“Oh, come on, Mae, of course we know that’s bullshit.”
A tiny fire ignites. “What’s happening to me isn’t bullshit—whether you believe me or not.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t think destiny includes kissing one brother and then the other.”
“How many ways can I say that was a mistake?”
He bends, scrubbing his face with a hand. “I think you have more feelings for Theo than you’re admitting.”
His vulnerability here makes me ache. “Andrew, I know you’re having a hard time believing this, and I realize that what I’m telling you doesn’t help my case here, but no. There’s nothing there for me. I think I got another chance to make it right. And maybe also to save the cabin.”
He laughs, but it isn’t an Andrew laugh I’ve ever heard before. It’s a hollow husk of a laugh. “You need to get over your savior thing with the cabin.”
Ouch. I try to string together a few words in response, but my brain has gone blank with hurt.
“This is so weird,” he says, mostly to himself, and then he pushes out of the sleeping bag and walks back along our trail of clothes, picking them up as he goes. Gently, he places mine in a pile in front of me, and starts pulling on his boxers, his pants, his shirt, sweater, socks.
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he says quietly. “You should probably head back up to the house.”
And . . . that’s it.
I get dressed in mortified silence. I want Andrew to watch like he did last night, with his hands tucked behind his head and a sleepy, satisfied smile on his face. But he turns his back to me, bent over his phone. When I move wordlessly to the door, he follows, walking me back to the house. I’m not surprised, though I’m heartbroken. Andrew knows I’m afraid of the dark and even when he’s mad at me—even when I’m pretty sure we just ended things—he’s still the best man I’ve ever known.
Another sleepless night.
I vacillate wildly, staring up at Theo’s bunk in the darkness with an odd mixture of mortification and anger. My gut says I shouldn’t have told Andrew what happened with Theo, but my gut has always been an idiot. This is the kind of thing I’d have to share with him eventually, right? Isn’t that what people do when they care about each other? They share their flaws and mistakes just as readily as they share their strengths?
But how did I expect him to react? Did I expect him to laugh it off? To believe me blindly and chalk it up to a giant cosmic mistake? I close my eyes . . . I sort of hoped he would. I wanted Andrew to find it as ridiculous as I do now. At the very least I wanted him to commiserate. At this point I can’t even fathom what led me to hope for that.
Theo didn’t come downstairs until late. I listened as he slipped down the stairs in the dark, shucked off his jeans, and climbed into the top bunk. It took me five minutes to gather up the courage to say his name, but he was already asleep. Or at least he pretended to be. Not that I can say anything, really, considering I slipped into the house myself last night and went straight to bed to avoid having to talk to anyone.
By the time I’ve replayed everything for the hundredth time, my thoughts have reached a fever pitch. I suspect Andrew isn’t faring any better out in the Boathouse.
Nauseated, I throw the covers back, grab my phone, and head upstairs. It’s one thirty in the morning.
The kitchen floor is ice beneath my bare feet. The hallway seems almost sinister in the blackness. I’m drawn by the quiet crackle of the remaining embers in the fireplace in the living room. They struggle to sustain themselves, flickering and glowing beneath a mountain of sooty black wood. I can’t build a fresh fire without risking waking the eternal light sleeper Ricky, and not even a chat with Benny would help me right now. I grab a collection of throw blankets from the couches and chairs and build a makeshift bed in front of the hearth.
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I’ve barely thought about it. Because a few of us spend Christmas morning at church, tomorrow we’ll eat a huge meal and open our gifts, and what is usually my favorite day all year is going to be awkward as hell. Andrew is mad at me. Theo is mad at Andrew and me. No doubt everyone knows about Andrew and me, but it will be immediately apparent that something has gone terribly awry.
Universe, I wonder, how am I any better off than I was the day we drove away from the cabin?
So even though I think scotch tastes like fiery butthole, I pour some into a tumbler and toast it to the dying embers before tilting it to my lips and downing it in one go.
I need sleep, and more than that, I need to escape my own head.
• • •
I’m awake with a sore back and droopy heart just when the sun starts to peek over the lip of the mountain. With a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I shuffle into the kitchen, brew a pot of coffee, and sit and wait for the inevitable: an awkward morning with the father of two people I’ve kissed.
