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Authors: Emily Franklin

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BOOK: Slippery Slopes
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“I’ve been called a lot of things in my life, but never laundry.”

They laugh and wind up sitting atop two of the carousel horses, side by side. James has a large steed poised in bucking bronco position, while Melissa straddles a dappled grey, her legs kicking down to the stirrups.

“Guess we’re not going to go anywhere,” James says.

“I guess not.” Melissa wonders if he means the horses or them. She holds her ribs while clutching the reins. “Can I ask you something?” James nods. “How come you haven’t … inquired after my health?” She wants to ask him why he hasn’t paid her any attention, not just about the accident, but can’t bring herself to sound needy.

James coughs and swings his legs around so he’s riding sidesaddle, and looks at Melissa. “Truth?”

Melissa’s stomach rolls over. “Yeah.”

“When I …” He starts but then stops. “I have this tendency to …” Shaking his head, he jumps off the horse and begins to pace in front of the carousel where the mirrors are lined up. Melissa watches James and the many reflections of him as he tries to explain. “You may or may not have noticed that I’m not the most forthcoming in terms of expressing myself.” He doesn’t wait for Melissa to answer. “And the thing is that on Sunday, when the shit hit the fan and I found out about you and Gabe and …”

“Wait—I want to explain….” Melissa knows now’s her chance to set the record straight. That she semiliked Gabe, that it wasn’t … how could she phrase it, though? Whatever way you wrote it up, it sounded like she never liked James that much. Or never liked him enough to do anything about it.
Words are one thing,
she thinks,
but actions are another.
Aren’t actions supposed to scream while words whisper?

“You don’t have to explain,” James says. “I’m just saying, the reason I didn’t ask about your fall—the reason I wasn’t … that I didn’t …”

Melissa jumps off the horse, wincing as she lands and the impact hurts her rib cage. With myriad reflections around her and tiny blue lights above her, Melissa takes an action that she hopes will scream as loudly as the truth. She wraps her arms around James’s waist, looks up at him, and then, standing on her very tiptoes, kisses him.

Their lips meet in the slow motion way of films, with neither one pausing, just two mouths meeting for a small, gentle kiss.
This is it

I’m finally going to know what it’s like to kiss him. To have his lips on mine. And he’ll know how I feel.

But before James actually kisses her, he pulls back. “No—wait. We can’t.”

Melissa feels slapped. Foolish and rejected all at once. “Because of Charlie?” Melissa shakes her head. “You know, here I am thinking you can see past all the exterior stuff. Charlie’s perfect legs and her amazing body … but you’re just like everyone else, aren’t you?”

James looks annoyed and dejected. “What? What does Charlie have to do with this?” He motions to her and to him. He waits for her to say something, but Melissa feels too embarrassed to say anything.

Never should have done that. What made me think I’m cool enough, suave enough, to risk that kiss? It’s like the rope
swing—
I should stick to the paths I know and forget the rest.
“You know what?” Melissa steps back. “Forget what I said. Never mind Charlie or falling on my ass or …” She pushes at the air as though she can move the comments away.

James gives her a weird look. “You sure you’re okay?”

She nods.
I have to get us back on track. Like the beginning. If I can’t be with him, at least let me be friends with him.
“Want to see the dinosaurs?”

“I can only imagine.”

Melissa tugs the sleeve of James’ coat and leads him to where small dinosaurs stand, mock-grazing. “Aren’t they bizarre?”

“This one looks like he’s about to slalom,” James says, patting the side of a green raptor. “Except for the teeth.”

Trying to belay the awkward air between them after the rejection, Melissa slings an arm around the neck of a brontosaurus and poses like she’s in a photo. “Isn’t this like a scene in a movie where we talk all night amidst all these strange and beautiful creatures?” She looks at James, thinking he qualifies as the latter.
We’ll be friends. Friends would be good. We can hang out, I’ll watch him race, he can watch me fall on my butt

“It’s exactly what you’d see in a movie. We’d exchange life stories and talk about what we did when we were kids and what we hope for in the future.”

Melissa leans her cheek on the brontosaurus. “Should we?”

James smirks. “Maybe there’s a fake palm tree or a bat cave somewhere around here.” Across his face comes a look of true calm.

He’s happy to be here with me, I think. Maybe friendship is the place to start

again.
“We could look.”

