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Just for fun

 

They say you should always back up your work. Truer words were never spoken.  I’ve learned that the hard way with my first novel.

Years ago — way back at the end of the last century, when I was still, you know, under the age of thirty — I wrote a cute figure skating romance called Cold Feet. Back then there was no indie publishing. There were barely home computers. In fact, the first contraption I wrote on was a glorified typewriter with a digital screen that was a couple of inches tall and displayed maybe a paragraph or two at a time while an ink daisy wheel struck the words onto typing paper.

But I persevered, and gee, it only took me a few more years — thankfully, on a real PC — to complete a readable draft. Then I submitted it to literary agents and even an editor at a writing conference. Amidst a mountain of anonymous rejection letters, I got a tiny bit of feedback, mostly positive, and some advice to rewrite, which I did. The next draft improved but lacked development in spots, which I had no wherewithal to fix.

Furthermore, something nagged at me about its lack of marketability, and I got frustrated, buried my printed pages in a box in my closet, and moved on to other stories that were calling me. I also kept a backup of the full manuscript on floppy disk — remember those hard plastic 3 x 5’s (or however big they were), the ones you could buy in pretty colors? Yeah, those. The ones that stored Cold Feet were a beautiful marine blue.

Alas, technology, too, moved on and my next computer supported CDs and DVDs, not floppys. So, in a cleaning purge, I tossed them. Did I convert them to a more current digital format beforehand? Heck no. Why bother? Because thank God I had my hard copy squirreled away in that cardboard box in my closet, and no one was ever going to read it anyway, right?

More than a decade and several projects later, I decided for old time’s sake to pull Cold Feet out of that box and give it a read, to see if the plot, characters, and voice were really as charming as I’d thought way back when. And guess what was in that weighty stack of pages? The prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. And another copy of the prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. And another copy of the prologue, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. And a few copies of a synopsis and some query letters to literary agents.

I thought I had a hard copy of the entire novel. Turned out I’d only printed out the first fifty pages (multiple times) because that was what agents wanted to read when you submitted to them.

Argh!

Every now and then, I think about re-writing the rest of my lost first masterpiece. I still know every twist and turn of the story, and even remember some of the jokes, dated as they are. And, of course, the characters are with me forever. As far as cute figure skating romances go, I think it’s the bomb.

That re-writing is probably best left to being a daydream. One of my guiding principles is that there’s only one way to go in life and that’s forward. True of writing stories. Still, what remains of my blunder doesn’t have to stay hidden in that cardboard box.  So, to give my readers a taste of my writing, I’ve posted the prologue here.

You’d make this remorseful author so happy if you’d give my poor little half-forgotten Cold Feet: The Prologue a whirl. Enjoy the read and let and let me know what you think in the comments below!

 

 

Prologue

 

 

Madeleine Lambert stood trembling from head to toe, her hair tied up in blue ribbon, her feet encased in white figure skates, on a quest for gold. Looser now after the warmup, she steeled herself to take a panoramic look around. Lights! Camera! Sequins! From the red flame etched under center ice to the rafters of knotty pine overhead, the Edelweiss Hall sparkled with welcoming charm, like an Alpine chalet coated with Olympic glitz.

Up in the stands, the Stars and Stripes fluttered in, then out of, her sight. A clump of cheering spectators waved a banner. Allez Madeleine, it read—the fans’ nod to her Frenchness. Go Madeleine! There was no mention of Wayne. The words of Madeleine’s mother tongue did nothing to ease her prickles, those needles of apprehension that were shooting up and down her spine faster than a hunky Norwegian along a speed skating track.

The public address system hummed, and a female voice boomed. “On the ice representing the United States, Madeleine Lambert and Wayne Nolan!” Inside Madeleine’s head, the voice went on, addressing her personally: “Mademoiselle, are you so foolish as to believe you can defeat the Yatushenko and Zhukovs and Boris and Svetlanas of the world? It’s bronze for you! A fait accompli. N’est-ce pas?” Then the voice broke down into a sinister cackle, after which the roof retracted and black helicopters swooped down to prevent the third-best pair in competitive figure skating from trying to upset World Order.

