I blinked, shaken by the sudden swing in conversation. “What? No.”
“Not home? Not somewhere with your family?”
“Why don’t you come home to Eakins with me?”
He breathed out a laugh, frustrated. “It’s going to be tough. It’ll probably be awkward. But no matter how hard it is, it’ll be easier than you being alone—and easier on me than worrying that you’re alone on Thanksgiving.”
I considered his offer. “I feel like this is a crossroads.”
He grinned, holding out his hand. “So cross with me.”
“What’s wrong?” Tyler asked, nudging my knee with his.
I shook my head, staring at the back of the driver’s head. Travis’s window was cracked while he smoked and chatted with his wife, neither of them thinking to adjust the heat while the frigid air filled the car.
Travis was too big for the tiny silver Toyota Camry he was driving, smiling far too often at his wife. They were holding hands, chatting about their break from their sophomore year of college, and how this Thanksgiving would be better than the year before.
She lifted their hands and slammed them down on the console, feigning insult. “Really? You had to bring that up.”
He grinned, smug. “If it gets me some sympathy points, baby, you’re damn right I’m bringing it up.”
She made a show of settling back into her seat, failing miserably at pretending to be angry. “No points for you. Be nice or I won’t marry you again.”
He lifted her hand and kissed her fingers, staring at her as if she were the most beautiful star in his universe. “Yeah, you will.”
The two of them were engulfed in their own world, barely noticing Tyler or me, even though Travis had nearly tackled us at the terminal. He and his wife, Abby, had picked us up from the airport in Chicago, and I was freezing in the backseat, dodging the occasional flicked cigarette ash. The handholding and incessant happiness was making me slightly nauseated, and I was beginning to regret agreeing to come.
“Hey,” Tyler said, gently patting my knee. “It’s going to be great.”
Travis rolled up his window, and then turned up the heat.
I fantasized about flicking the back of his ear and blaming it on Tyler.
“Are you nervous?” Abby asked, turning around to face me. She looked me directly in the eye, beautiful and confident. Her caramel hair was long and effortlessly beautiful, her gray eyes so intense anyone else would have squirmed under her stare. I wondered if it was because her husband was the most intimidating person I’d ever met, or that she had her own badassery to offer.
“I was a little nervous at my first Maddox Thanksgiving.”
Tyler punched the back of her seat. “That’s because you were pretending to still be with Travis.”
“Hey!” Travis said, reaching back to swat at his brother.
“Quit! Stop! Now!” Abby commanded. She reminded me of me at the barracks with twenty misbehaving boys.
“Oh, you weren’t together last year?” I asked. “I thought you were married this past March.”
“We were,” Travis said, a ridiculous grin on his face.
Abby smirked, inviting me to judge them. “We got in a huge fight—a lot of huge fights, actually—broke up, and then eloped to Vegas. We’re renewing our vows in St. Thomas in March on our anniversary.”
“Ellie’s coming to that, too,” Tyler said. “She’s my plus one.”
“We talked about it,” I said quickly. “I don’t think I’ve RSVP’d just yet.”
“Is that a camera?” Abby asked, looking down at the bag in my lap.
“So are you a professional photographer, or is that just to capture the Maddox family Thanksgiving shenanigans?”
“She’s the photographer for the magazine in Estes Park. She follows the local hotshots around—did a whole write-up.”
“I’d like to see your work,” Abby said. “We need a photographer for the wedding. What do you charge?”
“Now you have to come,” Abby said.
Abby narrowed her eyes at her brother-in-law. “How did you two meet?”
“So you live in Estes Park?” she asked.
“Abby, for fuck’s sake. What’s with the third degree?” Tyler asked.
“I’m just making conversation,” Abby said with a relaxed smile. She was very good at something. I just wasn’t sure what.
I lifted my chin. “My parents have a house there. I lived there until recently. Now I work at the magazine and have an apartment in Estes Park.”
“How did you end up at her parents’ house for a party, Tyler? Are they clients of yours?” Abby asked.
“Nope,” Tyler said, staring out the window.
“Okay, Pidge,” Travis said, amused. “Enough detective work for one day.”
“Is that what you do?” I asked. “Are you a cop?”
Everyone laughed but me.
I arched an eyebrow. “Maybe you should look into that.”
Abby seemed pleased. “Did you hear that, Trav? I should be a cop.”
He kissed her hand again. “I don’t think I could handle that.”
“Me either,” Tyler said. He leaned over and whispered in my ear. “He gets a little crazy when it comes to her.”
“I know someone like that,” I said.
Tyler mulled over my words, and then smiled, clearly taking it as a compliment.
We pulled into the drive of a small house with a detached garage and a hideous red Dodge Intrepid in the drive. A round, older gentleman stepped outside with another muscled brother, the same buzz cut and inked arms as Travis and the twins.
When Travis parked the car, Tyler hopped out and knocked on the trunk until Travis popped it open. He dug out our backpacks and slung them over his shoulder.
I smiled, still unsure if she planned to be friend or foe.
“Come in, come in,” Mr. Maddox called to us.
Tyler bear-hugged his father and punched Trent in the arm before hugging him, too.
“Trent,” he said, shaking my hand.
“We’re so glad you decided to come,” Mr. Maddox said.
“I appreciate you having me, Mr. Maddox.”
He chuckled, flattening his palm over his belly like a pregnant woman fawning over her ripe baby bump. “It’s just Jim, kiddo. Come in out of the cold! We’ve had a mean cold snap this week.”