asks. “I wouldn’t be able to share my cone with my dog, then,” he adds, nodding towards Makkachin, who is tied to the leg of the bench outside the parlour, panting as the midday sun makes a brief appearance behind some clouds.

Yuri Plisetsky wrinkles his nose. “You share your ice cream cone with your dog?” he demands.

Well, Viktor usually finishes off most of the cone before giving the rest to Makkachin, but the expression on the kid’s face is too funny not to poke at a little more. “I’ll have you know that the inside of a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s,” he says sweetly.

The kid makes a rather exaggerated retching noise. “Look, just buy your ice cream and I’ll give you a free doggy cone with it,” he snaps.

“How sweet of you!” replies Viktor, grinning.

“Don’t thank me. I’m just trying to help you break your disgusting habit.”

Viktor orders strawberry for himself and vanilla for Makkachin, and if Yuri’s expression seems to soften a little at his choice of flavour, Viktor doesn’t comment on it.

He brings Makkachin his doggy cone, and for a while they sit on the bench and consume their treats in amicable silence. Overhead, the gulls cry as they fly out towards the surf, and the sea sparkles like some multifaceted jewel just beyond the wooden railings of the boardwalk. Though tourist season hasn’t arrived yet, there are still some holiday-makers roaming to and fro, couples and families alike. Some even have dogs that Makkachin sniffs at when they get too close.

When Makkachin finishes his doggy cone, Viktor unties him and they continue down the boardwalk towards the pier. Carnival music from the carousel fills the air, alongside the shouting of children as they enjoy the rides. Viktor is tempted to take Makkachin up in the Ferris wheel but he doubts that they’ll let dogs onboard.

Besides families on holidays and young couples on dates, the pier is also a base for recreational fishers in pursuit of a good catch. Viktor watches an old man cast a line at the end of the pier, leaning against the railing as he looks out towards the impossibly blue horizon.

Makkachin barks suddenly, and Viktor looks down to see his dog wagging his tail and looking towards the nearest buoy. Following his gaze, Viktor sees a seal leap onto said buoy, sprawling out to bask in the midday sun.

“Mama, mama, Katsudon’s back!”

Viktor turns to see three identical little girls in sundresses of pink, blue, and purple. The one in purple is holding a clipboard, while the one in pink sports a pair of binoculars and the one in blue is aiming a camera at the buoy.

“Oh, already?” asks a woman who appears to be the girls’ mother — though she looks far too young to be anyone’s mother. “Do you think he’ll have some new information for us?”

“Let’s go ask him!” exclaims the one in pink.

“Later,” chides the woman. The girls make simultaneous noises of disappointment, but then they notice Makkachin and visibly perk up.

“Sir, your dog is really cute,” says the one in purple.

“Thank you,” replies Viktor. “His name is Makkachin.”

“Can we pet him?” asks the one in blue.

Viktor nods, and the girls descend upon his poodle with lots of stroking and cooing. Makkachin clearly thrives under the attention, and Viktor feels mildly betrayed — Makkachin responds to the girls’ petting like he’s never been touched before in his life.

“Girls, that’s quite enough,” says the woman after a moment. She smiles at Viktor. “Thanks for letting them pet your dog.”

“Makkachin is a spoiled boy; he doesn’t mind none,” Viktor says, grinning. He then nods towards the seal. “Does that seal come here often? I figured he must, since he has a name.”

She laughs. “Yes, Katsudon’s the resident seal of Torvill Cove! He’s been here for years, actually. No mate or family to pull him away, as far as I know.”

“All by himself, huh.” Viktor looks out to the buoy to find the seal splashing in and out of the water, before finally settling on a proper sunbathing position. “Must be lonely.”

“Mm, I suppose.” The woman smiles, extending a hand. “Yuuko Nishigori, Torvill Cove Harbor Watch. These are my daughters, Axel, Lutz, and Loop.”

“I’m Viktor Nikiforov,” replies Viktor as he shakes her hand, and because he’s curious: “You named your daughters after figure skating jumps?”

“Yes; I’ve always been a fan of the sport.” A light pink blush dusts the woman’s cheeks. “I know who you are, by the way. I’ve read The King and the Skater too many times to count now.”

Viktor chuckles. “More people have seen the movie,” he points out.

“The book was better,” insists Yuuko, and Viktor smiles at that as carefully as he can.

“I’m glad you liked it, then,” he replies. He’s used to the fans by now. His latest novel, The King and the Skater, had recently been adapted into a film. It had also topped the New York Times bestseller list for three weeks after its initial release, and was also one of Oprah’s Book Club picks last year. Even before that, he had written several other novels that had gotten on various bestseller lists and garnered him mountains of praise for his ‘surprising takes on timeless archetypes’ and his ‘riveting plot twists captured in scintillating prose’.

But as with anything artistic, it hadn’t been so much of a ‘if’ he runs into a wall, but ‘when’. And this latest block certainly feels like it.

Viktor looks down. The little girls are scribbling wildly on the clipboard. Viktor raises an eyebrow at Yuuko.

“Are those tide charts?” he asks.

She nods. “The Torvill Cove Harbour Watch sends information on the tides and surf conditions to the Visitors’ Centre,” she replies. “Though personally I’m much more passionate about the animals that live out here.”

Viktor’s smile feels a little more genuine this time. “Like the seal, then?” he asks.

Yuuko nods. “Definitely.” She pauses, and then visibly brightens. “Are you here to write a book about Torvill?” she asks, evidently eager for Viktor’s answer. “We’ve got lots of ghost stories. I could tell you a couple, if you’re interested.”

Viktor chuckles. “Perhaps another time,” he says. “Not to brush you off, of course, but because I’m not even sure what I’m writing about right now.”

She smiles, understanding. “Well, feel free to let me know whenever inspiration strikes! I’ll tell you almost anything you’d like to know, though if you really want the history of the town, you might need to find Old Man Plisetsky up in the lighthouse.”

