Lindsay sat in front of the glowing screen, her eyes trailing over the endless lines of numbers on the bank statement as she chewed on the end of her pencil in concern. Doing the math in her head until the numbers became too large, she sighed and tapped out the expenses into her calculator. With her eyes widening at the ungodly sum that appeared, she exhaled in defeat, blowing back her bangs and slumping backwards in her chair.
Lindsay closed her eyes, but the numbers were tattooed on the backs of her eyelids. Her heart began to sink from the lead weight that had lodged itself there when her grandfather died three months ago, the same weight her friends and the employees of Ice Castle were determined to distribute amongst themselves in order to keep her and the ice rink complex afloat. She had grown up here, in the shop where she sat now, the arcade with the antique games her grandfather collected, and especially out there, on the ice rinks. Since she was a little girl, she had been the princess of Ice Castle; it felt more of a home to her than her own house. But despite her involvement in running the rink since she was fourteen, her grandfather had excluded her from all financial matters. And now she knew why. Ice Castle was on the brink of insolvency, and no amount of ingenious accounting or personal loans could fix this problem. She needed a miracle, a literal angel investor, to save this rink, and the probability of one arising was practically non-existent.
Wallowing in her misery, Lindsay heard the sounds that kept her going: skates scraping up ice and toe picks catching for perfect quads; the laughter of small children engaged in their group lessons and the kind encouragement of instructors; the grunts and shouts of hockey players communicating to their teammates during practice, and the blissful buzzer of puck launching into the goal. Ice Castle was a kingdom for people of all ages who loved skating as much as she and her grandfather did. So many had expressed their love for her grandfather at the funeral, and their joy at Lindsay taking over the family business, despite her being only eighteen. While keeping Ice Castle from going bankrupt seemed impossible, she knew she had to find some way to accomplish it; she had already lost her grandfather–she couldn’t bear to lose everyone else who cherished his memory, too.
“Look who’s sleeping on the job,” Hanson teased as he and Cahill walked into the shop from the lobby. Glowing from the pay-off of hard work during practice, they were still dressed in their jerseys, hair limp with sweat and sticking to the sides of their gleaming faces.
Lindsay sat up and rolled her eyes at Hanson, running a hand through her hair as she glanced at the screen once more. “Yeah, yeah, let’s see you try to balance this budget–you can’t even get higher than a ‘C’ in Pre-Calc,” Lindsay replied, more bitterly than she had intended.
“Everything will be fine, Drury. I know you’ll figure it out,” Cahill said, calling her by her last name out of endearment. He had known Lindsay the longest out of anyone, back from when they were only half-pints first learning to skate, and knew how much the rink meant to her. Him and Hanson were her two best friends in the world, and it killed her that she had to hide from them what the stress was doing to her soul.
Lindsay faked a smile, but her muscles twitched with emotion from the effort. It was when people said things like this that made Lindsay realize how useless she actually was. Her hands were tied, but she still had to somehow juggle the responsibilities of daily operations so nobody would suspect her dire situation. But time was running out, and soon she’d have to show her hand.
“Less talk, more work,” Lindsay changed subjects. “I need you two to start unloading the new shipment of skates.”
“A please wouldn’t hurt,” Hanson grumbled, and Cahill shoved his shoulder as they headed towards the back. The boys had become something close to her free laborers in exchange for all of the free skating her grandfather had let them get away with, since she was stretched so thin on both finances and employees. Lindsay felt guilty forcing them to do so much work, but at the same time, it was the lenience of her grandfather which had gotten the rink into this situation in the first place.
“Anything for you, Linds,” Cahill smiled over his shoulder.
“Please and thank you,” Lindsay sang after them as the disappeared behind the “Employees Only” marked door. Distracted by the numbers on the screen, she had forgotten to mention the displays she needed to be set up. Getting out from behind her desk, she was halfway towards the stockroom when a single chime sang.
The glass door to the shop opened, and a young man with bright, heavy eyes and an anxious expression entered the store.
“Excuse me?” the stranger called, and Lindsay, now out from behind the safety of the desk, froze in her tracks. Her hazel eyes glazed over as she studied his face, the film of the memories from her youth overlaying her vision as she took in the familiar visage. The color occupying her cheeks immediately drained as she recognized the curly fair locks, now sheared short, and the piercing green eyes perennially glued to any puck that glided on ice.
As the young man opened his mouth to speak, Lindsay clamped her jaws together in a grim, resolute line, and stormed past him out the door without a single word.
“Lindsay!” the ghost from her past called as he jogged after the fuming girl headed straight towards the skate rental booth.
“Employees only,” Lindsay snapped in response, refusing to look over her shoulder as she ducked under the gap in the counter to put some breathing room between herself and her antagonist. She busied herself by retrieving a pair of skates whose blades needed cleaning. Lindsay couldn’t stand to look at him, but even knowing he was there, lurking in her periphery vision, caused her retinas to burn, and she could feel tears swelling in the corners of her eyes. But she was not going to let him make her cry–not again, after all these years, when she had more important things to cry about.
