Jenna had been simultaneously delighted and utterly horrified when Jim had given her her Christmas present. The former, because the Northern Lights were meant to be spectacular and she’d always had a distant desire to see them, and the latter because the pair of them were meant to be saving for their wedding, and a weekend away in a log cabin on the shores of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota had surely come at no small cost (Jim wouldn’t fully admit to her just how much it had set him back, which told her all that she needed to know).
But when the two of them pulled up in front of their home for the weekend, she felt all her previous annoyances melt away instantly. The same could also be said for the light blanket of snow which trimmed the towering pine trees lining the lake’s lapping shore and crunched under her feet as she got out of their rental and walked around to get their suitcases and supplies out of the trunk. Their cabin, a sturdy construction of weathered redwood, with a patio wrapping around its midsection, sat proudly flanked by two particularly tall trees.
‘What do you think?’ Jim asked, taking his suitcase out of Jenna’s hand and standing next to her.
‘You done good, Pomatter,’ Jenna replied, patting him on the back and grinning, ‘Let’s get inside, it’s freezing.’
‘Sure,’ Jim said with a nod, retrieving his cell from his back pocket, ‘In the email, it said the keys should be in the little safe by the front door.’
Jenna nodded, using both hands to carry her suitcase up the wooden stairs to the door. Sure enough, to the right of the doorframe was a little plastic safe with a keypad on the front.
‘You got a code?’ she said over her shoulder as Jim stepped up behind her.
‘Uh-huh,’ he replied, scrolling down his phone screen with his thumb, ‘It’s 1-2-3-4.’
Jenna frowned, ‘That seems a little weak.’
Jim shrugged, gesturing with one hand to the deserted landscape around them, ‘I guess they’re not worried about anyone coming down here.’
‘Seems fair,’ Jenna replied with a nod, keying in the code carefully and opening the safe, finding the key nestled inside.
She put the key in the lock, wiggling it a little to get it to slot in properly, then opened the door. The pair of them bundled inside, eager to get out of the cold and put down their heavy suitcases before they could really take in their surroundings.
When Jenna looked properly at the interior of their little log cabin, as she slowly undid the buttons on her thickest winter coat, she gasped.
‘Oh, Jim, it’s beautiful.’
‘Of course,’ Jim said proudly, kissing her cold cheek and stepping further into the cabin.
It was open plan, yet still cozy feeling. The kitchen was in one corner, consisting of a two-ringed stovetop, and a small oven underneath it. On its left was the sink, with a square window above it, and next to the sink was a refrigerator. On the other side of the stove was a couple of cupboards, made of pale pine. In front of the units was a small, square, oak dining table, with two wicker chairs. On top of the table was a little welcome basket, and when Jenna walked up to it, she could see it was filled with a variety of teabags, coffee, and packets of cookies.
On the right side of the cabin was a large, grey sofa, furnished with plump cushions and a fluffy blanket draped over the back. The television stood on a large oak cupboard in the corner of the room. What really caught Jenna’s eye, however, was the cavernous fireplace in the adjacent wall. There was a fresh pile of logs sat expectantly within it, and she was itching to light them. She walked over, flinging her satchel onto the sofa and stepping up to the fireplace, running a hand along the gleaming mantelpiece and feeling an excited quiver in her belly.
‘So, happy belated Christmas present,’ Jim murmured, stepping up behind her and wrapping both arms around her middle.
Jenna smiled, leaning into him as he kissed her neck.
‘Thank you,’ she whispered, ‘It’s perfect.’
‘Just like you,’ he replied, dopily, nuzzling his chin in the crook of her neck and swaying a little.
She grinned, reaching over her shoulder to run her fingers through his hair and leaning her head against his.
This was the first weekend they would be spending alone together since Josie’s birth. In fact, if they really thought about it, it was the first weekend they would be spending together in their entire relationship. As it was spring break for the girls, they were both home from school and day-care for the week. The family had flown up to Connecticut on Friday evening, the day before, (coincidentally, it was Josie’s first time on a plane and apart from a bit of grouchiness during take-off and landing, she had dealt with it reasonably well). The two girls would be staying with Jim’s parents until Monday when Jenna and Jim would fly back to Connecticut, and then the whole family would fly back to Kentucky on Tuesday.
It was a rather intense few days from a traveling point-of-view, but they were limited on options; Becky and Cal had plans already (keeping control of the diner, for one thing), and while the Anhorns would have been an ideal choice, they already had a boisterous three-year-old, and Dawn was six months pregnant. That really only left Jim’s parents, but Jenna thought it might be nice for the girls to have some bonding time with them, and in a way, have a little vacation of their own. Jenna was very much looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet, and privacy; although her younger daughter was pretty much settled in her older sister’s room now, she often came pattering into her parents’ bedroom in the morning, demanding to get into bed with them.
