December 6, 1976

“Christmas!”  Hallie Belden unfolded her legs and jumped up off the narrow dorm bed.  Striding forcefully to the window, she threw her arms up and continued.  “And my dear parents just have to go to Bolivia to check on a situation at their mine.  Instead of having Christmas at home.”  Glowering out at the snowy campus outside, she rested both elbows on the windowsill and plopped her chin into her fisted hands.

“Surely they don’t expect you to stay at school over the holidays,” her roommate protested.

“Oh, no!” Hallie spun around, glaring at the diminutive girl seated at the desk on her own side of the room.  “Oh, no!  She said I could fly out to Idaho and stay in our condo at Sun Valley!  With my brothers, their wives, and the rugrats.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad,” ventured her friend.

“You don’t think so?”  Hallie’s lip curled and her brows drew together.  “Knut and Gloria, and Cap and Fawn, will go down to the lounge after dinner and leave me to watch Jagger, Jesse, Sage, Marjoram and Paisley by myself.  Trust me, I am not into watching five ankle-biters and sleeping with three of them.”     

“You can’t get your own room?  Or you can’t stay in a room separate from the kids?”  Joanne Darnell wrinkled her forehead.

Hallie plopped back down on her bed and slumped over, elbows on knees.  “The resort has been doing renovations and there was a stupid plumbing screw-up last week.  Six units got flooded.  The management is desperate to get the repairs completed before the holiday deluge, and they don’t have any extra rooms.”

“You wouldn’t want to go to your cousins’ house?”  Joanne was still trying to help her find a solution.  Hallie ground her teeth.

“Aunt Helen and Uncle Peter are really nice,” she admitted.  “They would probably let me come.  But I crapped in the nest the last time I stayed there.  I pulled a really stupid stunt, messed over a guy I had a huge crush on, and caused my best friend to get hurt and miss a deadline for submitting a project she needed for admission into her dream college.  No one in Sleepyside would be happy to see me.”

“Why don’t you come to Mead’s Mountain with me, then?” Joanne offered.  “I’m working at the resort from the day after finals until the day before we come back to class.  I’ll have my own room and it has two beds.”

“How did you get that job anyway?” Hallie asked.  She felt a faint stirring of hope, but was suspicious that Joanne’s plan was too good to be true.

“You know I’ve always kept in touch with Jim Frayne and Honey Wheeler,” Joanne said.  “I asked her a month ago if she thought I could possibly get any kind of job there over the holidays, since we’re so close to it.  Her dad is a part-owner of the resort and she asked him.  Next thing I know, I had a packet from Mead’s Mountain with a job application in it.  Pat and Katie O’Brien, the managers, have called me a couple of times.  They seem really nice.”

“But they might need the other bed in your room for another worker.”

“They told me I’d have a room to myself, although I probably owe that to Honey.”  Joanne shook her hair away from her face and grinned.  So that hurdle was cleared.

“Why aren’t you going home, anyway?”  Hallie knew Joanne wasn’t especially close to her family, but… Christmas?

Joanne scowled.  “Home!”  She tossed her head and sniffed.   “Ever since Mr. Smith died and his sons sold the farm, my dad’s gone from one pie-in-the-sky get-rich-quick scheme to another.  Mom is just a doormat to him and follows him from one shabby rental place to the next.  Sally is such a sexpot wannabe that it’ll be a miracle if she’s not pregnant before she’s sixteen.  My brother got in trouble for hot-wiring a car and had to be sent off to a juvenile facility.  I’d rather spend the whole month in this dorm room than to go home.” 

“Wow!  I didn’t know it was that bad.”  Hallie flushed.  “I’m sorry!  My problems are so petty compared to that.”  She stood and started pacing again.  “But even if there’s no one else staying in that room, don’t you think the O’Briens might have a problem with you bringing a guest?”

“I’ll call them, but I really doubt it will be a problem.”  Joanne was firm.  “They sounded to me like they were still hiring holiday help.  Maybe you could even work—if you wanted to.”

“I’ll think about it and let you know tomorrow.”  Hallie was thoughtful.  “It’s a shame you have to work over the holiday, though.”

“I don’t mind.”  Joanne stretched, catlike.  “I’d rather work than go home, and this job gives me an excuse not to go.  And it will help me pay my room and board next semester.”  She plucked the sleeve of her sweater to check her watch.  “Hey, it’s time for supper.  Come on, Hallie—it’s macaroni and cheese night in the cafeteria.”

By the next morning, Hallie had made up her mind.  She loved to ski, and spending the Christmas break at a ski resort, even working, would be much, much better than babysitting her nieces and nephews.  She had money if she needed to pay for her food and gear, but if she was working there, she might have meals and access to the slopes without paying.  Pretty sweet.

She met up with Joanne at the student center cafeteria at noon.  “Did you get a chance to call the O’Briens?” she asked her friend.

“Yes, I called before I went to class,” Joanne replied, her eyes sparkling.  “Katie said you could be an assistant ski instructor, since you already know how to ski.  I’ll be stuck working in the ski rental shop or the lodge cafeteria.”

Hallie clapped her hands.  “I can’t believe it’s working out so well!  I’ll call my brother Knut tonight and let him know I’m staying in Vermont over the holiday.  Since Mom and Dad won’t be there anyway, he can’t possibly object.  It’ll just sound like selfishness if he tries to guilt me into babysitting instead.”   She nodded decisively.

Joanne had expected to be bored working the register at the Mead’s Mountain ski rental shop, so she wasn’t overly disappointed in her job.   She hummed along with her favorite Christmas carols, broadcast throughout the shop over the PA system.  Do You Hear What I Hear? and Silent Night, along with Elvis Presley’s Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas? and the Beach Boys’ Christmas Day.

Alone in the shop for a brief interval, she warbled along with the music, “Do you see what I see? Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see?

The bell over the door jingled and her mouth dropped open as a young man entered.  Quickly collecting herself, she snapped it shut.  Fortunately, the door was at enough distance and at such an angle that she didn’t think he had noticed her.  Veiling her gaze with her eyelashes, she took in the young man’s appearance from his narrow, jeans-clad hips to the black leather flight jacket, to the wide shoulders and dark hair, stylishly shaggy.  He pulled off a pair of mirrored sunglasses and squinted in the dimmer light of the shop.

“May I help you?” she asked courteously.  She hoped her cheeks were not flaming.

“Actually, I’m here to work.”  He flashed a smile that revealed a deep dimple on his right cheek.  He strode up to the counter and extended his hand.  “Dan Mangan, I’m here to help with the heavy lifting, since I’m not much of a skier.”

“Joanne Darnell,” she said with a return smile, extending her own hand.  “I’m mainly working the register.  We have several ski instructors who help customers with their fittings and equipment selection.”

“I’m here until school starts back up in January,” Dan told her.  “Hopefully both of us will have some time to polish up our skiing.”  He smiled again.  “So do you have some stock I can straighten until Pat comes in to show me what he actually wants me to do?”

She moved from her elevated station behind the counter and stepped down onto the floor, at which point her eyes were directly at his mid-chest level.  Looking up at him, she gestured for him to follow her to a set of shelves where the ski pants had been rummaged through by an early-morning group. 

“You can start by making sure all of these are properly separated by size and folded neatly,” she said, pointing.  “Oh!  But please feel free to take off your jacket and put it away in the break room.  Have you been there yet?”

“No, but I’m just going to wait for Pat.  I’m fine right now.”  He pulled off the contents of one shelf and started checking the size, folding, and replacing them neatly.  Joanne could see that he needed no assistance and headed back to her register, only glancing back once at a very fine backside view.  This could be fun, she thought, smiling.

