I don't know what I expect at the top. Music? Candles? Waiters with trays of champagne?
There's none of that. The platform is dimly lit and deserted, the operator booth empty. We drag our bags out. A siren wails and the bubble lift cranks to a halt. They must be operating it from the bottom, saving staff costs, having seen our arrival on the overhead security camera. But after the confusion over who invited us, it's a bit freaky, and from Heather's furrowed brow, she clearly thinks so, too.
Brent looks my way. "Leave our stuff here for now?"
"Don't ask me," I say.
He sets his bags down. I hesitate and dump mine, too. It's not as though there's anyone here to steal them.
The steps are gridded metal to accommodate snow-covered boots. By the time I reach the top, I'm panting. The air's thin up here. I push through the double doors into the Panorama building and breathe in stale woodsmoke. For a moment I have to close my eyes. Because that, more than anything, was the smell of my winters.
Curtis hits a switch and the wooden-paneled corridor lights up. A constant procession of skiers and snowboarders clump through here normally, past the ski lockers and out the main entrance onto the glacier, but it's eerily silent tonight.
Curtis cups his hands around his mouth. "Anyone there?"
Brent's looking at me again; Dale, too. My thoughts turn back to the invitations. Could one of them have organized this? No, I can't see it. As Brent pointed out, this is the shut-down period. A weekend up here must cost thousands at this time of year. Thanks to my online stalking, I know Curtis is doing well for himself. It has to be him. But why the mystery? And are the others in on it or do they genuinely believe I invited them?
"There's got to be someone here," Curtis says. "Let's look around."
We all rush off in different directions, kids let loose in a theme park. It's a maze, this place. The only building for miles around, the multipurpose, sprawling structure houses the Mountain Rescue, control room, and everything else visitors and staff might need up here. I know the restaurant and toilets, but that's it. Oh yeah, and I once stayed the night in one of its tiny dorm rooms—France's highest youth hostel.
I race down corridors, pressing light switches as I go. There are lots of closed doors. Some open; others don't. This one opens. God, this could be the very dorm I slept in. The damp and musty smell triggers a memory. Brent beneath me on the mattress, his large hands gripping my hips. I stare at the narrow single bunk, then step out, shutting the door firmly behind me.
The next door down is a laundry cupboard—rough white towels and well-worn sheets stacked on pine shelves, the reek of cheap detergent. Farther along I smell food and, sure enough, here's the kitchen. Two pans sit on an immense stove. I lift the lids. Meaty casserole in one; mash in the other. Still warm. Could be our dinner, but where are the catering staff?
I spot a toilet and push the door cautiously, but it's empty and dark. Just beyond is the equally dark restaurant, where the stench of wood- smoke is strong enough to make me cough even though the fire isn't lit. I spent hours in here warming my fingers around mugs of coffee and sitting out snowstorms, but the tables are bare, so I turn down another corridor. The others must be on the floor above, because I can't hear them anymore.
More storage rooms; more locked doors. The light switches are on short timers and occasionally turn off before I've pressed the next one, leaving me in total darkness, having to grope my way along the wall. The silence is creepy. If someone popped out from behind one of these doors, I would just about have a heart attack.
At last a familiar sight: the main entrance onto the glacier. I hurry toward it. Nobody will be out there at this time of night and the door will probably be locked, but if it isn't, I want to taste that ice-tinged air. It's been so long.
It opens. Wind rushes through the gap in a high-pitched, relentless scream. The sound is strangely human. I yank the door shut and stand there breathing hard. I knew this would be the problem if I came back here. Too many doors I'd be better off not opening.
Get a grip, Milla.
Okay. I can do this. Once I get a couple of drinks in me, I'll be fine.
Upstairs, they have a function room where they host weddings and stuff. A useful moneymaker for tiny resorts like this one, especially during the off-season. I've only ever seen it in pictures, but that must be where everyone is, because I've checked everywhere down here.
Here are the stairs. At the top is a heavy fire door, and the air on the other side of it seems even colder. A faint smell. Familiar. What is it? Heather's perfume, maybe.
Voices from the door on the right.
Stop! reads a sign. The game is on. Phones must be left in the basket.
I let out my breath. A game. Some kind of quiz, maybe, about snowboarding or what we remember about each other. Something to get us talking about old times. And it's exactly Curtis's style, telling us what to do like this, not wanting any outside distractions from whatever he has planned. I lower my phone into the basket. Except . . .