When I was 13, my parents and I spent our first winter vacation away from the Mid-Atlantic. We decided to drive north to the Adirondack's in update New York State, exchanging suburban sprawl for frozen lakes and rivers, as well as snow-covered mountains and woods.
At first, I was a little nervous being out in the open, away from the hustle and bustle I'd grown up in. I think it's called agoraphobia. It took some doing, but I eventually overcame it and found myself enjoying learning new things: skiing, sledding, tobogganing, and ice skating. The only familiar activities were the snowball fights and building snowmen (okay, and snowwomen).
At the end of our first week, I was standing on the balcony outside our hotel room on the second floor. To keep warm, I wore a sweater, winter coat, gloves, winter pants, and winter boots. Our room overlooked the swimming pool (covered with a tarp at that time of year). I saw a boy, maybe a year or two older than myself, sitting at a table near the pool. He was dressed similarly to how I was and was looking up the side of the hotel.
We saw each other. Unlike in romance novels and movies, I didn't immediately fall in love with him and rush down there and throw myself in his arms. Instead, we just looked at each other for a few moments.
He gestured at the chair across the table from him. I glanced behind me at my parents. They were going through local brochures, discussing what to do next.
“Mom? Dad? Would it be okay if I went down to the pool area?” I asked them.
“I hope you're not thinking of jumping in,” Dad said. “Not unless you want to freeze.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course not.”
“We're going to have breakfast and then maybe go horseback riding through the snow,” Dad went on.
“Can I stay near the hotel this morning?” I asked. “If I promise to stay away from the pool?”
Dad looked at Mom. She looked thoughtful for a few moments and then nodded. Dad nodded as well. With any luck, they'd be able to take a break from being parents and enjoy some time alone together.
“All right,” Dad told me. “Though I think you're passing up a chance to have some fun before lunch.”
“Maybe I'll have some fun here at the hotel,” I said. “There might even be kids my age or almost my age. I could hang out with them.”
“Sounds good,” Mom told me. “We should be back by lunchtime. If not, you're on your own until dinnertime.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, giving her a hug. “Thanks, Dad.” And gave him a hug.
After breakfast, I went outside and headed for the pool area.
He's probably given up waiting, I thought. I mean, if I were a boy and had invited a girl to join me, would I wait this long?
But he was still there at the same table.
“Hi,” I said.
“I was wondering what took you so long,” he said.
“Breakfast and getting permission from my parents,” I said.
“Ah,” he said with a nod. “My parents and my sister Patrice have decided to go skiing. Would you be interested in skiing?”
“Actually, I prefer sledding, to be honest,” I said.
“Or sledding,” he amended. “I believe they have sleds that hotel guests can borrow.” He paused and smiled. “My name is Claude.” It sounded like he said “Clode” instead of “Clod”.
I found myself smiling back. “Abbey. Short for Abigail.”
“Does this mean you have the morning free?” he asked.
I nodded. “And maybe the afternoon as well, if my parents don't return from horseback riding before lunch.”
“Tres bien,” he said and stood up. “Apres toi?”
I gave him a puzzled look.
“After you?” he asked in English. “Or how do you Americans say it?”
“Ladies first,” I said. “Where do we find the gondola ride to the top of the mountain?”
“I'll show you,” Claude said.
It wasn't far from the hotel. So I wasn't exactly breaking my promise to my parents. Maybe they'd forgive me this time. I hoped so.
Near the bottom of the nearest mountain was a gondola station. The gondola itself was completely enclosed by a clear plastic shell, I was happy to see. I wasn't too keen on riding on the ones where it was open in front of you and your feet dangled in the empty space below the seat.
The ride to the top was actually enjoyable. When we arrived at the gondola station there, we stepped out of the gondola and could feel the bitter cold wind blowing in our faces. There was a large building that, Claude explained, included a restaurant and a gift shop.
Rather than head towards it, though, he led me to an overlook platform next to a totem pole. The pole, he also explained, had been a gift of friendship from a local Native tribe. To celebrate a hundred years of unbroken friendship. A line of flapping U.S. flags stretched for about a hundred feet uphill from the gondola station.
