Blame it on the Wind Chill

Chapter 10

By interesting, I mean absolutely, irrevocably, frustrating.

“No, you have to teach her how to do it! That’s the whole point!” yells Becky, grabbing my arm and pushing me aside. Why is she so abusive and why is it that I find it extremely hot? I stand by as she takes matters into her own hands—the matter being a dainty white skate. At this point, I let her; after tackling several other kids with lazy parents, is it so bad that I’m being diligent for sake of time?

Her fingers weave quickly, but her voice isn’t nearly so harsh as it usually is towards me. I can’t quite make out what she whispers to the little girl with sparkly butterfly stickers on her CCM helmet, but she glances towards me several times. Hey, it’s not my fault I have gigantic Chara hands, well, in comparison to her soft ivory ones. The girl smiles and says ‘thank you’, before putting a small woolly hand into mine as I help her onto the ice and watch her fly away, only to fall after a single step.

“Ouch,” I wince. I glance at Becky behind me and she shrugs back. “Should I…?”

“No,” she shakes her head definitively. “You have to let them learn by themselves.” She steps a little closer. I have to take in a breath and I can tell she’s beginning to grasp the effect she has on me. The teasing look in her eyes says it all. “Save your chivalry for another day.”

I’m already anticipating it.

“You’re still here?” Travis asks, making us a trio, pressed together against the boards of the rink. I nod. There are now many, many kids on the ice. What is this, a polygamist family skate? The kids have begun doing their warm up laps and it’s evident that there is a clear divide in skill. The masters of their craft are cruising and crossing over smoother than a two four of Keystone Light. Meanwhile, the green, green grasshoppers are tumbling all over the place like a group of belligerent drunks after drinking the two four. I give my man a dap, to which Becky raises a curious eyebrow. She’s surprised that we’ve become friends so quickly. This time I shrug.

“My uncle kinda ditched me, so Becky,” I nudge boldly, “is giving me a ride after this.”

There’s a strange look on her face, and I realize that it’s the first time I’ve accredited her by her actual name. In my defence, I wasn’t going to call her ‘hey’ forever. That’d be rude. The look dissolves once she remembers that I had been hanging out with Travis earlier, and I suspect she finds some sort of closure in it. It’s weird for people to know information about you, I get it. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my life story can be found on my very own Wikipedia page. “So what, are we on a nickname basis?” she challenges.

“You seem to have a few for myself,” I point out, a cocky grin on my lips. “Curly, was it?”

She scowls and swats my arm, only making my grin wider and not helping her cause at all. “And Goldilocks,” she admits quietly with a smile tugging at her own. “And okay, I’ve been waiting for a chance to use Mr. America—you’ve got to admit that’s clever, right?”

Travis laughs and sandwiches in between, putting an arm around each of us. “I can tell you guys are going to be best friends by the end of the night. That is, if our budding bromance hasn’t overshadowed it,” he jokes to me. She laughs and punches him in the arm, causing him to put his hands up in surrender. She may look like a hamster, but she certainly does not fight like one. “Chill out, crouching tiger.” He wraps his arms around her hips and spins her off the ice. Giggling ensues.

“Alright, let’s try to contain ninja turtle,” I say after she’s fought her way back on solid ground.

“You guys are ridiculous. What’s with the arms race to come up with the most offensive nickname for me?” She dusts herself off. “And you can keep your mouth shut, Cocoa,” she teases Travis. I motion to be let in on the inside joke.

“If you tell—” warns Travis, gripping her arms over her head in an intimidating way. But since it’s Travis, the effect is all but lost. Scary and menacing is not his forte from what I gather.

“—caught him testing out some cocoa butter at Shopper’s Drugmart a couple years back,” she blurts, trying to hold back laughter and failing big time.

“My elbows were dry!” complains Travis, hot and bothered. He makes a motion to lunge and bodycheck Becky into the boards, but neither of us really buy the blocking.

