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"Suddenly I was in another cold place, thousands of miles and tears away, being held by different and better arms. Another voice was whispering reassurances in my ear. I closed my eyes and gave way, just letting myself be there again."

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12 – Episode

My feet were cold.  It was early February, normally an ugly time of year in Kentucky, compared to other times, that is.  But it’s relative, since no matter which season, Kentucky will always be the most beautiful place in the world to me.  In winter though, the trees are stripped bare and the nearly constant overcast sky turns everything under it varying shades of gray, albeit blue-gray.

This morning was one of those occasional wonderful exceptions.  A snow shower had pushed through during the night, leaving behind a sharp blue sky and a six-inch layer of sparkling fluffy perfection over every exposed surface.  The snow trucks with plows and salt hadn’t made it around to our street yet, so the soft and quiet beauty was undisturbed as I gazed out the window.

School was cancelled but I didn’t know that until after I was already up and dressed.  I wanted to be angry about the loss of a good sleep in.  Couldn’t they have cancelled last night?  But I was grateful for the day off.

The snow apparently was worse at the other end of the county because the roads seemed to be okay around our neighborhood.  It didn’t stop Mom or Hoyt from heading off to work at their normal times.

Just as the morning news was ending the phone rang.  It was Sam wanting to know if I’d like to join in on a sledding expedition to Cherokee Park.  I said yes before I thought it through, and then it was too late to back out.  

I had reservations because as a young girl I’d seen someone get seriously injured on the very same hill we’d be visiting today—an exceptionally steep slope that was tree-free (except for the bottom, of course) with convenient parking just feet away from the launching point.

With worries about safety and the heavy potential for embarrassment clouding my mind I began to rationalize my presence in the party.  What could it be if it wasn’t to risk my life speeding downhill on vehicles with no brakes and steering that was theoretical at best?   Maybe I could just hang back and be in charge of the hot chocolate and administer first aid when (not if) it was needed.  I began making preparations to fulfill that role by warming a large pot of milk and grabbing the really big box of band-aids.  I had it all in order and tucked neatly in my backpack when they pulled in.

I was curious what Goth snow attire would look like.  So it was disappointing to approach a car full of relatively normal looking though well bundled kids.  Except for the random strings of unnaturally colored hair poking out, there really was no essence of their indoor selves to speak of.  Trevor, who was truly scary looking when he was in ‘uniform’, looked completely different, that is to say, appealing, with no makeup or painful looking jewelry to make him otherwise.  I only knew it was him because he was driving and I recognized his car.

As I had suspected from the beginning, he was indeed very handsome when he was normal.  I warned myself that I needed to stop staring, but he caught me and let me know by flashing me a wink and a smile.  That made me lose focus on my approach and I slipped on an icy patch. 

Naturally, I wished it had happened to someone other than me for a variety of reasons, but particularly because it must have looked spectacular—it sure felt that way—and I wished I could have seen it.

One second I was trudging forward, the next I was airborne and sickeningly horizontal with a straight-on view of my boots before I made solid contact with the driveway again.  After the deep impact I actually saw stars (or maybe that was just the disturbed snow floating back to earth).  At any rate, I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t bear to get up and face the car, which was now full of howling hysterics, about three feet above my head, only slightly muffled by the car’s frame. 

Suffering from equal parts mortification and debilitation, I just lay there, pretending to be knocked out.  An uncharitably long time passed until finally Trevor eased his door open, which passed over my face by mere inches, and stuck his head out to examine me—working hard to stifle a smile, but not hard enough in my opinion.  Then he stepped out over me and helped me first to a sitting and then a standing position.  Next he set about removing the crust of snow now clinging to my backside.  When he had dusted my rear longer than I could stand, I thanked him and moved out of his reach to reclaim the backpack and take my place in the peanut gallery that was the back seat.

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I made the sixth addition to the group and the girls in the back seat squashed up to make room for me, though Trevor’s late model car was made in the era before safety (B.S. as I fondly considered it), when four people could ride comfortably side by side in the back of a sedan, as long as having your own seatbelt wasn’t an issue.  The squashing was due mostly to the extra layers of winter wear, not the excess of bodies.

Besides the spontaneous and poorly subdued giggles of remembrance, there were various sounds of derision as I was prompted to explain about the two large thermoses I was lugging in the backpack.  When I wordlessly produced a bottle of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur from a side pocket, the atmosphere and my social standing improved immediately.

They were all about the ‘special’ hot chocolate within two minutes outside of the car, because it felt like fifty degrees below zero as we stood in the parking lot at the top of Mount Cherokee.  Coming clean, I’ll admit that this didn’t truly qualify as underage drinking.  The supply of chocolate liqueur that the bottle once contained had been mostly used up during my mom’s recent “chocolatini” (chocolate martini) phase.  But since I was going more for perception than actual effect, I had filled the empty bottle with leftover hot chocolate, dumping in extra chocolate syrup to darken the liquid, making it appear to be something more than it was.

