Ambrose, Minnesota, November 2003
It was a Sunday, and Eric Lansing had taken the day off from practice to spend at home with his wife—or at least, that had been the plan. At about noon his second cousin Jamie Bowen had decided to play hooky as well, and turned up on their doorstep, hoping to commandeer their game room for a few hours.
At dusk, he was still there.
Eric had noticed that Jamie had been restless and bored for the last several days, and he thought he knew why. Jamie’s Grand Prix competitions were over and done with, while his training partner and very obvious crush, Haley Bryson, was away for two weeks to compete in China and France. Eric wasn’t sure how much time the two youngsters had spent together outside the rink, but he did know Jamie was always hovering around the slightly older girl at practice.
After a pleasant half-hour of helping Becky in the kitchen, Eric went down the hall to tell Jamie that dinner was ready, since they had made enough for him as well—no mean task, considering he ate as much as both of them put together. Eric stretched languidly as he sidled down the hall to the darkened gameroom, and on reaching the door, he tilted his head around the jamb to peek in.
The TV was on, tuned to some animé-style cartoon, but the sound was turned down, and Jamie was not immediately visible. Arching an eyebrow, Eric stepped into the room and leaned over the back of the couch. Jamie was sprawled listlessly on it, remote control in hand, apparently lost in a brown study.
"Miss your girlfriend?" Eric asked with a grin.
Not surprisingly, he succeeded in startling Jamie, who shot bolt upright on the couch and looked around. Seeing his relative, he let out a small sigh and rolled his eyes.
"Haley’s not my girlfriend. I just… like her a lot."
Eric’s grin broadened. "If you knew who I was talking about without my having to mention her name, I’m pretty sure she’s your girlfriend." He swung himself over the back of the couch and plopped down beside Jamie on the overstuffed cushions, but his smile faded slightly as he saw the troubled look on the face of the teenager. "What’s wrong?"
"I dunno." Jamie folded his arms and shrugged. "It’s just… complicated."
Implicitly Eric knew what Jamie meant. Oh, he knew… better than anyone.
"Yeah, it is. When you need the kind of focus we do, it’s hard having someone on your mind so much—at least, when you’re not sure how it’s all going to end up."
"I guess." Jamie’s restless hands found a throw pillow, and he pulled it onto his lap, picking absently at a loose seam. "I just…"
Eric sensed Jamie’s hesitation, and leaned down to search his cousin’s downcast eyes. "Just what?"
Jamie hugged the pillow to his chest. "Nothin’. Doesn’t matter."
"It does to me," Eric replied. "Come on. What?"
With a sigh, Jamie looked up at Eric. "It’s just, her being my training partner and everything. I mean…" He hesitated. "I don’t want it to turn out… like you and Kay."
Mildly astounded, Eric stared back at Jamie. Then he let out a quiet, incredulous chuckle.
"Oh, Jame. What happened between Kay and I didn’t have anything to do with skating. There were a lot of things—big things you’re way too young to be worrying about." He shook his head. "I’m the last guy to be giving out romantic advice… but if you want me to, I’ll try to help you when you get around to all that stuff. In the meantime, Haley’s a girl who likes you the way you are. Just be her friend."
Jamie’s cheeks pinkened, and he ducked his head. "Uh-huh."
"Uh-huh." Eric cuffed Jamie playfully on the shoulder. "Come on. Dinner’s ready, and then we’re gonna get you packed off to your mom. It’s too cold out there for you to be out on that bike."
"I’ll be there in a few minutes." Jamie sat up straight, giving Eric an impish grin. "Anyway, I think you’ve had enough Dad practice for one day."
It was Eric’s turn to blush.
"Okay, wiseguy," he laughed. "If I’m practicing being a dad, I might as well remind you to turn off the TV and wash up, too."
The teenager grinned and stuck his tongue out at Eric, who laughed again. Then Jamie turned back to the TV to absorb the rest of his cartoon, and Eric headed for the door.
He found Rebecca outside the doorway, peeking in. She smiled at him as he stepped into the hall. "‘Dad practice’?"
Eric shrugged and grinned winsomely. "Well, I guess everything’s a learning experience. How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough," Becky laughed, putting her arms around him. "You don’t need practice. I already know you’re going to be the best dad in the world."
Feeling an entirely pleasant warmth in his heart, Eric put his arms around her and held her close. She laid her head against his shoulder for a long moment. Then she drew back slightly, gazing up at him with her deep, soft eyes.
"Eric… do you really want to keep waiting?"
Very slowly, Eric smiled, and bent his head to kiss her.
© 2003 Jordanna Morgan