Seven days ago I did the most incredibly fantastic thing and now, nobody will talk to me. Yeah, Katie tried to stop me. She warned me, but hey – you only live once, right? And, besides, J.T. had gotten under my skin one too many times.
“There it is, folks – the Great Divide. Nobody ever made that jump and lived to tell about it.” J.T. purposely avoided looking directly at me as he stood at the edge of the mountain, his hand atop his snowboard, but the eyes of Blade, Robbie and Katie were all on me.
The Great Divide was a natural halfpipe created by drifts, a nice little pocket that tempted the best snowboarders. Most were wise enough never to try it because its edge was an overhang above another mountain slope that lay 30 feet below.
“You know that jumping here is forbidden, J.T.,” Katie protested. “We’re not even supposed to be on this ridge.”
“Who said anything about anybody jumpin’?” J.T. grinned, giving me a sidelong look.
Blade stepped closer to the edge to get a better view. “Sure is tempting with that natural ramp – but a guy’d have to be crazy to try it.”
J.T. kicked at a ball of snow. “Well, I suppose anyone who has won ten medals might be a candidate, huh, Snowbaby?”
My jaw hardened. I cringed at the nickname given me six years before when we had started boarding together. J.T. was older, stronger, more accomplished than I. I was the Grommet, small and green. He could outrace and outmaneuver me at every turn. One day he had seen me crying from a hard fall, and, as I shivered in the cold, he dubbed me “Snowbaby”. It had stuck. It also struck a cord. He could call me whatever he liked, but I determined to prove myself better. And I did – winning every medal in competition against him. Now, he was needling me again – trying to entice me to make the “Great Divide”.
“The thing about babies, J.T? They grow up. They become smarter and stronger,” I said, as evenly as I could, staring into his steely blue eyes.
“Why don’t you let your stick do the talking?” He kicked the ball of snow hard, propelling it down the Divide, so that it spun up the crest and off into the hillside below.
“Don’t do it!” Katie cried, “You know what happened to Boomer!”
“She’s right, Andy. It’s too risky.” Robbie’s usually squeaky voice seemed squeakier. “The snow looks like “dust on the crust” – it could give way again, just like with Boomer.”
We all knew what had happened to Boomer. One of the best snowboarders in the area, he had taken the ride of his life on the Divide two winters before. It was his last one. Three friends watched in horror as he tried to make the jump. He had bailed when the snow under him cracked, flinging him head first down into the bank below. He died instantly, his neck broken.
“Aw, Boomer was a bonker to begin with,” J.T. scoffed. “This ride takes a top boarder like Andy here – right, Andy?”
It was true I had beaten Boomer in a freestyle event shortly before he was killed and it was true I was considered to be one of the top boarders in the country. It was also true that I liked challenges and I was sick of J.T. To conquer the Divide might shut him up for good. I turned and headed back up the slope as if to leave.
“Guess you’re as yellow as the stripe on your stick, huh, Snowbaby?”
With one swift movement I was on my board, speeding past all of them toward the Divide, snow swishing under me as I swooped into the halfpipe. J.T. would not be mocking me anymore. The last thing I heard was Katie screaming my name.
That was seven days ago. Now, she isn’t speaking to me. No one is. Even J.T. isn’t talking to me. They huddle together whispering, avoiding me at any cost. When I try to talk to them about the jump, it’s like they don’t want to hear about it. I remember only bits and pieces – the whir of a helicopter, the beeping sound of a machine for days, needles, tubes, and then, only the feel of Phat air as I float upward. . . It was the most fantastic jump of my life and now, no one wants to talk about it.
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