Authors: Jackie Calhoun
“Ski. We can go to my Aunt Edie’s house in Point. Granite Peak is only a few miles up the road. She might go with us and pay for our tickets.”
“She might pay for yours, not mine.”
“Call Nita and see if she wants to go. She’s mad at me.”
“I have to ask my parents first. When do you want to leave?”
“Now, before that guy finds me.”
Cold bumps chased each other across her skin. “What makes you think he knows where you are?”
“I saw him when we left Madison. He was lurking around the corner.”
“Have you seen him since?” Jamie was always in crisis mode. He made things up just for the excitement.
“Not yet, but I expect to any minute.”
“I’ll call Mom.” Sam and her family had gone to the Upper Peninsula for four days of skiing after Christmas. She’d worn her new winter jacket and mittens. The trip was a present to all of them. They’d had a fun time together. Now, though, she wasn’t sure whether her mother would be glad to see her go or disappointed. Sam was arguing with her about every little thing. She was so crabby that she didn’t even like herself. “This is Eleanor Thompson. May I help you?”
“It’s me, Mom. Jamie asked me to go to Point with him. His aunt lives there, and we can stay with her and ski at Granite Peak.” It was a peak, albeit a small one when compared to the mountains out west where they had sometimes skied as a family, but there were some good, if short, runs. “That okay?”
“When will you be back?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t talk about that. I’ll call you when I get there.”
“Okay,” her mom said. “When are you leaving?”
“Today.” She wanted to get off the phone and call Nita.
“Have fun, sweetie. I love you.”
She mumbled, “Me too,” and called Nita. “Hey, you want to go skiing?”
“Can’t afford it.” Nita’s dad contracted out to several condo complexes in town, doing repairs and upkeep. Nita lived with her family in a small house in a modest neighborhood.
Sam’s dad worked in an executive position at a paper mill. Her mom took care of claims for an insurance company. She was aware of the discrepancy between her family’s income and Nita’s. But just because Sam’s parents had money didn’t mean Sam had a ton of it. Her ski equipment had been a gift from her parents, and she’d been able to sock away her paycheck, because her mom and dad sent her a weekly allowance. They also paid her tuition and rent. Nita had a scholarship and a job and occasional infusions of money from her parents.
“We’re going to stay with Jamie’s aunt. She lives in Point.”
“Have fun. I don’t know how to ski.”
“Maybe I won’t go.” After all, she’d just got back from a ski trip with her family. She could hang out with Nita instead.
“Hey, go. Break a leg for me. Besides, I’m going back to Madison ASAP. Work calls.”
“Jamie thought he saw the guy with the truck, so he thinks he has to get out of town.”
“Serious? He and his big mouth are really going to get him into trouble.”
Sam liked Jamie. Yes, he often spoke without thinking, but he was fun and funny and loyal and gay. Although he lived in the Fox Cities along the Fox River that included Appleton, he had gone to a different high school. She had met him on campus at a LGBT meeting. “Well, he’s fucking scared now.”
“He should be. I’ll see you when you get back to Madison.”
“I wish you’d go with us.” She sounded wistful, even to herself.
Nita laughed. “I wouldn’t be any good anyway, and I hate not being good at something.”
When Jamie pulled into the driveway, Sam staggered out the door with her skis and boots and poles and a backpack with clothes and other necessities. He jumped out of his parents’ van and grabbed the handle of the ski bag. “He’ll never find me in this,” he said, shoving her equipment next to his in the back of the van.
“I was wondering how we’d squeeze our stuff in your car.” She climbed in the front seat. “Nita isn’t coming.”
“Because she’s mad at me.”
“No hablo español.”
They crossed the bridge and headed west on Highway 10. “What’s your aunt like?”
“Aunt Edie? She’s great. You’ll like her.” He flashed a grin, and she thought how handsome he was, even with the violet hair. His fake diamond earring glittered in the light.
“Is she married?”
