“What the–?” I jerk the steering wheel, making a turn off of highway 75 heading up the little knoll. A condo complex lines one side of the road while a sledding hill dominates the other side. A snow plow passes me, splashing muck on the drivers-side window and windshield. I roll my window down and back up to give it a quick clean while gunning the accelerator a little harder, still keeping my eyes on my target.
I can see a shadow of someone in the passenger seat. Where did he pick up this…girl? I’m so angry now that I can’t see straight. Slamming my foot even harder on the accelerator, my SUV growls through the snow—not the day to be speeding in near whiteout conditions. I can’t get close enough to see if it’s his cheesy license plate BU2TFUL, but then again, how many atomic red Jeep Wranglers are out there with “Architects Know All the Angles” tattooed on the spare tire cover? Right?
My heart’s pounding as I grip the steering wheel.
“What is going on, Grant? Everything was falling into place—you, me, our future. Until now,” I blurt out. I want to think that I’m reaching him…telepathically, trusting that the course I took on quantum mechanics a few years ago is finally coming in handy.
Hmm…, no answer. Maybe I’m not focusing hard enough.
My concentration is thrown off with images, flashing rapidly through my mind—images I’ve had since I was a kid—top female structural engineer in LA, a perfect architect husband, and the sweetest steel beam-and-glass home perched in the Hollywood hills with a view all the way to the Santa Monica ocean.
“Dammit, Chase, focus!” It takes me a bit, but I manage to clear my head as we both speed down the other side of the knoll. “You had better not ruin my plans, Grant Stevens, because I guarantee that I’ll throw a shitload in your—Aargh!”
Shrieking, I slam on the brakes at an intersection, as a group of bundled-up sledders dart in front of my car. On cue, they give me a deer-in-the-headlights look, waving their saucers in my direction; my car skids on the ice and comes to a shuddering halt on the two-way road, which now looks like a tunnel. Snow is piled high on either side, pressed against the wooden fences of the adjacent homes. I’ve lost sight of the jeep. I can barely see two feet in front of me. I muster up a wan smile, waving an apology to the pedestrians, clumping to safety, some mouthing out a string of merited expletives.
“Yeah, you’re right! I’m such a jerk. I’d do the same thing if I were in your…sleds.” My moment of penitence. I doubt they can hear me.
Setting the four-wheel-drive button to high again before shifting into drive, and this time with a death grip on the steering wheel, I shoot through the narrow yet multicolored Idaho roadway, passing by the Sun Valley Lodge. My heart sinks for a moment as I notice the white Christmas lights that bedeck the iconic hotel and every inch of the property, from the trees and the lampposts to the fences, and even the ice rink lit like a torchlight are nothing but a blur of color in this dreadful weather. I looked forward to seeing all this every year our family went to visit Aunt Kate, who is actually not my real aunt but my mom’s best friend. Her holiday shindigs are nothing but the best. Ironically, Aunt Kate has her act together compared to the rest of my crazy family. In a way, she is like the calm amid a storm.
There are bright red taillights in front of me. “Ah-ha, I got him!” I let out gleefully, making a fast turn onto a familiar road just before Dollar Mountain; the snow cats the only beacon of light in this winter nightmare. It’s a wide berth lane providing enough room to fishtail, even though my SUV clips a few snow-laden evergreen branches. A gust of wind throws a pile of snow on the windshield, obscuring my vision. I plow into something. The SUV skids. I jerk the steering wheel hard; ice and slush push their way into the wheel wells, creating a harsh grating sound.
“Ahh!” I yelp. The car begins spinning like the Disneyland Tea Cup ride before coming to an abrupt halt, smacking into a wide snow-covered area. Fortunately, I don’t have to contend with other cars behind me. “Phew! Thank God!” I utter even though I have no idea what to expect of the exterior damage. My relief is momentary. In my peripheral vision, I spy something heading in my direction. Reflexively, my gloved hands shield my face as I brace for impact from an airborne snowman tray filled with two-dozen frosted cupcakes. There’s a small thud and then silence. Taking a quick peek to my right, I assume the interior damage isn’t too severe, considering the snowman tray has made a perfect landing on the passenger seat.
The cupcakes I slaved over earlier today in our rented condo have taken on a different form—a surrealistic one, to be exact. Crumbs are EVERYWHERE. Random patterns of frosting and remaining batter have not only landed on the front of my shirt, but also on the floor, the windows, and—just in time for the holidays—a dripping-off-the-rearview-mirror version.
“Hmmm…, I imagine Picasso would be proud,” my lame attempt at humor. With everything happening so fast, I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry. My logical mind tells me that the best I can do is to focus on the rent-a-car and not my dad’s booming voice when he sees the damage.
“Okay, time to get this baby out of here.” Trying to bolster my confidence, I put the car in reverse and rev the engine. The tires’ spinning action only sinks the SUV deeper into the snow, mud splattering the back and sides to the top of the windows.
