Page 38

Author: Tracy Wolff

“Can I quote you on that?”

“Feel free.”

And then I’m turning, walking away with Ash and Luc hot on my heels.

“Hey, man, don’t listen to him,” Luc tells me. “He’s just trying to get in your head.”

I nod, keep walking. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

“We’re serious.” Ash now, scrambling to keep up because I’m walking fast. “He was fishing. He doesn’t know shit.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Exactly,” Ash agrees as we get seated on the magic carpet for the ride up the hill. “He doesn’t matter. Just do your thing up there, okay. Just ride and …”

He keeps talking, but I tune him out. All I can see is the reporter’s face twisted up with a mixture of glee, canned remorse, and triumph for getting the scoop. All I can hear is his smug voice blowing my f**king world apart.

I should have told Ophelia. It’s the first thought that comes to my mind, even before I think about April and my mom. I should have told her so she wouldn’t be totally blindsided by this shit when it hits the news.

But I didn’t. I let myself be convinced it was all going to be okay, even after that f**king video hit the Net. Let myself think that things would work out, even though I knew better. When have they ever worked out for me? When have I ever deserved them to?

When have I ever deserved anything that I have?

“Don’t do this, Z.” Ash’s puts a hand on my shoulder. “Don’t let him get in your head. He was just trying to mess with you.”

“Fuck him. I’m fine.” I shrug his hand off. The pressure’s building, filling me up, shredding me open, making me feel weak and vulnerable and claustrophobic. So f**king claustrophobic. Like the whole f**king world is closing in on me.

When we get to the top of the mountain, I step off the lift. Then I unzip my jacket, shrug it off. I’m dizzy, so f**king dizzy I can barely stand.

Fuck. I’m walking around like some stupid, punk-ass little bitch who can’t handle shit. It pisses me off and I try to walk it off again, but I’m stumbling around like a gaffer who doesn’t have a f**king clue how to walk in snow boots.

Shit. I bend over, brace my hands on my thighs, and try to breathe before I pass out like a total f**king pansy. It almost works, except my cell phone is ringing and buzzing off the hook, the story blowing up all around me.

My life blowing up all around me.

I start to block the calls, but three more text messages come in, right on top of each other. Fuck it. I pull my arm back and then throw the goddamn thing as far away from me as I can get it.

Ash and Luc are both behind me and I expect a chorus of what-the-hells, but all I get is silence. The kind of silence that indicates they’re trying to gauge my measurements for a state-of-the-art straitjacket.

I need to get it together. Because it’s not just Ash and Luc up here. There’s a shitload of other boarders and officials, and I can feel a bunch of them looking at me. Fuck that shit. No way am I losing it in front of the whole f**king world. They can have everything else of me—my blood, my broken bones, maybe even my death one day—but they can’t f**king have that. Not now. Not ever.

I can feel Luc and Ash’s worry—it’s a tangible thing and it makes me feel even more like shit. They should be concentrating on their own runs right now, not worrying about my head or how my run is going to go. But isn’t that how it always is in this friendship? They worry about me, and I keep doing things to make them worry.

What a f**king joke I am. What a f**king joke this all is. I don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say about that story hitting the national news and hurting my father all over again, but it’s not like I have a choice. The more people who see that video, the longer this shit goes on, and the closer I get to basket-case status.

That’s the last thing I f**king want or need. When I get off this mountain, I’ll have Ash pull the f**king video. It won’t do much about the pandemonium going on right now, but it might keep it from escalating.

As for the rest, I’m fine. I’m f**king fine. Once they realize there’s no boarding story here, they’ll move on no matter how juicy my past is. It’s just a matter of running the gauntlet a few times until that happens. Once someone else comes out with some other video, some other trick, no one will even remember this. It’ll just disappear, and I can disappear with it.

The thought calms me down, and I’m able to breathe through the pressure. For a little while anyway. I’ve got to bust out, got to do something soon if I don’t want to be dragged back to this little side trip into insanity, but for now I can hold it together. Or at least fake like I can.

Bending down, I pick up my jacket and shove my hands through the armholes. Then I bend over again and check my boots, make sure they’re nice and tight even as I flip my snowboard over and check for damage from when I dropped it.

It looks good, with only one screw a little loose. But before I can even think about leaving it like that—or reach for the tiny tool I keep in my pocket that helps fix all kinds of riding issues with snowboards—Luc has his out and is tightening the screw for me.

“Thanks, bro.”

He nods, shrugs it off even as he looks concerned.

“Hey,” Ash says, sensing that the storm is over. Little does he know he’s in the eye and it’s about to get f**king crazy up in here. Even I can sense that. “I’ve already texted Mitch and he’s on it. No way is that asshat going to run that story. So let’s just focus for now. We have the preliminaries to get through today, so let’s just put this shit away and we’ll deal with it tonight over dinner and a beer.”

“Sounds good,” I tell him. Except I’ve got other plans for tonight, and none of them involve sitting down with my friends and eating dinner. No, there’s other shit I need to do. Shit that’ll help me get my head on straight again—or at least as straight as I can get it.


