“Geronimo!” Amy declared out loud, pushing off down the hill on her tray sled for the sixth time. It rapidly picked up speed down the slope, spinning sideways as it hit an icy patch at the bottom, sending Amy rolling sideways off it. Laughing, she moved her arms and legs up and down to make a snow angel. The snow had seemed to be getting heavier now, and she wondered how much longer she and her friends would be able to stay out sledding, but she was certainly enjoying every minute of it at the moment.
With a swishing sound, Craig’s sled rolled over sideways to her right, spilling him over too. He also laughed hard. “Yeah, I know, Craig, I’ve had trouble with the stops too,” Amy admitted, helping him up.
“We’ll get it right,” he said, taking both her hands, “Feeling better now?”
“A lot better, Craig. Having something fun like this to do perks me up.”
“Good to know. Seeing you happy makes me happy, Amy,” he stared into her eyes, looking quite lovesick.
“You, really, really have some deep feelings for me, don’t you, Craig Klein?” she asked him, breaking into a very big smile, “I can just see it in your eyes...”
“Yeah, I do, Amy, I really do,” he told her warmly, “I know they say love at first sight is more a myth than anything, but since I first laid eyes on you yesterday, I can’t stop thinking about you. You’re just so special...”
“Craig, don’t, you’ll make me cry again,” she said, wiping at her eyes.
“Well a beautiful girl like you should never cry, except in joy,” he pulled her close into a hug.
“I’ll try not to unless I’m really happy, then,” she said, pulling back after about fifteen seconds, “Beth told me about Priscilla earlier...”
“I had a feeling she would. I was kind of naïve then. I let Priscilla’s physical beauty blind me to any ulterior motives she might have had. When she stood me up, I was crushed beyond words. I’d thought she really cared for me...”
“I’m sorry you were put through that,” Amy put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, “You’re much too nice a boy to be treated like that. How’d you get through it?”
“Fortunately, Beth was there for me the whole time afterwards as the supportive sister. She told me it wasn’t the end of the world, and I’d eventually find someone better. For the longest time, I didn’t believe that deep down. But now that I’ve met you, I just know that you’re that person, Amy. You’ve got a special sweetness inside you that I just love, not to mention how beautiful you are, much more than Priscilla ever was.”
“Craig...” she was crying in delight now.
“Don’t run and hide from your attributes, Amy,” he looked deep her in the face, “I’ve gotten the feeling talking with you that you put yourself down in life because you were a sidekick back in Philadelphia to more popular girls. Be proud of who you are, be proud that you’re beautiful, athletic, and sweet-hearted. You’re an extremely special person, Amy Newberry, extremely special, and don’t ever forget that.”
Sniffing, Amy pulled him back into a hug, touched by how sweet he was being with her. They held the embrace for a good thirty seconds this time before another skidding sound right next to them made them look up. “Oh, don’t let me interrupt you two love birds,” Monica beamed at them, having successfully stopped without falling over.
“How did you manage to stay upright?” Craig was amazed.
“Well, I guess I could let you in on the secret for...”
“Going for a new amateur recreational saucer sled land speed record, Clark W. Griswold, Jr.!” came Patrick’s loud shout from atop the hill. Everyone moved aside as he came sliding down fast, zoomed up a large pile of snow that had formed around a natural rise in the middle of the hill, flipped completely upside-down in the air with a yell of delight, and somehow managed to land right side-up at the bottom. “That was awesome!” he pumped his fist in delight.
“Sure was,” Amy agreed, reaching out her palm for him to slap, “I’ve tried to hit that ridge, but I kept drifting off course.”
“You’ll get it yet. You ever do sledding like this back in Philly?” he asked her.
“A couple times. If it had snowed and the roads were clear, we’d drive down to Fairmount Park and sled there, but the hills weren’t quite as steep as this one.”
“So this is a good new experience for you. Speaking of which: how about, Craig, during the summer,” Patrick turned to him, “we all take a road trip down to Philly for a few days? Amy can show us all around, we can meet her friends, see all the places she went...”
“If we can all get off, Patrick, that would be fine,” Craig nodded, “Amy...?”
“Fine by me, Craig. We can probably stay at Vicki’s if her parents would let us. I’m sure she’d be glad to meet all of you. And there’s a lot to show you guys if we have the time...”
