She inhaled sharply, stiffening as she came into consciousness.
Wiping her hand across her face, she looked at me guiltily. “Did I fall asleep on you? Oh God, Jensen, I’m sor—”
“It’s fine,” I said quietly, and it really was. “I fell asleep, too. We’re here.”
We exited the van and followed everyone inside, shaking awake limbs and getting blood flow going again. We checked in, grabbed our keys, and agreed to meet shortly back at the entrance to explore the grounds before doing a wine tasting nearby.
My legs were stiff, my back tight from sitting so long. I groaned, stretching in my empty room before walking to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, relaxing incrementally: shoulders, arms, neck. I could feel it pushing at the edges of my mind, too: that need to just turn off everything, to unplug. It was easy to do today, a Sunday. Would I be able to keep it up for two full weeks?
When I got back down to the reception area, Pippa was talking to the woman at the desk; they were already laughing at something together. Pippa seemed to make fast friends wherever she went, whereas I was . . . a generous tipper?
Bending over a map, the woman circled a few things, offering suggestions for the two nights we’d planned to stay. I heard Pippa say the words holiday, wanker ex, and new friends before Ziggy came up behind me, jumping on my back and scaring the hell out of me.
“Jesus Christ, child,” I grumbled at her. “You’re not tiny anymore.”
“You could carry me.” She reached up, squeezing my bicep.
I pretended to scowl at her. “I could. But I shan’t.”
Pippa came over to us, smiling widely. “You guys are the cutest siblings in history.” Her enthusiasm was contagious. She was wide-eyed as she took everything in. “Rachel says there’s an amazing restaurant semi–walking distance down the road. We could get breakfast there tomorrow?”
“Sounds good to me,” I told her, wrapping my arm around Ziggy’s neck to give her a noogie.
Our first stop was the tasting room of a local winery called Sherwood House Vineyards. The GPS directed us to a gray Colonial building tucked beneath tall trees and surrounded by flowering shrubs. It looked more like a private residence than a tourist attraction, with acres of manicured lawn, tidy boxwoods lining the path, and a pair of potted topiaries flanking the front porch. In fact, if it weren’t for a sign pounded in near the road, I would have passed it by altogether.
We parked and climbed out of the van, and through some instinct I can’t explain, I found myself walking rather close to Pippa, my hand just shy of touching her lower back.
“A girl could get used to this,” Pippa said, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looked up at the house. “Remind me to schedule all my holidays with you lot, please.”
“We get together at Christmas, too,” I told her. “You’d have to listen to Ziggs and Will geek out over God knows what and how our mother can’t seem to find any good rakfisk at the market anymore, but dinner itself is guaranteed to be amazing.”
“Are we making hypothetical holiday plans together already?” she asked, smiling as I motioned for her to precede me up the path. “Because wow, would Lele love you.”
I searched my memory. “Lele, the one who gave birth to you. With Coco being the American,” I said, and her face lit up with surprise.
“It was awful,” she corrected, the color of her cheeks deepening. She’d changed at the hotel and was now wearing a yellow shirt-dress and a pair of light blue tights with brown boots. The combination wasn’t something I would have expected to work, but it did. The dress brought out the flush in her face and caught the gold at the ends of her hair. Her legs were long and toned, and for a flash I wondered what they would look like bare, how they might feel under my hands.
“But let’s not talk about that anymore,” she said, smiling over her shoulder at me.
She laughed, not realizing my confusion was genuine. “Exactly.”
Inside, Sherwood House reminded me of someone’s living room. White beams supported an exposed ceiling; a brick fireplace complete with a crackling fire stood at one end and a long wooden bar at the other. Smaller rooms—including what looked like an antique store—branched off from the main one, and a set of stairs led to a second floor.
I felt someone loop her arm through mine and looked over to see Ziggy grinning up at me.
“Actually, George hooked us up. You having fun?” And before I could even formulate an answer, she added, “Pippa seems nice.”
I lowered my chin to meet her eyes.
Don’t say “worried,” I thought, unwilling to be the sad, lonely guy the women in my life fussed over anymore. Becoming aware of it made it suddenly unbearable.
I knew some part of my reaction must have made its way across my face because my sister placed her hand on mine as if to soften her words, and then paused, considering me. “I just want you to enjoy yourself,” she said finally.
With a tiny shift in my thoughts, I understood what I could give her on this trip: I could give her my all-in. I could do exactly what she wanted me to do. Nobody worried about Liv or Ziggy, because they were married and settled. Niels had a long-term girlfriend and Eric was always out with someone new. I was the oldest child in a family of meddlers, and just like I’d butted in and encouraged Ziggy to get out more, the same was being done to me. She wanted me to come on the trip. She wanted me to have fun. And part of her, no matter how much she denied it, wanted that fun to be with Pippa.