Andrew catches my wide-eyed gaze; his is sparkling. He knows, as I do, exactly which house Benny is talking about. He knows I walked down along that road and to that house while he was out getting candy to profess his love for me in a closet. The universe sure works in mysterious ways.
Benny scans the room, nodding to himself. “Now we’ve got plenty of room for everyone, and some to grow.”
The bedrooms upstairs are largely the same, except for the attic, which is being renovated into Benny’s master bedroom. It isn’t done—it’s still a cluttered construction zone— but I can see the bones of it in the mess. The stained-glass window is still there. The sharply sloping ceilings won’t change. In fact, it looks much like it always has, just better.
A voice calls for Benny from downstairs, leaving Andrew and me to wander alone. The furniture in his old room is all here, and eucalyptus lingers in the bedding, the walls, the clothing in the dresser. I run a finger along the nightstand just as a pair of arms wraps around my waist from behind, pulling me—giggling—into the closet. The door seals behind us, and Andrew turns into Mr. Grabby Hands, half tickling, half groping.
“I truly believe you have some sort of closet kink.”
He hums into my neck. “To think of all the years we wasted not doing this.”
I squeal, playfully batting him away, and he reaches for me, pulling me into a hug.
“Come here,” Mandrew says, and buries his face in my neck. He groans his you feel good groan, asking, “How does it feel to be back?”
“Amazing.” I wrap my arms around his shoulders, digging my fingers into his hair. “And weird. But good weird.”
“Christopher Walken weird.”
“Exactly.” I pull back, kissing his chin. “Where do you want to sleep this weekend?”
“Probably in here,” he guesses, shrugging. “The beds downstairs are all singles, and the Boathouse will be too hot.”
Honestly, I’m not sure how it’ll feel to go out there. Nostalgic, of course, but maybe also bittersweet? I know Benny has big plans for it, but as far as I know, work on it hasn’t started yet. I’d be fine sleeping out there the way it was, for old times’ sake, but it’s un-air-conditioned. Andrew’s right, in the peak of summer it’s unlikely to be very comfortable.
“Have you ever had a girl sleep with you in here?”
“Once,” Andrew says, stepping back and cupping my face, smooshing my cheeks. “Liz.” One of Andrew’s longer-term girlfriends from several years ago. We met her and her new husband for drinks a couple of months back and she was a riot. “But we didn’t fool around.”
I laugh at this nonsense. I can’t imagine being in a bed with Andrew Hollis and not getting him naked. “You liar.”
“No, I’m being serious,” he says. “Mom and Dad were, like, five feet away. I was way too self-conscious to get the job done.”
“Well, your parents won’t be here this time,” I remind him. “And Benny’s things were in one of the finished rooms downstairs so . . . game on.”
Andrew growls, pressing his face to my neck again.
This weekend is just us and Benny; everyone else had conflicts. Mom and Dad are getting Miles moved into UCLA, where he’s already started soccer practice. Kyle has chorus-line rehearsals for what everyone is hoping will be the new Broadway sensation. Theo is in the midst of building his own house near Ogden Canyon, an hour and a half away, and Ricky and Lisa decided to take a summer cruise from Seattle to Alaska. But Andrew and I could easily make the drive from our place in Denver. We both have the long weekend off and have been dying to see what Benny’s done with the place.
There’s a soft knock, and Andrew and I share a we’re busted grimace before he opens the door, letting in a bright slice of light and a view of Benny’s amused face.
Benny laughs. “I figured you two would be in here.”
“Because, Bentley,” I whisper, “this closet is our sacred space.”
“I promise not to change it.” He lifts his chin. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
We follow him downstairs, and I try to puzzle out what’s next. I already feel overwhelmed with the perfect blend of new and old that he’s managed. What haven’t we seen? The backyard? A cool feature of the new front porch? Andrew shrugs when I give him a questioning look, wiping his palms on the front of his thighs. He looks flushed, and I wonder if there’s a part of him that struggles to see how much this house has changed. For the better, but still.
We turn at the bottom of the stairs, heading down the hall to the kitchen, through the mudroom, and out the back door.
The backyard hasn’t changed, but I pull up short anyway. Andrew keeps walking, but I can’t follow him, can’t make my feet work because the structure I’m seeing only barely resembles the Boathouse that I grew up with. What’s in front of me is a beautiful, rustic retreat. It is a little log cabin, with a giant window still facing the mountain. It has a chimney, it has steps, it has a tiny porch with two bright yellow Adirondack chairs and a small table.
I don’t realize I’m crying until Andrew turns back and reaches for my hand, laughing at me with love in his smile, wiping my face with his free hand. “Come on.”
