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Avalanche, Chapter 2 - Showcase

by Xena 

Posted: 26 June 2005
Word Count: 3756
Related Works: Avalanche, Chapter 1 - Showcase • Avalanche, Chapter 3 - Showcase • 

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This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

            Chapter 2
       Learning isn’t easy. Especially when you have to hurry. Especially when you know that no matter how fast you are, you are hopelessly behind.
       Mike couldn’t take it anymore. He tore his eyes from the computer screen and looked out of the window. There he saw Nick smoking what must have been at least his tenth cigarette this morning. Last night he hadn’t reach for a cigarette once. This newborn addiction was certainly serving one useful purpose. Mike couldn’t help noticing that Nick had spent the better part of the morning kindling the flame of the lighter, rather than that of knowledge. And he, Mike, hadn’t paused once. It was stupid, because he didn’t understand what he was reading, anyway. His mind was miles away. He decided to join Nick.  
       He went outside. The cold of the winter morning revived him in seconds. He didn’t feel like smoking. Nevertheless, he asked Nick for a cigarette and sat down next to him.  
       ‘What do you think about doing a bit of skiing in the afternoon?’ Nick proposed. ‘We have time, you know, while we’re in training.’
       ‘I like your attitude,’ Mike smiled. ‘I think it’s a good idea.’
       ‘And did you hear, Ben mentioned going down to Chamonix tonight to explore the local amenities?’  
       ‘Ben’s also full of brilliant ideas,’ said Mike and then added: ‘As usual…’ It triggered Nick’s laughter, which Mike then joined coughing out the cigarette smoke.
       In the afternoon Ben started with his experiments. Nick and Mike had to be very persuasive to arrange their leave. They had promised to take over from the ‘current guinea pigs’ tomorrow. They received a reserved approval, but didn’t hear ‘enjoy your time’ as they were walking away. Three pairs of wondering eyes and tense silence bid them farewell. ‘Who gives a fuck?’ Nick remarked looking up into the bright patchy sky. Meanwhile Tim was taking his last glimpse of it in a shallow grave by the research hut.
       It was a perfect day for skiing. The winds had finally ceased. It was almost unnaturally quiet, even here, at this altitude. Not sunny, but nothing boded a snowfall. Mike liked it like that – it was tranquil and felt secure.
       They were at a perfect spot. The whiteness of the snow was unbroken. The smooth surface was gliding down effortlessly, meeting no obstacles. It was the kind of slope that promised pleasure rather than challenge. It was pristine, it was flawless and it was all for them.
       Nick pushed down and howled in excitement. It ran through Mike’s system prompting most passionate and raw laughter he had ever produced in his life. He was flying downhill following the flicker of Nick’s figure, and it felt like it would never end, like the space around them was infinite. When they stopped and looked at each other they were both breathing laboriously. The thrill wouldn’t let them catch a breath. They laughed looking into each other’s eyes.     
       ‘It’s great,’ said Nick. ‘I don’t know what I enjoy more skiing or making love.’
       ‘I’ve just solved this dilemma for myself,’ chuckled Mike.  
       ‘You see the advantages of joining research programs like this!’ said Nick. ‘All these problems with poor organisation and your own incompetence look like a lot of nonsense now! Frankly, I knew I was going to have a hard time. But it doesn’t really matter!’
       ‘Did they know it wasn’t your area?’ asked Mike.
       ‘Yeah,’ said Nick. ‘But they took me because I can speak French.’
       ‘Really?’ Mike looked at him.
       ‘No, not really,’ Nick laughed. ‘As a child I lived in France with my parents for a while. I went to school here.’
       ‘A French school?’
       ‘So, you should be able to speak very well then.’
       ‘I was eight then!’ exclaimed Nick. ‘I can’t remember a thing from those days. But it always comes to me after a couple of days. I just need to socialise here a bit. So, shall we press on?’
