Alex O’Hara doesn’t ski. Growing up in St. Lawrence with an overabundance of snow every year, one would think she would. But skiing is a privilege Alex didn’t grow up with. The closest thing to skiing Alex did was duct taping two pieces of trash can lids to her feet and walking around West Parishville State Forest when she was ten years old. She ended up almost getting frost bite on her toes and got a whooping from her dad for being out past dark.
Alex shakes the thought of St. Lawrence from her head as she takes a sip of her coffee and takes in her surroundings. Rich, walnut floors. Vaulted ceilings. Leather sofas. Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore. She isn’t supposed to be here in this bed and breakfast chalet in Jay Peak. She’s supposed to be on the coast of Maine listening to the seagulls’ mew. She’s always wanted to hear a seagull in real life.
“More coffee, Sarah?” Rebecca asks Alex as she walks over to the big leather couch Alex is sitting on in front of the fireplace. Alex needs to remember Sarah is the name she gave Rebecca when she knocked on the door last night at 1 am. Her old Chevy truck started bucking on route 55 exactly four hours into her drive and she pulled into the closest bed and breakfast she could find. She had knocked on the large door, hoping they had a vacancy, realizing she couldn’t afford even a closet in the place. Rebecca, a matronly woman in her 60s, had let her in without even asking for a credit card or anything. She had led her right up to their only vacant room and told her breakfast was at 8. Alex still has no idea what this place costs per night.
“No, thanks,” Alex says, trying to give her best smile to Rebecca. She looks out of the floor to ceiling windows overlooking white blankets of snow. “Do you know when it’s supposed to slow down out there? I really do need to tend to my truck and get on my way,” she says as politely as she can. She can’t afford to stay here for one more night. She can’t afford to stay here for last night.
“Supposed to be a couple more inches,” Rebecca says looking out of the window past Alex’s head. Alex winces at this news. A couple more inches? How will she be able to fix her truck in all of this snow? She has $350 to her name. She needs to get to Portland. The coast. A fresh start where no one knows her. She saw an ad for a waitress at a local diner right on the water and she has an interview tomorrow at noon.
“Do you need some ice or anything for your eye?” Rebecca asks looking worried. Touching her face, Alex almost forgot her black eye was there for a minute. Almost. If only Rebecca could see what’s beneath her clothes. She didn’t have enough ice packs in the chalet to heal her bruises.
“You’ve done enough already. Really,” Alex says blushing just as two guests come downstairs. Saved.
“Perfect skiing weather isn’t it, Don?” a heavily make upped woman says to what must be her husband. The woman is wearing a white one-piece nylon outfit from head to toe with brown fur around the neck. Alex is starting to feel like a rock in a diamond store.
“Perfect, darling,” Don says as he gives the woman a kiss and sits down on the couch adjacent to Alex. He opens up a newspaper, crossing his legs over one another like Alex’s grandfather used to do. Alex shifts in her chair awkwardly as she sees the couple notice her. They both look at her uncomfortably and smile. Alex pretends to inspect her coffee and look outside so she doesn’t have to converse with these aliens.
“Good morning,” the woman says to Rebecca as she approaches her.
“Coffee?” Rebecca asks them.
“Can I get a skinny latte, no foam with coconut milk?” the woman asks as she gets out a laptop from her bag and opens it up onto her lap.
“Certainly,” Rebecca says.
Skinny latte? What is this, Starbucks? Alex shakes her head and looks out of the window at the snow. She can feel Don and his wife’s side eyes burning into her. She wishes she was wearing something other then her ripped jeans and button-down flannel, but when she hastily packed yesterday when Paul left to get more cigarettes, fashion wasn’t on her mind. She wonders what Paul is doing right now. He’s probably called her a hundred times, but that doesn’t matter. She threw her phone out of the window when she passed through Franklin. Maybe he went over to her mom’s house to see if she went there again like she usually does when this happens. Or maybe he’s just waiting for her on the couch. Drinking his 40. Waiting. Drinking. Waiting.