“She’s a lesbian. I thought you knew that.” He shot her another white-toothed smile. “She writes romances, but they’re about men and women. Women eat them up. You see them on store shelves in groceries and drugstores. She goes by Lauren James. Nobody would guess she’s gay from reading her books.”
A wave of excitement swept through her, and she laughed. She’d never met a genuine author, much less a lesbian one. “I want to read one of her books, but aren’t there any lesbian romances?”
“I asked her that once and she said it’s a small market and she started out with this publisher and felt a certain loyalty. Maybe that’s why she doesn’t talk about her books much. She’s a terrific skier.”
Sam had sometimes wondered if Julie was a lesbian. She had seemed to understand Sam too well. Sam had been forced into therapy when she’d made a suicide attempt. She’d had two choices—go to counseling or leave the university. She’d never regretted the choice. Julie had given her a sense of self worth. She could think of a dozen things she now wanted to run by Julie.
Jamie drove through a maze of streets with Christmas decorations on snowy lawns—blow-up snowmen and Santas and an occasional manger scene. He turned into a cul-de-sac and parked in the driveway of a brick ranch house. There were no Christmas decorations in Edie’s yard, but a tree with lights stood inside the bay window.
“This is it. Grab your backpack and come on.”
The woman who opened the door and ushered them inside with a smile was tall and big boned. Sam glanced at the Christmas tree and saw a comfortable looking sofa and chairs clustered around a fireplace.
“Auntie, this is my friend Sam Thompson.”
Edie took Sam’s hand and squeezed it. Sam was tall, but not as tall as Edie, who was only a little shorter than Jamie’s skinny six feet. Her deep-set eyes resembled Jamie’s and her dark blond hair was the color of his before he got the purple dye job. There was a remarkable resemblance between them.
“Hi. Thanks for letting me stay with you.” Her phone was vibrating in her pocket. It was Nita, she knew. She’d been texting her during the drive. She fingered the phone and transferred it to her jeans when Edie hung their coats in the closet.
“Jamie talks about you often,” Edie said.
Sam gave Jamie a crooked grin and said, “Uh-oh.”
Edie laughed. Her voice was gravelly and her laugh deep as if it came from the gut. “Only good things were said. Are you two hungry?” She led them toward the kitchen. She was wearing jeans and a sweater over a turtleneck and her hips swung in rhythm with each step.
Jamie nodded toward his aunt and lifted his brows. He grinned and mouthed, “Nice, huh?”
Was he talking about his aunt’s behind? She flushed and mouthed back, “Shut up.” Her cell vibrated in her pocket again. She took it out. It was Nita. She text messaged, “Hey, we’re here. Can’t talk right now. Later. Okay?” She shoved the phone in her pocket again as Edie turned toward them.
Edie ran a hand over her short hair and it snapped back in place. It was almost a crew cut but with a little curl, and Sam thought it looked great. She would never be brave enough to get a buzz. She’d probably look like a pinhead. Her hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. “Dinner’s in the oven. We’re waiting for Lynn.” She put chips and salsa on the table. “I’ve got Diet Coke and Pepsi. Would you like either?”
Always hungry, Sam ate every morsel set in front of her. She never put on weight. Her dad called her the lean eating machine. “Thanks.” She dipped the chips in the salsa and slugged back a Pepsi while surreptitiously studying Edie.
“You know, we could go skiing tonight. They’re open.” She began putting plates on the table and Jamie and Sam leaped up to help. “Sit down. You can do the dishes.”
The garage door buzzed up. A car door slammed. The garage door went down, and a woman stepped into the kitchen. She brought a wave of cold air with her. She set a briefcase down and unzipped her jacket.
“Hey, Jamie,” she said and Jamie hugged her. She smiled at Sam, and her olive skin crinkled around her oval brown eyes.
“Lynn, this is my friend, Sam,” Jamie said.
Sam blushed as she got up. It was one of those uncontrollable things she hated about herself. Lynn was holding out a slender hand, and Sam, feeling awkward, walked over and took it. It was cold. “Thompson, Sam Thompson.” She ducked her head.
