“Wow, thank you.”
His smile straightens. “You bolted out of the Boathouse so fast, I didn’t get a chance to say anything.”
“I felt like you needed space.”
“I wish I could come up with the words faster,” he admits. “I’m just not built that way.”
“But if you came up with words faster,” I say, “then you wouldn’t be able to grand-gesture in your favorite kind of space: a closet.”
“With your favorite thing: terrible candy.”
“Don’t be coy, Andrew Polley Hollis, you know you’re my favorite thing.”
His playful smile dissolves and his expression goes slack in relief as we drop the game. Andrew cups my face and plants a lingering kiss on my mouth. It deepens, and he pulls me closer, exhaling a quiet moan when his tongue touches mine. “Can I say it now?” he asks, pulling back a few inches.
“That I love you?”
My ears pop subtly, like a door has closed, sealing out the wind. Andrew’s attention fixes on my cheek-splitting smile. “I love you, too.”
He twirls a strand of my hair around his finger. “And you don’t have to be back in California tomorrow?”
“I do not. I’m on a collision course with adventure and ready for anything.”
“This is good news.”
“Yeah, no kidding. The last thing I want to do is get on a plane.”
He laughs. “I just so happen to have a truck, and Denver is only eight hours away. Maybe we could take a little road trip.”
I stretch to meet him just as he bends to kiss me, and the relief is so powerful it feels like a rave in my bloodstream. Step one in taking charge of my adult life: I’m sleeping in the Boathouse with Andrew tonight. And every night, if I have my way. Electricity? Running water? Overrated.
He hums in happiness, slowly pulling away after a string of kisses that feel like sugared raindrops. It takes him a beat to open his eyes, and I swear, with that small sign that he’s in deep, too, I fall in love with him all over again.
“Guess I’m glad we got our first fight out of the way.”
I pull back in alarm. “That was our first fight?”
He looks similarly taken aback. “Did you think it was the end?”
“Uh, yeah? You basically said you didn’t know me at all.” I laugh incredulously, watching his eyes fill with a smile that slowly breaks and takes over his entire face. “What? Why are you laughing at me?”
“Because you’re right, I guess, but you gave up pretty easily after thirteen years.”
I shove him playfully, but he can’t go very far. “What was I supposed to think?”
“You’ve known me for twenty-six years! One day is a drop in the bucket.”
“We were only together for thirty-six hours! A day is, like, two-thirds of our romance.”
He laughs delightedly at this, and then the moment stills, and Andrew watches me with amused fondness. I start to fidget, defensiveness crawling up my neck.
“My parents don’t fight,” I remind him. “They nag, and are passive-aggressive, and after the one big fight they had, Dad moved out.”
“Okay, well, you’re going to learn how to manage conflict because smart people like us in relationships don’t agree with each other all the time. It’s science.”
“Is that what this is?” I ask, grinning. “A relationship?”
He is a meltingly sweet combination of amused and nervous. “I hope so?”
“Thirteen-to-twenty-six-year-old Mae is doing the Running Man in here right now.” I tap my temple.
His answering laugh slowly straightens. “So . . . are we . . . ?”
“That depends.” Pushing the words out feels like swallowing glass because it’s the real moment of truth. “Do you believe me?”
“About the wish?”
It’s been at once the most clarifying and bewildering experience of my lifetime, and as much as I love him, I’m not sure how I’d move forward with Andrew if he thought it was all a dream. “Yeah.”
“Of course I believe you.”
The tension in my shoulders crumples like wax paper. “And . . . you’re okay with . . . all of it?”
“Let me ask you this,” Andrew counters. “In this version of your Christmas, did your dad break a tooth on a cookie bar?”
“He sure did not.”
“And did Kennedy skin her knee?”
I see where he’s going with this, and grin. “Nope.”
“See? You knew about the sleeping bags in storage. You reassured Dad about the gin. You somehow got Benny to buy the cabin. And if I’d listened to you about Miso, I would still have my favorite terrible holiday sweater, wouldn’t I?”
“That’ll teach you to listen to your time-traveling . . .” My smile breaks, and I flounder as the rest of my sentence hangs like a ribbon in the wind.
Andrew’s eyes narrow with a knowing smirk. “My time-traveling what?”
And here, for just a breath, my confidence falters. With my hope buoyant enough to lift the cabin off its foundation, wouldn’t it just be perfect if the universe pulled the chair out from under me one last time?
