“Mind your own business,” Layla told her.
“What? You don’t say something like that unless you want someone to ask about it.”
“What are you, a psychologist now?”
I had a feeling this bickering was close to becoming a full-out argument, something I did not think the small space we were in could handle. So I said, “It’s just sort of . . . weird. Since my brother’s been gone. Lonely, I guess. Anyway, the point is I’m happy to have something to do. Really.”
I could tell Rosie, behind me, wanted to ask more questions. But Layla pulled down the visor, ostensibly checking her face in the mirror there, and shot her a look. We drove the rest of the way, a short distance, without talking.
Once at the rink, Rosie went to the locker rooms while Layla made a beeline for the snack bar and the subpar fries. As the woman behind the counter scooped them into a paper cup, she sighed. “Sorry about all this. My sister makes me nuts.”
“It’s really okay,” I said.
“She’s just so . . .” She sighed again, picking through the basket of ketchup packets, as if one might be better than another. Knowing her, there was a way to tell. “Entitled. Like the world owes her. She’s always been like that.”
“My brother is kind of the same way,” I told her. “I thought it was an only-son thing. But maybe it’s a firstborn thing, too.”
“I think, in this case, it’s just a Rosie thing.” She selected a second packet, then helped herself to some napkins. “At least when she was younger, she could blame the stress of skating, all that competition.”
“She was good, huh?” I said.
“She was great.” Layla slid a five-dollar bill across the counter. “It wasn’t an excuse for being a bitch, of course. But knowing she was capable of something beautiful, as well as being wholly unpleasant? It somehow made it easier to take.”
This made a weird kind of sense to me. Not that my brother had an impressive skill like skating, but he had gotten a long way on charm. Nobody was all bad, I was learning. Even the worst person had someone who cared about them at some point.
Now, back in the bleachers, I watched Layla drag another fry through her pepper ketchup (pepchup?), then take a halfhearted bite. Down on the ice, a middle-aged man with styled blond hair, wearing black Lycra pants and a bright blue fleece, was leading a girl who looked to be about twelve through some jumps. She had that consummate skater look I recognized from Saturday afternoon sports shows, small and lithe with a perky ponytail, and as she landed each jump, the man’s face made it clear whether he was happy or not.
“That’s Arthur,” Layla said when she saw me watching him. “He’s the reason I have crooked teeth and always will.”
“Your teeth aren’t crooked.”
“They’re not straight, either. Not like yours. You had braces, right?”
I nodded. “I hated them.”
“Yes, but look at you now.” She picked up another fry. “I needed them. The dentist said so. But private coaching at Arthur’s level isn’t cheap, so . . .”
Back on the ice, the girl had just landed and was circling around to try again. “Wow. Was she really aiming for the Olympics?”
“Yeah. But never got further than regionals. Then she took the job touring with Mariposa, which at least helped my parents out financially. I was so mad when she got busted and dropped from that show.” She shook her head. “I’m all about taking one for the team. But her being so stupid . . . it stung. Like all those years, all that money, was for nothing.”
As she said this, another girl skated onto the ice. It took me a minute to realize it was Rosie. Maybe it was the distance, or that she’d changed into skating gear, but she looked different. She began circling the outer edge of the ice, slowly picking up speed, and even with this most basic of moves, it was clear she was better than the girl we’d been watching. There was a simple, undiluted grace to her movements, something wholly in contrast to her normal, nose-wrinkled, complaining self. As if instead of shriveling in the cold like most people, she bloomed.
Layla was also watching as she passed by once, then twice. The third time, she turned, lifting her chin to acknowledge us, and Layla nodded back, giving her a smile. This surprised me, after all we’d been talking about. But then, a lot about Layla was a mystery.
“She’s really nervous,” she explained to me, as if sensing this. “She’s been working out alone, but this is the first time he’s agreed to see her since all this happened. That’s why she was being such a bitch. Or one reason, anyway.”
After a few words with Arthur, the younger girl left the ice and he waved Rosie over. They talked for a moment, and then he gestured for her to take another lap, turning to watch her as she began.
“Oh, God, I can’t watch. Even at practice I get crazy nervous for her. I used to be such a mess during competitions. My mom would beg me to go get fries.” She pulled out her phone, typing in her passcode, then opened her pictures. “When I did stay, though, I was always glad. Look at this.”
She handed me the phone, where a video was now playing on the screen. It was of another rink, a fancier one, with Rosie twirling in its center. She started slowly, her arms spread wide, then began to speed up, pulling them in against her until she was almost a blur. Then, as the tinny distant music came to a sudden stop, she did as well, striking a pose with her head thrown back. As the crowd applauded and cheered, the sound a thunderous roar, she smiled.