“Breakfast is in ten minutes,” Rebecca announces to the room just as two guys who look to be in their 20s walk into the room. They look like they should be on the cover of a snowboard magazine.
“Gnarly,” the tallest one says as he walks over to the fire and lifts his hands to the air in a stretch. He looks around the room, taking in his surroundings and then looks down at Alex.
“Hey,” he says as he puts his hand out in her direction. “I’m Matt.”
“Sarah,” Alex says as she reaches her hand out to him and shakes it. His handshake is strong and confident. He smiles and looks at her face a little too long.
“You have a fall out there?” he asks pointing his finger up at his eye. Alex smiles, already liking Matt for giving her an excuse for her black eye.
“Oh yea, I’m a beginner,” she says as she touches her eye again. “It’s a dangerous sport!”
“Yeah, everyone falls a lot in the beginning,” Matt replies. “Just gotta keep at it!” He winks at her and walks back over to his friend. Keep back at it? What kind of time do these people have that they can practice falling down a hill every day? She’s starting to get resentful of these guests and wants to fix her truck. She watches as Rebecca finishes setting out trays of scrambled eggs, croissants, bacon, toast, and yogurt parfaits. Alex’s mouth waters. She hasn’t had a decent meal in months. Paul’s idea of cooking is picking up McDonalds. And she just hasn’t had time to cook. Waitressing double shifts sometimes four or five times a week makes her a zombie. But someone has to pay the rent. Paul hasn’t worked in three years. He broke his foot at a construction site and still claims he has pain. But she knows it’s just his excuse to drink and play video games all day.
“I may go outside to work on my truck,” Alex says to Rebecca as she watches the guests serve themselves breakfast.
“Nothing to eat?” Rebecca asks her, looking more worried than before. “It’s still snowing. May be hard to get a look at it in this weather.”
“I really need to get on the road,” Alex says, getting up from her chair. She needs to leave this room before she feels even more uncomfortable. She heads up to her room and puts on her boots, heavy coat, hat, and gloves. She grabs her duffle bag and heads downstairs.
“Need me to take a look?” Matt says as he sees her walk towards the door. “Rebecca told me your truck is acting up and I know a thing or two about cars.” Alex sighs in relief. She could use a little help.
“Sure,” she says, handing him the keys. She sits down in the foyer, not wanting to go back in the grand room with the other guests.
About ten minutes later, Matt comes back in with a grin on his face. “All set,” he says as he takes his hat and gloves off and stomps his snowy boots on the door mat.
“All set?” she asks stunned.
“Yea, I gave you a jump start. Looks like you may need a new battery. Are you going far? I just wouldn’t turn your truck off again until you get to a shop.” Alex thinks about it. Portland is about a four-hour drive. She could make it there without stopping.
“Not too far,” she lies. Rebecca walks into the foyer with a paper bag in her hand.
“I made you a bag of food to take with you,” she says, handing Alex the bag. Surprised at this kind gesture, Alex takes the bag from her, not sure how to react.
“I need to head out right away while my car is still running,” Alex says looking at Matt and Rebecca’s concerned faces. “What do I owe you?” she asks Rebecca.
Rebecca smiles and opens the door for Alex. “Just leave us a good review online when you get to where you’re going,” she says, “That’s all the payment I ask.” Alex is dumbfounded by this kind act. She isn’t used to people doing nice things for her. Ever.
“Are you sure?” she asks, feeling tears sting her eyes.
“Hurry up,” Rebecca says as she leads Alex towards the door. “I would hate for your truck to clonk out on you again.”
Alex walks outside in the frigid air. Her truck may or may not break down again on the way to Portland. But she still has $350. And now she has breakfast. She waves to Rebecca and Matt as she slowly pulls her Chevy through the snow and out of the driveway. She can hear the seagulls already calling her name.