Series: Giltmaker #1
June 1, 2023
Twenty Years Ago
“Let’s ride Devil’s Dance next,” Leila Giltmaker decides as they glide up the mountain on the chairlift. “The sun will have softened it up by now.”
“Sure,” Matteo agrees.
“Yup,” Rory says.
“Yup?” Leila prods. “Rory, is that the proper way to address me today?”
“Yes, queen,” he says sheepishly, while Matteo laughs.
On the way to the ski hill, Rory had lost a bet to Leila over which parking lots would be open today. Leila had been right, of course, and Rory had probably known it, but he’d stuck to his guns. He never liked to back down, even if it meant he’d have to do something ridiculous—like promising to call her “queen” all day.
There’s a truthfulness to it anyway. Leila often calls the shots, and neither teenaged boy is too bothered by it. After all, she has good instincts. It was Leila who figured out that the waffle cart would give them a three-for-two deal at the end of the day, when the minimum-wage worker who manned the thing wanted to use up her batter and go home.
And it’s Leila who has use of a car to drive their asses to the mountain in the first place. Her family is more functional than either of theirs, by a factor of a million. The Giltmakers own several successful businesses in Colebury. Whereas Matteo and Rory are lucky to own second-hand snowboards and discounted ski passes.
So if Leila wants to pick the next ski run, that’s cool. They’re lucky to be spending their Saturday with the town’s golden girl, and they both know it.
They’re three in a row on the old triple chair—also Leila’s choice—as opposed to the new high-speed quad. Sure, it’s slower, and it makes a gear-grinding noise and smacks the backs of your knees as you sit down on it. But there’s no line. And they don’t need a fourth chair anyway. Three is the size of their little pack—the best snowboarders in their town. They spend every Saturday like this—gliding over the white terrain, the afternoon sunshine warming their black ski pants.
“Loser alert,” Rory chuckles. “Two o’clock.”
Sure enough, some guy in a full-body camo snowsuit is clenching his way across the slope below them. He’s so nervous on his skis that he’s dragging his poles behind him like brakes.
“Be nice,” Leila chides. “Everybody starts somewhere.”
But when the guy suddenly falls, both boys explode with laughter. Even Leila cracks a smile. She can’t help it. The guy’s spreadeagled on the snow like a bad cartoon and shaking snow out of his face.
“Tourists,” Rory groans. “Can’t run ’em over. Can’t shoot ’em.”
Leila knows that tourist dollars are the whole reason the mountain can afford to sell them fifteen-dollar student tickets. She doesn’t point this out, though, because the old lift stops suddenly.
This happens whenever a kid falls down in the loading zone, and the lifty hits the red stop button. The whole contraption grinds to a sudden halt. But momentum makes their chair rock violently forward and then back again.
Leila feels her heart skip a beat as her snow pants slide an unwelcome inch toward the edge.
But Matteo’s arm is already there, holding her firmly in place on the seat. “Going somewhere, Giltmaker?”
Her heart skips another beat, but it’s different this time. “Nah,” she says lightly. “I don’t need a head start to beat you to the bottom.”
“Ooh, fighting words.”
The lift starts up again, and they glide forward. Matteo removes his arm, and Leila pretends not to miss it.
“We’ll meet up at the half pipe?” she says as the chair arrives at the top.
“Of course,” Matteo agrees. “Where else?”
She hops off the lift without another word. Thirty seconds later, she’s speeding down the run, her long hair flying out from beneath the edge of her helmet.
At the top of the hill, Matteo takes an extra minute with his bindings, just so he can watch Leila ride. She catches a sweet little jump and grabs the board mid-flight like an X-gamer.
“What’s so funny?” Rory asks, eyes following Leila as she disappears at the turn.
Rory doesn’t move. He just frowns at Matteo. “You can’t have her, you know.”
“What?” He heard Rory just fine, and he knows exactly what he means. It’s just that he’s surprised to hear it said out loud.
“The Golden Girl will never go for you.”
“Hey, no kidding.” He understands it on a gut level—the same way he knows that a leaden sky over Vermont means that snow is coming.
But that’s not the only thing he knows. “She’d never go for you either,” he points out.
Rory snorts. “No kidding. But still—it’s a deal, right? Neither one of us tries to get with her, and it doesn’t get weird.”
“Yeah, sure,” Matteo agrees. He can’t even picture either of them with Leila. She and her siblings win all the awards at school. Her family practically runs the town of Colebury. Their name literally means gold maker.
It isn’t just family connections that set Leila apart, though. It’s her fire. There are probably better words to describe it. But he doesn’t know those words and wouldn’t articulate them even if he did.
But it’s Leila who pushed them both to compete in their first freestyle competition last month. Matteo won a bronze medal and an invitation to compete at the state level in March.
Leila won a silver in a slalom race, too. And now she’s crafting a whole practice plan for both of them before the state competition.
Rory didn’t win anything, and he’s still salty about it. “We need a pact or something,” he says. “Nobody dates Leila. It would wreck our whole vibe.”
“True,” he agrees. If his only two friends became a couple, he’d die. He really would.
“So it’s a deal? You don’t touch her. I don’t either.”
“Sure. Of course.” Besides, as Rory already pointed out, she’d never go for the guy in the second-hand snow pants. The guy whose father is such a piece of work that he skips town for weeks at a time, forcing his mom to work two jobs and visit the food pantry.
Leila had been at his house once when the cops had called to say they had his dad in lockup. Matteo had wanted to die of embarrassment.
Making a pact with Rory is an easy decision. He’d never try anything with Leila. And this way, Rory won’t either. He likes this plan.
So that’s settled. “Let’s go,” he says. “Bet you can’t get any air off that jump.” He points at the spot Leila had soared from only a minute before.
“Bet I can.”
And off they go.