These events occurred somewhere in a place I've been. A place where time passes dreamily. A place where our heart's desires are fulfilled. Where every yearning heart is held and kept and lifted up in loving embrace. Please play safe and be kind to yourselves and to one-another.
Our community always felt like a small town. In truth, it is a semi-rural enclave on the outskirts of a large northern city. But it is one of those places that people don't seem to move away from. Or they do, but only for a while, and then they're back again. Our parents and grandparents came here and put down roots -- and boy, what roots! Most of the people in this story still live in the same houses, these grand old cozy big homes that once rang out with the shouts of their parents' voices as children. Grandma's cooking smells are still there, in the walls somewhere, if your nose is keen enough.
Anyway, a few years have passed -- not a lot -- and some of us have moved away. But the place just keeps drawing us back. Some to raise a family, some to heal. And I still see these people in the course of a day and often we have a moment to stop, perhaps to touch, and to look each other in the face and smile, remembering how we were.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Ambrosini. I understand everything you've said -- and I agree, for the most part -- but I am still going to St. Croix." He was not happy.
"Derek, you just have to make certain sacrifices if you want to make it in this game." Looking seriously at me.
"Sir, I give that speech myself, at least once a week," I smiled, thinly. "Every time one of the clients has sore feet, it seems like. I am also 13, I haven't seen my dad in a year and a half and I have this opportunity to travel to the Virgin Islands for free."
"You'll miss the Invitational. It could set you back most of a year."
"Mr. Ambrosini. You know how hard I work. You know how reliable I am. You know we end up discussing whether or not almost all these girls are determined enough -- and most of them aren't, or their parents aren't." He nodded soberly.
"I think I have a very, very good idea what's required. I think I have a pretty clear idea of my chances and where my career might go and I think I have a pretty good idea what sort of opportunities there really are. I believe I have the potential to make it, particularly with you coaching me. Particularly since you picked me up at this stage of my development." Mr. Ambrosini nodded, looking guarded.
"If I'm going to succeed, it will take total commitment. I have to go into this with focus and sweep away any distractions, right? Wouldn't you agree?"
"Yeah, well, we certainly see eye-to-eye on that, Derek... " I cut him off.
"Yes, we do, sir. And one of the main purposes of this trip is to sort this thing out. I have to be willing to do certain things -- and forego a lot of things -- but I have to determine how this fits into the rest of my life. So I can give it a... everything. Do you see that, Mr. Ambrosini? I have to sort this out."
"Well, it's not like you have a lot of complex encumbrances, Derek. School. But that's something that gets handled routinely -- hell, you seem to be handling that just fine. But it isn't like you have a wife or anything. And think of all those willing young things, everywhere you'll go. Surely, you have some interest -- or you will, real soon." He did everything but waggle his eyebrows.
"I'm... um... spoken for, if that's what this is about. That's one of the considerations."
"Oh, Christ! Already? Not one of the other students?"
"No. No, nothing... I've been very careful about that, Sir."
"How about you and Cicely? You two look pretty... uhh... "
"Just good friends, Sir. Besides, she's in the same boat as me. She'll be on the road for the next ten years. I just have to make some decisions about how I want... about how I need to live my life. Please understand. I know it looks like a lack of commitment, but... Well, in fact it is. It's the threshold. I have to make the commitment or... not. I don't want to let you down. I don't want to let myself down, either, or Brand. I don't want to waste your coaching time, either. Please understand me. This is something I have to do, so I can participate 100% and see this through."
"As long as you realize this means you'll lose a year. You'll be 16 before you can possibly be a serious contender, this way."
"Skating isn't as much a young teen sport for boys, like it is for the girls, sir. How many 15 year old guys are out there setting the world on fire, anyway? Maybe I'll just come out of nowhere at 16."
He ran his hand through his hair -- what there was of it: "I'm not going to bullshit you, Derek. You are good. You are very good. In fact, you are the best male skater in your age group that I have ever run across, personally. You can be a star in this sport. I want to coach you: I've never had a men's champion, Derek.
"You are also one of the more serious-minded young men your age that I have ever met, and I have to admit that I respect the hell out of you for that. You remind me of myself, at your age -- minus the war. I know you will give this every bit of the careful consideration that it warrants. I can see that in you and I trust you. I only hope that you come down on the side of committing to this. Go with my blessing, Derek," he said, reaching out to embrace me.
