“Yeah. Gotta update the website. The fans keep asking for new film.” He holds a chest harness already outfitted with a camera out to me. “Here. Put this on, will you? I’m sure no one will want to miss any of your epic stupidity.”
I roll my eyes at him even as I take the camera. “You know you don’t have to give them everything they ask for, right?”
“Yeah, I know. But the footage usually turns out sick, so why not? Besides, it’s been a few days since you’ve been out. I figure, if I’m lucky, I’ll catch you doing some crazy-ass shit.”
“I don’t know about that. I think I might be taking it slow today.”
Cam speaks up for the first time since I got here. “Yeah, right. We’ll believe that when we see it.”
“I guess you will.” I start to tease her about her new jacket—the thing is neon orange and makes her look like a traffic cone—but there’s something about the way she’s looking at me that makes me shut my mouth and take a few steps back.
Most days I get the feeling that Cam can see through my bullshit, but right now the look in her eyes says that she can see a lot more. That she can actually see me, and that’s something I’m totally not okay with. I’ve spent most of my life working hard not to look at what’s inside me, and after Luc’s onslaught yesterday, I sure as shit don’t need anyone else poking around in there trying to see what’s up. I already feel like I’m on the verge of imploding. If anything else happens, I don’t even want to think about how bad shit’s going to get.
With that happy thought in mind, I take a few more steps back. Walk over to the edge of the mountain we’re on, and look out at the view. It’s f**king gorgeous up here. Completely breathtaking. Blue sky, white clouds, snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see, pine trees dripping with snow.
I think about moving sometimes, about walking away from all of this and just starting over somewhere else. Somewhere fresh where the past doesn’t haunt me at every twist and turn. But I don’t think I could ever leave these mountains, not for any length of time anyway. If it would actually bring me some modicum of peace, I could probably give up snowboarding and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Maybe even give up my friends, if I had to, though just the thought stings like hell. But these mountains? They’re in my blood, in my soul, as surely as my memories of April are.
Besides, there’s no peace for me. There hasn’t been in over a decade and there won’t be any in the next decade, either. It’s probably time to stop pretending otherwise. After all, it’s not like I’ve done anything to deserve it anyway.
Behind me, Luc and Ash are still working on getting Ash’s cam properly situated. Luc has one, too, though he’s doing a helmet mount with it instead of a board or chest mount. My guess is he’s planning on going down right behind Ash to catch as much of his run for the website as he possibly can. Having the tricks from two angles and then editing the footage together usually makes for wicked videos.
Surprised Cam isn’t helping them—she’s definitely the electronics guru of our little ragtag band of brothers—I’m about to go offer my services before Luc ends up pitching the camera off the side of the mountain on purpose. But Cam moves into my path before I can do much more than take a step in their direction.
For long seconds she doesn’t say anything. Just stands there and stares at me with a look I don’t want to try to interpret. I smile at her, then start to walk around her, but she steps closer and puts a hand on my chest to hold me in place.
I stiffen despite myself, then glance at Luc to see if he’s now plotting to throw me off the mountain. But he’s too absorbed in the camera debacle at the moment to pay much attention to where Cam is or what she’s doing.
“What’s up?” I ask her after the silence between us gets uncomfortably long.
“You know you can talk to me, right?”
“Me too.” I shoot her a baffled look. “I thought we were talking right now.”
“You know what I mean. I’m worried about you. We all are.”
Damn. Now it’s a tag-team intervention? What the hell does a guy have to do to self-destruct in peace around here? “I’m fine, Cam.”
“You always say that.”
“Because it’s always true.” My heart’s pounding like I just barged a run, and it’s all I can do to stand still. I wait another few seconds, expecting her to step back, hoping she’ll take the hint and stop touching me. But she doesn’t. Instead, she moves closer, wraps her arm around my waist, rests her head on my shoulder. I can feel it—the pressure building up inside me until I’m like the cork in a champagne bottle that’s been shaken way too much.
When I can’t take it any longer, I step away.
Make a show of zipping up my jacket.
And ignore the look of hurt that flashes across her face.
Immediately the cold seeps back in, but I refuse to react. Cam’s watching me closely, looking for any chink in my armor, and I refuse to give it to her. Refuse to let her in any closer than she already is. She might be my friend along with Ash and Luc, but there are some things even best friends shouldn’t see. Shouldn’t know.
Except … “I know this is a bad week for you, Z. You can run from it all you want, but it’s not going to go away.”
This time when she places a hand on my shoulder, it’s pure instinct to knock it off. Pure self-preservation. “Jesus, Cam, will you please just leave it the f**k alone? If I wanted to go all hippie commune and talk about my shit, believe me, I would.”
“It’s not healthy—”
“Really?” I cut her off. “What about my life makes you think I give a f**k about being healthy?”
“Come on, Z.”
“You come on.” I drop my board on the ground, strap my right foot in.