“Fine. Then I’d like to rent a pair of skates,” the visitor stated exasperatedly.
“Wristband?” Lindsay challenged, finally meeting his eyes. She could feel her insides revolting against her pent-up anger, threatening to implode. Her knees started to quake and she gripped the table, afraid of crumpling under the pressure.
“Why are you being like this?” he demanded, setting both hands on the counter and tilting himself towards her.
“I’m sorry, should I be treating you any differently, Mr. Lawlor?” Lindsay mocked. “I know as the starting defenseman for the Minnesota Wild, you must be accustomed to special treatment by now, but you’re no longer everyone’s golden boy here.”
Lawlor scoffed, rearing backwards. “Well, if you treat all your customers like this, it’s no wonder this place is going under.”
The skates clattered to the floor. “You shut your damn mouth!”
Lindsay crossed the floor quicker than had she been gliding on ice. Pressing her ribs up against the counter, she leaned her head in so close to his, they could’ve been mistaken for two forwards during a face-off.
“You don’t get to judge me, Luke Lawlor,” Lindsay hissed, tears stinging her eyes, “and you sure as hell don’t get to waltz back in here like nothing ever happened. So why don’t you take your smart mouth and leave. I’ve seen you do it once, and I know you’ll do it again.”
Though Lindsay stared at him as though she was going to rip him to pieces, Luke Lawlor held his ground. “Lindsay, if you’d just give me a chance to explain–”
“There’s nothing to explain, Luke!” Lindsay screamed, throwing herself backwards. “I mean, honestly, what is there to explain? One moment everything’s like it has always been, and, the next, there’s a car crash. My Dad dies, my little brother is sentenced to a wheelchair for life, and what do you do? You drop out of high school, get the hell out of dodge, and wind up drafted in the AHL.”
“You want to know why I left? Huh?” Luke screamed back, slamming his hands against the counter. “Because he told me to, that’s why!”
Lindsay stood silently, shaking, unable to look at him. But his words painted a picture so vivid, the color faded from around her and she saw the memory in monochrome.
“That’s right,” Luke chuckled sardonically. “Your grandpa sat me down, and he said to me, ‘Lawlor, life is too God damn short. I know you hurt as much as the rest of us, and I know you’d give your life here to make things right. But we’ve already have one death to handle. We don’t need another funeral for your career.’”
His words burst through the air like hand grenades, and the oxygen in Lindsay’s lungs ricocheted against the sensation.
“Old man Drury,” Luke sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose as his whole body deflated. “The day I saw his obituary, a small piece of me died along with him. Skating hasn’t been the same since then. It doesn’t feel like flying, anymore. It feels like drowning.”
Luke scoffed, rubbing at his eyes, and Lindsay’s own eyes tingled as she recognized genuine tears. “I never even got the chance to thank him.”
“Oh, cry me a river,” Lindsay spat defensively. Meanwhile, her mind was reeling. She cursed herself, pressing her cold knuckles against her eyelids and stretching her lips into a tight line, trying to keep her feelings from leaking out.
Hearing this confession didn’t cause her to hate Luke any less; instead, her resentment towards her grandfather grew. Of course her grandfather had said that. Of course he had never told her how he practically chased away the boy of her dreams, leaving her to think she was never good enough for Luke, devastated her prince charming had abandoned her at the time of her greatest need for someone to lean on. It was so typical of her grandfather to do things cloaked in kindness and good intentions without considering other people’s feelings, ignoring consequences others would have to deal with when cleaning up after his reckless decisions. He had taken her and her brother in when she was only thirteen years old, and her love for him had almost eclipsed that for her own father. But, now, she was starting to doubt exactly how much he loved her.
“Look, Lindsay, I was seventeen,” Luke pleaded. “You know what my family was like; your Dad was more of a father to me than my own. After the accident, I was in so much pain. I ran. I’ll admit it. I ran to the only thing I knew, and I put my all into it.” He was invisible to Lindsay, her back turned to him as she wiped at her eyes with the sleeves of her sweater, vowing she would welcome deafness in order to never hear another word come out of his mouth.
“Do I regret it?” Luke asked, in a hoarse whisper. “Shit, Lindsay, it keeps me up at night. During off-season, it feels like I’m dying. But what I hate most of all is that it’s taken me five years to work up the courage to come back here, when it’s too late. Drury is gone, and you hate me because of a career I’m too selfish to be ashamed of.”
“You idiot!” Lindsay screamed, whirling around unabashedly, with prominent tears streaming down her young face full of grief far beyond her years.
“Don’t you get it?” she whimpered. “It was never about you being successful, or having more promise, or me getting the short stick in life. I looked up to you! You were my hero! I loved you with every fiber of my being, even then, at stupid thirteen years old! In my mind, it was you and me against the world. And when my world came crumbling down around me, I needed you.”
