With no one around to watch, I don’t put on a practice helmet. Don’t check my board to make sure it’s solid before strapping in. Don’t do any of the things I know I should when planning to try a new trick. Instead, I climb to the top of the pipe and lock into place.
Part of me wants to start big, to just bust out and see what I can do, but the tricks—and the big air—will come easier if I’m warmed up first. So that’s what I do. I lay down a few lazy runs, little more than carving up and down the sides of the pipe with a few 360s and 540s thrown in to keep me from getting too bored. Not great for getting me out of my head, but good enough to get the blood pumping, which is enough for now.
After my fourth run, I pause at the top of the half-pipe and look up at the sky. It’s midnight black streaked with purple and gray; even the thought of dawn is a good hour away. There are some stars in the sky—not too many that aren’t obscured by the clouds or drowned out by the lights over the half-pipe, but I can see a few. They’re beautiful. Bright. And clear, so clear. Like there’s nothing cloudy or foggy or f**ked up about them.
I don’t know why, but looking at them makes me think of Ophelia. Which is stupid, because she’s a lot of things—hot and tough and obviously smart—but she’s a long way from clear. In fact, something tells me that she’s just as messed up as I am. She didn’t say or do anything to give me that idea, besides dumping a drink all over me, but the way she holds herself and the look in her eyes tell me there’s a lot more to her than she’s got on display.
Which is exactly why I’m going to back the hell off, and fast. I don’t have the effort to invest in her, not when there are a million other girls out there who aren’t as much work, and who’ll be a hell of a lot easier to forget. I’ve got more than enough crap in my own life to deal with without worrying about what she’s got going on, too.
That probably makes me a creep, but to be honest, I don’t give a shit. That’s the way it is. The way it has to be.
This time when I shove off, I decide to go for it. I push myself, aim for big air, and catch it the second time I hit the top of the half-pipe. I use it to propel me faster down the pipe, and the next time I reach the top I let loose with a cab double cork 1260. There’s no way I’m going to land it—it’s pretty much impossible—and I brace for the fall. For the pain that’s as much a part of me as the guilt.
It doesn’t come.
Instead, I land the trick—the first time I’ve ever managed to stick it—and keep going. Up the pipe into a quick front flip 720 and then back down again. This time when I reach the top I do a triple back rodeo. It’s a crazy thing to do, especially without a spotter and in the dark, but I don’t give a shit. Because those moments when I’m spinning—when I’m flying—make everything else worth it.
I manage to complete the rotation, but I’m coming down fast and hard. Again I brace for the pain, anticipate it. Again it doesn’t come. I hit hard but manage to stay on my feet and ride backward to the end of the half-pipe.
A muffled shout sounds behind me, and I turn to see Ash standing there watching me, his fist in the air. Then he’s running toward me and I’m bending down, unlocking my board. Pretending to be busy so I don’t have to make eye contact with him.
“Holy shit, man! That was f**king amazing.”
I shrug, flip my board over. Do the check I should have done forty minutes ago. Everything’s solid, but I kind of wish it wasn’t. Then I’d have something to do with my hands, with myself, when he claps a hand down on my back.
“Seriously. What the fuck? Cam told me you busted out with an inverted double cork yesterday, but she didn’t say anything about a triple back rodeo. When the hell did you figure out how to do that? And how the shit did you get air like that off the half-pipe?”
“That’s the first time I ever landed it.” The first time I ever attempted it, too, but I’m not about to tell Ash that. If I do, he’ll try to get all up in my head and demand to know why I’m trying shit like that out here by myself. And telling him I was expecting—not trying, just expecting—to f**k it up and add a few more scars to what is an already impressive collection is out of the question. He’d tell Cam and Luc, and then I’d never get a second to myself again.
“Well, it was sick. You think you can do it again?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure how I did it this time, to be honest. I thought I was overrotated.”
“You were. I was sure you were going ass over teakettle. But somehow you always manage to land on your feet when I least expect it.”
He starts hiking up the half-pipe, his mouth going a mile a minute. For a second I think about staying right here and waiting for him to wind down. Ash is an awesome guy and the best snowboarder I know. Smart, dedicated, and crazy talented, he’s always thinking about the next ride, the next trick, the next step to get himself to the top of the Olympic podium. Whereas the Olympics are the last place I want to be. The X Games, maybe. But the Olympics? So not my scene. And it’s not like a guy like me belongs at the top of a podium anyway.
“Are you coming?” he calls down to me. Eventually I nod and start the trek back to the top of the half-pipe. He’s still talking about the triple I just pulled off, but in an effort to stay sane, I’m only half listening. Ash has a tendency to take all this shit too seriously, and he is way keyed up right now. I’ll be lucky if every boarder in North America doesn’t know I landed that trick before breakfast. Guess I’m lucky he doesn’t have a video camera on him.
We ride for hours. Ash throws down a couple of switch 1080s, then spends the rest of the time trying out different positions to get the biggest air out of the pipe. I, on the other hand, just f**k around, pull some 360s or 720s. Do a few back rodeos, but nothing like what I was doing earlier. When I do that shit, it’s never for an audience.
