“LOOK AT THE HEIGHT ON THAT!”
“I haven’t seen a twist like that since the 2018 Lukov team!” the announcer on the television claimed.
Ivan and I both snorted at the same time.
I didn’t need to look at him to know he was rolling his eyes.
Because I was too.
“That was clearly at least half a foot shorter than ours used to be,” Ivan muttered beside me.
I snorted again, keeping my eyes glued to the television.
“I was thinking more like a whole foot,” my mom, who loved coming over so much she was on steady allergy medication, agreed from her spot on the other side of the couch.
“Mark needs to retire from being a commentator. I’ve thought he’s needed glasses for at least the last three seasons, easy,” Jojo claimed from where he was lying on the floor, his head propped up on one hand while the other one held a bottle to Elena’s mouth.
“Jonathan, that’s not nice,” James said to him. I didn’t need to look to know he was shaking his head.
All of our eyes were on the television as the Canadian team on the screen moved around the ice effortlessly, their movements a perfectly measured amount of strength, grace, and beauty. I wasn’t hating on them. They were good.
But not as good as we used to be.
“That was amazing!” the commentator on the screen cooed in excitement.
“Now he’s just throwing words out to hear his own voice,” I muttered, shaking my head.
The man beside me made a noise that had me glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. He had his head cocked to look at me, a smirk I knew like the back of my hand pasted on that mouth that had stayed just as annoying and wonderful as it had been even over the years. “Your spins were cleaner and faster than hers are.”
I nodded, still looking at him, ignoring the huge television mounted to the wall, showing the 2026 Olympics. “You made it look more effortless too. And clearly, you’re stronger than he is.”
He snorted and leaned closer to whisper into my ear, “Clearly. Your butt still looks better than hers.”
I snickered, and he smiled. We were already plastered at our sides, perfectly lined up from hip to thigh. His arm was pressed to mine. Ivan slipped it out and raised it, throwing it over my shoulder and hugging me to him even more than he already had. I lifted my legs and draped them over his lap, earning me a kiss on the cheek before we both faced the screen again just in time for the announcer to whisper, “Incredible!”
There were so many groans in the room, I couldn’t count them.
I wouldn’t use the word amazing, but….
“I bet you two could still win if you competed,” Jojo muttered.
I nodded, watching as the couple did a death spiral that I bet Ivan and I could still do faster. It wasn’t like we trained anymore, but a lot of mornings, before the rink was filled with young, hopeful figure skaters, he’d take my hand and we’d go through reserved versions of our old programs. We’d laugh through half of it, replacing triples with doubles most days, but every once in a while, we’d catch each other’s eye and know we were thinking the same thing. And we’d do a triple toe. Or a triple toe loop. Rarely, on really, really good days, we’d do a triple Lutz. Just to know we could still do it.
And then, the kids would show up, and we’d get to work. Coaching. Ivan had several boys, and I had a few girls.
We had talked about coaching a pairs team… but only if and when we found the right team. We just hadn’t yet.
It had been four years since we had retired, and it still didn’t feel like enough time had passed.
Four years since Ivan had a surgery to fuse his spine. A surgery that had been so dangerous I had thrown up twice in the waiting room. Four years since the doctor had said it would be reckless for him to continue to skate pairs.
And four years since Ivan had looked at me and said, “Find another partner. You don’t have to retire because I am.”
What a fucking idiot. Some shit never changed. Like there was anyone else I would ever want to partner with.
It had been five years since we had won our last—and third—world championship.
Eight years since we’d won our second world championship.
Eight years since we’d won two gold medals. One in pairs and another in the team skate. Making Ivan the most decorated U.S. figure skater in history.
Nine years since we’d won our first world championship, and the first of three national championships.
Most importantly, it had been nine years since we’d gotten married. Nine years and three months from the moment he had said, panting and red-faced, out on the ice at the end of our long program while the crowd went fucking nuts, “I think you should marry me, Meatball.”
I’d only made him ask three times. And when we got married in the same nondenominational church that Jojo had married James, it had been the greatest moment of my entire life.
And then Danny, Tati, and Elena had happened.
“Daddy,” a little voice said from the floor. “That double Axel was sloppy, right?”
“Very sloppy,” Ivan lied, giving my shoulder a squeeze.
“You’ll tell me if I’m sloppy, right?”
I glanced at Ivan and raised my eyebrows, watching as he made a face at me because we both knew the truth. Him telling his little baby she did something wrong? Get real.
“I’ll tell you if you’re sloppy,” a seven-year-old voice came up from the direction of the floor too. “You were yesterday.”
“No, I wasn’t!” the six-year-old shouted, sitting up so I could see her dark head for the first time since we’d all—three dogs and two pigs included— taken over the living room to watch the short program part of the night.
“Yeah, you were!” Danny claimed, still out of view. “I watched you!”
And either like she wanted to join in or if she was going to eventually be the mediator between her brother and sister, Elena gave a cry from where she was lying with my brother.
And just like that, the argument ended. There was a long, drawn-out sigh, and then another long, drawn-out sigh, and then the six-year-old laid back down beside her older brother.
The silence lasted maybe ten seconds before I heard them start bickering back and forth with each other.
God, they were nightmares. They were exactly the kind of argumentative, bossy, stubborn, strong-willed kids that I used to think were adorable, when they were really a pain in the ass.
But I loved them so much; they were worth the two seasons that Ivan and I had taken off to have them. Danny would never know he’d been conceived on accident the night we won our second world championship… but he definitely knew that once I’d found out I was pregnant, I had thought it was the best news of my life. Ivan and I had created a life. Something that was both of us on one of the best nights of our lives.
And twelve months later, when I ended up getting pregnant again, we had done it on purpose.
It had only taken me years to figure out I could make everything work with the right person. And this idiot beside me who hugged me and grabbed my ass at least a dozen times at the LC randomly throughout the day, who took care of me and motivated me and wanted the best for me every single day of my life, was it.
And like he knew exactly what I was thinking, Ivan leaned over and kissed my temple, squeezing me to him even tighter.
“Mom, Danny just flicked me on the forehead!” Tati wailed, totally blowing it out of proportion. Probably. “I’m gonna kick his b-u-t-t!”
“What’s a b-u-t-t?” Danny asked a moment later.
My mom turned around from where she was sitting next to Ben and shot me a smug look. And I knew exactly what she was thinking.
I was going to pay for all my sins with these three.
And I wasn’t even dreading it.
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