The Ski Trip

Celeste took her suitcase and followed Ed up the walk to his friendís condominium. She was so happy to be leaving campus to go skiing. Anything to get her mind off the bullshit of school. A light blanket of snow coated everything and the air smelled of smoke. "MmmÖ" Celeste sighed, sniffing the air. "Someone has a fire."

"Isnít it a great smell? We can make one later if youíd like." Ed unlocked the door with a key left under the welcome mat.

"Awesome." The door opened on a short flight of stairs carpeted in a light beige. The condo smelled like a hotel Ė a mixture of old, stale smoke and industrial cleaners. She actually liked the smell, it made her feel safe.

"OK, grand tour." Ed spread his arms. "To the right, bedroom numero uno." He flicked on the light Ė revealing a plain room with a queen-sized bed, a dresser, desk, and a night stand, all in dark brown press board.

"Hereís the kitchen, obviously, living room combined with dining area." There was a couch and a recliner in front of a TV and fireplace. "And above, bedroom numero dos." It was a loft, with another queen-sized bed, dresser and closet.

"Itís nice. Mind if I take the loft?"

"Not at all. You can put your bag upstairs. Are you hungry, or would you rather just head out?" His excitement was palpable.

Celeste grinned. "We can go. Iím not too hungry yet."

"Great! Forget your bags, letís go!"

"I need to put snow pants on first." Celeste headed up to the loft to change.

"Snow pants are for wimps." Ed called after her.

"Or for people who donít like to freeze," Celeste yelled back. The worst thing about skiing was the cold. Celeste would prefer it if she could do it in the summer instead.

"Iím not very good at this," Celeste warned him as they rode up the chair lift. A wind blew at them, rocking the chair gently.

"If youíd like I can hang out on the easier slopes with you until you get ready for the black diamonds. I usually warm up on them anyway." Ed offered.

"Weíll seeÖ I donít know about black diamonds." They reached the top. Celeste looked down the slopes, her heart picking up its pace. She hadnít been skiing in years and the last time she had, sheíd fallen and twisted her knee. Now that she was actually up here, she wasnít so sure she really wanted to do this.

Then Ed sped past her, letting out a whoop of pure joy. His purple scarf whipped her arm as he flew by.

She took a deep breath and pushed off, following him down at a much slower pace, but managing to stay on her feet the whole way down.

"Isnít this great?" Ed asked, his eyes sparkling, cheeks and nose bright red with the cold.

Celeste blew on her hands and nodded, heading for the chair lift again. As they made their second run she began to speed up, feeling her hair flow out behind her, wind making her eyes tear. She nearly echoed Edís yells. After another couple of greens she felt confident enough to try a blue square. This time she passed Ed, just in time to see him fall flat on his face. She laughed, making it all the way down without falling.

"Donít laugh at me," Ed pouted when he joined her. "I have to go around the rest of the night in wet pants."

"Iím not laughing at you, Iím laughing with you. And itís your fault you didnít wear snow pants. Are you sure youíre good enough for a black diamond?" she teased.

"Just shut up and watch me." Ed stuck out his tongue at her and jumped into a lift.

Celeste stayed at the bottom of the hill, watching for him to come down. Luckily his goggles were neon green so she could see him from a good distance away. She bent and rubbed her knee as she waited. It was beginning to ache from the strain. She decided sheíd tell Ed she wanted to head back when he came down.

He was good, she thought, watching him maneuver over the moguls at top speed. Soon he slid to a stop next to her, grinning triumphantly. "Admit it, Iím the best."

"I wouldnít say best. But definitely mediocre."

He frowned and stuck out his tongue at her.

"Ed, would you mind taking me back to the condo? My knee is pretty sore. I think Iím done for the night."

"Yeah, no problem. Iím ready to call it a night too." They drove back to the condo in silence.

They stood close together for warmth as he unlocked the door. Suddenly she felt him shiver next to her, and he sneezed once, then again and again, muffling it in the arm of his jacket.

"Bless you," she said. "Are you okay?"

"Thanks. Iím fine. Just got a little chill." His teeth chattered. "My pants feel like they froze to my legs." He slapped his jeans, which made a cracking sound, and he grinned ruefully.