       And they did. They seemed to have lost themselves among these deserted slopes. Was it the snow? Was it the space? Was it the fact that they were at such ease with each other barely knowing each other? It was in fact the time, which they had completely forgotten about. When they woke up to reality, the sun was already setting, and at the time they reached the chalet their less than pleased team mates were all set to go.
       ‘We were about to leave without you,’ said Tim with apparent irritation in his voice. ‘Are you coming?’
       ‘We only need a moment!’ Mike smiled to him and immediately felt that his smile was totally inappropriate, which was totally off, since they were going out.   
       They walked through a row of accusing stares and headed straight to their room to change.
       ‘I feel like we’re being escorted to a place of execution,’ Nick snorted into Mike’s ear.
       When their small group was on their way down to the valley, the dusk was already falling. It was becoming more and more difficult to see the path. In only about five minutes they all agreed that they needed an aid. By the vexatious way Ben, Mark and Tim extracted the torches from their pockets, Mike and Nick realised they were held solely responsible for this inconvenience…                
       …which hardly interfered with their mood. They were in high spirits with stark contrast with everybody else. It was becoming too apparent that occasional bursts of stifled laughter were stretching others’ patience to breaking point. Something had to be done before the dream of a healthy working environment met an untimely end.
       ‘C’mon, Ben…’ Mike patted Ben on the back. ‘Cheer up! It’s supposed to be a night out!’
       ‘I’m not sure I want to go anywhere.’ Ben brushed him off. ‘I’m too tired. Mike! Don’t step on my heels! Keep a distance!’
       Mike found Ben’s irritation amusing, and he did laugh. He was joined only by Nick somewhere at the back.
       ‘So, how was the snow grave?’ Nick asked Tim.
       ‘It’s… not nice…’ said Tim slowly and rather seriously.
       ‘What do you mean? Can you explain a bit more?’ Nick said.
       ‘It actually feels like you’re doomed,’ said Tim. ‘You don’t really appreciate that you’re being constantly watched. It’s something you have to get used to…’
       ‘It’s hard to get used to be a guinea pig,’ Nick chuckled.
       ‘Perhaps, Ben could suggest some exercises,’ Mike said.
       ‘I can suggest one,’ said Nick. ‘Oink! Oink!’   
       Mike and Nick burst out laughing. Tim and Mark joined them cautiously. Ben only turned round with a wry smile before he continued on his way.  
       ‘Ben, what the hell!’ Mike exclaimed looking in the back of Ben’s head. ‘I want to see everybody happy. This is my last night out as a human being, with or without your exercises.’
       ‘I didn’t suggest any exercises!’ Ben exclaimed in annoyance, which prompted a burst of genuine whole-hearted laughter from everybody, except of Ben himself.
       Mike thought they were on a right track. He still thought that way when Ben stopped and turned around to face him.    
       ‘Mike, my experiments are not that traumatic,’ he said. ‘And by the way, Guinea pigs don’t oink. Well, there’s disagreement as to what sounds they make…’   
       ‘I think we ought to reserve the judgement until you finish with your experiments,’ said Mike.
       A wave of laughter disturbed the air around again. Ben shook his head supressing a grin. 
       ‘My experiments don’t have this effect on guin… Pfftt! I mean people…’
       Ben finally burst out. They were no longer walking, because everybody was convulsing with laughter now.
       ‘At least I can promise to you you won’t bark,’ said Ben on the other end of it. ‘Ask Tim.’
       ‘Baaah!’ uttered Tim.
       Laughter burst evermore powerful. Mark even lost his balance and had to be caught by Nick before he could meet the bushes on the verge of the path.
       Their night out was beginning to look promising. When they finally found themselves in the valley, nothing was left of the tensions. After a short drive they reached their destination – a bar that Ben knew and liked, and where he suggested they should spend the rest of the night.
       When they walked in, something struck Mike, he didn’t immediately grasp what exactly. Thankfully, the pragmatist Nick was there to spot the problem straight away: 
       ‘Oh my god!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s just a pub.’
