“What do you mean?” I ask, confused already.
“Put the car in second instead of drive,” he tells me. He parked the Range Rover near the front curb earlier so that I wouldn’t have to worry about backing out of a spot yet. “And just let it creep forward. Don’t touch the gas or the brake; just let the car move forward on its own.”
I do as he says and we start moving at about one mile an hour. After a minute, I glance at him from the corner of my eye. “We aren’t going to get very far at this speed.”
He rolls his eyes at me. “Bored already?”
“No. Just …” Impatient. Impatient to get started, impatient to finish. Impatient to get my life back. Or at least this small corner of it.
“I get it,” he tells me, dropping a hand on my knee, and I think maybe he does. God knows he seems to understand everything else. Strange, when a few days ago I would have said he didn’t understand anything.
As we get toward the end of the parking lot, he continues, “Now, you can ease it into third gear. But don’t turn out into the street yet. I want you to drive a couple of circles in here before we go out onto the road.”
It’s my turn to roll my eyes at him. “You sound like Remi during my very first driving lesson.”
“Remi?” he asks. “Is that your brother?”
I swallow, annoyed at myself for slipping up. I never talk about Remi. Never. But Z doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know anything about me other than what he’s seen here in Park City. And while there’s something really appealing about that fact, there’s also something not quite fair about it, too. Not when there are so many sources around where I pick up stuff about his life.
“He was my boyfriend. We started dating when I was fifteen, so he’s the one who taught me how to drive.”
“He taught you? So he was older than you?”
“By a couple of years, yeah.”
He nods, and though he doesn’t say anything, I know that the parallels between him and Remi aren’t lost on Z. And he doesn’t know the half of it.
But I do, and still I’m here, in this car with him.
Still I slept with him.
I told myself it wouldn’t matter. That I was doing it because I wanted to get over the pain that came with Remi being my one and only. But being here, now, with Z … trusting him to give me this driving lesson … laughing with him in my room a little while ago … It makes me think that there’s more here than I want to admit, even to myself. Especially to myself.
The thought boggles my mind, especially considering who Z is. What he does. In its own way, snowboarding is as dangerous as drag racing, and Z isn’t exactly known for his caution on the slopes or in the half-pipe. I’ve never seen him board, so I don’t know, but the stories I’ve heard around the resort make it sound like he takes more risks than he has to. The payout’s bigger, but so is the chance of something going wrong.
I can’t help wondering if there’s something pathologically wrong with me that the only two guys I’ve ever been interested in have been like that. Remi always felt like he had something to prove, and very often went to crazy lengths to do so. And though I don’t know him nearly as well, yet, it seems to me like Z is exactly the same.
Just the thought has my hands shaking on the steering wheel.
“You cold, baby?” Z reaches over and turns the heat on high.
Because I am, suddenly, I smile at him. “Yeah. Thanks.”
He smiles back, and it’s that real smile of his again. The one that all but stops my heart in my chest.
“What happened to Remi?” he asks as we complete my first full circle of the parking lot—which was both easier and harder than I thought it would be. I can tell by his voice that he knows, or thinks he does, but he needs to ask anyway.
I don’t look at him when I answer. “He died. In the same accident that …” I gesture to my stomach.
“I’m sorry, Ophelia.” I can hear it in his voice, the fact that he’s sorry for more than just Remi’s death. He’s sorry for pushing me into this driving lesson. “I’m so sorry.”
“Not your fault. I—”
I’m not sure what I was going to say there, but whatever it was, it ends up going unsaid. Because as we get to the end of the parking lot and I start to make a left turn, the car starts to skid, the back end fishtailing wildly.
“Turn the wheel to the right,” Z tells me in a tight, authoritative voice. “A little more, a little more … that’s it.”
I hit the sweet spot, straighten us back up, and pretend my heart isn’t beating about a hundred miles a minute. There was no real danger—we were going so slowly and there were no cars near us to bump into—but still, it was stupidly terrifying to me. Just like in Z’s car last night, all I could think about were those moments before Remi and I crashed. When everything was fun and hysterical and amazing—
“Ophelia!” Z barks my name, and it snaps me out of the stupor, has me turning to him instinctively.
“I’m fine,” I tell him.
“I know you are,” he answers. “I just wanted to make sure you knew it, too.”
It’s such a Z answer, and yet such a perfect one that I can’t help responding to it. I slow the car to a stop and lean over, pressing my mouth to his.
Sparks shoot through me as Z returns my kiss, his warm hand coming up to cradle my face as he nips at my upper lip. But just when I’m thinking about tanking the whole lesson in favor of heading back to my room, he pulls away.
“Let’s try that again,” he tells me. “Except when you get to the next corner, I want you to make sure your foot is off the gas and that you turn a little to the inside. That way if you start to skid, you have more room to control yourself before worrying about going off the edge of the mountain or something.”
“We’re nowhere near the edge of the mountain,” I answer, pouting a little because I really want to be doing something else right now.