“Okay—first person to find the ideal place to sit and emote wins.”

9

T
HE ENTIRE RESORT OF
Les Trois is abuzz. With holiday music still piped over loudspeakers and wreaths on every available door, the buildup to tomorrow’s Christmas celebration is bigger than the day itself.

“Come on! I don’t want to be late.” Hurrying along the iced paths, Melissa makes sure to stick to the salted and sanded sections so she doesn’t trip.

Dove checks her watch. “You have eight full minutes before the race starts. I doubt you’ll miss anything….” Ahead of them, masses of people line the mountain’s racecourse, with television crews, cameras, and reporters jammed in, all ruddy-cheeked and waiting for a winner. “Think they’re nervous?”

Melissa rolls her eyes. “Just a tad. I mean, this race is the single biggest indicator of who goes on to win the gold medal at the …”

“Oh my god, listen to yourself. ‘The single biggest indicator.’ Hah. Who’s been spending too much time with a certain pair of skiing boys?”

Melissa cuts across the back of the snowy expanse near the Main House. To the left she can see the holly-trimmed edge of the ice skating pond. In her mind she imagines the scene at night, when the ball is taking place, with everything silvery and perfect.
The world will glisten then, with decorations, music, and nothing will go wrong

except, of course, for the fact that I will be dateless for the evening.

Dove can automatically tell what Melissa’s thinking by the way her mouth twists into a frown.
It’s the same expression I get when I think about Claire and Max.
“Mel—it’s not like you’ll be alone….”

“But it’s not the same thing. You have …”

“Max, I know.” Dove’s hand flies to her mouth and she cough-laughs in surprise. “Oh my god, I meant William….”

“Sure you did.” Dove and Melissa exchange a look. “Look, all I meant was that you’re not really alone. You have—William.” She says his name slowly to reinforce its weight.

Dove nods. “You’re right. I do have William. But to be honest it doesn’t give me that much comfort.” She pulls at a few pine needles from one of the trees. “We first kissed right over there…. It feels like a long time ago.”
How is it that Max’s birthday and everything that happened with Claire feels more recent? Maybe because it’s still happening.
Dove sighs, knowing that she has pounds of fudge to bake for the dessert buffet later tonight, and sighs harder when she remembers how much Claire loves fudge. “She’ll probably ask him to feed it to her.”

Melissa looks at her like she’s crazy. “What?”

Dove pats her back. “Never mind. Just getting ahead of myself. Back to the ball … how are the plans coming?”
Will I even get to go to the ball? God, now I really feel like Cinderella. And why would I? I’ll be too busy packing for my flight the next day.

“The plans are actually great. It’s me that’s the problem. Being at a fancy dress ball without a date isn’t the end of the world, I’ll grant you that.” Melissa trudges forward, her boots crunching on the snow. “But it’s not romantic. Especially when there’s someone you want to go with …” She looks down, sliding her sunglasses over her eyes as the bright light reflects off the ground.

“Oh, we’re calling him ‘someone’ now?” Dove laughs. “Between your boys and mine, we’re a mess.” Melissa nods, laughing, too. An announcement in French comes over the loudspeaker. “Oh—quick—it’s the Super G. Let’s hurry!”

Melissa picks up her pace, moving fast so she can secure a spot on the sidelines to watch someone—two someones—race at breakneck speeds. She takes one look over her shoulder at all the footsteps she’s made in the snow.
I really have come a long way,
she thinks.
How is it possible that in such a short time I could go from having no love interests to being stuck between two impossible guys and one crazy job?
Taking the last couple of steps up to the sloping mountainside, she and Dove clamber to the front of the crowd, squeezing in so they’ll be right at the finishing line.
Yes, lots of steps behind me,
she thinks as the announcer introduces the skiers. Gabe Schroeder. James Marks-Benton.
And lots of steps still to come.

Dotted along the mountainsides like bright confetti are paparazzi, camera crews, reporters thrusting microphones this way and that, and many, many fans.

“Could there be more attractive females in a small area?” Dove asks, searching the crowd for Max. Having forgotten her sunglasses, she uses her hand to block the rays and frowns when she can’t find him. Melissa watches her look. “It’s not like I’m desperate to find him.”

“Sure. Right.” Melissa smirks.

“I only want to tell him about …” Dove stops herself from continuing.

Melissa’s interest is piqued. “About what?”