‘Hey, where’s the Wi-Fi password?’ the mother asked, turning around in Jim’s arms and placing her hands on his shoulders.
‘It should be on the router by the television,’ Jim told her, stroking his hands down her sides and resting them on her hips. He leaned down and kissed her, gripping the material of her top lightly.
‘Mm – Jim, I wanna try – Facetiming the girls,’ Jenna mumbled between kisses.
‘They’ll probably be having dinner now anyway,’ Jim replied, moving his kisses along her jawline.
Jenna grinned, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth as he lingered just above her pulse point and made her knees go weak.
‘Yeah, but, it’s Josie’s bedtime soon,’ she sighed with a glance at her watch, ‘It’s already seven where they are.’
Jim kissed her on the mouth slowly once more, cupping her cheek with one hand, then finally pulled away.
‘You’re right, let’s find the password,’ he said, taking her hand in his and interlocking their fingers as he led her over to the sofa.
She sat down, reclining against the cushions and kicking her shoes off so she could tuck her feet up underneath her. Then, she retrieved her cell from her satchel and pulled up the Wi-Fi settings.
Jenna trusted Mary and James Pomatter wholeheartedly to take good care of the girls (who – incidentally – were very excited to be spending a whole weekend in such a grand house as theirs), but she couldn’t help worrying. She was excited to have this time away with Jim, in a part of the country she’d never been to before, but a tiny part of her was also excited to get back home and be with her children again.
Jim located the password, on a sticker on the bottom of the router, and read it out to her. Jenna tapped in the code, a random string of letters and numbers, and found some amusement in the fact that the Wi-Fi password was so complicated when the code for the key-safe outside was anything but.
‘Okay, I got it,’ Jenna said when her phone had connected, patting the sofa next to her, ‘Park yourself.’
Jim plonked himself down beside her and watched over her shoulder as she found Mary’s name in her contacts.
‘Just bear in mind she only got her iPad at Christmas,’ Jim warned, ‘She’s still getting used to it. It’s pretty likely that she’ll be pointing it the wrong way.’
Jenna giggled as she pressed Mary’s name and waited for the call to connect.
The pair of them waited, watching the screen in anticipation. After a few rings, the screen changed to show an image of Mary in their front room; she was squinting at the screen in perplexity.
‘Hi, Mom,’ Jim said, throwing in an awkward little wave.
‘Oh, hello, Jim,’ Mary greeted with a small smile, ‘I wasn’t sure it had connected up properly. You’ve arrived safely, then?’
‘Yes thanks, Mary,’ Jenna said, bringing one knee up in front of her so she could rest her hand on top of it, ‘The travel all went smoothly. We just got here like ten minutes ago.’
‘Good,’ Mary said nodding, before turning over her shoulder and calling, ‘James, girls, Jim and Jenna are on the phone!’
Lulu soon appeared in the background, along with James, who had Josie on his hip.
‘Mama!’ the eight-year-old yelled, running forward and sitting down next to Mary.
‘Hi, girl! You behaving?’ Jenna greeted.
‘Yes,’ Lulu said in outraged innocence, ‘I helped make a pie for dessert and everything.’
‘She did,’ Mary confirmed, ‘And it was delicious.’
‘Which one did you make, Lulu?’ Jim asked, smiling at the girl through the screen.
‘Just a cherry pie,’ Lulu said with a shrug, ‘But I sprinkled the top with cinnamon and demerara sugar to make it snazzy.’
‘That’s my girl,’ Jenna said proudly.
‘I looked online and it looks like you’ve got a good chance of seeing the lights this weekend,’ James said, moving to sit on Mary’s other side with Josie in his lap.
‘Thanks, Dad,’ Jim said, nodding.
Jenna watched as her younger daughter pointed towards the screen, grinning.
‘Who’s that, Josie?’ Mary asked the toddler with animation.
‘Is Mama!’ Josie babbled, a pair of dimples appearing in her plump cheeks.
‘Hi, baby girl,’ Jenna said softly, tilting the screen slightly to make sure Jim was fully in the shot.
‘Dada!’ the toddler yelled.
‘Hiya, Josie,’ Jim greeted, sticking his tongue out and making his daughter chortle.
‘Wait, can I show them the drawing I did?’ Lulu asked Mary.
‘Of course, dear,’ Mary said.
The eight-year-old vanished from the shot, and Jenna and Jim could hear her clattering around in the background.
‘So, have they behaved?’ Jenna asked again, swapping her cell to her other hand.
‘Josie was a little fussy around dinner time,’ Mary admitted, ‘She decided she was too good for spaghetti in tomato sauce.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. That’s usually her favorite,’ Jenna said with a frown.
