Jessica squealed with glee as the plane took off from Holby airport. She grabbed her mum’s hand and laughed as she was pushed back into her seat.
Oliver, strapped to his dad’s lap began to cry and Bernie reached a hand across the aisle to help calm him.
“Hush now, little man,” she said, “Everything’s okay.”
Her own ears were popping though and she knew that Oliver must be suffering with no understanding of what was causing the pain. She felt a small hand slip into her free hand and turned to find Guinevere looking nervous.
“Everything’s okay,” she repeated, “Just keep sucking that sweet.”
Serena, sat on the other side of Guinevere, smiled at her before looking down at Guinevere. “Here, look Guinevere. Do you think we’ll be able to spot your house from up here?”
The children all calmed down as the plane reached cruising height and the rapid ascent stopped. The seatbelt sign dinged and Cam immediately undid his.
“I’m going to take Oliver for a walk,” he said.
Morven nodded. Oliver, while no longer screaming, was still rather gristly. “There’s some milk in my hand luggage if you think that would help?”
Bernie also took the chance to stand up. Her legs were always a bit long for the cramped airline seats, particularly when flying budget. She stretched out her legs in the aisle, peering over the seat to check on the rest of the party. Charlotte and her friend Veronica seemed perfectly happy, both of them watching something on Charlotte’s laptop, one earbud each. Jason was reading a book, his noise-cancelling headphones firmly attached to his ears. Greta next to him had her arm looped through his and a book in her hands as well but she wasn’t reading and instead was listening to Guinevere chattering away in the seat in front of her.
The flight didn’t take long and it seemed like no time at all before the captain announced that they were beginning their descent and the seatbelt signs went back on. Guinevere leant across Serena to see out of the window at the snow-covered landscape.
“It’s so pretty,” she breathed.
Serena wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “It’ll look even better when we get down there,” she promised.
It was a bit of a hassle getting all of them through baggage collection. Oliver’s pushchair temporarily went missing but eventually an airport employee managed to find it. Suitcases were collected from the conveyers and they all trouped up to the car hire counter to collect the two people carriers they had pre-booked.
Oliver wriggled and refused to sit still as they tried to fasten him into the baby seat in the middle row of one car. Jessica complained that her seat was the wrong colour, blue not red like she had at home. Cam and Bernie took multiple attempts to get all the suitcases into the boots of the cars and cursed at the amount of luggage they needed. And Jason got confused about the driver’s seat being on the wrong side when he tried to sit in his usual seat. But eventually they managed to get everyone and everything in and they set off out of the airport, Cam following his mother along the unfamiliar roads.
Luckily, the resort they were in wasn’t too far from the airport and they were there inside of an hour without too many roundabouts going the wrong way to deal with. They pulled up the cars next to a large chalet and a woman dressed in a puffy blue coat came running out to greet them.
“Welcome, welcome,” she said in slightly accented English, “You must be the Wolfes.”
There was a bit of sniggering when Bernie realised she had booked the whole holiday in her name, a name which no one else in the group shared, but the confusion was soon cleared up and the woman, Sabine, showed them around the chalet.
“I’m just in the chalet over there,” she said, pointing at a smaller chalet a short distance away, “So please come and ask if you need anything. One of my girls will be over to clean every morning and I see you have requested self-catering?”
Bernie nodded. They’d discussed having their meals cooked for them but realised that with three children of varying ages, plus Jason’s preferences for routine, it was going to be easier to sort out their own meals.
“Well then I think that is everything. Enjoy your stay!” Sabine said, waving as she left the chalet.
Morven and Cam went to put both their children down for a nap and Guinevere pestered to be allowed out to play in the snow. Greta and Jason looked very reluctant but Charlotte volunteered her and Veronica’s services.
“Come on Guinevere. Let’s go and find our outdoor clothes and then we can go build a snowman.”
The sounds of Guinevere singing ‘Do you want to build a snowman’ from Frozen echoed down the corridor as Greta took her to get her suitcase. She reappeared shortly in bright pink salopettes and a blue ski jacket. On her head was a large pink bobble hat and she had pink ski gloves on her hands.
“Ready!” she shouted excitedly.
Charlotte and Veronica soon came out from their bedroom, similarly attired in ski clothing.
“Right. Let’s go build that snowman!”
“I’m going to build one as big as the house!” Guinevere announced as they went out the front door.
Serena put the kettle on and made warm mugs of tea for all the adults left inside. Cam it seemed had fallen asleep on the bed next to Jessica but Morven came back into the sitting room with the others. The fire was roaring in the grate and a Christmas tree stood in the corner, its lights casting a glow around the whole room. Serena passed out the teas and then sat herself down on the sofa pressed against Bernie. From there, they could see Guinevere, Charlotte and Veronica out in the garden building their snowman.
Bernie leant into Serena. “This is nice,” she said and Serena nodded.
Jason had been looking through the cupboards and found a jigsaw. He set it out on the coffee table and him and Greta were soon absorbed. Morven was sat reading a book in a chair right by the fire.
Satisfied that no one was paying them much attention, Serena slid a hand up Bernie’s thigh. “Really nice,” she whispered.
It was only when Bernie’s stomach began to rumble that it occurred to them that they hadn’t even thought about dinner yet. Luckily they found that Sabine had stocked the kitchen cupboards with some basics and they were able to cobble together a meal of pasta with tomato sauce that everyone, even Jason, seemed content with.
“We’ll go shopping tomorrow,” Serena promised, “When those of you that want to ski head off in the morning, I’ll take the rest of you to the nearest supermarket. Look. Sabine’s even given us directions. It’s not far.”
