Dale's previously wild hair is stylishly cut, his piercings removed. His trendy skate shoes don't even look skated in. I guess he's been Heathered. At least she let him bring his snowboard.
Heather's wearing a dress—a sparkly black one—with tights and knee-high boots. Must be bloody freezing, even with the Puffa jacket over it. A whiff of hairspray from her long, dark locks as she hugs me.
"Great to see you, Milla." She must have had a few drinks before she got here, because she almost sounds like she means it. Her boots have a three-inch heel, bringing her to an inch taller than me, which is probably why she's wearing them.
She flashes a ring.
"You guys got married?" I say. "Congratulations."
"Three years now." Her Geordie accent is thicker than ever.
Brent and Curtis slap Dale's back.
"Took your time askin', hey, bro?" Brent says. His London accent seems stronger, too.
"Actually, I asked him," Heather snaps.
The door of the cable car grinds open. A lift attendant shuffles up behind us, black resort cap pulled low. He checks off our names on a clipboard and gestures for us to enter.
The others file past.
"Is that everyone?" I say, playing for time.
The liftie seems to think so. There's something familiar about him. Everyone else is aboard now. Reluctantly, I join them.
"Who else would there be anyway?" Curtis says.
"True," I say. There were a few others who came and went, but of our original gang, we're the only five left.
Or rather, the only ones still standing.
A flood of guilt hits me. She will never walk again.
The liftie shuts the door. I strain to see his face, but before I can get a better look, he heads off along the platform and disappears into his booth.
The cable car lurches into motion. Like me, the others stare through the Plexiglas, spellbound, as we fly over the tops of fir trees, chasing the fading light up the mountain. It's weird to see dirt and grass below. It was always snow. I look for marmots, but they're probably hibernating. We pass over a cliff and the tiny village of Le Rocher disappears from view.
Suspended in the air like this, with the scenery slipping past the window, I get the strangest feeling. Instead of rising up the mountain, it's like we're traveling back in time. And I don't know if I'm ready to face the past.
Too late. The cable car is swinging into the midstation already. We step out, dragging our bags. It's colder here, and it'll be colder still where we're going. A French flag flaps in the breeze. The plateau is deserted. Halfway up, the browns and greens turn to white: the snow line.
"I thought the snow would be right down to the valley by now," Brent says.
Curtis nods. "That's climate change for you."
This is the heart of the ski area in winter, with chairlifts and tows going off in all directions, but the bubble lift is the only one running today.
The half-pipe used to be right there next to that little shack. The long U-shaped channel is just a muddy ditch right now, but in my mind's eye I can see the pristine white walls. Best half-pipe in Europe at the time, and it's what brought us all here that winter.
God, the memories. I've got goose bumps. I can picture our younger selves jostling and laughing. The five of us.
Plus the two who are missing.
A freezing gust swirls my hair around my face. I zip my snowboard jacket up to my chin and hurry after the others.
The bubble lift will take us to nearly 3,500 meters. The Diable glacier is one of the highest ski areas in France. The glossy orange cabins hang from the cable like Christmas baubles. Curtis enters the nearest open cabin.
Heather tugs on Dale's hand. "Let's get our own."
"No, come on," Dale says. "We'll all fit."
Curtis gestures. "Loads of room."