For your reading pleasure, I’m ready to share a sample of the first book in the series, On the Line (which preceded my NaNoWriMo story). Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
On the Line Chapter One:
Lina shrugged on her coat and stepped onto the deck to face a cold blast of wind that whipped her hair. She squinted through the swirling snow, down the hill and across the large empty parking lot, to the looming ski lodge a couple hundred yards away. It was empty now, but soon it would be bustling with families eager to create happy skiing memories.
Although she couldn’t see him from this distance she knew her Uncle Rick, the General Manager of The Pines Ski Resort, was there busily preparing for the first all-staff meeting that would start in a few hours. She’d been by his side preparing the agenda and attending to every detail until he insisted she return to the condo to offer a warm welcome to his most prized management team.
She smiled to herself as she headed back inside, pulling the sliding glass door behind her. She’d already cleaned the place as best as she could, but her impatience and giddy excitement had her pacing the kitchen and wiping the dingy countertops one more time.
She could hardly believe that any minute her three best friends from college would be joining her for another winter working at The Pines after all these years. It was her uncle’s craziest scheme yet.
A few months ago, he’d come to her for help. Rick was her only living family member. He’d practically helped raise her by supporting her single mom, his sister, in every possible way. She’d spent nearly every weekend of her childhood here; skiing, playing, and then as a teenager, working just about every job there was. So when he’d asked her to review the financials and make recommendations, how could she possibly turn him down?
She’d earned her MBA focusing on Business Strategy and Finance so she knew she was up to the task. Yet she couldn’t make sense of it. At first glance, it appeared that The Pines was barely turning a profit for the first time in years. But upon closer inspection, skier visits were steady or even increasing. But sales in several other departments were way down and were the source of the losses. She was discouraged to see that Rick had really let things slide over the past couple of ski seasons. Worse yet, she was who he’d asked to set him straight.
When she’d finally shared her discoveries with him it had been rough.
“Rick, I just need to give it to you straight. A few of your trusted managers are taking advantage of your kindness and family oriented management style. They are failing on several basic levels. In the three years that Jim has run the ski school, the customer service ratings and reservations have steadily plummeted. That department is a train wreck. And worse – much worse – the ski rental shop has mysteriously lost over $30,000 in inventory. Best case scenario is that Patty is an incompetent manager and worst case scenario, which after my careful analysis I believe is sadly more likely, she’s stealing from you!”
He’d tried to wave her off dismissively, not wanting to hear the truth.
“You’re the General Manager; you’ve got to handle this. You need to fire them immediately and get serious about hiring.”
He’d hung his head in defeat. “Jim and Patty have worked for me for three years. It’s hard. Besides, if I fire them, it will piss off Frank and he’ll leave the ski patrol high and dry. It’s mid-October, I’ll never get decent managers in place to start the season in seven weeks.”
And that’s when in an unforeseen twist, Rick had talked her into leaving her high-paying corporate job to return to her roots and work with him for the season. Even more surprising, he’d suggested that they beg and plead with her friends to come help open the resort until he could get permanent staff hired, to which they’d gladly agreed.
Lina opened the door and was immediately enveloped in a hug by Felicity and Jonathan. She laughed and tried to compose herself once they’d let go. She helped them load several duffle bags and suitcases inside. She stood back as she watched Jonathan assess the space.
“Wow, it’s like walking back in time. This place looks just like it did when we were freshmen in college – only even more run-down and crappier now.” Jonathan said dryly. He straightened his glasses and ran a hand through his carefully styled, brown hair. He took off his winter coat to reveal one of his many signature blazers.
“You look as dapper as ever – and surprisingly – a lot like you did eight years ago. You were always the baby in the group,” Lina teased as she leaned in for another hug.
“It’s true. I am a whole year younger and am blessed with good genes. I do hope I’ve filled out and am not as scrawny as I used to be.”
“Speaking of getting older, I haven’t seen you since your birthday, bestie,” said Felicity, pulling Lina into a second hug. “Sorry I missed it. How’s twenty-seven treating you?”
