In life, a lot of things just happen. Like, when you're seventeen and your boyfriend breaks up with you for a cheerleader named Mindy (because life is fucking Friends, oh god) and you think it would be a good idea to follow Radiohead around the country. Or when you're twenty-three and you get a modeling job, and then you get another, and then your feet are on billboards in the tri-state area and even though no one recognizes your feet, it's still really weird. Or when you're twenty-eight and move back to Colorado because being a foot model, while semi-lucrative, means that you have to sit a lot and cannot go to peace rallies and really can't dance ballet anymore. And when you're a twenty-eight year old foot model without a college degree, things seem sad, and so you make things happen.
Britta does that. Britta did that. Britta made things happen, once.
Then you're thirty and dicking around with a guy who used to be hot shit but is now mostly just snark and hair gel and a heart that keeps growing three sizes whether he wants it to or not, and at that point maybe things seem to get a little bit out of control. At that point New York becomes nostalgic, and the suburbs of Denver seem to constrict and confine.
And that guy, who you had a lot of sex with in way too many closets and dorm rooms (and you are thirty and he is thirty-seven, this is not a frat party; you are not in an American Pie movie) kind of stops having sex with other people. He doesn't mention it to you, but you kind of do the same. It just happens.
And then. And then your cousin asks you to be a bridesmaid at her wedding.
Britta has a really good excuse for her name being synonymous with a water filter. Her mother's side of the family is all Swedish. She came this close to being named Birgitta, after the patron saint of Sweden.
This has given her a lot of things, like blonde hair and the ability to pronounce strange-looking curse words. It also has given her at least one cousin who is an actual model, with has her face in magazine ads and everything. And because her cousin Eira is an absolute sweetheart, she reaches out enough to make Britta a bridesmaid.
So she doesn't exactly have a choice there.
Here's the story of how she spent her summer vacation: at a wedding in Bar Harbor, Maine.
That's how it begins. Britta receives a wedding invitation and can't turn it down. The next thing she knows, she's traveling almost 2500 miles across the country in a beat-up Lexus with Jeff Winger.
It was always going to be Jeff. It's a kind of sad fact that she doesn't have many friends in Colorado. She left behind a lot of people when she left New York, and that was probably a good thing overall, but her real friends in Greendale aren't the people she went to high school with fifteen years ago, or her neighbors or her brothers' friends. It's the study group. And that translates into movie marathons with Troy and Abed, shopping trips with Annie, tolerance of Pierce, and a few experiences babysitting Shirley's boys that make her not want to have seven-year-olds ever, as well as her thing with Jeff.
So it was always going to be Jeff.
She asks him when it's either so late at night or so early in the morning that you can't tell the difference,; when they're both on the verge of being exhausted. His arm is around her, kinda, but in a way he can claim is only casual. They've gotten a lot more comfortable with each other now that school's ended, now that they're out of one bubble and into another that's much more confined.
"I need a favor," she says, when the silence grows a little too thick.
"Is it a sexual one?" His voice is jokey, light, and she punches him in the side just as he expects.
"No. It's a big one- a familial kind of thing."
Jeff understands those.
He says yes.
It's 2,267 miles from Denver, Colorado (their starting point) to Bar Harbor, Maine. If they drove straight with no traffic, it's one day and fourteen hours. They're not going to do that. They'll alternate, sure-they'll sleep in shifts-but they're going to make some stops along the way. Britta goes on Google Maps and gets them a route. Jeff packs powerbars and low-calorie energy drinks and his fanciest, lawyer-iest suit, as well as a tie that coordinates with her dress.
It'll go fine. That's the mantra: this will be fine. They've never spent this much time alone together, only the two of them, but it's them. They spent a year fighting and fucking without their friends taking much notice. They spent nights together and mere hours alone in between.
There's no reason for her to be nervous. And even if there is, Britta's really awesome at ignoring stuff like that.