“Well you’ve got great skin,” I agree, snickering.

He rolls his eyes. “Thanks, I moisturize.”

Before I know it, we’re joined by two more people on the ice, in matching uniform jackets. The guy is of smaller stature; well, from my point of view, anyway. I imagine that he’d be a towering presence to Becky, whose neck is likely in a permanent craned position. Tall guys like short girls, though. Based on where their head measures up against your body, there are certain unmentionable perks. The dude wears glasses and reminds me of Ryan Ellis in a boyish way. Okay, he’s just small.

“Hey Dev!” says Travis, in a really animated way. I give Becky a look. Should I be scared? “This is Cam Fowler. Yeah, it’s really him—I love this guy!” He embraces me by the shoulder. “Can you believe it?”

Dev smiles at me. “I can.” When did he become Pierre McGuire? “It’s great to be reunited, buddy.” I see that Becky, Travis, and the new girl are all staring intently at me. I scratch my head uncomfortably in confusion. Why can’t I remember anyone from Toronto?

No way. It can’t be.

“Devan Porter!” I exclaim, in recognition. He nods and we hug excitedly, complete with manly pats of sentiment and longing looks of reminiscence from the old days. Hallmark, book this, sell it.

“You remember,” he chuckles as we pull away from our Hallmark moment. But the celebration doesn’t end there. “Remember the old days? Chipping out loonies from under the ice at Harbourfront, joy rides on the four wheeler at my Grandpa Joe’s farm, Skippy the squirrel,”

“Pranking Annie Lewis at the baseball game,” we say in unison. I have to say that was…legendary. The other bystanders are completely aghast upon the wave of nostalgia sweeping over like a tsunami covering a coastal town. Devan and I sigh, shaking our heads, reliving and remembering all those good times as scabby knee’ed, wall scaling, snot-faced boys terrorizing these streets—because that’s how we roll in suburban sprawl.

“Okay, enough about the good old days,” interrupts Becky. “This is starting to look and sound like a heritage moment spotlight on CBC.”

“You know what they say, the only thing worse than listening to CBC radio is working there,” adds Travis, sparking another round of thunderous laughter. A message brought to you by the producers at CBC. The kids skating by look at us, mystified, yet try to eavesdrop on the source of this hilarity. “Honestly. All they have are stories about the discovery of potash or the big Dust Bowl of the 1920’s.”

“Dirty Thirties, my friend,” corrects Becky, getting factual. She takes history seriously, I suppose. In the old days, we would refer to that as a nerd.

Travis pushes her lightly. “Whatever.”

“This is too funny. Can we re-enact this later when I have my camera on me?”

“Only for you darling,” I chirp in, sarcastically and the guys laugh. She can’t help but smile back in return. For the first time today, I’m beginning to feel like I’m part of this group, like I’m accepted here in Toronto.

I feel like I’m making friends, which is pretty daunting.

It’s also unbelievably exciting.

“Hey guys,” says an older man with a hairy face and Canada toque, skating up beside us. He looks like the head or supervisor of some sort over the class. “You’re not paid to stand around and chitchat—so skate! Just because you’re all pro doesn’t mean you don’t need warming up. A few more laps and we’re starting lessons.” We grudgingly start moving, a single slow-moving mass of laziness. “Jesus. Kids these days,” we hear him mutter to himself, skating away. I realize that we’re cutting off paths for the kids. Of course, the realization comes after a heavy backup has built up behind our sluggish asses. The five of us start to separate, creating room and allowing the kids to bypass us in a whir of Maple Leaf jerseys and neon puffer coats.

“Hi,” says the other girl, coming in next to me, no longer satisfied in being nameless and silent. “I’m Jodie Shelling.” She extends out a formal hand.

“Hey Jodie,” I say submissively as I scan the rink for Becky. It’s actually quite difficult since she blends in with the kids here. I bend my knees lower as we turn a curve. Let’s try to see from eye-level.

