Sitting in the stands, Gwen was watching 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 was parked a few seats away from her mother, Joan, Gwen’s nose in her notebook. She was jotting something down, her pen moving quickly.
Joan was cheering loudly and wore her Eagles sweater proudly. She was with the other hockey moms and, like Gwen, a few other young kids were sitting on their own in various places in the arena. Joan was shouting at Sam, but from this distance, he couldn’t hear her. She had always been active in her kids’ sports and had three other sons that had played before Sam.
Though Joan was a huge hockey fan, she was more obsessed with her daughter, who was an aspiring figure skater. Gwen was extremely talented, but refused to go to competitions outside their hometown, something that constantly had the pair butting heads. And up until a few months ago, Gwen had always gotten her way.
But not now. Gwen had been picked up by a new coach, Dellings, after the woman had seen her skate. Dellings promised Joan that Gwen could make it to the Olympics, and her mother believed it. But not Gwen. All this new stress was wearing hard on the young skater.
Gwen looked up at her brother. Sam was dressed in a white jersey with silver and black stripes around his middle and arms. He was doing a small celebration near the goal—the cheesy dance that he and Morgan had created—and his fist was raised in the air as he shouted.
Gwen laughed as she watched Sam do a little moonwalk then 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 had played it since he had learned to skate. His love for the sport was something he shared with his best friend, Morgan. The boys had been inseparable since they could remember.
But the ice was missing a player this year, because Morgan had been recruited by the Black Kats, the junior hockey team that resided in the city. He had been asked to join the year before, but Morgan’s father wouldn’t allow it because his grades had been poor. That had made the boy work harder, and he had raised them up enough to please his dad.
Gwen’s elbows were slightly bruised, which was made more noticeable by the Eagles T-shirt she was wearing. Like her brother, she was a fan of the ice and bore many such marks from her figure skating practices. She gazed up at a few flags hanging across from her, all advertisements for the Black Kats. As she smiled, her cheeks flushed a little. Then, she returned to writing in her book.
Feeling light tapping against her hair, Gwen grimaced. She then reached up and picked out a few pieces of popcorn. Turning, she was met by 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 artfully then sat next to her.
“What are you doing? Homework?” Talking with his mouth full, Morgan held a small container of popcorn.
“No.” Gwen quickly shut the book and glared at him.
“So, what is it?” He grinned as he studied the plain, pink notebook. It was the sturdy kind. The one with the cardboard cover.
“None of your business.”
“Want some popcorn?” He handed her the cup, and Gwen took a few pieces. When her hands were preoccupied, he artfully snatched her book.
Gwen whined then fought to get it back. Morgan turned his back on her, forcing open the pages and reading the first sentence he saw. He then 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 began eating again. He was chomping loudly, which made Gwen grimace.
“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 sweetly, her cheeks a little 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 silently for a few minutes before speaking again. “Sam’s playing awesome today.” Morgan gestured toward the ice.
“I guess.” Gwen shrugged then watched her brother switch out with another player.
“Why are you so pissy?” He shoved her shoulder playfully.
“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 was leaning forward on his knees, his body rigid as he gawked at the players. Gwen looked up at the scoreboard. Only a few seconds were left. She looked down at the skates that lay at her feet and sighed. The buzzer rang, and she heard Sam’s team cheering.
About a half an hour later, Gwen was lacing up her skates as she prepared for practice. She was in a foul mood and, therefore, was doing so more slowly than usual. Her eyes darted to the entrance as a few young skaters came forth. She smiled when she saw them slip a little, grabbing onto each other’s hands to keep from falling.
“Stop daydreaming, Roberts!” Delling’s loud voice woke Gwen from her daydream. “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 was told. She started her warm up, something she didn’t mind because it was in these first few minutes that she didn’t have Dellings shouting at her constantly.
Gwen muddled through practice, a lot of 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. Usually, she was on the verge of tears after every lesson, but she was slowly getting tougher skin. However, she was also growing to hate skating.
When practice was over, Gwen stayed to skate with her friend, Jenny, who had come to the rink. She was trying to teach her friend, though Jenny didn’t do so well. Now that the pressure was off, Gwen was laughing.
She watched Jenny attempt a few bunny hops. With each kick forward, Jenny would slip backward and have to catch herself to keep from falling. But Gwen was patient with her friend and happy that she had taken an interest in a sport that Gwen loved.
After falling on her bottom after a failed spin, Jenny sat on the ice and laughed. She was wearing black leggings, her long, blonde hair in a thick ponytail. Gwen helped her up, and the pair moved around the rink slowly and gossiped.
“Hey!” Cupping his hands around his lips, Morgan shouted at Gwen. He had on his skates, but wore plain clothes.
Jenny playfully elbowed Gwen, whispering teasingly, “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 up an annoyed expression, she crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.” He was skating next to her now, his mood upbeat. “I saw you skate. You still suck.”
“I better go.” Jenny smiled knowingly at Gwen then excused herself. “See you later, Gwen.”
Gwen waved to her friend then focused her attentions on Morgan. “Yeah…” Gwen sent him a sly grin then spun and skated backward. “Just as much as you do at hockey.” She put her hands on her hips, swinging them teasingly. “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 that was being used by a few small kids. They were dressed in hockey gear, but were continuously falling over. “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 as she watched him send her a small glare.
“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.”
“Wanna bet on that?”
He chuckled. “Ooooo…getting cocky there, eh, Gwenie?”
“Not as cocky as you…” Sticking out her bottom a bit, she bent over and spoke in a teasing tone, “Ice prick.” She knew how much Morgan hated that nickname, and her smile grew when she saw that she had set him off.
There was a playful shock in his eyes, Morgan’s eyebrows rising. “Awww…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 slightly as her eyes narrowed venomously.
“You can’t.” He laughed.
“Okay. You get a handicap just for being cocky.”
He made a come-hither motion with his hands, speaking teasingly. “Bring it on, ice princess.”
“So…” She looked around cautiously then back at him. “What’re the rules?”
“I’ll set up a course…” He motioned around. “Here.” He then turned back to her. “I’ll have to travel through it with the puck, but all you gotta do is try to get to the center before me.”
“That’ll be easy.” Gwen’s expression brightened, her cheeks slightly 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 that 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 painting his lips, 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 up in a round circle on their side of the rink. “You want any pads or gloves?”
Gwen looked a little confused. “Why?”
“Because it’s going to hurt when I knock your ass down.”
“Well…” Gwen shrugged. “I guess.” She then followed him to the Kats’ locker room. She had never been in there and looked curiously around. Everything was neat, all the equipment set up nicely. 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 then turned from her and started grabbing some of his gear.
Gwen shed the clothing in question and watched him closely. 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 that fell over one of her shoulders. Her tank was well worn, the words on it hard to make out.
“’Kay…so…” He started fitting her with his pads, which were way too big. He grabbed a roll of tape. “Let’s try this.” He started winding 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 started winding it around her hips and middle several times. “You’re not gonna be wearing it for long, so you’ll be fine.” He then 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 a very uncomfortable expression on her face.
“Want any gloves?” He held up his pair, shaking them.
“No.” She let out an annoyed huff, her voice slightly 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 up in the air then caught it, repeating the action several times. “On three.” He watched her nod. Then, he set the puck on the ice, his stick readied.
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. Then, Gwen started fighting back. She slammed into his shoulder, her stick angrily trying to knock away his puck. The race then slowed a bit, Morgan laughing as he artfully 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 slightly 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 slowly. “Best out of three. I wasn’t used to skating with this gear on.”
“’Kay.” Morgan grinned.
The pair began another race.