Crying tires Tessa out – she puts so much effort into holding her emotions back that the tears end almost as quickly as they’ve begun. Scott, on the other hand, seems to possess a veritable Fountain of Youth. It’s like someone forgot to shut off a valve at the waterworks; he looks at her for longer than a few seconds and she can already see the emotion building in his eyes.
It seems unfair, then, that he’s the one passed out against his fluorescent green travel pillow, while she’s stuck with only her thoughts for company on the flight back to Montreal.
There’s a lot to process. Today they were officially named as flag-bearers for the Olympic Games, the first man and woman in Canadian history to carry the flag together. There’d been crying, and laughing, and hugging while cry-laughing. Scott’s already brainstorming lifts for the ceremony, to which she carefully reminds him that their insurance does not cover taking someone’s eye out with the Canadian flag.
It has always been a delicate balancing act, their partnership.
People love to tell her how natural and right she and Scott look together, like they were put on the earth as two perfectly formed halves, destined to slot exactly into place. She wishes she could tell them about the years it took them to get there: the edges that had to be rounded, the hands that were taught how to hold, and to feel, and to cherish.
She’s fiercely and immeasurably proud of what they have together. Their partnership is her life’s greatest work – and to pretend it was anything other than a great deal of work is a disservice.
They’re always asked to talk about their relationship, to distill twenty years of memories into a single soundbite. Scott never fails to surprise her with the emotional honesty of his answers, but she finds it difficult to summarise exactly what they have together, not in a way that anyone else would understand. It would take days to cover the ups and downs of their relationship to a point where she was satisfied that someone really understood, didn’t just box them in as friends, or lovers, or co-workers, or partners – and who has time for that?
But if she could sit down with someone, explain to them the moments she remembers and the ones she wishes she could forget, she supposes it would go a little something like this.
Tessa is eight and Scott is ten, and they kiss for the first time just before she takes the ice at the Ilderton Skating Carnival.
Well, he kisses her on the cheek, and presents her with a handful of flowers that she needed for the performance anyway, but it feels important.
Even more, in front of all their friends at the club, it feels official.
She misses most of the program cues and finishes the choreography a full three seconds after the music ends, but the goofy smile never leaves her face. Thinking back, she should probably have taken it as a sign that their romantic prospects would never correlate with on-ice performance.
Chattering away in the ride home after the Carnival, she tells Jordan about that one time Scott saved up all his allowance to buy her a bracelet, and she wears it every single day even though – and here her voice drops to a whisper – she doesn’t really like pink and she thinks the glittery ‘T’ is a bit much, but she likes the warm feeling she gets when she looks down and sees it on her wrist, remembers his face when he gave it to her, all full of pride and nervous affection.
Everyone she meets gets a detailed introduction to Scott Moir, Tessa’s other half and committed life partner. She turns down the National Ballet to continue skating with Scott, and everyone applauds her for her conviction. At eight years old, she’s sacrificed more for this relationship than people three times her age.
When her mother calls her downstairs one evening and holds the phone out with a smile, she doesn’t question why Scott is calling her. This is just the next step – she’s sure they’ll be talking every night from now on.
“Uh, hi? Tessa?” he begins.
Over the next five minutes, she listens as Scott stumbles his way through a break-up, accompanied by intermittent and immediately hushed laughter on his end of the line. Under her breath, she counts every tick of the kitchen clock, every twist in the phone cord, every rhinestone in the bracelet on her wrist, and waits.
“So…yeah. Still partners though!” he finishes.
She can imagine his triumphant smile on the other end of the phone, buddies patting him on the back for a job well done. Her small hand clenches around the phone, so tight she can hear the plastic creaking beneath her fingers, but he hangs up before she can say a word.
Her mother shoots her a concerned look after half a minute of motionless silence.
“Honey? Everything ok?”
“Fine,” she says, but when she appears downstairs the next morning, her wrist is noticeably bare.
It’s the first time Tessa learns that there are some questions that only have one correct answer. For example, if someone asks you about your absent boyfriend, you reply that you’re “exploring other options right now”. Simple as can be.
‘Exploring other options’ is certainly a way of describing what occurs years later, when they find themselves sat face-to-face in a cupboard under the stairs, heavy bass music thumping through the floorboards. Scott’s knee is pressed into hers at an uncomfortable angle, and her red hair is caught in a button somewhere in a heavy bundle of fabric she assumes is a coat rack.
