Out of Bounds - Chapter One
I stand up, bracing my lower back and groan like a rusty hinge while stretching out the kink. “I think we need to be done for the day, guys. What do you think? Time for burgers and beer?”
“Ugh! Finally!” Piper bellows from the other end of the hall. She pops into my bedroom where I am unpacking and gives her back a good twist before losing herself in a dreamy stare out the sliding glass balcony doors. I move to her side and drape my arm casually around her shoulder. It didn’t take too long for my twin brother Brandon’s girlfriend to become like a sister to me. She must have the same affection for me because no one volunteers for an inter-city weekend move if they’re not family.
“This is my favourite thing in the house,” she tells me, her voice is breathy as she speaks on a dreamy exhale. Piper’s shoulders relax under my hand, taking in the view of the jagged mountain peaks and sturdy pines that make up the backdrop to my new home. Saying it out loud reminds her body to enjoy it as her mind does. I exhale along with her but it has the opposite effect on me as I fill with energy and excitement. This is exactly what I need in my life right now. A change of scenery to something familiar. And it’s a scene that I will revel in every day from now on. This house boasts immense windows that reach the roof’s A-frame peak, offering world-class views from every angle. It was built for the long summer days when the sun rises at five in the morning and sets at ten at night.
“The windows are pretty cool, but I’m leaning toward the kitschy bear-print fabric on the couches and chairs in the living room.” Piper is already laughing before I add, “What was Brandon thinking?”
While I will be calling this place home for the next year, this gorgeous Rocky Mountain chalet belongs to my brother. For Brandon, it’s just another piece of property that sits empty for the majority of the year while he and Piper live in Edmonton. For me, it’s a dream come true. It’s two thousand square feet of unobstructed mountain views. I can sit in any one of three bedrooms, on any one of four balconies, in the kitchen, the living room or the dining room and see the Rockies. The bathrooms even have a view.
Yeah, the windows are my favourite part of the house.
The house isn't the best part of living here, though. What's even better than looking at the mountains from behind the safety of glass, is conquering them at top speed. Banff has some of the best skiing in Canada and I plan on taking full advantage of it this winter. I cut my teeth on competitive skiing and after several years on the international circuit, including one failed Olympic attempt, I gave it up for more mainstream life. By that I mean I went back to school and got a job as a paramedic then went to work in the oil sector.
Adulting in Northern Alberta meant I was too far from any decent slopes to get out regularly. So, like many things in my life, I suppressed my desire to ski. I don’t need to hold back anymore, though. As of today, I am fifteen minutes away from the closest hill, which means I can work a full day and still hit the slopes for some night runs. I can almost feel the wind whipping at my face, the bite of the cold air on my cheeks and the rush as I barrel down the mountain. An excited layer of goosebumps breaks out on my arms and I rub them down with a huge smile playing on my lips. Who needs job perks when the simple act of living here makes me giddy? That’s not to say I won’t take the multi-mountain pass I get with my new gig. A woman who has been unemployed for nearly a year still needs to watch her loonies and toonies.
I have to reel in my excitement of reliving my glory days on the hills, though. First of all, because the glory days are well behind me. Second, because getting there will take some patience since it’s August. I have to make it through the end of hiking season, the fall shoulder season (known to the paramedics here as stupid-tourists-interacting-with-wildlife season) and then I can have my fun. If only winter could last all year. Not too many people in the city understand my passion for the snow, but I know I will find many kindred spirits in this mountain town.
“You’ve got something smudged across your forehead,” I tell Piper when our mutual gaze outside is interrupted by the sound of Brandon coming down the hall. Piper reaches for a tissue to wipe it off when Brandon comes up from behind, swiping my favourite hoodie off the bed and throwing it at her.
“Here, use this,” he grins. “The dirt won’t make it look any worse.” This is why there’s no remorse in making fun of his design sense or lack thereof.
I snatch it mid-air and tuck it tight to my chest. “Gimme that!” I growl at Brandon.
He takes Piper by the hand and pulls her toward the door. “We’ll be ready to go in twenty. Please consider wearing something other than the sweatshirt.”
Although Brandon is dressed down in jeans and a t-shirt for moving day, he is all about dressing to impress. As he says, you never know where you’ll meet your next client. It’s easy for him to look great every day when his bank account has more zeros in it than mine ever will—unless you count the zeros that come before any other number. Since my clients usually come in a medically distressed form, I don’t think they are too concerned about what label I wear. Even still, I know better than to wear my decade-old University of Alberta sweatshirt out of the house. It holds too many memories to risk getting ruined by spilled beer or a ketchup blob.
I mouth some snarky words to Brandon’s back as they trudge off down the hallway. “I heard that!” He calls from three paces outside of my bedroom.
“I didn’t even say anything out loud!”
“I felt it on the back of my neck.” It’s probably true. It’s a twin thing.
I stomp my foot at his impudence and consider wearing the sweatshirt simply to get his ire up. But I do want to make a good impression because similar to what Brandon says, I never know where I will meet my next friend. This being my first day in my brand-new hometown, I opt instead for boyfriend jeans and an off the shoulder navy blue top. Fun and casual and up to Brandon’s standards.
