The competition was open to all RNA members who are attending the conference - was for a short story of not more than 2500 words with 'The Joy of the Snow' as the theme.
Lessons in Love in Levi by Liam Livings
‘Do I need this thermal suit?’ Adam asked.
The Finnish woman at the hire desk smiled. ‘This week it will go to negative 30C. You will need this. It is not an English winter.’ She scanned Adam’s bar code then collected skis, poles and boots the computer had calculated would fit him.
Wearing all the equipment, Adam watched the rest of his singles ski holiday group shuffle onto the carpet ski lift where children got used to the snow on an almost flat nursery run. He shook his head. Sad, ridiculous, like a school ski trip. I’ll show them how it’s done with my perfect parallel turns!
He sneaked away from the group and now faced the gondola lift – metal and clear-plastic bubbles holding up to six passengers, their legs and skis dangling out the bottom of the pods as they rose into the air on the cable overhead.. I can do this – I will do this. He opened the free pack of salted peanuts the male air steward had given him accompanied by a wink and a smile. Kind, but why would anyone flirt with quiet, plain, little Adam?
‘Ready.’ Adam held a thumb up to the lift attendant, grasped his ski poles with the other hand, then ignored the tight sickness in his stomach as the gondola lifted him into the air. What did they say about the colour coding? The black run’s the easiest, then red and I’ll end the week flying down blue runs. I’m sure that’s right.
‘Practice those parallel turns!’ Luukas waved to his last pupil, checked his watch. He had a couple of hours until the next one and he wanted to ride the gondola to the top of the hardest black ski slope at the resort alone.
Luukas stepped off the lift, slid in a semicircle to reach the top of the mountain; the slope fell off sharply ahead. Either side of the single-road-width run pine trees stood like sentries, covered in white, branches weighed down with months of snow.
Luukas took a deep breath, smelt the fresh clear air. This view never failed to impress him and he’d been coming to Levi since a teenager, and teaching here for years. Tall snow-covered mountains met the bright blue sky either side of the ski slope. The sun glinted against the snow. His forehead stung in the cold until he pulled his hood up.
Luukas pushed lightly with his poles, bent his knees, leaned forward and pointed his skis downhill. He gathered pace quickly, turning swift parallel turns from left to right to maintain control and avoid other skiers. The tip of his nose numbed as the freezing wind rushed past.
His phone vibrated against his chest in his sky blue Levi Ski School thermal suit’s internal pocket. Turning sharp left, Luukas headed up hill in a wide curve, and gracefully reached a stop next to a snow covered pine tree.
He recognised the number – his day job. ‘Yes?’
His boss apologised six times for calling him on holiday. ‘We can’t find your drawings for the new rear light clusters and headlights for the V50 hatchback. New head of design needs them.’
Luukas explained where to find the drawings he’d finished last week but hadn’t thought would be needed yet. Volvo usually liked to have all the different elements of a face-lifted car ready before presenting to the head of design, but evidently, that had all gone out the safety-glass-window in favour of someone new wanting to make his mark. Luukas breathed through his balaclava, his breath made a long plume of white into the freezing air.
‘I thought you would be eating,’ his manager said.
‘Halfway down a mountain.’ Luukas smiled. ‘I will send you a picture; make you jealous.’
‘A fair trade.’ After a short pause his manager said, ‘Met anyone interesting?’
‘I am not looking. I am looking for the silence of the mountains and the plain white of the snow.’
‘You won’t find a boyfriend like that.’
Luukas laughed. ‘I do not look for one. I only come here for a break from the noise and colour of Helsinki.’
‘Send me the picture, enjoy.’
‘I will.’ Luukas ended the call and quickly replaced the phone into the warmth of his thermal suit to save the battery draining in the cold air.
Adam stood at the top of the black run and couldn’t remember being on anything as steep and narrow before. Is this really the next hardest run after the silly nursery slope? Obviously it was the snow distorting distance, steepness, and width. Adam leaned forward and set off downhill. He formed a wide snowplough with his skis to keep himself at a safe speed and concentrated on not falling over.
Safely past the icy top of the slope he pulled to the left of the slightly flatter part and came to a stop in a wide snowplough. Too steep, too abrupt! He toppled and fell uphill, landed on his bum with his legs forming a wide V. One ski detached itself and stopped a few feet away.
