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The next morning, she woke up excited to see the Swiss village. She dressed in her usual ski clothes with a new layer underneath. Her splurged VISA debt clothes- a white North Face jacket and a red fleece, with black tights made for cross country skiing. This was perhaps the first time she’d done a sport with the appropriate clothing at the get-go. She used to frown on that as obvious weekend-warrior attempts, but since she was so new to skiing, decided to help her game a bit with the proper attire.
RC was down in the cafeteria and she joined him at his table. She spooned some meusli into a bowl, added milk, then got herself some strong coffee from the buffet table setup on one side. They chit chatted about her sleep. She didn’t mention the second Regency dream she had.
She was, this time, sitting in a small sitting room on an uncomfortable hard couch, when RC walked into the room with the same rigid posture she had, but instead of a corset (who knows, maybe he was wearing one?) a series of fabric wrapped around his neck and stiff high collars. She felt his discomfort immediately and wanted to escape the small, freezing room. He looked eager to tell her something and also equally discomforted, if that’s possible to feel such conflicting moments at the same time. She said something, she doesn’t remember what, and moved to another room, where she no longer had to deal with his feelings. But she felt disappointed, and confused, and as usual in these dreams, longing to get out of her confining clothes and sit Indian style, and perhaps play Nintendo or do a Sudoku, or anything really that stimulated her mind.
“What are you thinking about?” RC asked, scraping marmalade on a piece of cold, multigrain toast.
“Just that I keep having these wild dreams here. They’re all period piece dreams, like I’m in one of those awful costumes. What’s completely bizarre about it is that I’m in this building.”
“I don’t know what I dream about here. I sleep really well, though. I’m not sure why. The cold, maybe, reminds me of Chicago, or I’m just used to these rooms from visiting Nana.”
Liz asked him how his grandmother decorated the chateaux, and he went, room by room, describing her taste and the objects she had here and there. He had a pretty detailed memory, and she wondered if he didn’t spend more time here than he had let on earlier. They finished breakfast and suited up in the room near the rentals. The Brazilian girl was there again, and this time when she handed over the skis, gave Liz a big smile and bid her to have a good ski.
They headed out to the lake again, but kept near the tree line and at one point RC, ahead of her, turned off into the woods. She had his tracks to guide her, and she was surprised at how easy skiing was out of the groomed trails. They didn’t talk as they skied, and she appreciated that as she liked the silence of the forest and the beauty of the tall dark deciduous trees, so closely growing together unlike any forest in California. They came upon a road and with RC guiding her, managed to cross it and ski on the shoulder. Soon they went down a small hill and across a bridge. If alone, she probably would have stopped and walked on the bridge for fear of ice, but RC seemed confident in crossing it, or perhaps he knew its ways better than her from his childhood. The village was small with two streets, one down the center and one crossing it halfway through. They pulled up to a small building, all in stone with alpine thatched roofs. He quickly unclipped his skis with his poles and she followed suit, and they propped the skis against pegs made for that purpose near the door. She laughed quietly at the quaintness of a lodge that has ski racks outside. RC saw her and warned her that ski thefts were the only crime in this village, mostly because of drunk men who grabbed other’s skis and had problems getting home on slipper skis or slow skis. She was amused, and they sat down at a large pine picnic table inside the warm inn.
He ordered two pilsners and some sausage. She demurred, and he replied-
“That’s the joy of cross country skiing, you can basically eat like you’re about to run a race, seriously, don’t worry. For these few days, eat whatever you want. Stop that American dieting obsession.”
“Oh now I’m American? Someone forgets that they call Chicago home!”
He laughed, and she noticed again how great he looked without the pinched, pale look he wore throughout most of his San Francisco trip. She decided to broach the topic.
“You seem so relaxed here. Is it very tense when you’re on Aspert business? You just didn’t seem to be enjoying yourself that much at Napa.”
“I enjoyed seeing you in that bikini photo…”
Now, RC flirting was something she could not get used to. “This is what I’m saying! You’re flirting with me, it’s just too… it’s not the RC I knew back at work.”
