She heard his voice just as the ice around her began to split apart, cracks sliding through it like serpents. She could hear the rush of water below.
One minute she had been sailing heedless on her silver blades, laughing at Carl’s unease about the glassy lake, especially when there were no other skaters; now she stood paralyzed in its center, huddling into herself.
“Try to catch hold of my jacket!”
She flung out her arms and tried to grasp the flutter of orange. Her island of ice tilted and freezing water soaked her feet. “I can’t! I can’t” Already a two-foot wide fissure separated her from Carl. “Get help!”
She saw the doubt on his face, but he grabbed his coat and skated away faster than she thought possible.
She was safe enough here on this little piece of ice, she thought. All she needed to do was wait. She stared up at the gray sky. The air felt heavy with the threat of snow, and she rubbed her hands over her arms.
She’d always mocked Carl for being cautious. “Take a chance,” she always told him. Maybe he had been the smart one.
The ice cracked again, this time right through the middle of her island, and she had to throw herself to the side to avoid sliding into the dark water. But now the smaller island tipped precariously and cold water poured over the sides. Ella pulled herself up, but she was completely soaked.
Once she had dreamed of going to the Olympics. She had worked so hard. Practice every morning at six; practice after school; then she finally quit school to practice all the time and work with private tutors. She had come in seventh in the Olympic trials. Seventh. That was her best year.
Oh, she had gone on to work in different ice shows, but it wasn’t the same. She was never a star. Not the way Mama wanted. Not the way she wanted.
Flakes of snow began to drift down and caress her face like cold kisses.
Carl loved her. He never cared whether she was in the Olympics or not. She loved and hated that about him. Could you love and hate at the same time?
She held up her hand to catch a snow flake, but the effort exhausted her.
Her island rode low in the water now, and she was surprised that her legs were dangling off the edge. Funny. Her feet were completely numb. Was that good or bad? She closed her eyes and felt the snow brush against her face, cold at first then pleasant like a blanket. A perfect blanket. It was so quiet now. Were there voices in the distance or was it just the wind? She didn’t know. She preferred the quiet.
Would Carl find her? She didn’t know or care. Everything was serene. She felt like a clock winding down. Tick tock, tick tock, tick . . .