[This story alludes to child neglect.]
“I can’t stop!” she yelled.
“Turn to the side!” he yelled behind him, but it was too late; Miley crashed right into the back of him, taking them both down, hands and faces smacked in the snow.
Snow was shoved into their faces, up their noses and into their mouths, cold and wet. Jason sat right up but if Miley thought he was worried about her, she was wrong.
“Miley! Ugh! Why didn’t you turn? I told you to turn!” he snapped.
Miley sat up, more slowly than her older brother, and wiped away the tears that had crept down her cheeks - partly from the pain of the fall and partly from embarrassment - with the back of her black mittens.
“I tried Jason,” she said, with a quivering bottom lip.
“This is exactly why I told you no to skiing. Mom was right; you are not old enough to ski.”
“I am too!” she shouted and, a bit wobbly, came to a stable enough standing.
Jason unfastened his boots and stepped out of his skis.
“No you’re not, and I’m done skiing with you. You’re not old enough and you should just go inside and play with your stuffed animals.”
He walked towards the wooden fence, snow pants wet and a bit muddy now, swishing as he took each step. They were hand-me-downs that his mom had picked up from a yard sale earlier this summer. They fit him then, but he had grown since and now they weren’t quite long enough to cover the top of his boots.
The children really weren’t supposed to be skiing on their neighbor’s property at all, but Jason had told his mother that Mr. Tom said it was alright, so long as he didn’t see the horses out. Of course Anne, Jason and Miley’s mother, wouldn’t bother checking with Mr. Tom, and their father, Drew, only came home on the weekends since he worked hours away in the city.
Miley sat in the snow, snow boots still hooked in to her skis. Her bottom was starting to freeze even through the layers of pajama pants that she wore underneath of her also hand-me-down snow pants.
Jason was wrong. She wasn’t too little for skiing and she would prove it to him, and to herself. She unlatched her boots, fumbling with the latch, the mittens making it hard to grasp anything. She stood up, wiped the tear stains off her face and the runny nose she had, both from the cold and the crying, then started back up the hill, with her skis in one arm and her one ski pole in the other. The man that had sold the set at his estate sale couldn’t find his late wife’s set of poles, and summed it up to her lending them out and never getting them back.
Miley made it to the top of the hill and turned to face the slope. It seemed steeper now, without Jason here, and she felt a cold chill creep up and on her neck through her knotted up blue scarf. She shivered but set the skis down anyway and stepped into them, locking her feet in place. She could do this. She had grown a lot since she turned 9, both in height and maturity, and she knew she was strong enough to do this. With both hands, she shoved the ski pole down in the ground to her right side and took in some deep breaths.
“God, if you’re there, please don’t let me fall again. I have to show Jason that he’s wrong and I’m more grown up than he thinks. Thank you God, Amen.”
The prayer was short, but sincere.
Miley sought out her brother’s voice, saw he was halfway through the yard and on his way back to her.
With his hands around his mouth, he yelled again, louder this time.
“Miley! Get down from there! I mean it!”
She took a second to take her brother in. Was he worried about her? Or still mad at her? Maybe even more mad now.
“No! I’m going to ski!”
“You better get down or I’m going to tell mom!”
“No you won’t!”
“I’m going to tell her right now!”
Miley swallowed hard, though her mouth was very dry from yelling. Taking in a few deep gulps of frigid air, she pushed off the slope with as much strength as she could muster.
“Miley!” Jason yelled as he started running for the fence.
There seemed to be a lot more distance on the slope now that she wasn’t looking at Jason’s back. She also seemed to be going faster than before too. She felt her body tighten and then couldn’t feel anything. Not even the cold. She held her pole up right in front of her as she slid down the snow packed slope.
Jason still running yelled out, “Turn! Turn now!” and Miley turned.
Miley turned more, as much as she could and felt herself begin to slow down, but a force still pulled her forward directly towards the fence. Instinctively, she put her hands up to protect her face and fell backwards onto the frozen ground, hitting her head on the earth with a loud thump.
Jason made it to her a breath later and dropped to his knees to check his sister for injuries.
“Are you crazy? Are you hurt? Miley! Answer me!”
“I’m fine!” she pushed his arms away and sat up. “I told you I could do it.”
“I see that, but you almost really hurt yourself. Mom would’ve killed me.”
“No she wouldn’t have. She never cares about anyone besides Dad.” She looked down and then out towards the end of the dirt road, as if she might then see her Dad driving towards them. “And he doesn’t care about anyone”.
“I know, Miles, but if you got hurt it would’ve been my fault for leaving you alone. Sometimes you make me so angry because you don’t listen.”
Miley loved it when he used the nickname Miles.
“Mom says that about you, too.”
“Yeah, well she adds more words than that too, but come on, let’s get you up and out of the skis. I just made us some peanut butter sandwiches and I even cut the crust off this time.”
“Last time you threw away the crust and you said you shouldn’t have because you were still hungry. I wish I could call Mommy the same names she calls you but then God will hear me.”
“God can hear your thoughts too, ya know, and I remembered about the crust. So this time, I ate the crust,” he smiled.
Miley thought back to the words she heard her mother say, wondering what they actually meant. It didn’t really matter, though. Her mother would be mad one minute and sweet as pie the next, if their Dad was on his way home. Really, it was just Miley and Jason against the world. Against both parents who didn’t seem to care about them. Against all the people at school that judged their looks and their clothes. Against the snowy slope.
“Come on Miles, let’s go get warm. Mom’s asleep, so we can watch cartoons in the living room.” He pulled her up by her hands, then bent down to unfasten her boots from the skis. He lifted the skis, leaving her to carry the pole to use as a walking stick on the way to the house.
“Thank you for helping me, Jason. I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“It’s ok and I’m sorry for yelling at you too. We’re in this together, right?” he nudged her arm with his elbow.
She looked over her shoulder and back to their ski slope one more time before going in.