Not much later we’re pushing our way through the heavy wooden doors of the Banff Avenue Brewery. “Seems like you made a good choice, bro.” I offer him a rare compliment that isn’t laced with sarcasm. Music, laughter, chatter and the smell of delicious food come wafting our way. The vibe is palpable and it offers one more checkmark on my list of reasons why I moved here. We haven’t even sat down and I know this is my kind of scene. It’s a room full of hiking boot-wearing, backpack-carrying, flannel shirt-sporting people. Now all I need is to meet some of them so I don’t have to come here all by myself next time. I’m sure the other paramedics will help introduce me around, but it’s good to have a few friends outside of work. Being a paramedic can be pretty intense and sometimes I’ll need someone who doesn’t know the industry to let the stresses of the day go.
The three of us grab a table and a server is with us in mere minutes telling us about the craft beer and the Rockies-inspired menu. Bison, elk, juniper berries, fiddleheads… It all sounds amazing and I like that I won’t have to sample everything in one night. Even with the relaxed jeans I have on, there’s no way I could pull that off anyway. Piper, on the other hand, is experiencing some serious FOMO. Being a chef, she loves trying new and creative things. I wouldn’t be surprised if she found herself in the kitchen by the end of the night, interrogating the chef for vendor names.
Not long after we order, drinks spanning the beer colour spectrum from blonde ale to stout are dropped off on our table. I raise mine high in cheers and the others follow.
“Thanks, you two, for helping out. I know I didn’t give you much of a choice, Brandon, but I appreciate you driving the truck for me so that Suzette could be here with me.” Brandon graciously drove the small moving truck while I drove my fifteen-year-old Honda Civic hatchback. Admittedly, it isn’t the best vehicle to have in a town that sees more snowy days than dry, but I’ve had Suzette since I was sixteen and first able to drive, so she was definitely making this journey with me.
“Suzette?” Piper inquires.
Brandon chuckles, “She named her car Suzette.”
Piper furrows her brow, “But it’s a Japanese car.”
Her confusion is valid. “I got her after coming back from training in France. I was in a French phase for about six months after that.” I say it with an air of confidence intimating that I pulled off my French accent even without having studied a day of the language in my life.
Brandon laughs again. “She wore a beret everywhere she went and entered every room with a flourish and a bonjour!”
I shrug my shoulders. “What do you want from me? I was sixteen!”
Brandon shares more embarrassing stories from my childhood with Piper as she quizzes me on what it was like to travel so much at such a young age. I tell her honestly that travelling that often was overrated. We never got to be tourists because we were always training or racing. Since everything was sponsored, we didn’t spend more time in a location than was necessary. And, of course, none of us could afford to travel on our own. We were kids.
"One day I'll go to see France and Italy like it was meant to be seen. From the window of a tour bus!"
“Well, you might not have been a typical tourist, but I bet you saw parts of those countries that regular tourists never get to see and experience things that other kids your age never got the chance to do.” She continues after a big gulp of air, “And to be in the Olympics when your country hosted, that’s pretty incredible!”
It’s true, my adolescence and early adulthood were exceptional because of my choice to become a downhill ski racer, but it wasn’t without sacrifice. Unnoticed by Piper, Brandon senses my change in demeanour and reaches under the table to squeeze my hand that fell into my lap. My childhood wasn’t bad but he knows what I gave up and the losses I suffered.
Pulling me from my slide down memory lane is a loud burst of laughter from the back of the pub. We all swivel to see what the ruckus is. A guy stands with his back to us at a large table of about ten people making an announcement or speech of some kind. Whatever he’s saying must be hitting the spot because he is repeatedly met with loud cheers. Other individuals stand and receive rounds of applause like he is handing out awards. Initiating Mission: Make Friends, I stop our server as she passes by to ask what's going on over there.
“Oh, that’s a group of locals who get together once a month for a day of hiking or snowshoeing. They always come back here afterward. Sorry they’re so loud.” She kindly places a hand on my shoulder like their volume is that offensive. “We try to keep them away from everyone else because they can be so noisy, but there are only so many corners we can shove them in,” she says with a hint of sarcasm to her voice.
"Can anyone join them?" I ask with intrigue and dispelling her need to worry about my sensibilities.
“Only if you live here full time.” I nod indicating that I fit the bill. “They’re loud but really friendly. Ask for Tony, he’ll give you the details.”
“Thanks,” I say with a wide smile. She gives a quick wink in response and she walks off to another table.
“Look at you go, Bobby, making friends already,” Brandon chirps.
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Don’t count my eggs before they hatch. I’ll go find Tony after we’ve eaten and see if I’m worthy of joining their club.”
Piper looks me sharply in the eye. “When they find out about your celebrity past, they’ll welcome you with open arms.” I scoff at her. Piper is the only one who thinks I’m all that and a bag of chips. It’s been a long time since my name was anything special.