She jumped out of the way as a loud shout came from Judy, who had done the same upside-down flip Patrick had above them and was coming for a landing. “Anything you can do, I can do better!” she half-sang, reaching up to slap Patrick’s hand.
“Well instead of competing against each other, Judy, how about we go together as a team this time? You guys up for doubles racing?” Patrick asked the others.
“Sounds good to me, Patrick. Hey Beth, we’re doing doubles this time,” Craig called to his sister, who’d slid to a stop at the bottom of the hill, and bustled over to her. “We’ll go together, right?” Amy asked Monica, who was starting up the hill after Patrick and Judy.
“You know it,” Monica grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. “And let me just say, you and Craig make a really sweet couple,” she told Amy, her grin widening.
“Well you can’t really call us a couple since we haven’t started dating yet, Monica. But I like what he and I seem to have so far,” she exhaled in delight, “I wasn’t looking for or expecting romance when I got here, but given how sweet he’s treated me, I wouldn’t mind going steady with him right now. You have a boyfriend, Monica?”
“I’ve been dating a guy for the last month, Tim Phillips, he’s on the varsity baseball team. He’s been nice to me a lot in class over the last year, so I figured I’d give him a try. Hopefully it’ll pan out.” Monica told her. “You’ll have to meet him at some point; I think you’d like him.”
She chuckled as she crested the rise, and Amy did as well at the sight of Shawn dragging an old mattress towards the hill. “Well, I guess we’ll have to try that after all,” she declared, “Good thinking, Shawn.”
“Well, everyone said they’d be interested, but since no one had gotten around to getting a mattress yet, I figured I...” Shawn started to explain.
“Hey guys, is it just me, or is the snow starting to get a lot heavier?” Judy interrupted, staring worriedly at the sky.
“Hmm, seems like it,” Monica stuck out her hand to collect the snowflakes, which Amy indeed thought seemed to be falling harder and faster than they had before, as visibility was starting to drop around them. “What do you guys think, is the storm getting worse?” Monica asked the Klein siblings to their left.
“You know, I think it is,” Beth frowned up at the sky herself, “Maybe we ought to pack it in after this run and wait until the storm starts subsiding before continuing with this. You happen to hear from Dylan yet?” she asked her brother, “He didn’t call me...”
“Didn’t call me either, Beth,” Craig was frowning himself, “And it’s been...” he pulled off his glove and checked his watch, “...a little over an hour since he left. Hope he’s not stranded in town; I don’t want to take any risks with our food supply...”
“Well we’re good through Sunday for sure, Craig,” Beth assured him, “So no worries in the short term. Although I hope he does get back eventually; if we’re stuck up here into next week, we’d better have as much food as possible...bbbrrrrrr!” she openly shivered as a stronger gust of wind blew a wall of snow across the hilltop, “Yeah, I think we ought to get inside after this one; this looks like the height of the storm...”
“Well then, since Shawn brought out the mattress, why don’t we do the last run all together on that?” Amy spoke up, pointing at Shawn, who’d been standing several feet behind them with the mattress, “That way we all go out with a bang.”
“Hey, that works for me,” Patrick nodded eagerly, “Bring it on over, buddy,” he gestured for Shawn to bring the mattress over. Shawn dragged it to the edge of the hill and lay down on his stomach in the middle of it. “Thanks,” he whispered in Amy’s ear when she lay down on his left, “I was feeling left out seeing all of you teaming up.”
“Don’t mention it,” Amy whispered back. “Everyone ready?” she asked the others, who’d laid down in position around them.
“All set. Everyone aim for the big jump,” Patrick pointed at it, “We’ll probably get some good height with this mattress. Sidekicks on three: one, two, three!”
The seven of them kicked off at once and slid rapidly down the hill towards the de facto ski jump. The mattress launched off it and sailed through air for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, it crashed down, sending all them rolling forward head over heels down the rest of the slope. Laughing, they all landed in a heap together at the bottom. “Excellent! Best way to close out the run!” Judy exclaimed happily, “We’ve got to do that again before we go!”
“Sure do. OK guys, get your things and let’s head inside; we’ll wait it out in the hotel until this storm calms down,” Beth told everyone, “Just leave the mattress here,” she instructed Shawn, who was trying to pick it up, “We can find it easily afterwards.”