But this time, I’m not going anywhere. “Your timetraveling girlfriend.”
Andrew’s smile lights up the inside of the closet. “Finally, Maisie. I thought you’d never ask.”
SIX MONTHS LATER
“Oi,” Benny calls from the porch. “I could spot you a mile away.”
I don’t have to ask which of us he’s talking to. It definitely isn’t me, in a muted heather-gray tank top and faded cutoffs.
“Oh, yeah?” Andrew runs his hands down his obnoxious sweater. “Are you saying I wear it well?”
“You’re not sweltering?” Benny asks, and it’s so hot out, I swear I can see his voice cut through the wavy air.
Andrew shakes his head. “Perfectly comfortable.”
I glance at my boyfriend and witness the fine droplets of sweat pebbling on his brow in the ninety-degree heat. He’s still an adorable liar. I wouldn’t even hold his hand on our walk down the driveway, it’s too clammy. We all know he’ll sacrifice great personal comfort to make a point, and he’s decided his “thing” at the cabin is festive sweaters. Any holiday is worthy. His cornflower-blue, cherry-red, and pristine-white number is a loving ode to our founding fathers, I guess. I give him until lunch before he rips it off.
“Happy Fourth!” he calls out.
“Happy Fourth. Get up here.” Benny waves us on.
Gravel crunches under my sneakers as I jog toward the front steps and my favorite uncle. Our car is down on the main road, parked out of the way of the construction vehicles currently cluttering the driveway to the cabin—or The Hollow, as Benny has named it. I can already see the work that’s been put in; it’s astounding. The porch is new. The entire cabin has been repainted; it’s the same shade of brown with green shutters, but it’s impressive what a power wash and fresh coat of paint can do to a place. All of the windows have been replaced, the eaves rebuilt. New roof, new landscaping, and a screened-in side porch are underway on the western side of the house, facing the mountain. I’m dying to see what it looks like inside.
Benny’s hug engulfs me, and I surprise myself by immediately tearing up. He smells like his regular herby shampoo, but he also smells like pine and aspen, like soil and wood varnish. His rumbling laugh vibrates through me and the feeling of being back here with Andrew, for the first time since the holidays, is a lot like climbing into a bubble bath overlooking the ocean at sunset. It is heaven.
Benny pulls back, holding me at arm’s length to inspect me. “Looking good, Noodle.”
I’m sure he’s right—happiness does put a glow in our complexion and a bounce in our step—but Benny’s one to talk. He’s tanned, and his hair is sun-bleached and dusty from what I can only assume is constant work on this house. His smile crinkles in a new way at the corners of his eyes, and I can see in an instant that he isn’t just content here, he’s out-of-his-mind happy.
Andrew gets his hug next, a back-slapping man-clasp, and when my eyes get their fill of the new porch, and their small talk and greetings make me impatient, bouncing on my feet, Benny finally leads us inside.
I am awestruck. The banister is the same as the one we grew up with, but refurbished, gleaming honeyed brown in the afternoon sun streaming in the front door. The stairs have been refinished, as have all of the floors downstairs. Benny has kept much of the old furniture, but polished, treated, and cleaned it all so that it is both bright and cozy inside. With the fresh coat of indoor paint, the space seems so much lighter.
“I can’t believe you’ve done all this in six months,” Andrew says, turning in a slow circle. “It hasn’t looked this good since . . . well, probably before I was born, actually.”
“Just wait.” Benny leads us to the kitchen, where new flooring shines bright in the afternoon sunshine and stainless steel appliances have replaced all of the originals. The fridge is a behemoth with so much technology on the doors I suspect it could do Miles’s calculus homework. Mom, Aaron, and Kyle are going to start their own cooking show in here when they see it. A new wood-slab kitchen table sits in the middle of the broad space, with seating for sixteen.
Benny has turned the never-used dining room into a sitting room with impressive built-in bookshelves stuffed with books. The basement has been finished and fresh drywall has segmented it into four separate rooms: a broad family room at the bottom of the stairs, where Benny tells us he’ll put a pool table, Ping-Pong table, and pinball machine, and three bedrooms opening off the main room, with a shared bathroom toward the back of the house.
“No more bunk beds,” Andrew says with glee.
“Donated them to a family down the road, that stone house on Mountain Crest.” Benny reaches for a stray screwdriver on the shelf. “Both of their daughters are having twins. How wild is that?”