Maybe you don’t have time to read a book at the moment but would still like to escape to a fantasy world for a while. So I’ve decided to share a sample of Irish Girls on Holiday free! And I will be sharing a free short story every week until Valentine’s Day. I hope that you enjoy this short trip to Oslo!
Ellen Brown wasn’t sure if she was doing the right thing. If her mother knew where she was going she would call Interpol but Ellen had faith, and trusted that she would be met with a good reaction, or maybe even her destiny. Ellen came from a small town in North County Dublin. She had been to a fortune teller in Mary Street when she was seventeen and told that she would know the man she was going to marry when she heard the sound of bamboo wind-chimes. When she was nineteen she got a part-time job in a cafe in Lusk and on her first day Ronan walked through the door. A gust of wind followed him, and as he walked up to her at the counter she heard the sound of the wind-chimes from the corner. But she should have known then that he wasn’t for her, because those wind-chimes were made of aluminium. Those chimes were a bad omen, and the reason why she was an emotional mess today. Her job, as personal assistant to the managing director of a large pharmaceutical firm, kept her busy but unfulfilled. Her confidence was shattered on many levels and she was nervous going into Dublin city. Meeting Ronan had a lot to do with that. In many ways their relationship had held her back from being the person she had the potential to be. By the time she broke free from their toxic relationship she was exhausted. She had given him the best ten years of her life. Years that she should have spent in university or college, meeting new people and finding a new perspective on life. As she realised his psychotic habits were wrong and unnatural she had begun to lose confidence in herself. It was three years now since that terrible scene in her kitchen, when her father had to physically remove Ronan from the house, and demand that he never return again. By chance, Mr Brown had come back to the house to get some money, and found Ronan holding Ellen by the jugular up against the kitchen cupboard.
Mr Brown got a barring order for him, and even though Ronan did try to call Ellen several times she never saw him again.
* * *
Ellen felt a rush of excitement as the bus pulled out of the airport. Only an hour and then she would be in the middle of Oslo, hopefully Kristian wouldn’t be too surprised to see her. She was taking a chance. Although she had been talking daily online with him, for the last six months, she couldn’t be sure that he was telling her the truth. The reason she liked him so much was because of a video he sent her. It was a meditation video from a tropical island but the music opened with the sound of wind-chimes tingling in the background. He sent it to her after announcing that he was going to stay in the Ice Hotel. Initially, he had asked her to join him, but she had declined. But then, on reflection, she couldn’t think of a good reason not to. She would surprise him!
Ellen told her mother that she was visiting her friend Catherine in London. Catherine was the perfect confidant. She had also promised that she would ring to make sure that Ellen was alright and that Kristian wasn’t some sort of psychopath. (You just couldn’t be sure about people on dating sites.) Ellen was excited about the surprise. She had felt a strong virtual connection with him after he had sent her music made with wind-chimes. Surely that was a sign!
The motorway became busier as the bus passed through the snowy landscape of pine trees and grey rock. It was a harsh climate and Ellen wondered how it looked in summer. As the buildings increased in height, and the motorways twisted and swirled in different directions, she realised that she was close to the centre of Oslo. In the distance, the busy port was stacked with cruise ships and ferries. She felt the butterflies flit around her stomach again. She took a piece of paper out of her pocket with the address of Kristian’s apartment scrawled across it. She could get a train to it – he had told her how expensive it was to live in the Norwegian capital and the expense of a taxi would probably be too much. She got some Krone from the ATM at the bus station, and a ticket and map for the train to Holbergs Plass. The map was easy to figure out, but she started to get really nervous. What if Kristian wasn’t home? He worked from home as a software designer, and said that in winter he spent many hours at his desk. It was a Friday, so she hoped he would be finishing off work before going to the Ice Hotel.
She navigated the map when she stepped off the train and jumped onto a tram that ended at Holbergs Plass. Her heart pounded as she stepped off in a tiny square with a couple of nice bars and restaurants. For a capital city the pace of life was slow and easy compared to other cities. Snow ploughs cleared the streets and people went about their business with ease.
Ellen checked the numbers on the buildings and found it difficult to find a doorway that looked like an apartment building. Then she saw the number that she was looking for and she eagerly pressed the buzzer for apartment three.
He was home – Ellen was so excited. “Hello – it’s Ellen – from Dublin.”
“I’m sorry, Kristian isn’t here.”
Ellen was in shock. Then who was she speaking to? “Oh, I’m his friend and he said that he was travelling to the north tomorrow.”
“He decided to go today.”
Ellen looked up as the voice came from directly above her head. The voice belonged to a handsome man with a beard and white blonde shaggy hair.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Lars, Kristian’s brother.”
