ArHi FF | Pas de Deux

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Jul 21

ArHi FF | Pas de Deux (By Thegirlofravens) (Thanked: 18 times)



Pas de Deux 

Entree

“You are f ucking with me.”

 

He sat down on the bench, dropping his towel near his feet and eyed the woman in front of him, for the slightest hint to give her away. But, she remained stoic as ever. That didn’t surprise him. She was not one to express what she felt so visibly. In fact, she could stare down a man twice her size without having done much on her part. As for now, she cut him a sharp glare at his language and settled her mouth into a thin line.

 

“With Lenoir?”

 

She raised one well groomed brow. “Was I not clear the first time around?”

 

“I understand,” He began slowly, his hands curled into fists and rested on his knees, “I know I need to do better. This season is ours. I promise you.”

 

She shook her head, the line of a mouth growing flatter. “As your coach of many years, you must know by now that I don’t believe in promises. Delivery before word. Always.”

 

He took a deep breath to ward off the tightening in his chest. He knew. She has drilled that into him enough all the years she spent coaching him and he only ever had one coach. “Gaia. We know what happened-”

 

“No.” She shook her head again, crossing her arms against her chest. “I am not letting you give up.”

 

“I am not-”

 

“I will not let that miserable excuse of a person ruin what we had worked years to build.” She slapped her desk with her hand, not allowing him a word on the subject. “We must put her behind. I told you this. You becoming single is not putting her behind. It’s giving her front row seat to your failure.”

 

“I won’t fail. I can perform single. I did it for years.”

 

“Everyone will know that you are doing it because of her. They will think we can’t get someone else to replace her. That there might be some truth to the rumors.”

 

“I don’t care what they think. As long as I am being judged fair for my skating. I don’t give a damn.”

 

“Then learn to give one if you don’t wish to lose what you do care about.” He tightened his jaw and refused to speak further on the matter. It would only serve to ignite the ever short temper of hers. Years with her has taught him to pick his battles wisely.

 

“We have no problems, do we? Pairing up with her will do you good. She is excellent. Earned gold twice. Pristine reputation.” Crossing her legs she leaned against her chair, the corner of her mouth lifted slightly. “Something you may want to benefit from.’’

 

“Careful, Coach.” He drawled, not allowing that little jibe to slide. “You don’t want to be caught drooling on the carpet.”

 

His coach ignored him as she collected her phone from her purse. “She has never pair skated before. We will guide her.”

 

As if he needed to be told that. “That would require us to take time offseason. We can’t afford that.” All more reasons to not bother with pair skating anymore. If he skated alone, he will depend on himself. His career in his hands alone. How beautiful was that? Couldn’t she tell? Still, his own mind warred between two separate temptations. Her or alone.   

 

“We don’t need to. She has been on ice since she was three and you have been… you know yourself well enough.”

 

“I..” He looked at her but she was staring down at her phone, her nimble fingers scrolling down the screen. Twitter? Did something come up… He forced the thought away. He wasn’t ready yet. Not to give that amount of trust and control to another being. When his last partnership ended the way it had, he decided that he wouldn’t. Not for another lifetime at the very least.  

 

She looked up at him, catching his gaze. “She sought you.”

 

Surprise stilled him. “She did?”

 

“After the Four Continents. When she fell to the fifth place. She gave me a call. I told her that you weren’t interested.” That was the year they had decided to partner with her. He and Gaia made a silent pact of never calling out her name. It tended to leave a bad taste behind. But, Gaia turned down an offer, without his knowledge, one that could have changed everything. All this mess… F ucking hell. It could have been Lenoir. And she asked for him. Her, who was no short of contenders desperate to have her as their partners, ice loved her - the public had even crowned her the title of Ice Queen when she won medals back to back from 2012.

 

Arnav rolled his shoulders, an ache spreading along his right side. He needed a hot bath. It has begun to hurt, adding to his growing frustration. His coach eyed the movement. “Lenoir didn’t seem to be in the right place that year.” As if she sensed the brewing storm in him, she further added. “Fifth place is nothing to cry about, not when you only got it for the first time, yet she thought there was a mistake, one she needed to correct soon. Whether it was to do with her scoring or position. I sensed a hasty decision and refused.”

 

Still eyeing his shoulders, she tossed one small water bottle his direction, he caught it with ease. “Anyway, you had already signed the contract with her and the next day we had an interview with the press for confirmation of your partnership. Not much could have been done.”

 

“I am sure something could have been done, had you only found it necessary to inform me before rejecting her coldly on my behalf. She was an Olympic champion.” Gaia took no notice of his tone or stance, she waved her hand around like she couldn’t be bothered with this insignificant bit of information right now.

 

“So were you. Twice. But that was five years ago.” He stood up, unwilling to take such attitude, not right now, his mind churned with all possibilities lost and gone. All the things that had happened would have no chance. Meeting his glare without blinking, she sighed. Her uncanny habit of reading him would always strike at bizarre times. Her voice grew softer and smooth. “It’s not like you had your head in the right place either.”

 

He swallowed down the knot, he didn’t want to talk about that. She could bait him all she wanted. “She called again?”

 

“I did.”

 

He sat back down, opening the bottle and guzzling it down in seconds. “Fine. I will do it.”

 

Gaia’s eyes narrowed into slits. “You agreed too quickly.”

 

But not without calculating. He kept that to himself. It was Lenoir. Anyone else and he would have given Gaia a lot of trouble, which she was expecting by the look on her face, but it was her - he could give her a chance. He did watch her all the years he has been competing and it was not like the thought never crossed his head, in fact, it crossed more often than he would ever like to admit. But she has been content to skate single and he gave up on it becoming a possibility.

 

Gaia said that she has asked for him. Him. If she ever thought of skating in pairs, it was him that she contacted. His mind told him that he couldn’t be the only one. But then, she hadn’t taken up a partner, had she? Perhaps something to do with the timing. A lot of factors had to be right in order for a couple to compete together than just the two of them agreeing.

 

He knew this and despite that, something tugged within him, something he knew he shouldn’t dwell upon.

