Today the Blog Tour for All Laced Up by Erin Fletcher is visiting my blog! Those who follow my blog know I already did a Release Day Celebration post, and today I bring to you a guest post (I had 2 which-the-author-would-like-better-questions, both related to the book of course). I also have some information on the book (duh), a giveaway, and an excerpt to this book! I hope you enjoy all of them!
Tough choice, but I’m going to have to go with ice skating! I was a figure skater most of my life, and was even on my university’s synchronized skating team. (Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it’s just like synchronized swimming, but the water is frozen!) I loved learning new jumps, creating new programs, and wearing pretty skating dresses. I was around hockey players a lot, so hockey was a part of my life (and I love hockey boys), but figure skating had my heart!
Social media is such a blessing! I participate in #5amwritersclub on Twitter, which is a supportive community of early-bird writers. I’m not sure how I would finish writing books without them! I also met one of my best friends through social media! She’s a fellow writer whom I talked with for a while on Twitter before we realized that we live not only in the same state, but in the same city! Now, we get together for coffee often, have been to NYC together twice, and sometimes act like members of each other’s families! Without social media, our paths probably would not have crossed. I also love social media because it’s a great way to find book recommendations, information, and cat videos. (Because cat videos are when the internet is at its best.)
Thanks so much Erin Fletcher for the guest post, and indeed cat videos are the best!
Now time for some book and author information + an excerpt + a giveaway. (Be sure to join!)
I had taught young skaters before, but somehow I didn’t think “Zamboni avoidance” was covered in basic skills class.
I skated toward the hulking machine that should have been re-surfacing the rough ice. Instead, it sat in the middle of the rink with its ancient hood hanging open, innards revealed.
“Mr. Kozlov?” I called, my voice echoing through the cold air of the empty rink.
“The Lia Bailey?” a voice called back from somewhere near the engine.
The Lia Bailey. He always preceded my name with the specifying article. Like I was someone. “It’s me. What’s going on?”
Mr. Kozlov’s head and shoulders popped up behind the exposed engine. As usual, his white hair stood in seventeen different directions. Something black—grease, maybe?—covered his left temple, next to his bushy white eyebrows and kind blue eyes. “Old Bessie. She’s sick.”
Each Zamboni at The Ice House was named after a large animal, real or otherwise: Bessie, Shamu, Dumbo. I could never keep them straight, but Mr. Kozlov always did. “How bad is it?” I asked.
He disappeared back under the hood with some clanking sounds. “Don’t know. Try to start her.”
I carefully pulled myself up onto the machine using elbows and knees so I didn’t have to step on anything with my exposed skate blades. I put one hand on the key in the ignition. “Now?”
I turned the key, but all I received in response were some slow, mechanical grunts. Nothing about the grunts sounded encouraging.
Mr. Kozlov’s head appeared again, the frown on his face accentuating his wrinkles.
“Maybe you should call someone to come look at it,” I said.
He waved off the idea as if it were preposterous. “Takes too much money.”
“But you’ll have money after this workshop, right? That’s the whole point?”
“Yes! And then I fix the heat in the boys’ locker room! Or the roof in rink two, you know, where we put buckets every time it rains? Or maybe the scoreboard in rink three!” He laughs. “They complain the visiting team’s score is eight. Always eight. I tell them eight is a good score in hockey, no?”
I was starting to think this ten-week workshop he’d asked me to teach needed to be more like ten years to pay for everything that needed to be fixed. When he’d mentioned the idea for the workshop, I’d volunteered right away. I’d do whatever it took to save the rink that was as much my home as my house. “What are we going to do about the kids? Is either one of the other rinks free at ten?”
“Hockey in both,” came the muffled reply along with more clanking.
That was a good sign. The ice arena needed to stay busy on Saturday mornings during hockey season to keep the place afloat. But it didn’t help my current predicament. I was about to have a bunch of tiny new skaters on the ice who presumably wouldn’t be able to steer around Bessie or stop before crashing into her. If Mr. Kozlov couldn’t afford a scoreboard, he definitely couldn’t afford a lawsuit.
“Don’t you worry,” Mr. Kozlov said, “Bessie will be fixed before kids arrive.”
