So, way back in 2018 I had this idea for a Figure Skating story. I wrote what is below with that shred of any idea –and I liked it, but then decided…I could definitely do more with this. Aaaaaand, so there is about 20K worth of a novel sitting on my hard drive, featuring Hanna Lasher and Yuki Yukihara’s romance.
Will it ever see the full light of day? Maybe.
But the Olympics have changed since 2018 –my premise had been set on Hanna being the determined woman to add quad jumps to her skill set. Well, in 2022, we’re going to be seeing women doing quads! Not for the first time, I assure you, but ladies are beginning to hold their own with these jumps.
So, anyway, I’m not sure Hanna’s story is very relevant to today’s Olympic Games, but I sure as heck had a lot of fun writing it –and continue to dabble at the longer version. This seems a little Cliffhanger-y, so fair warning! And it has only seen moderate editing since I’m not doing anything special with it.
Heart on Ice
They say that when I was fifteen years old, I took the skating world by storm. I don’t know what that means. They talked me up as the next miracle on ice; the next Tara Lepinski. I’m not a huge fan of Tara Lepinski. I mean, she’s nice and everything, but I feel like she just tries too hard to stay relevant, you know? It’s a lot of pressure to live up to. They make you feel like the weight of world is riding your shoulders when…in the end, it’s really nothing particularly special. Just another competition. Just another pissing match with the Best of the Best. Which happens every year as we all work through the season, culminating at the World Championship. If we’re good enough.
For whatever reason, I’m always good enough. Scarily good enough. Frustratingly good enough.
At my first Olympics, I admit: I got scared. I was just a kid playing in a big sandbox. And suddenly that sandbox was going to open up and spit money at me. Fame at me. Millions of tweets and likes at me. I wasn’t sure I wanted any of those things. I especially didn’t want the media in my face, wanting to get to know me, figure out my story, talking me up like I was some kind of poodle at the Dog Show. Because if anything: I am not a dog person.
So, I admit…I threw it away. Too much pressure from all sides wasn’t taking a piece of carbon and squishing it into a diamond. I was already a diamond.
I think what pissed people off most was even though I fully admit that I wasn’t out to win anything for the sake of anyone else: I did it all with a smile on my face.
And then, publicly fired every one on my training staff.
The thing is, when you are involved in a close-knit community, talking to the same fellow skaters every day, seeing other coaches, trainers, and choreographers every day. You start to realize…maybe the methods that keep being used on you don’t work for you. So, my coach and trainers had to go. So did my parents. I got emancipated. It was a year-long break, buttoning down a new team and separating from my family. I still skated every day. It helped me relax. It was a strenuous time, during which I took up the motto: “Don’t Let the Muggles Get You Down”.
My comeback routine was set to Hedwigs Theme. I had choreographed it myself during that year. I walked away from that competition with a first-place medal, and continued to not look back.
“I’m going to be me,” I told Helen Boggs, my new coach. She specialized in jumps, which was exactly what I was looking for. “And I’m going to be the best. I don’t need you to be a dictator; I just need you to polish me.”
Amazingly, she seemed to understand.
“Great,” she agreed. “What are we working on first?”
“Triple axel,” I told her. “I need a reliable triple. And then I’m working on a quad toe. I’m sick of all the men skaters thinking they’re the only ones capable of it.”
At that she seemed apprehensive.
“I don’t need your approval, Helen,” I told her. “I just need your support.”
“You’ve got it in spades.”
I had that axel down pat in three months. It was positively show stopping in my short program set to It’s Over Isn’t It from Steven Universe.
In the weeks following my mastery of the “most difficult jump for women”, I spent a lot of time analyzing videos of men’s quad jumps. I watched from the boards as my male compatriots skated with mixed success. I watched my training partner, Helen’s other charge, a male Japanese skater named Yuki Yukihara, master his own quads. Meanwhile, as my knees, hips, and butt ended up bruised from constant connection with the ice, I still continued to medal. And medal some more, becoming a U.S. Champion for the third time, and a World Champion for the 2nd time, two years after my Olympic debut.
It was around this time that I started wearing the red skates. Most skaters kept to neutral colors; white, beige, or black. But the bright color reminded me of the Chuck Taylors I wore off the ice. Rather than giving in to the norm of short flirty skirts and tights, I started performing in unitards; my Steven Universe short program was enhanced by a Tux-like ensemble and my hair done in an upside down French braid. It was rather freeing to know people would no longer see me in what was basically my underwear. The ISU may have deemed those outfits to be “tasteful” and retaining of “modesty”, but…I had always felt a little exposed in them. I practiced in athletic pants; I was going to perform in the next closest thing.
