First of all, I didn’t want to be there. Not that anyone bothered to ask me a question like that. It was fine. As the middle child I was used to getting shoved to the side. I was used to going with the flow of everyone else in our wild family. What family was that? I’ll explain. I have an older sister too smart for her own good and a mouth loud enough to tell everyone about it. I was sandwiched in between her and a younger brother who couldn’t manage to make a mistake in front of our doe eyed parents.
I didn’t mean it to sound so bad, honest. Dad was great. He taught me how to ride a bike and worked hard math problems with me after school in the only way an engineer can. Methodically and one right after another. I’d give him a solid B on his Dad Progress Report. I’d give him an A if he wasn’t such a push over when it came to mom.
Mom, however. I couldn’t explain why she was always so furious with me. It could have to do with my grades. They weren’t touching the ceiling like my sisters. Then, there’s the sports. I just don’t care about them. Guess mom wasn’t impressed with my bench warming skills. She wanted me to be the athlete my little brother was already turning out to be.
But what did Denver want? No one bothered to ask me. So, when everyone loaded up in the car for a ski resort vacation and my sister couldn’t stop talking about the cute boys she would see and my little brother wouldn’t quit gushing about the excitement of the actual skiing, I was ready to throw myself out the window. I hated the cold. I hated the idea of skiing, and it didn’t matter how much dad tried to talk me into it or how much mom warned about the attitude. I wasn’t about to plaster a fake smile on my face for everyone else’s sake. Please, what kind of girl did everyone think I was? If I was miserable, I was taking everyone else down with me.
So, there we were. In a resort with two large adjoining rooms. One for me and the banes of my existence and the other for ma and pa. I’d take a closet if it meant having a room to myself. Again, not that anyone asked me. We were all in the middle of packing on our winter clothes. Since, you know, we weren’t animals with fur and didn’t belong in cold places with the ability to kill us. Dad was real hyped about the skiing lessons he signed us up for. I’d say he was the only one but that would be a lie.
Chartreuse, yes my mother really named my sister that. You couldn’t be an uppity person without an uppity name. She was covered on all fronts. Anyway, she lapped up dads every word. Mostly because he was discussing the young and cute ski instructor named Evan. Good grief. Aaron, my little brother, was in the middle of being fussed on by our mother. She tugged a warm fur hat over his head and wanted to make sure he was plenty warm. I rolled my eyes and stared out of the window into a world of white.
It would have been a magical sight, you know. If you were into that sort of thing. I contemplated all the ways I would definitely die if I went out into the white world. It made me wrap my scarf around my neck a bit tighter. I wondered how long mom and dad would be sad if I died. They would replace me with another child and probably like that one more. Chartreuse wouldn’t even notice it was a different sister. Aaron, well. He might miss me a little. We had our early morning rituals of sneaking into the living room for early morning cartoons where we ate food mom told us not too. The perfect child they replaced me with wouldn’t do those kinds of things with him.
To say the hill, mountain rather, was large was an understatement. I stared down the bluff with sheer panic in my chest while the instructor went over everything. I tried to listen but was distracted. Distracted thinking how brave mom and dad were for dragging me out here after our roller-skating fiasco three months ago. I wiped out good, man. And I took half of the people on the floor down with me. An ER trip and a neon lime cast later, and I had a mom with smoke coming out of her ears. I mean, you would think the woman thought I did it on purpose.
The instructor gave us a few test runs down a small incline while we got a feel for being out in the snow. Aaron took off like he was born on a pair of skis. Chartreuse had been skiing on a school trip before and again with friends. She knew what she was doing. Still, that didn’t stop her from acting way less intelligent than she was to get Evan’s extra special attention to keep her from falling.
This wasn’t a surprise, but it took me all of forty-five minutes to ski my way away from the others. Ski is a loose term I like to use for inching a crossed the ice on my face and other various parts of my body, well. Besides my feet of course. I couldn’t say how it happened. One second, I was eating snow while all my family watched and feeling the pity from the other resort guests. The next, I’m standing alone in the world of white. Well, I don’t mean standing alone, alone. There were enough white dusted trees standing around me that I couldn’t see anything else.
The fact that my name was Denver should have given me command over the snow, right? Fat chance. I was shivering and chattering my teeth and hating the ski trip even more. I worked my way back up the bluff. I had slid down quite a bit. My skin burned where the frigid cold air touched.
I stayed like that for a while. Walking, burning away in the icy cold. It didn’t matter how far I climbed up the bluff though, not another soul appeared. My stomach made sure to remind me if I didn’t eat soon, I’d be in worse trouble. Finally, I told myself it would be alright to take a break. I huddled under a tree for any warmth from the wind. I swore it was blowing so hard to cut me right in half.
It was a lonely hour under the tree. At least it felt like an hour. There wasn’t a real way to know without a phone or a watch at all. I told the tree all kinds of things. I started out with how unfair this has been for me. The tree was dressed in its white powdered dust and listened in the only way a tree could. In silence and without complaint. I talked about Aaron. How at eight years old he was so lucky to swing a bat well enough that no one in our family dared to miss a game. I talked about Chartreuse and her valedictorian speech for senior year. And then I told the tree about all her friends. She was always talking to them on the phone after our parents went to bed even though she wasn’t supposed too.
One hour turned into what felt like two. I noticed something shift in how I spoke to the tree though. Suddenly, Chartreuse wasn’t so bad. I started having thoughts like, if only I could see her again then I’d really like to see if she would help me with my English paper. She could do seventh grade English in her sleep. It never occurred to me before that she was just proud of how smart she was and confident. It didn’t exactly make her the devil. She could teach me a thing or two if I let her.
Then my heart started squeezing in weird ways in my chest. I think with sadness. I told the tree I wanted to see my little brother again, honest. For a few minutes there it was all I could think about. Him and his sweaty fingers digging into the cereal bowl when we were sneaking our morning cartoons. An ache grew in my belly too. One that told me I might not ever see them again. The sour mood I showed up to the resort with disappeared. I felt so lonely without them. I was desperate to hear mom’s voice. Just like… the sound of it. Moms have a way of taking all your fears and replacing them with things that made you feel good.
The tears came then. I thought about dad holding my hand in the ER when I fractured my wrist at the skating rink. He never let go. Maybe I wasn’t like Chartreuse and maybe I wasn’t like Aaron. That’s what I told the tree. Maybe those things didn’t matter. It could be that I had the facts all wrong. Dad and mom loved me too. They loved me. My heart pounded painfully in my chest, and I made sure the tree knew that I loved them too. Just in case… Just in case no one knew, even them, and then I didn’t get another chance to say it out loud.
I didn’t have too long to be sad. Flying down the bluff were two faces I’d never been so happy to see. Chartreuse and my dad. I left the cover of the tree with a thank you and ran to meet them with a few of my own athletic skills I wasn’t even aware I had. Mom and Aaron were waiting on the top of the hill. Mom’s face was red from ugly crying, and I felt guilty for getting separated from the pack. Aaron had a red face that matched mom and the second his blue eyes laid on me he flew from mom and wrapped his arms around me.
Remember all those things I said earlier, about not wanting to be there? I changed my mind. Aarons fingers were wrapped in my own and Chartreuse hugged me from behind. Mom and dad wrapped themselves around the three of us. Turned out, there wasn’t any other place I wanted to be.