But only inside Madeleine’s head.

Inside the Edelweiss Hall, instead of the whir of chopper blades—polite applause. She stared straight ahead. Tonight, beyond the bounds of the arena, the moon was nearly full, and the ice before her shimmered as if it were somehow catching the reflection of that silvery sphere.

Madeleine turned to their coach. Perhaps Lydia could offer one last bit of encouragement. Sensing Madeleine’s anxiety, Lydia took Madeleine’s pudgy, pasty nail-bitten hands in her slender, brown manicured ones. “Now,” Lydia said, talking in a reasoned, measured tone, a tone that sane, rational people used on people who were under the influence of a full moon. “Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Imagine you’re back home. You’re skating beautifully and it’s just another practice. Just another day at the office. You can do that, Madeleine.” Madeleine felt the woman’s reassuring squeeze. “You have an imagination like nobody I know.”

It was true. Madeleine did have an extremely good imagination. She studied her coach’s calm and collected face. Lydia’s eyes, so gentle and long-lashed, so friendly and kind, like those of a giraffe, held hers steadily. One of the them fluttered shut, then open. An amiable wink. The cowl neck of Lydia’s sweater, a rich cocoa cashmere, caressed her expensively powdered and lacking-in-perspiration cheeks. How did the woman stay so dry? And then Madeleine answered her own question. Easy. She didn’t have to go out there.

Madeleine felt anything but collected; her hands were growing clammy, not calm. Closing her eyes, she tried to do as her coach advised. She tried to picture the rink where she and Wayne had labored this whole season. Nothing. She tried again, this time conjuring up the place where they’d toiled for six whole seasons before that.

Nothing.

Her imagination was coming up empty. It had never done that before. A wave of prickles washed over her. She ordered herself to get a grip. Quick! What was a triple twist? But suddenly she couldn’t remember what the thing was, much less how to pull one off in a dazzling display of strength and beauty. Madeleine shuddered. The most pivotal performance of her career lay dead ahead and she could not summon one single happy memory to sustain her through its two minutes. In fact, over the last six years with Wayne, there had been a lot she would have liked to forget. Starting with the day they’d met, and going right up until Helsinki.

Helsinki.

Thinking about those world championships of a year ago, Madeleine felt the prickles of a hundred hunky Norwegian speed skaters. Her and Wayne’s Russian rivals had performed with flawless precision. She and Wayne, on the other hand, in matching macho unitards, had plodded through their “Theme from Terminator” program and into third place. She could still feel the chill from when Wayne had thrown her into a perfectly good triple toe loop but—Bam!—she’d come out on her rear. Not that that had been anything new. The crash landing was her signature move. They’d probably name it after her someday.

Madeleine sensed an imposing shadow fall over her, blotting out the glare from the spotlights. She raised her eyes. Wayne, sidling up.

He never fell.

“Ready?” he asked. His voice held its usual familiar razor-sharpness. It sliced through her, gave her prickles. She stared him up. Clenched jaw. Dull shark eyes. Face that would make a great rock-climbing wall at the gym. His hair, an impeccably mown thatch, lay flat atop his slightly fat head. She eked out a wan smile.

“Ready.”

Wayne reached out, trapped her hand in his. They stroked their way out toward center ice, toward the flame. Two minutes, Madeleine thought. That was all the time they had on the ice. Two minutes to position themselves for a medal on Tuesday night. Everyone knew you couldn’t win gold in the short program.

But you sure could lose it.

She took another deep breath and made a wish on the moon. Please, let it be three minutes from now. In three minutes it would be over. Her skirt fluttered against her thighs. The double layers of netting tickled despite the thick flesh-colored tights she wore. Wayne’s hand swallowed hers completely. It felt the same as ever. That dry warmth, that sweatlessness. Her teeth made a chattering sound. Clacketyclick. From somewhere deep inside, she felt a floop! Her stomach was launching into acrobatics already, and the music hadn’t even started yet. She let out her deep breath, turning it into a baleful sigh.