It wasn’t long before Pat O’Brien arrived and started showing Dan his various duties.  Joanne couldn’t hear anything but a low rumble from their direction and she was soon so busy with customers that she had no time to observe her new coworker. 

At noon, Pat relieved her at the register.  “Lunch break,” he said with a friendly grin.  “Take an hour to eat and walk around a bit.  Your friend Hallie is on break, too.”

Hallie listened as Joanne described the new employee at the shop, smiling at her friend’s enthusiasm.  Joanne was careful to glance at the break room door frequently—she didn’t want Dan to come in and hear what she was saying!

“So, what’s this dreamboat’s name?”  Hallie asked with a grin. 

“Oh, didn’t I tell you already?” She couldn’t believe it.  “It’s Dan.  Dan Mangan.”

The grin slid off of Hallie’s face and she stared at Joanne.  “Did you say Dan Mangan?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Kill me now,” Hallie moaned.  “Maybe there’s more than one Dan Mangan.  I hope so.”  She pushed her chair back and crumpled her apple core into her sandwich wrapper, tossing it into the trash receptacle in the corner.  “Two points for me,” she said, with what Joanne thought was a forced smile.

As Hallie excused herself, Joanne’s forehead puckered in thought.  Why did the name ‘Dan Mangan’ have such an effect on her normally outgoing, confident roommate?  She’d definitely have to feel Hallie out for the story later.  She slipped on her jacket and sunglasses and walked outside to enjoy some fresh air in the twenty minutes left on her break.  Several beginning skiers were lined up at the top of the bunny slope.  One young girl pushed off.  Joanne could tell she was no expert, but she looked graceful and stayed on her feet, swaying slightly in rhythm with the terrain.   I hope I can do that well before I head back for school, she thought.

At five o’clock, she counted out her register with the young man who relieved her for the evening skiing, and headed back to her room to freshen up for supper.  Hallie was on duty until six, so she decided to read for a bit.  However, as soon as she settled herself on her bed and stuffed her pillow behind her back, the phone on her nightstand rang.  She abandoned her book and grabbed the receiver.  “Hello?”

“Joanne!  It’s Honey Wheeler.”  The familiar voice surprised Joanne.  Although Honey had secured the job for her, she hadn’t expected to hear from her friend before Christmas.

“Hi, Honey!  It’s great to hear from you.  What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing.”  Honey’s voice bubbled with excitement.  “But I just wanted to let you know that we—the Bob-Whites—are coming to Mead’s Mountain on the twenty-seventh and we’ll stay until New Year’s Day, everyone except Brian, that is.  He has to go back to Boston the very next day.”  Honey paused for breath and sighed  “I hate that he has such a short break, but it’ll be so much fun to see you!  I hope Pat and Katie can do without you one day so you can ski with us and go to dinner.”

“Honey, that’s super!  It’ll be great to see you guys, and probably as long as I give the O’Briens a little notice, they can arrange my schedule.  There’s a guy who works here I may be able to trade with.”  She thought for a moment.  Hallie had said “no one in Sleepyside would be happy to see me.”  Honey was babbling on and on.  When she stopped for a breath, Joanne decided to break in.

“Honey, I need to tell you something,” she started.

“What?  Is the resort booked solid?”  Honey immediately sounded worried.

“No!  I mean, I don’t really know the schedule.  It’s not that, though.  My roommate is here with me.  Trixie’s cousin, Hallie Belden.  Is it a problem if she joins us…for dinner, at least?”  She twisted the phone cord around her finger until the circulation was cut off.

“Hallie?  I don’t guess I realized she was your roommate.”  Honey’s voice had turned thoughtful.  “Sure.  Why not?”

“I know she pulled some kind of stunt a few years ago and she said she felt like she was persona non grata in Sleepyside.  So I didn’t know if anyone would be uncomfortable if she was here.”  Joanne bit her lip.

Honey hesitated for the space of a breath.  “Hallie’s family, and Christmas is all about family, right?  Maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet?”

“But you’ll tell Trixie, right?”  Joanne bit her lip again, even as she tried to push down a pang of guilt over her avoidance of her own family.

“Yes, I’ll tell her.  But you’ve got to tell Hallie, too.  I hope this won’t cause an avalanche when we all get together!”  Honey giggled, but her voice sounded strained to Joanne.

“I will,” she promised.  “Hopefully it won’t be an issue.”

“I hope not.  We’re probably blowing it all out of proportion.”  Honey sighed.  “Anyway, I’m really looking forward to seeing you next week.  Bye now!”

“Bye!”  Joanne tried to project happy anticipation.  She crossed her fingers for good luck as she replaced the receiver.

She told Hallie that night after supper, as they were getting ready for bed.  Her roommate took the news better than Joanne had expected.  “Obviously I had to run into them some time.”  She paced back and forth, hands jammed into the pockets of her robe.  “If they don’t want me around, I’m sure I can avoid them.”

“Maybe it won’t be so bad,” Joanne tried to comfort her.  “You’re all a few years older and you don’t have to see each other often anyway.”

“Hah!  You don’t know Trixie too well, I see.  Brian and Mart would at least be polite, no matter what they think.  But Trixie holds a grudge.”  She blew out a breath and stared out the window at the snow.  “Jim will follow Trixie’s lead, while Honey acts as peacemaker.  But it’s Diana I’ll have a hard time facing.  She’s the one who suffered most from my stupidity.  She...and Dan.”

“Dan?”  Joanne hoped Hallie would explain her reaction to the new guy this morning.

“Yeah.  Dan Mangan.  Tall, dark and handsome, ex-gang member turned super-woodsman and scholarship winner.  Mr. Perfect.”  Joanne couldn’t see her face but she could tell Hallie was grimacing.  She walked over and put her hand on Hallie’s arm.

“Dan Mangan—the new guy at the shop?  He’s the same guy you know?  The one you said you messed over?”

“I wasn’t 100% sure when I first saw him, but yes, he’s the one.  Hopefully he didn’t recognize me.”

“He has to see you sometime between now and next week.”  Joanne frowned.  “You can’t avoid him all that time.”

“I know.”  Her friend started pacing again.  “Maybe by that time I can at least prove I’ve grown up and also that I don’t want to be with him.  He might not think of me as a friend, but at least he might not hate me.”

“What exactly did you do, anyway?” Joanne asked. 

But Hallie yawned and stretched.  “I’m too tired to tell the story right now,” she said.  “I’ll tell you tomorrow.  Maybe.”  With that, she slipped out of her robe and into her bed, pulling the blankets over her head.  No matter what Joanne tried, she couldn’t get anything else out of her, and she stopped after only a minute or two.  She was tired after a long day spent learning a new job, and soon, she was too sleepy to care what Hallie had done.

“All I want for Christmas is you!”  Joanne winced as her least favorite Christmas song wafted through the shop.  The Mariah Carey number was so fatuous and trite, it annoyed her more and more with each passing day.  And this was day number four of her new job. 

“Joanne, can you spare a minute to help me find the special pro ski wax?”  It was Dan.  Normally he worked quietly and efficiently, with the minimum of conversation.

“The HSF?  Sure.”  She stepped out from behind her counter and showed him the wax he needed.

“Thanks!”  He smiled at her.  “Say, would you like to go for a moonlight ski tonight?  Just on the bunny slope!”

She’d taken a lesson from Hallie each of the past three days after work, and was able to stay on her feet on the easy beginner trail.  “Sure, that would be fun.”  She hoped she didn’t sound too eager, but didn’t want to sound like she was bored by the thought, either.

