“I’ll be back in an hour,” my dad announced, dropping me off at the outdoor ice rink—a flooded frozen field—adjacent to a shopping center plaza. “Are you sure you’ll be OK by yourself?”
I slid out of the pickup, hugging my brand new white figure skates to my chest. “I can do this, Dad. Go shop before the stores close.”
Floodlights winked on over the black ice as I headed for the lean-to strung with multicolored Christmas lights. The place was empty except for a mom strapping double-runners on her toddler’s boots. I sat on a bench and ran my finger down one skate’s razor-edged blade. A moment of doubt skittered across my mind. Me, gliding gracefully over ice? Balanced on two dinner knives? I looked longingly at the kid’s double-runners and swallowed hard.
I dipped my feet into the stiff skates, laced up and knotted bows. I’d never ice-skated before but I was 15 and roller-skated since third grade, so how hard could it be to translate this simple balancing skill to ice?
I stood up, ankles bound and locked. I didn’t fall over. So far, so good. I took a few wobbly steps. Piece of cake. I robot-walked to the rink’s edge and stepped out.
I glided a few feet. A few more. I could breathe now. I was getting the hang of it. One foot in front of the other, step-glide, step-glide. I made it around the rink’s perimeter without once bouncing on my butt. I pulled off my knit cap and shook out my hair, confident.
Until they came. A group of high school seniors, guys and girls, clomping into the lean-to, laughing loud. They bladed out on the ice, spun, skated backwards. I kept to an empty corner, practicing a figure-eight, trying not to get bumped into.
A girl skated up to me. “Hey, c’mon over. Want to play Crack the Whip?”
I didn’t know what cracking a whip was in skating terms, but she seemed friendly enough. And since I was feeling supremely poised and self-assured, why not be bold and try something new?
“You’re the tail,” she called over her shoulder, heading for a line of skaters holding hands. The end skater grasped my hand and we moved in a snaky undulating line, slowly at first, then speeding up. Faster, faster. The Head skater was practically motionless, but me, the Tail, shot around the ice, breaking the sound barrier, hair whipping, fear frozen on my face like a death mask from the gathering momentum. Now I knew what cracking the whip meant: whiplash!
I let go. Arms flailing, legs akimbo, mouth gaped open in a soundless scream. I hit a snow bank full force, launched forward, and plowed down the backside on my face. Snow in my mouth, my hair. I was paralyzed, too shocked to cry. That sensation lasted only five seconds because in the next moment I was drenched in humiliation, mortified. I wanted to belly-crawl behind the snow bank, hunch behind the lean-to and lick my wounds until Dad came to scrape my remains off the parking lot.
No chance. Someone grasped my arms and lifted me to my feet. “Jeez, you OK?” he soothed in a luscious deep voice, placing a warm hand on either side of my face, tipping my head from side to side, dark eyes full of concern.
I was on the verge of tears, mucous coating my upper lip. I would not cry, wouldn’t pretend, act all girly because a knight in shining blades came to my rescue. I was red-hot smoking mad.
“You tricked me!” I raged at him, beat my hands against his chest. I turned on the others, furious. “You all tricked me into being the Tail. You knew I’d wipe out.”
“No!” He placed his hands on my shoulders and gave me a little shake. “Honest, we didn’t. We saw you doing figure-eights and thought you were a pro.”
I studied his face. He was serious. I felt like an idiot. “Oh,” I said, looking down, fishing in my pocket for a tissue. Snot on lip was all I could think.
“Skate with me?” he whispered in my ear. He boosted me back to the ice, took my hand, and we stepped out gliding. Together.
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