Two minutes.

It would be prickles all the way.

 

***

 

Gliding out toward center ice, into the warm center of the crowd, Wayne Nolan basked in a glorious dream. He stood elbow-to-shoulder with his partner, outfitted in a not-too-fussy shirt and pants of the same sequinless, royal blue as her wisp of a dress. But in the legend in his mind, he wore the most precious of medals and it was the top of the podium toward which he headed. It felt only natural that he would occupy the highest level. After all, at six-foot-one, he was the tallest man in the sport.

In the dream, the official draped the medal around Wayne’s neck. Oh. It weighed heavier than he’d anticipated. Old Glory fluttered up to the rafters, flanked by the flags of—well, other countries. The opening notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” thundered. Who cared if Madeleine couldn’t be bothered to learn the proper lyrics? Wayne would sing along, and he did.

The dream scene shifted to the post-victory press conference. Lydia called on a reporter. Wayne knew the jerk. “Wayne,” the jerk said. “Do you feel that winning this gold medal vindicates your delinquent past?”

Perturbed, Wayne popped back into reality. Looking around, he spotted one of the network’s cameras zeroing in on him. Taking his free hand, the one that wasn’t clutching Madeleine’s, he smoothed it through his hair. A satisfied warmth rose up and spilled across his freshly shaven cheeks. The lens was beaming his image around the globe, capturing his good side. But then again, Wayne thought. Every side was his good side.

Wasn’t it?

He and Madeleine still had a ways to go until they reached their starting position. He returned to his reverie. “…And the home … of the … braaave!” his dream self belted out. Biting down on the edge of the medal, he sensed something soft, creeping up on him. Madeleine. She did a flourish with her hands. Zing-zing-ZING! The plump wedges of her fingers sliced the air tenderly, like … like …

Magic.

Wayne cut his fantasy short—again. Listen to him. Madeleine and magic, in the same sentence. Of course Madeleine would be on top of the podium. It was going to be her medal, too.

He sighed.

If only she could see he was superior.

Besides, he reasoned, with all that they had gone through this season—Lydia with her classical this and that, her toe points and extensions, Madeleine fussing with her presentation—it was only natural that he would have Madeleine’s fingers on his brain.

The idea of something romantic developing between him and Madeleine began to breach the walls of his mind. Chuckling inwardly, he sent it scurrying away. In six years, no such romantic thing had ever even come close to happening. They were not one of those pairs.

At last at center ice, he scooted into position behind Madeleine. She sent him a final tension-filled look. Those big brown eyes. When they went teary, they resembled nothing so much as two moist, rich chocolate bonbons. Her crescent eyebrows hung so heavily over them they brought a sadness to every expression, even the smiles. Wayne let go of her hand and Madeleine smiled. The crescents fell. Droop.

Wayne thrust out his arms in their starting position, hovering over Madeleine. This was his favorite moment in the sport: When he took his fate into his own hands.

Then he saw that sight again, coming from Madeleine as she drew her arms into a pose of her own. This time it was no dream.

Za-zzzzing!

Wayne shook out his arms, let his muscles relax. Any second now, the first piano note would tinkle. He watched her magic fingers. He thought about what it would be like to grip a gold medal. And then he felt a surge of exultation. For the next two minutes, it would all be in his own hands.

 

***

 

Wayne skated out in front; Madeleine kept up. Together, hands clasped, gliding backwards, they headed down the long stretch of the oval. A soaring, high-altitude triple twist and a set of flawlessly synchronized side-by-side spins lay in their wake. Wayne easily heard the applause over the gentle chords of Beethoven. He lifted his arm and she went into a twirl under it. There was plenty of room. The bulk of him could contain two whole Madeleines.

Wayne had done hundreds of run-throughs of this program. The moves came automatically; muscle memory kicked in. He didn’t even have to think about what he was doing. They did a small series of turns to jump into side-by-side double Axels. In pairs figure skating, each partner was supposed to know what the other was doing on the ice at all times. Wayne figured Madeleine’s face was curdling right about now. He couldn’t see her, but he knew he was right.