A relation of the boy in the ice cream shop, Viktor thinks with a smile. What a delightfully small world.

Out on the sparkling waters, the seal bobs expectantly.

The King and the Skater
by Viktor Nikiforov
340 pages; Aurum Books

The latest crown jewel in a line of stunning bestsellers from Viktor Nikiforov, The King and the Skater is a masterfully-woven tale of figure skating and star-crossed romance. Nikiforov, in his trademark sparse yet densely emotional prose, guides us through time and space to the magical Kingdom of Mandala, where “everything seems simultaneously outlandish and yet possible”.

The King and the Skater follows English figure skater Arthur Stuart as he tries to regain his love of skating following a disastrous performance at the Grand Prix Final in Sochi. Despite his best efforts, “[Stuart] could not find even the smallest of joys in the slide of his skates against the was as if a part of him had been closed off to him the moment he landed at the bottom of the rankings.” However, all of that changes when, through some strange cosmic mishap involving his favourite trading card game, Stuart is thrown into the Kingdom of Mandala — with the powers of his card game at hand.

Such an ambitious story premise would fall into tatters in the hands of a lesser writer, but Nikiforov, who has brought us riveting tales of pie-baking hockey players (Cherry-Flipped) and mermaids with speed-skating aspirations (On the Blades of Love), demonstrates his incomparable skill in crafting beautiful stories from outlandish premises and overworked tropes. His treatment of the delicate, yet blossoming relationship between the fussy English Stuart and the brooding and mysterious King Sakchai of Mandala actively refuses to follow the tired tropes that plague The King and the Skater’s genre. As the political unrest of the Mandalan court comes to a head, Stuart finds himself confronting a choice that has the potential to change Mandalan history forever.

Though The King and the Skater has a film adaptation slated to be released on Valentine’s Day next year, we strongly recommend everyone go read the book in addition to watching the film — it will be entirely worth your time.

— Hisashi Morooka

In the late afternoon, Viktor sits at the long wooden kitchen table with half of a Caprese salad on the plate in front of him and his laptop open to his word processor. The doors leading out to the patio are open to catch the breeze flowing in from outside. Makkachin is lying on the ground just inside the doors, basking in the late afternoon sun.

Viktor’s been staring at the blank page on his word processor with no success so far. In fact, his mind is anywhere but on the task at hand. The light pouring in through the windows and doors as the sun dyes the skies brilliant shades of gold is far too distracting. Perhaps a walk down the coastal trail just outside his cottage will help get the circulation going to his brain again.

He bundles up for the early evening, whistles for Makkachin, and together they head out again. This time, Viktor takes them down a rickety set of boards that barely pass as a staircase all the way to the tiny sliver of beach nestled below the cliffs.

Here, the beach is fairly sheltered by the cliffs, though the firmness of the ground clearly shows that high tide tends to claim most of the sand. Right now, though, the tide is fairly low, exposing rock pools and stretches of damp shell-encrusted sand. Makkachin runs towards the waves nonetheless, paws splashing in the surf as he chases the receding tide.

Viktor lets the breeze ruffle his hair as he looks out from here to the rest of the shoreline. The lights of the boardwalk, pier, and beachside resort are coming on, little pinpricks of gold twinkling across the harbour.

Makkachin barks suddenly, drawing Viktor’s attention to a familiar figure in the surf nearby. It’s the seal, sleek black head bobbing curiously a couple feet from them, just beyond the reach of the waves.

“Makkachin, no!” Viktor shouts, but Makkachin is already splashing out beyond the whitewater, evidently intent on chasing after the seal. But the creature isn’t deterred; he vanishes into the water, only to pop up again behind the poodle. And when Makkachin turns to try and catch the seal, it disappears and reappears again.

After the fourth time that this happens, it hits Viktor that the seal is teasing his dog.

He watches, riveted, as the seal continues to play with Makkachin, even going up to the confused poodle and prodding him to swim around in circles. Makkachin seems to go with the seal’s directions more or less, either out of confusion or playfulness. They even spar for a bit in the waves, though the seal disengages the moment Makkachin shows any signs of tiring. It’s almost as if the seal knows that Makkachin’s a pretty old dog now, and doesn’t want to harm him.

With some poking and prodding, the seal coaxes Makkachin back onto land, washing ashore with him as well. Though he is much less graceful on land, the seal obliges Makkachin when the dog runs in circles around him; Viktor can’t help but laugh as he watches the seal lumber after Makkachin, the two of them growling playfully at one another as they chase each other.

After a while, Makkachin tires again, and flops down next to the seal. Already the sun is vanishing below the horizon, and the sky is dyed deep purples and indigos. The tide is slowly easing back up; the waves wash over the seal and the poodle from where they lie on the sand, and Viktor goes over to call Makkachin back.

As he approaches the seal, Viktor finds himself oddly drawn to the creature, whose pelt is a pure coal black and whose bright eyes seem to sparkle at him with an uncanny intelligence. But before he can reach out and touch the seal, it shies away from him and slips into the water. Viktor watches its head disappear beneath the waves, feeling a strange emptiness in his heart that he hadn’t even known was there before.

Makkachin boofs at him reproachfully, and Viktor laughs as he scratches behind his dog’s ears.

“I’m sorry for chasing away your new friend,” he says, turning towards the staircase leading back to the clifftop. “Let’s go home, Makka.”

Makkachin barks in agreement, and bounds up the stairs ahead of him with all the energy of a puppy.

a little white cottage with greenery all around it

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
My new home sweet home #torvillcove

a poodle at the beach

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
Makka ❤s the beach! #torvillcove

a strawberry ice cream cone at the beach

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
♡(*´ ♡ `*)♡ #torvillcove #torvillcovepier #vkusno

a carousel at sunset

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
What a lovely sunset! #torvillcove #torvillcovepier

a lighthouse on a cliff

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
I could wake to this every morning #torvillcove

Writing is a habit, especially when one is paid to do it. Writers often create routines, blocking out portions of the day in which they will do nothing but write. Something, anything. As long as there are words coming out, it can be considered progress.

