“Do you mind if we skip the whole download?” I say. “I’m realizing that, in this particular situation, I should probably just move forward.”
He pulls back and lifts his chin, studying me sweetly. “Okay. I’ll let it go. But if you change your mind, you know I’m always here to give you bad advice.”
I laugh. “Thanks.”
After a long beat of contemplative silence, he asks, “So you were really into my brother all this time?”
I nod. “Since you and I were thirteen.”
He whistles, low and sympathetic. “That’s a long time, Mae. Holy shit.”
“Is it weird to admit to you that I don’t know what it would feel like to not be infatuated with Andrew?”
“It’s not weird at all,” he says. “I mean, it’s cool you’re talking about it with me, you know?”
“Did I mess things up with you two?”
This makes me laugh. “Fear not. I did that entirely on my own.”
“Do you think you can fix it?”
I chew my lip. “I’m going to give it a try.”
Theo rises from his knees to sit in the chair beside mine. “I don’t really know what happened with you two, but Andrew is super private. So the fact that he was immediately so up front about what was going on was pretty crazy.” He runs his thumbnail along a scratch in the table. “I think that’s what I was probably reacting to yesterday. The familiarity. It made me think you guys had been a thing for a long time.”
I let out a dry laugh. “Nope.”
“He was acting settled, you know? So, take that for what it’s worth, but I think if you really have feelings for him, it’s worth fighting a little longer before you give up.”
I look at the time on my phone and realize that if I’m going to grand-gesture this thing, I’d better get started.
“It would be easier to cut off my own arm than get over your brother, so I’m not giving up.” I stand, and then bend to kiss his cheek. “I’ve got some plans up my sleeve. Wish me luck.”
In the first version of this holiday, Andrew wasn’t out in the Boathouse alone at all on Christmas Day. Around this time—almost five in the evening—he was in the kitchen with Zachary and Kennedy, hanging metallic garlands and tissue paper holly, singing Christmas carols in Muppet voice, and making the twins giggle hysterically.
But this time, the kitchen is quiet. Presents are unwrapped and the discarded paper has been stuffed into the recycling bin. There’s no garland on display, no tiny scissors on the table or paper scraps littering the floor. We’ll eat leftovers in about an hour, but for now everyone is using the downtime to nap, read, or sip a cocktail by the fireplace, savoring the last of our time together. Except for me: in Benny’s attic, I get to work.
And then, with my heart in my throat, I take the package Mom helped me complete, and tromp through the fresh snow out to Andrew’s little Fortress of Solitude.
He doesn’t answer when I knock, so I stand uselessly outside for about two minutes—debating with myself what to do, panicking because he’s ignoring me, letting my hysteria rise to a boiling point—before figuring out that maybe I just need to knock louder.
“Come in,” he calls this time. “It’s open.”
I push open the door and step inside.
Andrew’s duffel bag is packed, and the sleeping bags are rolled up and leaning against the far wall. He sits on the bare cot, one leg bent and tucked beneath the other, strumming his guitar.
I’d planned to start with my little prepared speech, but the view of his packed bag throws me. I’m not sure he was even planning to say goodbye. “You’re driving back to Denver tonight?”
“I am, yeah.” He looks up and tries to smile. Even with all the strain between us he doesn’t have it in him to be unkind. “After dinner.”
I flounder, unable to think of a suitable follow-up. “Did you hear about Benny and the cabin?” I inwardly wince, remembering what he said about my savior complex with this place.
“Dad mentioned it to me late last night.” His voice is uncharacteristically quiet. “Good news.”
“Yeah.” I’m sinking in quicksand; I have no idea where to go from here.
“I brought you a present,” I say, and he frowns in surprise, watching me cross the room.
“Mae, you don’t have to give me anything.”
“It’s not a Christmas gift,” I explain, and decide to push onward into my prepared speech. “Look, Andrew, I know you’re mad at m—”
“I’m not mad at you,” he says gently. “I’m mad at myself.” He shakes his head, strumming absently as he thinks. “I don’t usually dive into things so immediately, and I’ve just confirmed for myself why.”
I can’t help asking, “Why?”