With no luck, I turn back to Jodie. She’s a tall blonde, and certainly cute, apart from that her expression is kind of pinched-looking and she’s doing the doe-eyed eyelash-bashing thing girls do, which is not all that attractive and more frightening, especially when your eyes are weighed down with heavy unnecessary black gunk. Her blue eyes are pretty, though. “Sorry,” I say, in recognizing my cold address. “I’m Cam Fowler.”

“Ugh,” Becky groans as she glides by. I assume she’s been tailgating me this whole time. I like that for once she’s following me. “I hate it when famous people introduce themselves. Like, ‘Hey I’m Sidney Crosby’. Wow that is new information.”

“Like you wouldn’t worship him if you met him,” I retort. He’s a special man. Girls flock to him. She can’t deny that she wouldn’t do the same if presented with the chance. Oh man, I must learn his sexy irresistible charm.

“Aw, how cute,” she laughs, skating back to grab a little girl’s Olympic mitten clad hand and twirling her around. “You said it, not me.” She winks in my direction before bounding off in front.

“I can’t hear you, my world junior and under-eighteen golds are plugging my ears!” I call after her, in the style of Patrick Roy. Unfortunately, she and her little friend are long gone and the rink is loud, so there’s no chance that she heard. It was a damn good comeback, too.

I turn back to Jodie, who looks a little pissed that my attention was deferred momentarily. Did she just shoot daggers at Becky with her eyes? “Where were we?” I smile encouragingly. I glance up to see if Becky’s looking this way and of course, she’s completely preoccupied. Maybe I’m secretly hoping that she’s a little bit interested in my exchange with Jodie. I’m not trying to provoke jealousy, but I wouldn’t be against it either. I see that Travis and Devan, too, are interacting with the kids. I laugh seeing Travis rap his knuckles against a boy’s helmet and get run over by his loyal wingmen consequently. Now that’s what I call sticking up for your buddy.

“So yeah,” she blinks. “You’re Cam Fowler.” I nod. I believe so. “Oh my God. I love you!” she squeaks, charging at me and nearly knocking me over in the process. I somehow manage to save face. “Do you remember me? From that game in Windsor!” There were many games. “I met you after the game and you sighed my—”

“Oh Jo, you’re too liberal with the word ‘love’,” Becky barges in again. I’m beginning to think that she has been listening to our chat, after all, a revelation I’m extremely happy with. It dawns on me that I don’t know if I’m just using Jodie as ammunition to get Becky speaking to me and although I feel guilty thinking about it, if it works…

“What are you talking about?” Jodie makes a confused face. “My parents are conservative.”

I refrain from rolling my eyes, and Becky stops midway and retracts. Logic tells me Jodie isn’t the brightest crayon in the box. “I just—love’s such a strong word,” she clarifies. She sees the bemused look on my face and her expression falls flat. “I’d rather use hate.”

I let my face fall, as well. “For me or in general?”

“Neither, I’m kidding. I have other words for you. And I think we both know what they are.” I frown, thinking back to what Uncle Eric said earlier. No, I actually don’t know what those taboo words are. I’d also really like to know. “Love is just not a word I hand out like Orpik hands out free candy.” I nod, looking into her eyes. We both feel a sense of mutual understanding.

The fact that we’re talking about love is sort of intimate in a way that is both uncomfortable, yet so very comfortable. It’s most likely uncomfortable due to the fact that it is so comfortable. I know we’ve only just met and there’s a ton that I don’t know about this girl, starting with her history with Tim, but there’s something about our chemistry that feels simple and easygoing, not saying that she’s easy in the least. For some reason, when we’re just bantering back and forth and she isn’t trying to rip my arm from its socket, something clicks and it feels wrongly right. Something has shifted between us since the events of the morning. For better or for worse.

A whistle blows and we finally break our gaze. The kids are lined up across centre ice and this time Devan and Travis lead the stretches. It passes without incident.