Viktor breaks all of his old patterns during his first week in Torvill Cove. This morning, instead of sequestering himself in the den of the cottage like he would have back in Manchester, Viktor goes for a jog with Makkachin along the trail behind his cottage that connects him to town.

It is early out; the sun has barely climbed into the sky. The fishermen are out in the harbour with their nets. Viktor thinks he sees Yuuko and her daughters on one of the boats. He waves, but the gesture is probably lost on them out there far from shore.

Viktor grabs some groceries on the way back to his house after his run. The local-run grocery store, Nekola’s Market, is tucked away down a back alley behind the post office and the bookstore. If it hadn’t been for a couple of carefully-placed signs, Viktor is sure he would have missed it.

As Emil Nekola, the store manager, finishes checking out his purchases, Viktor hears someone calling his name: “Hey, Viktor! You need any help with that?”

Viktor isn’t quite sure how the unfamiliar young man knows his name, as he’s quite sure he’s never met him before, but the man’s smile is about as warm as his tanned complexion and he’s offering to help Viktor carry his bags home. So Viktor nods and smiles, and the man gets a crate to help him heave the goods.

“I’m sorry, have we met?” he asks as the man begins moving the crate towards the back. “Also, I need to get my dog from the front —”

“You can meet me in front of the post office!” exclaims the man with a twinkle in his eyes. “And my name is Phichit, by the way. I know you from Instagram, actually.”

Ah. That would explain it. Viktor has been spending more time on there recently, mostly in a pathetic attempt at procrastinating. He’d uploaded several pictures of himself and Makkachin at the boardwalk and the pier, and tagged them with #torvillcove. Everyone who even vaguely cares about his whereabouts knows he’s here.

“Also, I’m such a big fan of The King and the Skater! My friends and I went into the city to catch the midnight premiere of the movie, actually, since it takes forever for anything good to come to the theatre here. Totally worth it! But I honestly think your book is much better.”

Viktor laughs. Another fan. “I’m glad you liked my work,” he says.

Phichit grins. “Once I get your stuff on my bike, can we take a selfie?”

They do, and Viktor savours the wind in his hair as he and Makkachin follow Phichit towards the trail that leads from the intersection of Market and Dean to the beach cottages. Makkachin’s leash trails behind him as he pads amiably by Phichit’s bike, tongue lolling out in the mid-morning sun.

“So what brings you here?” Phichit asks sweetly as they pass the entrance to the pier and embark on the pavement heading up the cliffs that traverses behind the cottages. A couple kids on beach cruisers approach, causing Phichit and Viktor to stop to let them through. “Research? I heard you actually learnt some basic figure skating moves so you could write The King and the Skater.”

Viktor has to stifle a laugh at that. “That’s just the tip of the research iceberg,” he says. “But, no. I moved here for a change of scenery.”

“But you’re working on something, right?” asks Phichit, eyes bright.

Viktor thinks of the calls from Yakov that have been happening at least twice a day. “My agent would like me to,” he admits.

“Wow! I’m sure there’s something here that could be novel-worthy. We’re a pretty small town, but there’s a lot going on if you just get involved, you know? But don’t worry — a lot of people own summer houses in Torvill, and when they come down for the summer there’s always a lot of parties to go to! You’re bound to find some inspiration, I’m sure.”

Viktor smiles. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says.

a black seal on the beach

Viktor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov
Makka’s new friend came to visit again! #katsudontheseal #torvillcove

A week or so after he arrives, Viktor heads down one morning to his little semi-private beach only to find a strange blond man lying on his stomach in the sand, aiming a very expensive-looking camera at a crab scuttling through the nearby tidepool.

Viktor coughs when the other man begins to straighten up, causing him to startle and turn. He is, Viktor realises with a jolt, quite handsome, with hazel eyes and a faint smattering of stubble about his chin.

“I’m sorry; am I invading your beach?” the stranger asks, raising an eyebrow as he extends a hand. For some reason, the lilt of his voice makes the question sound more like a double entendre.

Viktor takes it, smiles. “No,” he says as he shakes his hand. “I mean, I don’t think this beach is actually private property, so you’re welcome to it. I’m just not used to seeing other people here.”

“The stairs tend to deter families,” agrees the blond. “I’m Christophe Giacometti, by the way. I’m local, if you can call ‘having lived here for three years’ local at all.”

“Well, you know the place better than I do; I’ve only been here a week,” replies Viktor. “Viktor Nikiforov.”

“Ah, you’re the one responsible for the sudden renewed interest in the boardwalk’s pop-up ice rink last winter,” says Christophe. It’s a roundabout way of saying he’s read at least one of the books of the Ice Triad, but Viktor has to give him points for originality in his phrasing.

“Nice camera,” he says, by way of changing the subject.

Christophe laughs, patting it gently. “Yes, I’m pretty sure I value this girl more than I value my own life,” he says, punctuating that sentence with a sigh for added drama. Viktor’s impressed. “I’m not professional, though,” he adds with a shrug. “I think I take entirely too many photos of my cat for my career to even begin approaching professional.”

Viktor chuckles, and he pulls out his phone to show Christophe his lockscreen. He has recently changed it from a picture of Makkachin to a picture of Makkachin and the seal, the two of them touching noses in the surf. “If the only thing that determines professionalism is a lack of pet photos, then I’ll gladly remain an amateur writer for the rest of my life.”

Christophe’s grin is wide and bracing at that. “Well then, want to see my darkroom?” he asks.

“Why, sir, that’s forward of you,” replies Viktor, fluttering his lashes. “At least wine and dine me before taking me to your ‘darkroom’.”

