Chapter 23: Making It Official
The next day, Yume returned to practice, more focused and determined than ever before. Even the other girls had noticed the change in her. "You know, maybe I should try giving myself a concussion," Pilar joked after their last rehearsal of the day. "If I could skate like Yume did today, it would be totally worth it."
Yume blushed. She had yet to tell the girls the real reason why she had skated so well: Mikhail. After what had happened yesterday, the two of them had discovered a whole new dynamic to their skating. It was as if they had truly become Seraphina and Frost, the lovers in Fire and Ice, instead of just merely acting out the parts. Even Mikhail, who was normally very cold and technical when he skated, seemed to have a newfound tenderness about him.
"I wouldn't recommend it," Yume said, unlacing her skates. "Concussions are not fun, believe me. Besides, the way I skated today had nothing to do -"
"Yume, are you ready to go?"
Glancing up, Yume smiled when she saw Mikhail standing in front of her, his skate bag swung over his shoulder. "Almost," she replied. "Give me a couple more minutes. I'll meet you outside."
He nodded and left, Yume's friends turning their attention back to her as soon as Mikhail was out of earshot. "What was that about?" Clarissa asked. "Where are you two planning to go together?"
"More importantly, whatare you two planning to do together?" Pilar demanded to know, a wicked smile on her lips. "Could it possibly a date? Oh, I feel so sorry for Hiromasa. He came all this way just to get dumped in favor of a hotter, more talented guy. You really are a heart-breaker, aren't you?"
Yume sighed, still feeling awful about how things had ended between them. She had tried calling Hiromasa several times the night before, hoping to see him at least one more time before he went back to Japan in order to apologize properly, but he never picked up - not that she really blamed for ignoring her. She doubted she would want to see him either if the situations were reversed, although she hoped that one day they could go back to being friends.
"Hiromasa was never my boyfriend, Pilar," Yume reminded her. "Besides, it's not a date. Misha and I are just working on something for the show together, that's all." Which was technically true.
"That's all, huh?" Pilar arched an eyebrow, clearly not believing her in the slightest. "You sure about that?"
"I'll tell you guys everything later," Yume promised after tying the laces of her tennis shoes. "For now, Misha is waiting, so I have to go. See you!"
Leaving the girls behind to speculate amongst themselves, Yume headed outside, where she found Mikhail leaning against a tree, waiting for her. She ran over and surprised him with a lingering kiss on the lips.
"Hey, what was that for?" he asked, smiling as they pulled apart.
Yume shrugged. "Just felt like it," she said, grinning as well. Truth be told, she had been eager to kiss him all day long. It seemed every time they had tried to find a private moment together between practices, they had been interrupted by one of the other skaters. "Ready to go see Coach Palmer?"
"I'm ready if you are."
The Cape Mary Skating Center wasn't far from Kaleido Stage, so Yume and Mikhail decided to walk instead of taking a taxi. When they arrived, they walked over to the skate rental booth to ask where they could find Merle. An older man, probably in his fifties or sixties, was manning the booth alone.
"Welcome to the Cape Mary Skating Center," the man said when they came over. "What size skates do you two need?" Noticing that Yume and Mikhail were both carrying a pair of skates over their shoulders, he arched his eyebrows in surprise. "Oh-ho! I see you already have skates. Well, in that case, would you like to sign up for public lessons? The first three are free."
"Actually, we'd like to speak with Merle Palmer," Mikhail said. "Is she here?"
"She is, but may I first ask what business you have with my wife?"
"We're students of May Wong's," Yume said. "A few weeks ago, she asked Coach Palmer to help me with one of my jumps, and now we're hoping that she can help us with another maneuver."
"Ah, May Wong - I remember her. She was one of Merle's most promising pupils. It's a shame she decided to quit skating before winning any major titles, but she did well enough for herself at Kaleido Stage, at least until she had that terrible accident six years ago." Mr. Palmer stared at the two of them for a long moment, tapping his chin with his finger. "Wait a minute… You two look familiar. Don't tell me you two are the headliners for Kaleido Stage's new ice show?"
Yume smiled, pleased he had recognized them. "In fact, we are. I'm Yume Naegino, and this is my partner, Mikhail Vladimirov. Nice to meet you."
"Why didn't you say so in the first place? What an honor to have two such world-class athletes visit our humble rink." Stepping out from behind the booth, he motioned for them to follow. "I believe you were looking for Merle? Follow me. She's teaching a beginner's class at the moment, but she should be finishing up."
Mr. Palmer led Yume and Mikhail to one of the skating center's private rinks, where Merle was indeed finishing up a lesson with a group of four to six year olds. The three of them waited at the boards until the tiny skaters filed off the ice. "Hey, Merle!" he called out, waving his wife over. "You have visitors!"
