The flight to Whistler, British Columbia only took about three hours. And it was a quiet three hours, unless you count Kyla, Jac, and Jon’s constant shenanigans. And then there was that kid behind me incessantly kicking my seat and squealing, but somehow, to me, it was still unreasonably hollow.
If I really think about it, it’s been this way for about twenty-four hours now, and it really has nothing to do with what’s actually happening around me; it’s all because Spencer is suffering. And it’s left me feeling like I stepped on a landmine or percussion grenade, the disorienting aftershock killing all frequencies except for this one shrill ringing that seems to be coming from my chest. And knowing why only makes it more oppressive.
She’s hurting over the loss of Carmen, which is fully expected. She’s also hurting over the fact that she hurt Carmen. Again, that’s easy enough to understand. But ultimately, all of these hurts are tied up in one thing that seems surprising even as I already knew it: she loves Carmen.
This is something that she’s told me over and over again, and I heard her – at least the words went in one ear and I registered their meaning. But for some reason it never really penetrated my brain and became real. I somehow just compartmentalized it away, saw it as lesser. I let it go out the other ear, and I’m fairly certain that I did it on purpose.
I didn’t want to know it.
I didn’t want to believe it.
I explained it away with a belief that Spencer was unhappy with Carmen and trapped in that unhappiness. There may have been some truth in it, but then it wouldn’t be this hard for her if I had been completely right. And because of that, Spencer had to become completely broken before I could really hear her.
I disregarded Carmen and by extension I disregarded Spencer. I had to see it to finally believe it. And I did; oh, how I did.
The Seawitch was home when we went to get the dogs. I was still in my newfound fight mode, and while I didn’t believe that Carmen was necessarily a bad person, she’d hurt Spencer physically before. So, I was rolling my head on my proverbial shoulders and cracking my figurative knuckles for a big showdown. But despite all of those noble excuses, there was a deeper truth to the situation: I just wanted to fight her. I wanted to swat her down like a fly that just wouldn’t go away. I was jealous, and I was petty.
Of course, Spencer knew that, even when I didn’t yet, and strictly forbade me from getting out of the car. And even though I wanted to, I didn’t argue. For all of my selfishness, I recognized that she’d already been through enough because of me.
So, I resigned myself to a relatively long wait and kicked my feet up onto the dash as she unlocked the door and disappeared behind it. Why long? Well, I mean, they’re lesbians. They’d been stewing and methodically scrutinizing their problems for a couple of days, and now they were going to have that long anguished talk that fixes nothing.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes for Spencer to reappear with her canine companions. As a result, I was unprepared and fumbled like an idiot getting out of the Humvee to open the back door. My dexterity wasn’t helped at all as the two lumbering beasts nearly bowled me over wagging their tails, licking any part of me that they could reach, and just generally trying to get fresh.
It was the most action that I’d had in a while.
With some serious cajoling, I got them loaded, but I hadn’t realized that Carmen had followed Spencer out of the house until I’d heard her soft words.
“Are you… with her now?”
Her words irritated me. She irritated me, even when I knew that it was for all of the wrong reasons; I still just felt that way. More importantly, I knew that she felt the same way about me.
I looked at her, or maybe scowled, and she looked right back at me. And that’s when the truth of the situation struck me like a brick to the face. I had been prepared for hateful glares and harsh words, but I had not been prepared for the fact that Carmen wasn’t belligerent. She wasn’t even angry. She just seemed… defeated. She’d obviously been crying and, honestly, I just felt bad for her.
I wasn’t supposed to feel bad for her.
“No, Carm,” Spencer said, taking one of her hands. “I just need to be single right now.”
And those words hit just as hard, because I finally saw it and believed it.
Spencer and Carmen love each other.
Carmen played with Spencer’s fingers and nodded her head, and for the first time, instead of being insanely jealous, I just felt out of place, as if I was intruding on something intensely private. For once I felt like the third wheel, and I realized that maybe I should have been feeling that way all along. Maybe things wouldn’t have become so hurtful for anyone if I’d just never showed up on Spencer’s doorstep, if I’d just let her go like I was supposed to.
But I didn’t; I couldn’t, even when I should have.
Instead, I’d hurt them both.
But I’d been hurting in this situation too.
Didn’t I deserve closure?
I wasn’t sure as the thoughts developed and I’m still not positive now. If anything, things are less sure, especially as we arrive in a new place. I’m ready to get off of this shuttle, and as it pulls to a stop in front of a monolith of resort wonder that’s glowing warmly like a snow-covered beacon, I’m already at the door.
It opens but I let the others pass because I was foolish enough to glance back at Spencer. She’s still looking out of the window, melancholy so unbecoming in her normally bright and open demeanor. Yes, I’d hurt her. But I’d hurt us both. I’d given her up because I thought that the future was completely doomed.
I guess that my reasons don’t really change anything. I still chose. It’s still my fault. I didn’t have to do it. And I know now that I shouldn’t have done it. The honest truth is that maybe I’m the only one in this situation who actually deserves to hurt.
So that hollow place inside is quickly becoming an oubliette because I finally see that Spencer really does love Carmen, and worst of all, I saw what the destruction of that love had done to both of them. And I can’t help but think that all of this was for nothing.
All of us have lost everything in this tug-o-war, and not a single one of us feels better with closure.
Twenty-four hours of silence, of sadness, because I finally realized what I didn’t want to realize. But I didn’t have a choice but to finally let it in, because as the two of them parted in such an aching way, I found it within myself to feel bad for the one person I resented for having what I wanted – what I needed.
And in that moment of clarity, this new knowledge ate at me. I felt like I needed to do something. I didn’t know what, but I had to at least be sure that Spencer knew what she was doing. So, when the two of them said their tearful goodbyes, when Spencer got back into the car, her eyes firmly fixed on this girl broken on a stoop, I asked her something that I didn’t want to think about; yet it was all that I could think about.
“Spence, are you sure you want to do this? I don’t think it’s too late.”
It killed me to even think it. And I wanted to believe that I was being altruistic, that I was looking out for Spencer and what she wanted, but I knew that it was a lie. At the end of the day, I needed to know that Spencer wasn’t doing this because I wanted her to.
I needed to know that Spencer wanted this for herself.
I needed to know that she wasn’t regretting her decision.
I, me, for selfish reasons, wanted these reassurances because anytime that there’s a love triangle, there’s insecurity. And this particular triangle that I had thrust myself into wasn’t just three people on a magic carpet ride of fun; it was Bermudian.
Carmen pulled herself together and shuffled back into the house, and Spencer released a sigh when the door closed behind her. Then she gave me my answer.
“I have to do this,” she said quietly.
If her answer had been any different, there would be no year of searching; there would be no seeking and creating amazing moments before they became extinct all together. This wiped the slate clean, and anything less would fail in even the smallest of ways without it.
She’d said the right thing, and I wanted to pump my fist in the air. But feeling that way, languishing in the destruction of something that meant so much to her just left me feeling guilty.
Everything was working out in my favor, and I was still unhappy. Maybe that was what Spencer was trying to tell me when she met me at the coffee shop. Maybe she knew that this was going to hurt but it had to happen because it was time to grow. Either way, that oubliette got a little colder and a little more desolate. And I felt even more helpless.
There was just nothing that I could do. Even if I did want to talk her into going back to Carmen, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t send her away. I couldn’t lose what little was left of her, even as it was my fault that she was so small. So, I started the car and took us home, and once Spencer had everything that she needed in the guest room, I didn’t see her again until this morning. Even then, outside of an obligatory greeting, we haven’t really said anything to each other.
She stands and I hasten to look away from her, stepping off of the shuttle to breathe deeply. These last twenty-four hours have felt stifling, and I start to feel it again when she joins me on the ground. This isn’t the Spencer that I know and love. She hasn’t been that Spencer since I found her.
I mean, she’s still as strikingly beautiful as always. But there is this somber aura hanging onto her, like an albatross clinging to her neck. She still smiles and nods when it’s expected, but it’s a farce. She’s hiding it well, but I can see it.
Her always expressive eyes are dull as Kyla obliviously talks her ear off. And for Spencer, that’s a dead giveaway. They always had this way of sucking me in and making me feel insignificant, even as I felt all the more special for it. They were immense and scary and giving life as much as they take it away.
But that’s gone, missing, replaced with a vacant stare into some unknown horizon, some well-known anguish. And yet again, I feel this guilt start to manifest itself. And yet again, instead of wanting to run, I need to fix it. It scares me because it’s so unlike me. I don’t fix things; I shatter them and leave them burning, and I don’t look back no matter how dark or cold it gets.
But right now, it doesn’t even matter what’s actually broken anymore. I just need to take something in my hands and make it whole.
I need to assuage my guilt.
I need to see her smile and really mean it.
I need to see her wear joy and find fulfillment.
But she’s longing for something that I can’t give her. And she wants it so badly that I feel like she’d rather be somewhere else, anywhere else, maybe even that horizon that only she can see. I know that she said that she needed to do this, but what if what she wants and what she needs don’t match?
I suppose that all that I can do is try to get her out of her head, try and have some fun and hope that it banishes some of that pain. Because once she’s free of it, I’ll be free of it. It’s always selfish. I’m always selfish. But maybe then this journey can count for something, even if I wind up tumbling down a hill into a grave when it’s over.
If nothing else, Kyla, Kate, Jac, Jon, Shirley, and Sam are here. I know that I’ll at least have help in the form of distractions. And I couldn’t imagine any place more beautiful. It’s open and bright, the snow fresh and mostly untouched against the cresting slopes of tree-dotted mountains and crisp, pine-laced air. It forces me to breathe in and open my eyes. I feel more alert, aware of my senses, and that’s what I need – what Spencer needs.
“Holy frijoles,” Jon says as she zips her hoodie a little higher.
Kate, Shirley, and Sam nod their agreement as they take to shuddering like leaves in a tornado, and Jac tucks her arms over her painfully erect nipples. I told her to wear more than a thin sweater…
“You Californians are pussies,” Kyla says and Spencer chuckles.
And I smile because she’s right. Ohioans are thick-blooded. Californians have no idea just how good they have it all year.
And it’s about this time that a dark-haired jock comes striding up to us with his Ken doll good looks, strong, grizzled jaw, and blinding smile.
“Yeah,” I say.
“Excellent,” he exclaims in an almost creepy fashion. “Welcome to the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. I’m Booker.” He holds out a hand. “I’m your all-around guide and snowboarding instructor.”
