On Thin Ice

She liked classical music, so I started listening to it nonstop for a week. This was the first time I realized I was a little bit in love with Ruby Richmond.

Her favorite book was White Oleander by Janet Fitch, so I bought a used copy off Amazon and read it three times in four months. Then I watched the movie. Twice. This was the second time I realized I was a little bit in love with Ruby Richmond.

Her favorite color was white, and I started buying more white clothes, even though I hated the color because it got dirty so quickly. This was the third time I realized I was a little bit in love with Ruby Richmond.

It became hopeless when I started showing up to the ice rink to watch her practice.

Ruby had been skating since she could walk. She was born during a Winter Olympics year, and she’d been watching the figure skating competitions with her parents when she pointed to the screen and squealed with childlike excitement at a jump one of the skaters made. Her mother (who, coincidentally, had been a skater herself) took that as a sign, and the moment Ruby could support herself on her own two feet, Mrs. Richmond put her in lessons. She was already nationally ranked – she’d placed gold at the National Championships, silver at Worlds, and in two years, Ruby was going to the Olympics. No one doubted that she’d win gold.

How do I know all this? I used to go to school with Ruby. We’re friends. Tragically. We’ve known each other since freshman year, when she was paired with me for some icebreaker thing our Bio teacher made our whole class suffer through. But I met Ruby, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. We became friends, but not the kind of friends who hang out all the time – she was constantly training and therefore too busy to have any sort of social life, but we always ate lunch together, said hi to each other in the hallways, and occasionally, we would do homework together at my house. We would text every now and then, especially when our favorite TV show was on. We even had a sleepover once, about a month into our budding friendship, when her mother let her have some rare time off. I think that was when I realized I had started to like her. We stayed up all night laughing and eating potato chips straight out of the bag, and she told me all about her life, her skating, her boyfriend (that one hurt, though the blow was softened a little when she told me she rarely got to see him because of her schedule). I told her about my life, not that there was much to tell. I wasn’t super into sports, but I played softball for the rec league every spring and summer, and that’s where I found most of my friends. I had a pet lizard, an affectionate leopard gecko named Beans (Ruby asked to see her, and I let her play with her for a while). I collected seashells. I made collages in my spare time. These were the most interesting things about me, but when I told Ruby, she acted like they were fascinating. She acted like everything I said was a treat for her to hear, and she never stopped smiling. That sleepover was the best night of my life.

A couple weeks after that night, when I was still getting used to my strange, newfound feelings, Ruby invited me over to her house. I felt like I was dreaming when she asked if I wanted to come over for dinner. I had to stop from pinching myself.

“So, can you come tonight?” Ruby asked, her voice coming through the speaker on my phone. I was sitting in my room, playing with Beans, when she called me. “My dad’s making grilled cheese. He literally makes the best grilled cheese known to man. Like, restaurants across America should be paying him for it.”

I laughed. “Yeah, I can come.” I tried to make my voice sound as casual as possible, despite the way my heart was pounding. “What time should I be there?”

Ruby didn’t live far – I could ride my bike to her house in ten minutes. The weather was nice tonight, anyway.

“Can you swing by at six?” She asked me hopefully. “Dinner’s not until seven, but you should come over early so we can hang out.”

She wanted to hang out with me. My chest felt fluttery.

“I can do six,” I said. “I’ll be there.”

“Sweet. See you later, Vi!” She hung up, and I could hardly believe what had just happened. She called me Vi. I had a nickname. My name had always been Violet. No one had ever bothered to shorten it, to personalize it. Nicknames were special. When your friend gave you a nickname, it meant your relationship had reached a whole new level.

I kissed Beans on the top of her lizard head and smiled at her. She blinked at me. “She invited me over to her house,” I whispered, as if I were sharing an illicit secret. Beans knew all my secrets. She crawled up my arm, and I plucked her off and put her back in her tank next to my bed. I could hear my mom downstairs, on the phone with one of her book club friends. I went downstairs and walked into the kitchen, smiling at my mother to let her know I had something to tell her. She grinned back at me and held up her pointer finger.

“I’ve gotta go, Kelly,” she said. “I’ll see you at tomorrow’s meeting. I’m bringing the wine.” I heard Kelly’s laugh on the other end of the line, and my mom gave me a look. I hid my laugh behind my hand.

“Okay, I’ll see you. Bye.” Mom hung up the phone and turned to me in her seat, her face bright and eager. “What is it? You look like you’ve just won a contest.”

“Ruby invited me over to dinner,” I said. “Can I go?”

“Of course. What time? Do you need me to drive you?”

“No, I can bike. I’m leaving at six, but I don’t know what time I’ll be back.”

“That’s fine. Just make sure you have your phone on you,” Mom said, and I nodded. She smiled at me and raised one eyebrow. “This is the same Ruby that was over here a few weeks ago, isn’t it?”

I nodded, and my mom got a twinkle in her eye. “Do you like her?” There it was, right out of the blue. My mom was like that. I’d figured out I was bisexual just last year, when the girls from my softball team were playing Truth or Dare at a party, and I’d been dared to kiss Olivia Borden, with tongue, for one full minute. Olivia was already out and proud, which everyone knew, and she was never shy about anything. She went for it. It was my first kiss with a girl. I was surprised at how much I liked it, and I thought about it for a long, long time afterwards. I’d kissed boys before, a couple times, and I really liked that, too. But it was never anything like Olivia. When I got home from the party, I told my mom right away. I guess I’m lucky she took it well.

Olivia moved away at the beginning of freshman year, right before I met Ruby, but we spent a summer together, kissing in secret places, exploring each other. For her it was just fun, but for me, it opened up a whole new world. My mom was always more than accepting of that world.