Dove shrugs and shakes it off. “No. Nothing. Forget it.”

Melissa wants to ask more but the race is about to start. Nudging her way to the very edge of the fan line, she wants to make sure she’s as close to the finish as possible.
I remember reading that if you’re right up front, the skiers are likely to hug you if they win. Or smile at you. Or spray you with champagne. Any of which would be fine.
As the first racer speeds down, she turns to Dove. “You think he’ll see me here?” Melissa plants her boots firmly on the snow and fluffs out her signature curls.

“He’d have to be visually impaired to miss you.” She smiles. “If James grabs anyone from the crowd, it’s got to be you.”

Fascinated with the incredible speed of the racers, the crowd
oohs
and
ahhs
each time they swish by. Over the loudspeakers, an announcer comes on. “Translate for me?” Melissa asks Dove.

Dove keeps looking forward but explains, “She’s saying that the Super G race is like a combination of downhill and giant slalom. It’s viciously fast and physically demanding. Only top-form skiers can handle it.” She grins at Melissa. “Hey—I know what you’re thinking.”

“What?” Melissa lets her eyes leave the hill just for a second so she can give a mischievous grin. “Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m not thinking about a certain someone’s physical form—if that’s what you’re hinting at.”

“Okay, whatever you say … but if you lean any farther into the guard rail you’ll fall onto the course.”

This makes Melissa take a small step back. “I really could be that person—I’m just that inept.” She squints at the hill. “Oh my god—here’s Gabe.”

“Monsieur Gabriel Schroeder …” the announcer says, rattling off his height, weight, birthplace, and past achievements as he dodges the massive gates on his way through the course.

Despite waiting for James, Melissa’s pulse speeds up as Gabe nears. His yellow-and-black jacket makes him appear beelike, buzzing through the gates until he comes to a fluid stop at the finish line. His skis aligned, he looks up at the clock, then right to the crowds.

“You do realize he just looked right at you,” Dove says, squeezing Melissa’s gloved hand.

Without breaking her plastered-on smile, Melissa speaks under her breath. “No, no. That wasn’t at me. It must’ve been someone else.”

As a reporter begins interviewing Gabe, he does one more glance over to the sidelines and waves to Melissa. This time, she’s sure he meant the wave to go to her, since all eyes look her over, and the whispers begin.

“Great—now I’ll be the subject of tabloid fodder.” Melissa blows air out of her mouth in a puff of white and feels a bump from behind.

“What’s wrong with tabloid fodder? Who wouldn’t want to be a celebrity for at least a day?” Charlie nudges between Dove and Melissa, out of breath. “God, I didn’t miss the whole thing, did I?”

Melissa feels a chill, thinking about Charlie moving in on James, her easy beauty, how great she’d look in a paparazzi photograph compared to Melissa. “What brings you out of the chalet?”

“I love skeleton races—all speed and nothing else.” Charlie slides a tube of pink gloss over her lips.

With the sun reflecting off Charlie’s slick mouth, Melissa fights the urge to hand her fellow chalet girl a tissue. “Well, the skeleton’s on the other side in an hour. It’s still the Super G here. Sorry to disappoint.”

Charlie frowns. “Oh, well.” In her skintight black ski pants and bright pink turtleneck top, Charlie wraps her arms around herself and looks up the mountain. “Who’d I miss?”

Dove clears her throat. “A few skiers.”

Charlie furrows her brow, peering over to the paparazzi section. “Isn’t that Gabe Schroeder?” She looks impressed with the swarm of photographers around him.

“Yeah.” Melissa feels possessive of him suddenly, and then wishes she had a carefree attitude about boys, one that would allow her to float around without worrying so much. “Actually, Gabe just did really well. I think
Sporting World
might put him on the cover.”

Dove kicks Melissa’s shin and she shrugs, mouthing,
What? It could be true.

Melissa is so busy watching Gabe navigate the throngs of fans and reporters that she misses the next announcement.

“Oh—here he comes!” Charlie looks like a schoolgirl, eyes forward as she waits.

“Monsieur James Marks-Benton …” the announcer says.

Melissa feels herself entranced, watching first the small, distant version of James in his orange-and-black racing outfit start the course. As he gets closer, she can make out his muscled legs, the way his body curves into and then away from each turn, propelling himself down the mountain toward the finish line.

BOOK: Slippery Slopes
8.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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