“I…” He paused, sliced some sausage and ate it, and even took a sip of beer without answering her. “It’s hard to explain. I’m, well I’m responsible when I’m around Johnny. He’s a great guy, but I am very close to Joss, and I see a lot of his concerns, and where he’s coming from, and it’s, it’s just a job. I didn’t expect to meet someone like you while I was out.”
Liz flushed. “Why not? I’m a dime a dozen. San Francisco is filled with women of quite a lot of accomplishments, of course, having said that I can’t really point out any of my own…”
“You’re modest, in a way that most people who are modest don’t even know.”
“Well, thank you.” Trying to be polite and acknowledge the compliment was not that easy, and didn’t help her cheeks lose their bright red color. “It’s hot in here.”
They ate dinner and chatted with some other locals who RC didn’t know, but they knew his grandmother. Soon Liz felt antsy to get back outside, and they headed off out of the village. He talked about a hill where he used to toboggan, and what it looked like in spring and fall. They did a large loop for two hours, and she felt like collapsing. Her muscles were sore from the day before, and today halfway through they felt totally spent. But, still, it was so beautiful in the even flat alpine lake, she enjoyed cruising on swishing skis by the forest.
When they returned to the hotel, she went to her room for a bath. Feeling clean and mellow, and sleepy, she wanted to nap, but RC asked her to meet him for a drink at the quasi-bar near the restaurant. It was simply a large plank of polished wood in front of a cash register and series of shelves of liquor.
“I take it your grandmother didn’t have this installed when she lived here.” Liz said, approaching RC, who was sitting at the bar holding a small tumbler.
“No, Nana had a vine collection of elderberry wines that were honestly disgusting. Here, try this.” He held out her drink. She tasted bright lemon, and barely any alcohol.
“Lillet, it’s an aperatif from France.”
She slid into the booth. She’d brought one skirt to relax in, and a small sweater. It was silly to pack, but she hadn’t brought much else with her traveling except for office clothes.
She ordered a LIllet too, and they both sat companionably chatting with the bartender, who was a New Zealander, working on the southern hemisphere off season in European ski resorts.
Finally their table was called and they made it to RC’s table near the windows. Not even a bit of cold draft came through the insulted windows. Liz could look out on the dark, white expanse and feel even more cosy and warm inside, by comparison.
“It is so beautiful.”
She looked at RC and his eyes were fixed on hers, and she wondered if he knew he was one of those people who had “twinkly” eyes.
“This place is perfect. You know the entire day was perfect.”
“It was fun. I come here and forget about everything. It really does recharge you. After this week, I can go back to Amsterdam and figure out some supplier issues we’re having. Are you going to our Asia branch?”
Liz almost choked. “Um, Melanie hadn’t mentioned that you had one.”
“Oh you should get on that. We have Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, and Beijing. The Beijing one is probably going to be the easiest to see you since it’s actually not quite that busy, mostly a figurehead, diplomatic relations, maintaining a presence and everything.”
Liz got a similar tingly feeling that she got back in London when she was considering this very trip. “I’ll send her an email. Speaking of, this is an issue with the chateau, and no disrespect to your grandmother.” She lowered her voice. “They keep you off the internet.”
“What do you mean?” He took a blackberry from his pocket. She had to admit that she didn’t even know he had one, and he hadn’t looked at it all day. Compared to Paul, who checked it every five minutes. And Paul wasn’t the acting head of a billion dollar corporation. She told him, and he waved the Blackberry in front of him, dismissing it.
“It’s as important as you make it. I think these things that bleep at you constantly, whether it’s cell phones or Blackberries, TV or billboards, it’s your decision essentially how important it is to you. I could reply to 20 emails today and have less accomplished than spending 20 minutes tonight checking and responding in a very composed, concise, sensical manner.”
Liz nodded. “I haven’t checked email in, I don’t know, a while. I don’t mind that much really, things are running pretty independently, but I do want to make sure my sister has a place to contact me.”
“Do you want to give her a call?”
“Oh that’s true, my phone probably doesn’t work here, does it.”
She rifled through her purse and checked her phone. Sure enough, it was giving her a constantly roaming image.”
RC said, “With time change, it’s 11am now, so where would she be?” He handed Liz his Blackberry.