Thin shafts of light filter through the gap in the cupboard door, illuminating the room in a strange assortment of parts. She follows the slanted line across Scott’s jawbone, finds the curve of his lip, the hollow at his neck, the quick rise and fall of his chest as she drags her gaze back upwards and realises he’s watching her too.
“This is stupid,” she breathes.
“Remind me to leave the room next time Truth or Dare comes out.”
“Sure,” he replies, but in that dreamy tone of voice that means he’s not really paying attention to the conversation.
This half-light, half-dark is unsettling. She knows, knows instinctively what every part of him looks like. She knows that just underneath his lip, there’s a scar where he refused to use acne cream because it tasted disgusting whenever he accidentally got it in his mouth. She knows that on his left hand, fifth finger, there’s a fine silvery line where he had to get twelve stitches because he reached for her skate too early in a spin. She knows that the person sat in front of her is Scott, her partner of so many years, and she’s not a little girl with a schoolyard crush anymore. But the light does strange things as it scatters across his face, and she reaches forward and brushes her fingers across his cheek.
“Tess…” he says, in a strained voice, and she’s certain she’s not imagining the way he leans into her hand.
“Just – let me,” she whispers, continuing to trace the beam of light across his features. Was his skin ever this soft? Surely she would have noticed, but everything feels different away from the rink. On the ice, they perform out love and devotion for a captive audience, again and again until the movements become automatic. Here, it’s just the two of them and Tessa isn’t sure of anything.
She feels his voice in a breath across her skin, realises she’s unconsciously closed the gap between them. His eyes are closed in something like reverence, fists balled in his lap. His fingers clench and unclench in perfect rhythm with his breathing.
She studies him slowly, deliberately, and leans forward an inch to press her lips to his cheek, one hand curling against his neck as his whole body shivers.
“We’re not doing anything,” she breathes against his skin, pressing her lips again to his neck, his collarbone, his jaw.
“T-Tess,” he stutters, fingers clenching in his lap with increasing urgency. He’s trying so hard to keep his composure, and she hates it – none of this counts, not in this strange liminal space between light and dark.
So she drags her lips up to his, presses herself into him, and finally she feels him respond, clutching at her hip with a fierceness that leaves her breathless, triumphant, his body surging against hers.
His mouth is everywhere; whispering into her hair, trailing down the side of her neck, muffling her surprised gasp when he slips an arm around her waist and pulls her into his lap. Her hair is still caught in that damn button, tugging her head back, but he takes advantage of the opportunity to work his tongue against the soft skin just below her ear while she unhooks herself. His mouth feels better than she’d ever imagined against her, and she shudders, caught between a laugh and a gasp.
“Fuck, you don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do this,” he sighs, and pauses for a moment, presses his forehead to hers. His eyes are so dark she can barely see them, but she can feel his heartbeat thumping through his shirt, his fingers strong and secure at her waist, mussing the ruffles on her skirt.
“A little over eight years?” she replies with a euphoric grin, looping her arms around his neck and pulling herself further into his lap.
She rolls her hips experimentally, and immediately stops when he gives a choked gasp.
“Don’t - that’s – ah, gonna kill me, T.”
“Sorry,” she whispers, giggling quiet and wide-eyed into his neck. Everywhere she touches, she watches goosebumps raise along his skin. It's almost hypnotic, the ease with which his body responds to hers; makes her feel light-headed and powerful.
When he finally gets his breath back, he levels her with a half-accusing stare that’s tempered slightly by the hand that’s currently smoothing her hair back from her face.
“If you wanted to jump me in a cupboard so bad, you could have just said so. Would have been happy to save you the trouble of conspiring with our friend upstairs.”
She gives a small gasp, pressing a hand to her chest in feigned drama.
“As if I would stoop so low,” she says, but fixes him with a genuine smile. “I guess we just got lucky. And you caught me on an impulsive day.”
“You, impulsive? Sure you’re feeling okay?” he says with a laugh, pressing a hand to her forehead. “Maybe we should get you checked out, just in case…”
He leans over her, hands slipping under her shirt, and she feels her stomach twist as she arches eagerly against him.
“Guys! Time’s up!”
