After the second incident I thought I was going to get fired, but Aunt Penny put me in the café hoping that the third time would be the charm. And except for that little incident with Z the other night, things have been good. It turns out that as long as I keep a counter between me and the lecherous losers, things go pretty well.
And while I hate the cold, I’m still glad my aunt gave me the chance to settle in instead of sending me packing the first week—which she probably would have been justified in doing. After all, we’re not exactly close. She’s my dad’s sister, and since he walked out on my mom when I was six months old, it’s not like I’ve had much chance to get to know his family.
Penny, however, has always made a point of staying in touch with me—birthday cards, Christmas presents, a couple of letters or phone calls scattered through the year, just to make sure I’m doing okay. But that was always as far as it went. At least until the accident happened and my mom figured it’d be better for my “recovery” if I got out of town for a while.
Which I guess it has been, if you consider the fact that I almost had sex with Z three days ago. That’s something I could never have imagined happening back home, where memories of Remi lurk around every corner—on every street I drive down and every store I go into.
Though I’m trying not to think about him, an image of Z pops into my head. Once again, I shove it right back out. We said everything we needed to say to each other before he left my apartment. There’s no use regretting it now. No use feeling guilty because of how I handled things. God knows I carry enough guilt around on a daily basis. The last thing I need to do is add to it.
The elevator dings on the fifth floor, and I step out. My aunt and uncle have a small but luxurious apartment on this floor—one of the perks that come with managing this place—and they’ve decided we’re going to eat here tonight instead of in one of the resort’s restaurants. I think my aunt’s trying to do the whole home-cooked-meal thing in case I’m missing New Orleans, but my mom’s always been more of the frozen-food-in-the-microwave kind of cook. Either way, I appreciate the gesture.
Penny’s husband, Alex, answers the door when I knock. “Hey, kid,” he says, ruffling my hair like I’m five. “Come on in. You look beat.”
“I feel beat. The last hour and a half has been insane.”
“Yeah. Always is when the weather turns bad.” He gestures to an overstuffed sofa. “Have a seat and relax for a few minutes. Penny’s almost done with dinner.”
“Let me just go say hello to her, see if she needs any help.” In my house, the few times my mom actually tried to cook usually resulted in a visit from the fire department or a trip to the ER—just one of the reasons I learned to cook before I was ten. Total self-preservation.
But when I get into the kitchen, it looks like my aunt has everything under control. Chicken br**sts are simmering on the stove while Penny whips up a quick pasta sauce in another pan.
“Can I help with anything?”
“Oh, hi, sweetie.” She leans over and gives me a warm, brown-sugar-scented hug. “How was your day?”
“Good. Busy, but good.”
“Mine, too. But at least they go by fast that way.” She nods to the salad on the small island in the center of the kitchen. “You can toss that if you’d like. The dressing is in the bowl right next to it.”
“What’s for dinner?”
“Chicken marsala. It’s one of Alex’s favorites.” She glances at me. “Have you ever tried it?”
“Nope.” My cooking repertoire lends itself more to jarred pasta sauces than chicken braised in wine. “But it smells fantastic.”
“Thank you. I hope you like it.”
“I’m sure I will.”
I pretty much run out of stuff to say then, and expect things to get awkward quickly. But my aunt is a born chatterer, and by the time we sit down to dinner, her nonstop talking has got me almost totally relaxed.
The first few minutes of dinner are spent going over the inner workings of the lodge—not the most exciting thing in the world—but it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn to the skiers and snowboarders that the lodge sponsors. Despite my best intentions, I find myself listening for the mention of one snowboarder in particular.
“That Ash is something else,” Alex says in between bites of chicken. “Mark my words, ladies. Come January, he’s going to be America’s lead contender for Olympic gold.”
“Really?” my aunt says. “I think Luc Bradford’s got a lot of flair.”
“He does,” my uncle agrees. “It’s why I wanted to sponsor him. He’s a crowd-pleaser. But that kid is all flash and not that much substance, if you know what I mean. Kind of like Kevin Byerle. Now there’s a kid who can get the crowd on its feet with his tricks. But when it comes to basic skiing talent, he just doesn’t have it. Not the way some of the other skiers do.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Luc’s snowboarding seems pretty solid to me,” my aunt disagrees.
“That’s because you can barely get down the baby run on a snowboard,” he tells her. “Despite thinking you’re a total badass.”
She glares at him, but I can tell she’s trying not to laugh. “You could let me have my illusions, you know.”
“I could.” He toasts her with his wineglass. “But where’s the fun in that?”
They laugh, and I can tell the conversation is about to take another turn, but I’m not ready to let it slip away yet. It seems like they’ve talked about everyone but the person I most want to hear about.
“What about Z Michaels?” I ask, doing my best to sound only vaguely interested.
“Z?” My uncle’s gaze sharpens immediately. “Why are you asking about Z?”
