Read an Excerpt
Off the Trails
Chalet Girls, Book Three
By Emily Franklin
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2008 Emily Franklin
All rights reserved.
Every plane flight is different. Sure, the tray tables, stiff seats, plastic interiors, and tasteless fabrics designed to cover stains—those details are the same. But the feelings— where you're going, who you'll see, what the trip has in store—these are always unique.
"Do you think it'll look familiar?" Melissa asks Dove. Out the small window, Melissa can just about see the island. "I mean, aren't all islands pretty similar?"
"Nevis was once called the Queen of the Caribbees," Dove says, not looking up from her book. She's been on the same page for the past hour, spacing out, staring at words but not reading them, her mind too busy racing to concentrate. "But to answer your question ... no. Even though it's an island, it's not like any others." Dove pauses, her dark blue eyes flashing with memories. "There's a feeling as soon as you land ..." She shakes her head. "I can't explain it."
Melissa nods. Any feeling would be better than the feeling she has now—the what if I've made a colossal mistake leaving job security behind on a snowy mountain feeling. This mixed with a feeling of love lost. Melissa tugs her shirt down over her pale, bare hips and puts the feeling out of her mind, focusing instead on Dove.
"What're you reading, anyway?" Melissa asks, peering over to examine the front cover of her friend's book.
Dove glances at the front of the heavy tome in her hands. In a lush garden two lovers embrace, entwined beneath the words Romantic Theory: Love throughout Literature by A. J. Samuels. "A book I'd be assigned to read if I actually were in school."
Melissa wrinkles her forehead. "So, this is for pleasure? What's the point, exactly, of dropping out of university and then doing all the work anyway?"
"For starters, I never dropped out. You have to enroll and go and then quit to be a dropout. I never went in the first place."
"Even though you got a place at one of the top schools in the world. Yeah, okay ..." Melissa pokes Dove in the ribs and rolls her eyes.
Dove shrugs. "I just like to keep up with this stuff. I know it sounds silly." Dove stares at the cover again, imagining she and William are the subjects, kissing. Soon we will be, Dove thinks. Reunited after way too long apart. Who ever said that long-distance love was the way to go? She imagines the sign he'll have made for her at the airport—something sweet, not too cheesy, just welcoming enough to appease her for leaving her job in the French Alps. I'm a sucker for grand romantic gestures like that—balloons or flowers, signs saying WELCOME, DOVE, or silly bands that serenade you in a restaurant. Dove's brain queues up a bunch of scenes and songs, making her eyes sheen with dreaminess.
He'll wave, his eyes gleaming, looking every inch the hot surfer-slash-sailor, and he'll pull me into his arms. Dove lets a small smile flash over her face.
"Ugh." Melissa groans. "I know that face. That's the William Face." She sighs good-naturedly and looks out the window at the nearing island. Rings of blue water, tiny whitecaps, and sand so white in the distance that it looks illuminated make her heart begin to race. Maybe Nevis isn't like other islands. Maybe it will turn out to be a life-changing locale.
Suddenly, the plane angles to the right, dipping down quickly enough that Melissa grips her armrest, causing her heart to officially pound. My pulse hasn't gone this crazy since I was with Gabe at the New Year's Ball. Melissa's mouth reveals her feelings, and she frowns. Clearly, Gabe didn't experience the same rush I did, or he'd have stayed at Les Trois Alpes. She shrugs off feelings of rejection, the disappointment of admitting she liked Gabe, finally, and then having him like her, too, but not enough to change his plans. That's the proof of love, isn't it? Wanting to be with someone so much that you'd go out of your way to—The plane dips again.
"Okay, okay. I'm ready to be on the ground now." Melissa breathes fast, rambling to cover her flying fears. "Talk about a long travel day—I don't even know what day it is." She slides a rubber band from her wrist into her hair, capturing the tight dark ringlets, and wishes she'd brought something to snack on. "Who knew the small planes had no service? What I wouldn't give for a sandwich, a croissant, a piece of stale bread."
"You can get something when we land." Dove sighs and closes her book, but doesn't put it away. "I can't believe we're really here." Would he gasp at her newly cropped hair? Would he look the same, tanned and rough around the edges from boating but with all the charm? Would all the months and weeks she spent pining for her long-distance love pay off? She rubs her eyes and wipes her face with her hand as though she can wipe away any worries about what might be.
Melissa points to the window, elbowing Dove so she'll look out, too. "Check it out. We are here. Nevis. Warmth. Finally." Melissa grins. She's read descriptions about the island—its lush foliage, the former plantations and sugar refineries converted into romantic resorts, the endless beach life—but she can't wait to experience it herself.
Dove finally brings herself to look out the window to the view of the island. Surrounded by bright turquoise water, ringed with brilliant white sand, and dotted with houses so massive they can be seen from the air, the place looks at once tranquil, tropical, and inviting. A far cry from the ski resort, Les Trois, where she and Melissa have been slaving away for the past few weeks.
Melissa grabs Dove's hand. "This is so exciting! We're landing!"
Dove nods. "I know. It's just that—" Her voice gets cut off by the pilot making an announcement in French, then following it in English, informing the passengers of their impending arrival.