I reach out to shake his hand, and he immediately turns it and bends forward. For a moment I panic, not just because he’s about to mark me like an over-eager dog, but because I can’t get my hand back to avoid it.
His lips keep getting closer and closer and I keep pulling and pulling, but it’s no use. You know those moments in life where you see something disturbing about to happen and you know that you can’t stop it, so you just stand there like a limp noodle and gawp until it’s over?
Yup, that’s me.
Here it comes…
Here it comes…
I give it one last valiant attempt, but it’s no use. Did the lower temperatures freeze my hand to his? My palms aren’t that sweaty.
I mean, they never sweat…
I’m Ashley Davies…
I finally close my eyes and try to imagine a happy place. And then it happens and I want to hurl in disgust. His lips are too wet and his chin hair feels like a cat’s tongue rasping over the surface. And that’s it, I’ve had enough, only I have to yank so hard to get it away from him that I actually wind up elbowing Jac in her tit.
God, that had to hurt, especially with a bad case of titty hard-on.
She squawks but I can’t even bring myself to look at her to apologize. All I can do is kind of stare at my hand like it’s some foreign thing that’s covered in alien goo. I feel like I need a shower now. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I’m going to have to burn it, which sucks because, I mean, I need this hand.
“If there’s anything at all you need, I’m your man,” he says.
Ugh, that’s subtle.
“Um, thanks,” I smile tightly.
I see Spencer turn her head away from me to swallow her hilarity in my periphery, and I give her a sideways glance, hoping that laser beams will magically shoot out from my eyes and singe her. Booker then has the audacity to turn his dazzling charm on her.
“And that goes for all of you.”
Okay, so that’s unacceptable. She may not be mine, but she sure as fuck isn’t going to be his. Spencer can’t even look up at him if she plans not to completely shame me by laughing, so she just nods.
“That’s really nice of you,” Kyla steps in confidently.
He pans that rakish grin to my baby sister and winks, and Kyla looks like she just might melt onto the snow.
Okay, that’s too fucking far…
I’m about to deck him when Shirley touches my shoulder and steps forward.
“That’s indeed very nice of you,” she says, stepping to the front and extending a hand of her own.
His grin falters only slightly as this quintessential dyke nearly tears his arm from his shoulder with her exuberant grip.
“You can start by getting our luggage,” she points to the mound of bags that the airport shuttle driver is unloading, sweat pouring from his brow as he develops a hernia. “We’ll be warming ourselves in the lobby.”
And with that, she slings an arm around her shivering wife and leads the way into the resort proper.
I love Shirley…
Jon chucks Booker on the shoulder as she passes him, followed by Jac who gives me a scathing look that screams that I’ve just unwittingly started a war, and then Kate who’s pushing Jac away from me. And just as the last of us are about to follow, Booker clears his throat.
“The driver will move your bags into your personal shuttle to take you to Blueberry Hill after you check in. I’m just here to welcome you and introduce myself.”
He’s still smiling like a cat peering up at a nest in the trees, and I can’t help but wonder why he still thinks that he has a chance. Was forcible appendage removal not enough?
Maybe I removed the wrong appendage?
“They booked me just for you for the next five days.”
Was that innuendo?
“I don’t normally do this,” he continues almost bashfully as he pulls three cards from the wallet in his neoprene pants. “But this is my personal cell. Call me anytime, day or night…”
Oh, I bet this is his very first time giving out his number. I mean, he only printed those cards today, lucky for us. Kyla takes the card happily but Spencer and I… well, she’s cordial and I’m afraid to put my hand in that bear trap again. But he just stands there waiting, and I realize that he’s not going to get the hint. I just want him to go away, so I brave life and limb to snatch it from him.
He’s almost gloating now that the seeds of his man garden are successfully spread, and I wonder at him. Why do guys always just assume that women are in heat? Is it nature ensuring the survival of the species? I mean, I get him hitting on us the first time, and I get him continuing to hit on Kyla; she’s just as desperate as he is. But you’d think that injuring my friend to get away from him would have maybe wilted his flower even just a little.
Hello, body language. It’s ancient but it’s still relevant.
Yet, Spencer and I are both holding his card, my hand is permanently disfigured, one of my best friends has a collapsed mammary gland, and he’s walking away with a bounce in his step and happy tune whistling from his lips.
I just don’t get it…
“Alright, well, we should probably go check in,” I say. “We still have to take a shuttle to the house.”
“You rented a house,” Kyla’s eyes get huge with enthusiasm.
I shrug. “It looked really nice online and I thought it would be better to have a house instead of rooms.”
Kyla hugs my neck so tight that I have to tap her shoulder to get her to relent. She then takes off for the resort leaving me alone with Spencer.
I hold my card up to her.
“Did you want yours?”
“About as much as I want a hole in my head,” she answers wryly.
I chuckle and take the card from her and put them both in my pocket.
“Come on,” I say. “We’ll burn them later,” I hold up my hand. “Along with this.”
She chokes out a full laugh and I relish the sound of it even though it’s at my expense. It doesn’t last long though. That somberness snuffs it out all too quickly, like a flame trying to ignite that just can’t find the oxygen. I want to sigh and maybe stomp my foot, but instead, I tuck my hands into my jacket pockets and hold an elbow out in offering. She seems hesitant to take it at first, but then she does anyway. And while it’s an infinitesimal, completely meaningless gesture, I feel a little better.
“So we really have to spend five days with that sleaze,” she asks as we make our way to the doors.
I lean my head back and groan, making her laugh all the more.
“I don’t know… should I ask for someone else?”
She shrugs. “We might end up with someone worse.”
“Let’s just give him a chance and if he gets worse, we’ll ask.”
I love how reasonable she is. And I love how she wants to give even the most slippery of bastards a chance.
I just love her.
God, help me.
I nod my agreement.
“Welcome to the Whistler Blackcomb,” the doorman greets as he holds the door open for us.
“Thanks,” Spencer and I chorus as we move into the blessed warmth to see our group waiting on the furniture in the reception area. The line to the front counter is a little long and I look over at Spencer.
“You wanna wait in line with me or hang out with the peanut gallery?”
We both glance over just in time to see Jon wolf-whistle at a scantily clad blonde as she passes. Kate, the always reliable referee, yanks Jon’s back pocket to plop her onto the couch where Jac promptly slaps her. All the while Shirley tries to sink into the cushions, and Sam apologizes to the blonde. Spencer squeezes my arm before she releases it, and somehow the temperature drops a little.
“I’ll wait with you.”
So, she dropped my arm to put distance between us, but she wants to stay with me?
Talk about body language…
No wonder guys are so resilient: they’re confused. Maybe they just go with what they want to believe because it’s the happier of the convoluted options.
We situate ourselves quietly in line and I let my thoughts wander again, trying to determine how to at least make things normal with Spencer, but after a few moments she starts to chuckle. I turn to see what’s so funny and find Jac and Jon both standing next to each other, their shirts lifted while they appear to examine their belly buttons.
“God,” I snort. “They’re so embarrassing. I can’t take them anywhere.”
She shakes her head, still smiling. “They’re an interesting bunch, that’s for sure.”
I’m not sure if she meant that as a good or bad thing.
“Do you wish I hadn’t invited them?”
I hadn’t considered that she wouldn’t like my friends.
We hear a loud, high-pitched squawk and every person in the lobby focuses their attention back at my adolescent bandmates. Jon’s rubbing her stomach and making idle threats while Jac rolls on the sofa in hilarity. I’m not sure how the possibility that Spencer may not like them escaped me.
“Nah,” Spencer says when everyone starts to slowly go back to what they were doing. “They keep things interesting.”
I shake my head. “They’re like Larry and Curly.”
Spencer grins at me.
“So that makes you Moe?”
“Hey, at least you’re the ring-leader. That’s good, right?”
“Not when life’s a zoo and someone opened the barn door.”
We both laugh and then a breathy voice shrills and interrupts us.
“Hello and welcome to the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort!”
I focus my attention on the perma-pressed blonde behind the counter and feel the need to take a step back, as if at any moment bright beams of light are going to shoot from her eyes and fingertips, and then she may start to levitate. Her smile is so stretched that I have the strangest need to check behind her ears for safety pins, and her eyes are so wide that I can see the whole of her irises.
It’s a little terrifying.
“Do you have a reservation?!”
Why does everything coming out of her mouth sound so fucking exciting?
“Um, yeah, Davies,” I say, grabbing my wallet from my pocket and pulling out all of the necessary cards.
“Oh, yes, miss Davies! We’re so glad you’re here! Did Booker greet you at the shuttle?!”
Was he her fault?
I’m liking her less by the minute.
She starts typing into the computer in front of her so rapid-fire that the click of the keyboard sounds like a machine gun. With the length of her nails, typing is a whole body experience, and she seems to almost vibrate. She’s still so excited that I’m worried that she might piddle where she stands.
She places a stack of papers on the counter that appear to have materialized from her very fingertips, and then she gets worse, because not only does she go back to typing and smiling and spazzing out like a maniac, but she starts talking so fast that I can barely keep up with her.
“You and each of your party will need to sign a release of liability…that is why I have placed eight copies on the counter…these forms release Whistler Blackcomb resort from any legal responsibility should any of you become injured during your time in class or on the slopes.”
And then, she’s somehow holding a pen and has pointed out several boxes on one of the forms. “Initial here, here, print here, and sign here!”
I take the pen and sign off before passing it all to Spencer to do the same, and when I look back, there’s a ring of keys so close to my face that I’m forced to crane my neck away.
“Your deposit for the Blueberry Hill Home has been released from your credit card…however, I will be holding this account on retainer for the duration of your stay!”
I take the keys, and Spencer collects the forms, touching my arm awkwardly to indicate that she’s going to get the others to sign. I sigh and watch her walk away, still confused on why this is so weird. When I look back to the receptionist, this time she’s disappeared completely and I find myself hesitantly looking over the desk to see if she’s collapsed.
She’s not there, so I look around and finally spot her in the small waiting area with our group, all them staring at her vacantly as her mouth moves nighty miles a minute. From the expressions on their faces, I don’t think that they actually know why they’re putting pen to paper. In fact, I wouldn’t put it past this chick to have a disclaimer in there asking for their first born. I turn back to my own document to look it over only to find that she’s already signed it as the witness.
When did she…?
“Okay. I think that covers everything…do you have any questions?!”
I glance up to see her standing there as if she never left, all of the papers stacked together on the counter in front of her and fully signed – even the one that I was just reading. Her hands are folded primly on top of them, and I can’t help but wonder if she perhaps has the ability to turn into a bat, or a rodent, or just mist.
