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To find Pairs at Nationals on Amazon, just click on the cover picture to your right.
Here’s the first chapter.
PAIRS AT NATIONALS
Jamie counted to the music as she circled the rink. Five . . . six . . . seven . . . At eight, she tightened her muscles and leapt. One, two, three rotations, then a smooth landing as her right blade touched the ice in a flowing glide. A perfect triple Salchow! Even better, she could see Matt coming out of the jump in perfect sync with her. They were awesome!
She skated over to Matt for a high five. It was hard to believe that when they started skating together last year, they couldn’t stand each other. Now he was her best friend—or second best. No one could replace Nicole. She had been Jamie’s best friend since their first time on the ice when they were six years old. Jamie looked across the ice. Nicole gave her a thumbs up before setting up for her own triple Salchow.
“So, what do you think we should do next?” Matt asked. But he wasn’t looking at Jamie. His eyes swept the rink.
Jamie’s eyes followed his. “Where is he?” she muttered. Cam was almost an hour late—and he was never late, not once in the whole year and a half he had been their coach.
“Got me,” Matt said, as if she expected an answer.
Jamie scanned the rink again, hoping she had somehow missed Cam. But no, all she saw was a kaleidoscope of skaters jumping, twirling and gliding over the ice. Cam wasn’t anywhere to be seen . . . but . . . what was her father doing here? He was standing by the bleachers talking with Bob, the rink manager. They both looked serious.
Her dad glanced up and his eyes met Jamie’s. He waved her over. “Get Matt, too,” he called as she started skating toward him.
She turned, but Matt was right behind her. They stepped off the ice. “What’s up?” Jamie asked. She grabbed her skate guards from the shelf around the rink.
Her father touched her arm. “Let’s go sit in the bleachers. I’m afraid I have bad news.” He turned to include Matt. “There’s been an accident. Cam’s in the hospital. They took him to surgery as soon as he got to the ER.”
Jamie stopped so suddenly Matt bumped into her. “What do you mean? He’s going to be okay, isn’t he?”
Dad waited until they were seated before answering. “I don’t know. He was unconscious when they brought him in. The only reason Bob knows anything is because one of the skaters’ moms—Ashley’s, I think—works there. She called to tell him.”
“He has to be okay.” Matt blurted out what Jamie thought. “We’ve got Nationals in two months!”
They had almost missed gold at the Midwestern Sectional Championships last week when Jamie stumbled coming out of the twist lift. Luckily, their biggest rivals, Sarah and Sean, fell on a throw jump, which gave Jamie and Matt first place. But they couldn’t count on that happening at Nationals. They needed Cam. They had to nail that lift.
Jamie’s father gave Matt a weak smile. “Cam may have bigger problems than Nationals.”
Jamie flinched. It was hard to imagine Cam lying still on an operating table. Not Cam, who was constantly moving. He was more than their coach. He was like a favorite uncle, always encouraging them to be their best, on and off the ice. His thick blond hair, red Olympic jacket, and soft folksy accent were a calming machine telling them they’d be fine. Tears filled her eyes. She sat stone still. So did Matt, cracking his knuckles, a sure sign that he was upset.
The rink’s announcer cut into her thoughts. “Skaters may now take the ice for the next session.” Everyone poured through the opening to the rink. She and Matt should be out there, too, having another lesson with Cam.
Jamie stood and grabbed Matt’s arm. She couldn’t just sit there. She had to be on the ice, just like she had to believe Cam would be back in a week.
“Come on, Matt,” she said. “Let’s get out there. Cam’d be really mad if we slacked off because he wasn’t here for a few lessons.”
Matt looked at her as if she had two heads. “A few lessons? Didn’t you hear your dad?”
“I know, but Dad’s not sure of anything. Besides, I need to be on the ice.”
Matt stared at the skaters whirling and gliding in the rink. He shrugged. “Okay,” he said, “let’s do it.”
He took her hand as they charged onto the ice. Jamie breathed deeply, taking in its clean, cold smell. They glided into the familiar Killian position––Matt’s right arm around her waist with her right hand over his, their left hands joined in front of his body.
Her stomach slowly unknotted, calmed by the scrape of her blades and the steady rhythm of their strokes. What a difference from the first time they skated together. She remembered how their skates had tangled, causing a fall and a major battle about whose fault it was. Today, they moved as one person, expertly weaving in and out of the other skaters.
“We better warm up again before we start on our lifts,” said Matt.
Jamie nodded and they dropped hands. She got into position for the easy Salchow, doing a double jump with ease. She worked through to the more difficult Lutz, where she tapped the ice before leaping, and landed in a perfect glide.
As she turned to skate forward, Nicole appeared. Her red practice dress looked bright and cheerful next to Jamie’s black skirt and top. “What’s going on with your dad? You guys looked so serious I was afraid to interrupt. And where’s Cam? I thought you had lessons today.”
