Becky-Lou Carter stumbled through the crowds, blinded by tears of rage and sorrow and a whole confusion of emotions that defied description. She had no idea where she was going, only that she wanted to get away - from everyone and everything. She was sure people were laughing at her behind her back as she passed.
She had to escape, run, flee.
She couldn't stand the derision, or the patronizing sympathy, or the questions or the looks. Most of all she couldn't cope with the tangle of emotions that engulfed her. Yet no matter how fast or how far she ran, she couldn't seem to shake them off. They swept her back up the mountainside.
As she ran, slipping and sliding on the fine, powdery snow which whipped up around her ankles like a cloud of talcum, her arms flailed wildly at her sides, trying to fight off both real and imagined pursuers.
"Leave me alone, all of you, just leave me ALONE!" she cried, as friends tried to comfort her, reaching out to console her. From time to time her head swung around, bunches bobbing over her shoulder, to see if she had evaded her tormentors.
At last she was the only person around, having struck out well away from the course.
She found herself blundering through a grove of pine trees, where every shadow was reaching out, trying to pull her body this way and that, just as her thoughts were pulling her mind in different directions.
She had finally stopped running, panting; her face flushed beetroot to the tips of her ears. She clutched her sides and doubled over, gasping as a sharp stitch cramped her abdominal muscles. Her pulse was racing and she could hear her heart pounding in the still woods. Then she sank, exhausted, to the forest floor and sniffed, wiping her nose on her sleeve for want of a handkerchief. She was all cried out. She hugged up to the trunk of the nearest tree and buried her head in her lap. Still she could not shut out the memories.
Yesterday, she had been the happiest girl in the world.
Yesterday, all her dreams were coming true…
Their plane had landed at Salt Lake City airport early on Saturday morning, but her feet had not touched the ground all day. Firstly, there had been the thrill of having been invited to take part in the Snow Cup. It had been her best season yet, and Hank said she was showing real promise. Coming from Coach Montgomery, that was very encouraging. He didn't squander his praise.
Then, when they got to the Lodge, Bobby-Joe had presented her with an eternity ring to go with the St Christopher he'd bought her three Christmas's ago. And he'd hinted that if her Daddy didn't object, he'd be getting her a real engagement ring for her 17th birthday in the summer. Her future looked bright and exciting and was heading in exactly the right directions.
Best of all, just after lunch, they had been walking past the Peruvian Lodge when Jill Kinmont herself had come out, with the rest of the Bishop skiers, heading for the Germania Pass. Becky-Lou had been rooted to the spot, speechless with admiration for the older girl, whom she considered to be the best skier she'd ever seen, and as pretty as she wished she could be, and whose career she had followed closely. Becky-Lou had been clutching her newly purchased, but already thrice read, copy of 'Sport's Illustrated' with Jill's color photo emblazoned on the cover, and a three page fully illustrated article inside on her success at the Sun Valley training camp. Becky- Lou had never been this close to anybody famous before, let alone someone as special as Jill, and she was completely awe-struck.
Then Jill was walking towards her, resplendent in her home knitted sunshine yellow jumper, and all she could do was grin like an idiot. Her best friend, Tammy Nelson, had nudged her, tried to push her forwards, "Go on, talk to her."
But her feet wouldn't respond. Besides, she didn't know what to say. Her normally sharp brain turned to mush. It had been Bobby-Joe who'd stepped in and made her dearest wish come true. He'd gone right up to Miss Kinmont bold as brass, and pointed Becky-Lou out to her as if it was his girlfriend who was the celebrity.
He explained to Jill how Becky-Lou had been the one who'd written countless letters to her over the last few months. He'd told Jill how much Becky-Lou admired her and respected her and tried to emulate her. Jill had lowered her eyes coyly and blushed. Then, incredibly, wonderfully, she had grinned broadly and come right on over to Becky-Lou. She'd even spoken to her, thanking her for the letters, which she'd obviously bothered to read, and sounding genuinely sorry that her training schedule had prevented her from having time to send a personal response. She'd chatted amiably; as if Becky-Lou were an old school friend she hadn't seen in a while. At first, Becky-Lou's mouth had opened and closed wordlessly like a fish out of water, but Jill had soon put her at her ease and before long she was answering Jill's questions, and asking many more of her own. Jill had even given her tips on how to improve her technique, and invited her to watch them practice that afternoon. And finally, magically, B-J had asked what she dared not, and Jill had autographed her treasured magazine. Becky-Lou had thought Bobby-Joe the most wonderful, thoughtful, amazing guy in the world, the best thing since the newly invented non-stick pan her widowed father kept enthusing about. She had thought herself the luckiest girl in the world, that he had chosen her when there were dozens of prettier girls around willing and eager to take her place.
