It takes me a while to pick up on it, but the fourth or fifth time I see the face, I start to recognize it. Before he even leaves the top of the pipe or the hill, I can tell how the run is going to go. And I’m right every time.
He starts out nailing whatever it is he’s doing, getting huge air, landing big tricks, and everything looks great. The commentators are excited, they’re talking about how he’s going to do it this time, how he’s going to break the curse, how he’s totally in podium contention … and then he blows it. He overextends or he overrotates or he lands wrong—and inevitably he ends up getting hurt.
A torn rotator cuff. A concussion. Busted ribs. Even a broken jaw eighteen months ago. All pretty normal injuries for snowboarders, a result of normal mistakes made by normal riders all the time. But Z isn’t a normal rider, and when he’s on his game, he’s f**king flawless. He doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t give up a quarter of a point. And he sure as hell doesn’t overrotate. The problem is, those days are few and far between. Much more regularly, you can see the self-loathing in his eyes before the ride and you can predict it’s going to go badly.
And, inevitably, it does. So much so that the commentators talk about him being cursed. About his rough childhood and the difficult time he’s had since then. No one says any more than that, but everyone seems to know what’s going on with him. Everyone, that is, but me.
I start to poke around some more, to find out what it is about his early life that has everyone giving him a pass. I mean, yes, he’s really charming when he wants to be. And yes, he’s smart and funny, charismatic, and very good-looking (which, I know, a lot of people say is enough to forgive him anything).
But is that really the truth? Does it not matter that he throws his talent away, that he deliberately tries to hurt himself? Or is there something else there, something that makes even the most unforgivable behavior forgivable?
It has to be the latter, has to be that there’s something I don’t know. But I figure that if it’s as bad as all that, he should be the one to tell me himself. I’d hate for him to dig around online and come up with stories about what happened with Remi instead of just asking me about it, so I figure I need to give him the same courtesy, no matter how much I want to know the truth.
Which is why, even though I’m dying to find out what’s haunting Z, I step away from the laptop. I close it up, put it away, try to focus on something else. Anything else.
It’s not as easy as it sounds, and when I fall asleep two hours later, it’s to memories of Z—what I’ve observed and what I suspect blending together in one nightmarish dream that feels an awful lot like what I imagine hell to be.
I’m not going to lie. I think about drinking myself to sleep. I think about pulling a bottle of Herradura out of the bar and taking it with me when I climb upstairs to the master bedroom I’ve slept in for years, ever since I “inherited” this place from my father. Oh, it’s nothing official, but he knows and I know that he’ll never set foot in this house again. When he came back for my high school graduation—after having left me here, on my own, since I was sixteen—he stayed in a hotel.
He asked me about selling it then, and buying a different property. I almost said yes because I’m not sure that it’s healthy for me to be living in this place. Just like I’m not sure why I insist on staying. Is it because I feel closer to them here and I don’t want to lose that feeling, or because I feel like I need to be punished and staying here does quite a good job of it? I don’t have a clue, but on nights like tonight, it feels more like a ten-million-dollar mausoleum than the home my mother worked so hard to make for us.
Even so, the tequila doesn’t appeal. And neither does the stash of weed I picked up on my way back here. Truthfully, nothing does but being with Ophelia, and that’s the only thing that’s actually out of the question right now.
In the end, I don’t do anything. I just sit out on the patio that overlooks much of Park City and stare at the lights for hours. It’s freezing out—below freezing, actually—but I don’t feel the cold. Not when my head is stuck halfway between the past and now.
I think about going out to the half-pipe, throwing down a few runs to tire myself out. But for what might be the first time ever, I’m not in the mood to board. How can I be when everything about it reminds me of Ophelia and why she walked away from me today without ever giving us a real chance?
Which is fine. More than fine, actually. The last thing I need is a woman cluttering shit up inside me. Fuck knows, things are more than cluttered enough in there already. It’s only been a few days and already I think about her more than I should. Already I’m upset that she shut that door on me today—literally and figuratively. If I’m this upset after a week, what would it be like if I really fell for her and she decided to boot me out in a month? Or six months?
Not that I planned to stick around that long. A week is pretty much more commitment than I’ve ever given a girl, any girl, so thinking about more—even if it is with Ophelia—seems crazy. And yet, as I look out at all those lights down below me, lights that feel so incredibly far away even though they really aren’t, I can’t help wishing she was here. Whether I deserve her or not.
Midnight rolls around. One o’clock in the morning. Two o’clock. Three o’clock, and still I sit out here staring into the darkness. Finally I say to hell with it. I’m going to go crazy if I just stay here for the rest of the night. I need to do something—anything—to distract me. Even if there’s nothing I want to do.
I walk down to the garage, think about taking out the Range Rover or my Harley, just going for a fast ride to nowhere over the newly salted streets. But that doesn’t appeal, either, so I pull my jacket closed, grab a scarf and a pair of gloves, and set off on foot, straight up the steepest mountain trail I can find.