A woman who’d been doing fast mini-parallel-turns stopped next to Adam in a sideways curve, spraying him with snow. She pulled her goggles off and rested them on her head, wiped her nose with her sleeve and took a few deep breaths. ‘You OK?’
‘This is the easiest run?’ Adam asked, hoping the woman spoke English.
‘No, this is one of the hardest. I saw someone going so fast he lost control and skied into a tree.’
‘But isn’t it black, red, blue?’ Adam asked.
‘Oh no, it goes, blue, red, black.’
‘I’m half way down the most difficult slope?’ Adam’s throat tightened.
‘A third down. There’s 2km left.’ The woman pulled Adam to his feet then passed him the errant ski. ‘Good luck!’ She pulled her goggles over her eyes then pushed herself downhill with her poles.
‘I can do this.’ Adam pressed his boot hard into the loose ski and smiled at the satisfying click as it locked tight. Because when he considered it, there weren’t any other options except being stretchered down on the back of a snow mobile with a rotating orange light and ambulance horn blaring.
Slowly, almost skiing straight across to the far edge of the slope, Adam set off. He used all his skills to pull off an OK snowplough turn at the edge, then repeated the manoeuvre back to the other side of the slope. I can do do this, as long as I keep to this plan, I’ll soon be at the bottom. He concentrated on slowing down, leaned forward and widened his snowplough. But the slope was too steep, despite leaning to the left his snowplough turn remained as a snowplough without the turn. In a white blur of two-foot-deep snow beyond the edge of the run, between pine trees, halfway from the run he’d just left and another, he fell forward, rolling in a four-limbed ball, until he came to an abrupt stop on his back, deep in snow.
Adam checked his four limbs for pain and was relieved to note nothing except soreness. After much shuffling and jiggling he knelt, panted to get his breath back then considered his next move. His looked around and saw his skis and poles scattered far and wide.
He remembered the orientation from the holiday rep, pulled out his mobile phone from the suit’s internal chest pocket, fumbled with his gloves on, removed them, then unlocked the phone. The wind bit into his fingers, they ached and throbbed and didn’t do what he wanted when it came to dialling the numbers. Emergency Levi, or Levi Emergency - how had he saved the number in his phone? The second scroll through his contacts showed it was the latter. He pressed the phone icon to connect the call and the screen turned black as it switched itself off, the battery dead. ‘What’s that about?’ His stomach tightened with sickness. It had been at seventy percent when he’d boarded the gondola lift. He pressed the on button but the screen remained black.‘I’m not going to get angry. I’ll remain calm and think this through,’ he said to himself, just as he dropped his gloves out of reach while trying to replace the phone in his pocket. And then, because he didn’t know what else to do, he simply shouted, ‘Bugger!’ into the cold silent snow-filled air.
Luukas had left the long black ski run part way down and was enjoying some cross-country skiing through the less compacted snow between trees that ran in a thin ribbon linking two busy black runs. He knew these cross-country runs as well as the main ones and liked to use them to keep things fresh, and brush up on his off-piste skills. He looked either side and was pleased to note no-one else in sight. He slowed until the only sound was the gently swish of his skis in the snow and his breathing as he braced himself on each turn. Perfect.
He crouched on the approach of a well-worn jump between two pines, ready to spring upright as it launched him into the air. A flash of darkness caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. Mid-air Luukas turned to face the darkness and saw an adult laying face up, skis-off, waist-deep in snow, waving arms.
He landed with a thud, turned to the left and slid back towards the stranded person, then he slowly pushed himself uphill towards the skier.
Warm relief flooded Adam’s body as a Levi Ski School person stood next to him. ‘It’s my first time here and I thought it was blue, when it was black. I got it the wrong way round. Then my phone died.’
The Ski School person pulled his goggles up, revealing deep blue eyes and a slightly reddened face. ‘Can you move?’ A slight Nordic accent.
Adam shook his head and reached forward as the man held out his hand. ‘Adam, thank you.’
‘Luukas, do not worry about it. We cannot have tourists freezing to death out here. Not good for tourism.’ He let out a deep booming laugh.
