I roll into the parking lot of Ice Dreams and swap my in-line skates for mint-colored Chucks. I’ve got fifty-one minutes before my lesson. If she shows. So far this month Hannah has called out four times. Cramps. A cold. “Bad fish tacos.” Sore quad. I don’t know how she expects to make it to Nationals, much less the Olympics, when she can’t even handle the slightest twinge of discomfort. I medaled in the World Junior Championships with a fractured toe when I was her age.
WELCOME TO ICE DREAMS! Olympic gold medalists Midori Nakashima and Michael Kennedy—aka Mom and Dad—greet me as I enter our rink. I bring my fingertips to my lips and slap a kiss on Mom and Dad’s poster as I pass in front of them.
“Put your hands together for OH-LIV-I-AHHH ‘ICE SCREAMS’ KENNEDYYYYY!” Mack says in a let’s-get-ready-to-rumble voice when I get to the snack bar. She flips her magenta-streaked blond braids over the back of one of the hundred roller derby T-shirts she owns. Today’s choice says: EAT. SLEEP. SKATE. REPEAT.
“Ice Screams?” I grab my official Ice Dreams jacket off its designated hook and pull it over my plain T-shirt.
“Ice Dreams. Ice Screams? Eh, I’ll keep working on it.” Mack squirts some cleaner on the glass box hanging on the wall. My parents—still wearing their baby-blue skate costumes and gold medals—smile back from their Wheaties box inside.
“Is my mom at physical therapy?” I hop up on the counter, even though I know it’s a health code violation.
“Yep.” Mack hands me a pretzel that has the consistency of a doggie chew toy. “Either you eat it, or we throw it away. I’ve already had three. It’s your turn to take one for the team.”
I gnaw on the pretzel, praying I won’t chip a tooth in the process. “I need the energy. Hannah’s coming in at four. Maybe. If she doesn’t have a hangnail or Ebola or some other life-threatening problem today.”
“Nah, she quit this morning.”
A stab of guilt punctures my gut. Hannah may be my least favorite Olympic wannabe, but I also like to eat. Every day, in fact. We need Hannah’s tuition money to keep the lights on. Literally. Open Skates on Sunday afternoons keep the water turned on.
“You missed all the drama,” Mack says. “Hannah’s mom stormed in here this morning all high and mighty about how her little sparkle pony was no longer getting the quality training they expected from a former Olympian and her staff. That Hannah had been pushed onto a lesser coach, and that you weren’t teaching Hannah the skills she needs for Olympic-level competition.”
“She’s twelve! I’m not going to teach Hannah how to do a triple loop until she can do a double loop consistently. Mrs. Taylor is delusional.”
“That’s what Midori said too. Only at a much lower decibel. Eh, goodbye and good riddance.” Mack flicks her hand toward the door. “Especially now that we have a new client.”
“We do? Is she a preschooler, or can she at least lace her own boots?”
“He is neither.”
“He?” I’ve never taught a boy before, but I’ve partnered one. How hard could it be? “Well, he couldn’t be any worse than Hannah unless … Oh no. Am I going to be partnering somebody whose head will be squarely in my boobs?”
“He’s not your charge, princess. His dad wrote a big fat check to buy rink time from three to five p.m. Monday through Thursday, and some Sunday mornings. Midori skipped out the door to physical therapy. Your mom. The boss lady. Her bad back. Skipping. Oh look, here they come now.”
I turn back around to see an Asian guy carrying a pile of tiny orange plastic cones heading for the ice. A middle-aged man, who I’m guessing is his dad, follows a few steps behind him.
“That’s our new client?” I say.
“Yep. Short-track speed skater on deck.” Mack smiles so big that her lip ring clinks against her bottom teeth. The guy slides off an oversize sweatshirt to reveal a form-fitting speed-skating top. “Enjoy the view, princess. He’s too young for me, but we may have potential prom date material for you.”
When I reach out to smack Mack upside the head, she grabs my arm and pulls me into a headlock. Meanwhile, the guy steps out onto the freshly Zambonied ice and hands his blade covers to his dad. He skates around the rink, dropping orange cones until an oval path forms. His dad yells to fix them a little here, a little there.
“Wait. What happened to my ice?” I say as another cone splashes into the puddles of water covering the ice.
Mack puts her nose in the air and says in an uppity voice, “When one skates short track, the ice must be wet.” Mack rotates her shoulders. “I got in an extra workout today thanks to all the buckets of water I had to lug out onto the ice. The things I do for you guys.”
“You know you love it.”
“There are worse jobs. Here, this came today.” Mack hands me a UPS box. “You get to put it together. The party is at seven tonight, so this needs to be done ASAP. Midori said to start deodorizing the skates after that.”
I miss Hannah. I take the box over to Table #1, the one closest to the snack bar, and open it. I groan. It’s a Skater Barbie piñata. It’s always Skater Barbie. I am Ice Dreams’ reigning Piñata Queen. I can also make simple balloon animals and do the Hokey Pokey on the ice. I’m a multitalented girl. I’ve barely gotten the mass of papier-mâché out of the box before I notice the guy’s dad standing in front of me.
“Hey, I need to take this.” The man waves his cell phone in my direction. “Can you keep count for me?”
“Can you count laps for my son? He needs to do twenty-five.” The man places a clicker in front of me. After reading my name off the front of my official Ice Dreams jacket, he turns back to the ice and yells, “Jonah! Olivia here has the lap counter. I’ll be back in a few minutes. Eat if you get done before me.”
