07 Aug 2005 02:23:59
Jennifer Lyon
"The Strong & the Sequined"--a skating serial, pt. 275

*The Strong and the Sequined*
A Skating Serial
Part 275: Saying Yes

Both Fraulein and Elsa were sitting behind Fraulein's desk when
Igor entered the office. He was in no mood for one of Fraulein's
lectures, nor did he want to look at Elsa's silent head shaking. These
past few weeks, Igor had been fighting to keep himself together. No
one else would have understood, but damn it, Yuri Groznik was the
closest thing to a father that Igor ever had. Now that Yuri was dead,
Igor kept remembering all the good times-- Yuri teaching Igor how to
drive a car, Yuri sending care packages to Igor's grandmother in
Bryansk, Yuri taking Igor to soccer games. Yes, the man was evil. Yes,
the man was abusive. And no, Igor didn't want to be like him. But
*someone* had to mourn Yuri's death, at least a little bit.
Of course, Igor had said nothing to Fraulein about any of this. He
also kept his mouth shut whenever he was around the Lyubovskys. Uncle
Vladi was distraught when Coreen broke the news about Yuri. "I should
have slit that son of a bitch's throat while I still had the chance,"
he lamented as he opened the first of many bottles of malt liquor.
(Eventually, he would progress to the harder stuff.) "But what did I
do? Nothing! I let that man carry on with his life when I should have
gone after him." Uncle Vladi had been on a bender ever since then.
"I understand," Fraulein began, glaring at Igor from across the
desk. "That Justine Auberon has asked you to be her new coach."
"Yes, we talked about it," Igor replied. His most recent
conversation with Justine took place just yesterday. Tour On Ice was
arriving in Detroit on Thursday and the skaters would be staying in
town until Sunday morning. Justine wanted to meet with Igor during
that time and perhaps do a workout on the ice together. She admitted
that she'd had some trouble at the beginning of the tour, but she
swore she'd been behaving herself lately and that she would take her
training seriously if Igor decided to coach her.
"I don't want that girl anywhere near this rink," Fraulein informed
Igor. Elsa nodded her white-blond head in agreement. "She's trouble,
and we don't need someone like her here. Especially not during an
Olympic year."
Igor was afraid something like this would happen, which was why he
hadn't said yes to Justine already. But he did want to coach her.
First of all, he could use the extra money. Second and more
importantly, Igor needed the experience. As the Olympic season
approached, he found himself thinking about Mia Oppenheimer's meltdown
and how he'd had no idea how to handle it. As a coach, Igor had fallen
off the proverbial horse at that Olympics and he absolutely had to get
back on it. Despite Justine's personal problems-- or perhaps because
of them-- Igor didn't feel weighted by too many expectations. If she
messed up, nobody would blame him. This low-pressure, low-risk
situation would be ideal for Igor to test the Olympic waters once
again. Yes, he would probably be going to the Olympics even if he
didn't coach Justine, but he would only be there as Mitzi's assistant.
That wasn't enough. Igor wanted to pilot the plane himself. Four years
from now, Au'jean would be ready for the Olympics and Igor wanted to
take her there as an experienced coach, not as a bumbling idiot who
had no idea what he was doing. He tried to explain this to Fraulein,
but she cut him off with a wave of her hand.
"You're already getting all the experience you need," she said.
"You've done the Junior Grand Prix events, you've done some regular
Grand Prix events, you've been to Nationals, you've been to Junior
Worlds, you've been to senior Worlds--"
"The senior competitions last year were with Mitzi's pairs," Igor
reminded her. "I need to do more senior ladies competitions. And I
need to do these competitions with *my* students, not other coaches'."
"You will get your chance," said Fraulein. "Au'jean will be
age-eligible for the senior Grand Prix in the fall of 2006. That's
only a year and a half away. She needs your attention, and Justine
would take away from that."
Igor disagreed. "Au'jean needs to train with a skater who will push
her to do better. Is not good for her to be the best one always." His
other students were great kids and each one was talented in his or her
own way, but Au'jean was far ahead of the rest of the pack. She was
rarely allowed on the ice with Fraulein's elite group-- Kylie Yee's
and Cindalee Gomez's mothers had made sure of that-- so Igor needed to
bring in someone new, someone who could challenge her.
"Justine will be a bad influence on Au'jean," Fraulein insisted.
"She will be a bad influence on *all* of your skaters."
"I don't think so," said Igor. "I think it's the other way around--
my kids will be good influence on Justine. And I think I can help
her."
"Help her? In what way can *you* help *her*?"
"I use to have same problems as Justine." Igor did not go into
detail, but he was thinking specifically of too much booze and too
much sex. "Not too many coaches know what is like. But I do. And I can
help."
Fraulein shook her head in disbelief. "Justine will never change."
"People use to say that about me," Igor reminded her.
Finally, it was Elsa's turn to speak. "What if Justine changes
*you*?"
