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Authors: Emily Franklin

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BOOK: Slippery Slopes
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They look at each other over the small round table, the clink of cutlery and the smell of mulled cider around them. “No. It’s not that. You didn’t make me do it—you just encouraged me.” Melissa slumps her chin into her hand.

“Then what is it? Why am I such a bad guy?”

Melissa shakes her head, her tight ringlets moving with the motion. “It’s not you.” Melissa starts off slowly but then her words develop a velocity akin to Gabe’s racing. “It’s … I thought I had everything figured out for the ball but I don’t.” Melissa’s mind starts to gain speed, too, and she finds herself spilling more than she intended. “… And then I thought that maybe I had a chance in hell of having my affections returned but it’s so not the case I don’t know who I was kidding. I should just pack up, since I’m unqualified to be the perfect host, and go back to Australia. I mean, it’s summer there now….” She looks at Gabe, whose plush mouth is curved into a grin as he watches her. “Oh—and I didn’t … I never even said congratulations to you for your races today.”

“I didn’t win.” Gabe bristles when he says it, and begins folding a napkin into halves, then fourths, then eighths.

“But you competed. And did well. You tried and so maybe you didn’t win—but you did great.”

Gabe raises his eyebrows, his teeth white against his lips, his look soft. “I could say the same for you.”

They sit there, in comfortable quiet, shooting the folded-up napkin back and forth into goals made out of their fingers, until the light shifts outside. “Oh, it’s going to come down out there.” Gabe flicks his fingers toward the window. “Massive.”

“Everyone’s overreacting. Last time they said this we only got a foot. Maybe a foot-plus.” Melissa peers out the window and up to the sky, coated in thick white-blue clouds that resemble quilted blankets. “Just a pleasant holiday-week sprinkling …”

“Whatever.” Gabe takes the opportunity to score a goal with the napkin and cheers for himself. “So …” He looks away from her and clears the plates and cups. “Who’s the guy?”

Flustered, Melissa makes a coughing sound. “Who? What do you mean?”

“The unreturned affection that you spoke of. Who is it?” Gabe looks at her, probing with his gaze.

I can’t figure him out. Does he think I like James still? Or someone new, some random guy on the slopes?
Melissa and Gabe lock eyes. She remembers seeing him for the first time, how the jolt buzzed through her, and then how when she saw him again with James, she didn’t know where to look first.
How do you tell your old crush, the crush that came to fruition last week, that it’s his best friend that you more than like?
“It’s no one you know.”

Gabe looks funny, his mouth slack. Then Melissa realizes, it’s not funny, just relief that has washed over Gabe’s face. “Well, let me know if you want a reference….” He smiles cheekily. “And don’t let him give you any shit. If you want, you can bring your little friend to the—you know …”

“Ze zecret affair?” Melissa puts on a French accent and hints at the party.

Gabe nods. He crumples the football-napkin and flings it at her. “You’re pretty cool when you’re not defensive and brittle.”

“And you’re pretty kind when you’re not a sleazebag ho-bag womanizer.”

“Shake?” Gabe holds out his hand and Melissa grasps it, laughing, before she heads out into the sky’s pale light.

“You’ve got to check it out.” Max motions with his arm for Dove to follow him.

“I thought I was just getting a ride into town….” Dove tucks the edges of her multicolored scarf into her jacket. William gave her the scarf and it’s really, now that she looks at it, not her style, but she wears it, anyway, because of the intent.

“You will get a ride. I just want to show you my Christmas present first.” Max pulls on a black ski cap.

Dove checks out Max from the side as they walk past the Main House, in back of the electrical and building-supply sheds, onto the frozen ground near the stables.
You’d think people would look funny with hats on,
she thinks,
but instead they just look more intense. Or at least, Max does. All bright eyes, intent gaze. His mouth is
—she cuts off her thoughts once she checks the time. “Not to rain on your present parade, but I have to go.”

Max stops in his tracks. “I know, I know. You’ve got your romantic Internet conversation planned.” He’s semi-joking but holds up his hands to show he means no harm. “I have no intention of coming between you and your …”

Boyfriend.
Dove repeats the word in her mind but lets out only a puff of white breath. “So what’s this exciting gift, anyway? I thought your parents were more of the leather-bound books and silver flask set.”

“Yes, just like yours.” Max nudges Dove back to her own family, their quiet holidays spent tucked in by the fireside, opening stacks of gifts by themselves.

