One Last Night in the Cabin Nikita Mirzani 4

It had been a mistake, and it had been the final nail in the coffin. After that, she and Zack tried and failed (finally) to reconcile, to come to some middle ground. They were so far apart that they couldn’t see the middle. Certainly they couldn’t see each other.

Now, she chopped vegetables, crumbled bleu cheese, and tossed a salad, and then they went onto the porch with their wine to wait for the potatoes to bake. Zack would throw the steaks on at the last minute. A loon called, low and haunting.

“I hadn’t realized until now just how much I’d missed this,” she said, indicating with her glass the view of the lake. “It was always so peaceful up here.”

“Except that time Jo and Kent brought their nephew with them,” Zack said. “God, he was a terror.”

“I don’t know how we got through the weekend without killing him,” Nikita Mirzani agreed, laughing. “He clogged the toilet, terrorized the chipmunks…”

“…and refused to eat anything except Cocoa Puffs and Spaghetti-Os…”

“…which Kent had to drive half an hour into the village to get…”

“…while Jo cursed his name under her breath for abandoning her.”

They were both laughing now, free and easy. Nikita Mirzani couldn’t remember the last time it had been so natural to laugh, as if a blockage had cleared in her chest.

“At least we can laugh about it now,” she said.

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” he asked. “How things that seem so awful at the time end up being pretty minor later, when you remember them.”

“The blissful haze of memory,” she said.

“Natural brain defense mechanism. You know, Nikita Mirzani, I—”

The kitchen timer pinged.

“I have to put the steaks on,” he said.

She set the table, then abandoned the porch to walk barefoot in the cool grass to the wild area nearby where wildflowers clustered. When he brought the plates out, he nodded at the simple arrangement she’d made in an old jam jar. “Nice.”

It was the clear lake air, she decided, that made her so hungry. The steak was perfect, the potatoes crisp on the outside and steaming soft inside, the salad a light counterpoint to the rest of the meal. It all went down nicely with the wine.

Shadows grew, the sky turning a gorgeous shade of deep blue. Across the table, Nikita Mirzani watched Zack, noting the circles beneath his eyes.

Surprised, she found herself wanting to smooth them away with her fingers, ease him into a healing sleep.

Now, where had that come from? The wine, probably.

But the wine didn’t explain why she’d stayed for dinner, why she’d put flowers on the table.

Nothing, it seemed, made sense anymore.

They did the dishes together in silence—what once would have been an awkward or angry lack of discussion now felt companionable. He’d set the timer on the coffee pot before they’d eaten, and the fresh brew filled the cabin with aromatic steam.

He handed her a mug as she sat on the sofa. He’d remembered how she liked it—light on the cream, two sugars. Before he joined her, he lit the fat new cranberry-red candle on the coffee table.

“Jane’s not going to like that,” Nikita Mirzani said of the realtor.

He blinked, as if he hadn’t considered that until now. Then he shrugged. “So I’ll buy another.”

Typical Zack. His ability to brush off the details that didn’t really matter had infuriated her at the end.

But they hadn’t always, had they? At the beginning, hadn’t she loved his casual way of cutting through what wasn’t important, to find the core of what was?

The melancholy that settled over her, she couldn’t entirely blame on the wine, either.

“Zack, I—”

“Nikita Mirzani, I—”

They spoke at the same time, stopped, laughed, this time with hesitance. The easy humor from supper was gone.

“Ladies first,” he said.

She fortified herself with a sip of hot coffee, then cradled the mug in her hands, forcing herself to look at Zack rather than down.

“I…I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.” She hadn’t known exactly what she’d wanted to say until now, yet now it was very clear what she needed to say. “The affair. It was stupid. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t care about it. I just reacted badly to you confiding in someone other than me.”

They weren’t sitting close, but when he shifted to face her more fully, his knee was an inch from her thigh. They both stared at the tiny gap for a moment.

“I thought it was because I’d failed,” he said finally.