Then they have the kids skate from one end of the rink to the other using various techniques: the, what I always thought was, infallible forward skating, the trickier backward skating by carving C’s into the ice, and stopping at various markers on the rink

Afterwards the kids are split into groups based on levels and head to their designated areas in the rink. I feel obliged to go with Travis and Devan, who are currently sparring in the corner, returning light-hearted jabs and doing some sweater pulling. The kids hoot and holler at the show they’re putting on. They proceed to dance around, demonstrating their awe-inspiring hockey skating techniques and taking turns covering each other in light dustings of snow.

I decide to join Becky’s class, after all. She teaches the beginner one from what I can tell. I remember the photo of her and Tim from the shoebox and it reminds me of an old poster situated right beside me in the portable for grade ten English back in high school. On it was a little boy, lugging a baseball bat and the quote reads: every expert was once a beginner. As I continue on my NHL career, the quote has become more and more significant to me. It really puts things into perspective again.

I see how good she is with the kids. I mean, she really has an almost maternal instinct when it comes to children. From this angle, she really looks pretty with the fluorescent lighting of the arena shining on her, lighting up half her face and leaving the rest in the shadows.

I spot Drew sitting on the bleachers, chewing on his pencil while doing some holiday homework of some sort. He takes a bite from the sandwich in his hand, followed by a noisy slurp of fruit punch. He waves at me. I wave back.

“Why do we have to bend our knees?” grumbles a boy, who I know to be named Jack from the attendance sheet in my hands. But everyone calls him Jacky Chan. He’s the boy who keeps falling, and laughing when he does so. It’s kind of strange, but he could definitely use the practice on his forward skating, which Becky is having them do, up and down the width of the rink.

“Because,” I explain, “it increases your balance. As you become a better skater, you’ll discover that the lower you go, the more agility and speed you have. The ideal knee bend for power skating is about 90 degrees when measured between your thigh and your shin. Take Paul Coffey for example—”

“Because if you don’t you’ll fall over and break all your teeth,” Becky reiterates evenly, seeing that the class of nine year olds are thoroughly confused. Part of me is annoyed that she cut me off, but I know I’ll be grateful that she saved me from another bout of further embarrassment. Kids just can’t appreciate my brilliance. That’s all it is.

“What she said,” I validate. I silently thank her.

“Hey, do you think I’ll get more money from the Tooth Fairy that way?” I hear him whisper excitedly to a blonde boy beside him.

“No, Jack, your mom’s gonna need that money to stitch your face up,”

What? My mom’s the Tooth Fairy?” he cries, in disbelief.

Remind me to tell him about the Easter Bunny.

The rest of the class consists of lessons on stopping, which is easier said than done for this uncoordinated, clumsy group. We draw smiley faces on the ice with black markers for the kids to “erase” using their skates. I think it helps because they all get a little better at angling their blades to do the two-foot stop. It’s not so hard once you get the hang of it.

I get excited when Becky tells me we’re going to play hockey. “No, it’s not hockey, they’re just trying to kick pucks into the pylons.” We watch from the sideline as the kids start their unorthodox game of shinny, falling over awkwardly when they miss contact with the rubber.

All throughout the “game”, we exchange looks, stolen moments when we think no one’s watching. I’d catch her glancing my way and she’d hold my gaze momentarily before skating away or doing a little twirl to divert the discomfiture. It’s like a game of cat and mouse. I can handle a chase.

“We need a goalie!” pouts the little girl with the embellished helmet, once she realizes that this lack might be the reason her team is losing the battle so bad.

“Cam?” suggests Becky, who is doing spontaneous jumps and spins and not paying much attention to her class.

“Do you figure skate?” I ask her.

She gives me an odd look, almost sad. “I used to.”

“Come on!” The little girl tugs me by the arm, pushing me between the orange pylons.


