As Melinda led me towards the ski lodge, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. From where we were standing, I could only see the ski slopes, not the tube park. It was pretty cold outside. Maybe Melinda would change her mind and we could just stay in the lodge.
Exploring the cafeteria options, I was glad Melinda had brought us lunch. Nothing sounded very appealing. However, as we debated between getting two sodas or one to share, we saw someone behind the counter putting warm cookies into a display case.
We sat beside each other near the window, where we could watch the mountain while we ate. Melinda was trying to make conversation, but I was only giving her part of my attention as I looked out the window.
I didn't see anyone tubing. I only saw skiiers. The people on the mountain seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wondered if they knew how dangerous winter mountain sports could be. There was a stretch of the mountain to my left no one seemed to be using. I wondered if they had closed off that part because of some horrible accident.
"You look anxious." I could hear the concern in her voice. "What's wrong. Oh! Are you worried about being recognized?"
I turned away from the window. My adorable girlfriend was looking all around as she continued to babble. "I just realized. I'm sorry. I totally forgot."
"You're adorable." I played with her hair before pulling her in for a kiss. Somehow, that calmed me slightly. I explained how the place was so empty I wasn't too concerned about crazy fans.
"Okay. You're not worried about being recognized. Is it the whole Poppy thing?"
I smiled at her weakly. "I was wondering when she was going to ruin our time together. I had nearly forgotten about her. I tend not to think about her when I'm with you."
"What's happening with all that?"
There was a small red speck barreling downhill. I watched it grow larger as I explained to Melinda how Meghan and I convinced our mother to fire our agent. The red speck eventually turned into a full-sized person who skied straight back onto the empty lift. I turned to Melinda. She began to play with my hand on the table.
"So, now what?"
I picked up my cookie and put it back down a few times without actually eating it.
"I started doing some research, found an agent I like. Mom's gonna contact him today. We're gonna try to figure out if Walter and I should have different agents. Meghan is pretty sure she wants Mom's agent. This is gonna sound pompous, but we're so famous, most agents would love to represent us."
"But, what about the Poppy rumor?"
"We fired Cynthia, so Mom's agent is gonna try to sort things out for us. But, it's possible it won't go away. There's some legal things we might look into, but, honestly, I'm letting Uncle Brendan figure it all out."
"The lawyer, right?" Melinda asked.
I watched another speck speed down the hill. Melinda slurped the soda we were sharing before trying to resume the conversation.
"If you're not worried about being recognized, and you're not upset about Poppy, then why do you look so anxious?"
I wanted to lie, but figured that probably wouldn't be a great idea. I felt my face grow warm as I turned to her. "I've just never gone tubing before."
Melinda giggled, but she reached around to trace her hand along my spine. That was supposed to be my job. I held her close, playing with her hair as she tried to assuage my fears.
"Tubing is a lot of fun. It's like sledding. Only faster."
"It's dangerous. They make your parent sign one of those waiver things."
"Yes. But, you also sign a waiver when you visit the town pool. It's no more dangerous."
"Are you kidding? The town pool? That's got kids peeing in the water and people jumping on top of you. That's got to be more dangerous than this!"
"Fine. Then...laser tag. You have to sign a waiver for that."
"People running around in the dark? You can trip over something and break your neck. Or, you can trip over the person that tripped over something, and you both break your necks. Or –"
Melinda stopped my babbling with a kiss. That calmed my anxiety a lot. But, I wasn't going to drop the subject completely. I pulled her close.
"This is nice. Why don't we just stay here and do this until your mom comes?"
Melinda stood up, giggling as she reached for my hand. "Come on. You clean this mess, and I'll go get the tickets."
She tugged me to my feet, then went to the desk near the front entrance while I threw the garbage into the nearest can. A few moments later, she returned with two stickers and two strange-looking metal things. They looked like witches' hats, or noses.
Melinda showed me how to attach the metal wicket to my zipper, then put the adhesive ticket on either side to create a tag. We bundled ourselves out and went back to the cold.
Melinda led me to the rental building, where an attendant gave us helmets and tubes, which we dragged to the tubing park.
As we approached, I realized we were heading right for the part I had assumed had been closed. There were about ten lanes, divided by mounds of snow, and they had small bumps as they went down the mountain.
Melinda stopped as we got near the bottom of the mountain. "Put down your tube and gimme your hand."
Gladly. That thing was getting heavy. I held out my arm. "Everything okay?"
Melinda bent down to my tube, picking up a leash I had not noticed earlier. She fastened the strap around my wrist.
"We're gonna get on the lift now. You can just kinda drag your tube behind you on the way up, okay?"