 

“If that is how I can prove how terrible of an idea this is.”

 

When her face wore a familiar scowl, he had to fight back the laugh, so much for not angering her.

 

“I have been winning medals before you were even born, boy, you will do well to remember that.”

 

“I know, Coach.” The still air of the room began to move again. He couldn’t help but grin. “You yell that everytime someone steps on your shoes.”

 

Gaia stared him like she wanted to smack him but settled on throwing another bottle, this time aiming at his head, but he was well versed by now and caught it again. “Drink up. We are meeting her at about…” A sharp knock sounded outside the door. “Now.”

 

“Come in.” His coach called, the glass door opened and in walked the titled Ice Queen, wearing black leggings and a blue dress shirt with sleeves folded around her elbows. She nodded at Gaia, shaking her hand and turned his way.

 

F uck me.

 

The eyes, complemented by the choice of her shirt, seem to glitter as she assessed him, lingering on his frame for more than a few seconds. They reminded him of a frozen lake. “Mademoiselle Lenoir.” He managed and shook her offered hand. Warm and firm in its grip. “Arnav Boudreaux.”

 

“Just Khushi.” She withdrew her hand when he forgot he was still holding it unnecessarily. He offered her a polite smile that she didn’t return. “Pleased to finally meet you, Khushi.”

 

“And you as well.”

 

She took the seat adjacent to him, not waiting to be offered, and looked at Gaia. “I read the unofficial agreement and I’d to discuss a few things beforehand.”

 

Gaia nodded. “Proceed.”

 

“I won’t be doing excessive interviews or guest appearances on shows to promote our partnership. I hope we will have a competent team for that. Before we can actually sign the contract, I’d like us to do a tryout for a month to see if we could be on amicable terms and how well we are able to perform as a unit.” Khushi crossed her legs, shifting her icy gaze between Gaia and him. “Secondly, I’d rather take time offseason than be miserable throughout one so it is crucial for me that we both maintain equal efforts because if I feel it is not so, I will be forced to terminate contract no matter the time or amount of practice that has been done.”

 

She was reclining on what was an office chair turned throne. Appearing bored yet he could see that she was anything but. Whenever she looked at him, he felt fourteen again.

 

“Was that a threat, sweetheart?”

 

“No.” She forced out the word. “I was merely reminding you that you need me not the other way around so I will be the last person tolerating anyone tantrums.”

 

“Ah, but,” His coach spoke up. Her eyes finding Khushi and pinning her in place. Grey clashing with blue. Like blade crushing the ice.

 

“You do need him. None of us here require reminders, I suppose. There are many women single skaters wishing to transition and Arnav makes a desirable partner not only with his experience but also through his achievements,” He raised his eyebrows at his coach. It was not like her to defend him or praise. Never both in the same breath. “We will be partners. We must remember that as we go forth. Together as a unit like you said. It’s no charity from any side, Comprenez-vous?” She spoke to the upturned chin until it lowered.

 

She looked at Gaia for a long time. “Oui, je comprends cela.”

 

“We have a year to make you transition as well as make you both excellent together. Every day matters. It is wise you suggested the tryout. A month should be enough for us to sense how well you both come together, find your rhythm and flow. As for what you said about social interactions, I don’t like them any more than you do, they take too much time from practice nonetheless they are a necessary evil.”

 

Khushi nodded, “I don’t mean that we don’t do them at all. What I was thinking is that we agree to scheduled events in advance.”

 

“No more than ten.” He added, “Ten is just enough to keep the excitement alive.”

 

Everyone in the room silently agreed. They went back and forth with more suggestions, as time went on, he could see that they were all aware that they were getting ahead of themselves when this was nothing more than a concept but it didn’t stop them.

 

“If all goes well with the tryout, we shall draft a contract satisfactory for both parties before the official press release.” Gaia’s eyes glinted as she stared at them both. As if she could already see them on the ice and the podium. “Two champions coming together for glory. How would that be for a heading?”

d


A/N

Pas de Deux refers to a dance duet. The performance could be divided into Entree (The Introduction), Adagio, Variations (performed singly by each dancer) and the conclusion called Coda. Hence the story index is styled after it.

If you enjoy the Winter Olympics or just enjoy watching ice skating videos on youtube, you may enjoy my little tale as well. It’s not a long fiction (I suppose under 20 chapters.) 

The story shall be updated once a week. You can also follow my blog (link below) or me on Twitter @thegirlofravens for notifications.

 I am excited to finally share what I have writing for a while and I eagerly looking forward to your thoughts.

Thank you for reading,

Raven.



Jul 27

A d a g i o (By Thegirlofravens) (Thanked: 20 times)


Adagio


“Do you think it’s the teenage rebellion you get warned about?” Her mother turned to her father, talking about her as if she was no longer present before them. Her father’s spidery fingers spread across the table between his cup of café allongé and the plate of freshly baked croissants that sat upon the newspaper. “Is it?” He asked her and she had to trample the urge to sigh.

 

“No.”

 

“Then why?” Adele Lenoir’s already small eyes narrowed further. Like she couldn’t figure out a puzzle placed in front of her. “I can’t imagine anything else.”

 

“What do you want me to say, mother?”

 

“We would like you to explain. What made you…” Her mother head leaned against her father’s shoulders. She knew that was his cue to speak. “You behave differently these days.”

 

“I…” She held off her tongue. There was a lot she wanted to say but when she saw their faces, it was hard to be mean, to be selfish when they looked at you like you were a single word away from severely disappointing them. She took a small sip of her café au lait, savoring the warmth held by the cup cradled between her palms. She thought of the words drumming in her head and tried to arrange them into something better than the jumbled mess they made. “I am trying to take control.”

 

It was honest but not the best thing to say. Especially to the people who had been controlling every little detail of her life. From how she talked to when she should put guards on her skates. It wasn’t as if her input was never taken, just never worthy of consideration.

