A princess on Another Planet


НазваниеA princess on Another Planet
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Дата публикации28.06.2013
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^ CHAPTER TWENTY

Slippery Slopes
"These are supposed to be the best days of our lives," I say mournfully.

"Oh, Carrie." George stretches his lips into a smile. "Where do you get these overly sentimental ideas? If you took a survey, you'd find half the adult population hated their high school years and would never want to go back."

"But I don't want to be one of them."

"No danger of that. You've got too much joie de vivre. And you seem to be a great forgiver of human nature."

"I guess I figured out a while ago that most people can't help what they do," I say, encouraged by his interest. "And what they do doesn't usually have anything to do with you. I mean, people kind of instinctually do what's best for them at the time and think about the consequences later, right?"

George laughs, but this, I realize with a pang, is a nearly perfect description of my own behavior.

A gust of wind blows a fine dust of snow from the tops of the trees into our faces. I shiver. "You cold?" George slides his arm around my shoulders and pulls me closer.

I nod, inhaling the sharp air. I take in the snow and the pine trees and the cute log-hewn lodges and try to pretend I'm someplace far, far away, like Switzerland.

The Mouse and I forced Maggie to make a pact that we would never tell anyone what we saw that day in East Milton, because it's Walt's business and his to handle how he sees fit. Maggie agreed not to tell anyone--including Peter--but it didn't prevent her from turning into an emotional wreck. She skipped two days of school and spent them in bed; on the third day, when she finally appeared in assembly, her face was puffy and she was wearing sunglasses. Then she wore nothing but black for the rest of the week. The Mouse and I did everything we could--making sure one of us was with her during breaks and even getting food for her at the cafeteria so she didn't have to stand in line--but you'd think the love of her life had died. Which is slightly annoying, because if you look at it from a logical point of view, all that really happened was she dated a guy for two years, broke up with him, and then they both found someone else. Does it really matter if that "someone" is a guy or a girl? But Maggie refuses to see it that way. She insists it's all her fault--she wasn't "woman enough" for Walt.

So when George called and offered to take me skiing, I jumped at the chance to get away from my own life for a few hours.

And the minute I saw his steady, happy face, I found myself telling him all about my problems with Walt and Maggie, and how my piece came out in The Nutmeg and my best friend was weird about it. I told him everything, save for the fact that I happen to have a boyfriend. I will tell him today, when the moment is right. But in the meantime, it's such a relief to unburden myself that I don't want to spoil the fun.

I know I'm being selfish. On the other hand, George does seem to find my stories highly entertaining. "You can use all of this in your writing," he said during the drive to the mountain.

"I couldn't," I countered. "If I put any of this in The Nutmeg, I'd be run out of school."

"You're experiencing every writer's dilemma. Art versus protecting those you know--and love."

"Not me," I said. "I'd never want to hurt someone for the sake of my writing. I wouldn't be able to live with myself afterward."

"You'll warm up as soon as we get moving," George says now.

"If we get moving," I remind him. I peer over the railing of the chairlift to the trail below. It's a wide path bordered by pine trees, where several skiers in candy-colored suits weave across the snow like sewing needles, leaving tracks of thread behind. From this vantage point, they don't appear to be exceptional athletes. If they can do it, why not me?

"You scared?" George asks.

"Nah," I say boldly, even though I've skied a total of three times in my life, and only in Lali's backyard.

"Remember to keep the tips of your skis up. Let the back of the seat push you off."

"Sure," I say, clutching the side of the chairlift. We're nearly at the top, and I've just admitted that I've never actually ridden in a chairlift before.

"All you have to do is get off," George says in amusement. "If you don't, they have to shut down the entire lift and the other skiers get angry."

"Don't want to piss off those snow bunnies," I mutter, bracing for the worst. Within seconds, however, I'm gliding smoothly down a little hill and the chairlift is behind me. "Wow, that was easy," I say, turning back to George. At which point I promptly fall over.

"Not bad for a beginner," George says, helping me up. "You'll see. You'll pick it up in no time. I can tell you're a natural."

George is just so nice.

We tackle the bunny slope first, where I manage to master the snowplow and the turn. After a couple of runs, I've worked up my confidence and we move on to the intermediate slope.

"Like it?" George asks on our fourth trip up the chairlift.

"Love it," I exclaim. "It's so much fun."

"You're fun," George says. He leans in for a kiss, and I allow him a quick peck, suddenly feeling like a sleazebag. What would Sebastian think if he saw me here with George?

"George--" I begin, deciding to tell him about Sebastian now, before this goes any further, but he cuts me off.

"Ever since I met you, I've been trying to figure out who you remind me of. And finally, I have."