"How do I get on the lift?"
She pointed to a black belt slowly moving up the mountain. "It's kinda like an escalator with no stairs. Just step on. Follow me."
She boarded the lift and I followed. At the top of the mountain, I followed Melinda to a center lane and she showed me how to sit in my tube. Then she moved to the lane beside me.
Before we left, she took her strap from her wrist and tossed it to me. "Here. Hang on to this and we can go down together."
I held it tight as we pushed off.
Tubing was more exhilarating than I could have imagined. We didn't go straight downhill. There were bumps. There were dips. The tube slid from side to side within the lane. Before I knew it, we were slowing down at the bottom.
I jumped out of my tube, feeling more alive than I had in a while. "Wow! That was sick. Let's go again!" I was nearly bouncing with excitement.
Our passes were only good for two hours, and I wanted to get every second's worth. I raced back to the lift.
I didn't need to hold Melinda's leash anymore. I wasn't scared. As a result, she ended up turning backwards on our next run. I was a little in front of her, so I didn't notice until we had reached the bottom.
The third time down, I ended up backwards before the first bump. It was even more exhilarating because I had no idea what was coming next. I spent the fourth run figuring out how to do it on purpose, finally succeeding about a third of the way down my fifth run. I spent the rest of the two hours tubing backwards.
The lodge was a little more crowded when we were done tubing. The ski mountain was started to have a little more life as well.
We went back to where we had sat before, where Melinda had left her soft cooler lying. Apparently, it is normal to leave your belongings lying around a ski lodge. I had worried someone would move it or put it in lost and found, but it was exactly where we had left it.
Melinda sat beside me and texted her mother while I emptied the contents of the cooler. She explained her mother was at a nearby mall and would get us in about an hour.
We made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After two, I was still hungry. I didn't say anything, but there must have been something in my expression because Melinda started giggling as she leaned against me slightly.
"Go ahead. I don't mind."
"But, I don't want to turn into my brother."
"Tubing is a physical activity. You've got to replace the calories you just burned."
"You only had two."
"I normally don't eat two. I've seen you eat, Pat. Have another sandwich. I promise not to tell Walter."
As I ate the third sandwich, Melinda told me about how she used to come here with her friends. Then, we talked about how her friends had changed once they started high school.
I felt bad that I couldn't relate. I had never let anyone get close to me until Hartfield. But, Melinda just seemed to be looking for someone to share her story, not her emotions.
We talked a little about one of my best friends at school, Zach. Then we talked a little about going back to school.
People started coming off the mountain and the lodge was getting a little more crowded. I saw people starting to stare in our direction.
"Can we go somewhere less conspicuous?" I asked as I started packing the picnic back into the cooler.
Melinda looked around. "Yeah, sure. I have an idea."
We took the cooler and went out a glass door towards the slopes. Melinda backtracked slightly until we were in a small area away from both the lodge and the slopes. A fire pit had been constructed with Adirondack chairs surrounding it.
I sat in one of the chairs, pulling Melinda into my lap. We kissed for a long time, unfazed by the cold, until she thought we should go wait for her mother.
"How was it?" Melinda's mother asked as she pulled away from the drop off circle.
I smiled. "It was a lot of fun. I've never gone tubing before. Thanks for driving me, Mrs. Luzzelli."
Melinda's mother smiled. "I'm glad you had fun. Are you going straight home, or were you planning on staying for a while? Either is fine with me."
I turned to Melinda, sitting beside me in the backseat. "Did you finish that puzzle without me?"
When she shook her head, I turned my attention back to her mother. "I guess that means I'm staying for a little while."
I placed the last piece into the jigsaw puzzle and stood back to examine my work. The picture displayed three kittens sitting on yarn balls of various colors in a large woven basket.
"It's cute. It's a shame we worked so hard and now we have to put it back in the box."
Melinda went to the closet. "Why?"
"Because we worked so hard on it." Wasn't she listening?
"No, I mean, why take it apart?" She returned to the table with a bottle of glue.
"What's that for?"
"You've never glued a puzzle?"
No, because I hadn't done puzzles since I was little. I had no idea what she meant. I just stared at her.
"We always do this. Look around. All the pictures on the walls are puzzles."
I did as she said, noticing for the first time that all the artwork on the walls were indeed puzzles of various shapes and sizes. While I was admiring all the framed puzzles, Melinda dumped the glue on top of the one we had just completed, then massaged it between the pieces.
"Aren't you gonna help me?"
No. It looked squishy and gross. I didn't want to touch it. I tried to respond as nonchalantly as possible. "And get that all over my fingers?'
