“I don’t come back until March. I’ll call if you don’t have a boyfriend by then.”
It was meant to be a joke, I think.
I closed my eyes, pulling him back down, and he moved in earnest, tripping that wire inside me that seemed to make pleasure the only thing that mattered.
It was good that the thought slipped away—a boyfriend—and that it didn’t allow the twin thought to follow—a girlfriend—and that we could just move like this and climb higher and come in shaking, gasping unison, and we wouldn’t have to put our hearts on the line and try to make it anything more.
The thing about going away is that everything feels just a little bit off when you get back.
I told myself this was simply the result of having an amazing vacation after years of never daring to take one. I told myself it was the result of having been someone looser, having unplugged, and the novelty of being surrounded every hour by close friends instead of the isolation of living alone. Maybe it was also the effect of seeing Becky again, and having our past shove its way into my present, initially not knowing what to do with it before realizing I didn’t need to do anything at all.
But this unsettled feeling when I got home felt bigger than that. Yes, I was so busy I fell off my routine, skipping workouts and working through lunch to catch up. Yes, I was so wrung out by the end of the day that I came home and ate, showered, went to bed. I would get up and do it all over again. And it didn’t take a genius to know it was more than just the weight of my workload coming crashing down that had me feeling off.
Pippa and I had both been clear on what we wanted—a little fun, a fling, and a break from real life—so why had I let myself feel more?
I couldn’t stop thinking about her, daydreaming about our time together in the cabin, and wishing we could have all gone with her suggestion to stay there and pretend, for half of every year, that life in London and Boston didn’t exist. Six months with no phones, no email, and the people I cared about most right there at my side? It sounded like heaven.
Having Pippa for one more night was more torture than anything. I had been stunned by the surreal wave of getting out of my car and seeing her staring at my house. It took maybe five full seconds for me to realize I wasn’t imagining it. I’d been exhausted, ready to forgo a shower for even ten extra minutes of sleep, but suddenly sleep was the furthest thing from my mind.
The next morning she’d dressed and quietly kissed me goodbye, and left.
A fling, I reminded myself. And that was that.
Days later, I stared at the spreadsheet on my monitor, the numbers blurring at the edges. It was almost seven, and after hours of sorting through the same list of assets, I was ready to set the computer, the project files, and maybe even my office on fire.
“I knew you’d be here, so I come bearing gifts,” Greg said, warily eyeing my desk and the stacks of files there. He set down a wrapped sandwich and then pulled a bottle of beer out of the pocket of his slacks.
“No thanks,” I said with a faint smile, glancing up at him before turning back to my screen. “I had a bagel or something earlier.”
“ ‘A bagel or something,’ ” he repeated, and instead of leaving, he folded himself into the chair opposite me. “You know, usually when people go on vacation they come back a little less . . . feral.”
I pressed my fingers to my eyes, blocking out the light. Too little sleep and too much coffee had left me irritable and with a pounding ache at my temples. “I didn’t get as much done as I should have while I was gone, and now it’s sort of a mess.”
“Did the junior staff not do what you left them, or . . . ?” he asked.
“No, they did, they just . . . I don’t know. They didn’t do it how I’d have done it. Not to mention that I left the London office with the depositions finished and plenty of time to wrap up their end before the hearing and they missed the filing deadline.”
“You know none of that is your responsibility,” he said.
“Your job was to run through the depositions,” he said, interrupting me, “not file the fucking paperwork. And of course you didn’t get as much done on vacation as you’d have liked. That’s why it’s called vacation.” He enunciated every syllable, reaching for an old dictionary on my shelf to begin thumbing through the pages. “Give me a second and I’ll look it up for you. I can’t believe you actually have a dictionary . . .”
Reaching across the desk, I took it from him. “I get that, strictly speaking, it wasn’t my task,” I said, turning back to my computer, “but there’s that mess to clean up as well as the things that came in while I was out, and—” I let out a breath and rolled my shoulders before calmly saying, “It’ll be fine. It’ll take some catch-up, but it’ll be fine.”
He stood, ready to leave. “Go home, have some dinner, watch TV, something. And start again tomorrow, yes, but leave at a decent time. You’ll burn yourself out this way, and you are too good at what you do to let that happen.”
“I will,” I mumbled, watching as he turned toward the door.
He laughed. “You’re a liar. But have a good night, Jens.” And when he was farther down the hall, he called out again, “Go home!”
I smiled and then blinked down at my spreadsheet.