The look of utter despair on Scott’s face is one she thinks she’ll remember for the rest of her life. With all the reluctance of a man drawing his last breath, he stills his hands on their journey up the bare skin of her waist.
“We could just say we didn’t hear them,” he offers.
She pats his cheek sympathetically, gives him a quick kiss before extricating herself from their precariously balanced situation.
“Maybe next time, Romeo,” she says primly, adjusting her skirt.
“I bet Romeo never had to wait eight years to get to first base,” he grumbles, but she giggles at him, and then his smile splits into a grin, and they’re both shaking with laughter, bumping shoulders as they step out into the stark light of the hallway.
At training the next day, she meets his gaze, smiles sweetly at him, and he begins to think he imagined the whole thing in some crazy fever dream.
That is, until they get to the end of the session and go to head their separate ways in the changing rooms, and he definitely isn’t imagining it when she tugs him into the women’s changing room, pushes him up against the wall and kisses him. It’s totally something he would imagine. He even pinches himself, twice – and then her for good measure. But nope, it’s definitely Tessa batting his hand away, and sliding her own behind his neck to pull him closer. Definitely Tessa slipping her fingers over his belt buckle and, uh, fuck – licking into his mouth with an earnestness that makes his head spin. He’s still trying to form coherent words when she pulls away with a smirk and heads into the showers, leaving him unbelievably confused and turned on in the middle of the women’s changing room.
Life giveth, and life taketh away.
They flirt with the possibility that this budding romance can coexist with their on-ice partnership.
In a lot of ways, nothing changes. Marina still yells “more feel, more feel" every time they step on the ice. Meryl and Charlie still watch them from the rink perimeter like vultures circling a dying animal. Tessa still has the wherewithal to look bashful when Scott’s hand skirts down her back as they sit next to each other in the crowded cafeteria.
But then he’ll lean in close, whisper “storage cupboard by the reception", and she’ll feel her chest tighten with anticipation. Sometimes he lingers for a moment longer, lips hovering so close to her neck she’s sure he’ll give up on trying to keep all of this under wraps and just kiss her in the middle of the cafeteria. He never does, of course – but without fail, his hand will find hers under the table, interlace their fingers together at his knee before he throws himself back into the group conversation with a cheery smile.
Tessa’s concentration has never been so tested in her entire life. The training sessions between lunch and the end of the day have become exercises in self-control, Scott’s words playing on repeat in her head. She’s started to classify the arena into places they’ve kissed, and places they have yet to conquer. Changing rooms? Been there, done that – both of them. Maintenance closet? An uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding experience. Showers – that’s an opportunity they have yet to explore, but she’s not sure she’s quite ready to contemplate that level of public indecency.
She still has fading bruises on the backs of her thighs from the time Charlie popped his head into the men’s changing room after practice, and Scott pushed her up so hard against the dividing wall she thought her chest would burst from the tension. It had taken Scott a full minute of strangled conversation to convince Charlie that yeah, everything’s fine, just taking care of something here, nope, no, you really don’t need to get Igor, NO, it’ll just be a moment – punctuated by choked gasps as Tessa discovered a new inch of bare skin to sneak her fingers across. She wasn’t sure how comforted Charlie sounded when he finally sloped away, but she knew the look Scott gave her when he exhaled and relaxed his grip on her thighs meant payback, in all the best ways. He had grumbled something about his reputation and “now everybody’s gonna think I jack off in the men’s changing room”, and she had smiled sweetly and told him not to get ahead of himself.
So they sneak around after practice most evenings, and if their host families notice that they’re both half an hour later to dinner, they don’t bring anything up. Tessa begins to believe that this could actually work – the boyfriend both on-ice and off. They even call it good practice for the Olympics and the billion distractions therein.
Every day she finds more excuses to touch him. When she passes him at the gym, she trails a hand across his hip and marvels at the way he swallows, hard. She helps him out of his jacket as they warm up, and her fingers linger at his collar, dip briefly into the enticing hollow at his throat. Sometimes, just for the thrill of it, she’ll twirl them round on the ice, press her forehead against his chest, and see how long they can stay there. Usually it’s Scott who maintains their decorum, reluctantly steps away after a moment. Now he just stands there with her, pulls her close and dips his head to rest on hers until the rink stops spinning around them.