       ‘Feel at home,’ said Ben.
       ‘I certainly do,’ responded Nick.
       Mike looked around. There was nothing to suggest they were away from their island. Even the language: in the stream of voices filling the room he could at once recognise at least three British accents. 
       I don’t believe it, thought Mike. I could swear I’d crossed the channel. And I wanted a change of scenery… Just call me lucky.
       As it happened, Ben knew a few people there, and they ended up joining them. The small talk on that occasion was all about skiing, which at least three of them had nothing to contribute to. Nevertheless they seemed to be quite keen, unlike Mike, who hardly said a word. The party was going on about everything from the conditions on the slopes to the avalanche beepers. It was beeping in Mike’s ears and he didn’t know how to switch it off. At some stage he noticed that Nick was not around at all. Mike hadn’t even seen him slipping away.
       Well done, thought Mike. At least it’s honest…
       Mike did his best to make an affordable contribution, but he soon felt totally drained from the effort. It was now the weather that was on the agenda and Mike caught himself thinking fondly about the skiing part. As soon as he did, he stood up and offered a round. He definitely needed a rest.
       Talk about money well spent, thought Mike leaving the table with ill-hidden relief. 
       He remained at the bar for some time without even trying to attract the barman’s attention. The barman eventually came up to him, anyway.
       Prat… though Mike with a grin on his face.
       While the barman was pouring Mike’s pints, someone tapped Mike on his shoulder. He turned round. It was Nick.
       ‘Do you need my help?’ he asked.
       ‘No, don’t worry.’
       ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit off to come all the way to Chamonix and end up in an English pub?’ asked Nick suddenly. No doubt, he could see he was sowing seeds in fertile soil. He continued: ‘Do you want to try something different?’
       ‘Yes, I do,’ Mike smiled. ‘Let’s suggest the idea to others.’
       ‘But they seem to be enjoying themselves,’ said Nick.
       ‘Nick, for the sake of peace… We have to be diplomatic. We isolate ourselves too much from the rest of the group. We’ll have to work and live with them under one roof for months.’
       ‘You’re right,’ Nick said. ‘Let’s suggest it to them. And if they don’t want, it’s up to them.’ With these words Nick took his wallet out of the inner pocket of his jacket. 
       ‘No, no, no!’ Mike protested animatedly. ‘I’ll take care of it. Just take a couple of pints with you, will you?’
       ‘Half and half,’ insisted Nick. ‘It’s too early to splash out. We haven’t earned anything yet.’
       Half and half was impossible as they both had a fifty. Eventually they both stuck their notes under the barman’s nose. The barman picked one. It happened to be Nick’s. Mike promised to reimburse it very soon.
       ‘Don’t worry,’ said Nick. ‘It’s a small price to pay for freedom.’
       Mike gave him a sidelong glance.     
       Their ransom didn’t work. They had no luck in persuading everybody to leave, nor did they manage to escape themselves. They soon stopped trying and even Nick was very discreet this time. In fact, it seemed to Mike he was quite happy to stay, and certainly had no problems in the small talk department.
       When they finally gained their freedom it was well after midnight.
       ‘Don’t worry,’ said Nick. ‘In all these resort towns they don’t get going until much later. This is customary… C’mon, we may still have time to check on local customs… Well, and if we’re lucky, maybe on some local customers.’
       They went to a place called… Well, neither one of them could remember the name of this place. It was a long word in French, and even Nick couldn’t be bothered to read it to the end.
       Yes, it looked like the party was only just kicking off. People were coming in all the time. Mike and Nick bought drinks and sat at one of the few available tables.
       After only a few minutes their moment came. Two girls walked in and there were no more available tables. They were looking around in confusion being tossed by the dancing crowd in the middle. Nick was fast to react. He stood up and came up to the pair. It didn’t take much persuasion. He soon came back to the table together with the girls.
