Chapter 9: Brian’s POV
I hit the slopes as soon as I arrive. I feel the need for physical exertion, hoping to work out some frustration and free-floating anger as I careen down a mountain at breakneck speed. I start on a slightly easier slope, since I haven’t skied in awhile, but fuck that. By my second run, I’m on the Black Diamond trail, and it’s fierce. I’m a black slash against the white powder. My jacket, pants, boots, gloves, everything I wear is black. Even the stuff you can’t see. I figure they can find the body easier that way when I plow into a tree, but so far so good. I can’t imagine that my form is anything to applaud, but I make it through three runs without a single fall, and that’s amazing.
The fourth run is another story.
As soon as I exit the lift, I know I’m being stupid. I’m exhausted. I’ve allowed myself no recovery time. My knees and thighs are screaming with tension and I feel a little shaky from the altitude. The wise words of my trick stick with me, his taunt that expert skiers take the most chances and give him the most business. I’m too tired for this run. Despite the cold, I’m sweating with exertion beneath my layers, and my lungs just can’t seem to take in enough oxygen to keep up with the demand. Damned cigarettes.
Looking down the mountain at the scars left by other skiers, I notice the ruts are starting to ice. That’s bad. The temperature has dropped and the air feels wetter as flakes begin to fall and accumulate. The snow crunches with new resistance under my skis, rather than supporting me on whispery powder. Looking around, there are a lot fewer skiers out here, now, as the skies have turned a threatening shade of gun-metal grey. The run looks impossibly steep, full of moguls, drop-offs, trees and the other obstacles that make it a Black Diamond run. This is supposed to be fun, but suddenly I feel terrified. I’m not sure about my strength and even my vision seems a little impaired. I’m a little woozy. So what do I do? I push off. What else? Stupid, macho, fuck that I am.
At first, it goes okay. I get into the adrenaline rush. The frigid air feels good against my overheated skin, and my challenged limbs are holding up. I soar over moguls like a pro, landing unevenly only once. As I pick up speed, I figure I must be about halfway, so I know I can make it. I begin to relax a little, even have some fun. After this, I’m thinking a warm sauna and a hot toddy. I might even meet a hot Todd as I bask at the spa. That rescue guy was cruising me as I stood in the lift line earlier. Wonder when he gets off duty?
And then it happened.
A tree suddenly leapt off of its root system and took two steps left to become a previously non-existent impediment in my path. Holy shit! I take a hard swerve but not hard enough. The outward branches of the tree hit me straight across my chest with the force of a sledgehammer. I feel the buckles on my boots break free as I’m lifted off of my skis. The black slats continue down the mountain without me. I’m thrown backwards, through the air, before I land on what has to be a pile of concealed granite.
Pain explodes in multiple locations, but my immediate problem is that I-can-not-breathe! I try to breathe, but nothing. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out. I’m absolutely without the ability to breathe. My mouth gapes open like a guppie on a dock, I feel my hands struggle with the snow, as if to help me stand, but someone pulls a black curtain over my eyes, and that was it.
I’m not dead. Damn it.
I have no idea where I am, once I start to wake up. My first sensation is fear, it’s a terrible feeling to lose time and place, especially for a control freak. I open my eyes but the room spins and I quickly close them, feeling the nausea rise in my stomach. My heart explodes into a fast rhythm of panic. As the adrenaline awakens my sleeping limbs, the pain comes rolling in.
“What the fuck?” I say aloud, noticing there’s a heavy weight on my chest, making it difficult to breathe, to move.
“Relax, son,” a man’s soothing, elderly voice and a cool hand on my arm. I reach out and grab that hand as if he can pull me out of this vortex of pain and confusion. He pries my fingers off of his wrist with a chuckle. “I need that hand to work, loosen up.”
I let him go and let my hand fall to my chest to discover what is pressing me to the bed. All I feel are bandages wrapped over my skin, covered with a flimsy gown. I notice my left arm doesn’t want to move at all. Even a slight upward movement is excruciating. I try opening my eyes again and the spinning slows to a slight wobble. I still feel sick, but won’t give in to it. My chest hurts so much it causes beads of sweat to break out on my upper lip. I focus on the man, a small, silver haired Santa type, sans beard, wearing a white lab coat accessorized with a stethoscope. He stands over me as he asks,
“Can you tell me your name? Do you know where you are?”