"Visitors?" Merle skated over, adjusting her glasses as she looked over the newcomers with interest. "Well, hello, Yume. Nice to see you again. And you must be Mikhail Vladimirov; I'm a great fan. What can I do for you two today?"
Mikhail shot straight to the point. "We'd like you to teach us how to do the Lovers' Maneuver," he declared. "We were told you would be able to help."
Her eyes slightly widened. "You were, huh?" Merle sighed. "You do realize the Lovers' Maneuver isn't something you can just be taught, young man? It's not like learning a throw triple loop or a death spiral. Certain conditions must be met, and no matter how talented a pair you might be, without them, you are certain to fail."
"If you're talking about the ability to see the Spirit of the Stage, we've both seen him," Yume said. "He's the one who suggested we come to you."
"Is that so?" Merle asked. She raised an eyebrow. "Is Fool still as perverted as I remember him?"
"You mean you've seen him, too?"
The coach smiled wistfully. "It was a long, long time ago, but yes, back in my competitive skating days, I was once a candidate to perform the so-called Lovers' Maneuver."
"Did you ever perfect it?"
She shook her head. "Certain…issues arose before my partner and I could ever perform it," Merle said, not elaborating any further than that. Yume sensed that it wasn't something she wanted to discuss. "In any case, Yume, you are correct: the ability to see Fool is one of the conditions needed to be able to pull off the Lovers' Maneuver."
"What are the others?" Mikhail inquired, asking the question before Yume had the chance.
"Fool must also judge you worthy of attempting the move, which I assume he has not if you have to ask me so many questions."
"Not yet," Yume admitted with some embarrassment, "but we are determined to prove ourselves to him. We'll train as hard as we can if you agree to help us, Coach Palmer."
"I admire your determination; you are a lot like your sister in that regard. However, training hard is not enough to pull off this move." Merle paused for a moment, as if pondering something, then continued, "Tell me, Yume, can you one hundred percent trust Mikhail with your life?"
The question took them both by surprise.
"What do you mean?" Yume asked.
"I meant exactly what I asked. When you two are on the ice together, do you have complete faith and trust in your partner's abilities to keep you safe while performing dangerous moves?"
Yume glanced over at Mikhail, who wore a guilty look on his face. No doubt he was thinking about the accident, the same as she. The fall had not made her scared of skating, but she would be lying if she denied the fact that a small part of her was afraid it might happen again. It was the nature of the sport; even the best skaters in the world sometimes made mistakes, and the risks were especially prominent in pairs skating.
"I-I do trust him, most of the time," Yume finally answered, hating the small grimace Mikhail made at her words.
"Only 'most of the time'?"
"A couple of days ago, I accidentally overpowered a throw jump that I convinced her to try, and she fell," Mikhail confessed.
"It wasn't a major accident," she said, feeling the need to defend him. "I just experienced a mild concussion, but -"
"But it has shaken your confidence in him," Mr. Palmer said, speaking for the first time since Merle had joined them.
Yume looked down at her sneakers, unable to look at Mikhail, and nodded.
Merle frowned. "If you ever want to perform the Lovers' Maneuver, you must have absolute faith in your partner, both on and off the ice. If you have even the smallest, tiniest hint of doubt, the results could be disastrous, possibly even fatal."
"It is that dangerous?" Mikhail asked, his face going deathly pale.
"Yes, it is. That is why the decision to attempt the Lovers' Maneuver should not be taken lightly. My former partner and I discussed it for several weeks before we finally decided to give it a shot. How long have you two been discussing it?"
"To be truthful… We haven't really discussed it all," Yume said, looking back up. "Once Fool told us we were candidates, I immediately decided it was something I wanted to do."
To Yume's surprise, instead of the lecture she was expecting, Merle chuckled. "I thought so. I also take it that you have only recently become lovers."
Yume's cheeks burned bright red, remembering what had almost happened the day before had Fool not interrupted. "Lovers? Misha and I - we haven't…"
"I didn't mean 'lovers' in that sense of the word, Yume," Merle said, smiling with a bit of amusement at Yume's assumption. "I only meant that you two have only just started having a romantic relationship. Am I right?" They nodded, confirming her suspicion. "At the start of a new relationship, everything seems so new and exciting, and you feel like you can do anything as long as you two are together," Merle continued. "That's no doubt why you didn't hesitate when Fool informed you that you two were candidates to perform the Lovers' Maneuver. However, in order to attempt it, you must first form a different bond, a deeper bond based on more than just friendship and sexual attraction. Only then will you be able to pull off a true Lovers' Maneuver."
"Does that mean you won't train us?"
