There are things you learn from being Viktor Nikiforov’s coach, things that no other student will teach you.
“This is an emergency!” A sixteen-year-old Viktor screeches into his ear when Yakov picks up the phone.
“Vitya,” Yakov says, old heart speeding up. “Vitya, are you okay? Was there an accident? Who died?”
“An accident, this is a disaster, Yakov! I told them exactly what to do with my program outfit and they didn’t listen. They screwed up the lace, Yakov, don’t they understand what that’s supposed to represent–”
“Vitya,” Yakov says, “It is 3am in the morning. I am going back to bed.”
By the time Viktor is nineteen, Yakov is an expert in handling Viktor Nikiforov’s “emergencies.” Emergencies that, somehow, he believes only his coach capable of handling.
“Help, it’s an emergency,” Viktor whispers into the phone at eighteen. “Stephane Lambiel is so hot, Yakov, and his program this year–”
Yakov. Is. Done. When Viktor bursts into the rink at twenty, tears glistening in his beautiful blue eyes, dragging a hundred pound Makkachin with him, Yakov does not even blink. “YAKOV IT’S AN EMERGENCY, SHE IS BLEEDING YAKOV–”
“You clipped her nails too short, you fool, we’ll wrap it up and she’ll be fine.”
When Viktor Nikiforov is twenty-four, has two perfect seasons under his belt, the emergencies slow. Yakov does not miss them. He assumes his skater is finally growing up.
When Viktor Nikiforov is twenty-six, Yakov finds him sleeping on a rink bench. When he’s not skating he stares off, almost blank. When Viktor Nikiforov is twenty-six Yakov swings by his apartment to drop off his skating bag because he forgot it at the rink, again, and he finds Viktor crying, sitting straight up on his couch, TV off. When he talks to him, he realizes Viktor wasn’t even aware of the tears.
“Viktor,” he says, as gently as his face and voice can allow, “is this an emergency? How can I help you?”
“It’s fine,” Viktor says. “I’m fine.”
So often, when Viktor speaks, Yakov does not believe him.
Things change, at the rink. Yakov tries to make sure they do. Things get a little better. There are no emergencies.
Yakov is resting on a chair in the corner at the banquet of the Sochi GPF, exhausted by small talk and schmoozing with sponsors. He is ready to go to bed.
Then a twenty-seven year old Viktor Nikiforov is sprinting towards him, Armani jacket practically ripped open, blue eyes alight.
“YAKOV, IT’S AN EMERGENCY!”
Here he comes, Yakov thinks. Here we go.