She was still looking at me, waiting for an answer, and I nodded. “Yeah. I think I like her.” It felt weird saying the words out loud. They had such weight. Ruby was the first girl I really liked. I’d liked Olivia, because she was my first kiss and it was new and exciting, but I liked Ruby in a different way. I liked Ruby in the way all the books and movies tell you about.

“Are you going to tell her?” Mom asked, and I shook my head.

“No. She has a boyfriend,” I said. I remembered her telling me about him at our sleepover. I think his name was Luke. My mom frowned.

“That doesn’t mean you can’t tell her how you feel.”

“I don’t want to make things awkward,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest, and my mom gave me a sad look.

“Alright. If that’s what you want. Have fun at dinner, sweetie. I love you.”

“Love you too, Mom.”

I went upstairs and changed for the dinner, into my best jeans and a white blouse that Ruby had complimented before. I left my hair down, put on just a touch of makeup, and spritzed my favorite perfume on. The closer to six o’clock it got, the more nervous I became.

I took my bike out of the garage ten minutes before six. It was a turquoise beach cruiser with wide handlebars and a white basket in front; sometimes I rode it to school, since it wasn’t too far away, and Ruby always said she liked it. I put my phone in the basket, and the Tupperware container full of cookies my mother had insisted I bring, and pedaled to Ruby’s house.

This was only the second time I’d been to the Richmond house. The first was when I dropped off Ruby’s Bio homework after she’d missed a day of school a while ago. But I’d never actually been inside. The outside was impressive enough – it was huge, McMansion style, with a big door and big archways and one of those windows over the front door where you could see the giant chandelier in the front hallway. I left my bike at the side of the driveway, out of the way of any cars that might pull in, and went up to the giant front door. Mrs. Richmond answered when I rang the doorbell.

“You must be . . .” she started to say, and then paused, waving her hand in the air dismissively. I’d never met Ruby’s mother before, but I’d heard enough about her to know what she was like. She looked almost exactly like I’d pictured her.

“Violet Daring,” I said, not that she cared. She nodded with a fake smile as if she knew that already. “Um, I brought some cookies.” I held out the Tupperware container, and she took it with the edges of her fingers. She smiled through her teeth at me.

Just when I was starting to feel like dying because this was the single most awkward encounter I’d ever had in my life, Ruby came to the rescue. She bounced into view, gently pushing her mother out of the way. “Vi! I’m so glad you came. Come on in!”

She pulled me inside and hugged me. I held my breath. I hoped she couldn’t tell how fast my heart was beating.

“Come on up to my room!” She said, tugging me with her towards the giant staircase. She took the container of cookies from her mom’s hands, and Mrs. Richmond frowned at her.

“Only one, Ruby,” she said. “You know you’re not supposed to eat junk food.” She glared at me, like it was my fault for bringing them. I looked at the floor.

“Relax, Mother. They’re cookies.” She opened the box before we were even out of sight and put one in her mouth, and I grinned.

Her bedroom was all white. White walls, pristine white carpet, white sheets on a white bed with a canopy over it. Like a princess’s room. But there was color everywhere, in the posters of famous figure skaters on her walls – Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Nancy Kerrigan – mixed in with the posters for boy bands she listened to and movies she liked. There was a giant glass showcase on one side of the room that was home to all of her trophies, ribbons and medals, every accolade she’d won since she started skating. There were framed pictures of her posing next to her trophies, and a few shots of her standing in her costumes. I stood by the showcase and looked at all the shiny awards, smiling at the pictures.

I’d never seen her skate before, but I wanted to. I liked imagining how she would look on the ice. The day of our sleepover was when I found out she was a skater – sleepovers are nights for bonding, and Ruby was never shy about telling me things, so we told each other everything there was to know about ourselves. I didn’t tell her I was bi. That I would keep a secret. I didn’t want to scare her off too soon. But Ruby showed me her Worlds routine on YouTube, and I was absolutely mystified. It was gorgeous. There wasn’t a single mistake, and hearing the audience go wild for her almost made me feel like I was there in person.

“So what do you want to do?” Ruby asked me now, chomping on her second cookie. She offered me the container, and I took one. “We can watch Netflix or something, or I have some of those stress-relief coloring books, or we can go play MarioKart with my brother. You know Patrick, right?” I nodded. Everyone knew Patrick. The Richmond siblings were royalty at our high school. They were the nicest, most popular kids, Ruby in the freshman class and Patrick a sophomore, and everyone wanted to be friends with them. I’d seen Patrick a few times before in passing, and I remember thinking he was cute when I first saw him.

Ruby ate her cookie, careful not to get crumbs on her carpet, waiting for my answer. I bit my lip and smiled. “Can we watch your Worlds routine again?”

She rolled her eyes and smiled. “Okay, weirdo. I don’t know why you like it so much. You made me replay it like, five times the other week.”

“You’re just really good,” I admitted shyly. “I like watching you skate.”

“Well, I’m glad someone appreciates it,” she said, and winked at me. She pulled out her laptop and sat down on her fluffy white bed with the cookies, patting an empty space next to her. “Come on.” I sat down next to her, criss-cross applesauce. Our knees touched. Ruby put her laptop in between us and typed in the title of the video on YouTube. She made it full screen and sat back against her wall, her eyes glimmering.

She skated to “One Day I’ll Fly Away” from the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack – one of her favorite movies of all time. She had a poster for it on her wall. In the video, her face was so expressive and passionate, and at the end of her routine, when the audience gave her a standing ovation, she was crying because she knew she’d done it perfectly. She bowed to the audience and wiped the tears from her face, and the video ended. Next to me, the real Ruby sniffled.

