Chapter 1 : Mia
Why is it that we make plans for vacation—to spend a week of relaxation and escape—and in the process, we end up stressing ourselves to the brink to prepare for it? That’s what this day had been for me—a thin slice in the middle of the stress sandwich that was my preparations for the holidays and the start of a new rotation in medical school.
Adam and I had just returned from my mom’s place in Anza on Christmas night, having spent a few days with my mom and her husband, Adam’s uncle Peter. In addition, we’d had Peter’s kids, William and Britt, their significant others, and the grandkids.
Mom had planned an amazing little down home family Christmas for us all. We’d had some adventures—exploring and hiking, a little horseback riding with the kids, and playing a lot of crazy board games.
I sighed, adjusting a shimmery silver, star-shaped ornament on our gorgeous tree that stood nearly ten feet tall in our front room, and was still dwarfed by the cathedral ceilings. It was close to midnight on Christmas night, and I couldn’t help but take a moment to admire the play of light and shimmery beauty in that quiet room. The colorful ornaments reflected the white lights, the shining red and gold ribbon against the soft green fir of the tree. Closing my eyes, I inhaled that fresh, clean scent that immediately took me back to hiking through Idyllwild forests as a kid.
Suddenly, strong, solid arms encircled my waist and pulled me back against a broad, hard chest. The tree’s aroma was replaced by the familiar scent of the man I loved. Eyes still closed, I relaxed against him as he dipped his head to land a peck on my neck. A little thrill buzzed there, as it always did when he touched me. He rested his head against mine, and my eyes opened.
He was staring at the tree, all the glistening lights reflecting in his gorgeous dark eyes. “Crazy, we’ve barely had a chance to sit and just admire our tree. Here we are, no sooner home but headed back out of town.”
I sighed. “The price we pay for being young and driven, I guess? Thank goodness for the holidays. It seems to be the only thing that can slow us down. I’ve been able to hog you mostly to myself for the past forty-eight hours.”
“Only forces beyond our control can slow down people like us.”
I swallowed, considering that. Before Christmas, we’d hardly seen each other, for nearly a month. He’d had a business trip. I’d had final exams. He’d spent nearly a week working with his charity foundation on end-of-year business items for the season… The list never ended.
I turned and landed a return peck on his whisker-rough cheek. “Maybe people like us should learn to slow down more often and savor what we have.”
Adam smiled and his arms tightened around me. “Hey, it was your idea to go spend the week, and our first anniversary, up in the mountains with our friends.”
“Mmm, true. We never get to see them anymore either. But we’ll get our time alone. And now that you’ve promised to keep your phone locked in the safe while we’re there, I’ll actually get to have a real conversation with you that isn’t rudely interrupted by beeping and buzzing.”
“Yes, yes. Just pay no attention to all the twitching and withdrawal symptoms I’ll be enduring in the process.”
He joked now, but it had been a brief point of contention between us at first. He’d happily relented when I’d agreed, not to bury my nose in my textbooks. Compromise was good and healthy and yet… I couldn’t help but be a little worried about us. Even if it was just a tiny inkling of disquiet with no tangible basis.
We went to bed at the same time that night, something we almost never did normally. Sometimes we’d spend time together doing other things—watching TV, cuddling, sexy times. But Adam was rarely the type of guy who just rolled over and went to sleep afterward. He popped out of bed and was raring to go for a few more hours still.
The trying times of being married to a man who rarely got more than five hours sleep a night. As I waited for him to come to bed, I dawdled on my tablet, still distracted by some of those distant worries.
As luck would have it, the link for one of those silly internet quizzes crossed my feed and I, like an idiot, clicked on it. As if it were some kind of fortune teller that might set us straight, or even just calm some distant fears.
When Adam came to bed minutes later, slipping under the sheets, I was just answering the last question of the their “Rate Your Marriage” quiz on BuzzTea.
“What’s so funny?” he asked, settling in beside me.
“Oh I followed some dumbass clickbait.” I laughed. No need to alarm him that I’d actually gone looking for it. It was meaningless, anyway. I showed him the screen on my tablet. “I just took this quiz, and apparently we scored abysmally. BuzzTea gives us less than three years until divorce.”
Adam didn’t answer for a long moment—he seemed to be mulling it over. Then suddenly, as if what I’d said had finally sunk in, he stiffened, struggling to sit up. “What?! Let me see that.”
“Don’t get your blood pressure up. It’s just a stupid internet quiz.”
But Adam had already clicked on the retake button and was now sitting up in bed, spooning forgotten. He furiously drilled through the questions, every muscle in his body growing tenser and more upright with each passing question. I swallowed. “Adam, put it aside. It’s something some intern on a deadline wrote while Googling shit. It’s not—”
“No. No one’s allowed to give us a low score. We don’t roll like that.” And with a flourish, he hit “see your results” and held his breath. “Shitty programming. I could do this way better, so it would give immediate results.”
I nodded. “Of course you could.”
“Listen, I’ll go do it right now and it won’t even take an hour to—Ah! here it is. See, that’s a….” His voice faded as he squinted, scrutinizing the screen. The tablet illuminated his breathlessly handsome features. I never tired of looking at him, really. Okay, maybe sometimes when he was getting on my nerves. But lately we hadn’t seen enough of each other for that to even happen.
Sadly, he really seemed to be taking this dumb quiz thing hard. Clearly, he needed a distraction. “Come here. That thing’s bullshit.” I bent and kissed his temple, his cheek, his neck, and I gripped the edge of the tablet, ready to whisk it away from his scrutiny. “They give us absolutely no points for burning up the bed when we have sex.”
“Hmm,” he said, apparently not hearing me as he clicked more links and, maddeningly, tried to take the thing again. I yanked it away and set it on my side of the bed, out of his reach.
He let it go, falling back against the pillow and looking at me. “It’s complete BS,” I repeated.
He shrugged. “I’m exhausted, anyway. I think I need a vacation to recuperate from Christmas. But I’ll do it after I write the makers of that quiz a sternly worded letter of complaint.”
I laughed. “You are such a nerd. But… you are my sexy, hot nerd.”
He leaned in and kissed me. Now we were talking. I locked my arms around his neck just as he pulled back. “You realize we have to be up in four hours?”
I took in a deep breath and let it out. “Fair point. But once we’re officially on our vacation, I expect all the sexy sex we can get.”
“With seven of our closest friends in the same house.”
I bit my lip. “Maybe inviting everyone up with us was a crazy idea?”
He kissed me again. “Let’s have the most fun we’ve ever had on vacation.”
“It’s a deal.”
Thankfully, as I rolled onto my side to fall asleep, he scooted back into spooning position. My lids closed, and dreamy almost-sleep grasped at me like the incoming tide lapped the dry sand.
Tonight, we were exhausted. It had been a wonderful Christmas, but tomorrow, we’d be in the snowy mountains doing fun things. I’d have him all to myself—and sometimes with friends—for a whole week. Then, the special surprise I’d planned for our very first wedding anniversary.
Things would be brighter. We’d reconnect and those thought gremlins would be banished once and for all.
I couldn’t wait.