Stranded with The Hero by Hannah Jo Abbott

2

Nicole tried to keep her balance as she stood up from the bench wearing her skis. She knew she could do this if she just focused. She carefully bent to pick up the ski poles and when she straightened, she searched the small hill nearby for her ski instructor.

“You ready to go?” The male voice at her side startled her, but she managed to swallow and turn to greet him with a smile.

“Yep,” she nodded enthusiastically at him. Aiden had introduced himself inside, and Nicole had noticed how handsome he was, but she had also noticed the ring on his left hand. No matter, she definitely wasn’t here for a weekend fling. This trip was about her having an adventure on her own. “Let’s do this.”

Nicole tried to pick up one foot to move forward, but the only place she went was backwards to the bench. She landed on the seat with an “Oof”. She quickly brushed her hand across her face to push the hair out of her eyes and cover her embarrassment.

Thankfully, Aiden didn’t laugh, but said, “Oh good, you’re ready for the first lesson: how to fall.”

Nicole gave a half-hearted laugh.

“I’m serious. The best thing to learn first is how to fall safely.” He motioned with his hand. “Come over here, and I’ll show you,” he said as she stood. “Easy, easy. Stand up nice and slow, and then just slide one foot and then the other.”

Nicole began to slide each foot and felt like a toddler learning how to walk for the first time.

“That’s it,” Aiden said. “No rush.”

But she wanted to rush. She didn’t want to learn how to fall, she wanted to learn how to ski. She needed to get to the top of the mountain and throw caution to the wind as it blew it in her face. It felt like an hour before she managed to slide over to the open space where Aiden pointed her to.

“Good job, now. Let’s talk about falling. I know that doesn’t seem like the most exciting thing to learn, but the truth is, you’re new to this and you’re going to fall. So it’s best if you know how right off the bat.”

Nicole gave a pained smile. She was twenty-seven years old, of course she knew how to fall.

“Now, the first thing is, if you start to fall, don’t reach out to catch yourself with your hands. That’s a great way to break an arm, a wrist, or even an elbow. What you want to do is keep your arms down and try to land on your side or your butt. You also want to land beside your skis, not in between. Here, watch.” Aiden stood with his feet next to each other, his skis lined up perfectly, and then pretended to fall.

As he stood back up, Nicole nodded, “Got it.”

“Okay, now you try it.”

“You want me to fall?” She raised her eyebrows underneath her snow cap.

“Yep. It’s good practice. Then I’ll teach you how to get up.”

This was unbelievable. She just wanted to look professional and take to the slopes, and now she was going to stand here and fall on purpose? “Do I have to?” she whined.

“Lesson number one: Do what your instructor says.” He smiled kindly, but in a way that showed he was in charge.

Nicole sighed. “All right.” She straightened up and tried to line her skis up like Aiden had. As she did, her right foot slipped, and she lost her balance. She automatically put her left arm out as she fell backwards. “Oof,” she landed hard on her back.

“You okay?” Aiden asked.

“Yes,” she said sharply, embarrassed by her actual fall.

“See, that was a perfect example of how not to fall.”

“Well, I didn’t do that on purpose,” she muttered.

“I know, but we don’t usually fall on purpose. That’s why we practice falling the right way, so that when we fall for real, our brain knows how to do it the right way automatically.”

Nicole could see that now. “Let’s try again.”

After Aiden showed her how to get up by putting her skis close together and inching her hands along to the snow to push up, he told her to fall again. He had her fall and get up several times before he was satisfied with her technique. “Good job, ready to start skiing now?”

“Yes!” Nicole practically shouted as she turned her gaze toward the ski lift.

“Nope, not that way yet. First, we’re going to practice on this hill.”

Nicole looked at him and her mouth hung slightly open. “This? This isn’t a hill. It’s barely a bump.”

“Exactly, you’ve got to start small.”

Nicole wanted to roll her eyes at the man who was teaching her like she was a small child, but she knew she needed to do what he said so she could learn the basics and finally get going. She paid close attention as he taught her how to turn sideways, so her skis were parallel to the incline, and sidestep up the small hill.

“Now to go, you want to keep your skis straight and parallel to each other like this. But if you need to stop, you want to push your heels out and point the tips together, so they look like a slice of pizza.”

“Got it.” Of course, Nicole knew he was about to make her try it fifty times. And she was right. The next forty minutes she spent going down the tiny hill, stopping with her pizza form, then turning and side stepping up the hill.

“You’re doing great, Nicole. Do you think you’re up for trying a little bit bigger hill?”

Nicole could already feel her leg muscles starting to ache from the climbing, but she wouldn’t give up now. “Sure.”

Aiden went slowly as they made their way to the ski lift. He pointed out the line and the process as they watched, so she was ready when it was their turn to slide over and let the moving chair pick them up.