It was almost a year to the day that I started to reliably rotate and land the first quad. Sometimes I didn’t quite get the rotation, but could land beautifully. Other times, it was as if I could muster up so much energy I was liable to get five rotations, but then landed on my ass. But, I did it. And the other quads came after that.
And my fellow skaters were a mix of awed and pissed off.
Then came my second Olympics. Once again, I was touted as being a shoe-in for gold. So, cue more flustered embarrassment when I replied, “What the fuck do I need another medal for?”
Helen admonished me for being rude, but when I reminded her that I had said it with a smile, the twinkle in her eyes told me that she proud of me.
“What’s your plan going out onto the ice in the team event?” the reporter was a blonde woman; the microphone oversized with the NBC logo emblazoned on it.
I cocked an eyebrow at her, “The same plan I always have. To just have fun with it, because the minute it stops being fun, I’ll have to find something else to do with my life.”
Because yes: it was so fucking fun. I knew most people thought I was a condescending bitch who had no respect for the ice or the sport. I was simply some kind of show off, stealing all the glory. But god, it was so much fun!
We came in 2nd in the Team Skate. I am only one person and can only be as good as my fellow skaters, you know. I gave my medal to a little girl who came up to me after the awards presentation while I was on my way back to the village. She was wearing a Team USA hat and a scarf that was far too large for her.
“I want to be just like you when I grow up!”
“Do you skate a lot?” I asked, kneeling down to talk to her on her level.
“Tell you what,” I pulled the medal out of my pocket, where I’d stashed it after the ceremony. “You hold on to this for me, and in a couple of years when you start winning your own medals, you can return it to me.”
Her mother gaped at me, shocked, “Are you sure you want to do that?”
“I have a lot of medals,” I told her as her daughter gently took the box from my hands. “This one seems like it can serve a better purpose for someone else.”
“I can’t believe you just did that,” my teammate, Allison, shook her head. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
I shrugged, “I’ll win a gold one next weekend.”
“You’re always so annoying sure of yourself,” she sighed. “How do you do that?”
“Because it doesn’t matter if I win or lose. I am being my best self. Now, let’s go find some tacos. I’m starving.”
What I haven’t mentioned so far is my relationship off the ice with my training partner. As we were competition in parallel, Yuki and I had a cordial relationship to start. I had admired his skating at events for quite some time before hiring Helen as my coach. He spoke excellent English as his mother was actually a Japanese-American from California, though he had been born and lived the first few years of his life in Japan. At first, we just practiced on the same ice every morning. I was routinely extremely early; on the ice by 5 AM even when Helen didn’t show until 6. Yuki liked to be early too, but it took me by surprise when he met me at the doors to the rink with two cups of coffee. His thin jacket was zipped up, the lower half of his face nuzzled down in its collar.
“You’re here early,” I mused, my skate bag slung over my shoulder. “Earlier than usual, I mean.”
“I’d like to keep you company during your warm up. If that’s okay with you.” He held out the coffee cup. “French Vanilla Cappuccino with a Stok shot and extra half-and-half.”
“You know my drink order?”
“You don’t spend six months watching a girl fall on her ass without learning a few things about her,” he grinned at me.
“Oh?” I took the cup from him and took a sip. “Like what?”
“Like…that you’re really beautiful, especially when you don’t think anyone is paying attention.”
“Yuki Yukihara, are you flirting with me?”
His eyes crinkled up at the corners and even though I couldn’t see his mouth behind the collar, I knew he was smiling, “Is it working?”
“Maybe,” I admitted.
After that, once we were off the ice for the day, we’d work out at the gym together. We studied together. We hung out at each other’s houses. I liked visiting the Yukihara home. His parents were kind; his father worked for a University as a professor and his mother was surgeon. They weren’t fabulously wealthy, but they did well enough that Yuki wasn’t one of those skaters who constantly had to make ends meet. It helped that he also placed well so he consistently was able to keep his skating paying for itself.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so lucky. Yes, I placed well in every competition and brought in a bit of prize money. However, being on my own more-or-less meant I had gotten a quick-course in budgeting and responsibility. I volunteered so many hours a week at the rink, teaching little kids to skate for free rink time. I also made some money on the side by tutoring older skaters who wanted to get into competition. My name carried weight, so I was able to charge more than I probably should have. Finally, I did have several sponsors including some facial products and a toothpaste. For as much as I loved skating, there were times I wondered why I put so much into it when I could have been perusing any of my other interests and making more money. However, I was becoming a wise investor and was managing to make ends meet without going too far into debt.