The older woman shrugged, ‘Lulu managed to convince her to eat it though. It was so sweet, she pretended she was an airplane. I remember us having to do that with Jim when he was little.’
Jim dipped his head in sheer embarrassment. Jenna found his hand and squeezed it.
‘She’s very mature, you know,’ James chimed in, ‘She’s not nine yet, is she?’
‘Not quite,’ Jenna said, with a lurch in her stomach as she was reminded she’d soon have a nine-year-old to contend with, ‘She acts like she’s double her age most of the time, though.’
The two grandparents chuckled, then shuffled up to make room for Lulu as she plonked herself back down next to them, brandishing a piece of paper.
‘Look, Mama!’ the girl shouted, leaning forward and holding her drawing out in front of her.
Jenna and Jim peered at the screen. The drawing was of what looked like a huge, purple dragon, breathing out great blue plumes of fire and smoke.
‘Wow,’ Jenna said, with uncertainty, ‘It’s a… dragon?’
‘Yup!’ Lulu chirruped, pointing to a little figure in the bottom of the corner of the drawing, ‘And that’s the prince.’
Jenna looked where the girl was pointing and took in a tiny man, holding out a sword which was at least as long as he was, and a shield above his head. Then it clicked.
‘Have you been watching Sleeping Beauty?’ Jenna asked, a grin of recognition spreading across her face.
‘Yes,’ Lulu said with a nod.
‘I thought she might have liked to draw Aurora,’ Mary chimed in, ‘But apparently, Lulu doesn’t like her.’
‘She’s asleep for like the whole movie, Mary,’ Lulu replied, ‘Maleficent actually does stuff.’
The older woman chuckled, raising her eyebrows at Jenna through the screen.
‘I agree with you, Lulu,’ Jim contributed, ‘Maleficent’s a way more interesting character.’
‘Well, it’s a wonderful drawing anyway, Lulu,’ Jenna said, laughing.
‘Thank you, Mama,’ the eight-year-old replied with a grin.
At that moment, Josie yawned widely and stretched her little arms above her head, wriggling a little in James’ lap.
‘I think it’s someone’s bedtime,’ the man said, smiling down at the toddler as she fought to keep her eyes open.
‘Okay, well, we need to be making some dinner,’ Jenna said with a glance at Jim, who nodded.
‘Enjoy the rest of your trip,’ Mary said.
‘We will, Mom!’ Jim replied.
‘I hope you get to see the magic lights!’
‘Thanks, Lulu. You be good, okay?’
‘I will, Mama.’
Jenna blew her daughter a kiss through the screen.
‘Love you, girl,’ the mother said.
‘Love you too,’ Lulu replied, hopping down from the sofa, ‘And I love you, Jim!’
‘Love you too, Lulu,’ Jim said, grinning.
‘We’ll see you on Monday,’ James said, standing up and carrying Josie out of shot.
‘Bye, Dad,’ Jim said.
‘Take care of yourselves,’ Mary said.
‘We will. Thank you again for this, Mary,’ Jenna said.
‘It’s no problem,’ the older woman said, and she sounded like she really meant it.
They all said their goodbyes, and then Jenna pressed the end button. She leaned back slightly, resting against Jim’s shoulder.
‘They’re okay,’ she said, more to herself than to him.
‘Course they are,’ Jim said, kissing the top of her head.
They sat like that for a few moments, before the quiet was interrupted by Jenna’s stomach rumbling.
‘Let’s get food,’ she said, laughing and heaving herself to a standing position.
The pair of them padded over to the kitchen and started rummaging through the bags of groceries they’d brought with them. Jim retrieved a couple of bell peppers while Jenna produced a bag of dried pasta and a jar of tomato and basil sauce.
‘Could you chop those up?’ Jenna requested, gesturing to the peppers in Jim’s hands.
The man nodded, walking over to one of the worktops and finding a chopping board. Jenna found a pan from one of the cupboards and put some water on to boil.
Once they’d eaten, the pair of them flopped on the sofa, snuggled up underneath the blanket, and switched the television on. Outside, the sky was just beginning to darken, casting everything in a blueish gloom. Jenna gazed out of the French window, leaning her head against Jim’s shoulder and tucking her feet up underneath her. They’d also lit the fire, and there was something soporific about the sound of the logs sparking and crackling.
‘So, what time are these lights meant to be appearing?’ Jenna questioned, closing her eyes for a moment as the exhaustion of the day’s travel caught up with her.
She felt Jim shift as he checked his phone.
‘According to the forecast, sometime after midnight is our best bet,’ he replied, fighting a yawn.
‘After midnight?’ Jenna whined, forcing her eyes open to look at her watch and see that they had four hours to go.