“Yes, um, where do we meet the shuttle driver to the house?”
She cocks her head, that insanely happy expression faltering only a fraction, but it’s enough to make me feel like I’m mentally challenged. After a moment she seems to realize that I’m genuinely confused.
“Why, right there… of course,” she says as she gestures to the tall, thin man who’s just magically materialized at my side. I glance up at him and he tips his black hat, saying nothing before making a lumbering turn and gliding away as if he expects us to follow. I can’t help but wonder how long he was standing there. He’s creepy, and he reminds me of Lurch from the Adam’s family, but my only other option is to stay here with the baby-eating blonde.
I look at her, and back to Lurch.
At least he seems harmless.
One more look at the blonde and I determine to take my chances with him. I glance over at Spencer who’s already rounded everyone up and we all head out to the shuttle where the driver’s waiting. I swear, he sways and groans in the wind as we all pile in, and when he shuts the door, he does it so hard that the hull rocks and the shocks squeak.
Surprisingly, he’s actually a decent driver, even on the icy roads. I don’t feel the need to grab the oh-shit handle even once, and we’re at the house within about ten minutes.
The driver says nothing as he pliantly unloads our things to the front porch, and then he simply collects a tip and leaves.
I turn to my excited group and look up at the house. It’s three stories of modern glass and crisp angles that appear to crawl up the mountain, but it still retains that rustic cabin appeal. I smile as I start pulling keys off of the ring to pass them out. The creepy blonde was thorough at least. There are eight keys and they work on the lock to the door.
We each pick up our luggage, Kate helping me because, well, I have… needs, and we all file inside. Immediately we find ourselves in a large but cozy space with vaulted ceilings that let in some of the natural sunlight. Large beams crisscross throughout the ceiling, modern décor and technology blend seamlessly with the antiquity and semi-rustic accoutrements, and overall, it’s exactly what I had been expecting.
A fire is already lit and a feeling of warmth pervades the space, even as the floor to ceiling windows along the back deck are the only thing holding the cold at bay. They also do an amazing job of showcasing the majesty of the snowy mountains outside.
We set our luggage down, Jac, Jon, Kate, and Kyla oohing and awing with excitement, and we all start to disperse to check the place out. The four of them dart up the stairs while the adults take the opening to the right where a state-of-the-art kitchen waits.
“Wow,” Sam says as she runs a hand over a smooth, granite countertop. “Now this is a kitchen.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Shirley teases and Sam smiles back.
“No, you’ve never used one,” she replies cheekily.
I can’t help but look over at Spencer and give her my most hopeful expression.
“Delicious, chocolatey goodness,” I ask. She shakes her head slowly, but she can’t help but smile. “Please, Spence,” I try again.
“Do I have a choice?”
I feel smug, and not just because I get some magic cocoa, but because she’s forgotten her sadness for just a moment.
“Wow,” Shirley brushes past me and the dining table, and we all turn to see two sets of large French doors leading to an expansive deck where a sauna shack and hot tub wait against that spectacular view.
“Now that,” Shirley smiles at us over her shoulder. “I know how to use.”
Sam snuggles up against her side and sighs.
“Remember that trip to Idlewyld in the 80s,” she asks wistfully.
Shirley leans down to whisper something in Sam’s ear which makes her giggle, and I look to Spencer with a grimace.
She shrugs and smiles a half-watt smile. “I think it’s cute.”
“Ugh, don’t encourage them,” I say when they start to kiss.
It was only a joke, but Spencer isn’t laughing. That sadness is back, darkening her face and pulling her mind from the moment, and I know that it’s because being around Shirley and Sam can make any single person lovesick.
Or just plain sick.
Shirley seems to understand this as well.
“Let’s go check the rest out.”
And I watch despondently as they leave and Spencer hugs herself. I want to be the one to hug her, but she’s being so weird about touching. I have no way to help her, even as I know what she’s going through, but I don’t want to stand here under this dark cloud. We need to keep moving, keep busy.
“Come on, Spence.”
She swipes at her eyes and we move through the living room to investigate the master bedroom and en suite at the back of this floor. Shirley and Sam have already claimed it.
“How many rooms are there,” Spencer asks as we leave them to unpack.
“Four,” I say. “We’ll have to double up.”
She stops at the stairs and glances over at me, and I feel my eyes widen when I realize what she’s thinking.
“Oh, no. I figured I’d bunk with Kate, and Kyla could bunk with you, since you know her best. Also, one of these rooms has two single beds.”
She lets out a breath. “I’m sorry. It shouldn’t even matter. We used to sleep together all the time when we were just friends.”
Yeah, and it killed me then. I really don’t want to go back to that place of unrequited longing. But who am I kidding? It’s a way of life at this point…
“I’m just…,” she continues. “Worried, I guess?” She frowns. “I don’t know. I’m just being stupid.”
We stoop to pick up our luggage, well, I pick up as much as I can, and I try to figure out why she’d be worried. I mean, I’m in love with her, not a sexual deviant.
“Why,” I ask.
“Why am I being stupid? Beats the hell out of me.”
I glance over at her. She knows exactly what I mean, and I’m not going to let her avoid it. As a result, she gets frustrated.
“I’m sorry; I just want to be sure that we don’t put ourselves in a bad situation. I don’t want there to be any mixed signals or confusion.”
I chuckle a little ruefully. “Spence, mixed signals are all over the place.”
She knows it too, if that sad expression is any indication.
“But that’s okay,” I reassure her. “We’ve got time to figure it out.”
The words were out of my mouth before I could really think them through, and the impact is felt by both of us. The truth is, there isn’t much time, at least not for me, and I think she only just finally realized it because tears are welling in her eyes.
I set my bags down and place my hands on her shoulders to make sure that she’s facing me. I want to reassure her, but how can I do that when this territory is just as, if not more, terrifying for me? What could possibly put her at ease, me at ease?
“Spence, just do what comes natural, okay? I don’t want to be afraid to hug you or hold your hand, and you shouldn’t be afraid of that either. We’ve always been affectionate, even when you were with Carmen. It doesn’t have to mean that we’re dating, and I won’t assume that it means anything either.”
I have no idea what I’m saying as I take one of her hands and twine our fingers. “It’s just comforting.”
Fuck, I’m just digging myself a grave, and it’s too late to take it back now, but it is comforting to hold her hand.
Maybe I can do this?
I mean, I’m always going to want more, but just because I can’t have what I want doesn’t mean that I want nothing at all. I’ll meet her as far into the rabbit hole as she wants to go. And who knows, maybe if I hold her hand she’ll keep me from tumbling completely.
Or maybe she’ll tumble with me.
She squeezes my fingers and smiles through those tears. “Thank you.”
And this time, it’s her who leans in and hugs me. And I feel a small part of myself heal just a little as I close my eyes and breathe her in. Maybe there is hope, not just for her, but for both of us.
“You’re welcome,” I say and hold her a little tighter.
I’ve missed this.
I’ve missed it a little too much…
Thank God for Jon’s obnoxious cat-calls. It gives me a reason to pull back and consider what I’ve just done. I’m going to willingly torture myself because I can’t stand the awkwardness of something that comes as natural to me as breathing.
And I know that it’s going to hurt, not just physically, but in all of the ways that always hurt anyway. I guess it really doesn’t matter. Besides, it’s just a year. If this is really all that I have, I want to be able to hug her at the very least.
We turn to Jon who’s leering, and I roll my eyes, choosing to ignore her.
“What’s on this floor,” I ask.
“Two bedrooms, a bathroom, and an office-den-thingy,” she answers with a smile.
“A bedroom with a tiny bathroom.”
“Cool. Which one is Kate in?”
“Her and Kyla are in there.” She points to the room just past the second set of stairs.
“Jac and I are in here.” She points to the door right next to her.
I shake my head. “Kate is supposed to sleep with me…”
She nods. “That’s what she said-”
Jon’s eyes get big as her immature brain catches up with her mouth. She didn’t even mean to say it, but that doesn’t stop Jac from running out of the room and giving her a high-five before they both burst into peals of laughter.
I swipe a hand down my face while I wait for them both to calm down.
“Jon…,” I say, losing my patience.
“Sorry, okay, Kate said the same thing…” She looks at Jac and they both snort. “But Kyla had a better idea, and we agreed.”
And now she’s smug, which isn’t unusual for Jon; she’s almost always a cocky asshole. But Jac, she doesn’t normally grin at me like that. I frown. What the frilly fuck is going on? It doesn’t take long for me to conclude that my sister is setting me and Spencer up.
“Kyla,” I call out pleasantly.
Spencer touches my arm. “Ash, it’s okay…”
“No, it’s not… KYLA!”
The pleasantness has faded a touch…
“What,” she shouts just before appearing in the doorway straight ahead.
I stride up to her.
“Why isn’t Kate bunking with me,” I ask with saccharine dripping from my lips.
She glances at Spencer over my shoulder before grabbing my arm and tugging me into the room.
“You really don’t get it,” she asks me nonplussed.
I feel anger flush through me and use my lungs to attempt control.
“I don’t know, what’s going on?”
Benefit of the doubt and all that…
“Well, we decided that you two might-“
“Yeah, I think I understand what’s going on.” I interrupt. “I also understand that it ends now. Get your stuff…”
“You need to spend time with her, Ash.”
I shake my head, further jumbling the frustrated thoughts that are already banging around up there.
“You have no respect for me at all, do you? Or for her…”
She steps back, a frown forming on her face.
“You pushed me and Spencer together before, and it got three people hurt, not to mention that Spencer is now homeless. You begged me to come back home for Christmas and then treated me like a pariah. And now,” I throw my hands up. “Now you go behind my back with my friends and organize a- a… mutiny?”
Somehow, I was able to force all of that out in an almost whisper, but I’m not quite done.
“Don’t you care about me at all?”
Her eyes are glassy as she just stares at me in stunned silence.
After a few moments she says, “Of course. I love you, Ash. We all do…”
I just don’t understand her at all sometimes.
She steps forward to touch my arm. “That’s why I keep pushing you. You’re so stubborn…”
“You can’t push me into the corner you want me in, Kyla.”
“I’m not trying to push you into a corner; I’m trying to push you out of a rut!”
“Keep your voice down,” I hiss at her before peeking through the door, but it was no good. Spencer’s heard us and by the look on her face this is the last thing that she needs.
“You just accused me of not caring about you,” Kyla shouts.