Cam knows what’s going to happen, and she narrows her eyes at me even as she steps back to give me room. “You can’t run away from this conversation forever, you know.”
The adrenaline rush is already starting, drowning out her voice and all the other shit I don’t want to deal with right now. I look back at Luc and Ash, who’ve finally got their cameras mounted and working, and think about joining them on the run they’re about to take. It’s what they’re expecting, and I almost do it. Almost push off and glide over there so we can board the trail together. We’re backcountry, so the run is pretty raw and unstructured, but the truth is it’s just not what I’m in the mood for right now. I want something hard, something that’ll take every ounce of concentration I’ve got. Maybe then I can stop thinking about all the different ways I’ve f**ked up.
With that in mind, I strap my left foot in, and without giving the others any warning about what I’m planning, I push off from the little plateau I’m on.
And then I’m f**king flying.
Cam screams as I go over the edge, but the sound is drowned out in the rush as I board straight down the side of this f**king mountain. There’s no real trail, no path to follow, nothing but a narrow crevice with steep walls on either side.
One wrong move and I’m toast—I can slam into one of the jagged walls, plow into one of the huge rocks that spring up every few feet, or just lose control and go tumbling head over heels. But I’m not planning on doing any of the above. At least not right now. This is virgin backcountry chute, and I’m riding this bitch all the way down.
There’s a dip up ahead of me and I know if I hit it at just the right speed and angle, it’ll launch me about twenty feet into the air, so I brace myself, get ready—
Hot f**king damn. I really am flying. I pull a trick, a sick 1080 inverted cab, then bend my knees and brace myself for the first landing. I hit hard but keep control as I rocket down what is now an almost completely vertical chute.
I have one brief holy-shit moment, one quick second to think that maybe this isn’t a good idea after all. But it’s too f**king late to worry about dying. All I can do now is ride.
So I do, twisting and turning to accommodate the rock formations and trees and f**king boulders that seem to pop up out of nowhere. I hit a couple more lips, catch some sick air off them, and manage to bust out a couple more tricks. I pull off another 1440 and a wicked double backside rodeo 1080, but most of the time I’m just enjoying the most kick-ass ride of my life.
In the middle of it all, my sat phone starts to ring. I know it’s Ash or Cam or Luc calling to bitch me out, but it’s not like I can exactly answer right now. I’m too busy trying not to die.
I hit another lip, this one so huge I’d swear it was a man-made ramp if I didn’t know better. Bracing myself, I do everything I can to gather speed going into it, ’cuz the only thing worse than coming off one of these things fast is coming off it slow.
I make it up the ramp, launch out into the air, and have my second—and biggest—oh-shit moment of the ride. Because there’s nothing f**king there. I’m free-falling … fifty, a hundred, two hundred feet, maybe more. I can’t tell at this point. It’s f**king ridiculous. The biggest air of my life and I’m too focused on trying to find the ground to even pull a trick.
Finally—finally—it’s rushing at me. I twist around, try to get a decent look at what I’m going to be dealing with when I come down. The slant is good and the pow looks like it’s packed pretty tight in this area, so I deliberately relax, loosening my limbs so I won’t hyperextend anything when I land.
I land better than I have any right to, on a slope that’s much milder than the one I just came off. I think I’m getting pretty low, figure the ride has to be almost over, so I put everything I’ve got into it, building up my speed for what I figure has to be the last jump. This whole ride has been f**king front, so what the hell. I pull out the trick I’ve been working on in secret, the one nobody knows about and that I’ve never seen anybody land before.
The triple McTwist 1440.
Shaun White invented the double McTwist 1260, made it famous all over the world. But with the right air, I know I can get an extra twist and an extra half rotation, and I can’t think of a better time to try it. I hit the slope just right, gain some sick air, and just go for it.
I nail it.
I f**king nail it, right before I land in the middle of the f**king worst grouping of trees I’ve ever seen. Then I’m speeding down the last section of the mountain, weaving between trees and praying that I don’t slam into one at fifty miles an hour.
Somehow, somehow, I manage to avoid them all and come to an abrupt—and somewhat anticlimactic—stop at the bottom of the mountain.
I turn and look as far up the mountain as I can see and decide two hundred feet was a really conservative estimate for that drop in the middle of the run. From here it looks more like two-fifty.
I lean down to unbuckle my board, but my phone’s ringing for the third or fourth time and I figure I should put my friends out of their misery before one of them has a f**king stroke. I rip open the Velcro on my pants pocket and pull the phone out, answering right before it goes to voicemail.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Omigod. Omigooooooood!” She’s shrieking by the end, then her voice gets muffled for a second as she yells, “He answered! He answered!
“How could you?” She’s talking to me again. “We thought you were dead. We thought you’d f**king killed yourself. We thought—” She starts sobbing.
Shit. Guilt slams into me, killing the endorphins from the ride. I knew they’d be worried, but I never thought—
“Give me the phone,” I hear Ash say in the background. Then he’s on the line. “Z? Are you hurt? Where are you?”