Authors: L.C. Fenton
“Thanks?” I said, not sure exactly how to respond to that. If you were too enthusiastic, surely that implied to the person you would be happy when they were dead. But if you responded in the negative, then you were dismissing their gift. Hmm, tricky. Crispin was her favorite and unmarried as yet, but once he had children, I don’t know if she would be able to help herself, whatever she had said before. As long as Crispin didn’t marry someone as unsuitable as me. She was even more protective of him than Jack and her reaction likely would be worse. Only an English princess would be good enough for her darling, not that he would even be in the running. Still, we all have our fantasies.
“Jack is my son, so I love him because I have to, but I don’t like him very much,” she confided in me to my unbridled horror. The inappropriateness of telling me that, as well as the sentiment, was appalling. This was what Jack had grown up with? No wonder he had intimacy issues.
“Excuse me, Edwina. I need to talk to the boys about something.” I could barely restrain myself from telling her exactly what I thought, but I knew Jack wouldn’t appreciate it. I rose and left as fast as possible, deciding to start packing for an early trip back.
of relief I turned the key in the door of our house and returned to our sanctuary. This Christmas with Edwina had been worse than usual.
Next year, I don’t care what happens, I’m taking the boys to Australia,
I swore to myself.
After a good night’s sleep in my own bed, I felt restored. The next week flew by in a rush, as I tried to organize two absentminded teenagers to get back to school. I love them dearly, and it is always so quiet when they are gone, though that is when I start breathing again, becoming aware that I stopped while they were home.
“How do you feel about going skiing in France three weeks from now?” Jack asked over breakfast the morning after the boys left. I think he was still trying to make up for our boys no longer living in the house and my loneliness without them here.
“That would be great. I don’t think I have any meetings scheduled. Just us, or should we see if anyone else can come too?” I asked.
“I’ve spoken to Michael and Edward, and they’re keen too,” he replied. I tamped down on my reaction to the fact that he’d spoken to his friends before he’d thought to mention it to me.
“Great. Just the six of us then?” I answered, trying for cheeriness. It wasn’t like I was objecting to the group holiday—Jane and Fiona, their wives, were lovely, and we had been on skiing holidays with them before. Everyone’s children were away at school now, but for many years we had gone on skiing holidays with our whole families.
“Yes. I’ll make the arrangements.” He snapped his paper shut, drained his tea, and, with a quick peck on my cheek, left for work.
With not much else to occupy me, I was able to pack and do the necessary last-minute tasks at a leisurely pace. In seemingly no time, we were touching down in Grenoble and driving to Val d’Isère. A light snow started falling outside Albertville, and by the time we were driving on the road that swept around the lakes of Tigne, it was snowing heavily. Thick flakes played in front of the headlights, seeming to go in almost every direction but down. It was almost mesmerizing, watching chaos in action.
Night was falling when, after two hours, we pulled up outside the chalet to drop off our bags. Jack took the car to the car park across the road where we had reserved a spot for the week, while I waited on the pavement with the bags. I looked around at the village, fairy lights decorating the bare trees, and inhaled the Frenchness of it all: the patisserie across the road and the busy bar next door to it,
patrons getting rowdy, still wearing their ski boots.
Possibly Swedes by the look of them
, I deduced.
The village had obviously started in the valley and then spread up the sides of the mountain at the back. The general impression it gave was a gingerbread village, dusted with icing sugar, as even the few concrete bunkers didn’t look too bad with a covering of snow. Most of the buildings were a contrast of warm wood and gray stone with sharply pitched rooves, the chairlifts like black webs going up the mountains.
Ladies of a certain age bundled in furs walked past, while children encased in puffy clothing were pulled around on precarious plastic sleds. Skiers tramped in heavy boots along the treacherously icy footpaths and wandered into the path of slow moving vehicles. Quite a few dogs, both large and small, were being walked, and in the true manner of the French, the feces remained on the footpath and slowly froze solid. I looked away quickly to focus on something else.
It was just starting to get uncomfortably cold when Jack returned, and we hauled our bags up to the reception. The chalet was the same one we always stayed at, a typical seventies building recently remodeled into mountain chic, which involved wood with traditional heart shapes cut out in random places like the backs of chairs and doors. We were the first to arrive, so we were told by the hostess, and dinner was at seven thirty. After a leisurely shower (it is amazing how dirty you can feel after just sitting in a plane and a car for a few hours) and change of clothes, we headed back down for a pre-dinner drink in the lounge area. A fire crackled in the corner, so we headed for the closest armchairs to enjoy its warmth.
“Hello, my name is Antoine. I run the bar. What can I get you?” A polite and well-groomed man in his twenties appeared at my side.
“Vin chaud, sil vous plait,”
I responded, just being contrary. His English was obviously far superior to my French, but part of me just wanted to try anyway.
he responded politely.
Jack responded. Jack actually spoke flawless French, at a level I envied, though I lacked the natural ability and dedication to emulate it. When we had gone on our first trip to France, I had found it incredibly sexy. That seemed so many years ago now. We sat there in silence looking at the fire after Antoine departed, the trip so far having exhausted all conversation. We remained silent until his return.
“Cheers,” Jack said, looking over his glass.
“Cheers,” I responded absently.
Within a minute, Jack pulled out his phone and started fiddling with it, and I tried to dampen the instant irritation that sprang up. Instead, I strove to think of pleasant things so I didn’t snap at him, but inevitably, they swung back to the times when I was left less than satisfied with my husband.
