My car was silent save for the tap of drops against the hood and the nearly inaudible hum of the engine underneath. And because rush hour was a fucking nightmare, I had nothing but time without distraction to think about everything she’d said, everything I’d said, and how—really—she was totally right and I was a complete jackass.
Why, why, why did I drive today?
I remembered getting stuck in traffic on one of the first days of our trip. I was grinning and drunk on my new vacation high while Pippa concocted some story about each person in the cars around us: The man on our right had been plotting a bank robbery—it was obvious—Look at the bags under his eyes and the guilt all through his shoulders, look at the slouch on him! A frazzled mother with several children in the backseat was returning home from a birthday party, Pippa said, and the tiny smile we witnessed had been related to her just remembering a bottle of wine she bought the day before.
Now a woman in the black SUV on my left danced in her seat and sang along to whatever was playing on her radio. To my right, a man about my age had his eyes on the rearview mirror and his hands up in the air, gesturing wildly and talking to the children in the backseat. I’m sure their lives were fascinating . . . I just wasn’t nearly as good at making up stories about them as Pippa had been.
Still, her habit of daydreaming did seem to have rubbed off on me a little, because once she was in my head she stuck there, pushing away the uneasy thoughts of fighting with my sister. I found myself wondering about Pippa’s life in London, the way she’d once wondered about mine in Boston. Did she take the Tube to work? Did she walk? Did she have a car?
During holidays spent at home in college, I used to steal my dad’s keys all the time and drive around town late at night, sneak onto the football field with Will and drink beers until we fell asleep and woke up covered in dew and ants and had to drive home before anyone noticed the car was gone. Maybe teenage Pippa used to lift the keys to her mums’ car and chauffeur her friends around the streets of London. Maybe she used to make out with boys in the backseat and sing at the top of her lungs with the windows down and wind whipping through the car.
A horn blared off to the side and I blinked, startled out of my train of thought. I’d been spending more time than I expected thinking about what Pippa might be doing at any given moment. Especially considering things were supposed to be casual.
Despite leaving early, I was a half hour late to a staff meeting when I finally made it to the office. My day had been booked solid from eight thirty until six thirty, with a lunch meeting in the conference room.
I didn’t have time to do this—it was already after nine—but it didn’t matter: I wanted to call Hanna.
Standing up, I closed my office door and returned to my desk. I picked up my phone and dialed Hanna’s number, frowning when it switched over to voice mail. Fuck, of course. She was teaching.
“Zig—Hanna, it’s me. I’m at the office. Give me a call on my cell when you’re around. I have a pretty packed day, but maybe we can grab dinner, or do something this weekend? Love you.”
Hanging up, I grabbed my cell and walked down the hall toward the conference room, checking my emails as I went. There was one I didn’t recognize, an ox.ac.uk address, and it took me a moment to realize that it was from Ruby.
I wanted to pass along these photos from our trip! Hope things are well and that we see each other again soon.
Attached were several photographs she’d taken at various stops throughout our vacation, and I hesitated a little before opening them, wondering if I was really in the best mental place to be taking a walk down memory lane.
The first had been taken the day we’d arrived at Will and Ziggy’s, all bright smiles as we piled into the van. There were snapshots of us at the different tastings and dinners and on hikes, and of small candid moments as we laughed at something one of the others had said. It was interesting to watch the progression of my interactions with Pippa through photos. We’d started off so polite—straight backs, friendly smiles, plenty of personal space. But that was completely gone by the time we got to Vermont. No longer could I see the safe distance of strangers; in its place was the familiarity of friends turned to lovers, of arms looped around bodies and fingers intertwined. It was almost painful to see the way I looked at her, and when I opened a shot where Ruby had caught us emerging from the woods—eyes bright and cheeks flushed, hair and clothes askew—I closed my email app. It was hard enough right now to have these memories; I didn’t want to relive them on the screen, too.
Around one I gathered my things and headed for the large conference room on the second floor. My stomach growled at the scent of coffee filling the hallway and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.
I was reaching for a banana from the refreshment table when I felt a hand on my arm. It was my boss’s assistant, John. “Mr. Bergstrom. Mr. Avery would like a minute with you in his office before the meeting.”
I straightened and watched as he offered me a polite smile and turned, heading in the direction I was meant to follow. Sweat pricked at the back of my neck as I did. There were very few good reasons that Malcolm Avery would want to see me before the meeting, particularly when we were both supposed to be here, and everyone was filing in.
“Jensen,” Malcolm said, and closed the file he’d been working on. “Come in. I was hoping to take a few minutes to chat before we joined the meeting.”