‘Mm,’ Jim confirmed, ‘Shall I make coffee?’
‘Please,’ Jenna replied, her eyes flickering shut again.
She felt him gently move her head from his shoulder to the back of the sofa as he stood up and walked over to the kitchen. She tried to open her eyes again, widening them till they were like saucers in some attempt to wake herself up. The French windows to her right opened up to the patio, and she levered herself up to a standing position. Perhaps some fresh air would perk her up a little.
She opened the window and stepped out onto the patio, feeling the cool evening breeze against her face. Walking right up to the wooden rail, she placed both hands on it and looked out over the lake, as it gently expanded and withdrew from the shoreline. She looked at the trees filling the landscape, shadowed against the darkening sky now the sun was down. She couldn’t think of any other place she’d been to that was more beautiful, and she felt a sudden warmth in the pit of her belly which spread right to her chilled fingers and bare toes. Lucky me, she thought, placing both elbows on top of the railing and leaning her chin on top of her clenched fists.
‘Pretty special, right?’ Jim asked as he joined her, holding a mug of steaming coffee in each hand.
Jenna turned to him with a smile, nodding as she gratefully accepted one of the mugs.
The pair of them stood next to each other, taking small sips of coffee and taking in their surroundings. Jim wrapped his free arm around Jenna’s lower back, gently gathering her in. She leaned her head against the front of his shoulder and gazed up at the sky, which was darker now and speckled with stars.
‘What time is it?’ she asked Jim, punctuating her words with a sip of coffee.
He glanced at his watch, ‘Eight-thirty.’
‘I really don’t think I’m gonna make it to midnight,’ she whispered, yawning immediately as if to prove her point.
‘Mm,’ Jim responded, swallowing another mouthful of coffee, ‘I guess there’s always tomorrow night.’
Jenna finished her coffee in one gulp, placing the empty mug on top of the rail and wrapping both arms around Jim’s middle.
‘I can tell you’re tired,’ he said softly, finishing his own mug of coffee and bringing an arm around Jenna’s shoulders.
‘Mm?’ she hummed, closing her eyes.
‘You’re extra cuddly when you’re tired,’ the man said with a chuckle.
Jenna smirked and looked up at him, resting her chin against him.
‘Complaining?’ she challenged, pouting.
He grinned and leaned down to kiss her.
‘I love you,’ he whispered, stroking down her cheek with his hand.
‘I love you too,’ she replied, turning in his arms to face him fully, and resting her hands on his hips.
He reached down and took her left hand in his, bringing it up to his face and pressing a kiss to the knuckle of her fourth finger, just below her engagement ring. The two of them looked at the ring, how it sparkled prettily from the light of the cabin.
‘If I do say so myself, and I do – I picked a good ring,’ Jim said smugly, holding Jenna’s hand against his chest and grinning down at her.
She nodded her agreement.
‘Your judgment is astounding,’ she said on a yawn, letting her eyes close again before adding in a sleepy mumble, ‘Well, apart from in your choice of wife.’
Jim shushed her, kissing the top of her head before suggesting they should go back inside; the chill in the air, while refreshing for a while, was now verging on unpleasant. He picked up the two empty mugs from the rail and gestured for Jenna to lead them inside.
The pair of them padded back into the cabin, and Jim closed the French windows behind them, drawing the floor-length curtains across it. Jenna was already making a beeline for the bedroom, hidden away behind a pair of wooden screens. She heaved them apart to reveal a king-size bed, the duvet of which was almost completely concealed by an avalanche of cushions and blankets.
‘Wow,’ she breathed.
Her whole body felt immediately heavy, and she wanted nothing more than to get straight into her pajamas and crawl underneath the covers. She went to fetch their suitcases from where they’d left them by the sofa, and lugged them both back into the bedroom. She heaved her own case onto the bed and unzipped it, ransacking through her clothes till she found her pajamas and pulled them out.
She was shortly joined by Jim, who had a mug of peppermint tea in each hand.
‘You’re the best,’ she whispered, taking one of the mugs and putting it on the nightstand.
He shrugged modestly, carrying his own mug around to the nightstand on the other side of the bed and putting it down. The pair of them quickly changed into their nightclothes, then took turns in the bathroom.
‘In bed at nine o’clock,’ Jenna said with a cursory glance at her watch, once they were both under the covers and leaning back against the piles of cushions, sipping their tea, ‘How wild.’
‘We need to take it down a notch,’ Jim agreed, rolling his shoulders back.
‘Which is a pity, because I was going to suggest that after we’ve finished our tea, you absolutely ravish me.’
The man snorted, nearly spilling his tea in the process.
‘Much as I would love to do that, I just don’t have the energy to give you the ravishing you deserve,’ he said, sucking air through his teeth apologetically.
