“Nothing?” Luc squawks. “It’s everything. Check this out.”
Then he’s pulling up the video on his phone and handing it to Ophelia.
She watches in silence, but I can see the way her hands are shaking and how she’s jiggling her knee. The others have crowded around to watch it one more time—even Cam, though she stays as far from Ophelia as she can get and still see the phone—and I don’t think they notice, but I can’t pay attention to anything else.
When the video is over, Ophelia asks, “This is you?” Her green eyes are huge in her white face, and they’re that malachite color again. The one that means she’s holding on by her fingertips. “You did that?”
“It’s okay,” I tell her. “It was no big deal—”
“No big deal?” Luc again. “It was epic, man. You didn’t even look. You just took off the side of the mountain, no trail, no nothing, and you rode it!”
His voice rings with pride, and still I contemplate murdering him where he stands. I shoot him a look, one that tells him to shut the hell up because he’s not helping. I think he gets it because he closes his mouth, but the damage has already been done.
Ophelia’s looking at me like I’ve lost my mind. Or broken her heart. “You threw yourself off a f**king mountain? You didn’t even check to see if there was a path? You just literally threw yourself off the mountain?” Her voice gets a little higher with every syllable.
I shrug. I’m totally out of my element here and don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to say.
“I can’t—” Her voice breaks, and suddenly she turns away. “I need to get back to work,” she calls over her shoulder, even though it’s only been ten minutes and she’s walking in the wrong direction.
“Hey, Ophelia, wait,” I tell her, hustling after her. The girl can really move when she wants to, those long legs of hers eating up the space between our table and the employee break room. “Talk to me.”
“I can’t,” she tells me, her voice sounding muffled even though she’s right in front of me. “Not right now. I just can’t.”
She swipes her passkey across the sensor, and the door to the break room unlocks. “I’ll see you later,” she tells me, pushing it open and stepping inside.
“Wait a minute.” I shove my foot in the door, catch it the same way I caught the door of her room the first night we ever went out. I’m not sure what it says that this girl is always trying to put barriers between us—any more than I know why I’m so determined not to let her. “That’s it? You’re just going to walk away without talking to me about why you’re upset? That’s bullshit!”
“Oh, no,” she whispers harshly, lowering her voice in an effort to keep this just between us. I could have told her it was too late for that—already I can see the other employees in the room straining to hear what we’re fighting about. “You don’t get to turn this around. You know exactly what’s got me so upset, so don’t pretend that you don’t.”
“I’m fine,” I tell her, holding my arms out and spinning around as if that will get the truth through her thick head. “I’m absolutely fine.”
“This time,” she shoots back. “But what about the next time, or the time after that, or the time after that? One of these times you’re going to do something stupid, something reckless, and you’re not going to make it through it. You’re going to die and—”
“Goddamnit!” Fury swamps me as I figure out what this is really about. It takes me over, and I slam my fist into the wall next to her head, ignoring the pain that shoots out from my already bruised knuckles. “This isn’t about me at all. This is about Remi and that car accident.”
“Yes. Fuck, yes, it is.” I pull my hand back, start to slam it into the wall again. But the look on her face is so pained, so upset, that I end up shoving it deep into my pocket instead.
“Just because something bad happened to him doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to me, too,” I tell her, because I have to make her understand.
“Just because you think you’re invincible doesn’t mean you really are,” she counters.
I search her face, try to figure out how to reach her. But she’s totally closed herself off from me. It panics me and pisses me off all at the same time.
“You knew I was a snowboarder when you slept with me. Nothing’s changed.”
She starts to say something, but seems to think better of it. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe nothing has changed—except my perception. I knew you did the half-pipe, knew you did the really advanced runs around here. But what I saw on that video—” She shakes her head. “That’s something totally different. I’m not sure I can deal with that.”
“Yeah, well, you’re going to have to. Because me boarding backcountry’s not going to change. I can’t not do that.”
“I know.” She nods, her hand coming up to cup my cheek. “I’m not asking you to stop. I’m just saying I don’t think I can be a part of it. Not if I want to stay sane.”
Then she’s pushing up onto her tiptoes, pressing a soft kiss against my mouth. “You need to go, Z.”
“Go?” This afternoon has turned out so differently than I expected it to that I’m dazed. Confused. “Now? But we’re not done talking.”
At least I don’t think we are. I’ve never actually done one of these relationship talks before, but it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere close to finished.
“I’ve got to go back to work. And I need a few minutes to myself before I do.” She pushes me back gently, and I go because I don’t know what else to do. What else to say.
“I’ll call you,” she tells me. But I’ve heard those words before—hell, I’ve said them a million times myself—and they never mean what they say they do.
I start to tell her so, to tell her she can’t just walk away from this thing between us, but she already has. I can see it in her eyes. And even if I couldn’t, the door she closes between us seems pretty damn final to me.
