Buy the book on Amazon.com
Kai is already family, so there’s no need for the usual filters. He even joins me for dinner with the Craigs – the closest thing I’ve got to meeting the parents – and passes with flying colors. (For John, a deployment in Iraq buys instant acceptance.)
For New Year’s, he takes me to a slick restaurant in Seattle’s Queen Anne district: candlelight dinner followed by a jazz combo. I took just enough lessons during the retro-swing thing that I manage to keep up with him. I recall what he said about those high school musicals, and it shows – he’s a seriously good lead, with a sense of panache and rhythm that you just can’t teach.
But then there’s sex. I am most definitely ready to end my forced celibacy, but Kai seems hesitant. I can’t rush him and I can’t blame him; I was, after all, his best friend’s wife.
My odds, however, are getting much better. Our sporting goods Fezziwig is rather fond of lending his ski cabin to employees – in fact, sees it as an investment, since it allows his workers to try out the products that they’re selling. We are, in fact, completely decked out with demo models from three of Scott’s stores, tooling along the Columbian River Gorge in an SUV, headed for Mt. Hood, Oregon.
Our pilot is Conrad, assistant manager at the Olympia store, and a former member of Kai’s Guard unit. He’s a hybrid of superhero and fratboy – tall, blond, broad-shouldered, square-jawed and boisterous of expression. His girlfriend is Becky, a software engineer bearing no trace of yuppiedom. She seems extraordinarily genuine – which is, I think, a vastly underrated quality. She also projects that rare duality of quiet-but-friendly, which makes you want to tell her things that you wouldn’t tell anyone else. She’d make a great psychiatrist.
Our other passengers are Shari and Ruby, and though I’m feeling guilty for hogging the guest list, I’ve been hoping for just such a chance to bring my two confidantes together. (The original idea was to bring Harry, too, but with the nasty winter weather he’s booked up with work.) Shari’s a veteran skier who will undoubtedly leave us all in her powder, whereas Ruby’s only been twice. I can’t imagine her being truly bad at anything, however, so I’m sure she’ll find a way to keep up.
We park at a large complex, and find that Scott’s cabin is more like an apartment. Given his passion for elegance, I guess this is a little surprising. The place is nice, though, and reaches for that cabinesque feel with an upstairs loft, replete with loggy furniture and stacks of board games. The living room sports a lovely stone fireplace (fueled by actual wooden logs, stacked on the balcony) and a round, radiant blondewood table.
But the real priority, for yours truly, is to track down some privacy, so I duck downstairs and head for the end of the hallway. There I find a master bedroom with a king-size bed. Lest there be claim-jumpers, I flop my suitcase on the center of the bed and hang my ballcap on the outside doorknob. Conrad, toting baggage into the front bedroom, catches me in the act and flashes a knowing grin.
Trying to force the blood back from my face, I return to the living room, which is echoing with sorority chatter. I find Kai coming my way with two glasses of wine, which just about wipes out all of my remaining wishes. After making his delivery, he smiles at something over my head. I turn to find Ruby and Shari leaning over the loft railing like Southern debutantes. Ruby barks like a drill sergeant: “Kai! About face, soldier!”
“Ma’am yes ma’am!” says Kai, and executes a precise military spin.
When I turn back, I find four knockers resting on the railing like flesh-colored water balloons. I respond with a suitably girlish scream.
Ruby and Shari return their shirts to standard civilian position and are about to fill the room with more giggling when they’re drowned out by Kai, who has collapsed on the table, crippled by laughter. I scale his body till I’m riding him like a cowgirl, slapping him on the back.
“What? You loony Sherpa – what!?”
Kai has lost the power of speech, but manages to gesture at a mirror on the back wall, which currently holds a portrait of Ruby and Shari’s puzzled faces.
We’re both pretty knocked out from the drive, so the question of sex isn’t really a question. But this is beginning to worry me, because I don’t want this thing to grow into some intimidating obstacle. So I play the good girl, put on the Presbyterian flannels, but I indulge in as many snuggles as the law will allow, and I certainly like the feel of the parts against which I am rubbing.
