Jack leaned against the plexiglass, his breath fogging the surface. Langwidere floated across the rink, twirling and then leaping flawless and ethereal into the air. His breath caught in his throat. She descended, landing perfectly on the ice. Sprinklings of ice shimmered around her like stardust.
He exhaled, grinning. She was amazing. The most graceful skater he'd ever seen. No wonder so many of the younger kids idolized her.
"Did you ask her out yet?"
Jack screamed, the high-pitched sound echoing. Tip broke into giggles beside him. Langwidere continued gliding across the ice.
"Tip! What—" as if screaming like a soprano weren't enough, his voice cracked, "what're you doing here?!"
Tip didn't answer, looking behind him. He followed her gaze and his face burned. Langwidere stood in the middle of the rink, eyes boring into his. Then, she snickered and resumed skating.
"Thanks a lot," he grumbled, shooting Tip a sideways glare.
"You're welcome," said Tip, nonplussed. She flicked some lint off her pants, "So Nick's van is trash."
Jack scoffed, "Yeah? What else is new?"
"We have a gig tonight at The FreeLands Club."
Jack's eyes went round. He dropped his head in his hands. "Fantastic," he muttered.
"Dorothy is going to come with Lucas later on...but d'you think we can ask Langwidere to drive the rest of us?"
He turned back to watch Langwidere start another routine. "I don't want her to feel like we're using her like a tour bus."
"She has a van not a bus," Tip quipped, digging at her fingernails.
He narrowed his eyes, saying nothing. She snorted.
"Calm down, we're not using your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend," he hissed so fast he wasn't sure she heard him. If she did, she gave no indication.
"You two finally are finally talking after years of you gawking at her from afar— " she dodged his elbow, "—she seems to like you well enough."
His jaw dropped. "You're always calling her a prissy princess."
"That doesn't mean I don't like her…I just think she's strange—"
"She's interesting strange!" Jack declared sitting up straighter. Tip snickered.
"Yeah, yeah, so you've been telling me," Tip stood, ready to leave, "Ask her about our band problem."
"Alright," Jack replied, watching her go. He sighed, turning back to the rink. He didn't know how he was going to ask—Wait.
Langwidere was nowhere in sight. Did she already leave? How could he not have seen her? He grabbed his things, getting ready to jog to the exit. Maybe he could catch her in the car park—
A firm hand gripped his shoulder. Alarm shot through him.
Jack managed not to scream, jumping back instead. He collided with a bench, hearing a laugh from behind him. It was Langwidere, looking amused and pleased with herself. He flushed.
"I should have known. How long were you hiding there?"
"Long enough," she deadpanned, holding onto him for support. "I can drive you and your friends to the FreeLands Club."
"You have good ears," he said with a nervous laugh. Langwidere's hand slid to his wrist. The sound died in his throat. He thought his head might explode.
"Not really, sounds just carry well in here."
"R-right. I'll tell the others to get their equipment ready—t-thank you." He turned to leave but Langwidere held on to him.
"Wait," she sounded unusually shy, "Do you have anything planned this weekend?"
"Oh," Jack rubbed his chin, his heart beating fast. "I was thinking of going to the festival. A band I like is going to perform there."
"Oh?" Langwidere tilted her head, a twinkle in her blue eyes. His stomach did a little flip. She stepped closer and he was suddenly aware of the additional height her skates gave her. He had to crane his neck to look at her properly.
"Will you need a ride?" A glitter of childlike eagerness came over her features. He couldn't help but smile.
"Erm, Nick said he'd drop me off before he goes to work."
"Really?" Her grip on his hand tightened. "His…. 'vehicle' is always breaking down—it isn't safe—" she pulled him nearer, her breath coming against his face. "I'll drive you! I've never liked you riding in that death trap anyway."
"Oh," Jack blinked up at her, "Okay. Did you want to stay at the festival with me too?"