He hears a little burst of laughter at that from Christophe. “Oh, you and I are going to be such good friends,” declares Christophe, who pulls out his own phone. “Since we’re on the topic of animal pics, let me show you these pictures of my cat…”

They remain on the beach together for a while longer, trading photos (and phone numbers) until Christophe checks his watch and sighs. “I’ve got to head to work,” he says.

“Where do you work?” asks Viktor.

“Kachu Snack Bar. It’s on the boardwalk across from the shooting gallery. We serve more snacks than drinks at lunch and more drinks than snacks at dinner.” Christophe laughs a little, rubs the nape of his neck. “You should drop by! We’ve got a great view of the harbour and I’ll pour you a free drink once in a while.”

“Sold,” says Viktor. “I love free drinks.”

“Then you’ve gotta promise you’ll let me show you my darkroom eventually,” replies Christophe, his eyes twinkling.

Viktor chuckles. “Oh, all right,” he agrees.

Excerpts from the News-in-Brief section of the Torvill Cove Reporter:

...the Leroys are expected to return to Torvill Cove for the summer. Their arrival next Saturday will kick off this year’s Housewarming Week with a party at their residence on Bowhill Lane. All are invited; the dress code is semi-formal.

Seal of Approval
Torvill Cove’s resident seal has been spotted in the harbour again! The seal, fondly nicknamed ‘Katsudon’ after the Nishigori triplets once lured it out onto the beach with some breaded pork cutlets from the Yu-Topia Resort’s restaurant, has returned to Torvill Cove just in time for tourist season. Yuuko Nishigori of the local conservation group Torvill Cove Harbour Watch says that Katsudon must have returned from a long-distance feeding journey and is resting in Torvill before setting out again. Better get your phones ready, because once Katsudon is rested it might be some time before we see him again!

Bestselling Author Comes to Torvill Cove
Fans of The King and the Skater, rejoice! Author Viktor Nikiforov has come to Torvill Cove, and if the photos on his Instagram are of any indication, he’s here to stay. Nikiforov, known especially for his bestselling Ice Triad: The King and the Skater, Cherry-Flipped, and On the Blades of Love, cites “seeking inspiration and a change of scenery” as reasons for coming to town. Here’s to hoping Torvill Cove will feature in his next work!

Spring Fever Still Going Strong
Town darlings Mila Babicheva and Sara Crispino were spotted kissing last Wednesday at Lovers’ Point in Crispino’s car...

Vitya, please. Tell me you’re actually getting work done out there in the middle of nowhere.”

Yakov’s voice is wheedling with a side of exasperated. Viktor can’t help but laugh at it as he walks down the boardwalk with a leashed Makkachin in tow.

“I’ve been writing every day, Yakov,” he says cheerily. “This town is fascinating! I’ve got lots of poems about the people I see on the boardwalk every morning.”

It’s been a couple of weeks since his arrival in Torvill Cove, and already it’s as if he’s never lived anywhere else. Though he’s slowly starting to learn the townsfolk by name, it seems like they already know his, and they surprise him with it every time he steps into one of their shops or even passes them on the street.

Viktor can almost hear Yakov pinching at the bridge of his nose. “Poems are nice, yes, but where’s the novel manuscript you promised?” his agent demands.

“I’m doing research!” exclaims Viktor, rolling his eyes. “I’ve been talking to the locals, you know, getting stories from them about the town’s lore. Did you know that the lighthouse here has at least three ghosts? The boy who works at the ice cream parlour told me so when he gave me and Makkachin our cones yesterday — the ice cream here is scrumptious, Yakov, you really have to come here and try some —”

I don’t even know why I bother keeping tabs on you,” Yakov groans.

“The manuscript’s coming along, okay?” Viktor stops just as he reaches the entrance to the pier. Makkachin barks at a gull that flies too close to them.

It better,” says Yakov. “The publishers are dying to know what you’ve got in store for them.”

Viktor blithely changes the subject as he and Makkachin step onto the pier. “Yakov, did you know this town has its own newspaper?” he asks. “You can catch up with all of the town gossip with it, and some of it is pretty juicy. They did a little segment on me in last week’s edition to welcome me to the town! Also, apparently one of the girls who works at the movie theatre here was caught at Lovers’ Point with one of the owners of the local winery —”

What does this have to do with your writing, exactly?” Yakov interjects drily.

“Oh, ye of little faith, Yakov!” exclaims Viktor, injecting a little melodrama into his voice. He leans against the aged wooden railing, looking out at the sparkling blue ocean beyond. “You know how much I need to immerse myself in the places I want to write about.”

So can I at least have a pitch on what you want to write about? Clearly it’s something about this town, since you sound like you’re really enjoying yourself there.

Viktor hums. Out on the waves, he can see the familiar black head of the seal poking through the white surf.

“Yakov, if I’d found a plot by now, you’d be the first to know,” he says, before he hangs up. Next to him, Makkachin barks, having spotted the seal as well. Almost as if in reply, the seal swims towards them, to the great excitement of the other people on the pier.

During these past weeks, Makkachin and the seal have become almost inseparable. Whenever Makkachin is on the beach, the seal is sure to emerge from the waves to play with him on the sand before slowly luring him into the waves. Viktor sometimes follows them into the water, though most of the time he’s content to remain on the beach and watch. For some reason he can’t quite pin down, he trusts the seal not to put his dog in too much danger. And so far that trust has held out, as the seal often returns his dog to him perkier than before.

Now the seal is following him and Makkachin along the pier, barking excitedly along with Makkachin as if they’re conversing. It’s not the first time Viktor wonders what’s going through his dog’s mind, and he suspects it’s not his last.

At the very end of the pier, though, the seal vanishes beneath the water before emerging again in an excited jump. He does it again, and again, and Makkachin pokes his head through the railing the pier to bark encouragement at the seal. Other people on the pier have their phones out; Viktor suspects he’ll soon find photos and video of the scene all over the Internet.