“Damn it,” she said, laughing. “It always gets me. It’s so embarrassing.”

“Why? You should be proud of it,” I said. “It’s amazing. I wish I could’ve been there to see it.”

She offered me another cookie. “Too bad it wasn’t good enough for gold, though.” She sighed. “I won silver for that.”

“You were robbed,” I joked, and Ruby laughed. I smiled at her.

The dinner that night was one of the first times I thought about kissing her. It would be so easy, just to lean over and do it, but I didn’t, because she had a boyfriend, and at that point our friendship was so new that I didn’t dare do anything to disrupt it. I’d settle for dreaming about it.

We hung out a few more times over the course of freshman year, more often in the summer, and sparingly again during sophomore year. Sometimes we went to see a movie together, and one time during the summer we went to the amusement park with Patrick and a few of his friends. We hung out with Patrick a lot; Ruby was really close with her brother, and I got pretty close with him, too. He was as much my friend as Ruby was.

Last summer, right before our junior year, Ruby, Patrick and I were supposed to go to a party with Patrick’s friends. He was a senior now, which officially made him ten percent cooler and somehow a little hotter. I’d always thought he was cute, but I never let myself think too much of it because of Ruby. If I really paid attention, though, Patrick was gorgeous. His friends were throwing the party as a way to close out the summer and to celebrate the beginning of their senior year. Since Patrick was invited, it was a given that Ruby and I would be going, too. We were an extended part of Patrick’s friend group. I was surprised no one thought it was weird that Patrick hung out with his younger sister and her friend all the time, but everybody loved Ruby, and they seemed to like me, too. It made me feel cool. Not that I ever felt like I was a loser before; I’d always had a decent amount of friends, both in school and outside of it, and I never felt lonely. I always had something to do on the weekends, if I wanted to. But hanging out with the seniors gave me a different sense of belonging. It was just … fun.

But at the last second, Ruby backed out of the party.

“Don’t hate me,” she said when she and Patrick picked me up at my house before we were supposed to go. Patrick was driving, and Ruby was in the front seat, dressed way too nicely for a senior party. I could tell right away she wouldn’t be coming with us.

“You’re not going?” I asked, and she gave me an apologetic smile. I climbed into the back seat, and Patrick grinned at me through the rearview. I smiled back.

“Hey, Vi. You look great,” he said, and I blushed.

“Thanks.” I was wearing jeans and a crop top I’d found buried in the back of my dresser drawer. I felt good about myself. Mostly, I dressed to impress Ruby. If she wasn’t coming to the party, it was nice to know Patrick appreciated it, anyway.

“So, Luke’s parents are going out of town,” Ruby explained to me, and once again, with painful clarity, I remembered the boyfriend. I’d met him two times before, both at one of Ruby’s competitions. He was actually really nice, and he treated Ruby really, really well. He was nice to me, too. I kind of wanted to hate him for that. The first time I met him, he explained how he and Ruby never got to see each other because of Mrs. Richmond and the skating, and I felt bad. I didn’t want to, but I did. I could tell he loved her. And even though it hurt to admit, I knew Ruby loved him, too.

“Oh,” I said, in the back of Patrick’s Jeep. “Okay.”

“I told my mom I was going to the party with you guys, and it was hard enough to get her to let me go out in the first place,” Ruby said, rolling her eyes. “But Luke’s gonna have the house to himself, so I’m going over there. I’m sorry. Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad.”

“It’s just that I never, ever get to see him,” Ruby started playing with her braid, and I smiled.

“It’s okay, Ru. I get it. You go have fun. Patrick and I will just go to the party.”

“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” Patrick said. I nodded to reassure Ruby. I tried not to feel too upset that she wouldn’t be there. I could have fun without her.

Patrick dropped Ruby off at Luke’s house on the way to the party. She waved at us as she ran up the driveway, and I waved goodbye from the backseat. I moved up into the front with Patrick and watched Ruby duck into Luke’s open garage with a bounce in her step. She was excited. I sighed.

“What do you want to listen to?” Patrick asked, fiddling with the radio, and I shrugged.

“I’m up for anything,” I smiled at him.

“You like Panic! At the Disco, right?”

“I love them,” I said, and Patrick grinned, pulling out his CD collection. I loved that about him – he was one of the only people I knew who still had a CD collection. He handed me the black sleeve where he kept most of the CDs in his car.

“Pick an album,” he said. I picked out Too Weird to Live/Too Rare to Die and put it into the CD slot, and Patrick grinned. “I love this one. Good choice.”

“So, who’s all gonna be at the party?” I asked.

“Uh, Tim, Matt, Chris, Eric, Courtney, Kayla, Hannah,” he listed off the names of some of our mutual friends. “A bunch of other people. Tim’s throwing it, and he usually goes all out. I’d be surprised if the whole senior class wasn’t there.”

I laughed. “Cool.” I’d been to parties before, so it wasn’t anything new, but I’d never been to one without Ruby. There was no reason it should’ve been different, but I felt kind of nervous, hanging out with Patrick alone. I didn’t know why.

When we got there, things had already started to gain momentum. People were drinking already, the music was loud and carrying through the house, and someone was playing drunk MarioKart on Tim’s couch. Patrick and I were received with alcohol-infused enthusiasm.

“Hey, guys! Where’s Ice Princess?” Tim, the host of the party and one of Patrick’s closest friends, ushered us both into the house.

“Ruby’s at her boyfriend’s,” Patrick explained. Tim frowned.

“Tell ‘em to come here! All are welcome at Casa Timbo,” he said. He dragged us to the kitchen. “You guys want drinks?”

