Icing on the lake, p.6

Icing on the Lake, page 6

 

Icing on the Lake
 


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  “So what are you saying? They’re letting you turn in a scrapbook as your final project? What kind of school is this?” Conor asked.

  I felt like punching him. “It’s not a scrapbook,” I said. “And it’s a very good school. Very.”

  I went back to my seat, and after sifting through some writing of mine, looking for poetry to include in my project, I couldn’t resist emailing.

  Jones, remember skating/hat/grocery checkout boy? I think he’s following me—his name is Conor and

  “That one going to make it into the book?”

  Conor was wiping down the table next to me, which a couple of other customers had just vacated, leaving plates and mugs behind.

  “Uh—I’m sorry?” I quickly hit the minimize button and made my silly IM disappear.

  He must have seen me hit the delete key, because he said, “I thought you were writing things worth collecting.”

  “Well, no. I mean, some things are worth saving, and some aren’t. And see, that’s the point of the project, to determine, like, what you save…and what you get rid of. And what that means.” As I was talking, I felt my face turning bright red. He was staring at me with his eyebrows slightly raised, as if I’d had too much coffee and was just ranting and raving.

  Which I was.

  “So that wasn’t worth keeping. Does the person you wrote to know that? Or share the same opinion?”

  “No, of course not. She thinks it’s brilliant, like everything I write.”

  “She must be a really good friend, then.”

  I narrowed my eyes and glared at him.

  Then all of a sudden there was this strange grating noise coming from the street. It sounded like someone was pushing a shovel against the cement and pulling it back and forth. It was like nails on a chalkboard, only ten thousand times worse.

  “I think that dog’s had enough,” Conor commented as he gazed out the window and up the block. “Who would be dumb enough to tie their dog to a newspaper rack in the middle of winter? Talk about cruel.”

  Bear! I realized. Oh no!

  Conor went back into the kitchen. Thank God he was gone—didn’t he already think I was awful?

  I jammed my computer into my backpack without even turning it off, left my mug on the table and just grabbed my jacket and ran out the door. I felt terrible. I’d completely forgotten about Bear. I wasn’t used to having a dog! He was attempting to drag the newspaper box down the street. He had gotten one side of it unbolted somehow, and he was turning it and running around in circles.

  “Oh no, Bear—I’m sorry!” I said as I ran over to him.

  He jumped on me to lick my face. It wasn’t long before he had the leash wrapped around my legs, and I was about to go down with the Star Tribune box.

  Please don’t be looking out the window, I thought as I slowly and carefully untangled the leash. I unclipped Bear’s collar for a second, and miraculously, he didn’t run off. He just sat there waiting for me while I unhooked the leash from the newspaper box and then tried to reset the box so that it didn’t look like it had just been vandalized.

  Then I realized Bear wasn’t being obedient and sitting there waiting for me. He was waiting for Sean, who was walking toward us. Of all the luck. Did I have time to grab a piece of gum? Fix my hair? Anything?

  Big city, but small neighborhood, I guess. I’d always heard that about cities, but I didn’t know how true it was.

  “Hey! Kirsten, right?” he said.

  I nodded. “Hi. How’s it going?”

  “This puppy’s got some serious energy, doesn’t he?” He leaned down to scratch Bear behind the ears.

  “The problem is that he doesn’t realize he’s not a puppy anymore.” I smiled. “I think I’m going to have to start taking him for really long walks. Or run a marathon or something.”

  “You run marathons?” Sean asked, looking impressed—or startled, I wasn’t sure.

  “Oh, yeah. Sure. Doesn’t everyone?” I laughed nervously. “I mean, when I have to, I will. Like if I were being chased, I’m sure I could move quickly.” I was babbling like a fool. I was saying nothing that made sense. Why did I insist on making the least out of this situation?

  “You plan on being chased?” Sean asked.

  Well, it would be nice, I thought as I looked into his eyes. “Not exactly,” I said.

  “Good. Hey, you should come down to the lake tomorrow. You know, like we talked about?”

