Unearthly Page 25

“She’s okay, Jim,” Christian calls to the man. Then he locates my skis and poles, which luckily haven’t gone very far.

“Were you wearing a hat?” he asks, finding his own and tugging it back onto his head. He readjusts his goggles on top of it. I shake my head, then reach up and gingerly touch my hair, which has once again rejected the ponytail elastic and hangs down in long strands around my shoulders, clumped with snow.

“No,” I answer. “I, no, I didn’t have a hat.”

“They say ninety percent of your body heat escapes through your head,” he says.

“I’ll try to remember that.”

He lines up my skis in front of me and kneels to help me step into them. I hold on to his shoulder for balance.

“Thanks,” I murmur, looking down at him.

Once again, my hero. And here I’m supposed to be the one saving him.

“No problem,” he says, looking up. His eyes narrow, like he’s studying my face. A snowflake lands on his cheek and melts. His expression changes, as if he suddenly remembered something. He gets up and snaps into his own skis quickly.

“Over that direction there’s a beginner’s run, something not too steep,” he says, pointing behind me. “It’s called Pooh Bear.”

“Oh, great.” My sign is a green circle.

“I’d stay to help but I’m already late for running the race course farther up the mountain,” he says. “Do you think you’ll be okay getting down?”

“Sure,” I say quickly. “I was doing fine on the bunny hill. I didn’t fall once today. Until now, that is. How do you go farther up the mountain?”

“There’s another chair, down there.” He gestures to where, sure enough, another bigger chairlift is humming away, taking people up the side of an impossibly steep-looking rise. “And another one, after that.”

“Crazy,” I say. “We could go all the way to the top.”

“I could. But it’s not for beginners.”

The moment is definitely over.

“Right. Well, thanks again,” I say awkwardly. “For everything.”

“Don’t mention it.” He’s already moving away, skiing his way toward the other chairlift. “See you around, Clara,” he calls over his shoulder.

I watch him ski down to the other chairlift and recline gracefully into the seat when it comes. The chair sways back and forth as it rises through the snowy air up the side of the mountain. I watch until his green jacket disappears.

“Yes, you will,” I whisper.

It’s a big step, our first real conversation. At the thought my chest swells with an emotion so powerful I feel tears prick my eyes. It’s embarrassing.

It’s something like hope.

Chapter 7

Flock Together

Monday around seven thirtyish, I drive to the Pink Garter to meet Angela Zerbino. The theater is completely dark. I knock but no one comes to the door. I get out my cell and then realize that I never got Angela’s phone number. I knock again, harder. The door opens so fast that I jump. A short, wiry-thin woman with long, black hair peers up at me. She looks irritated.

“We’re closed,” she says.

“I’m here to see Angela.”

Her eyebrows shoot up.

“You’re a friend of Angela’s?”

“Uh—”

“Come in,” says the woman, holding the door open.

It’s uncomfortably quiet inside, and it smells like popcorn and sawdust. I look around. An ancient-looking cash register sits on top of a glass snack counter with rows of candy lined up inside. The walls are decorated with framed posters of the theater’s past productions, which are mostly cowboy themed.

“Nice place,” I say, and then I bump into a pole with a velvet rope and nearly send the whole line of them crashing to the floor. I manage to right the pole before it starts a chain reaction. I cringe and look at the woman, who’s watching me with a strange, unreadable expression. She looks like Angela except for the eyes, which are dark brown instead of Angela’s amber color, and she has deep wrinkles around her mouth that make her look older than her body suggests. She reminds me of a Gypsy in one of those old movies.

“I’m Clara Gardner,” I say nervously. “I’m doing a project with Angela for school.”

She nods. I notice that she’s wearing a large gold cross around her neck, the kind that has the body of Jesus draped across it.

“You can wait back here,” she says. “She won’t be long.”

I follow her through an archway into the theater itself. It’s pitch-black. I hear her moving off to one side; then a pool of light appears on the stage.

“Have a seat anywhere,” she says.

Once my eyes adjust, I see that the theater is filled with round tables covered in white tablecloths. I wander over to the nearest one and sit down.

“When do you think Angela might get here?” I ask, but the woman is gone.

I’ve been waiting for maybe five minutes, completely creeped out by this point, when Angela comes bursting through a side door.

“Wow, sorry,” she says. “Orchestra went late.”

“What do you play?”

“Violin.”

It’s easy to imagine her with a violin tucked under her chin, sawing away on some mournful Romanian tune.

“Do you live here?” I ask.

“Yep. In an apartment upstairs.”

“Just your mom and you?”

She studies her hands. “Yes.”

“I don’t live with my dad either,” I say. “Just my mom and brother.”

She kind of examines me for a couple seconds. “Why did you move here?” she asks. She sits down in the chair across from mine and stares at me with solemn honey-colored eyes. “I assume that you didn’t actually burn your old school to the ground.”

“Excuse me?” I say.

She looks at me sympathetically. “That’s the rumor going around today. You mean you didn’t know that your family had to flee California because of your delinquent behavior?”

I’d laugh if I wasn’t so horrified.

“Don’t worry,” she says. “It will blow over. Kay’s rumors always do. I’m impressed by how quickly you were able to get on her bad side.”

“Uh, thanks,” I say, smirking. “And, my obvious delinquency aside, we moved because of my mom. She was getting sick of California. She loves the mountains, and she decided she wanted to raise us somewhere where we couldn’t always see the air we breathed, you know?”

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