Letting out a huge sigh, I unbuckle the seatbelt and direct my attention toward the only thing left in my control: the windshield wipers. Not so. The swishing movement of the blades and the hypnotic snowfall catches my attention. I can feel myself getting sucked into a catatonic state. A persistent tapping on my window breaks my brief reverie. After everything that I’ve been through in the last hour, I half-expect a stodgy police officer to be on the other side, ready to hand me a hefty ticket. It’s not. Recognition sets in after blinking a few times.
“Chase? Is that you? Unlock the door!” I hear Grant’s voice; he’s in a panic, pulling like crazy at the handle. I sink in my seat. My gloved hands come to the rescue, covering my face a second time.
“Are you okay? Say something,” he’s yelling.
He opens the door, eyes wide. He brushes a lock of his blond hair away from his tropical-ocean-surf eyes as I barely make out Aunt Kate’s old, dark green Victorian-style mansion between the rhythmic wipers. The only house of its kind, with its three stories and ornate leaded-glass windows, it towers over the other well-kept homes on her street. It makes perfect sense, considering that the street used to be the entrance to the world’s first sing-chair lift on Proctor Mountain back in 1936. I shake the historical trivia once my eyes pan the gorgeous outdoor decorations. It’s like a winter wonderland all over again; twinkling lights tastefully sprinkle the small pines flanking the front door and the long walkway that leads to her mini-parking lot, equipped with a three-car garage.
Well, whaddayaknow? I guess I made it to Aunt Kate’s Christmas party after all.
Sarcasm quickly sets in once I remember why the hell I was madly racing through a blizzard. “Who else do you expect, one of Santa’s elves working overtime? Of course, it’s me. Who’s that girl in your car, by the way?” I say all in one breath, glaring at him as I crane my neck to meet his six-foot-six stature.
* * *
You see, a month ago, Grant, my fiancé of the last six months, sent me a text:
Grant: Sorry, Chase, I’m taking a pause.
Me: What does that even mean—a pause?
Me: You’re pausing to test the field?
Again, no response. My patience grows thin.
Me: We’re over?
Grant, you are getting on my last nerve!
Me: Are you ghosting me?
Why don’t you answer me?
Me: You cannot ghost me!
Undoubtedly, I was in a state of denial while he followed through with his new agenda.
* * *
“There’s no girl in my car, Chase.” Grant gives me that look like I’ve just gone loco. No, HE'S the one who’s gone loco. I can’t bring myself to speak up. Another person walks out and pushes himself in front of Grant. He puts his perfect face up to mine, producing a dazzling smile. I’m instantaneously mesmerized.
Crumbs cover the front of my white sweater and leggings. I brush a piece of frosting off my nose before I turn my legs and attempt to exit the car gracefully.
“So, I finally get to meet the famous Chastity Morgan,” says Perfect Face, grabbing my hand and helping me out of the car. “You’re the person I’ll never be able to live up to. I don’t know whether to bow, curtsy, or kill myself, but come here!” He leans his five-foot-eleven frame into me. “Give me a hug!”
I mutely let him hug me since I can’t seem to find my voice.
“I’m Brody!” He says into my neck.
He’s gorgeous, and I’m not exaggerating; a runway-model—perfect-ten beautiful—with penetrating gray-blue eyes, porcelain white skin, and dark black hair. Brody wraps his ravishing arms around me, and even through his puffy down jacket I can feel his ripped Adonis muscles.
“You’re gorgeous!” I can’t help but stare at his pouty lips, so close to mine. “Did I say that out loud? Oops!”
Brody laughs. “Thanks!”
Grant is pouring over me as Brody continues. “Why don’t we go inside, warm up, and enjoy the party while we wait for someone to pull your car out of the snow-covered flower bed. Whoops! From the looks of it, I think you plowed into Kate’s vegetable garden.” He points towards the smashed up wooden tomato posts sticking out from underneath the hood of my SUV before turning back towards Grant, “Could you please grab our tray of cookies from the back seat?”
Our tray? My brain is in a jumble. Did Perfect Face say that, or did I hear things?
“Wait! Who’s ‘we,’ Grant? And what happened to the girl in your car?” I repeat staring at his jeep wrangler and expecting someone to magically pop out of it at this very moment. “There was a girl in your car, right? And who’s this guy? Your cousin, maybe?” My mind is desperately trying to put two-and-two together as I look at the handsome duo.
“Like he said, Chase, there was no girl in the car. Just me and Boo.” Brody glances over at Grant for approval, only to notice that he’s frozen in place. “Ah…, you didn’t tell her, did you, Grant?”
“Me and Boo? W-Who are you?” I’m really confused.
Grant looks miserable. His blue eyes wildly pan the immediate area, as if preparing to make a quick getaway. The snow’s falling in big sticky snowflakes, blanketing the cars packed tightly into the driveway. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
No one’s responding, so I keep rambling in the hope that someone will tell me what the hell is going on. “Where have you been for the last month? I’ve been calling you every day. We need to finalize the menu, pick our song—”
He takes a deep breath and lets out one solitary word: “Vegas.”