“Great,” he said.  “Meet you in the lobby at eight, then?”

“Sure.”  She smiled and went back to work.  Even Mariah Carey was a bit less annoying…just a bit less. 

The night air was exhilarating against Joanne’s face as she swished her way down the bunny slope later.  A fine flurry of snow dusted her nose and cheeks, while the friction from her skis sent up a mini-wake of powder behind her.  She and Dan were the only skiers on the bunny slope at this hour, although an instructor watched from the top of the slope.  Dan had pulled up at the bottom and waited for her.  As she snowplowed to a stop, he reached for her hand.

“That was fun, wasn’t it?” he asked with a wide grin.

“Oh, yes!  It was wonderful.”  Joanne could feel her cheeks stretching with her return smile.  “Can we do one more run?”

“One more,” Dan agreed, pulling her toward the lift.

During the ride to the top of the mountain, Joanne asked him, “Don’t you mind being away from home at Christmas?”

Dan’s face darkened.  For a moment she thought he wasn’t going to answer, and she worried that she’d offended him.  Just as she was about to say, Never mind, he cleared his throat.

“My parents are dead, and the man who took me in and became my guardian died last month.  I really didn’t want to be home, and one of the owners here is a neighbor.  He helped me get the job, and it’ll help me with college expenses next semester.”

“That’s why I’m here, too.  I don’t mean because my parents are dead!”  Joanne’s face flamed.  “But I do need the money for school.  I have to admit I didn’t want to go home, though.  My parents are just… just… well, I just didn’t want to hear their uninformed ideas about what I should do.”  

“They couldn’t be any more meddling than my uncle.  He’s a great guy, but he thinks he has to tell me when to fart.  I feel kind of bad missing the holiday with him, but I can earn more in this job and I need the jack.  Grad school is going to be a bear.”

“I know what you mean,” Joanne agreed.  They had reached the top and she hopped out of the lift.  The pair made their way back to the shop, where they divested themselves of skis, ski pants, and boots, and collected their own footwear.

Joanne paused at the door to the room she shared with Hallie.  “This has been a lot of fun, Dan,” she told him.  “Thanks for asking me.”

“I had fun, too,” he replied.  “I hope we can do it again.”  He smiled.

“Sure—I hope we can, too.”  She wondered whether to initiate a kiss, but the moment passed before she could make up her mind.

Christmas Eve

Joanne was counting the minutes until three o’clock.  The shop was closing early for Christmas Eve and would not reopen until December 26.  Today’s Christmas music rotation was featuring the obnoxious Santa Baby at least once an hour.  Once a day was more often than she wanted to hear it, so she looked forward to closing even more than usual.  Customers had been sparse all day.

The O’Briens were serving a Christmas buffet for supper, and Katie had said only a few guests were registered for the holiday.  She and Hallie had planned to make a quick trip into town to do some last-minute shopping before the staff party.   

Hallie herself appeared in the doorway, dressed in her regular outdoor clothes rather than her ski instructor gear.  “You ready to head to town?” she asked with a grin.

“Yes, as soon as I count my cash drawer,” Joanne replied.  “Pat’s around here somewhere and will lock up.”

Just as she wrote down her final amounts, Pat walked up.  “Thanks, Joanne,” he said.  “Have a great time shopping.  Now get out of here!”  He grinned.

Joanne wasted no time grabbing her jacket and purse, and skipped to keep up with the taller Hallie as they walked to Hallie’s car.  Downtown was a fifteen-minute drive from the lodge, and the two girls knew it would be dark before they returned to Mead’s Mountain.

“Oh, no!  It’s a garden gnome,” Joanne exclaimed in the first shop they visited.  “Those things give me the creeps.”

Hallie laughed.  “But he’s so cute!”  The gnome was brightly dressed in a green jacket with a red pointed cap over his white hair and beard.  His eyes twinkled and he wore a cheery grin.  He wasn’t more than six inches high.  “Are you sure he’s not a dwarf from Lord of the Rings?”

“Dwarf or gnome, I don’t care.  Mrs. Smith had a dozen gnomes in her flower bed, and I always felt like they were watching me.”  Joanne made a face and walked on to look at other merchandise.  She scanned each shelf for small gifts to distribute to Hallie, Pat and Katie, and the staff gift exchange taking place at the party later.  For the O’Briens she selected a candle scented with cinnamon and apple; a couple of colorful knitted headbands for the female staff gift exchange.  For Hallie, it was more difficult.  Her friend was wealthy and didn’t need anything, and her cosmetics and clothing were way out of Joanne’s budget.  Finally, she decided some practical cold-weather items would be the ticket.  Lip balm, heavy-duty hand cream, hair elastics and a couple of tubes of hot-oil hair treatment should be the ticket.  On impulse, she chose a red ski cap for Dan.  A roll of wrapping paper and a spool of red ribbon completed her purchases.  

She met Hallie at the register and the clerk rang up their purchases.  “That was the quickest shopping trip I’ve ever made,” Hallie remarked as they walked back to the car in the deepening gloom of a Vermont twilight.  “But I’m ready for the staff party.”

“Yes, I am, too.”  Joanne found herself looking forward to the party and even to Christmas Day, which she had dreaded. 

Walking back to their room after the party, each loaded down with a bag of gifts, the two girls were quiet.  Joanne was tired, but happy.  The party had featured tasty snacks made by Wanda, the lodge manager, and Linda, the resort’s chef.  After a short round of caroling, the staff exchanged inexpensive gifts.  She had received a manicure set from one of the waitresses, and her headbands had been greeted with oohs and ahhs by one of the ski instructors.  Hallie had received a pair of ski gloves and had given a pretty scarf. 

“It was a nice party, wasn’t it?” Joanne asked.  “Are you missing your family?”

“It was nice,” Hallie agreed.  “I miss them some, but I’m not sorry I didn’t go to Idaho.  It would be nice to see my brothers and their kids, but no way would I want to babysit every night and sleep with a few toddlers.  This is much better.”

“It’ll be even better when the Bob-Whites get here,” Joanne said.

“I guess.”  Hallie sounded somewhat less enthusiastic.

“Sorry, I forgot.  But Honey acted like she wasn’t upset with you, and Dan’s been okay.”

“Dan might act okay but he doesn’t speak to me unless it’s absolutely necessary.”  Hallie reached into her jeans pocket for the room key.  “When we’re all together I wonder how okay everyone will be.  I’ll wear my game face, but that doesn’t mean I have to look forward to it.”   

December 27, 1976

Joanne looked up from her register at the door bell’s jingle.  It was almost closing time and while she had felt a low-grade anticipation all day over the arrival of the BWGs, she had no idea what time they were arriving or where they would meet up with her.  So the burst of activity that followed the door chime took her by surprise.   It was all she could do to keep from squealing with excitement.

“Thank you,” she said to her customer with an automatic smile as she handed back their credit card.  The youngish parents with two elementary-age children looked tired but the children were bouncing with energy over the prospect of skiing.

“Joanne!”  Honey Wheeler rushed up as soon as the family moved on.  “We got here about an hour earlier than we expected.  When do you go off-duty?”

“It’s so good to see you, Joanne!”  Trixie Belden was right behind her friend.

Glancing around, Joanne saw that for a miracle, no customers were in the shop at the moment, so she came out onto the floor to greet the Bob-Whites.  She hugged Honey and Trixie before noticing Jim Frayne, who had come up behind them.

“How’s my little brother?” he asked, ruffling her hair.

“My goodness, you’re taller than ever!” she exclaimed.  “I hear you’re in grad school now and on track to get your master’s in business as well as education.”   