We were halfway through our largely silent drinks when some of our friends arrived. Immediately, we stood, and smiling hugely, welcoming the interruption and gaiety they provided. The conversation became lively as the drinks flowed. We were all charming and witty and beloved. We were in company that was fun and pleasant, and the distance we held each other at was pushed back, able to be ignored.
Dinner the first night was
, which involves a huge chuck of cheese being subjected to a small bar heater. As the cheese melts, it is scraped off with a special knife onto various cold meats and bread and served with boiled potatoes and salad. Vast quantities of red wine accompanied the meal, and we were soon well into the slightly ridiculous typical dinner party conversation.
Michael McGuiness, a spry and energetic man with electrified hair, had been friends with Jack for years since working together in London. His Scottish accent made everything he said even funnier, particularly when accompanied by a big belly laugh or his customary loud hoot, making him not only look but sound a lot like Mrs. Doubtfire. His wife, Jane, was lovely, kind, and gentle, and as a couple, they were full of life and seemed to genuinely enjoy each other’s company, which was rarer than it should be.
“Charlize Theron,” he said. “She’s my celebrity out.”
“Daniel Craig,” Jane countered with a smile, to the nods of agreement from most of the women.
“Megan Fox,” said Edward Jones-Smythe, a friend of Jack’s from school. I looked at him in surprise. The thought of big, weathered, country squire Edward with such a dainty slip of a starlet was impossible to imagine. He would crush her accidentally with just one of his large paws.
“Claudia Schiffer,” Jack said.
“You’ve been saying that for years!” I teased him. “This is imaginary; you’re allowed to be unfaithful to your fantasy and change once in a while.” He just smiled and said nothing.
“What about you, Katie?” Jane asked.
“Easy. Anders Larsen. Captain Milton from
.” I shivered with pretend delight and laughed.
“Never heard of him!” Mike hooted.
“He is divine, but I prefer Peter,” said Fiona, naming Captain Milton’s goody-goody nemesis on the show.
“No way! He’s too vanilla.”
“Too vanilla?” Fiona laughingly asked.
“You know, vanilla ice cream is nice but a bit boring, like you imagine bedding Prince William would be compared to the naughtier Harry. Captain Milton is like…a sinfully rich, velvety, chocolate ice cream, with something swirled through, maybe a salted butter caramel sauce. I like my men and my ice cream just a little bit wicked,” I said with a wink.
“Woo hoo, Jack!” They all looked at him and laughed. He gave a good natured bow but studiously did not look at me.
“Now I feel like ice cream,” said Fiona, forlornly gazing into her black coffee.
, I opened the curtains in our room to brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies. The large windows looked out upon the valley and the peaks dappled with sunshine, their sharp corners leaving cubes of shade down the face of the slopes. The tree line ended around half way up, giving way to the bare white of dusted peaks.
After a quick breakfast, Jack and I hit the slopes. The crowds had yet to arrive, and the groomed trails were hard-packed from the overnight chill. We almost flew, we went down them so fast. The exhilaration was incredible. All too soon, despite my workouts with Bats, my thighs were burning. We had a quick rest on the chairlift or gondola, and then were going again. When it started to get busier, we stopped for an early lunch.
Sitting on the deck outside the restaurant in the sun, I leaned back in my chair with a glass of red wine and realized I felt good, happy. The vague sense of disquiet I habitually felt was gone. I looked across at Jack and smiled. He smiled back, making slightly crazy eyes, and I laughed. All was good in my world. The gray that permeated our relationship was pushed back, even if only briefly, but it showed me what things could have been like, which was so disquieting it was almost painful and took away my momentary joy.
I quickly looked away, hardening my eyes to the burn of tears which threatened. The thought of the black darkness of being alone made me shudder. Surely what we had was better than that, and there were parts of my life that I really enjoyed and took pleasure in, and throwing it all away just because my relationship with Jack wasn’t perfect wasn’t rational. As much as I tried to reason it away, I couldn’t quite regain my sunny outlook for the rest of the day, and my mood remained slightly cloudy as I went down to dinner alone.
You never really think you’ll meet the object of your fantasies, the one who keeps you company on those quiet nights when you’re alone in your bed, when gently stroking fingers help you imagine you are someone else, in some other place or time and something ecstatically pleasurable could happen. So, when Anders Larsen walked into the bar of the ski lodge the next night, it felt surreal.
I knew him intimately as my lover, but of course, not really. I had watched him on television, playing Captain Milton who was clever, funny, and very bad. I knew that it wasn’t him, just as in my fantasies I wasn’t really me. But that didn’t stop my heart rate accelerating and a light-headedness overtaking me, as if I was going to faint. I was mortified by my reaction, which was embarrassingly pubescent and hardly sensible in a grown woman, even though he was superbly built—very tall, muscular, broad-shouldered, and so good-looking.
He was that pure blond that you usually only see in children, with blue eyes showing the same mischievous twinkle as Captain Milton. A full lower lip suggested a sensuality that was incredibly sexy. His nose was slightly bulbous, his forehead large and a bit shiny, and he sported a couple of weeks’ worth of rough beard growth, but somehow these flaws enhanced rather than detracted from the overall package. He would never be called pretty, but he was certainly handsome. He exuded sex appeal and a healthy confidence, though he was slightly less well-groomed than his character, which was, of course, a fiction of TV land.
I made no move to talk to him, as I could not imagine what I would say and would just make a fool of myself, but I kept an eye on his general location anyway in what I hoped was a subtle way. In the end, though, he came over to talk to our group.
“Hello!” he said, his smile bright, friendly, and unaffected.