“Tove,” he supplied.
“Oh, of course. Moomins,” I said stupidly. God my head was aching.
We had reached a paneled wooden door with a discreet plaque reading 9. LINNAEUS. Josef threw open the door and stood back to allow me to step inside.
The place was, by no stretch of exaggeration, about seven or eight times nicer than my flat at home, and not a great deal smaller, either. Mirrored wardrobes stretched away to my right, and in the center, flanked by a sofa to one side and a dressing table to the other, was a huge double bed, the white linen expanse invitingly smooth and crisp.
But the thing that made the biggest impression on me was not the space—which was impressive—but the light. Coming out of the narrow, artificially lit corridor, the light streaming in from the huge veranda doors opposite was blinding. Sheer white curtains waved in the breeze and I saw that the sliding door was open. I felt an instant sense of relief, as if a tightness in my chest had lifted.
“The doors can be latched back,” Josef explained from behind me, “but the catch will automatically disengage in the event of adverse weather conditions.”
“Oh, great,” I said vaguely, but all I could think of was how much I wanted Josef to go, so I could flop down on the bed and sink into oblivion.
Instead, I stood awkwardly, suppressing my yawns, while Josef told me unnecessarily about the functions of the bathroom (yes, I had used one before, thank you), the fridge and minibar (all complimentary—unfortunately for my liver), and explained that the ice would be refreshed twice a day and I could ring for him or Karla at any time.
At last my drooping yawns were no longer ignorable, and he gave a little half bow and excused himself, leaving me to take in the cabin.
There’s no point in pretending I wasn’t impressed. I was. Mainly by the bed, which was practically shrieking an invitation to throw myself down and sleep for maybe thirty to forty hours.
I looked at the pristine white duvet and the gold and white scatter cushions, and longing washed through me like a physical substance in my veins, sending prickles from the nape of my neck to the tips of my fingers and toes. I needed sleep. I was beginning to crave it, like a drug addict, counting the hours until my next fix. The thirty uncomfortable minutes in the taxi had only made it worse. But I couldn’t sleep now. If I did, I might not wake up, and I could not afford to miss dinner.
I might be able to skip some of the functions later in the week, but I absolutely had to go to tonight’s dinner and presentation. It was the first night on board—everyone would be making contacts and networking furiously. If I missed that, it would be a huge black mark against me, and I would never catch up.
Forcing down a yawn, I went out to the balcony, hoping the fresh air would help me wake from the creeping fog of exhaustion that seemed to encroach every time I stopped moving or talking.
The veranda was as delightful as one would imagine a private balcony on a luxury cruise ship to be. The barrier was made of glass so that sitting inside the suite you could almost imagine there was nothing between you and the ocean at all, and there were two deck chairs and a tiny table so that one could sit there on an evening and enjoy the midnight sun or northern lights, depending on which cruise one had booked.
I spent a long, long time watching the little ships toiling in and out of Hull harbor and feeling the salty wind in my hair, and then suddenly something about the feel of the ship changed. For a minute I couldn’t think what it was—and then I realized. The engine, which had been purring discreetly for the last half hour or so, had gone up a notch, and something about the boat had shifted. With a grinding roar, we began to inch round, away from the quayside, to point out towards the sea.
As I stood and watched, the boat edged out of the harbor, past the green and red lights showing the mouth of the safe passage, and I felt the change in its movement as we left the shelter of the harbor wall and entered the North Sea, the smooth lapping waves giving way to the great, rolling swells of the deep ocean.
Slowly, the shoreline slipped away, and the buildings of Hull dwindled into ridges on the horizon, and then into a dark line that could have been anywhere. As I watched it disappear, I thought of Judah, and everything I’d left undone. My phone was heavy in my pocket, and I took it out, hoping for something from him before we left the range of the UK transmitters. Good-bye. Good luck. Bon voyage.
But there was nothing. The signal dipped by one bar, and then another, and the phone in my hand was silent. As the coast of England disappeared from view, the only noise was the crashing of the waves.
From: Judah Lewis
To: Laura Blacklock
Sent: Tuesday, 22 September
Subject: Are you ok?
Hey honey, I haven’t heard from you since your e-mail on Sunday. Not sure if our messages are crossing. Did you get my reply, or the text I sent you yesterday?
Getting kind of worried, and hoping you don’t think I’m off somewhere being an asshole and nursing my wounds. I’m not. I love you, I miss you, and I’m thinking about you.
Don’t worry about what happened back home—and the tooth is okay. I think it’ll re-root like the doc said. I’m self-medicating with vodka anyway.
Let me know how the cruise is going—or if you’re busy, just drop me a line to say you’re okay.
Love you, J
From: Rowan Lonsdale
To: Laura Blacklock
CC: Jennifer West
Sent: Wednesday, 23 September
Lo, could you please reply to my e-mail sent two days ago requesting an update on the cruise? Jenn tells me you’ve filed nothing, and we were hoping for some kind of copy by tomorrow—a sidebar piece at the least.
Please let Jenn know ASAP where you’re at with this, and cc me to your reply.
- CHAPTER 6 -
Even rich people’s showers were better.
The jets buffeted and massaged from every angle, numbing in their ferocity, so after a while it was hard to tell where the water started and my body ended.
I soaped my hair, then shaved my legs, and finally I just stood underneath the stream, watching the sea and the sky and the circling gulls. I’d left the bathroom door open and I could see across the bed and out to the veranda and the sea beyond. And the effect was just . . . well, I’m not going to lie, it was pretty nice. I guess you had to get something for the eight grand or whatever it was they were charging for this place.