Chapter One is here, in case you missed it. And this is all I'm going to share until the book comes out next month!
As fall approached Thomas’s mother put more pressure on Maggie for wedding planning.
As fall approached Thomas’s mother put more pressure on Maggie for wedding planning.
“I just don’t see how you don’t have any opinion on the food, dear,” Mrs. Henderson said over the phone one evening. Maggie was only half listening to her. She and Thomas sat at the coffee table in his living room eating Thai take-out with the Red Sox game on mute in the background. Things had been better between them since their last blowup about Madison and the girls’ night out. They’d escaped the city and cell phones a few times to go hiking in the Berkshires and Thomas even watched a Sox game with her brothers one night, coming home looking like he’d had fun. Thomas still wasn’t interested in wedding planning but Maggie was too busy with a new work project to be that involved in it, either.
“It’s not that I don’t have an opinion, it’s that I’m not a picky eater and neither is anyone in my family. We’ll eat anything that’s delicious.” Maggie gave Thomas a pleading look.
“Chicken?” Mrs. Henderson asked.
“Sure, chicken’s great,” Maggie said. Then followed up with, “As long as it’s not that dry, bland chicken that gets served at a lot of big catered events. It has to be juicy and flavorful.” Maggie could almost hear Mrs. Henderson frowning.
“Sure, beef is great, too,” Maggie replied.
“Have you thought about a theme? Or colors? If you want an April or May wedding it’s almost too late to start thinking about those things.”
Maggie didn’t really care about a theme or colors but she knew it was important to Thomas that she get along better with his mother. She was a little resentful that her own mother didn’t want to get more involved. Her mom had made it perfectly clear that as much as she loved her daughter she wanted little to do with the wedding industrial complex, as she called it. Everyone kept saying they just wanted Maggie to be happy. Maggie would be happy if people stopped bothering her about the wedding.
“A theme for the wedding? Boston Red Sox,” Maggie said. Thomas laughed and threw a crumpled up napkin at her.
“Pardon me, dear?”
“A Red Sox–themed wedding.” Maggie held back giggles. “Blue and red, some gray.”
Again, Maggie could practically hear Mrs. Henderson frowning.
“Those aren’t really spring colors…”
“I’m kidding, Mrs. Henderson,” Maggie said. “Um, my favorite color is blue though. Can something be done with that? Maybe something beachy?”
“A beach theme, yes, coastal New England. Now we are getting somewhere.”
Maggie was relieved she finally gave one right answer. “Okay, great, well, I have to go now. I have a little work to do tonight. Do you want to talk to Thomas?” Thomas was shaking his head, “No,” but Maggie smiled and handed the phone to him anyway.
She really did have work to do. Dr. Rodriguez, the malaria researcher she’d met at the cocktail party a few weeks earlier, had e-mailed her. He had a friend writing some tourism articles on East Africa. He asked if Maggie was available to copyedit them. Maggie had jumped at the chance to learn more about travel in Africa.
Thomas walked out of the room while he was on the phone and Maggie opened up her laptop on the couch to work.
During the ball game’s seventh inning stretch, Maggie stood up from her laptop to stretch, too. She had an idea.
“Hey,” she said, finding Thomas at work on his own laptop in his study.
“Hey,” he replied, closing his laptop quickly.
“How do you feel about a vacation before the wedding?” Maggie asked. “I just want to get away from it all for a while.”
“I love going on vacation. What did you have in mind?”
“Camping for a week or two?” she suggested. “Something a little challenging. Hiking, mountains? I feel bored. I want a little bit of an adventure.”
“I’m not in as great shape as you are,” Thomas said. “Hiking and camping for a week? And it’s getting cold out.”
“I’ll find something we can handle, nothing too technical. And in a warmer climate.”
“Sure, what the hell?” Thomas agreed. “But on one condition.”
“What’s that?” Maggie asked.
“The honeymoon is you and me on a secluded tropical island wearing bathing suits, or less.”
“It’s a deal.”
A few days later Maggie landed on the perfect destination.
“Mount Kilimanjaro,” she announced over dinner.
“You’re back on this Africa stuff? I was hoping more for day hikes in Tuscany or something.”
“I’ve been working on those articles for Dr. Rodriguez’s friend,” Maggie said, “and East Africa will be awesome. We’ll go in February, which is the worst month in Boston but will be warm there, except for the last couple of days at the top of the mountain. And afterward we’ll go on safari for a week. Nice and warm. Relaxing in luxury camps. Bathing suits by the pool, even.”
“It will be a hard climb,” said Thomas. “It’s, what? Twenty thousand feet?” His reluctance was obvious.
“Highest point in Africa,” Maggie replied. “Difficult, but not technical with ropes or anything. Totally do-able if you’re in decent shape. Porters and guides take care of everything for you. All you have to do, literally, is walk.”
“You really want to do this?”
“Yes, I do. I want a real adventure.”
“Alright, let’s do it, if it’s what you really want.” Thomas gave in with no enthusiasm in his voice.