  “Oh. Yeah?” I asked. Did I ever say anything else when he was around? I got so tongue-tied, it was ridiculous. “I mean, yes, I should. Shouldn’t I? It would be fun.”

  There was an awkward pause.

  Come on, I urged myself. If you don’t make something happen right now, you might never be lucky enough to see this guy again. Who knows if it’ll snow again while you’re here? You can’t rely on Mother Nature to get you on a date.

  “So when do you work at the rink?” I asked.

  “I’ll be there tomorrow morning,” he said. “Nine until noon. Is tomorrow good for you?”

  It is now, I thought. It’s a whole lot better, in fact. “We’ll try to make it,” I said, not wanting to sound too anxious about it. Just keep things casual—until I could tackle him.

  And then Bear saw a squirrel and dragged me away before I could say anything else, which was probably a good thing.

  Chapter 6

  The first thing I saw when I woke up the next morning was frost on the window. I snuggled under the down comforter, where I was cozy and warm. I didn’t see a reason to jump out of bed.

  And then I remembered: Sean had said he’d be at the rink that morning. We had a semi-date set up. I had to get down there!

  I threw back the comforter, swung my legs over the edge of the bed, stood up, and found my slippers and my fleece sweatshirt as quickly as I could. The house was so cold in the morning that you had to be prepared. Besides, you never knew when you were going to end up in the driveway in your pajamas. Ahem.

  I went downstairs, opened the door and grabbed the morning newspaper from the top step. I shook it open to the weather section, where it said today would be a high of ten degrees. Not the best weather to take a toddler skating. But Brett was tough. Besides, I’d put so many layers on him that he’d be unable to move, but he’d be warm enough.

  When I told Gretchen that we were going down to the lake, she looked up from reading the morning newspaper. “The UV Index today is zero point three. That’s the risk of getting a sunburn or skin damage. Why do they even bother reporting that? Anything under five is completely useless. Anyway, I don’t know about the skating. I thought you could spend the morning cleaning.”

  “Uh…I could?” Quick. Think of something, I told myself.

  “Well, unless you have another idea,” Gretchen said.

  If I told her I was going down there to see Sean, she might even be supportive. But I didn’t want her knowing that I liked him, for some reason. She’d only tease me and tell me I didn’t have the right outfit on or something.

  “Actually, the thing is, Gretch, I’ve signed Brett up for skating lessons. Well, hockey lessons. And the class starts this morning.” I looked up at the clock. “At ten.” That should give me enough time to get Brett ready to go, and to make myself look decent in however many layers it would take for me not to get frostbite. Also, I didn’t want to seem too eager by showing up at 9:01.

  We didn’t actually have to skate long. We just had to see Sean and I had to talk to him and make him fall in love with me, or at least crush on me enough to go away with me for a weekend. That could happen in the warm rec building as well as on the ice. In fact I’d prefer going inside. It could take him a few minutes to get from barely knowing me to loving me.

  “Really? Hockey lessons?” Gretchen didn’t sound as if she believed me. “For Brett? But he’s only three. He doesn’t even skate all that well yet. How’s he going to handle a hockey stick?”

  “Oh, that won’t be a problem. See, it’s a class
just for little kids like him,” I explained. “The rec center offers them. I signed him up when we were there the other day.”

  “I didn’t see anything about classes there.”

  “Yes, but you didn’t come inside,” I reminded her. This was turning out to be the longest, most complicated lie in history. Why couldn’t she just be glad we were getting out of her hair for a while? “It was posted on the bulletin board outside the office.”

  She just stared at me.

  “Big neon green sheet. You really didn’t see it?”

  Still she was giving me that look of disbelief. Why would I make up children’s hockey lessons?

  “Well, the class starts today. I’d better get Brett ready to go.” If I acted like it was true, then it would be true.

  “Aunt Kirsten, we can’t skate here. We can’t!” Brett kept saying over and over as we stepped into the rink.

  “Sure we can,” I said. I was holding Brett’s hands and guiding him along.