“I didn’t know he lived with you.”
“Let me come down – it’s easier to talk that way.”
Ellen felt a thud in her stomach. Kristian was already gone. She should have spoken to him and told him of her plans to visit Oslo.
Lars opened the door and welcomed Ellen inside.
“It’s cold today,” she said.
Ellen had brought snow boots and a ski-jacket but nothing could prepare her for the icy air as she breathed. She felt like a fool. The adventure had been a joke and now she had nowhere to stay.
“Kristian didn’t tell me he was expecting a visitor.”
“I wanted to surprise him.”
Lars scratched his head and sighed deeply. “My brother is a strange guy. Do you want to come upstairs and have some coffee?”
Ellen didn’t have many options. She would have to find a place to stay. Typical that the one time she decided to do something adventurous it should blow up in her face in this way.
Lars led her to the stairs and offered to take her bag.
“I’m alright.” This guy could be a murderer, she thought. Suddenly she wished for Catherine to ring and check up on her.
“So how do you know my brother?” Lars asked, as they stepped inside the cosy apartment.
“We met on the internet.”
He looked at her sympathetically, then went over to the coffeemaker and filled it with water.
“Kristian never told me that he lived with his brother.”
“Oh, I don’t live here – I’m visiting some friends from college. I live in London.”
“Did you surprise Kristian too?”
“I’m here for a reunion and he had already decided to go away. It’s okay, I see him plenty.”
Kristian had never mentioned his brother to Ellen. He had said that he had one sister and she lived close by. She had been in the apartment a couple of times when they had spoken on Skype.
“Why didn’t you stay with your sister?”
Lars laughed and handed Ellen a cup. “I don’t have a sister.”
Ellen started to feel very uneasy. She wasn’t sure who to trust. Was this guy lying or had Kristian been the one lying to her?
“Your parents are living in Bergen though.”
“Yes, our parents are alive and I will be going to see them on Sunday.”
Ellen sat uneasily on the couch. She had no idea what she was going to do. It was midday, and she had three nights to fill in a strange city where she didn’t know anybody.
“I’m sorry, but do you know of a hostel or a cheap hotel in Oslo?”
Lars felt sorry for the girl – she wasn’t the first that his brother had filled with lies. He wondered if Kristian knew how to tell the truth.
“I will be out tonight so you are welcome to stay here. My brother leaves a spare key in the jar by the door. I don’t mind. I might not make it home later.”
Ellen felt a well of tears build up inside. All she could think of was Ronan and the feelings of fear that he had put in her. After getting her confidence back with Kristian, it seemed that he was just the same. She felt so foolish and she started to cry.
Lars wasn’t sure what to do. He looked around for kitchen roll and sheepishly went over to Ellen with it. This was just the sort of girl Kristian liked to prey upon. He could punch his brother sometimes. She looked similar to the poor girl that Kristian had left the apartment with earlier. They headed away for the weekend to Tromso. He looked at his watch.
“Would you like me to show you some of Oslo? I’m not meeting my friends until six.”
Ellen wiped her eyes. “Sorry, I feel so foolish.”
“Don’t worry. We can get some lunch in Akers Brygge? You will like it there.”
Ellen had no choice but to trust this stranger. He looked a little bit like Kristian but his English was even better.
“What do you do in London?” she asked, as they started the walk down the road towards the Kings Palace.
“I work in a hotel – in Kensington.”
“Do you like London?”
He nodded. “It gets too busy sometimes, but if you are tired of London you are tired of life – some say! What do you think of our palace? It’s not like Buckingham Palace, is it?”
Ellen looked at the bright-yellow building and the welcoming frontage that meant even a tourist could rock up and knock at the door.
“I like it – the king and queen must be casual about security.”
“Yeah, nobody will bother them. They are not even our royal family. We borrowed them from the Danes when they gave us independence two-hundred years ago.”
Ellen laughed. This town didn’t feel like any other city she had ever been in.
“Come and look at Karl Johan’s Gate. In summer, the locals swim in this pond in the centre, and in winter the kids skate on it.”
She followed him past the National Theatre and the wide main street that ended at parliament buildings.
“You see that hotel.” He pointed. “That is the Grand Hotel, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is announced from that balcony every year.”
“It’s a lovely street – not very busy.”
“This is busy in Norway. Come this way.”
He led her down a side street and she started to feel at ease with Lars. If he was a weirdo he wouldn’t be bringing her on a sightseeing tour. The road ended at the port. A tall ship and an array of very different ferries and barges came into perfect view.
“This is the port and from here you can go sightseeing in the fjord.”
