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an SAT/ACT vocabulary novel

Chapter Nine

Part 1

Saturday morning Jon and I hopped onto the chairlift and pulled the protective bar down, then sat in comfortable silence as we were whisked to the top of the mountain.

Comfortable silence. Even I can’t believe it. But one day of snowboarding and something fundamental between us had shifted. Jon was awesome on his board, lithe and skilled—the kind of boarder who mesmerized everyone on the slopes. And I had impressed him as well, I think. He hadn’t overtly complimented me, but his jaw had dropped on my last jump. I had a feeling Jon was seeing me in a whole new light, just as I was him.

He hadn’t even said one rude word to me all day and, much to my surprise, he had said “please” and “thank you” at all the appropriate times. He was like a different person once he let you get close.

Of course, there’s a one-in-three chance that he’s a drug dealer, Kimbo, I reminded myself. Sheesh. I really had to get a grip here.

I looked down at the skiers below, the variegated colors of their gear dotting the slopes, and took in the tranquil atmosphere. My face was warm from exertion and the cool air felt invigorating against my skin. Last night I had lain awake in bed, fretting over what David might have been thinking about the conversation between me and Donny Burke’s mother, but he had said nothing to me about it this morning. So I had decided to let myself have some fun—while working on Jon, of course. I would deal with David if and when I had to.

Jon’s friends Tek and Michael shouted and whooped from the chair behind us, and Jon and I both turned around to roll our eyes at them.

“They’re a couple of meatheads,” Jon said, by way of apology.

“I like them,” I answered honestly. “They’re definitely different from anyone else at Hereford.”

Unsure of what to expect in Jon’s “rough crowd” friends, I had resolved to go into this day unbiased and I hadn’t been disappointed. Tek and Michael may have been inane, but they were hilarious and very sweet. They definitely balanced out Jon’s characteristic melancholy. If this was what the Hereford administration considered to be a rough crowd, I shuddered to think what they would do if they were dropped in the middle of an inner-city school.

Probably run screaming.

“Yeah. That’s why I like them too,” Jon said, gazing off toward the horizon.

“This place is totally unaltered from the last time I was here,” I said lightly.

“I thought you’d never been here,” Jon said, eyeing me.

My face burned with embarrassment. Snagged again! Damn that comfortable tongue of mine! When was I going to learn?

“Oh . . . well . . . I thought I hadn’t, but now I think this might have been the place my dad took me when I was little,” I babbled. “I know we went skiing out here at least once . . . .”

“Oh, well, then he definitely would’ve brought you here,” Jon said. “If you’re gonna ski in Connecticut, this is the place.”

He had that right. I had spent every other weekend on this mountain for the past five years, and dedicated skiers made the pilgrimage here from all over the Northeast.

I let out a relieved sigh. Another flub covered well.

A few minutes later we hit the top of the slope and slid away from the lift. Tek and Michael came up behind us.

“Ready for another run?” Michael asked, pulling his goggles over his eyes.

I glanced over my shoulder at the lodge. A plume of smoke rose into the air from the chimney, dissipating into the blue sky. It looked mighty welcoming.

“I think I’m gonna go for some hot chocolate,” I said, hoping Jon would surprise me and come with. “I’m sort of beat.”

“Dude, you can’t quit now. This is the single most beautiful day in the history of Evergreen Mountain,” Tek said. One thing I’d learned about him on the ride up here—Tek was given to hyperbole. It was a beautiful day, but the most beautiful day in history? That was overstating it a bit.

“Nah, you guys go,” Jon said. “We’ll meet you up there.”

I blinked, incredulous. Jon was coming with me! Yay! This would be the perfect opportunity to pump him for more info, gain a little insight into who he really was. I unstrapped my board and we started on the trek up to the lodge. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a thing to ask without inciting his temper. Jon was, as I originally predicted, a tough nut to crack. He’d been so cool and uncharacteristically benevolent all day, I was apprehensive about saying anything that might cause him to bridle again.

We were silent until we got to the snack bar in the lodge and ordered our hot chocolate. The lodge was nothing luxurious—just a simple wooden floor and scattered sofas, chairs and tables here and there, but it was definitely cozy. We found an empty couch near the fireplace and staked our claim.