“Lately she’s just been lounging around.” Liz frowned. She took RC’s phone and walked over to the bar. It was empty, all of the diners having moved into the dining room, so she was alone in the darkened room. Here she could really see the dark shapes of snow mounds, probably trees, right up against the vast cold, dark grey lake. The moon was slightly visible, casting a week light on the frozen water.
Dani’s cell phone in San Francisco rang, and soon Dani was on the phone, sounding fuzzy like she had a cold.
“Hey Liz!” Dani cried. She sounded muffled now, like she was talking to someone else. “It’s Liz! In Europe!”
A male voice was in the background, but Liz couldn’t’ hear it really well.
“How are you? Is everything OK?”
“Who’s phone are you on? It says RC on the Caller ID.” Again more muffled sounds in the background, as she heard Dani say, “Don’t go, it’s OK. Really. Fine. Be that way.”
“I’m borrowing the phone. Mine doesn’t work here. So who is there? What are you up to?” Later Liz would wonder why a guy was there with her sister in the morning, but at this moment she just wanted to make sure there were no crises in Dani’s life.
“I’m OK. How do I reach you? Should I call this number?” Dani said, and then there was more muffled conversation that Liz couldn’t hear.
“If everything’s OK I’m going to go, but write me an email, OK? I can check email in another day or so, OK Dani? Love you, bye-bye.” Liz said, and sought the end-call button on the unfamiliar phone. After she rung off with Dani, she looked at the phone, trying in a silly way to answer her confused thoughts about where her sister was and what was going on.
She returned to the table and handed RC’s blackberry back to him. “I have no idea what’s going on. She was with someone, and said she was OK, but other than that it’s a mystery. She made some mention of driving up to the Northwest, but I thought it was one of her fly-by-night ideas, that she ends up talking about forever, but rarely doing.”
“Do you want to call on another phone?”
“Hmmm, no, but thank you.”
They ended their dinner and went to their respective rooms. She wondered what he was doing, and if he was reading, or hunt and pecking business emails to work. She couldn’t really imagine tall, stiff RC doing that in the privacy of his room, but it made her giggle.
She quickly fell asleep, she was more tired than she thought.
She awoke to banging on her door. She didn’t remember her dream, she remembered loving the feeling of the floor’s heating coils on her bare feet as she almost ran for the door. RC was standing there, holding his phone at arm’s length towards her.
“An urgent call, I think it’s your sister…” He didn’t finish as she grabbed the phone from his hand and gripped it close to her ear. She sat on her bed, trying to understand the choking, sighing voice on the other side. She kept repeating, “Dani! Dani!” until finally her sister replied.
“Liz? Is that you?” Dani snuffled and managed to calm down.
“What’s going on? It’s…” RC made three fingers with his hand, “3AM or something here.”
“Ohmigod. I am so fucked! I was on this train…” She managed to blurt out in gasps and cries, panic-stricken, the story of how the car was stolen outside of Clovis, and she managed to play pool at some bar for money, hustling, and then got really trashed and got rolled. She didn’t have her wallet, ran out of cash anyways but didn’t have her visa or ID. Raul had the bright idea- he had gone with her, it was his idea, actually all of it- of started jumping trains, with Raul. He had accompanied her to make sure she was safe. Now, she was in Shasta, it was freezing, and she was at a bar, and she was really, really worried. She was also hungry. When she lost her VISA, Raul had taken off, basically left her. There were a few truckers, and they had caught her hustling.
Liz took a big sigh. “Go to the police station. We’ll call them and ask someone to lend you money for a hotel. I’ll wire you some money. Try to get a coat or something. Can you find out who will take wires?” She soothed her sister, telling her it was all OK, that she was going to be OK, and felt for real the distance between Switzerland and California.
She finally handed RC back the phone. He put a hand out and rubbed one of her shoulders. She leaned her head on his hand. “She’s really not this stupid really. She’s a good kid, just has some, you know, it was hard for her with my parents away for so long.”
“It’s OK. Do you want me to call up for some coffee or chocolate?”
Liz rubbed her arms. “Um, let me try and get this money thing arranged. Can I keep your phone for a bit? Or better yet, can you find a place to wire money in her town and I’ll talk to the local police.”