Langwidere smiled widened, "Then it's a date!" She leaned down and kissed his cheek. "Wait here while I change."
Jack nodded, not budging a single millimeter. He watched her disappear to the changing rooms with a huge, goofy grin on his face. He held his hand to his cheek, still warm and tingly from her kiss.
Dorothy blew her bangs out of her eyes flinging her locker open. "I can't wait to get out of here."
"Rough day?" A gruff voice asked. She let out a sigh, her shoulders relaxing. She turned around to face Lucas with a soft smile.
"She wouldn't be having a bad day if she would pay attention in class," answered Ms. Liene, her Gillikin Language teacher, coolly.
Dorothy froze in place, her relief vanishing. She forced a polite smile and faced her teacher. With pale blonde hair pulled back in austere bun, Ms. Liene looked as if she were cut from ice. She peered down at Dorothy with a cold sneer, as if daring her to talk back.
"Yes, ma'am," Dorothy said stiffly.
The older woman huffed and swept out of sight.
Once her formidable silhouette disappeared down the hall, Dorothy growled. She took a few books out of her locker and slammed it shut.
"She's so…" she gestured angrily. Lucas pulled her into his side, kissing her temple. "—infuriating!"
"Glinda's not that bad, I have her for history—"
"Glinda," she said bitterly, flashing him a look, "likes you. She hates me."
He squinted down at her. "I think you're reading too much into this."
She scoffed. How could he not see it?
"We should do something today," he said quickly, kneading his fingers into her shoulder. She sunk into his side, letting him lead her down the hall.
"Like finding a way to make Glinda disappear?"
Lucas barked a laugh, "That's not going to happen. How 'bout we go to a baseball game?"
Dorothy gave him a playful nudge, "I thought you didn't like baseball."
"You like it," Lucas said, shrugging, "and it's growing on me."
She laughed as they walked out of school, "Okay. But remember, I have a gig later."
"I know," He pulled her into a quick kiss. Moments later she pulled away, giddy. The day was turning up. "Wouldn't forget something like that."
She laughed, pressing another kiss to his cheek. They meandered through throngs of lingering students and staff, Lucas trying to impress her with baseball figures and trivia. They were all wildly inaccurate—but he looked so proud! She almost didn't have the heart to correct him. Almost. He didn't seem to mind.
They came upon Tip, Nick, and Jack loading their equipment into a bright blue van parked next to the Gump. Langwidere Evna stood off to the side, watching them work. Her eyes lingered on Jack.
Dorothy exchanged a look with Tip, nodding at the van. Tip glanced pointedly at the Gump and rolled her eyes.
"Broke down again, has it?" whispered Lucas.
"He's just having a rough day!" Nick crouched beside his beloved (and unreliable van), patting it and murmuring soothingly.
"That thing is a safety hazard. You'll end up in hospital if you continue using it." Langwidere said looking at the Gump with disdain. "Or dead."
"Don't listen to her, buddy," Nick whispered to the old van as if it were a small child. "You're the best there is!"
Lucas choked a laugh, hiding his face in Dorothy's hair. "Too bad you'll be riding in the Crow-wagon instead." His laughter rumbled against her head.
Dorothy snorted and patted his chest. Nick shot them a dirty look as if he heard them.
"Okay Scarecrow, let's get going. I'll see you guys later."
"See ya," said Tip said Jack, Nick, and even Langwidere waved as Lucas took her hand and led her to the newly christened "Crow-wagon."
They cut through the lawn to the parking lot. And then across another. And another.
"Why do you always park so far away?" Dorothy asked, dragging her feet.
"It's closer to the exit. Easier to get out," said Lucas. He looked down at her, "want me to carry you the rest of the way?"
"No thanks." She lengthened her strides to match his. Lucas started taking longer strides, easily outpacing her. Dorothy shoved him and they raced to his car, laughing.
The day had its ups and downs, mostly downs, if she were honest. But the promise of home runs and playing before a sold-out audience filled her with hope.