We stepped onto the overlook platform. From there, we could not only see the snow-covered mountains all around us but also the snow-covered slope back down the way we'd come. The hotel looked so much smaller. Probably like looking down from a tall building like the Empire State Building in New York City.
“You said something about sleds,” I reminded Claude.
“I did, didn't I?” he said. “This way.”
We left the overlook platform and headed towards where skiers started their descent from the mountaintop. Most just pulled on their ski goggles and headed downslope, while the more adventurous ones chose to jump off of the ski jump. Claude led me to an area beyond the ski jump where sledders, some alone, some in twos or threes, jumped on their sleds and raced downslope. We could both hear the happy yells of those heading down the mountainside.
“There's nothing to be scared of,” Claude said as if sensing my momentary fear.
“As long we stick together, I'll probably be just fine,” I said.
“They do have two-person sleds,” he said.
“Excellent,” I said.
Rather than lying down on the sled as it lay, a third over the edge of the starting area, the rest flat on snow-covered ground, we sat upright. Claude sat in front, me behind, with my arms around his waist.
“Ready?” he asked me.
Not really, I thought. But I nodded anyway.
“Goggles on,” he said, putting on his.
I put on mine.
Moments later, the sled dipped forward. At first, it gained speed slowly. But the further downslope we went, the faster we traveled. The wind was stronger now than it had been at the gondola station. We swerved around the slower skiers, sometimes making me think we were going to tip over and fall into the snow. But we stayed upright all the way down. Just in time, Claude threw his weight to his right and the sled turned that way, skidding to a stop.
He pumped his fist and looked like he wanted to do it all over again. “That was amazing? It is, of course, better in Quebec, but still –” Claude paused and looked at me with concern. “Abbey? Are you all right?”
“I'm fine, Claude,” I said. “Just let me catch my breath. I've never done this before.”
Claude stared at me. “Not even once?”
I shook my head. “I come from suburban sprawl. I've never even gone camping before. Not only that, we almost never get snow where I live.”
“Yet you still chose to go sledding with me,” he said. “That was brave of you.”
“Brave?” I said. “Scared is more like it.”
“If you were scared, you would have stayed down here and not traveled up to the mountaintop with me,” he said.
“That was easier than the sled ride down,” I said. “Maybe some coffee or hot chocolate would help relax me.”
“Back to the hotel, then,” Claude said after we carried the sled to the machine that carried sleds back up the mountainside.
“Thank you for being understanding,” I said as we walked back to the hotel. “Some guys wouldn't have been so sympathetic.”
“Are all men in America so blind and uncaring?” he asked.
“Probably not all of them,” I said. “But, then again, they aren't anything like you.”
He smiled. “Merci, ma amie. You could teach them much about sympathy, Abbey.”
“So could you,” I said.
That was several years ago. I was 17 now and a senior in high school. Next year, if all went well, I would be a freshman in college. My grades weren't great, but my parents thought that they were good enough.
Yet I couldn't stop thinking about Claude. We'd exchanged email addresses before our families headed our separate ways back home. But after a year, he stopped sending any messages to me. Had I said something that offended him? Or had he expected our friendship to evolve into something more serious, whereas I was more comfortable just being friends?
When we returned to the Adirondack's and the same hotel we stayed at when I was 13, I was hopeful that I'd see Claude again at the table near the swimming pool. I wondered what he'd look like. Probably even better looking than before. Maybe half a foot or a foot taller than I was. A beard or at least a mustache? Short or long hair?
But there was no one at the poolside table.
I sat down at it, dejected. I knew I shouldn't have hoped for so much. After all, people can change quite a bit in several years. Maybe he didn't even care for me anymore. Maybe he'd found a new girl. Maybe he'd gotten married to her.
I looked around to see a waiter from the hotel restaurant. “You are Abbey Peters?”
“One of the other guests asked me if you and your parents were staying here again this winter,” the waiter went on. “I couldn't promise anything, but I said I would try to locate you if I could.”
“Is his name Claude?” I asked.
The waiter shook his head. “Her name is Monique. She said that she remembered meeting you here several years ago.”