Two hours later, and Liz had gotten into some clothes and sat in the reception area of the hotel. The night receptionist, when she heard that RC had requested it, got her access to a good international line a bit more dependable than the cell, and she was on call with her bank. RC actually knew someone in the area, who could meet her at the station and put her up at a hotel in town. The next call to Dani, and she seemed a lot calmer. “Can you just catch the next real passenger train home, then?” Liz asked. When Dani showed a bit of spunk at having to be told such obvious advice, Liz knew she was OK.
They walked back to the lobby. It was 5am and pitch dark outside.
“I feel like just staying up now. Watching the sunset. I think I usually sleep past it.”
“Let’s do it.” RC said seriously. They went to make coffee and get some cold cereal. They sat in the silent restaurant, slowly munching.
“She’s really not like that.”
“I… I doubt she is. She’s 19, right?”
“Acts it, no she’s 23 now. Too old to do this kind of thing. I just can’t believe Raul is involved. He seemed more, well, more sensible than that. I guess I didn’t know him. And she said it was his idea, and that just doesn’t seem like him either. I hope she’s not holding back.”
“How could the story get any wilder?” He smiled, “I’m sorry, this is your family, and…”
“No, it’s OK, you’re right. I didn’t know he had this wild side. But worse, who would leave someone so obviously in need as Dani? What a … coward.”
“Come on, let’s get out there while it’s still dark. We can catch that grey morning light.”
They suited up in skis- RC just grabbed some rentals from the rack- and nimbly headed out on the lake. The trails weren’t groomed yet but she had grown used to the feeling of new snow and carving her own way.
The snow was white, but the dark shadows around it started to pick up an eerie glow of silver as the sun started to creep out from behind the mountains. They kept a moderate space, and she started to feel the fatigue of waking up after only 5 hours of sleep. RC stopped near the path that split to the village and stepped off the trail. As she pulled up, she noticed the sun just peeking from between two frosty peaks.
Despite the horrors of the morning, she felt blissfully happy.
They turned back and her stomach started to rumble, from that lack of sleep and bits of exercise. The visions of hot steaming food could be seen from on the lake, in the cheery windows of the restaurant.
They knocked off snow, pegged their skis, and ran up the stairs to the dining room. Fellow visitors- the place was filling up since it was close to the weekend- started filling up the room, with bedheads and glassy eyes.
Over her tenth cup of coffee that morning, LIz asked RC, “I shouldn’t really go to Asia now with Dani’s situation.”
RC didn’t look at her but continued to methodically butter his toast. “Sounds like you put things right this morning, what else really is there to do?”
“Well she sounded pretty shook up. Just going home and making sure she’s OK, that would be right.”
“Yes, and you’ve done almost everything else. Don’t cut your trip short. She’s old, she can figure this stuff out. Listen to me, I don’t even know her and I’m telling you what she should do.” He took a bite of the wheat toast then put it down on his place and picked up his coffee. “You know, just check up on her. I doubt she’d like being hounded.”
She threw her hands up. “That’s the thing, she hates a mommy but then she does this insanely stupid stuff.” Liz put her head in her hands. “It’s just so tiresome. I care about her but she compromises everything. Just so silly.”
“You want to call her?”
“If you don’t mind, after this meal I’m going to take a shower and try to calm down a bit. I have learned not to call her when I’m upset.” She gave him a lopsided smile, and they talked of other things, where to go today. She had to take off soon, but she wanted to pick his brain about the branch in Asia before she left. The idea was in her head almost the entire time out skiing, except of course when she wasn’t fixating on the hot sausage in the warming trays back at the hotel.
She cleaned up and ordered her things in her room. She could fit in one more ski before her flight tonight. She was flying to Paris, then a train to Italy in two days. She trotted down to the lobby and saw RC reading a paper. They must have flown that in from London, it was so up to date.
“OK, I’m not sure about your plans, but it looks like I could add Beijing to my itinerary next week.”
“You’ll need to go to the Chinese consulate, but I think it can be figured out.” He smiled at her, and they got their heads together about how long, and what part of town, and other travel information. She poured herself another coffee from the endless cup urn in the lobby, and finally asked to borrow his Blackberry again to call Dani.
