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New Year's Eve on Lone Peak

An excerpt from THE LONGEST RUN

“Come on, Chris!” Janine passed Chris on the right.


“Why the hurry?” Chris said.


“It’s 11:30,” Carly said.


“I don’t get it.” Chris’s wheels skidded on the packed snow of the base area. “Where are we going?”


“To Ramcharger,” Carly said.


The chair lift? Chris shook his head. “You guys aren’t making sense, and I didn’t drink that much!”


Carly laughed. “It’s a surprise!”


Someone came up behind him and took over pushing his wheelchair. Chris whipped his head around to find Miles grinning at him. He raised his hands in surrender, unable to conjure up his normal irritation because, a) it was a fairly steep hill from where they were to the Ramcharger chair lift, and b) his arms were burned out from Monte’s training and relaxed from the beers he’d consumed.


He turned his gaze to the Ramcharger chair lift. Dang, it was moving. Not only that, but people were getting on it.


They want me to get on it.


The thought brought him up short, and he put his gloved hands on the wheels to slow his chair. “You don’t really think I’m gonna get on the lift.”


Miles rounded the chair so Chris could see him. “We carry rescue sleds up these lifts every day of the week,” he said. “They’re heavier and bulkier than your chair. It’ll be a piece of cake.”


Yeah, except without my chair, I can’t do anything. I’m totally dependent on others.


“We already talked to the lift operators,” Carly said. “They’ll stop the lift for you to get on and off.”


Chris looked at Taylor. “Did you know about this?” he demanded.


Taylor held up his hands. “I know as much as you do.”


Carly knelt in front of him. “We have something we want to show you,” she said. “It’ll be worth the hassle, I swear. We’ll only offer you as much help as you want. Please?”


She’d seen right to the heart of his hesitation. And when she looked at him like that, he found it difficult to say no. Besides, hadn’t he sworn he wouldn’t let his wheelchair stop him from doing the things he’d have done before the accident? Then there were the conversations—not just with Taylor, but with Carly, too—about learning to accept help now and then…


He looked at Taylor, then Miles, then back to Carly. “I give up.” He smiled to show he meant it in a good way. “Do what you will!”


********************


The chair lift slowed as it approached the disembark point. Chris leaned forward to look at Miles, who carried his folded-up wheelchair. “How’s it going, Miles?”


“This thing weighs less than my two-year-old niece,” Miles said.


The lift came to a stop. Carly and Taylor stood up on either side of Chris as he leaned over to plant his feet where he wanted them.


“Ready?” Taylor offered his arm.


Chris took his arm, then Carly’s. “Ready.”


Once they’d gotten him standing, he didn’t need as much support, so he loosened his hold on Carly. The lift operator backed the lift up. Miles set up the wheelchair and maneuvered it behind Chris.


Once in the chair, Chris took control, rolling it off the landing ahead of Taylor and Carly. He waved to the lift operator. He couldn’t see the person’s face, but he could see the return wave.


Four different lifts culminated here, three of them now silent sentinels, swinging in a slight breeze. The area was awash in blue moonlight and devoid of skiers.


A line of patrollers headed toward Everett’s Restaurant, so that’s the direction he went. He slowed as the snow got harder to push through.


Carly, Janine, and Taylor came up beside him. “The best place for this is on the deck of Everett’s,” Carly said. “But it’s not wheelchair accessible from outside, and we can’t get inside. We can either go around back or—”


“We planned for this,” Miles said. “Reggie! Patrick!”


The two men jogged over, and before Chris could ask what they were going to do, they’d lifted his entire chair—with him in it—and carried it up the stairs.


He didn’t even have time to freak out before they set him down on the back deck of Everett’s. “Wow guys—” His words died as he looked out over the balcony. Below them, the lights of the base lodge glowed dimly, producing just enough ambient light to make the view of Lone Peak seem otherworldly.


Millions of years ago, Lone Peak was a volcano that never erupted; hot melted crust rose vertically from a magma chamber and solidified between older layers of sedimentary rock. Glaciers carved out the iconic silhouette; and wind and water wore away the softer sedimentary rock, leaving behind the iconic peak that Big Sky was known for.


A single wisp of a cloud—and a million stars—hung around it like a halo.


“Whoa,” Chris breathed.


“Like the view?” Carly said.


“It’s amazing.” He pushed toward the other patrollers, who were clustered on the north end of the deck. He stopped and just breathed in the cold night air.


“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” Miles said as he held an object out to Chris.


It looked like a pop can. “What’s this?”


“The closest thing I could find to champagne in a can.” Miles handed one to Carly, Taylor and Janine. “No littering.”


Taylor took his gloves off and aimed his phone light at his can. “Underwood Rose Bubbles,” he said. “Never heard of it.” He shrugged and popped the top.


Chris did the same with his; then, since his gloves were already off, he opened Carly’s, too. She took it in one hand as she sank onto his lap, wrapping her other arm around his shoulders.


“It’s almost time!” Janine said.


“I’d like to make a toast.” Miles stood on the railing of the deck.


The chatter died down.


“It’s time to reflect on the past,” Miles said. “To hold the good parts close to our hearts, but let the bad parts go and look forward to the future. I think we can all agree there’s no better place in the world to do that than on this mountain.”


“Here! Here!” Someone said.


Miles raised his can. “To new friends and a new year!”


Chris raised his can with everyone else.


“Ack,” Taylor muttered. “This stuff is awful.”


Chris didn’t care; he was enjoying himself too much.


“Ten!” Miles yelled, and the others picked up the chant. “Nine! Eight! Seven…”


Chris set the can down and wrapped his arms around Carly’s waist.


“Six! Five! Four…”


Carly’s gaze was focused across the mountain, and he followed it.


“Three! Two! One!”


There was a moment of suspension, Chris waiting for Carly to turn toward him for a kiss—and then the sky across from them lit up like the Fourth of July.


Literally.


Chris’s breath caught up in surprise. The ski patrollers whistled and hollered.


Fireworks. From Lone Peak.


And because they were on Andesite mountain, it was as if the show was taking place in front of them rather than above them. Coming at them instead of over them.


The colors lit up Lone Peak in brilliant hues.


They kept coming, and Chris couldn’t look away. It wasn’t just him; every person on that deck was caught up in the magic.


He couldn’t say how long the fireworks lasted. As the last shivers of color and their belated thumps travelled through the night, he looked up at Carly.


She was gazing at him, her dark hair flowing from under her hat to pool around her shoulders, her eyes glittering in the semi-darkness. Her gloved hands clenched around his neck, and for a moment he forgot to breathe.


“Happy New Year,” she whispered before taking his mouth with hers.


He didn’t try to respond with words, because they would have been inadequate. Instead, he told her what he could with his actions until Taylor tapped his wheelchair and said, “Enough with the kissy-face; we gotta get back down the mountain.”


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