Dove sticks out her tongue. “Do you know how pathetic it is? We write thank-you notes to one another—right there. You open a gift, barely have time to look at it, and immediately sit down and write a thank-you note on personalized stationery.”

“You write thank-yous to your parents?”

“And my sisters.” Dove sighs, relieved she’s not there this year, that she’s free to be off on her own. Still, there was something cozy about being at her parents’ house on New Year’s. They’d always leave and she’d make dinner for a few friends. “Did you come last year?”

Max doesn’t need to ask where. “You made the tenderloin, with that currant sauce.”

Dove nods.
It’s nice he remembers. But it doesn’t mean anything.
“Okay—so two seconds and then you’ll drive me to town?”

Max smirks. “Two seconds, yes. Drive? No.”

He points behind the stables and Dove goes to check it out. “Don’t tell me you’re trotting me into town? I like horses, but I think the time for Jane Austen rides is—”

“It’s not a horse, though the idea of a snow-filled ride sounds kind of fun.” Max takes a few long strides and pulls a thick cream-colored cover from a heap on the ground.

He tries not to stare at Dove, but she can feel his gaze rest on her just a few seconds too long, his hands linger on her shoulder only the slightest bit longer than normal, but enough to give her chills.

“Snow? You really think we’re going to get some this time? It seems like every other day there’s some warning or announcement about heavy accumulation.”

Max shrugs. “Yeah, probably nothing. So … what do you think?” He shows off the present as though he’s displaying a game show prize. “It’s brand-new. State-of-the-art hybrid snowmobile with silent motor.”

Dove watches Max’s face.
For some reason I thought he’d be all jaded about gifts, as though nothing anyone could
give him would be cool. “This is awesome. Even though I’m more of a cross-country nature kind of person … it looks fun.”

“Hop on!” Max pats the seat and hands her a helmet.

Dove shakes her head. “Oh, no way. I thought you were just showing me…. I have to get into town for real.”

“Do you know how backed up traffic is right now?” Max slides his helmet on. He presses a button and makes it so they can talk through small speakers in the helmets. “Trust me, this will be faster than driving. Everyone’s trying to vacate town just in case we do get that blizzard.”

Dove checks her watch, her heart racing with not wanting to miss William’s IM.
I just want to see him. If I could just see Will it would be so much easier. All of this, it wouldn’t matter.
“Can you really get me to the café in eighteen minutes?”

“Twelve. I’ll get you there in twelve. We can take Gooseneck Gorge.”

“Isn’t that kind of steep?” Dove climbs on in back of Max and looks for something to hold on to that isn’t him.

“It’s a little treacherous, but it’s the fastest way in. You all set?” He turns to check on her and she nods as he starts up the miraculously quiet engine.

With no handles, no grips, Dove has no choice but to lean a little into Max and put her hands on his waist, hoping he knows it, too, doesn’t mean anything.

12

“A
LLEZ! ALLEZ!
ATTENTION!” THE
French voices, filled with concern and haste, urge Melissa to keep moving on the sidewalk. Past the grocery where she stocks up, past the café where she sat with Gabe, she dawdles near the news agent, wondering if all the fuss over the weather is worth it.

I mean, it’s snow, for god’s sake. And we’re in a snow resort. How big a deal could it possibly be?

“I’m closing early,” the news agent tells her, already packing up the day’s papers and bringing them inside the small shop. Melissa watches the man, knowing she needs to get back to the chalet and resume her hosting duties, but also troubled by the lack of having presented Matron with a perfect plan for the ball. “Are you buying anything?”

Melissa shoves her hands deeper into her pockets, fending off the chilly air, and gazes at the foreign papers. World news from Rome, Paris, India, New York, and none of it mentioning the massive snow everyone predicts. Studying the sky, she asks the news agent, “Is all this for real?”

His accent thick, he responds with a huff, as if she’s crazy to doubt the power of a potential storm. “You never know until it’s ’appening.

“’Ere.” The news agent thrusts a paper at her before gathering the rest to bring inside. “It’s the afternoon edition. Won’t sell them all now—not like this.” He glances at the thickening clouds. “You can have for free a look at what’s ’appening.”

With her bare hand instantly cold, she grips the paper, planning to get rid of it as soon as the man’s inside and it’s polite enough to chuck it. Not that she’s not interested in the greater events of the Trois area, but right now she has other things on her mind. Then, just as she’s about to try to invigorate herself to make a move and head back to the chalet, she stops short.

