Michele Crispino was used to being jealous. All of his life the feeling had been centred around Sara. As a child he wouldn’t take too kindly to his sister spending time with other boys. And as an adult he couldn’t stand the idea of no longer being the only man in Sara’s life. This led to shouting matches whenever Sara brought up the topic of dating, some fights with men who showed interest in her, and even a skating banquet ending with several skaters in hospital and a couple of restraining orders. Eventually, after a few stern talks from his twin, Michele acknowledged his problem with jealousy and promised to make an effort to change.
And so he did. Bit by bit he kept his outbursts of jealousy under control, allowing Sara to spend time with whomever she pleased without complaining. It worked out well, Sara was happy and so was Michele. He didn’t expect jealousy to smack him in the face again, especially not when it involved Emil Nekola. Or more precisely, who Emil was interested in…
It all started when Michele overheard a conversation between Sara and Mila during practice. He sometimes caught snippets of their ‘girl talk’ whenever he would skate near the side of the rink, but the topics never interested him. Until he heard them talk about how often they saw Emil hanging out with a young French skater. That piqued Michele’s curiosity, who remained close to the side to practice a few spins. Or at least pretend to practice spins.
“I don’t really know who she is, I think she’ll be making her senior debut this year,” Mila casually commented. “She’s so pretty though. Those eyes! Ooh la laaa…” She fanned herself, earning a chuckle from Sara. “It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that she’s swept Emil off his feet.”
Michele’s brow furrowed, and he felt his stomach tighten. It was an unpleasant, yet very familiar feeling. It was similar to how he used to feel whenever Sara came home with big flower bouquets, or talked about her new friends. As he was piecing together what was going on with him, Michele bumped into the rink boards, startling the girls before falling backwards.
“Mio Dio, Mickey!” Sara exclaimed, jumping from her seat to help her twin. “What just happened?”
Michele only replied with a groan. Falling on his ass in front of his sister and her friend was not a good start to the day.
“Are you okay?” Sara asked as she extended her hand.
“I’m fine,” he replied, allowing his sister to pull him up from the ice. Helping each other get up after a fall was rooted in their childhood, when they were both learning how to skate.
“You haven’t bumped into the boards in years. Where did your thoughts wander off to?” Sara asked suspiciously.
Michele scoffed and brushed himself off, pretending not to notice his twin’s inquisitive stare.
“It’s just a one-off, Sara,” he replied grumpily. “I was thinking about how I should change one of my quads, and I lost my concentration for a second.”
Sara tilted her head to the side, unconvinced by his explanation.
“Okay, Mickey… Just try not break something before the competition,” she added while patting on his arm.
Michele forced a smile at the gesture. Sara turned to the sideline and gave Mila a thumbs up.
“The clumsy Crispino lives to skate another day!” Sara exclaimed, as Michele rolled his eyes.
“Yay Mickey!” Mila cheered, before joining them on the ice. “I’m really curious to see your new program, so stay in one piece, alright?” she added with a wink.
“Thanks for the concern. I’ll try,” he replied drily, then turned to Sara. “I’ll go get myself some coffee.”
“Okay. Text me before dinner so we can meet up,” she replied.
Michele nodded, leaving the girls alone to practice their choreographies. He knew Sara felt something was off, but Michele assumed she would only bring up the issue in private. He dreaded the moment when she would ask for explanations.
How was he supposed to explain something he couldn’t even properly put into words?
Two days passed after the incident and Michele’s mood failed to improve. He avoided meeting up with Sara by using every excuse he could think of: headaches, skating practice, and even oversleeping. But Sara caught on fairly quickly and kept sending him angry messages.
“Michele Crispino, stop ignoring me or I’ll kick down your door and I don’t care if the hotel manager bans me from this place!!” had been Sara’s latest text.
Michele read it again, then let himself fall back on his bed. His sister was as stubborn as he was, so she obviously wouldn’t rest until she’d get to the bottom of Michele’s moodiness. He would have to face her eventually and tell her what was bothering him. He wanted to talk to her, but was too embarrassed to. Confessing that he might have feelings for a certain Czech skater and then admitting he was jealous of his potential love interest sounded like a teenage girl’s crisis. And Michele refused to have his younger sister think of him as a lovestruck teenager.
