When we finally pull our clothes back on and he walks me across the moonlit expanse of snow, there are two things I want with equal intensity: I want to turn around and go back to being naked in the sleeping bag, and I want him to follow me into the kitchen, sit down at the table, and talk to me for hours.
At five thirty in the morning, two and a half hours after Andrew walked me back to the house, I give up on sleep and shuffle upstairs to the kitchen. I am a sewer creature emerging into daylight; a woman who very definitively needs eight full hours of sleep. Today should be interesting.
Ricky stumbles in about the same time I do, and we both freeze at the sight of his son at the end of the table, bent over a bowl of cereal. My heart falls into my stomach, and I watch in horror as Andrew lifts an arm and casually wipes away a drip of milk from his chin.
He hasn’t heard us approach, I know, but the view of him bowed over the table, the silence that seems to stretch like a canyon across the otherwise warm, inviting space . . . it’s so similar to that horrible morning with Theo that I am instantly queasy with dread.
Is this the catch? The surprise ending? Gotcha! You’ve made the same mistake with Andrew. Did you really think the point of all this was for you to be happy?
A sound creaks out of me, something between an inhale and a groan, and Andrew’s eyes shoot up, and then back over his shoulder to his dad, before returning to me.
His sleepy gaze immediately shifts into twinkling happiness. “Well, good morning, fellow early risers.”
He’s looking at me like I’m exactly who he wanted to find this morning, but my doubt takes a beat to wear off and the feeling keeps me from moving deeper into the room.
Ricky looks at me, then the coffeepot, and then me again meaningfully before he eventually gives up and walks over to it himself. “What’re you doing up so early, Drew?”
“Couldn’t sleep.” Behind his father’s back, Andrew winks mischievously at me, and my insides all turn into a heated tangle. An echo of his groan, a flash of his throat arched back in pleasure snaps my thoughts clean of anything else.
“Too cold out there in the Boathouse?” Ricky turns to smile at me, too, like he’s really got Andrew where he wants him now.
“Actually, I was toasty as a bear in a den,” Andrew says, poking at his cereal. “Just stayed up too late and then couldn’t shut off my brain.”
“Something worrying you? Work stuff?” Ricky pulls down three mugs as the coffee starts to slowly dribble into the carafe.
“Work was the last thing on my mind, actually.” Andrew gives his dad an easy shrug and takes another bite of cereal. “Just wide awake and buzzing.”
I look down at the linoleum, faking a yawn to smother my delirious grin.
“Well, you’ll be tired after today,” Ricky says, sitting at the table, “that’s for sure.”
Today: December 23. Scavenger Hunt Day. We pair up in teams pulled out of a hat and disperse around Park City to collect photo evidence of a long list of random things Ricky and Lisa dream up for us—a silver ornament, a giant candy cane, a dog wearing a sweater, things like that. Occasionally video evidence is needed, like last year when we had to get video of a group of people doing the cancan. Permission is required, and asking strangers to do weird things can be mortifying, but mostly it’s a blast.
The hunt also gives us the chance to do any last-minute Christmas shopping we might need—Theo and Miles never have their shopping done beforehand—and is usually a much-needed break from the confines of the cabin. Mom, Kyle, and Aaron usually stay back to start cooking tomorrow’s feast. They prepare the same, beloved menu every Christmas Eve: ham, scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables, macaroni and cheese, homemade bread, and about ten different pies we all look forward to every year.
The rest of us are unleashed and turn ruthlessly competitive. One year, Dad even bought a woman a new shirt so no one else would have the chance to cross off the “someone wearing a Broncos jersey” item on their list.
My feet finally unlocked, I walk across to the table, pull out a seat, and sit shoulder to shoulder with Ricky.
“What about you, Mae?” he says, nudging me. “You sleep okay?”
I should probably lie, but I’m too tired to be coy. “Not really.”
Andrew puts on a mask of dramatic concern. “Oh no. You too?”
Ricky bolts up as soon as the coffeemaker beeps that it’s done brewing, and I use the opportunity to give Andrew a warning expression that I can’t seem to hold; it immediately cracks into a smile that feels like sunlight on my face. In my head, Julie Andrews sings and spins on an Austrian mountainside. Confetti bursts from a glittery cannon. A flock of birds take glorious flight from the top of an enormous tree. I am silvery, glimmering happiness.
Ricky slides a mug in front of me and lets out a tiny sound from the back of his throat. “You don’t look tired, Maelyn.”