Thankfully, he sounded more confident than I felt. “How many kids are you expecting?”
There was no way I heard that right. The last time we talked about the workshop, there were five kids registered with the possibility of a sixth. “I’m sorry, how many?”
“Twenty-two little skate cadets,” he confirmed, like it was no big deal. “Try the engine again, please.”
I didn’t move, frozen in place by the impossibility of single-handedly pointing forty-four skates in the right direction and wiping twenty-two runny noses. “I thought you said there were going to be six!”
He just laughed. “The Lia Bailey! Turn the key, please.”
Reluctantly, I did as I was told. From the sound of it, Bessie was just as reluctant as I was.
Mr. Kozlov popped his head back out for a second. “Don’t you worry. Not twenty-two by yourself. You have a co-teacher.”
It never failed to amaze me that Mr. Kozlov could memorize rink schedules and the past hundred years of hockey history, but couldn’t remember to tell me things like the fact that I had a co-teacher for the workshop I thought I was teaching on my own. “Who’s teaching with me?”
“Ah-ha!” Mr. Kozlov sounded thrilled about whatever he’d just discovered under Bessie’s hood. “Problem fixed. Try her again.”
“Who am I teaching with? Mackenzie?” Mackenzie and I weren’t close friends—we didn’t have many classes together and only occasionally saw each other at the rink—but it might be fun teaching with her. If nothing else, she could handle eleven of the kids.
Mr. Kozlov slammed Bessie’s hood shut with a confidence that suggested whatever he’d done had solved the problem. “Mackenzie’s skates aren’t dull enough,” he said, as if that were an explanation. “Not Mackenzie. Start Bessie’s engine!” When I didn’t do as he asked, he shooed me off the seat, back onto the ice where I came from. “Your co-teacher is Pierce,” he said. Then he started Bessie’s engine, letting out an enthusiastic whoop as she purred to life.
I blanched. Pierce. There was only one Pierce I knew. It couldn’t be him. Under no circumstances could I spend the next ten weeks teaching with the Pierce I knew. “Wait, Pierce? Pierce Miller?” I asked, but Bessie’s engine was too loud, and Mr. Kozlov was already halfway down the rink, occasionally checking the ice behind him to make sure it was smooth.
I struggled to remember the last time I’d been forced to interact with Pierce Miller. Since he advanced from Troy Preparatory Academy’s hockey team to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, I’d seen a lot less of him. Less at the rink because his new team practiced at an ice arena in Plymouth, a few cities over, and less at school because of his travel schedule with the team.
And when I did see him? Pierce was very good at not giving me the time of day.
The last interaction I had with him was at the rink shortly after he’d secured his place on the NTDP team. A gaggle of hockey players and their parents had stuck around after Pierce’s practice to get his autograph. Everyone in the city of Troy knew Pierce was going to be The Next Big Thing in hockey and teenage athlete celebrities. But when I walked into the rink for my practice while his crowd of adoring fans was walking out, Pierce must have thought I had been left behind.
“Oh, I missed one?” he asked, Sharpie still in hand. He grabbed my water bottle, signed a signature too perfect to be anything other than practiced, and handed it back. When he smiled at me, he somehow managed to do it without even looking at me. “Gotta run,” he said, “but thanks for the support!”
No acknowledgment that we’d shared the same ice rink for most of our lives. No recognition that we’d had two classes together freshman year. No noticing that I might be headed to practice of my own and just wanted something to drink.
I’d tossed the water bottle in the trash and spent my practice annoyed and thirsty.
After that, I did my best to stay away from Pierce, even if ignoring him completely was impossible. It wasn’t enough that he was popular at school and the local ice arenas, but a few news outlets had grabbed hold of his YouTube channel, mostly his greatest hockey hits and the video equivalent of selfies, and turned him into a web celeb. A few professional teams were already showing interest in him. A model-perfect guy with endless charm and enough talent to attract the scouts could rule the world. Or at least his corner of the world, which was unfortunate, because it was a corner of the world I was apparently destined to share.
As Mr. Kozlov finished the final pass over the ice, I skated over to the Zamboni bay. “You didn’t mean Pierce Miller, did you?” I asked as soon as he cut off the engine.