Was that it? Was he lovestruck? No, impossible.
Emil was his friend. Sure, he was annoyingly cheerful all the time, completely ignored the concept of personal space, and would always follow him around like a giant puppy, but he was his friend. Emil listened to Michele complain about Sara’s potential suitors, cheered him up whenever he down, enthusiastically encouraged him during competitions, and was always there for him. And Michele missed that.
Avoiding Sara also meant limiting his interactions with Emil, which wasn’t easy. He missed spending time with Emil, whether it was on the rink, or in one of their rooms watching silly comedies. He missed Emil’s unexpected hugs, random texts, youtube video recommendations, and offers to get lunch or go sightseeing.
Okay, maybe he was lovestruck.
But it was too late, he messed up. Michele realised how many times Emil tried reaching out to him with various opportunities to spend time together. But the Italian had refused more than half of them, claiming he had to focus on protecting his sister. Sara was right: his co-dependent attitude held him back from forming meaningful relationships with other people. In a nutshell, Michele had been a very shitty friend.
No wonder he’d focus on somebody else for a change, Michele thought. And based on Mila’s comments, it was a beautiful and possibly nicer somebody. Somebody who probably didn’t reply with snarky comments every five minutes.
“I deserve to die alone,” Michele told the empty hotel room.
The only reply came from his stomach in the form of a loud rumble. Michele then remembered he had skipped breakfast in an attempt to avoid Sara. Maybe it was time to get something to eat before he passed out from hunger. So he sluggishly got up, grabbed his coat and wallet, and decided to to check out the little sandwich shop from across the street.
As he closed the door of his hotel room, he heard a very cheerful and very familiar “Mickey!”
Michele’s heart skipped a beat. He turned to see Emil on the corridor, smiling widely and waving at him. He was wearing his skating jacket, so he presumably just finished practice. Michele then found himself trapped in one of Emil’s usual bear hugs, but he didn’t protest this time. In fact, it felt nice to be close to the Czech again, even if he was squishing him.
“Emil…” Michele croaked.
“Oh, sorry,” Emil apologised as he took a step back. “I guess I got a little too excited,” he added sheepishly, scratching the back of his head. “I haven’t seen you in days, Mickey! Where have you been?”
Hiding, Michele thought. To avoid both Sara and Emil, he had to skate and eat at ungodly hours, and ignore most messages and calls.
“Oh, you know, at the rink mostly. And I haven’t been feeling too well lately…” Michele muttered.
“Oh no!” Emil exclaimed, genuinely worried. “Did you catch a virus? Do you need anything? Meds, hot tea, blankets?”
“I’m fine. Honestly, it’s nothing” Michele replied, waving his hand dismissively. But a tiny smile appeared on his face; Emil still cared.
But Michele found himself unable to finish the question. The rest of it was stuck in his throat, tasting oh so bitter. It had been his attempt at making small talk, but it backfired spectacularly. Because he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to know anything about the mysterious French girl. Not if Emil’s eyes would light up when speaking about her. Not if the simple mention of her could bring a wide smile to Emil’s face. Michele couldn’t deal with it.
“Mickey, are you still with me?” Emil asked, waving his hand in front of the Italian’s face.
Michele blinked a few times and became aware of Emil’s big blue eyes focused on him. He noticed the twinge of concern hidden behind his casual smile. And who could blame him? Michele had zoned out mid-conversation.
“Everything all right?”
“I, uh…” Michele tried to get himself back on track.
He could already hear Sara’s voice. “Wow, Mickey. Smooth.”
“Have dinner with me!” Michele blurted out.
Emil stared at him, stunned.
“I mean,” he tried to backtrack, feeling his ears burn. “If you want to. Have dinner with me. Do you want to have dinner with me? To catch up. It’s been awhile and I…”
He realised he was babbling. Smoooooth, mental-Sara repeated. He clamped his mouth shut and stared at Emil instead, who had the widest grin plastered on his face.