Lindsay gasped, as if she was suffocating from her own emotions. “But you were nowhere to be found. You left me, without a word, for the same thing that took my father’s life, and Teddy’s ability to walk, as they were driving to that stupid playoffs game. You chose hockey over me, Luke, plain and simple.”
“But I’m here now, Linds,” Luke pleaded.
Lindsay shook her head, hiccupping from sobs mixed with bitter laughter. She had secretly dreamed of this moment millions of times, but she never had the audacity to foresee this ending.
“Well, you’re too late, Luke. I don’t need you now. And I don’t want you, either.”
Slowly, the rage subsided from Lindsay’s bloodstream as her words sunk in, and she began to breathe levelly again. She was able to see past where Luke stood, leaning against the counter as if someone had shot him through the chest, his face pale and crestfallen. She peered past him and through the plastic panes of the miniature ice rink to watch pre-teen girls in skirts attempting their first jumping spin, scolding the young boys in hockey pads whizzing past them and upsetting their concentration.
There was more to her life than Luke, now. Once upon a time, he had been the center of her universe; she revolved around him, both on and off the ice. But this was her castle, and she had all she needed right here.
“Look, I’ve got a deal of money stored away. I can help keep this place alive. I owe it to him, at the least,” Luke stated quietly.
Lindsay grimaced, fighting her knee-jerk reaction to flat-out refuse him. She was convinced God must have been a fan of irony. Here she had been, praying for someone to say these exact words to her, but the thought of accepting money from Luke made her sick. Her usual shrewd nature when it came to money did not manifest at the prospect; no numbers streamlined in front of her eyes. She knew all of the money in the world couldn’t heal this wound.
But it could save Ice Castle, a small voice whispered.
“You don’t owe us anything, Luke,” Lindsay stated softly, turning away from him as she closed the door on her only hope for funds, trying to ignore her stomach revolting as she spoke the words. “You made that clear when you left.”
Neither of them had noticed Hanson and Cahill emerge from the shop, watching from the sidelines as Cahill filled in a clueless and bewildered Hanson on the history of the two. Hearing Lindsay’s final verdict, Cahill approached the motionless hockey star sinking further in his own regrets.
“Hey, man, it’s time for you to go.” Luke didn’t even register Cahill’s voice until he felt his firm hand latch onto his shoulder. He turned to stare at the boy almost as tall as he was, remembering his black hair trimmed into a bowl cut, framing the round face with a dimpled chin. He was a stranger now–if Luke had seen him on the street, he would have never recognized him.
“Cahill? Is that really you?” Luke asked in a strained voice.
“Yeah. It’s me. Let me walk you out,” Cahill suggested, leading him back towards the entrance he had just barged in from only moments before.
Hanson watched Cahill escort the lifeless NHL star out without a struggle. Luke glanced back at Lindsay with a helpless look, a ghost incapable of haunting her any longer.
Ducking under the counter, Hanson approached Lindsay cautiously, as if she was a fretful deer. She faced the wall, the junior hockey skates she had collected from the floor still clenched in her wavering hands as a second wave of sentiment washed over her, dragging her under.
“Are you okay, Drury?” Hanson asked, his tentative hand hovering over her shoulder.
She fell backwards into his sturdy chest, unable to stand up against the weight of gravity.
“He has the money, Hanson…I need that money. Ice Castle needs that money. But I can’t take it. God, what do I do? Either way, it feels like my soul is going to die.”
Hanson wrapped his arms around her gently, grounding her. “It wouldn’t be the end of the world, if Ice Castle was bought out…”
“It would be the end of my world…of my grandfather’s world…why did he have to die? Why did he have to leave me with this, with no warning? Why did he think I could handle this on my own?” Lindsay’s voice cracked, and she turned, smothering her face in his chest. Hanson squeezed her tightly, resting his chin on her head.
“Maybe it’s time you forgive him, Lindsay,” Hanson said quietly into her hair.
“You don’t know what Luke–”
“I’m not talking about Luke,” Hanson corrected. “I’m talking about Old Man Drury. You need to forgive him for dying, for not being able to balance his budget, for caring too much about other people and not enough about himself. As long as you hold this grudge, Ice Castle isn’t yours; it’s his. There can’t be any more blame games or anger. It’s time to accept what happened, Lindsay. It’s time to move on. With or without the Ice Castle. That’s up to you.”
Lindsay stared up into his kind brown eyes, shocked at how much they reminded her of her grandfather’s. Why was it that, ever since his death, the good memories of him have been melting away quicker than the early spring snow, leaving her with only bitter recollections? Lindsay began to realize the only way she could cope with him being gone is to turn him into a villain, so she wouldn’t feel so lost and alone without him. But she knew he wasn’t a villain, and she still felt lost and alone in addition to her spite.
Hanson was right. It was time for Lindsay to lay this fabricated grudge against her grandfather to rest. What he did was done, and he was only human. It was her turn now, and she was going to give it all she had – not because of her grandfather’s love for this place, but for hers, and hers alone.
She was the queen of this castle. And for it, she’d make whatever sacrifices necessary.
Edited by: Zach Iezzi