Later that evening I was still pumped. The dim lighting, soft classical music, and the glass of red wine didn’t mellow me out. Gavin stood over the stove, stirring his homemade marinara with a small wooden spoon and I pretended not to notice him watching me as I sat on a stool by the island in the kitchen, leafing through an Olympics brochure. I could feel the angry path of a scratch that started at my cheekbone and extended down to my jaw, but I refused to admit to any discomfort or pain. Doing so would invite in Gavin’s judgment and concern, and I knew I’d be ingesting them enough tonight as it was. They may as well have been ingredients in the spaghetti sauce.
I just talked as if his ears were receptive. “Billy pretended to be mad, but I think he secretly respected me. After practice today, he talked like there’s no doubt I’d be in the Olympics. And seriously, being suspended in the air like that… well, now I understand how people become adrenaline junkies.”
“I’m surprised you came out of the whole thing with only a scratch.”
“You sound like my dad.”
“Then I’ll try to be less protective,” Gavin gave me a twisty smile as he dipped the spoon into his sauce and came toward me. “Here, try this. See if it needs more garlic.”
Halfheartedly, I let him feed me a small amount. We made flat eye contact and I shrugged. “I think you could go either way. I mean, it’s fine, but is there such a thing as too much garlic?”
“I don’t know.” He raised an eyebrow. “I guess that depends; are you letting me sleep in your bed tonight?”
My eyes awkwardly glanced away from him and settled back on my Olympics brochure, which had a picture of a triumphant Bode Miller on the front.
“How long before dinner?” I kept my voice intentionally light, like I hadn’t registered what he’d just said. “I might go downstairs and stretch. I still have a leg cramp.”
“I can rub it for you later.”
I leaned down and massaged my calf muscle. “Thanks, but I still want to stretch.”
I glanced up to see Gavin’s smile fade as he stepped away, walked back toward the stove, and spoke with his back to me. “I think we should talk.” Ominous words if there ever were any. I stood without going anywhere, as if our situation required formality. “Did you hear what I said?” Gavin said. “About talking?”
His urgency, his obvious desperation, propelled words out of my mouth before I could trap them. “Can’t you just be the guy for once?”
He dropped his spoon against the stove with a clang. “What? I’m not manly enough for you? I stay home in the kitchen while you go flying off a mountain, like you’re trying to be your sister or something...”
“Wait.” My defensiveness was instant and hot, a rash underneath my skin. “I do something spontaneous, something strong, and you think I’m just imitating Jo Beth?”
“Skiing past the safety barricades and off a cliff isn’t strong, it’s reckless, and it’s not like you.”
“Oh really? Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do.”
“Maybe I don’t,” he responded, “but it’s not for lack of trying.”
For a long, tense moment, Gavin stared at me, as if willing me to answer. I shifted my weight and looked toward the stairs to the basement, where I longed to escape from this conversation.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” I finally said.
“It’s simple,” he replied. “I want you to be safe. I want you to stay here in Black Diamond, and I want you to admit to me, to yourself, and to everyone else, that you and I are actually a couple.”
My answer was spineless. “I don’t know if I can do all that.”
Gavin’s face softened, maybe because he was as unprepared for my sudden vulnerability as I was. “Which part don’t you think you can do?”
I could barely squeak out my response, for fear that it would hurt us both. “All of it.”
Gavin nodded as if we’d just completed a business transaction. His shoulders rose and tensed as he turned off the stove with a flick. “I’m going. Just boil some noodles, then pour the sauce over them. It will taste good.”
I gave Gavin a reticent smile meant to beg forgiveness, but he wouldn’t look at me. “No, no,” I said. “Stay. Please, I want you to.”
He walked out of the kitchen, past me, and towards the front door. I followed and watched as he removed his wool coat from a hook and bundled up. My hands twitched from wanting to touch him, to soothe his anger, but my fingers were too timid to follow through.
He was clearly fuming. “Be honest, Sky. You’d rather have the night to yourself.”