The problem is that none of it is ever enough.
She’s never been a greedy person, always far more generous with others than with herself, but with him she is allowed to want – and she does, wants all of him, all the time. It’s like an electric current racing underneath her skin, makes her flushed and distracted. He turns to her while they’re running through their free dance, smile crinkling at the corners of his brown eyes, and she completely forgets that the hand trailing down the side of her leg means that she needs to flip up and into a lift, and not stand there staring at him like an idiot.
Later, when they’re both standing at the boards and awaiting Marina’s inevitable avalanche of criticism, she can’t meet his gaze.
“S’ok,” he shrugs when she begins to apologise, his smile as warm and soft as the hand on her back. “I’d get lost in my eyes too.”
She scoffs at that, shoving his arm away with a grin that’s only half-faked.
Except it happens again, and again until they can’t get through a single runthrough without one of them stumbling, or losing focus, or forgetting steps.
Igor and Marina leave them for US Nationals with strict (and colourfully expletive-ridden) instructions to sort out their issues, so they decide to grab an early start and drill technical elements in an empty rink. Tessa prepares herself by chugging two days’ worth of her recommended caffeine intake in the space of five minutes. From his perch on the boards next to her, Scott looks suitably concerned.
“Scott,” she cuts him off, before he can begin. “You ask me to get up at five in the morning. Please accept my process of dealing with this loss.”
His mouth curves into amusement as he reaches over to flick the empty cup in her hands, but he stays dutifully quiet as she closes her eyes and exhales slowly. For a moment, the only thing she hears is the steady hum of the fluorescent lights above them and the drumming of Scott’s fingers on the boards next to her.
“Alright,” she says, eyes snapping open as she hops off the boards. “Let’s sort out our shit.”
Over the next hour, they drill everything; steps, turns, twizzles, elements so simple they could do them in their sleep. Nothing gives them pause.
“Damn Tess, maybe you should drink that stuff more often,” he jokes at the half-hour mark, as she twirls past him in an elegant blur. She sticks out her tongue, watching him duck out of the way of her ponytail.
In hour two, they move on to lifts. They’d usually break for a few minutes between sessions, but she feels practically weightless on the ice today, sliding in and out of his hold with an effortless grace. Everything just clicks. The euphoria is written across her face, and she knows he feels it too; she can see it in the way his eyes keep sliding across to hers in disbelieving joy, the way his hands flutter at her shoulder and hip as if he’s afraid he’ll break the spell.
She’d almost forgotten what this felt like. Kissing Scott is nice – it’s fun, and it makes her feel good, and nervous and silly and young. It’s nice to be able to redo the part of her childhood she never got; the one where your fickle pre-pubescent sweetheart doesn’t break your heart, and you don’t spend the next ten years swallowing your feelings for the sake of a professional relationship. It’s nice to feel normal, just kids being kids.
But it’s infinitely better when they’re flying across the ice together. On the ice with him, she feels untouchable.
Emboldened by their success, they start to experiment with lift entrances. There’s one rotational lift that gives them particular trouble; they’ve tried a dozen different permutations but she can never lift her foot to her head in time.
She stands in front of him and examines him carefully, hands on her hips. This is one of the things she loves most about their work; the times she can look at him and envision the ways their bodies will move together, the technicalities that will allow them to become extensions of one another.
“Maybe if I just held further up here,” she says, pointing to his upper arm.
“Any excuse,” he replies, grinning as he takes her hand and gets into position. “Ready when you are.”
They build up momentum in a few quick strokes, and then with a nod, he lifts her easily into the air and up onto his shoulder. She grips his arm for a moment, catches her blade with the other hand and brings it to her head.
“Got it!” she calls, and she hears him let out a strained cheer, wind rushing past her ears as he spins them round. She’s grinning ear-to-ear, absurdly proud of herself as they finish the rotation and begin the exit. She goes to take his arm again, except it’s not there anymore, of course – it’s above his head, held skyward just like they’d choreographed – but she’s already pushed herself off balance and she feels her weight shift over his shoulder in a way that makes her stomach lurch. His arms come down immediately, body tensing as he grabs at her but she’s tumbling past his head, and he clutches empty air.
Briefly, in the moment before she hits the ice, she thinks that they probably should have told someone they were going to be at the rink this early in the morning.
