Disarranged(10)

By: Sara Wolf



"You're just trying to protect her."

I motion around the hotel room. "Marrying you. Tolerating you. Putting up with you even after you've ripped my heart. All of that is to protect her, yes."

"Why?" She mumbles. "Why not me? Why didn't you ever feel that way about me?"

Jealousy. It's ripe in her voice, rotting and pungent like an overdue fruit. The tiny bit of softness I had for her in my memory hardens instantly, growing spikes.

"I don't know." My voice is icy, and it makes her flinch. A part of me celebrates that as a small victory. I made the witch flinch. "I don't know, and I'll probably never know."

That night she doesn't try to touch me. She stays on her side of the bed. I'm free to dream about Rose as I have for the last few months, with no manicured fingers reaching into my head to twist it into something sick and poisonous.

For tonight, I've won.

I've won the battle, but I'm losing the war very, very badly.



***

ROSE

***



Grace shakes me awake at nearly noon.

My body was static-charged with the knowledge Lee was close by in the hotel, so even though we went to bed at twelve after a few glasses of wine, I didn't fall asleep until at least three.

"C'mon!" Grace urges. "You've got a ski lesson to get to!"

I bolt out of bed, panic bubbling up from my stomach. I grab silk underwear to go beneath my jeans and keep me warm, and a huge sweater. The shower is already steamy from Grace, and I'm in and out and dressed warmly in less than ten minutes. She pushes a piece of toast into my hand and shoves me out the door.

"I called the front desk! They've got a pair of rental skis for you all ready, so get down there!"

"Thanks Grace, you're a lifesaver."

She waves me off, and I start down the hall. The front desk hands over a pair of red skis and I pull on my jacket and waddle outside. The brochure said we'd be meeting in front of the Piroux Lodge - a massive building half-buried in snow, like a giant wooden turtle lit from within. There's a small group just outside on the west face of the lodge, and I hurry over to them as quickly as my boots allow.

"Are you here for the beginner lesson?" A man with pale blonde hair and a winsome smile grins at me. His French accent isn't very thick, but it's still noticeable. I nod, and he motions for me to pick a spot in the circle. I wedge myself between a huge German couple and a thin redheaded woman with a severe frown. There's only a handful of us - most people who come to vacation in the Alps must choose it because they're expert skiers. There's a young girl who can't be more than thirteen, and she looks the most nervous out of all of us. I shoot her a smile, and she looks sheepishly away from me. The instructor looks around, and raises his voice.

"Good morning, everyone! I'm Franz, and this is the beginning ski class. If I counted right, there should be six of you here now, and that's a great number because it's not too big. We'll have plenty of room on the slopes to maneuver and make mistakes! Not that you'll make mistakes - I can sense all of you are pretty gifted."

A nervous half-second of laughter goes around the circle. The little girl shuffles her feet and stares at the snow.

Franz pairs us up, and I end up with the little girl. He marches us off to the ski lift. The two-seaters drift lazily through the white sky, couples and serious-faced single skiers dangling their feet from the seats. The German couple gets on, and me and the little girl slide into one seat. Through her pink jacket, I can see she's trembling.

"I'm scared of heights," I say. "So I don't like stuff like this."

The girl's eyes widen as she looks at me. "Me n-neither."

"Sometimes when it gets bad I focus on the sky. I just stare up at it, and it still feels like I'm on the ground, you know?"

She nods, tentatively, and tilts her head up. The sky is completely white, locked up with snow-filled clouds waiting to drop their icy gift when it gets cold enough. The sun is a pale disc struggling to shine through the thick bank. When the lift jerks into movement and starts to ascend, the little girl grips the bar holding us in tightly in her pink mittens and keeps her eyes riveted to the sky. It seems to help, since she isn't shaking as much. The evergreen trees go from looming towers of pine needles to tiny points beneath our boots. The mountain gets bigger and bigger, the gentle slope of the beginner's course soft and smooth compared to the higher-up, more intense courses. Skiers fly down the mountain slope, making slick turns and sometimes flipping with hawk-like precision and grace.

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