Jonah nods. His dad plunks down the skate guards, oversize sweatshirt, and a soft-sided cooler in front of my UPS box before walking away. Meanwhile, Jonah takes off in a slow, counterclockwise, oval path around the rink. When he gets back into prime viewing—right in front of Table #1—I click one on the lap counter. Jonah is on lap #12 when Mack comes over.
“Do you want me to bring you a napkin for the drool?” Mack squeezes in across from me, blocking my view of the ice.
“Ha-ha. I can’t keep an accurate count with you here.”
“Why? Because your brain is melting?”
“No, because your big head is in the way.” I push Mack to the side.
She crams candy into Skater Barbie as I watch Jonah sail around the ice in an easy flow. Each stride during the straightaways is smooth, controlled, and completely even. He takes each curve at a perfect seventy-degree angle.
“He looks bored out of his mind.” Mack slides to her feet with a grunt. “You know what he needs? A little GNR.”
“Guns N’ Roses? Isn’t that kinda last century?”
“It’s what the derby girls do drills to. He’ll love it.”
“Sure, if he’s secretly a fortysomething suburban mom.”
I count off lap #14 as Mack enters the sound booth. The PA system crackles to life.
“Hey, new guy,” Mack’s voice booms around the empty rink. “Here’s my lap music. Enjoy.”
A few seconds later, “Welcome to the Jungle” blasts through the PA system. Jonah trips but immediately regains his footing. It takes him a solid lap to get his timing back, though. Mack gives Jonah a thumbs-up as he whizzes by a second time. He nods back. As the song goes on, Jonah’s speed picks up to match it. Even his crossovers are on the downbeat. I watch him fly, the wind pulling his longish black hair straight back. Axl Rose is in his final wail as Jonah completes lap #25.
“Hey, that was twenty-five,” I yell.
Jonah catches my eye, nods, and slows his pace. He arcs around and heads for my table. I busy myself stuffing Skater Barbie with candy. Jonah leans over the wall. He grabs his water bottle from the cooler and chugs.
I want to say something. Anything. But what? I look at him. He looks at me.
Mack appears at my elbow. “Olivia Kennedy. Jonah Choi. Jonah. Olivia.”
“Hey.” Jonah nods at me.
“Hey.” I nod back.
“Thanks for the inspirational music … um…” Jonah says.
“Annabelle MacIntosh, but my friends call me Mack.” Mack flips her braids over her shoulders. “And the derby girls call me ‘Mack Truck.’”
“Mack is an aspiring roller derby queen,” I say, and Jonah looks confused because obviously this isn’t a roller skating rink.
“Ice. Roller. In-line. Honey, I can do it all,” Mack says.
“My mom likes to run to that song,” Jonah says.
“See!” I say to Mack.
“Whatever, hatertot.” Mack gives me a playful shove. “You wanna skate with the Surly Gurlz, you skate to a lot of GNR.”
“You do roller derby too?” Jonah raises an eyebrow at me.
“No,” I say as Mack says, “Not yet.”
“Your dad wants you to eat.” I push the cooler toward Jonah. “No eating on the ice, though. My mom is super strict about that.”
“Gotcha.” Jonah grabs his skate guards off the table and heads to the exit near Table #3, or as I like to call it, the bronze exit. Jonah waddles over to Table #1 and slides in across the table from me. There’s something different about him. He’s definitely Asian, but maybe he’s biracial too? But you don’t exactly lead with that.
“Candy?” I say instead, and offer Jonah a Tootsie Roll from the stash.
“Nah. Simple carbs are crap,” he says.
“Well then, I will be cleaning the Slushee machine if anybody needs me.” Mack snatches a handful of candy off the table and crams it into the pocket of her Ice Dreams jacket.
Jonah pulls out a container of hard-boiled eggs and peels one. He holds it out to me. “Want one?”
“Thanks, but I’ll pass.” I unwrap a mint—crap carbs and all—and pop it into my mouth to counteract the egg smell wafting across the table.
Jonah’s on his third hard-boiled egg when his dad gets back.
“You didn’t let him cheat, did you?” Mr. Choi smiles and grabs an egg for himself.
“No, sir. He did all twenty-five,” I say. “And ate three eggs.”
“I like you, Olivia.” Mr. Choi gives Jonah a pointed look. “See, this is going to work out fine.”
“For now.” Jonah slams the lid of the egg box firmly closed with his fist. “Then I’m going back to Arlington. For good.”
“One skate at a time, son.” Mr. Choi wipes his hands together to get rid of any egg cooties. “Now, give me your pants and go stretch.”
“I’m cold. I’ll take them off later.”
“Jonah.” Mr. Choi holds out his hand.
Jonah looks at me and then his dad. “Later.”
Mr. Choi finally puts two and two together. “Son, this a professional skating rink. I’m sure boys skate in tights, yoga pants, whatever all the time. Act like a professional, Jonah.”
Jonah unzips the sides of his warm-up pants and yanks them over his skates. He shoves the pants into his dad’s chest.
“Stretch.” Mr. Choi’s voice has a warning tone. He hands Jonah a piece of blue fabric. “We do sprints in five.”
When his dad is out of earshot, Jonah leans toward me. “They are not tights. It’s a skinsuit.”
“Oh-kay,” I say to Jonah’s back.
I bet Skater Barbie never has to put up with salty speed skaters. Mack chuckles as she pushes the broom around the snack bar area. When she gets to my table, Mack leans over my shoulder.
“You could crack walnuts with that butt,” Mack whispers in my ear, which of course makes me look.
I’ve watched enough Olympic speed skating on TV to know that your typical skinsuit leaves nothing to the imagination. Though the rest of his body is willowy, this guy has thighs larger than Mack’s. And, yes, he could crack walnuts with those glutes.
Copyright © 2020 by Sara Fujimura