Shaking my shoulders out, I took a deep breath in, let it out, and then did it all over again. It was easy to zone out the audience cheering for the pair on the ice who had literally just finished seconds ago. It was even easier to ignore the flowers and stuffed animals raining down from the crowd.
I was strong. I was smart. I could do anything.
I wasn’t weak or unprepared.
The world wouldn’t end if I blew it.
I could do this.
I was always going to be able to do this. Maybe I hadn’t exactly been born for it, but I’d made it mine. I had taken it for my own, and it would always be mine.
Four minutes and some seconds to show off a lifetime of hard work. No big deal.
“It’s time,” Coach Lee’s voice spoke almost directly into my ear, her hand coming to land lightly on my shoulder.
I nodded, shooting her a look out of the corner of my eye before she let go and took a step to the side, to do the same to Ivan, who was standing a foot away, shaking out his hands and thighs. I noticed him glancing at her, the same way I had, nodding, the same as me too.
And then he glanced over his shoulder at me.
Those bright blue-gray eyes landed directly into mine, and we didn’t need to nod or do anything. We just smiled at each other. Our own little secret. Our own thing.
We’d woken up this morning in my room, with me drooling on his hand and his leg thrown over one of mine, and it had been the best morning of both of our lives. He’d told me so, and I’d just known. Then he’d pinched the shit out of my ass cheek, and it was like it was supposed to be between us. Perfect.
We were going to do this.
We had this.
The smile that crept over his lips and cheek muscles was lazy… almost filthy… a fucking promise of what was for sure going to happen tonight regardless of anything else.
It was his trustful smile. The one he shared with me. It was mine.
And it zinged its way up my spine, this warm, comforting thing that told me he was as confident as I was. That we had this. But we had this together.
So I couldn’t help but smile right back at him, wider than before. It wasn’t anything big, but it was his and only his.
And he knew it was because his smile grew even wider.
I rolled my eyes as I looked away and stepped toward the ice, my heartbeat nice and even, my head calm and controlled. At the wall, I stood to the left to let the last skater off the ice and looked up. I’d already clocked my family when we’d first gotten to the tunnel, and they were still there. Each and every one of them holding up a sign, even my dad.
THAT’S MY SISTER.
WE LOVE YOU, JASMINE
JASMINE SANTOS 4 EVER
GET IT GIRL
YOU’RE AMAZING, JASMINE
But it was the NEVER GIVE UP, JASMINE that had me squinting. Because it was my dad holding it. He wasn’t jumping up and down like the rest of them, but he was smiling. He wasn’t embarrassed. He wasn’t bored.
But he was there. And that was more than I could have wanted or expected.
And it was what I needed. Another little piece of glue to my mind and my heart.
I let myself think for a second about the card I’d read that morning, lying in bed beside Ivan. The card from the nice girl at the LC.
Good luck, Jasmine!
You’re going to do great. Thanx for being so cool. I hope one day I can be like you.
And I knew I could do this.
Once, when I’d been maybe fifteen or sixteen, Galina had told me that to win, I would have to be prepared to fail. Have to be okay with the idea of failing. And I had never completely understood what she meant by that then, because who the hell wanted to lose? I got her message now, and it had only taken me a decade to.
I took a step onto the ice and glided off just a couple feet away to give Ivan room to do the same. He followed after me, stopping just two feet away from me as the announcer called out our names.
That was when I looked over my shoulder at the man in the brown and gold costume that my sister had created, and found him already looking at me, with a smirk aimed right at me.
He looked happy.
And for the first time, I felt happy as I stood there, not nervous, not overwhelmed. I just felt happy. Ready.
So I smirked back at him.
We both seemed to let out a breath of air at the same time.
Just like that, Ivan extended his hand out at his side toward me. He watched my face as I gave him my own hand, draping my palm over his, both of us curling our fingers around the other’s.
He mouthed I love you, and I winked at him. Then, we skated toward the center of the ice, hand in hand, stopping in the spot we needed. Ivan got into position at the same time I did, both of us never looking anywhere else. If the crowd went quiet, I had no idea because I was zoning them out just as Ivan’s face came to pause an inch away from mine.
“You suck,” he whispered, his breath against my cheek.
I just barely held back a smile as I said, “You suck even more.”
A second, a split fucking second before the music started, he whispered, “Let’s do it.”
And we did.
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