"You think we'll find Harley somewhere?" Melissa asks. "She's probably talked her way into some cushy job." A snapshot memory appears in her mind—Harley in her black boots and slim jeans, her black down jacket snug against her frame. Harley always had a way of getting what she wanted, even in situations where she was clearly over her head. I guess some people are just like that, Melissa thinks. She's not jealous of that aspect of Harley, but always a little nervous about what havoc it could impose. "Maybe the island life has chilled her out a little," Melissa suggests. "Maybe she's found that the secret to happiness is a cushy work environment."
"With an even cushier romantic life," Dove adds, thinking about Harley's streetwise exterior, her brooding but beautiful features, the proximity that she's had to William. Dove shudders.
Melissa peers out again at the beaches. She wishes she had one of those bikini-ready bodies, but then remembers that she doesn't even have a bathing suit. Nor does she have a job, money to last her more than a couple of days, or a place to stay. A frown threatens to overtake her face.
Dove intercepts the facial expression. "No, no, no. Don't you go getting worried on me. I'm the one in charge of pessimism. You stick to enthusiasm."
"But what if I can't get—"
"You will. We will."
Both winter-pale girls look once more at the island, thinking how from a distance any place can look calm and easy, and as the reality of where they are about to be sinks in, they brace themselves for landing.CHAPTER 2
Scanning the faces for which boy could be the infamous William, Melissa nearly crashes into the person in front of her.
"Watch it!" Tanned to perfection though she's only just arriving, and dressed in Indian-print fabric that's wound into a halter-style dress, the girl huffs as she removes a bit of trailing fabric from under Melissa's shoe. "Ever heard of walking properly?"
Melissa's gut instinct is to come back with some sarcastic comment but instead, she's too busy wondering which boy beauty is William, and how Dove will react when she's finally in his arms. Hell, if I can't find love myself, I may as well live vicariously through others.
When she realizes the girl is waiting for her to bow or fawn all over the minor tactical error in coordination, Melissa volunteers this: "Oh, madam, I'm so terribly sorry to have inconvenienced you." Inside, she sticks her tongue out, but her exterior remains fixed.
"Are you just going to stand there and not apologize?" Impatient for a reply, the bronzed and annoyed girl pouts her perfectly glossed lips, lifts her oversized pouchy blue leather bag onto her shoulder, and rolls her eyes. "Guess you don't have much to offer in the way of decency or class."
"I did apologize." Melissa's mouth flies open. She's determined to at least respond more, but the girl beats her to the punch and walks away. Watching her join the throngs of people collecting at the baggage and arrival areas, Melissa hopes this particular girl isn't a fair representation of the other people she'll meet on the island. The girl's blue leather bag bounces as she walks away, leaving Melissa with a bad taste in her mouth.
Melissa rummages through her pockets, flustered from the interaction, and searches for gum.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Dove, breathless from hauling her bags across the sandy linoleum floor, stands before Melissa expectantly.
"Nothing—just a brief encounter with one of those mythical characters, the Beach Bitch. You know the type—all glamour, no reality. Giant bag to hold all her evils." Melissa rolls her eyes, eager to forget the run-in. "But enough about that—what about you? Where is he? I can't wait to meet William!"
"You can't wait?" Dove grins. "What about me?" She begins to search the crowd for William's face. The same face that caught her eye so many months back, the same one that appeared in her dreams over the time they'd been apart, making her sure that flying here was the right thing to do. "I'll find him—you find your bags. That way we can just go right away to William's house."
Melissa nods. "Sure. Sounds good." She heads off to watch luggage circle round and round on the conveyor belt, hoping to see her red duffel bag. Black, green, plaid, floral, ugly yellow. She says the colors in her head as the various suitcases spin past. Don't even tell me they lost it. All around her, fellow passengers claim their luggage and head off to start their vacations. But what about me? Melissa doesn't give in to the small panic. Instead, she waits for her bag.
After all the luggage has been picked up and her bag is nowhere to be found, Melissa plunges into the dwindling crowd of people to find Dove.
"Take me away from this place," Melissa orders, swinging her arms around at the small airport. "I'm ready to collapse on the beach. Even if I have no clothing, no bathing suit, and no sandals to my name."
The small features on Dove's face look sullen. "I can't find him."
Here I am worrying about my bag, and she can't find her boy. "Okay ... maybe he's late?"
"Maybe." Dove eyes the faces again, hoping for a glimpse of the sign with her name on it, or just William, barefoot and tan, smiling at her short hair. Instinctively, she touches the ends of her pixie cut, fanning the silvery-blond bangs over her forehead. "Maybe he's late. Or maybe ..." She hates to say it but does. "Or maybe he just forgot."
"Oh, Dove." Melissa gives one more glance over her shoulder at the luggage rack but doesn't see her red duffel. Normally, she would wait and wait and then approach the baggage claim help center, but right now she knows what Dove needs. "You know what? Let's just take off." She raises her dark eyebrows. "We'll grab a cab, head to the nearest beach and kick back with something fruity as we watch the waves." Dove doesn't look so sure. "After all, it is New Year's Day and people are sleeping off their revelry, right? So we'll relax, too."