“See that boy over there?” I nod at the blond boy she points to. “That’s Johnny. He plays road hockey with my brother sometimes in the summer. I told him to learn to skate so he can play ice hockey.” The class is ending with a free skate. Becky and I lean on the boards by the benches as she points out the various people skating around us. “There’s Jack, you know him. And Abdul and Patrick. Patrick has a very expressive face; he’s one of my prime targets for impromptu photography. Can you see? He has a mulberry spot on his left eye. He told me he was burned by a cigarette when he was a baby. Oh, that’s the girl you were helping this morning. Her form is better now, eh? She’s named Stephanie and her sister, Maureen, was in my kinesiology class last year.”

“So you know everyone,” I smile, impressed.

She shrugs. “Small neighbourhood. Small world. I care about these people.”

“That’s ironic,” I say without thinking.

She narrows her eyes. “What is?”

“Nothing. You just…seem like you’re the type of person who lives without a care in the world. You know what I mean?” I think about her moments of quirkiness and her sarcastic sense of humour. Her snide comments and her whimsical spontaneity. Then again, she has other moments of pure seriousness, too. Like now. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong; perhaps she’s using her humour to hide something. I should know all about that. Even when she’s laughing, I speculate, there’s still something stern in her eyes, like she’s protecting herself. From what? I want to ask.

“No I don’t know what you mean. What makes you say that?” Judging by the look on her face, there’s no doubt that she’s becoming a little testy. “Well,” she shifts on another note, “maybe that’s the person I used to be. I guess you bring out that side of me. Congratu-freakin’-lations.”

I take the opportunity to bring up what I’ve been itching to ask all day. “What happened between you and Tim?” This time I can tell what she’s thinking. “I found pictures.”

“Oh.” She says nothing more.

“Well, not that it’s any of my business—”

“It’s not.”

“—but do you want to talk about it? I’m just curious.” More than wanting her, which is absurd considering we only met hours earlier, I feel like I need to know this missing piece of information. From what Tim always boasted of his girl, you’d expect that they’d stay together through thick and thin, good and bad, you get the point. My guess is that she’s still not over him. That has to be why she’s being so cautious and defensive around me; just when I think I’ve broken her down, she builds a new wall. Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends?

“You said it was grade-five. Why’d you lie about it?”

“True story,” she argues. “I didn’t lie. I just chose to omit certain facts”

“You made it seem like it was less serious than it actually was.” I feel like this conversation has crossed a line of some sort. Maybe I’m being pushy and nosy, two things I’m not qualified to be given that I don’t know her nearly well enough. But I don’t care.

“I don’t know.” She looks at the ceiling, flustered. “I figured his room probably reeks of evidence from our relationship. I didn’t want to snoop around, which clearly, you did.”

An awkward silence looms. She pulls her leg up to stretch on impulse. I decide she looks good in yoga pants. She’d probably look good in anything, really. “So you really loved him, huh?” I say hesitantly.

Becky pauses to think. She wraps a piece of her hair around her index finger three times and unwinds. “Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.” She reaches for a random bottle inside the bench and downs some Gatorade from it. “What do I know about love? I’m seventeen.”

I think about it. How do you know you’re in love? It burns when you pee?

The kids have started filing off the ice and Devan and Travis have taken a break from their girlish scrap to skate over to us. I see Jodie coming over behind them. For a second I think she’s giving me the stink eye, but then I realize that’s just the way she looks.

“So are we on for tonight?” asks Travis about the Leafs game situation. We all nod in accordance. “Good. My place. 7:00. Takeout. Beer. It’ll be a blast.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Jodie butts in, with an unknowing look on her face. It gets a little bit awkward and I can tell she wasn’t exactly on the invite list, nor is she a regular member of their circle of friends.

“Um,” stammers Travis. “We’re hanging out at my place later.” She looks expectantly, waiting. “Would you like to come?” Becky rolls her eyes, trying to signal discreetly at Travis. He shrugs sheepishly. He’s too nice, he can’t help it. On the other hand, it’s obvious that Becky has some sort of beef with this girl. I don’t understand why, though.