I was amazed at how much room there was in the trunk of this car.  It actually held three sleds.  I would have bet money against that, but seeing was believing as we gathered around the tail end to help unload and I could see them stacked neatly on their sides, back to back to back.

It was surprising to me that no one else was there at the hill with us.   It was usually a very popular spot on a day like this.  There was another car at the other end of the lot, but it looked like a businessman because he was talking on his cell phone and keying away on this laptop at the same time.  Maybe he was the first to arrive in a ‘team building’ outing with others from his office, and I amused myself with the image of people in business attire without coats, cell phones in hands, streaking down the hill at mach three.

Since there were three sleds and six people, the pairing up seemed like it should have been a straightforward endeavor, but this brought on another round of subtle maneuvering.  I figured it was the perfect time to do some not so subtle maneuvering of my own.

“I’m just here to watch, so one of you lucky contestants (oops, did I say that out loud?) can have a sled to themselves.”

Trevor snickered more loudly than he’d intended, trying to squelch it half way through, unsuccessfully.  Turning to me he quickly added, “Sorry, babe.  Nobody just watches today.” 

I could tell he wanted it to seem like the half laugh and his subsequent comment were related, but in a moment of wordless communication that flowed between us, we both knew they were about separate subjects.

With a sled dragging behind its rope in one of his hands he walked past me and hooked me from behind under my arm with his other hand.  For the second time in a half hour I dropped my backpack in the snow.  

“You’re with me.  Let’s go.” 

It was a command from the Emperor, and there was no other option but to obey.

I remained stoic as I kept pace with my abductor, moving forward to my impending doom.  We walked about twenty yards from the car to the middle of the crest of the hill.  He set the sled down just a few feet back from the precipice and ordered me to sit in front.  For a panic stricken moment I feared he might shove me off for a ride by myself, but apparently he wasn’t quite that evil.  I felt his weight settle in behind and then around me as he tucked his legs around mine and slipped his feet onto the guides in the front of the sled.  Then his arms clamped around my waist and his chin was on my shoulder.  We just sat there for an uneasy moment.

I could feel his breath on the side of my face.

“So, you enjoy watching the contest too?” he asked, punctuating his question with a chuckle.

I was startled by this beginning and made an involuntary move, turning my face in the direction of his voice, trying to see his face. 

Wrong answer.  

My movement placed my cheek squarely against his face.  He couldn’t resist teasing me and pushed back with a huge kiss.  Even though it was cryonic outside, it felt like August inside my coat and under my hat. 

He sighed and whispered in my ear, “But you don’t consider yourself a contestant, do you?”

I tried to lean away from him, but he was all around me and there was nowhere to go.  And then we were flying.   This hill was very steep and quite a long way down.  When the hillside was green it was part of a public golf course.  I wondered how quickly a park ranger might arrive to shoo us away.  Not quickly enough to save me now.

I wouldn’t call the ride pleasurable, by any means, but I didn’t feel as frightened as I expected.  The confidence that constantly radiated from Trevor must have influenced my mood, perhaps transferred more efficiently through the direct contact of his tight hold on me.

I was struck at how Trevor could actually control our direction.  I thought the ability to steer a sled was only an urban legend.

The extra weight of two people increased our momentum and we shot down the hill like a rocket.  I was listening for the sound of our sonic boom.  Instead there was an eerie quiet, broken only by the sound of the slats skimming against the snow, and my embarrassingly loud, out of control breathing.

Trevor could tell I was scared and hugged me tighter, in a move that was meant to be reassuring, I think.  My involuntary response was to stop breathing all together.

Because he could actually steer, we were able to extend our time on the sled considerably.  On this hill, most rides ended quickly in an ‘abandon ship’ style debarking technique using the ground to slow one’s velocity as opposed to having a tree perform that service.

He effortlessly guided us toward and between the trees into no-man’s land and uncharted territory.  I stopped being scared and opted for being amazed.  He had found the cart path that wound its way down to the next fairway and beyond.  Since we had launched from the highest point on the course (and the county, for that matter) our downward momentum combined with his incredible navigation skills turned an ordinary sled ride into something more like a joyride through a snowy, sunlit fairyland.  I leaned back into his chest and breathed deep, surprised to be enjoying the pleasure of the moment.

Suddenly I was in another cold place, thousands of miles and tears away, being held by different and better arms.  Another voice was whispering reassurances in my ear.  I closed my eyes and gave way, just letting myself be there again.  All the external sensations were right:  I was very cold, moving fast in a lonely, glistening white landscape.  Strong arms were tucked around my shape, keeping me warm and secure.  I was feeling safe and vaguely happy, instead of scared, like I should.  All the sensations were there except for the feeling in my heart.  That felt all wrong. 

