One Wish (Thunder Point #7)


by Robyn Carr

One

Grace Dillon’s flower shop was very quiet on the day after Christmas. She had no orders to fill, no deliveries to make, and she’d be very surprised if her shop phone rang at all. Most people were trying to recover from Christmas; many families were away for the holidays or had company to entertain.

Grace drove to North Bend to grab an early skate before the rink got busy. Figure skating classes were suspended over Christmas break and people, mostly kids who wanted to try out their new skates, would dominate the rink later in the day. Grace loved these secret early morning skates. She had a deal with Jake Galbraith, the rink owner. She could call him and if it was convenient, he’d let her skate for an hour or two while they were getting ready to open. He didn’t want to charge her, but she paid him fifty dollars an hour anyway. It was a point of pride.

He smiled at her when she came in and told her to have a good skate.

She stretched and then stepped onto the deserted ice, closely following the Zamboni ice resurfacer that had just finished. She warmed up with forward and backward crossovers, backward half swizzle pumps, figure eights, scratch spins and axels. She noticed Jake was watching, leaning his forearms on the boards. She performed a forward spiral and a leaning tower spiral. She executed a perfect sit spin next. She circled the ice a few times, adding a jump here and there. She had been famous for her straddle split jump, touching her toes with her fingers. When she looked for Jake again, he had disappeared.

Suddenly, the music started, filling the rink with the strains of “Rhapsody in Blue.” She glided into an arabesque, arms stretched, fingers pointed, wrists flexible. She saw that Jake had returned, was watching her every move. She went for a double axel and fell on her ass. She got up, laughing to herself. She glided around the rink a few times, tried the jump again and landed it, but it wasn’t pretty. The music changed to another Gershwin tune. She’d practiced to this music as a little girl; it was familiar and comfortable. Her earliest memories of skating always filled her with nostalgia and comfort. That was before the competition got really fierce.

She’d been on the ice for an hour when the music segued into Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire” and it lit her up. Her signature music. She was on fire! She skated like she was competing. When she was fifteen, stronger but lighter and more flexible, she could really catch the air. She noticed other people watching—a guy leaned on his broom and gazed at her, a couple of teenage girls who worked in the skate rental shop had stopped working to watch, the Zamboni driver leaned a shoulder against the rink glass, hands in his pockets. Two hours slid by effortlessly. She slowed and got off the ice when she heard the sounds of people arriving to skate.

“Beautiful,” Jake said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”

“Holidays are busy at the shop,” she said. She tried to get to the rink on Sunday mornings, but the past month had been frantic—wreaths, centerpieces, two weddings and increased day-to-day traffic in the shop.

“You should spend more time on the ice. I have a long list of people looking for a good coach.”

She shook her head. “I don’t think I’d be a good coach. I don’t have time for one thing. And I’d never go back on the circuit, even with students. I left that world.”

“I thought the day would come that you might be interested in going back, maybe not in competition for yourself, but coaching. I think on name alone you’d make a fortune.”

“I left the name behind, too,” she reminded him with a smile. “We have an agreement.”

“I haven’t said a word. People ask me, who is that girl, but I just say you’re training and asked not to be identified. Some of them guess and would show up to watch you if they had any idea when you would be skating. The ice misses you. Watching you skate is like seeing music.”

“Nice try. I don’t train anymore. I spent as much time on my ass as on my blades. I look like crap.”

“Your worst is better than a lot of bests I see. I’ve missed you. Maybe you’ll have more time in the new year.”

“We’ll see.”

She took off her skates and pulled on her Ugg boots. Sometimes she questioned her decision to leave it all behind, because being on the ice made her so happy. Then she’d remind herself that while a couple of hours felt great, the difficult routine of a competitive figure skater was grueling, exhausting. As a coach she’d never be able to push young girls the way she’d been pushed.

She pulled out a hundred dollars in cash for her two hours alone on the rink. Jake had told her he put the money in a special scholarship fund for young wannabe Olympians who couldn’t otherwise afford lessons. She told him however he wanted to spend it was fine with her. As long as he didn’t sell her out.

As she left the rink she reflected that her life in Thunder Point was so much more peaceful than it had been in competition and her freedom was hard-won. She had friends now, even if they didn’t know who she had been before. At least no one thought of her as tragic or complicated or as one of the saddest yet most triumphant stories told on the competitive skating circuit. No one was threatened by her, hated her, feared or resented her. No one called her a rich bitch or a dirty liar.

Of course, the weight of her secrets sometimes wore on her. Jake Galbraith had recognized her at once. All she had to do was ask the cost of a private rink for a couple of hours and he knew immediately who she was. She hadn’t confided in anyone in Thunder Point.

When she got into the van she saw that she had a message on her cell phone. She listened to it before leaving the parking lot. It was Mikhail, her old coach. He still kept tabs on her. They stayed in touch. Often, they left each other a series of brief messages because he could be anywhere in the world. “I am wishing you happy Christmas,” the Russian said. “I think I am day late. If so, you will understand.”

Grace waited until she was back in her tiny apartment above the flower shop before returning the call. “I thought you had forgotten all about me,” she said to his voice mail. “It was a happy Christmas. I was a maid of honor for my friend Iris yesterday—that’s how I spent the day. I’ve never been in a wedding before. It was small and intimate, a beautiful experience. And this morning I went skating. I fell three times.” Then she mimicked his accent. “What can I say? I am clumsy oaf with no training.” Then she laughed, wished him the best New Year ever and said goodbye.

Happy Birthday... | Gwilym Lee | Religious