Prologue: Part One
"Oh my fucking god," Brendon swore, trying to unfold a map and not block the whole of the windshield while Spencer was going full speed on the freeway. "Where the fuck are we even going?"
"Wales," Spencer said grimly. He was exhausted, and not only was he going seventy miles an hour on the M4 going west - with a destination of the middle of fucking nowhere - he was sitting on the wrong side of the fucking car, and driving on the wrong side of the road as well.
It was really, really not his fault that he'd assumed that booking a car through the "car hire" company their airline had recommended would mean that they had a driver to get them the eight hours from London Heathrow to their cottage on the Welsh coast. It was only when they'd got to the front desk of the hire company, and spoken with a girl who'd smiled too brightly and talked with an accent that Spencer barely understood, that he realized that what he'd actually paid for was a rental. Which meant that Spencer, who was exhausted after an eleven-hour flight, two failed Xanax, a ninety-minute wait at passport control, and not anywhere near enough sleep, had to drive eight hours in winter in a foreign country—or, worse still, let Brendon do it instead. Brendon was his best friend, but even Spencer didn't want to get in a car with him after a handful of Xanax and not enough sleep.
"I can't understand their maps," Brendon said. "What—where are we? Why aren't any of their roads straight? Why can't we go the fuck to sleep? Whose stupid fucking idea was this anyway?"
"Yours," Spencer said, grimly, gripping the wheel too tight for comfort. It was not his fault that he hadn't driven anything that wasn't an automatic in the past two years, and it was not his fault that they were here. The fact that they were here was all Brendon's fault. "You watched that stupid movie. I'm blaming you."
"I thought we talked about hiding the credit cards away when we were drunk." Brendon made a face, and scrunched the map up even more. "What road are we on? This map could be of a different country. Anyway, you were the one who said let's Google. This is more your fault than mine."
"You were the one who thought learning credit card details off by heart would be fun," Spencer told him. He really needed some fucking sleep, and he needed it soon. Their flight had been delayed, there had been at least two kids on that flight who'd taken it upon themselves to scream themselves hoarse for the whole journey, and they were only here because Brendon had lost the TV remote long enough for them to see the beginning of a really shitty movie about Cameron Diaz going to an English cottage for Christmas. And they'd left the laptop close enough for them to hit up Google for vacations when they'd decided that what they really needed was a break away from writing their album. Or not writing, whatever.
"Remember that time we bought pizza and beer and gummy worms over the phone and we didn't need to get up and go find our wallets? Because we knew our card details?" Brendon rolled his eyes, turning the map the other way up, then back again in frustration. "That was fun."
"If you hadn't lost the remote," Spencer went on darkly, ignoring the fact that that night they'd ordered all that food over the phone had been fun. Being stoned and getting the munchies was so much better when the munchies came to you. Normally he loved all the crazy shit he and Brendon got up to, but right now he was too tired to remember how good any of that felt. "Anyway, you were the one who thought pretending to be Cameron Diaz and coming over here for snow would be fun. The fucking Holiday, what the fuck."
"There's no fucking snow," Brendon said. He scrunched the map up into as small a ball as he could manage, and then when that didn't work, he stuffed it over the back of his seat. "There's just rain." He fumbled with the stereo. It blared out, "It's the most wonderful time of the year" at ear-splitting volume, and Brendon stabbed at it with his finger. "Fuck."
Spencer sighed. "Let's pull over. We need coffee." And I need to be somewhere that isn't trapped in a small space with you, although he didn't add that last part. He could be a bad-tempered traveler when he was tired, he knew that, and this trip was being made a hundred times worse by not fucking ending. It wasn't that he was pissed at Brendon exactly, but this had felt like the longest year ever, and even now, after five months of officially being a duo, there was still a gap where their friends used to be. He and Brendon were still figuring out how to make everything work now it was just the two of them, and every learning curve had its difficult patches. Getting their album written was theirs. Traveling without Ryan to off-set the boredom and the exhaustion was Spencer's. It was weird that Spencer missed him the most when they were on the road. Maybe he'd email him while they were here, see how he was doing. They didn't talk all that much anymore.
He spotted what had to be the universal sign for a restroom on a sign by the side of the road, and pulled across three lanes of traffic to make the exit. The blare of horns followed him down the exit ramp.
Brendon slumped in his seat. "This vacation fucking sucks," he said miserably. "It's nothing like The Holiday."
Spencer gripped the wheel a little tighter, and parked terribly in the first available parking space. He had no idea what had come over the two of them, only that they had been painfully aware that they had half an album that was totally stalled, the record company kept calling them up, they had two recently failed relationships between them, and then they'd drunk the best part of two bottles of rum, run out of Coke, and discovered a holiday marathon on the TV. The next thing he'd known, they were talking about how great it would be to get away from everything for a while, and after that, booking a last minute vacation while the movie still played seemed really fucking easy.