Yuki was helping me pack up one evening after the rink had closed when it dawned on me. I was in love. We were leaving the next day for an invitational competition in Colorado. Typically, I looked forward to competitions; getting to see my fellow skaters and how much they’d improved since the last time I’d seen them. New places, new experiences.
“You excited for the trip?” Yuki asked. He took a seat on one of the benches. He had taken off his skates and was wearing a pair of white adidas sneakers.
“Yes and no,” I shrugged. “A break from practice is always nice. And you know how much I enjoy showing off.”
“Yeah, and you’ve got that triple axel down pat,” he grinned. “You’ll be great.”
“I don’t need to be great,” I told him. “I just need to be happy.”
“And what would make you happy?” He asked.
“Are you flirting with me again?”
“I didn’t know I had to flirt with you anymore,” he admitted. “We spend every waking minute together. We’re like an old married couple.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“I like you. I like you a lot,” he said.
“I like you too.”
“Okay,” he nodded. “That’s a start.”
“Are you going somewhere with this, Yuki?”
“We’ve been seeing each other on and off the ice for quite a while now.”
“Yes, I’m aware.”
He let out a huff of breath, “Jeez. Okay, I guess I’ve just got to do the corny thing and say it bluntly: I want you to be my girlfriend.”
An immediate flush rose in my cheeks and I was sure the doofiest grin imaginable graced my face, followed by a giggled, “What?”
Yuki pulled himself up from the bench. He raked a hand through his hair and then stuffed both of his fists in the pockets of his jacket. “I understand if you want to just stay friends.”
“No,” I shook my head. “I…I’d like that. A lot. Being your girlfriend, I mean.”
“Really?” He looked hopeful again.
“Yes, of course,” I nodded. “Because that means I can finally do this.”
And I kissed him –right there in the dark.
Flash forward, back to the Olympics. Yuki had gotten surgery on his left knee eight months before, I had gotten some work done on my right a few weeks before his. We had matching scars. I also had taken to wearing compression braces on my ankles and wrists off the ice. Over all, we were good shape, but an ounce of prevention…
The Japanese Team had placed third behind the US in the team event. Yuki and I were able to share practice ice a few times. I hated that I missed him, even though we were in the same place at the same time. We also kept our relationship quiet; though we’d been dating for over two years. It was about to change though.
Something had felt off all day when I stepped onto the ice for the short program. I was performing to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon. It was a fun, quirky piece that I always had a good time with. A complete crowd pleaser. But after I fell on my opening Triple Axel, I was almost too shocked to get up.
Don’t get me wrong: I may have been one of the top skaters in the world, I still fell. A lot. But it had been a very long time since I’d fallen in a competition. The “Ooooh!” that sounded from the shocked crowd threw me off too. The second fall, this one on my Quad Salchow, was where everything went seriously cock-eyed. I was thrown back to my shoulder. I heard a pop and I couldn’t stop the surprised cry that escaped my throat. My shoulder had popped out of its socket. I’d seen it happen to other skaters before. I had 10 seconds to get up; 30 before a sound would warn me that I was close to a forfeit.
I would recognize Yuki’s voice anywhere and it rose above the crowd. I wasted two seconds on a deep breath and closing my eyes. Sitting up, I’m sure it was obvious that my shoulder was not hanging the way it should have been. I reached up, tentatively and blew out a breath. I had to try; I couldn’t finish without both arms. I was close to my time limit; I could feel the points dropping my score with every moment. I grunted as my shoulder popped back into place and I got back on my feet. I finished the rest of the routine flawlessly –including another set of jumps. I gave my bows and smiles after I finished, but I felt shaky getting off the ice. I practically fell into a hug with Helen as I got off the ice.
“Are you okay?” She asked. “Your shoulder.”
“I got it popped back into place, but it should probably get checked out,” I admitted to her, quietly. I knew cameras were on us and I didn’t want a microphone to pick me up. I took my blade covers from the stationed girl and clicked them onto my blades.
“Han, that was the worst skate I’ve seen from you in…ever,” she spoke quietly as we moved toward the Kiss & Cry. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know; I really don’t,” I replied.
“Hanna,” Yuki was standing by the little booth. He wore his Team Japan jacket; he was of course in the stands cheering on his fellow Japanese skaters. He pulled the jacket off, tossing it aside as we got closer. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” I assured him. He went into the Kiss & Cry with us to keep talking. “What are you doing down here?”
“I needed you,” he kissed me. “And I hope you needed me?”