“Okay!” she exclaims. “I’ll buy beer.”

“No, you can’t buy beer,” Becky shoots her down. “You’re underage.”

“Why don’t I get the beer,” I suggest, trying to get them away from each other as fast as possible. If we were animals they’d be spitting venom and hissing like two cats ready to jump on each other.

Wait a second, girl fights are hot, right?


I meet her a few minutes later in the parking lot. She had to lock up the arena since lessons were finished for the day. I laughed watching her dig around in the back of Uncle Eric’s office for metal chains—because the chain and padlock method is the best security in a rough neighbourhood. She told me to go away.

“Nice ride,” I comment, gesturing towards her ancient model Toyota Camry. The neutral beige paint is wearing off and a gold R is missing from the CAMRY on the bumper. Speaking of which, the bumper is plastered with silly stickers and cheesy lines. My personal favourite is one that says: if you can read this, you’re driving too close. I’m a sucker for cheese.

“What are you talking about? This car blows!” says Drew, climbing in the backseat. “This window doesn’t even go down.” He presses the button to demonstrate. “See?”

“Both of you, shut the hell up,” declares Becky, evil eying us peripherally. “You’re lucky I’m even giving you a ride,” she says to me, while I ride shotgun. “Believe me when I say I will not hesitate to dump your fat asses on the street.” You know what, I believe her. It takes her a few tries to get the engine started. “Shut up,” she threatens before we even say anything.

We drive in silence for a bit. In the rear-view mirror I see Drew drawing stick figures on the window. “I take you don’t like Jodie very much?” I bring up, for sake of conversation.

“Nope,” she responds simply, keeping her eyes on the road.

“Do you hate her?”

She pauses. “No, I wouldn’t say that. We just don’t get along; I guess we’re different.”

“I keep seeing her give you dirty looks. What’s that about?”

“No clue. You’ll have to ask her about that.” She turns a corner and honks at a cyclist. “Riding without a helmet, stupid!” she yells after rolling down her window. I look at Drew and he doesn’t appear concerned in the least. Just another Saturday afternoon, huh? I notice I’m gripping the edge of my seat kind of hard. In any case, I hear aggressive driving is kind of dangerous. “I guess she’s the Tonya Harding to my Nancy Kerrigan.”

I laugh, remembering the old incident. “No, you would be Tonya Harding.”

“Bite me.”

I reach for the radio. Despite the poor reception and the static-y sound, it works. “And you’re listening to CBC radio,” comes the booming announcer’s voice. I give her a devious smirk. Of course, she returns with the now iconic eye roll. I change the station and This Little Light of Mine comes on, arguably the happiest song on earth. How do you go from figure skating conspiracy to gospel music?

I hear her humming along. She sees this, but isn’t embarrassed by it and starts singing along instead as the chorus starts.

This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.

As the car pulls into the driveway, Drew and I both chime in:

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

She laughs hearing my voice crack on the last line. Her voice is actually very sweet. I’m not saying she was always on tune, but hearing her sing was kind of a special moment. I get the feeling that she doesn’t serenade just anyone.

“Aren’t you going to walk me home?” I joke, climbing out.

“I would, but two steps aren’t worth my energy.” She points to Uncle Eric’s shack across the lawn. I can’t argue with that.

“Hey!” I call out once I’m outside my door to get her attention. “We should get lunch. Can I take you out?” I ask, casually, taking my new keys out of my pocket.

The answer is an immediate, resounding, “no.” She doesn’t even entertain the idea. Well, I tried. “I can’t see you that many times in one day.”

“Okay, see you tonight.”


I smile to myself going through this eventful day inside my head. And it’s just halfway over. It’s surreal how quick everything’s happening. I’m beginning to like Becky and I‘d be lying if I didn’t suspect she’s feeling the same. If it’s infatuation, then it is what it is.

Why not take it?
♠ ♠ ♠