The next day is a slow start, thanks mostly to the srawberry pancakes served up by Shari, which have about the same effect as tranquilizer darts. Still, we rouse ourselves in time for six hours of near-perfect skiing, and turn out to be quite a cohesive unit, despite our differing levels of expertise. Shari’s being cautious with her trick knee, so she’s slumming in the intermediates – and treating them like her own private NASCAR tracks. On the fifth run, I fire off the chairlift, duck my head, tuck my knees and hit the straightaways like a one-woman bullet train, then shuss into the lift line to find Shari, not even breathing hard, looking like she could have ordered and consumed a caffe borgia during her wait. On the other hand, with her height and her lime green jester’s hat, she makes a dandy gathering spot.
Conrad surprises no one by being our usual runner-up, with Becky working hard to keep him in her sights. Ruby’s a consistent last, as expected, but her dancer’s grace keeps her from falling, even once, so our waits are not long.
Kai and I are the middle children, and an interesting study in contrast. Either one of us could probably reach the bottom more quickly, but we’ve got other items on our agendas. Kai had lots of lessons as a kid, so he’s after style points, carving lovely esses down the flats, navigating the moguls like a schoolboy coloring inside the lines, knees relaxed, legs neatly parallel. I, meanwhile, am after as much low-level air as I can gather, searching the edges for those little ramp-trails and running the tops of the moguls, trusting that I’ll find a landing spot on the other side. My legs shoot out every which way, like a dog on ice, as I battle for balance, and I add three festive crash-and-burns to my life list. I’m relating one of these over Conrad’s hearty steak dinner as we decompress at the cabin.
“Okay. So I found the snowboarding ramps at the end of the Glen Ridge run?”
“Oh Channy!” says Becky. “You didn’t.”
“You kiddin’ me? I had to. So the first ramp, it felt like I was heading straight up a freakin’ wall. But once I cleared the edge, the momentum pulled me forward and I landed smooth as can be, almost as if I knew what I was doing! The next… object… was a deep drop into a fairly innocent-looking scoop-ramp. My takeoff was fine, but sometime in mid-flight I realized that I was going to land in the middle of a second scoop-ramp, and I freaked. My body went into a flying fetal position, I sluffed the second ramp, flew through the air fully sideways, and managed to land on my ass. Then I caught an edge, which sent me into a spin, like one of those whirling sparklers that you nail to a fencepost. The landing area was about twenty yards long, iced up from traffic, so I slid and slid and slid until I came to a stop right in front of the lift line, where fifty skiers gave me a rousing ovation.”
“Oh!” says Ruby. “That is harsh.”
“Hey, sistah. Any applause is good applause, right?”
“No. This is not what they mean when they say, ‘Break a leg.’”
“However,” says Kai. “The next time, she got it perfect.”
“You went back?” says Shari.
“Oh yeah,” says Conrad. “Look who’s talking, Dale Earnhardt.”
Shari lets out a big whiskey-laugh. “I’m a big girl, honey. You just ain’t gonna beat certain combinations of mass and gravity.”
I take the opening to lift my beer in salute. “To gravity!”
“Without it,” says Kai, “skiing would really suck!”
We wrap up the evening with a board game that requires entirely too much mental acumen. I discover that 1) I am quite good at backwards spelling, and 2) I cannot identify a hummed song to save my life (which, given my profession, is downright shameful). Come the last round, as Ruby and I stand on the brink of victory, I mistake “Battle Hymn of the Republic” for “Swanee.” I also take this to indicate that I have had enough wine for the evening. Conrad wins the game by properly identifying a dachsund that Becky has fashioned from modeling clay.
The evening is a caravan of laughter, and it floats Kai to my cave of seduction, where I intend to get on with the gettin’ on. For a first session, it’s remarkably natural. I spend most of my time on top, as I imagined I would, arranging things as I like them. The sense of control is a potent aphrodisiac, and reminds me of my high school passions with the geek boys. Perhaps Kai is a geek boy – I’d lay money on it – but he has most definitely graduated. It’s this subdermal strata of strength and curiosity, the power you must have in order to accede power. To let the lady be on top. If I’m not careful, I’m going to fall in love with this boy. I feel the surges as he works up to orgasm and stiffens, and I collapse over him, my hair falling to his chest.