"And reality?" Dove's voice and face don't seem entirely convinced.
"Meaning?" Melissa asks, edging Dove and her stuff out the sliding glass doors to the taxi stand.
"What about William? And what about meeting up again with Harley, our old bunkmate? And what about money or a job or a place to stay?"
"All very good points." Melissa nods as though she's in a business meeting. "But ones that will have to wait until we have sand in our toes and sun on our cheeks." Dove crosses her arms, doubtful. Melissa does her best to reassure. "Am I or am I not the queen of planning and pressure? Did I or did I not single-handedly pull off a fancy ball for hundreds of people while nursing broken ribs and a very bruised ego?
Dove gives in. As they step into the heat of the afternoon, the warm air envelops them, sending their shoulders down. Dove peels off her long-sleeved shirt and adjusts her tank top straps. "It does feel good to be something other than cold."
"Oh, you're something other than cold all right," says a voice from behind her.
Dove knows this voice. It could belong to only one person. The one guy she absolutely doesn't want to see right now, having been stood up by William.
Melissa chimes in, "Oh, you mean hot—something other than cool. I get it."
Dove blushes and swats a hand at Melissa's side. She turns so that she is in full view of him. Him. "Max. What the hell are you doing here?" Dove looks at his rumpled shirt, his similarly disheveled khakis, his too-pale feet sticking out of his flip-flops.
Max, immune to Dove's seeming lack of pleasure at seeing him, pats her on the back. "You didn't think I'd miss a family holiday, did you?"
Dove's face remains stony. Of course. His parents are here. His siblings are here. Here being taken care of by Harley, the supposed hostess. "I guess I thought you'd stay snowbound. Or, at the very least, go back to Oxford."
"Oh, you know school doesn't start for ages," Max explains, pushing a hand through his cocoa-colored hair. "Plenty of time for a break at the Sugar Hut."
"The what?" Melissa interjects.
"The Sugar Hut," Max says, hailing a cab. "Family accommodations." He slings his bags into the trunk, opens the door to climb in, staring at Dove. "Speaking of accommodations, where are you two headed?"
Melissa opens her mouth to say they have no idea, but Dove grabs her wrist and covers up. "Don't you worry about that, Max. You just take care of yourself."
Max slides into the cab and sticks his head out the window. "Well," he sighs, searching Dove's face for any signs of like, love, or even lust, "if you need anything, just come to the hut."
The taxi peels off, leaving Dove and Melissa in a small cloud of sand and grit.
"The hut," Melissa says, committing the name to memory. "Always good to have a fallback plan."
"I can't believe he's here," Dove says. Inside, her pulse races from being too close to Max again, too close to her years of liking him, too close to how she'd nearly fallen for him instead of coming here for William. Maybe I picked the wrong guy, Dove thinks, looking one last time for William.
"Should we go?" Melissa flags down a cab. The heat prickles up her arm and she wishes she had something—anything—to change into. "I'm going to need a trip into town. Anywhere I can grab a few items to wear."
Dove nods. "Right. Of course." My boy troubles can wait for a while. Gathering up her strength and pocketing her disappointment over William's no-show and Max's intensity, Dove puts on a brave face. "I say we head right over to the Pulse, this tiny little boutique that has—"
"Sounds expensive," Melissa says, money worries creeping back in.
Remembering her own financial woes, Dove bites her top lip in the center. It wouldn't be fun to browse and pine for things she could never have, but it might be nice to at least see what's out there. Maybe Melissa's right and we should just figure out where to go, where to sleep, and how to find William. Momentarily Dove ponders his whereabouts. On the beach? Working? Rubbing lotion onto another girl's bare back? Her stomach turns just picturing it.
"I'd love a shopping spree—even a mini one, trust me," Melissa says, slipping her pile of dark hair back into a simple elastic band.
"Well, this island isn't really the place for a massive shopping binge, but you can stumble onto some cool finds."
"Sounds fun, but ..." The heat pads the air, making beads of sweat appear on her upper lip. She wipes them away and adds, "But it's not worth blowing all of the tips I made at Les Trois. I mean, think back to all that hard work. You don't want to waste it on a sarong or something, do you?"
"No, I guess not." Dove's excitement begins to flag. What, after all, does she have going for her? No long-term boyfriend waiting for her with a rose or other clichéd token of his affections, no swanky hotel to go to, no promising party or plan for the night or days to follow, and not enough money to fund any of the above. "Where is my fairy godmother? If only there was a way to buy stuff without having to pay ..."
"Well, there isn't," Melissa says. "Let's get practical and hop on a tram." The pastel-colored trams have a certain appeal to Melissa—the open windows, the jostling crowd headed into town, being on the move rather than stuck at the airport. "Besides, it's bound to be cheaper than a taxi." She wipes her forehead. "I'm going to need a cold drink before I start pounding the pavement for a new job. No shopping for us just yet ..."
Excerpted from Off the Trails by Emily Franklin. Copyright © 2008 Emily Franklin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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