“Sometimes I wonder which of us is more crazy,” she said through gritted teeth, the cold snowflakes making her cheeks feel thick and numb.
“Do you really?” Casper asked curiously.
She let out a breath that was almost a laugh, the air puffing out white in front of her. She gazed over her feet at the thirty-foot drop below. A few skiers zoomed by beneath them, barely weaving as they rocketed down the mountain. Camille shuffled in the chair and Casper pulled his arm around her shoulder and leaned his head into hers. Their puffy jackets crinkled together as the cable over their heads shuddered. Camille imagined her knuckles beneath her thick gloves were white with tension. “What’s wrong with the bunny hill?” she grumbled.
“We’re not bunnies,” he said softly, then nipped at her ear. “Well, not at the moment…” she felt him grin against her temple, and she flushed.
“Ha ha,” she said sarcastically. The chairs in front of them in the line dipped over the last crest and disappeared from view.
“Ready?” He pulled his skis from the foot bar so they hung over open air.
Her stomach rose in her chest, feeling incredibly empty, but she breathed, “ready.”
She freed her skis and suddenly their chair was at the top. Casper raised the cage over their heads and she scooted to the edge of her seat. Her skis hit the ice-packed snow and she let her knees become springs as she pushed off. She wobbled as she slid down, half afraid she wouldn’t be quick enough and the chair would swing round and bang her in the back of the head. Luckily, she slowed to a stop well out of harm’s way. Casper grinned as he came up beside her. “You didn’t fall!” he said approvingly.
She scowled. “Was I supposed to?”
He just laughed and gazed around the mountaintop. A group of snowboarders sat with their butts in the snow, their boards facing a slope. A young family was checking helmets and mittens, the parents bickering as they herded the chaos. An athletic-looking couple streaked past them off the chair lift and made directly for the hill without slowing. They dipped over the edge of the black diamond, no hesitation.
“That one looks fun,” Caper mused, watching them.
“You’re joking,” she said aghast.
“You know I can fly, right?”
“Bully for you,” she said, but couldn’t fight the smile at her lips. She loved their back-and-forths. And she loved even more that she knew how this would end. Casper seemed to sense her thoughts and nodded toward the green-marked trail.
“This way, then.”
“Don’t let me stop you,” she insisted, hands raised. “Please, take the Mount Doom route. I’ll gladly take the easy one and meet you at the bottom.” She gulped as they walk-skied to the edge. The trail still seemed rather steep for one labelled green.
“If that one is Mount Doom,” Casper wondered, “then is this the Shire?”
“Where’s the Prancing Pony when you need it?”
“You mean the Green Dragon,” she corrected primly.
“Nerd,” he snorted, then took her gloved hand in his.
She really could use a drink right about now. “We can’t hold hands while skiing,” she pointed out.
“How do you know?” he objected. “You’ve never been.”
She stuck out her tongue and he released her hand dramatically. Then without further delay the two of them tipped over the edge.
Camille ‘pizza-d’ the entire way down. Casper was patient as ever, shouting out pointers as he weaved slowly down the mountain. “Bend your knees more!” He called. “Veer left! Straighten your skis! Watch out for that icy patch!” The hill was full of fresh powder, but that didn’t make the prospect of falling any more appealing.
Camille stubbornly continued her painful, Zamboni-styled descent.
“Try scowling less!” he offered helpfully.
He pretended to look wounded, a hand to his heart. “Happy face, happy times.”
She rolled her eyes. He removed his toque from his head and bowed majestically before turning gracefully, his skis an extension of his body.
Finally, miraculously, they reached the bottom. Camille found the nearest bench and collapsed into it. Despite the cold, her back and palms were drenched in sweat. Her calves, thighs and shoulders all ached and trembled. Casper sat next to her, his mood undampened. “What do you think?”
“What do I think?” she posed the question sardonically. “Sauna. Hot tub. Hot toddy. That’s what I think.”
He flashed a grin. “Lunch first, I think.”
They leaned their skis on a rack outside, then tromped into the lodge to shed their winter layers. Casper thumped in his ski boots to the cafeteria line while Camille picked out a spot amongst the crowd. A large fireplace crackled at the end of the noisy hall, and the entire wall facing the mountainside was set with floor-to-ceiling panes of glass. It was a breathtaking view from where she stood. The people on the mountain were mere dots, winding down and out of sight.
Camille slid into a chair at the end of a long table. The couple sitting a few chairs down gave her a smile before returning to their juice boxes and saran-wrapped sandwiches.
She watched Casper’s progress through the cafeteria line, feeling content. A few minutes later, he slammed down a red plastic tray piled high with hot fries coated in thick gravy and dripping with large cheese curds.
“No ketchup?” she asked.
He gaped at her. “Excuse me?”
“Ketchup,” she said, imitating the shape of a bottle with her hands. “You know: red, made with tomatoes, tasty on fries… ever heard of it?”
He just stared.
“What?” she demanded.
“My dear woman,” Casper shook his head resolutely, “this dish, this precious meal, this sweet nectar-of-the-you-know-whats, is a Canadian delicacy. One does not simply add ketchup.”
“I know what it is–” she began, but he interrupted with an upraised, instructional finger.
“This is a poutine,” he said carefully, counting the ingredients on his hand. “Fries. Gravy. Cheese. That’s it.”
Camille turned to the couple at the end of the table as if to plead for their help. The two men gave her friendly smiles. The first man said, in a deeply Canadian accent, “your friend is right.” He shrugged apologetically.
“No,” the other man shook his head, “she is correct. Everything is better with ketchup.”
“Grounds for divorce,” the other muttered with a disappointed shake of the head.
Eventually, they came to the conclusion that ketchup could be had on the side, on a separate paper plate. Every time Camille dipped a fry and gave a satisfied smack of her lips, Casper tutted in dismay.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Camille gazed wonderingly at the white mountain framed by snow-tipped pines, heavily weighted by last night’s fresh snowfall.
“Better than Australia?” Casper asked casually, piling their napkins carefully on the tray and not meeting her gaze.
“Casper,” she said seriously, tipping his chin so his brown eyes met hers, “I don’t care where we are, so long as you’re with me.”
He looked pained. “Look, I–“
There was a sudden, loud BOOM as the world exploded around them. Glass shattered and debris rained down from every direction. The ground shook. Camille gasped as her exposed skin was hit with a thousand tiny shards of glass.
“NO!” Casper roared, his voice bellowing and furious. “ANDRIEL!”
Camille saw a flash of black and sapphire and felt a tightness around her chest. There were horrible screams. She could smell blood and… smoke. She blinked up at the shattered ceiling. The air was very cold, then.
Her vision tunneled, but before that last light vanished, she felt Casper’s warmth next to her.
“This way,” he beckoned her soul, coaxing it into his arms. Again, she felt herself ripped from her body as they shot out of the material plane.
Vaguely, Camille wondered if the couple next to them had survived. She’d never even asked their names…