I sound like a total douche, but better that than a pussy.
Except Luc calls me on it. “Oh, yeah? You so sure about that?”
“Absolutely.” No backing down now. A guy can only take so much sympathy before he goes insane. “Give me a week and I’ll prove it.”
“Are you seriously betting on whether or not you can f**k a girl?” Cam demands, looking outraged. “What is this, high school?”
“No, not high school. The stakes are higher,” I tell her, warming to the idea. She looks pissed, which isn’t a bad thing. Because if Cam thinks I’m an asshole, then she won’t be throwing herself at me anymore and I won’t have to worry about f**king up and taking what she freely offers. “I bet my Burton Landlord against Luc’s Flow Darwin that I can get Ophelia out of her panties before the competition next weekend.”
Luc whoops. “You’re on!”
“Dude?” It’s Ash’s turn to elbow Luc. “Are you sure you want to take that bet?”
“Damn straight. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on that board since he bought it.”
“As if. We both know I’ll be adding your Darwin to my collection sometime in the next seven days.”
“Whatever,” he shoots back. “I saw the way she looked at you. But a guy can dream, I guess.”
Cam interrupts the bragging contest with a disgusted snort. “You guys are so gross. I can’t believe I’m friends with you.” Then she’s off, storming up to the top of the half-pipe even though it’s totally my turn.
Luc watches her go, and though he tries to hide it, Ash and I can both see how he feels about her. Thank f**k I never have to worry about being that whipped.
Cam slams through her run, catching some big air and hitting a couple of tricks she’s always struggled with. Losing her temper always makes her a better rider.
Once she clears the end of the pipe, it’s my turn. I plan on taking it easy—I’ve already been at this for hours, doing some pretty strenuous stuff—but just as I push off, April’s face flashes through my mind.
I don’t let myself think of her often. It hurts too bad. But this time of year, this week, it’s hard to think of anything else, especially when my friends are making such a point of not saying anything about her at all.
So I close my eyes and think of how she was the last time I saw her. Her dark hair banded into two long pigtails. Her purple jacket a vivid splash against the snow. Her—
I cut the thought off before it can form.
Push off before I can sink too far into the memories.
I hit the first trick hard, but it’s not enough. I need more. More challenge. More rush. More—
I launch myself into a 1440 to make the shit in my head disappear. It’s too soon, though, and I know it even as my board leaves the pipe. And still I push it, still I go for the extra rotation.
I get it, but I’m too low. I come down too fast, hit way too hard. Ash’s shout mingles with Luc’s and Cam’s, and the last thing I hear before blacking out is the sound of their footsteps running straight for me.
I shrug out of the hospital gown, trying to ignore how freaking cold it is in the stupid clinic. How freaking cold it is everywhere in this godforsaken city. It’s like no one in Park City knows what heat is or something. Or maybe it’s just that my blood is too thin from all those years of living in a place where the average temperature is eighty degrees and the average humidity level is about a thousand percent.
Either way, I’m freezing. I reach for my turtleneck, slide it on, then follow it with my jeans, sweater, jacket, and scarf. None of the layers seem to help, though. I’m still one degree away from having my teeth chatter and my fingers turn blue.
There’s a knock on the door and I turn to see the nurse from earlier standing there. She’s got that I’m-so-happy-I-must-be-on-really-good-drugs smile on her face that so many of the people in this town seem to wear all the time. “The X-rays all turned out, Ophelia. You’re free to go.”
Thank God. I slide my feet into the thick socks and Uggs I just spent too much of my first paycheck on, then snatch my purse out of the visitor’s chair. This place gives me the creeps.
The nurse’s eyes widen at my full-out charge for the door, and she quickly steps aside to avoid getting run over. Smart woman. I have no intention of stopping until I’m out of this damn place—even the snow outside looks good in comparison.
To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with the clinic per se. Just the memories that being here brings up. But if the X-rays show what the doctor thinks they will—that the screws from the last surgery are healing exactly as they should be—then I won’t have to come back here for a long time. That’s something, anyway.
“The doctor will call you later today or tomorrow to let you know the results of the X-rays,” the nurse calls after me.
I lift my hand in a wave to let her know I heard her, but I don’t stop. The ball of nerves that’s been inside me since I got off the bus this morning has grown to epic proportions. I’m nauseous and dizzy and desperate to escape, as much from my past as from this damn clinic.
I take a wrong turn, end up racing down a long hallway. I make another turn when I get to the end of the hallway, and then another one, all the time getting a little more frantic, a little more freaked out. I feel stupid, weak, ridiculous, but I swear if I don’t get out of here I’m going to lose it completely.
The sign at the end of the corridor says the exit is to the right, so I make another turn and end up plowing full speed into what feels like a brick wall.
I stumble and probably would have fallen—like a complete idiot—except the brick wall reaches out and grabs my shoulders. “Hey there. You okay?”
