“For example,” he said from the front seat, where he sat beside Ruby as she drove, “we don’t talk about how itchy our bras are at the end of the day.”
“And we don’t talk about our ‘wanker ex-boyfriends’ and their ‘thrusting bums,’ ” he said, and Pippa groaned playfully.
“Everyone must remember there are new friends joining us.” He turned back around, and Ruby glanced over, shaking her head at him. “Let us try to be on our best—albeit drunken—behavior.”
“We have a brewery tour at Willimantic at three. Tomorrow is a winery tour, and Thursday we have a wine and chocolate pairing, followed by a clambake.”
Will looked over his shoulder at me from the second row of seats, and I knew exactly what he was thinking: What a vacation. It sounded awesome—don’t get me wrong—but for a group of hyperambitious people, this wasn’t reading on the beach or floating lazily on a river with a beer in a foam cozy. This was my sister’s version of downtime.
But then he said, “Bet you’re relieved you’re not expected to sit still, eh?” And I registered that . . . okay, this was also my version of downtime.
Willimantic Brewing Company was a Colonial-looking building that couldn’t be more New England if it tried—and I grew up in Boston, so that was saying something. Willimantic, Connecticut—just beside where we would eventually stay in Windham—was driving distance to several major cities but felt oddly rural and quaint.
Pippa mirrored my thoughts. “I don’t feel like I’ve seen a city yet,” she whispered, staring out the window as we parked. “Why do I always assume your East Coast is built up and entirely urban?”
As a worldwide expert on urban planning, Niall opened his mouth to answer, but Ruby turned off the engine, saying a quick “No, my adorable one. We don’t have time to hear your dissertation now.” Pointing with a smile out the window, she added, “I think there’s our contact for Eastern Stumbles.”
“ ‘Eastern Stumbles’?” Will and I repeated in unison.
My sister waved her folder over her head as she slid open the side door. “The name of the group that organizes this. They’re pretty clear about what we’re here for: drinking, eating, and stumbling back.”
I reached over the backseat for my laptop bag and my sunglasses while Ziggy and Will jumped out to check in with our contact. Niall and Ruby got out to stretch their legs, Pippa following them onto the sidewalk.
My phone buzzed and I pulled it out, reading an email from Natalie.
“You coming?” Pippa asked, leaning in from the sidewalk.
“Don’t tell on me,” I said, typing out a quick reply. “I just have to send this real quick.”
Laughing, she ducked back out as I finished up my email and hit send. Bending to stand, I nearly ran into my sister.
She was blocking my exit. “I think we have a change of plans. Will wants to improvise and head a bit north.”
I looked up. Her face was flushed, eyes a little wild.
“Are you sure?” I tried to see past her. “Is this place shady or something? Drinking, eating, and stumbling sounds pretty great.”
She shook her head. “No, we’re just not feeling the vibe.”
I turned to glance out the window.
She shook her head, a little out of breath and maybe just a touch frantic. Ruby and Niall wordlessly climbed back in. Pippa hovered behind Ziggy, watching me with guarded eyes. “I really think we should head out,” my sister said.
Whether she was irritated with Will for suggesting that we skip an entire portion of her carefully laid plans or she was hungry, I had no idea. But I had to take a leak.
“Okay, let me at least run inside to use—”
I felt her hand grasp my arm as I pushed past her, felt her panicked grip around my bicep. What in the world was wrong with her?
Or maybe she shouted it.
Ten feet ahead, but I knew it was her without needing her to turn around.
Her hair was shorter, but she had that tiny mole on the back of her right shoulder. A shoulder I had kissed too many times to count. There was the scar running down the length of her left arm, where she’d been bitten by a dog when she was eight.
I took a blind stumble forward. It was true how these moments are described, like the world spins. Like there isn’t enough gravity. The world was definitely spinning, and I wasn’t sure when I’d last taken a breath.
I could practically feel the heavy silence behind me: my entire group of friends watched this unfold, no one else breathing, either.
A smile broke out on Becky’s face and she came forward and threw her arms around my neck. It was only when I lifted my arms, numbly, to return the embrace that I realized Pippa had been gently holding my hand. She let go but stood just beside me, a supportive presence.
Becky stepped back, reaching behind her. “Jensen. I want you to meet my husband, Cam.”
I hadn’t noticed the man at her side, though I have no idea how. He was a tower of muscle and bone, with brilliant white teeth when he smiled. His grip around mine was strong but easy. The way he slid his arm around Becky’s shoulders, the way she turned into his side, was like watching a memory unfold.