Hannah and George Bordain—despite looking the same—could not have been more different. They shared bright red hair, freckles, almond shaped dark brown eyes, and a pointed chin that dimples when smiling.
“Are you twins?!”
That was a question they’d get asked frequently.
“No,” Hannah would reply pointedly to the woman in the grocery store, the man at the gas station, the elderly couple on the bus. George would giggle. Hannah didn’t waste her time explaining that she was a small sixteen-year-old and George was an overgrown thirteen-year-old.
In fact, George was more like their parents than Hannah. The Bordain’s (minus Hannah) were an athletic bunch. Mom and Dad were taller than skyscrapers, promising George a few more feet over the years. They played tennis in the fall, basketball in the summer, golf in the spring along with lacrosse, and the winters were spent skiing in Snowbird, Utah. Hannah was dragged to every practice, every match, and every event. They eventually gave up on encouraging her to join after seeing the pure misery every swing of a racket or toss of a ball caused her and left her to sit in the car or on a bench somewhere, reading.
“You should give it a shot this year, skiing doesn’t even have to be competitive,” George whined. She rolled her eyes. Nothing has to be competitive, unless you’re a Bordain. It was mid-January, and they were only thirty minutes away from The Inn at Snowbird. There, they would hop out of their silver Chevrolet minivan, pausing only to stretch their limbs before slamming their luggage in their rooms and running for the ski lifts. Hannah had brought five thick books with her and hoped ardently that she wouldn’t finish them before the end of the trip.
“That’s alright. I’d like my eyes to stay in their sockets.”
“Hannah, you have to get over that irrational fear. You wear goggles when you ski, anyways,” her mother chimed from the front seat. It’s true, Hannah knows it’s an irrational fear to lose an eye by falling and landing on a ski stick, but still. The thought always loomed over her like a dark, dangerous cloud.
“Maybe losing an eye wouldn’t hurt,” her father joked as he pulled the car into the inn. “That would be one less eye stuck in a book all day.”
“Yeah!” George yelled excitedly, “One less eye in a book means your other eye has to be hyper-focused on the world around you. You know. In case anything tries to take out your other eye.”
Hannah glared at him. “Knock it off, George.”
“One less eye means you’ll be more focused on spending time with us! Making memories!”
“That’s a good point, George,” their father said, tapping his own pointed chin. “You aren’t making any memories with us, and time is slipping by. When was the last time you tried skiing? When you were six?”
“Ten. When I fell and poked my eye. Where my irrational fear stemmed from.”
“You may find you like it now,” he continued, ignoring her.
“I’d rather jump off a cliff.”
“Cliff-diving is a sport,” George beamed.
Mom unbuckled her seatbelt and twisted around to eye Hannah critically, “How many books did you bring?”
“Three,” Hannah lied.
“Five,” George blurted, “I looked in her suitcase.”
Hannah punched George on the arm, making him wail dramatically.
“How about this…for each slope you ski, you will get the freedom to read one book without interruption. That’s only five slopes.”
“How about this,” her father butted in, George’s eyes twinkling with delight, “You can do five green circle slopes for each book, or you can do one blue square slope and get to read all your books and sit in your room all day, every day. We won’t bother you at all.”
George laughed darkly, “She’ll never manage the blue square slope!”
“She’s still a Bordain,” father contested while wagging a finger, “I think she’ll end up being a natural.”
“A natural train-wreck.”
“This is so unfair,” Hannah huffed, crossing her arms. They had made it to the Inn, and between the crackling of fury shooting off in Hannah’s mind she was trying to work out the pros and cons of the green circle versus the blue square slopes. She knew green circles were the bunny slopes and blue squares were for intermediate skiers. She thought back to when she was ten. The bunny slopes were slow moving, barely any incline. It would take ages to do five of them. How serious were the intermediate ones? Would she be considered intermediate after skiing that one time, six years ago?
Hannah was the only Bordain who stood in line at the counter, holding out her father’s credit card to rent skis and ski poles, goggles, boots, gloves, and a helmet.
