Fool Me Again, Part One
They arrive a day late to the ski lodge. George hadn’t wanted to come at all this year, but Tanya had insisted. They’d only kissed in early November, and already the relationship reminded him of an ill-fitting sweater: right color and pattern but always too tight around the shoulders.
Every year, they all came to the ski lodge—all the old friends from school days, now scattered across the country. He and Tanya still lived in the city, which was surely a reason they’d finally connected. When they’d kissed, it seemed inevitable. It seemed logical.
And still, he couldn’t get Kathy out of his head. Slim, dark-haired Kathy in her red coat. The way her teeth and tongue stained red with wine; her long, pale neck and the way she tilted her head after she asked a question.
She was the first person he saw when they parked the Jeep in front of the lodge and jumped out into the fresh snow. Kathy waving, smiling, laughing--Andrew next to her, happy and oblivious. What was there to do but wave back? George waved up to the faces of his friends—friends who had been there for years, friends who had no idea what had happened in this same place just under one year ago. They waved for what felt like an eternity.
And he couldn’t help but think back to last Christmas, when things had been much different. Last Christmas, when he’d risked it all—and received nothing in return.
First, the tree must be trimmed. And the first step to that was to drink. Mulled wine and hot toddies and glugs from whiskey flasks passed around the room.
He did his best to steer clear of Kathy, which wasn’t too difficult considering she’d remained glued to Andrew’s side the entire evening. Part of himself stayed attuned to her, always dimly aware of her location in relation to himself. So it was a relief to slip around the side of the tree, laughing as he dodged a handful of silver tinsel, bending towards the lower branches and allowing himself to take a deep breath. The room bustled around him but for a moment, he was still, fingers moving to push into the bristly pine branches. He loved the fresh forest scent mingling with the warm, sooty fire. Tomorrow there would be presents under the tree, wrapped in bright paper and ribbons.
Gifts were always a risk, he thought. They were a test, weren’t they? Last Christmas, he’d given an important gift.
He should have gotten a gift receipt.
His thoughts got lost in the shadowed depths of pine boughs. A rustling brought him back to reality: Kathy. She drew close enough that he could see her chapped bottom lip flaking under her lipstick, and she reached out to drape a handful of silver tinsel over a branch.
“George,” she said. “I’ve hardly seen you since you arrived! How are you?”
His smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I’m happy to be here,” he lied.
“You and Tanya! I couldn’t believe it when I heard! I never thought of you together.”
His smile twitched slightly. “A lot can happen in a year,” he said. The tinsel that hung on the branches glittered like tears on the snow.
The next day, they went to the pasture for the annual snowball fight. George hung back, dragging his boots. Last night, he lay awake with Tanya holding tight to him, too hot under the thick down comforter. They hadn’t told each other “I love you” yet, but George knew she was ready to say it. She said it in her everyday movements: a hand on the small of his back, a brush of lips against the corner of his mouth. Tanya was someone special. And shouldn’t the best Christmas gifts be saved for someone special? Wasn’t that what he had learned at this very lodge, 364 days ago?
He leaned against the fence, watching. “George, come on!” Tanya yelled, and he shook his head.
“Hungover,” he called. From the corners of his eyes, the fur of his hood pushed into his vision like a dark forest grown sideways. The mountains were so beautiful this time of year.
To Be Continued.