Ricky shuffles in. “Maelyn,” he says quietly. “You and me are two peas in a pod.”
But then he doesn’t finish.
He pours coffee, sits with a groan, and closes his eyes for a few deep breaths. “You okay, hon?”
He nods, taking a sip. “You and Andrew okay?”
He nods again, studies the tabletop. “You and Theo okay?” When I don’t respond, he says, “Let me guess. ‘Not really.’”
I lean my head on my folded arms and whimper. “I messed everything up. Today is going to be so weird.”
“You didn’t mess everything up.” He sets his mug down. “And even if you did, you’re in the middle of a group of people who were experts at messing things up long before you came around.”
I look up at him. “What are you talking about? You and Lisa have been together forever. Mom and Dad were married for twenty-four years.”
“Sure, that’s how it looks to you kids.” He catches himself. “Guess you aren’t really kids anymore, are you?”
This makes me laugh, just a little. “No.”
He sniffs, scratching his jaw. “Well, the good has stretched out a long way past the bad, but everyone makes mistakes in their twenties. Hell, even in their thirties.” He pauses and meets my eyes across the table. “And maybe their forties and fifties, too.”
“I’ll be honest, the idea of you ever being emotionally messy is . . . like, it does not compute.”
Ricky laughs at this. “You know your mom and Lisa were roommates. Your dad, Benny, Aaron, and I all lived on the same floor our freshman year, in the dorm. We were immediately close, spent all our free time together,” he says, and I knew that part already, but what he says next blows my mind: “Lisa and Benny were an item for a few weeks before she and I started dating. If I remember right, I think she and I started up before they really ended things.”
I pull my eyebrows back onto my forehead. “I’m sorry, what?”
He nods. “You think that wasn’t messy?”
There is so much here that requires mental realignment, the only thing I can think to say is “Benny had a girlfriend? And she was Lisa?”
Ricky laughs. “He did.”
“But—you guys are still so close.”
He stares at me in tender wonder. “Of course we are, honey. That was thirty-plus years ago. When the friendship is worth it, people work through things. Like with your parents. We’ve survived that because of how much we truly value each other’s friendships.”
“So what happened?” I ask. “Back in college?”
He sips his coffee as he thinks. “The specifics are pretty fuzzy, but if I remember right, Benny was more upset that we weren’t honest about it than anything else. It was a month or two, maybe, of him hanging out with some other friends, but he came back around. We were meant to be family.”
The timing is perfect—or maybe it’s terrible. The back door creaks open, boots stomp in the mudroom, and then Andrew steps into the kitchen.
“Mornin’, Drew.” Ricky brings his mug to his lips and winks at me. I’d smile back, but keeping my face from crumpling is currently requiring all my focus.
Andrew pours a cup of coffee and looks like he’s going to turn back and return to the Boathouse. But his father stops him.
“Come sit with us.”
I close my eyes and try to pretend I’m invisible.
Andrew looks over his shoulder, giving a warning “Dad.”
“Well, at least say ‘Good morning.’ ”
“Good morning.” With a flicker of pain in his eyes that I know is a conflicted blend of guilt and anger, Andrew ducks back outside.
Ricky rumbles a sigh into his coffee. “It’ll be okay. Things always look worse from the inside.”
• • •
No matter how much I want Ricky to be right—that I haven’t ruined everything, that it will all be okay—I can’t see how we get there from here. Theo absorbs himself in video game talk with Miles over breakfast so he doesn’t have to speak to me. Mom tries to catch my eye whenever she passes me a plate, which means she’s constantly trying to hand me food and unfortunately, there’s no room inside my stomach with this ball of regret in the way. I can only wonder what Dad or Benny said to her because strangely, she doesn’t push. When Andrew finally comes in—long after breakfast—it isn’t just awkward as hell, it’s painful. He passes straight through the kitchen, mutters something to Lisa in the hallway, walks out of the house, and climbs into his 4Runner.
For several loaded seconds, those of us in the kitchen— Mom, Aaron, Kyle, Benny, Dad, and me—fall into a perceptive hush. The only sound is Andrew’s truck roaring to life and pulling out down the gravel driveway. Once he’s clearly gone, we return to whatever we were doing before—namely ignoring the giant elephant in the room—but the mood has definitely dropped.