"Yes," said Fraulein. "She could very well drag you back into your
old ways."
"It won't happen," Igor told them. "Look, I go over to the
Lyubovskys' all the time. Vladi and Milla are always drinking, but I
don't get drunk with them."
"But Justine is an attractive young woman who repeatedly throws
herself at every available man," said Fraulein. "Can you honestly say
you won't feel... tempted?"
"I don't sleep with my students," Igor replied. But nothing he said
could convince Fraulein and Elsa to let Justine train at the Zug
Island Skating Center.
Driving home from the rink, Igor found himself thinking of Yuri.
"Why do you let those old broads rip your d-ck to shreds like that?"
Yuri would have said. "You don't have to take their sh-t. You're
young, you live in a free country, you've had offers to coach at other
rinks. Those women are holding you back. You've got to get away from
them!"
If only it were that simple. "I can't abandon my skaters," Igor
told the ghost in his head.
"Take them with you. It's been done before."
"But their funding?" Igor quickly found the answer to his own
question. "The sponsors have spent a lot of money on my skaters. They
want to see results. If I can convince the sponsors that we'll get
better results if we move to Lahser or some other rink..."
"You can do it, Igor. Between you and Fraulein Helga, which one has
the best skaters?"
"Well right now, she does..."
"Cindalee Gomez? If they held Nationals tomorrow, Au'jean would run
that girl into the ground. And Kylie Yee? You don't think Au'jean can
beat Kylie Yee?"
"Maybe not this year, but in the long term..."
"And who does that old Austrian b-tch have coming up behind those
girls?"
"Nobody."
"That's right. Nobody. She's getting ready to retire. Sure, you'll
probably get to be the boss after she's gone. But when will that
happen? In three years? In five years? In eight years? You really want
to stick around and put up with that woman's bullsh-t every day for
the next eight years?"
"No," said Igor. "If this were one hundred percent about my career,
I would leave. But there's Heidi. What if I never see her again?"
Yuri's ghost didn't have an answer for that one. Igor decided to
drive over to the Lyubovskys'. Coreen and Milla were the only ones
home.
"We were just about to head out the door," Coreen told Igor. "I've
got to pick Alexandra up at the store and take her to her skating
lesson over at the Lahser rink. Do you want to come along?"
"Yes." Igor got into the SUV with Coreen and Milla. Milla did not
utter a word during the entire drive, but Coreen quickly started
talking about Uncle Vladi.
"I'm glad he went to work today. It's good for him to keep busy.
With Larissa coming to town... Well, it's best if we don't tell her
how Vladi's been lately." Coreen sighed at the windshield. "That girl
has no idea how hard it is for him to deal with all of this. The last
thing Vladi needs right now is her yelling at him about his drinking
or about all the things he did wrong when she was a kid. Doesn't she
realize how much he loves her?"
"I-I don't know." Igor wondered if this was what it would be like
when Heidi reached adulthood. The way things stood now, he planned to
spend as much time with her as possible, and then when she turned
eighteen he would tell her that he was her real father. But would she
hate him for that? Would she scream at him and slam doors in his face
because he didn't fight for custody when she was little? Or, if Igor
did fight for custody, would Heidi hate him for dragging her through a
lengthy court battle?
"Fraulein *is* my mother, and we were doing great!" Igor imagined
the adult Heidi yelling at him. "Why did you have to come along and
mess everything up? You ruined my whole childhood with all your
lawyers and your social workers and your judges! Why couldn't you just
leave us alone?"
Igor soon found himself pouring out his troubles to Coreen, as he
had done on many previous occasions. "Well, I don't know anything
about coaching," Coreen responded after a long pause. "But you've got
to do what's best for your career, not what's best for Fraulein's
career. If you want to coach Justine, then I think you should give it
a try."
"What about Heidi?" said Igor. "If I make Fraulein mad, I never see
her again."
"Igor," Coreen said softly. "Maybe it's time to let Heidi go. For
now at least. I mean, you *do* want to get married again someday? And
you *do* want to have children with your wife?"
"Yes. But that's someday. I am not dating anybody now." The last
girl Vladi Jr. had fixed Igor up with was so dumb that she thought
Moscow was a separate country that had broken away from Russia.
"But I thought you and Tammy Sue... You two have been getting
friendly lately."
"Kind of," Igor admitted. "But not like boyfriend and girlfriend.
We never even go out on date."
"Maybe you should ask her?"
"Maybe. When the tour is over. You think she say yes?"
"I hope so." Coreen smiled. "I've been wanting you and her to get
together for a long time now. But you've got to promise me, if things
get serious between you and her, you will tell her the truth about
Heidi."
"Yes, I will tell her-- if things get serious. I know she'll get
mad at me when I tell her."
"I'll help her work through it," Coreen reassured Igor. "And she
will. That was a long time ago when you made that mistake with Mitzi."
"Yes, very, very long time ago."