“Well, still slogging away, anyway.”  Jim brushed off the compliment.  “No rest for the wicked!” 

She hugged him, too.  “You’ll have that school one of these days, just like I told you way back when.”

“You remember Trixie’s brothers, Brian and Mart.”  Jim stepped aside and waved at the two tall young men standing behind Honey. 

The taller, dark-haired one extended his hand.  “I’m Brian,” he said.  “I remember the time we stopped at the Smith farm on the way back from a trip.  It’s good to see you again.”

“And I’m Mart,” said the blond brother.  “We’d heard that Mr. Smith passed away; is your family still on the farm?”

Joanne flushed.  “No, the sons sold the farm and Mrs. Smith went to live with one of them.  My dad has had a few different jobs since then.  Oh, look, here comes Hallie!”

Her roommate had been on a break and was on her way back to the slopes.  Joanne beckoned her with a wave to join the group.  

An extremely beautiful black-haired girl entered the shop just then, followed by another, taller blond man, and Joanne started to return to her station.   The girl waved a camera over her head.  “Ben and I got some fabulous pictures, Mart, look—Joanne!”  She rushed up and grabbed Joanne into a tight hug.  Joanne realized it had to be Diana Lynch.  Although her father had once done odd jobs for the wealthy Lynches, she hadn’t known Diana well. 

“Diana!  I almost didn’t recognize you!  You look like…like a movie star!” she gasped when she was able to catch her breath.

“Surely most movie stars don’t have red noses!”  Diana laughed and waved off the compliment.  But it was true that she looked glamorous with her white fur hat, supple violet leather coat and black high-heeled boots.  “I’m doing a little project for marketing the resort while I’m here.  This is Ben Riker.  He’s helping me.”  She turned and gestured to a tall blond young man with crinkly hazel eyes.

“Hi, I’m Honey and Jim’s cousin,” the young man said. He stared over Joanne’s head, straight at Hallie, looking almost stunned by her striking dark good looks, as guys usually did.  Joanne felt the heat rise from her neck to her hairline, and forced her lips into a smile.   Ben Riker! She’d hoped never to hear his name or see his face again.

Diana’s voice continued.  She was obviously oblivious to Joanne’s reaction.  “Ben, these girls are Hallie Belden—Trixie’s cousin from Idaho—and Joanne Darnell, an old friend of ours.  They’re roommates at college, and both are working here over the Christmas break.”

“Nice to meet you, Hallie.”  Ben reached out to shake Hallie’s hand.  “Joanne and I have met before.  I’m sorry to say it wasn’t my most shining moment.  I hope you can forgive me, Joanne.  I’ll try to do better this time.”

Joanne saw Trixie shoot a sharp look at him.  Obviously she’d lost none of her powers of observation.  When the petite blonde moved her laser glance to Joanne, though, she struggled to conceal her reaction to Honey’s cousin.  Her face still burned and she was angrily pleased to see that Ben’s face was also flushed...hopefully with shame.  She held her smile with an effort, although her face felt so stiff she feared it might crack. 

“What’s done is done, and I’ve moved on.”  She shook his proffered hand, swallowing the resentment that bubbled up inside her at the memories he evoked.  “Well, I’ve got to get back to work,” she said.  “I’m off in an hour and maybe Hallie and I could join you for supper, right, Hallie?”

“Sure, that would be great.”  Hallie checked her watch.  “I’ll be able to join you around six.”  

“That would be super-fantastic!” Honey hugged her and then Joanne.  “We need to settle into our rooms and unpack a few things, so that’s perfectly perfect.”

Hallie applied some lip balm and waved good-bye.  “I hate to run, but I’m scheduled for a lesson in five minutes.  Afraid I already took a bit too long.”  She hurried outside and Joanne moved back behind her counter just as Dan joined the group.

“Hope you guys had good traveling weather,” he said, hugging the three girls and shaking hands with the guys.

“Beautiful flying weather,” Jim told him.  “No turbulence, and Trixie had another flying lesson.  She’s likely to get a pilot’s license before she’s old enough to get her detective’s license.”

Joanne stared at the petite blonde in admiration.  Trixie wasn’t afraid of anything!  But the future detective was blushing now.  “Jim!  I do like flying.  But a pilot... I don’t know about that!”

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” Dan said firmly.  “Speaking of learning things, Joanne and I have both been taking some skiing lessons.  We’re not on the level of the rest of you—at least I’m not—but maybe we can do some skiing while the rest of you are here.”

“That would be fun,” Diana agreed.  “I’m not very good either, but Ben’s skied a lot.”

“Mart and I can stay up on skis, but we’re far from pros,” Brian demurred.

“In other words, most of us are close to the same level,” Trixie concluded, her lips quirking in a grin.  “We’ll leave the black diamond trails to Ben and Hallie.”

“Well, gang, we’re taking up valuable floor space.  Let’s head for our rooms and let Dan and Joanne get back to work,” Mart said.  The seven visitors headed back outside and Joanne and Dan went back to work in the suddenly-quiet shop.  

The Bob-white table of ten maintained a low roar of conversation interspersed with laughter, and the tension that Joanne always felt when Hallie and Dan were in the same room seemed to dissipate a little with all of the Bob-Whites around.  She was glad to be seated at the opposite end of the table from Ben, and hoped the others hadn’t noticed her reaction to him.

“Is anyone too tired for a little moonlight skiing?” Trixie asked as the last of their dishes were being cleared from the table.  As usual, she was bouncing with enough energy for two people.

“I’ll watch, but don’t feel like getting back into all of my equipment again,” Brian said.  “And I’m going to hit the sack early.  Pat’s driving me to the train station in the morning so I can get back to Boston in time to work tomorrow night.”

“I’m ready for a little après-ski action,” Mart demurred.  “Diana, didn’t you say you wanted to get some footage of the chalet lounge?”

“I could do a few runs.”  Jim Frayne stretched himself in his chair.  “With the full moon tonight, it should be beautiful and we’ll have plenty of light.”

“Besides, the main trails are illuminated at night,” Hallie put in.  “I’ll join you, too.”  She ignored Trixie’s fleeting look of irritation and turned to her roommate.  “You up to some practice?  You’re getting pretty good.”

Joanne hesitated.  Skiing was fun, but just selecting all the ski gear from the shop and donning it took time and she’d already had a long day.  When Honey raised her hand and said, “I’ll join you,” she opened her mouth to say yes.  Before she could get the word out, Ben Riker spoke up.

“Nothing like some good moonlight skiing,” he said.  “I’m in.”

Immediately, Joanne changed her mind.  “I’m kind of tired,” she fudged.  “Think I’ll turn in early.”  She caught Dan giving her a sharp look.  He was getting to know her too well!  

“You know, some of the younger kids are using the terrain park for snowboarding,” he said.  “Those kids have got some great stunt moves.  I hear that Pat and Katie’s daughter, Rosie, is one of the best.  Some of the kids are practicing tonight for a competition tomorrow afternoon.  I’d like to watch them for awhile.  Why don’t you come with me, Jo?  It’s still early for sack time.”

“Okay, maybe for an hour,” she agreed, smiling reluctantly.  Her heart beat a little faster at this sign that Dan wanted to spend time with her.

“I’m actually going to watch the snowboarders for awhile,” Diana told Mart.  “Pat asked me to get some shots of the competition tomorrow and I’d like to take notes on the stunts that will make the best shots.”  She smiled at her longtime boyfriend.  “Won’t you come with me?  We’ll do the après-ski scene tomorrow night.”  