 

From the very moment they discovered the potential in their child, she was taken out of her nanny’s hands and thrust into a whole new world. Her skates and ice fit like two pieces of one being. She was repeatedly told she skated better than any beginner should. She fell less often and evaluated every bit of advice and critique very seriously. She implemented and improvised. And it was all before she even thought of skating professionally.

 

And her parents couldn’t been more pleased to see their only child be something better than a pest. They loved showing her off – their best project they proclaimed. Especially when she was qualified and earned silver in her very first junior championship. It became more. When sponsors came. When everybody wanted a piece of their child. Their glee was uncomparable but along with that came rules. Hard rules subjected and reigned by an iron fist. Their claws dug deeper and deeper until she could take it no more.

 

“Mon trésor,” Adele and James stared at her hard. It was Adele who spoke, her pale finger that had been toying with a lock of her auburn hair now pointed at Khushi. “Don’t you dare think of discarding us to the side. We are your parents.”

 

“Never.” She told them. Again the truth. Now that her cup was empty, she kept it back on the table and forced herself to meet their gaze. “I think it is best for me to switch to pairs. I wanted that for a long time.”

 

“So it’s true then. What’s printed in here?”

 

Khushi looked down at the stock photo of two pair skaters accompanied by a heading with her name in it. They were yet to do an official announcement, they hadn’t even begun their tryout on the ice and it was hard to keep the news under wraps. It was a small article of speculations in the sports gossip column but it hadn’t missed her parent’s hawk eyes.  

 

“I can’t imagine why. Don’t you know better? Once you are in pairs, it is less of you and more of the man. People will always look for a romantic relationship where there is none and you have to keep up some charade to hold their interest.” Disgust evident in his every word. “You will be used as an object to throw around, like a plaything. More attention on him than you. He will always get more credit than you will ever be.”

 

“It’s not that like that, father. Pairs are about unity – it’s another form of the same art. I love skating alone. It’s joy unlike any other but I want to change things. I want to do things before it’s too late to do them. Before I have to retire.” she forced it out of her mouth before courage left her. The dreaded r-word was forbidden. She was never to speak of that let alone think. One of the rules.

 

Her parent’s faces blanched. They looked like they had swallowed down a nasty bug. James reached for her hand. His gold Rolex glinting under the ceiling’s lighting. She took the clammy hand and tolerated the grip of it. “You are only twenty five.” He spoke slow, like telling her a secret, or something she was too stupid to understand otherwise. That put her on edge. “You have many years. Thirty is when you should be considering this nonsense. I say my daughter can do it even in her forties.”

 

“Oui.” Her mother leaned forward too, eager to put forth her share of demand. “You are at your prime. Only a fool would decide to end it now.” She tilted her head and smiled. “Rest when you are dead, isn’t that what they say, James?”

 

Khushi took back her hand, this shouldn’t surprise or even bother her but it did. They spoke as if they had a sole ownership to her body and nobody else – not even her. She knew they wouldn’t last a week going through what her body did. The endless gruelling routine. But then again they were not unaware – only indifferent.

 

She decided against arguing with them. Nothing was solid yet. Most skaters retired early, it becomes too much – the strain of it. Those who braved to choose figure skating knew how demanding the sport was that it felt as if even breathing had to be prioritized second. You didn’t go anywhere without paving every one of your steps with sacrifices. She knew she still had enough love in herself to push for more and more until she collapsed.

 

Another part of her urged her to plan ahead, to think of a life that didn’t revolve only around skating – she couldn’t imagine that life and it terrified her. Lately, she could do little else but pay attention to that small part. If she didn’t think for herself then who would. Wrestling back control from her parents was the first of many steps she knew she needed to take.

 

“Maybe it is your living arrangements.” James rubbed his beard and turned to his wife. “Could that be it? People get influenced by the strangest things. Now that you don’t have us to keep you in line, you will find yourself battling against all kinds of temptation.”

 

Adele nodded fast. “That’s it. I have been against her moving out since the very beginning. That is it.”

 

“No.” She almost yelled. They will not force her back into their little doll. Not again. It had been so hard to leave in the first place. “I am fine on my own. We have family dinners every weekend like you wanted. I call every day and keep you two updated on smallest of things.”

 

“Not enough.” James took the menu and flipped it open, his finger running over the list of hors d’oeuvres. He didn’t need to when he already had it memorized. Ellsworth had been one of their many preferred places for family gathering. “We know of things after they have been contemplated. You never even asked us if we would like to you skate in pairs. We don’t like this.”

 

“So you wanted me to ask you two if I could skate with a partner, seek your approval on the best candidates and mayhaps let you even interview him along with his coach. Let your lawyer draft the contract and review it instead of mine?”

 

Her parents exchanged a long look. “Aren’t you going to?” When she remained silent, her mother laughed. A loud cackle that lacked mirth. “This is still an idea, isn’t that right? It can’t be anything else. Not without our permission.”

 

James joined in with a brief chuckle. “We must order wine. The evening is asking for one.”

 

“Non.”

 

“Non? The wine is for us. We would not allow you to drink a drop. Don’t you worry.”

 

“Non, this isn’t just an idea. I met them two weeks ago and we have come to an agreement.”

 

“I haven’t ordered the wine yet and I feel drunk.” James smiled vanished. “Surely, Khushi is not telling us…”

 

“You two are still the first to know.”

 

Adele gave a delicate sniff. “Oh James…” He patted her hand that was around his arm and glared at her. “Khushi.” Her name uttered like one would crack a whip. Her younger self would have obeyed without question, and who was she trying to fool, even now it was a struggle to keep her eyes from dropping at her lap.

 

“Mother,” The grip on the table tightened. Her knuckles turning white. “Father. I have decided. I am not changing my mind.”

 

“We allowed you to move out because you wouldn’t listen to a thing. I was so sure the neighbors would hear you and report. You were hysterical that evening and we were afraid that you would harm yourself and affect your career, but this is turning silly. It was not our best decision to let you go.”

 

“Would have held me hostage? I wanted to leave.”