I pull her further away from the door.
“Well, think about it Kyla. Just Christmas says a lot about how you feel.”
She groans. “I did that because I know that mom’s just as stubborn as you are,” she says a little defeatedly. I silence her again and she reluctantly lowers her voice. “You had to make the first move, and I knew that if I made you angry enough, you’d eventually blow your top. She’s not like that. She doesn’t lose it. It had to be you.” A humorless laugh escapes her. “And it worked, but you don’t see that!” I try to silence her again, but it’s ineffectual. In fact, she’s picking up steam, all pacing and sharp-handed gestures. “You also refuse to see that if it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t have mom or Spencer!” She chucks a finger at the door. “She deserved to know the truth, and you both deserve to be happy! So yeah, I pushed and I prodded and it hurt, but I’d do it again because now, at least you have a chance at being happy! So don’t tell me that I don’t love you, because that’s bullshit and you know it!”
She storms from the room and I watch her run past Spencer, stomp down the stairs, and then wince as the front door rattles the very walls.
How did things get so messed up? Why can’t they just be normal again?
I have to close my eyes to take a deep breath. I seem to be doing that a lot lately, though it doesn’t help. A headache is blooming to life behind my eyes and I just want to lie down and nap at this point. I look over to Kate who’s been reading a magazine and minding her own business from one of the twin beds.
“Come on, Kate,” I sigh. “Let’s go upstairs.”
She closes the magazine and sets it next to her, training her eyes on me and giving me a look that I can’t read. But something about it stops me in place.
Just… now what?
After a few moments, she says, “No.”
She sits up a little bit, as if she’s getting less comfortable or standing some sort of ground.
“I said no.”
I look up at the ceiling and pray for lightening, anything, to just put me out of my misery.
“Why,” I ask pathetically.
“Because your sister’s right.”
“Not you, too,” I groan.
“Ash,” she says gently. “I’ve watched you hurt for years over Spencer.” I give her a warning glance. Spencer isn’t standing ten feet outside of the fucking door or anything. “You really think that she hasn’t heard everything already,” she reasons. “Besides, it’s the truth, and if she doesn’t already know it, and I think she does, then she needs to.”
“How is forcing us to sleep in the same room going to help? She needs space, Kate.”
She smiles a little sadly. “She may want space, but she needs you.”
“Kate, you don’t even know her,” I whine in frustration.
And then I hate myself a little bit because I hate whining. But sometimes… one simply cannot help it.
This is one of those situations.
She just shrugs and I can literally feel my hair starting to turn gray. “I’ve seen and heard enough from both of you over the last two months to know that you love each other.”
“Love isn’t always enough, Kate…”
She seems to consider what I’m saying and nods. “Okay, but maybe being trapped together in a room might help with some of that other stuff.”
“Kate, I’m asking you, as my best friend, not to fight me on this.”
She smiles a little sadly at me.
“And I’m telling you, as your best friend, that I care too much not to fight you on this.”
Oh, she is so on my shit list.
And she so knows it.
“You’re out of the band,” I snap at her.
She just fucking laughs…
Then she picks up her magazine and shakes her head while casually flipping through the pages.
She does not, however, give a single fuck.
I leave the room and make my way to Jac and Jon who’ve been listening from their doorway, not that everyone in a mile radius hasn’t heard. And I don’t even get the words out of my mouth before they shake their heads.
“You’re out of the band, too, both of you.”
Jon leans against the doorframe.
“Well, from where I’m standing, it looks like you’re the one out of the band. You might want to think about that.”
And with a chuck to my shoulder, they both go back into their room, shutting the door and turning on some music.
With a sigh, I look to Spencer. She’s staring off into the unknown again, only this time it’s somewhere in the hardwood floor.
“Spence, I’m so sorry. I’ll get a room at the resort and stay there. You can have the room upstairs.” She looks up at me and frowns. “I don’t think I want to be in the same house with this bunch anyway.”
I reach for my luggage and Spencer puts a hand on my arm to stop me. “They may be pushy, but they’re right about-”
Whatever she was trying to say, she regrets going there, because she removes her hand from my arm and starts to fidget with her fingers, as if she just said something wrong. And there’s that fucking quiet again, and I just want to stick my fucking head in a fucking wind turbine because I’m so fucking sick of it.
But then she speaks, and it’s so low that I have to strain to hear it, but when I do, it’s heard so deeply that my very insides ache.
“I do need you.”
Those words thrust me into this strange place of wanting what I don’t want to want anymore. And it’s not because I don’t love her, but because it would be easier for everyone if I didn’t, especially her. It’s just so exhausting.
“Spence, you said that you needed space. I’m trying to give that to you.”
She shakes her head. “I said that I needed boundaries so that we could both focus on ourselves. I never said that I don’t need you.” She looks down again and seems a little more defeated. “Though sometimes I wish I didn’t.”
Those words hurt, but I get it. I understand her. I just felt the same way not two minutes ago. It would be so much easier for her if she didn’t love me. Then she wouldn’t hurt, but ultimately, then she wouldn’t be feeling like shit for hurting the person that she loves.
I let go of the bag handle and hold my arms out in a gesture of surrender.
“I’ll do whatever you want, Spence.”
She thinks for a moment before nodding at her decision.
“I want you to stay.”
She doesn’t say anything else but starts to collect her baggage, and I do the same. We proceed up the last set of stairs and find ourselves in the minimalistic beauty that is the highest room of the house. The wall facing the mountains is almost completely open, a large mezzanine lining a cozy sitting area outside.
The room actually isn’t that large, but with the window it feels huge. I set my stuff at the foot of the bed and Spencer does the same. This queen-sized, four-poster is the stuff that harlequin romance novels are made of, all billowing canopy and fringe and softer-than-soft fabrics.
Spencer and I look at each other and after a moment we share a laugh. And it’s nice to break the tension.
“I’m so sorry, Spence. I really didn’t know that they’d do this.”
“I know. Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to bunking with Kyla. I mean, I love her, but it’s all loud music and nonstop talking, about boys no less.”
I chuckle again. She’s not wrong. My sister is a handful. I still don’t know what I’m going to do with her. But at least some of that stuff is out in the open to be dealt with, though at the worst possible time.
“Are you really comfortable with this,” I ask.
She gives me a reassuring smile. “I think we’ll be fine. Like you said, there’s no reason not to be natural with each other. The awkwardness was killing me.”
“No kidding,” I commiserate.
My head throbs a little harder, and I close my eyes to pinch the bridge of my nose. “Listen, would you mind if I lie down for a while? I’m starting to get a headache.”
This seems to worry her. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I’m fine. Just tired.”
And then she’s there, fingers running through my hair and making me purr as her worry overtakes her melancholy and tinglies overtake my scalp.
“Are you sure?”
I groan and sway.
She chuckles. “Some things never change.”
“Huh uh,” I say.
She continues for a moment longer before coming to a stop and exhaling heavily.
“I’m a little tired too,” she says. “Would you mind?”
I don’t hesitate to crawl up on the bed and collapse facedown into the downy goodness with a long moan. Spencer climbs up next to me and mirrors my pose, although her hair makes a mess. I brush it back and I can see that something is bothering her, but it’s not the normal something. There are too many things upsetting her for me to be able to tell what it is, and even if I did know, there’s still nothing that I could do to help.
But I try anyway.
“It’s going to be okay, Spence.”
She nods and hides within herself, and I can’t find the will to draw her out. The left lobe of my brain is having a hip-hop dance-off with my right lobe, and I know that if I don’t get some rest, it will become an unmanageable migraine. So I close my eyes, and some time passes, and I’m actually thankful for the quiet at this moment. I feel the bed move and see Spencer kicking off her shoes so I do the same. She resettles and it’s not long after that my eyes start to droop.
“Ash,” she says.
“You’d tell me if you were sick again, right?”
I blink my eyes open and feel myself frown as I scrutinize that question. Why is she thinking about that? And then it clicks. Is this how it’s going to be every time that I stub a toe or get a runny nose?
“Spence, it’s just a stress headache. I get them sometimes.”
No, I’m not sure. I’m never sure until I’m so sick that I find myself in the hospital. That’s how these things work. And while I don’t want to have to say that to her, I can’t lie to her either.
All I can say is, “I don’t know how long I have, but I’m not leaving again if I have a choice.”
She closes her eyes and I watch a tear roll from her lashes, over her nose, and then soak into her pillow. And her pain just got a little deeper, a little more terrifying, and so did mine. Because, for the first time since the day that I lied to her and sent her running away from me, I realize that not only do I not want to die, I want to live.
I watch as a weary sleep claims her, and my own anguish starts to seep out. But it’s quiet, and again I’m thankful for that, because I get to be near her as my control slips and she’ll never even know that it happened.
In this moment, I’m not alone as I grieve myself into an exhausted sleep.
“Come on, girls! Wake up!”
There’s a pounding on the door and I reach to pull the covers up over my head to shut it out, but they won’t budge. I pull harder and someone groans.
“Come on, sleepyheads!”
I grab the nearest pillow, earning me another groan, and chuck it at the door.
Bright light burns against my eyelids and I tug on the covers again. They only give a little and I start to get frustrated.
“Damn it,” I grumble.
And that’s when the chipper, off-key singing and obnoxious clapping begin.
“Good morning; good morning! Rise and shine, get out of bed! Good morning; good morning to you!”
“Shirley, shut up,” I demand, pulling as hard as I can on the covers, and this time, the weight shifts and they’re liberated, but the resulting shriek and hard thud ruins my triumph.
I crack my eyes open and see Shirley helping Spencer from the floor.
“God- Spence…?” I scramble to the edge of the bed to help her. “I’m so sorry…”
She gets to her feet and slumps against the bed as she rubs her elbow. I look at the appendage. It’s red and it’ll probably bruise. But mostly, I’m an asshole.
“Spence, I’m so sorry.”
What more can I say? Shirley retrieves the pillow that I threw, and after closer inspection, I realize that it was Spencer’s. Fuck, I’m such an asshole.
“I didn’t realize what I was doing,” I try pathetically.
“S’okay,” Spencer says sleepily and I can’t help but smile at how cute she is with her hair all mussed and eyes half-closed.
“You two have half-an-hour to get your butts down stairs,” Shirley warns with a sharp look, but then she finally leaves and Spencer looks over at me. After a moment of unspoken discussion, we both curl back up under the covers.
“It’s still dark out,” she observes once we’re settled.
A quick look at the clock over her shoulder reveals that it’s not yet six in the morning.