I looked puzzled. “I don't know anyone named Monique. Are you sure that she mentioned me by name?”
The waiter nodded. “Oh, yes. She said that you lived in Virginia Beach with your parents.”
I hadn't told anyone here but Claude about that. How had Monique, whoever she was, found out? Had Claude told her? It wasn't as if I'd told him to keep it a secret from any of his friends. Maybe Monique was his current girlfriend.
“Do you wish to meet her or not?” the waiter went on.
“I suppose it can't hurt,” I said with a sigh. “All right. Show me to her table.”
The restaurant was half-full. The waiter led me to a table near the wall-sized window that overlooked the grass-covered “back yard” of the hotel. I couldn't remember seeing that side of the hotel before. Sitting at the table was a young woman about my own age. She had long dark hair and her dark eyes looked familiar somehow. She was wearing a pale blue sweater, dark blue winter pants, and off-white boots. She was beautiful, whereas I was just middling pretty at best.
She stood up, held out one hand, and said in a slightly deeper voice than I expected, “Hello, Miss Peters. My name is Monique Benoit.”
“Pleased to meet you,” I said. “Please call me Abbey.”
She gestured that we should sit down. We did so.
“I hope I'm not here under false pretenses,” I went on. “I don't know anyone named Monique. Benoit or otherwise.”
“But you knew a mutual friend,” she said. “Claude St. Georges.”
“I never knew his last name,” I said.
She nodded. “I know. He told me he didn't tell you what it was. A lapse, but perhaps not an important one.”
“Please,” I said. “Please tell me he's doing all right. I haven't heard from him in a few years. I was worried – I was worried something terrible had happened to him.”
“He's doing just fine,” she said. “He was just – ah – rather busy taking care of things. Things that he couldn't postpone any longer.”
“And he sent you here to meet me and speak with me?” I asked.
Monique nodded and pursed her lips. “Life was difficult for him. There were obstacles that he couldn't overcome. His parents separated and eventually divorced each other.”
“I'm sorry to hear that,” I said.
She smiled a little. “Still as sympathetic as ever.”
“So was he,” I said.
“True,” she said and sighed. “He did leave one thing for me to tell you since he didn't feel he could do it himself.”
“Couldn't he trust me?” I asked. “He trusted me when we were younger. Why not now?”
“Things are different,” Monique said. “He is different. He isn't the same person you once knew.”
“I'm not sure I understand,” I said.
She tilted her head to one side. “Perhaps we could go for another sled ride. Maybe that would clarify things.”
“We?” I repeated. “I've never been on a sled with you before.”
“No,” she said. “But you did before. When I was still Claude St. Georges.”
I stared at her, overwhelmed by what had lain hidden in plain sight until now.
Monique nodded. “It's me. Well, not quite the same me. But still me deep down inside. I hope that makes sense to you.”
Unable to look at her face, I looked down at her hands instead, where they lay, one on top of the other, on the tabletop in front of her. They weren't the strong hands that I remembered Claude having. They were slender, more like my own. No rings on any of her fingers.
“I'm sorry if it comes as a shock, Abbey,” she said. “But I couldn't continue as I was. I had to make a change. A fairly serious one. One that destroyed the path back to who I was and only permitted me to be the person I had become.”
I felt tears start in my eyes. Yes, me, the girl who almost never cried.
“Did you ever find someone else?” I asked, hoping I didn't sound hopelessly mundane.
Monique shook her head. “I did try, but I kept thinking about you. About the day we spent together here. I wanted to return, but it took some time before I could make myself do it. I'm not quite as brave as I seemed all those years ago. Finally, I made the preparations – room reservation, train ticket, and so on – took a deep breath and jumped.” She reached across the table and touched my fingers with hers. “Is it possible for us to continue being friends? Or did I destroy that too?”
“Friends,” I repeated. “I don't know.”
“Just casual friendship,” she said. “Nothing romantic. Would that be sufficient for you?”
I thought about it. Claude might be gone for good, but some part of him still remained inside Monique. Maybe, like she had done, I could find a new path forward and look at the world around me with different eyes.
