Tony Kent Arena was hosting the annual Cranberry Open, and I transitioned from skater to coach since Courtney and Mark were registered to compete. I'd missed their rocky debut at the Junior level at the Boston Open earlier in the summer, and Courtney was still having trouble with the throw triple Salchow. For every two she landed, she missed three. I encouraged her as much as possible to keep her in a positive frame of mind, but I could see her frustration growing every day. She and Mark were only one month away from their Junior Grand Prix event, and they hadn't done enough clean run-throughs to satisfy Sergei or myself.

The clacking of Courtney's and Mark's skate guards on the concrete signaled their arrival next to us. Courtney put her water bottle and a packet of tissues on the boards.

"Warmed up and ready to go?" I asked them.

They nodded and headed for the entrance to the ice. Sergei and I turned our attention to the rink as the kids swished past us. Only four pairs comprised the Junior Pairs field - Courtney and Mark, a team from Boxborough, and two teams from the University of Delaware. All four shared the practice ice, and I wanted to keep an eye on all of them. These teams would be Courtney and Mark's primary competition at Sectionals in a few months. I was curious how their technical level compared.

Further down the boards the UDel coaches, Bob and Tina, watched their two pairs warm up. Well, Bob watched them. Tina seemed more interested in surveying Sergei and me. I'd felt her stares from the moment we took our places beside the boards. She wasn't the first person to give us an extended look. Sergei and I had spent the first two days of the competition watching the events from the bleachers, and the curious eyes of parents had lingered on us as if they expected us to engage in some wild display of affection. The federation's magazine article hadn't been released yet, so I assumed everyone had learned the news of our relationship from the internet or through word of mouth. The most Sergei had touched me was when he'd offered his hand to help me climb down from the bleachers. As soon as my feet had safely met the ground, he'd dropped my hand like a hot potato.

I understood Sergei's reluctance to cross that line at the rink, our workplace, but it wasn't as if the shiny diamond on my finger was invisible. A few people I knew from the Skating Club of Boston had congratulated me. I wasn't going to push, however; with all the judges and officials in attendance, we needed to tread lightly.

Focusing my attention back on the ice, I noted the UDel teams having no problems with the throw Sal. Meanwhile, Courtney was opening up on each attempt. I watched her do it four times before I lost patience.

"What is she doing?" I muttered to Sergei.

He folded his arms. "She's letting the jump control her instead of controlling the jump."

When Courtney and Mark glided toward our end of the rink to set up for the throw again, I called out Courtney's name and waved her over.

She stared down at the ice as she approached, so my view was the top of her blond head. "Look at me, Court," I commanded.

She raised her chin tentatively.

"You have to attack the jump," I said, keeping firm eye contact with her. "You look scared. What are you afraid of?"

"It feels too big," she mumbled.

"It's not too big. The technique is perfect and just like you've been practicing. I want you to do it one more time, and I want to see three rotations."

"Okay," she answered in a tiny voice.

The kids skated away, and I folded my arms across my chest, matching Sergei's pose. We stood like statues, zoned in on our students as they stroked around the ice in perfect tandem. Mark gripped Courtney's waist, preparing for the throw. It was then that I noticed the Boxborough couple heading in their direction. Both pairs had their backs to each other and were on a collision course. My heart seized, and before a warning yell could leave my throat, Mark glanced behind him and quickly ducked to the left, pulling Courtney with him. They circled toward us, startled looks on their faces. I took a long drink of my coffee.

Sergei clapped his hands. "You're fine. Just keep your heads up."

I snuck a peek at my watch. This practice session was not giving the kids any more confidence. I wondered if it might be better to save their energy for the short program that evening.

Courtney and Mark set up one more time for the throw, and my head bobbed with approval as Courtney completed three revolutions, albeit with a step out on the landing.

"Much better," I told her. "But fight for the landing next time. Don't let your arms drop." I shot my arms out stiffly to demonstrate the motion, and Courtney mimicked me.

"Spins next and then the death spiral," Sergei directed.

My eyes panned the thin crowd on the bleachers, and they landed on Holden, the boy who'd been Courtney's on-again, off-again object of affection the past few months. He sat with another boy who looked about fourteen, also. Holden's wavy brown hair was hidden under a navy blue Red Sox cap. Under the bill of his hat, I could see his eyes following Courtney across the ice.

"Oh, geez," I said.

"What?" Sergei asked.

"That boy Holden is here. The one Courtney likes... or doesn't, depending which day you ask her. He's probably why she's such a space cadet today."

"Maybe you should have a little chat with her about staying focused," Sergei said.

"I love how you always nominate me to have these types of conversations with her," I said with a laugh.

He spread his hands in front of him. "That's because you're so good at it."

"Nice try with the flattery." I elbowed his arm. "You just don't wanna deal with the teen angst."

"Well, that's true." He smiled. "But you are great with her. I really mean that."

I smiled back at him. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Tina staring at us again. Really? Are we that fascinating?

After the session time expired, I motioned to Courtney to follow me away from the ice. She pointed a thumb toward the bleachers.

"I wanna talk to Holden," she said.

"He can wait. We need to talk first."

Her slender shoulders slumped as she shrugged on her brand new Team USA jacket, a perk of being an international competitor. When it had arrived in the mail earlier in the week, she'd called me and squealed so loudly I could hardly understand what she was saying. Her enthusiasm reminded me of my own excitement when I'd received my first team jacket two years ago. Goodness, had it only been two years? It felt like ten.

I ushered Courtney to a quiet corner, away from the volunteers running back and forth and the parents giving pep talks to their nervous skaters.

"You can obsess over Holden as much as you want when you're not at the rink, but when you're on the ice, you have to give your full attention to three people only - Mark, Sergei, and me. Forget about the boy. I know it's not easy when he's sitting right over there, but you can do it. Look at me and Sergei - no one would ever know we're a couple when he's teaching me and Chris."

"I think you guys should make out in the middle of practice one day." Courtney giggled. "That would be awesome."

I placed my palm to my forehead but couldn't keep from laughing. "You're a mess, you know that? I can safely say that will never happen unless someone slips vodka into Sergei's coffee one morning."

"You two are no fun."

"There's a time for fun and a time for work, which was my point to begin with. You need to be one hundred percent focused on skating when you're on the ice. Leave everything else outside of the boards. Got it?"

She exhaled a deep breath and nodded. "Got it. So, can I go talk to Holden now?"

"Yes, but in two hours you need to have your game face on for the short."

"I will!"

The words were barely out of her mouth before she sped away from me. Sergei sauntered over.

"Any luck?" he asked.

I shrugged. "She listened. Whether it went in one ear and out the other... that remains to be seen."

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