Wolf Creek, Montana, September 1986

The faded picture on the writing desk gazed back enigmatically at Malcolm Redgrave.

Blonde-haired, crystal-eyed, not quite smiling, she looked like an angel with a mischievous secret. The expression, like the deep red rose in her hands, contrasted sharply with her demure lily-white dress. She stood framed beneath a trellis of ivy, the train of her long veil sweeping around her ankles like morning mist. In the warm spring sunshine, the camera had captured a brilliant starburst of light on her handóa reflection from the ring that newly adorned her finger.

The more he gazed at it, the more her playful expression seemed to taunt him. At last Malcolm pushed himself away from the desk and began to pace the floor, rubbing his hands together in restless anguish.

It had been six years to the day since those light-filled eyes were closed forever.

He should have swiftly and quietly followed. Without Margaret, there was nothing to hold him to life. Left to his own devices, self-neglect or sheer grief itself might have accomplished just thatóbut all of his well-meaning acquaintances had denied him any such release.

There was Andre Grigoriev, his coach, who despite his old age had practically acted as Malcolmís nursemaid for a month. There was Kenji Tokuda, his agent, who without a word had taken on his bills during that long midnight of depression. And there was Tom Ashdown, a former training partner and competitor; he had invested many afternoons in visiting with Malcolm, talking to him, keeping his mind active and quite simply alive.

Alive, and nothing more. Empty in heart, empty in spirit, Malcolm had finally submitted to the ordeal of everyday life which they refused to let him turn his back onóbut he had continued for no other reason than that they insisted he do so.

Six years later, things were no better.

He was a coach in America now, but the way students came and went, he couldnít have been doing a very good job of it. Only one, a shy, talented young boy named Eric Lansing, had stayed with him through his first year of coaching. There was no place he called home, even in Englandónot after the parting words his embittered sister-in-law had left him with. His life felt as bleak and directionless as ever, and he missed Margaret only more each day.

Once again he sat down at the desk, gazing at Margaretís picture from their wedding day. Slowly he picked it up, and gently laid it face-down on the scuffed wood of the desktop. Opening a drawer of the desk, he took out a small brown bottle and set it before him, regarding it with an odd mix of respect and contempt.

It had always seemed to him that sleeping pills would be the easiest way.

The telephone rang. Malcolm stared grudgingly at it before at last picking it up. "Redgrave."

The voice which answered was that of Barbara Lansing, Ericís mother. She sounded agitated. "Malcolm, Iím sorry to disturb you, but Ericóhe fell on some steps a few hours ago, and sprained his knee."

Malcolm frowned. "Is he alright?"

"Well, I think so, and the doctor says heíll be fine. But heís upset. Heís worried about his skating. I thought maybe a talk with you would settle him down."

"I see." Malcolm sighed. "Well, then, I shall be at your house in half an hour. Is that alright?"

"Oh, great. Thank you, Malcolm." Relief flooded into Barbaraís voice.

Malcolm hung up, and shaking his head, went to get his coat.

It only took him twenty minutes to reach the Lansingsí house. Barbara greeted him at the door and ushered him into the game room, where eleven-year-old Eric sat staring past the television set, his left leg propped up on a heap of pillows. It looked as if Barbara had been a bit overzealous with the bandages, wrapping it from mid-thigh almost to the ankle.

Eric started when he saw Malcolm, only to wince at the small movement.

"Steady, now. What have we here?" Malcolm sat on the edge of the couch and delicately pretended to probe Ericís leg with his fingertips. "Have another mishap on those roller skates, have we?"

"No, Sir." Eric looked chagrinned. "It was justÖ stupid. I tripped going down some steps at the store."

"A misstep happens to everyone, once in a while." Malcolm gently patted Ericís shin, then leaned back and gazed earnestly at him. "You donít have to be afraid. Itís nothing permanent."

"It just really hurts," Eric murmured. "And the doctor said Iím probably gonna miss my next competition while it heals up."

"Yes, I suppose you may." At Ericís alarmed look, Malcolm raised a hand in a calming gesture. "Now, donít fret. Itís only a small event. Someday, you might miss something more important because of an injuryóbut you must remember, thatís alright. Sometimes things happen that simply canít be helped."

A pouting expression appeared on Ericís face. "But I try to be so careful!"

"Accidents can happen no matter how careful we are, Eric. Sometimes, even someone elseís getting hurt may keep you from skating. ItísÖ itís not their fault, either. And thereís nothing to do for it butÖ to let it go, and go on with life."

Unmindful of the slight catch that had crept into Malcolmís voice, Eric gazed up at him with a childís earnest worry. "But Iím going to miss practice. What if Iím not ready for the next competition?"

"Oh, Eric," Malcolm said softly, smiling in spite of himself. "You will be, I promise you that. Once the doctor says you can skate again, weíll work on getting the strength back into that leg. Itíll be good as new in no time at all."

Eric brightened. "Then can we start working on my spread eagle again?"

Malcolm chuckled. "Of course we can. Even if you donít seem to have a knack for it now, Iím sure youíll surprise me one of these days."

His student broke into a smile. "Youíre the best, Boss. I donít know how I ever skated before I met you."

A small lump made its presence felt in Malcolmís throat, and he squeezed Ericís shoulder lightly. "Well, you rest nowÖ Weíre going to be alright."

At the doorway he encountered Ericís mother. She smiled at him, but her eyes were a little misty, and became even more so when he bent to kiss her hand. His gratitude, and the reasons for it, went unspoken.

"Iíll come to see Eric after his classes tomorrow," he said, in a clear and confident tone. "A very good evening to you, Mrs. Lansing."

He never told Eric what had almost happened that day.

© 2002 Jordanna Morgan