Ignoring this, she continued, “You were in London for a week and didn’t do anything but work. Last time you spent a weekend in Vegas and didn’t even see the Strip. You’re wearing a cashmere sweater, Jensen, when you should be in a tight T-shirt showing off your muscles.”
I stared at her blankly. I couldn’t decide which of these was worse: that my sister was saying this, or that she was saying it at a three-year-old’s birthday party.
“Okay, gross, you’re right.” She shivered dramatically. “Let’s strike what I just said from the record.”
“Make your point, Ziggs. This is getting tedious.”
She sighed. “You’re not an old man. Why do you insist on acting like one?”
“Just do something fun with us. Let loose, get drunk, maybe find a nice girl and get your freak on—”
“Okay, strike that last part,” she said. “Again.”
“I’m not crashing their anniversary trip and being the third . . .” I did the math. “Fifth wheel. That’s not going to add any sort of boost to my social life.”
“You wouldn’t be any wheel. You heard them, they have another friend coming along,” she said. “Come on, Jens. It’s a group of good people. It could be so much fun.”
I laughed. Fun. I hated to admit it, but my sister had a point. I’d come straight home from a solid, nonstop workweek in London—with many, many consecutive nonstop workweeks before that—with every intention of heading back into work on Monday. I hadn’t planned for any downtime.
A couple of weeks off wouldn’t hurt, would they? I’d left the London office in good shape for the upcoming trial, and my colleague Natalie could handle everything else for a little while. I had more than six weeks of accrued vacation, and the only reason it wasn’t more than that was because I’d cashed out on ten weeks four months ago, knowing I’d never use them.
I tried to imagine two weeks with Will and Ziggy, two weeks of wineries, breweries, sleeping in . . . I nearly wanted to weep, it sounded so good.
She gasped, genuinely shocked, and then threw her arms around my neck. “Seriously?” she yelled, and I pushed away to put a hand over my ear.
“Sorry!” she yelled again, not really any farther from my ear than before. “I’m just so excited!”
A tiny ball of unease wormed its way into my chest.
“Where did you say we’re going again?” I asked.
Her expression became even more animated. “I’ve made an awesome itinerary. We’re hitting breweries, and wineries, and a few awesome resorts—with a final week at this unreal cabin in Vermont.”
But Ziggy caught my hesitation. “You’re not thinking of changing your mind already, are you? Jensen, I swear to—”
“No,” I interrupted, laughing. “I just had this really insane person next to me on the plane yesterday and she mentioned going on a winery tour. I had a panicked moment thinking, in some freakish joke the universe is playing, she would be the friend coming along. Let me be honest: I’d rather slam my hand in a door, or eat a brick.”
Ziggy laughed. “She was on the flight from London?”
“At first she was okay, but then she got drunk and wouldn’t stop talking,” I said. “It would have been a more pleasant flight if I’d been crammed into a middle coach seat. God, imagine a week with such a woman.”
“I feigned sleep for four hours,” I admitted. “Do you have any idea how hard that is?”
“Sorry to interrupt.” A small voice rose up from behind me. “But, Hanna, look: my Pippa is here!”
Playful blue eyes met mine, and her smile was delighted . . . and, this time, sober.
How long had they been standing there?
God, imagine a week with such a woman, he had said.
I feigned sleep for four hours, he had said, then shivered—actually shivered.
I’d known it was him, of course. Even from the back—with his perfectly styled hair, impeccable cashmere sweater, and pressed trousers at a child’s birthday party, no less—I’d recognized him the instant I entered the kitchen. And then of course I was aided by the rhythm of his voice—smooth, low, never loud or strained—as we’d stood just behind him, waiting for a good moment to interrupt. Part of me had wanted to let him keep going forever. It was like scratching an itch inside my brain, knowing that I’d been just as tedious as I’d believed myself to be. And, also a little bit, I was tickled by his ability to bitch about it with such a fluid combination of articulation and irritation.
I wouldn’t have predicted that. He seemed so even-keeled.
But he’d had no idea I was standing there, and I watched as the color vanished from his cheeks in the tiny duration of a surprised, sharp inhale.
I heard my own laugh bursting through his horrified silence. And then, when I said a quiet “Hallo, Jensen,” it seemed the reality descended upon Hanna, and then Ruby, and finally Niall, who murmured, “Good Lord. He was talking about Pippa, wasn’t—?” before Ruby shut him up with a smack to his shoulder.