Scott shouts something – her name? Then she crashes onto her side, skidding a few feet before coming to a halt.
There’s a terrifying, indeterminable period of time where she can’t hear or see anything.
She tries opening her eyes, but it’s like someone’s blindfolded her; everything is dark and blurred, and the more she tries to focus, the more the light starts to slip away. Her ears are ringing so loudly she can’t hear anything except her own breathing, panicked and shallow. She wishes she didn’t feel anything. The pain is almost overwhelming in its intensity and sourcelessness.
There’s a slight pressure at her back, and she feels cold hands hovering over her, running across her side, smoothing back her hair – Scott. He’s patting her down like she’s going through airport security; the sensation isn’t pleasant but it gives her something to focus on besides the pain.
“Stop it,” she groans, as she rolls onto her back. The haze clouding her brain is starting to give way to a reluctant consciousness, and she can at least hear her own voice, even if it sounds like she’s yelling down a tin-can telephone.
“Oh shit, Tess,” she hears Scott reply, sounding far more horrified than he has any right to be considering she’s the one curled on the floor at the moment. “Are you ok?”
“What do you think?” she replies, still contemplating fast-forwarding this entire situation by simply passing out. But he’s pressed himself close to her, and she can feel him trembling, and it probably wouldn’t be courteous to leave him to deal with this all by himself.
She cracks one eye open when she feels a sudden wetness on her arm.
“Are you – are you crying on me?” she asks, somewhat incredulously.
“Oh, uh. No, that’s just blood.”
She sits bolt upright. The world spins in a whir of colour and light, and she reaches out to grab onto him, swaying unsteadily as she wills him into focus. She squints at the Scott-shaped blob so hard that her ears begin to ring again, but he comes blurrily into view with a sheepish smile and a deep, thin cut running from the top of his right cheekbone to his jaw.
“Oh my god, your face,” she murmurs, reaching out a hand.
“Always such a charmer,” he replies lightly, but he shares her look of concern when her fingers come back wet with blood.
Tessa scrambles to her knees, ignoring the protests of pain from her body. “We should really get you to the hospital, that doesn’t look great,” she volunteers in what she hopes is a peppy tone of voice. “I think–“, she starts as she attempts to put weight on her leg, and it immediately buckles beneath her. “I think I can walk, just give me a moment.”
He fixes her with a look that broaches no argument. “Nope. No way.”
“Scott, you’re bleeding profusely from a hole in your face. Unless you have some kind of-“
She gasps in a mixture of surprise and pain as he gathers her in his arms and gets to his feet. They do a lot of lifting on the ice – some more successful than others, evidently, but she’s never been cradled by anyone before. It feels kind of nice, once she grits her teeth and pushes past the throbbing pain. Every step he takes jostles her a little bit, even though she can tell he’s trying his hardest not to.
“Tess, could you just–“
He reaches down and puts her sleeve against his cut. She’s so out of it, she hasn’t even realised he’s been bleeding on her for the past thirty seconds.
“My pleasure,” she mutters, sleepily. This whole cradling thing is really quite nice – soothing, even, now that the pain is dulling to a fuzzy haze. He’s drawn her as close to his chest as possible, and she can lean her head against his shoulder and watch his brow furrow in concentration as he walks them along the hallway. His footsteps tap out against the tiles, and they sway with every step, and she concludes that it’s a bit like dancing with a very noncommittal partner.
“I want you to know that normally, I would not stand for this kind of treatment. Today, I am allowing it,” she continues.
“We’re so stupid.”
In the reception, they explain to the horrified young man at the desk that they could really use a taxi to the hospital, and that it’s probably better than it looks, but it might not be. Also Scott would appreciate a bandage for his cheek, because as hard as Tessa tries, she keeps falling asleep and dropping her arm, and then he bleeds awkwardly over her until she wakes up again.
Sitting in the examination room at the hospital, Scott explains to a bemused doctor that they didn’t mean to make a dramatic entrance, he just didn’t want to disturb Tessa while she was sleeping so it seemed logical to stumble in through the front doors of the emergency department with a blood-stained bandage wrapped around his head and an unconscious girl cradled in his arms.