I sat back in the comfy cushions and sipped at my cocoa, wondering what to talk about. I felt like such an ingénue. What kind of detective was I if I couldn’t even initiate a conversation with my suspect?

“So, listen, I wanted to apologize for being such an asshole the first time we met,” Jon said unflinchingly.

I was so surprised that my cocoa almost went down the wrong pipe—for real this time. “The first few times, you mean.”

He scoffed. “Yeah, well. I guess I misjudged you.”

“Misjudged?” I asked. “Why? What did you think when you first met me?”

“I just figured you were another one of those Hereford girls,” he said with a shrug. “Conceited, condescending. But you’re not.”

“God, I hope not,” I said.

“Yeah, well, I figured you must be different if you were actually trying to be friends with me. That doesn’t happen very often,” Jon said. “But I guess I just have a problem with trusting people. I don’t know. Maybe people sense that.”

Wow. He was very forthright once he got talking.

“Are you implying that I’m untrustworthy?” I asked raising my eyebrows and feeling sort of hypocritical. I was untrustworthy after all. He didn’t even know who I really was.

“No. Not at all,” he said simply. “I’m just not a people person.”

“Color me shocked,” I said with a smile.

Omigod, I was flirting! How had I gotten around to flirting?

Drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer, I reminded myself.

I cleared my throat and tried to get back to business. “Anyway, I accept your apology,” I said, feeling magnanimous. He had been a serious jerk.

“Good,” Jon replied.

“So . . . how long have you been going to Hereford?” I asked.

“Forever,” he replied, sitting back with a sigh. “When I first got there in seventh grade I used to pretend I was just transient—just passing through. You should see my journal from back then. I was totally delusional—coming up with escape plans and all this stuff. What a moron.”

I stared at him. A journal? The word “transient”? Who knew the gruff exterior was hiding a latent intellectual?

Drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer . . . .

“What?” he said, looking skittish.

“I’ve just never heard you string so many words together at once,” I replied.

“Won’t happen again.” He laughed and his smile illuminated his face. I felt my heart thump in response and I looked away. What was I doing? I could not develop a crush on a suspect. Especially not such a sketchy one as Jon Wisnewski.

Drug dealer, drug dealer, drug dealer!

“So, if you’re so transient, where do you want to be?” I asked.

Back home running your drug cartel? I wondered, wishing it would be that easy—that someone would just come out and confess.

“I just want to get to college,” Jon replied, sitting forward. “I’m applying everywhere.”

“What do you think you’ll major in?” I asked.

Economics of drug dealing?

“Literature,” he replied.

“That’s my major!” I blurted. He looked at me, his brow furrowed. “I mean, that’s what I’m going to major in.”

I swear I have total foot-in-mouth disease.

But Jon seemed to accept my explanation and sat back again. Over the next hour or so, as the sunlight began to wane, we relaxed by the fire and talked about school and the writers we liked and the books we’d read. The longer we talked, the more smitten I became. Jon was not just an intellectual but also he was sensitive, funny and intuitive. Suddenly I found myself imagining again what it would be like to kiss him. This was not good.

Then we began discussing the social structure at Hereford, which brought me back to stark reality. Jon, as it turned out, had been friends with Marshall back in freshman year but dumped him when his head got too big for his shoulders.

Of course, this made me wonder anew—if Jon had dumped Marshall way back when, then why was he chilling in his room late at night?

“So you guys don’t hang out at all now?” I asked.

“Please. Neither one of us would be caught dead talking to the other,” Jon said.

You’ve already been caught, not-dead, I thought, hating that he was lying to me yet again. I had thought we had made a breakthrough and that he was starting to trust me as a friend. But the second Marshall came up, he started lying all over again. What had I been thinking?

You just can’t let yourself get sucked in, Kim, I scolded myself internally. Not by David, not by Jon, not by any of them.

Jon leaned forward and grabbed my empty cocoa mug, shooting me a lopsided smile that made my heart flip.

“I’ll go get us some refills,” he said.

I’d been at Stanford for months and not a single person had made my heart flip like that. I’d forgotten what it felt like.

Okay. At least don’t get sucked in until you know he’s innocent, I amended, my face warming. Then maybe you can kiss him.

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