‘Another time, then,’ Jenna said wistfully, throwing him a wink.
The pair of them laughed before finishing their tea quietly. They then placed the empty mugs back on their respective nightstands, shared a kiss, then snuggled down together underneath the covers.
Jenna was awoken the next morning by Jim getting back into bed alongside her. She turned over and threw an arm over his stomach, feeling him rest his own arm around her shoulders.
‘We forgot to draw the curtains,’ he explained through a yawn.
‘What time is it? she asked, sniffing.
‘First vacation we’ve had in ages and we still can’t sleep in,’ Jenna mumbled, rolling away from Jim to stretch her arms above her head.
‘Well, we did go to sleep quite early,’ he reminded her, reaching up to run his fingers through his bed-hair.
Jenna hummed, heaving herself upright and running the knuckles of her index fingers under either eye. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, taking her first proper look around the bedroom.
There was a wardrobe directly across from the bed, with a large drawer underneath it. In one corner of the room, closest to the window, there was a large armchair, embellished with a cushion on its seat and a knitted blanket thrown over the back of it. The window was currently concealed by a pair of curtains patterned with green pine needles, but there was the unmistakeable beam of sunlight making its way through the tiny crack in between them.
‘What shall we do today?’ she asked Jim.
‘I brought one of Dad’s guidebooks, I think there are some good hikes around here,’ the man offered, absently scratching his chest.
‘Okay, that’d be nice,’ Jenna said on a yawn, throwing the covers back and getting out of bed. She found her suitcase on the floor and pulled out a sweater, slipping it on over her pajamas. Padding through towards the kitchen in search of breakfast, she combed her fingers through her tousled hair and re-tied it into a messy bun.
Jim followed her a few moments later, yawning widely and stretching his arms to either side. He opened the curtains on the French windows, flooding the cabin with bright sunlight. While Jenna retrieved the carton of eggs they’d brought with them and picked three out to scramble, he searched through his backpack to find the guidebook. The pair of them made breakfast together, then, with Jenna slowly stirring the eggs in a saucepan and Jim keeping an eye on the toaster. They made coffee, extra strong in hopes it would give them more of a burst of energy, then sat down at the dinner table and ate.
‘How about this one?’ Jim suggested, sliding the open guidebook over to Jenna’s side of the table, ‘It’s around six miles, and we’ll get good views of the lake.’
Jenna scanned her eyes over the page to see a snapshot of a map with a route highlighted in red, alongside little photographs of the shores of Lake Superior. She nodded as she swallowed her mouthful. ‘Sure,’ she said, looking across the cabin out of the French windows to see clear blue skies, ‘It looks like a nice day.’
Jim nodded, flipping the book face down so it stayed open on the right page. He finished the last scraps of scrambled eggs on his plate, then got up from his seat.
‘Have I ever told you that you make the best scrambled eggs in the world?’ he said, holding his empty plate in one hand and squeezing Jenna’s shoulder with the other.
Jenna chuckled, giving a good-natured roll of her eyes.
They didn’t make her uncomfortable anymore. Jim’s compliments. She remembered how she used to want the ground to swallow her whole whenever he’d said anything positive about her cooking before. At the time, she’d put it down to the fact that her self-esteem was so low it was practically underground. It had taken her a long time to really believe him, to accept that his words weren’t born out of acute politeness but sincerity.
‘So, that sound okay?’ Jim asked her now, sitting back down again opposite her.
She blinked at him, her fork hovering halfway between the table and her mouth.
‘Hm?’ she uttered.
‘If we set off around nine?’ Jim repeated.
‘Oh, oh yeah. That’s fine. Sorry, I was -’
He grinned at her, reaching for her hand across the table.
‘We could make some sandwiches to take,’ he suggested, ‘We brought the peanut butter, right?’
‘Yeah, good idea,’ Jenna replied, looking up at the clock on the wall. It was just coming up to a quarter past eight.
The pair of them swallowed their last dregs of coffee and put their empty mugs in the sink, along with the plates and cutlery. They then took turns showering and got themselves dressed in comfortable clothes. Jim took charge of making the sandwiches, while Jenna made the bed. Then it was nine o’clock, and the couple stood by the door, bundling themselves up in coats, hats, and scarves.
‘You look adorable in that hat,’ Jim said as he fastened his coat buttons right up to his chin.
Jenna laughed, tugging her yellow knitted beanie (her Christmas present from Lulu) so it covered the tips of her ears. Once they were both ready, they ventured outside, making sure to lock the door properly behind them. Then, it was a short drive to get to the start of the trail.
‘How long would it take to walk around the whole lake?’ Jenna asked Jim as they trudged along the hiking trail, hand in hand and hunched slightly against the chill air.