It’s still dark out, dawn not even a thought on the horizon. It doesn’t take long for the glow of my yard lights to fade and then I’m hiking in the black, with nothing but the stars and my knowledge of the terrain to guide me. Which is fine. I’ve been up this trail hundreds, thousands of times in the last few years, mostly at night. One more time won’t kill me, even if I wish it would. But I’m a long way from hypothermia despite freezing my ass off.
The wind is fierce tonight and it’s ripping right through my clothes like they’re not even there. I don’t feel it so much when I’m shredding the mountain in my gear, but my jeans and this jacket are a long way from cutting it. I should turn around, but I know that if I go back into that house right now, I’ll lose my shit completely. Already the need to trash something is a razor blade inside me.
But not there. Not in front of Luc or Ash or Cam, all of whom are sacked out in the family room after our late-night planning session with Mitch. A planning session I wanted no part of but was somehow suckered into attending anyway. Between him and Ash, there are a million new plans being hatched for me, none of which I have any interest in whatsoever. Plans that include new, bigger sponsorships for me and the others, which is the only reason I don’t say no outright. I’m the only one of the group not living on my snowboarding sponsorships and endorsements. The only one with a big fat family fortune (courtesy of the tech industry) and a couple of trust funds (courtesy of my mom’s death and my dad’s determination not to have anything to do with me) to fall back on. And since bigger endorsements for me means bigger endorsements for them—from the beginning we’ve always made it clear that we’re a team—it’s almost impossible for me to say what I want to say. Which is not just no, but f**k no.
But again, I can’t say that. I can’t do that. Can’t do anything that I want to right now, not when my friends believe that things are finally getting better, that I’m finally getting better. I know what they’re thinking, know they’re figuring that hell week—the one week a year where I totally lose my shit—is just about over and it’s time for me to get back to normal.
These days I know what they’re thinking as well as they do, and I’ve spent the last few years trying to live up to their expectations of me because it’s easier. And because it works, makes me look like I’m not so f**king broken.
Lately, though, I feel like living down to their fears instead. Everything would be so much easier. Because the truth is, I’m not getting any better. I’m just getting good at hiding how f**ked up I am, for whatever that’s worth. Or at least I was. Funny how Ophelia, who’s only known me a week, seems to see me more clearly than my closest friends do. She sees right through the act I’ve spent years perfecting.
Because that thought gets me by the throat, I try to pretend it away. Or, if I can’t actually make it disappear, at least ignore it.
The trail I’m on narrows suddenly, and still I hike up it a few hundred more feet, taking a path only a mountain goat could easily follow. I slip and slide a few times as my boots lose traction, knock my shoulder hard against a tree, bang a knee on some large rocks. But the pain does it for me—it always has—and I work through it. Press on.
By the time I get to a decent-sized plateau I’m huffing and puffing, and I pause for a minute to catch my breath. As I do, a strong gale comes tearing across the terrain, rattling branches and bending some of the younger trees nearly to the ground. I brace for it, head down, shoulders hunched, feet firmly grounded, and still it almost levels me.
I fight to stay on my feet—I hate getting knocked around by anything but my own stupidity—and keep climbing when I succeed.
I don’t know where I’m going. Don’t know where I am or even where I’ve been. I know only that I don’t want to be who I am, what I am, one second longer.
I veer off the trail I know—it’s too easy, gives me too much time to think—and start climbing a sheer rock wall that is almost completely vertical. It’s a stupid move—there aren’t a lot of handholds and the ones I do find are slippery with ice and snow—but I don’t give a shit.
I slip a few times on my way up, end up clinging to the cliff with nothing but my fingertips and my will more times than I can count. This was a stupid idea, and for a second, just a second, I think about going back down. But I’m at that weird spot where I’m a little more than halfway up and it’s easier and safer now to keep climbing instead of turning back.
So that’s what I do, one perilous handhold at a time. I climb and climb and climb.
I’m only a few feet from the top, balanced precariously on a narrow shelf, when disaster strikes. I’m standing on my toes, pulling myself up with my left hand as I search for a place to put my right, when the chunk of ice I’m holding on to breaks off and crashes to the ground. I start to fall, and somehow—I don’t know how—I manage to find a handhold for my right hand.
But I’ve slipped down a few feet, and no matter how hard I try to find purchase for my boots, there isn’t anything. Just a sheer, slick wall of ice covering the mountain and making it impossible for my feet to do anything but slip and slide across it.
Which means I’ve got nothing to stand on.
Which means the only thing standing between me and a thirty-foot drop to the hard, bumpy plateau below is the precarious grip my half-frozen fingers have on one icy rock.
The thought doesn’t scare me nearly as much as it should.
Still, the human body’s fight for self-preservation isn’t easily ignored. My heart is beating like the drums in a rock-and-roll anthem, adrenaline racing through my system. The whole fight-or-flight thing is totally kicking in, only I’ve got no one to fight and nowhere to run. I spend a few desperate seconds searching for another hold for my left hand—something, anything I can grab on to. But even as I’m doing it, even as I’m frantically looking for a way to stay alive, it occurs to me how easy things would be if I don’t find one.