“Yeah. Sorry about the freak-out. You know how I feel about people searching for shit about me. The past always comes up, and …” I lay the guilt trip deliberately, in an effort to get him to back off.

“Jesus, Z, I hadn’t even thought about the press pulling up shit about April.”

Yeah, well, now it’s all I can think about. Even if Mitch gets that fucktard to back off, there were a shit-ton of reporters out there today. Someone’s going to run with the story. Guaranteed. It’s the nature of the beast. And my guilt will be written up in black and f**king white for the whole world to see. Exactly as I deserve.

But my dad doesn’t need to see that shit again, doesn’t need to relive it now that he’s finally got a new wife, a new kid. A new life. The last thing he wants is any shit from his old life to leak onto that. And I don’t blame him. If I could burn the f**k out of the past like he has, I would. Just fly away like a phoenix and leave it all behind.

But I don’t deserve that. I’ll never deserve it. That’s why I’m here, drowning in the shithole of my life no matter how hard I keep trying to climb out.

I don’t say any of that, though. I just nod like I’m paying attention to what they’re saying. “It’s all good,” I tell them. “No big deal. When he doesn’t get a reaction, it’ll all die down.”

Ash looks at me, his face drawn with guilt, and I can tell he’s torturing himself. I reach out, pat him on the back. “Don’t worry about it, man. It’ll all work out.”

“Mitch’ll handle it,” he tells me again. “He’s already calling in PR favors and shit. He’ll make it all disappear.”

It’s too f**king late for that. Maybe it’s been too late all along. “Sure. Yeah. I’ll call him later, see what’s up.”

“We could do it now.” Luc holds up his phone. “See where he’s at.”

“No!” The last thing I want is to pour the whole f**king story out. Not to my agent, not to anybody. Not ever again. “I just want to ride, man. Okay?”

He looks uncertain, but then he nods and shoves the phone back into his pocket. “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.”

“I’ve got your phone,” Ash says, pressing the cold device into my hand. “The screen is cracked, but other than that it seems to be working okay.”

“Thanks.” I don’t even bother to look at it. I’m so over this.

So over the past.

So over the shit with my dad.

So over being the one my friends have to tiptoe around.

So over worrying what Ophelia will think when she finally learns the truth.

And I’m damn sure over having to worry about f**king up or freaking out or messing with anything, everything.

I’m just done.

I manage to hold it together until it’s my turn. I’m going seventh, so there aren’t that many people in front of me. The pow should still be good when I get up there, and it should all work out. The course isn’t that big. Only room for four big air tricks on the slopestyle course, and I need to hit them just right.

I watch as number six, Brian Mitchell out of Calgary, tears up the course. Hits the rails hard, then lands a pair of doubles and one triple. It’s a good run, no doubt, but I can beat it with my eyes closed.

Then it’s my turn and I’m pushing off. I glide over the rails like they aren’t even there, even take two backward just to show that I can. The first jump comes up pretty quick once I’m out of the rails, and I nail it with a triple cab. I land smooth, hit the second ramp, and pull out the inverted 1440. The crowd is screaming now—I can hear them—and for a second I think about how easily this could go a different way. How easily it could just—

I hit the third ramp wrong. I can feel it going up, but I try to salvage it. I pull another triple cab out, but I’m going too fast and I’m not in the right position. Adrenaline starts pumping. I’m overrotated, coming down too fast …

I hit hard, slam into the ground at the worst possible angle, end up tumbling ass over teakettle down half the f**king mountain. I feel something pop in my shoulder, then blinding pain shoots through my arm and down my back. I’m rolling hard, so there’s more pain everywhere, my ribs, my left hip, my wrist …

I roll and roll and roll, until I finally get to the bottom of the hill. I’m facedown in the snow and I know I should roll over, show everyone that I’m all right. But the pain is overwhelming now, coming in waves that keep growing bigger and bigger until they’re all I can feel, all I can think about.

Grateful, I give myself over to them and let them pull me under.

Chapter 24


At first I don’t understand what’s going on. I mean, I saw him do the trick, saw him overrotate and come down wrong, slamming into the ground shoulder first. But there’s a part of me that still doesn’t get it. That still doesn’t understand what’s happening. It was an easy trick for him—a triple cab that I’ve seen him land literally a hundred times in the last ten days. He can do it in his sleep. So why is he rolling down a mountain right now, going head over heels as fast as all that momentum can carry him?

Beside me, Gemma gasps, has her hands over her mouth as she starts praying out loud. On my other side Cam is sitting still as a statue, just waiting for it to be over. Just waiting for his poor, abused body to finally come to a stop.

And me, I’m in the middle with no real understanding of what’s happening except to know that, whatever it is, it isn’t good. Please, not his head. Not his neck. Please, please, please. I’ll take any other injury, deal with anything else. But please, please, please, don’t let it be a head or neck injury.

I reach out for Cam, end up clawing her arm as Z finally comes to a stop. “Is he okay?”