Stroke of Luck
Anita's uncle ran a ski lodge in Stowe Vermont and Anita invited her best friend Jill along with their boyfriends Jeff and Mike for a weekend of fun.
They called Ben "The third" because he was the third (less popular) member of The Jeff-Mike-Ben Trio. The three had been friends for years and they played football, basketball and baseball together which cemented their friendship bond.
Ben often tagged along on various outings even if he was the fifth wheel among the two couples. He hadn't been as successful in the dating department as the others, cursed by the 'nice guy' label that forever cast him as the sidekick and not the romantic lead.
Ben drove to the Ski Lodge on his own since there wasn't a whole lot of room in Mike's over-packed SUV. As usual, Ben felt like the odd man out when he arrived at the comfortable and scenic lodge to find the two couples enjoying their romantic dating escape even with Anita's Uncle Mort keeping an eye on things.
The girls were assigned to one room and the three guys were bunking together in another space but Ben knew that was no guarantee against hanky-panky even with Uncle Mort in charge.
The five friends enjoyed some night skiing on the slopes and then returned to the lodge to enjoy the public hot tub and indoor heated swimming pool – quite an adjustment from seeing the girls wrapped up in parkas and hoods on the slopes to bikinis in the pool.
Anita and Jeff had been the class couple for most of high school, an attractive and popular duo destined to be together forever judging from their temperament, attitude, chemistry and behavior.
Jill and Mike had only been together for a few months and their relationship had been tempestuous at best as Mike was known to be a flirtatious lady's man while Jill was more reserved and guarded in her personality. Ben liked both girls and he didn't mind being a part of the skiing clique although he wished there had been a third girl to even out the count.
Mike had snuck in the booze of course and he and Jeff got pretty well hammered by the time the five returned to the lodge from the slopes. The girls were tipsy but much more controlled and it was Ben's job at the hot tub and pool to make sure nobody drowned or got naked in public, although Mike had his hands down the back of Jill's bikini bottom on more than one occasion.
Ben and Anita started out in kindergarten together – Anita was smart, confident and pretty with her long blonde hair from the time she was five. Jill moved to Hillsboro during Junior High and she became friends with Anita who went out of her way to be nice to the new girl.
Ben had several classes with Jill through the years and he found her to be an interesting and friendly person. She had been instantly noticed as a new girl because of her bright red hair and freckles. Ben and Jill were on student council together and they were involved in several school projects too but it was a friendly relationship with no romantic interest displayed by Jill.
Although Ben was fond of and attracted to Jill, he didn't pursue his feelings because he couldn't stand the rejection. He dealt with Jill dating other guys by ignoring it but when she and Mike ended up together half way through football season, Ben felt strangely betrayed for some reason.
He hadn't said anything when his boorish friend put the moves on Jill after his various other relationships ended – most of them doomed by Mike's combative and stubborn personality. Ben didn't think Mike was a good match for Jill but he wasn't about to say anything negative about their budding courtship.
The hungover Jeff and Mike were slow to arise on Saturday morning after their night of drinking but Ben didn't want to hang around the stuffy room waiting for them to come to so he dressed and took a long early morning walk around the scenic ski area which featured a couple of hiking trails. The majestic view and fresh mountain air was breathtaking enough to allow Ben to forget about how lonely he really was.
Ben was feeling invigorated and renewed by the time he made it back to the lodge from his long early morning walk but he sensed tension as soon as he walked into the dining area and saw his friends at a table not far from the rustic fire place. The waitress was just clearing the table. Anita and Jeff looked uncomfortable, Mike looked pissed off, and Jill seemed upset.
Ben cautiously took a seat amongst his friends and glanced around. "What's going on?" he delicately asked.
"Jill's grandmother had a stroke early this morning," Anita reported.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," Ben said with sensitivity.
"I want to go home," Jill pouted.
"How many times you going to say it?" Mike seethed.
"I'll keep saying it until you take me home," she snapped.
"For the fiftieth time, I'm not taking you home," Mike growled. "We came up here to have fun and ski."
"I want to go home," Jill repeated.
"We don't have to stay," Jeff offered diplomatically.
"Yeah, my Uncle will understand," Anita said. "I don't mind leaving early."
"Well, I do," Mike grumbled. "And I'm not driving anybody back."
"You're such a bastard," Jill complained.
"You said she's going to pull through," Mike said. "Waiting a day isn't going to matter."
"I should be with her and the family," Jill said defensively.
"You can be with them tomorrow night," Mike determined.
Jill looked like she wanted to slug the guy but she turned her attention to Ben instead. "Will you drive me back, Ben?"
Ben was surprised by the request and he glanced at Mike with uncertainty. "I guess I could," he said uncomfortably.
"You're a dick," Mike growled.
"Don't blame him for being nice," Jill warned.
"You're really going to take off?" Mike asked with disbelief.
"Yes," Jill decided.
"Fine, there are plenty of other chicks around here," Mike said, folding his arms across his chest in defiance.
"I guess you can find another girl back in Hillsboro too then," Jill said, her voice breaking as she leapt from her chair and stormed out of the dining room.
Anita shook her head at Mike. "You could have been more understanding," she said as she stood.
"You want to go skiing or not?" Mike frowned.
"I'm going to go check on her," Anita said. "You'd better get ready if you're really leaving, Ben."
Anita left the table and Jeff sat back in his chair. "Well, this is awkward," he said.
"To hell with her," Mike frothed, shooting Ben an angry stare. "And thanks for nothing, asshole."
"What was I supposed to say?" Ben asked with a shrug.
"You could have backed me up," Mike said tersely. "It wouldn't have mattered if she waited another day, you backstabbing son of a bitch."
"She wouldn't have been much fun even if she stayed," Jeff determined. "We can still savage the weekend without her."
"Sorry," Ben said standing. "She was obviously upset. I was just trying to help out."
"You were trying to help her out, not me," Mike qualified.
"I guess it doesn't matter now," Ben sighed. "I can't back out once I told her I'd do it."
"So, get lost then," Mike ordered.
Ben threw Jeff a look but it was clear he was going to be Switzerland on this one and Ben knew he was on his own. "Guess I'll see you around," he mumbled.
Neither of the other two responded so Ben headed for the room and packed up his stuff. He was loading up his car when Jill showed up with her stuff, Anita carrying some of it. The sky was gray and the air was cold.
"I appreciate you helping me out, Ben," Jill said, her voice shaky and defeated. "Sorry I ruined your weekend."
"Your family is more important," Ben rationalized, packing her stuff into the truck and back seat.
"Mike is never going to forgive you for this," Anita warned Ben.
"If doing the right thing is wrong I don't care," Ben said with annoyance.
"Remember that on Monday when Mighty Mike puts the word out that you're dead to him," Anita said.
"Mike Squires isn't my only friend at Hillsboro High," Ben said. "I'll live."
"I'm really sorry about all of this," Jill sighed.
"Don't be," Ben told her.
"You didn't do anything wrong, sweetie," Anita agreed. "Go home and be with your family."
The two girls hugged while Ben closed the car trunk and back door to the car. Breaking the embrace, Jill climbed into the front passenger's seat while Ben gave an appreciative wave Anita's way and climbed into the car, not quite believing he was driving Jill Martin four hours home.