They start in Denver. They start in Denver because whenever Britta typed in 'Greendale Community College' for her starting point on Google Maps, her browser crashed and refused to reboot for five full minutes. After a half hour of that funkiness, she figures that they can drive for a few more minutes and avoid bad juju.
Jeff picks her up at eleven in the morning, half an hour early, and she runs out to the car with hair unbrushed and her suitcase bumping awkwardly over the curb. There's a very expensive blue dress in there, he points out, but Britta shakes it off.
She does, however, take a moment to note that his fancy suit is hanging up in a garment bag in the backseat. If it were a few months earlier she would be teasing him for that, but right now there's this tense kind of feeling in the air- she's not sure why, but it's going to suck to be trapped in a car with that for four days.
They don't talk to each other until they decide to stop for the night in Omaha.
It's hot. That's the most notable thing; that the city is hot and their room is really hot and they've been given a down comforter. Jeff blinks at it for a while in confusion. He still is kind of dazed from driving on highways, she can tell.
"This doesn't make any sense," he says finally. "It's over 90 degrees outside."
Britta turns down the comforter. "There's no topsheet either."
They call down to the front desk. No one answers.
"This is a nice start," Jeff remarks after about twenty minutes. The hot water isn't working in the hotel room either, but that isn't so bad- they both take quick cold showers, wincing under the chill and skipping shampoo and conditioner. (Well, Britta does. She's pretty sure that Jeff washes his hair in the lukewarm waters of the sink.)
She turns over on the bed. Her pillow is soaking wet and cold. "I'm not going to have sex with you. It's too hot."
"Okay," he says, after a minute, and digs up the remote to watch golf on TV.
Day two, Jeff listens to Animal Collective from Omaha to Toledo, which is, by the way, about twelve straight hours.
Britta may or may not have viciously (his words) stolen his iPod cable. And charger. And iPod itself.
They listen to NPR until they find a hotel.
Day three is going to go better, Britta assumes. She's not sure why she makes the assumption, except that they're more or less in the Northeast, so the scenery won't be as flat, and they'll be driving through a lot of upstate New York, which is really pretty, as well as Massachusetts. Jeff's goal is relentless, and that is to make it to New Hampshire before they break for the night. It's almost fourteen hours of driving, and they start at 6:30 AM.
They play the out-of-state license plate game for three hours. Britta wins.
The rest of the time, they listen to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on tape.
Jeff gets kind of upset when Sirius dies.
It starts raining when they're in Massachusetts. It's what you think of when you picture a perfect storm; trees near the highway flipping their leaves and thunder, lightning; the whole shebang. The rain starts at first when they're in Worcester, a light summer rain that makes the air feel less oppressive. After twenty miles, though, it really starts to pour. It takes them extra time to get safely to Manchester.
They check into the first bed- and- breakfast they see.
The woman at the front desk is only mildly sympathetic to their plight. She probably sees a lot of drenched tourists in wholly inappropriate footwear. She's probably used to the sight. She's probably even used to super-tall guys tracking in mud and chest muscles.
God, it's starting to pour outside. Britta has no clue how the storm could have gotten worse, but it really has.
"I suppose you'll be wanting a room," the very horsey-looking clerk says, nails clacking away at her keyboard. Britta doesn't know how it's possible, but they sound almost judging. "Let's see what there is."
"Two rooms," Britta cuts in quickly. "Definitely two." It's nothing against Jeff, it's more that she needs space right now. She needs to shower and not come out smelling like him because she accidentally used his body wash, or hear him crack jokes about nudity while she washes her hair. She needs to pull on an old t-shirt and raggedy pajama bottoms and not feel jealous of how he looks good even in old grey sweatpants. She needs to stretch out on the bed without encountering sweaty limbs (hello, Omaha, what was with that hotel) and end up making out in the middle of the night because it's too hot for sex and too hot to sleep. She just needs to be by herself for eight hours.