Mr. Kozlov started shoveling away the small pile of ice the machine left behind. “Yes! Champion figure skater, champion hockey player, perfect team to teach future Olympians.”
Oh no. “You marketed it that way, didn’t you? That’s how you got the numbers from five to twenty-two?”
Mr. Kozlov set the shovel aside and smiled at me. He had definitely taken a puck or two to the nose when he was younger, if the curvature was any indication. But his smile was straight and wide. “Perhaps.” He started closing the Zamboni bay doors.
“I’m not a figure-skating champion.”
“Local champion. Regional champion. Champion.”
Mr. Kozlov closed the other door and started walking around the outside of the ice. I followed along, letting my skates slide effortlessly across the smooth surface. I raised my voice a little so he could hear me over the rink’s half wall. “Not at senior level. Not at nationals. Not a champion that counts.”
Mr. Kozlov stopped walking, reached over, and pointed at me, pressing one finger hard enough against the glass to turn his finger completely white. “The Lia Bailey, you count. Senior or national or not. You count.”
My cheeks warmed. He believed in me more than I believed in myself. Mr. Kozlov continued walking, and I glanced up at the clock on the scoreboard. Several of the tiny round bulbs were burned out, but it was clearly nine forty-five. Fifteen minutes before the workshop was scheduled to start. I reached the rink’s exit and slipped on my blade guards before stepping off the ice. “Can’t I just teach the workshop by myself?”
Mr. Kozlov handed me a clipboard with some papers and a pen. “What is wrong with Pierce Miller?”
I bit back the “he’s an arrogant jerk who will be a terrible influence on anyone under the age of ten” response that wanted to roll off my tongue. “Nothing. I just think I could do a better job on my own.”
An abandoned water bottle lay on one of the benches near the bleachers. Mr. Kozlov deposited it in the garbage can. “He is best hockey player at this rink. Best to teach kids’ hockey.”
“I know,” I said, because it was true. Pierce was the best candidate. But that still didn’t mean I wanted to teach with him. “It’s just that he…he’s not…”
“Ah,” Mr. Kozlov said. “You don’t like him.”
If I said yes, I would sound immature, like I was in first grade and Pierce had cooties. I wasn’t altogether sure that he didn’t have cooties, but I shook my head. “I just don’t know how well he’s going to do with kids.” The smooth cover was also true. Mr. Kozlov would have to listen to that.
Instead, he patted my shoulder. “Pierce will be fine. Give him a chance.”
I glanced up at the clock again. There was a chance he wouldn’t even show up. That would be like him. But as appealing as that possibility was, I’d have to handle all twenty-two kids on my own. My knees wobbled at the thought.
When the doors to the arena lobby swung open to reveal a tiny girl with her mom carrying the world’s tiniest, most adorable figure skates, I clutched my clipboard.
Never in a million years did I think I’d say it, but I needed Pierce Miller.
Even though it was cold in the rink, sweat was beading on the back of my neck. Pierce hadn’t shown up, but all twenty-two of the kids had. Twenty-one of them were currently lined up against the wall, waiting for the workshop to start. However, I couldn’t get started because the twenty-second child, a tiny five-year-old named Olivia, would not stop crying.
Olivia had weak ankles and seemingly zero balance. She’d fallen the second her blades hit the ice. She fell again while trying to get up. She fell while holding onto the wall. She fell while moving. She fell while standing still.
And each time she fell, she cried a little harder.
Now, I was holding Olivia up on the ice on her wobbly ankles and trying to soothe her. The little girl wasn’t injured, just frustrated. If I let her get off the ice now, chances were good she’d never step back onto it again. If the tears would stop for just a few minutes, I would be able to help get her feet under her and we could go from there. But either one of those tasks would take individual attention I didn’t have time to give.
“Olivia, please stop crying and I’ll help you, okay? I’m not going to let go until you’re ready, but you have to stop crying so I can talk to the other kids.”
Apparently Olivia interpreted this to mean “scream at the top of your lungs.” I was about to resort to bribery in the form of candy from the snack bar when another skater hopped on the ice from the far door. I glanced up and relief flooded my limbs.
Pierce was here after all.
