"What was that about?" she asked.
"What was what about?" I asked innocently.
"Rose," she said meaningfully. It was hard to play dumb when your friend knew you could read her mind. I knew exactly what she was talking about. "You being a bitch to Tasha."
"I wasn't that much of a bitch."
"You were rude," she exclaimed, stepping out of the way of a bunch of Moroi children who came tearing through the lobby. They were bundled up in parkas, and a weary-looking Moroi ski instructor followed them.
I put my hands on my hips. "Look, I'm just grumpy, okay? Didn't get much sleep. Besides, I'm not like you. I don't have to be polite all the time."
As happened so often lately, I couldn't believe what I'd just said. Lissa stared at me, more astonished than hurt. Christian glowered, on the verge of snapping back at me, when Mason mercifully approached us. He hadn't needed a cast or anything, but he had a slight limp to his walk.
"Hey there, Hop-Along," I said, sliding my hand into his.
Christian put his anger for me on hold and turned to Mason. "Is it true your suicidal moves finally caught up with you?"
Mason's eyes were on me. "Is it true you were hanging out with Adrian Ivashkov?"
"I heard you guys got drunk last night."
"You did?" asked Lissa, startled.
I looked between both their faces. "No, of course not! I barely know him."
"But you do know him," pushed Mason.
"He's got a bad reputation," warned Lissa.
"Yeah," said Christian. "He goes through a lot of girls."
I couldn't believe this. "Will you guys lay off? I talked to him for, like, five minutes! And that's only because he was blocking my way inside. Where are you getting all this?" Immediately, I answered my own question. "Mia."
Mason nodded and had the grace to look embarrassed.
"Since when do you talk to her?" I asked.
"I just ran into her, that's all," he told me.
"And you believed her? You know she lies half the time."
"Yeah, but there's usually some truth in the lies. And you did talk to him."
"Yes. Talk. That's it."
I really had been trying to give some serious thought about dating Mason, so I didn't appreciate him not believing me. He had actually helped me unravel Mia's lies earlier in the school year, so I was surprised he'd be so paranoid about them now. Maybe if his feelings really had grown for me, he was more susceptible to jealousy.
Surprisingly, it was Christian who came to the rescue and changed the subject. "I suppose there's no skiing today, huh?" He pointed to Mason's ankle, immediately triggering an indignant response.
"What, you think this is going to slow me down?" asked Mason.
His anger diminished, replaced by that burning need to prove himself- the need he and I both shared. Lissa and Christian looked at him like he was crazy, but I knew nothing we said would stop him.
"You guys want to come with us?" I asked Lissa and Christian.
Lissa shook her head. "We can't. We have to go to this luncheon being hosted by the Contas."
Christian groaned. "Well, you have to go."
She elbowed him. "So do you. The invitation said I get to bring a guest. Besides, this is just a warm-up for the big one."
"Which one is that?" asked Mason.
"Priscilla Voda's huge dinner," sighed Christian. Seeing him look so pained made me smile. "The queen's best friend. All the snobbiest royals will be there, and I'll have to wear a suit."
Mason flashed me a grin. His earlier antagonism was gone. "Skiing's sounding better and better, huh? Less of a dress code."
We left the Moroi behind and went outside. Mason couldn't compete with me in the same way he had yesterday; his movements were slow and awkward. Still, he did remarkably well when one considered everything. The injury wasn't as bad as we'd feared, but he had the prudence to stick to extremely easy runs.
The full moon hung in the blankness, a glowing sphere of silvery white. The electric lights overpowered most of its illumination on the ground, but here and there, in the shadows, the moon just barely managed to cast its glow. I wished it were bright enough to reveal the surrounding mountain range, but those peaks stayed shrouded in darkness. I'd forgotten to look at them when it was light out earlier.
The runs were super simple for me, but I stayed with Mason and only occasionally teased him about how his remedial skiing was putting me to sleep. Boring runs or no, it was just nice to be outside with my friends, and the activity stirred my blood enough to warm me against the chill air. The light posts lit up the snow, turning it into a vast sea of white, the flakes' crystals sparkling faintly. And if I managed to turn away and block the lights from my field of vision, I could look up and see the stars spilling over the sky. They stood out stark and crystalline in the clear, freezing air. We stayed out for most of the day again, but this time, I called it quits early, pretending to be tired so Mason could get a break. He might manage easy skiing with his tender ankle, but I could tell it was starting to hurt him.
Mason and I headed back toward the lodge walking very close to each other, laughing about something we'd seen earlier. Suddenly, I saw a streak of white in my peripheral vision, and a snowball smashed into Mason's face. I immediately went on the defensive, jerking backward and peering around. Whoops and cries sounded from an area of the resort grounds that held storage sheds and was interspersed with looming pines.
"Too slow, Ashford," someone called. "Doesn't pay to be in love."
More laughs. Mason's best friend, Eddie Castile, and a few other novices from school materialized from behind a cluster of trees. Beyond them, I heard more shouts.
"We'll still take you in, though, if you want to be on our team," said Eddie. "Even if you do dodge like a girl."
"Team?" I asked excitedly.
Back at the Academy, throwing snowballs was strictly prohibited. School officials were inexplicably afraid that we'd throw snowballs packed with glass shards or razor blades, though I had no clue how they thought we'd get a hold of that kind of stuff in the first place.
Not that a snowball fight was that rebellious, but after all the stress I'd been through recently, throwing objects at other people suddenly sounded like the best idea I'd heard in a while. Mason and I dashed off with the others, the prospect of forbidden fighting giving him new energy and causing him to forget the pain in his ankle. We set to the fight with a die-hard zeal.