Had you told Ira Smith that she’d be spending her New Year’s Eve breaking into the local ice-skating rink she would’ve chosen to go to bed early. Instead she’s standing outside in the negative degrees trying to keep the heavy snowflakes from melting into her eyes waiting for her best friend to unlock the door from the inside. Waiting with her was the captain of the hockey team and his loyal sidekick. The captain, Lucas, whispered something into the sidekick, who’s name she could quite remember. Aaron? Erik? Arnold?
The lights inside the building flickered on. Isabella’s figure stopped inside the first set of double doors. Her employment here had been the major influence in where the race of the century would go down. Hockey player vs figure skater. Her triumph would be legendary, and she would never let Lucas forget it.
Lucas stepped toward her. “I admit, I thought your going off to college would make you a little humbler,” he said next to her ear.
“I think that all those hits to your head have finally caught up with you,” Ira answered. They had parted ways last May as academic and personal rivals when they had both received their high school diploma. Lucas had been recruited by a local college hockey team and Ira had moved an hour away to attend college where she had to fight for her life during figure skating try-outs. She had ultimately made the team but had to work twice as hard as the other girls to keep her skills sharp and up to standard.
It had been fate that led them both to the same New Years Eve party. Ira had seen Lucas across the room and vowed to keep out his way. She was there to have a good time, not to throw playground insults at each other like they were both back in high school.
But Lucas had to open his mouth, greeting her by saying “How’s the little ice ballerina?”. The situation only escalated when she had called him a ‘professional bench warmer’ before following up with saying “I’ve watched little leaguer’s get more hits”. One thing led to another and somehow, they were in their respective cars on the way to the ice rink.
“You’re going down, Smith,” Lucas said, his breath clouding the air in front of him.
“I’m going to skate circles around you.” The lock clicked and the door in front of them swung open.
Isabella’s face appeared before them. “We have to hurry this up. My boss will kill me if he finds us here.”
“This will only take a minute,” Ira assures her. The four of them make their way down to the ice rink entrance. Ira and Lucas start to throw their regular shoes off.
Ira almost sighs in relief when she trades her heels for her favorite pair of ice skates. It was lucky that she had been practicing that afternoon and hadn’t bothered to take her equipment out of her trunk. Ira double checked that her skates were secure before standing from the bench.
Isabella had already taken her phone out and was ready to record the greatest single moment of winter vacation. Lucas took one last look at his skates and stood.
“How are we doing this?” He scans the dimly lit rink before them.
“Two laps.” Ira points from one end to the other. “Straight down the middle, touch the opposite wall and the first one back is the winner. Does that work for you, oh humble one?” Ira looks up at him.
Lucas returns her lifted eyebrow with a smirk. “Whatever you want, princess.”
Ira steps onto the ice. She was glad she had chosen a short, flowy dress for the party. Winning in a skintight slip dress like Isabella was wearing would’ve been a bit more complicated. Lucas seemed perfectly comfortable in his jeans and blue sweater.
Ira took her stance by the wall and took a deep breath of the cold air, which was still warmer than the storm outside.
“You can still call this off,” Lucas said, putting his hand on the wall next to her.
“Don’t tell me you’re chickening out now?” Ira smirked.
Lucas shook his head. “No, I’m just afraid your ego will never recover.”
Ira ground her teeth. He was going down.
Isabella began a countdown from the other side of the rink. Ira and Lucas tensed in unison.
The cry echoed in the empty room. They shot from the wall. Ice blurred beneath her. Her hair flew from her shoulders. This was the fastest she had ever skated. This was the closest she would ever get to flying.
In a blink they were across the rink. Their hands connected to the wall with a boom. Ira didn’t know who was ahead. Before either of them knew it they were back halfway across the rink. The sound of blades gliding through ice was the only thing she could hear.
She didn’t know what happened next. Maybe one of their laces came untied. Maybe a stray button had gotten in their path. Maybe their blades had somehow hit the other. It didn’t matter. All she knew was one moment she was going faster than she ever had before and the next they were falling.
Blades, ice, and people went flying. When Ira opened her eyes their legs had become tangled and Lucas’s ice skate blade was an inch from her eye. Isabella was screaming her name as her and the best friend ran across the ice. Slowly, Ira and Lucas untangled themselves and sat up. Lucas was rubbing his head. He looked at her and froze.
She blinked. He sounded a little panicked. “I’m okay.” She answered, checking her own head for bumps and blood. “Are you alright?”
Isabella knelt/slid next to Ira. “Are you okay? Let me see your head.” Isabella immediately began a visual search of Ira. The best friend helped Lucas back to his feet.
“I’m okay, Isabella,” Ira tried to assure her. “Just a few bruises.” Lucas agreed with her.
“Y’all were lucky, man,” the best friend said in a light Southern accent.
Isabella gasped. “You need ice.” Ira opened her mouth to object, but Isabella was already up and slipping toward the rink exit. “Archie, come help me!”
The best friend looked puzzled before calmly walking after Isabella. Ira blinked, still sitting on the ice.
Lucas offered his hand and pulled her to her feet. “Are you sure you’re alright?” His eyes studied her.
Ira smiled and nodded. “Perfectly fine. I’m probably going to be a little sore tomorrow, though.” She looked down at Lucas’s hand that was still gripping her own.
He coughed and pulled it away. Cold rushed at her now empty palm. Ira twisted her mouth.
“Ira,” Lucas states as if her name was a curse then tried again. “Ira, I’m so sorry. This is my fault.”
“What are you talking about?” This had been a long time coming. All their taunts and jabs at each other had been built up for years. She was more surprised it hadn’t happened in high school. “This was both our fault, and no one was hurt. No harm, no foul.”
He sighed. “I just wanted to talk to you. I didn’t think that starting with an insult would lead us to this.” He gestured to the arena.
“If you wanted to talk to me, why didn’t you just say hi?” Ira crossed her arms. The adrenaline of the moment was fading and taking its warmth with it.
He gave her a look. “Because this is how it has always been between us. I say something stupid to get your attention and before I know it, we are throwing insults like we hate each other.”
“I don’t hate you,” Ira admitted, surprising herself when she said it.
“Well, I don’t hate you either.” He threw up his hands. “I wanted to try and have a fresh start at the party. Maybe invite you to coffee or a game.”
“Oh.” Ira didn’t know what to say. She looked down at her watch. It was still two hours until midnight. “Do you want to go back to the party? Maybe give a fresh start another try?”
He looked at her for a long time before answering. Then he nodded. “Ya, ya I’d like that.”
He held out his hand and they glided off the ice together. Ira’s lips tugged upward as she thought about how the night might go, and who’d she probably be kissing at midnight.