My favorite memory of my mom is when she took a massive jump at Killington and the guys around me at the bottom were oohing and ahhing because a chick nailed the jump they couldn’t make. And not just any chick—a chick old enough to be their mother. She stayed up in the air so long it’s like she was held against the sky with a thumbtack, her orange and white jacket popping against the bright blue, and it was so breathtaking I almost had to look away.
That’s the feeling that pushes me now. My skis hover over the lip of the hill, but I catch myself before they plunge forward and reach down to adjust my bindings once more. I bounce my knees, counting off the seconds until the guy ahead of me clears the second jump, then I take a deep breath and launch my body over the ledge.
I’m barely into my tuck when the first voice calls out.
“Girls can’t jump!”
I tuck my arms tighter to my body, forcing the comment out of my mind. Some dickweed I don’t know isn’t screwing me up now. I’ve taken this jump at least a dozen times today, but this is the first time I’m flipping my iron cross upside-down. Dad would kill me if he knew I was trying this without Coach Brown around, but he’s the one who dragged me halfway across the country on vacation to the land with powder so perfect you could—
Whoosh! The tips of my skis slice the edge of the jump and I’m soaring ten feet above the ground. I reach back and lightly touch my glove to my boot—just enough to get the feel for the move I’ve done hundreds of times—gearing myself up for the second jump. I hold my breath as both skis hit the ground at the same time, then take a deep breath.
The second jump is almost here.
I crouch low to the ground to build speed. I’m sure the boys are shouting after that last air, but I can’t hear them. The only voice I hear is my mom, her soft words whispering how she feels closer to god when she’s flying through the air. I feel the familiar drop in my stomach and throw my body forward, legs tucked in as close as they can get with two five-foot skis strapped to my feet, my right hand gripping the binding as I somersault through the air.
“She did it!”
A smile breaks across my face as the ground rights itself beneath me. I unfold my legs, keeping my body loose for the impact of the landing, and I do something stupid.
I glance at the boys on the side of the hill.
Next thing I know I’m tumbling over the packed snow. I keep my bindings tight so they don’t fall off every time I land, but that means they refuse to let go as I flop ass over head down the slope. Snow smashes into my face, into my mouth, and my skis finally pop off when my right knee slams against a patch of ice. I come to a stop on my back near the third jump. Heat rips through my knee but I ignore it and roll to my side to watch for the next jumper.
Slope Rule #1: Get out of the way of the next guy.
A snowboarder crests the first jump, his board flipped back so he’s parallel with the ground, then he drops out of sight.
I scoot on my butt to get out of the way, pushing with my hands and good leg. My skis are too far down the hill for me to reach so I have to hope he either saw me fall or is good enough not to land on them. He launches off the second jump faster than I expect, and a burst of air that I will never admit to sounding like a scream escapes my mouth. I give a final push with my boot and watch with a combination of horror and awe as he sails through the air, directly above me, the sun shining behind him like he’s a goddamn action hero.
He lands beyond my skis and twists to a stop, then hops to the side so he’s clear of the next jumper. He nods at me from behind his goggles. “You okay?”
I look from my skis to my knee, which I’m pretty sure is sprained, and shrug. “I’ve been worse.”
His gaze flicks from me to the second jump. “You’re still too close.”
Inside I’m grateful that he’s giving me enough credit that I know the rules and didn’t mansplain that I need to move out of the way. “I’m trying, but I think I jacked up my knee.”
He hobbles closer and I notice his lips. Full lips. The bottom one’s a little red from where he keeps chewing on it. “Do you need help?”
I scoot farther from the jump and pain slices through my leg. I hate—HATE—asking for help, but either I ask this pretty-lipped boy or I get crushed by the next snowboarder. “Yeah, maybe.”
In one swift movement he unhooks his boots and tosses his board to the side before climbing up to me. “This might hurt.” He slides his hands under my armpits and drags me away from the jump, sending heat searing through my knee.
I bite back a whimper as I clutch my knee. Dad worries that fifteen is too young to already have knee problems, but whenever I’ve hurt it in practice Coach Brown sends me to the ice bath and by the next day, I’m fine. But something about the way this is pulsing tells me this is more serious. “I don’t know if I can ski.”
He lets go of my arms and lowers himself to the ground next to me. “Walk of shame?”
I bury my face in my gloves and shake my head. Riding down on the snowmobile stretcher is complete humiliation.
I feel pressure on my arm and look up. He’s pushed off his goggles and I’m staring into the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. A different kind of heat warms my belly, distracting me from my knee.
“Don’t be a hero.”
I wave a hand at the boys who yelled at me when I first took off. “I’m sure they’d love to see me carted off.”
“They’re not all bad.”
“You know them?”
He shrugs. “Yes and no. I was showing them tricks earlier. Now they’re following me around.”
“Fan club, eh?”
“Something like that.” He nods at my knee. “So what are you doing?”
I lock eyes with him. “Would you ride down on the sled?”
A hint of a smile lifts his lips, revealing a dimple in his cheek.
“That’s what I thought.”
“What if I promise to have hot chocolate waiting for you in the lodge?”
My heartbeat accelerates before I can tell it not to. I don’t chase guys. I am one of the guys. But here, in a different state, maybe the rules can be different. I smile up at him. “Only if you tell me your name.”
His smile broadens and he holds out a gloved hand. “Blake.”
I jam my gloved hand against his. “Cally.”
Vacation just got a lot more interesting.
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