“Sure, Mickey!” Emil happily exclaimed. “I’d love to! Just like old times!”
“Yeah,” Michele replied, his smile mirroring the Czech’s. “Just like old times. 7pm at the hotel’s restaurant?”
Good, that’s a casual setting, Michele thought. He started feeling embarrassed by how overanalytical he was of the whole situation. It was supposed to be a dinner between friends, nothing special. And yet the butterflies in his stomach begged to differ.
“Sounds great!” Emil replied, pulling Michele into another hug. “I missed spending time with you.”
“Same here,” the Italian said, his answer muffled by Emil’s shoulder.
Yes, definitely lovestruck.
Michele spent the few hours before dinner pacing nervously in his hotel room. He tried giving himself pep talks in the bathroom mirror to calm himself down, but failed miserably. He was a nervous mess. He’d been calmer even in skating finals.
“Michele Crispino, for the love of Christ, calm down. It’s not like your life depends on this dinner,” he muttered to himself.
But what if he would finally muster the courage to confess his feelings? Would that help him? Would Emil leave his French crush and run into his arms? He doubted that, and a wave of sadness hit him. He didn’t make a move early enough, so he surely missed his chance. Michele wanted to shout into a pillow to get rid of his frustration, but instead he picked up his phone and called Sara.
She didn’t answer though, so Michele assumed she was still at the rink. After all, the competition was in three days and she wanted her program to be flawless. Michele smiled, feeling proud of his sister’s determination. And then he reached her voicemail, and heard her beautiful chirpy voice asking him to leave a message. Without too much hesitation he did.
“Hey Sara…I’m sorry for not calling you earlier. I didn’t mean to ignore you, I just…I uh…” Michele cleared his throat and took a deep breath trying to gain coherence. “I like Emil, okay? I really like him. And I only realised this week, like the slow idiot I am.” He stopped to sigh. “But I heard you and Mila talk about how he’s seeing this French skater now, and I…I messed up, Sara. And it’s weird telling you all this through voicemail, but I had to get it off my chest.”
Michele stopped to collate his thoughts. He rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand in an attempt to ease the built up tension. It would have been so much easier to have Sara actually listening and giving him advice. But he had to work with what he had: complete silence at the other end of the call.
“So yeah…” he mumbled. “Call me when you get this, and maybe we can have breakfast together tomorrow? I miss you, sorellina. Take care.”
Michele ended the call and threw his phone on the bed. Telling Sara did make him feel better, but he was still anxious about dinner. He glanced at his watch. Half an hour to go.
How was he going to survive the evening?
Michele tried to arrive on time, he really did. But he ended up being there ten minutes early because he needed to escape his room. So he took the opportunity to pick a table towards the end of the restaurant hall, a spot he thought would be slightly hidden from curious glances. The last thing he wanted was some skater he knew stop by their table to make small talk.
So we waited for Emil to show up, fiddling with the cutlery in the meantime. He kept thinking about the possibility of telling Emil how he felt. He had never experienced unrequited crushes before, but according to all the cheesy romantic comedies Sara made him watch, most of them had happy endings. He dropped his fork and facepalmed. He had reached a new low point: trying to apply romcom logic to real life.
Michele looked up and saw Emil, happy as always, walking towards their table. He instinctively sat up, and Emil took the opportunity to hug him. Michele enjoyed the embrace, but quickly became aware that they were in a public place, so he took a tiny step back and Emil immediately took the hint.
“Sorry again,” he laughed. “I know you hate hugs, but I just can’t help it. Handshakes are too soulless.”
“I don’t hate them, as long as they’re not in public.” Michele replied flatly.
“Oh?” Emil asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Okay, then I’ll only hug you in private,” he added with a grin.
Michele felt his cheeks getting warmer. He told himself Emil didn’t mean to add any subtext to the comment, but his blush didn’t seem to obey. So he sat at the table and hid behind a menu. Emil followed his example and looked over the menu.
