It was the guy named Lyman who got the ski house, not me, I was invited by my friend Dave. We all paid Lyman since he was the guy who fronted the money to the broker, and he told us which rooms were left. Since I was the last man in I got the crummiest bed—a pull-out couch in the den off the living room. My room didn’t even have a real door, just swinging shutter doors. If people decided to stay up late I’d have to listen to them talking pretty much right outside.
I drove up with Liz, who I was living with. Neither one of us were downhill skiers, so we figured we’d come and go on our own schedule. We didn’t really know anybody else who was going to be there except Dave and his girlfriend.
Lyman’s date arrived late Friday night and she was something else, a real queen bee type. I bet she’d never played wing to any other woman, they’d all played ugly duckling partner to her, no matter how good-looking they were. “High maintenance chick” is what my sister calls ‘em, but I guess that’s what Lyman was looking for.
She walked in the place, which granted was just an A-frame like you see all over, and I thought at first she wasn’t going to stay. Her lip curled a little and she looked at Lyman as if she was going to drag him outside and demand that he take her to a nice bed and breakfast. She said hi to everybody, but she wasn’t smiling. Lyman tried to smooth things over by getting her suitcase and taking it up to their room, but you could tell she wasn’t happy.
She didn’t sit down at first, just went upstairs and unpacked and took her own sweet time about it. I was ready to go to bed when she finally made her appearance, but Liz gave me an elbow in the ribs when I started to get up to let me know that’d be impolite.
Her name was Caroline, and she made it plain it wasn’t Carolyn by the way she pronounced it “Caro-LINE.” If there’s some price difference between the two I wouldn’t know it.
We all started talking, the fourth couple was a guy Dave knew named Brian and his wife Mary Ann. You could tell Lyman was pretty impressed that he’d talked Caroline into spending the weekend with him. Everybody else’s wife or girlfriend looked like a little brown bird next to her. She was blonde and piled the hair up on top of her head with a white headband. She was in neutral colors the whole weekend; that must be some kind of mark of superiority among women, I guess it showed she didn’t have to be flashy to look beautiful.
“So what do you do?” Lyman asked me after he’d poured her a glass of wine and we were all sitting together. I told him I was in commercial real estate, which seemed to be okay with him although right away he said “must be tough living on a draw, huh?” Yep it was, I said, but if you produce you don’t have to worry about it.
He did the same thing with Dave. Dave’s a nice guy, an accountant, but Lyman got it out of him that he’s on the audit side, and the real money’s on the consulting side, right, he asked. Yeah, Dave had to admit, but you could cross-sell and so on, so it wasn’t so bad.
Then he got to the guy Brian—it occurred to me that he hadn’t asked any of the women what they did, probably assumed they didn’t do anything nearly as important as the men. “I’m a corporate lawyer,” Brian said, and you could tell by the way he added “corporate” that he had figured out the game Lyman was playing.
“Really?” Lyman said, like he felt challenged. “Seriously?”
“Yeah,” Brian said. He sounded defensive, and I couldn’t blame him, since Lyman had allowed himself to sound so skeptical.
“Well, maybe it’s the ski bum clothes or something,” Lyman said, “but it’s hard to imagine a corporation hiring you.”
I guess Lyman meant it as a joke but it sounded like one-upsmanship and it fell flat. “What do you do?” Brian asked, and there was an edge in his voice. I noticed everyone was sitting pretty stiffly—Caroline had her legs crossed and was wiggling her foot in the air.
“I’m at” he began, and he named one of the big brokerage firms. “I manage sweetie’s family money,” he said as he turned to Caroline and smiled.
She gave him a look that was part resignation, part contempt—a nasty little smile that said she owned him even if he was paying for things. I wondered which came first, the girl or the business, but neither of them took it any further.
“Well, I’m gonna hit the hay,” Lyman said. “Everybody up for some of my famous pancakes in the morning?”
We all mumbled something meant to sound enthusiastic, and things broke up. Nobody stayed up.
The next day Lyman took over the kitchen first thing for breakfast, like he owned the place. He wasn’t the kind of guy who washes dishes as he goes along, the mixing bowl and so on; he left everything a big mess for whoever cleaned up, but I guess he was entitled since he cooked. His pancakes weren’t that great.