Jeff hesitates for a minute, and then he nods- he must have caught onto her line of thought- sliding his hand into his back pocket for his wallet. "Yeah, two rooms, that'll be good."
"Mmmm." The woman checks her computer. "Let's see; there's a wedding party staying here, and because of the rain... it looks like we only have one room left."
Britta closes her eyes. "You're kidding me." She shouldn't have to deal with this right now,; not the last night she'll have before her family comes at her in full force.
"Do I look like I am?"
"No, I suppose not. We'll take it." She glances at Jeff to see if that's okay. "Right?"
"Of course." He already has his credit card out. "It's fine. We'll be okay. Are there two separate beds in this one remaining room?"
They're definitely getting strange looks. "Just the one. It's a restored four-poster. The quilt has won an award."
"Fine. It's fine." He pays for the (surprisingly expensive) room, and they meander their way upstairs.
The weather outside, it's the kind of storm that seems to have been saving up its energy for a night like tonight. Thunder is rattling the windowpanes, and it's more than enough to make Britta jump. She'll be glad to be curled up under the covers, and she has a romance novel that Annie left for her in the bottom of her purse. Never mind that Jeff will make fun of her for it- he might probably just play Angry Birds until he's beaten his high score or fallen asleep. It's what he used to do, sometimes, when she would stay over his place, and he returned to that pattern in Toledo for a while, or at least until she turned on the air conditioner and more or less jumped his bones.
These are not the thoughts she should be having. These are not the thoughts of a person with her own space.
"I'm taking a shower first," Jeff says, using his ridiculously long legs to his advantage as he bounds ahead of her. "Dibs."
Britta narrows her eyes and takes off her shirt. She knew it was a good idea to wear a white bra, from the way that Jeff gulps a little.
"I am," she says. "I'm waterlogged, for God's sake. And we're not sharing."
She makes sure to only use up most of the hot water, not all of it.
But here's the thing: thunderstorms are different in New England. They're more intense. The trees are older, more ready to come tumbling down.
The weather has gone from reflecting Britta's mood to scaring the hell out of her. She hasn't been like this since she was little. As soon as they climb into bed, she slides her feet in between Jeff's legs, which are at least mildly warm. He turns around and glares at her, hair still damp from his quick, chilly shower. "I thought you said no touching."
"Changed my mind," she says, and shivers.
"No it's not."
"Your feet are freezing."
She rolls her eyes. "So warm them up."
"You do know where that's going to lead, right?"
"It doesn't have to," she sighs. "You could be nice."
"It's raining, and you're looking for comfort from me," Jeff points out. "The scene practically writes itself. And may I remind you of what happened last night?"
"If you wanted sex, you could have warned me about it earlier," she grumps. "I might've slept with you that way."
"After the two rooms thing? No," he says. "You wouldn't've."
Britta doesn't say anything else, because he's right.
"You don't have to have sex with me," Jeff says, once the silence has become a little too suffocating.
"You're not going to, are you."
"I don't think so."
"Then what's the matter?" he asks, sliding his foot against hers, because something is getting her sad and Jeff knows it. "Do you want to talk?"
Britta bites her lip, gently bumping his ankle. "Yeah, I guess. I just- we're still friends, right?"
"Yeah," Jeff says immediately. "That's always going to come first."
She takes a deep breath. "It's only that sometimes I think we're not."
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes I think that you managed to fall in love with me but we never became friends."
There's so many things he should respond to there: the allegation he's in love with her, their friendship- but he picks the latter.
"I will always be your friend," Jeff says, then adds, almost as an afterthought, "as long as you let me." And that there, that's a good point too.
"Okay," Britta says, and repeats it. "Okay."
She kisses him on the cheek, and in response, he slings an arm over her and pulls her just a little bit closer.
When she falls asleep, it's with the thunder booming outside and Jeff snoring lightly in her ear.
It's only a few hours to Bar Harbor.
But the silence doesn't seem as bad anymore.