Over the phone, they explain to two sets of worried parents that yes, they were practicing at the rink without supervision, and yes, they understood exactly how much worse things could have been, and no, they wouldn’t ever consider doing it again, and no, they haven’t texted Marina and Igor because they can’t face interrupting Meryl and Charlie’s inevitably winning stint at Nationals with a text explaining that Tessa and Scott fucked up so badly they both ended up in hospital.
They’re discharged by the end of the day, once the doctors are confident that Tessa hasn’t sustained a concussion. Technically Scott is discharged within half an hour of arriving, but he sits himself by Tessa’s bed and watches her so intently that no one has the heart to tell him to leave - not even her mother, who takes the seat adjacent to his with a look of surprise. Tessa knows this because she peeked her eyes open once during the eight hours she pretended to be asleep, and Scott almost jumped out of his skin.
It’s not that she doesn’t appreciate his vigilant watch; she actually thinks it’s kind of gallant in a way that her eight-year old self would have swooned over. She just has a lot to think about, and a lot of thoughts that he probably doesn’t want to be privy to. So she 'sleeps', and he sits with her mother and waits, and the hours tick by.
Her mother is blessedly understanding when she asks to bring Scott back home with them. A bed is made up on the living room sofa, a towel and clean pyjamas are provided, and no further questions are asked. It’s late enough that the house is asleep by the time she and Scott finish dinner, but she leans down to him before she heads upstairs for the night, whispers “skip the third step, it’s creaky”, and disappears up the staircase.
To Scott’s credit, he manages to last an entire ten minutes before she hears a tentative tapping at her door.
The old wooden floorboards complain loudly under her weight as she pads across to let him in. All Tessa can do is cross her fingers and hope that everyone is as exhausted from the drama of today as she is; her mother was gracious enough to let Scott sleep on the sofa, but that graciousness probably doesn't extend to him sneaking into Tessa's room at the dead of night.
“Hi,” he whispers, with a goofy grin.
“Quiet,” she shushes him immediately. Her gaze darts along the hallway – her mother's bedroom door is still closed, but she's not about to give him the opportunity to change that, and tugs him inside her room.
She doesn’t know what she was expecting to happen once the door closed safely behind him, but the silence surprises her. He doesn’t say a word for the longest time, just leans against the door and looks around. It’s a bit of a tip, but if he’d given her longer than ten minutes maybe she could have done more than shove her laundry under the bed.
“What happened to that poster you had?” he says finally. “You know, that one of the National Ballet?”
Her brow furrows. He looks genuinely concerned, like the decoration process for her bedroom was any more than thirty minutes of attempting and failing to pin a string of fairy lights around her wardrobe.
“It’s back in London,” she says, watching in bemusement as he walks over to her chest of drawers and picks up, one by one, the small china animals arranged on top. “Is that a problem?”
“No.” He twirls a tiny lion between his thumb and forefinger. “I dunno. I guess I just thought this place would feel more like you. I mean-” he says, holding up the lion.
She shrugs. “Mom decorated it for me. I had to leave a lot of stuff behind.”
“You couldn’t buy more?”
“I didn’t want to, Scott. This isn’t home. I don’t want to try and make it into some second-rate imitation of the real thing,” she snaps at him, too exhausted to hide the irritation in her voice.
Scott falls silent, and she looks down at her hands.
Nothing about this house feels permanent. She tried, back in Waterloo, to make an effort – dutifully pasted photographs and newspaper clippings to her walls, crowded her bedside table with farewell cards from school. It didn’t make much of a difference to her, but it seemed to put everyone else at ease. Back then, it’d been Scott who staunchly refused to engage with his host family. She’d been drafted in one night when they were at their wits' end; had burst into his empty room, shoved a Leafs scarf into his arms and told him to get to work. Two hours of decorating (accompanied by a stern talking-to) later, and Scott had emerged from his little cocoon, a social butterfly once more. Somehow she can’t see that tactic working on her now.
“Hey, look at this little thing! I didn’t think you’d kept it, T.”
She glances up; there’s something looped around his finger, glittering dimly as he turns it over in his hand. His voice is teasing as he moves towards her, holding it out for her to see.
“Not exactly your style, eh?”
Her lips twist in a grimace – it’s a familiar pink bracelet, missing only a few rhinestones from the bedazzled ‘T’.