“You know what I mean.”
And the thing is, I do. Though I want to be anywhere else but in this SUV right now, there’s a part of me that loves Z’s determination to make sure I can drive in the snow. More, that I’m no longer afraid of something so stupidly important. And because I do, I put everything else away and concentrate on doing exactly what he tells me to.
We end up doing three more turns around the parking lot before Z decides it’s safe to take me out onto the road that runs up to the lodge. It’s a back road, not one of the main ones, but still I’m nervous as I pull out onto it.
Z is patient with me the whole time, explaining when to touch the gas and how hard, how to brake on snow, how to turn. He even covers what to do if I start to slide at a higher speed, and gives me a demonstration—with him behind the wheel, of course. He’s too protective for anything else.
We end up spending the whole day together. The driving lesson takes a couple of hours, then we head into town—with me driving all the way down the mountain—for lunch and a movie, which turns into window shopping and dinner and a movie and finally dessert at that little place we went to a few days ago. This time I eat my ice cream cone like a normal person—no reason to torment him, not when he already knows what it’s like to have my mouth on him.
We spend so much time sitting there talking—about everything and nothing—that we don’t get back to my place until late. He drives us up the mountain since it’s so dark, of course, but for the first time I feel like I might not drive the car off a cliff.
Z gave me that reassurance, and it’s not something I’ll easily forget. Truth be told, I won’t forget anything about the last twenty-four hours. Maybe that explains why, when we get to my door, I invite him in—despite the fact that this thing between us is supposed to be casual.
What it doesn’t explain, though, is why he says yes.
“Dude!” Ash meets me as I step off the magic carpet, his phone in his hand and a look of absolute glee on his face. “It’s gone viral, man. Over a million hits in less than twenty-four hours. Everyone is talking about you!”
“What’s gone viral?” To be honest, I’m not paying much attention to what he’s saying.
Instead, I’m thinking about last night with Ophelia and wondering how much longer until she gets off work. It’s crazy. Normally when I’m on my board, time flies. Hard for it to be any different when the adrenaline’s pumping and I’m shredding hard.
But today every second has dragged. All I’ve been able to think about is her and what it was like to be with her. To hold her and kiss her, to be inside her. I’ve been with a lot of girls since I was thirteen, more than I could ever begin to count. It’s not something I’m proud of, but not something I’ve ever been embarrassed about, either. It just is.
Sex is one more way for me to disconnect. Except with Ophelia, it doesn’t feel like disconnecting. It feels different. Not permanent or anything like that, because I’m so not going there, but … it feels good. Like I’m connected to something besides the total fuck-up that is my past. That is my life.
Reaching inside my jacket, I pull my phone out of one of the zippered pockets with the vague idea of texting her to see if she wants to catch dinner when she gets off work. But before I can do much more than swipe my finger across the screen, the thing starts to ring. I glance down at the number, hoping it’s her. It’s not, so I let it roll to voicemail.
The only problem is, my voicemail is full. Plus, when I flip over to messages, it says I’ve got one hundred and eighty-seven new ones—from other boarders, from three of my sponsors, and from a bunch of snowboarding sites and magazines.
For the first time, I plug back into what Ash is saying. “What the hell’s going on?” I demand. “My phone f**king exploded in the last six hours.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. The video of you going down the mountain has f**king blown up.”
“You posted it already?”
He looks at me like I’m crazy, and maybe I am, but I’m having a hard time keeping up. “Damn right I did. I cleaned up the beginning and then posted it on YouTube and the website yesterday afternoon. That’s all I did, man. Just put it up, linked to it a couple of places, and let it go. And people are going nuts for it. You should see the comments—a ton of the greats have watched it and left messages. Plus they’re spreading it around. No one can believe the tricks you shredded, not to mention the sheer balls it took to just go off the mountain the way you did.” He pumps a fist in the air. “You’re a f**king legend, man.”
I stare at him, barely able to comprehend what he’s saying. “I don’t want to be a legend.”
“Too late for that,” Luc says, coming up behind me and clapping me on the back. He’s just gotten off the lift and his phone is in his hand. “They’ve embedded that video into every major snowboarding site in the world. The pingbacks are coming in every few seconds.”
“Shit. Are you serious?”
He shoves his phone in my face, shows me the latest stats on the website we share—and they’re insane. Totally insane. Page hits, visitors, comments. And yeah, pingbacks. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of them, every hour.
What. The. Fuck.
“Is this really happening?” I ask. But before anyone can answer, my phone rings again, followed by a couple of beeps that mean I’ve gotten more text messages.
Shit. Who knew one little trip off a mountain could cause so much damn trouble? If I’d known, I would have smashed the damn GoPro to bits rather than let Ash have it.
“We need a plan, man.” Ash is all but rubbing his hands together with glee. “You need to call Mitch, figure out how you’re going to capitalize on this. I told you, going into the trials, this is going to be huge.”