 

“Hostage? What is wrong with her, darling. It’s like we are conversing in two different languages right now.” His long blonde locks, that were usually tied back, fell over the shoulders of his business suit when he shook his head at her.“Is taking care of you is us holding you hostage? Have you grown more stupid in the space of two months?”

 

She wanted to scream and rage and throw all the pretty china from the table to the ground. Someone will catch her in her outrage, her face in an ugly wail and preserved forever through endless circulation and speculation on the internet. Years of leash may chafe but should never break.

 

Khushi stood up, keeping her hands well restrained to her sides. “I have my ballet class in a few minutes. Farewell.”

 

She ignored her parents hissing her name, her feet don’t need to be urged to carry her far away from their presence until next weekend. 


d

 

Gaia clapped her hands twice. “Now repeat.”

 

She took a deep breath, skating forward, keeping her eyes trained ahead and jumped using outside edge of her blade to launch her. Twisting midair in 3 and a half revolutions then landed back on the ground on one leg and skated backward. All a well practised move. Triple axles hardly made her pant now and she took great pride in that as triple axles are known to be the most technically difficult from all the other six types of jumps. It also has the highest base value of 8.5 points according to the ISU judging system.

 

Though breathing while spinning in the air would always remain a challenge. She looked to her new coach’s side to see Boudreaux strapping his own skates.

 

They had to begin from the very basics, to learn each other’s bodies and to trust them. The last part was, without any doubt, the hardest – in pair skating, the female gets to be the one thrown up in the air or be the one lying parallel to ice only a couple inches off as her partner spins her body in another difficult position. She must keep her absolute trust in her partner to safely land her back and not let go. Simply put, trust him with her whole life. A small mistake could result in an injury. An injury that could put an end to her career.

 

Hence they first had to practice their hold and posture off the ice in the training room with mats spread out to cushion their falls, even with Arnav being with several partners before, it took time to adjust with every single one because of their body mass and height.

 

It was a good thing that she had maintained her routine of classical ballet as what they were now practising in the training room was somewhat like ballet. A long term ballet training is said to help with flexibility and grace. Whether it was necessary for every skater still remained a matter of debate. Personally, she felt her ballet background had helped enhance her quality of skating. Even when they practiced their lifts, she had known how to hold and position herself, all credit to her instructor for making her rehearse with the only danseur in her class. It was like attempting pas de deux but on the ice this time.

 

She didn’t realize she was staring until he caught her and before she could look away, he threw her an easy smile, she tried to respond with one of her own, but it came out as a grimace. She looked away and focused on her own warm up.

 

They didn’t need to be friendly, she reminded herself to shake off the feeling settling in her gut, they need to be well acquainted, yes, but still professional. Like business partners. That line had to be solid and must be redrawn as many times as it demanded.

 

No matter what Coach Gaia said, they were, after all, looking for their own interests in the end. Cold approach, maybe but was it dishonest? No. She didn’t need friends – not even while growing up, she couldn’t have them. The only smiles she had to thought to force were at the end of her performances.  

 

Khushi felt the difference at once, the moment he skated next to her and stood. This was it. The very first moment, she was with another person on something so important – so profound and allowed him to share it with her.

 

This was it.   

 

He placed his hands on her ribs, just below her b reasts, and she realized that she hasn’t taken this into account, she took a deep breath, aware that he could count each one. She didn’t think having someone else touch her would bother her and it didn’t except it felt… She kept that thought aside. They had practiced this before, but back then she had been focused on the technicalities. Now on the ice, she was more aware of him. She felt him loosen his grip on her, to make sure he didn’t touch her that much. It annoyed her, she took his hands and settled them on her waist.

 

“Ready?” Coach asked them. They nodded together. “Start.”

 

“Stop.” The command came before they had even done anything other than glide together into position. “Too stiff, Lenoir.” She made an effort to relax. “Boudreaux, hold her closer.” He brought her into the position again, this time closer, the coach nodded her approval.

 

“Stop.” She huffed out a breath when they were asked to stop again. “Do you need a moment, Lenoir?”

 

“Non.” She turned as instructed, her hands around his shoulders. They were hard. Her fingers moved around before she could stop them. They lingered and felt him go still. Their cheeks were almost pressed, and then slowly, his head turned to her, all the air of the room, in that moment, felt gone.

 

Too close. She thought. His mouth was too close, she couldn’t help but notice how well sculpted his lips were and she wouldn’t even need to lean to… She tore her eyes from them to his eyes. Deep, dark and knowing. Then slowly his mouth that quirked into a smirk.

 

She looked away.

 

Stop. She closed her eyes. Stop or you will look like a fool. Business partners, remember? She got close again. Here it comes. They skated a little before he lifted her up, his hands on her thighs. No. She was too nervous. When he let her go – she couldn’t move, her body not even completing one revolution before she slammed down. He tried to catch her but ended up stumbling down with her under him. The impact of ice and his weight stole her breath.

 

Good. She deserved it. Ignoring the hand in front of her and the pain in her back. She rose again. This should put her head back in the professional zone. She skated a small lap, trying to shake off the nervous energy before skating next to him. “Okay?” He whispered against her ear once they were back in position. She nodded. Once again in air, she was no better. Slamming down again. Her body was not going to forgive this. She hadn’t fallen this many times since she was a junior trying to learn lutz.

 

“Stop.” Coach yelled. “Perhaps this isn’t the best start. Let’s-”

 

“I can do it.” She wheezed. How embarrassing, she thought as she stood back up and skated back towards her partner, what impression it must be making when she could barely do basics the coach had put together.

 

“Very well then.”

 

Ice met her face. She wanted to lie there but forced herself upright to see Arnav glaring at the coach. Gaia threw up her hands. “Of course. I have to end up with two of the most stubborn people.” She turned to Khushi and crossed her arms. “Unless you are trying to get a concussion. Stop.” Her partner relaxed at those words.

 

That was strange. All the other coaches she had trained with, wouldn’t have stopped so early and she was no stranger to concussions, fractures or sprains. Her previous coaches had been harsh, to put it mildly, they wouldn’t have met her parent’s approval otherwise. They would have yelled at her to repeat until she got it right. No breaks unless there was some progress. It was brutal but effective. She never protested though back when she was young, no more than six, she would excuse herself for the bathroom and cry for a few minutes before returning.