The group split up so that the Bob-Whites could return to their rooms and don outdoor clothing.  Joanne and Hallie needed only to add a second pair of socks and collect their ski goggles and gloves, since they didn’t have their own gear.  Hallie decided to brush and re-braid her hair once they reached the room.  She sat on her bed, carefully dividing her long hair into three sections and starting a French braid.

“You don’t like Ben, do you?” she asked, raking Joanne with her dark eyes.

“Is it that obvious?”  Joanne tried to laugh it off, but felt the effect was unconvincing.

“Pretty much.”  Hallie stopped talking for a moment as she concentrated on keeping the strands of hair smooth.  “What happened?  You never mentioned Ben before.”

“It was before I knew you, the summer after I graduated from high school.” Joanne grimaced as she inspected a hangnail.  “My dad had gotten a job as caretaker of an estate out on Long Island, and I was taking a summer class at Suffolk County Community College.  It was supposed to be a bunny course, something I needed but could buff my GPA, get a little ahead and save some money by taking at the community college.  Sociology.” 

“And?”  Hallie twisted an elastic band around the end of her braid.  “Hurry, we said we’d meet the others in fifteen minutes.”

“Okay.  So Ben was in my class.  He’d already taken the class at his college and failed.  Probably too much partying!”  She sniffed in disdain.  “But he needed it in order to graduate, so he was retaking it during the summer.  I think he lives nearby—or at least his mom does.  Anyway, the professor put the two of us together on a project that was fifty percent of our class grade.  Ben goofed off, he dumped all of his part on me at the last minute...and both of us got a C-minus for the class.  Ben was satisfied, since that meant he passed.”  She snorted and frowned, staring at herself in the mirror as she carefully applied lip balm.  “I wasn’t happy.  That C-minus dropped my GPA instead of padding it; it was a complete waste of my time and my hard-earned money to have even taken the class—I wanted to retake it but really it wouldn’t have been worth it since I did pass.”

“Well, at least he didn’t kill anyone or dump you after a breathless romance.” Hallie was trying to tell her to let bygones be bygones, Joanne thought with some resentment.

“Well, he had been trying to flirt with me the whole time.  I guess he was buttering me up in order to dump the project on me.”  Joanne glowered at her roommate.  “No, thanks.  You’re welcome to Ben Riker, but I don’t have any use for him.”  She plucked her gloves and a warm knitted cap from the heat register, and donned a jacket over her heavy sweater.  “Are you ready?” 

Later, she and Dan stood together at base of the terrain park that was adjacent to the main downhill skiing area.  A group of young teens hurtled themselves down the mogul course, swerving and twisting as they traversed the bumpy path and launching themselves into the air from a jump about halfway down.  Joanne gasped as one girl flipped herself in a midair somersault, then held out her arms and spun like a helicopter before hitting the ground and continuing down the course.  Her red curls bounced under her helmet as she swooshed past the small group of onlookers and spun around again before coming to a stop.

“Oh my goodness!” Joanne gasped again.  “That was Rosie!  Wow, she’s something else.  I could never, never be that fearless!”

“Don’t forget, she’s been on skis since she could walk.”  Dan chuckled.  “You’d be right there with her if you’d had as much experience.  You’ve got plenty of nerve—I bet you’re game for almost anything, if necessary.”  His dark eyes crinkled at the corners as he smiled and squeezed her hand.

“Well...I guess you’re right about that.  But from here, it’s hard to imagine being that good.”  She smiled back at him.  “You’d be that good yourself, Mr. Mangan.  Speaking of nerve, I think you could handle yourself in almost any situation.”

“I’ve had to handle myself in a lot of different situations,” he agreed.  “Before I came to Sleepyside, I lived on the streets for a few months and got into trouble after joining a gang.  My mom had died and I didn’t want to end up in a foster home.  But I sure made some stupid decisions.  Thank God, the court social worker tracked down my uncle and he agreed to be responsible for me.”

Joanne watched as the next snowboarder launched himself from the top of the course, and glanced around at the small crowd of onlookers.  Diana and Mart were a short distance away, and she could see Di taking notes on a small pad, Mart pointing out various spots on the semi-groomed, gladed trail.  She thought about what Dan had said about stupid decisions.  Looking up at him, she gathered up her courage to ask a question.  “Hallie said she pulled a stupid stunt and messed things up between you and her.  She didn’t tell me what it was, but she says she deserves it if you still hold it against her.  You and Diana both.”  Her breath hung for a moment in a little cloud in front of her, and she wondered if she should have left the words unsaid.

“She said that, huh?”  Dan shoved both hands into his pockets and stared over at the lift for a moment before answering.  Rosie had already made it halfway up the slope, but the boarder who followed her was scooped up smoothly into the lift seat, his board dangling from one foot.      

“I did hold it against her for a couple of years.  Because of her, I wrecked my car.  The car was an older one and nothing special, but it was my first one and the former owner had taken good care of it.  I’d just started community college and with that car, I didn’t have to depend on someone else to get back and forth.”  He sighed and Joanne watched as the vapor from his breath slowly dissipated in the cold air.  “Her dad eventually sent me a check to buy another car, but my insurance rate doubled.  It’s still higher than it was before the wreck.  Diana and Mart were with us, and she was hurt; she had to postpone trying for a place in the art school she wanted to attend.”  Dan kicked at the packed snow underfoot.  “But Di was the one who convinced me to let it go.”

“Let it go?  I don’t think I could have done that.”  Joanne crossed her arms.  “That really stinks.  Hallie’s my friend and I know she’s sorry, but it I was you, I wouldn’t forgive her.”

Dan looked down at her and another smile crinkled the corners of his eyes.  “Here’s what Diana said:  Holding a grudge is like letting a person you don’t even like take up space in your head—rent-free.  Hallie’s not my favorite person, but I don’t hate her.  Not any more.”

Joanne gazed back at him as his words echoed back and forth in her mind.  “Diana’s a smart lady,” she finally admitted.  Was that what she was doing with Ben Riker?  Letting him take up rent-free space in her head?

The snowboarder on the hill now zoomed off the jump and performed a spectacular twisting somersault.  “He’s getting some big air,” Dan said admiringly.  But coming down, the boarder landed off-balance, and struggled to regain his footing. 

“Biffed it!” cried an onlooker.  Several people applauded the plucky participant, but although he was upright, he couldn’t regain his momentum and he skied his board off the groomed part of the trail, which Joanne knew was called off-piste.

Joining the other spectators in applauding the boarder’s effort, she felt tiredness descending on her like a blanket.  It had been a long day, and she was ready to call it a night.  “I’m ready to hit the hay,” she told Dan with a yawn.  “You can stay if you want to, though.”

“No, I’m ready to pack it in, too,” he said.  Together they headed back to the lodge, the packed snow of the path crunching under their boots.

Despite her fatigue, Joanne tossed and turned long after she was in bed.  Hallie was still out, so she had no one to talk to, and Dan’s words echoed in her head.  Holding a grudge is just like letting someone you don’t like take up space in your head—rent-free.  Whether or not Ben deserved her resentment, would she really be better off to let it go?  What if he wasn’t really sorry? Would that make a difference?  Should it?

He had apologized—kind of—at their first meeting here at Mead’s Mountain.  Saying he hadn’t been on his best behavior and would try to do better.

And what about Dan?  Yes, he said he had let go of his anger at Hallie.  Did he really mean it?  Hallie certainly hadn’t forgotten, or forgiven herself for the incident.  Should Dan tell her she was forgiven and they would start over with a clean slate?