Almost as if he has come to the same realisation, the seal makes one more jump, before vanishing into the waves. He doesn’t emerge immediately after, and Makkachin whines, so Viktor suspects the seal has vanished for the day.

He turns to glare at the people who had been recording, but they have all dispersed.

Within three hours of being uploaded to Instagram, Phichit Chulanont’s video — because of course Phichit was there; the man would fight God Himself for a perfect Instagram opportunity — of Makkachin’s ‘conversation’ with the seal hits a million views. Viktor watches it when he gets home, his heart in his throat as the sleek black body of the seal launches out of the water towards a tail-wagging, happily-barking Makkachin.

This Seal and this Dog are Best Friends
...and honestly, it warms our hearts.

Caroline Bennett
BuzzFeed Staff

Instagram user phichit+chu uploaded this video of a poodle — who happens to be Makkachin, the beloved pet of bestelling author Viktor Nikiforov — barking at a seal on the pier of Torvill Cove. What really gets our attention, though, is the fact that the seal responds.

He jumps out of the water.

Several times.

And Makkachin is being a complete enabler, and it’s adorable.

According to local conservation group Torvill Cove Harbour Watch, the seal’s name is Katsudon and he is a 23-year-old harbour seal who has lived in Torvill Cove all of his life, only leaving occasionally for feeding excursions. Though, given his name, it’s entirely possible that he sometimes doesn’t need to go far from home to be fed!

Of course, Torvill Cove Harbour Watch doesn’t recommend feeding seals pork cutlets, not even if they’ll be willing to do jumps for it.

Katsudon and Makkachin are #friendshipgoals.

The seal doesn’t appear for the next few days.

Reviews for Torvill Cove Pier

“We came to Torvill Cove after we saw the video of Katsudon the seal, so we were disappointed to find that he didn’t make an appearance during our trip here! However, the rest of the town is charming enough to make up for it, and we had a lot of fun on the pier even though it’s much smaller with fewer attractions than at most piers. But that’s to be expected from such a small town, though! Everyone was friendly and helpful and made our trip entirely worth it.” — James Rochester, Brighton, United Kingdom | Rating: ★★★★ ½

“I was promised a jumping seal. Where is my jumping seal. The rest of the town is pretty, but boring.” — Kate Hamilton, Yarmouth, United States | Rating: ★★

“If you come here specifically for the seal, you’re bound to be disappointed. I bet Katsudon heard about his sudden Internet fame and got camera shy. But everyone else in this town is super friendly, and if you’re a fan of Viktor Nikiforov’s novels you might find him most mornings on the pier with his dog, who’s the dog in the video! So don’t feel like you’ve been cheated by the town if you don’t see Katsudon while you’re there. There’s so much else this place has to offer. I don’t even live there and I can see that.” — Ally K., London, United Kingdom | Rating: ★★★★★

Viktor isn’t sure why he’s missing a seal, for God’s sake. But his stomach still turns in disappointment whenever he scans the blueness of the ocean and doesn’t find the familiar black head of the seal bobbing amongst the waves.

Tourist season has come early to Torvill Cove, no thanks to Phichit’s video. Even Viktor himself has been recognised by tourists, and asked about his experience here as if he’d been living here for more than a mere couple of weeks. But he answers his fans to the best of his ability, poses for more pictures and selfies, even signs a couple books. It’s not too different from when he was living in Manchester or Hartford, except this time it’s not because Yakov arranged some book signing or photo opportunity.

Viktor ducks into the bookstore on Market Street on a Thursday afternoon to avoid the crowd at the boardwalk for a bit. He likes this bookstore; Makkachin is allowed to go inside and the diminutive clerk, a young sweet-faced man named Guang-Hong Ji, always gets his dog a bowl of water and a bone to chew on while Viktor peruses the shelves.

“So, Viktor, would you ever be interested in doing a book event here?” Guang-Hong asks over a mug of coffee and a blush as Viktor idly flips through one of the store’s newest arrivals. It’s some sort of trashy romance novel about a time-travelling curler. The success of The King and the Skater has spawned a dozen other copycats just like this one. Except a great number of them have a female protagonist and a male love interest, which is, in Viktor’s opinion at least, completely unsurprising.

He prides himself on being unconventional. On surprising the readers. Part of the suspense in The King and the Skater centres around the will-they-won’t-they tension between Arthur and the King, two very repressed men from societies with differing opinions about sexuality. It’s simultaneously a matter of ‘if’ and of ‘when’.

At least the porn in this copycat novel is decent. Viktor puts it back on the shelf. “Maybe,” he tells Guang-Hong. “But really, I’m here on an extended holiday from things like publicity tours and book signings, so please don’t get mad if I refuse in the end.”

“Oh, no, it’s just a silly idea I had, that’s all,” says Guang-Hong, his cheeks turning impossibly pinker. “I mean, we have a lot of people in town who love your work, so I thought it’d be cool for you to do a meet-and-greet with them… maybe we could make it casual; I could give you the times when the Torvill Cove Book Club meets up?”

“Is that how everyone in the town read The King and the Skater?” asks Viktor. “I feel like every local I’ve met seems to have read it — and preferred it to the film, too.”

“Well, word travels pretty fast here,” says Guang-Hong. He takes a sip of coffee. “After the Book Club gave a positive review of your book in their column of the Reporter, your sales here went up at least 500% in the first week after. And then when the library got a copy, it was checked out for at least three months straight; Seung had to limit the time spent with it to a week so everyone on the list could read it eventually.”

Viktor laughs a little. “Christophe mentioned something about an increased interest in the ice rink,” he remarks.

“Oh, that happened after the Book Club sponsored a King and the Skater-themed event at the pop-up ice rink we have on the boardwalk around Christmas,” says Guang-Hong, nodding. “It went really well! The old ladies that make up the executive board of the club have too much free time on their hands, so they went all-out and transformed the rink into the Mandalan palace. There’s a bunch of pictures of it on Instagram if you look back far enough.”