“She’s trying to kill us,” I mumble.
“You tried to kill me this morning.”
She laughs as she says it but I still feel like a tool.
“I’m just not used to sleeping with someone.”
“You’ll get used to it again,” she reassures, and I find myself puzzling over that line of thinking.
It’s awkward, like, more awkward than the already awkward of the last few days, and it’s been pretty awkward. Fortunately, Spencer is adept at switching the topic and I’m adept at letting her.
“What time will the driver be here,” Spencer adds around a yawn.
Of course it’s contagious and she laughs as I open my mouth so wide that my jaw pops.
I shove her shoulder.
“Seven,” I reply.
She hums and I watch as her eyes slowly shut. I exhale as I observe her. This is the Spencer that I remember, relaxed and naturally beautiful. I bet she even smells good. Sleepy Spencer always smelled amazing, like warm linens, all snuggley and-
“What,” she asks, having caught me.
“Nothing,” I grin.
She squints at me and I grin a little wider.
“You’re such a creeper.”
I just shrug at her, grin still firmly in place. She knows. It’s an old dance, and it’s not forgotten. But then she sighs and in the span of a heartbeat, reality starts to encroach.
“We should probably get up.”
No, no, no, no, no…
But then she’s already out of the bed before I can protest.
“You want to shower first,” she asks, rifling through her bag and pulling out her toiletries.
“You go ahead,” I say. “I don’t want to move yet.”
She nods and disappears into the bathroom, and by the time that I hear the water start, the tightening in my chest propels me from the bed. All of this sucks, but at least my headache’s gone.
I mope down the stairs, still half asleep, my nose following the delicious smell of coffee so acutely that I wind up stubbing my toe on my bag that was left here the night before.
“Fuck,” I shout, and that’s when all of the fun sounds coming from the kitchen come to a screeching halt.
After checking my toe and determining that it’s going to fall off and there’s nothing that I can do about it, I head straight for the coffee pot without a word to the assembled rabble-rousers.
“Good morning,” Sam valiantly tries, and I just grunt.
Full cup steaming in hand, I lean against the counter and take a long sip. It only takes a few more gulps for me to start to feel human again. When the alertness kicks in, I look back up to see why everyone’s still so quiet.
And now I’m wondering why they won’t look at me.
Kate shakes her head and Jac says nothing, but neither will make eye contact. It’s Jon with more balls than brains.
“Do we still have a band,” she asks.
Oh, I get it. They’re in trouble and they know it, and I get to set the tone of their penance. They’re in that place of limbo where unsettled arguments often lead.
“Yes, we still have a band,” Kate says before finally looking at me. “Right?”
I just shrug at her.
And it’s about this time that I notice Kyla, who’s been sitting there the whole time, pretending that I’m furniture. Hell, I may not even exist by the casual way she happily munches on her vegetarian bacon and ignores me.
“Did you want some breakfast,” Sam tries again, God love her.
I glance at Kyla and decide that two can play at this game.
“Yeah, actually. That’d be great; for Spencer too?”
She pats me on the shoulder and starts to scramble some eggs, and I ignore the rest of them. Let them stew. They’re lucky this isn’t the 1600s. I’d have had them walk the plank for their mutiny. I fill another mug, top off my own, stop at the foot of the stairs to sling my remaining bag over my shoulder, scold it for attacking my foot, and then make my way back up to Spencer.
Getting the door open proves to be a feat of juggling prowess that I wasn’t aware that I possess, but that’s what hips are for.
Among other things…
Just as I shut the door behind me, the bathroom door opens in a puff of steam and out walks Spencer in all her fresh, pink-skinned glory. Her hair is clean and dry, hanging almost to the middle of her back in straight strands. She’s wearing nothing but a towel that barely reaches the middle of her thighs and makes her legs go on forever.
Did I mention how gorgeous her natural tan is?
How smooth and flawless her skin is?
I have no idea how I manage to keep the coffee from spilling, but I do, and thank God. I already feel like enough of a bumbling mess when she catches me gawking and I immediately start to turn back and forth in half-circles searching for something else to look at.
There’s just nothing else to fucking look at.
“I-um, sorry,” she says. “I thought I was alone.”
“No, it’s my bad,” I say, scraping what’s left of my dignity off of the floor and finally gaining the wherewithal to walk over to the nightstand.
I set the coffees down and pull the bag from my shoulder.
“I’ll give you some privacy,” I tell the coffee cups, because there’s no way that I’m going to look at her again. “I brought you coffee, and breakfast will be ready in a few.”
I barely hear her say, “Thank you,” because I bolt from the room so fast that I’m fairly certain that she now has whiplash.
Once the door is firmly shut, I lean against it to collect myself. That’s when I realize that I left my own coffee in there. Resisting the urge to bang my head against the wall, but only barely, I find my way down to the second floor landing where Jon is waiting with a grin.
I stop, and for some reason, I feel the need to fold my arms over my chest defensively.
“Sooo,” she says after a moment, making the word several syllables.
“So,” I repeat.
“Come on, Ash! How’d it go,” she asks in this way that sets my teeth on edge. “Did you,” and here she waggles her eyebrows to complete that sentence.
Just. Fuck. This. Morning.
“Watch it, Jonica.”
She hates that name, and it gives me satisfaction to do something that she hates just now.
“Don’t be like that, Ash! I always want details…”
It’s true. She always wants them but I can never give them because I don’t have them. I always just let her come up with her own conclusions and then conveniently fail to correct her. It’s wrong of me, but how do you explain to someone that you can’t bring yourself to have sex, especially someone as active as Jon is?
It’s like trying to explain what an orgasm feels like to a quadriplegic.
But I can’t let her think that of Spencer…
“Lower your fucking voice,” I say.
“Aw, come on. You always seal the deal! You’re Ashley Davies, master of cuniling-”
About this time Spencer’s voice interrupts behind me.
“Excuse me,” she says, and I close my eyes against the world. “The bathroom’s yours.”
Her tone was short, way too short. I turn to let her pass and I can almost see my dreams go up in smoke as she disappears down the stairs. I glare at Jon. who’s scrubbing the back of her neck with her hand.
If only I had the ability to set fire to things with my mind…
I turn to make my way back up to my room without another fucking word. I’m determined to take a shower, deciding that the only safe option is to just stay away from everyone today because I just can’t win.
The shower takes a good twenty minutes. One word: ladyscaping. I dry my hair and make my way downstairs, my stomach rumbling. Spencer and I passed out without dinner last night, so I’m famished. I can smell fresh bacon, and thank God, more coffee.
Kyla is gone and Spencer’s taken her place, and I’m not sure whether to be happy or disheartened by the fact that she’s no longer sad, just pissed. I’m not even really sure why she’s pissed. I didn’t get a chance to explain to Jon that we didn’t do anything and it’s not my fault that she jumped to conclusions. Well, unless you count the fact that I allow her to do it often. But Spencer doesn’t know that.
So what’s the problem?
The two of us eat in silence while everyone else seems to step around us as if the floor is littered with eggshells. Part of me just wants to start a fight and get it over with, but the other part of me would like to delude herself into believing that it can just be avoided altogether. But I should know better than to think that, especially when my precious baby-sister enters the room. It doesn’t take long for her to recognize the tension and start flapping her mouth.
“It’s good to see everyone getting along.”
My fork pauses midway to my mouth and I consider my options very carefully: I can get mad and start that fight, which I’m fine with except for we’re on a schedule and there’s no time; I can act completely indifferent and enjoy whatever I’m doing way too much just to spite her, which again is fine, but I’ve never been the roll-over-and-do-nothing type. I have an ego, after all; I can pack my bags and take the next flight home, but one look at Spencer – the living, breathing reminder of my promise to stop running, and that’s out of the window, or I can stoop to Kyla’s level and go for passive aggressive button pushing, which I can see nothing wrong with.
I guess I have my answer.
“Everyone was fine before you walked in.”
It’s a lie, but Kyla doesn’t know that. I finish my bite, smirking as the coffee pot pauses over her cup. Is it just my imagination or did she turn a little red?
“Hey, guys,” Jac comes into the room. “The van’s outside.”
“Why didn’t he come to the door,” Shirley asks.
“He’s a troll,” I reply. “They wait to ambush.”
Everyone chuckles except for Kyla and Spencer, but I can tell that they want to, and I kind of like their discomfort. I gulp down the last of my coffee and get to my feet.
“I need a minute,” I say.
“Ash, hurry,” Sam calls as I run up to the room.
I’m not going to wear much makeup, just a little moisturizer, eyeliner, and gloss. Au natural isn’t really my style. I pull my giant makeup bag to the mirror in the bathroom and start to go through my routine.
“ASH, COME ON!”
I’ve barely had time to moisturize.
“GIVE ME A MINUTE!”
I reach for the eyeliner and start to put it on, taking it slow and easy, the remnants of my childhood trauma always there.
“ASH, WE’RE LEAVING WITHOUT YOU!”
I snort. Like hell they are. I’m the bank.
I grab the gloss and dab it on before deciding to just take it with me, and I nearly forget my wallet in my haste to get back downstairs. The house is empty and I jerk the door open with a touch of panic to find the shuttle just pulling away.
“HEY,” I shout and they come to a stop.
They were actually going to leave me…
Once the house is locked, I run for the van only to slip on a particularly well-hidden patch of ice and fall flat on my ass. I can’t believe this shit. The door slides open and I can hear the laughter from inside as Shirley reaches a hand out to help me up and in.
“You guys are assholes.”
I’m pulled into a seat and wince. My ass is sore and wet.
“What were you doing,” Sam asks as Shirley shuts the door.
“I just… wasn’t ready.”
Shirley scrutinizes my face before she sits back down.
“You were putting makeup on, to go snowboarding…”
“It only took a minute,” I counter.
“Try ten,” Sam butts in.
“Even still, how would you have paid without me?”
“Kyla has a card,” Jac pipes in, and I just stare at her for a moment until she recoils.
“Can we just go,” I ask, facing forward. “I think my ass has more than paid for the delay.”
There’s a round of quiet chuckles and the car starts to move, and I hadn’t realized it in all of the concussion, but I’m sitting between Spencer and Kyla. I kind of want to tuck and roll just now.
After a few more uncomfortable minutes, I notice that both of them are squirming.
“Spence, are you okay?”
“Fine,” she says, her gaze never leaving the window.
But then she can’t really turn to look at me; she’s pressed herself so flat against the glass that’s she’s nearly suction-cupped to it. It’s like she’s afraid of touching me. I glance over at Kyla and see that she’s doing the same, only against the door.