“I do,” I assured him. We kissed again –then realized we were doing so in front of the thousand people in the rink, and of course the billions tuned in on TV. I blushed. Helen cleared her throat.
“You did a good job; I don’t think they’ll deduct more than a point for that second fall. You’ll still qualify, but it’s going to be really close,” she murmured.
“Winning doesn’t matter,” I laced fingers with Yuki. “It’s all about the experience.”
“Scores in the Ladies Short Program for Hanna…”
Yuki’s fingers squeezed mine. A week ago, I’d been watching from the group of Americans in the crowd as he’d sat in his own Kiss & Cry, twice, and walked away with a Silver medal. I wasn’t sure I was going to be walking away with any medal now, even though my attitude had changed from my last Olympic attempt. I truly had planned on putting out my best effort this time around.
Amazingly, my score bumped me into fourth place. It wasn’t where I thought I would be sitting, but I was okay with it. As we exited the Kiss & Cry booth, the NBC correspondent was waiting for me.
“Hanna, you had two uncharacteristic falls tonight. What happened?”
“Look, I’d love to bullshit you about headspace, but the fact is: I dislocated my shoulder a few minutes ago and should probably have it looked at by a medic before I start analyzing my performance.” I told her.
Yuki pursed his lips, squeezing my hand again. I wasn’t sure if it was approval or disapproval, but we managed to disengage from the reporter. Helen ushered us toward the back where a white-jacketed medic was waving me down.
“I’ll talk to press,” she told me. “Go get checked out.”
Yuki and I left her and the medic brought us into an infirmary area. There was a television tuned into the live coverage of the ice. Even though the last skater was supposed to be starting up, it seemed as though they were still talking about me.
“It seems that Hanna Lesher is refusing to speak to our correspondent, Trisha Ash, as she seeks medical attention for her dislocated shoulder.”
“Understandable; that was an unexpected accident for Lesher. We haven’t seen a skate like that from the Ice Princess since her Junior days.”
“But what about that kiss with training partner Yuki Yukihara?”
“Can we shut that off?” I asked.
“Sorry, I have to monitor for any other accidents,” the medic replied. He felt around my shoulder to feel if it was properly reset. “And I’m not saying to ever do that again, but: badass job resetting this yourself, girl.”
“It hurts like hell,” I admitted.
“Well, I’m going to give you a sling to take the pressure off it. And I’ll give you ibuprofen or whatever you prefer for basic pain relief. You’ll want to keep it in the sling for a few days.”
“You know I’m competing for a gold medal tomorrow, right?”
“And you’re free to disregard my medical advice as much as you want, but…to be on the safe side of things, you should listen.”
“I’ll take under consideration.”
“You can let go of her hand now, you know,” The medic gave Yuki a pointed look. “She’s going to be just fine.”
Yuki looked embarrassed as he realized that he was indeed still clasping my hand.
“You two make a nice couple,” he gave us both a soft smile. “It’s sweet how worried you are about her.”
“It’s always alarming when I see my girlfriend get hurt and there’s nothing I can do about it,” Yuki stroked a thumb against my cheek.
“You say that like it happens all the time,” I teased him.
“I don’t want to hear you make that noise you made when you hit the ice ever again. I thought I was going to throw up.”
“You know me, I always try to stay on my feet –but it doesn’t always happen.”
He blew out a sigh.
“Yuki,” I chided. “I’m fine.”
“I know,” he nodded. “I just worry.”
“Pick your pain reliever,” the medic held out a few different single-serve packets of pills. I took one and Yuki handed me a bottle of water from a bunch set up on one of the counters. I took them while the medic adjusted my arm in the sling.
“All right, I think you’re good to go for now. I’ll give you an ice pack; use it for twenty minutes at a time to control any swelling for the next 4 to 8 hours. Check back in with the Village medical center tomorrow to get another pair of eyes on it if it does start to swell.”
“Thanks Doc,” I took the ice pack from him. “Much appreciated it.”
“Good job out there,” he replied. “And good luck tomorrow.”
“I’ll need it,” I sighed.
“Think we can get out of here without being accosted by the media?” He asked, hand on the doorknob.
I shook my head, “We’re not that lucky, but hopefully I can make it back to the changing area.”
“Do you need help?”
“I think I’ll manage. You know you’re not allowed back there,” I kissed him again as we exited the infirmary.
“Exceptions can always be made,” he pointed out.
“I’ll just be a few minutes,” I promised. Helen was waiting for us near the changing room door.
“How bad is it?” She asked.
“He said it should be OK, but I should ice it and keep it in the sling as much as possible.”
