The Christmas Lights(7)

By: Karen Swan

Chapter Two

Alesund, Norway, three days later

‘Holy mother,’ Zac hissed, rubbing his arms around his shoulders in the freezing temperatures as they followed the receptionist up the steps to their suite – an upgrade Lenny had negotiated for them with one mention of their social media following. It had a fjord view, four-poster and a balcony, but the suites were also in a separate building from the rest of the hotel and, right now, even a two-minute walk through the polar chill in shorts and T-shirts was two minutes too long.

‘You have come from far?’ the receptionist asked, putting the key in the lock.

‘The South Pacific,’ Bo smiled tiredly.

‘Oh my,’ the woman replied in surprise. ‘That is very far.’

‘Yes. We’ve been travelling for over thirty hours now.’

The door opened and they walked into a blonde-wood entry hallway, an umbrella hanging from a hook on the wall, a vast armoire making barely an impression in the large space. A colourful woven mat stretched the length of the hall and a door to the left led to the bathroom. They followed the woman into the main room and Bo thought she might collapse in relief at the sight of the giant floor-to-ceiling cabin bed: painted matt black and dressed with a fluffy white duvet, woollen blankets and a cloud of pillows, she had never seen such a welcome sight.

‘Your bags were sent ahead,’ the receptionist said, indicating the two suitcases on the luggage stands, and Bo gave a silent note of thanks to Lenny. For all their clashes about boundaries and what not to share, he always kept the wheels on their never-ending roadshow, making sure visas were in place, transfer transport arranged and that they were upgraded at every possible opportunity, as well as having the right clothes shipped to their new destinations. This was what they called their basic ‘winter pack’: jeans, underwear, base layers, T-shirts, jumpers and boots. Lenny had dropped off most of their summer kit – beach clothes and swimwear – to local charities as they made their way to the airport and sent the remainder back to their Left Luggage storage in London. She and Zac liked to travel light, both mentally and physically. They didn’t own more than they could carry – not a home, not a car, not a dog – and whatever earnings were left over from funding their next adventure went straight into a joint account.

‘I hope he remembered the crampons,’ Zac said, walking over and unzipping their trusty giant yellow North Face bags. Bo smiled at the mere sight of them and his coiled ropes; they had become symbols of their wintry escapes.

‘There was also a separate delivery for you,’ the receptionist said, pointing to several taped boxes stacked beside the wardrobe.

‘Great.’ Bo knew it would be the merchandise from their new sponsors. Ridge Riders were a small Norwegian-based company looking to make the leap from being known as just a technical mountain kit brand – for skiing, hiking and climbing – to the sexier athleisure market. They wanted to be Nike, North Face, Napapijri, and they were convinced that hooking up with Zac and Bo was the way to achieve it.

‘If there’s anything else … ?’ the receptionist asked.

‘No, thank you,’ Bo said. ‘This looks awesome.’

‘Dinner is served till nine thirty. Please feel free to come to the drawing room for drinks beforehand.’

‘Okay,’ Bo nodded, looking longingly at the bed. They had travelled on four planes in the past thirty hours – flying from Samoa to Sydney, and then on to Oslo via Doha, before catching a local flight to Alesund – and she knew they would both be awake at two in the morning, regardless of the age-old advice to shift their routine to local hours and stay awake for as long as they could.

The door closed behind the receptionist with a soft click and Zac went over to one of the boxes, opening it with the edge of the bottle opener on the nearby media cabinet. ‘How much are they paying us again?’ he quipped, pulling out polythene-bagged heaps of labelled clothing and equipment in bright colours and waterproof fabrics that looked harsh to Bo’s eye. After several months of drifting about in swimwear and sun-bleached cotton and linens, they looked artificial and the padded shapes comically outsize.