From Lukov with LoveBy: Mariana Zapata
To my best friend and the best person I know,
The real chingona.
By the time I’d busted my ass five times in a row, I figured it was time to call it quits.
At least for the day.
My butt cheeks could handle another two hours’ worth of falls tomorrow. They might have to if I didn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, damn it. This was the second day in a row I hadn’t been able to land a damn jump.
Rolling over onto the cheek I’d fallen on the least amount of times, I blew out a breath of frustration, managed to keep the “son of a bitch” I really wanted to scream inside my mouth, and tilted my head all the way back to make faces at the ceiling, figuring out almost immediately that decision was a fucking mistake. Because I knew what was hanging from the ceiling of the dome-shaped facility. For the most part, it was the same thing I’d been seeing for the last thirteen years.
Banners hanging from the rafters.
Banners with the same jackass’s name on all of them.
IVAN LUKOV. IVAN LUKOV. IVAN LUKOV.
And more IVAN LUKOV.
There were other names on there right alongside his—the other miserable souls he’d partnered up with over the years—but it was his that stood out. Not because his last name was the same last name as one of my favorite people in the world, but because his first name reminded me of Satan. I was pretty sure his parents had adopted him straight out of Hell.
But at that moment, nothing else mattered but those hanging tapestries.
Five different blue banners proclaiming each of the national championships he’d won. Two red banners for every world championship. Two butter yellow banners for every gold medal. One silver banner to commemorate the single silver medal for a world championship sitting in the trophy case at the entrance to the facility.
Ugh. Overachiever. Ass. Jerk.
And thank fuck there weren’t banners for every Cup or other competition he’d won along the years too, otherwise the entire ceiling would have been covered in colors, and I would have been throwing up daily.
All these banners… and none of them had my name on them. Not one single one. No matter how hard I had tried, how hard I had trained, nothing. Because no one ever remembers second place, unless you’re Ivan Lukov. And I was no Ivan.
Jealousy I had no right to feel, but couldn’t exactly ignore, pierced right through my sternum, and I hated it. I fucking hated it. Worrying about what other people were doing was a waste of time and energy; I’d learned that as a kid when other girls had nicer costumes and newer skates than me. Being jealous and bitter was what people who didn’t have anything better to do, did. I knew that. No one did anything with their lives if they spent it comparing themselves to other people. I knew that too.
And I never wanted to be that person. Especially not over that jackass. I’d take my three seconds of jealousy shit to the grave with me before I ever told anyone what those banners did to me.
It was with that reminder that I rolled onto my knees to quit looking at those stupid-ass pieces of cloth.
Slapping my hands on the ice, I grunted as I got my feet under me—balancing on my blades was second nature—and finally got up. Again. For the fifth fucking time in less than fifteen minutes. My left hip bone, butt cheek, and thigh were aching, and they were only going to hurt worse tomorrow.
“Fucking shit,” I muttered under my breath so that none of the younger girls skating around me would hear. The last thing I needed was for one of them to tell on me to management. Again. Little snitches. Like they didn’t hear the f-bomb watching television, walking down the street, or going to school.
Brushing off the ice coating my side from my last fall, I took a steadying breath and reeled in the frustration flaring through my body at everything—at myself, my body, my situation, my life, the other girls I couldn’t fucking curse around—at today in general. From waking up late to not being able to land a jump that morning either, to spilling coffee down my shirt at work twice, opening my car door and having it almost break my kneecap, and then this second session of shitty training….
It was easy to forget that in the grand scheme of life, not being able to land a jump I’d been doing for ten years didn’t mean anything. It was just an off day. Another off day. It wasn’t unheard of. There was always something worse that could and would happen, someday, some time. It was easy to take things for granted when you thought you had everything.