"Thanks, Mr. Ambrosini," I said. I had a lump in my throat. I felt a surge of affection for him and hugged him back firmly.
"Marisa, have you met Brand?" The roar of the crowd was growing, as the students filtered in to fill the bleachers.
"No. Cicely told me about... him." That raised my mental eyebrows, slightly.
"Well, he's worth meeting, Marisa." I said that with a certain finality that ended that little discussion. What the fuck did she mean by that, anyway?
"Cicely seems to think you both are," she said, matter of factly. Sharp girl, this. Sorta laid that issue to rest, seemed like.
"Here he comes now." Brand skated up and stopped, absently, fooling with some papers in his hand.
"Hey, Dare," he started. "Okay, the Elementary kids are going first, with this costume thing. Then Cicely. Then you. Then your couples thing. And then they bring out the hockey teams for the pep rally. Then it ends and seventh period is canceled. So there may be some thinning out, but probably not much by the time you go on.. Here's a program and the schedule."
"Brand," I said, looking him in the eyes, "I want you to meet Marisa French. She and Cicely are good friends."
"Hi, Marisa! You're in my speech class, aren't you?" They were chatting, as I continued to stretch.
"Uh, Brand, can I talk to you for a second?" "We'll be back in ten seconds," I told her.
"You look over at her and I will personally kill you, Brand. Remember what I said about girls. Well... she knows Cicely real well. Like real well. And I think they've talked about us, a bit. You know." He looked a bit alarmed. "Do NOT look over there! You have a good shot, Brand. And remember my permission. Just be happy. I gotta go change. K?"
"K." He smiled at me, nervously. I winked and left.
I hit the intercom. "Ye-es?" John's voice, up in the booth.
"Christ, John! How about some rock and roll while these kids wait?"
"All I got up here is a bunch of disco and Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons."
"Put my Alan Parsons on and turn it up. Okee?"
"Anything for you, Derek."
"Thanks, big guy. Oh, and can you put the delay on. I'll do a sound check, while I'm out there."
With the delay active, there was no appreciable echo. I took a quick spin onto the ice to check the lighting and went and got into my skating duds.
As I came out to watch. I saw Brand chatting animatedly with Marisa. He seemed to be enjoying himself, which was the idea.
The music faded and the voice of Bob Arsenault, the announcer, came on. This guy was a senior and did all the football and basketball games. Rather well, I always thought. What was odd, was that he looked like this sort of airhead surfer, what with the blond surfer haircut and everything, but he had a deep authoritative voice, for a high school guy. Anyway, he started up, welcoming everybody to this year's holiday show.
First off was the little kids from the preschool. They were in sneakers with those green scrubby pads taped on the soles, and they did some sort of snowflake dance thing to a twinkly piano piece. It was cute -- and tastefully short.
After it ended, I got distracted for a minute, looking down. There was a subtle change in the crowd noise that made me look back up, just in time to see a tiny figure dressed as a penguin come flying onto the ice, pirouette wildly a couple of times and fall spinning on its butt. The crowd laughter started and I began to feel sorry for the poor kid.
The little penguin came to a rest, struggled to its feet, stuffed its hat back on and raised its mittened hands in a victory sign, as if the stunt went off perfectly. That got an even bigger audience laugh. A gaggle of slightly larger figures skated out to join the littlest one, all dressed as penguins, but without the hats. They did a sort of skit, telling an inspirational story about The Littlest Penguin, whose life seemed remarkably parallel to the Ugly Duckling's. It wasn't until the bad penguins welcomed the littlest one back into their group with a snake dance and he did his own dance of celebration that I recognized him. Flapping and spinning, he flew off the end of the line, doing the same goofy little dance he had shown his mommy the other day: Dustin. I should have guessed that tyke would steal the show.
All the bigger penguins finished up and left the ice, leaving Dusti to scramble up onto his skates and scamper adorably after them, tottering, to more laughter and louder applause.
What a ham!
Wow! What a great audience! Cool: you never know, with kids.