       Nick was speaking French to them. It wasn’t bad, at least to Mike’s untutored ear. Perhaps, Nick’s language skills were a bit more than just a distant memory of his school days in France, and Nick himself was too modest to admit it.
       As soon as they sat down, they switched to English, in which the girls were reasonable fluent. In the end Mike was surprised how easy the whole thing was. The girls looked very keen and excited themselves.
       They were very young, perhaps still in their teens. Mike would prefer them to be a bit older, hmm… perhaps considerably older. He didn’t like very young girls. For some inexplicable reason they felt compelled to act stupid even when they weren’t. The giggle would be the worst part. It was used every time when there was nothing to say, and therefore was never-ending. When they had something to say, arguably it was even worse, because responding to it was even more taxing than laughing it out with them. Mike would always oblige, but the effort he had to make was second to none. Every time he felt like he was sitting an exam.
       Tonight he was receiving the same basic input with only slight variations. ‘His’ girl was everything he expected her to be, but slightly worse. Mike found her laughter particularly nauseating. Was it really a bit off? Was it just him? What was apparent she was going out of her way to impress, but had only a basic idea of how to do it. These eyes frequently rolling up and the sweeping movements of her head just didn’t do it. Her blond hair did flutter in the air, but Mike dreaded to think it could brush against his face. He knew he couldn’t afford to recoil.
       God almighty, thought Mike. At the grand old age of thirty-three I don’t have to go through all this shit again.     
       Admittedly the girl was very pretty, and Mike tried hard to concentrate on that. Nick’s girl was not that good looking, but hardly fared any better. However, Nick looked content and totally at ease.
       When they left the club, they had to split up, because Nick was taking his girl back to where she stayed, and Mike was doing the same with his. Nick was obviously very hopeful. He even said goodbye to Mike properly.
       Mike was also very hopeful, but for a different reason. He hoped ‘to get rid of this Barbie as soon as possible’.  
       He kept on thinking that there might be something wrong with him. It looked like he was no longer able to enjoy his life… No longer able to let it go and surface… To forget the luggage he was carrying… To try to see things out of the context of his life, just for what they were. He had a stunning woman in front of him and he didn’t even want to touch her. He had spent the night at two different places, but neither had pleased him. He probably expected too much from his life, from the people he rubbed shoulders with, from his work and his leisure.    
       I should be more like Nick. No doubt he’s had a life, but he’s still laid back about it. He’s an intelligent man, but he’s not so fussy. He’s more flexible. He didn’t like the company in the pub, but he joined in without any difficulties. He can see what intellectual capacity we’re dealing with here, but why confuse things? They’re after  good time, we’re after good time, why not enjoy? Perhaps I need to change my attitude…
       And when he was just about to do that, his phone rang.
       ‘Hi,’ he heard. It was Nick’s voice. ‘When you’re ready, come to P… I…. I’m staying here tonight.’
       ‘Are you with…’   
       ‘No, no,’ Nick said hastily. ‘You can bring the girl, though. They have plenty of rooms available. Ah, by the way, you don’t know where it is. It’s just round the corner. Turn left from the entrance and you’ll see the sign.’
       He didn’t get too far, thought Mike.
       Mike felt a sudden surge of ease and comfort. In an instance everything fell into place. Now he didn’t have to explain his behaviour. Nick wouldn’t expect it. He would have to do a lot of explaining himself. What’s more, Mike thought somewhere at the back of his mind, he was not alone, not anymore. Someone was actually expecting him. Somehow he felt that it was something of importance to him.  
       Mike took the girl to her place, as fast as he could. The expression of disappointment on her face was hard to misinterpret when he was saying ‘bye’ to her. He told her that he had to climb back to his hut, and it was getting too late for comfort.
       Perhaps, I shouldn’t treat her as a complete idiot, he thought slightly embarrassed with his absurd excuse.
