Unearthly Page 22

“Yeah, it’s like Highway 380, on the right.”

“It’s 390,” says Jeffrey, his eyes still closed.

Mom pinches the bridge of her nose, blinks a few times, then adjusts her hands on the steering wheel.

“What’s with you today?” I ask.

“Headache. There’s a project for work not coming together as I’d planned.”

“You’re sure working a lot. What kind of project?”

She turns carefully onto Highway 390.

“Now what?” she asks.

I consult the MapQuest directions I printed.

“Just keep going for about five miles until we hit the resort somewhere on the left. We shouldn’t be able to miss it.”

We drive for a few minutes, past restaurants and business areas, a few dude ranches. Suddenly the ski area opens up on one side of us, the mountain rising behind it cut into big white lanes through the trees, the tram running all the way to the top. It looks crazy steep, all of it. Mount Everest kind of steep.

Jeffrey sits up to get a better look.

“That is one wicked mountain,” he says like he can’t wait another minute to toss his body down it. He checks his watch.

“Come on, Mom,” he says. “Do you have to drive like a grandma?”

“Do you need some money?” asks Mom, ignoring his comment. “I gave Clara some money for lessons.”

“I don’t need lessons. I just need to get there sometime in the next millennium.”

“Lay off, doofus,” I say. “We’ll get there when we get there. We’re like less than a mile now.”

“Maybe you should let me out and I could walk. It’d be faster.”

“Both of you, be qu—” Mom starts to say, but then we slide on the ice. She hits the brakes and we drift sideways, picking up speed. Mom and I both scream as the car careens off the road and crashes through a snowbank. We come to a stop at the edge of a small field. She takes a deep, shaky breath.

“Hey, you’re the one who said we’d love the winters here,” I remind her.

“Perfect,” says Jeffrey sarcastically. He unbuckles his seat belt and opens the door. The car is resting in about two feet of snow. He glances at his watch again. “That’s just perfect.”

“What, you have an important meeting you have to get to?” I ask.

He shoots me a disgusted look.

“Oh, I get it,” I say. “You’re meeting up with someone. What’s her name?”

“None of your business.”

Mom sighs and puts the car in reverse. The car moves back about a foot and then the tires spin. She pulls forward and tries again. No luck. We’re stuck. In a snowbank. In plain sight of the ski hill. It really can’t get more humiliating.

“I could get out and push,” says Jeffrey.

“Just wait,” Mom says. “Someone will come.”

Right on cue, a truck pulls off to the side of the road. A guy gets out and tromps through the snow toward us. Mom rolls down the window.

“Well, well, well, what have we here?” he asks.

My mouth falls open. Tucker leans in the window, grinning from ear to ear.

Oh yes, it can get more humiliating.

“Hey, Carrots,” he says. “Jeff.”

He nods to my brother like the two are best buds. Jeffrey nods back. Mom smiles up at him.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” she says. “I’m Maggie Gardner.”

“Tucker Avery,” he says.

“You’re Wendy’s brother.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“We could really use some help,” she says sweetly as I slump down in the seat and wish I was dead.

“Sure thing. Just sit tight.”

He jogs back to his truck and returns with tow cables, which he hooks to the underside of the car quickly, like he’s done this kind of thing a million times before. He gets back in his truck, pulls up behind us, and attaches the cables to his truck. Then he tows us smoothly onto the road. The whole thing takes all of five minutes.

Mom gets out of the car. She gestures for me to do the same. I look at her like she’s crazy, but she persists.

“You need to say thank you,” she says under her breath.

“Mom.”

“Now.”

“All right.” I get out. Tucker is kneeling in the snow unhooking the cable from his truck. He looks up at me and smiles again, revealing a dimple in his left cheek.

“In case you couldn’t tell, that was my rusty truck towing you out of a snowbank,” he says.

“Thank you so much,” says my mom. She looks pointedly at me.

“Yes, thank you,” I say through gritted teeth.

“Don’t mention it,” he says cordially, and in that moment I see that Tucker can be charming when he wants to be.

“And tell Wendy we said hello,” Mom says.

“Will do. Nice to meet you, ma’am.” If he’d been wearing his cowboy hat, he would have tipped it at her. Then he gets back in his truck and drives off without another word.

I look toward the ski hill, the same direction Tucker went, rethinking the whole skiing thing entirely.

But Christian’s a skier, I remind myself. So a-skiing I will go.

“That Tucker seems like a nice young man,” says Mom as we walk back to the car. “How come you’ve never told me about him before?”

Fifteen minutes later I’m standing in the area where students are supposed to meet their instructors, which is teeming with little, screaming kids wearing helmets and goggles. I feel completely out of my element, like an astronaut about to take his first steps on an alien planet. I’m wearing rented skis, rented ski boots that feel weird and tight and make me walk funny, plus every other kind of snow gear my mom was able to convince me to put on. I drew the line at goggles, and I stuck the unflattering wool hat into my jacket pocket, but from the neck down every inch of me is covered and padded. I don’t know if I can move, let alone ski. My instructor, who’s supposed to meet me at nine a.m. sharp, is already five minutes late. I just watched my pain-in-the-butt brother jump on the ski lift like it’s no big deal and carve his way down a few minutes later like he was born on a snowboard, a blond girl by his side. Life sucks. That and my feet are cold.

“Sorry I’m late,” says a rumbly voice from behind me. “I had to drag some Californians out of a snowbank.”

It can’t be true. Fate is not so cruel. I pivot to meet Tucker’s blue eyes.

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