They were walking along an open gravel path, winding through green grass on either side which was blemished with rocks and boulders, and little patches of snow. The lake was down to their left, and above the skies were clear, though the sun’s warmth wasn’t quite penetrating through the cold.
‘Way over a month, I think,’ Jim said, looking out at the lake in question.
Jenna’s mouth dropped open at that. She stopped for a minute to gaze at the lake as it shimmered in the mid-morning sunlight.
‘It’s sure beautiful, though,’ she said, shielding her eyes with her hand.
‘It’s not called Lake Superior for nothing, you know,’ Jim said with a laugh, standing next to her and wrapping an arm around her shoulders.
‘I don’t even mind if we don’t see the Northern Lights,’ Jenna added, ‘I’m gonna dine out on this view for months.’
‘Well, speaking of dining out,’ the man said with a glance at his watch, ‘It’s almost noon, you wanna eat our sandwiches?’
‘Sure,’ Jenna agreed.
They found a picnic spot by a particularly large boulder and claimed it with a blanket, then sat and ate their sandwiches in companionable silence. Jenna rolled her shoulders back, leaning against the boulder and stretching her legs out in front of her. She had never particularly considered herself to be a “hiking person”, and her aching feet were serving only to remind her of that fact.
‘How much further?’ she asked Jim, trying to make her tone sound curious rather than complaining.
‘Less than two miles,’ Jim told her, looking at the map in the guidebook.
Jenna nodded. That didn’t sound too far. She munched on her sandwich in contemplation.
‘By the way, it looks like the whole team at St. Joseph’s are coming to the wedding,’ Jim added, pulling out the bottle of water they’d brought with them from his backpack and offering it to Jenna once he’d taken a swig. She grinned as she accepted the bottle and took a drink, feeling a tug of excitement in her chest.
Everything was finally falling into place with their wedding now. They’d picked a date in August, for the weather would be nicer and both girls would be on summer break (as promised, Lulu would be a bridesmaid along with Becky and Dawn, and Josie would be the flower girl). It had taken a long while for them to settle on a venue, as there were so many factors to consider – size, location, amenities, and catering options, for example – and the places they’d looked around had seldom delivered on more than one at a time.
But finally, after flitting around what felt like the entire state of Kentucky to no avail, they’d decided on a venue that hadn’t immediately occurred to either of them: Lulu & Jo’s Pies. It wasn’t until Becky had suggested it to Jenna off-handedly after the pair of them had had one-too-many glasses of wine one evening that she even considered it at all.
Jenna had laughed at the idea at first, before slowly realizing that it actually wasn’t such a bad one. After all, it was where Dawn and Ogie had also tied the knot all those years ago. From a practical point-of-view, neither Jenna nor Jim had particularly massive families nor wide circles of friends to consider sending invitations to, so it worked in terms of size. The building was so familiar to her it was like a second home, and Jim had grown to love it over the past couple of years too. It would be easier for the catering staff as there was already a kitchen present, and it was in an ideal location as the entirety of their intended guest list (excluding Jim’s parents) lived within a mile radius.
She looked down at her ring now, tilting her hand and watching as the jewelry sparkled in the sunlight. Now they’d decided on a venue, and had sent their invites out (and, subsequently, were confirming guests) it was all starting to feel more real. She hadn’t found a dress yet, but she had organized a trip to Richmond with the girls the following week, to browse around the bridal shops.
Jim reached for her hand and squeezed it.
‘I’m so glad I get to marry you,’ he said, bringing her hand to his lips and pressing a kiss to her knuckles.
She grinned, rubbing her thumb back and forth along his hand.
‘Me too,’ she whispered back.
They cleared away their picnic blanket then, brushing crumbs from their clothes and each taking another drink from the water bottle. Then, they continued with their hike, swinging their clasped hands between them.
They’d had to take a nap when they’d got back.
An unintentionally early start and a six-mile hike made staying awake until at least midnight a rather tall order, so after a quick cup of coffee, they retired to the bedroom and crawled into bed. When they woke up an hour or so later, it was around dinner time, so they made a pasta bake together.
It was now ten o’clock, and the pair of them were sat in front of the television with the French windows open, watching old re-runs of Family Feud.
‘Two hours to go,’ Jenna announced, consulting her watch.
‘We can do this, Nelson,’ Jim replied, clapping an encouraging hand on her shoulder.
She smiled, fighting a yawn and running a hand across her forehead.
‘I wonder what the girls did today,’ she considered aloud, keeping her eyes on the television.
‘I think Dad wanted to take them to the museum,’ Jim replied.
Jenna nodded, clarifying, ‘The children’s one?’ and at his nod, continuing, ‘That sounds good, I reckon they’d enjoy that.’