“OK,” Shawn dropped it. He moved alongside Amy as she started following the others back up the hill. “Having a good day so far?” he asked her.
“One of the best days of my life, Shawn. I haven’t had this much fun in years,” she smiled at him, “Hope you did too in spite of everything earlier.”
“Well,” Shawn contorted in pain at Laurie’s angry meltdown, “Other than that, I guess so. I appreciate everything you tried to do for me today, Amy.”
“You and the others helped me a lot these last two days, so I’ll help you, Shawn. When we...” Amy’s head snapped around at the sound of a cacophony of sirens in the valley below. “Hmm, wonder what that’s all about?” she mused, the snow much too heavy to have a clear look at Coalport down below.
“Hopefully nothing serious,” Shawn shivered, and not just from the cold, “And hopefully it won’t make its way up here. You were saying...?
“Oh yeah, well, anyway, since we’ll be inside the rest of the day, and since I’ve heard you’re the one to ask, tell me about the hotel and the history of the area. It must be pretty interesting...”
“...they laid the tracks up several switchbacks, practically to the south gate here,” Shawn was relating to her two hours later as they and most of the rest of the available Sidekicks sat in a circle on the floor of the hotel lounge in front of the once again roaring fireplace, “Passenger service started a month later, bringing the first guests up here.”
“Pretty interesting,” Amy nodded, genuinely impressed by everything she’d heard from him so far.
“And Philadelphia was a major origin point for guests,” Shawn continued, looking thrilled to be able to relate all he knew, “The wealthy financiers and industrialists there all came up here thinking mountain air would be good for their health. They had a lot to do: tennis and squash courts, riding trails, there was a mountain lake nearby they could go boating on-if you had the money, this was the place to go for about twenty years.”
“So what happened that ended all that?”
“The Depression. The railroads lost money and the hotel went into receivership. They sold it to pay off their debts, and the new owners tore out some of the more extravagant features. It went on for a couple of decades, but being this far out of the way, it never got back to what it had been in its glory days.”
“I see. Well, you really know your local history, Shawn; I learned a lot this afternoon,” she told him.
“Good to know,” he managed a smile, “I’m, I’m really into history anyway. My family has some of it too; my great-grandfather was accused of being a Molly Maguire-you’ve heard of them, right?”
“Yeah, the coal miners who they said waged a guerilla war against the mine owners for short-changing them.”
“Basically, yeah. Richard Campbell, my great-grandfather, had tried to unionize in his mine, so the owners swore out a warrant for his arrest for the murder of a foreman not far from here. He was one of the lucky ones, though; he fled the county before they could arrest him. He waited in central PA for about ten years until the labor wars had cooled off, then came back under an assumed name. Once all the owners had died off, he switched back to his real...”
“Your turn, Amy,” Beth handed her a set of dice. Amy took them and rolled them onto the Monopoly board set up in the middle of the circle her friends were seated in. “New York Avenue, good,” she nodded, as she owned the deed to it at the moment. She handed the dice to Judy, whose turn it was next, then glanced towards the hallway. “Hope Craig’s been able to get through to Dylan...” she mused out loud.
“So do I,” Beth leaned forward, frowning deeply, “This call shouldn’t have taken this long. Hope nothing’s happened to Dylan...”
“Same here,” Shawn agreed. He turned to Amy again. “Again, thanks for being so nice with me today, Amy.”
“Oh don’t mention it, Shawn...”
“No, really, you have no idea how...how much I feel like an odd member out in the Sidekicks a lot,” Shawn confessed, discomfort flooding his face, “Everyone seems to be paired up: Craig and Beth are as close as a brother and sister can be, Patrick and Judy have been best friends their whole lives,” he pointed across the circle at the two of them laughing together in a conversation of their own, “Kyle and Andrea were going steady for the longest time, you and Monica are already best friends, it looks like...I was hoping I’d be able to fit in more if I did get Laurie to fall in love with me, but now it looks...”
“Shawn, you’re a great guy and a very interesting guy,” Amy patted him on the shoulder, “I’m honored to know you and be friends with you. I appreciate and respect people with brains. And you’re a lot better than Laurie ever could be, I can tell you that.”