 

“I had been too eager. I should also let you attempt this in series of slow steps rather than all at once. I think we should leave out the throw for today. Let’s begin with holding you over his head.” It was on the tip of her tongue to say she could handle it, but she swallowed it down. Gaia didn’t seem like someone who suffered fools and if her attempting the same move in a different way was more effective, she would be foolish to fight that just to retain her pride.

 

She nodded and Gaia’s mouth tightened. “What’s your ballet routine?”

 

“Four times a week, sometimes thrice if I have extra pilates sessions.”

 

“I’d like to you maintain the streak of four along with your regular pilates. That is excluding your own personal workout. Can that be done?” She nodded her confirmation. She could push herself to accommodate more classes. The coach turned to the man by her side, “And you, you looked like you had no grace.”

 

She had to keep her face blank. Lack grace? Throughout years, whatever performances of his she managed to watch, had been nothing but graceful, one that couldn’t come without extreme discipline. Arnav frowned but didn’t say anything. He only nodded. “Do you want me to rejoin my old regime?”

 

“I have made a new one for you.” Gaia said, snapping names of so many different workouts not limited to ballet, HIIT, core strength exercise all at once and excluding his personal workout that she had to blink and contain her reaction but Arnav took it in stride and gave a confirmatory nod.

 

“That’s settled then. Take a break now.”

 

“So soon?”

 

“Why, Lenoir, you haven’t taken enough hits for today?”

 

Her face burned.“Sorry.” Her new coach didn’t respond, already walking away to the other side.  

 

“Stop apologizing.” She turned to the voice on her side, he was staring at her, “It was our first day and she made us do lifts.”

 

“Don’t condescend to me.”

 

Arnav shook his head, the eyes that had been soft a moment ago hardened. “I will be the last person to do that.”

 

Khushi didn’t know why she felt the need to say the rest. “I can do those. I might be…” She paused. It was hard to admit weakness. She had to remind herself that the man before her was a partner, not an opponent. “… a slow beginner but if I am able to do it once then I am able to do it every single time from then even in my sleep.”

 

He didn’t say more, his lips stretched into another half smile, how did he do that so easily she did not know or could guess. It was such a small thing, insignificant but then not quite – she didn’t pretend this time instead pulled out her own mat and stretched alongside him. Last thing she needed after this awful practice was a pulled muscle.

 

They must have finished stretching a few seconds ago when Gaia appeared, looking down on them, she pointed at Arnav and then pointed to the rink. He sighed and obeyed. When she stood too, Gaia shook her head and turned to look at Arnav.

 

“If he is still practicing. I can too.”

 

“Sit down, girl. Impatience will not serve you.” Gaia didn’t look away from his direction. “Sit and watch.”

 

Khushi turned her head to watch him and tried not to be offended. “I can do everything he is doing.” His jumps and moves were immaculate but not unfeeling. What a show off. She thought yet kept that to herself. During practice she trained more on technique, leaving the feelings for the performance on stage.

 

He was doing a camel spin, a required element, where one of his legs was raised 90 degrees to the one on the ice and then he rotated on that leg. Each of his movements was so fluid that it commanded attention. So what, she didn’t need to be told like a child to sit back and learn from him. She has been on ice as long as him and if one were to count years she competed professionally, she had more than him.

 

“I didn’t say you can’t. I told you to watch. Learn him. His body. How it moves. On and off the ice.”

 

Khushi crossed her arms, placed them on her knees and rested her chin upon them. Gaia made him repeat everything from the beginning. Look at him, she told herself, not as a fellow competitor or even a partner, just look at him like she once did, to find him as the only man ever worthy of being her partner.

 

d



 


Aug 3

V a r i a t i o n s – I (By Thegirlofravens) (Thanked: 21 times)


Variations – I


“I visit you more than I visit my mother.”

 

“Liar.” She pushed the plate towards him. The gleam in her dark eyes unmistakable. “It’s your favorite.”

 

“I can’t.” He shook his head and watched the stubborn chin set. “I already had two.” She looked at his plate, which could never be filled enough to her satisfaction, and at him. “I added more nuts. I know those are good for you. Cashews, almonds, hazel…”

 

He groaned and took another nougat from the tray. This woman was a witch with her skills in the kitchen and it didn’t help that she prepared a feast whenever he dropped by and she was the only one from his family he visited as often as he did. The texture and taste were almost unbearable. His expressions must have said as much because she smiled like she knew. Of course, she did.

 

“I don’t like you.”

 

“Moi?” She placed one hand on her chest. “Mon beau, your poor old Mamie is not that far from God. You really shouldn’t.”

 

“You are a sorceress and you know it.”

 

“I do?”

 

He nodded at those nougats, eclairs and everything else he loved to eat when he damn well shouldn’t. He had a sweet tooth when his profession demanded him to be a diabetic.

 

“Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir.”

 

“One little meal doesn’t change much.” His grandmother frowned, setting a tall glass of sweet juice next to his plate. She had also bothered to make some fresh from the oranges in her little garden. “Anyway, your coach from hell will make you work these calories off and more.” She reached forward and pinched his arm. “See? You are not eating enough.”

 

“I am.” He told her in mid chew.

 

She leaned closer, putting away the polished plate. “I saw the news.”

 

Arnav hid his smile behind the glass.

 

She didn’t just happen to see it, she most likely searched it. She knew all the messages his fans sent him. He wasn’t socially active, but his grandmother would tell him what was being said about him. Even the ugly. He had asked her to stop doing that, especially because no one felt more offended than her if something negative was being said or if there was a bizarre rumor in the air.

 

She would argue with strangers online as long as she could, stubbornness was a strong trait among the Boudreaux clan although she always had thick skin, which she said came from being an immigrant in time of the early 60s in France, so he was not surprised to know that she didn’t listen. He wouldn’t even be surprised if all of his fan clubs were run by her. His biggest fan.