They fell into silence again, and Jim yawned, making Jenna yawn too.
‘Oh my God, Jim, it’s ten o’clock and we took an hour nap, why are we still so tired?’ she groaned in dismay, dropping her head dramatically back over the sofa cushions.
‘We’re getting old,’ Jim said sagely, stretching.
Jenna announced that she was making coffee and marched straight over to the coffee machine, hoping that another dose of caffeine would wake them up.
When it was finally midnight, she felt her eyes starting to sting with fatigue but forced herself to get up from the little divot she’d made on the sofa and step outside with Jim. She’d changed into her pajamas now and had pulled on one of Jim’s sweaters over the top for added warmth.
‘I checked the forecast,’ the man said as the pair of them looked out at a determinedly black sky, ‘And, um…’
‘What?’ Jenna prompted.
‘Are you about to tell me that these lights ain’t gonna show up?’
‘It’s a thirty-percent chance,’ he admitted.
Jenna turned to him, lips pursed.
‘Remember the view of the lake, you said you’d dine out on that view?’ he suggested, shrugging an apology.
She rolled her eyes but moved to stand in front of him, picking up his hands to wrap his arms around her middle. He held her close and rested his chin on top of her head, and they waited.
‘If these lights don’t appear, you’d better make my waiting up till midnight worth it,’ Jenna said darkly, leaning back against Jim’s chest and stroking his hands with her thumbs.
‘I can think of a few things,’ he replied in a murmur.
She hummed a laugh, and they fell into silence once more as they looked up at the sky. It was still stubborn in its inky blackness, but it was adorned with twinkling stars. It had been a while since Jenna had really looked at the stars. Then, she slapped Jim’s hands and pointed as one streaked across the sky.
‘That was a shooting star, right?’ she gasped, ‘I’ve never seen one before.’
‘Technically it’s a meteor,’ Jim replied, ‘Just a hunk of rock on fire.’
‘How romantic,’ Jenna quipped with a roll of her eyes.
‘Hey, science is sexy,’ the man defended with a laugh, bringing his hands from around her waist to rest on her hips.
Jenna let him turn her around and reached up to rest her hands on each of his shoulders, smirking up at him. He leaned down and they kissed, apparently giving up on waiting for the lights to show up.
He moved his hands underneath the bottom of the sweater Jenna was wearing to grip her hips, pulling her closer and kissing her with more urgency. She moaned a little, standing on her tiptoes so she could wrap her arms fully around his neck. Then, she felt her feet leaving the floor as he lifted her to sit on the rail. The wood scratched her a little through the material of her pajama pants, but she found she didn’t particularly care.
She reached for him, and he pressed himself between her legs, crushing their lips together again. After a while, he broke away from her lips to direct his kisses down her neck, lingering on the soft skin just underneath her ear and making her shiver.
It was then that Jenna looked up to the sky, running her hands through Jim’s hair as he trailed kisses along the side of her throat, and saw an unmistakable flash of green.
‘Jim…’ she said, breathily, on account of the effect he was having on her.
He only took that as encouragement, and carried on, moving up to her jawline and cradling the sides of her face.
‘Jim,’ she repeated, still barely above a whisper, as she kept her eyes on the sky.
He pressed kisses to her cheek, his breath hot against her skin as he moved one hand up to the side of her ribcage, just underneath her breast.
‘Jim, stop,’ Jenna said, finally finding her voice and gripping his upper arms.
He took his hands off her with such immediacy that she nearly lost balance and fell backward, but he grabbed her hands and kept her upright.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, looking worried.
‘Look,’ Jenna barrelled on, pointing up at the sky.
He looked up, and his mouth fell open. Jenna hopped down from the rail and stood next to him, wrapping both arms around his middle and gazing upwards at the shimmering ribbons of emerald rippling across the sky. Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, instead just standing wrapped up in each other’s arms while they watched. Jenna felt a lump rise in her throat as she saw the lights mirrored in the lake below, twisting and trembling across the ripples in the water. She somehow felt absolutely tiny, yet also filled with a profound sense of empowerment.
‘Wow,’ she whispered, hugging Jim tighter.
‘I totally knew they’d show up,’ the man said smugly, rubbing his hand up and down her arm.
She cocked an eyebrow but didn’t say anything; she decided she’d let him have this small victory.
After what felt like barely any time at all, the lights flickered away and the sky was black again. The pair of them stood quietly, just taking a few moments to absorb the spectacle they’d just been witness to.
‘That was – I can’t even find the words,’ Jenna murmured, sniffing.
‘I’m glad we could see them,’ Jim agreed, still looking at the sky as if hoping the lights would reappear.