“But I still have feelings for her...”
“I know. But I’ll tell you what: if she doesn’t change, I’ll try and find a girl for you myself,” she offered him.
“You really would?” Shawn was impressed.
“Promise, Shawn,” she vowed, “Good guys shouldn’t have to be alone.”
Shawn gasped in gratitude. His head shot up before he could say anything, though. “Here comes Craig,” he announced, seeing the Sidekicks’ co-leader walking into the lounge with some trays in hand, “Hope everything is all right with Dylan. Well, I’ll let him have this spot again, since the two of you are becoming a couple pretty quick,” he told Amy, rising to his feet.
“Come back any time, Shawn,” Amy told him. Shawn stepped back to let Craig sit down next to Amy. “You hear from him, Craig?” Beth asked her brother, concerned.
“Yeah, Dylan’s on his way now, Beth,” Craig nodded, “He said his car broke down in the supermarket lot, and it took an hour and a half for the tow truck to get there with the snow coming down like this. He’s fine now, though, and he’s got some surprises for us.”
“Just so it’s enough food to last the whole weekend and beyond,” Shawn looked concerned himself as he sat down on Beth’s other side.
“He says we’ll be good for the next few days, Shawn, so don’t worry. And speaking of that, I’ve got chocolate cream pies and ice cream for everyone, so come and get them,” Craig announced out loud, extending his trays towards his friends, who eagerly snatched up the treats on them. “Saved the biggest piece and biggest scoops for the girl of the hour,” he told Amy, setting down a cardboard plate with three scoops of Neapolitan ice cream and a huge slice of pie on it in front of her.
“Appreciate it, Craig, again,” she grinned.
“You deserve it, of course, Princess Amy,” he planted a soft kiss on her cheek and rubbed her hair affectionately, “Eat on up.”
“Between this and the leftover pizzas we had earlier, I don’t know what else I’ll have room for...oh, my turn again?” she looked up as Beth handed her the dice. She rolled them, landing her an eight. “Ah no, Ventnor Avenue again; you’re going to put me in the poorhouse at this rate, Judy,” she teased the other blonde, handing over her rent money for the space.
“Oh well, that’s capitalism; some win, some lose,” Judy shrugged teasingly, taking the money and gesturing for the dice herself. Amy handed them over, then took a big bite out of the pie. “Delicious,” she nodded.
“Got it at the store before we left to come here; seemed like it would be a good delicacy,” Beth said. “How’s the storm looking out there now, Craig?” she asked him.
“Looks like we’re in the height of it now, Beth; it’s hard to see anything out there,” Craig informed his sister, “So I hope Dylan goes nice and slow coming back; you can get in a really bad accident in this.”
“I see. Well, the news’ll be on in a minute,” Beth glanced at the TV screen, where the end credits of the game show that had been airing were now rolling, “We’ll know what the timetable with this is real soon. In the meantime, what’s your middle name, Amy?” she asked her.
“You’ll see. Can I have your attention again?” Beth called to the rest of the Sidekicks, who turned in unison away from the Monopoly board, “I’d like to take the chance to call a second vote for Amy to be a Sidekick. All those in favor, raise your hands.”
Amy found herself beaming as every single hand in the room went up, “And Dylan said yes as well, so that’s a two thirds majority. Congratulations, Amy Angela Newberry, you are now officially a Sidekick,” Beth commended her, “Hold out your hand if you will.”
Amy did so. Everyone else in the circle clasped hold of it. “Let it be known from this moment on, Amy is officially our sister in every way,” Beth declared, “As such, each of us pledges to be there for her as a friend, to support her, to stand by her, to be there for her every step of the way going forward. Do you solemnly swear it?”
“We swear,” everyone declared in unison. Amy started sniffing in delight. “Thank you, all of you,” she commended them, unable to stop herself from crying, “All of this, and everything all of you have done for me already over the last two days...you have no idea how much it’s all meant to me. I thought it would take me an eternity to fit in here in Coalport, and for all of you to accept me unconditionally and take me in as your friend without any reservations...I can never thank you guys enough for giving me a place to fit in. You’re all like angels to me...”
“No, we’re not angels, Amy,” Judy told her, joining the others in giving her a group hug, “We’re just a group of average, everyday sixteen years olds like you who enjoy hanging out and having fun together, and we’re happy to let you join with us.”
