Fran decided a skiing holiday at Christmas was just the thing to get over Ben… but fate had other ideas
Going skiing at Christmas had been Lisa’s idea.
“It’ll stop you moping over Ben,” she’d said as we’d sat in the warmth of our lounge one October evening. We’d flat shared since uni.
“I am not moping,” I’d protested. “I’m over him.”
That wasn’t strictly true but I was getting there.
Her blue eyes had narrowed sceptically.
“So, you weren’t playing love songs in your room late last night?”
“I like love songs.”
“Hmmm. Skiing will be brilliant, Fran. And your parents are working at their pub, aren’t they? My parents are going away this year, so it’s good timing.”
It was. Although I’d had a few reservations, mostly financial ones, I was glad I’d let her talk me into it.
“You can spend the money you would have spent on buying Ben something expensive,” she’d said and this had clinched it. She knew me so well. Lisa was my best friend as well as my flatmate.
On the plane to Switzerland we’d chatted about previous Christmases when we’d either both been in cosy coupledom, or with our families. It was unusual for us both to be single at the same time.
Lisa didn’t do serious relationships, but she usually had a boyfriend and I’d been seeing Ben since uni.
There’d been a time when I’d thought we’d be together for the duration. But we’d drifted apart this year and, just as a golden summer began to turn into frosty fall, he told me he’d fallen for someone else – an ex who’d come back on the scene. An ex with long legs and long blonde hair, Lisa had told me when she’d seen them out one evening.
I still felt a bit raw but I was getting there. Skiing at Christmas would blow away all the cobwebs.
Especially as it was forecast to be a bumper year for snow in Engelberg.
Our hotel was close to the slopes and we didn’t waste any time.
As soon as we’d unpacked our bags we hotfooted it – although coldfooted would have been a more accurate description – down to the ski hire shop, to get kitted out with everything we needed.
The shop was busy and we had to wait a while for one of the two assistants to come and serve us.
Lisa glanced at the younger one, who was tall and serious looking and nudged me.
“Must be all that skiing.”
“You know what I mean. I hope he serves me.”
A few minutes later she got her wish as Mr Serious came to measure us for ski boots.
“It’s all very Cinderella, isn’t it?”
Lisa giggled as she fluttered her eyelashes at him. “Which glass slipper will fit?”
He frowned and didn’t answer. When he walked away again, she stuck her tongue out at his stiff, retreating back.
She was so incorrigible I had to laugh, despite the fact that the clumpy great ski boots were a world away from the delicate glass slippers Cinderella had worn.
Besides, he reminded me of Ben. Another Ben was the last thing I needed.
Those first few days on the slopes were brilliant. I managed to forget about my half-healed heart. I was too busy concentrating.
Of course I wasn’t quite as practised as Lisa, who’d learned as a child. I’d only been three times before but it soon came back.
The après ski was brilliant too. We ended up chatting to a group of Dutch guys and girls who were here for the Christmas break as well.
Then on the night before Christmas Eve, Lisa got chatted up by one of them.
“Hein has asked me out for lunch tomorrow,” she said, when we were up at the bar ordering drinks, “But I told him no. I’m a man free zone.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, that’s me, not you. If you want to go for lunch with him, go. I’m absolutely fine with it,” I told her.
“Are you sure?” Her voice was slightly wistful. “He is nice.”
“Of course, I’m sure. Go and enjoy yourself. We don’t have to be joined at the hip. We can catch up in the evening.”
And so it was that when Lisa skied down at lunchtime to meet Hein, I ended up staying on the slopes. After all, it wasn’t as though I didn’t need the practice.
Actually, I didn’t feel under quite as much pressure being on my own and the more I relaxed, the better it seemed to get.
By the end of the day I’d moved off the beginners’ slope to a slightly more difficult red one and I was having a whale of a time.
I was on my penultimate whoosh down the mountain when it happened.
A child who couldn’t have been more than seven took a tumble, straight into the path of an oncoming skier ahead of me.
He took last minute evasive action but then he himself came a cropper and ended up crashing spectacularly and losing a ski in the process.
I wasn’t sure where to go first. The child was screaming loudly and the skier was sitting groggily in the deep snow at the edge of the slope.
I went to the child and was joined almost immediately by his mother, who wore a pink designer coat and a frantic expression. She spoke rapidly in French, quickly soothing her child, who held out his arms and stopped crying and was reinstalled on his skis.
She smiled a thank you at me and so I slalomed across to the other skier who was still brushing snow out of his ears and plucking handfuls from down the back of his jacket.
“Are you OK?” I asked, suddenly recognising him as Mr Serious, the assistant from the ski shop.
“Actually, I don’t think I am.” He gave me a rueful grin and massaged his ankle. “I damaged my ankle a couple of months ago and I think I’ve just done it again.”
