Sitting in the stands, Gwen watched one of her brother’s games. The first one of the season. There weren’t many people there, so the energy wasn’t as high as it was at a Kats’ game. Gwen parked a few seats away from her mother, Joan, Gwen’s nose in her notebook. She jotted a sentence down, her pen moving with quick strokes.
Joan cheered and wore her Eagles sweater with pride. She was with the other hockey moms and, like Gwen, a few kids sat in various places in the arena. Joan shouted at Sam, but from this distance, he couldn’t hear her. She was always active in her kids’ sports and before Sam, her three other sons played hockey.
Though Joan was a huge hockey fan, she was more obsessed with her daughter, who aspired to be a famous figure skater. Gwen was talented but refused to go to competitions outside their hometown, which made the pair butt heads. And until a few months ago, Gwen always got her way.
But not now. A new coach, Dellings, asked to train Gwen after seeing her skate. Dellings promised Joan Gwen could make it to the Olympics, and her mother believed it. But not Gwen. The stress wore hard on the young skater.
Gwen looked at her brother. Sam wore a white jersey with silver and black stripes around his middle and arms. He did a small celebration near the goal. It was the cheesy dance he and Morgan created. Sam raised his fist in the air as he shouted.
Gwen laughed as she watched Sam do the moonwalk and taunt the shamed goalie with a “gimme some” type of cockiness. His happiness made her smile. Hockey was the one thing her brother was amazing at. The one thing he loved more than anything. He played it since he learned to skate. He shared his love for the sport with his best friend, Morgan. The boys were inseparable since they could remember.
But the ice lacked a player this year. The Black Kats, the junior hockey team based here recruited Morgan. They asked him to join the year before, but Morgan’s father wouldn’t allow it because his grades were poor. It made the boy work harder, and he raised them enough to please his dad.
Gwen’s bruised elbows were more noticeable because she wore an Eagles T-shirt. Like her brother, she was a fan of the ice and bore many such marks from her figure skating practices. She gazed at a few flags hanging across from her, all advertisements for the Black Kats. As she smiled, her cheeks flushed. She returned to writing in her book.
Feeling light tapping against her hair, Gwen grimaced. She reached up and picked out a few pieces of popcorn. Turning, she met the cocky grin of a boy sitting a few rows higher. When their eyes met, he made his way to her. He scaled the seats and sat next to her.
“What are you doing? Homework?” Talking with his mouth full, Morgan held a small container of popcorn.
“No.” Gwen slammed the book and glared at him.
“So, what is it?” He grinned as he studied the plain, pink notebook. It was a sturdy kind with the cardboard cover.
“None of your business.”
“Want some popcorn?” He handed her the cup, and Gwen took a few pieces. While preoccupied with the snack, he snatched her book.
Gwen whined and fought to get it back. Morgan turned his back on her, forcing open the pages and reading the first sentence he saw. He laughed and spun to avoid her. She ripped it from him and shoved it in her bag.
“You keep a diary?” Morgan laughed as he ate again. He downed handfuls, his cheeks puffed.
“Yes.” She glared at him.
“Do you have anything in there about me?”
“I thought you were working with your dad today?”
“Site got rained out.” Morgan shrugged. “So, when do you start your new job?”
“I can give you a ride home, if you want. I’m at the games anyway.”
“Thanks.” Gwen smiled at him, her cheeks red from the coldness at the rink. “That’d help a lot.”
“So, like…” He motioned to her bag. “Why do you keep a diary anyway? Shouldn’t you have stopped that at, like, ten?”
“Mom’s in her fifties, and she still has one.” Gwen turned back to the game.
Morgan’s eyes narrowed on her instead. “Like, what do you need it for?”
“Because I can write stuff down and get my feelings out. It’s a stress reliever thing, kinda.”
“So, what did you write about me?” He tried to grab her bag, but she held it close to her.
“None of your business.”
He watched the game for a few minutes before speaking again. “Sam’s playing awesome today.” Morgan gestured toward the ice.
“I guess.” Gwen shrugged and watched her brother switch out with another player.
“Why are you so pissy?” He shoved her shoulder.
“Mom.” Gwen glared in her mother’s direction. “She hired a new coach, and I hate her.”
“Really?” Morgan’s gaze followed the quick action playing out in front of them.