“Can I get a packet of Chex Mix as well, please?”
The clerk tossed it over the counter to her, where she gingerly placed it in the inner lined pocket of her heavy blue jacket. The rest of the family were already in the lobby with their gear, stretching and wiping their goggles clean. George was bobbing up and down with anticipation. She looked over at the cozy fireplace streaming waves of heat into the lobby, imagining herself curling up in the worn leather couch with a book.
“Come ooooon!” George bellowed as I fumbled with my rented and abused gear. I wiped at my goggles, realizing the streak across the front was actually a scratch. Did somebody else hit their goggles with a ski pole?
Father beamed brightly at Hannah as they made their way outdoors towards the ski lifts. “So which slopes are we doing?”
“I want to get this over with as soon as possible. Blue square slopes.”
Mom bit her lip nervously. “Honey, maybe we should warm up on the green—”
“Blue square slopes or nothing at all. That was the deal. Then you all leave me alone.”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” George ran excitedly to the ski lifts, followed by mom and dad. Hannah reluctantly followed.
“George, you sit with Hannah on the first lift and explain things to her. Help her with getting her skis on and when to jump off. Got it?”
“We will be in the lift right behind you two, so behave,” their mother warned.
As they hopped on the lift and began their slow ascension into the sky, Hannah’s heart began to beat erratically. This could be my last few moments having two eyes, an intrusive thought poked into her mind. She shoved it back with a sigh, fiddling with her ski sticks.
“Just stay on-piste with your knees bent.”
“Thanks, captain obvious.”
“And it looks steeper than it really is, so don’t chicken out last minute. Or else you’ll be wasting time looping around on the ski lift instead of reading or whatever.”
As we approached, it really did look steep. Noticeably steeper than the bunny slopes she remembered. She watched the two on the lift ahead of them jump off, kicking up speed and sailing smoothly down the trail. If they were intermediate skiers, Hannah was screwed.
“Just keep your knees bent…and…JUMP!”
Hannah felt her heart waiver as she plunged off the seat after her agile brother. He swerved to and fro with ease, while her legs wobbled beneath her. She randomly kicked her ski sticks off the ground, feeling they were doing nothing to aid her balance. They were simply there, awaiting the moment her goggles would slide off her face so they could jab her eyes out.
She did, however, make her way down the hill. Slowly at first, but she bent her knees and found her stride. Maybe her dad was right. Maybe she did have a knack for skiing, she just never gave it a chance. She watched George glide from side to side and copied his motion. Bending her knees to the side and leaning back to swerve. She was flying now, and the fear slowly melted into a pure adrenaline high. Is this what it felt like to finally be a Bordain?
She turned her head to look back, squinting at her parents who jumped off the lift. They were tiny dots behind her. She laughed loudly; her voice caught in the cold wind as she lifted an arm to wave back at them.
“Woah!” She yelled, feeling the packed powder underneath her give way to light, untraveled snow. The panic immediately flooded her again as she realized she was off-piste. She was in the wooded patch next to the trail, and she was dodging trees now. She didn’t know how to stop without crashing, and at the speed she was going crashing meant a few teeth would be rattled loose. It eventually would cut back into the trail, right? She didn’t have time to think more than half a second into the future, dodging trees left and right. She wanted to close her eyes and it be over, but they were frozen open in pure terror. There wasn’t a clear opening back onto the piste, which was growing more and more shielded by a thickening stream of trees.
Hannah caught a glimpse of something moving to her left as she whizzed by, like a giant tree that had uprooted and started chasing her as if to scare her off its property. She shot a quick glance, and pure guttural terror filled her heart and nearly blinded her vision. Much worse than a tree.
And it was chasing her.
“No, no, no!” Tears stung her eyes and fogged the sides of her goggles. Was this really it? Was this how she’d die? Stop it, Hannah. Think! What kind of bear is it?
It was still chasing her. She could see it behind her if she turned her head slightly. It was a black bear. That’s good, right? Grizzlies were the ones who attack…but maybe not? This is, after all, a black bear chasing her. Did she get that backwards? Should she stop skiing and play dead?
