The cottage is a fairly secluded place tucked away between two hills, a stream winding through the garden and a sparse forest in its back yard.

When we arrive, the sun is dipping below the horizon. The person we're renting it from - a middle aged woman living at her parents' house during the quarantine - is nowhere to be seen. I didn't really expect to see her in person, but the cottage still seems strangely empty and hollow.

I step out of the car, shutting the door behind me. It slams shut too loudly and I look around. A few fireflies dance around the stream, and from somewhere, I can hear crickets. Otherwise, it's silent and almost completely still.

There's a clunk from behind me and Wren gets out of the car. They're sleepy (they slept most of the way here), but they brighten up immediately when they notice where they are.

"Look! We're at the cottage!" they say, grinning at me as they look around. "It's so beautiful here."

"It's too quiet," I grumble, shivering under my sweatshirt.

"It's peaceful," they respond. They look up at the sky, starlight reflecting off their glasses and wind caressing their curls softly, and as I watch them, I can't help but smile.

The rest of us get out, one after the other, and my friends grumbling and laughing helps ease the silence a bit.

"Wow, this garden is so nice," Addie says, glancing at the wildflowers and shrubbery. It's hard to see in the dim light, but I can tell she approves. She wraps her arms around herself. "But it's cold. Why does it have to be so cold?"

"I told you that you should bring a jacket," Clark says, shaking his head. "You can't just always wear flannel."

"Watch me," she says, grinning. He sighs, hiding a smile, and takes off his scarf, wrapping it around her like a shawl. She tugs it more securely around herself.

"I bet there's a ton of places to explore," June says. She glances at the hills that surround us, at the woods that stretch out from behind the house. "We should go hiking tomorrow. There are probably a ton of great trails."

"Can we catch fireflies?" Wren asks.

"We should probably unpack," I say. "But we can tomorrow."

Addie walks up to the door, trying the handle.

"It's locked," she says.

"Where did she say the key was?" Clark says, searching through his pockets. "I thought I had a paper somewhere."

"Check under the mat," June suggests. She walks over to the mailbox. The hinges screech as she pulls it open, releasing a cloud of dust. She coughs, fanning at her face. "I bet this hasn't been opened in centuries."

In spite of myself, I grin. It's nice being out here with my friends, apart from the world of newspapers and current events and constant problems. It had been Wren's idea to rent a cottage. They had said that we all needed a getaway from all this stress, and we were staying with each other anyway, so it wouldn't be breaking social distancing.

I hear a meowing from the car and open the door, shoving a few bags and a large case out of the way.

"Hey, be careful with my guitar!" June calls from where she's running her hands over all the windowsills, checking for keys.

I roll my eyes but handle it with a bit more care, gently placing it on the floor of the car.

Finally, I find the carrier where the meowing is coming from. I pull it out, holding it in my lap and stroking my cat, Mittens, through the holes of her carrier.

"You can come out in a moment," I murmur to her. She pokes her nose through one of the holes, glaring up at me, and I smile.

"I bet she'll love the cottage," Wren says. They're currently lying on their stomach in the grass, trying to catch fireflies in their cupped hands.

"I hope so," I say. "She's never been this far from home before. Maybe I should have taken her to my mom's."

"But then she would have gotten lonely," Wren says, rolling onto their back. "The stars are so bright here," they say.

"Found the key!" Clark calls, placing a garden gnome back on its feet. Wren stands up, and I follow them to the door. Addie grabs the key from Clark's hand, jamming it into the lock. The door opens with a loud groan.

I step inside, feeling along the wall until I find a light switch, blinking a few times in the sudden brightness. There's a thick rug in front of an empty fireplace, and a couch and two chairs angled in front of it. Addie plops down on the couch, closing her eyes contentedly.

"Ah," she sighs. "Warmth."

Meanwhile, Wren and Clark are both racing towards the bedrooms.

"I call this one!" Wren calls, skidding to a stop in the doorway of one of them. Clark sighs in disappointment, but settles for the next one over.

"I can go get the bags," June says.

"I'll help," I volunteer, setting down and opening Mittens' carrier. She makes a beeline to Wren's room, and I can hear her purring. I shut the door behind me and together, we walk over to the car.

"So?" June says.

"So what?"

"What do you think?"

I close my eyes. A cold gust of wind blows over the hills, making my eyes water. I shove my numb hands into the pockets of my sweatshirt. It's lonely out here, no one but you and the moon to keep you company.

And yet, I can already imagine long days spent hiking through the woods and hills, reading in the garden, catching fireflies at dusk while the sun sets, roasting marshmallows over the fire. I can hear laughter from inside the house, and like Wren said, the stars are brighter out here.

"I think it will be nice," I say.

August 01, 2020 21:15

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Esa Manley
09:48 Aug 02, 2020

"It slams shut with a too loudly and I look around." I think that has a typo? I found myself wanting to read more, which is good. The fact I read all of it is a good sign, I have a short attention span :P


14:30 Aug 02, 2020

Good catch, thanks! I'm glad you liked it.


Esa Manley
15:15 Aug 02, 2020

No problem.


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