Of all the beginnings in Scott’s life, he’s hard-pressed to remember the one that most defined him. He feels somehow that he should know, for certain, should be able to put his thumb on that momentous day when it all began. When he knew, for the first time, that he would win the Olympics, or when his mother put him on the ice and told him to hold the hand of a spindly little girl with bruised knees and determination in her eyes like she could move mountains.
In reality, it doesn’t happen as a dividing line; there is no before and after. The light of the heavens does not open upon he and Tessa when they skate together for the first time. In fact, they lose their first competition, and the one after that, and the one after that. They lose, over and over again, twice as small and half the age of their competitors. Scott forgets all his steps, and Tessa trips over his feet right in front of the judges’ table, and nothing feels easy or natural; she makes him nervous. Sometimes it irks him, that this little twig of a girl, a full head shorter than him and two years younger, can make him feel just as small as her. Scott has owned every patch of ice he stepped foot on since he was barely five years old, and here he is, being shown up by a kid in pigtails and tights.
But mostly, it spurs him to do better. In time, he gets used to the feel of her hand in his, the quick glide of her blade and how to match it (because she’s fast, faster than she has a right to be, so diminutive in every aspect). His stomach stops conducting a full-length floor routine every time they take the ice together, and he learns to make her laugh, so she doesn’t look quite so serious all the time.
She’s nicer when she smiles, less intimidating, and he finds that he likes it. He likes that the smile creeps up across her face, seems to take her by surprise as much as it does him. She’s only got a little face, and sometimes it seems hardly big enough for her, her eyes too pale and worried, cheeks flushed bright with exertion, teeth worrying at her bottom lip as if she’d chew it straight off left alone.
He’s never met anyone who smiles like Tessa does. He likes that too: likes that it’s something that belongs to only her, and it’s only him who knows how to make it happen.
(Later, he’ll concede that perhaps her family and friends know how to make her smile as well, but it’s definitely a different kind of smile. Tessa doesn’t smile at people, she smiles for people, and her smile for Scott is something all of his own.)
She smiles when they win their first competition, and he supposes they could count that as a beginning – but really, there’s no use in measuring his beginnings in arbitrary dates and events. He could argue for a new beginning the first time they won the Olympics, or the second, or the time they lost. Moving to Waterloo, and then Detroit, and Montreal: those were all beginnings, as tangible as the moving boxes and calls to his parents on a Sunday night, choking back loneliness and exhaustion and missed opportunities.
After a certain point, every new start looks the same as all the rest – so perhaps he’ll measure his beginnings in one constant instead.
All he knows is that there’s a beginning in a smile: soft and tentative, the widening of pale green eyes, crystal-clear. Another beginning when she laughs, full-bodied, nothing like the way she talks. A beginning for nothing more than a look, caught out of the corner of his eye when she thinks he’s not watching, and again for the way her gaze darts down to the floor when he turns to look back at her, her cheeks pink, busying herself with unlacing her skates.
He kisses her for the first time, and that feels like a thousand beginnings all at once.
There’s one in the way she moves against him, bending at the waist, where his hands fit so neatly, splayed across her practice leotard. Another for the softness of her lips, parted mouth and warm breath. One for the heated flush across her neck and collarbones, a hundred more for the little gasp she gives when his lips chase that colour. The smattering of freckles, stardusted over her skin, and the little hollow at the side of her neck that makes her shiver when he catches his thumb against it.
She kisses him back, and for all he could care, he never lived a day before then.