I followed, then realized that he intended for us to go onto the ice. “Whoa, wait a second,” I said. “I’ve never been ice-skating.”
“All the more reason for you to give it a try.”
“But I don’t know how.”
“You’ve roller-skated, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, when I was in third grade and had Barbie skates.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.”
I knew he wouldn’t, and that he had more than just brute strength to rely upon for keeping me upright. That still didn’t make me feel much better. “I’ll make a fool out of myself in front of all these people.”
“You won’t be the only one.” As if to prove him right, a girl fell straight onto her behind not too far from where we stood. I knew he was too nice to have done that to her just to prove a point.
“I take it you know what you’re doing on the ice.”
“Yeah, Rod and I used to play hockey when we were kids on the pond in the village park.”
“See, that’s where I’m at a disadvantage. Where I’m from it doesn’t get cold enough or stay cold long enough to freeze any body of water thoroughly enough for it to support a person’s weight, unless it’s a really freaky weather year.”
“Skating here at Christmastime is one of the most romantic things to do in the city. It shows up in movies all the time.” I had to give him that point. How many times had I watched a romantic scene of a couple on this ice rink and sighed, wishing that could be me one day? Here I was a couple of days before Christmas with an amazing guy. It was a scenario right out of a movie. Then he moved in for the final argument. “Who knows, if we’re lucky, it might even start snowing.”
I knew when I was beat, and besides, I secretly really wanted to do this. “Okay, but if I break my leg, you’re carrying me up and down the stairs to my apartment.”
“Deal.” He paid the admission and skate rental, then we took our skates to a bench to put them on and stowed our shoes in a locker. I felt wobbly getting to the rink, so I could only dread how bad it would be when I stepped onto the ice. Ice was slippery and cold, and that wasn’t a great combination in my book.
True to his word, Owen kept an arm tight around my waist as he eased me onto the ice. I was glad he didn’t feel the need to show off, but he did seem good enough at what he was doing to keep his balance and support me at the same time.
I was sure I looked a lot like a newborn foal whose legs aren’t quite steady and tend to try to move in different directions, but I didn’t feel like I was going to fall. Soon I felt confident enough to let myself glide a little, and before long I was actually enjoying myself. A lot of that was probably because of Owen’s arm tight around my waist and the way he smiled patiently down at me.
After a full lap around the rink, he eased up on the death grip around my waist, keeping his arm there but not squeezing quite so hard. I was finally able to notice my surroundings—the trees in the park, the tall buildings overlooking us, the other skaters. Christmas music played on the sound system. All we needed to make it perfect was a little snow.
No sooner had I thought it than a scattering of light flakes began to fall. I laughed out loud. “Okay, you’re right, this is perfect.”
“Isn’t it, though?” he said mildly, a glint in his eye.
“You’re doing this, aren’t you?”
He tried to look innocent and failed. “Maybe. But look how much everyone is enjoying it.” He was right. The kids were squealing in delight and the adults were all beaming.
“Thank you,” I whispered, smiling up at him. And then I was suddenly falling into something very wet and cold.
I wasn’t surprised to be falling; I’d actually been anticipating a big fall from before the moment I stepped onto the ice. However, I’d expected the ice to be cold and hard. Instead, I was cold and wet, all the way up to my shoulders. If I hadn’t known better, I’d have thought I’d fallen through the ice on that frozen pond Owen had mentioned. The only thing keeping me from going under entirely was Owen’s firm grasp on my arm.
“Katie!” he yelled. I blinked to see him stretched out on the ice, facedown, as he tried to get his free arm under my shoulders. I vaguely recalled having read somewhere that when you were on cracking ice, you should lie down to spread out your body weight. I wondered if he was doing that instinctively. But then I remembered that this rink was on top of a cement slab, and the ice couldn’t have been more than a few inches thick, even if I couldn’t seem to feel the bottom of whatever I’d fallen into.