Just, what the hell? I’m not a leper…
So what am I going to do? I’m going to slouch down in my seat, spread my legs as far as needed to touch them both, and, stretch my arms out along the back of the seat with a long exhale of, “Ahhh.”
“Comfortable,” Kyla asks with not too much sarcasm.
I just smile over at her. “I am, but thanks for concerning yourself.”
Okay, so in my defense, I hadn’t meant for the double entendre, but it’s out there, and it’s not a lie.
“Well, hey,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to be accused of not caring.”
And damn, but if she’s not my sister. I want to be a little proud of her, but ultimately, I just feel bad. I hadn’t considered her motivations with Christine to be noble, but it’s difficult while free-falling down a shaft to see where the shaft might lead.
“Enough, you two. We’re here to have fun,” Shirley chimes in behind us.
“Yes, mom,” I say, which earns me a thump to the back of the head.
Jon and Kyla snort and Shirley thumps them as well, but I’m smart enough not to laugh, outwardly at least. The uncomfortableness continues for about ten minutes, but it feels like an age before we finally arrive in Whistler Village. Of course, Booker is waiting for us and I’m just so overjoyed at the prospect of adding another enemy to my growing retinue.
“Ladies,” he says, all charm and smiles. “I was beginning to think you’d stood me up.”
And there’s that innuendo that I just want to gag on. Kyla’s quick to point at me and back her ass up to the fence like a dog in heat.
“Ashley was running late this morning, but I’d never stand you up.”
I train my eyes to the sky. Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…
He holds his elbow out to her like some caricature from a Jane Austin novel, and like a debutant, she accepts.
“I thought we’d start by getting clothing and protective gear. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt,” he says to her.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…
“That’s very sweet of you,” she bats her eyelashes up at him.
On earth as it is in heaven. Fuck, it’s not working. But then, I’m not catholic…
He glances over his shoulder at us. “Follow me, ladies.”
“After you,” I bow to Spencer and gesture for her to walk ahead. She rolls her eyes, but I figure if she’s determined to be pissed at me, I’ll make it as hard for her as possible. Just for posterity, I make the cross on my forehead, chest, and shoulders before following.
Booker leads us to what he calls the Snow Shop, but in all actuality, it’s little less than a strip mall devoted to that favored Whistler Village pass-time: anything on the mountain. It had been wise not to buy anything before the trip. This place has it all: there are multiple shops just for boards, others with thousands of different safety baubles and souvenirs, and yet others for clothes.
As much as I hate Booker, he seems to know what he’s talking about as he guides us through our purchases. I’m surprised that they have to weigh us, but the strangest thing I’m asked is if I’m regular or goofy. After some rather snarky comments between Booker and the peanut gallery, I learn that left-handed people are considered goofy and right-handed people are considered regular. Normally, I’d have been a little affronted for left-handed people everywhere, but since Jon’s a lefty, I just couldn’t muster a protest.
Spencer winds up getting skis instead of a snowboard, and she looks kind of hilarious holding those sticks. Of course, it isn’t as funny when she takes a playful swipe at me with one of them.
At least, I hope it’s playful. I’m not so sure. I still don’t know what has her panties in a twist, but I hope to survive her long enough to figure it out.
Once we’ve dented my bank account, we take a twenty-minute ride up into the mountains, Lurch having secured our gear to the top of the van. Booker directs us to the women’s changing room, and we each start to get outfitted for our first lesson.
I would be lying if I said that I’m not excited as I start to pile on the layers. I’ve always wanted to do this but I never once believed that I’d be given the chance. Yet, here I am, surrounded by some of the most important people in my life, people that make me insane as much as they make me feel whole. But then maybe insanity is just part of the perfect package.
It’s surreal when I look over at Spencer who’s tying up her boots. She is a particular piece of the puzzle that I never even considered a possibility. And as much as I love everyone here, she’s the most cause for elation. Having her here means more than words can even express.
She glances over at me and sighs heavily, and I still just can’t figure it out but it’s irritating. Jon’s obnoxious, but she’s harmless.
Everyone’s ready so we start to walk out onto the mountain, but Spencer quietly stops me with a hand on my arm. She watches to be sure that the others have left before pulling a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and holding it out to me.
I already know what it is, and I lean my snowboard against my hip to take it from her with a heavy heart.
“I found it in your rental car,” she says.
“Thanks for taking care of that,” I say, and she just nods. “Spence, I’m sorry about what Jon said earlier. She’s an idiot and an asshole sometimes, but she didn’t mean to upset you. She’s just… careless.”
She doesn’t look at me, but I can tell that she’s frustrated, only it’s not with me, not really, and it’s not with Jon. It’s something more.
About this time there’s a knock on the door. We look over to see Shirley’s head peeking inside.
“You guys coming?”
“We need a minute,” I say.
She nods, and oddly enough, gives no protest as she shuts the door.
“Look, it doesn’t matter,” Spencer continues. “It just took me off guard.”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
She gives me a tight smile. “No need to apologize.”
“Are we… okay,” I ask, because I don’t feel like we are.
It takes a minute but she starts to nod slowly. “Yeah, we’ll be fine.”
Somehow, I don’t believe her. “Spence-“
“It’s fine, Ash. I promise. It’s not your fault, and I’m sorry that I’m all over the place. Let’s just get some fresh air and enjoy the day, okay?”
The look in her eyes is pleading, and I relent, though I know that nothing’s resolved. She leaves, and after a moment of absolutely no recourse, I follow her out onto the snow. It’s bright now, the sun reflecting off of the solid white beneath our feet like a shimmering mirror.
“There you two are,” Booker calls out, thinking his smile is just so cute. In reality, his teeth are blinding and I feel the need to shade my eyes.
He claps his hands together, already on his board. “So, we ready to get this party started?”
Thanks for that, Linda Perry.
Everyone responds positively, and while I won’t admit it to him, I feel pretty pumped.
“Alright,” he says. “The first thing you need to remember is that you’re going to embarrass yourself.”
And as he talks, he’s sliding from left to right on his board like it’s no big deal, essentially showing off.
“You’re going to fall, and not know what to do, and you’re just going to have to get back up. Laugh it off, dust yourself off, and keep trying.”
Well that was inspirational. I can’t tell if his words are making me sick or if I’m just getting vertigo from watching him sway left and right, left and right.
“The second thing we’re going to learn is how to just stand on the board. Let’s go ahead and strap one foot in. Only one, and use your secondary foot to keep your balance. So regulars will use the left foot and goofys will use the right,” he explains. “Spencer, you only put one ski on as well.”
We each take a knee and start to strap our boots in as instructed. The bindings are Velcro, but the shop owner explained how to be sure that they’re secure. I look down at my board and smile at the crazy zombie face on the tip. He has bulging eyes, thick nerd glasses, and his tongue is hanging out in an insane smile. The white and purple checkerboard behind him just generally made me happy, but something about him made me laugh, so he became mine. I think I may need to name him…
Booker slides around to be sure that we’re doing it right, and when he vomits out his optimistic approval, we all stand.
“Alright, so now, you’re going to just practice standing on the board and keeping your balance. We’re on a mostly flat surface right now, but if you start to slide at all, just take your free foot off and stop. Same goes for you, Spence.”
What did he just call her?
“Whatever you do, don’t panic. Just take your foot off and stop yourself. Once you’re comfortable standing on the board, we’ll practice falling.”
“Practice falling,” Jon asks. “Why would we want to fall?”
I have to agree, it sounds kind of counterintuitive.
“Trust me. If you know you’re going to wipe out, you’ll want to know how to fall so that you can decide how bad it hurts.”
Well that’s comforting. Somehow, I get the impression that he just wants to watch us make fools of ourselves.
I focus my attention back on the happy zombie and for some reason, I feel like he’s a Fleishman.
I like it. I lift my right foot and set it on the back of the board, making sure to keep my gravity centered in my hips, my knees bent, and my feet lined up with my shoulders just like fuck-face up there is shouting.
“Hey, this is pretty easy,” I look over at Spencer.
She smiles at me and a random wave of gratitude rolls over me. The words are out of my mouth before I even realize that I’ve thought them.
“Thanks for being here, Spence.”
She takes her foot off of her ski and just stares at me for a moment, and I mimic her pose, waiting for her to say whatever it is she’s going to say, hoping that she’ll just stop being angry with me. But she doesn’t say anything at all, and it’s almost better because she hobbles over to me, tears shining in her eyes as she takes me in a hug.
“Thank you for bringing me,” she whispers.
I only get to hold her for a moment before Booker loudly clears his throat and we’re forced apart. I hate him just a little more for ruining this moment. He’s giving us a curious look, and I just grin at him. Maybe he’s starting to get a fucking clue.
I see an arm flail in my periphery and turn to see Spencer standing on one of her skis but it looks a lot harder because it’s so much skinnier than a snowboard. She keeps her footing though, and everyone else seems to be doing okay. But apparently Kyla needed some special attention. I have to keep myself from making a beeline at Booker as he shamelessly flirts with her.
She’s eighteen. She can do what she wants. I keep saying that to myself, but I just don’t feel it. So, I try to find a middle ground and wind up boring a hole into the back of his head with my eyes.
We continue balancing on our boards for about half-an-hour before he finally continues with the lesson.
“Alright, you guys are doing great!”
Someone really needs to high-five him in the face.
“So, we’ll talk about how to fall and then we can go for lunch. Now, you have kneepads, elbow pads, and wrist guards. And the gear we bought earlier has quite a bit of padding in it, so don’t be afraid to fall. If you do it the right way, it won’t hurt.”
He sleds himself up to the front of us and starts us off by showing us how to bend our knees and fall forward onto them.
We each take a turn doing this, which is easy, but when I get back up, I see him standing in front of Kyla, hands tucked behind his back while he smiles down on her in her kneeling position. And from this angle, the way that it looks, well, I think that I’m going to lose my shit.
But then he helps her back up and I close my eyes to take deep breathes.
In and out…
“Ash, you okay?”
I nod. No words will ever express what I just experienced.
Booker shows us how to roll into a ball, cover our heads, and fall on our asses. I find this particularly amusing because, well, he’s falling on his ass. We all try it once and I get a brilliant idea.
“Hey, Booker, can you show me again, please?”
“Sure,” he says, flashing that patented smile.
And he does. And I get a cheap thrill out of it.
“Yeah, I think I need to see it again.”
