“This is safe, right?”
Liam and I were latched onto each other’s elbows, shuffling the soles of our boots across the frozen surface of the pond. Colin waved at us as he glided past on the only pair of skates that still fit anyone.
“I’ve skated on this pond since I was seven,” he called. “It’s fine!”
“Bet he weighs a bit more than he did when he was seven, yeah?” Liam muttered.
I grinned. “It’s nice out, though, isn’t it? Lovely moon and all.”
“Hence the ice.”
Colin had invited us out to spend part of the winter holiday at his family home in the Highlands. It was, in fact, freezing, but it was a nice break from the board games and Doctor Who marathons that had eaten up most of our time. I wasn’t active enough to want to join Mel on her morning runs, nor introverted enough to read a book per day like Rachel did, nor hedonistic enough to drink the day away like Colin. When he suggested we try skating on the frozen pond, I agreed mainly for the excuse to do something, anything, different – and to keep an eye on Colin.
“I want to go back in and drink more hot toddies,” Liam grumbled. “Let Colin stay out here and show off.”
“You’re just grumpy there weren’t skates that fit – otherwise you’d be challenging him to a race.”
Liam snorted. “I’d win, anyway.”
Rachel and Mel, who’d dared to go out on the ice first (after Colin proved we wouldn’t all immediately fall through), made their way further out onto the pond, Rachel in her long black coat like something from a Dickens adaptation, Mel with her fleece runner’s headband practically glowing pink in the dark.
“Come on, you two!” Colin circled around them. “One two three, one two three!”
“It looks thin out there,” Rachel said, ignoring him. “Is it thinner out there?”
“It’s hard to tell.” Mel released Rachel’s arm and scooted forwards a few steps, bending slightly to try to see through the ice in the moonlight.
“Just don’t go too far out,” Colin called from where he was skating figure-eights.
“How far is ‘too far?'” Mel shouted back.
“I underestimated this cold,” Rachel lamented. “Why didn’t we think to bring the hot toddies out with us?”
Colin glided up behind Rachel, one finger to his lips. He yelled and jabbed her sides – and Rachel screamed.
With a squeal so quiet it would have otherwise been cute, Mel wobbled and fell, hard, straight through the ice like it was paper.
“Mel!” Liam and I skidded forward, frustratingly slow. I thought of every dream I’d ever had where I was running to escape something and moving like dripping honey; now I needed to run to something, and panic made me feel even slower.
Colin got there first, his skates kicking up icy spray as he arrived at the spot where Mel had fallen. But she was already struggling to her feet; the water only came up to her waist. Rachel had taken off her coat and she shuffled over to throw one end to Mel. I don’t know how any of us managed it, slipping and skidding the way we were, but soon Mel was out of the water and we were all sprawled across the ice, catching our breath.
Colin turned on Rachel. “Why did you scream like that?” he snapped.
“Why did you grab me?” Rachel retorted, teeth chattering. “You knew I’d scream, because you always do shit like that just to make me scream, since you think it’s so funny – ”
“Well, I didn’t think – ”
“Shut up!” Liam had wrapped his coat and Rachel’s around Mel, who was shaking so badly she couldn’t speak. “She needs to get indoors, now.”
“Rachel’s the one – ”
“Colin, utter one more word and I will push you through that hole.” The two of us helped Mel to her feet and began the slow shuffle back to the pond’s edge. Rachel followed, jaw clenched against both Colin and the cold. Colin stopped at the edge to take off his skates. No one waited for him.
I could feel Mel’s chill through both coats and my own sleeve. She muttered something as we walked. I leaned closer to hear her better. “Sorry?”
Her lips formed a shaky smile. “Don’t know about you, but I could go for a hot toddy.”