By nine pm when Hank called curfew and they climbed into their bunks to try and get some sleep before the big race, Becky-Lou felt as if she had known Jill all her life. And having watched her on the slopes, copying the way she moved her shoulders as she turned, seeming to flow effortlessly down the hill, she was more confident about her own chances of qualifying for the try-outs too. She'd been far too hyped up to sleep, and had whispered excitedly to Tammy for well over an hour, reliving every brilliant moment of the day, before finally drifting off into a world of blissful dreams.
But that had been yesterday.
Today, her world had fallen apart.
Okay, so she'd come fourth in the women's heats, behind top skiers Andrea Mead-Lawrence, Katy Rodolph and Skeeter Warner. That was better than she'd dared hope for. But it should have been fifth at least...
She'd finished her run, and knew it was the best she'd ever skied. B-J had met her at the finish with a kiss and told her how proud he was of her, before heading for the ski room to wax his skis one last time and get ready for the men's race. Becky-Lou had made him rub her St Christopher for luck as they parted, and promised she'd be waiting to return the kiss when he'd made his run. Then she'd gone to find herself a good spot to watch the 'real' skiers take their turns. It should have been Andy and Skeeter next, but they had been late getting to the start so that Becky-Lou had only just got to her vantage point when Jill came hurtling out of the starting gate with a surge of power.
Jill had begun well; the snow was really fast. She looked set for a record-breaking run, but then Jill hadn't checked at the left turn just above the Corkscrew, and the snow seemed to be running away with her. Instead of pre-jumping the four foot high knoll, she was two or three seconds late.
Jill appeared to be flying then, out of control, heading for the trees. She'd covered her face, narrowly missing the trunks and tumbling instead into a group of spectators, knocking them down like nine-pins, and dragging one with her. It had seemed to Becky-Lou as if Jill would be tumbling and sliding down the mountain for ever but at last she had stopped, with the spectator sprawled on top of her.
Becky-Lou had tried to get closer to find out what was going on, but the whole crowd was surging forward and it was impossible to see what was happening.
She heard someone shout for splints and a litter. By the time Becky-Lou had followed the anxious group down the mountain, Jill had been put in temporary traction. She'd been taken gently down the mountain and into the Alta Lodge basement to wait for the ambulance. Becky-Lou had not even noticed when Andy and Skeeter and the others had made their runs, and the winners had been declared. She didn't register when her own name was pronounced fourth. She'd been too busy hovering outside the first-aid room, hoping to hear that Jill had just broken a leg or something. The mumblings she had overheard made her afraid that things were far more serious than that. Becky-Lou vowed then and there that she would not set foot on the piste again herself until Jill was back in competition.
To make matters worse, apparently not only were there traffic jams, but also a nasty car accident on the narrow road. It was ages before the ambulance had been able to get in. By which time everyone had been sent away, so as not to hinder the new casualties, which had begun piling into the basement, including Kenny Lloyd from Bishop, who had broken his arm. Becky-Lou had wandered dejectedly towards the finish line as Tammy had come running up to inform her that B-J was making his run. She'd looked up just in time to see him thundering down the course, completely uncontrolled. He had a wild, crazy, frightened look on his face, so that Becky-Lou had hardly recognized him.
She had stood; stunned, as the only other racer she really cared about looked set to repeat Jill's catastrophic performance. When he'd fallen face down in the snow, she'd been too scared to join the throng, which had rushed to his assistance. Too terrified that he wasn't ever going to get up again.
Then, after what seemed an eternity, the uncertainty became unbearable. She knew Hank was on the scene and went to seek him out. Suddenly, she had to know for sure, however dreadful the news.
