The pyramids were bugging me. Or, at the moment, the lack of pyramids. I’d removed them from and returned them to their longstanding spots in the bookcase in my father’s childhood bedroom half a dozen times. Currently they occupied the storage box on the floor next to the bookcase.
I dug out the model of the Great Pyramid of Giza and centered it on the eye-level shelf. The model of the Pyramid of Kukulcan at Chichen Itza went on the shelf directly below it. There were others. My dad had been obsessed with pyramids and all things ancient and buried as a kid. These two were the most impressive of his collection, meticulously carved from small blocks of pine, precisely positioned, and hand-painted. The others were made of Legos or popsicle sticks.
“Jayne,” a croaky, half-asleep voice from behind me made me jump. “Again with the pyramids?”
I turned to find Tripp, my boyfriend and business partner, standing in the doorway wearing only his pajama pants despite the chill in the air.
“He should see them,” I explained. “They’ll remind him of his childhood and everything that’s good about the village.” Not that everything about the village, or his childhood for that matter, was good, but I wanted to amplify those things that had been. I stepped back and took in the display. “What do you think?”
“I think your dad is going to see his daughter first. Then he’ll notice what we’ve done to the house. His old things are a nice touch but not worth obsessing over.”
“But shouldn’t his room make him feel nostalgic?” I pondered my own question . . . for about the hundredth time. “Or, since the rest of the house has been updated, do we just pretend this isn’t his room anymore?” I looked from Tripp to the pyramids and back twice. “What do you think?”
“I think”—he took my hand and led me toward the door—“it’s three in the morning and your brain is doing that thing brains do in the middle of the night.” He turned off the light and shut the door behind us. “The room is spotless. The bathroom sparkling. The towels are fluffy and the bed cozy. What more could he want?”
He closed his eyes and let out a little sigh. “What?”
“He likes chorizo sausage with scrambled eggs for breakfast. And pepper jack cheese.”
“Would you like me to call Lorena and have her meet us over at Sundry in ten minutes so we can get some?”
Now he was being a smart aleck. “No. But we need to get some if we don’t have any. And blueberries. He likes blueberries.” As we climbed the stairs to our third-floor attic apartment, another thought struck me. “At least he used to. What if he doesn’t like any of that anymore? What if his diet has completely changed? What if he has completely changed?”
“Oh, God.” At the top of the stairs, he wrapped his arms around me. “Babe, you’ve got to stop this. You’re driving yourself insane. Me and River too. I promise you, the only thing your dad is going to care about is seeing you.”
When I started talking about soap for his shower, Tripp kissed me. And not just a quick little smooch. It was a kiss that made me completely forget what I’d been saying. At some point, he picked me up, still kissing me, and carried me to our bed where he peeled off my robe. The kissing led to things people didn’t usually do at three in the morning. Afterward, we drifted off to sleep again, wrapped in each other’s arms.
Moments later, or so it felt, Tripp’s unbelievably annoying crowing rooster alarm woke us at five.
“Sorry.” He scrambled to shut it off.
That alarm had caused a small but actual fight between us when I moved into the house from the boathouse across the backyard. My phone alarm woke me each morning with the sound of happily chirping birds. A gentle sound that made me think of blue skies dotted with small puffy white clouds and warm spring breezes. His about knocked me out of bed with fear that the apocalypse was striking.
“I can’t oversleep,” he’d argued. “If I don’t get up, our guests don’t get breakfast.”
When I threatened to return to the boathouse, he agreed to a gentler alarm if I agreed to give him a shove when it went off. Meeka, our West Highland White Terrier, helped once she’d learned the routine. If Tripp wasn’t up within five minutes of the alarm going off, she leapt onto his side of the mattress and nuzzled her cold, wet nose into his neck.
“Sorry,” he repeated now. “Not sure what happened. I meant to turn it off altogether so we could sleep in this morning. We don’t have anything to do until ten. We can stay right here for a while.”
Good plan. The attic was cold this morning. As was the village as a whole. The temperature had dropped a couple days after Thanksgiving, and other than a rogue day or two where it climbed all the way to a balmy thirty-four degrees, it had stayed below freezing for all of December.
“You’re not sleeping,” Tripp mumbled a few seconds later, his eyes closed. “I can tell by your breathing. You’re thinking about your dad again, aren’t you?”
“No.” I feigned offense. “I’m thinking about Rosalyn. I think she’s on a vegan kick lately. Or is it paleo?”
“She’s keto this month. She emailed me a list of all the foods she can eat. Sundry doesn’t stock Barramundi or seaweed chips in the off-season, but we’re good otherwise.”
I smiled and snuggled back in, laying my head on his chest. “I love that you two talk without me. So we’re really ready for them?”
“We’re really ready.”
“Okay.” The sound of his reassuring voice reverberating in his chest and the steady beating of his heart lulled me back to sleep . . . for almost an hour when my phone rang at six o’clock.
I stared at the image of my mother’s face on the screen. Why was she calling at six in the morning? Did Dad change his mind and wasn’t coming? Had his flight been delayed and he wouldn’t get here until tomorrow? I’d have to go through the whole nerves and pyramids thing for another day. Oh God, had the plane crashed?
“Why don’t you answer it?” Tripp mumbled into his pillow. “You’ll get the answers to your questions a lot faster that way.”
He knew me so well. I clicked the answer button and croaked, “Mom?”
“You’re still in bed?” She said this with the same level of astonishment she’d have if she’d heard Hell had frozen over. Or people no longer cared about how their hair looked. Or something else equality catastrophic.