Patrick looked at me with a question in his eyes. I wasn’t a huge drinker, but I liked to drink with my friends every once in awhile, usually if Ruby was with me. I figured just because she wasn’t here didn’t mean I couldn’t have a good time. And getting drunk might diffuse some of the awkwardness I felt being here without her.

“Pour me a cup,” I said, and Patrick smiled and filled a red plastic cup with vodka and cranberry juice. He poured himself one small cup with more juice than vodka in it.

“Somebody’s gotta be the designated driver,” he said, and I laughed.

I was drunk a lot quicker than I thought I would be. I must have been feeling really nervous. I didn’t know why Patrick was having this effect on me – and I knew it was Patrick, because every time I got close to him or he smiled at me, my stomach fluttered. I chalked it up to nothing. I liked Ruby. I couldn’t like her brother. That would just be too weird.

But being drunk clouded my judgment and made me forget that. Suddenly, Patrick seemed really, really attractive.

He was standing in a corner of the living room, talking to his friend Jake, and I was in a little group with my friends Courtney, Hannah, Kayla and Amy. Two of them were seniors and two of them were juniors, like me, and Patrick had dated one of them once. He’d gone out with Kayla for three or four months last year. The breakup was pretty friendly.

“Let’s take a picture!” Courtney held up her phone for a selfie, and I ducked into the frame and smiled. Everybody giggled when Courtney took the picture, and I took another sip of my drink. Patrick caught my eye and smiled at me, and my stomach fluttered again. His eyes were so pretty; they were hazel, and they always seemed to melt into six different colors at once when he smiled at me. I chugged the rest of my drink and headed towards the kitchen to get a refill.

“Yo, Violet, is that you?” A guy named Ryan stopped me as I was heading into the kitchen, and he dog-whistled. I grimaced. “Damn.” Ryan was the guy in Patrick’s group of friends who nobody seemed to actually like, but he was too stupid to realize that, and he forced his way into every party. I avoided him when I could. He was a creep. Ruby hated him, and that was enough for me.

“Where you goin’?” he slurred, following me to the kitchen. He put his hand on my bare stomach, and I flinched away from him. “You look hot tonight.”

“Get away from me,” I said. Ryan frowned, pretending to be hurt.

“Come on, baby, you know I don’t mean any harm.” He reached for my waist again, and now I could see Patrick watching – the kitchen was connected to the living room, so everyone could see. A couple of my other friends were watching, too.

“Leave me alone.” I reached for the water. Sobriety seemed like a good idea all of a sudden. “I mean it.”

“Let’s go upstairs,” Ryan said, not even trying to be subtle now. I shook my head.

“I’d rather not.”

“Ryan, man, leave her alone,” Patrick suddenly appeared in the kitchen, patting Ryan good-heartedly on the back. “She’s way out of your league, anyway.” He winked at me, and butterflies swarmed in my stomach. Crap.

Ryan looked like he wanted to fight, but there were a lot of people watching us. He glared at Patrick and walked away. I let out a breath of relief.

“Thanks,” I threw a grateful smile in Patrick’s direction, and he nodded towards the exit.

“You wanna get out of here?”

I nodded nervously. It was getting late – we’d been here for well over two hours, and I knew Ruby’s mother would get suspicious if her children didn’t come home soon. Patrick took my hand and lead me towards the front door. We didn’t stop to say goodbye to anyone; no one noticed us leave, anyway. They were all too drunk.

Once we were outside, I could breathe a little easier. Patrick was still holding my hand. I wasn’t really sure if I should let go or not.

“I guess we should go pick up my sister,” Patrick said, suddenly seeming to realize that he was holding my hand. He let go and rubbed the back of his head, blushing, and I nodded.

“Yeah,” I said. We got into his Jeep and drove back to Luke’s house in silence. The second Ruby appeared in the driveway, I remembered my feelings for her. I felt guilty about Patrick. I pushed my confusion deep, deep down, and tried to focus on Ruby again. But it was never really the same after that party. Every time I saw Patrick, I felt more confused than ever.

What was even more confusing was that with each day, each month, each year that we were friends, my feelings for Ruby got stronger. I tried to make them go away – she had a boyfriend, I had to keep reminding myself – but they wouldn’t. I tried to meet other girls, other guys, but it was pointless. Ruby was stuck in my head. And I couldn’t even tell her.

One day during October of our junior year, just before her mother pulled her out of school to focus on training, I got up the courage to ask if I could come and watch her practice. She was hesitant at first – her mother never let her have distractions, so she always trained in an empty rink. Not even Patrick and her father were allowed to come watch, though they were always at her competitions. I’d been to a couple of her competitions before, whenever she asked me to come, and I jumped at the chance. Even if we didn’t get to hang out – just seeing her was enough. Seeing her at school was fine, but it was school, and we hardly ever got a real chance to hang out anymore. I needed a better excuse.

“Hey,” I nudged her when we were sitting with Patrick and our friends at lunch, and she turned to me with a smile. “You have practice today, right?”

“Always,” she said, with a heavy sigh. “Why?”

“I was wondering . . . could I come?” I asked, before I could talk myself out of it. Ruby’s eyes widened.

“You want to watch me practice? Why? It’s gonna be boring.”

I shrugged nervously. “I don’t know. I just feel like we never get to see each other anymore. Since your mom has you on this new training regimen, we hardly hang out.”

Ruby’s mother was her coach and her manager. Ruby had expressed her frustrations to me, many times, about how controlling her mother was, how strict, and I think she was feeling a little bit defiant when she said yes. I didn’t let it bother me that she only invited me to rebel against her mom. When we got there that first afternoon, Mrs. Richmond crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head, her lips pursed angrily. But Ruby put her hands on her hips and stared her mother down.

