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By:Amanda Lance

“Speaking of which,” she continued, “You’ll have to ignore the baby gates around the house.” I moved up to the passenger seat and began playing with the radio. I started laughing to myself, thinking that at this point, I’d traveled in almost every part of that vehicle. “Don’t worry, though,” she added. “We’ll take them down for the party tomorrow.”

I cringed. “Party?”

Elise almost swerved off of the road. “Charlie didn’t tell you?”

“Elise! The road, Elise! Maybe stay in-between the dotted lines and that big white one?”

She waved me away but at least, her eyes focused forward. “Those boys of ours are completely useless sometimes,” she mumbled.

“Um…what party are you talking about, Elise?”

“Oh, right!” She started tapping the wheel excitedly with her French tips. “We’re having a New Year’s shindig tomorrow. I can’t believe Charlie didn’t say anything—”

I tried cutting her off. “Just how big is this shindig going to be, Elise?”

“Small,” she emphasized. “Very small. No more than one hundred, maybe one hundred and twenty people at the absolute most.”

Elise did most of the talking on the drive back to the house. She filled me in on every detail, both major and minor about the party, and the ups-and-downs of Tyler’s first Christmas. Although I had already seen the pictures with Santa, I flipped through the photograph versions when Elise handed them to me, musing that Charlie’s sketches of the event were better. Eventually, we pulled into the marathon of a driveway after two hours of traffic and having to stop to change a crabby Tyler. At one point, he reached for my hand and I gave it to him, wincing as he promptly placed my fingers in his mouth for nibbling.

“Ah, thanks, Tyler?”

At the base of the garage, I could see the other two black SUVs, along with the steel blue LFA Lexis that I knew belonged to Yuri. I also saw a white industrial van with its side doors open, and a glossy orange convertible. But what stuck out the most to me was the motorcycle that had the tact of something out of a spy movie. I had never seen any of these vehicles before and just the idea of meeting so many new people so soon had my social awkwardness flared at a code red.

“Good, everyone is home!” Elise still seemed enthusiastic despite the long ride. And I had to hand it to her for not complaining. “Oh damn, the fountains and chairs are here already? They aren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow morning. They better not expect me to pay the extra day for that.”

She continued mumbling about the rental company as she parked, though truthfully I hadn’t been listening for the last five miles. As the fields of Healdsburg drifted into view, my excitement drove me straight into a mild state of frenzy. I naturally began doing the primary inspection for Charlie in the orchards—though they were wilted with the season. He had mentioned many times he enjoyed sketching there because of its quiet. Something he said was difficult to find, even in the vastness of the gargantuan house.

Elise caught me looking and laughed. “I think he’s in the West end of the house, Addie.”

I blushed, embarrassed that my emotions were so transparent. “Thanks.”

Elise struggled with Tyler and the diaper bag while I struggled with my own luggage into the main house, which was in a flurry of activity. I couldn’t check into my dorm until the day after New Year’s anyway, so there wasn’t much sense in unpacking.

As soon as we walked in I saw Reid and Polo busy at work moving around furniture. Ben was hovering around the corner, speaking with someone I guessed was from the rental company.

Elise groaned and pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head. “This should have all been done by now.” I waved to Polo and Reid, but only Polo waved back, dropping his share of a glass table on Reid’s foot and causing him to curse loudly. When Reid saw the cause of Polo’s distraction, he glared at me but still nodded to acknowledge my presence.

At least, we’re making progress.

By then Elise had handed Tyler off to Ben Walden, who were both extremely pleased to be rid of their current situations and see one another. Elise took over the negotiations with the manager of the rental agency.

Ben and Tyler immediately began to play helicopter, though it seemed to me that Tyler giggled way too much for a propeller.

“Hello, Addie.” He laughed. “How was your holiday?”

“Fine, thanks. Um, how was yours?” I was officially bouncing from foot to foot in my eagerness to get to Charlie. It never escaped me though that one of the last conversations I’d had with Ben Walden revealed what could have been a terrible fate for me and the awkwardness was great, even for me.