“Oh,” I say, “And I asked you to tell me something that only you know so you’d believe me if this happened again.”
“And you told me about the club in Sedona.”
His eyes go wide. “I did?”
“Yup.” I shiver. “So I have to live with that information now.”
Benny lets out a quiet “Whoa.”
“As crazy as it sounds, I think this is all happening because I asked the universe to show me what would make me happy and it’s just sending me here over and over again with no instruction booklet,” I shout upward. “Like, yes, I love it here. I get it. And now I shall live here forever. Eternal Christmas. Be careful what you wish for, am I right?” I laugh a little maniacally.
After a long pause, Benny finally asks, “Okay, but let’s say that you have no limits on what you can wish for, what—in this whole enormous world—would make you truly happy?”
As if on cue, footsteps pad quietly from the front door across the porch. And there, walking outside holding a sparkling tumbler full of orange juice, vodka, and extra ice, is Andrew. “Screwdriver. Heavy on the juice,” he says with a sweet smile. “Because, no offense, you’re a lightweight, Maisie.”
He sits down on the porch swing, sandwiching me between his warm body and Benny’s. My emotions are on fire, and the lust of my life looks back and forth between me and Benny. “So. What were we talking about?”
Don’t trust the universe.
We were talking about what in the whole wide world I’d wish for, and you appeared. Funny, right?
A glance at Benny tells me he’s not coming to my rescue here. Damn him for choosing this moment to make me face my feelings.
“We were talking about my crazy day,” I say, “and Benny asked what would make me happy, and you walked out with a drink.” I take it from him, adding, “So thank you. I am happy now.”
I take a deep drink and wow, Andrew does not mess around—this is not “heavy on the juice.” I’m surprised that flames don’t flicker off my tongue when I exhale. Next reboot, I’ll have to ask him to make one that tastes slightly less like fire.
“That’s strong,” I gasp, handing it to Benny, who sets it down on the table to his right.
“You are in rare form today, Maisie,” Andrew says, laughing.
I cough harshly, wincing through the burn. “Just living my truth.”
“I’m getting that.” I feel him look at Benny over the top of my head. “As long as you’re not upset with us for some reason?”
Guilt pierces through my reckless mood. Whether they’re figments of my imagination or pawns in the universe’s game, I love these people desperately. I’ll have to be kinder next time I lose my mind. “I hope I didn’t hurt your mom’s feelings.”
He laughs. “According to Dad, she’s been playing that Bob Dylan Christmas album for three weeks now and we’ve all told her it’s terrible. Maybe hearing it from someone who isn’t her son or husband will make a difference.” Andrew’s dark brows pull together. “But how did you know Dad forgot the Hendrick’s?”
“Weird hunch,” I say.
Andrew pushes out his bottom lip, sweetly considering this, and then nods like he’s totally satisfied with my non-explanation. He rolls with weird, surreal stuff almost as well as Benny does. “That must have been one hell of a dream you had on the plane. Last week I had a dream I worked at a carnival,” he says conversationally. “For, like, a week afterward I kept feeling like I was constantly late to work at the cotton candy booth. It was crazy stressful.”
This makes me laugh, and the three of us fall silent. The wind whistling through the tree line is the only sound until I can’t help it: “Why the cotton candy booth, though?”
“Are you kidding?” Andrew looks at me, incredulous. “That would be, like, the best carnival job.”
“The stickiest job,” I correct.
Benny hums in agreement. “I’d work the Tilt-A-Whirl.”
I grimace deeply. “That’s a lot of puke to clean up.”Andrew shivers in response, and I look at him. “What? You think people won’t be hurling around the cotton candy booth?”
Benny laughs and closes his eyes, tilting his face to the sky. “What are we even talking about anymore?”
The sun has long since disappeared behind the mountains, and I’m so deeply tired that it feels like gravity’s pulling more heavily on me. “Andrew,” I say, “it’s gonna be really cold out in the Boathouse.”
Beside me, he goes still. “How’d you kn—”
He sits with this for a second, then says, “Still better than a bunk bed.”
“I guess,” I concede. “But let’s beat out those old sleeping bags in the basement before you head out there tonight. I don’t want you to freeze. Let’s save you and the protruding parts of your body.”