“Violet can film my practices,” she said, out of the blue. “You’re always saying you want me to see my mistakes. This way I can play them back, and it might give me a chance to improve.”

I went along with it. “I have a camera at home I can use. I’ll use my phone for now, but next time I can bring better materials. I’ll upload the videos to a drive and give them to you guys to watch,” I said, and Mrs. Richmond looked at me skeptically. She’d never really warmed up to me, even after two years of me and Ruby being friends. Patrick thought I was funny, and Ruby’s dad was friendly, but Mrs. Richmond had never seemed to appreciate when I came over.

“Sit in the bleachers,” she told me, and I nodded obediently. Ruby sighed in relief. “Don’t do anything to distract her. You sit quietly and you film.”

Ruby rolled her eyes and flashed me a smile. My heart skipped a few beats.

Once every week since then, I’ve accompanied Ruby to her after-school training sessions. After-school for me, anyway. I show up at the rink once school lets out, and usually, Ruby and her mother are already there. Mrs. Richmond took Ruby out of school so she could make skating her full-time career, not that it wasn’t already. Ruby was working on getting her GED online. When she told me she was leaving school, I almost cried. It was hard for her, leaving all her friends, and it was harder for me when she was gone. I had other friends, and Patrick was still in school, so it wasn’t too bad. But it just meant I got to see Ruby even less often. The rink was our only chance to see each other now.

I would never get enough of watching Ruby skate. She made it look so easy, and God, she was beautiful. The whole thing was beautiful.

Today, like most days, she was practicing her jumps and her spins to the sounds of Shostakovich, her favorite composer. I always got him confused with Tchaikovsky – “Waltz No. 2,” Ruby’s favorite practice song, sounded like it belonged in The Nutcracker or Swan Lake. Ruby was in her warm up gear: a black skating jacket with her name embroidered across the back in sparkly cursive, matching black pants, gloves, and her white skates. Her shampoo-commercial-shiny brown hair was tied back in a bouncy high ponytail, and she wore a fleece headband to protect her ears from the cold.

She landed another perfect triple Lutz (I’d learned the names of all the moves by now), and I had to stop myself from clapping for her. She would’ve laughed, but Mrs. Richmond would not have found it funny. I never dared call attention to myself when I was here. I wanted to be allowed to keep coming back.

“Your rotation was off,” Mrs. Richmond said. “Do it again.” Ruby’s mother was standing at the edge of the rink where the plastic partition divided the ice from the bleachers, watching her daughter with her arms crossed over her chest. I was on the second step of the bleachers, filming with the old camcorder my mom had dug up from the basement.

Ruby sighed. I smiled.

“Again,” Mrs. Richmond said, and Ruby rolled her eyes. She shook her head and pushed off again, the blades of her skates gliding smoothly along the ice. She looked so graceful. Everything she did was graceful; I couldn’t find a more perfect word to describe her movements.

She did the triple Lutz again, using her toe pick to push off from her back outside edge. She landed on the back edge of her opposite foot, like she was supposed to. I still didn’t see anything wrong with it.

“Layback spin,” Mrs. Richmond said, and Ruby performed it, her leg extended behind her as she spun with her back arched, her head and shoulders dropped backwards and her arms in the air. Again, I couldn’t find any imperfections. I wasn’t an expert, but it seemed perfect to me.

When Mrs. Richmond started to nitpick it, I saw Ruby shift her eyes to me. I flashed her a smile and a tiny wave, and she smirked back at me. She stood on the ice with her hands on her hips as she listened to her mother’s critiques.

“Do a triple Axel,” Mrs. Richmond said, and I saw the smirk instantly disappear from Ruby’s face. Her eyes widened.

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“Mom, you know that’s my hardest jump. I haven’t even practiced it that much. I’m not good at it.”

“Well, that means you need to practice it more. You’ll need to have it down pat if you expect to go to the Olympics.”

“The Olympics are in two years – ”

“So it’s more important than ever that you know every jump. Triple Axel, Ruby.”

Even from my vantage point, I could see the hesitation on Ruby’s face. She’d always told me she hated practicing her Axels – they were the most difficult for her to do, and it was the one jump she could never quite get right. She never did them in any of her routines. But her mother always pushed her to practice them more. From all Ruby told me, I knew the triple Axel was difficult. They were hardly performed in any women’s skating competitions. Ruby was supposed to take off from the outside edge of her skate, rotate three and a half times in the air, and land on her outside edge while skating backwards. I’d never seen her do it before.

Ruby looked up at me again, her lips pulled down in a frown, and I gave her what I hoped was an encouraging smile. She took a deep breath. “Fine.”

Mrs. Richmond and I watched her spin out on the ice. I could tell she was nervous, and I bit my lip, leaning forward in my seat. She could do this. I knew she could.

As far as I could tell, she executed it perfectly. The beginning of the jump was flawless. But something went wrong on the landing. I saw it before it happened – her foot slipped, tilted at just the wrong angle, and she went down. Her head hit the ice with a sickening thud and bounced once. Something cracked. I heard her surprised shout and her cry of pain echo through the rink, and I was out of my seat and running down the bleachers without a second thought. I reached her before Mrs. Richmond did. Ruby’s mother was frozen in shock.

Tears were running down Ruby’s face when I got to her, and she was lying motionless on her back on the ice. Her ankle was twisted at an unnatural angle, and I felt bile rise in my throat. My hands fluttered uselessly around her.

“Ruby, oh my God, are you okay?” Obviously she wasn’t, but that was always the first thing that came out of my mouth when someone got hurt. It was instinct. Panic rose in my chest.