“It’s fine, I’m sure you were busy with some meditation retreat or drum circle or group sculpt-a-thon.” Lina teased. “Did you two drive up together or something?”
“Not exactly. I was coming up the hill and saw a familiar ratty old Volvo on the side of the road with a beautiful, leggy, redheaded damsel in distress standing nearby. It seemed that eh-hmm, someone ran out of gas.”
Felicity glared playfully at Jonathan, tossing her wild mass of hair over her shoulder. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I was just trying to trick some unsuspecting sexy tourist into taking me home with them?” she cooed sweetly.
“Either way, it sounds like classic Felicity!” joked Lina.
Laughing, they moved through the tiny kitchen into the small living area. Felicity went to her bag and pulled out a bottle of alcohol. Then she banged around in the cupboards before producing four small glasses. She poured a generous shot of Jagermeister in each glass and carried them all to the living room.
“We’ll wait for Zane,” she said matter of fact. “He texted me earlier that he was close. But I figure we’ll need these today.”
Jonathan squinted at Felicity. “Aside from the fact that it’s only one in the afternoon, which I won’t even touch, why do we all need shots again? Granted we used to party pretty hard when we lived and worked here, but I think we’ve all grown up a fair bit since then.”
“That’s just it!” Felicity said excitedly. “First of all, we’re celebrating old times. Jonathan, we haven’t all been together since your wedding. Since then it’s like the spell was broken. I thought some Jager would soften any awkward edges.”
Lina’s eyes crinkled with a smile. “I can’t even believe you’re all here. Is it true that all four of us haven’t been together since the wedding? When was that, like two years ago?”
“Two years, five months and four days,” Jonathan said without skipping a beat. “I know this, of course, because it’s been four months and thirteen days since the divorce was final.”
“I know, buddy. I’m sorry.” Lina squeezed his hand. “Haven’t we all been together since?”
“Nope,” Felicity quickly quipped. “We’ve gathered in pairs and various arrangements of three, but not all four of us. That’s what I mean. The spell was broken.”
Jonathan stood up and walked to the window. Over his shoulder, he said rather sharply, “There was no spell, Felicity. Yes, we were college roommates and close friends, but we grew up. We scattered. It’s what happens. It frustrates me that you all tie it back to my marriage to Samantha. I get it already – you never liked her! You were all so convinced that I was making a mistake and couldn’t stand to be around her. I’m sorry! It sucked! She cheated. She left me. And because you never liked her, it’s been weird ever since and especially since the divorce.
“But let’s let it rest, okay. We can’t go back to the way things were. We all just need to keep moving forward.”
Felicity grabbed two glasses, walked to the window and handed one to him. She put her hand on his shoulder and raised her glass to his. “Like I said, to softening the edges.” She clinked his glass and they both threw back their shots. She walked to the kitchen to refill them before meeting them back at the couch.
Jonathan slumped onto the sofa. “Sorry for my little outburst.”
Lina smiled sympathetically at him. “You don’t need to apologize. I’m sorry that you felt we abandoned you. It has been kind of weird. I’m glad we’re talking about it. I especially think you need to try to clear the air with Zane.”
“You talking about me?” Zane called exuberantly as he pushed through the front door.
“Zane!” squealed Felicity before running to the door, throwing her arms around his neck, and then jumping to wrap her legs around his waist.
“Hi, Licity, I’m glad to see you too.” He regained his balance and then put her down after giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
He looked at Lina and opened his arms expectantly. “Next?”
The corners of Lina’s mouth gave into a smile. She walked over to him slowly. “I’ll spare you the herniated disc,” she said, leaning into him for a hug.
“Oh please!” He picked her up and twirled her around. “I’ve missed you, girl,” he said, putting her down gently.
