The Last Mile

Salt Lake City, Utah, February 2002

Eric paced a back hallway in his costume and skate guards, listening to the sound of Kai’s free skate music dimly drifting through the walls. Malcolm leaned against a doorframe, watching him stretch and skip to keep his muscles warmed up.

"Stay quiet inside," Malcolm said softly.

Eric stopped pacing and glanced up at him, smiling weakly. "All the family at the hotel today… I finally realized I’m going to go out there, and have the most important skate of my life, in front of just about everybody I’ve ever known since I was born."

"So skate for them," Malcolm replied. "And enjoy yourself out there, Eric. Take it from one who’s been there: listen to your feelings."

Eric nodded, and after a hesitation, stepped forward to pull Malcolm into a hug. The coach’s surprised tension quickly melted, and he returned a light squeeze.

"I’ll be here," he whispered. Eric smiled, and together they made their way to the ice.

As Kai was coming into the kiss and cry, Eric wordlessly gave him a quick, firm handshake, then stepped onto the ice to warm up as Kai waited for his scores. Malcolm hovered by the boards, watching the scoreboard. Kai’s marks came up, impressive—not unbeatable, but daunting. Eric exchanged a significant glance with Malcolm, then glanced toward the judges and sent up a silent prayer.

"Representing the United States, Eric Scott Lansing."

His heart fluttering, Eric moved to center ice and took his bows. For a brief moment he lingered to gaze up at his family and the rest of the Wolf Creek delegation; they took up almost a quarter of a section, banners and all.

In the lutz corner a section away from them, Kay sat alone. Eric could almost feel her intense focus on him from where he stood. The fluttering in his gut increased, and he looked away, taking up his opening pose—the one Hiroshi teasingly called his "arrow-shooting" position.

This is it…

Then his music to Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves began, and everything but the ice faded away.

Four and a half minutes later, it was over. Brimming with emotion, he gazed around himself at the waving American flags in the stands, and felt a shiver pass through him.

In the kiss and cry, Eric dropped himself beside Malcolm and caught his breath, inwardly trembling a little. "It was… the best," he breathed, too overwhelmed to express himself any more coherently. His expression taut with emotion, Malcolm gave him a thump on the back, but said nothing.

Eric regrouped enough to give each of the flower girls a kiss on the cheek as they came over, loaded down with gifts. The handwriting on the card attached to a large stuffed eagle caught his eye; it was his sister’s. Vae victis! was all it said, and Eric had to grin at his sister’s odd, ambiguous sense of humor.

Clutching the eagle to his chest, he squinted toward the judges punching in their marks. An expectant hush had fallen over the crowd, and he felt the butterflies come flitting back. Kai must have had an amazing skate. Had Eric been as perfect as he’d felt? Even if he was, would it be enough?

He dug his nails into the upholstry of the bench, holding his breath. He was just barely aware of Malcolm’s hand on his elbow.

After a brief eternity, the marks came up.

Eric caught his breath at the technical merit, as Malcolm’s grip tightened. He jerked to his feet as the presentation marks flashed onto the screen—and before he could even get a glimpse of the ordinals, he was almost literally tackled by his coach. The next moment he was on his knees, alternately being pounded on the back and hugged close by Malcolm Redgrave.

The cheers from the audience weren’t quite enough to drown out his thundering heartbeat. But—as if Malcolm’s unprecedented display hadn’t already done so—they told him all he needed to know about his placement.

Letting out a wordless shout, he pumped his fists, then pried himself away to squeeze Malcolm’s wrists—if only because he was in danger of being bruised by his coach’s excitement. Malcolm took a deep breath and raised a hand to his face, brushing away tears. Eric remained dry-eyed, but he was shaking, breathlessly laughing, and fit to burst as he stumbled to his feet, then helped Malcolm up from the floor.

Ryan, the last to skate, followed Eric—and he wasn’t without a surprise to offer. Turning in one of the best skates of his life, he placed second in the free skate to take the bronze. Dazed with joy, Eric watched from the sidelines as Malcolm nearly broke down again in the kiss and cry, sitting with his second Olympic medalist.

The medal ceremony came about with disconcerting swiftness, while emotions were still running high. First Ryan, then Kai, went out to take their places on the podium; then Eric followed. He gave a quick hug to both his fellow medalists before climbing to the top step on shaking legs, and applauded as they were awarded their medals.

At last the gold was hung around his own neck, heavy and solid and unbelievably real. He touched it, reverently running his fingers over it, then tore his eyes away to watch two American flags go up above the podium.

Only then did the tears begin to well up in his eyes.

© 2002 Jordanna Morgan