“I told her I didn’t want to compete. She doesn’t listen to me.”
“And you’re not listening to me either, are you?”
He leaned forward on his knees, his body rigid as he gawked at the players. Gwen looked at the scoreboard. They only had a few seconds left. She looked at the skates laying at her feet and sighed. The buzzer rang, and she heard Sam’s team cheering.
About a half an hour later, Gwen laced her skates as she prepared for practice. She was in a foul mood and, therefore, moved slower than usual. Her eyes darted to the entrance as a few young skaters came forth. She smiled when she saw them slip, grabbing onto each other’s hands to keep from falling.
“Stop daydreaming, Roberts!” Delling’s loud voice startled Gwen. “You should be warming up on the ice by now.” She scanned Gwen with annoyed eyes. “Did you do your off-ice warmup?”
“Yes,” Gwen answered under her breath.
“Then get your ass out there and skate.” She clapped her hands and ushered Gwen toward the ice. Instead of speaking, Gwen did as she told her. She started her warm-up. She liked this part because it was the only time she didn’t have Dellings shouting at her.
Gwen muddled through practice, the younger skaters stopping to watch. But Gwen didn’t notice them. All she could see was her mom and Dellings criticizing her every jump. None of her movements were smooth enough, nor were her spins tight enough. The first few weeks, she was on the verge of tears after every lesson, but she got tougher skin. However, she grew to hate skating.
When practice was over, Gwen stayed to skate with her friend, Jenny, who came to the rink. She tried to teach her friend, though Jenny didn’t do so well. Now the pressure was off, Gwen was in a good mood.
She watched Jenny try a few bunny hops. With each kick forward, Jenny slipped backward and caught herself to keep from falling. But Gwen was patient with her friend and happy she took an interest in a sport Gwen loved.
After falling on her bottom after a failed spin, Jenny sat on the ice and laughed. She wore black leggings, her long blonde hair in a thick ponytail. Gwen helped her up, and the pair circled the rink at a snail’s pace as they gossiped.
“Hey!” Cupping his hands around his mouth, Morgan shouted at Gwen. He wore his skates but was in plain clothes.
Jenny elbowed Gwen, whispering as she teased her friend, “Morgan’s calling you…”
“Shut up.” Gwen elbowed back, shushing Jenny as she made a nervous face. Morgan skated over, and she turned to him. Mustering an annoyed expression, she crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.” He skated next to her now, his mood upbeat. “I saw you skate. You still suck.”
“I better go.” Jenny smiled at Gwen and excused herself. “See you later, Gwen.”
Gwen waved to her friend and focused her attention on Morgan. “Yeah…” Gwen sent him a sly grin, spun and skated backward. “Just as much as you do at hockey.” She put her hands on her hips, swinging them. “And it’s not open skating, so you have to get off my patch of ice. Go skate with your team.” She pointed to the far side of the arena used by a few small kids. Dressed in heavy hockey gear, they fell over many times. “I have this side for the next hour.”
“For what?” Morgan shrugged. “Practice? All you were doing was gabbing with Jenny. That’s not practicing.”
“I was skating, wasn’t I?” She turned again and skated at his side.
“How about you borrow some equipment and play a game with me?”
“Or would you rather play a game with them?” He motioned to the little kids. “They’re at about your skill level.”
“Then you have to be my partner in figure skating for a little bit.” She laughed when he glared at her.
“No. That’s, like, bitch skating.”
“It is not, Morgan. Figure skating is awesome.”
“It is not. You’d never drag my ass to one of those things.”
“It takes more talent than fighting over a puck like some Neanderthal.”
“Oh, really? Neanderthal, huh?” Skidding to a stop, he crossed his arms.
“Yes.” Gwen stopped too, her eyes narrowing as her voice deepened. “Figure skating is better than hockey.”
He chuckled. “Ooo…getting cocky there, eh, Gwenie?”
“Not as cocky as you…” Sticking out her bottom, she bent over and spoke in a teasing tone, “Ice prick.” Morgan hated that nickname, and her smile grew when she saw she set him off.
There was a playful shock in his eyes, Morgan’s eyebrows rising. “Aww…someone’s getting their ass beat now.”
“So, how do we settle this?” She crossed her arms too, a wicked grin on her lips.
“You think you can skate better than me?”