Maggie planned the trip with more enthusiasm than she had for wedding planning. With advice from the travel writer she’d been editing for, she researched tour companies and made their reservations. She borrowed some camping gear from her brothers and Thomas gave her the jacket she’d wanted from REI for Christmas.
It was a brutal winter in Boston and as the trip neared, Maggie consoled herself with warm thoughts of equatorial Africa.
“Only one week left!” Maggie said one night as she and Thomas were huddled together under blankets on the couch with hot chocolate, watching a movie.
“Yup,” Thomas said, not matching Maggie’s enthusiasm. She’d had to drag him to a clinic that morning to pick up their malaria pills and he’d been in a bad mood since.
“Do you think the mefloquine is making you cranky?” she asked him. The doctor had advised them to take the first dose right away, to get the medicine into their systems before arriving in a malarial zone and to see how they reacted to it. The weekly malaria pill was notorious for its side effects, and there were daily pills, but lots of people took mefloquine and felt fine. Maggie felt okay.
“Maybe,” Thomas mumbled. “That’s probably it.” He continued, “You never told me which hotel we’re staying in, in Paris.” They planned to spend a couple days there to recover from jet lag before heading to Tanzania.
“Annelyse invited us to stay with her,” Maggie said.
“I guess it’s too late now to book a hotel?” Thomas asked.
“Do you have a problem with Annelyse’s place?” replied Maggie. “It will be more fun.”
“No, it will be fine. Just don’t speak too much French.”
“We’ll be in France.”
“Yes, but I don’t speak French,” Thomas said. “You and Annelyse get together and forget that no one else can understand you.”
“That’s not fair. Maybe we could be a little more considerate at times, sure. But our families speak French. We’ve always spoken it.”
“It’s just that you two have a wall I can’t break through. The same with your brothers. You’re practically a different person around them all sometimes.”
“I’m not going to apologize for being close to my family and for my family being different from yours,” Maggie said. “My family has tried to be welcoming to you but lately you haven’t made much effort.”
“Your brothers hate me.”
“They don’t hate you,” Maggie said. “They just think you’re kind of a jackass. But they feel that way about almost everyone who didn’t grow up in our neighborhood so it’s really nothing to worry about.”
Thomas didn’t look convinced.
“You’re marrying me, not them,” she said. “Now, come on.” Maggie turned off the movie with the remote, then reached out to Thomas to draw him closer. “Do you really want to talk about my brothers right now? We’re all cozy under the blanket.” She had one hand in his hair and the other was under the blanket, working its way up Thomas’s leg.
“Not tonight.” He gently nudged her hand off his leg. “I think the mefloquine is giving me a headache and I have an early morning. Lots of work to do before vacation.” He kissed her on the forehead and stood up.
“Oh, okay.” Maggie sat back. “I’ll just watch television for a few more minutes then go to bed, too.”
Maggie couldn’t believe Thomas was bringing up the tension between her friends and family again. She thought they were beyond all that and she didn’t think every weird emotion could be blamed on the malaria pills. Thomas hadn’t acted jealous of anyone recently, so that was something. But he still hadn’t been participating in wedding planning or defending her from his mother, either. Maggie had put Annelyse’s words from August out of her head but they crept in again. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. Maggie was starting to feel it, too, but brushed it off as pre-trip or pre-wedding jitters.
Maggie had started packing Thomas’s bag that afternoon but he’d stopped her, saying he preferred to do it himself so he knew were everything was. Maggie gave him a packing list but she noticed that he dropped it on his desk without glancing at it. She wasn’t the world’s most organized packer, but there was a lot of essential gear for this trip.
She rolled over on the couch to grab her phone from the coffee table. Annelyse wasn’t online. Mikey was at work, but he’d be free to talk until a call came in.
“Hey, Mikey,” she said when he answered.
“Hey, Mags,” he replied. “It’s late. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just bored.”
“Thinking about your little vacation isn’t exciting enough for you?” he asked.
“What is it with everyone being so against this?” Maggie said. “Mom thinks I’m crazy. I don’t even think Thomas really wants to go. He’s acting all weird.”
“Well, it’s kind of a weird thing to do. Running off to Africa.”
“I’m not running from anything,” Maggie said. “It’s not like I’m disappearing into the bush. I’m going to a popular tourist destination.”
“There’s plenty of camping and hiking to do around here.”
“Not in February,” she replied.
“There’s always Florida,” Mikey said. “The Sox will be arriving for spring training soon.”
“Florida’s not an adventure.”
“I’m teasing. I don’t know where you got this idea to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but I know you’ll be great at it.”
“Thanks,” Maggie said.
“Hey, the alarm’s going off. Gotta go.” Mikey ended the call abruptly.
Maggie sighed and stood up to go to bed.
The bedroom was dark. Thomas breathed deeply with sleep. Maggie snuggled up against him, absorbing the heat he radiated. “What are you really thinking, Thomas?” she whispered.