Cicely was on, next. I had watched this routine probably dozens of times. It was a sort of disco dance thing, done in a tight spotlight. Whoever they had on the spots was very good and Cicely looked great in her new outfit. It was a Royal Blue glittery thing in a style that went perfectly with her new, shorter hair.
I was curious how she was doing, since we hadn't spoken since practice yesterday. This next aerial would tell: supposed to be a 2 1/2....YUP! There it is... and it's good! Cool. She's on, this afternoon. The crowd clapped appreciatively, when Bob called the jump to their attention. Cicely's performance was smoothly professional. In fact, it was so good and so smooth that I don't think the crowd fully realized that this was a 13 year old classmate of theirs. She probably didn't even register as "one of us." The applause was a little thin.
I didn't even think: I leapt to my feet and skated on early, signaling for a spot. Pausing a split second, to get the crowd's attention, I made a sweeping gesture to Cicely. Holding one arm out, I pointed toward her and made a show of applause.
Cicely paused in the spotlight, curtseying her acknowledgment of the crowd's applause, and skated off, followed by me, as the spots lagged behind to let us escape.
She was all smiles, as I arrived. She seemed ready to thank me, but I cut her off, with a sincere compliment on her performance. We looked at each other and both broke into big, heartfelt smiles.
I keyed the intercom. "Ye-up?"
"John, buy me 2 minutes. I need to piss."
"K. Two minutes." It was only three long steps to the staff toilet: stage bladder was not an unknown phenomenon when they designed the place.
Back with 40 seconds to spare, I keyed the 'com again: "I'm ba-aack!"
"Good thing," he said, chuckling, as I heard my lead-in music already starting.
In a word, it went perfectly. Brand had had the idea to send Open Arms to this guy Bernie, in Hollywood, who was doing something new called Digital Mastering. He was able to clip 21 seconds out of the piece, but I ended up adding a total of three seconds of silence back, at the transitions. It made the second half quite a bit snappier and made the tune fit the aerials better. I'd been having to add small delays between the jumps to stay with the slower vocals in the second half, and this just made it flow ever so much better. When he found out I was a kid, Bernie only charged me for his employers' equipment time.
The funny thing is that I was hardly nervous. Just before I started, I thought of Brand, and Cicely. And of my family and Brand's. And I realized that those were the important people in my life. These were who I needed to please. They were my audience. So I set out to do my very best for the kids there, but I set out to excel for my own Special People, and it came off perfectly. Perhaps it was something -- some appreciation -- left over in the audience, from my asking them to applaud for Cicely, but I got 'way more enthusiastic applause than I ever expected. Even some whistles and shouts of "Yeah!" from the stands.
Cicely and I had to hustle through our costume change. We had a couple of minutes' break, for some announcements, then Cicely and I were on for our couples dance. Technically, it was a piece of cake, starting off with the two of us pre-positioned on the darkened ice, as the spots came up. There was this whole dramatic solo thing with Cicely being the Lonely Heart. Then it was me, solo, doing this sort of carefree Fred Astaire smart-aleck thing, looking like a punk greaser out of West Side Story. Then it was the courtship and then the spots merged, for our couples finale. Oddly, while I held her up -- in one of the one-arm lifts -- I had a strong rush of lust for her tight young body, as I thought of Brand and Marisa going at it. The applause was strong, appreciative and persistent.
We returned for short encore: a peppy little latin dance number with a lot of syncopation. It was ten times as technical, but the crowd got into it big time and wouldn't let us go. One more encore. I didn't really realize what that last number was, until we were already in motion, together. Cicely and I had danced to this the day we made love. Had sex, anyway. Somehow, it felt like she had been poured into my arms and we skated like we had been a couple forever. It was sweet, romantic and soothing. Drove the girls nuts. There may not have been a dry panty in the place by the time we were done, but the slower tune calmed the crowd and we were able to get off the ice, after this one.
With that, I was free for the day.
Seeing Brand, I walked up: "So. What's with you and Marisa?"
He smiled: "I'm taking her out tomorrow night."
"A date! Fuckin' A! Good for you. I love you. I really hope you get laid." He smiled, happy and comfortable with this.
I had some chores and errands, so I ran off for a few hours.
I would see him again, tonight. I would touch him then.