“Uh, just curious, I guess. I mean, I’ve heard people talk about him—”
“Why do you think she’s asking about him, Alex?” my aunt interjects. “Because he’s gorgeous and talented and just a little bit tortured. Is it any wonder the girls swoon whenever he’s in the vicinity?”
“I’m not swooning,” I protest. “I was just curious.”
“Yeah, aren’t they all?” my uncle mutters. “Look, Ophelia, Z’s a good enough guy. Smart, funny, very talented. But he’s not the kind of boy you should be messing with.”
“I’m not messing with him! I’ve barely met him. I was just wondering because I’ve seen him on the slopes and he seems really talented. But you didn’t say anything about him making the Olympics.” I feel my cheeks flush, even as there’s a part of me that’s standing back and wondering if we’re seriously having this conversation. I’ve gone my whole life without much parental supervision—my dad was gone and my mom was usually too busy trying to put a roof over our head to bother about which boy I was dating (otherwise there’s no way she would have let me date Remi)—so having my uncle so interested and protective feels strange.
“Good, keep it that way. That guy is trouble.”
“You’re just bitter because he wouldn’t let us sponsor him,” Aunt Penny tells him.
“You have to admit it’s weird. What kind of guy turns down sponsorship from one of the best resorts in Park City?”
“The kind who doesn’t want to be tied down? You know he likes riding the backcountry. And besides, he doesn’t need the money. He’s got a lot of other sponsors and the family stuff, so why should he ride here?”
“He does ride here. That’s what I’m saying. So why would he turn down being paid for it?”
I can tell this is an old argument. And while it’s kind of fun to watch the dynamics of my aunt and uncle’s relationship, this isn’t telling me anything about Z that I don’t already know. Which is why, when my uncle pauses to take another bite of chicken, I take the opportunity to jump back into the conversation.
“So, you think he’s good enough to sponsor, but you don’t think he’s good enough to make the Olympics.”
My uncle stops eating, even goes so far as to lay his fork and knife down. Then he looks me straight in the eye. “It’s not a matter of talent, Ophelia. Everyone knows that kid has more talent than is probably good for him. But he’s an absolute train wreck, and you should stay as far away from him as possible.”
“You need to cut the kid some slack,” my aunt tells him. “He’s had it rough with his mom and sister. What happened with them—”
“He has had it rough. I’m not denying that. And anyone who’s had things as bad as he has doesn’t come out of it without being damned warped. Everyone knows the kid’s got a death wish, and sooner or later it’s going to come to fruition. Do you really want her around him when it does? Hasn’t she been through enough already?”
My aunt doesn’t have anything to say to that, and neither do I, so after another stern warning for me to stay away from Z, my uncle turns the conversation to other things. Somehow I manage to keep up my end of it, even though my mind is about a million miles away. I’m thinking about Z, wondering what could have happened with his family that would “warp” him, as my uncle says. And, despite my best intentions, I’m also thinking about Remi. About his devil-may-care smile and balls-to-the-wall attitude about life.
He spent his whole life going faster, burning brighter, being crazier than anyone else around. And when we were together, I loved every second of it. He was so mercurial, so brilliant, so wild, that every minute I was with him was an upside-down roller-coaster ride. One I happily strapped in for.
It’s only now that I’m on the other side that I realize just how messed up the ride really was.
And if Z’s like that … if he’s as messed up and crazy as my uncle says he is, then I really should stay as far away from him as I can get.
Which is fine. I barely know the guy, and it’s not like our first few meetings went all that smoothly. I’ll probably never have the chance to talk to him again.
Still, as I help my uncle clean the dishes before heading across the property to my room, I can’t help thinking about the look in Z’s eyes right before he walked out the other night. And hating myself for putting it there.
“Hey, man,” Ash says, clapping me on the shoulder as I climb off the snowmobile. “Good to have you back.”
“Good to be back,” I tell him, even though I’m not sure I mean it. But what the hell else am I supposed to do now that Luc’s given me an ass kicking I won’t soon forget? After my three-day bender, booze and weed hold no appeal at the moment, and every time I think about going out and getting laid, something holds me back.
Maybe it’s Luc’s words about how f**king empty my life is.
Maybe it’s waking up and finding Stacy in my bed with absolutely no recollection of how she got there.
Or maybe it’s everything that went down with Ophel—
Oh, hell no. I cut that thought off before it can even form. I’ve got enough crazy in my life. The last thing I need is to waste my time thinking about some girl who definitely isn’t thinking about me. And who obviously has a shit-ton of her own issues to deal with.
“So we’re taping today?” I ask, nodding at the GoPro Hero3+ Ash is currently attaching to the front of his snowboard. He’s got it mounted to an old ski pole so he gets a better view than from the bottom of the board, but that means he has to put a shitload of adhesive on it if he doesn’t want the thing to fly off during the run. We’ve already lost two cameras between us this season, and powder’s only been on the ground a few weeks.