 

“And?”

 

“You wouldn’t believe how ecstatic people are. Well, some are upset because you left your ex-partner but that’s nothing new. People will always find something to lament about. So many thought it is a dream collaboration.”

 

“What do you think?”

 

“I saw some photos…” She wore her round spectacles and looked down on her iPad, scrolling through her feed and then turned the screen this way. “All these years, people wanted you two together, there were many edited photos of you and her. Even videos. It will be beautiful to see the real thing.”

 

He stared the photoshopped picture of him back from his singles day and a recent one of hers. They were facing each other and there seemed to be a love quote stamped in the middle.

 

“So you like the idea?”

 

“Je l’adore.” And that’s all what really counted. The small woman in front of him clasped her hands. “Didn’t you once had a-”

 

“Can I get more nougats? I am so hungry. They don’t feed me, Mamie.”

 

“I knew it!”

d

 

“You are late, Boudreaux.”

 

“Désolé.”

 

“Are you coming from Madame Boudreaux’s place?”

 

Gaia knew him too well. Her eyes pointedly moved to his stomach. “Your gut is hanging out.”

 

He wanted to say her horns were showing but he decided to wholly ignore her. He looked away from her, she has never been fond of his grandmother and the lack of affection has been returned, once during a banquet in Korea, a celebration held for all the skaters, his coach and granny were allowed to be in the same room and his sides had ached from laughing at all the barely concealed insults flying over the table.

 

Khushi didn’t turn to look at him or said anything, she was stretching on her own mat, her legs in black tights stretched up in the air along with her upper body while her forearms and head balanced her weight.

 

He dropped his gym bag and spread mat. He focused on his own stretching, starting with his quadriceps and he would find himself straying and looking to the person besides him who hadn’t spared him a single glance as she went on with her yoga without breaking into sweat, he would know – his eyes seem to be glued to her toned waist and the sports bra.

 

Snap out of it before it gets inappropriate. He shook himself and focused again until it was time for warm up. The idea of which included them doing jumps and moves alone. The first hour went to Lenoir while he did his warm up on the other corner. He performed bits and pieces of his old program.

 

“Last time now.” He turned to see Khushi nodding and leaping into a triple axle followed by triple lutz. Her signature move. She had first attempted it at the end of her performance in the Pyeongchang Olympics, it was absolutely crazy to do two of the most difficult jumps at the peak of her fatigue. It also earned her higher scores because of this reason. She made the combination look exquisite while the stadium held their breath collectively. France won the gold medal for women single skating after eight long years.

 

No one else had done something like this. Before or after her. It was too risky. Not only one could fail it so badly that it would jeopardize their entire performance but the chances of injury were also higher under all the pressure. Since her victory, she has been both most praised and criticized for it.

 

Khushi once again landed them effortlessly, it was her signature move for a reason, and waited for Gaia’s next instructions. Only another figure skater would know how much effort went into making something look effortless, that effort didn’t include actually learning it in the first place. For some to say, it was not a real sport – his fists were all too eager to correct them.

 

“Alright. That was adequate.”

 

“That was Gaia’s speak for you nailed it.” He said to his new partner, trying to break whatever strange silence hung in between. Khushi looked at him, her eyes traveled down from his face. He had taken off his shirt when the sweat started to make it stick to his body. When she didn’t look up, he felt his chest puff at her admiration however reluctant it was.

 

He had worked hard on himself. Years and years of displicine. Admiration from another athlete was a compliment. He wanted to tease her or say something like eyes up here but she didn’t seem like a person who would retort, she would most likely bring her eyes up and never look at him again. She swallowed as she brought her eyes up to his.

 

“Coach has a gift of exaggeration, doesn’t she?”

 

It took him a moment to remember the context. He laughed. “Yes, she does.” His laughter attracted the coach’s attention who snapped at him. “One minute left of your warmup.”

 

Once they were on ice – it was even better. Whatever held her stiff the last time had almost disappeared. Almost. He felt too aware of every tremble her limbs gave, not that there were many, and the whiff of her perfume holding the notes of sandalwood, vanilla and something else he couldn’t tell, something good, which made him want to put his nose on the column of her neck and study.

 

They have been falling – yes, but less often. The sequence of steps favored them. She grew confident and so did he. At the end of their practice, they landed a jump together. It wasn’t neat but it was done. That was a week ago. Today, it was even better. Their rhythm had been better too. Not that Gaia praised it, she hadn’t insulted the jump so it was the same thing.

 

Arnav removed his gloves and began clenching and unclenching his fists. They were cold and stiff after hours of practice. Gaia cleared her throat, pulling their attention. “I watched a few of your programs.”

 

He stopped himself from snorting. Gaia had watched each and every single one. Every time it had aired and later on. Khushi Lenoir was a desired student, a child prodigy that had all kind of people crawling after her. Gaia was looking at Khushi as she was putting guards on her skates, “I noticed where the most deductions in your PCS were made. Interpretation. Always.”

 

“I didn’t put much input into the programs. I was always more focused on my technique.”

 

That made him frown. He turned towards them to catch the disbelieving look Gaia shot her. “Interpretation is crucial. How you tell the story through your body. Were you never interested in the type of costume or even the music you would skate to?”

 

Khushi stared back, eyes hardening like how a lake would freeze in the bitterness of December. “Those were decided for me. I had to agree in the end. The harder it was, the more I looked to push myself.”

 

“Disgraceful.”

 

The word was uttered with such disgust that Khushi reeled back, blinking, she looked to him than Gaia. “Pardon?”

 

“Truly. You are telling me that you have no interest in the storytelling aspect just in contorting your body like a puppet, isn’t it?” Gaia stepped closer, every line of her face appeared vivid. Her infamous temper running unchecked again. “The artist isn’t praised because of her brushstrokes, but for the creation of perspective. You wish to give none yet hope to receive gold. A joke. An unfunny one.”