"Shit, you should have told me, we could have gone sooner." Celeste could have shot herself. She should have noticed, said something.

"Itís not your fault." He broke into her thoughts. "Iím the one who wanted to keep going." He stuffed his hands into his pockets. He looked pitiable, hunched into his jacket, face pale, nose red and still shivering.

"So, are you hungry? Iím starved." Celeste said, tugging off her boots in the entryway. Ed didnít respond. She glanced up.

His eyes were half closed, his right hand hovering part way to his face. "IÖ haÖ have toÖ sneeÖ. Eshoo! Hatchoo! Ishoo!" He sneezed, losing his balance.

Celeste grabbed his arm, steadying him. "Bless you! You sound like youíre coming down with a cold."

"Yeah. Itís just my luck." Ed brushed his hair out of his face and rubbed his nose on his sleeve. "Iím always the one to get sick, or locked out of the car, or to lose a movie ticket." He frowned and kicked off his boots sullenly.

"Why donít you go put on some dry clothes and Iíll heat up some soup for us."

"Sounds good." Ed headed into his bedroom, closing the door behind him. She could hear him sneeze again, even through the door. Three times, did he always sneeze in threes? She sighed. He wasnít going to have a very enjoyable vacation with a cold. But maybe heíd feel better in the morning.

Celeste skipped up the steps, shedding her coat and ski pants and kicked them into the closet. They needed music. Music made everything better. She remembered seeing a stereo in the living room, under the television. She switched it on. Someone had left a CD in and it began to play as she headed into the kitchen, picking up the remote from the shelf. A techno beat began, shaking the floor boards. The rhythm was strong and it moved through her body, forcing her to dance. She tossed her hands in the air, stretching and undulating with the throbbing bass.

"You dance well," Ed said from the doorway.

Celeste jumped guiltily, feeling a bright heat climb from the pit of her stomach, staining her chest, her ears, and coalescing in her cheeks. "I didnít know you were there," she giggled slightly, then felt like a complete moron. She clicked off the music and a heavy silence fell.

"Let me give you a hand." He opened a cupboard and took out two cans of chicken soup.

He looked so sexy Celeste found herself longing to press her body against him and keep dancing. He had changed into a pair of navy sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt over a black turtleneck. She loved the way a man looked in a sweatshirt, so warm and cuddly. His hair was loose and fell over his shoulders in waves, damp from the snow. His feet were bare.

Suddenly realizing she was staring, she opened a cupboard next to the stove, searching for a pan to heat the soup in. She took a deep breath, trying to calm down. Her stomach twisted in knots and if she didnít relax she wouldnít be able to eat a thing.

"Ishoo! Eshoo! AhhÖ AhhÖ Hatchoo!" Ed sneezed again and she jumped. "Iím sorry." He pulled a crumpled tissue from his pocket and blew his nose.

"Do you always sneeze in threes?" Celeste asked, strangely interested.

Ed laughed. "So you noticed. Only when Iím sick, actually. Otherwise itís just one at a time. But whenever I get sick they just keep coming. Iím afraid I wonít be any good on the slopes tomorrow." His voice had gone hoarse.

"Donít worry about it. My knee probably couldnít take much more, and I really prefer sitting by the fire and reading anyway." Celeste avoided his eyes, imagining he could read her desire there. She opened the cans of soup and pouring them both into the pan.

"Fire. Good idea. Iíll build one." He padded out of the kitchen.

"Finally Iím beginning to thaw out," Ed sighed as he finished the bowl of soup and closed his eyes. The fire flickered, lending color to his face. He sniffed, then sneezed, body jerking with the force of each. He groaned, rubbing his hands over his face. "This sucks."

She longed to put her arms around him and hold him. "I know something that will make you feel better. Does your friend have any red wine?" Celeste asked, suddenly remembering a recipe she had read on her email list when someone had the flu.

"Wouldnít be much of a friend if he didnít. Itís in the cabinet next to the refrigerator."

"OK, sit tight. Iíll be right back." She washed out the pan and mixed a bottle of wine, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, eucalyptus oil, and a pinch of goldenseal and waited for it to warm then poured them each a large mug.