Her gut told her no, keep going. Her only shot of survival is to make it back on the trail. She dodged trees with her life, using the ski sticks as leverage to go faster. She could hear twigs snapping behind her, a loud grunting breath behind her growing closer. She turned back to see how close, and then felt a swooshing pain hit the side of her head, knocking her straight on her back and shooting stars into her line of sight. Staring up at the tall pines above her, she saw the low branch that struck her down, inevitably offering her as a hearty meal for this hungry bear.
This is it. I’m done for. She cried, squeezing her eyes shut as the snout of the bear sniffed at her jacket. She waited for death as the bear snuffled at her curiously. She slowly opened one eye and peered down just as the bear lifted his large claw and sliced it across her chest.
She yelped, the downing spewing out of her coat in giant tuffs. The bear stuck his nose in, pulling out the Chex Mix from the lining of her jacket. Hannah let out a nervous half giggle, half cry as the bear sat down, ripping at the crunchy bag with ease and sticking a long black tongue inside the bag.
The sound of a gun going off and loud shouts echoed in her ears, startling the bear into running again, bag in mouth. The last thing Hannah saw before she fainted was a heavy-set man, a rifle slung over his shoulder, peering down at her as his deep voice boomed out, “Do you know how lucky you are?”
Hannah’s mother placed an ice pack gingerly on the growing goose egg by Hannah’s temple where she smacked into the tree limb. She winced as it made contact with her skin and lifted a hand to hold it in place.
“That was the coolest thing I have ever seen,” George gushed, earning a slap on the back of the head by dad and a stern eye from mom. “Ow! What? It was cool. My sister outran a bear.”
“I’m guessing the bear wasn’t part of the blue square package deal then?” I said, smiling at him.
“You can read any book you want from here on out. No more skiing,” dad answered.
“That’s a given, dad. But thanks.”
“You’re a legend now, sister! How did you know what to do?”
“I read about bears. See? Reading isn’t always a bad thing.”
“No,” mom giggled through tears, “no, reading is good. The Inn owners have never seen a black bear go after anybody before.”
“I guess it smelled my Chex Mix. That and…well…I did go off-piste.”
“You should go on the black diamond trail next,” George said, “Maybe you’ll evoke an avalanche.”
“On the bright side, my irrational fear of poking my eyes out with ski sticks doesn’t seem to hold a candle to being mauled to death by black bears.”
Mom hugged me between tears, smothering my face with kisses.
“Oh honey, we will never make you do that again, okay? We are so sorry….”
“I mean, George did say I was a natural train-wreck.”
George smiled smugly. “I did say that.”
“So, I think it’s only fair that you all do one thing that I want to do for a change.”
“Anything,” dad uttered, leaning in to listen.
“Can we all just…hang out? Like sit around the fireplace and talk? Do a puzzle or play cards? Charades? Do we really have to be the brawny Bordain family all the time?”
I watched the faces around me blink at each other, surprised.
“I like puzzles,” George piped up.
“I haven’t done a puzzle in years,” dad said, “George, go up to the front desk and pick out a puzzle.”
“That actually sounds relaxing,” mom sighed dreamily, holding my hand.
“I don’t mind that you guys do activities, but building memories goes both ways. You have to spend time with me too, doing things I like.”
“I agree,” dad said, placing a hand on moms' shoulder, “I’m sorry we’ve been so selfish. You always were a little…bookwormy.”
“Thanks for that,” I laughed. “Funnily enough, I actually enjoyed that bit of skiing before the bear came along.”
George came back, a funny twinkle in his eyes as he held back a crooked smile, the dimple pulling tightly at his chin. “I couldn’t help it,” his voice quivered in delight as he pulled a puzzle box from behind his back. The picture on the front was of a giant black bear, sitting in a lush green wood with three little cubs playing in a creek. “Too soon?”
Mom and dad held their breath as I laughed out loud, “You’re a little turd, you know that? Clear the table off. Let’s get to work.”