Lina stepped back and felt a slight blush creep to her cheeks. She quickly pulled out her ponytail and readjusted it. It only took one look at Zane and his tall frame, sculpted body, perfect tan skin and dusty blonde hair for her to feel a familiar flutter. He had that effect on all women she quickly told herself. It was simply because she hadn’t seen him in months, that’s all.
“I can’t believe we’ve barely connected since I moved back to Denver. Between your workaholic tendencies and my crazy travel schedule, I’m sorry the stars haven’t aligned well. You canceled once and I did the same. I’m just glad we’re all here now.”
Jonathan stepped forward.
Zane’s face lit up. “Hey man!”
Jonathan extended his hand. Zane grabbed it and pulled him into a hug, slapping his back. They pulled back and assessed one another. Jonathan couldn’t help but smile. “It’s good to see you.”
“Looks like I need to drag your ass back to the gym with me. You’re getting scrawny, bro.”
“Gee, thanks for noticing.”
Zane cuffed his shoulder good-naturedly before everyone moved back to the living room. Zane settled himself on the sofa and kicked his feet up. Lina watched in amazement at how not only could he fill a physical space, his energy in the room was intoxicating.
As soon as he saw the shots, he winked at Felicity and leaned forward to pass them around. He raised his glass, “To the best of friends!” They all clinked glasses.
She felt a rush of warmth from both the alcohol and the memories that seemed to fill the room.
Jonathan looked around the run-down condo and laughed. “I really can’t believe we’re living here again. Or that we are even living together, at all, for that matter. This place is either worse than I remember or we were just too young and dumb to care those two winters.”
Felicity giggled and leaned into Jonathan. He comfortably slung his arm around her shoulders. “I’m pretty sure it’s more run-down and we’re also a bit more refined now.”
Zane laughed out loud. “That’s a lot coming from you, my favorite, sexy Earth-Mama. What is this ensemble you’re wearing today anyway?” He appraised her long bird-like legs clad in bright tights and leg warmers and a long, drapey dress with wide sleeves revealing her arm of bangle bracelets. “No doubt those were some great thrift store finds,” he teased warmly.
Felicity put her hands on her hips, mocking defense. “Do I need to remind you that I don’t judge based on outward appearances? I love this place because of the memories it holds for us. Who cares that it’s a sad eighties inspired, vinyl and polyester disaster.”
Lina laughed. “That’s a fine description. And yes, we remember. To you, love is blind.”
Felicity nodded once for emphasis. “Exactly. I fall in love with a person, nothing more.”
Jonathan nudged her. “Just for the record, how many persons have you ‘fallen in love’ with so far this year?” he said with exaggerated air quotes.
Felicity batted her eyes at him. “Are you trying to get on my list again?”
After a good laugh, Zane looked at Lina and squeezed her leg. “You’re awful quiet.”
Instantly, tears filled the corners of her eyes. “I was just thinking how amazing it is that you’re all here and were so willing to drop everything and help out my uncle and me for a few weeks. I’ve missed you all so much and I can’t believe we’re all together again.”
In unison, all three of them sighed.
Zane scooped an arm around Lina and pulled her to him. She leaned into him a little and he kissed her hair. Damn, she smelled good like apples and honey. “I’d do anything for you, Lina. I hope you know that.” He swallowed hard but doubted anyone noticed.
He caught her slight blush as she pulled back from him. He’d always found her pretty, but today, he’d have to describe her as beautiful. He could get lost in the endless depths of her deep, brown eyes. Her shiny dark hair was the perfect complement to her flawless latte-colored skin. Everything about her was so soft and sweet, he had to consciously try not to touch her too often.
“Well, it means so much to Rick and me. He would’ve been in a world of hurt during the busy holiday season without your help. I’m still blown away you’re here for a few weeks.”
“Actually,” Jonathan said slowly, “if Rick wants me, I’ll work all season. I quit my soul-sucking job. I have nothing to hurry back to. I figure a few months will help me resettle and figure out what comes next.”
“Ooh! I’ll stay all winter too! It’s pretty easy for me to come and go,” Felicity quickly offered.