I pictured the evening ahead of me, should he leave. It would start with a cold blast of air as he opened the door, a slamming sound as he walked away, and then the emptiness and guilt as I poured his marinara sauce into the sink, a blood red stream trickling down the drain because I couldn’t stomach eating his dinner without him. “That’s not true,” I said, trying to keep my voice close. “I just don’t get why we have to turn into something serious, into something that we’re not.”
“Because I’m tired of being ‘that guy’—the one you kill time with when you have nothing else to do.”
I felt my face heat up “I admit that I’m anxious to get out of here and into the Olympics. But my restlessness isn’t about you. I’m just sick of waiting for something to happen. You’re still my favorite person to spend time with.”
He paused, hand on the doorknob. I could see how he wanted to leave, how he wanted to stay even more. “Please don’t go,” I continued. “That sauce you made is delicious, and you don’t have to add any more garlic. That way our breath won’t stink too bad—you know, later on.”
I stepped in closer to him and put my hand on the back of his neck. He relaxed under my touch.
“Fine, okay.” Gavin whispered as he removed his jacket and we walked back into the kitchen together.
Later, I was in the bathroom, gargling with mouthwash. Green foam oozed down my chin and I used the sleeve of my oversized ski team jersey, which I wore as a nightshirt, to wipe it away. As I spat out the rest of the mouthwash I met my own eyes in the mirror.
Was that hesitation or fear lodged on my face?
I spat again, cupped my hand over my mouth, and breathed in and out through my nose, checking for signs of bad breath. There had been a lot of garlic in Gavin’s sauce. But I was satisfied that I passed the halitosis test, so I fished in the drawer, digging past hair brushes, tweezers, and a bottle of ADVIL to finally find an unopened box of condoms, which I had previously shoved into the very back, out of sight.
Briefly I studied the box that I bought months ago as a precautionary measure. I ripped open the blue and gold packaging, which read Trojan Ultra-Thin Pleasure Pack, and clumsily pulled one out. How could this shiny silver square, which looked like it contained candy, make me so nervous? Skiing off a cliff was nothing compared to this. I wrapped my fingers around the bright foil package, making a fist, so I didn’t have to see evidence of what I was about to do. I told myself that losing my virginity didn’t make me Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair and that becoming a sexual person didn’t turn me into an anti-heroine. I would instead be like Jo March, sleeping with her love, the professor, for the first time, somewhere off in the dusky void that existed away from well-lit pages underneath a reading lamp.
One more look in the mirror; this time it was a look of resolve. I studied the scratch on my cheek, made this afternoon by my ski pole when I’d landed in the snow, and lightly traced it down my cheek. “Gavin, I’m in the mood for more adventure,” I whispered to my reflection, rehearsing. I closed my eyes, shook my head in disgust, and then faced my reflection once again.
“Let’s take a chance tonight, okay?”
I gave my reflection the most provocative expression I could muster. My shoulders moved up and down, and then I walked out of the bathroom, determined to fly, not fall, off the cliff that I was launching myself from.
Title: Just Like The Bronte Sisters
Author: Laurel Osterkamp
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Sisters Skylar and Jo Beth adore skiing and they virtually share the same soul. After an accident, Jo Beth flees to Brazil, leaving Skylar behind in Colorado to obsessively read the Brontë sisters. While abroad, Jo Beth meets Mitch and her life takes some unexpected turns, until tragedy leads free-spirited Mitch right into Skylar’s empty arms. With their Heathcliff/Catherine romance in full swing, Skylar wants to trust Mitch, but did he harm her sister? Loving Mitch could make Skylar lose everything. Just Like the Brontë Sisters is an unconventional romantic page-turner inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, full of magical realism, literary references, a ghost, and some healthy doses of suspense.
Laurel Osterkamp is a Kindle Scout/award-winning author of women’s fiction and suspense. Her “day job” is as at Columbia Heights High School, where she teaches creative writing, college writing, and AP Lit. She resides in Minneapolis with her husband, two chatty children, an overweight cat, a gecko, and a hissing cockroach (don’t ask). Her other loves include chocolate, jogging, and boots.