“Hey, man,” Ash says, clapping me on the shoulder as I climb off the snowmobile. “Good to have you back.”
“Good to be back,” I tell him, even though I’m not sure I mean it. But what the hell else am I supposed to do now that Luc’s given me an ass kicking I won’t soon forget? After my three-day bender, booze and weed hold no appeal at the moment, and every time I think about going out and getting laid, something holds me back.
Maybe it’s Luc’s words about how fucking empty my life is.
Maybe it’s waking up and finding Stacy in my bed with absolutely no recollection of how she got there.
Or maybe it’s everything that went down with Ophel—
Oh, hell no. I cut that thought off before it can even form. I’ve got enough crazy in my life. The last thing I need is to waste my time thinking about some girl who definitely isn’t thinking about me. And who obviously has a shit-ton of her own issues to deal with.
“So we’re taping today?” I ask, nodding at the GoPro Hero3+ Ash is currently attaching to the front of his snowboard. He’s got it mounted to an old ski pole so he gets a better view than from the bottom of the board, but that means he has to put a shitload of adhesive on it if he doesn’t want the thing to fly off during the run. We’ve already lost two cameras between us this season, and powder’s only been on the ground a few weeks.
“Yeah. Gotta update the website. The fans keep asking for new film.” He holds a chest harness already outfitted with a camera out to me. “Here. Put this on, will you? I’m sure no one will want to miss any of your epic stupidity.”
I roll my eyes at him even as I take the camera. “You know you don’t have to give them everything they ask for, right?”
“Yeah, I know. But the footage usually turns out sick, so why not? Besides, it’s been a few days since you’ve been out. I figure, if I’m lucky, I’ll catch you doing some crazy-ass shit.”
“I don’t know about that. I think I might be taking it slow today.”
Cam speaks up for the first time since I got here. “Yeah, right. We’ll believe that when we see it.”
“I guess you will.” I start to tease her about her new jacket—the thing is neon orange and makes her look like a traffic cone—but there’s something about the way she’s looking at me that makes me shut my mouth and take a few steps back.
Most days I get the feeling that Cam can see through my bullshit, but right now the look in her eyes says that she can see a lot more. That she can actually see me, and that’s something I’m totally not okay with. I’ve spent most of my life working hard not to look at what’s inside me, and after Luc’s onslaught yesterday, I sure as shit don’t need anyone else poking around in there trying to see what’s up. I already feel like I’m on the verge of imploding. If anything else happens, I don’t even want to think about how bad shit’s going to get.
With that happy thought in mind, I take a few more steps back. Walk over to the edge of the mountain we’re on, and look out at the view. It’s fucking gorgeous up here. Completely breathtaking. Blue sky, white clouds, snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see, pine trees dripping with snow.
I think about moving sometimes, about walking away from all of this and just starting over somewhere else. Somewhere fresh where the past doesn’t haunt me at every twist and turn. But I don’t think I could ever leave these mountains, not for any length of time anyway. If it would actually bring me some modicum of peace, I could probably give up snowboarding and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Maybe even give up my friends, if I had to, though just the thought stings like hell. But these mountains? They’re in my blood, in my soul, as surely as my memories of April are.
Besides, there’s no peace for me. There hasn’t been in over a decade and there won’t be any in the next decade, either. It’s probably time to stop pretending otherwise. After all, it’s not like I’ve done anything to deserve it anyway.
Behind me, Luc and Ash are still working on getting Ash’s cam properly situated. Luc has one, too, though he’s doing a helmet mount with it instead of a board or chest mount. My guess is he’s planning on going down right behind Ash to catch as much of his run for the website as he possibly can. Having the tricks from two angles and then editing the footage together usually makes for wicked videos.
Surprised Cam isn’t helping them—she’s definitely the electronics guru of our little ragtag band of brothers—I’m about to go offer my services before Luc ends up pitching the camera off the side of the mountain on purpose. But Cam moves into my path before I can do much more than take a step in their direction.
For long seconds she doesn’t say anything. Just stands there and stares at me with a look I don’t want to try to interpret. I smile at her, then start to walk around her, but she steps closer and puts a hand on my chest to hold me in place.
I stiffen despite myself, then glance at Luc to see if he’s now plotting to throw me off the mountain. But he’s too absorbed in the camera debacle at the moment to pay much attention to where Cam is or what she’s doing.
“What’s up?” I ask her after the silence between us gets uncomfortably long.
“You know you can talk to me, right?”
“Me too.” I shoot her a baffled look. “I thought we were talking right now.”
“You know what I mean. I’m worried about you. We all are.”
Damn. Now it’s a tag-team intervention? What the hell does a guy have to do to self-destruct in peace around here? “I’m fine, Cam.”
“You always say that.”
“Because it’s always true.” My heart’s pounding like I just barged a run, and it’s all I can do to stand still. I wait another few seconds, expecting her to step back, hoping she’ll take the hint and stop touching me. But she doesn’t. Instead, she moves closer, wraps her arm around my waist, rests her head on my shoulder. I can feel it—the pressure building up inside me until I’m like the cork in a champagne bottle that’s been shaken way too much.
When I can’t take it any longer, I step away.
Make a show of zipping up my jacket.
And ignore the look of hurt that flashes across her face.
Immediately the cold seeps back in, but I refuse to react. Cam’s watching me closely, looking for any chink in my armor, and I refuse to give it to her. Refuse to let her in any closer than she already is. She might be my friend along with Ash and Luc, but there are some things even best friends shouldn’t see. Shouldn’t know.
Except . . . “I know this is a bad week for you, Z. You can run from it all you want, but it’s not going to go away.”
This time when she places a hand on my shoulder, it’s pure instinct to knock it off. Pure self-preservation. “Jesus, Cam, will you please just leave it the fuck alone? If I wanted to go all hippie commune and talk about my shit, believe me, I would.”
“It’s not healthy—”
“Really?” I cut her off. “What about my life makes you think I give a fuck about being healthy?”
“Come on, Z.”
“You come on.” I drop my board on the ground, strap my right foot in.
Cam knows what’s going to happen, and she narrows her eyes at me even as she steps back to give me room. “You can’t run away from this conversation forever, you know.”
The adrenaline rush is already starting, drowning out her voice and all the other shit I don’t want to deal with right now. I look back at Luc and Ash, who’ve finally got their cameras mounted and working, and think about joining them on the run they’re about to take. It’s what they’re expecting, and I almost do it. Almost push off and glide over there so we can board the trail together. We’re backcountry, so the run is pretty raw and unstructured, but the truth is it’s just not what I’m in the mood for right now. I want something hard, something that’ll take every ounce of concentration I’ve got. Maybe then I can stop thinking about all the different ways I’ve fucked up.
With that in mind, I strap my left foot in, and without giving the others any warning about what I’m planning, I push off from the little plateau I’m on.
And then I’m fucking flying.
Cam screams as I go over the edge, but the sound is drowned out in the rush as I board straight down the side of this fucking mountain. There’s no real trail, no path to follow, nothing but a narrow crevice with steep walls on either side.
One wrong move and I’m toast—I can slam into one of the jagged walls, plow into one of the huge rocks that spring up every few feet, or just lose control and go tumbling head over heels. But I’m not planning on doing any of the above. At least not right now. This is virgin backcountry chute, and I’m riding this bitch all the way down.