“Did you know?” I ask him.
He doesn’t answer, only tugs me forward and inside. It’s still one room—well, except for the new bathroom—but there’s a four-poster bed in the back corner, a love seat and comfy chair toward the front, framed around a coffee table atop a gorgeous rug. The fireplace is obviously not in use, but the new A/C unit whirs valiantly, keeping the air inside breezy and comfortable.
My eye is drawn to all of the framed photos decorating the walls; there are at least twenty of them, some small, others at least eight-by-ten, and we’re all together in various combinations: Me and Dad on a sled. Andrew, Ricky, Theo, and Lisa on the porch of the main cabin. Benny and Mom holding cocktails and toasting the photographer. Miles and the twins playing checkers on the floor in the living room. Kyle holding five-year-old me upside down near a snowman. Aaron and Mom wearing aprons and cooking. Benny with teenage me, Theo, and Andrew in the summer, hiking Iron Canyon Trail.
“These are unreal.” I turn to see how Andrew is absorbing all of this, but he’s not standing to my right anymore, he’s—
Do I have the slowest brain in all of the universe? Maybe. But it’s a full five seconds or so before I can put letters together into a word, and the word is only: “Oh.”
“Maisie,” he says, and opens his palm to reveal a gold ring with a perfect oval sapphire. He stares at me for several silent seconds, overcome.
“We’ve had our share of adventure these past six months,” he continues, voice hoarse. “Your move to Denver, your new job, our new apartment. There’s nothing I love more than making dinner with you, talking about our day, dreaming up what we’re going to do next.” He swallows, eyes focused on my face. “I haven’t spent a night without you since we were here last. I don’t know how we managed that, except that we’ve made this relationship our priority. You are my priority, Mae. I am so in love with you. It feels impossible to imagine belonging to anyone else. Please,” he says, quieter now, “will you marry me?”
• • •
Only a fool would do anything other than shout YES and— once it’s been confirmed that Benny has left us to ourselves out here—pounce on this man. Andrew spends approximately ten seconds half-heartedly trying to convince me that we should go tell Benny the good news before he gives up and lets me push him toward the bed and rip his horrible sweater from his body.
I’ll never get tired of the smooth heat of his torso, the way his hands roam hungrily over me like he wants to touch everything at once, the way he digs his fingers into my hair when I kiss down his body. His abdomen tenses beneath my hand, hips arching, and then pulls me up and under him, taking his time, pressing his sharp exhales and playfully dirty words into my ear.
We’ve gotten good at this—we practice diligently—but I’m still surprised at the depth of emotion that rocks me whenever I sense that he’s close, when I feel him start to grow tense and a little wild. He teases me about the way I watch him, but I think he secretly loves it because I swear watching his eyes drift closed right at the second he falls is the hottest thing that I’ve ever witnessed.
I don’t let him get up, not yet. I hold my arm out in front of us and we stare up at the ring on my finger, laughing at how foreign the words husband and wife sound in our voices.
Where are we going to do it? I wonder. Andrew looks at me like I’m thick. Here, of course.
We populate the small wedding party with our chosen family. We decide Tahiti is a good honeymoon spot. Dog before kids.
Sweet kisses turn slow, and then deeper, and then I’m over him and he’s watching with adoring focus, playing with the ends of my hair, skipping fingertips over my curves, guiding my hips until he’s sweaty and urgent beneath me.
I collapse on the bed beside him. The sheets are soft, smooth cotton, cool against my back, and Andrew coughs out a sharp, satisfied laugh. “How do you expect me to walk after that?”
“I hope Benny meant for us to sleep out here,” I say, slowly catching my breath.
• • •
But we’ll need water and food, and we’ve still got several hours before sleep.
He looks at me and laughs. “Do you want to pull a brush through your hair?”
A glance in the bathroom mirror tells me my hair is a wild tangle, my lips are swollen and kiss-bruised. My smile is love-drunk and lopsided. I do the best I can with my fingers to fix the hair situation before giving up.
“My stuff is in the car,” I say. “Benny doesn’t care what my hair looks like.”
It’s only when we walk into the kitchen to the cacophonous “SURPRISE!” yelled by seven excited voices that I get why Andrew wanted us to go inside and tell Benny, why he suggested I brush my hair, and why he’s beet red and doubled over in laughter now. Ricky and Lisa are not on a cruise. Theo is not down in Ogden working on his new house, and although Kyle is still in Manhattan, Aaron and the twins are not. I’m not sure when they got here, or how long they’ve been waiting for us to come back inside so they can congratulate us on our engagement.