“I . . .” He stares at me. “Sleeping bags?” At my silence, he adds quietly, “Another hunch?”
Two dimples dive into his cheeks. “You worried about me out there, Maisie?”
“I’m always worried about you,” I say.
“And my protruding body parts?”
Next to me, I sense Benny is valiantly trying to disappear into the swing.
“Always,” I say, adding with unbridled honesty: “I love you massively. Let’s get you set up out there, and then I can take a nap.”
When I look over at him, the moment elongates; he isn’t laughing, teasing, or playing. He’s just staring at me. Our gazes don’t break, and for just a breath, Andrew’s attention dips to my mouth and I see his lips make a small, surprised pout. Like he’s seeing something new on my face that wasn’t there before.
If only this were his fuse box moment, a boulder rolling over. A girl can dream.
Still, the sensation of his attention is a drug, and when I try to stand up, I weave in place, nearly falling. Both Benny and Andrew bolt up to catch me. But Andrew has me first and more securely—his hands come up to my forearms, steadying me as I crowd into his space.
I can’t help it; my defenses are down. That Andrew hug I’ve always wanted? It’s happening now. I step forward into his arms.
I only need it for a second. I just want to be held, to be hugged by him in a moment that isn’t about saying hello or goodbye. I can tell he’s surprised at first, but then his arms come around my waist as mine come around his neck, and I pull him closer, so tight.
I crack open an eye, waiting to be jerked back to the plane. I know it’s coming because here I am, being greedy and making this about me instead of something much, much bigger.
But my feet stay rooted on the porch.
“I’m just gonna—” Benny quickly fades into the background, unobtrusively making his way to the front door. Bless you, Benny.
“Hey. You okay?” Andrew asks against my hair.
“Yeah.” I close my eyes and turn my face into his neck. With a hit of the warm, soft smell of him, I try to swallow down the affection swelling in my throat. But it sticks there, like a pill swallowed without water.
“Just needed a hug?” There’s a smile in his scratchy voice, and I nod. The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” filters out from his headphones; the sound is muffled by the press of our bodies, but the melody is clear enough to push an ache of nostalgia between my ribs. I’ve heard Andrew sing this song a hundred times. Music is entwined with his DNA, it is the bedrock of his gentle happiness, and right now this hug feels like a lullaby, like a calming melody hummed at bedtime.
Frankly, I could stay like this forever, but deep inside I know this isn’t what the universe is asking me to do. I squeeze him closer one last time, and then step back. “That was just what the doctor ordered. You give good hug, Mandrew.”
“Well, thanks, ma’am.” His hair falls like wild brambles over his forehead. Eyes so bright and green I’ve always found the color mesmerizing. He licks his lips, and I stare at a mouth that is full and flirty and pointed at me. He pushes his hair off his forehead, only to have it fall forward again.
My filter is momentarily broken. “What is up with you?” I ask quietly.
He laughs. “What’s up with me? What’s up with you? Who is this demanding new Mae who needs drinks and hugs?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I say.
“Well, whatever it is, I like her,” he tells me. “You’re making me feel a little drunk, out of the blue. Which isn’t a bad thing, by the way.”
Before I can think too much on what he means, his mouth curves into a grin and Andrew tugs my knit cap over my eyes so all I get of his retreat is a laugh.
Even though, if I do the math, I’ve eaten this same breakfast twice in forty-eight hours, I still go to town the following morning. Do I usually try to ensure that there’s enough food to make it around the table? Of course. But I also know that there’s twice as many blintzes in the warming oven, and that we never finish, and what are we here for, anyway? To leave perfectly good food on the table? No way. Not on my unpredictable watch.
Andrew takes the suddenly-much-lighter platter from me, laughing. “I see that we’re still getting rambunctious Mae this morning. I approve.”
“Listen,” I say. “There’s enough for a crowd of fifty. Let’s stop pretending we don’t want to put our whole faces in this plate and pick up the slack.”
Game for this, Andrew takes a heaping pile of blintzes, and then loads up his plate with more bacon and eggs when they come around. “I’ll regret this.”
I stick a big bite in my mouth, speaking around it. “Will you, though?”
He gives me a smile that reads, You’re right, I won’t.