There, on the front of the afternoon edition of the paper, is enough to make her lose her breath. “L’amour,” she reads, the word in capital letters, which only highlight the photograph underneath. There, fixed on the page, is Charlie, doting, her head on James’s shoulder, his arm wrapped protectively around her. She’s looking at the camera’s lens; he’s gazing at her.
Crap oh crap, oh crap. He’s so into her. Check out the way he’s unable to break away—not even for a major photo op.
Melissa shakes her head. A glutton for punishment, she doesn’t throw the thing out, but instead takes it with her and goes back to the café. After ordering an urgent double hot-chocolate swirl in a glass, she sits nursing the remedy and reading the parts of the French she can understand. First she reads
amour vrai
—“true love,” and has to stop herself from spitting out her drink. Then some ski info about the race and …

“He loves her? True love?” Melissa traces the word
copine
with her finger, wishing she didn’t know it means “girlfriend.”
So she’s his girlfriend. It’s official. This sucks.
She keeps studying the picture, the angle of Charlie’s chin on James’ body, the way his fingers seem to be pulling at her like he can’t get her close enough. It’s only when she sees the word
fiançailles
that Melissa pushes the paper as far from her as possible, loses interest in her drink, and puts her head in her hands.
Fiancée? Engaged?

A tap on the shoulder surprises Melissa, as does the ringing of the church bells.

“You feel asleep,” the café owner says.

“I fell asleep?”

“Feel, yes.”

Not wanting to argue about the wording, Melissa stands up, both feeling asleep and having fallen asleep, and feels her stomach churn with the sound of the bells. What did it say in the informational packet that was handed out last week when she first got to Les Trois? Melissa remembers the small print under the heading
Weather Difficulties. Les Trois is located in a valley and therefore likely to have heavy snowfall. In the long run this gives us enviable conditions for skiing and boarding, but in the short term, it may be cause for alarm. Should there be a warning issued, be advised to return to your chalet immediately and wait for word from the office.

In English, she asks the café owner, “Is that the warning bell?”

The café owner, all serious-looking and businesslike in her manner as she readies to close the café, shakes her head. “We already had the warning. This one—this is to say we are
in
the storm.”

Melissa does a quick check outside. “Storm?”
Fine, so I’m from Australia, where we’re not exactly snow mavens, but there’s hardly a flake falling from the sky.
She drops a few Euros onto her table, tucks the paper with its horrible photo in her jacket so she can moan over it with Dove later, and steps again onto the cobblestone streets to start once and for all back to the resort.

Once outside, she thinks about what Gabe said.
Prepare for it.
She can hear phrases like
seasonal frequencies of intense snowfall episodes
and
storm path migration
ringing through her ears as the flakes begin to fall. Phrases from the chalet informational packet she read when she first arrived at Les Trois, but it all seems unreal and long ago. Dreamy at first, Melissa spins around in the snow, catching a few flakes on her eyelashes and then on her tongue.
It’s romantic, really, provided you have someone to be with. Which I don’t.

“I feel like I’m in an advertisement for …” Dove pauses. “What’d you say the name of this thing is?”

Max’s elbow touches Dove’s arm as he responds. “Marchese Belloch 2000. Best money can buy.” He lets go of the steering mechanism with one hand to pat the side of the snowmobile as if it’s a pony. His hand grazes her thigh but he instantly whisks it away.

Dove watches the scenery glide by all in a wash of the first few flakes that have started falling. Over the hum of the engine she thinks she hears something. “Was that a clanging noise?”

Max shrugs and turns his head to show he’s listening, but then shakes it off. “Didn’t hear anything. Must be the hydraulics.”

Dove tucks her chin farther into her red neck warmer and hopes for the hundredth time that she’ll make it in time for the IM with William. In her mind she has visions of how it will go—with him telling her how much he misses her, leading off with how miserable he’s been without her, and then maybe following up with plans for what they’ll do once she arrives on New Year’s Day.
I’ll ask him about Harley, of course

way too curious to find out if he’s met her yet.
Dove swallows.
It’s weird that we haven’t heard from her. Or maybe it isn’t

I mean, mail takes forever and we don’t have e-mail access and … I trust him, though. Even if Harley is wild and hot and exactly the kind of girl you don’t want bumping into your boyfriend on the beach in a string bikini. At least she knows me and could bring my name up.
“Wait—I heard it again—I think those were bells.”

BOOK: Slippery Slopes
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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