With everything packed and a final goodbye said to our beautiful cabin, we set out for home. Will had done the bulk of the driving up until now, and so when I saw him stifle a yawn as we climbed in, I volunteered to take the first leg. I told myself it was because I wanted a change and not because it was the easy way out, that in the driver’s seat I could focus on the road and not on the conversation—or lack of—going on around me.
Pippa sat in one of the back rows, next to Will, who, after the giant breakfast of pancakes—not to mention two weeks of vacation and probably a lot of sex—fell asleep almost immediately. Everyone chatted for the first little bit, and then conversation gradually tapered off and we either napped or turned to our headphones. Pippa’s voice was noticeably missing, and its absence seemed to echo in my ears. She looked thoughtful for much of the drive, and every now and then I would glance up to her in the rearview mirror. More easy smiles, more friendly nods.
We switched places after a stop for gas, and I moved to the empty seat next to Pippa. Forest gave way to meadows, which gave way to country road and then highway. Highway emptied onto surface streets crowded with tall buildings and cars and people everywhere. Pippa was noticeably still. Gone was the quiet comfort I’d found with her all week, and in its place was a sort of palpable silence, growing larger with each mile until it felt like another person sitting between us.
I stared, unseeing, as we turned from one street to the next, a slew of random thoughts tumbling around in my head. I wondered if Pippa was excited about getting home. It would make sense. Her life was in England: her moms, her apartment, and her job. But all the things she wanted to escape were there, too, including the thrusting bum, as she so often referred to Mark.
Which led my thoughts to why Pippa came here in the first place. It had to have been hard on her, hard enough that she’d kicked him out of the flat they’d shared together and flown halfway across the world to get some distance. I might have been a lackluster boyfriend at best, and apparently an even worse husband, but I could never cheat. Pippa was vivacious and smart, funny and beautiful, and I felt a level of smug self-satisfaction knowing how quickly she realized Mark was undeserving and that he had lost her forever.
But there would surely be others, I knew. My hand moved to my chest and rubbed at the unexpected tightness there. It was jarring to note that while the idea of Becky dating again—and the reality that she had actually remarried—didn’t really bother me, the idea of Pippa dating back in London tasted sour in my thoughts.
That’s not to say it hadn’t been really fucking hard to lose Becky, but the immediate pain had been short-lived. What lingered was the way she left—and my complete bewilderment over it—not really her absence itself.
Pippa was different. She was an electric charge, a flash of light. Falling in love with Pippa and watching her walk away would be like watching someone extinguish the sun.
For the first time, I actually pitied Mark.
The car came to a stop and I blinked, looking around, realizing that we’d parked in front of Niall and Ruby’s hotel. We unloaded and I made my way to the back of the van, busying myself pulling out their luggage and reorganizing the rest.
I shook Niall’s hand and hugged Ruby, smiling over her shoulder—Ruby was a great hugger. She and Pippa said their goodbyes, leaving with promises to meet up the minute Pippa was back in the UK.
And the pressure against my breastbone was back again.
Everyone was awake and decidedly more alert when we piled back into the van, but Niall and Ruby’s absence hung heavily in the air. I watched Ziggs check Will’s phone and giggle over Bennett’s increasingly anxious texts. I knew mine was in my backpack at my feet and would probably have service by now, but I left it there, knowing once I started scrolling through emails and calendar requests, there’d be no turning back.
“What are our dads-to-be up to?” I asked, ready to think about anything but work or the tension I could feel radiating from Pippa. “Has Bennett run screaming into the night yet?”
“Close,” Ziggy said, scrolling back through the messages before she began to read. “ ‘Chloe wants to talk about water births, hoping to bring the baby into a serene world without any jarring sounds or voices.’ And then Max replied with, ‘No jarring sounds or voices? Does Chloe realize this baby will be coming home with the two of you?’ ”
Ziggs dissolved into a fit of giggles, and Will took his phone away. “I’m trying to imagine Bennett and Chloe as parents,” he said. “Bennett and his pristine suits and that white couch in his office. Can you imagine him wearing a BabyBjörn and helping someone blow their nose?”
“I cannot wait to see it,” my sister said. “I’m a little sad we moved away and will only get to view it through text messages and FaceTime.”
“Didn’t you say you were going out there for Christmas?” I asked. “Or at least after the baby?”
Will made a right-hand turn and slowed to a stop as a group of children on bikes crossed the street in front of us.
“That’s the plan. Hopefully she and Sara have them close enough we can see them both in one trip. This it, Pippa?” Will asked, glancing at her from over his shoulder.
Turns out Pippa’s grandfather lived only about twenty minutes from me. We had stopped in front of a modest brick home on a tree-lined street, and she practically burst from the van, stepping to the driver’s side to hug Will before walking over to where Ziggy stepped from the passenger side to give her a tight, lingering hug.