“Okay, get out,” Eliza says firmly.
“You’re going to abandon me on the side of the road? In the middle of a snowstorm?” Alex looks around. “In Vermont?”
“She wants you to switch seats with me,” John says, gladly clambering out of the backseat.
“Why?” he asks, flabbergasted.
“Because at least when John corrects my driving he knows what he’s talking about!” Eliza snaps.
It’s nearly 11 PM, and her patience is being tested. The drive to Okemo was only supposed to take four hours or so, but the sudden onset of snow has slowed them to a crawl. She lost sight of her parents’ car ages ago, and if Alex says one more thing about her driving skills she will abandon him on the roadside.
Luckily, Alex looks slightly mollified by that, and cedes the front seat to John.
“Hi, Eliza,” John says as he slides in, followed by a flurry of snow.
“Hello, John,” she replies. “Are you ready to drive in total silence?”
Alex slams his door shut a little harder than absolutely necessary. “Fuck you guys.”
It’s the same road Eliza takes every February, so she doesn’t doubt that they’ll make it to the cabin. Peggy and Angelica are probably fast asleep in the backseat of their parents’ car, her father humming along to the radio as he drives and her mother dutifully ignoring him so she can focus on her book. They had been the ones to suggest inviting Alex and John along on the family ski trip.
“Don’t you want to bring your boyfriend?” her father asked, his eyebrows raised.
“I don’t see why not. There’s plenty of space at the cabin.”
“Oh, and what about your friend, that sweet kid we met last month,” her mom chimed in. “John.”
They had taken to John very quickly, almost as quickly as they had to Alex. More importantly, Eliza suspects, they were eager to get to know the son of a senator—even a Republican senator.
“I dunno…” she hedged.
It isn’t that she doesn’t want to spend time with John, it’s only that her parents aren’t aware of the “arrangement” they’d made with Alex nearly a year ago. For all their purported liberalness, she isn’t sure they’d react well to finding out their sweet, Christian daughter is in a relationship like that. And after a weekend stuck together in a cabin in Vermont, them finding out seems like a distinct possibility.
“He can stay in Angelica and Peggy’s room,” her mom said. In an undertone she added, “he’s gay, right?”
There wasn’t much more she could do to dissuade them after that, and part of her didn’t want to. They hadn’t spent much time together, just the three of them, and this trip might give them a sense of what life would be like if they eventually shared an apartment. She hasn’t broached that particular subject yet, but she’s starting to get sick of Alex ping-ponging between her place and John’s. She suspects John feels the same way.
“We’re nearly there,” she says, straining to see through the darkness and the snow.
“You don’t even have a map app open,” Alex says. “How can you tell?”
“Because I’m not completely reliant on technology, honey.”
They manage to drive in silence for another five minutes before Alex complains that his ass is cold now that he’s lost access to the seat warmers.
“Mine’s toasty warm, actually,” John says.
“This is bullying. You guys are bullying me.”
Eliza would roll her eyes if she weren’t so terrified of crashing the second she stops looking at the road. “We’re nearly there, but I’ll crank the heat a bit.”
“What’s the plan for tomorrow?” John asks.
“My dad wants us all to be out of the house by 8 AM, so we should be on the slopes by 9, I think. We can have Alex start on the green circles—”
“What’re those?” Alex asks.
“That’s the easiest level, sweetie,” she says, eyes still focused on the snowy road. “Then there’s blue squares, and then black diamonds. In the afternoon John and I could take turns with you while one of us tries the more difficult slopes. Or maybe not, maybe we can hold off on those until Sunday.”
“Yeah, you might be ready for a blue square on Sunday,” John says, twisting in his seat to smile at Alex.
Somehow Eliza doubts it, but she doesn’t say anything.
“Wait, Laurens, you’re gonna ski the…black and blue things?” Alex asks.
“Yeah, dude. Why wouldn’t I?”
“You can ski?”
“You’re from South Carolina!”
Oh boy. Eliza’s suddenly very glad she doesn’t have to make eye contact with either one of them.
“Uh, yeah. My dad liked to take the family…” Laurens says sheepishly, his last few words trailing off into unintelligible mumbles.
“What was that?”
“He liked to take the family skiing in Aspen. Colorado. And, um. Switzerland.”
“So you ski,” Alex says flatly.
“Yeah, I ski.”
“Both of you ski.”
Eliza finally risks glancing back for a split second—Alex is slumped in the middle seat with his arms crossed tightly. It’s pitch black outside except for the dark grey blur of snow, but he’s staring out the window intently.