 

Her words could be as well meaning as they were intended to be, but she really should consider the choice of her words or the tone used, decidedly for those unfamiliar with her brand of tough love. Khushi’s face, usually marble smooth, turned a little pale and unsure, he had to step closer, his eyes caught his coach’s. “Gaia.”

 

“Your HIIT sessions shall soon begin. You are excused.”

 

“This is not a circus. I don’t jump when you tell me to.” It wasn’t that Gaia’s words were meant to be insulting but the way she was behaving with Khushi and the way she dismissed him didn’t sit well with him. He reached for Khushi’s hand next to him, her cool fingers entangled with his. “If you will stop yelling at her for a second, you can hear her contribute.”

 

That is her cue to add something and calm the dragon yet she remained silent. Her face had turned calm but her hand gave a slight twitch in his grip.

 

“You have nothing for our programs, not even the color of your costume?” Gaia let out a laugh which sounded more like a bark. It had scared him as a child when he first heard it and would still make anyone uneasy. Gaia’s laughter has always been a rebuke.

 

“I think… you will decide the best.”

 

“Je ne crois pas…” Gaia pinched her nose before jabbing her bone thin finger against Khushi’s chest. “Fine. I have decided. I want you to participate in every little bit that will add to your program. From how many sequins your costume must have, if any, the kind of music we must play and even the combinations designed. When we call the c****ographer. I want to hear you loud and clear. You don’t like something? You deny. Yes, we will push you but you push back harder. Give your opinion.”

 

Khushi straightened and looked away.

 

“From day one, it has been more than just physical. You know this. One must tear down as many mental blocks as they can while they are it. Unless…” Gaia’s phone rang but she ignored it. “Our tryout period shall mark its end tonight. Your condition about equal efforts? Does it not extend to you or was that your way of declining our collaboration?”

 

“I am not going to slack…” She paused. “…in any manner and neither am I declining anything. I’ve decided I want to collaborate for as long as my conditions are respected. Do I have an agreement from your side?”

 

He and his coach had gone over this and they didn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t make it official. Gaia nodded without any words and finally accepted the call, snapping something to the other person in English before she turned to them. “Drink up some water. Allow me a few minutes.”

 

He dug through the cooler for the particular bottle he had brought with him today. He retrieved two small bottles and a special one along with two flutes. He handed her the water and opened one for himself. He turned to her to see her long neck tilted back as she drank. A drop of sweat running down in slow caress.

 

Opening the bottle of Chardonnay, he filled the two flutes and gave her one. She didn’t take it right away. “To celebrate the official start of our partnership.”

 

There was another pause which he decided to fill. “It’s Chardonnay so it doesn’t even count and we already finished our practice for the day.”

 

She took the offered flute and joined him at the rinkside, taking a big gulp of the pale liquid inside. Then another.

 

“You look so worked up. Tell me what calms you down.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Shouldn’t we trust each other?”

 

“We will.” She took another sip and shifted towards him. “All in good time, Arnav.”

 

He liked how his name sounded on the wine wet lips and believed he always would. “We will be working together all the time now. It is best to know little things about each other.”

 

“We are not dating. You are not allowed to psychoanalyze me.”

 

“You always seem to think I am here to do the worst. I don’t understand this compliment?” He smiled after a sip. “We shall be spending more time together than couples dating do. If we don’t have an easy relationship off the ice, it will show in our performance on the ice.”

 

Arnav bumped her shoulder with his when he got no response. “Fine, I’ll tell you what relaxes me. Sometimes it’s a good old bottle of bourbon. Sometimes it’s s ex.”

 

Khushi appeared to be mulling over something before she said. “Sweet things.”

 

“Like what?”

 

“Desserts. Confections.” Her lips tugging at the corners. “Crème brûlée.”

 

His smile widened. “Tarte Tatin.”

 

“Nougats? Way better than s ex, don’t you think?”

 

“Are you serious?”

 

Her face was a little more relaxed. Thanks to the wine. He refilled their flutes when she wordlessly extended hers to him. “Hmmm… It depends. I guess.”

 

“My grandmother makes the best nougats. She is an excellent cook. Someday, perhaps, when you are a good girl, I will let you taste one.”

 

“You mean when you are a good boy enough to share one.”

 

“Semantics. But when did you last had one?”

 

“Two months ago. When I bought my apartment. You?”

 

“Just before I arrived here.”

 

“I don’t think we toasted.”

 

“Let’s toast then.” 

 

“To a sweet partnership.”

 

“To a sweet partnership.”

 

The half filled flutes clinked.


d

 

P.S I was about to post a note instead of a chapter to inform that the story will be discontinued. As the two people who were reading it here were also reading it elsewhere and so my time spent here is a waste. I did notice the additional two readers who just joined in hence this chapter. 

If you reading this story, please let your interest be known. 

Thank you,

Raven



Aug 11

V a r i a t i o n – II (By Thegirlofravens) (Thanked: 13 times)

Variation II 

“Horrendous footwork.” Gaia told them rather flatly after they finished the sequence made of two jumps. It has been a few days and they had progressed to another one whilst refining the earlier one. The coach didn’t seem pleased, Khushi stole a glance at the man at her side who rolled his eyes as they rearranged themselves to repeat the sequence and received a disgusted noise as a comment then repeated again without her asking.

 

She really tried to focus on her feet, how she moved them, it has been quite a challenge skating with another person when she has grown up doing this alone, she had to be careful with his blades and hers. They only had a year for training, they needed all the good luck on their side. Not that she believed in things such as luck or fate – she had always assessed every bit of her failure very seriously, not counting on her coaches to do the same, her willfulness had been enough to drill each mistake in her head and the many cameras on the arena helped to tear apart every movement until there was no room for any error.  

 

When he hooked his arm around her thigh to lift her. She tried so hard to not focus on the strange feeling she got or the trail of warmth his touch would leave behind. So inappropriate. Another challenge to battle these thoughts. 

 

“That was so bad, Lenoir, it almost made me throw up.”

 

“Should we know what’s making you so cheerful this morning, Gaia?”

 

“Get to your sequence.”

 

It sounded a lot like a curse. She hasn’t seen the coach curse but the tone – well, it was almost no different.