“Seriously!” Lina exclaimed. They all looked to Zane expectantly.
Zane smiled sheepishly. “Sorry folks, I’m trying to get a roster spot on the Colorado Mammoth. If I’ve got a shot to play year-round in Denver, I’ve got to take it. All the travel and playing in multiple cities is wearing on me.”
“That’s great news! You’ve earned it, they’d be crazy not to sign you,” Lina said encouragingly.
As always, Lina was his truest fan. He was forever humbled by her unwavering support.
All through high school and college, Zane had been a lacrosse star. He was recruited to play professionally in the Major Lacrosse League the spring of their senior year. He started traveling back and forth to squeeze in his final classes around games and practice. The day after he graduated, he took off for his rookie year with the Chesapeake Bayhawks in Annapolis, Maryland.
Jonathan, Felicity and Lina road-tripped to watch him the very first chance they got. They were so excited that he’d made it pro. They were in awe of Zane’s accomplishment. What they didn’t see right away was what a grind it was.
Getting paid next to nothing, Zane had to find side jobs and share a dumpy house with practically the whole team. The rookies, especially, spent pretty much their entire earnings on their travel expenses to their weekly games. Sometimes there weren’t even locker rooms and they were lucky to get a pre-game meal and maybe a roll of athletic tape.
Team camaraderie wasn’t what he was used to either. Aside from some preseason camps, at most they only practiced twice a week. Some team members lived in other parts of the country and only flew in for the games. Also, it was much more competitive in a cut-throat sort of way.
It was far less glamorous than he’d imagined. Despite the hardships and low pay, he loved it and he excelled like he did with everything. His natural talents quickly led him to sign with a better team, relocating to Rochester, New York to play for the Rattlers. In the off-season, between about September to March, he returned to Colorado to coach youth teams and lead camps or pick up the occasional ski resort job.
He got a big break when he was recruited to play for both the Major Lacrosse League and the National Lacrosse League, which played indoor net over the winter. He joined the Georgia Swarm in Atlanta. That meant, two teams, two parts of the country and often what felt like two separate lives. He climbed the ranks and started to earn better pay, but it was still piddly compared to phenomenal athletes playing pretty much any other sport. He was driven to try to play year-round for the Denver Outlaws in the summer and the Colorado Mammoth in the winter. After leading the MLL in scoring this season, he had a strong chance of getting signed.
“Don’t worry,” Zane said, “I’m here through the first of the year for sure. I might even be able to come back mid-week for a little longer into January until we start traveling. But I’ll do whatever I can to train the crew and help get someone hired. ”
Lina shook her head. “Of course, you need to pursue this. I’m so excited for you.” Lina repeated with a genuine smile.
He really didn’t know what he’d ever done to earn her favor, but he treasured it. He’d often had admirers try to catch his interest by coming to games, but Lina had always been an entirely different kind of fan.
He still remembered finding her sitting alone on a bench, watching his lacrosse practice early in their freshman year. When he’d sauntered over to her after practice, she enthusiastically began peppering him with questions about the sport he loved. She’d admitted to never playing or knowing anything of the game and had asked him to teach her everything. He’d assumed she was kidding, but he’d underestimated her. They’d walked back to their dorm together and she’d pressed him about every detail the whole way.
He wouldn’t be surprised if she now knew the rules of the game better than he did and she certainly followed other teams more closely. She knew players names and team standings across both leagues for which he played. She’d often call after games and they’d talk for hours while she insisted on his play by play account of his team’s effort.
His heart kicked a little just thinking about it. He spread his big hand on her knee and gave her a squeeze. “Thanks for your support. But for now, I’m here to support you and Rick one hundred percent.”
“I’m just grateful you’re here at all. That goes for all three of you. Don’t hesitate to tell me what you need. Speaking of that, I put your uniforms upstairs. We need to walk to the lodge in about an hour for our first all-staff meeting.”