Nicole held her ski poles in one hand and gripped the metal bar in front of her with the other hand. She swallowed as they lifted higher and the distance from the ground grew beneath her. As they climbed higher, she could see the trees with their dark green pine needles, dotted with snow and the white on the ground for miles. The view was worth the butterflies in her stomach.

“We’re about to reach the first drop off, so as we get close to the ground we’ll lift the bar. Then when your feet hit the ground, just stand up, we’ll move forward and to the side so we’re out of the way of the next people.”

Nicole nodded silently, focusing on his words. Just stand up, just stand up. As soon as she felt the ground under her feet, she pushed with her knees and stood up straight. She was amazed at the easy way the lift gave her a push, and she glided forward and made her way to the side. That was easy! I can do this.

“Here we go,” Aiden rubbed his hands together. “We’re going to make our way down very slowly.”

Nicole groaned inwardly since the entire morning had been one huge exercise in doing everything slowly.

“I’ll stay beside you and we’ll practice going and stopping. Just remember, parallel to go, pizza to stop.”

“Got it.”

“Let’s go.”

Nicole took a deep breath and turned herself toward the base of the slope. She had seen the sign with the green circle indicating this was a beginner slope. She wanted to conquer this and move on. She put her skis straight and began to move forward. Just when she started to pick up some speed, she heard Aiden say, “Pizza.” She rolled her eyes, but pushed the front of her skis together and came to a stop. It wasn’t hard without much motion behind her.

“Good job,” Aiden said. “Let’s start again.”

Nicole started once more and Aiden told her to stop. Again and again. When they finally made it to the bottom of the hill, she had barely even started to ski.

“That was fantastic,” Aiden said, and he came to a stop next to her. “You just might be a natural at this.”

“Thanks. So can we move up to a bigger hill now?”

Aiden smiled, but then his face turned serious. “I know it seems like you’re ready, but I’ll go back up the beginner hill with you one more time for your lesson today. You really should stay on that hill until you’ve mastered it. You might be ready for an intermediate hill tomorrow, but I want you to be safe.”

Nicole stared at him with a look of annoyance. She was only here for ten days, she couldn’t spend two whole days down here before she went up to the top of the mountain. Besides, he wasn’t in charge of her. It was just his job to teach her how to ski, and now he’d done that. She nodded and pretended she was listening. He would be surprised and probably impressed tomorrow when he saw her skiing down the bigger slopes on her own.

After Aiden did the beginning hill with her one more time, their lesson was officially over. “Get some practice in,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”

“Thanks, Aiden.” She smiled and waited until he was out of sight to head back to the ski lift.

She completed the beginner hill two more times, going faster and stopping less along the way each time. She had always been a fast learner and she just knew she would pick this up quickly. The ski lift still made her stomach flip flop, but the feeling of moving down the hill was exhilarating, liberating even. Why had she never been adventurous before? For a little while, she forgot that she was supposed to be here with anyone else and enjoyed the time alone on the slopes.

Alone and free.

* * *

The next dayNicole’s muscles were sore from all the falling, so she decided to take it easy. She spent the day perusing the shops in town. But by the third day of her trip, she was ready to head back to the slopes, determined not to let sore muscles slow her down. Each time she rode the ski lift and made her way back down, she could hear Aiden’s voice telling her to master the smaller hill. But she had promised herself to be brave and take risks on this trip. So when she was on the ski lift again, she made a quick decision and watched as the sign for the beginner slope passed by as she rode higher up the hill.

At the top of the intermediate slope, she turned her head from side to side, looking over the clear blue sky and the crisp white hill. She took a deep breath and let the cold air fill her lungs. Her skin prickled from the cool breeze on the small space where her face was exposed. This is what she had come for—the snow, the sights, the excitement of being high up in the mountains.

So what if Kyle didn’t want her? So what if he didn’t want to be here to experience this with her? She would experience it anyway, and she would make her own adventure.

Without him.

She faced downhill and stared at the slope in front of her. It didn’t look that much different from the beginner slope, just more of it and further to go to the bottom. She could do this.

With a push, she started off. She had watched the other skiers as they turned from one side to the other and she tried that now as she cut across the snow. The trees began to pass by faster and faster, but she was determined not to use her “pizza” to stop. The wind blowing against her entire body was exhilarating and her heart pounded faster and faster along with her speed.

See? I can do this. She could see the bottom of the slope and the ski lodge come into view and knew she was almost there. I can do this.

She never saw the bump in the snow. When her skis met it with too much speed, Nicole’s heart dropped to her stomach as she lifted off the ground. Sailing into the air, she panicked and forgot everything Aiden had taught her about how to fall.