A tiny town passed, and houses seemed to become spaced farther and farther apart. I thought of London, of the way it felt we were all living one on top of another, and tried to imagine a life out here.
The simplicities of getting only what you need, of having things be well and truly quiet, of being able to see each and every star.
And the difficulties, too, of not being able to walk to the market, not being able to trip home with a bag of takeaway or hop on the Tube, not being able to get away from the same small-town friends without a long drive.
But you would have this at your front door every minute, and it would be ever evolving, from winter to spring, summer, and autumn. No more English gray that loomed far more frequently than the sun.
Jensen’s fingers slid up my neck and into the hair at the nape, massaging gently as if it were something he did every day.
Was it that I couldn’t imagine leaving this state, or just that I didn’t entirely want this trip to end?
“I wonder if this is how my mobile phone feels when the battery dies and I leave it alone for a few hours,” I mumbled.
Beside me, Jensen laughed. “Your random metaphors are beginning to make sense to me.”
“Is that what you’re doing when you’re fucking me senseless?”
He’d thought he said this quietly enough, but out of the corner of my eye I saw Ruby sit up straighter, pretending not to listen as she leaned toward the window. I put my finger over Jensen’s lips, shaking my head as I bit down a laugh.
His eyes went wide in understanding, but instead of turning awkward and pulling out his phone for immediate emotional disengagement, he leaned forward, pressing his mouth to mine, trapping my fingers in between. This permission to touch when we wanted, where we wanted, was going to do me in.
“Holy shit, guys,” Will called from the front, and we all bent to peer out our respective windows.
A private drive peeled off from the main road, and we turned down it, the van’s wheels crunching quietly over gravel and bark. The air felt cooler here, damp under the shade, the sun blotted out by the thick branches of trees overhead. It smelled of mulch and pine and the bite of decaying earth underfoot. A curved driveway spread out ahead of us, and Will slowed the van to a stop, turning off the engine.
I nearly didn’t want to disturb the quiet that followed, didn’t want to rustle any leaves or chase off any of the birds by opening a car door. The house before us looked like something out of a movie from my childhood: a massive A-frame log cabin built of stripped maples and stained a warm, syrupy brown, with spindly saplings that dotted the perimeter and bled into the deeper shade of the forest behind it.
“It looks even more amazing than the photos!” Ruby sang, nose pressed to the glass so she could see the whole of it, towering above where we’d parked.
Eventually we tumbled out of the van, stretching our limbs and staring ahead of us in wonder.
“Hanna,” Will said quietly. “Plum, you’ve outdone yourself with this.”
She bounced on her feet proudly, staring up at him. “Yeah?”
He smiled, and I looked away to give them privacy as something unspoken passed between them.
Ruby took Niall’s hand and they made their way down the path to the house. We all followed, staring up at the trees, the skies, the web of hiking paths sprouting away from where we stood and into the woods.
The closest path—the one from the parkway to the cabin—approached from the side, but the majestic front entrance dwarfed even Niall. The house was two stories, with balconies on either end. A pair of rocking chairs flanked the front porch, and a small rack of chopped firewood stood neatly stacked nearby. Anticipating our approach, the caretaker had set a warm fire in the fireplace, and through the window I spotted a bottle of red wine—open and breathing—on the table just inside the entry.
Wherever there wasn’t wood, there was glass: windows upon windows lined the side of the house, casting the area outside the cabin in the same warm light that infused the indoors.
Hanna pulled a key from an envelope in her vacation folder and opened the door.
“This is fucking absurd,” I heard myself say.
Jensen laughed beside me, and Will turned, nodding as he smiled. “Oh, completely.”
“I mean, how the fuck am I supposed to go back to real life after this?” I asked. “I live in a shack.”
“I thought we were friends, Hanna,” Ruby added, laughing. “But forever after this, the rest of my life will look bleak—and that’s on you now.”
Hanna threw her arms around Ruby and smiled at me over her shoulder.
“We are friends,” she said, and her smile grew when Will came up behind her, sandwiching her in. “We are best friends, and this is the best vacation of my life.”
Nine more days, I thought, looking over at Jensen as he and Niall laughed over the absurdity of our fortune. Just over one more week with them.
That night, as the sun set outside the broad kitchen window, we sat around the breakfast bar, drinking wine while Will cooked for us. Unbeknownst to even Hanna, he’d had groceries delivered, already having planned the meals for the week.
While we poured wine and laughed listening to Niall read aloud the entire string of Bennett’s texts from the past week from Will’s phone, Jensen stood off to the side of the room, listening without really joining.
“ ‘I can’t decide whether I should keep her pregnant for the next ten years solid,’ ” Niall read, “ ‘or quietly go get a vasectomy and pray that I get my wife back.’ ” He scrolled down a bit, murmuring, “That was from two days ago. This one, from last night: ‘Chloe made a pie.’ And Max replied, ‘And not to throw at you?’ ”