"Come on," he said, trying to find his wallet. He blinked. "Fuck," he said. "Did you get your money changed?"
Brendon leaned forward and rested his forehead on the dash. "Maybe we can beg for coffee."
"You think our cards work in the ATM now?" he said. Last time they'd been here, the machine had eaten Zack's card. Or maybe that had been in France. Or Germany. Or Australia. Spencer was very, very tired. "Or maybe we can just get our coffees on our credit cards."
"Jesus fucking Christ," Brendon said. "We are never getting drunk again. We are never watching shitty holiday movies again. We are never, ever Googling anything ever again in our whole entire lives."
"You think we can just nap in the parking lot for a while?" Spencer said. The turnaround for this vacation had been hours. They'd had fifteen hours between booking and getting to the airport, and most of that had been taken up with passing out on the couch and sleeping off the best part of two bottles of rum. Packing had decidedly taken a back seat to their hangovers. Both of those things had taken a back seat to writing more of their album. They'd had so many ideas and so many thoughts but none of them had translated into anything more than a single song, and none of it added up to anything like a stab at a cohesive album. Neither of them really had a clue what they were doing and what their roles were, and with every day it was getting harder.
"Please," Brendon said, suddenly looking just as tired as Spencer felt. "Fuck, yes. Let's just sleep here, just for a while."
Spencer didn't even care that they were in the middle of a parking lot and they had a deadline—the woman with the keys to the cottage was only going to be in the office until five thirty, and Wales was still a long way in some direction—he suddenly knew that if he didn't fall asleep right the fuck now, he was going to drive the car off the road. "Fine," he said, and without asking to see if Brendon minded, he climbed into the back seat and swept all their already-accumulated junk onto the floor. Driver always got first choice at where to pass out, that was the rule. He'd apologize when he wasn't so tired he felt like dying.
He pulled his coat over him, and shut his eyes.
When he woke up again, it was to the sound of Brendon snoring like a freight train, and the clock reading two hours later than it had the last time he'd looked. His neck hurt and his legs were cramping and they were still a million miles away from this cottage somewhere on the Welsh coast, which was supposed to be a last minute, pre-holidays, getting-away-from-it-all vacation.
(We can write in Wales just as much as we can here, Brendon had said, carefully not pointing out that they weren't exactly managing to do much writing in LA. It turned out that losing the primary lyricist two albums in might have been for the best for them musically, but it didn't exactly leave them with a clear focus, or even that much practice at writing songs by themselves. At least Ryan and Jon knew the kinds of songs that they wanted to write. Spencer wouldn't change the way things had turned out, but he couldn't help wishing they'd get a handle on where they were going a little quicker.
We need to get away, like Cameron Diaz. Get some perspective, Brendon had added.
New Perspective, Spencer had said, and snorted. Brendon had snorted too, but they'd been drunk and looking up places on the internet by that point, so it didn't really matter that what they were doing was totally fucking stupid.)
Spencer shook Brendon's shoulder. "Come on," he said. "Wake up. We'll go get some coffee and get on the road again. We need to be there by dinner."
"Nrgh," Brendon said, eloquently, wiping drool off his chin with his fist. "Why is this country so fucking cold?"
"Punishment," Spencer said grimly, already climbing back through to the front seat. "It's the powers that be telling us we should never drink rum again."
"Someone take away the fucking credit cards," Brendon said, sleepily, already rooting through his backpack on the floor. "Got my wallet," he said. "Let's go raid this joint."
Two coffees each and a pack of M&M's helped wake Spencer up, and it was only once they got into Wales and the roads started getting smaller and windier that he realized they really were going to the middle of fucking nowhere. "Your turn to drive," he said, since it was high time Brendon took his share of the driving, and Spencer was exhausted and jealous of the way Brendon kept looking like he was napping in the passenger seat.
"Awesome," Brendon said cheerfully, which was another reason Spencer had to resent him right now. He rolled his shoulders to get rid of the cramp, and pulled over so that Brendon could take his seat.
The rest of the journey was uneventful, so long as Brendon occasionally veering over to the more familiar side of the road didn't count as being eventful, but when the clock on the dash started to tick past five pm, Spencer started to get worried. "She's going to have gone, Brendon, and then we'll be stuck sleeping in our car overnight."
"We won't," Brendon said, easily. He changed gear with only a little wrenching noise. It was not their fault they hadn't driven stick in a while. "We'll get there."
