“Ten! Nine! Eight!…”
“Claudia! Wake up! It’s nearly midnight… I can’t wake her, she’s fast asleep. Claudia!”
Through her haze, she could feel it all; the warm sand being poured onto her arms and legs. The ice-cold bottle of Krug that somebody else held onto her cheek. The bucket of ice that Luke then physically put her hand into in an attempt to wake her up.
“Seven! Six! Five!…”
“Not happening, buddy.”
Dimly aware of the commotion, she rolled over on the warm sand and tried to pull her chiffon shawl over her head in protest.
Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? She had done New Year’s Eve yesterday, for heaven’s sake! In Sydney, in the Harbour, on a private yacht, watching the fireworks and whooping, kissing, dancing until dawn. She had worn sequins. And lipstick. And pretended – really convincingly, if she did say so herself – that New Year’s Eve was her absolute most favourite night of the year. Luke had been taken in entirely and hadn’t suspected for a moment that his new girlfriend would much rather have been on the sofa at home with a pot of Häagen-Dazs in her hand and Jools’ Annual Hootenanny on the telly.
Once was bad enough. But twice?
The tour was called “Cheating Time”. The first she had heard of such a thing was when Luke had presented her with the tickets on Boxing Day and announced that they were leaving on a private jet at crack of dawn the next day. At first, she had thought it was some sort of joke – a group of 30 people, 28 of whom she didn’t know, on a demented New Year’s Eve extravaganza: flying to Sydney, via a one-night stop off in Hong Kong, for four days of helicopter tours and wine tasting, culminating in New Year’s Eve in the Harbour. As if that wasn’t enough, they were then going to be ferried back onto the private jet and flown to Maui in Hawaii for a second New Year’s Eve on a private beach, cooked by a Michelin-starred chef.
And so here she was, on admittedly the most beautiful beach she’d ever seen, fighting exhaustion. She had first fallen asleep at the dinner table, talking to Maria, Luke’s boss’s wife, about which eye-waveringly expensive school her four-year-old daughter was going to go to when she was 11. A little embarrassing, but nothing she couldn’t pass off as a reaction to the anti-histamine pill she had taken for her mosquito-bite flare-up.
And this was at eight o’clock, with still four hours to go until midnight.
In desperation, she had tried shots of tequila followed by Espresso Martinis. But nothing had worked. After dinner, they had moved from the candlelit table on the beach, to a kasbah-style pop-up nightclub on the water’s edge. A DJ in the corner was playing some tasteful sunset Ibiza beats that only seemed to lull her even deeper into a state of helpless exhaustion.
And still it was only 10 o’clock.
By 11.30, she could fight it no more.
Hoping that no one would notice, she had shimmied to the edge of the nightclub, muttering something about looking at the stars, and lain down on the warm sand.
“Two! One!… HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
The light from the fireworks flashed at the back of her brain. She almost felt guilty enough to wake up, but then remembered there were still an interminable six days left of this trip – tomorrow they were going on a whale‑watching tour and after that a visit to a national park and a pineapple farm. As if that wasn’t enough, the jet home was stopping off in Las Vegas – Las Vegas! – for three days and nights of private gambling and Grand Canyon helicopter rides.
He was very sweet and understanding later that night as they walked hand in hand along the beach, back to their luxury beach hut.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful…”
He turned and looked at her in the moonlight, all puppy-dog eyes, and gently took her face in his hands.
“I’m sorry too,” he said. “I can see why you’re not firing on all cylinders. I expected to be more blown away too. The next trip will be better.”
“The next trip?” she gulped, feeling another wave of exhaustion wash over her.
“I hadn’t wanted to tell you yet – it’s going to be on a whole new level…”