Joanne jumped out of bed and made a quick trip to the bathroom, noticing it was nearly midnight according to her bedside alarm clock.  Hopping back into bed, she buried her head under the pillow and closed her eyes, resolutely clearing all conscious thought from her mind.  Next, she concentrated on relaxing each muscle, one by one.  It took some time, but finally she felt herself slipping down into sleep.

The next morning, she awakened to find Hallie already up and dressed.  “Morning, Glory,” she drawled with a grin.

“You’re bright-eyed for someone who was out until all hours,” Joanne retorted.  “I hope you guys had fun.”

“Oh, we did!”  A tiny smile danced around Hallie’s mouth.  “And don’t worry!  No one did anything they shouldn’t have!  Now, hurry and get your shower—there’s a wonderful buffet set up in the dining room.”  She brushed her long straight curtain of hair until it crackled, then smoothed it with her hands before dabbing her lips with the ever-present lip balm. 

“Sure, I’ll be down in about twenty minutes,” Joanne agreed.  “You go ahead.”  She stretched and stood up, snatching her clothing for the day and heading for the bathroom.  She could just barely hear the click as Hallie closed it behind her on her way downstairs.

When Joanne entered the dining room, she immediately noticed the large table where the Bob-Whites, Hallie, and Ben sat.  Like the night before, the group buzzed with energy and high spirits.  Her eyes sought Dan, who sat quietly sipping coffee.  He saw her and stood up, waving to indicate the empty seat next to him.  She smiled and waved in return, happily aware that her cranberry-red sweater flattered her fair skin and set off her black hair and dark eyes.  Helping herself to some yogurt, coffee, and a toasted bagel, she joined the group. 

The conversational topic was the snowboarding competition that was to take place at eleven o’clock.  Everyone wanted to have a good vantage point, but no one seemed to know where they should position themselves. 

Katie O’Brien approached the young people’s table, holding two pots of coffee.  “Refills, anyone?”

“Yes, please!”  Honey Wheeler, always polite and tactful, answered first.  “We’d all like a refill of your good coffee, Katie.” 

As Katie circled the table, pouring for each person and providing extra cream and sugar as needed, Trixie spoke up.  “Katie, we’ve been talking about watching the snowboarding today.  We’d dearly love to watch, especially since Rosie’s competing.  But we don’t know where we’d have the best view and be out of the way.”

“Most spectators watch from the bottom,” Katie told them.  “But there’s a small café about halfway down, with a vista deck.  I don’t know if all of you will be able to watch from there, but there’s room for several seats on the elevated deck, and there’s a sheltered area under the deck where more can watch.”

“That sounds great, Katie,” Jim said.  “Di, does that sound like somewhere you could take pictures?”

“Yes, at least for part of the time,” Diana replied after taking a sip of her coffee.  “But if I won’t be in the way, I’d like to get some pictures from ground level, too.”

“That shouldn’t be any problem,” Katie said.  “Please feel free to move around as you need to.  The skier’s responsibility code says that people ahead of you have the right of way.  So it’s the skier’s job, if they’re above you, to avoid you.”

“Yes, I know, but I don’t plan to actually go onto the piste.  I don’t want to be in anyone’s way.”  Diana’s forehead puckered.  “I wouldn’t want to be the cause of an accident.”

Hallie and Ben had been quietly sitting and eating waffles.  “I’m looking forward to watching Rosie,” Hallie offered.  “Joanne told me she’s just super!”

“She’s good, I’ll say that.”  Katie smiled, but a worried furrow marred her expression.  “I just can’t watch her.  She scares me when she does all of her flips and spins.  I’d better keep moving.  Enjoy your day.”  She moved on to another table.

After an hour of skiing, the group made their way to the trailside café.  Fortunately, there was space for all of them to watch the snowboard competition.  Brian had left immediately after breakfast, but Honey, Trixie and Jim sat on the vista deck of the trail café overlooking the terrain park.  Dan, Joanne, Ben and Hallie sat on a bench underneath the deck in the sheltered patio area.  The café was located a short distance below the main jump.  Mart and Diana moved around near the bottom of the hill, having decided they would have a better view of the jumps from that vantage point.  Six competitors had already navigated the course, and Joanne had been even more in awe of their skills than she’d been the night before.     

A boarder carved his way down the piste in a series of swooping turns, before launching himself from the jump.  Joanne gasped as he grabbed the front edge of his board and propelled his body into a midair spin. After floating through the air for the space of a breath, he landed solidly and without losing any momentum began to move again, swerving from side to side and even reversing the direction of his body before skidding to a stop with a spray of powder.  Joanne and the other watchers clapped as the boarder moved off the trail, waving to his audience.

“What a shredder!” Ben said.  “He’s ripping it up.”

“What?”  Joanne stared at him.

“Snowboard lingo,” he explained.  “A shredder is someone who really knows how to manage his board and do the tricks just like he wants to.  I’ve tried boarding myself, but decided I like skiing better.”

“Look!  Rosie’s next!”  Joanne could hear Trixie’s voice above her, vibrating with excitement.

Shading her eyes with her hand, Joanne watched the young teenager push off from a low crouching position, carving her way down the slope with gradually increasing momentum.  Launching herself into the air, she twisted to face the opposite direction as she approached the jump.  Going airborne again, Rosie tucked her knees to her chest and grabbed the back edge of her board, propelling her body into a backflip.  Joanne gasped and even Ben, who had been leaning back with legs outstretched, sat up and whistled in admiration.  Just then, a pair of deer exploded from the tree side of the run and ran across the piste as Rosie was making her descent.  The young girl tried to hurl herself to the side where the deer had emerged, but as she landed she overbalanced and began to cartwheel toward the tree line.

Joanne jumped up and grabbed Dan’s arm as Rosie disappeared headfirst into deep, soft snow near a small cluster of evergreens. “Oh, my gosh!” she cried, unsure whether to be glad Rosie hadn’t collided with a tree, or worried that she might be trapped in the snow.

Ben Riker had no hesitation.  “She went into the damn tree well!  Come on, Hallie.  We can get to her before the Ski Patrol can get here.”  He and Hallie grabbed their skis and clamped their boots into the bindings. 

“Jim!” Ben shouted.  “Can you and Trixie see if there’s a spine board and bring it down to the crash site?  Hallie and I are heading there now, since we’re pretty close.  We need to dig her out, but fast.”  He turned to Dan and Joanne.  “Call the Ski Patrol from the phone inside,” he barked.  “The first-aid station is a little away from here, it’ll take them a few minutes to get here.  Hurry!”

Hallie had already pushed off and was skiing toward the stand of trees, but Ben quickly caught up to her.  Dan and Joanne ran inside and asked permission from the manager to use the phone, but the young man had already called the Ski Patrol himself. 

Trixie and Jim emerged from a back room.  He carried a long flat board wide enough to hold a person, and Trixie carried their skis.  “Do you have a couple of spades?” Jim asked.  The manager grabbed two short-handled spades from a wall-mount and handed them to him.

“Come on, we’ve got to hurry,” Trixie urged. 

“I know, but we’ve got to get on our skis first,” Jim pointed out.  They hurried outside and sat on the bench where Dan and Joanne had been sitting.  Moments later, all four of them were on their way to the tree well, Trixie and Joanne carrying the spades while the guys carried the board.  Joanne felt her heart pounding; fear of what they might find combined with the exertion of staying upright and carrying the spade made her shaky.

Ben was digging away snow from the buried snowboarder with both hands, while Hallie crouched hear where her head must be.  She spoke soothingly as she scooped snow away from Rosie’s face and encouraged her not to struggle.  Jim and Dan each grabbed a spade and started helping Ben, who released Rosie’s snowboard bindings and tossed it off to the side.  Trixie almost hopped from one foot to the other, trying to see what was happening.  Joanne took the spine board and settled it into the softer snow of the un-groomed area to keep it from sliding away down the mountain.