"Who?" I ask, full of curiosity.

"My great-aunt," he says proudly.

"Your great-aunt?" I ask, with mock outrage. "Do I look that old?"

"It's not how you look. It's your spirit. She has the same fun-loving spirit you do. She's the kind of person other people love to be around." And then he drops the bomb: "She's a writer."

"A writer?" I gasp. "An actual writer?"

He nods. "She was very famous in her time. But she's about eighty now--"

"What's her name?"

"Not going to tell you," he says cunningly. "Not yet. But I'll take you to visit her sometime."

"Tell me!" I demand, playfully swatting his arm.

"Nope. I want it to be a surprise."

George is just full of surprises today. I'm actually having a good time.

"I can't wait for you to meet her. You two are going to love each other."

"I can't wait to meet her, either," I gush with enthusiasm. Wow. A real writer. I've never met one, with the exception of Mary Gordon Howard.

We slide off the chairlift and pause at the top of the run. And then I take a look down the mountain. It's steep. Really steep. "I'd like to get down this hill, first, though," I add, clutching my ski poles.

"You'll be fine," he says reassuringly. "Take it slow and do lots of turns."

I do pretty well at the top of the hill. But when we get to the first drop-off, I'm suddenly terrified. I stop, dizzy with panic. "I can't do this." I grimace. "Can I take off my skis and walk down?"

"If you do, you'll look like a total wimp," George says. "Come on, kiddo. I'll go ahead of you. Follow me and do everything I do and you'll be fine."

George pushes off. I bend my knees, picturing myself on crutches, when a young woman glides past. I only catch a glimpse of her profile, but she looks oddly familiar. Then I register the fact that she's incredibly stunning, with long, straight blond hair, a rabbit-fur headband, and a white one-piece ski suit with silver stars up the side. I'm not the only one who's noticed her though.

"Amelia!" George cries out.

This gorgeous Amelia girl, who looks like she belongs in an ad for some fresh outdoorsy toothpaste, slides smoothly to a stop, lifts her goggles, and beams. "George!" she exclaims.

"Hey!" George says, and skis after her.

So much for helping the skiing impaired.

He slides up next to her, kisses her on both cheeks, exchanges a few words, and then looks uphill. "Carrie!" he cries, waving. "Come on. I want you to meet a friend of mine."

"Nice to meet you," I yell from afar.

"Come down," George shouts.

"We can't come to you so you'll have to come to us," adds the Amelia person, who is beginning to irritate me with her easy perfection. She's obviously one of those expert-types who learned to ski before she could walk.

Here goes nothing. Gripping my knees, I push off on my poles.

Fantastic. I'm heading straight for them. There's only one problem: I can't stop.

"Watch out!" I scream. By some miracle of nature, I don't actually ram right into Amelia, only scraping the tops of her skis. I do, however, grab her arm to stop myself, at which point I fall over and pull her down on top of me.

For a few seconds, we just lie there, our heads inches apart. Once again, I have a sickening feeling that I know Amelia. Maybe she's an actress or something?

And then we're surrounded. What nobody tells you about skiing is, if you fall down, within seconds you will be rescued by several people, all of whom are much better skiers than you are and filled with all kinds of advice, and shortly thereafter, the ski patrol will arrive with a stretcher.

"I'm fine," I keep insisting. "It was nothing."

Amelia is back up and ready to go--she only tipped over, after all--but I, on the other hand, am not. I'm petrified, envisioning another headlong plunge down the mountain. But then I'm informed--happily, for me--that my ski went and crashed into a tree all on its own. Said ski is now slightly cracked--"Better your ski than your head!" George keeps saying over and over--so I will not be attempting the Bradshaw skidoo after all.

Unfortunately, the only way I can get down the mountain now is by stretcher. This is horrendously embarrassing and excessively dramatic. I lift my mittened paw and wave weakly at George and Amelia as they lower their goggles, plant their poles, and leap into the abyss.

"Done much skiing?" asks the ski patrol guy as he tightens a strap across my chest.

"Not really."

"You shouldn't be on the intermediate slope," he scolds. "We try to emphasize safety here. Skiers should never take runs that are above their abilities."

"It's the number one cause of accidents," adds a second. "You were lucky this time. Try this again, and you're not only a danger to yourself, but a danger to other skiers."

Well, excuuuuuse me.

Now I feel like a complete crap heel.

George--good old, faithful George--is waiting at the bottom. "Are you really okay?" he asks, bending over the stretcher.

"I'm fine. My ego is bruised, but my body seems to be intact." And, apparently, ready for more humiliation.

