Carson Phillips hated the snow. He'd hated it ever since his freshman year of high school at Clover High. Every year, the students were forced to go on some sort of overnight trip that was supposed to help them bond with the others. It never did, however, and someone always got hurt. That year, it had been Carson. He had been hurt so badly that they canceled the trips indefinitely.
Carson was a very different person as a freshman. He wasn't rude, didn't blackmail his peers, and let the others walk all over him. The majority of the school either ignored him or bullied him for his peculiar interest in writing and his abnormal voice. All of this changed in the aftermath of that year's overnight trip.
That year, the plan was to go up to a Northern Californian ski resort to teach the kids to ski, seeing as most of them had never seen snow before. Upon arriving, Carson discovered just how cold snow was. He wasn't as good at skiing as he'd hoped, and he fell down quite a few times.
Carson had just finished his first trip down the slope without falling and was feeling pretty good about it until Claire glided up to him. He supposed it made sense that she was better at skiing than him (she was a cheerleader, after all), but it still hurt.
"Hey, Carson!" she said.
"What?" he asked, trying to sound annoyed.
She smirked at his attempt and replied, "A bunch of the guys just found the most amazing thing in the woods. You should come see it. They said they wanted to show it to you."
Carson didn't want to hurt her feelings by declining her offer, so he followed after her as fast as his skis could take him to a small clearing in the nearby trees. There were about five jocks in the clearing, a few of whom Carson recognized from being in some of his classes. When they saw him, they all jeered, which confused him, especially since he couldn't see what Claire had said they wanted to show him, so he looked around for Claire, but she'd left.
When he turned back around, Carson realized he was surrounded. He started to ask what they wanted, but that was when the first punch was thrown. He didn't know what to do. He wasn't strong enough to fight back without getting hurt even more seeing as the jocks were required to work out at least three times a week, but the most he ever did was go for the occasional run, so he just let their fists fly.
As more punches were thrown, Carson's vision started to blur and he tasted blood in his mouth from his now bleeding nose. He was vaguely aware of the jocks shouting insults at him, but then one punch sent him sprawling into the hard, unforgiving ground.
The jocks took this opportunity to kick off any skis they were still wearing and start kicking him with their heavy ski boots. Carson was in so much pain, he could hardly think. Suddenly, there was a flash of silver and the left side of his neck exploded in pain. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was the violent warmth melting the snow into wine.
When he regained consciousness, he was looking into the dark green eyes of Malerie Baggs, who jumped as their eyes met. Carson didn't know the blonde very well. They'd talked a few times, but it wasn't as if they were friends or anything. So why was she there?
"Carson… Are you okay?" she asked.
Carson tried to reply, but instead he just coughed out blood, no doubt from his nosebleed. Malerie's eyes widened, and she shouted something as loud as she could, which was surprisingly loud. Soon, the first-aid team arrived, and he was moved onto a sled and strapped in before it was tied to some large vehicle and pulled down the hill to the first-aid building.
Once there, he was seated on a table and Carson realized just how cold he was. He shivered, and a blanket was draped around his shoulders as the nurses tried to clean him up and wrap something around his still-throbbing neck. All of a sudden, Carson's hearing became muffled, and his vision began to fade. Before he passed out a second time, he faintly heard the sounds of a nurse calling 911.
The next few hours were a blur of ambulances, gurneys, waiting, and surgery until finally Carson ended up in a hospital room with eight stitches in his neck. His only thought was how much he wanted to get out of the hospital. How much he wanted to get out and find out what happened to the jocks. Had they been expelled? Suspended? He needed to know.
The hour before visitors were allowed gave him time to think seriously about how he wanted to move forward with his life. He couldn't continue to let the popular kids at his school push him around. After all, look where that had got him- stuck in a stuffy hospital room with a whole lot of itchy string in his neck.
He would have to change how he acted. He would become more confident and actually say all the rude comments he had always held back before. It might make him mean, but it would show his bullies that he wasn't one to be messed with and that they had to leave him alone. Carson smiled at the thought.
By the time visitors were allowed in, Carson had constructed something like a mask for himself. Around the morons at school, he would be rude, arrogant, and most importantly, confident, but at home or around any friends he somehow managed to acquire, he would act pretty much the same as he always did, though with a noticeable increase in the use of sarcasm. This way, there was actually a chance that he could become the editor of the New Yorker like he'd always dreamed, since he wouldn't let anyone push him around anymore.
A knock on the door made him look up, and he was surprised to see that not only his parents, but also Malerie had come to visit him. They gathered around his bed, and then the questions began.
The three visitors bombarded him with questions about what had happened, so Carson started to tell them, but he hadn't even mentioned the knife when a doctor entered the room and interrupted his story. The visitors turned their attention to the doctor, who began telling them a skewed version of the story he had just been telling, and while it was very clear to Carson that the doctor had gotten this story straight from the jocks, his parents seemed to believe the more responsible adult who clearly knew what he was talking about. Carson was shocked when the doctor didn't even mention the knife. No, according to him, it was a stick that had caused the two-inch gash on the side of his neck.
Carson's father finally spoke up and surprised Carson by asking the doctor about the fate of the jocks.
"From what I hear, Mr. Phillips, they got off with a weeklong suspension and a letter to their parents," the doctor answered, seeming much more monotonous than Carson thought made sense.
The news made Carson angry, but he knew he couldn't do anything about it so he stayed silent. He half expected his parents to get angry about this as they should, but the other more realistic side of him knew they wouldn't, since they didn't even know about the knife and he didn't have the heart to tell them.
He knew he should probably react to these things, but he hadn't quite figured out how to make use of his mask, so he just lay there, stuck between versions of himself.
Eventually, the doctor left the room, and Carson's parents followed soon after. He was alone in the room with Malerie. She broke the silence.
"So, um, Carson. I have a feeling the doctor wasn't telling the truth about what happened."
"No, he wasn't," Carson responded before he picked up where he had left off and told Malerie the rest of the story up until when she had showed up.
She was shocked, and there was a sad gleam in her eyes that Carson didn't quite understand. The two continued talking for a while, and somehow, in the middle of their conversation, Carson knew they had become friends.
As their conversation continued, Carson's mask settled in its place, but rather than being intimidated or put off by his increasing use of sarcasm, Malerie seemed intrigued and was actually laughing at some of his jokes. Carson felt a boost of confidence that lasted him through to his return to school and with his newfound ability to be rude and sarcastic all the time, the jocks left him alone for the most part, and he was finally happy for the first time in years.