Liz and I headed out to the cross-country trails and we didn’t see the others until the end of the day. I guess Caroline pretty much smoked Lyman all day on the slopes—she’d grown up taking school vacations in Gstaad, while he was making excuses at dinner about his knee, and how he’d only started skiing in fifth grade, etc.
We made a fire and put on some music after we got back from the restaurant, but it was pretty clear nobody was going to last very long. We were all tired, and the downhill crowd had all gotten a lot of sun and wind. Liz and I were sore and tired, but we weren’t red in the face.
Lyman got up and stretched after a while and said “Well ladies and germs, I’ve had enough of this polite conversation. I’m ready to hit the hay—sweetie?”
He looked down at Caroline and she didn’t resist. She looked like she couldn’t wait for the weekend to be over, although she’d perked up a little at dinner.
“Who’s on breakfast duty?” Lyman said to the room.
“We can make a frittata,” Liz said. “There are eggs, right?”
“Yep—we’ve got eggs,” Lyman said. At least he wasn’t like some guys who don’t stock anything but beer and Cocoa-Puffs in a ski house.
Lyman’s room was a loft with a sunlight that hung out over the living room; it had a porch outside you could sit out on too, and it was the only bedroom that had its own bathroom. It had its drawbacks, though, at least I thought so. If you were up there lying in bed the sounds floated up to the ceiling of the A-frame, which acted like a sounding board to the rest of the house. Maybe Lyman didn’t realize it because he’d always picked the nicest room, but you could hear a lot of what went on up there.
I went to bed and fell right to sleep, but I’d had enough beer so I had to get up in the middle of the night. Actually, when I checked the clock I’d only been asleep about an hour and a half, although it seemed later.
I had to cross the living room to get to the bathroom, and as I entered the living room I heard Lyman and Caroline talking. She said something about an infection, and he said “Then what did you even come up here for?”
I went into the bathroom and closed the door. I didn’t want to hear them, and I didn’t want them to hear me. When I came out they were still talking--I guess they didn’t hear me because of the carpet on the floor, or else they assumed I couldn’t hear them.
“Well, what else is there?” I heard her saying.
“This,” I heard him say, then just a muffled sound, like she had her face down in the pillow.
I stopped—I sure didn’t want them to hear me now—and started to tiptoe as quietly as I could across the room. I heard her again, saying “no,” then I expected to hear what my friend Mad Dog used to call the sound of one hand slapping, but there was nothing more.
I lay in bed awake for awhile, but I was tired enough that I fell asleep pretty quickly. In the morning we all had breakfast together again, then the downhill people started to get ready to go over to the mountain again.
“You want to try a downhill lesson?” Dave asked me, but I said no. I’ve gone to too many business lunches where everybody around the table has blown out his knees except me. “I’m good,” I said.
Just as the cars were starting to load up to head out I noticed that Caroline had brought her suitcase down in a way that looked like she was trying to be inconspicuous.
“Are you leaving Caroline?” Liz asked. She was like that—feelings weren’t felt unless they were out there, if you know what I mean.
“Yes, I think I’ve got some kind of stomach bug.”
“Oh, I’m sorry—I hope it wasn’t the frittata.”
“No, don’t worry, this is something that’s been coming on for awhile.”
She carried her suitcase out to her car—Lyman wasn’t there to help this time—while the other two couples said perfunctory goodbyes; no hugs, no party kisses, no “Hope we’ll see you sometime in Boston.”
I stood on the threshold waiting for Liz—we were going snowshoeing—and I saw Lyman coming down the stairs. He didn’t say “hi,” just brushed past me. I went inside to see if Liz was ready, but she was in the bathroom. I started to take my stuff out to my car, but I stopped when I saw Lyman and Caroline standing next to her car. It was white, like a lot of her clothes.
“I don’t like what you did last night,” I heard her say. “I’m not going to like it either, so don’t . . . ever try it again.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it.”
I didn’t want to move if they could hear me, so I just stood there.
I heard her car door open, then slam shut. The snow crunched as she drove away.