  In the other rink on the lake, a bunch of guys were playing hockey. Choosing the empty rink seemed like a wise move to me. Considering I’d stumbled down the ramp on our way to the rink, nearly stepping on Brett with my skate, things were fine now. Things were perfect in fact. Sean was playing hockey, and when he was done, we’d talk, and—

  “Aunt Kirsten we can’t,” Brett said again. “Mommy said—”

  “Look, I realize I’m not the best skater, but this will be fine,” I insisted.

  Suddenly a guy skated up behind us. Well, he wasn’t skating exactly—he was sliding on sneakers. “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” he asked in a gruff tone.

  “I’m sorry?” I said.

  “This is a broomball rink,” he said. “Didn’t you see the sign?”

  And as soon as I glanced at the side of the rink, I noticed a sign on the wooden boards: BROOMBALL ONLY. NO SKATING. Actually there were about six signs like that, I saw as I scanned the rink. I’d been so busy checking out Sean that I hadn’t noticed.

  “I’m really sorry—I’m just visiting,” I said as I helped Brett off the ice. “I didn’t know.”

  “Well, now you do. Sneakers only, okay? Get out,” he practically barked.

  “Aunt Kirsten, Mommy always says we can’t skate here,” Brett repeated. “I told you.”

  “I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.” I gave him a little hug. Next time I would listen to Brett more carefully. “Sorry, again,” I said as we gently glided out of the rink.

  “Read next time,” the guy said in an angry voice.

  “Sue us next time,” I muttered under my breath.

  Fortunately, the game broke up a minute later and Sean skated over to us. “Ignore that guy, he’s insane.”

  “Really.”

  “Really. We’ve been trying to tell him that for years. I mean, you shouldn’t be on that rink wearing skates, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not like you barged in during a game.”

  “It seems like I have this habit of getting yelled at by the rink police,” I said.

  “Rink police? Is that what you call us?” he asked.

  “I don’t know,” I said. “Isn’t that the right term?”

  “Not exactly. But don’t worry. You didn’t even make it around the rink once, so I don’t think you did that much damage.” He rested his chin on his hockey stick and smiled at me. “We’ll go easy on you this time.”

  How could I resist someone who looked at me like that? He was absolutely, extremely handsome. “Thanks. So. Anything going on here? Like a broomball game?” I asked.

  “Nah. You just missed a pickup hockey game with some friends. Nothing special. Although my brother made a great save.”

  “Save?”

  “He’s a goalie. Goalies are strange. Did you know that? They’re obsessed.”

  “And…this is your brother you’re talking about?” I asked.

  “Yeah. And he’s even crazier than most goalies. Which means he’s way over the top.” Sean laughed. “He already took off for work, but you’ll meet him sometime, and then you’ll see what I mean.”

  Ooh! This sounded promising. He was actually talking about me meeting his brother. That implied meeting the rest of his family. His parents.

  Wait, I wasn’t ready for that. We’d barely just met.

  Quit getting carried away, I told myself. So far you’re just friends, or vague acquaintances. Flirt. Think of a way to flirt. Do what Crystal or Emma would do.

  It was hard to think of a way to look sexy or attractive when I knew my nose was red from the cold, my face was almost completely covered by a striped scarf, and if my lips weren’t chapped it was a miracle.

  While Sean skated around with Brett for a minute, I quickly fished my strawberry lip balm out of my pocket and ran it across my lips a few dozen times, hoping at least a tiny bit would sink in and last for the next ten minutes.

  While I was doing that, my cell phone started to ring. I fumbled for it in my jacket pocket, then nearly dropped it because I was wearing my mittens. “Hey, Emma,” I said as I finally answered it. “It’s really strange you called right now because I was just thinking of you.”

  “You were?” Emma asked.

  “You must have sensed it,” I told her.

  “Actually, what I sensed was that I have no idea what to do here. See, I really wanted to invite Cameron to the cabin. So I was about to, you know, but then Mike called and he’s like, can we get back together because I really, really missed you over Christmas.” Emma went on for a few more minutes, describing the complicated situation.

  “So, what are you going to do?” I asked.