His smile fades just a little, but he obliges, rolling into a ball and falling on his ass. I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of this. In fact, I’m tempted to take out my phone and make a gif, but it’s back in the changing room.
As soon as he’s back up, I go to ask again, but Spencer stops me with a hand over my mouth. Booker cocks his head at us like a confused puppy, though not nearly as cute, and I have to admit, I’m confused as to why she feels the need to ruin my fun as well.
“You‘ve… got it,” he asks.
“Yeah, she’s got it,” Spencer says, giving me a look that makes it clear that I had better not disagree when she takes her hand away.
I nod, her hand leaves, and I say, “Yeah,” grudgingly.
“Cool,” he replies. “Now you give it a try.”
Spencer can barely contain her snort of laughter as I shoot daggers at her. It’s truly humiliating, just like he said that it would be, but I roll myself in a ball and fall on my ass.
“Good job,” he praises, and the minute his back is turned to ‘help’ Kyla, I swat at Spencer from my prone position.
She grabs one of her sticks but I’m ready this time and snag it, using a hardy tug to dump her into the snow.
“That’s not fair,” I say.
“Fair? You just knocked me down,” she says incredulously.
“You’ve got to fight dirty sometimes,” I counter resolutely.
“And why was this one of those times?”
“Look at them,” I point at Booker…
Spencer laughs me off as ridiculous and I feel the need to explain myself.
“Remember that year your dad took us camping?”
“That was the best camping trip ever,” she says.
“For you, maybe, but I thought I was going to drown when Glen flipped our canoe.”
“He thought he was going to die when you put those fire ants in his sleeping bag.”
“That was a brilliant move on my part, am I right?”
She just shakes her head. “I’m just glad he wasn’t allergic.”
“Yeah, me too. That would have been really bad. I mean, I was grounded for a week. I can’t imagine what Christi-” She slaps me on the arm and I smile at her. “But he never messed me with me while camping again. As I said, sometimes you have to fight dirty.”
“I guess I see your point,” she says. “But I’m still going to mess with you.”
She gives me an over-exaggerated smile and I can’t help but chuckle. She’s too fucking cute. I awkwardly stumble to my feet and help her up, and a comfortable silence descends and we laugh at the others as they fall over.
They’re like weeble-wobbles…
“You know who else fought dirty,” I ask, and she glances over at me. “The mosquitos…” I scrunch up my nose and she lets out a quiet laugh. “It’s not funny, Spence. They were like… small Chihuahuas.” That just makes her laugh harder. “I am so not cut out for the great outdoors.”
“It wasn’t all bad,” she says after she calms down. “Later that night, those girls the next tent over taught us that song.”
We both smile at the memory. “Yeah, they were in high school… and hot.” This earns me another swat. “We thought we were so cool when we learned that song.”
“Peanut Butter Reeses cup…,” she sings and looks over at me.
And that did it. She starts to clap and shout. “Mess with me I’ll mess you up! Bang, bang, choo-choo train, come on Ashley do your thing!”
She’s waiting but I don’t respond so she threatens me with her stick again.
“Fine, I can’t,” I say in a bored tone.
“Why not,” she asks again, all hyper and blonde and just too damn cute.
Again, I don’t say anything, and this time she grabs my arms and starts to shake me as she dances, causing me to lose my balance and fall right back to my ass.
I glare up at her. “I just can’t-“
“Why not,” Spencer chortles out as stares down at me.
I take a look around me. We’re not the only ones on the mountain and we are starting to draw attention. But when I’m looking at her, her eyes shining, her grin vibrant and youthful, I can’t remember why anything else matters.
Isn’t that why I’m here, what this is all about; I want to be reckless, throw caution to the wind, live…?
I decide to go for broke. If I’m going to look like a jackass, I’ll make a spectacular one of myself. I lift my ass into a lobster walk and start to lewdly shake it.
“My back hurts, my bra’s too tight, my boot’ay goes left and right. Left, right, left, right. Huh? Oh what? I gotta big butt.”
Spencer starts clapping again, her own hips joining the fray as we sing out together.
“Peanut butter reeses cup, mess with me I’ll mess you up. Bang, bang, choo-choo train, come on Spencer do your thing.”
“I can’t,” she says.
“Why not,” I ask.
“I just can’t,” she replies.
We both start moving in the most ghetto white-girl dance the world has ever seen.
“My back hurts, my bra’s too tight, my boot’ay…” I reach up and slap her on the ass and she falls over, but that doesn’t stop her. “…goes left and right. Left, right, left, right. Huh? Oh what? I gotta big butt.”
I feel absolutely ridiculous, but being here in this moment with her makes me feel like I’m fourteen again. I may be older, but it’s all there: the innate connection, the awkwardness of being insecure in my feelings, the sheer joy of laughing with her and acting silly.
We get a round of applause from most of the onlookers, some lewd calls from the guys, ignored by those with something stiff firmly lodged up their derrieres, and of course, some are just plain disapproving. But it feels good not to care as we lie back in the snow and laugh until our sides ache.
“Um, alright then,” I hear Booker’s voice. “Now that you know how to fall, let’s take an hour and get some lunch. Meet back here at one o’clock?”
Everyone agrees and this time, Spencer helps me up.
“When you guys get back, we’ll spend a few hours just pushing around on the board like a skateboard. Good job, everyone!”
He claps and we all disperse, except for Kyla who is walking away on his arm again. I look to Spencer, a huge grin on my face, and despite all of the emotional turmoil going on around me, I can’t help but think that this trip may not be going as planned, but maybe that’s a good thing.
The last three days have found us all tired, sore, and grumpy. The skateboard routine proved to be much more challenging. Everyone was falling left and right, and while the snow was a decent cushion, there’s only so many times you can take a fall on the same body part and not feel it.
My ass… it just hurts.
Actually, everything hurts. I hadn’t expected snowboarding to require so much strength, but even the slightest of motions takes a lot of effort from the legs, hips, stomach, and even a little from the arms. It’s almost a good sore though, if that makes any sense. But despite the falls and bruises, which Spencer is sporting a nasty one on her upper left thigh, we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re still plugging away. And we’re no longer using just one foot or in the flat training area.
After the skateboarding, we moved to both feet and Booker taught us the correct way to slice down a slope, stop, and control our speed. I’m enjoying it a lot more now, and I’m falling a lot less. Everyone’s pretty spread out, and this time alone with an open expanse of mountain to conquer, both figuratively and physically, helps me to minimize my goals and focus on what’s right in front of me. It gives me time and space to clear my thoughts, which is something that I’m not used to.
I’ve been confronting a lot lately, and I can’t help but think that it’s because I’m not allowing myself to run. I have to learn to live with myself and all of the inherent baggage that entails. I can’t help but think that it’s easier on the slopes though. I don’t know what happens when we go home and things settle down, but I’m taking it a day at a time, and while today is our last day here, it’s not the end.
Spencer seems to have gotten over whatever the problem was, at least as far as the issue with Jon is concerned. She’s still sad about Carmen, but she’s crying less, and we’ve been having a really good time together for the most part. It’s strange, but every day feels more and more like I’ve gotten my best friend back without all of the drama associated with romance.
I still love her, am in love with her, but it doesn’t feel like it has to be an all-encompassing relationship anymore. I think we’ve both come to just feel comfortable around each other. It’s just… nice.
I’ve straightened Jon out about what did and didn’t happen with Spencer, though I couldn’t bring myself to correct all of the past information. It’s personal to me. I don’t feel like the truth of my sex life, or lack thereof, is anyone’s business, let alone Jon’s, and she’s proven why today.
She and Jac had a falling out last night. I don’t know what happened and I didn’t hear any of it. But I know that Jon was on the couch this morning. They’re being very short with one another. The shenanigans have stopped, and it’s odd, but I kind of miss it. They’re completely immature, but they’re completely entertaining. And mostly, it’s like the best parts of them are missing when they’re not acting like children.
Jac seems to be coping by turning inward, while Jon is hitting on everything with a vagina. Jac seems very sad, her normal bubbliness missing, while Jon seems to be overly happy. Jac isn’t speaking when asked, while Jon protests that absolutely nothing is wrong. I don’t know what to make of it, and I hope that they figure it out soon. They won’t be coming on all of my expeditions, but when they do, I want them to be… them.
Shirley and Sam are the same as always: disgusting. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. The truth of the matter is that they have what I want. The problem is, I’ll never want that with anyone but Spencer, or so I thought. But lately, getting closer to her, feeling less disconnected from the life that I want, has helped to bring some closure, at least I think.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real, especially up here on the slopes, but I like that about this place, well, that and I’ve learned that I love speed. It’s gotten me into trouble a couple of times, but it’s nice to feel fearless, gutsy, some of the things that I used to be and wish to be again.
I angle myself forward and pick up a little more, and I can’t help but grin as fluffed bits of snow and fresh mountain air whip up in front of me, even as it further chaps my face. It’s exhilarating. I have no complaints at this moment, unless I count Kyla. And I suppose that I have to.
She and I are not getting along, at all. The snide remarks have gotten a little more biting, but that’s only when she’s around. She spends a lot of time with Booker, or on the phone with Booker, which only makes me more upset with her. I want her to find someone to love, but this guy isn’t the one. He’s a playboy, a passing fling, and I’m not so sure if she knows it.
I’ve heard some of their conversations on the phone, talks about him coming to visit, her coming to visit. A guy doesn’t print cards with his personal number on it unless he gives them out frequently. Ultimately though, given the mess that I’ve made of my own life, both personal and otherwise, I have no right to think anything about it let alone say it.
I have no idea how to repair our relationship. I know that I need to apologize for saying that she doesn’t care, but we’ve had this talk already and she’d agreed to stop pushing. She couldn’t seem to hold true to that agreement. Talking to her about it is just going to end the same way: she’ll agree and then push anyway. And I truly believe that she won’t stop until she gets what she wants: me and Spencer and a happily ever after.
I don’t know if that’s in the cards for us, but I do know that I’m happy with my hand as it is. I just want to enjoy her, life, everything, before I can’t anymore.
I jump because that was way too loud and wind up on my ass… again. God, it just hurts. I glare in the direction that the sound came from to see Spencer skiing forward.
“Sorry,” she says as she comes to a stop. “I didn’t mean to startle you. I’d been calling…”
I roll and push my very tender seat into the air and come to a precarious balance on my feet.
“Sorry, I was thinking,” I say, rubbing it tenderly.
“The slopes have that effect,” she says knowingly. “So listen, I was going to take the rest of the day off and maybe go into town and look around. I know it’s our last day, but I think I’ve had my fill. How about you, you wanna come?”