 

“I am coaching a pair of idiots.” Gaia snapped before she arrived next to them, she took hold her right leg and arranged it in a way that Khushi was sure would snap her hamstring. “Slightly better.” She said before turning to Arnav, “Your hold is all wrong. Here,” Gaia arranged his hold on her ribs, bringing his head down until their noses touched. “Keep it strong. Make your posture look beautiful. Almost a kiss.”

 

Dark eyes assessed hers. They were too close for her comfort. She shut her eyes as they repeated the sequence, she was out of breath. Her legs and arms cramping. They have been doing the same thing since 6.00 AM after their regular round of stretching and warm up that had started at 4:30 AM. It was almost nine without breaks except for when they stopped briefly and Gaia commented her displeasure. Her partner was in no better position, his hair matted against his forehead, sweat running down his neck and chest rising quickly in pants. How he didn’t groan lifting her weight was a miracle.

 

“Once more,” Gaia said. Do it. One last time. She told herself, her body crying out as they begin again. “You two look like you are about to pass out.” Gaia shook her head. “Shameful.”

 

They did the sequence again, they were slow because it took inhuman effort to do this at their maximum fatigue. For once, Gaia remained quiet about the speed. She waved her hand to dismiss them.

 

They pulled away. Sweat clung to their bodies as they had clung to each other. Soon, she has learned to not be bothered by it. Arnav dropped down on the ice and panted, she followed him, kneeling – she didn’t think she could move an inch until tomorrow. She would have liked lying down in the ice but she managed to restrain herself and just engaged in taking huge gulps of air with her partner.

 

Once they could breathe normally, he stood up and offered her a hand. She looked at it for a few seconds. “Okay?” He asked her, she nodded and grabbed it, allowing him to help her get to her feet. His hands were large and warm. His grip firm until they reached the gym.

 

They both took off their gloves, skates, and identical black shirts with long sleeves which were sweat drenched. Now in her black sports bra and tights. She debated on taking a shower now or later considering she needed to stretch even if she had no energy to do so. She settled on showering later. She spread her mat and removed her hair from the confinement. The ponytail was giving her a headache.

 

It was when she was in the middle of her stretching, something occurred to her. She didn’t turn to him – well, she couldn’t. Her arms balanced the length of her upright body in the air. She knew he was in the room, she could feel his eyes on her form from time to time.

 

“You call her Gaia.”

 

“Sometimes.” She could hear him move around. “When she makes me mad.”

 

Gaia was a hard coach and even harder to please. Though she has trained with many coaches her whole career, none had been Gaia. She didn’t give any compliments, her acknowledge of their improvement was also with an insult. But she wasn’t cruel. At least she didn’t think she was. She had also always been more harsh with him than her and she was yet to see him snap, they had their banter but nothing she would consider disrespectful.

 

“Only sometimes?” She has heard him being defined as short tempered, but she was yet to any of this infamous anger. “Why did you call her Gaia now?”

 

“Because she was being hard on you.” 


d

 

“I know.”

 

“Non. First you were too little and then you did little else than just stood there with your closed eyes reaping benefits handed to you.”

 

Another argument would only provoke her ire. She rubbed her forehead. “No. I know-“

 

“You don’t. You are an ungrateful brat.”

 

Neither did her mother knew what was it like to be her. What was it like to do what she did and what she had given away, things that she could never get back – so many experiences which would only upset her if she began counting.

 

Something ugly boiled its way up through her chest. Unrestrained and unforgettable. “You suffocate me.”

 

There was no hiss on the other hand. No sharp inhale. No quick jab to present her mother’s distress. Only silence. Only the worst thing ever. It is unbearable and as nasty as her words were. She ended her call and tap her phone against her forehead. That’s not what she wanted to say. She shouldn’t have said that. The silence should have been hers.

 

Her mood could rival with the sky outside. The snippet of the conversation she had with her partner returned to her. She almost dialed the restaurant to order herself a small confection to ease down the tension. A memory came knocking, of how once she had asked for something sweet to celebrate her first victory in the junior championship, but her mother had proceeded to chew her head off for daring to say that, her sharp warning that how she could make herself develop an eating disorder at this rate if she continues to be selfish and deviate from her prescribed diet.

 

Khushi didn’t bother adjusting the light as she stretched down on her bed, her head turned towards the floor length window, it was another starry night she could see. She kept her eyes there, counting and recounting all the stars occupying the small section of the sky visible through her bedroom window. Whoever had first nicknamed her whether as a cruel joke or a compliment, did they know? Because if she was an Ice Queen, then how fitting, to reign a kingdom of isolation. 

 

Soon, the physical and mental exhaustion tugged at her. Her last thoughts that circled around her head were all the same questions.

 

If something took away her skating, be it an accident or illness, what did she have to offer then? She’ll be no more than another name, forgotten in the long archive of winners, replaced by many others of similar talent, what kind of thoughts the world hold for once a champion but forever a high school dropout?

Oct 9

Author's Note (By Thegirlofravens) (Thanked: 6 times)

A/N Dearest Readers, I hope all of you are well. I have been stalling on writing this note because I kept believing that I had it in me to post the story even if I can no longer maintain any schedule. But, the truth is I don’t, no matter how much I try. Another truth is that there’s still a mad hope in my heart to write and finish this story as I had planned before any of the unexpected changes happened. Everything feels so uncertain and so far beyond my control. I am overwhelmed with all these changes and all that are to come. It’s terrifying to deal with them and keep a positive front. I have also never been more thankful and aware than at this moment of the love and support that holds me steady. Lately, my anxiety has been difficult to manage. I thought that perhaps I could escape through writing, but my mind can focus on little else except for what is troubling it. Foolishly, I still plan to complete this tale. I had already outlined the entire story before I began and so whenever my mind can find some peace and mercy, I will pick my pen again. Lastly, I am extremely sorry for inviting you on a journey I could not finish. If nothing else, I’ll share the outline so you know what happened in the end. Take good care of yourselves, Raven.


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