I nodded. “Are you still serious about that sled ride?”
“I'm willing if you are,” she said. “But you don't have to force yourself.”
I took a deep breath, let it out. “Let's do it. Before I change my mind.”
At the mountaintop, the conditions were similar to several years ago, and the view hadn't changed, despite climate change. People were still arriving by gondola, and heading back downslope either on skis or on sleds. Even the happy yells were almost the same as before.
Monique chose a two-person sled, just as Claude had. She placed it on the snow-covered ground. “Do you want to sit in front, Abbey?”
I shook my head. “Let's do it like last time, Monique.”
Her eyes widened with happiness when she heard me say her name. Her new name. The name she would be known by for the rest of her life.
She nodded and we sat down on the sled, my arms around her waist.
“Ready?” she asked.
“Ready,” I said.
The sled dipped forward, and the wind blew in our faces as the sled gained speed. But this time we could both be heard yelling and screaming, maybe with some fear, but definitely with delight. We reached the bottom in what felt like no time at all.
Monique turned to me. “Want to do it again?”
I nodded. “One thing first, though. Something that's been postponed for a long time.”
She gave me a look but said nothing.
I put my hands on both sides of her face. “Something I wish I'd done several years ago. If it's okay with you?”
She nodded and we kissed. Her arms wrapped around my waist, holding me as tight as possible as we kissed. The kiss seemed to last forever but probably wasn't more than a minute or two.
When the kiss ended, we were both smiling.
“Now I'm ready to head to the top again, Monique,” I said.
“Moi aussi, Abbey,” she said.
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Wow! I really enjoyed this story!! Great job:) It reminded me of the movies that I LOVE to watch so this was super fun to read!!! Also, I was wondering if you received my other responses. I just haven’t heard from you for a while so I wanted to make sure you’re alright! Story writing always comes first though so I understand!
Catching up on messages again. Fell further behind than I wanted to. But the rest break did help. I'm all right. Not all the time, but sometimes. My emotions can sometimes be a bit like a roller-coaster (unlike the stereotypical male, I do cry a lot sometimes; especially when I feel like I'm in an unpleasant situation), and then between not sleeping well and pains in my lower left leg and ankle, it just was easier to stay away. Until I realized that I did miss being here, and hiding like a turtle pulling its head into its shell wasn't ...
So glad you are okay! It's great to hear from you again! I was starting to get worried because I know that you've said you have had problems with your emotions before. Life has taken a toll on a lot of people these days so it's good to hear that you were able to get back on your feet! There's no shame in crying sometimes, trust me. I'd like to hear how to balance creative writing with answering responses as well, haha. I'm not too sure how to and it kind of sounds like we have the same problem with keeping up with both. Maybe we could answer...
I'm okay (for the most part). I just wish the urge to hide from view weren't so strong sometimes. If you put me on stage by myself, I'd probably run off stage and hide somewhere backstage. I don't know how my older brothers and my mother do it. My middle brother likes to act in plays; my oldest brother likes to perform live with his bands; and my mother seems to be okay as long as she's in a choir or chorus. I just get nervous and have to try to pretend that I'm not nervous. When I played piano by myself in an office building lobby for...
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Hi Philip, This is a cute coming-of-age story. :) I spotted one typo..."the Adirondack's in *update* New York State." should be upstate. I don't really have much critique on the style, except there was one sentence I didn't understand, "Rather than lying down on the sled as it lay, a third over the edge of the starting area, the rest flat on snow ground, we sat upright." I also wondered more about Claude's motivations for the change, and whether Monique might be able to explain that better. But overall it was a light-hearted, sweet sto...
I'm glad you liked it. Oops. Another typo to fix. Thanks for spotting it and letting me know. I'll go change it in my offline version now. Brb. Fixed it. Again, thank you for telling me about it. If you read my response to the previous responder's message, I explained as best I could the inspiration and location that I borrowed from (it's not in upstate New York in real life, as far as I know). I was trying to describe (and not quite getting it right) what it's like to be sitting on a sled at the top edge of a slope. Where the top ...