"I don't even know where there is," Spencer complained, trying to follow their route on the hopelessly crumpled ordinance survey map. "I think we're on a yellow road. What does that even mean? Fuck, next time you see a phone booth, pull over. We'll call and say we're almost there." He'd spent twenty minutes after they'd swapped seats hopelessly stabbing at his phone with sleepy fingers, each time hoping that he'd get it to work. It didn't.
"With what?" Brendon asked, with surprising reason. They still didn't have any cash between them, and Spencer was almost one hundred percent sure that phone booths didn't take cards, and even if they did, he was willing to bet they wouldn't take American cards. Stupid fucking American cards, he thought, angrily. Stupid fucking British machines, demanding that every card have a stupid chip in it. His card would only work if somebody swiped it, which had always made everything even more complicated whenever they came over on tour.
Seriously, this was the stupidest idea either of them had ever had.
"Fuck, just drive faster," Spencer said. "Why aren't we on the A40? Shouldn't we be on the A40?"
"We've come off that," Brendon said. "I think we're on the A487."
"Glad you're paying attention," Spencer said gruffly. He fumbled in his wallet for the print out from the booking website; at least now they should be able to start following the local directions that had come with the booking. "Hang on, there, pull in. There's the store, look."
The store, lit up like a fucking parade, was half real estate, half Coastal Cottages Holiday Bookings, and half tourist information. It was also covered in fucking Christmas lights, and nestled in between a small grocery store and a store whose sign said Enoch's, and under that, pysgod a sglodion. He couldn't even make a guess at what the fuck that meant. Spencer's eyes hurt. Seriously, if he didn't get some actual sleep soon he was going to go nuclear and blow stuff up. He was so tired he felt like he was dying.
"I'll go in and get the keys," Spencer said. "I'm pretty sure we're not meant to park here, so keep the engine running."
Brendon tapped his fingers against the wheel. "Got it, boss," he said, and just for a second he looked just as exhausted as Spencer was, but then he perked up. "Almost there, Spence."
"Yeah," Spencer said, too tired even to resent Brendon for being perky when he was having trouble standing up and walking. He grabbed his jacket from off the back seat and crossed the road. He definitely needed to buy a better coat if they were going to be here almost two weeks; the wind whistled right through this one and out the other side again, leaving him like an icicle in the middle. "Hi," he said, pushing open the door to the little store. An annoying Christmas bell jangled as the door opened. "I'm Spencer Smith? I have a booking with you -"
"Spencer Smith!" There were two women in the little store, both of them wearing ridiculous knitted sweaters and dunking cookies in cups of tea. One of them, seated behind a desk that said Anna Macnamara, Coastal Lets on a little sign perched in between a multitude of family photographs and a goldfish in a bowl, stood up and held her hand out, brushing away the crumbs against her skirt as she did so. "I'm Anna Macnamara. Congratulations!"
Spencer blinked. Okay, he thought. "Um, thanks?" he said. "I booked a cottage online—"
"We spoke very briefly on the phone," Anna said, still shaking his hand. Spencer remembered that, if a little drunkenly. "To confirm your booking."
"Yes," Spencer said again. He felt vaguely confused.
"Well, it's a lovely little cottage, new to us this year. The owners live right down the road, so any problems, they've said just nip down and give them a knock. They'll come up and show you all the little idiosyncrasies you might expect from a cottage of this age - where to duck so you won't bang your head, the little trick with the toilet door, that kind of thing." She leaned in conspiratorially. "I must say, they were ever so excited when they saw your special request on the booking form. They've never done it before! So they've gone all out for you. And on top of the Christmas decorations you requested. The place looks wonderful."
"Um," Spencer said, since he was so tired his brain felt muffled. "That's great," he settled for, after a moment.
"Right," Spencer said, vaguely considering what Anna meant by knock up, and hoping it meant something different than what it meant back home. "Yes." He took another cookie as the printer creaked into action, and then Anna handed him the first batch of pages.
"Here's your booking, and your requests, and proof of your payment; just sign there. And here are the conditions of use of the cottage - no smoking being the main one, but take a look through. Because of all the candles, there's an extra bit here about not leaving them unattended. Here's a list of contact numbers—for us and for emergencies—and I'm just printing you off some updated information about the area. Gloria's put you together a Welcome Pack, too, full of things for you and your husband to do on your honeymoon." She winked at him. "If you want to leave the cottage, that is!"
Spencer blinked, and looked down at the printed checklist in his lap. In clear, black letters it said honeymoon and next to that, a box checked yes.
Oh, he thought, and dimly remembered a checklist form that he'd mostly ignored and clicked at randomly. Yes, we want internet; no, we don't need a place that caters to animals; yes, we want Christmas decorations. And, apparently, yes, we are on a honeymoon and the honeymoon package sounded perfect.