Even though he had told her she should Tony was a little miffed that Jean had abandoned him on the slopes. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand and commiserate with her mounting frustration at the progress he was making it was just that he would be leaving the next day with John and Gerri to head home to Maryland and he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. He thought of the newly popular term “Quality Time” and laughed at his image of Jean doing her best to stay calm while he inadvertently tried her patience with his lack of progress on the slopes. “Quality” is an undefined adjective that can mean poor as well as great.
Activities that required coordination were not his forte and Jean should have learned that in the time they had been dating. If they went out together on a bike ride or a run he had to hold back or leave her in the dust but as soon as their outing required motor skills Jean could out perform him every time. Bowling, swimming, horse back riding, diving, throwing or catching a ball Tony was all thumbs and now, no surprise, they could add skiing to the list.
About half way down his third lonely solo run on Sundown’s S’no Way bunny slope he heard Jean calling his name. “Tony! Hey, Tony! How’s it going over here?” she asked, all smiles and athletic beauty as she approached him rapidly only to turn expertly up the hill and come to a stop next to where he was glacially inching his way down the hill.
“I’m doing okay. I haven’t fallen again since you left me and I feel like I’m getting the hang of this skiing thing,” was his unenthusiastic and rather optimistic response.
“Yeah, I was watching you from the top for a while before I came down. It looks like you’re making some progress,” she sweetly lied. “Let’s cut over to the left and head through those trees so we can come up the longer lift and then try a different run down the mountain.”
“I’m pretty happy here,” Tony dissembled. Fearing that Jean was trying to get him into more challenging areas he asked, “Where does that other lift take us?”
“Just a little farther up this part of the mountain. If we head through the trees then we can take a different lift to a spot higher up the mountain. We can start a little higher and just take the same trail you’ve been skiing on or there are two other easy green trails we can access from up there. I think you’d like Big Bend; it’s longer and more gradual.”
“I like the sound of that! Can’t we get there from the bottom of this run?”
“You can, but you’ll have to travel uphill if you do. If we cut through the trees then gravity will do most of the work for us,” explained Jean.
“Okay, I guess I’m game,” he replied with lifting enthusiasm as he slowly inched his way along the path that Jean blazed for him.
They had started their cross a little lower on the mountain than was ideal and Tony was pushing along with his poles as he traveled diagonally across the slope. Crossing over Sensation trail on his way to the lift a little girl went buzzing by him at a distance of about five feet and at a good rate of speed. “Little shit! Why doesn’t she watch where she’s going!?”
“Hey, Tony, relax. She had plenty of room. I know it’s hard to get used to something new but there’s all kinds of skiers on the mountain and we can’t get mad for somebody having fun if they’re not breaking the rules,” she answered soothingly.
They made it to the lift at the bottom of Sensation and got in line for the trip back up. Tony enjoyed the run down Big Bend so much that they made a repeat trip on the long, loping trail. Tony relaxed enough so that he was not continuously applying the brakes and he admitted to himself that Jean’s admonishment to add a little speed and relax did seem to help. Toward the end of their second run John and Gerri materialized out of nowhere. John hollered, “Look at you! You guys ready for lunch?”
“Yeah, I could eat,” Tony said looking at his watch. “It’s a little after one so maybe it won’t be so crowded in there.” They made their way down the rest of the run and over to the lodge. Looking at the ski corrals Tony asked, “Do you think anyone will steal our stuff?”
Jean smiled and said, “I think if anybody is going to steal anything they’ll look for something a little nicer than our rental equipment.” It wasn’t too crowded in the little cafe/lunchroom and after everyone had purchased overpriced burgers, fries and beer they sat and ate.
Gerri asked, “So, how’s it going? Did you get him off the green slopes yet?”
“No, she hasn’t,” Tony said studying a trail map. “But maybe after lunch we’ll try Tom’s Treat. If I’m reading this thing right then that should be a long easy trail like the one you guys just found us on.”
“We met Jean on that one right after she left you on your own this morning. I think that should work out real well for you,” John answered. After a pit stop to release the beer back into its natural habitat they went back out to put their skis on.