I think about it for a moment, but then my tush makes the decision for me.
“Yeah, I think I’d like that.”
She smiles at me and we start to push down to the bottom of the mountain, staying side by side and making this last ride count. It’s fun to be with her like this, where it feels carefree and comfortable, that is until I go a little faster and it somehow becomes a race.
I can’t seem to help myself…
“Aw, Carlin thinks she can keep up!”
She gives me a look that sends a chill down my spine, and I remember it all too well, though I haven’t seen it in ages. It’s that incredibly sexy way that she has of using her eyes, her body, just everything about her, to simply say, ‘Challenge Accepted.’
She bends her knees and points herself forward, tucking her poles under her arms and gaining speed. And I’d swear that I can hear her laugh, a wild and sexy whoop through the wind as she passes me.
I only just break out of my haze long enough to know that I’m about to hit a snow dune. It’s small, but at roughly thirty-five miles per hour, it’s going to mean something: pain. I do the exact thing that I shouldn’t do, which is close my eyes and brace, and then I feel a lurch followed by the indescribable feeling of zero gravity. In this split second my adrenaline kicks in and I manage to open my eyes. There’s this moment where everything is amazing, where I feel unencumbered and maybe even reborn. And in this moment I fall in love with snowboarding; I fall in love with life.
But then the moment is over and I can see the ground getting closer and I try to think about what I’m supposed to do but all I can do is panic.
What did Booker say to do?
“ASH, DON’T LEAN FORWARD,” Spencer screams.
Oh, right, land on the back foot and keep the tip of the board up. I correct the board just in time to land it, though it’s wobbly. The shock of that force is a little jarring, but I’m on my feet and I can’t help but put my arms in the air and shout with excitement. And that is when I make a mistake, because I’m not focused on the right thing: staying on my feet and slowing to a stop.
By the time that I realize this, I’m at the bottom of the hill, those in line for the lifts scattering to get out of the way as I attempt glide through without hitting any of them. This doesn’t work; I lose my balance, and fall straight on my ass.
And my ass… the poor, tender thing, is what skids along the hard-packed snow to bring me to a stop.
I just lie there on my back for a moment, a ringing sound in my ears as I stare up at the sky. One of the clouds floating by looks just like an ass. In fact, everything begins to funnel into my posterior.
God, it hurts.
Faces start to appear in a circle above me, and I hear them asking if I’m alright, but it’s as if they’re under water. Someone shouts and then there’s Spencer, on her knees next to me, her gloveless hands warm against my cheeks as she peers down on me with concern.
“Ashley…? God, are you okay? Ash…?”
“Get back,” someone says and I watch as the faces start to leave my field of vision, so I grab one of Spencer’s hands to keep her there.
“Don’t move her,” that stranger’s voice commands.
Two other faces come into focus and I start to sit up, but they stop me.
“You shouldn’t move,” they say, but I don’t listen.
I can’t listen. My body propels itself up of its own accord, and I take a deep breath that makes me cough. I hadn’t even realized that I wasn’t breathing until relief starts to shoot through me.
“Does anything hurt,” one of the men asks as he shines a light in my eyes.
I swat it away and breathe a few more times. It helps me to feel normal enough to do a mental inventory. Thankfully everything seems to be fine. It’s all moving and there’s no pain except, of course, my ass.
I turn to Spencer who’s crying, and try to say something that will console her, reassure her.
But “That was awesome,” is all that tumbles out.
She looks like she’s just been slapped in the face, but her shock quickly fades and she starts to laugh, grabbing me and pulling me in for a hug that makes me wince.
“God, sorry! Are you okay,” she asks again, leaning back and holding my face in her hands.
I grin at her. “My ass is killing me, but yeah, I’m fine.”
“Ma’am, we need to look you over.”
I turn to the EMT and sit placidly as he does his poking, prodding, light shining, and all around irritating things. And I answer his even more irritating questions. Once I’m cleared and the snowboard removed, I’m allowed to get to my feet, which is a huge relief.
I don’t think I ever want to sit again.
He hands me a box, and with a big smile says, “You’ll want to put ice on it.”
And then he just leaves.
“Dude, that was righteous,” some guy comes up to us. “I got all of that on video!”
He holds his cell phone out to us and we watch as I fly and fall and crash. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but with a little trim at the end, it has possibilities.
“Will you send that to me,” Spencer, the movie mogul asks before proceeding to give him her email address.
A few other people come up and jostle me around with their smiles and pats on the back, but I can’t complain because we get an express pass to the head of the line.
Sitting on the lift is torture, especially when it lurches forward for take-off, but I manage to endure it with a wince.
“Are you okay,” Spencer asks again.
“I’m tired and sore,” I say, and she just nods.
After a moment, she takes my hand and starts to play with my fingers.
“That scared the hell out of me.”
“Scared the hell out of me, too.” I squeeze her hand. “But it was pretty cool.”
She chuckles and takes the box from my lap. The picture on the label shows a blue, round, blow-up cushion, and we share a laugh that makes me feel a little tired.
Spencer seems to recognize this.
“So, maybe we’ll just go back to the house and relax. We can check out the village another time.”
“Thanks,” I say.
She lays her head on my shoulder, and I rest my cheek against her hair, and we finish the ride to the top of the mountain for the last time.
I open my eyes to a dark house. The television is off and by the glowing numbers on the clock beneath, the movie is long over and unfinished. The lap that my head had been resting on has been replaced with a pillow, and a blanket has been draped over me. I smile to myself. Spencer and I had spent the afternoon drinking magic cocoa and watching movies, just like old times. I let her fill the screen with all of the sickeningly sweet romance that she wanted while she played with my hair until. I must have fallen asleep.
Sitting up gives me pinpoint accuracy of every single muscle in my body, but I manage to avoid my tender behind, so it’s a win, at least until I kick something soft but solid and nearly wind up in my tush yet again.
“You feeling okay?”
“You goin’ to bed?”
And with that she proceeds to crawl up where I just was and promptly start snoring. I cover her with the blanket, stop in the bathroom – which is a whole new level of discomfort – wash my hands, check the door locks, and I’m on my way up to my room.
I’m careful not to wake Spencer as I enter, tip-toeing to my side of the bed. But just as I pull the covers back, movement catches in the corner of my eye and I see a silhouette standing on the mezzanine.
Spencer’s gazing out at the sheer openness, her arms wrapped tight around her chest to hold out the biting cold, or maybe she’s just trying to keep something in. The moonlight is streaking down from a clear sky as wisps of her hair move about her shoulders. And something about the scene clenches in my chest. I don’t know that I can help her at all, but I grab a blanket to wrap myself before stepping out to check on her. She looks at me over her shoulder but doesn’t say anything as I get closer, so I take this as a sign of acceptance. Once next to her, we both stare out into utter beauty: her at the mountains, and me at her.
And I get this irrational urge to brush this haphazard lock of honey-blonde hair that’s fallen forward behind her ear and whisper secrets to her, or maybe hopeful lies, or just say something, anything that might loosen the hold that this soul deep cold has on her. But all of the words that come to mind are hollow.
So, I stand next to her, hoping that I can just be here for her, and praying that it’s a comfort to her, however small.
“It’s really beautiful,” she says.
And I have to agree. But if the truth were known, the panorama of snow steeped mountains piercing the twilight sky will never come close to just one fleeting look from her.
I nod and breathe deeply of the crisp air to release it as vapors.
“How do you live with hurting someone that you love,” she asks after several minutes.
I feel a little taken aback by that question. I mean, it makes sense that this is the crux of her struggle, but it’s painful to know that I’m the expert in this line of pain management.
“I, uh- I don’t think that you do, Spence. I mean, our circumstances are different, but I haven’t really been alive for four years. I’ve just been kind of… waiting.”
She exhales heavily and I find a maybe explanation.
“I guess… I just knew that what I was doing was the right thing, even though it hurt.”
“But the right thing for who,” she asks, leaning on the bar.
“I think that the right thing for one is the right thing for both, even if it doesn’t feel that way.”
I watch her brows furrow. “Ash, that makes no sense.”
I chuckle and mirror her pose, opening my blanket to share it with her. She snuggles in willingly.
“Spence, what I’m trying to say is that you can’t trap yourself in a situation that isn’t what you want to make someone else happy. If one choice is better for you, then you have to do what works for you.”
“Even at the expense of someone else’s feelings?” She shakes her head. “That doesn’t seem right.”
“I don’t think that it’s always at someone else’s expense. I think that’s how you know whether the relationship works.”
She chuckles. “You really suck at advice, you know?”
“Thanks,” I say. “I’m doing my best here.”
“What I’m saying is that the choice wouldn’t have hurt Carmen if you two would have been on the same page. When the relationship fits, the choice won’t be at their expense.” I feel a sweeping rush of sadness overtake me as well. “I think that’s why it hurt so much for both of us when I left. It wasn’t right for either of us,” I murmur.
She’s quiet for a moment before looking over at me.
“Because we fit,” she says, and I just nod.
And there’s this moment, the one that I should have waited for, but I didn’t. I’ve already kissed her and now I can’t. I gave my word, and I won’t go there again until she asks me to. But I know that part of her wants to ask. I can see it on the tip of her tongue as it appears just long enough to wet her lips, but then she’s looking away and I know that she won’t.
And I know that I can’t.
“Tell me what you’re thinking, Spence.”
“I’m thinking… that I want it to fit with Carmen, that I love her, and I don’t know how to fix myself so that it can work. And it’s really, really unfair of me.”
If that’s what she wants, how can I begrudge her?
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you, Spencer. I think you just never had a chance to get over what I did to you. There’s nothing unfair about needing some time. And who knows?” I swallow hard. “Maybe once you get through this…”
I can’t say it, so I just finish with a shrug.
I can feel her eyes on me but I can’t look at her. I try to find some comfort in the moon as the chill starts to seep past the barrier of the blanket and remind me that as close as we are right now, there’s a chasm between us. At least this time I’m thankful for the reminder. I need to let her go, and I need to move on.
I feel her shift, and then cold lips press to my cheek and a head rests on my shoulder as even colder hands hug my arm.
“Thank you, Ash,” she says.
And I watch the air escape both of our mouths for a moment longer, taking in this moment of intense clarity and letting it sink in. This is that moment that I’ve been waiting for, the moment where I finally let her go. Not because I should or because I want to, but because it’s the best thing for her.
“You’re welcome, Spence.”