“I had this lying around,” he said, and held out a brand new Blackberry. “There’s a plan on it, some corporate one I had for testing, so feel free to use it and we’ll settle it later. I’m sure you can bill it back to your company. I’m surprised they didn’t give you one when you started traveling.”
Liz was flustered. “I, uh, thanks. I’m sure this is ridiculous. You can’t just give me a Blackberry.”
“Loaning it, I’m loaning it.”
“Uh, OK.” She looked at it, then, slightly numbed by his generosity, went to a quiet corner to call Dani, and actually got her on the line as it was 1am San Francisco time.
“Oh hey, Liz, I’ve been trying to call but the line was busy.” I left a voicemail, but I guess your friend hasn’t picked it up yet.”
Liz looked over at RC who was conferring with the South African concierge.
“So are you in a hotel?” LIz sipped her coffee.
“Um, no… I’m actually at home.” Liz tried not to choke on her coffee. “What?”
“There was a private plane leaving for San Francisco, and I was able to get on it. It was so cool, it flew right into San Francisco. I never knew there was a little airstrip there, near the park. Wow. And then there was a car waiting for me. I felt like a superstar, coming off that stairway, and then there’s someone there for me. I was wondering what bus to take to get out of there since I kind of had no idea where I was. And it was so cool on the plane in, like, it was tiny with these propellers, and you could just see everything. I can’t wait to tell Raul.”
Liz closed her eyes. “Don’t call Raul. He left you. When you needed him.”
“You don’t get it. He had to leave, he was better without me.”
“He should have stayed!” She sighed, knowing she couldn’t convince her sister of this over an international call, or perhaps forever. “Hey, listen Dani, this is my new number, OK? Hold on.”
“I can see it on CallerID, don’t worry.”
“So you’re back at home now? You can get your driver’s license and stuff, OK?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Do you at least have some money for a while? Oh, and can you file a police report on the car?”
“I already did. That friend of a friend that was here, Clay, he’s a lawyer and he made sure the report was filed and everything in Shasta.”
“Um, OK. So it sounds good then.”
Dani sounded tired, “Hey listen, I’ll call you if something happens but everything is fine. Where are you off to next?” Dani asked. Liz told her about her itinerary for the next few days, and they rung off.
It was bittersweet, her last ride with RC. They had gotten into a rhythm and even though they were both tired, they decided to try some more hills, climbing into the foothills that lined the lake. It was more technical than she had been used to, and fell a few times. He had learned now to let her get up herself, or else she would start laughing and would never get up. She said silent goodbyes to the tall trees, and the little traditions of knocking her skis together, shaking out her hat and also said goodbye to the borrowed ski clothes.
RC was staying a little longer than she was, so she packed her stuff and dragged it to the lobby, and had an hour to kill before the minibus took her to the airport. She got a hot cocoa and sat in a chair, reading, when RC was coming up the stairs from the basement and ski room, and stopped in front of her.
“So this is it!” He said, thrusting his hands into his pockets.
She closed her book and smiled, “Thanks for everything. You made it a really nice visit. I was really honored to stay at your grandmother’s house.”
He laughed, brushed the comment off and sat opposite her in a couch. His arms were on his legs, and he rubbed his hands together. He seemed like he had something to say, and she sat, curled up on the couch, waiting to hear it. She checked her watch, and the time had flown, so she drank her cocoa quickly and stood up. He followed, and they hugged, awkwardly, for she still felt like he was wanting to tell her something. She said goodbye to the staff, who were standing around probably more for RC than for her, and she lifted her bag. He ran and got it for her,and followed her out the stone steps, to the car waiting under the porch overhang.
“Well then, bye. See you later.” She said.
“Right, well, I’m going to be, well I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again. And you have my number,” he put his hand to his face like a phone.
She laughed at how bizarre that looked, and got into the minibus.
She was still smiling at his funny gesture as they pulled out on the thick packed snow road and drove slowly out to a slightly larger road, where the driver picked up 20 kph in speed for no apparent reason. Careening around hte dangerous curves and steep hills, she was excited to go to Paris, and yet also sad to leave the chateau.