“Sorry I’m late.” He skated over and came to a hockey stop just a foot or two away from me, sending a spray of ice shavings everywhere. All over me. All over Olivia. All over the closest four or five kids on the wall. He brushed a few of them off, seemingly unsure of what to do with his hands when he got to me. “Er…sorry.”
“Whoa,” one of the older kids said. “I want to learn how to do that.”
Olivia stopped crying. Twenty-one jaws dropped open, but mine wasn’t one of them. No, I was too busy gawking. You’d think I’d never seen him before, but whoa. Pierce was hot. Possibly hotter than the last time I’d seen him. Tall with light brown hair and a body that showed just how much he worked out. Hazel eyes with more green than brown. Something about his jaw made him seem older than he actually was.
But then he had to use that jaw to open his mouth.
“It’s Mia, right?”
Four years at the same school and the same rink and he could only get 66 percent of the letters in my name correct? “Lia. With an L.”
Olivia started whimpering, so I hushed her in what I hoped was a soothing way.
“Lia,” Pierce echoed. He didn’t bother introducing himself, as if everyone knew who he was. Which they did, but still.
“You’re Pierce Miller,” said one of the older boys who was wearing a hockey helmet way too big for his head. “My dad says you’re going to play for the Red Wings.”
Pierce turned toward the row of young skaters, as if noticing them for the first time. “I hope so, little man.”
“I saw you on YouTube!” one of the girls said. Though her outfit was predominately pink, she was wearing a tiny pair of hockey skates.
I was so distracted by the kids’ hero-worship that Olivia slipped out of my grasp, fell, and started crying again.
“I’m sorry, Olivia,” I said as I picked the little girl up and struggled to set her on her skate blades again. The muscles in my back were starting to protest being stooped over for so long.
“I want to skate!” one of the kids said.
“Yeah,” another echoed.
The start of a riot. Crap. Like it or not, I was going to have to ask Pierce for help. “Look, you can either take her,” I said, nodding to Olivia, “or—”
Before I could finish the other option, Pierce scooped Olivia up and settled her against his hip, her skates hanging down toward his knees. Instantly, her tears stopped.
“Olivia, is it?” Pierce asked. “‘Atta girl. You’re okay.”
That wasn’t what I had wanted him to do. Picking her up was just as bad as taking her off the ice. Now he wouldn’t be able to put her down, and when he did, she’d just fall or start crying again. But there was nothing I could do about that now, and I had the rest of the kids to worry about.
“Okay, everyone. I want you to let go of the wall and step out in front of you, just like you’re walking,” I said. One of the kids fell and knocked two others down, but the rest stayed on their feet. “Good job, guys! Now pick up your feet, one at a time.”
The kids went back and forth across the rink like that, sometimes falling, always crashing into the hockey boards both because they didn’t know how to stop and because it was hilarious enough to cause a fit of laughter every single time. Once they mastered walking, they started pushing off with each foot and gliding, picking up a little speed. I grabbed push bars for the few kids who fell the most, but the others seemed okay.
Every once in a while, I glanced over at Pierce and Olivia. He carried her in his arms for a few minutes, and then put her back down on the ice with his hands supporting her under her armpits. Surprisingly, there were no tears. He skated around the rink with her like that for a while. I got distracted while trying to teach the kids forward swizzles, and the next time I looked over, Olivia was on her own; still weak-ankled and wobbly, but not falling. Even better, she was smiling.
Not that Pierce would have noticed. Now that his hands were free, his phone was out of his pocket, and he was frantically typing something with his thumbs. He was smiling, too.
Texting a girl, maybe?
“Straight to the Olympics with this one,” he said without looking up from his phone as they skated by me and the rest of the group.
“I want to go to the Olympics!” one of the little girls yelled right before falling on her butt.
“Me too,” another girl said before tripping over the first.
“Okay, okay.” I helped both of them back to their feet. “Swizzles first. Olympics second.” And apparently not at all if Pierce was their teacher. But I kept that comment to myself. I glanced up at the clock on the scoreboard. Not nearly enough time had passed. I was already more exhausted than if I’d run a long program full-out four times in a row.
It was going to be a long ten weeks.