“I can’t feel my leg,” she cried, blinking rapidly, eyes turned towards the ceiling. She waved her hands in front of her face. “I can’t – oh my God, Violet – ” She patted me frantically until she found my hand and squeezed it with bone-crushing strength. “I can’t see. Violet, I can’t see.”

* * *

            In the hospital, we found out that Ruby was just temporarily blind. The doctor said she would get her sight back within a few days, maybe a week. She was getting treatment for her head trauma, which had caused the blindness. I didn’t understand most of it. I was upset because I wasn’t allowed in to see her. Patrick explained her injuries to me. Turns out the blindness wasn’t even the worst part. She had a serious spiral fracture in her ankle.

“What does that mean?” I asked Patrick when he told me about the fracture. Because of course it had to mean something. From what I’d heard, an injury that serious meant Ruby might never skate again. Just the thought of that made my stomach drop.

“We don’t know yet,” Patrick told me. “They just showed us the X-rays.” He was sitting with me in the waiting room, where I’d been confined. Ruby’s parents were in her room with her, and Mrs. Richmond was refusing to let me go in. I’d been here for almost three hours now. I was the one who called the ambulance, since Mrs. Richmond couldn’t seem to move after she watched her daughter wipe out on the ice. She only came to life again when the EMT’s started asking her what happened, and I started answering the questions. I don’t think she appreciated that.

In the emergency room, they had to examine Ruby’s head for external and internal damage, figure out the cause of her blindness and determine if it was serious, realign the broken bones in her ankle, and then they gave her a cast. That was all I knew, all Patrick told me. Mrs. Richmond wouldn’t let me in the ambulance with Ruby on the way here, so I’d followed it to the hospital in my car and waited for what seemed like an agonizingly long time until Patrick and Ruby’s dad showed up. Mr. Richmond let me come up to the room with them, but Mrs. Richmond barred me from entering. I’d been stuck in the waiting room across the hall since then. I called my mom to tell her where I was and told her I wasn’t leaving until I was sure Ruby was okay, and she offered her sympathies. She told me to come home whenever I needed to.

“Do you think you can soften your mom up a little?” I nudged Patrick, twisting my hands together nervously. “I really want to see her. I want to make sure she’s okay.”

Patrick gave me a pitying look. He sighed. I ignored the way my heart stuttered when he looked at me. “I can try. No guarantees, though.” I smiled at him. I was grateful that he was even trying.

Just as Patrick got up from his chair, Luke walked into the waiting room, looking frantic. Relief washed over his face when he saw Patrick, and Patrick embraced him with one of those one-armed bro-hugs.

“Hey, man,” Patrick said. “Thanks for coming.”

“Thanks for calling me. I wouldn’t have even known,” Luke said, running his hands through his hair. He was disheveled and out of sorts; he glanced at me once, briefly, and then back at Patrick.

“How is she?” he asked, and Patrick explained Ruby’s injuries to him. Luke nodded, listening intently, his face worried.

“Vi was there,” Patrick said, gesturing towards me, and I focused at the sound of my name. “She knows what happened better than I do.”

“Hey, Violet,” Luke said, smiling at me. “Nice to see you again.”

“Uh, yeah. You too.” My brain was scattered; I couldn’t focus on what I was saying. I just wanted to make sure Ruby was okay.

“You were at Ruby’s practice when she fell?” he asked me, and I nodded.

“I come to her practices all the time,” I said, maybe just to say it, maybe just to prove something to him, maybe just to spite him a little bit. “Her mom wanted her to do a triple Axel, and she missed the landing.”

Luke’s lips pursed into a thin, angry line. He glanced back towards Ruby’s room, and I got the feeling he was trying to glare through the walls at Mrs. Richmond. I wanted to do the same thing.

Without a word, Luke left the waiting room and went across the hall to Ruby’s room. Patrick and I followed him. I snuck in behind them, not even caring if Mrs. Richmond got angry. I had to see Ruby. She was lying in her bed, her cast leg propped up with pillows, and she was staring at a point just past the door we’d come through. Her parents stepped aside to let us in. Mrs. Richmond opened her mouth to protest, but I saw Ruby’s father put his hand on his wife’s arm and squeeze it. Mrs. Richmond closed her mouth and clenched her jaw. She glared at me. I ignored her.

“Hey, Ru,” Luke said, and Ruby’s face immediately brightened. Her eyes flittered to the side of her bed, where she’d heard Luke’s voice.

“Luke? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me.” He laughed and took her hand. “And your brother and Violet.”

Her smile got a little bit wider, and my heart skipped a few beats. I don’t know why, but I almost felt like crying all of a sudden. “Vi! I was wondering what happened to you.”

“I’m right here,” I said, clearing my throat. “I followed the ambulance here. I’ve been out in the waiting room since you got here.”

“You didn’t have to do that. I’m really okay. They fixed up my ankle and the doctor said I should get my sight back in a few days.” She laughed to herself. “I probably won’t be skating for a while, though. Maybe forever.” She sounded like she was trying to make a joke, but she didn’t seem too upset about that. I noticed Mrs. Richmond curl her hands into fists.

“I’m sure you’ll be back on the ice in no time,” Mr. Richmond said, both to assure Ruby and to appease Mrs. Richmond. Ruby shrugged carelessly.

“Maybe. We’ll see.” She smiled in my general direction. “I’m glad you’re here, Vi. Talk about that fall, huh? I can’t believe you were there to see me totally eat shit.”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. Luke laughed, too, and Patrick smirked. Even Ruby’s dad cracked a smile. Mrs. Richmond was the only who remained stone-faced. She glared at me even harder. I kept laughing.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. I probably shouldn’t have said anything else, but I did anyway. “Triple Axels are hard. Even I know that.” I glanced at Mrs. Richmond when I said it, and I could practically see the smoke coming out of her ears. Her face was beet red.