If possible, my stomach gets even tighter. I know that voice. I look up from a chest encased in a tight black T-shirt into blue eyes that somehow manage to look both wicked and concerned. “What are you doing here?” I demand, the words popping out of my mouth before I can think better of them.
Z isn’t offended, though. He just gives me that yes-I-can-get-you-to-drop-your-panties-with-just-a-look grin of his even as he makes sure that I’m steady. When it becomes obvious that I am—or at least as steady as I’m going to get—he pulls his hands away. But not before rubbing his fingers gently up and down my arms.
There are three thick layers of fabric between his hands and my skin, and yet I swear I can feel the heat of his touch. It’s crazy, but it’s true. My arms still burn where he was touching me. I try to shrug it off, to pretend I don’t feel it, but I never have been very good at lying. Even to myself.
Z points at his forehead, and the stark white bandage that covers the left corner of it. “Hazard of being a snowboarder.”
Something about his voice and demeanor—soothing, solid, sexy—settles me. The panic recedes, and my brain cells start firing again, not a moment too soon.
“What? Having to wear really ugly Band-Aids? Or having to catch girls who all but throw themselves at you?”
He laughs. “A little bit of both, actually.”
“Yeah, I bet.” I take a deep breath and a step back. Then regret both. The breath because he smells really good—like pine and cinnamon and, randomly, oranges—and the step back because now I’m far enough away for his eyes to skim over me. Which they do. Not in a rude way, like he’s trying to get a look at my body, but in a hey-what-brings-you-to-a-medical-clinic kind of way. And since that’s the last thing I want to talk about, I find myself tensing up all over again as I wait for the inevitable questions.
In the end, he doesn’t ask them, though. Instead, he points down the hall to a red-and-white Exit sign. “Is that what you’re looking for?”
The fact that he reads me so easily has me bristling. “How do you know I’m looking for anything?”
“Believe me, I know the look. You’re as desperate to get out of here as I am.”
I can’t stand that he can see through me that easily, especially when I pride myself on my ability to hide my emotions. “Maybe I was just looking for the bathroom,” I tell him, annoyed.
His indigo eyes narrow suspiciously. “Were you?”
“No.” I don’t know why I admit it. At least not until he smiles and the damn thing lights up his whole perfect face. For the first time, I actually get why the women line up to throw themselves at him. The knowledge only makes me more wary, and I take a second step back.
“So,” he says, brows raised. “Are you ready to blow this pop stand?”
I start to turn him down, to make something up to get away from him, but the fact of the matter is that I’m breaking out in a sweat despite the cold. If I don’t get out of this clinic soon, they’re going to have to carry me out—after medicating me into a drug-induced stupor. “More than ready,” I finally admit.
“Me too.” Z puts his hand on my lower back, starts to guide me toward the door. I shrug him off, shoot him a glare, but he just grins. “I had to try.”
“Yeah, well, don’t.”
We push the door open and walk into the waiting room. Before I can do more than take one step forward, we’re surrounded.
“What did the doctor say?” Cam demands, poking at Z’s forehead. He winces but other than that tolerates her concern.
“Tell me you don’t have a concussion, man. You’ll be out for weeks.” Ash looks miserable at the very idea.
“I’m good,” Z answers. “Just a little bump.”
“A little bump? You were knocked out for three or four minutes!”
“I’m fine, Cam.” He reaches out and pats her head. “I swear.”
“Excellent! X Games invites are going out soon, and with the Olympic trials next month, it would totally suck if you were grounded,” Luc tells him, then glances at me curiously. “What are you doing here, Ophelia?”
“I had a doctor’s appointment. Z was just showing me the way out.” I pull out my cell phone, glance at the time. I’ve got fifteen minutes before the next bus leaves for the resort, which means I need to move it if I want to get to the bus stop in time. “Thanks,” I tell him before heading toward the door. “I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Hey, wait!” Luc says, jogging after me.
I don’t stop until I hit the sliding glass doors at the front of the clinic. The second I step outside, the tension leaves me in a rush. I take a few gulps of air before turning to look at Luc, who is watching me curiously.
“What’s up?” I ask.
“Where are you rushing off to?”
“Back to the lodge. I’ve got things to do.”
“Are you working today?”
I pause for a moment, consider my answer. But since I haven’t gotten any better at lying in the last five minutes, I opt for the truth. “No.”
“Awesome. Then you can come with us. Since Z’s okay, we’re going to catch a late lunch and a movie.”
“I don’t think—”
“Don’t think,” he says. “Just come on. It’ll be fun.”
I know I should say no, but I haven’t been to a movie in months. Haven’t done anything fun in months, if I’m being honest. And Z’s friends seem nice enough, even if he is a total hound.
“What movie?” I ask as I study him through narrowed eyes.
He names a thriller I’ve been dying to see, and my resistance drops another notch. Still, I’m no pushover. “What’s in it for you?”
“What do you mean?” He’s wearing a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth expression.
I cross my arms over my chest, refuse to give an inch. “You know exactly what I mean.”