This, Hannah thinks, staring up at the Abbott house with a duffel bag at her feet, is a very bad idea.
Not that she thinks coming back to Everwood, specifically, is a bad idea. She actually misses the town a lot – the scrubby grass outside Sarah Lawrence is a far cry from Everwood’s mountain scenery, that’s for sure. She misses the food at Mama Joy’s-turned-Sam’s (which she thinks is still called Sam’s), she misses waking up to the smell of Nina brewing coffee, and she misses the familiarity of walking down the street and having a good idea of who she’s going to run into where. She even misses the people: Ephram’s sarcasm and Sam’s hyperactive yelling and even Amy’s overbearing way of trying to run her life.
But within the Abbott household, among the afghans and the fridge stocked full of food, is Bright Abbott.
Hannah blinks, her eyes focusing in on Bright himself, standing on the porch and waving, an ear-splitting grin on his face. She feels her stomach flip over.
“Hey, Bright,” she says with a smile, picking up her bag and heading up the front walk. “Merry Christmas.”
Yes, she thinks, feeling the way her skin tingles when Bright wraps her in a big, friendly hug, this is a very bad idea, indeed.
The Abbotts talk a mile a minute from the second she steps in the door, and it isn’t hard to fool herself into thinking that no time at all has passed. She’s helping Mrs. Abbott stir vegetables on the stove, Amy’s mashing potatoes and chattering about the finals she took last week, and it really could be just another family dinner in a series of many family dinners at the Abbotts.
“Yeah,” Bright says, wandering past the kitchen talking on his cell. “Yeah, I’ll call you later. Bye.”
Amy raises an eyebrow after him. “Michelle,” she explains to Hannah in a low voice. “This girl he’s been seeing.”
This really was nothing like the old family dinners at the Abbotts.
“Ah,” Hannah says quietly, poking at a bean to see if it’s cooked.
“But I don’t think he really likes her,” Amy confides. “I mean, she’s pretty, but I think that’s about it. She’s kind of fake, you know?”
“Right,” Hannah says, a little flustered. What does it matter if Bright’s seeing some girl, anyway? It’s none of her business. Bright is her friend. Her close, platonic friend. And she’s been gone for a year anyway, so really, it’s all irrelevant. All her sweaty palms, her shaky knees – every last one of them, irrelevant.
Hannah wills herself to smile up at Amy brightly. “You didn’t tell me about where Ephram took you for your birthday last week.”
Hannah focuses on draining the vegetables, letting Amy’s familiar voice wash over her. She’s here for a family Christmas, that’s all, and the last thing she needs to focus on is Bright Abbott.
Which is easier said than done when she’s seated directly across from him at the dinner table, but Hannah figures she’ll make it work. She’ll have to.
“So,” Doctor Abbott says, gently wiping the corner of his mouth with the cloth napkin hanging out of his collar, “how’s Sarah Lawrence, Hannah?”
She feels herself relax. In a world where the familiar is unfamiliar and there are emotions and feelings and all sorts of charged words that shouldn’t be said, talking about her mundane school life is more than welcome.
“It’s good!” she says cheerily. “The psychology classes are a little dull because they’re mostly the scientific basics behind all the more developed theories that we’ll learn later on, but my children’s literature class is really interesting. And the other girls in my dorm are really great.”
“That’s lovely,” Doctor Abbott says with a smile. “And your exams?”
“I finished them last Friday,” Hannah tells him. “I don’t know for sure, but I think they all went really well.”
“We’re very proud of you,” Mrs. Abbott says. “It’s so wonderful to see you go off to school and do so well. After all, you’re practically our third child.”
“Hey, Amy and I are going to school,” Bright says sulkily, poking at his turkey.
His mother shoots him a look. “You know good and well that your father and I are proud of all of you.”
“Even though we didn’t go off to fancy-ass far-away colleges?” There’s something bitter in his tone.
“Brighton,” Mrs. Abbott shoots back, complete with a capital-L Look. “Eat your beans.”
Hannah’s been at the Abbott’s for almost three hours, and she thinks that she just might make it through this whole thing unscathed, after all.
The Browns come over for coffee and spice cake, and they all sit in the living room to catch up. It’s especially nice to see Andy, Ephram and Delia – she’d gotten used to their madcap ways when she lived next door, and even at Sarah Lawrence she hasn’t managed to find neighbors with quite as much drama as the Brown’s.
There’s the usual “so how is school going?” and “how are your classes?”, and Delia jumps in with “can you mail me a Sarah Lawrence sweater?” and after awhile, when he’s running out of things to say, Andy desperately asks, “so have you made any friends?”. It’s not the most scintillating conversation Hannah’s ever taken part in, but the quiet eyebrow quirks and little smiles from Ephram’s corner of the couch keep her entertained. She’s never met anyone with a sense of irony quite like Ephram’s.