Luukas collected Adam’s skis and poles in a few long strides through the snow.
Adam leaned on Luukas’ shoulder, attached his skis to his boots with a satisfying click, then shuffle round to face downhill with his poles under one arm.
‘I will ski backwards, you hold onto my pole and snowplough and I get you to the bottom safe and slow.’ Luukas nodded. ‘Do you trust me?’
Adam briefly thought he didn’t have any alternative, then rereading the words on Luukas’ clothes said, ‘Yes.’ He followed the instructions and on the way down enjoyed views of snow-covered mountains either side of the slope, a frozen lake, the snow-topped buildings of Levi at the bottom of the mountain, and Luukas’ smiling square jaw covered in light ginger stubble.
In the log cabin café near the bottom of the slope, Luukas settled Adam by the fire in a squashy red leather chair, told him to unzip the top of his thermal suit so he’d feel the fire then left for drinks.
Adam did as asked.
A few minutes later Luukas returned with two hot chocolates and two shots of liquor. ‘These will warm you.’
Adam sipped the alcohol gingerly, pursed his lips and shook his head.
‘In one. We drink it in one in Finland.’ Luukas did so, then shook as the strong alcohol heated his body from inside. ‘Cloudberry. A Finnish delicacy.’
Adam copied Luukas then sipped the hot chocolate while holding his body nearer the fire. He smiled at Luukas.
Luukas removed the top half of his thermal suit and the mid layer to reveal his pale muscled torso and arms barely covered by a blue vest. He wanted to feel the fire’s heat on his skin, and work out where he stood with this sweet shy English man.
Adam stared at Luukas, coughed and blew cream from his hot chocolate then stared at the fire.
Luukas caught Adam looking at him and smiled to himself as he stretched his arms above his head and flexed his pectoral muscles. He felt Adam’s eyes over his body, as hoped. Luukas took Adam’s phone and rested it a few feet from the fire.
Adam drank in silence, watching the fire and his phone.
Luukas expected Adam to start chattering and blathering on about why he’d come skiing and how he’d ended up stranded between two runs, or asking what Luukas was doing with his phone, but pleasingly, Adam said nothing.
After a few minutes of silence Luukas handed the working phone to Adam. ‘Warmth charges the battery.’ Luukas felt Adam’s cold skin, covered it with his other hand and held still, staring into Adam’s deep brown eyes, watching the flames reflected in them. ‘If you like this, there are ski huts all over, where you can stop and sit inside next to a fire. We listen to others telling skiing stories to the fire light. How does that sound?’
Adam nodded, adding his other hand to the pile of their hands. ‘Yes.’
Luukas laughed. ‘Tell me your story.’
Adam couldn’t believe this man - all six foot six of Nordic skiing muscles of him - was still holding his hands and not only that, but he wanted to hear about him, Adam, five foot nothing of British featherweight geek. Not knowing where else to start Adam began with the story of the male cabin crew member possibly flirting with him on the flight. He laughed nervously. ‘I don’t know why he was.’
Luukas narrowed his eyes and smiled. ‘I think it would be good for you to have some skiing lessons from me. I do not want to rescue you another time. Once, I think, is enough.’
Adam retrieved his phone and hands. Ah, so this is what all this is about, extracting money out of him. Of course. ‘Thank you, but I can’t afford that. I’ll stick to the nursery slopes from now on.’ He glanced at the wall clock. ‘I won’t keep you any more. I’m sure you’ve got someone to teach.’
‘Free lessons. And by the way, this is flirting, just so you can know.’ Luukas winked then stroked Adam’s forearm.
Adam’s heart beat quickened as he swallowed slowly.‘Right. Message received and understood. I’ll take you for dinner. I don’t know anywhere because I’m all inclusive, but anywhere you want.’ Adam allowed himself a lingering glance of Luukas’ forearms covered in a dusting of ginger hair, following them up to the blue vest that showed most of his chest.
Luukas traced a line with his finger, along Adam’s leg, up his chest, to his face. ‘We can see The Northern Lights from the frozen lake. It is very peaceful.’
‘I’d like that.’ Adam smiled. His first venture onto the black slope could have been a disaster – but it seemed he’d fallen on his feet, or into the arms of Luukas. This might be the best holiday yet.