Merle ran a hand through her graying blonde hair. "You know, I sense something about you two," she said. "I don't know why, but I have a feeling that I will someday see you two do the Lovers' Maneuver. Don't you think so, Sam?"
Her husband nodded his agreement. "I sense it, too, Merle. These two just may be able to pull it off, after all."
"In that case, Yume and Mikhail, I expect to see you here on the ice tomorrow, one p.m. sharp. Don't worry, I'll clear things with May. Be prepared to train harder than you ever have before in your life."
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
"Hmm, I wonder what the training for the Lovers' Maneuver will be like," Yume said as she and Mikhail walked back to Kaleido Stage. "The way Sora always tells it, the training regimen for the Great Legendary Maneuver and the Angel's Maneuver was really tough, but I doubt we'll be doing the same kind of things she did. Do you have any ideas what it might be like? Misha?"
"Huh, what?" he said. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."
Yume turned around to face him and began walking backwards. "Is something wrong? You've been distracted ever since we left the rink."
"Yes, you have."
"Oh, sorry," he apologized again, stuffing his hands into his jeans pockets. "Hey, do you want to go on a date or something?" he asked, suddenly changing the subject.
"Well, we are dating, aren't we?"
"Uh, sure, I guess," she said. Though he never officially asked her to be his girlfriend, she supposed they were a couple now. "What did you have in mind?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Is there anything you want to do?"
"Train for the Lovers' Maneuver!"
"Besides that," he said with a roll of his eyes. "You really are excited about it, aren't you?"
"Of course. I don't know what it is yet, but I'm certain it's going to be amazing." She again turned around, and after a moment of hesitation, linked her arm through his. "Aren't you anxious to begin training?"
Yume frowned. He didn't sound enthused about it at all, which was strange because an incredibly difficult act like the Lovers' Maneuver was just the kind of technical challenge he seemed to love. "Misha, you do want to do it, right? The Lovers' Maneuver?"
Mikhail strolled to a stop, causing Yume to halt as well. "I want to do whatever I can to make you happy," he said after a brief pause, a vague answer that hardly satisfied her.
She let go of her hold on his arm. "That doesn't answer my question."
He let out a low chuckle. "You know, most girls would be over the moon if a guy told them that."
"Well, I'm not most girls."
"No, you're not." Sighing, Mikhail turned his body so that they were face-to-face and placed his hands on her upper arms. "Yume, let's do our best to perfect the Lovers' Maneuver."
"Do you really mean that?" she asked, looking up at him. "You're just not saying that because you think it's what I want to hear?"
He gave her one of his rare smiles. "You know me, I can never resist a challenge," he said before kissing her softly on the lips. "So, dinner? A new Mexican place just opened around here a couple of weeks ago. I heard the food is pretty good, if you want to check it out."
Yume nodded, once again taking a hold of his arm as he led her in the direction of the restaurant. She still suspected he wasn't being entirely truthful about wanting to do the Lovers' Maneuver, but she decided to put it out of her mind for the rest of the night.
"Mexican sounds wonderful!"
"Hey, Yume… Earth to Yume, you read me?"
Somebody snapped their fingers in front of Yume's face, breaking her from her memories of her romantic dinner with Mikhail the night before. "Oh, Clarissa, it's you."
"Of course it's me, silly. Where were you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you certainly weren't here with us," Clarissa said from her spot next to Yume, indicating the rest of the group. They were all sitting at their usual table in the cafeteria, eating breakfast. "What's going on with you? You've been acting distracted all morning long."
Zoe, sitting across the table from Yume, nodded. "Yeah, you were totally off in La-La Land."
"Sorry," Yume apologized, taking a bite of her oatmeal. "I just have some stuff on my mind, I guess."
"Like a certain Russian Ice Prince?" Pilar teased, causing Yume to almost choke on her food. "Come on, spill. What is going on with you two, and where did you go yesterday after practice? You didn't even show up for dinner last night."
"I'm rather curious myself," Clarissa admitted. "Where did you go?"
"If you really must know, we went to the Cape Mary Skating Center," Yume said after a short pause. It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the total truth, either.
Pilar, for one, looked disappointed by her answer. "Why? If you needed more practice time on the ice, nobody was using the Kaleido Stage's rink last night."
"We met with Coach Wong's former figure skating coach, Merle Palmer."
"Again? Why? Did Coach Wong recommend you work with her?"
"Something like that…"
For some reason, she was reluctant to tell them about the Lovers' Maneuver and her budding romantic relationship with Mikhail. Yume knew it was silly, and the girls were bound to find out the truth sooner or later, but she enjoyed having a secret that was just between her and Mikhail and wasn't ready to divulge it just yet to the other girls.
"Well, I still think something's going on with you and Mikhail, something that you're not telling us," Pilar insisted, pointing her fork in Yume's direction.