“Then, let’s race.” He gestured to their section of the ice. “First one to finish, wins.”
“A simple race is stupid.” Gwen made a sour face. “It doesn’t settle anything.”
“Let’s make it harder, then.” He pointed to the entrance. “Because you’ll lose a race against me…” His grin grew when he saw her glare get hotter. “I’ll add a handicap on my end.”
“I don’t need to give you a handicap. I can skate faster than you any day.” Her lip curled as her eyes narrowed.
“You can’t.” He laughed.
“Okay. You get a handicap just for being cocky.”
He made a come-hither motion with his hands as he teased. “Bring it on, ice princess.”
“So…” She looked about and back at him. “What’re the rules?”
“I’ll set up a course…” He gestured to the ice and made a circular motion with his hand. “Here.” He turned back to her. “I’ll have to travel through the course with the puck, and all you gotta do is get to the center before me.”
“That’ll be easy.” Gwen’s expression brightened, her cheeks reddened.
“And…” He chuckled as he licked the corner of his mouth in anticipation. “I’ll even give you a stick so you can try to stop me when I get ahead of your ass.”
“So, when I win, what do I get?”
“What do you want?”
“You to admit hockey’s better than figure skating and to do my anatomy homework for a week.”
“And when I win…” She placed a hand to her chest. “You have to do a figure skating routine with me.”
“You’re on, Roberts.” A smug grin filled his lips, and he held out his hand.
She shook it.
“Come on.” Morgan gestured for her to follow. “Help me set up.” They went to the back and drug out a few cones. He set them in a round circle on their side of the rink. “You want any pads or gloves?”
Gwen looked confused. “Why?”
“Because it’s going to hurt when I knock your ass down.”
“Well…” Gwen shrugged. “I guess.” She followed him to the Kats’ locker room. It was her first time here, and she was afraid. She scanned the room with caution like she’d get caught at any second.
Everything inside was neat, the equipment organized. Her gaze fell on Morgan’s last name, Tanner, and his space.
He motioned to her shirt. “What you got on under that?”
“A tank.” She looked annoyed, a slight fear in her voice as she sent him a sideways smile.
“Take off your sweater.” He turned from her and grabbed his gear.
Gwen shed the clothing in question and watched him. When he turned to her, she held out her arms and waited for him to make the next move. Her long, black hair hung in a thick ponytail falling over one of her shoulders. Well-worn, the words on her tank were hard to make out.
“’Kay…so…” He fitted her with his pads, which were way too big. He grabbed a roll of tape. “Let’s try this.” He wound the tape around her forearms, and Gwen scowled as she stood still.
He chuckled as she stepped into his breezers. Gwen laughed too, her hands struggling to hold them up. “This isn’t going to work, Morgan. I look silly.”
“Naw…” He took the tape and wound it around her hips and middle several times. “You’re not gonna be wearing it for long, so you’ll be fine.” He pulled his practice jersey over her gear. He stepped back and observed her with a smile. “Can I take your picture to show Sam?”
“No.” There was an uncomfortable expression on her face.
“Want any gloves?” He held a pair, shaking them.
“No.” She let out an annoyed huff, and her voice was whiny. “Can we just start the race already?”
They walked back to the ice. Morgan handed her a stick. “So, let’s do six laps. No knocking down the obstacles. First one to the center after the sixth lap wins.”
“Okay.” Gwen rolled her shoulders.
“’Kay.” Morgan threw the puck in his hand in the air and caught it, repeating the action several times. “On three.” He watched her nod. Setting the puck on the ice, he readied his stick.
He counted down, and the race began. Morgan was quick, and even while doing his small obstacle course, he was at her side the whole time. Gwen fought back. She slammed into his shoulder and tried to knock away his puck. The race slowed a bit, Morgan laughing as he kept it from her reach.
Gwen’s face wrinkled in anger, and she tried harder. By the end of the sixth lap, Gwen still didn’t get it from him. At the last turn, Morgan bent and slammed her hard with his hips. Gwen fell to the ice, and he stopped in the center of the course.
Raising his gloved hand, he celebrated his victory. “Hockey rules!”
Rolling her eyes, Gwen got up. “Best out of three. I wasn’t used to skating with this gear on.”
“’Kay.” Morgan grinned.
The pair began another race.