After a few more moments of standing quietly, Jenna looked down at her watch and noted with a gasp that it was after one o’clock in the morning. Their flight was at noon, meaning they’d have to be at the airport for ten o’clock, meaning they’d have to leave the cabin at nine o’clock, meaning they really needed to be in bed right now.
‘Let’s go to bed,’ she suggested, standing on her tiptoes to press a kiss to Jim’s cheek.
‘Good plan,’ he replied, looking up at the sky once more before reaching for her hand and leading her back inside.
They took turns in the bathroom then made their way to the bedroom. Jenna drew the curtains while Jim turned down the bed. Then, they stood and looked at each other for a moment before stepping closer together.
‘Thank you for this weekend,’ Jenna whispered, reaching up to rest her hands on his shoulders.
‘You’re welcome,’ Jim replied, running his hands down her sides and then around to sit at the small of her back.
She stepped a little closer to him, shifting her hands down so they were pressed against his chest. She met his eyes again and smiled, drawing her bottom lip between her teeth a little.
‘You know something?’ the man said, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear, ‘We’ve just seen the Aurora Borealis, and you’re still the most beautiful thing here.’
Her immediate reaction was to pull the most hideous face she could think of: she crossed her eyes and puffed her cheeks out.
‘Particularly when you pull that face,’ Jim added, laughing as he held Jenna’s face in his hands and kissed her.
She held onto his wrists gently, then ran her hands up his arms and down his sides to rest at his hips. She played with the hem of his t-shirt a little, then slipped her hands underneath and felt his skin. He responded by kissing her harder, raking one hand through her hair and gripping her pajama top with the other. The found themselves naturally moving towards the bed, and when the backs of Jenna’s knees hit the edge of it, she first pulled his t-shirt off over his head, then sat down to run her hands around the waistband of his sweatpants. She leaned forward to kiss his stomach, then tugged the sweatpants down, leaving him in just his boxers.
‘Okay?’ she asked, looking up at him. She ran the palm of her hand ever so slightly over the front of his boxers, smirking a little when he shivered.
‘Yep,’ he answered, leaning down to kiss her again.
She leaned back, shuffling further onto the bed and guiding him on top of her. He moved his kisses from her mouth to her jawbone, then down her neck to her collarbone. Slowly, he began to unbutton her pajama top, pressing reverent kisses to each new inch of exposed skin as he made his way down her body.
He lingered over her stomach, supporting himself with one hand as he used the other to trace his fingertips gently along the faded stretch marks around her navel. She used to feel painfully self-conscious about them, but she didn’t anymore.
‘I love you,’ he said, crawling back over her and running one hand up her side, warming her skin beneath his touch.
‘I love you too,’ she responded, running her hands down his bare chest.
There were no more words, then. Instead, they finished undressing each other and tangled themselves up in one another between the sheets. Jenna relished in the idea that it was just the two of them here, with no one else around for many miles. She threw her head back as she rolled on top of him and took him inside, feeling his hands on her hips and panting and clawing at his back as he rose to meet her. She focused on the sensation of how gently he held her as they switched positions and he began kissing down her body again, felt his hair tickle the insides of her thighs as his lips and tongue worked magic, felt the soft bedsheets between her fingers as she clutched at them like a lifeline. When they rolled over again, she pressed a trail of short, nibbling kisses down his chest and stomach, smoothing her hands over his sharp hipbones as she returned the favor. The room pulsed around them, full of heat, and sweat and a desperate, unrestrained passion.
They finally collapsed together over an hour later, completely sated and barely managing to share one last kiss before falling asleep, wrapped in each other’s arms.
The pair of them showered together the next morning, resisting the urge to march straight back into the bedroom and go for round three. Instead, they ate breakfast together, holding hands across the table, then tidied everything up and re-packed their suitcases. Their drive to the airport was quiet, as they were both rather tired after their unintentionally late night.
When they sat next to each other on the plane, Jim kept shifting uncomfortably, rubbing the side of his ribcage, just underneath his armpit.
‘You okay there?’ Jenna asked him, looking up from the recipe notes she was making.
‘…I think I pulled a muscle last night,’ the man admitted in an abashed whisper, his cheeks reddening.
Jenna tutted in sympathy but still laughed through her nostrils, patting him on the shoulder.
‘If it makes you feel better, it was worth it,’ she murmured, throwing him a wink before turning to primly look out of the window.
She quickly texted a “we’re about to take off” to Mary as they began to taxi, then slipped her phone back into her bag, which she tucked under her seat.
When they were safely in the air, she leaned her head against Jim’s shoulder and shut her eyes. She knew she’d have an ecstatic eight-year-old, and an excited yet potentially bewildered almost-two-year-old to meet her once they got back to Connecticut, and she wanted to have enough energy to give them the greeting they deserved.