Fortunately for Yume, before Pilar could press for any more details, Elizaveta announced that it was time for the skaters to head to practice. Yume was the first one to jump up from her seat and headed straight for the trash can to clear away her tray. She then began heading to the rink without waiting for the others to catch up with her.
On her way there, she saw Mikhail and Sergei chatting together in Russian outside of the mens' restroom, though Mikhail seemed to lose all interest in the conversation the moment she passed them by. Giving Sergei what Yume assumed was a hasty excuse to leave, Mikhail lightly jogged to catch up with her and reached for Yume's elbow.
"Here," he said simply, pulling her into a darkened hallway just off the main one.
Pinning her up against the wall, he interrupted her question by covering Yume's lips with his own in a kiss that almost literally made her go weak in the knees. "What was that for?" she asked when they finally pulled apart.
Mikhail smirked. "Just felt like it," he replied, echoing her words from yesterday. "That is okay, right?"
She grinned. "More than okay."
In fact, Yume's arms reached up to wrap around his neck, and she was about to pull him into another kiss when she heard a group of girls' voices coming down the main hall. Although she and Mikhail were mostly hidden from view behind a large potted ficus plant, Yume pulled him closer against her, placing a finger to his lips as a signal for him to keep quiet. Once Pilar and the others had passed them by, she let out a relieved sigh. "Good, I don't think they saw us."
"Not that I'm complaining," Mikhail said, looking down at her, "but mind telling me why we're hiding from your friends?"
"Uh…because I haven't exactly told them about us yet?" Yume said, phrasing it more like a question than an explanation. Her cheeks burned, knowing how ridiculous it sounded. Even she thought it was a stupid excuse.
"Why not?" To Yume's surprise, Mikhail's voice sounded soft, almost wounded. "Are you embarrassed to be dating me?"
"No! No, of course not!" Yume couldn't believe he would even think that. Most girls would love the chance to date somebody as handsome and talented as him. "If anything," she said, looking down at her sneakers, "I'm worried you might be embarrassed to have somebody as ordinary as me as a girlfriend."
"What are you talking about?" Mikhail cupped her chin in his hand, lifting her face back up. "Yume, you are many things, but 'ordinary' is certainly not one of them."
"Compared to Tatiana, I am."
Mikhail's former partner's name slipped from Yume's lips before she could stop it, and she winced, knowing he didn't like talking about his ex-girlfriend. Still, Yume had to admit another reason why she was so reluctant to tell her friends about their relationship was because a tiny part of her was afraid that she might be nothing but a fling to him, and he would soon dump her for somebody more like Tatiana. Though Mikhail had explained why he had said the things he did the day after Clarissa's birthday party when confronted about the kiss on the beach, Yume still couldn't forget his words: You didn't think I meant anything by kissing you, did you? She wanted to trust that he didn't mean what he said and that he wasn't just playing her for a fool, but how could she blindly believe a guy who admitted he had lied to her? What was the truth, and what was a lie?
Yume shook her head, again pressing a finger against his lips to silence him. "Don't try to placate me. I'm nothing like Tatiana. I'm not as beautiful as her, as glamorous as her, as experienced as her, as talented as her when it comes to skating pairs. I know I shouldn't compare myself to her, but I can't help it. Ever since you told me you had feelings for me, at the back of my mind I've wondered, 'Why me? Why did he pick me when he could have his pick of beautiful women?'"
"You want to know why I fell for you?"
"I fell for you because you're nothing like Tania," Mikhail said, staring her straight in the eye. "I fell for you because you are you. It is as simple as that."
"And, for the record, I happen to think you are just as beautiful and talented as Tania, if not even more so," he continued, pressing the palms of his hands against her cheeks. "You're warm, Yume. There's a fire inside of you, a passion that seems to light up the room whenever you walk in. It draws people to you, like the proverbial moths to a flame. It's one of the things I like most about you." For the first time since she met him, Mikhail blushed in her presence, and, releasing his hold on her face, he turned and lightly coughed into his fist. "Anyway, we should probably start heading toward the rink," he said, changing the subject as he looked around the corner. "Coach will be angry if we're late. Would you like me to go ahead of you in case we run into any more of your friends?"
Shaking her head, Yume smiled and came up beside him, taking his hand in hers. "No, let's go together," she said.
Mikhail looked over at her, giving her hand a light squeeze. "You sure?"
In response, Yume kissed him in plain view, no longer caring who saw them together. The two of them then walked together hand-in-hand to the rink where practice was being held.
There was no big grand announcement, but everybody knew on sight from the moment they arrived:
Yume Naegino and Mikhail Vladimirov were officially a couple, on and off the ice.
DISCLAIMER: Kaleido Star doesn't belong to me.