“Hmm, I don’t know what to choose. I tried the pesto pasta here last night,” Emil said. “It was pretty good.”
“We’re not in Italy, so I doubt it’s good,” Michele scoffed, earning a hearty laugh from his friend.
“You’re right, I should leave pasta recommendations to the experts. How about steak then?”
Michele looked up and felt the butterflies in his stomach going crazy at the sight of Emil’s radiant smile. He was a ray of sunshine, and Michele couldn’t handle it.
“Steak sounds good,” Michele replied, his voice sounding embarrassingly squeaky.
“Great!” Emil said, snapping the menu shut and signalling to the waiter. “Do you want your usual wine order as well?”
Michele nodded, flattered that he remembered his classic wine choice. While Emil ordered, Michele sat in silence admiring his dinner date, observing all the mannerisms he had ignored in the past: the way his smile would reach his eyes making them sparkle, the way he’d scratch his beard when deep in thought, the way he’d hum while waiting for something…
“Earth to Mickey!”
Michele regained his focus. Getting distracted by Emil’s presence was seriously affecting his social skills.
“Sorry,” he muttered. “I’m feeling a bit spaced out today.”
“Is it the flu?” Emil asked worried. “Is it getting worse?”
Without warning, Emil stretched over the table to press the back of his hand against Michele’s forehead. The Italian’s blush returned with a vengeance.
“You’re pretty hot. I think you might have a fever, Mickey,” Emil commented. “Have you been taking meds?”
“N-not really,” Michele mumbled, his heart racing. Hugs were one thing, but he wasn’t expecting the man’s hand on his face. Nor did he expect being called hot.
Emil tsked and moved his hand away.
“Mickey, you need to take better care of yourself!” he scolded. “I’ll buy you the pills I take for the flu and you’ll have to promise me you’ll take them, okay? And no wine for you tonight, I’ll ask for some hot tea instead.”
Michele nodded and shifted in his seat. Maybe playing along to the flu scenario would make his behaviour seem less strange.
“Thanks, Emil,” he added with a sincere smile.
Emil replied with a bright smile, and Michele decided he wanted to see that smile as often as possible.
Dinner continued normally, with the boys discussing the upcoming cup, and updating each other on what had happened since they last saw each other. The steak was good, and Michele even complimented the tea Emil had chosen for him. He refrained from asking about the mysterious French skater, and Emil didn’t mention her either.
The conversation flowed well, with plenty of smiles and laughs, and Michele loved it. He loved feeling so comfortable and happy around somebody other than Sara.
How did it take me this long to realise this? he kept asking himself.
“So if it weren’t for that conveniently placed children’s bouncy castle I would have probably missed this season due to a leg injury,” Emil said, before taking a sip from Michele’s favourite wine and making a face.
“You need to stop accepting all the stupid bets your friends make,” Michele commented as he added another teaspoon of sugar to his tea. “And why are you making that face? That wine is amazing!”
“Sorry, Mickey, I was never a fan of wine,” Emil shrugged. “But you’re not allowed to drink until you recover, so I’m taking one for the team.”
Michele scoffed. “You could have given it back to the waiter, you know.”
“But then what if the poor guy took it personally? I don’t want to make waiters sad, they have long demanding shifts anyway,” Emil replied, taking another sip of wine. “Besides, you get used to the taste eventually.”
Michele smiled and continued stirring his tea.
“So after crashing a bike into an inflatable castle, what’s next on your list of death-defying feats?” Michele asked as he brought the cup to his lips.
“Well I was thinking of going to France to-”
But Emil didn’t get to finish, because Michele choked on his tea. He slammed down the cup and coughed loudly, getting the attention of everyone around them.
“Mickey, are you okay?!” Emil asked, getting up to help his friend. “Do you need the Heimlich manoeuvre?”
Michele waved his hand as a no, and coughed a few more times. The tea had definitely gone in the wrong way, but he would survive.
“I’m fine,” he croaked.