Viktor chuckles. “I’m flattered,” he says. “Give me a couple days to think about it.”

“Well, if you go to the Leroy housewarming party this weekend, you might meet the events coordinator of the Book Club herself.” Guang-Hong shrugs. “Nathalie Leroy’s a bit of a force of nature; if you even vaguely suggest you’d be interested in doing some sort of event, within the hour she’ll already have it set up for you to attend next week.”

“That sounds terrifying, actually,” says Viktor, as he pulls another book from the shelf. According to the back cover, it’s about a spy who drives a Zamboni at a Russian skating rink during the Cold War. Which actually sounds promising.

“That’s how she ended up as the events coordinator despite spending most of the year out of town,” says Guang-Hong with a wry laugh. “But even if you’re not interested in talking with Nathalie, you should go to the party for the drinks, anyway. I heard there’s going to be champagne, and an open bar run by Christophe.”

“Sounds exciting,” murmurs Viktor as he opens the book. Guang-Hong seems to take that a sign that Viktor would like to be left alone, and subsides into silence.

After a couple more pages, Viktor decides to purchase the book to read at the beach. The premise had been interesting, but what had really sold him was the promise of a Cold War-tense affair between the Zamboni-driving spy and the irresistible Russian figure skater. Guang-Hong grins at him as he wraps the book up in a paper bag for him, and Viktor winks.

“I’ll see you at the party, I presume?” he asks.

Guang-Hong grins. “Definitely,” he says.

SHALLWESKATE has added Viktor Nikiforov to the conversation

SHALLWESKATE: guanghong said ur coming to the party so i thought id add you to our group chat!
SHALLWESKATE: that way we all have each others backs while we get turnt
Viktor Nikiforov: i didn’t know you needed to have people to watch your backs at a simple housewarming party
mila_b: you’ve clearly never been to a leroy party
sara-crispino: yeah the only old ladies are from the book club and they are surprisingly good at throwing down
SHALLWESKATE: yeah its pretty wild lol every year something happens
dirtycocktail: remember last year when leo started a conga line that ended up in the pool
gh_kawaii: that was fun <333
leooooo: i’m glad you think so bc i don’t remember any of it
gh_kawaii: lol maybe don’t drink so much this year? :)
leooooo: what and not take advantage of the free bar? never
mila_b: point is you need people to make sure you don’t do something stupid, but if something stupid happens anyway they need to be there to record it )
pxpxvxch: anya isn’t coming back this year (
mila_b: awww (((
mila_b: it’s not wrong is it tho
yuripurrsetsky: I HATE YOU
mila_b: one more year before i don’t have to sneak you a beer in public!
dirtycocktail: i’m going to pretend i didn’t read that
dirtycocktail: anyway viktor
dirtycocktail: can you dance
Viktor Nikiforov: i learnt the basics of argentine tango for a short story about a prostitute in buenos aires, does that count?
dirtycocktail: that’s hot ;))))

The Leroy summer residence is on the other side of the harbour from where Viktor lives, but he decides to walk to the party on Saturday anyway, because the weather is nice and the afternoon sun is casting the sky into shades of pale pinks and golds.

It seems a majority of the town has had the same idea, because Viktor runs into Yuri Plisetsky and Phichit Chulanont at the boardwalk. Both of them are also dressed for the party, though Yuri’s belt is in leopard print.

“Really?” Viktor asks, gesturing towards the belt.

Yuri glares. “You wouldn’t know real fashion even if it bites you in the ass,” he says.

Phichit laughs. “He also has a leopard print jacket, you know.”

“I’m only not wearing it because it’s warm out,” adds Yuri.

As they pass the carnival game booths, they are joined by Mila Babicheva and Sara Crispino, both also dressed for the party.

“Where’s your brother, Sara?” asks Phichit pleasantly once introductions are carried out and the group continues on. Already music from the party is drifting up to them from across the water, loud and pulsating.

“Holding down the fort at the winery. He’s going to join us later; Emil promised to pick him up,” says Sara as she links her arm with Mila.

“You’d think he’d be here stalking us in order to keep an eye on you,” remarks Yuri sullenly.

Sara laughs. “It’s literally none of his business what I do in my free time,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Or who you do, really,” adds Phichit, sharing a wink with Mila. Yuri groans.

As they pass by the Yu-Topia Resort, Phichit fires off a couple of texts. After a moment, he hangs back from the group.

“I’m going to be a little late,” he says. “You guys go on without me!”

“Are you sure?” asks Sara. “We could wait with you.”

Phichit laughs. “Oh, no, it’s much worse than that. Seriously, go on. We’ll catch up, or we’ll see you at the party.”

Viktor raises an eyebrow. “Are you picking someone up here?” he asks, gesturing to the resort.

“Yeah, one of my friends lives here. Except he’s also a walking fashion disaster, so I’m going to have to go and re-dress him for the party,” says Phichit over his shoulder as he heads to the entrance of the resort. The rest of the group continues on, so Viktor follows them.

By the time they reach the Leroy summer residence, the sky has darkened its pinks and golds, and the lights are starting to come on at the pier. Music floats up towards them from the backyard as they go through the gates leading up to the immense house.

“Ugh, I sometimes forget how rich these assholes are,” Yuri mutters darkly as they mount the stairs leading to the front door. The deck is already swarming with people and it seems like every window and door that can be opened is already open to let out the obnoxiously loud music within.

“And yet you go to their parties?” wonders Viktor.

“Please. As if I’d turn down free drinks,” retorts Yuri. “Also it’s pointless to do anything else in town during Housewarming Week, because everyone’s at the parties.”

They step through the front door, and it’s like walking into a wall of sound. The music assaults Viktor’s ears as they wend their way through the other partygoers.

“Leo and Guang-Hong say that they’re downstairs,” says Sara suddenly, waving her phone.

