A tangle of limbs and light brown hair landed on the grass to my left, and it—Hanna—was quickly covered in two little squealing, wiggling girls.
I turned my face up at the sound of a deep voice.
Will sat down beside his wife: tall, inked, breath-catchingly pretty, and, from the twinkle in his eye, knew all of the world’s very naughty things.
I watched his face as he gazed at Hanna, Annabel, and Iris. “Hanna is Auntie Fancy?” I asked.
He nodded, reaching for Iris and pulling the little girl into his lap. “Back when Hanna was still my fiancée, Anna couldn’t say the name. She called her Fancy. And now,” he said, smooching Anna’s younger sister on her sweet, chubby neck, “she will forever be known as Auntie Fancy.”
“I mean, obviously,” Hanna said through a laugh, gesturing to her outfit of jeans and a Harvard sweatshirt.
Her easy comfort was actually the first thing I liked about her. It was an effortless inattention to clothing I’d never been able to pull off.
“Obviously,” another male voice added from behind us. Jensen came and closed this small circle of bodies on the lawn, sitting directly across from me. “Sorry,” he said, grinning. “What were we talking about?”
“That Hanna is rather fancy,” I said. “Though no one competes with you.” I gestured to his own perfect put-togetherness.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” he said, nodding to my dress.
I skipped over the compliment with a shake of my head. “I always feel like I don’t quite blend in. People are comfortably casual or, like you, impeccable. I’m the knob with the fluorescent tights at the nice restaurant. Someone help me figure it all out.”
“I do always feel like a low-wattage bulb beside you,” Ruby said.
I scoffed at this; that was not at all how I meant it. Ruby was stunning: willowy and poised, with a smile that could light up an entire building.
“I’ve just come to the realization that I’m clothes dumb,” Hanna added, shrugging.
They leaned across Niall and me and high-fived. Niall and I exchanged knowing glances. The two of them were rather twinnish.
Leaning in and unfolding an actual paper map, Hanna showed us the highlighted path from the Long Island wineries, up north through Connecticut, and to Vermont, where we would spend our second week together at a spacious cabin that—from the photos Will showed us on his phone—promised to be rustic and luxurious in the way only an expensive vacation rental can manage.
Ruby was giddy; she leaned into Niall and hugged him. Will was staring at Hanna adoringly. Suddenly immensely grateful that Jensen was coming along, I glanced up at him. He was carefully studying the map and arguing with Hanna about the best route.
His hair fell forward over the smooth arch of his forehead, obscuring his bright eyes from me. But I took a moment to catalog his features: straight nose, a mild, constant bloom to his cheeks, full lips that I now knew curved into a wide, effortless smile, and a jaw I wanted to cup in my hands.
After a few minutes, he caught my eye, doing a slight double take.
I tried to look away, but it would have been an obvious—and awkward—maneuver. I’d been very clearly staring at him.
I don’t know what was happening in my belly. I felt warm, nervous, curious—suddenly seeing the trip as the setup that it was.
Did I want to play this game?
Maybe. I mean, clearly I had a crush. Immediately, blindly, and—most likely—uselessly. Our start hadn’t been the smoothest.
But then the warmth inside me twisted when I remembered Mark the last time I’d seen him, a week ago. His face as he begged me not to end things, promised that he really didn’t want us to be over. The truth was, he didn’t want to be out of a flat, didn’t want to be out of a good source for wireless, didn’t want to lose the rooms he quite conveniently used as an office all day while I was at work. Unfortunately, I wanted to be valued a bit more highly than that.
But could I be valued as a fun shag for a week?
Yes. Yes, I could.
Unfortunately for this plan, Jensen had an air about him that said: I’m comfortable in my skin, but I am not free with my affections.
After nodding to Hanna when she excused herself and Will to go greet someone who’d just arrived, Jensen looked back to me and then smiled. He patted the grass beside him, tilting his head just slightly and mouthing the words Come here.
So I stood, unable to refuse such a quietly sweet invitation. Swiping the dried grass from my skirt, I walked two paces to him, settling beside him on the lawn.
“Hallo,” I said, bumping his shoulder with mine.
“I feel as if we are already old friends.” Tilting my head back toward the sweets table, I asked, “Did you manage to get a Cookie Monster cupcake before they were decimated?”
“I suppose I could have guessed that,” I said, smiling back. “Your lips have not yet taken on that semipermanent blue tin—”
“Pippa,” he cut in, holding my gaze, “I really am sorry. I wasn’t being very kind.”
I waved him off. How did I know this would come up again? I could see Jensen so transparently for the kindhearted, responsible person he was. “Trust me,” I told him, “I’m mortified about all of it.”