Instead of being full and bigger than it ever had been, it was empty…at first…then it felt heavy…with the weight of pain.  My eyes snapped open, trying to escape.

We were coming to a slow stop as the fairway leveled to an open plateau.  It was stupid to hope that simply returning to present time, place and company would ward off the emotion I’d just unleashed.  Building to a huge swell, I could feel the wave cresting in my mind, the water surging in my eyes.

Great. 

The last thing I needed was to cry in front of Trevor.  I sniffed, hoping that he would think it was because of the extreme cold.  There was no way I would be able to hide the tears from him though.  I needed time to get control, and get myself together.  It felt like I had come unglued. 

This was my first ‘episode’ in months.  I thought I was all better now.  But the complex combination of sights, sounds and temperature was too similar, like being in the very same car at the very same intersection, getting t-boned all over again.

Time was almost up.  We were drifting very slowly now, just crawling.  Finally we came to rest.  Sitting in silence, perfectly still, it was like we had been painted into a glistening still frame, shimmering in the sun.  I sniffed again.

I went on the offense, trying to buy time.

“Do you mind if we just sit for a minute?’ I whispered, knowing my normal voice would malfunction and expose my very fragile emotional state.

“Whatever you want,” was the quiet response. 

In the back of my mind, I wondered what Trevor trying to be sensitive and comforting would look like.  Somehow it seemed funny to me, especially since my mind constructed the scene with him in full Goth.

Yes.  This was good…exactly what I needed…to laugh and be diverted.  We were quiet and still for a time.  His arms were still around me.  It felt good.  I was freezing and he was wonderfully warm.

I desperately needed to think about something else.  I was inspired with more offense.

 “Why do you tease me so much?”  I asked, still whispering.

He wasn’t ready for that one, I guess.  He shifted uncomfortably, sniffed and cleared his throat. 

Good.  Have some of your own medicine, I thought, although that wasn’t my reason for asking.

“Are you upset with me?” he replied. 

Don’t answer me with a question! Darn it!

“No, I just wonder why,” I countered, still whispering.

“You don’t enjoy it, then?” 

Another question!

 Being peeved about his debriefing style helped me find my voice.

“It just seems like other people might deserve teasing more than I do, sometimes.” 

It came out with a bit more bite than I’d planned.

He laughed quietly and retorted, “So what do you deserve, then?”

I was done with his questions.  This conversation hadn’t taken the direction I’d expected.  How did this end up in me explaining myself when that’s what he was supposed to be doing?  I started over.

“Why do you tease me so much?”

He chuckled and mercifully conceded. 

“I like you…and…I can’t help myself.” 

He sounded a little rueful but I couldn’t tell for sure. 

“You can’t help liking me or teasing me?” I countered right back. 

“Both.”

This was punctuated with a quick, slightly embarrassed sounding laugh.

It was strange having this conversation with a person I couldn’t actually see.  He must have felt the same way because he picked me up and shifted me sideways on his lap.  

Game over.

“Geez!  Are you okay?” he was genuinely alarmed.  The frigid air must have suspended my face’s efforts to dry, unredden, and generally recover itself.  I sniffed involuntarily. 

“I’m fine.  Just cold,” I lied.

“The cold makes you cry?” he asked, incredulous.

“Yeah,” I answered, staring up the hill, trying to hide my face.

“Tell me what’s wrong,” he commanded, very serious now.

It sounded like he was removing his gloves.  Then with bare hands he wiped my face.  I was still looking up and away.  A warm hand made contact with my chin and towed my face back around.  He moved his face in and down to the level of my eyes. 

“What’s making you cry?” 

He was all intensity now.  Even though I could finally see him, it was still strange having this conversation.  He didn’t look like the Trevor I was used to, so it was like confessing to a stranger.

I tried to figure out what I could say that would be true but not embarrassing.  I came up with, “Being on the sled brought back some strong memories…it made me sad…but I’m okay now…really.” 

I forced a weak smile at the end, trying to be convincing.  He knew I’d lost my dad.  Hopefully he’d assume that’s what I was referring to and drop it. 

More wordless communication passed between us as he searched my eyes for the details lacking in my explanation.  He knew there was much more and he knew he wasn’t getting access to any of it.  Sighing in acceptance he leaned in to kiss my forehead. 

Oh no.  Not the forehead!

 I couldn’t deal with that.  Now the wave broke over me and I couldn’t stop the sobs, even as I apologized, “I’m s-sorry…I’m s-s-s-sorry.” 

I retreated from view and into his chest.  He held me tight and patted my back and my head.