“She wouldn’t have fallen if you weren’t there to distract her!” Mrs. Richmond burst out, suddenly and with force. I flinched back in surprise. Patrick’s eyes widened and moved to his father in panic. Mr. Richmond put his hand on his wife’s arm again, but it didn’t work this time. Mrs. Richmond went on, pointing a finger at me. “This is why I told her, all the time, that she wasn’t allowed distractions. She was perfect before you started showing up, but she’s been sloppy since then, and it’s because you’re there batting your eyes at her 24/7.” My heart stopped. Did she know? She couldn’t know. No way.

She wasn’t done yet. “What do you even do while you’re there? Just sit and film it all? I can’t imagine that must be fun for you. There’s no reason whatsoever for you to be there. I only allow you to stay because Ruby threatens to quit on me if I don’t.”

“Evelyn, that’s enough,” Mr. Richmond said quietly, pulling her back, at the same time that Ruby and Patrick both yelled, “Mom! Stop!”

The room fell quiet. I couldn’t really breathe; I felt trapped by the one thing Mrs. Richmond had said. Batting your eyes at her 24/7. She’d said that in front of everyone. I looked at Ruby to see her reaction, but she just looked angry, glaring at a point just past her mother’s head.

“Could everybody leave for a second, please?” she asked slowly. “I want to speak to my mother alone.”

Luke hesitantly let go of his girlfriend’s hand, squeezing it before he left. He and Patrick left the room quietly. Patrick gave me a sympathetic look as he left. Ruby’s father gave his wife a look before he followed the boys. I slunk out past him, keeping my head down to avoid Mrs. Richmond’s glare. She had her arms crossed over her chest and she was staring at Ruby’s cast leg, her mouth flattened into a thin, angry line.

We waited for about twenty minutes in the waiting room across the hall. Patrick and Luke left in search of food and coffee, and I was left alone with Ruby’s father.

“My wife doesn’t mean anything by that,” he said, and I looked up at him in surprise. I’d met him before, of course, and I’d had a conversation with him a couple times, but he was a quiet guy. I didn’t expect him to say anything.

“I don’t mean to be a distraction,” I said. “I just never get to see her anymore. She’s my . . . best friend.” I chose my words carefully.

Mr. Richmond nodded thoughtfully. “I know. Ruby’s told me plenty of times how she wishes she could spend more time with you and her other friends. She talks about you a lot.” He gave me a small smile. “I apologize on Evelyn’s behalf. She’s too strict with Ruby. The kid just wants to skate and hang out with her friends, be a normal teenager. My wife pushes it too far.”

I didn’t say anything. I was glad he was sticking up for me, though. I’d always liked Ruby’s dad. Patrick reminded me of him a lot.

“You’re the first real friend Ruby’s ever had,” Mr. Richmond said, and my eyes widened. “Her life is too hectic and busy for anyone to stick around longer than a few months. You and Luke are troopers. I admire your perseverance.” He smiled at me again, and I smiled back. “Ruby makes a lot of efforts to hang out with you. Her mother is just serious about her skating.”

“Yeah,” I rubbed my hand across my forehead. “I can see that.”

Mr. Richmond laughed. My eyes went towards the door of Ruby’s room. What were they talking about in there? I tapped my foot on the ground impatiently. Mr. Richmond looked at me strangely, not in a bad way, but I wasn’t sure what to make of his expression. He didn’t say anything else. Just then Patrick and Luke came back with a tray of coffees for all of us, and at the same time Patrick handed me my cup with a smile, Mrs. Richmond stepped out of Ruby’s room. We all looked over at her. She glared at me.

“She wants to see you,” she said through her teeth. My eyes widened, and my heart sped up.

“Me?”

Mrs. Richmond just jerked her head back towards the room, and I stood up from my chair and walked past her. I walked into Ruby’s room and closed the door behind me. It seemed like a good idea.

“Violet?” Ruby asked, smiling in my direction, and I smiled back, even though she couldn’t see.

“It’s me,” I said.

“Come sit.” Her hand fluttered uselessly on the opposite side of her bed from where the chair was. I laughed and sat down, touching her hand gently so she would know where I was. Butterflies made themselves a home in my stomach when I brushed her fingers with mine.

“I’m really sorry about my mom,” she said, turning her head towards me. She grimaced. “She can be a bitch sometimes. I hate when she’s mean to you. You don’t deserve it.”

“Thanks, Ru,” I said quietly. “If I’d known she hated me so much, I wouldn’t have bothered coming to your practices.” That was a lie. I would’ve gone to see Ruby even if it meant Mrs. Richmond would file a restraining order against me.

“No, don’t say that. I like having you there.” Ruby smiled, and my heart fluttered.

“Really?”

“Of course. It’s the only chance we get to spend time together, and you’re my best friend.”

“I am?”

She laughed, and it made me smile. “Of course you are, Vi. I love you.”

My throat closed up, and I tried to clear it before I spoke again. “I love you, too.”

She sighed and rested her head back against her pillow. Her shiny hair spread out around her head, sticking to her cheek. “Anyway, sorry again about my mom. You wanna know what I talked to her about?”

“Sure,” I said, because I wanted to know anything Ruby wanted to tell me.

“I told her I don’t want to go to the Olympics.”

I gasped dramatically, and she grinned. “You didn’t.”

“I did! And I told her I wanted her to stop pushing me so hard. I love skating so much, more than anything, but I would love it more if she didn’t make it such a chore.”

“So you just want to do it more as a hobby?”