There was a stack of dvds in the chalet and after the meal was eaten and cleared away, Morven pulled out a copy of The Santa Clause for them to watch. They huddled up on the sofas, only just enough space for them to all sit so they could see the tv. Bernie found herself pressed firmly against Serena with Charlotte and Veronica sharing the seat with them. Jessica crawled around on the floor with her toy cars, not really paying attention to the film but quiet enough that no one minded. Oliver settled in Morven’s arms and drifted off to sleep. Morven took him to bed after a while, complaining that he was getting heavy and her arms were hurting. Guinevere sat between her parents enraptured by the whole thing.
They were all exhausted from the journey by the time they went to bed. Bernie was only awake long enough to hear Serena’s sleepy goodnight before she was fast asleep.
As often was the case, they drifted together in the night and woke pressed against each other. Serena opened her eyes to find Bernie’s dark eyes already open and staring at her. She smiled and reached up to kiss her. Bernie pulled her closer and was about to deepen the kiss when their door flew open and Jessica launched herself onto the bed.
“Wakey wakey!” she said laughing, “Breakfast ready.”
Bernie rolled herself off Serena and moved to grab Jessica. She tickled her tummy and Jessica shrieked. Serena pulled herself up to a sitting position and watched them. She’d never grow tired of watching Bernie interact with her grandchildren. That pang that she would never have grandchildren of her own was always there but it had waned over the years as Cam and Morven treated her just the same as Bernie. Jessica had taken to calling her Gramma Rena, the first person in a long time she had allowed call her Rena.
After breakfast, the skiers got themselves ready for the day while Serena and Jason tidied up. Bernie hung around awkwardly. She wanted to ski, had learnt as a child and always enjoyed the rush of sliding down slopes at top speeds. But she also wanted to spend time with Serena. Serena pushed her towards the bedroom with a kiss though.
“We’ll have plenty of time to spend together. Go on with you.”
It took a while but eventually they were all ready to leave. The ski centre was a short walk away and Serena and Jason waved them all off, Oliver on Serena’s hip. He waved too but them got distracted by Serena’s necklace and started playing with that instead.
They decided to shop straight away. Serena strapped Oliver into the car seat while Jason started making a list of the food they would need. They drove the short distance to the supermarket and popped Oliver in the baby seat on a trolley. It wasn’t the easiest shop Serena had ever done. Jason was upset that some of the things on his list were unavailable, what with it being a different country, and they had to find alternatives. Oliver kept trying to grab things off the shelves as they went past. But they managed and returned to the chalet with a boot full of food and drink.
The rest of the morning was spent entertaining Oliver. Since learning to crawl a couple of months ago, someone needed to keep a close eye on him at all times. He was set on reaching the Christmas tree, mesmerised by the sparkling baubles, and so Serena and Jason spent much of their time trying to distract him with his toys.
Most of the rest of the family appeared back at lunchtime, except Charlotte and Veronica who’d elected to eat out on the hills so they could get a full day of skiing in. They sat around the table eating the tinned soup Serena had bought from the shops. Guinevere was excitedly telling everyone how she had managed to go down the baby slope without falling over already. She wanted to get onto the adult runs as quick as she could. Jessica had clearly enjoyed herself as well. Serena was amazed at how well an almost four year old could ski but it was completely normal here to start young. Bernie’s face was pink and her eyes bright as she greeted Serena with a hug.
Cam suggested a trip to the ice rink in the middle of town that afternoon and they all agreed. They wrapped up warm again for the walk, Oliver in a sling on Morven’s back.
At the rink, Morven sat on the side with Oliver and watched them. Cam found Jessica a push along penguin to help her balance but she turned out to be much better than any of them. Jason wobbled along the side with Greta but he was smiling. Guinevere tugged on his sleeve and led him around the rink, holding his hand. She was a natural as well. Serena had ice skated many times in her youth and she and Bernie looped round and round the ice rink, fingers entwined.
The snow started again lightly while they were out on the ice and Bernie brushed flakes of snow from off Serena’s hat.
“I do love your hat,” she said as Serena batted her away.
It was dark before Charlotte and Veronica reappeared, laughing and giggling as they crashed in through the door. Morven was in the kitchen making some dinner and she smiled at them.
“Brilliant!” Charlotte said, her eyes gleaming.
“Dinner should be about half an hour so you’ve got time for a shower if you’re quick.”
They all ate their shepherd’s pie around the table together. Jason commented that although it was a bit different to usual, it wasn’t bad.
That evening, Serena and Bernie volunteered to babysit while the rest of the adults went out. Jason and Greta had initially said that they would stay in too but Serena told them to take the opportunity for a cinema trip. She’d checked when they were in town earlier and there were some English language showings at the local cinema. The others headed out to see what the nightlife was like.
“Been a long time since I’ve had a night out on the tiles!” Morven commented.
“Well take this as part of our Christmas gift to you,” Serena said.
Oliver and Jessica were already asleep before Morven and Cam headed out. Guinevere curled up on the sofa between Bernie and Serena as Serena read them stories. She’d brought a book of Christmas stories with her that she remembered reading to Elinor when she was little. There had been many Christmases where this book was too painful to look at but now it just made her nostalgic rather than upset. And with Guinevere so eager to hear the stories, she was very glad she had decided to pack it.
Once Guinevere was in bed, Serena pulled out one of the bottles of wine she had bought that morning and offered it to Bernie.
They sat there, sipping their wine, tight against each other, just watching the flames dance in the fireplace.
“I’m really glad you suggested this,” Bernie said, “It’s so lovely having the whole family here.”
Serena reached for Bernie’s hand. “And it’s extra nice to have this time for ourselves.”
Bernie kissed her gently and Serena hummed into the kiss. “Let’s take this to the bedroom.”