"Whatís in it?" Ed asked warily. He sniffed at it, as though he could smell anything through his clogged nose. An unexpected sneeze caught him by surprise. "Excuse me." He blew his nose in a tissue from the box Celeste handed him. He caught the next two, and they were muffled by the tissue.

She made a show of wiping off her face and grimaced. "Iíve had a shower today, thank you very much." She grinned.

A blush colored his cheeks, but he laughed. He took the mug and sipped carefully. "Hey, itís pretty good." He took a bigger drink. "What is it?"

"An old Romanian recipe. My secret brew. Youíll at least feel happier, even if youíre still sick." She took a drink as well and the warmth of the alcohol left a trail from her throat to the middle of her belly. Her head spun, but all of her knotted muscles relaxed. She let out a long sigh.

"This is the life," Ed said, laying down across the couch.

"What, being sick and stranded with a girl you barely know?" Celeste stretched out on her side, propping her chin up on one hand.

"Of course not. Being sick and getting drunk!" She laughed with him. "No, seriously, good booze, by a warm fire, with a really sweet person who Iíd like to get to know better." Ed studied her so intently she dropped her eyes, studying the carpet fibers instead. He began to cough, a violent spasm that left him slightly breathless.

She opened her mouth to say something, anything to make him feel better, but he held up a finger, stalling her. His eyes closed and he sneezed once, twice, but the third stuck. He rubbed his nose, scrunching his face, but it wouldnít come. Finally he sighed. "OK."

"Look, Iím really sorry youíre sick. I feel terrible. If you want we can go backÖ"

Suddenly the third sneeze burst from him effectively interrupting her. "AahhTCHoo!! Whew. I hate being sick." He wiped his nose gingerly. "Thereís no reason to go back. Iíll be sick either here or there. And I donít feel like sitting in a car for five hours."

Celeste drained her mug, trying to think of something other than how he looked as his eyes squeezed shut, and his head drew back, then forward with each sneeze. "Do you want more?" she asked, standing up.

Ed nodded, drained his mug and handed it to her.

"Iíve got an idea," he called to her. His voice cracked and he coughed.

"Whatís that?" Celeste asked walking back carefully, trying not to spill on the rug. She had filled the mugs too full, finishing off the brew.

"Would you dance with me?" Ed asked, his eyes sparkling, glassy with fever. He turned on the radio, pushed himself to his feet and held out one hand.

She giggled. "What about our drinks?" But she took his hand and let him draw her close and press against his body. She rested her head on his chest. He folded his arms around her and she was enveloped in his heat as Lorenna Mckennet played on the radio. She could feel his chest rise and fall as he breathed, then each breath slowed, deepened, and she pulled back to look at him. He stopped moving, his nose twitched, his eyes half closed. He raised one hand in a loose fist, "HatchooÖachooÖashoo!" He took a breath, but sneezed again. "AshooÖishooÖ atchoo!"

"Bless you," Celeste whispered in his ear, then kissed it gently. She couldnít help it, she needed him. She put her arms around him and covered his mouth with her own, kissing fiercely. For a minute she didnít think heíd respond, but then he was kissing her back hungrily. Her breathing quickened, heat gathering between her legs as he sneezed again.

She pushed him down on the couch, and lay on top of him, her hands sliding up his shirt to caress his chest. His hands fumbled with the zipper of her jeans, then he was touching her, gently, lightly, where she was hottest and wet. She trembled with desire.

"Please," she moaned. "Oh, please."

He tugged off her jeans, tossing them to the floor, then his followed. He rolled over on top of her and stripped off his shirt, shivering as the air cooled his feverish skin. His eyes began to close, "ahhÖ atchoo! AshooÖ.itchoo!"

She pulled his body to hers, sliding him inside unable to wait. He thrust into her and she rose to meet him, crying out with pleasure as he pushed, pushed until suddenly she came, muscles clenching around him, shivering and nearly crying.

"Thank you," she said, as they lay together in each otherís arms, staring out the window at the slowly falling snow.

"No, thank you. Iíve never enjoyed being sick so much." Ed grinned and kissed her gently.