"Good," he says, taking my arm. "I told Amelia we'd meet her in the lodge for an Irish coffee. She's an old friend of mine from Brown. Don't worry," he adds, taking in my expression. "She's not competition. She's a couple of years older."

We clomp into the lodge, which is steamy and loud, filled with happy people boasting about the great day they had on the slopes. Amelia is seated near the fireplace; having removed her jacket, she's in a tight-fitting silver top and has managed to brush her hair and put on lipstick, which makes her now look like she's in an ad for hair spray.

"Amelia, this is Carrie," George says. "I don't think you've been properly introduced."

"No, we haven't," Amelia says warmly, shaking my hand. "In any case, it's not your fault. George should never have taken you on that run. He's a very dangerous man to be around."

"He is?" I ask, settling into a chair.

"Remember that white-water-rafting trip?" she asks, then turns to me and adds, "Colorado," as if I, too, should be familiar with the incident.

"You were not scared," George insists.

"I was. I was terrified to death."

"Now I know you're joking." George points his finger at her for emphasis and pats my hand. "Amelia isn't afraid of anything."

"That's not true. I'm afraid of not getting into law school."

Oh boy. So this Amelia is beautiful and smart. "Where are you from, Carrie?" she asks, in an attempt to include me in the conversation.

"Castlebury. But you've probably never heard of it. It's this tiny farm town on the river--"

"Oh, I know all about it." She smiles sympathetically. "I grew up there."

I suddenly feel queasy.

"What's your last name again?" she asks curiously.

"Bradshaw," George says, signaling the waitress.

Amelia raises her brows in recognition. "I'm Amelia Kydd. I think you're dating my brother."

"Huh?" George says, looking from Amelia to me.

My face reddens. "Sebastian?" I croak. I recall Sebastian talking about an older sister and how fantastic she was, but she was supposed to be away at college in California.

"He talks about you all the time."

"He does?" I murmur. I sneak a look at George. His face is intensely blank, save for a bright red patch on each cheek.

He determinedly ignores me. "I want to know everything you've been up to since I last saw you," he says to Amelia.

I break out in a sweat, wishing I'd broken my leg after all.

We ride most of the way home in silence.

Yes, I should have told George I had a boyfriend. I should have told him the first night we had dinner. But then Dorrit was arrested and there was no time. I should have told him on the phone, but let's face it, he was helping me with my writing and I didn't want to screw that up. And I would have told him today, but we ran into Amelia. Who happens to be Sebastian's sister. I suppose I could argue it's not entirely my fault, because George never asked if I had a boyfriend. On the other hand, maybe you're not supposed to ask if a person is seeing someone else if they agree to go out with you--and continue to see you. Maybe dating is like the honor system: If you're otherwise engaged, it's your moral duty to let the other person know right away.

Problem is, people don't always play by the rules.

How am I going to explain this to George? And what about Sebastian? I spend half my time worrying that Sebastian is going to cheat on me, while the person I should be concerned about is myself.

I peek at George. He's frowning, concentrating on the road as if his life depends on it.

"George," I beseech him. "I'm so sorry. Honestly. I kept meaning to tell you--"

"As a matter of fact, I happen to be seeing other women as well," he says coldly.

"Okay."

"But what I don't appreciate is being put into a situation that makes me look like an asshole."

"You're not an asshole. And I really, really like you--"

"But you like Sebastian Kydd better," he snaps. "Don't worry. I get it."

We pull into my driveway. "Can we at least be friends?" I plead, making a last-ditch effort to rectify the situation.

He stares straight ahead. "Sure, Carrie Bradshaw. Tell you what. Why don't you give me a ring when you and Sebastian break up? Your little fling with Sebastian won't last long. Count on it."

For a moment, I sit there, stung. "If you want to be that way, fine. But I didn't mean to hurt you. And I said I was sorry." I'm about to get out of the car, when he grabs my wrist.

"I'm sorry, Carrie," he says, instantly contrite. "I didn't mean to be harsh. But you do know why Sebastian got kicked out of school, right?"

"For selling drugs?" I ask stiffly.

"Oh, Carrie." He sighs. "Sebastian doesn't have the guts to be a drug dealer. He got kicked out for cheating."

I say nothing. Then I'm suddenly angry. "Thanks, George," I say, getting out of the car. "Thanks for a great day."

I stand in the driveway, watching him go. I guess I won't be visiting George in New York after all. And I certainly won't be meeting his great-aunt, the writer. Whoever she is.

Dorrit comes out of the house and joins me. "Where's George going?" she asks plaintively. "Why didn't he come in?"

"I don't think we're going to be seeing any more of George Carter," I say with a mixture of finality and relief.

I leave Dorrit standing in the driveway looking extremely disappointed.
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