But as his breathing got back to normal he realised he wasn’t fine. Emil mentioned going to France, obviously to visit his new girlfriend. Visiting her home country meant they were getting along really well, so Michele had no doubts they were very happy together. He felt a tight knot in his stomach.
“I have to go,” Michele muttered as he stood up abruptly, knocking over his chair.
“Mickey, where are you going? Mickey!” Emil called, but Michele rushed out of the restaurant, leaving him behind.
He stepped outside, hoping the cold evening air would help him calm down. He was taking deep breaths, trying to pull himself together. Whatever grand plans he had made about confessing his love and living happily ever after just went down the drain.
When he felt his phone vibrate in the pocket of his jeans, he scoffed. Great timing for somebody to want to talk to him... But when he saw Sara’s picture on the screen, he instinctively answered.
“Michele Crispino, idioto assoluto!” Sara practically yelled from the other end.
Michele had to pull away the phone from his ear as his twin continued shouting a string of insults in Italian. After a few moments, he gathered to courage to get closer to the phone.
“Sara, listen, I’m sorry for-”
“No, you listen to me, stupido!” she cut him off, anger present in her every word. “Emil isn’t dating the French skater!”
Michele’s heart skipped a beat.
“What?” he mumbled.
“She’s dating one of Emil’s childhood best friends, so that’s why they’ve been so friendly with each other,” she explained. “They have common friends!”
“Wait, how do you know?”
“Because he told me! Unlike you I actually talked to him this week.”
Michele felt a wave of relief washing over him. He had misunderstood everything, meaning he still had a chance to tell Emil how he felt. And through some twin telepathy, Sara gave him some words of encouragement.
“Now, Mickey, if you don’t ask Emil out on a date, I will personally kick your ass. It took you a ridiculously long time to realise you like him, so you’d better make a move quickly to make up for all this wasted time. Understood?”
“Understood,” Michele replied with a chuckle. He never thought Sara proving him wrong would make him this happy. “Breakfast tomorrow?”
“Mickey!” Emil shouted from the restaurant doorway.
Michele turned around, while Sara giggled into the phone and wished him good luck before hanging up. He put his phone away and walked closer to Emil, who looked like his entire world was being threatened.
“Mickey, are you okay? Why did you run off like that? Was it something I did or said?” Emil asked, a frown now replacing his usual smile.
“No!” Michele exclaimed, as he closed the distance between them.
Now. He could do it now. Explain everything and reveal his feelings. He stared into Emil’s beautiful blue eyes wishing he could just erase the sadness he caused. Michele’s thoughts were a mess, with so many things he wanted to say jumbled in his brain.
“Mickey, if I’ve done something wrong, I’m really sorry…” Emil began apologising, but was interrupted by Michele, who grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into a kiss.
It was chaste and sweet, and exactly what Michele needed. When he broke the kiss his cheeks were red, the butterflies in his stomach were out of control, and he wished he could do it again. Emil was staring at him in awe, with his lips parted and a tiny blush on his face. Michele then realised that he had completely crossed the friendship line.
“I’m sorry,” Michele mumbled. “I shouldn’t have…”
This time it was his turn to be silenced by a kiss, as Emil’s lips pressed against his. He tasted like his favourite wine, and his beard was ticklish, and his brain nearly short-circuited. Emil was kissing him. The friendship line had been waaay crossed, but apparently they were both okay with it. When Emil pulled away from the kiss, Michele made a small noise of protest.
“I’m so happy you did,” Emil chuckled, wrapping his arms around Michele.
“So am I,” he replied smiling widely. He couldn’t contain his euphoria. “I’m sorry for being a dick this week, it’s been…weird and complicated.”
“So it’s not the flu?” Emil asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“No. I could have had that wine.”
Emil laughed and pressed a light kiss on Michele’s forehead.
“Then let’s go back in, and you can have a glass of wine while you tell me what happened this week,” he suggested.
“Deal,” Michele said before leaning in for another kiss.
So maybe romcom logic did apply to Michele’s life. But for once, he wasn’t complaining.