“Brian Kinney. Is this the Canadian version of hell? Because it hurts enough to be.”
He chuckles and shines a light in one of my eyes and then the other. “Mr. Kinney, do you recall having a fall on the mountain?”
I glance down my body. I see no sign of plaster and I can feel my legs, so that’s good. I wish I couldn’t feel anything above the waist, however, because the pain is excruciating. “I remember a tree jumped out in my path.”
“Yes, our trees are very naughty that way. Some strong branches caught you right across here,” he motions to a diagonal across my chest. “Knocked you plum out of your skis and you landed hard on a mogul.”
And by ‘mogul’ I know he doesn’t mean an oriental potentate. Rather a stack of granite, if I recall the pain correctly. He goes on. “It could have been worse. You fell on your back so you didn’t tumble down the mountain. Most serious fractures occur in that tumble.”
“Lucky me. Why am I in such pain? I can’t breathe. Did I puncture a lung?”
“No, your lungs are fine. You have a mild concussion. You strained the rotator cuff of your left arm. You broke four ribs and bruised your coccyx.”
“Your tailbone. You twisted your right knee but I don’t see any signs of serious injury there. But it will be tender for a while. In short, your ski adventure is over for this trip, Mr. Kinney. The bad news is, there’s not much you can do with broken ribs except tape them up and let them heal. The pain is fairly intense because you use the core of your body for almost all movement. The good news is, you’re very fit. Your core muscles are quite strong, and that will help support the ribs for healing.”
I have to smile. Merry fucking Christmas. I get it, God. I’ve been bad. Punish me. Good News Doctor Santa continues.
“Because you bruised your tail bone, it might be difficult to find a comfortable position for a few days. Sitting will hurt, but lying flat will put a lot of ache on your ribs. I suggest a recliner. You might find that more comfortable than a bed.”
“How about some serious painkillers?”
“Not with that head injury, not for twenty-four hours. I’m going to give you Advil, three capsules every four hours. For these kind of injuries, Advil works as well as anything I can prescribe.”
“Advil? Can you hook me up with a heroin dealer? I take Advil for headache. This is way beyond Advil pain.”
He thinks I’m a riot, laughing again at my predicament. “You’re a tough guy, you’ll soldier on. The hotel said you listed no emergency contact. Who shall we call?”
“Yes, Mr. Kinney. The first twenty-four hours will require someone to watch you and monitor your concussion. You’ll also find that these injuries are quite debilitating. You’ll need help with even small things, like dressing. Who would you like me to call?”
I think of my last trick, that fucking doctor. He jinxed me with his fucking prediction! He fucking jinxed me. The bastard. “No one.”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Kinney. I can’t let you go without someone to take care of you.”
“You don’t understand, doc,” I level a glare at him. “No one cares. Got it? I can take care of myself. Always have, always will.”
“Then we’ll have to keep you here for twenty-four hours.”
“No,” I hate it when the world conspires against me. I try to sit up, but the effort is excruciating. The one thing I hate more than hospitals is being a drain on someone. My independence is more important to me than the comfort of being cared for. What a strange revelation that is. Who thinks that way? Who is that terrified of being needy? I am. I’ve broken out in a sweat from the pain and exertion, and my stomach rolls again.
“Let us call someone, Mr. Kinney,” he prompts me in a kindly voice. He just doesn’t get it. No one cares. Not my mother, my sister, not Michael, who would come, but would be a martyr and would spend the whole time reminding me of how stupid I am, not Lindsay, that relationship is broken, not Ted, who would come, but make me pay for it forever, no one. No one cares. I turn my head away from him, towards the window, feeling abandoned and a little scared, and then a familiar voice intrudes.
“You don’t need to call anyone, Doctor. I’m here. I’ll take care of him.”
I’d blame it on the drugs, but they haven’t given me any worth noting. I turn to look at the vision standing at the end of my bed. A shock of blond hair falls across his forehead, and his powder blue sweater matches his eyes. This unexpected angel of mercy can’t be real. I meet his stare and get so choked up on unbidden emotion that I can’t even speak. The doctor asks,
“Who are you?”
“I’m his partner,” Justin says. Hark the fucking herald angels sing. It really must be Christmas.