“She’s got space to breathe.  I can see one side of her face,” Hallie said.  She turned back to the younger girl.  “How are you doing, Rosie?  We’ve almost got you clear and the Ski Patrol will be here in a few minutes.”

Joanne moved closer to try to hear.  “I’m okay, I think,” replied a faint voice. 

“All right, we’ve got her clear,” Ben remarked with satisfaction.  “Let’s get that board over here.”  He glanced around.  “Where did Honey go?”

“She went to find Katie,” Trixie told him.  “Since Katie said she didn’t like to watch Rosie, we think she’s probably still at the lodge.  I don't know when Pat will be back, and Honey didn’t want her to be alone,” she said in a low tone to Joanne.

“All right.”  Ben again took charge.  “Slide the board near Rosie, Dan.  Jim, help me to logroll her onto the board without moving her spine.  Trixie, can you hold her head and keep it in line with her body?”

“I can get up,” the teen protested.  “I’m fine.”

“Rosie, the way you fell, there’s a risk you might have injured your spine.  We want to protect your neck and spine until a doctor can check you,” Ben explained to her.  “Keeping you still and keeping your back aligned will help with that.”

“Okay, I’ll try,” the girl agreed, although Joanne noticed her eyes were a little too shiny and her lip trembled.

Carefully and gently, the two men straightened Rosie’s body and rolled her onto the board.  Jim looked for straps to secure her to the board but found nothing.  Joanne suddenly remembered her long muffler and pulled it off, handing it to him.  Trixie did the same, and Jim and Ben used the scarves to fasten Rosie to the board. 

Hallie wasn’t wearing a scarf, but she unzipped her jacket and laid it over the younger girl.  “Lift up the board and I bet I can tie the sleeves under the board,” she suggested.  “One benefit of having freaky-long arms!”

Jim and Ben lifted the stretcher and Hallie laid her jacket over the partially immobilized youngster, pulling its arms through the holes on the board’s sides and underneath it.  She had just barely enough material to tie them under the board, and afterward straightened up and raised both arms in victory.   

“Cheese and rice!” Joanne exclaimed.  “You did it.  I never would have thought of that.”

Dan removed his jacket and tossed it at Hallie.  “Here, wear that,” he said.  “I’ve got a good warm sweater already.”

“Thanks!”  Hallie looked at him with what Joanne thought was the first genuine smile her friend had shown since Dan’s arrival.

“All right.”  Ben was taking charge again.  “Let’s head for the lodge, we’re not that far from it now.  Joanne, Trixie, and Hallie, can you girls carry our skis?  And Rosie’s snowboard?”

“Yeah!  Don’t forget my snowboard!”  Rosie’s voice floated back to the three girls.  “Please!”

“Sure, we’ve got it,” Hallie assured her.  Dan grabbed the two pairs of skis and handed the poles and spades they had used to dig Rosie out of the tree well.

“We’ll have to take it slow, and stay away from the piste,” Ben said.  “The groomed part of the trail will probably be too slippery.”  Jim nodded, and the two tall men began trudging carefully along the side of the trail, just off-piste.

“Hey!  I think it’s the Ski Patrol!” Joanne cried.  She wasn’t sure what she’d expected, but it wasn’t the team of sled dogs streaming across the snow, pulling a sled mounted by two people in snow gear.  The pack was moving up the slope from an area near the lodge.

Ben and Jim stopped, and Jim peered down the slope.  “You’re right, Joanne.  Dog teams still outnumber snowmobiles for ski rescue squads.  I’m glad Mead’s Mountain still uses them.”

The dog team reached them much sooner than Joanne would have expected, and in minutes Rosie was securely bundled onto the rescue sled, still on the long board.  Joanne watched in fascination as the man and woman of the Ski Patrol swiftly secured rolled towels on either side of Rosie’s head to stabilize her neck.

“We’ll see you down there later, Rosie,” Hallie assured the young girl.  “These two will take good care of you.”  She stood directly over Rosie and waved at her.  Joanne, Trixie, and the guys did the same, and then it was time for the rescue squad to head back.  They turned the dog team around and took off down the slope at a smooth trot.

“Hallie, and Ben, you guys were fantastic!”  Trixie bubbled over with enthusiasm.  “You knew just what to do, and you responded so quickly.”

“I’ve done a lot of skiing,” Ben said with a shrug as he took his skis from Trixie and started to knock the snow from the soles of his boots.  “Tree wells are hazards, and a person who lands in one can suffocate before even their skiing partner realizes they’re trapped.  I’ve taken a few safety classes and just reacted automatically.”  Carefully placing one ski crossways from the slope, he stepped into its bindings and secured them, repeating the action with the opposite foot.

“Tree wells are seen a lot out west.”  Hallie took up the explanation, following Ben’s lead and getting back onto her own skis.  “Since my family has a vacation place at Sun Valley, I’ve also taken ski safety classes.   When a skier falls into the loose snow under the tree, and the branches are disturbed by the vibrations, snow from the branches can completely cover the person.”

Jim was also spoke up for the first time since the rescue squad left.  “The plastic orange mesh barriers used in downhill races might help prevent people going off the trail.  I’ll suggest that to Dad, since he’s asked us for recommendations to improve the resort.” 

“They might help keep deer off the piste, too,” Trixie pointed out.

The group fell silent as they skied down to the base of the trail, where they met up with Mart and Diana.  Diana beckoned to them from the spot where she had set up a tripod.  Mart stopped packing up her gear and hurried over to meet the skiers.

“Is Rosie all right?” Diana asked, a worried frown marring her pretty features.

“I think so,” Hallie replied.  “She said she wasn’t hurt and she was moving everything.  But we thought it was safest to immobilize her until she could be checked by a doctor.”

“Thank goodness Ben and Hallie were so close and knew just what to do,” Jim added with a smile for his cousin. 

“We were just glad we could help.”  Ben flushed at the praise, and Hallie ducked her head, drawing circles in the snow with the end of her pole.

Trixie shuddered.  “If they hadn’t reacted so quickly, it could have been bad.” 

“Where is Honey?” asked Mart.  “I can’t believe she wasn’t with you.”

“Honey went back to the lodge to be with Katie,” Trixie told him.  “Pat had indicated he had several errands to run after dropping Brian at the train station, so Honey didn’t want Katie to be alone.”

“Let’s go check on Rosie,” Joanne suggested.  “We need to get out of these skis first, though.”

“Right!  Why in the world are we standing around talking?”  Trixie started off toward the ski rental shop, Jim right behind her.  The rest of the group followed.

Rosie was cleared by the resort physician and as energetic as ever by the time her rescuers saw her again, in the living room of the O’Briens’ family quarters.  Honey Wheeler was with the little family.

Pat reached out to shake hands with Ben and Hallie.  “Thank God you two were right there and knew what to do,” he said.

Katie came forward as well, brushing away a tear.  “Thank you for my little girl.”  She hugged both of them.

“Really, it was a team effort,” Hallie insisted.  “Without Trixie and Jim, Dan, and Joanne, it would have taken awhile to get her out of that tree well.”

“Hallie’s right,” Ben agreed.

“Nevertheless, we’re so thankful for all of you.”  Pat gestured to the kitchen, where a pot of fragrant cider simmered on the stove.  “How about a little refreshment?” he asked.  