“That was beautiful, Kai.”
“Yes, it was.”
The next morning, things are different. Or perhaps it’s just that Kai is in charge of breakfast: omelets with linguisa and caramelized onions. But the feeling of separation is more than culinary. He’s not reacting as a lover should. He’s expending all his energy on the others, playing the host. I’m thinking, No! Come inside with me. Let’s make a separate room, all to ourselves.
On the slopes, he doesn’t seem all that concerned with keeping me in his sights, more apt to drift his own way and meet me at the jester’s hat. Then he starts taking the lift up with others. Two, three months from now, this would be normal – but not the first morning-after. I want to take last night’s warmth and hoard it, drown in it. I catch a lift with Shari, and watch the square of Kai’s jacketed shoulder thirty feet in front of us.
“Were you being active last night, young lady?”
Shari chides me with a laugh. “That’s all I get?”
“It was our first.”
She turns sharply, causing one of her jester tentacles to slap me across the forehead.
“Goddamn, sister. I figured you two were full-blown rabbits by now.”
“Such are the assumptions in a horndog karaoke bar.”
“Amen, sister. Although I guess you do have some serious stuff to work around.”
I’m chewing on the finger of my glove. “Ruby’s told you?”
“Um, yeah. Is that all right?”
“Yeah. It’s fine. I am just about to the end of my sad, sad story.”
“So. Do I ask him why he’s pulling away already?”
She takes a strand of hair and twirls it around a finger. Everybody’s got a thinking device.
“The day-after retreat is common enough – so hunter-gatherer – but this matter of boinking your best friend’s wife is quite the complication. You can apply all the logic you want, but there’s still going to be some guilt. You, however, are the best diplomat I know – Lord knows how you balance all those singerly egos. I’m sure you’ll find a subtle, non-threatening way to bring it up. You need to find out if he’ll trust you enough to talk about these things.”
“Damn!” I say. “You’re thorough.”
“Those who can’t do, give advice. You going left?”
“Groovy. I’m right.”
“Have a nice sprint, Jean-Claude.”
Shari grins. “Hey, some people get laid, others get to be first down the hill.”
We slide off the chair, and I swoop around the lift tower, looking for Sherpas. Alas, he’s already a hundred feet down the hill.
“I don’t think so,” I mutter, pretending I’m Deniro. I shoot down the hill, recalling the field of shallow moguls around the first bend. Kai is going to carve them in loving snake tracks. I’m going straight over the top. And that’s how I’ll catch him.
I’m flying my third mogul, splendidly out of control, when I spot a dark figure, taking a hairpin turn straight into my path. I pivot sideways, hoping to grind my landing, but I catch an edge and topple sideways, taking out Kai with an NHL-level body check. We explode into the next tier of moguls, our skis locked up, and tumble five-and-a-half more times before we come to a frosty stop. I scrape the powder from my face to find a booted foot inches from my nose, and pray to God it’s not mine. Kai groans, and pushes to an elbow to ID his assailant.
“Channy? What the hell?!”
I give a repentant look. “I was trying to catch up, and I got a little… exuberant.”
“Exuberant? More like homicidal!”
He sees that I’m not laughing, and he pats my cheek.
“Hey Channy. I’m kidding.”
“Oh.” I tuck my skis so I can sit up. “I sorta… felt like you were avoiding me.”
“Ah, geez!” he says. “I am so bad at this. I’m not used to being part of a couple. I guess I was hanging back, waiting for instructions.”
I give him a meaningful look. “Why don’t you start by helping me up?”
He grabs both my hands and pulls me to my feet.
“And now you can kiss me, in a sweet, schoolboy fashion.”
Which he does.
“And the rest of the day, you can pretty much worship my every move.”
“Well, not really. But just… stay connected with me. If you’re off in a corner, playing backgammon with Becky, just look my way once in a while, make eye contact. This is sweet, valuable stuff, these beginnings of things. Spend them wisely. Plus, the first day-after makes us chicks very jumpy and vulnerable. Now – wanna ski?”
“Yeah,” he says. But why don’t you go first?”
“Smart boy,” I say, and I’m off.
Photo by MJV