The high Jamie felt on landing her jumps faded away. The knots came back to her stomach. “We did, but––oh my God, Nicole––Cam’s been in a car accident, and he’s in surgery right now. We don’t know what’s going on.”
Nicole’s blue eyes widened. “But Nationals are coming!” Nicole skated junior singles and had placed first at Sectionals. Nationals were on her mind, too.
“I know. That’s the first thing I thought. Matt, too. Now I feel guilty thinking about us and not Cam.”
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” Nicole offered. “Maybe he’ll be all right.”
“That’s what I keep telling myself, but what if we’re wrong . . .” Jamie’s eyes filled again as two skaters in her class, Ashley and Megan, joined them. Ashley touched Jamie’s arm. “Sorry to hear about Cam,” she said. “My mom sent me a text.”
Megan nodded. “Me, too.” She really did look sorry. Megan was a lot nicer to Jamie now that Jamie skated pairs and didn’t compete against her anymore.
“Thanks,” Jamie said. She guessed the rink’s rumor mill was whirling with the news.
She and her friends skated together silently, then one by one, they went back to practicing. “See you later,” Jamie called as Nicole glided away.
Matt took her place. “You’re the one who wanted to practice,” he said, “so let’s do it.”
“Okay.” Jamie wanted to keep some sense of things being normal. “We should start with the platter. I know I can do it.” She loved that lift, but it had been so hard when she started pairs. There was something terrifying about being six feet off the ground. Now she could spring into the air, confident that Matt would hold her.
Side by side, they skated once around the rink before Matt turned to skate backwards. “When I count to four,” Jamie said. She counted off to the music, then Matt put his hands on her waist. Two more counts and she jumped as he lifted, until she was in the air, back arched, arms out as if she were going to do a swan dive. Matt turned again to skate forward. A few more beats and she came down, landing so smoothly she hardly felt her blades meet the ice.
“Yes!” said Matt, pumping his fist in the air.
Jamie grinned, but her grin disappeared when Matt said, “How about the twist lift?” That was where she had stumbled at Sectionals.
She shrugged. “Okay. Maybe I can get it together today.”
They started skating, Jamie close behind Matt. When they turned to skate backwards, Matt placed his hands on Jamie’s waist as she put hers on his wrists. After two beats of the music, Jamie tapped the ice with her toe-pick and leaped. At the same time, Matt lifted and threw her into the air. She drew in her legs and arms as she whirled around––once, twice. She struggled to complete the second turn, but her blades met the ice a moment too soon. She stumbled into Matt as she tried to control her landing. Only Matt’s hands on her waist kept her from falling. She stomped her foot. This was just like Sectionals. Would they ever get this lift?
The music stopped and Jamie heard, “This session is now over. Will skaters please clear the ice.”
“What the heck’s the matter with you?” Matt snarled, as they skated to the exit. “How hard can it be to make two stupid turns?”
“You try coming down clean every time, you’re so great.”
“I sure wouldn’t stumble like some kid who’s never skated before.” He practically shouted the words.
Jamie’s face flushed. “Oh yeah, maybe I wouldn’t either if you’d lift a little . . .”
She stopped when she saw her dad talking with Bob again. Maybe he had more news about Cam. That was more important than fighting with Matt, even if he could be so full of himself sometimes.
They stepped off the ice, still not looking at each other. But when Jamie’s dad walked toward them, his face grave and shaken, Jamie took Matt’s arm. She was over the stumbled landing.
“Cam’s wife just called,” Dad said before either of them could speak. “She said to cancel all of Cam’s lessons.”
“For how long?” Jamie asked.
When her dad didn’t answer, her heart began to race. “He’s not dead, is he?”
“No, but he was hit hard. She said the other car ran a red light and smacked right into him. The impact broke his hip and shattered his femur––that’s the thigh bone. He won’t be walking for a long time. And . . .”
“Yeah, but he can get better,” Matt said. “Maybe he can come to the rink in a wheel chair.”
“I don’t think so.” Jamie’s dad reached out to touch Matt’s shoulder. “You didn’t let me finish. Cam also has a bad head injury. He’s not waking up. They think he’s slipped into a coma, and they can’t predict when he’ll come out of it. The longer it lasts . . .”
His voice trailed off as he pulled the two of them into an embrace. “I’m so sorry,” he said, holding them tight. Jamie tried to imagine skating without Cam, but the image wouldn’t come. Tears filled her eyes.
Matt pulled away, eyes glistening. “I gotta go.” He grabbed his skate guards and stopped only long enough to put them over his blades. Then he practically ran to the locker room.
Jamie didn’t care who saw her. Her dad’s arm still around her, she sobbed into his shoulder. Cam was gone. Maybe he was never coming back. How could they skate without him? And if they couldn’t skate, what would happen to their Olympic dream?
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