  “That’s the thing. I really don’t know. I mean, obviously I still have feelings for Mike, but then Cameron’s so sweet, and he gave me that bracelet for Christmas, and I know he thinks I’m going to invite him because I’ve been talking about it.”

  I would kill to have those kinds of problems. Instead, there I was, chilled to the bone, trying to initiate at least one conversation with a guy who I barely knew. Which reminded me—I’d better get back to work.

  “Emma—I can’t really talk right now,” I said as Sean skated back toward me. “Can I call you later?”

  “Okay,” she said with a sigh. “But I really don’t know what to do.”

  “You’ll figure it out,” I told her. “Don’t worry!” I clicked off my phone. “That was my friend Emma,” I explained to Sean. “Her nickname is Emma Dilemma because everything’s a big crisis for her.”

  I wanted to say: Speaking of a crisis…we’re planning this weekend. It’s in about a month. I’ve committed to bringing a date. Emma has two possible dates, while I seem to have none. Wouldn’t you love to come with me?

  “So, are there, ah, lessons or classes or something?” I asked instead.

  Sean smiled. “In broomball?”

  “Sure. That, or skating in general.”

  “I don’t know. I mean, sure, probably—for kids. That’s what you mean, right? For Brett here?”

  “Uh…sure.” I smiled. “For Brett.”

  We both knew they were for me, but he was nice enough not to tease me.

  “I could, you know. Show him a few things.”

  “Really?” My voice squeaked as I said that, and I cringed at the sound of my inner flirt. She needed practice. Badly.

  “Should I get him?” I asked, in a more normal tone. I looked around and saw Brett sitting on the side of the lake, on a snow bank, molding shapes with the snow. He seemed safe there, but I’d have to keep a close eye on him. That boy could get into trouble in seconds, even if he would be slowed down by his skates.

  Fortunately Gretchen had insisted on making him wear a bicycle helmet, so at least I didn’t have to worry about him cracking his head open on the ice.

  “Well, maybe it would be easier if I showed you first,” Sean said.

  “Oh. Oh?” I said.

  Man, did I need to work on this talking-to-boys thing. I sounded like an idiot.
r />   Sean took off his hockey gloves and got rid of his stick and helmet. “What do you want to know?” he asked.

  “Well…the most important thing I can’t do is stop,” I said.

  “Yeah. I noticed that.” He grinned as he came over and put his hands on my waist. Just like the last time when he’d done this, I could feel his hands were warm. “Watch my skates,” Sean said. “Ready?” He stopped so suddenly that he had to grab me and keep me from falling over. “You have to push against the outer edge of your skate blade. Let it catch the ice.”

  “Okay. I hear what you’re saying, but I still don’t get it,” I said.

  We skated back and forth in front of Brett, so I could keep an eye on him. Sean patiently showed me how to turn on my skates, and what angle I needed to use in order to push the blade away from me and have it catch the ice and therefore stop. It was sort of like skiing, but more scary because we were on the ice. I had this urge to tell Sean that he could show me how to stop, but that I wasn’t going to stop.

  “Watch me again,” he said, and he skated in what must have been slow motion for him, to demonstrate how it was done. “Okay, your turn,” he said.

  I couldn’t wait until we were done and I could call Emma back and tell her about this private lesson. She would die. If I didn’t die first.

  Wait a second, I thought as I tried to push off with my skate. Speaking of dying. I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. “Maybe I—maybe I should get going,” I said.

  “Really?” Sean looked disappointed, which I took as a good sign.

  “Yeah.” I nodded.

  “Come on, stay,” he urged. “You’re starting to get it! Plus, this is fun.”

  “The thing is…my feet. I actually can’t feel my toes exactly.” Somehow I hadn’t noticed this fact in all the time I’d been there, but it was suddenly very true, and very painful. I hadn’t felt cold, but now my extremities seemed like they were about to fall off.

  “I’ll get Brett, you go inside,” Sean said. “Now. Hurry up.”

  I nodded and sort of staggered up the wooden ramp to the building. Inside, the heater was blowing at full blast and I sat on a bench, shivering.

 
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