“One time I thought somebody had stolen my skis,” Gerri said, snapping into her bindings. “It turned out some kid had rented the same skis as me and when she came out after lunch she’d taken mine by mistake. I figured it out pretty fast because the skis she had left me were crazy short and I saw her struggling with ones that were really, really long for her. I told her I thought she had mine and her mom was like, ‘Oh, my God! You’re right! That’s why she’s been struggling so!’ It took us a little bit of work to get her out of them because the bindings were set for me rather than a ten year old but after we got her out everything was copacetic.”
“‘Copacetic,'” John repeated. “Look whose been reading the vocabulary booster in Reader’s Digest!” Gerri stuck out her tongue and flipped him the bird as he reached over and kissed her in an attempt to soften the blow of his stinging implication that perhaps Gerri was neither as erudite nor educated as the others.
They headed left out of the lodge and toward the longest lift on the complex. Using their poles to help push them along Jean said, “So far all you’ve been in are two man lifts and this is a triple. Stay with us and we’ll make sure you don’t wind up in the middle seat because that’s harder to negotiate getting out of. And for the love of God don’t push so hard when you get off the lift. Just keep your tips up and let the chair give you a little nudge forward, that way you won’t send everybody else to the ground with your thunder thigh pushes!”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I had somebody else tell me pretty much the same thing after he got off the lift with me earlier. I got it figured out now but I still want to stay on the right side of the chair.” It was a long way up to the top of the slope and on either side of them were black diamond trails. Tony asked nervously, “Those aren’t green trails, right?”
John replied, “Yeah, don’t worry about these two. All you can see are black from up here but once we get off the lift the sign will point us straight ahead to Tom’s Treat; just don’t get on Gun Barrel or Nor’Easter and you’ll do fine. It’s green almost the whole way down.”
“What do you mean almost? The map said it was green,” came Tony’s shocked reply.
Gerri smiled and said, “Better look again. It’s mostly green but it dumps into Canyon Run which is blue, and down toward the bottom there are moguls.”
“What the hell are moguls!?”
Jean said, “They’re little snow bumps on the slope to make the run more challenging. You’ll be fine; it’s just for a little bit.”
“Crap! Why didn’t you tell me that!?”
“Excuse me?” Jean flung back at him. “You were the one with a map who said he wanted to go up here. I figured you were looking to try something a little harder.”
“What’s the matter, Tony? Scared?” Gerri sneered.
“Yeah, I am. But I guess I’ll be fine if I take it easy and I’m careful, right?”
“Damn right! You’ll do fine,” Jean said encouragingly as she lifted Tony’s spirits, the chair bar and her ski tips. “Just remember to go straight once we get off the lift or you’ll soil yourself on the way down!” she said laughing. Jean and Tony surged off the lift and headed straight to the green trails.
Gerri held back waiting for John who was ascending in the next chair. Once he was to the top of the lift they took off for the challenging black diamond run. Gerri called out, “You’re looking great, Tony! Good luck!” as she picked up speed and headed down the trail at a clip far faster than Tony would consider safe.
John stayed with his brother and Jean a few seconds before saying, “You’re making progress! Keep in there,” and then he gathered speed even more quickly than Gerri had as he pushed off with his poles while thrusting with his skis in powerfully propulsive strokes. Tony wondered when Jean would leave him and head off with the other two.
Instead she said, “You know, I think you are making progress. How do you feel?”
“Pretty good right now, but I’m worried about the bottom of this hill. It sounds like I’ll be out of my league down there.”
“You should concentrate on where you are, not where you’re going to be. I’ll stay with you through this run and help direct you through the moguls. There aren’t very many because they’re really part of Stinger, but we’ll do fine on Canyon run. That’s the blue trail this leads into.”
“Hey, I appreciate you staying with me. I know it can’t be much fun skiing with somebody who cramps your style.”
“We’ve gotta start somewhere and now that you’ve relaxed a little I can really see your progress. I enjoy doing just about anything with you and learning something new can be intimidating; I get that.”