“Oh, how lovely.” Ellen was in a world of her own observing the young kids skate-boarding along the esplanade. It meandered outside the twin-towered City Hall, along the newly developed docks at one side and the Akershus fortress on the other.
“That building is the Nobel Centre,” Lars said. “Do you want to take a boat trip? When it is too icy they cannot travel but it looks okay today.”
“Are you sure I’m not taking up too much of your time?” Ellen was really enjoying herself, and with so much going on she was finding it easy to forget about Kristian.
Lars went up to the ticket booth and bought two tickets.
Ellen followed him down the ramp where the captain of the boat greeted his passengers.
“Come sit outside – there are blankets.” Lars beckoned to the open area at the back and Ellen followed him.
The crew untied the ropes and the boat pulled away from the dock. As the sun peeped out from behind a cloud, the temperature rose.
“It’s so beautiful.” Ellen’s eyes were wide with delight as they moved on the glass-still-waters. On they cruised past the busy port and industrial buildings.
“We are going to the fjords,” Lars explained.
“What exactly is a fjord?” Ellen asked.
“It’s a valley filled with water – that goes out to the sea.”
The gradual inclines at either side were covered with evergreens and dotted with picturesque wooden houses, painted bright colours. Around the water’s edge, small bathing cabins and pontoons for sail boats formed a neat pattern.
“In Oslo, people buy a summer house or a boat when they retire.”
“I had no idea Oslo would be this beautiful.”
Lars nodded. “I like to come back to visit Norway, but you should see Bergen and the fjords on the other side of the country. They are breathtaking.”
“Your English is so good Lars, how long have you been living in London?”
“About five years. I like London but I would like to live somewhere a little less busy.”
“Maybe you should try Dublin?” She realised she was flirting but couldn’t help it. He was so cute and giving her all his attention. He didn’t need to offer to put her up for the night.
“I would love to go to Dublin – I think maybe I will now,” he said with a smile.
“Well, I certainly owe you for helping me out. I swear, I don’t know what I’d have done if you hadn’t come to my rescue.”
“A little thing about my brother – eh, he is not so reliable. I love him, but you are better to keep him as an internet friend I think.”
Ellen realised what he was saying.
“Does Kristian have a girlfriend?”
Lars shook his head. “It is best that you do not hear from me but I have never known Kristian to have one girlfriend – he usually has three!”
Ellen felt so foolish. “And what about you?”
Lars laughed. “I had a girlfriend before I came to Oslo – an English girl who wanted me to move with her to Australia. She left for Sydney two days ago…”
“I’m sorry. Is that why you are back here?”
“No, I really do have to meet college friends tonight. You should come. I think you would like them. But it is good that she went to Australia. I think we were not good together.”
Ellen wanted him to explain, but it wasn’t her business.
The water remained glasslike and all the clouds had disappeared from the sky leaving a perfect mirror reflection of the surroundings. The boat took a turn through a narrow inlet which led to another open lake-like expanse. It slowed down and the engines geared up a notch making Ellen feel anxious.
Lars reached out and touched her hand. “Don’t be scared, we are going through the ice.”
Ellen looked overboard and sure enough they had started to pick up speed, as the hull of the boat cracked through the ice. The ice became thicker and the sound louder. It filled the air all around them.
Clink-clink-clink-clank-clank-clink….it went on for several seconds then the sound became denser. It sped up to a crescendo as the boat propelled forward. Ellen watched as the ice split like shards of broken glass.
“Do you like the sound?” Lars asked.
Ellen turned and looked at his profile. His features were Viking-like and his jawline was rugged. She wanted to reach out and touch his blonde curls until she was reminded of the noise.
He turned to her. “Don’t you think the ice breaking sounds like wind-chimes – the chimes made from bamboo?”
And then Ellen remembered the fortune teller and her words from so long ago. Suddenly her phone rang and Catherine’s name flashed up on the screen. Ellen answered. “Excuse me,” she said to Lars, and turned her head to speak to Catherine.
“Ellen, are you okay?”
“Yes, Catherine, yes I’m on a boat cruise.”
“Great, so Kristian isn’t an axe-murderer then.”
“Well, I’m with his brother actually. It’s a bit of a long story.”
“Elle-n-n-n, are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, yes perfect.”
“You must tell me more.”
“I can’t talk now, but I will come and see you very soon. I’m sure of that.” Ellen was very sure that she would be over to London as soon as she could. She wasn’t imagining it this time. Lars was different to Ronan and Kristian. He was different to any man she had ever met. The fortune-teller was very specific. She had said bamboo wind-chimes – just as Lars had described them. The fortune-teller had been worth every cent.