“It’s okay.  Everything’s fine.  Just…breathe,” he instructed. 

And I did—that hitched up spastic breathing a little kid does after (and during) big cry.

“Hey…hey.  It’s all right.” 

He spoke calmly, still holding me tight with one hand and rubbing ovals into my back with the other.

It took several minutes of relaxation breathing and a visit to my mental happy place before I could talk again.  From the quasi-privacy of his tear soaked chest I finally said, “Sorry about this.  I’m so ridiculous.” 

I gave a soft laugh, trying to make light of myself.

He leaned back so he could look at me. 

“I’m the one who should be apologizing.  I shouldn’t have forced you into this, and I definitely shouldn’t tease you any more.” 

He said that last part with a grin, trying to lift my mood.  It worked.  I laughed and sucked in another ragged breath.

“That will teach you to take advantage of someone so weak,” I said, weakly.

He laughed and shot back, “You’ve got some serious self esteem issues, little girl.”  Then he added, “And…I don’t think you’re weak,” though not quite sincerely enough to be believable.

“Yeah, just mental,” I clarified for him. 

I pulled away and stood up.  Reaching down to grab his hand I pulled him up as well.

“Do you think we’ll make it up the hill before nightfall?”  I asked jokingly, trying to ease the seriousness from his expression and redirect his thoughts away from my emotional debacle.

He picked up on that and playfully responded, “Maybe.  Now where’s the lift?”

A lift would have been nice because we were very far away from where we started, and very downhill.  We turned in the direction we had come and began tracing our way back up the hillside, following the sled tracks as a guide.

It was quiet as we trudged through the snow.  He didn’t question me any further, being careful not to re-ignite the waterworks, I guessed.  I could sense though, that he was burning with curiosity. 

Well too bad.

Some fifteen minutes later, after crossing over a frozen Beargrass Creek, we broke through the edge of the woods at the bottom of Cherokee Hill.  Sam and Splash were there to greet us.  Their expressions were a mixture of relief and irritation.  The irritation melted away instantly when Sam got close enough to see my face.

“What happened?  Did you get hurt?” 

Oh great.  Now I had to confess to her too? 

Trevor spoke up and said, “She had a bit of an allergy attack, but she’s fine, aren’t you, Ellery?” 

His face was turned away from them as he spoke the last part to me, winking again.  Good thing I wasn’t moving this time—it helped me avoid wiping out again.

I laughed at myself, looking down and away.

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

He took the rope from Sam’s hand and hauled both sleds the rest of the way up the hill.  Splash kept pace with him, no doubt jockeying for the next trip down hill with him. 

Sam studied me for an uncomfortable moment, not satisfied with Trevor’s short story version of events.

“Are you all right?  Tell me what happened.” 

She was sincerely concerned for me. 

Okay, Mom.  

But it felt good to have someone other than my mom caring about me.  I repeated what I had said to Trevor.  She seemed to accept this and didn’t ask the obvious follow-up questions, knowing me well enough to be patient for the rest.  As always, she was cool and collected in her manner, confident that in time she would have her answers.  Sam was more successful at interrogating me than anyone I knew.  So in essence, that made her better at it than my mom.

When we got to the top I made my way to the car and settled myself into the front seat so that I could watch their progress.  It was cold in the car, too, but at least it was out of the wind.  Everybody got a turn with Trevor, though nobody, I noticed, not even Sam, got to take that extended Fairyland ride that I had been favored with.

Trevor and Sam eventually found their way back to the car.  Neither one would let me past to retreat to the backseat.  Instead, they both huddled up on either side of me, ice cream sandwich style.  When I finally got my arms free, I broke into the second thermos of hot chocolate for them.  It was still wonderfully warm and I was pleased and thankful for my own forethought.  So was everyone else.  Apparently, the bottle of Godiva had been completely emptied while Trevor and I were away.  I laughed to myself, enjoying my private joke.

To my extreme surprise, no one else ever came to sled down the hill while we were there.  And the businessman never left, either, which I thought was weird. 

Wouldn’t a latté and booth at Panera be a better option?

 But then, with dawning comprehension, I realized, he wasn’t a businessman at all.  Oh, he was working all right…he was on duty, of course.

Because of the extreme cold, we were done by lunchtime.  As we pulled away, the girls were sounding off restaurant options.  I wondered if Trevor’s lost wager included purchasing my lunch no matter the location, or if it was restricted to school property.  I hoped it was location non-specific.  That would help offset the complications inherent to forgetting to bring money along.

Since it had just crossed my mind, I suggested Panera.  There had been as many suggestions as there were girls in the car, but no specific resolution or consensus.  Trevor was busy driving and added little to the conversation, but I was secretly pleased when the car pulled to a stop and we all got out for lunch.  I was going to get a cup of soup…and that latte, after all!

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