       However, the next moment he was free, which was all he wanted from this night out. He headed straight to Nick’s hotel. He booked into a single room and found out which room Nick was in.
       I hope he’s not asleep yet, thought Mike knocking on Nick’s door. I only spoke to him fifteen minutes ago. 
       Mike didn’t feel like sleeping at all and was grateful when he eventually received a response:
       The door finally opened. Mike entered.
       ‘I didn’t expect you to call off your evening so soon,’ Mike said and choked.
       Fuck! I shouldn’t have said it. I could swear I meant to say something else… or meant to... mean something else…
       ‘She wanted to meet up tomorrow. She was in a hurry. She’s staying here with her parents.’
       My point precisely, thought Mike but he only said aloud:
       ‘And what about you?’ asked Nick.
       It would be honest of Mike to say ‘she was all over me, but I didn’t like her’, but…       
       I would look like a complete prat then... And it may offend Nick, if he nevertheless believes me.
       So, he said instead:
       ‘She was also in a hurry.’ And then he thought: But I hope I’ll never see her again.
       ‘How did you like the night out, anyway?’ asked Nick.
       ‘Oh, I liked it very much. Especially the second part of it,’ replied Mike. ‘And this is only our first night. It looks very promising.’
       ‘But no more youngsters!’ Nick smiled.
       Mike gave him a swift, but piercing glance.
       ‘However, you’re right,’ said Nick, ‘this is only our first night, but we’re on the right track.’
       ‘You don’t’ seem to be enjoying this sport any less,’ grinned Mike. ‘I recall you saying you like skiing more than anything.’
       ‘And I do… I do…’ said Nick somewhat seriously.
       Mike raised his head with the intention to look at Nick and made eye contact with him, which wasn’t intended at all. He got the feeling that Nick was just about to ask him something that he wouldn’t normally ask a stranger, which they effectively were to each other.
       ‘Mike, forgive me for suggesting it, but…’ Nick paused. ‘I didn’t feel like you enjoyed all this at all.’
       ‘Was I that moody?’
       ‘No, not that,’ said Nick. ‘You weren’t annoying or anything, but you definitely weren’t enjoying it as much as skiing.’
       He was getting right inside and Mike felt powerless to stop him. He wanted to open up to somebody more than anything at that moment, and he feared that eventually he might be very sorry for this weakness.
       ‘Well, you see, I don’t really like very young girls,’ he started slowly, trying the ground. ‘I realise that a lot of men wouldn’t understand me. I just can’t take stupidity. In a woman the first thing that attracts me is her… intelligence. I understand that for many men it has nothing to do with sexuality, but for me – yes…’
       ‘I completely understand you. Frankly, I could hardly take it myself,’ said Nick. And then Mike continued. He knew he didn’t have to. He had closed the issue, but something was urging him on.
       ‘I’m… with someone… Well, I don’t even know if I am. It’s so confused at the moment. That’s why I came here. I just didn’t want to carry on with it the way it was.’
       ‘Do you live with her back in London?’
       ‘Well, I did at one stage. Then we separated. But we continued to date. We didn’t see each other too often just before I left. I don’t feel like I owe her anything. I’m free to all intents and purposes.’
       ‘Is it what you call it?’ chuckled Nick. ‘It doesn’t look like that.’
       ‘How does it look to you then?’ asked Mike with ill-hidden sarcasm in his voice.    
       Nick drew back. Mike could see he regretted his words, belatedly as it might be. Mike himself regretted almost everything he had just said. The harsh reality came down on him much sooner than he expected.
       This is amazing! He’s only known me for two minutes and he’s ready to make a diagnosis. It’s like I’m on a psychiatrist’s bed in front of him. What do I know about him? Nothing!  
       They wouldn’t say another word to each other. The silence between them was solid and unbearable. They had to call it a night. Mike mumbled a clumsy ‘bye’ and left. He couldn’t remember Nick saying anything at all.

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