Good Shepherds

Ambrose, Minnesota, January 2003

The day after Alexander Chevalier arrived in Ambrose with his family, Malcolm Redgrave called him to the rink for the first time.

Alex was all eyes throughout the tour Malcolm gave him; funded to suit its prestige, the Ambrose Skating Club was larger and more advanced in its facilities than anyplace he could have dreamed of coaching at in England. Malcolm had to walk even more slowly than usual—allowing not only for Alex’s limp, but the fact that he was constantly stopping to stare about him in wonderment.

"This place is magnificent," Alex breathed, as they reached the doors of the main rink. "You’ve done an even more incredible job than I expected."

Malcolm shook his head humbly. "I only manage the talent, Alex, not the trappings. I don’t think half the skaters here are even aware of the workforce that takes care of this place."

"But you are."

"Well, that’s my job."

Alex smiled. "And mine too, now. I want to know everything."

He had such a heart for their work—a passion which Malcolm understood. Returning the smile warmly, he gestured to the doors before them, and together they stepped into the rink.

There were several skaters on the ice. Malcolm stepped forward to lean against the boards, watching them, and after a moment was aware of Alex’s comfortable presence at his right hand. Turning, he found that his new assistant was still goggling at the sheer size of the ice surface.

"I felt the same way at first," Malcolm recalled. "It’s home now. It will be for you too, eventually."

"Seems too much to dream of," Alex replied, in an awestruck tone. "Coaching in this rink—your rink, Mal—on the same ice that’s made Olympic champions."

"It’s still only water when it melts," Malcolm said with a wry grin. He pointed across the ice. "You remember Simon Westbrook, I’m sure?"

"I certainly couldn’t forget the new British champion." Alex watched the young skater performing a mind-bendingly flexible series of spin positions. "He’s already done more in his career than I ever did."

"He needs help, Alex. And I think you’re specially suited to provide it."

Frowning in puzzlement, Alex turned. "What do you mean? Seems to me he’s doing well."

"Not as well as I know he could, if his heart were really in it. I’ve helped him improve technically, but there’s something of the soul missing out of his programs. The personality." Malcolm let out a breath between his teeth, drumming his fingers on the boards. "I think he’s afraid to enjoy skating, because his father severely disapproved of it."

"That just might do it," Alex agreed, with a grim smile. "So you think he’d open up a little if I could get him to have some fun. Is that it?"

"Well, you are known for that. Besides, you have interests in common—Simon is musically inclined, you know. He’s an excellent pianist."

Alex spread his hands. "You’re the boss. As your assistant, if you want me to give him special attention, I’ll be glad to."

"Good." Malcolm smiled at Alex, then turned his gaze toward the doors as another of his students strode into the rink, with her usual somewhat put-out expression.

Alex followed his gaze. "My good lord, who is the amazon?"

Malcolm chuckled. "Hannah Zahavi. Former Israeli champion, now professional. One of mine."

"She’s taller than I am."

"Don’t be intimidated. Hannah can be a bit… temperamental… but she’s basically harmless. She and I have an understanding." Malcolm leaned his elbows on the boards, gazing from one end of the rink to the other with sudden wistfulness.

"You look as if you’d misplaced something, and can’t quite think where it’s gotten off to."

"Oh." Malcolm straightened, smiling sadly. "Only Eric Lansing. He’s visiting with his family until the end of the month. The rink never feels quite right when he’s not here—he came with me to Ambrose, remember. To me, he’s as much a part of this place as…" He trailed off abruptly.

"As you are," Alex finished for him.

Malcolm frowned and hunched his shoulders. "Well."

Alex chuckled. "Oh, Mal, don’t be embarrassed. I like to see those long and steadfast relationships between student and coach, like you had with Andre, or Eric has with you. I hope to have one like that myself one of these days. Lord knows I never settled for very long with any of my coaches."

"Maybe I’ve been too comfortable with Eric for too long." Malcolm sighed and shifted his weight, staring down at a rut in the ice at the foot of the boards. "It’s only… Have you ever wanted a son, Alex?"

The man who had raised three girls quirked his lips. "Well, I may be biased… but I prefer those fluttery little things that kiss me on the cheek, tell me they love me, and cook extravagant dinners. I believe they’re called daughters."

Malcolm smiled at the former ladies’ man turned devoted father, but the expression faded. He gazed down at his hands, picking restlessly at the seams of his gloves.

"There was a time, Alex, when I wanted very deeply… I wished more than anything that, before Margaret had died…"

His voice caught, and with a flash of embarrassment he swallowed hard, feeling Alex’s hand come to rest on his shoulder. Lifting his eyes, he stared straight ahead and continued.

"Then Eric came into my life… and saved my life. And many years ago, I realized that my feeling had changed—that I was glad I’d never had a son. Because no boy I could have raised would ever have been Eric’s equal."

The two coaches stood in silence for what felt like a long time, as Malcolm closed his eyes and tried to calm the pounding of his heart—so unused to such a naked admission of his feelings. Other men from his past, good men and very dear to him, had seen him deliriously in love and mad with grief; but even to them, he had never before exposed the wound which Eric had healed.

Alex’s hand fell away from his arm. The younger man clasped his hands on the top of the boards, looking out across the ice.

"How old was Eric when you began to work with him, Mal?"

"What? Oh…" Malcolm guardedly turned, clearing his throat. "He was ten years old."

"And when you took him into your house, after you came here?"

"Twelve." Malcolm shot Alex a reproving glance. "I know what you’re thinking of suggesting, Alex, but it isn’t so. It’s entirely due to his parents that Eric was so fine a boy. He was from the day I met him."

"Oh, I’ve no doubt of that." Alex leaned back, smiling thoughtfully.

"I was just wondering, Mal… who made him so fine a man."

© 2003 Jordanna Morgan