But eventually the conversation moves on, centers on Amy and her second-year post-modern feminist class, and Hannah is content to just sit among old friends, sip tea, and listen.
That is, until Ephram asks Bright about when he’s seeing Michelle again.
“Uh, probably not till New Year’s,” Bright says, chasing some cake crumbs around his plate. “Although she has some family Christmas thing tomorrow night that she wants to take me to, so I don’t know. That might be cool. She says her dad has a regulation-size pool table.”
“Family Christmas?” Doctor Abbott butts in, raising his eyebrows. “That sounds serious, Bright.”
He shrugs. “I guess. She’s cool, so I don’t know. I like her.”
Hannah’s on her feet before she even realizes how bothered she is by this conversation. Cheeks turning pink, she ducks her head. “Excuse me,” she says quietly, and hurries out of room, taking the stairs two at a time up to the second floor and locking herself into the bathroom as quick as she can.
She sinks down onto the cool tile, back against the bathroom door. Breathe, she instructs herself firmly, breathe.
The knock makes her jump.
“Hannah?” It’s Bright’s voice, tentative through the door. God, what now?
She’s determined not to let her voice shake. “What is it, Bright?”
“Are you okay?”
Hannah feels a lump rise in her throat, unable to stop herself from remembering the last conversation they had through a closed bathroom door almost two years ago.
“I’m fine!” she calls, and even she can hear the fakeness in her voice.
“Then… are you coming out?”
He won’t leave it alone – Hannah knows Bright well enough by now to know that once he zeroes in on something, he will not leave it alone until he’s sure that things are okay. So she gets to her feet, mentally braces herself, and pulls open the door.
Bright’s leaning against the doorjamb, and damn him, does he have to look that adorable when he’s concerned?
“Hey, there she is,” he says with a smile, and she’s not really sure who else he thinks can hear him right now. He’s always liked to think he had an audience, even when he clearly didn’t. “Everything all right?”
“Yeah!” she says cheerily, forcing herself to smile.
Bright snorts and rolls his eyes. “I’ve known you for three years – you think that crap’s going to fool me?”
She lets her smile drop. If he isn’t buying it, why bother trying? “Fine. I thought coming here today was going to be easier. I thought it would be nice to see everyone again and pretend it’s just like old times. But it isn’t because you’re still here but you’re dating some girl named Michelle who’s probably tall and blonde and gorgeous and you and I aren’t you and I anymore, and it all just really…” She exhales loudly. “Sucks.”
Bright’s eyebrows knit together in confusion. “But… Hannah, you broke up with me. You didn’t even want to see me for, like, ages.”
“I know!” she says, frustrated. “I know.”
“And then you moved to New York. Which is really far.”
“I know,” Hannah says. “But it still isn’t easy to come back here and see you! It’s not like I forgot what it was like to be with you, Bright. I couldn’t forget something that amazing.”
Bright’s lips press against hers before she can say any more.
He crowds her up against the wall, hands on her waist as he kisses her deeply, and her arms loop around his neck as she presses her body into him. She’s kissing him back, tongue and teeth and lips, and it doesn’t seem to matter that they’re in the hallway of his parents’ house with guests downstairs and that anyone could stumble upon them at any moment. When they break apart for air, Hannah’s head is spinning.
“Jesus, Bright,” she says, flushed.
“Hannah,” he says quietly, licking his lips. She’s forgotten how good it feels to have him this close.
“What are we doing?” Hannah asks, because this is crazy. She knows this is crazy. He cheated on her last time, she lives hundreds of miles away… there are a hundred reasons why making out with Bright in an upstairs hallway is the stupidest thing she could possibly be doing right now.
But Bright rubs his thumb over her cheek, and all that stuff is suddenly much harder to remember.
“I don’t know,” he admits, and she breathes out a laugh.
“Me neither,” she says with a little smile, and he kisses her again, gently.
“Look,” Bright says, pressing his forehead against hers. “I know this is crazy. Like, Guinness Book of World Records crazy. But I really miss you, and right now I don’t care that you’re going back to school tomorrow.”
She sighs. “Bright…”
“I let you go once,” Bright says seriously. “I’m not letting you go again.”
It’s insane. It’s hands-down, completely, absolutely insane, and Hannah knows it.
But she hooks a hand around the front of his shirt and pulls him down for another kiss. “You think we can figure it out?”
Bright grins, and Hannah feels her stomach flop again. She hadn’t realized how much she missed that feeling.
“Yeah,” Bright says. “I think we can figure it out.”