“Where’s Christophe?” asks Mila. “I pre-gamed for this and I still don’t think I’m drunk enough.”

“He’s probably out by the pool; they usually set up the bar there,” Sara says as she drags Mila to the nearest flight of stairs. “But first we gotta get Guang-Hong and Leo!”

“I’m getting some sparkling cider,” declares Yuri. “Find me at the bar.”

“We’ll meet you there, then!” Sara waves, and then she and Mila are gone. Yuri and Viktor look at each other, before Yuri begins shouldering his way through the crowd in pursuit of the doors leading to the backyard.

Viktor tries to follow, but his path is blocked halfway through the living room by a young man with a dark undercut and a grin. “Viktor Nikiforov!” the man says, clapping Viktor’s back as if they had been long-time buddies instead of complete strangers meeting for the first time. “What a surprise to find you here! I didn’t know you’d come!”

Viktor puts on his most placid smile in response. “You must be Jean-Jacques Leroy?” he asks. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Yuri turning around at the door, scanning the crowd.

“That’s me!” agrees Jean-Jacques. He then gestures to the older woman standing next to him, whose red hair is cut into a rather dramatic bob. “May I introduce you to my mother Nathalie? She’s a big fan of The King and the Skater.”

“Seems to me the entire town is,” says Viktor noncommittally. He reaches out and presses a kiss to Nathalie’s hand, nonetheless. “Nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” replies Nathalie. “I hope you have fun at the party tonight, though I’m afraid I let JJ choose the music for it.”

“It’s very… boisterous,” remarks Viktor. He looks through the crowd now, glimpsing Yuri shoving his way back towards him.

“My girlfriend and I would have brought our band, if the drummer hadn’t come down with the flu at the last minute,” Jean-Jacques interjects. Viktor represses a shudder. Live music in such close quarters would have definitely been too much for him.

Nathalie presses on. “Since you must be aware of the activities of the Torvill Cove Book Club by now, Mr Nikiforov, I was wondering if you would be interested doing in a small meet-and-greet —”

“Viktor!” Viktor whirls around and finds, to his relief, Yuri Plisetsky elbowing his way past some couple plastered up against one another to reach them. “Come on, the cider isn’t going to drink itself!”

Sensing an opportunity, Viktor immediately extricates himself from the Leroys. “I’m flattered, Mrs Leroy, but I’ll have to ask my agent about doing public appearances here before I can give you any answers. I’ll leave you my card before I leave tonight, all right?” And without even waiting for an answer, he lets Yuri push him out towards the backyard. “This party’s pretty great!” he shouts over his shoulder just before their faces vanish into the crowd.

Somehow the music out in the backyard is even louder than inside the house itself. Viktor follows Yuri as the blond weaves his way through the dancing people around the edge of the pool. Someone has already managed to toss confetti into it; Viktor doesn’t envy whoever has to clean up.

“I owe you one,” he tells Yuri.

“Whatever,” replies Yuri. “No one should be exposed to JJ Leroy for that period of time without prior warning, so I did it out of concern for your health.”

“Like how giving me a free doggy cone was also out of concern for my health?”

“Shut up, Dogbreath,” growls Yuri, and they head towards the bar where Christophe reigns.

“Aren’t you a little young to drink, Yuri Plisetsky?” asks the older blond when Yuri draws up to the bar.

“You know the age for drinking in private is, like, five, right?” demands Yuri. “Besides, all I want is sparkling apple cider.”

Christophe obligingly pours him a flute of sparkling cider, and then turns to Viktor.

“You made it!” he exclaims happily. “Pick your poison, darling.”

“Vodka and tonic,” says Viktor.

“Really not holding back, are we?” Christophe chuckles, already grabbing a bottle of Stolichnaya.

“Isn’t that how a Leroy party should be enjoyed?” wonders Viktor. “Or maybe I’ve been hearing the stories wrong.”

“You should really try the hors d’oeuvres this year,” Christophe muses as he pours Viktor a highball glass of vodka and tonic water, and then garnishes it with a lime wedge. “I don’t know who’s responsible for the bacon-wrapped scallops, but I haven’t been able to stop eating them all night.”

“It’s barely six,” Yuri points out baldly.

“All. Night,” emphasises Christophe. Yuri rolls his eyes, and then disappears into the crowd. Christophe then hands Viktor his glass. “Here you go, darling.”

Viktor raises the highball in thanks. He’s just taken his first sip when he notices Phichit arriving in the backyard, leading another man by the hand.

He hears a low whistle from Christophe, and suddenly it’s as if the music from the party is nothing but a dull roar against the sound of his heart beating.

Phichit’s friend is gorgeous.

He’s a strange equilibrium between hard and soft, between high cheekbones and soft cheeks, between defined collarbones peeking through the tops of his black shirt and a perky ass defined by his sinfully tight jeans. His black hair is slicked back, and bright brown eyes sparkle enigmatically behind blue-framed glasses.

And if Viktor hadn’t been a goner before, he certainly is when this man runs a thumb along the back of his braces and — Viktor’s breath hitches — locks eyes with him.

Viktor’s heart skips a beat.

The man tugs at Phichit’s salmon suit jacket; Phichit turns to him, and the man signs something. Phichit then turns to look at Viktor as well, and waves eagerly.

The noise from the party hits Viktor’s eardrums again. He blinks, shakes his head as if he’s Makkachin trying to rid himself of fleas, and then smiles and waves back at Phichit. From behind him, Christophe chuckles.

“See anything you like?” he asks.

Viktor takes a long sip from his vodka and tonic, his gaze flickering over to where Phichit and his friend are standing. Mystery man continues to sign to Phichit, who responds by talking and an occasional sign.

“Who’s Phichit’s friend?” Viktor wonders.