For perhaps the hundredth time that trip Tony thought how fortunate he was to have found such a beautiful, talented and dynamic girlfriend. He was determined not to screw up this relationship as he had previous ones by being inattentive or unfaithful. “You know, you’re something special. Thanks for sharing skiing with me, I think I might enjoy it once I get the hang of it.”
“Well, keep trying and give yourself time. You didn’t grow up with a dad who was a gym teacher like I did. He had us on Brewster’s little tow rope bunny slope before we were in Kindergarten.”
The couple transitioned onto Canyon Run and not only did the slope get steeper but there were more skiers and most were traveling noticeably faster than those on the green slopes. Tony visibly tensed up and his skiing became choppier as they were passed by more and more skiers.
Jean encouraged him with, “I’m right here, you have right of way, they’ll go around you, nobody’s going to hit you,” and other palliative phrases that did little to ease Tony’s pain. After they had been on the dicier and faster Canyon Run for a bit Tony heard his brother calling his name, “Toeee Kneeee! Toeee Kneeee!” from behind. He and Gerri zipped up next Tony and Jean and just as they passed them turned up the mountain and came to an abrupt halt in front of and to the side of Tony’s line of travel.
“Where the hell did you come from?” Tony asked incredulously.
“We finished Stinger and jumped right back up the lift to see if we could catch you,” John said.
“Wasn’t much of a problem,” Gerri added.
John shot Gerri an exasperated look and asked Tony, “So, how’s it going? You seem to be getting down this blue trail alright.”
“Yeah, I’m making it. I’m having fun.”
“Great! The end is just around the bend there and that’s where the moguls are. I thought I’d stay with you through there,” John said offhandedly.
Jean smiled and said, “That’d be great. Tony, the moguls aren’t going to be fun for you, but you’ll be done with them in no time and then we can get back to the top and have some more fun. Are you ready?”
“Sure. Let’s go.” Except he wasn’t.
All the progress he had made on the mountain that day had not prepared him for the moguls. They were in an area where going fast and showing off were de rigeur and Tony was not ready for either. The tight turning motions and shock absorbing ski style were beyond him and he struggled all the way through. Once they hit the bottom of the run he looked pale and spent.
Jean skied over to where he had stopped and said, “That was a great first attempt. Do you think you can do one more run?”
Tony hesitated for just a moment. He had enjoyed himself immensely on the top of the run, gotten through the blue section of trail without peeing himself and it had only been the last three minutes or so that he had detested because of its overwhelming difficulty. In retrospect he realized that he was enjoying himself and he wanted to become more proficient so that he and Jean and John could all have fun together. He did want to make one more run. “Absolutely. Let’s go!”
As they ascended the mountain the floodlights came on and by the time they reached the top the lights had warmed up enough to make the lightly falling snow bedazzling. It was a beautiful sight and Tony found its beauty, Jean’s close proximity and his feeling that he had accomplished something difficult that day gratifying. Contentment and attraction coursed through his veins and he reached over and kissed Jean as they ascended in the chair lift.
He and Jean retraced their last run and he was far more graceful and comfortable than he had been earlier that day. Once through the moguls Jean asked, “One more time?”
“Hell, no!” was his immediate and heartfelt response. “My leg muscles are twitching, it’s getting dark and I am spent. You go ahead if you want, I’m done!” They skied over to where John and Gerri stood watching them at the end of the lift line.
Jean pecked his cheek. “Tony’s done for the day. You guys want to show me that black trail?”
Gerri said, “Yeah, lets do one more run!” and they headed to the lift. Tony watched them ascend the mountain in the triple lift together. Once they were out of sight he skied to the lodge and returned his rental equipment and then looked for them on their descent. It was getting dark and he had a hard time finding them until they were nearly finished with their run but they all flew down the mountain with grace and poise.
Off in the distance was a shimmer of red light and then another flashed behind the skier’s shoulders. The trio skied over to the lodge and removed their skis and boots and returned them plus their poles at the return desk. As they headed back to the car Tony asked, “Did you see the lightning?”