It hadn't been bad news at all of course, and she should have been relieved, overjoyed. But Bobby-Joe had marred her happiness by showing a degree of insensitivity of which she would not have believed him to be capable. How could he have laughed at her fears like that? He wouldn't have seen Jill's accident, but he must have heard about it. He should have known how upset she'd be by it. He knew how she felt about Jill - had once joked that if it had been Buddy Werner or Dick Buek she'd admired that intensely he might have been insanely jealous. He should have been more sympathetic, more supportive, more understanding.
Instead, he'd been a pig. That sort of jollying along might work for some girls, but not for her. Never for her. She thought he knew her better than that. She thought she knew him better. She was so confused. And to add insult to injury, he hadn't even tried to stop her running off when she'd gotten justifiably upset. He hadn't attempted to come after her and apologize. Didn't he care at all?
It was so out of character for him, he was usually so attentive. Could she have done something to hurt him, to cause this change in him? She didn't think so. She kept trying to think of an explanation or excuse for his behavior, but the more she thought about it, the more callous it seemed, and the more betrayed she felt.
If he could behave like that, she was better off without him. She had meant it when she said she hated him and didn't want to see him again. So how come it hurt so much that he had taken her at her word? Why was it that even while she was despising him for his actions, she was longing for the comforting embrace of his arms, the reassurance of his familiar smile?
For as long as she could remember, whenever she had been upset or frightened, Bobby-Joe had always been there for her. Older and wiser, calm, confident, in charge.
At first, he'd been like a big brother to her, watching out for her as they grew up together on the same block, at the same school. Then as they got older, their relationship had blossomed into something deeper, more romantic, without them even really being aware of the transition. B-J had always made things better, showed her how to cope, stopped her from panicking, especially when her condition had first been diagnosed, and she'd despaired of ever being able to lead a normal life. How was she supposed to cope now, without him? How could she expect him to cure the problem this time when he was the problem? Still, Becky-Lou wanted him to come and sweep her up in his arms and tell her that everything was all right. She wanted most of all for him to turn back the clock so that they could go back to yesterday.
Yesterday, when she had been the happiest girl in the world.
Yesterday, when she had been the luckiest girl in the world.
Yesterday, when all her dreams were coming true.
But that was yesterday.
Today was a nightmare.
Today, she thought she could never be happy again.
Today, she clung to a tree trunk, and to a vain hope that none of the day's events were real, and that she would soon wake up. She sobbed quietly to herself.
Eventually, the chill in the air and the lengthening of the shadows made her aware that it was getting late. She really should head back to the Lodge; her hunger told her it must be time for supper. Yet the last thing she felt like was eating. She thought that any attempt to consume food would simply choke her; that dinner would be harder to swallow than her wounded pride. Yet she knew what would happen if she started skipping meals.
She got up stiffly and began trudging back down the mountain. She was dragging her heels, head bowed. Even as the last shred of rational thought told her she had to go eat, the lost, frightened, hurt little girl in her whispered of revenge.
'Don't bother, Becky-Lou.' Her inner voice wheedled. 'What does it matter if you don't eat? What's the point of it? Think how Bobby-Joe will feel if you get sick. That'd show him. That'd take the wind out of his sails. Then he'd know how it felt to worry about someone.'
For a while as she walked, rigid as an automaton, common sense wrestled within her with the urge to punish: - Bobby-Joe, herself, the world. Then, as she neared the dining room, the sounds of carefree laughter mixed with the clink of cutlery on china and common sense went out the window. She wasn't to blame. It was all Bobby-Joe's fault. If only he hadn't been so horrid. If only he'd bothered to try and put things right.
But it was too late now. Her mind was made up. It would be easy, and painless.
B-J would be the one to suffer, watching her die. She wouldn't feel much at all.
She was already getting a little faint, and her palms were sweating, but before it got too alarming she would be comatose. Then all her worries would be over, and nothing else would be able to hurt her ever again. She nodded to herself in satisfaction at the simplicity of her plan and detoured to the ski room, where she was sure Bobby-Joe would find her, but not too soon.