“If it’s swelling, you’ll need to get the boot off.”
“Are you a doctor?”
“I’m a physiotherapist,” I said, liking the fact he hadn’t done the gender stereotype thing and asked if I was a nurse.
He touched his boot and winced.
“Yep, I’ll have to take it off. Don’t let me hold you up. I’ll call mountain rescue. You’re with your friend, aren’t you?”
“Not today. And I’m not in a rush, so I’ll help you… if you’d like some help?”
I raised my eyebrows in a question and he hesitated.
“I was going to go all macho and say no, but that’s crazy. Thanks. I think I would.”
That made me like him even more. And as it happened, we got his boot off just in time.
While we waited for mountain rescue, up there on the sparkling beauty of the mountainside, sitting beside a forest of star-spangled pines, we chatted.
“I’m an electrician who’d begun to wonder if he’d chosen the right career,” he confided, “So I took a year out and came here.”
I liked his honesty and wanted to reciprocate.
“I’m a physiotherapist getting over a failed romance. My best friend convinced me this would help.”
“Was she right?”
“I haven’t thought about my ex at all, so yes, she was. How about you? Have you decided whether or not you chose the right career?”
“I’ve decided I like skiing but I’m not suited to shop work. I don’t have the people skills.”
“You were friendly enough to us. Albeit a bit serious.”
“Sorry. But you wouldn’t believe how many times I hear that Cinderella joke.”
“And real life is nothing like a fairy tale, is it?” I said gravely. “There are no princesses and there are no knights in shining armour.”
“You’re on my wavelength.” He smiled. “I’ve always thought that shining armour must be terribly cumbersome.”
He looked completely different when he smiled. Warm brown eyes that were nothing like Ben’s actually. How had I ever seen any resemblance?
I held out my hand. “My name’s Fran, and I will steer clear of Cinderella jokes, I promise.”
He took my hand in his strong tanned fingers.
“Thanks, I appreciate that. And I’m Benjamin.”
He must have seen my shocked expression.
“What have I said?”
Mountain rescue didn’t send a helicopter as I’d half expected but a snowmobile with a sled on the back and so we alighted from the mountain in a rather ignominious fashion, although Benjamin accepted it all in good grace.
And despite the fact he was in obvious pain he made light of it all, so by the time we were back on ground level we were both laughing.
“Shall I come with you to the hospital?”
“Thanks but you’ve done enough already. I’m sure I’ll cope.”
We did swap numbers though.
You couldn’t make it up,” Lisa joked, wide eyed when I filled her in later. “So was there any chemistry at all?”
“Maybe a little,” I said. “How about you? How did it go?”
“Enough for another date. But I’ll work the timing round you, girlfriend. This is a girly holiday.”
She giggled at the same time as my mobile buzzed.
It turned out to be Benjamin.
“Not broken,” he told me. “Just sprained. They said it was lucky I got the boot off so quickly. That was down to you.”
There was a pause. “I was wondering if I could take you out for dinner to say thank you – that’s if you don’t mind picking me up. I’m on crutches for a while.”
Crutches on the slippery pavements were even more of a hindrance than armour, I decided.
Benjamin limped across to the restaurant door, with me hanging back, ready to catch him if he fell.
But he didn’t fall and we had a great evening.
We spent much of it laughing. We discovered we had the same slightly dark sense of humour.
Coincidentally we had also grown up in the same town, just three streets away. We had been in the same badminton club although not at the same time.
Even so, it was amazing our paths hadn’t crossed before.
“Perhaps they have,” he said, filling up my wine glass halfway through the evening, causing our fingers to touch and send delightful tingles through me.
“Perhaps we stood behind each other in the same queue at the Post Office. And perhaps you didn’t notice me because your thoughts were full of another man called Ben.”
I had told him in the end.
“And perhaps yours were full of another lady?” I hedged.
“Her name was Serena and she went on a ‘round the world trip’ with her boss,” he said, with fleeting sadness. “But I’m over her now, Fran. There are sometimes romances that aren’t meant to be.”
“And there are sometimes ones that have happy endings,” I said and both of us grew slightly more serious.
That Christmas Day was spent as a foursome, Benjamin and I, and Lisa and Hein and it was a magical Christmas Day.
There were crackers and mulled wine and turkey and laughter. And later there was starlight and a magical fresh fall of snow that drifted softly down and turned everything pristine white and new.
There was also mistletoe and there were first kisses.
Afterwards, Lisa and Hein decided they would go to Paris in the New Year. Benjamin decided he would head home to see his parents and see about getting a job in the UK again as he wouldn’t be skiing for a while. The prospect of seeing more of me was an influencing factor too apparently.
It will be pantomime season when he arrives in England and they are showing Cinderella at our local playhouse, but I don’t think we’ll go.
After all, we are both in agreement that while fairy tales are all very well, real life can be even better.