Eventually Cam and Luc come out to join us. They’re both looking a little worse for wear, but then neither of them holds their booze as well as Ash and me, so that’s a pretty regular thing. We take turns on the pipe, Cam and Ash being totally methodical, working on every little thing, while Luc and I goof off. At one point the girl Ash brought home comes out and whines about being bored. I ignore her—she’s Ash’s problem. Only he’s too wrapped up in his boarding to pay any attention to her, either. Finally she gets the hint and takes off.
Then it’s just the four of us, exactly how it’s always been. Exactly how I like it. I don’t give a shit about much—my family’s pretty much a joke at this point and since I came into my trust funds this year, boarding is more of a hobby than anything else, despite my numerous sponsors—but I’d do anything for these three people. Know they’d do anything for me, even if I don’t deserve it.
I’m hanging with Luc at the bottom of the pipe, watching as Ash does the most boring run ever, when Luc glances over at me. “So, you really ate it with that girl last night.”
Against my will, Ophelia’s dark green eyes flash into my head—along with her really fantastic rack. I shove the images right back out. “Whatever.”
“No, really. I’ve never seen a girl react to you like that. In fact, you still smell a little like coffee.”
He’s laughing now, and when Ash coasts to a stop beside us he demands, “What’s so funny?”
Luc shrugs. “Just thinking of Z’s face last night when that chick dumped the drink on him.”
Ash starts laughing, too, just as Cam pushes off for her run. She does a nice double cork right off the block, but I can’t concentrate on what she’s doing when my two best friends are giving their best impressions of hyenas.
“I know, right?” Ash agrees opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water.
“I did not look like that.”
“You so totally did. It was awesome.” Luc’s grin is so wide it might actually split his face. When I don’t respond, he goads, “You must be losing your touch. Usually girls can’t wait to drop their panties around you.”
“Right,” Ash agrees. “First Ophelia, and then he comes back here by himself last night. Maybe we should check, make sure the pod people haven’t gotten to him.” He pretends to look for a chip at the back of my neck.
I shrug him off, wish I could shrug off his words as easily. But that’s the second time in the last twenty-four hours someone’s said I’m losing my touch. It’s annoying, because it’s not true, and because if I don’t have sex to lose myself in, what the f**k do I have?
“Ophelia’s not important,” I tell them. “She’s nuts.”
For some reason, Luc only grins more widely. “You remember her name.”
“It’s Ophelia. Kind of hard to forget Hamlet’s crazy girlfriend.” But again, a picture of her, all tough and smart and sexy, forms in the front of my mind. Again I try to ignore it, to shrug it off. I can’t quite manage it, though, especially with Luc and Ash riding me about her so hard.
“You manage to forget all the other girls pretty easily,” Luc taunts. “Guess this is what happens when a girl hands you your ass in front of everyone.”
“She didn’t ‘hand me my ass.’ ”
“Sure looked that way to me,” Ash said.
“Me too,” Luc agrees. “Admit it. You got owned.”
Cam finishes her run and comes to stand next to the rest of us. “Are you guys going to stand here gossiping all day or are we going to ride?” she demands.
“We’re going to ride.” I pick up my board and start the hike back up to the top of the half-pipe.
“Yeah, well, looks like that’s all you’ll be riding for a while,” Luc crows. “Since Ophelia saw right through you.”
It’s the wording that gets to me, the idea that Ophelia could have seen anything other than what I wanted her to. I turn back around, glare at Luc. “You’re nuts. I can have that girl in bed anytime I want to.”
“Sure you can,” Luc tells me.
“I can,” I insist. She might have told me off, but I felt the heat between us. Shit like that doesn’t just go away if you ignore it. It gets bigger, wilder. Hotter. Until the only way to put out the flames is to give in to them. “I can have her anytime I want.”
Luc snorts. “Dude. Way to sound like a rapist.”
The words hit me like a blow, and before I can try to pretend they don’t matter, Cam elbows him. Hard. “Are you f**king kidding me?” she whispers. “What’s wrong with you?”
I know she doesn’t mean for me to hear, but I do, and that just makes everything more awkward. The only thing worse than living with all that shit with my sister is having my friends tiptoe around it. Like I’m some kind of pu**y who can’t deal.
Then again, maybe I can’t, because there’s no way I’m touching this conversation. Not right now, when it’s all I can do not to throw myself off the f**king half-pipe.
“Yeah, right,” Ash says, going in for the rescue like he always does. Usually I don’t put up with it, but today I don’t say anything as he continues, “When have you ever known Z to have to do more than crook his finger to get a girl to take her clothes off?”
“I think you’re all delusional,” Cam snarls. “Z can’t actually have every girl he wants.” I can tell she’s thinking about those moments at the top of the half-pipe when I almost kissed her, almost used her, just because she was there. And available. And willing.
That just makes me feel worse, though. This conversation—this whole morning—is getting way too serious. Time to lighten things up and remind them that I can deal just fine. “Maybe not,” I say with a deliberate smirk, “but I can have Ophelia.”