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Opening Scene - introduces protagonist, setting and other POV characters.


Good coffee and pumpkin chocolate chip muffins brought everyone together in a way that made Sibby believe in world peace for a few minutes every day. Add a sunshiny October day and everything seemed like it would turn out okay. A warm wind shoved last night’s chill away, as if telling winter to back the hell off. Sibby Wicklow needs a few more weeks of good business. The maples in Prayer Grove rustled with their glorious rare red as the sun rose over the mountains. Hikers had been crowding the cafe all morning, going on about the leaves! The leaves! The leaves! 

Jib stood at the espresso machine following an online tutorial to create leafy latte art. “What do you think?” The swirled foam briefly looked leaf-like before oozing into a puffy cloud. 

“Stick to making hearts?” Sibby said. 

“Naw. I’ve got to challenge myself.” Jib was Sibby’s best friend, and only employee, and only until the snow started falling. She hoped that he might at least stay in Utah. Another customer ordered a latte, so Jib chose one of the wide mugs he’d fired in his homemade kiln earlier in the week. This time, he crafted a perfect leaf. 

“Like skiing corduroy,” he said. “I pronounce this one socially worthy!” 

            The customer pulled out her phone. “Posted!”

            Jib flashed his famous sponsorship smile. “Tag the café, but tag me too.” He leaned down and posed with the latte while the customer took another picture. The café had a scant 684 followers, whereas Jib had several thousand who followed his daring slopestyle videos – hopping his board onto various rails, tree stumps, and other snow-adjacent surfaces. The skill had transformed him from Robert Baxter III, Ivy League dropout, into Jib—a snowboarding sensation known for his moves more than his own name. 

            Sometimes Sibby wondered if customers came to see Jib even more than they came to gawk at her sad-story self: Olympic hopeful loses leg in car crash days before Pyeong Chang. Jib had framed one of the newspaper articles and hung it on the café wall. “Adds to this place’s story,” he’d said. When she bitched about having to see a daily reminder of all that she’d lost, he quoted the Marcus Aurelius he’d been reading: “Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.” Sibby had been glad when he moved on to reading Hemingway. 

            Sibby watched several cars speed up the canyon. “I really need to capitalize on these busy weeks before the dead season.” 

“Not every car needs to stop here,” Jib said. 

“Gonna take a few hundred lattes to pay for a new commercial-grade oven.” Not to mention all the other plans she had to return this haphazard building back into something glorious. “How many weeks do we have – three? Four?” Snow already dusted the Wasatch peaks. 

“Focus on the present,” Jib said. “It’s going great.”

Sibby looked out from the wide kitchen counter toward the large stone fireplace and took in the real-life scene she’d been visualizing for months, much like she used to do with a competition race. All sixteen tables filled with paying customers, a mix of strangers and canyon locals. Kristin, a local, picked at a gluten-free muffin while frowning at a laptop. Across from her sat a younger woman, overdressed for Saturday in the canyon, who blabbed and blabbed about something, gesturing at the laptop. Usually, Kristin brought her kids, a mouthy teen and a moody boy. One table over, sad dad Justin and his daughter waited for his ex-wife—late again—to drive the girl down the canyon to her soccer game. At their window table, The Three Old Codgers dumped a shocking amount of sugar into their coffees, like always. In the back corner, a pair of teenagers hovered over open textbooks, but couldn’t stop checking their phones or sneaking peeks at Jib’s Norse god-like good looks. Three tables of leaf peepers compared photos on their phones. A small group of camo-dudes drank black coffee and ate warm muffins, having stopped on their way back from hunting in the high country. 

Sibby wasn’t particularly fond of hunting, but she had grown fond of the hunters who always ordered large quantities of food. Everyone in Utah expected to see a few dead bucks in the backs of pickups this time of year, anyway. She hadn’t been prepared for the Early Season gunshots ringing up-canyon – the jarring sound made her feel vulnerable in a PTSD kind of way. The first time she heard gunshots she hurriedly pulled on her leg, made her way to Jib’s RV, and crawled into bed with him like a scared kid. Gunshots sounded way too much like the pop of a tire blowout. The sound took her right back to that moment in the car—

A few months after her accident, Jib took time off from the men’s national team, bought the RV, and drove the two of them all over the country, forcing her to live life rather than wallow in grief. He literally helped her walk again on mountain trails and beaches, as she adjusted to her prosthetic limb. And when Grandpa died, leaving Sibby the canyon property, Jib insisted that she actually do something with the old place, parking the old RV out back and using his handyman skills to get the work done, along with a loan from her brother David.

Waking to gunshots every morning revved her heartrate into stress mode and rolled her brain into perseverating on her to-do list – repairs, cost of repairs – sending her into imaginary conversations with her brother, which inevitably involved a fraught discussion about her ability to properly run a business and how she might want to rethink the direction of her life, et cetera and et cetera and et cetera. 

But that early morning worrying happened hours ago. Now the café hummed with customers. See? I am succeeding, she mentally told her brother David, despite all of your doubty-doubts. So there! 

Jib squeezed an arm around her waist. “You’ve created a kickass gathering space.” 

Sibby leaned into Jib’s sturdy body, shifting her weight into him. “I think my Grandpa would be happy. And I hope I can make it into something even bigger and better.” 

“Forever is composed of nows.”

“Who said that?”

“Emily Dickinson.” 

“You know, most guys your age quote Yoda.” She leaned her head on Jib’s shoulder just to mess with the teen girls eyeing him. Maybe there’d been a time when the two of them would have gotten together, back when she could crawl into bed with two legs, but now the relationship was as rooted as a Prayer Grove maple—in friendship.

Nothing’s going to change that. That part of her life was over too. A few horrifying weeks on the dating apps proved that the world was filled with sicko pervs.

“I need the place to make money,” Sibby said.

“You’ll make the money you need.”

“Did Emily Dickinson say that too?”

Jib laughed and slapped her ass as he strutted over to the counter to take an order.


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