“Ugh, give me that,” she groans, swiping her arm at him as he gets closer, but he pulls it out of her reach with a grin, teeth glinting in the moonlight.
“Nu-uh,” he says with a shake of his head, sliding the bracelet onto his wrist. “Finders keepers.”
He glances over to her, smiling; expects to find a matching grin on her face. She just stares down at her hands, lost in a world of her own.
“Hey, uh…everything alright in there?” he says. His tone is light and breezy, but his leg trembles as he takes a seat on the bed next to her, springs creaking under his weight.
She takes a breath.
“I think we should break up.”
He looks stunned for a moment, then breaks into a laugh, holds his hands up in surrender.
“Woah, alright, I apologise for saying your bracelet was uncool.“
“Scott, I’m serious.”
The hurt in his eyes tugs at her worse than a physical wound.
“Is it because I dropped you?” he says. In the moonlight streaming through her bedroom window, he looks unbearably young. “Because I can work on that, and-“
“No, god, no,” she rushes. “It’s nothing to do with today, I promise. Well, it is a bit, but today is only part of it. It’s just…nothing’s been going right since we started-“. She gestures between them with both hands. “Whatever this is.”
He opens his mouth like he’s about to protest, but she barrels on.
“Nothing’s been going right! We’re making stupid mistakes, and we’re distracted, and sooner or later it’s going to be in competition and we’ll still be screwing up, and then we’ll start to hate each other and - and everything will fall apart. I love skating with you, and I love being with you, but we can’t do both at the same time.”
There’s a long silence as he looks at her. The intensity of his gaze is almost overwhelming; she can’t hold his eyes for longer than a few seconds but she can feel them on her, burning with emotions that she can’t begin to name. Scott’s eyes are always open – taking in as much of the world as possible, wide with honesty and enthusiasm. Now she’s afraid of what she’ll find if she looks up.
“Is this easy for you?” he says finally, voice low and quiet.
“Pretending like you believe any of it, is it easy?”
His voice gathers energy as he continues, words spilling out like he can’t speak them fast enough.
“You know that this is the quick way out. Things are getting difficult and it might not go so well, so let’s flick the switch and everything can go back to how it used to be. Problem solved.”
He shakes his head fiercely.
“That’s bullshit. We’re great together, Tess. In every way.”
She allows herself one last moment of indulgence as he sits there, waiting for her to respond, and she slides her hand into his. She’ll never be able to take his hand like this again – interlace their fingers together and feel that wave of security and belonging wash over her. They’ll never have those moments when she’s laughing at some ridiculous joke, and he’s not even part of the conversation but her laugh makes him glance over, and their eyes meet across the room, and they share a look of absolute contentment. But they’ll have their stories on the ice, and they’ll have the results they’ve worked their entire lives for, and that will be enough, she’s desperately certain.
“I don’t want you more than I want to win,” she says.
Such a short, simple sentence, like it’s not the hardest thing she’s ever had to do in her life.
She can only watch as Scott’s expression turns cold and his hand falls limply to the bed.
It reminds her of a runaway train, she thinks, how she can see a part of him getting smaller and smaller, pulling further and further away. She feels like she's floating above her body; she breathes, blinks, sits in silence next to him while the conscious part of her screams at her to take it all back, say she's sorry and she doesn't mean any of it, and she's never been more in love and more terrified. But she's being sensible, and she's taking one for the team, so she draws in a deep breath, collects her emotions, then shoves them out of her mind to deal with later. Just like that little pink bracelet still around Scott’s wrist, pushed to the back of her closet and forgotten until she can look at it without wanting to cry.
They don’t say anything more that entire night, just curl up on the bed with their backs to each other. She can feel him breathing beside her. The sensation usually brings her comfort, but tonight she crosses her arms over her chest, tucks her knees up to her chin and tries desperately to memorise every detail of what it feels like to have him lying next to her.
If he sleeps at all, she doesn’t notice.
Maybe, like her, he stayed awake the entire night imagining a hundred scenarios where they’re not Virtue and Moir, Olympic ice dance contenders, but just Tessa and Scott, high-school sweethearts who go on actual dates, and visit each other’s families, and spend birthdays and Christmas together, and don’t settle for hurried moments in freezing rinks.
Maybe he fell asleep within five minutes of curling up next to her.
It doesn’t feel like her business to know any more.