Melinda smiled mischievously, then reached for me with her glue-covered hands. I leapt out of her way. I expected her to follow me, but she went back to gluing the puzzle.
I stood beside her, watching over her shoulder before deciding to help. It didn't take too long and, despite our hands being covered in glue, wasn't quite as icky as I thought it would be.
When we could no longer see the cats and yarn through the white film, Melinda stood back to admire our handiwork.
"See? Now it'll dry clear."
"That's pretty cool. I may have to start doing this at home." I meant it, too. Doing the puzzle had been a lot more fun and way more relaxing than I had anticipated. "Now what?"
Melinda led me down the hall. "Well, first we have to wash our hands. We have a little time, but you have to leave by five."
I couldn't help but tease her as she entered a bedroom. Since it had a lot of pink and purple, I was pretty sure it was hers.
"Why? Is your other boyfriend coming over?"
"Yes. His name is Eric and my parents like him better than you."
Melinda turned around. I could tell she was waiting for my response to her joke. (I'm pretty sure it had been a joke.)
Instead, I pointed to the bed. "Is this your bedroom?"
"Yeah. My bathroom's right here." Melinda pointed towards a door on the opposite side of the room.
"I can't go in there."
"Huh?" Her bafflement was adorable. "Oh. Right. I forgot. Hang on." Melinda left the bathroom door open as she washed her hands. Then, she came to stand beside me in the doorway.
"There. I think you can go wash your hands, if I stand here." As I crossed the room, she called after me, "So, what do you want to do now?"
I wasn't sure if soap would make it harder to get the glue off, but since there were still bubbles in the sink from Melinda, I decided to try it as I answered her. "I have no idea. WTTE?"
"How about cards?"
I made a face into the mirror, but I was pretty sure she couldn't see me. I waited until I was beside her before responding. "I can play solitaire."
I followed her back to the study, where Melinda took two decks of cards from a box in the closet. "How about double solitaire?" Melinda suggested as she sat on the floor.
"That's a game?" I sat on the floor across from her and watched her shuffle. It was different than the normal way. There was something about it that was familiar.
"Mom and Dad had a casino party once." My eyes were fixed on her hands. "They hired actual dealers from real casinos. They shuffled the cards like that, at the corners. Are you a card shark?"
Melinda giggled. "My grandfather loves playing cards. He taught me when I was seven. I could shuffle better than him by the time I started middle school."
"You are a card shark! I don't wanna play with you."
"It's only solitaire. Watch." She handed me the deck of red cards.
I copied Melinda as we laid out cards in front of ourselves and created playing slots. She explained how to play our personal space and the shared space. After she explained the scoring, we played the first round.
I picked up my pile in my left hand and prepared my right to flip the first cards when Melinda gave the signal.
She beat me, forty to twenty in the first round, but I was a fast learner and I reached a hundred points in the third round, while she still had eighty-nine.
We separated the decks and she said she would teach me to play War. She then described the game I played with my roommate.
"Wait. I know this game. This is the game I play with Frank."
"I thought you said you only play solitaire."
"Well, I didn't know the name of this game. He calls it something else. Jung-Jang, I think. His grandfather taught him. One of his grandfathers speaks Korean, the other one Chinese. I'm not sure which one taught him the game."
Melinda smiled as she picked up her stack and we began flipping the cards. I won the first game and she won the second. We had just separated the stacks for a tiebreaker round when her other boyfriend arrived.
"Melinda!" Her mother called up the stairs a few moments after we heard the doorbell sound. "Your ride is here."
Oh man! I had lost all track of time. I kept my voice low as Melinda packed the cards away.
"I didn't get to say goodbye."
She turned and put her arms around my neck. "I'll see you Sunday. I'll try to get back to campus early." Our kiss was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Melinda's roommate was standing just over the threshold with a knowing smile. "Sorry."
Her miniature clone peered around her into the room. I had met her once before, so I knew she wasn't about to turn into a screaming fan. She started waving at Melinda, but when she saw me, she started signing frantically.
Although I had learned American Sign Language for my last film, I was not able to follow Crystal when she got excited. I missed a lot of what she was asking, but I got the impression she wanted to know why I was there and if Melinda was my girlfriend.
I laughed, speaking aloud as I signed. "Slow down! Melinda will tell you all about it later. I better get home. Hi, Sarah. Bye, Sarah!"
I smiled at Melinda's roommate, kissed the top of Melinda's head quickly, then started out of the room, the three girls in tow. As I got in my car, I saw Melinda wave one last time before shutting the door.