My vivid imagination conjures up a scene where Grant and Brody are in a nightclub. Club lightsilluminate the dance floor where a bunch of women surrounds the boys in a mosh pit of flesh. I’m standing in a far corner of a room. I spot Grant, looking back at me through a mountain of cleavage. He gives me the two-thumbs-up sign. A giant-sized bouncer comes up behind me and slaps my ass, snapping me out of the horrific image.
“Did your new friend Brody take you to a skanky nightclub and set you up with a bunch of women? Is that where you’ve been the last month? Is it?” I step in closer, snow crunching underfoot in my clunky wilderness boots.
Grant’s eyes flicker to the ground as he kicks around the fresh powder, lost in thought.
“What? What is it?” I throw up my hands. “Is there more? Did you cheat on me, too? OH. MY. GOD. You did, didn’t you? Did you pick up some weird untreatable disease on top of that?” I scream, tugging on my “security blanket,” a pink-and-blue scarf, which is wrapped around my neck.
“Brody’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met,” he continues, putting an arm around the gorgeous hunk. “We met on a wakeboarding trip to Lake Havasu. We decided to go to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and…”
“WHAT?????? You’re not making any sense, Grant.” I’m in a tizzy. Fiddling around with my hands, I pull off my gloves and stick them in and out of my coat pockets. My movements capture the light from the car headlights, striking the Tiffany ring on my left hand at the exact angle to create a stunning spectrum against Grant’s form-fitting leather jacket. The brilliant rainbow performance is cut short when I grab the ring and start twisting it furiously.
Grant offers no comment on my display. Instead, he keeps to his impromptu script. “Our ceremony—”
“Ceremony?” I cut in. “Wait! What did you say? Ceremony? What about our wedding?” I’m on the verge of tears, but I will myself not to cry.
My mind suddenly flashes to another imaginary scene with Grant and Brody standing hand-in-hand on the cliffs of Laguna Beach, the turquoise ocean shimmering below. I’m in my princess-cut Vera Wang dress, standing next to Grant with a bouquet of pale pink roses in one hand and the wedding rings in the other. Grant starts to recite his vows, “I take you to be my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold—” I let out a scream: “STOP.” But no matter how much I scream, my attempts to stop the ceremony are futile. My constant shrieking snaps me back to reality. I feel heat rising on my face.
“Chase, where did you go?” Grant’s hand is on my shoulder.
“DON’T TOUCH ME, YOU, YOU…” Liar, marriage wrecker. I can’t even wrap my head around an appropriate word as I jump out of his grip.
Looking beyond Grant and Brody, I notice movement at Aunt Kate’s bay window; guests are pulling back the curtains and gawking at the crazed outdoor scene.
In a moment of clarity, everything begins to congeal.
“You, slimy bastard! I. SAVED. MY. VIRGINITY. FOR. YOU!!!!” Screeching now at the top of my lungs, I feel as though I’ve morphed into the White Witch. “TRAITORS!” Did I say that out loud? Both Grant and Brody appear frozen in place. The terrorized look on their faces with hair standing on end are sure indications that I have successfully turned them into stone statues.
“Chase,” Roxie giggles, “what are you guys all doing out here?” She’s oblivious to the outside drama, standing there at the main entrance on Aunt Kate’s wraparound porch with her hands on her hips in her sexy “Mrs. Claus” getup—red dress with white trim, red stockings, furry white boots, and a hat to match with a big jingling silver bell at the tip. “Come on inside so we can get this party started!”
* * *
Now some would call the two of us twins—tall—both 5’ 11”, slender, and athletic with icy blue eyes. In the looks department, our resemblance is uncanny, except for the fact that Roxie is a brunette and voluptuous. I’m a blonde and average in that department, which is fine by me because Roxie can never find the perfect bra that will keep everything intact.
It makes sense we would look-alike since her father Mason and my dad are identical twins. They were inseparable growing up: attending the same college, roommates. When it was time to marry, they bought houses across the street from each other. The brotherly closeness trickled down to us girls; it was inevitable—fate even—that Roxie and I would become…well…, bosom buddies.
Two years after Roxie was born, her mother—messed up, depression perhaps—ran away. While I have my anxieties, Roxie, who grew up without her biological mother, has abandonment issues, choosing to play the part of the “bad girl” at times. It’s more complex since she and Uncle Mason have unresolved issues, such as never wanting to discuss the big ones, like why her mom left. Fortunately, Roxie gained a “mom” when my mother “adopted” her as a second daughter.
All that said, besides looking alike, Roxie is the total opposite of me, especially when dealing with the flirtation game. She can seriously enrapture any man she wants with just the crook of her finger; I swear. Roxie may drive me nuts at times, but the bottom line is that we’re inseparable. She’s my wild, life-of-the-party, partner-in-crime cousin.
* * *
“Chase, Roxie’s right. Let’s go inside so we can get this party started. How about we try this again and be grown up about this?” Grant reaches out to hug me again.
“DON’T TOUCH ME!” I scream a second time. Before he can lay a finger on me, I push him away, but he recoils, throwing me off balance. Before I know what’s happening, I’m slipping, arms flailing like a first-time ice skater. “Ahhh!”
Roxie charges down the steps through the snow.
I can hear Charlie singing “American Girl” before I hit the ground.