“Lynn Chan.” She had a mischievous grin. Her black hair was cut just below her ears. It was and thick and straight. “You two are here to ski, right? Let’s eat, so you and Edie can hit the slopes.”
“Hey, we can’t go without you,” Jamie said.
“I don’t ski. Remember? Besides, I’ve got work to do.”
Sam was standing near Jamie and Lynn. When Edie put a light hand on her shoulder, she started. Edie squeezed lightly and let go.
“Come on. Sit down. We’re going to eat and get out of here.” Edie dished food off the stove and put it on the table.
“Ah, Chinese pork,” Lynn said.
“It’s a bastard concoction from a recipe that Lynn’s mother gave us,” Edie said, and Sam wondered whether to call them by their first names.
Lynn said, “What is up with you, Jamie? We haven’t seen you for months and suddenly here you are.”
“This guy is following me.” Jamie told his aunt and Lynn about the encounter at the mental health clinic.
“It’s that violet hair.” Lynn leaned back in her chair.
“Men hate it as much as they used to hate long hair on guys,” Edie said. “Now that the football players have long hair, it’s okay. But this violet color is hard on the eyes, Jamie. What do your parents say?”
“I didn’t tell them about the guy with the truck.”
“I mean the hair.”
“My dad hates it. Mom says I’ll get over it. It’s better than a tattoo, she says.” He put a hand behind his head and preened. “I think it’s cool.”
“Hate to tell you but it looks like a Halloween wig. Promise me you won’t put those dresser drawer knobs in your ear lobes.” Edie got up to clear the table, and Sam got up to help her.
“I swear I won’t,” Jamie said, holding his right hand up.
“I’ll take care of the dishes,” Lynn said. “You all go get ready and get out of here.”
Sam blurted, “But we’re supposed to do them.”
“Nonsense. You can do the breakfast dishes.”
“Wait. I have to ask Lynn something. She teaches psychology. Maybe she knows your shrink, Sam,” Jamie said. “Doctor Julie Decker. Right?” He looked at Sam for confirmation.
Sam turned bright red.
Lynn, who had been halfway out of her chair when Jamie started talking about Julie, sat down.
“I’m sorry, but why are you asking?”
“She disappeared off the radar screen.”
Sam burned with embarrassment. Both Lynn and Edie were looking at her. She stared at the floor and hissed at Jamie who was standing nearby with a dish in his hand, “Shut up.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to help.”
“I’m okay. Okay?”
“I’ll keep my ears open. I’m going to a psychology conference in a couple weeks,” Lynn said.
Edie put a hand on Sam’s shoulder again. “You heard the girl. Shut up, Jamie.”
“How do you find someone if you don’t ask?”
The runs were lit, the chairlifts running. They put their boots on in the warming lodge and went out into the cold night. Their breath floated before them and their boots crunched on the snow. After snapping into her bindings, Sam pushed off with her poles, skate skiing to the lift. Edie was in front of her, Jamie behind.
A three-person chair carried them up the hill. Jamie sat in the middle. When he began to rock, Edie snapped, “Cut that out. It’s a long way down and people do fall off.” Elongated shadows of the skiers on the lift stretched across the snow.
“You’re no fun, Auntie.”
“Remember that,” Edie said mildly.
To warm up they skied down the medium runs. Sam pushed off first. Skis parallel, knees slightly bent, she wove her way downward in a series of short, controlled turns. Edie caught up with her halfway and Jamie passed them both at the bottom.
After a few runs, Jamie said, “I’m ready for a black diamond. Who’s coming?”
All three lined up at the top of a steep hill, which disappeared beneath a mound of snow. Edie and Jamie shoved off first. Jamie was a good skier, but Edie was better. She glided over the snow with seemingly effortless control. Sam pushed off and nearly lost her balance flying over the mound. Her skis left the surface and she landed with poles out, snow plowing for control. Regaining her balance, she turned into the hill, heart pounding.