He looks at me, eyes pained like he knows what he’s going to say is going to hurt. “Because I can spend my whole life getting to know someone and still be wrong about her.”
Wow. That one hits like a punch. But he’s wrong: we’ve spent our lives getting to know each other, sure, but I was more myself with him than I’d ever been before.
“You weren’t wrong about me.” I take another step into the room but stop with about ten feet between us. “I mean, maybe we hit a speed bump right out of the gate, but you weren’t wrong about me. And it was good, Andrew. If it hadn’t been so good, you wouldn’t be so upset right now.”
He holds my gaze for another long moment, and then blinks down, returning to his quiet strumming.
“A few years ago,” I say, “I asked my mom what it was like when she first met my dad, and she basically said that they met in their dorm, and started dating, and from that point on, just fell into this routine of being together.”
He doesn’t reply, but he’s listening, I know. Even though he’s playing his guitar, he’s completely here with me.
“I asked her, ‘You just knew?’ and instead of explaining how it felt like fate or anything remotely romantic, she said, ‘I guess? He was nice and was the first person who encouraged me to paint.’ I know they’re divorced and it’s probably different to look back on it now, but she was talking to me— the product of this marriage—and there was no mention of falling in love or how she couldn’t imagine herself with anyone else. They just happened.”
I wait for him to react to this, but he doesn’t. In the silence, the words to the song he’s absently playing hit me like a warm burst of air.
Don’t know much about history . . .
And if this one could be with you . . .
His movements are so absentminded, I can’t tell if he registers what he’s playing.
“I mean, obviously,” I continue, “that was incredibly unsatisfying.” A pause. “As much as none of us want to imagine our parents actually hooking up, we want to think there was at least some fire or passion or something fated.”
“Yeah.” He clears his throat and fidgets with the tuning pegs some more.
“I know this—us—has gone up in flames,” I say, “but even so, I can’t help but feel like there was a good story there. I’ve wanted this for so long, and you had no idea, and then when you found out, it was like . . . it clicked something on in you.” I pause, searching for the right words. “What happened between us was really romantic.”
He falters, but after a beat, he adjusts his fingers on the frets and continues.
“And it wasn’t just romantic in theory; it was romantic in reality. Every second with you was perfect.” I shift on my feet. “Picking out our tree, snowflakes in your hair, sledding, the closet—our night here. I got those moments because of a wish I made. A wish! Who actually believes wishes come true? The world is a totally different place than I ever thought it was—I mean, there’s actual magic happening— but that’s not even the hardest thing for me to believe. The most unbelievable part of all of this is that I got to be with you. My dream person.”
Andrew tilts his head back to lean against the wall, eyes closed, and sets his guitar on the cot beside him. He looks tired, and takes a long, deep breath. I can tell he’s not tuning me out. He’s also not just passively hearing me, he’s absorbing every word. It gives me the confidence to push on.
“And even though I wished for it, I worked for it, too. I could have never said a word to you about what was happening to me, or how I’d messed up with Theo.” I hold my chin up. “But I’m proud of myself for telling you. Do I wish I’d explained it better? Sure. But I told you the truth because I wanted to start whatever we have by being honest.
“I was honest about my feelings,” I say. “I was honest about my mistakes. I was honest in my best and worst moments this week.” I take a steadying breath because I’m starting to get choked up. “And if there’s one thing that we did perfectly, it was talking and being transparent and honest with each other right from the start. Right away, we talked. I can’t think of anyone else in the world I’ve ever felt that comfortable with.”
This gets to him, I can tell. His jaw clenches; his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows.
“There’s something so intimate about sharing things out loud you could never say to another person,” I say. “Letting someone really see you—minus the filters. So, I’m sorry that this whole situation is such a bummer, and I’m sorry if the intensity of my feelings for you made you move faster than maybe you would have otherwise. But I’ve loved you since I knew what love was, and I can’t undo that. I would never wish to take that away. Loving you is all the proof I needed that love can last decades. Maybe even a lifetime, who knows.” Clearing my throat, I add without thinking, “But let’s hope I get over you, because otherwise that would suck for both of us and your future wife.”