“Sound advice,” she nodded. “Let’s get you out of your skates and into some more comfortable clothes.”
Helen had to help me ease my arm in and out of my top, which was a special kind of embarrassing. She had turned into full mother-hen mode, which I had last seen her in after I’d come out of my knee surgery.
“You’re going to have to play nice with some reporters,” she said to me, helping me zip up my Team USA jacket, my bad arm tucked against my chest underneath it, leaving the sleeve empty. “I held off that Trisha woman, but you know how they are.”
“I think I can manage for a few minutes, but I think I just want to get back to the village and get some rest and activate that ice pack.”
“I agree,” Helen nodded. “Just say that today wasn’t your day and you’ll be on your game for the Long Program tomorrow.”
“I will be on my game for tomorrow,” I promised her. “I don’t know what went wrong, but it won’t happen again.”
“Good,” she nodded. “Let’s face the wolves then.”
It was another hour before we finally were able to leave the rink to return to the Village. Yuki hovered at my side the entire time. He had put his Team Japan jacket back on, as well as his knit cap. When he huddled down into his layers, all you could see were his eyes. He gave off a distinct Do Not Speak to Me vibe. I repeated what Helen had said, as well as my own sentiment a dozen times. When asked about the kiss with Yuki, I deflected lightly.
“That’s not really relevant to my skating, is it?”
When said with a broad smile, it can make any nosy person retreat.
Yuki came up to my hotel room with me; I was technically sharing it with Allison, but honestly other than her stuff being strewn across the room, she seemed to be sleeping elsewhere if you know what I mean.
I kicked my shoes off near the closet and sat down on the bed. I handed the ice pack to Yuki.
“Can you activate that for me? I’ll have to dig my reusable one out of my bag later.”
“Of course,” he squeezed the pouch, and then shook it for a moment. “Can I get you something to eat? Drink?”
“No,” I shook my head. “Uh, maybe unzip my jacket?”
“Of course,” he smiled. He’d unzipped his collar down while we were in the car. He pinched the top of my collar, and then pulled down the zipper. He pulled it away from my shoulder, and then tugged the sleeve off my arm. “Why don’t you lay down for a little bit and ice your shoulder. Then maybe a shower?”
“Do I smell?” I asked.
“Well…” he trailed, teasingly.
“Rude,” I stuck my tongue out at him, pressing the ice pack to my shoulder as I settled back into the pillows.
“Let me set a timer for you,” he pulled out his phone, tapping at the screen for a moment.
“Thanks. Will you lay with me?”
“Sure,” he agreed. He pulled off his own jacket and then sat on the edge of the bed to unlace his boots. Then he scooted carefully across the mattress to curl up carefully against my side. He reached up, pressing his hand on top of mine, over the ice pack.
“You scared me,” he admitted, after we’d lay in silence for a few minutes. “I knew you weren’t going to die or anything, but…” He laced his fingers with mine. “I have something to ask you. I was going to wait until after the games, but I think now is better.”
“Ask me what?”
He released my hand to reach into his pocket. A moment later, he held up a silver ring; just visible in the dim light of the hotel room.
“What is that?” I asked.
“I’ve been in love with you for two years,” he replied. “And I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Good and bad, sickness, health, all that stuff.”
“You can think about it, for as long as you want,” he reached to take my left hand and slide the ring onto my finger. “But I want you have this either way.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” I shook my head. “We’ve hardly talked about a future after skating.”
“Maybe we can do that now?”
“Okay,” I nodded.
“How much longer do you want to skate?”
I laughed, “I want to skate the rest of my life. If you mean, how long do I want to skate competitively…I, uh, I think I’m about done with what I can do.”
“Me too,” he admitted. “But I don’t think I want to join any professional tours. Stars on Ice or anything.”
“We could teach. Coach. Together, I mean. I love doing choreography. And I’ve gotten really good at doing my own costumes and designs. That stuff is far more lucrative than competing is.”
“I think I want to go back to school,” he said. “I think I want to go into Sports Medicine.”
I laughed, “So you can patch me up when I fall on my ass?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Exactly.”
“Then you should do it,” I replied. “And I’m going to coach. Deal?”
“Deal,” he agreed. “Does that mean it’s a yes?”
“Is what a yes? You never actually asked a question.”
“Will you marry me?”
“Of course I will,” I laughed. “I was just testing you.”
He feigned a sigh of relief, “Oh thank god.”
“I’m glad you were there for me tonight,” I told him. “I think I’d be feeling pretty lonely right now if you hadn’t been.”
“I’m always going to be there for you,” he promised. “For as long as you’ll let me.”