I thought it would be fun to go back in time before the start of LIFE ON THE EDGE and show the day Emily and Sergei met, so I've written a "prequel" to the series. The story will be told from both Emily's and Sergei's POV. It's a little long, so I'll be posting it in parts :) Here's Part I!
A current pop tune blared through the rink as I stood in one corner of the ice, watching Trevor and Leigh execute a slow-developing double twist. My newest pair team looked in my direction, and I motioned for them to join me near the boards. I’d been coaching them for just a few weeks, and their cautiousness with every element was high on my list of things to work on with them.
“Keep your speed up… attack it quick and tight.” I looked back and forth between them, and they nodded briskly. “Remember that you are in complete control of it.”
After more nods they skated away hand-in-hand, and I glanced at my watch. My potential new student Emily was due any moment. I glided to the ice door and retrieved my skate guards from the bleachers, snapping them on while keeping an eye on the rink entrance. When Emily and I had spoken on the phone, she’d sounded very enthusiastic about trying pairs after twelve years of skating only singles. I’d called her coach in Boston, and she’d given Emily a glowing recommendation, saying her jumping ability was at a high level. Her career had never taken off, though, because of crippling competition anxiety.
A loud grunt swung my attention back to the ice, where Trevor caught Leigh awkwardly in his arms on the twist exit. I kept my focus on them as they skated past me to set up for a repeat of the element.
“Sergei?” a sweet voice asked tentatively behind me.
I turned and met the brightest pair of blue eyes I’d ever seen. A hint of green shone in the blue, like the color of the ocean on a clear day. Her gaze stayed locked on mine, eyes widening with expectation under a lock of dark blond hair that fell over her brow.
“Yes.” I smiled and stuck out my arm. “You must be Emily.”
She remained frozen for a moment, still staring, before quickly removing her gloves and shaking my hand. “Thank you so much for meeting with me.”
Her delicate hand warmed my cold one, and I chided myself for not wearing gloves when I’d been on the ice. I had to be about a foot taller than her, and in my skates I towered over her even more. To put us on equal ground, I motioned to the bleachers. “Let’s sit.”
She swung her skate bag from her shoulder and set it on the first row while taking a seat. I joined her as she stuffed her gloves inside her bag and unzipped her black Skating Club of Boston jacket.
“How was your drive?” I asked. “I heard there was snow in Boston.”
“Oh, I drove down last night and stayed at Aubrey’s house. I didn’t want to chance getting stuck in bad weather this morning.”
Conscientious. A quality I always looked for in a student.
“Will you be able to stay there permanently if you come to train here?”
“No, my parents have a summer house in Hyannis where I can live. It just doesn’t have electricity or anything right now since we only use it when they’re off from school.”
“Your parents are teachers?”
She nodded. “They’re professors at Boston University.”
“What do they think about you putting college on hold? You said when we talked that you graduated in December?”
“My mom’s not too happy I’ll be giving up my scholarship to BU if I move here.” She fiddled with the small silver cross on her necklace. “But she understands how important skating is to me and how excited I am about trying something new.”
Intelligence. Enthusiasm. Dedication. Three more vital qualities. On first glance, this girl seemed to have all the intangibles. Now I just needed to see her on the ice.
“Before we start working on the pair basics, I’d like to see you skate on your own,” I said. “Just so I can get a feel for your style and technique. You can do whatever you’d like – just let the music guide you. Jumps, no jumps… anything you want to do.”
“Sure.” She was already digging into her bag for her skates before I’d finished.
While she laced up her boots, I looked up at Trevor and Leigh stroking with slightly more speed around the ice. They were one of a couple of teams in my new program. When the club’s director had called and asked if I was interested in starting a pairs program on the Cape, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough. American pairs hadn’t had much international success in recent years, and I wanted to change that. My goal was to build a group of teams at all levels who would support each other and learn from each other and who would ultimately compete with the top teams in the world. It might take some time, but I was willing to put in the years of work to make it happen.
“I just need a few minutes to warm up. I did my off-ice stretching before I left Aubrey’s,” Emily said with a smile.
I nodded with approval. She really was diligent.
Emily shed her jacket, leaving her in a white, long-sleeved Red Sox T-shirt over her black pants. She hopped onto the ice, and her long, wavy ponytail flew behind her as she zoomed around the rink. I wouldn’t have to worry about increasing her speed.
I positioned myself behind the boards, and after Emily had sufficiently warmed up, she slowed to a stop at the ice door beside me. She made two careful steps toward the bleachers and removed her T-shirt, revealing a black tank with thin straps that crisscrossed over her back. The stretchy shirt and pants showed every detail of her figure. She was slender but not an unhealthy skinny that I’d seen with so many female skaters. She had just the right amount of curves and muscle for her petite size.
Folding her shirt neatly, she placed it on the bleachers and then smoothed her dark blond hair and tightened her ponytail. Meticulous and methodical, I thought, adding those to the other observations I’d made. Once she returned to the ice, she gave me another expectant look.
“You can use the next song that comes on to improvise,” I said.
“Hit Me Baby One More Time” promptly came over the sound system, and Emily and I both laughed.
“This isn’t quite what I had in mind,” I said.
I went over to the stereo and flipped though the stack of CDs, selecting a classical compilation disc. After tuning to Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, I returned to Emily.
“Something a little more traditional.” I smiled.
“I love this piece,” she said and skated to the center of the rink.
She took a few deep breaths and began to move along to the soft music. Her arms stretched gracefully like those of a ballerina, and her blades didn’t make a sound as she floated effortlessly over the ice. My heart rate sped up as if I was the one out there skating. But I wasn’t. I was standing completely still, watching Emily get lost in the music. And I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
She owned every movement and was in total control of her body, making beautiful shapes to match the lyrical tune. As she glided into a deep inside-edge spiral on the crescendo of the music, a long chill ran down my spine. I’d watched a lot of skating over the years, and I knew special talent when I saw it.
Emily was beyond special.
Besides the emotional choreography she was creating on the fly, she was also throwing in textbook triple jumps. Her Lutz rivaled that of the best ladies skaters in the world.
How is this girl not national champion? How bad must her competition anxiety be?
Part II will be posted next week! In the meantime, check out a bonus scene from REACHING THE EDGE and a sneak peek at FIGHTING FOR THE EDGE that I posted last week.