“I still want to compete, but I just . . . don’t want to go to the Olympics. It’s too much. I’ve already done Worlds and Nationals and every other American skating competition I could get into. And that’s enough for me,” she explained, and I nodded. I understood.

“Will you even be able to skate again?” I asked, dreading the answer. I don’t know why it meant so much to me, but it just seemed like such a tragedy. It made me sad to think of Ruby never skating again.

“Maybe. If I heal right and I do enough physical therapy. But it won’t be for a long time.” Ruby shrugged. “I’m okay with that. I need a break for a while. I want a normal life. I want to spend time with Luke, and you.”

Right. Luke. For a minute, I’d almost forgotten he existed. I winced, and I was glad Ruby couldn’t see. She smiled brightly.

“When I’m out of here, the three of us and Patrick should go hang out somewhere. I want you guys to hang out. My two favorite people need to be friends.” She grinned like it was the best idea in the world, and I smiled and pretended not to notice my eyes stinging.

“That would be nice,” I said. I figured it was the best I was going to get. Maybe I would get used to it eventually, hanging out with the girl I loved and her boyfriend, but if it’s what Ruby wanted, I would give it to her.

“Want to know a secret?” Ruby whispered conspiratorially.

“Sure.”

She leaned towards me and put her hand next to her mouth to whisper the secret. “Do not tell him I said this, but I think my brother likes you.”

My eyes widened. “Uhhh … what?” You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when she said that. Patrick liked me? Since when? Sure, he was really nice to me, and he was really cute, and I kind of, maybe, just a little bit, liked him too, but I always pushed that down because of Ruby. It had all been so confusing since that party over the summer. I couldn’t get my head straight.

For some reason, I started laughing. I shook my head and laughed. “That is . . . oh my God, that’s weird.”

Ruby shook her head and frowned. “No, it’s not! I think you guys would be so cute together. I don’t care if you’re my best friend and he’s my brother. I know a good couple when I see one. And I can always tell when Pat likes a girl.”

I laughed harder. Now she started to look confused. “Why are you laughing?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to calm myself down. “It’s just . . . I . . .” I could not believe I was about to say this. I was insane. Something had come loose in my brain – the part where all your inhibitions were. That part had suddenly disappeared. “It’s weird because . . . I like you, Ruby. Like, like-like you.”

She let go of my hand. Her face got even more confused.

“Like . . . you have a crush on me?” she asked quietly, and now I stopped laughing. Holy shit. What had I just done?

I didn’t know what to say. Ruby turned her head towards me, and I was so, so glad she couldn’t see me. I wanted to hide under the covers and never come out. “For how long?”

“Um,” I choked on my words. “For about as long as I’ve known you.”

Her eyes widened. She looked like she was about to cry. I felt like crying now, too. Oh, God. I was so stupid. “You’re gay?”

“I’m bisexual,” I whispered. There it was. The truth, for the first time. I wasn’t out at school, only to my mom, and thankfully, the thing with Olivia had never been spread through the halls. I didn’t think it was a huge deal at school, but now that I’d told Ruby, I felt like a weight was pressing down on my chest. I’d made a huge mistake. I needed to get out of here.

I watched the emotions roll across Ruby’s face. She looked angry, confused, and a little sad, all mixed up into one. I’d never known Ruby to get mad at anyone but her mother, and I didn’t like it turned on me. It made me feel terrible.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked, and she sounded so unbelievably hurt, I almost couldn’t take it. We were both crying, now.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I just, you had a boyfriend, and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to ruin our friendship. You really are my best friend, Ruby, and I do love you, and I just figured it would go away eventually, but it didn’t. I’m so sorry. I should’ve told you.”

“Did you feel like you couldn’t trust me?” she asked. “Was that it? I never would’ve told anyone, Vi. You know that.”

“Of course I trust you. I was just scared. I still am. I feel like everything’s messed up now.”

Ruby reached for my hand again. I took hers.

“Everything’s not messed up,” she said quietly. “I’m . . . flattered, Violet. I am. But I’m with Luke. I love him.”

“I know,” I said, wiping my eyes with my sleeve. “I’m sorry.”

“And I’m just hurt that you wouldn’t tell me,” she said. “You can tell me anything. I tell you everything. That’s what best friends are supposed to do, and you’re the only person I’ve ever felt like I could do that with.”

“I know, I know.” I shook my head. “I was stupid. I’m so, so sorry, Ruby. I just didn’t want to mess things up and I didn’t want to upset you, and I was scared of what might happen.”

After a few minutes of silence, Ruby laughed. “I guess now it would be really weird if you started dating Patrick.”

I laughed, too. “What’s even weirder is that I think I kind of like him, too. At the same time I had a crush on you. I haven’t been able to figure out my feelings for months now. It’s been driving me crazy.”

“Wow. So you like both of us at the same time,” Ruby said. “We Richmonds are pretty great. I don’t blame you,” she joked, and I laughed again. “I can’t imagine how that must feel. I’m sorry it’s been so hard for you.” I squeezed her hand. All of a sudden, I felt a little better. The weight on my chest had started to melt away. It was like magic.

I’d told Ruby the truth. The worst was over. I’d known from the beginning that she wouldn’t return my feelings, and knowing that made it just a little easier. My feelings were out in the open now. It might be awkward, for a little while, but eventually, things would be okay. Because Ruby would always be my best friend. That, I could count on. And I would always be hers.

“I want you to be happy, Vi,” Ruby said softly. “I’m sorry I can’t be what you want me to be. But that doesn’t mean our friendship has to be weird now. Things will be okay.” She smiled, and I believed her.

I reached over and took her hand, and she smiled and squeezed mine. And because she couldn’t see, I said, “Ruby, I’m smiling.”

She grinned at me and said, “Good.”

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