Christophe chuckles. “Yuuri Katsuki. He… I’m not really sure what he does. I guess he helps out at the resort, since his family owns it, but I’ve also seen him with the Nishigoris and at Emil’s store with Phichit. And there was this one time when I could’ve sworn he was helping Mila and Georgi at the movie theatre.”

“I’ve never seen him around,” says Viktor. Honestly, he would’ve known if he’d seen anyone even approaching the hotness of Yuuri Katsuki wandering around Torvill Cove.

“He’s a bit of a wallflower,” replies Christophe. “It’s amazing that Phichit even got him to come out tonight.”

Almost as if on cue, Yuuri Katsuki swipes a flute of champagne from a passing server. Viktor chuckles as he takes another sip of his own drink.

“So,” purrs Christophe, “I’m curious, Viktor. You’re such a meticulous researcher when it comes to your novels. Is the reason why you’re not heading over to Phichit and Yuuri right now because you’ve only researched the art of seduction and not actually done it?”

Viktor spits out his drink. “What?” he demands.

Christophe’s expression is the definition of ‘shit-eating’. “I mean, I’m probably not the most well-versed on your love life, but I do happen to be friends with Phichit Chulanont, and he’s practically his own brand of nosy. So the fact that you, a very successful author who has actually shown up on lists of the world’s most eligible bachelors, have not had anything interesting showing up in the ‘personal life’ section of your Wikipedia page is something I’m quite aware of.”

“Maybe I just make everyone I seduce sign an NDA afterwards,” Viktor replies acidly, though his ears still feel like they’re on fire.

Right.” Christophe chuckles. “And here I thought people threw themselves at you and you just had to say yes or no.”

Screw his ears; Viktor’s entire face is on fire. He slams his highball on the counter. “I’ll need more vodka before I even deign to answer that,” he says, and Christophe’s laugh is knowing.

Viktor finishes another vodka and tonic, as well as a White Russian, before the idea of approaching Yuuri Katsuki begins to even feel remotely like a good idea. By that time, the stars are twinkling in the sky, the fairy lights strung all over the Leroys’ backyard are glowing like little stars all on their own, and Yuri Plisetsky has gotten into some sort of argument with Jean-Jacques Leroy and thrown his sparkling cider down the other man’s front.

Yuuri Katsuki is still plastered to Phichit’s side, nursing what looks like his sixth glass of champagne for the night. The music filtering through the house continues to be abrasively upbeat, and people are dancing to it on practically all available surfaces. Some particularly drunk individuals have even jumped, fully clothed, into the pool. Still others are clamouring to take a boat or two out of the Leroy boathouse.

“I can’t believe it.” Viktor is startled out of his thoughts by the return of Yuri Plisetsky, who has Christophe fill his flute as soon as he draws close enough. “JJ’s actually convinced that the parlour should sell a sundae cone called ‘the JJ Style’. I am going to murder him the next time he sets foot in there.”

“I don’t think murder will be good for business,” says Christophe.

“Do I look like I care?” demands Yuri. “I am at the end of my rope with that imbecile!”

“I didn’t even know you had a rope to begin with.” Christophe laughs, and then pauses as if he’d realised something. “Hey. Maybe you can translate for Viktor!”

What?” demands Yuri. Christophe gestures to Phichit and Yuuri. Yuuri is now on his seventh glass. “What does that have to do with — oh.”

Viktor gingerly touches his cheeks, tearing his gaze away from the sight of Yuuri Katsuki running a hand through his hair as he finishes his champagne.

He can hear Yuri’s exasperation in his next words: “I’m not going to play matchmaker for Dogbreath and Piglet, Christophe.” Yuri punctuates it with a swig of cider. “They can figure it out themselves; the Piglet’s mute, not deaf.”

“Oh, come on, you’re the best out of all of us at sign language,” wheedles Christophe. Viktor doesn’t hear Yuri’s reply, though, as he sets down his glass on the bar and pushes off towards Phichit and Yuuri, feeling the alcohol course through his veins like liquid fire.

With his head now a light warm buzz from the drinks he’s had, the music now feels less like a pounding, more of a gentle throbbing. Slowly Viktor makes his way to Yuuri, noting dimly how the man seems to startle when he approaches, and then promptly finish yet another glass of champagne.

“Phichit!” says Viktor when he finally gets to them, leaning in towards the Thai man and slinging an arm around his shoulder. “You made it! And I’m guessing this is your friend?”

Phichit chuckles, his face flushing somewhat. “Yeah, and thank God you’ll never see what he was originally planning on wearing to this.” As if in response, Yuuri shoves his hands into the pockets of his trousers. His cheeks are already flushed an appealing shade of pink from a mix of alcohol and nerves. Viktor wonders if they’re as soft to the touch as they look.

“What’s your name?” Viktor asks Yuuri, and the man fidgets. He takes his hands out of his pockets, makes a couple half-hearted gestures, and then looks pointedly at Phichit with his cheeks turning even pinker.

“Yuuri Katsuki,” translates Phichit, and then adds, “he’s already had a lot to drink, but I guess no amount of champagne will prepare you for meeting Viktor Nikiforov, huh?”

Yuuri’s brows furrow at that, and he rapidly shoots off some signs at Phichit, who responds in kind. Yuuri then huffs, and tugs at Viktor’s sleeve.

“Yeah?” asks Viktor, feeling like his hands are at a loss. He once had a deaf grandmother back in Russia, so he had learnt some signs, but those were in Russian Sign Language, and he highly doubts that Yuuri would understand that. Or, even worse, Yuuri might interpret them as rude.

Still, Yuuri smiles at him, and mouths something while moving his hands from side to side. He then raises his eyebrows and tilts his head forward. Viktor looks helplessly at Phichit, who says, “he’s asking if you’d like to dance with him.”

Viktor smiles at Yuuri. “Yes, I’d love to!” he says, nodding for emphasis, and Yuuri’s grin widens as he takes Viktor by the arm and leads him into the dancing crowd.