I pressed the doorbell and heard Will’s shout of “It’s open!” from inside.
The knob turned easily and I stepped in, dropping my bag near the others by the door, toeing off my shoes, and following the scent of fresh coffee down the hall.
Niall sat at the breakfast bar, mug in hand, while Will stood at the stove.
“Scrambled, please,” I said, earning a piece of mushroom lobbed at me in lieu of a reply. Reaching into the cupboard for a mug of my own, I looked around the room and out into the backyard. “Where is everyone?”
“We’ve only just arrived,” Niall said. “Pippa and Ruby went to help Hanna finish packing.”
Nodding, I sipped my coffee and looked around the kitchen.
Whereas my house was—even I could admit it—a bit uptight in its tidiness, Will and Ziggy’s house looked . . . lived-in. A small pot of flowers sat on the windowsill near the kitchen sink. The refrigerator door was covered in drawings from Annabel’s party, and even though they didn’t have any kids of their own yet, anyone could see it was only a matter of time.
Elsewhere, I knew what I would find: Books and scientific journals on every flat surface—the pages marked with whatever scrap of paper my sister could find at the time. An upstairs hallway lined with photos of family gatherings, weddings, trips they’d taken together, and framed comics.
Will’s phone was vibrating somewhere behind him.
“Can you grab that for me?” he said, nodding toward the counter. “It’s been going off all morning.”
I reached for it, seeing a new group message flash across the screen. “You’re in a group text? How adorable.”
“It’s how we all stay up-to-date with what’s happening, but it’s taken on a whole new life since Chloe got pregnant. Bennett will either have a heart attack before this baby comes or need to be sent away somewhere. Read it to me, will you?”
“It says the airline lost Chloe’s luggage,” I started. “ ‘Her favorite shoes were in there, a clutch I got her for our anniversary, and a present she picked up for George.’ Max then asks if her head has spun around, or whether she’s started speaking in tongues. Bennett’s answer is ‘If only.’ ”
Will laughed as he turned over a few sizzling pieces of bacon. “Tell him I read an article in the Post that said only six or seven priests in the US actually know how to perform exorcisms. He might want to start making some calls.” Shaking his head with a wistful sigh, he added, “God, I miss New York.”
I typed out his message before setting his phone back on the counter. “Need me to do anything?”
He shut off the stove and began scooping eggs onto six brightly colored plates. “Nah. The van is here and fueled up, the bags are mostly packed. Should be ready to go as soon as breakfast is done.”
I’d gone over the itinerary my sister had provided, and knew the drive to Jamesport, on Long Island, was around four hours—give or take, with traffic and the ferry.
I felt a rebellious pull in my thoughts, knowing this trip was good for me but wanting, somehow, to prove them all wrong. To prove, maybe, that I didn’t need more than what I already had to have a happy life. Otherwise, how could I find pride in all that I’d accomplished?
I heard Ziggy’s voice upstairs, followed by Pippa shrieking something dramatically and Ruby and Ziggy bursting into hysterical laughter.
I didn’t have to ask to know what he was thinking, and if it wasn’t glaringly obvious to all of us, we were a group of idiots.
This trip was a lot of things—vacation, bonding time—but now it was also a setup.
I already anticipated the knowing looks, the insinuations, and—especially after a glass or two of wine—the outright understanding that this was a group of couples on a trip together.
Pippa was sexy; that wasn’t the issue. She was beautiful; that wasn’t the issue. At issue was her type of beauty, her type of sensuality—flamboyant, loud, bright—and how I knew, in my bones, that she wasn’t right for me. At issue was also my ambivalence about relationships, and the odd, instinctive recoil I had developed as a response to them.
But this was just a vacation. It didn’t have to be more.
“You’re freaking out about something,” Will said, handing me a large cup and gesturing to the silverware drawer.
I put a handful of forks inside it, turning my back to him. “No. Just doing the math.”
Will burst out laughing in the easy way of a man about to have two weeks of vacation with his best friend and wife. “Now, that’s a lie. We’ll talk later.”
I grunted some sound of ambivalence, buttering the toast, pouring the juice, and helping bring everything to the table.
“Breakfast!” Will called up over the banister.
Footsteps thundered down the stairs and I looked up to see Pippa enter the room first, her red-blond hair worn back in a loose braid. Anticipating the long drive, she wore a pair of electric-blue leggings, tennis shoes, and a loose-knit black sweater that slipped gently off one shoulder.
“Hiya, Jens,” she said, smiling brightly on her way into the kitchen. Her braid swung behind her with each step, and I watched her retreat, glancing away immediately at the sight of her ass in those pants.
I turned back to the table only to be faced with Will’s knowing smile.