“Lightning? There wasn’t any lightning! It’s winter!” Gerri scoffed. Another flash of red glimmered in the distance and was followed half a minute later with a low, long grumble.
“Yeah, you must be right, ” Tony said innocently.
They walked to the car and John said, “Well I see our little red Baron is still here. You think he keyed our car?”
“No, because he wouldn’t have the balls to do that unless his car was all warmed up and he could make his get away,” replied Jean smilingly.
The snow had persisted all day and the lot was a mess. Tony was worried about the drive home. Suddenly remembering an important fact he said, “Hey, Carl had me put some chains in the trunk. Now’s probably a good time to put ’em to use.”
“Yeah, good idea!” John replied.
Tony popped the trunk and got the chains out. “You ever use these before?”
“I have,” said Jean as lightning again illuminated the horizon and the attendant thunder followed more quickly and with greater volume.
“Great! Can you show me how to put them on?”
“I said I’ve used them, not installed them! Sorry, you guys are on you own!”
John and Tony looked at each other. “So we brought chains, but we don’t know how to put them on?” was Tony’s question.
John asked, “How hard can it be?” and the two brothers fastened the chains around the rear tires as securely as they could.
Gerri and Jean had gotten in the car and turned the engine on to warm it up. John got in the back with Gerri and Tony sat in the driver’s seat. They pulled out of the parking lot and started down the hill to the reservoir road. After getting up to speed they heard a low thump, followed by another, and then the thumping went wild. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump! The staccato noise came at shorter and shorter intervals with greater and greater volume.
As he drove Tony envisioned the chains exploding through the Olds’ wheel wells and either destroying the transmission or putting a gaping hole in the car’s fender. “Should I stop!?” he asked in a panic.
Jean, Gerri and John were laughing at their predicament. “You can’t stop here!” John yelled between thumps. “We’re on a narrow winding road, somebody’ll run into us!” As if to punctuate that thought the lightning flash that followed was bright enough to truly light up the sky for the first time and the thunder boomed a scant hand-full of seconds behind. “Keep going!”
The chain noise became louder and with a constant, fast rhythm. The lightning was coming closer together and the thunder seemed to boom instantaneously. Chaos ruled and Tony was fearing the worst when suddenly there was a final loud thump and then all was quiet. “Shit! We just lost Carl’s chain!”
“What’s this we kemo sabe? You’re the driver?” John said laughing harder than ever.
“Thanks, you’re a peach! What am I going to do about his (thump)….”
“Oh shit!” Jean screamed through her laughter.
“Chains!” Tony finished. Thump! Thump, thump,thump, thump, thump, thump! The process repeated itself with Gerri, John and Jean laughing so hard that they couldn’t catch their breath. Tony yelled, “You people are not helping!”
“What do you want us to do, Bro?” John managed to spit out during his fit of uncontrollable laughter.
The loud noise from the chain was barely audible over the raucous sound of the three passengers’ laughter. “Shit!” Tony exclaimed.
Jean reached over and took Tony’s hand, “Sweetie, there’s nothing we can do about it! If you can’t change it you might as well laugh about it!” she said, wiping the snot that was dripping from her nose and tears from her eyes.
Which Tony had to admit was true. They had made it down the mountain in one piece and the chains were no longer needed. He would have to leave Jean the next day so they could be back in Maryland for Christmas with their families and Jean would head over to her parents’ in New York. Sometimes things don’t go the way you want but you might as well make the most of what you’ve got.
They had one more night together before they would again be separated by hundreds of miles. He probably wouldn’t see her beautiful form and face nor be graced with her uplifting presence for at least two if not three more weeks. Jean had said, “You should concentrate on where you are, not where you’re going to be. I’ll stay with you through this run and help you through the moguls.” Sweet, truthful words that he was just beginning to fathom.
Tony was starting to recognize the gifts he had been given and to hold them dear. He might not be spending Christmas day with Jean but he would hold her in his heart. She might just make a man out of him yet.