“You didn’t know?” she asks.
“I feel like your guys’s kid back here,” he says, abruptly changing the subject. “How much longer?”
Eliza resists the urge to toss her boyfriend bodily from the car.
“Just go to sleep, sweetie,” she says instead. “We’ll carry you out when we get there.”
John snorts into his hand, then dissolves into small, silent giggles.
“You two are hilarious,” Alex grumbles.
They arrive at the cabin about a half hour later. Alex actually has fallen asleep by then, though he’s managed to stay sitting upright.
“Alex, we’re here,” John says softly, shaking his shoulder. “C’mon.”
“What? Why?” he mutters blearily.
Eliza watches them from behind the open trunk, as John gently pulls Alex from the backseat and rubs the back of his head fondly. Seeing them like that always gives her an odd feeling, sometimes good, sometimes bad—the hard prickle of jealousy hasn’t fully vanished, but it’s usually soothed somewhat by a pleasant warmth that blooms in her abdomen and spreads to her head and feet. Right now, the prickle is winning out.
“Here, I’ll take that,” John says to her, and lifts both of their suitcases easily.
Alex stumbles backwards when John passes him, still a little dazed from his nap. “That’s my job,” he says in confusion.
“Sure it is, hon,” Eliza says, patting him on the arm as she walks by.
Peggy and her mom are sitting up for them in the living room, playing a very, very slow game of Jenga. Catharine is squinting hard, her chin nearly to the table and her hands hovering a foot away from the tower.
“Ma, just grab a piece already!” Peggy groans.
“It’s a game of strategy, darling. Don’t rush me.”
Peggy spots the three of them at the door and bounds up from the table, knocking the Jenga tower over in the process. Their mother throws her hands up in the air.
“Oh, thank God,” Peggy says when she sees the mess she’s made.
Torn away from her Jenga game, Cathy gets up to hug them all and deliver her customary cheek kisses. “Boys!” she cries, practically beaming at John and Alex. “I’m so glad both of you were able to come.”
“We got caught in the blizzard,” Eliza says, lugging her suitcase towards her bedroom.
“Where are you going, Eliza?” Cathy asks. “Don’t you want something to eat before you go to bed?”
“We had McDonalds on the way up,” Alex puts in, before Eliza can stop him.
“Oh.” Cathy wrinkles her nose. “Well, beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” Alex agrees, but Eliza can tell he’s thrown. He really doesn’t know her parents, she realizes.
“At the very least you should give our guests a tour of the cabin,” Cathy tries.
“Mom, it’s late. I’ll show them around in the morning.”
“Yeah, plus we have to get up early,” Peggy says. “Here, John, I’ll take you to our room. We put down an air mattress and everything.”
“Geez, the works,” John jokes as Peggy leads him away. Partway down the hall John looks over his shoulder at them, his expression gloomy. When he sees Eliza looking back, he shifts into a tight smile.
But it’s too late—she knows what’s going on in his head. It’s not her spending the night with Alex that bothers him, that’s normal for them. She is Alex’s girlfriend, after all, just as much as John’s his boyfriend. It’s that they didn’t get to discuss it. In her parents house, he has no choice but to cede Alex entirely, to play at being the platonic best friend. A neutral third party. For a moment, she feels guilty. But he knew all that when he agreed to come on the trip, Eliza reminds herself. And besides, it’s only for a weekend.
Still. It might have been naive of her to think this trip would be good for them.
Alex yawns widely, which finally convinces Cathy to leave them alone and let them sleep. The guest bedroom is so warm that Eliza has to crack a window open, just enough to justify their mountain of quilts and comforters. Alex wears boxers and his ratty old Columbia t-shirt to bed, like he does every night, and Eliza changes into white flannels patterned with tiny red snowflakes.
“It’s so soft,” Alex says sleepily, rubbing the material between his fingers.
She presses herself to his back and wraps her arms around him, generously putting her bare feet on his freezing cold ones.
“They’re Lands’ End,” she says.
He doesn’t say anything after that, but she can hear from his breathing that he’s fully awake.
“Aren’t you sleepy, hon?” she asks.
“Hmm? Yeah. Go to sleep.”
“Not what I said.”
She pulls back a little, and he turns towards her in confusion. “Are you okay?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” he says, and kisses her forehead gently. “Honest.”
She curls back around him, wanting to believe him and failing. After a while, she hears a small snore, and then another one a minute later. He might be faking, she muses. He’s done it before. But the thought is just a passing flicker in her brain, and she slips into sleep before it can take root.