Continued from here.
The cut was long and jagged and ran from the bottom of my ribcage to the top of my snow pants. It was already starting to bruise around the edges. I refused to go the ski patrol so Mark bought a tee shirt from the gift shop, stuffed it with clean snow, and handed it to me. Annoyed, I sat down on an outside bench with a huff and pressed it to my side. Mark sat next to me and tried to lift my shirt up a little so he could see the wound better, but I smacked his hand away.
“Stop poking at me,” I said, and it must have came out a little harsher then I meant it because Mark made a face like I’d spit at him and turned away. I bit my lip. We sat there for a few minutes in silence. The day had turned out to be unusually warm for March and some of the other skiers were walking past us in t-shirts. I was overdressed, having gotten ready in the still frigid morning, and the snowpack felt good against my skin until it started to melt into icy little rivulets that ran down into my base layers and held on. Despite the melt, I held it to my side until the snow inside was all gone, then shook it out and laid it over my knees.
“Ready to go?” I finally asked.
“Why won’t you ever let me help you, Susan?” Mark asked me quietly.
“What?” I blurted out, surprised.
He looked at me for a long moment, and I waited a while before realizing that his patience with my stubbornness was finally wearing out, and that this wasn’t one of those conversations where he was going to let me wiggle my way out. I looked out at the mountains, at the long jagged crest line of the horizon, and thought maybe one of the reasons I loved those peaks so much is that there were plenty of valleys to hide in.
“I know you were heading for the cliff,” Mark said.
I said nothing because it was true and because I didn’t want to make him madder.
“I thought you were going to give it up,” he continued.
“Is this conversation really necessary?” I asked. He stared at me for a long moment.
“Susan, I’m not going to watch you go on a suicide mission so you can prove something to a man who doesn’t even call you on your birthday.”
“But is it untrue?” Mark asked. I recoiled from him and he shut his eyes tightly for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a gentler voice.
“Let’s go get in the line,” I said softly, putting my hand on his shoulder. He didn’t look up.
“Susan, I can’t let you do this. You need to stop pushing yourself so hard.”
“Since when do you make decisions for me?” I spat.
“You can take another run, but it won’t be with me,” Mark said, standing.
“What?” I blurted out, “Just like that?”
“Just like that. You’re being too reckless over something that doesn’t even matter.”
I looked down at my side, at my soaked through shirt, and back up at the mountain. She was glorious today, the sun soaking right into the cracks in the trees and letting little shivers of light track down through the unmarked trails. Far above us now hung the cliff face, the long headwall shimmering white, almost blue. I thought about my father standing on the edge of that cliff as I’d pleaded with him not to drop off it. That day had ended at the hospital with his leg in a cast and his arm in a sling. They said he’d been lucky, and stupid, and dangerously reckless.
“Winners never back down,” he’d said, swallowing the painkillers they’d given him.
The clouds shifted slightly and the cliff was cast in shadow and just like that my bravado faded away. I looked at Mark.
“Let’s go home,” I said softly, and he nodded and stood and swung both pairs of our skis onto his shoulder. For a moment I almost protested, but I let him carry them just this once.
That night we lay on the floor next to the space heater using Elvis as a pillow, a task he submitted to only after a long, hard day of chasing his own tail when he was too tired to complain.
* * *
The last few weeks of the season after that passed without incident. We only got in two more days in the backcountry until the cover was too thin to risk it. On those days, we ranged out far from the cliff and explored the deep gully that ran between the two peaks. Little by little, the snow receded from the bare earth until the final day came.
On the last day of the season we rode the ski lift in t-shirts and our thinnest pairs of snow pants, goggles down to block the brilliant reflection of the sun on the remaining snow. To our right on the other peak, the cliff face seemed like a gaping maw, a dark patch surrounded by budding trees. I watched the cliff until the trees obscured it from view.
“I can’t believe this is it,” Mark said, putting his arm around me. I snuggled towards him.
“It’s not it it, it’s just the end of another season,” I replied.
“Even still. That means summer jobs, which means travelling.”
I was silent, watching the water drip off the shiny metallic edges of my skis down into the trail below us. Mark pulled me in tighter.
“Hey,” he said quietly, “if you asked me to stay, I would stay for you.”
I looked up at him. He pulled his goggles up and smiled.
“I couldn’t ask you to do that for me,” I replied.
“Maybe you should,” he said.
I pulled off my goggles.
“Would you stay?” I asked softly, biting my lip. He nodded yes and leant down to kiss me, his lips soft and slightly cold, and he pulled me in tighter then anyone ever had before.