The Axels came and went. Ah, smooth and easy. They way it ought to be. They moved on. Time to launch Madeleine into the throw triple toe loop. With his arms coming around her waist from behind, they did the set-up. Standing on her right foot, she picked the ice with her left and became airborne. Once, twice, three times around. Man, she was flying. Then her right foot came down for the landing. Not a wobble. Not a weak edge. Squarely down. Wayne felt a cheesy grin creeping across his lips.

Hot damn. She’d nailed it.

His heart soared, even higher than he’d hoisted Madeleine in the overhead lift during the first moments of their routine—and he could lift her pretty damn high. This was going to be their year. He’d had it pegged for a long, long time. It had to be. In little more than a month, at the end of the season, they would turn professional. It was about time. Wayne was on the brink of thirty. Madeleine, by contrast, was only twenty-three. He marveled at the symmetry of the situation. When he’d been twenty-three, and they’d paired up, Madeleine had only been seventeen. When Wayne had been seventeen…

Wayne drove the thought away. He did not like to think about when he was seventeen.

Swiftly now, they stroked and stroked, skimming the ice, like wind on water. They briefly parted and then approached one another. Traveling closer, he locked on Madeleine’s Bambi eyes. Blink. Another one of her classic moves.

Swinging his leg up into a camel position, parallel to the ice, Wayne suppressed a sigh. All he wanted was to be wonderful. All he wanted was to make it through a competition without Madeleine bursting into tears. To get through these Games without a fall, to come off the ice happy for a change. And yet what did he have? Pulling Madeleine, now in a camel of her own, parallel to him, he thought: Namely, a bulging-eyed partner who was afraid of life and treated him like he was the Boogeyman.

They emerged from their entwined whir and continued on, sailing into a sequence of spiral moves across the open field of the Edelweiss. Legs infinitely extended, backs strong yet supply-arched, they spiraled on past. Past the cameras, past their coach, past Wayne’s father, past his mother, past his mother’s boyfriend, past Madeleine’s parents, past her sister, past her boyfriend, past the network commentators, past the judges.

The only judge Wayne ever dreaded facing was the one who sentenced him.

He didn’t feel at all winded, not even slightly. He and Madeleine were so strong they could run through their long program twice, and that took four minutes each time. At a scant two minutes, this short program was barely an effort.

Hand in hand, they closed in on their final move, a forward inside death spiral. Wayne planted the toe pick of his right foot into the ice. He hunkered down into a squatting position and began to pivot. Secured by his outstretched hand, Madeleine began her own slide. Down, down, down. Finally, she lay horizontal to the ice. Still grasping his hand, she glided in a flat spin, seemingly effortlessly on the edge of a single skate blade. She’d gotten so low her pileup of hair actually grazed the chilly surface. “Fur Elise” hit a climactic chord. On cue, Madeleine thrust out her free hand.

Za-zing.

Wayne surged with elation. The rules required the man to spin the lady once. Wayne felt like he could spin Madeleine twice. He had to hand it to himself; he was awesome.

They rose to their full height and floated back to where they’d started: center ice. There, the official mascots of the Games lie painted under the layers: two snowflake figures, one male, one female, both carrying the same torch. Wayne and Madeleine arrived over the deep red gash of flame and held their closing pose. “Fur Elise” dwindled to its final note.

Wayne let the glory of the moment sink in. Pairs had to perform eight required moves in the short program, and they had hit all of theirs. They were going to do it. Yes! They were going to win this phase of the competition tonight and then take home the gold after the free skate in two nights. This would not end like Helsinki. This time they would not falter. Wayne could feel it already.

His heart thundering mightily in his well-muscled chest, Wayne cast his face upward. Dozens of spotlights blazed away, each one a tiny sun. He soaked up the warmth. And then, squeezing his partner gently by her porcelain-pale shoulders, he took his face and sank it into Madeleine’s glossy updo.

And kissed her.


Copyright a long-ass time ago by Karen Tomsovic 🙂

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