Closing that door on Z is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Especially with the way he was looking at me, as though in trying to take care of myself I had managed to totally shred him.
Just the thought has me swiping my hands across my cheeks, collecting the hot tears that started flowing without my knowledge or permission. Who knew? Looks like I’m pretty shredded myself.
Which is stupid. I haven’t even known this guy a week. How could he creep inside me so quickly? How could he turn me inside out without any explanation? It’s not like I didn’t know, not like I wasn’t warned. By Cam. By my uncle. By all the many, many stories I’ve heard about him in just the two weeks I’ve worked here.
And it’s not as if I haven’t been down this road before, with Remi. Remi. His absence is still a black hole within me eleven months later. One would think I would’ve learned, yet here I am again, courting disaster with Z.
Z, who I can already tell has the potential to be so much more than an emotional void.
Z, who when shit goes bad won’t just turn into a black hole. He’ll go supernova and burn everything around him to a crisp. Even me.
I glance at my watch, realize it’s almost time for my break to be over. I’ve got just enough time to rinse my face in the bathroom and then I’ve got to head back. Which sucks. The last thing I want to do is make coffee for the next three hours, especially when every time I close my eyes I can see Z’s smile as he stands near my Keurig, brewing coffee for me two mornings in a row.
As expected, the rest of the afternoon drags, and by the time I head out to my car I’m totally beat. Yes, I drove this morning, and while it was nerve-racking being behind the wheel of my car again, I did it—thanks to Z, who not only made me face my fear and drive a car again but also brought my car to the shop early this morning to have snow tires and chains put on it.
Just thinking about it shreds me all over again. Remi would have made sure I knew to get snow tires, would have hounded me until I did it, but he still would have expected me to do it. Not like Z, who just did it for me. Not because he doesn’t think I’m capable, but because that’s who he is. He takes care of me when I don’t even know I want to be taken care of.
No one has ever treated me like that in my life, not really, and the fact that Z—crazy, fucked-up Z—is the one who thinks of me, who treats me like I’m precious, blows my mind. It also makes me wonder if I was too harsh earlier. If I’d been so caught up in my worry over Z’s ride that I let it bleed all over my ability to be rational.
I don’t know, and right now I don’t want to think about it. All I want to do is go back to my room, get into my pajamas, and fall asleep watching TV. It’s not how I planned on spending the evening, but it’ll do. Better than spending the whole night moping about something that probably never had a chance of working out anyway.
Except once I’m in my room and in my pajamas, I can’t settle. I keep thinking about Z and that video and wondering if I overreacted. So finally, because I can’t stop myself, I get on my laptop and Google Z’s ride. But the second I do, I swear the whole freaking Net explodes in front of me.
No wonder Sports Illustrated was calling, along with everyone else in the known world. The thing’s only been up a day and a half and already it’s got one and a half million hits. And the comments are insane. Totally insane. I knew Z was talented—everyone keeps saying it, so I figure it must be true—but I guess what he does in this video is totally off the charts.
A little research teaches me that there’s only one or two other riders in the world who can land the tricks he lands, and that’s in the controlled environment of the half-pipe. The fact that he did it backcountry—after having literally thrown himself off the side of a mountain—is pretty much unheard of.
So maybe I did judge him too harshly. This kind of talent has to breed confidence. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing. In which case he’s an adrenaline junkie but not a total moron.
But even as I try to convince myself of that, Cam’s scream at the beginning haunts me. It also tells me there was no preparation here at all. Z went off that mountain with no warning, no planning, no nothing. And that is worse than being a junkie or an idiot. It reveals a total lack of concern about his personal safety. I know, because I’ve been down this road before with Remi. I know exactly what it looks like.
After I watch the video about fifteen times—and manage to do nothing but scare the hell out of myself—I start looking for other videos of Z. Him riding backcountry or in competition or just stuff he does on the slopes here in Park City. It turns out there’s a lot of stuff about him out there—he’s more famous in the snowboarding world than I ever imagined. Between YouTube, the major snowboarding sites, and the website that he, Ash, and Luc have together, I find out more about him than I ever wanted to know. Especially the fact that there’s a different girl—or three—in every single video and they’re all looking at Z like he hung the f**king moon.
Then again, if he could give each of them ten orgasms in a night, is there any wonder they think he’s amazing? Even if he did dump their asses the morning after. God knows, two nights in his arms and I’ve fallen pretty damn hard myself.
I watch all the footage I can of Z. Competition footage, GoPro footage, phone video cameras. I watch it all. And what I find startles me—and freaks me out more than I could ever have imagined. Because when it comes to snowboarding, there are two very distinct Zs who show up: the Z who’s out there going balls to the wall because he wants to have a good time and get his adrenaline on, and the Z who’s out there because he wants to punish himself.