“And if you need anything, Amy, anything at all, let us know, and we’ll do it for you,” Patrick added, squeezing her shoulder, “Including my offer to formally practice with you...”
“I know, Patrick, and I still appreciate it,” she rubbed at her eyes, “Maybe once the storm finally stops, we can work out a bit.”
“We’ll have to get you your own Sidekicks jersey now too,” Monica said, “Your mom can get the factory to make one more, Beth?” she asked the black-haired girl.
“Probably,” Beth nodded, “When should we try and get it done by?”
“As soon as...”
“Hold on a moment, here comes the news,” Shawn waved her silent, pointing at the newscast’s opening flashing on the TV screen, “Let’s see what the latest snowfall totals are going to be.”
All eyes turned to the screen. “Good evening, and welcome to Eyewitness News at Five; I’m Lewis Michaels,” the anchor declared to the viewing public, “Our top story tonight: terror in Coalport as the Miners’ Union Bank is the target of a horrific daytime robbery that left two employees dead. Our top reporter Mike Ruland is on the scene; Mike?”
“Well Lewis, as you can see behind me, the Miners’ Union Bank is still roped off as police comb the scene,” the on-scene reporter announced, “At approximately three o’clock this afternoon, four masked figures entered the bank and demanded all the money in the vault. Gunfire erupted when guards tried to stop them; one guard and one teller were killed in the shootout, and three other bank employees were wounded. The suspects escaped with close to one hundred thousand dollars in cash. Authorities are asking anyone with information...”
“Oh my god,” Patrick looked pale, “That’s just horrible...Mrs. Price across the street works there; I hope she’s all right...” he shot a worried glance at Judy.
“So do I,” Judy looked just as pale, “You never expect anything like this in a small town like Coalport...”
“That must have been what those sirens we heard earlier were,” Amy realized, shooting a knowing look at Shawn, “My mom took a job at a realty firm in the downtown district about four blocks from the bank...I hope she wasn’t in harm’s way...”
“Hope so too...ah, the weather,” Craig pointed at the screen, where the weatherman was back in front of his map. “...you can see, our earlier predictions fell short of the mark, as the snowstorm has intensified beyond what was expected. We can now predict up to two feet of snow in the mountains, and up to eighteen inches in the valleys. Temperatures are also expected to drop during the storm into the single digits, so don’t go outside unless you absolutely have to...”
“Well, guess that confirms it, we’re stranded here till about mid-week,” Shawn remarked, pointing at a graphic noting Coalport would now be receiving eighteen inches, “Hope nobody had any plans Monday and Tuesday...”
“No plans, Shawn, thankfully,” Monica shot a glance towards the hall again, “Maybe Dylan ought to turn back for his own good if he’s not just about here...”
It was then, though, that the hotel’s door could be heard swinging open. “Guys, I’m back,” Dylan’s voice rang out, making the seven of them breathe sighs of relief. The redheaded boy entered the lounge. “Everyone OK?” he asked them.
“Yeah, Dylan. We were worried about you being out there like this,” Craig told him.
“Believe me, Craig, it’s been a long afternoon for me, with my car breaking down and all and this weather, but I’m back now,” Dylan said.
“What was wrong with it?”
“Battery died in the cold; the garage gave it a jump, and it worked. Anyway, though, I’ll need some help bringing the food in. Amy, you want to help me with it?” he asked her.
“OK,” Amy agreed, rising to her feet and grabbing for her coat. She followed Dylan down the hall towards the front door. “What all did you get us?” she asked him.
“Oh, I got a couple of surprises for everyone,” he said evasively, “You enjoy your afternoon?”
“A lot, Dylan, a lot. We all went sledding together; it was a lot of fun.”
“I see. Well, there’ll be plenty of more fun to come, I can promise you that, Amy. It’s right this way,” he held open the front door for her. Amy stepped outside into the snow...
...when suddenly, without warning, a heavy blanket was tossed over her head from the side. Before she could process this, a hand was clamped over her mouth and strong arms grabbed her around the waist, pinning her arms at her sides. “Don’t fight this, beautiful,” a cold, ominous voice hissed in her ear, “You’re going for a little ride with us...”