“First time in months,” I said unapologetically. “Besides, it’s six in the morning.”
Mom made a little disapproving hmm sound. “I thought running a bed-and-breakfast meant getting up early to feed the guests. Are you just running a ‘bed’ now?”
Running a bed. That was kind of funny. “River is our only guest at the moment.”
River Carr, our dark and mysterious long-term renter, had made an agreement with Tripp. If it was only the three of us, Tripp didn’t need to worry about breakfast as long as River was free to use the kitchen. With the exception of the handful of just-passing-through guests we’d had over the past month, Tripp hadn’t had to make a big breakfast since Thanksgiving weekend. That would change soon.
“Dad and Rosalyn will be here tomorrow,” I continued, “so we’re taking advantage of the quiet.”
“You only have one room booked?”
I switched her over to speakerphone so Tripp could share my joy over speaking to my mother first thing in the morning. He rolled out of bed and pulled on a T-shirt. Where was the support?
“The nephew and niece-in-law of one of the villagers are arriving tomorrow as well,” I told her. “That will be two rooms.”
“Two of seven. How do you expect to be profitable?”
“I could charge Dad and Rozzie.”
“Don’t be smart. You know what I mean.”
Across the apartment, Tripp filled Meeka’s breakfast bowl as I explained, “It’s the off-season, Mom. Whispering Pines is a summer tourist town.”
“I thought you were going to offer outdoor winter activities. Cross-country skiing and ice fishing and snowmobiling. And whatever else people enjoy doing in the snow.”
We had talked about that. Limited funds meant we couldn’t get those things set up this first year. Next year, yes. We’d start promoting our new winter amenities to our guests this summer.
“It’s the Midwinter Celebration tomorrow,” I reminded her. “The shops are shutting down until the day after Christmas so there’s nothing for tourists to do here. There isn’t even anywhere for them to eat because the restaurants will be closed too.”
Slowly and succinctly, as though I’d missed it the first time, she repeated, “Outdoor winter activities. And you could provide three meals a day while the other places are closed. Do you at least have a sign on the highway advertising your availability to people passing through? It’s not like they can see the house clear down by the lake.”
That was actually a good idea. It wouldn’t take any time at all to run up to the highway and flip a sign from “Rooms Available” to “No Vacancy.” I rummaged around in my nightstand drawer for a pen and pad of paper and wrote that down.
“What about you?” she continued. “Does the sheriff get the midwinter whatever off as well?”
“I’m always on duty, Mom. It takes five minutes to get myself and Meeka suited up and out the door in an emergency. I timed it.” That was considering my K-9 wasn’t hiding on me.
“I did call for a reason.”
She made the humming sound again. That meant I was frustrating her. “I just got off the phone with Rosalyn. Your father’s plane landed in Chicago. His connecting flight to Dane County Regional is on time.”
“He actually expected her to drive down to O’Hare and pick him up there. Can you imagine?”
“That would be a lot of driving in one day. Especially since they’re coming all the way up here afterward.”
“It’s rude. How could he ask such a thing?”
I draped my free arm over my eyes and considered smothering myself with my pillow. “There’s nothing wrong with asking, Mom. Maybe he thought Roz would be in the area.”
“In the area of Chicago? That’s two hours from Madison.”
“You go there all the time.”
“I go there for work. Your sister is still in college.”
“Maybe he thought she was on winter break.”
She sighed, a defeated sound, and then quietly murmured, “You always take his side.”
I felt bad but wasn’t sure which parent the feeling was for. “I guess I feel like someone should. You’re always against him.”
“You don’t understand,” she began and cut herself off.
I left all snark out of my voice as I said, “I bet I’d understand if you told me.”
She seemed to consider doing so then abruptly dismissed the thought. “I just wanted to let you know what was going on.”
“Thank you.” I hesitated before adding, “You know, the benefit to having rooms available here is that you could come up too.”
“No.” My mother despised Whispering Pines and had since Rosalyn and I were in grade school.
“But you’ll be alone for Christmas.” For the first time ever as far as I knew.
“I appreciate your concern, Jayne, but worse things could happen. I’ll be fine.”
“Okay, but the offer stands.”
Her little hmm was happier this time. Guess she liked that I offered. “I hope you have an enjoyable visit with your father. It’s been more than two years since his last visit to the States. You’ll have quite a lot to catch up on.”
“We will. I hope you have a good Christmas, too, Mom. Whatever you decide to do.”
As I lay there wondering what she’d do by herself, Tripp emerged from the kitchenette area.
“I started a pot of coffee. The furry one finished her breakfast, so I’m going to let her out.”
It took longer to get from the apartment to the patio doors than it did for Meeka to do her duty. The little Westie didn’t like the cold. She did, however, love the trench Tripp dug in the snow around the house where she could run laps around the building and burn off some of her immense amounts of energy. He also dug a pathway into the woods where her personal bathroom was tucked out of sight of the B&B guests.
I got into a hot shower and exhaled long and deep, trying to force myself to relax. As Mom had pointed out, I hadn’t seen my father in over two years. His love of digging up buried things led to a career in archaeology that sent him overseas a lot. This had been an especially long stint. If my parents’ relationship been stronger, he likely would have come back to the States, and us, more often.
“Is it your intent to use all the hot water?”
I jumped at the sound of Tripp’s voice on the other side of the shower curtain.
“How long have I been in here?”
“Meeka and I got back ten minutes ago.”
Good thing we installed an on-demand hot water heater in the apartment.
“Sorry, I’ll get out now.”
“Good. Oh, your sister called. She and your dad are going to be early.”