"You have to look toward the future, Igor. If you want to have a
wife and kids someday, you've got to do what's best for your career
now. And maybe in the long run, this is also what's best for Heidi.
You can put money away for her college education, or to hire lawyers
for the custody case, or whatever. You can't do much of anything for
that child as long as Fraulein is in control of everything."
"I know." Between Coreen and Yuri's ghost, Igor had gotten all the
advice he needed and he had made his decision.
He was going to coach Justine Auberon.
***********************
Britannia made sure not even one scrap of paper fell out of any of
the notebooks as she took them out of her mother's desk drawer and
stacked them exactly in the right order. For weeks, she had been
coming downstairs every night. For weeks, she had been reading her
mother's manuscript. And for weeks, Britannia's daddy had been calling
her on the phone and asking her if she was "still planning to tear up
your mother's book before it's too late".
But Britannia couldn't do it. She could not bring herself to rip
even one page. "But it's all right," she tried to reassure her daddy
when he called her from Philadelphia last week. "Mother hasn't written
anything that would make a judge taken Axel and me away from you."
Britannia went on to explain that her mother had written that even
though she had Britannia's daddy were divorced, he was "still the
father of my son and the adopted father of my daughter. I will not
reveal anything here that might embarrass my children or damage their
relationship with their father." Britannia had coped the words from
this page so she could read them aloud and prove to her daddy that he
didn't need to worry so much about the book.
"That's all?" It didn't sound as if Britannia's daddy believed her.
"She hasn't written anything else about me?"
"Not much."
Britannia was too embarrassed to say anything about the lines that
came immediately after the ones she'd read over the phone. "Let it
suffice to say that Leroy cheated on me, and I cheated on him," her
mother had written. Then she went into a bunch of painful-to-read
details about her affair with some Detroit-area athlete named
"Richard". It was horrible, how Britannia's mother had cheated on her
daddy like that. But it said in the book that Britannia's daddy had
cheated, too!
"The main problem with our marriage was that I thought I could
change Leroy," Britannia's mother had written. "But he immediately
went back to his old ways. He abandoned his plan to quit skating and
obtain a college degree. He berated me for not letting my daughter
enter any skating competitions, even though he was well aware of my
history. Skating was more important than my feelings. Skating was more
important than my daughter's health and well-being. Skating was more
important than EVERYTHING."
Still, that wasn't so bad compared to Britannia's biological
father. His drug habit was much worse than VH-1's "Behind the Music"
had made it out to be. However, Britannia's mother wasn't blameless.
She did drugs, too! At one point, she had "tried everything at least
once." But she was "strictly a recreational drug user. I was one of
the lucky ones who didn't become addicted. When I wanted to stop, I
stopped."
Yes, Britannia's mother had done it all. She flashed her boobs at
the workers at her family's country club. She smoked, drank, and took
drugs. She cheated on both of her husbands. Oh, it was awful! At
times, Britannia couldn't even look at her mother, knowing all the
things she had done.
Tonight, Britannia stumbled onto a passage about how her biological
father took off with some groupie, so her mother got even with him by
having sex with *two* members of an unnamed rival rock band, one of
whom "has since passed away."
God, was there *anything* Britannia's mother hadn't done?
To keep herself from hating her mother too much, Britannia started
rereading some of the passages that dealt with her mother's parents
and the abuse. She told herself that her mother couldn't help being
the way that she was. But still, sometimes it was hard to feel sorry
for her.
***********************
Cassandra was too excited to sleep. This was partly because of
Eliot-- they had had such a wonderful two hours together at the motel!
Things were going well at the Literacy Center, too. One of the
non-readers Cassandra had been working with had just tested at a
fourth-grade reading level. And when Cassandra arrived home and
checked her email, there was a note in her box from Sonja Wang.
Larissa had told her about Cassandra's book and Sonja was "very
interested" in doing an interview!
They would meet this weekend, the exact time depending on Sonja's
tour schedule and when Cassandra could find someone to take care of
the kids. Sonja's sole condition was that Cassandra not ask her
anything about "that time my mother and I spent in the Caribbean." It
sounded like a reasonable request, so Cassandra agreed.
Sonja Wang-- *nobody* could get an interview with her these days.
Cassandra's mind was racing a million miles a minute, thinking of all
the questions she would ask and all the topics she and Sonja would
cover. She really needed to write some of this stuff down while it was
night and the kids were asleep. In the morning, Cassandra would be too
busy chasing Alasdair around the house and trying to figure out
exactly why Britannia was in a foul mood this time.
Yes, now was the best time to get some work down. Cassandra put on
her robe and slippers and headed downstairs.
***********************
Footsteps. Britannia opened the desk drawer and tried to put the
notebooks away, but papers came spilling out onto her lap, onto the
desktop, and all over the floor. Suddenly, she felt her mother's hand
grabbing her shoulder.
"Britannia! What do you think you're doing?"

TO BE CONTINUED...
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