New Year’s Eve

Joanne, Dan, and Hallie had to work, but the shop and slopes were closing at five-thirty.  The O’Briens were serving a special dinner at seven and a ceremonial bonfire was to take place at ten in front of the lodge.  Joanne was curious about what kind of ceremony it would be, but Katie had only told her to wait and see.

When it was nearly time for her lunch break, Joanne looked up from her register to see Hallie entering the shop.  “Are you about ready?” her friend asked.

“Almost.  I have ten minutes before my relief gets here.” 

“That’s okay, I’ll just wash up while I’m waiting.”  Hallie waved and strode purposefully to the rear of the shop, where the employee break room was located.

Pat O’Brien came to relieve Joanne and they counted out her cash drawer.  “All right, Joanne, everything looks good here.  Go on, enjoy your lunch.”  Smiling, he shooed her away from the register.  She headed back to meet Hallie, but slowed her steps as she recognized the voices of two people talking.

“I know I’m not your favorite person, Dan.”  Hallie’s voice was diffident, unlike her usual personality.  “But I’m really sorry for what I did back in high school.  I don’t really deserve your friendship, but I hope we can move past that.”

“Hallie, I let you take up rent-free space in my head for a long time,” Dan replied.  “Then, I thought I had evicted you...but I don’t know that I really did.  But what you did yesterday...well, I really did let it go.  Let’s make a new start.”  Joanne saw him extend a hand to Hallie, and she shook it. 

“Joanne!”  Dan caught sight of her and smiled warmly.  “I’m about to go to lunch—would you girls like to join me?”

“Sure.  I’m ready.”  She beamed at him.

Ten o’clock

The Bob-Whites—except for Dan—were to return to Sleepyside in the morning, so the New Year’s Eve celebration would be the last chance for Joanne, Hallie and Dan to spend time with them.  Accordingly, Honey and Jim had reserved a table for ten for dinner, dancing, and the special ceremony that was to mark the year’s end.  The last remnants of the sumptuous buffet had been cleared away and the live band was taking a break.  The young people gathered around one of the large fireplaces that lent a warm glow to the main dining area of the lodge.  Trixie, Honey, and Jim occupied one of two sofas that faced each other in front of the fireplace, while Mart, Diana, and Hallie lounged on the other one.  Joanne and Dan perched on one side of the wide hearth, Ben on the other, with one of his long arms resting on the mantel.

“I have a really nice portfolio to show your dad, Honey.”  Diana bubbled with enthusiasm.  “And it should make a great project for my commercial art class.  It’s been a wonderful break.”

“I’m pretty close to a final pass on the copy that will accompany your superb photos,” Mart added.  “Both of us should do well with the work we’ve done.”

“I’ve made it down nearly all of the blue square runs,” Trixie said, “and haven’t broken any bones.”  Everyone clapped.

“Rosie gave me a snowboarding lesson,” Honey told them.  “It was fun, and I picked up the basics pretty quickly.  But I did decide I like skiing better.”

“I’ve earned enough to cover the cost of all of my books and fees for next semester,” Dan offered.  “That was my goal, so I’m pretty happy about it.”

“So have I,” Joanne said.  “Learning to ski and spend time here was icing on the cake.”  She felt as if her face must be glowing, it was so warm here near the flames.

“Giving ski lessons has been experience.”  Hallie laughed.  “But I’m really glad to have had the chance to get a taste of teaching.”

Jim spoke up.  “I’ve made a list of ideas and suggestions to review with Dad, Mr. Kimball, and the O’Briens when we meet next month.  In fact, I’ve already spoken with Pat about some of them.  Mead’s Mountain has potential to be a great, family-oriented ski resort and natural recreation area all year-round.  I’m hoping we can continue to keep the quality high and the cost moderate.”  He nodded to his cousin.  “Safety is a big concern and with skiing and snowboarding becoming more and more popular, we need to evaluate whether we’re doing all we can to keep safety at the forefront.  Ben has offered some suggestions that we’ll definitely consider.”

Ben had been unusually quiet, his glance passing from one of his companions to the other.  Now he cleared his throat and spoke.  “It’s been great spending the last few days here with all of you.  I could have been knocking around Gstaad, but the company here was a lot better.”

“I’m glad you could come with us, Ben!”  Honey jumped up and hugged her cousin.  “And it was really lucky for Rosie that you did!  You and Hallie both.”  She hugged Hallie as well.

“Here’s to powder skiing!”  Hallie raised her mug of hot mulled cider.  “Life, fully lived, in a blaze of reality!”

“Cheers!”  A chorus of voices answered her as ten mugs and glasses were lifted.

A squeal of feedback from the band’s microphone sounded over the buzz of conversations.  “Sorry!”  It was Pat O’Brien.  The Bob-Whites and their friends quieted and looked toward the spot where he stood.  After a couple of adjustments to the mike, he continued.  “First, Katie and I would like to thank you all for helping to keep Mead’s Mountain successful in the past year.  Our goal is always to offer a safe, fun, and challenging—for those who want challenge—ski vacation to our guests.  Your visits are important to us and your satisfaction is our goal.

“Second, I’d like to introduce a tradition we’ve adopted to mark the ending of the old year.  Linda and Wanda are distributing paper and pencils to each of you.  On your paper, write down one trait, or one habit, that is keeping you from realizing your full potential.  When everyone is finished, we’ll take the papers outside to the bonfire and toss them into the flames.  As the paper burns, those old habits or traits can be released so they won’t hold you back in the future.”

Joanne thought hard about what to write on her paper.  She could be impatient, impulsive, and judgmental.  She tended to nurse a grievance and keep score.  Had any of those qualities held her back from achieving her potential—or seeing the potential in others, perhaps?   By the time Linda handed her a small square of paper and a pencil, she had made up her mind.

Holding a grudge, she scrawled. 

Ten minutes later, everyone had finished and all of the guests filed out to circle the bonfire that had been built on a large cleared area in front of the lodge.  Tossing her slip of paper into the flames, Joanne watched as it curled and blackened, releasing glowing embers into the air.  A feeling of peace descended on her, even before Dan’s arm came down to rest on her shoulder.

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Author’s Notes

11,650 words

Merry Christmas, Deanna!

This story was partially inspired by your comments about my story, Broken. You once named it as a story that made you cry (I think that was a positive comment!) Although I haven't been able (yet) to write the planned continuation to Broken, Hallie wanted to make reparations for her actions in that story. When I saw that you enjoy downhill skiing, a few more ideas started rolling around in my head. I hope you will be pleased with the result!

I am not a skier, and it wasn't originally my intent to have so much skiing and snowboarding in the story. But the characters insisted, and since you mentioned that you love downhill skiing, I decided to go with it. The ski terminology (including slang), skier's responsibility code, hazards on the slopes, and ski rescues came from multiple Google searches. Hopefully the events are not too unbelievable!

All I Want for Christmas is You was a hit for Mariah Carey in 1994 and my story is set in 1976. Sorry! That was a "least-favorite" Christmas song of Deanna's, so it had to be there.

Thank you to my fabulous and faithful trio of editors: Ronda, Ryl, and Trish. Your comments, corrections, and suggestions are greatly appreciated! Any errors remaining are my own, and not their fault.

Hallie's toast: "Powder skiing is not fun. It's life, fully lived, life lived in a blaze of reality." is a quote from Dolores LaChapelle (1926-2007), an American mountaineer, skier, T'ai chi teacher, independent scholar, and leader in the Deep Ecology movement.

Thank you to all of my readers. You all are the best!

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Graphics copyright by Mary N 2015.

Snowflake background created by Mary N. Other images obtained via Google Image searches, used according to stated usage rights, and manipulated by Mary N in Photoshop. Story copyright by Mary N, 2015.

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