Maggie had been to Paris several times so didn’t need to visit the tourist spots; she and Annelyse immediately started up their familiar habits, drinking coffee all day and wine all night long. Thomas quietly tagged along. Maggie chalked up his quietness to jet lag and the malaria pills. She made an effort to speak as much English as possible so as not to exclude him but she and Annelyse often lapsed into French without realizing it.
“This is a side of you I haven’t seen in a long time,” Thomas said one night as they laid on the pull-out sofa in Annelyse’s living room.
“What do you mean?” Maggie asked. She was sleepy from the late night and the wine.
“You’re acting like you’re still in college, drinking and staying out late.”
“I’m having fun with my best friend. And we’re on vacation. In Paris.”
“Maybe,” he said. “Maggie,” he went on, then stopped suddenly. Maggie struggled to keep her heavy eyelids open.
“Mmm,” she mumbled.
“It’s nothing. Good night.”
Two days later, on the morning they were to leave Paris, Maggie awoke early. She was alone in bed. The apartment was freezing. She stood up, stretched, pulled a sweater on over her pajamas, and, thinking warm thoughts of Africa, double-checked the itinerary sitting on the coffee table: Nairobi, Kenya, to Mount Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania. She would be warm by the end of the day.
Maggie smelled fresh coffee, which surprised her since she knew Annelyse wouldn’t be up yet and Thomas never made it.
“We need to talk,” Thomas said, handing her with a hot coffee mug as soon as she entered the kitchen.
Maggie paused, mid-sip. She sat across from him at Annelyse’s tiny kitchen table. “Okay,” she said, slowly.
“I don’t want to go to Kilimanjaro.”
“Okay,” she said again, furrowing her brow.
“I don’t want to hike for a week,” he continued. “I don’t want to not take a shower for a week. I want to want to do it, for you. But what if you make it but I can’t? I’m not going to pretend I’m as fit as you are.”
“You can do it. Lots of people do it. The guides are there to help you.”
“No, I’m not doing it. I’ve already made arrangements to meet some friends in Italy. I need to leave for the airport in a few minutes.”
“Italy? When did you make those plans?” Maggie demanded.
“It was sort of a last-minute thing. I got a message from one of my friends a few days ago.”
“A few days ago? Like when you tried to tell me something the other night right before I fell asleep?”
“Yeah.” He looked down at his fingers playing with the edge of a napkin.
“When did you pack for Italy?” Maggie asked. “You’d need some different clothes.”
“I’m taking the clothes I’d packed for the safari. The Kili gear is still in my backpack in the other room.”
Maggie frowned, noticing Thomas’s small carry-on bag sitting by the door.
“What does this mean for us?” she asked.
“I love you. I just can’t do this trip with you. Go do it, have fun, then come home and marry me,” he said.
“I feel like you’re telling me to grow up and get something out of my system, then marry you and settle down.”
“You’ve known me since college, Thomas, and none of my habits bothered you until we were engaged.”
“I thought being engaged would make you more,” he paused, “serious.”
“Serious?” she said. “About what? I have a good job. I pay all my bills on time and have a savings account. I never drive after I’ve been drinking. I’ve been faithful to you. What else do I need to be serious about?”
“That came out wrong,” Thomas said. “I love you and I love that you are nothing like the world I come from. I envy your sense of adventure. But I don’t want to go on this trip. I wanted to make you happy. I’ve been dreading it, though.”
“I won’t go. I’ll go to Italy with you.” Maggie was angry with herself as soon as the words left her mouth.
“No,” he said. “You want this too much. You’ve put so much time into planning it and preparing for it. I’m okay. We’re okay.”
Maggie didn’t know what to say and that was unusual for her. She often chose to stay quiet but she was rarely at a loss for words. She didn’t feel like they were okay. The strange feeling that something isn’t right. If Annelyse was awake and could hear them from her bedroom, Maggie was certain she was sending that message telepathically just then.
“How long have you felt this way?” Maggie asked. “If you couldn’t mention it before now, then something isn’t right.”
Thomas stood up from the table.
“I’m fine, but I have to leave for my flight now.” He took her hand and pulled her up to stand next to him. “I love you.” He hugged her tightly.
“Maggie?” he said, when she didn’t respond to him.
“We’re through,” she said.
“You’ve been acting funny since we got engaged. You planned a secret trip to Italy. You could have said something much sooner about being reluctant to climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t want to come home and marry you.”
“Maggie, don’t say that.” Thomas looked hurt and confused now.
“I’ve been reluctant to fully move into your place,” Maggie said. “You’re even less into wedding planning than I am and you couldn’t even tell me that you didn’t want to go on this trip.”
“How can you do this right now, when I have to leave?”
“You were doing the same thing to me! You were just hoping for a quicker getaway.”
A car honked from the street below. “That’s my taxi,” Thomas said.
“You have my spare key. You can move my stuff back into my apartment before I get back.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
Thomas raised his hand toward her shoulder but she stepped back from him. Instead he put the hand over his forehead and closed his eyes for a moment, sighing.
Then he turned, grabbed his suitcase, and walked out. Maggie closed the door behind him and watched the street from the kitchen window. Thomas looked up and waved at her, then got in the taxi and was gone.