“You actually look a little flushed.” Andrew innocently slides another bite of cereal into his mouth, chews thoughtfully, and swallows, adding, “If you need a nap in the Boathouse later, it’s quiet and really warm in the sleeping bags.”
Well, now I’m sure my cheeks are hot and my eyes are gleaming. I lean over my mug, inhaling the warm, nutty scent. “I think I’m good.”
“In any case, we’ll get you to bed extra super early tonight,” Andrew says, and catches my eye over the lip of his own mug. “Scout’s honor.”
• • •
A half hour later, he catches me in the hallway with my shower bag, preparing to climb the long staircase to the upstairs bathroom with the best water pressure. Andrew tugs me into the dark, secluded dining room and hides us behind one of the thick velvet curtains, burying his face in my neck.
“Hi.” He pulls in a deep inhale. “Don’t shower yet.” His mouth opens, teeth press into the sensitive juncture of neck and shoulder. “You smell like the Boathouse.”
“Your flirting was very subtle back there,” I tease.
Laughing silently, he pulls me right up tight against him, a stand-up cuddle. “Kiss me.”
So I do.
“You want to know why I couldn’t sleep?” he asks.
I laugh. “Why?”
“Because I kept thinking about all your little sounds last night.”
His mouth comes up my neck. “Yeah. Right in my ear.” His voice goes quiet. “‘Don’t stop. Please, don’t stop.’ ”
I honestly have few recollections of anything that concrete—just blurry flashes of him moving over me, of this spiraling, back-bending pleasure, and of his own breathy, gravelly noises when he came. “I don’t think I realized I was saying anything coherent.”
“Not all of it was coherent.” He laughs. It turns into a groan. “How are we going to hide this? I’m sure I won’t be able to keep it off my face. Maybe we shouldn’t try to keep it quiet.”
Is he serious? He can’t really think we’ll announce this today, after one day of togetherness? Does he not know our families at all?
But I don’t actually want to think about any of them right now. I wind my arms around his shoulders, and he starts to feel me up. “You know, it might look suspicious from the outside when the curtain starts to wiggle.”
He pulls back in feigned shock. “What are you thinking we’re going to do in here?” Even so, his palm comes over my breast.
I still feel the rhythmic echo of last night all over. In a twist I can only blame on my semi-uptight upbringing, guilt casts a shadow over my elation. Mom has left a lot of her own mother’s prudishness behind, but her biggest conservative holdover is her preference that sex not happen casually. She knows I’m not a virgin, but I’m also sure she wouldn’t love to know I was having sex with Andrew in his parents’ cabin. I don’t regret it, but I don’t want to flaunt it, either.
Andrew sees the shadow fall over my thoughts; his hand slides back down to my waist.
It’s also more than just the reality that I had sex with Andrew so quickly—which, frankly, is shocking enough. But in the past several hours, I’ve let myself forget that I’m actually on a wild, cosmic trip, that I might be living on a timer. I’ve been in this exact day and hour before and I don’t know what might propel me backward all over again. Do I feel more firmly rooted here than I did last time, when the branch fell on my head? Maybe? I made it through day three without returning to the plane, but I also didn’t make any new declarations or have any heavy realizations yesterday. I was just . . . happy.
And being happy was the only thing I asked for.
So what happens when I’m not happy? What happens when this vacation is over, and Andrew heads back to Denver, and I return to Berkeley, and I’m devastated to be away from him, and jobless and broke? What if I can’t keep up this trajectory? Will I fail this particular test? Will I find myself back at the beginning of the game, tasked with reliving all these moments again and finding a way to keep the balloon in the air eternally?
“Nothing’s wrong,” I say, and hope I wasn’t quiet too long. “Just processing it all.”
“Oh, shit.” His face falls. “We’re moving too fast.” He runs a hand down his face. “We should have taken it slower last night. It was so good, though, and I was just—”
“It wasn’t only you. It was fast,” I admit, and his admission that it was good makes me hot all over again. “But it wasn’t too fast. I’d wanted to do that with you since I knew what sex was.”
A wicked smile pulls up one half of his mouth.
Sobering, I add, “I mean, it’s only too fast if . . .” I swallow. “If it’s just an over-the-holidays thing.”
He pulls back and looks genuinely hurt. “Is that a serious concern?”
“I don’t actually know, because you’re more private than Theo is about these things. But I’m definitely not like that.”