Reluctantly, I slid across the seat to climb out and caught sight of my sister, watching me.
Of course she was.
I gave her a warning look and walked around to the back of the van to pull out Pippa’s bag. I had no idea how to proceed here.
Wordlessly, Pippa walked ahead of me up the tidy path from sidewalk to steps, up to the wide porch, and bent, pulling a key from a loose brick beside the door. I hovered behind her. “Is your grandpa home?”
“He’s probably playing bingo,” she said, opening the storm door before fitting the key into the lock.
“Do you want us to wait with you?” I asked.
She waved me off as the bolt clicked and the door swung open in front of her. A dog barked happily from somewhere inside.
“No, it’s okay. He’ll be home soon. Likes to flirt with the coat check ladies.” She reached for her bag and set it down just out of view.
The wind rattled the storm door and I steadied it with my hand.
Pippa glanced past me out to the street. Silence was new to us.
Finally she looked at me. “I had fun,” she said. “A lot of fun.”
I nodded, leaning in to kiss her sweet smile, which carried none of the awkward tension that had accompanied us the entire ride.
It was meant to be a soft kiss, barely a brush, simple and warm. But I pulled away only to come back again, her bottom lip caught between both of mine, a tiny suck, a drag of teeth, and then again, and again, heads tilting and mouths open, tongues sliding against each other. I felt drunk from it, pulled into the undertow of the familiarity, stunned by the heat crawling up my spine, needing more.
Abruptly, Pippa pulled away, eyes tight. She ran a finger over her mouth, swallowing thickly behind her hand. “Okay . . .” she whispered, ashen.
My stomach dropped. Here we were, saying the dreaded goodbye.
“I should go,” I said, and motioned over my shoulder, adding lamely, “I had a really great time.”
She nodded. “So did I. It was a great partnership. Call me again when you need a fake wife or a holiday girl. I seem to be quite good at it.”
“That’s a bit of an understatement.” Taking a step back, I ran my hands through my hair again. “It was really nice to meet you.”
And . . . that was pretty terrible.
Her brow furrowed and then she gave me an uncertain smile. “I will.”
My throat tight, I turned and jogged back to the van.
Hanna was still watching me.
“That was . . .” she said.
I glared at her, feeling defensive, and fastened my seat belt. “That was what?”
I hated how clearly Ziggy saw this situation. It made me feel itchy, restless. “We’re dropping her off, aren’t we?” I asked, settling into the seat. “Wasn’t I supposed to kiss her goodbye?”
“I mean after the kiss. Last night you missed dinner because of her. Just now you kissed and then it looked like you were thanking her for doing your taxes. I could feel the awkward from here.”
“Last night we were on vacation,” I told her. “What were you expecting?”
Both Will and Ziggs stayed quiet.
“We aren’t getting married,” I reminded them sharply. “We didn’t spend two weeks together and suddenly decide we were in love.” I immediately felt bad for my tone. Ziggy wasn’t trying to tell me how to live my life, she was just telling me to live. She only wanted me to be happy.
I waved to Will and Ziggs from my car window before backing out of their driveway. Four minutes later, I was pulling up in front of my house.
Home. Damn, it was good to be back, alone in my own space and surrounded by my own things, with Wi-Fi and cell reception, like the good Lord intended.
Fall was in full swing now, with more leaves on the ground than in the trees. I made a note as I climbed the steps to call the gardener and arrange for a little extra time to clean everything up this weekend.
I dropped my keys in the little dish on the entryway table and my bag by the door, taking a second to enjoy the quiet. My parents’ grandfather clock ticked in the dining room and a mulcher ran somewhere nearby, but other than that, it was silent.
Maybe—and I couldn’t believe I was saying it—a little too silent.
I was home, shoes off, soon to be in lounge pants with some takeout and a beer in front of me. I bent, grabbing the TV remote to turn on the system before heading into the kitchen. My stack of takeout menus slid easily from their perch on the counter, in a plastic envelope holder. In my hand, they felt worn and familiar.
This was good, right? Unwind on the trip, unwind the rest of the way at home.
I was putting my last load of clothes in the washer when the doorbell rang a few hours later.
“Becky?” I asked, and then stopped, because my brain was empty of even a single follow-up that didn’t begin with What the fuck are you doing on my front porch?
She lifted her hand in an awkward little wave. “Hi.”
“Hi?” I said, quietly confused. “What are you doing here?”
“We’re visiting my family,” she said.
“I mean, what are you doing here?”
“I . . . um . . .” She cleared her throat, and it was only then that I noticed the thin coat she wore, the fact that I could see each of her breaths in the cold air in front of her. It was probably freezing outside. Fuck.