Annie woke with her face pressed against cold glass. Slowly sitting up straight and peeling her face off the window, she swallowed. Clearly something had crawled into her her mouth and died while she was out. And where the fuck was she, anyway? She rubbed her hand across her crusty eyes and came away with a smear of glitter and mascara as she blinked, trying to make sense of the landscape outside the car.
She glanced around the car’s interior. Around the car that had a One with Nature BPA-free water bottle in the center console and a peace sign dangling from the mirror.
The clock read 2:38 am. Blinking and trying to ignore the brutal throbbing in her head, Annie focused outside the car, at the glowing dome tent. Where the godforsaken hell had her little sister brought her? She unlocked door, pushed it open, and forced herself to her unsteady feet. After finding the little tent empty, she stumbled to the top of the nearest hill and found her sister sitting on a thermal sleeping bag with another wrapped around her shoulders.
“You’re awake. Good. How are you feeling?”
Annie crossed her arms over her chest. “There’s a tent over there.”
“We talked about this. My idea of being outdoorsy is having a glass of wine on a screened-in patio.”
Liz lifted a bottle from her open backpack and held it out to Annie. “I have wine.”
Annie wrinkled her nose and took the bottle from her sister. “Screw top? Really, Lizzie?”
She shrugged. “You weren’t complaining on the way up here.”
Sighing, Annie handed the wine back to her sister. “I was drunk. I obviously didn’t realize the difference.”
“Exactly. Which is why I wasn’t about to drop seventy bucks a pop on your usual brand.”
“That’s fair.” Annie sat next to her sister on the sleeping bag and nodded toward the bottle. “No wonder I woke up with a horrible taste in my mouth.”
Her sister laughed, but it sounded a little brittle. “It’s either that or all the puking you did in and out of the bar.”
Heat rose to Annie’s cheeks. “That bad, huh?”
“It wasn’t pretty.”
They sat in silence, and she tried not to shiver as Lizzie dug through her backpack. Eventually, she handed Annie four Motrin and yet another BPA-free water bottle. This one said, Respect your elders. (And your oaks, pines, and maples, too.)
Annie unscrewed the lid and tossed back the pills and a couple of mouthfuls of water. “Thanks.”
“So…” Annie ventured. “What are we doing?”
“You’re sobering up. And I’m watching for the northern lights.”
Annie wrapped her arms around her knees. “I don’t even remember you coming to get me.”
Liz snorted. “I’m not surprised.” She looked at Annie. Her confusion must have been clear on her face because her sister’s expression softened. “Chelsea called me. Said the manager was threatening to call the cops on you.”
Liz scooted closer to her and draped the sleeping bag around them both. Annie clutched it gratefully.
“It was only seven o’clock when I got there.”
Annie rested her chin on her knees and stared out at the darkened landscape. Jesus. How pathetic was she? Kicked out of a bar on New Year’s Eve? Five hours shy of midnight? That was just sad. Familiar pain welled, but she pushed it down before it could seep through the cracks and bubble up through the surface.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I’m sure babysitting your drunk-ass sister wasn’t how you’d envisioned spending your New Year’s Eve.”
“Not really. But it beats bailing you out of jail.” She took a deep breath. “Or identifying your body at the morgue.”
Annie winced. She’d been there. Done that. She wouldn’t wish that experience on her worst enemy.
“I’m sorry I had to drag you up here,” her sister was saying. “I was just worried about leaving you alone.”
“I get that. And I do appreciate it.” She rested her head on Liz’s shoulder.
Liz laid her head against Annie’s. “I know you do.”
Annie cringed. Her sister sounded so tired. So defeated. Annie had been putting her through this shit for almost as long as she’d been putting herself through it.
“I just miss him so much,” she whispered, and her voice cracked.
“I know, honey,” she said as she slid her arm around Annie’s waist. “But what you’re doing…it’s not going to bring him back. You know that, right? And it’s not going to help you forget. Not permanently, anyway.”
She nodded, her head brushing Lizzie’s, hat-covered temple and her own shoulder. That was for damn sure. A shimmer of purple and green flickered along the horizon, and the sound of diffused static filled the air along with an occasional, quiet pop.
“Yeah. It’s starting. I know you hate nature, but I promise, you’ll never see anything more magical than this.”
The sheen of colors spread in waves across the night sky, stealing Annie’s breath.
Liz offered Annie the bottle of wine, but she shook her head, her eyes on the undulating light. It was beginning, and so was she.