They returned to their condo after a semi-successful first staff meeting. They’d all met their crew and started to identify the tremendous amount of work required to open in four days. Luckily it was snowing hard, which was the single most important factor to having a successful season.
Felicity had offered to cook a delicious meal and as usual, destroyed the kitchen in the process. It was such a small kitchen that Lina insisted on cleaning it by herself while the others started in on a bottle of wine.
They talked about work mostly. Jonathan was feeling pretty confident with his role leading the ski school. He had what he figured would be a pretty good crew of veterans and eager newbies. He’d taught lessons for years including the two winters they’d all worked together.
Felicity would run the retail and rental shop. Even though it was a big job, she didn’t seem the least bit concerned and was eager to assess the inventory and order some new items to liven up the traditional hats, goggles, and gloves that were their bread and butter.
Zane had always lent his talents to the ski patrol including a few winters between lacrosse seasons. In college, he’d gotten certified in Emergency Outdoor Care and had taken some EMT classes here and there. He was a little leery of his rather senior crew but expected he’d know more after they got on the mountain began running rescue drills.
Lina would do a little of everything. She’d manage the lift operators’ training and scheduling and then hopefully turn over daily operations to the newly hired crew leader. She’d need to be closely involved in all lodge operations including the facilities management, the cafeteria, and the small six-stool-bar that mostly served the staff at the end of the day. She knew it would be exhausting, but she’d never been more excited for a ski season.
One of her primary goals was to help her uncle by assessing areas where the area was losing money and help turn it around. Rick was an excellent manager of people and he always prioritized the guests’ satisfaction, but perhaps to a fault. With her laser focus and attention to detail, she knew she would be able to identify the pitfalls and help him avoid them.
She turned off the lights in the kitchen and pulled off her sweatshirt before sinking down on the couch. “I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s really hot in here.”
Felicity smiled at her friend. “Don’t you remember? This place is either blazing hot or freezing cold. The thermostat pretty much doesn’t work at all. We cracked the windows already. I think it will need to be a clothing-optional-winter.”
“Sounds good to me,” Zane quickly responded with a wide grin.
“I don’t know about that,” Lina hesitated.
Felicity leveled her eyes at Lina playfully. “Oh you prude! We’ve all seen each other naked already. Right?”
Jonathan offered, “Obviously we’ve all seen you naked, Felicity, it’s not hard to figure
that one out. Surely I’ve seen more of my old roommate, Adonis, over there than my self-esteem can handle. And Felicity has seen you, Lina, after years of sharing a room. And if I recall, Zane had the pleasure once upon a time, so that just leaves you and me to, um, have the big reveal.”
Lina turned a little pink.
Zane came to her rescue. “I feel compelled to defend Lina’s honor. For the record, we’ve never seen each other naked.” He flashed her his most charming smile. “Topless at best.” Her cheeks burned.
“Speaking of sleeping together,” Jonathan transitioned dryly, “what are the sleeping arrangements? This place has three rooms last I checked. Please don’t tell us you’re planning to move someone else in here.”
“No, I drew the line in the sand with Rick on that one,” Lina said.
“Well, I vote that we go old school,” Felicity suggested. “Lina and I will share a room and you boys share the other. The extra room will be for… shall we say, sleepover guests.”
Zane laughed again. “Well, that hardly seems fair, Licity. We all know that you’ll get far more use out of that room than the rest of us.”
“And whose fault is that?” Felicity asked, tossing her hair. “It’s not my problem that you all are so narrow-minded that you limit yourself to only one gender. I’ve expanded my horizons and get to enjoy whomever suits my fancy.”
“Thanks for the reminder,” groaned Jonathan. “The room’s all yours. I’m not ready to start anything new yet.”
“It’s fine with me,” said Lina. “I’ll end up with my room to myself most of the time.”
They all looked to Zane expectantly. “What? I’m only razzing Licity. I’m not really worried about it,” he said.
“No, I don’t suppose you are,” Jonathan said with a huff.
“Jonathan, that’s not what I meant. I just mean… Oh nevermind.”