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Bette steered the Volvo as gently and as smoothly as she could up the moonlit driveway, bringing it to a stop outside the front door. She engaged the handbrake and glanced at the clock on the dash. Just gone eleven-thirty. Outside, the grass glittered with the beginnings of a frost but the porch was edged in copper-coloured fairy lights and the windows were golden squares of warm amber and yellow light.
A cabin by a lake, at Thanksgiving, in Vermont. Sometimes Bette had to pinch herself that her life had turned into such a syrupy cliché – and yet she loved it. All of it.
She glanced around her gang of sleepyheads. Beside her, in the passenger seat, was Tina, with her head on a folded up sweater against the window. Behind her was Angie, almost identically asleep, only her head rested on a puffer jacket. Leaning against her arm was Sasha, and on Sasha’s shoulder was Ben, stacked like dominoes, their mouths slack, their necks at angles that defied biology.
She switched the engine off and braced herself for what was coming. First, the delightful part. She reached out to very gently flick Tina’s earlobe. The blonde jerked her head away from the irritation. Bette smiled and did it again.
‘Tee?’ she said softly. ‘Honey, we’re here.’
Tina drew in a long, slow, deep breath and opened her eyes, frowning and looking adorably lost until she found Bette’s face and then her expression relaxed.
‘Mama?’ Sasha’s voice was cracked with sleep.
‘Ssh. It’s okay, pumpkin,’ Bette said.
‘Mama . . .’ Sasha repeated, a cry threatening now.
Bette reached back and rubbed her daughter’s knee, telling her again it was okay, that they would get in the cabin in a minute. Angie opened her door and got out. Ben yawned and stretched and stared out the window. Behind him, Solly was standing up in his crate, his breath fogging in the cooling car.
‘Who’s in the cabin?’ Ben asked.
‘No one,’ Tina replied, her voice muffled by the sweater she was pulling on over her head.
‘Ned and Juanita came over earlier to put the heaters on,’ Bette explained.
Angie went round and opened the hatchback as Solly wuffed and beat his tail wildly against the crate.