Recap of Chapter 22: After a rocky start, Chloe and Martin settle on the ground rules for taking their relationship to the next step. Taking her hand, Martin leads the way upstairs. Matthew and Penny give them space and take their passion—and the can of whipped cream—to the living room.

Penny awoke with the sun glinting off the lake, shining in her eyes. It was a familiar experience, but always took a moment to realize where she was. Once she remembered that she was at her dad’s cabin, she would lie there, staring up at the ceiling as the light danced off the wooden beams and realize how utterly at peace she was in this quiet place. This particular morning was made better by the presence of Matthew lying beside her. He was turned away from her, the duvet pulled down to reveal part of his arm and back. She traced the scar on his shoulder, the only visible remnant of the terrible accident months ago. Her touch made him stir. He mumbled something incoherent, then quickly settled into a light snoring snooze.

“Four days flew by before reality set in and the conversation they’d been avoiding came up.”

Penny left the bed quietly, wrapped herself in a robe, and padded into the kitchen. She discovered that coffee was made, but there was no one about. She poured herself a cup and took it out onto the deck. As she sipped, loons glided across the water, making Vs in their wake. They called to one another in the morning mist hovering over the lake. It was mornings like this that made her appreciate why her father chose this place. It was simple and robust and beautiful enough to stir the senses. That, and the coffee combined with the afterglow of the night of lovemaking gave Penny an unparalleled sense of health and wellbeing. As her mind played the highlight reel of their intimate time together, Matthew came up from behind and wrapped his arms around her. He was wearing fleece pants and a cozy sweatshirt. His touch was warm as was his body as he fitted it to hers. She sighed.

“Good morning, beautiful,” he said, kissing her neck.

“Good morning, stud,” she teased.

“Oh,” he remarked with a sultry tone, “feeling sassy already this morning.”

“It’s because I’ve been fed on whipped cream and decadence,” she said, “and it’s all your fault.”

He sighed. “It was… uh… memorable would be the best word to describe it, I’d say.”

“It was that,” she agreed, leaning into him tantalizingly. She moved her hips in his lap.

“Keep that up and we’ll be back in the bedroom working on a sequel.”

She twisted in his arms so that they could kiss deeply. She felt the heat down the length of her body and could tell he felt it too. As they were deciding to go upstairs for a repeat, they were interrupted by voices.

“Oh, hello there!” It was Chloe, barefoot and wrapped in an oversized robe—her dad’s, she guessed. Her hair was mussed, and she appeared to be makeup free. Penny saw that she looked just as beautiful without and made a mental note to ask her how she managed it. Her dad looked relaxed and happier than she’d seen him in longer than she could remember. Smiling, she watched as he poured two cups of coffee, a pleasant look on his face. It’s funny how feeling valued put a glow to the skin. We humans are not meant to thrive alone.

“How about some breakfast!” he said, eager to please. Everyone volunteered at once, making them all laugh. “Well, I don’t think this kitchen can handle more than two cooks at once,” her dad declared, “so I think we’ll need to work in teams.” Penny and Matthew volunteered for breakfast duty and Martin declared that he and Chloe would make dinner, confessing after the fact that he didn’t really know if she could cook. They left the room laughingly discussing what they would make and deciding on a trip into town for supplies. That left Penny and Matthew to dig through the cupboards for the ingredients for breakfast. They found supplies for cottage potatoes, mushroom and Swiss omelets, and fruit. They found that they worked well as a team. Matthew, being a bachelor, was adept at making meals, and of course Penny’s skills in the kitchen were a great part of the success of Lucky Penny.

More coffee was brewed, the table was set, and the food was brought out to much oohing and aahing. When Penny’s dad brought the can of whipped cream to the table for the fruit, he expressed his surprise that it was nearly empty, which caused Penny and Matthew to exchange knowing looks and suppress their laughter.

And just like that, the foursome fell into a happy routine of making and sharing meals, canoeing or kayaking on the lake, taking hikes, sipping coffee in the cool mornings and whiskey at dusk. At night, they played robust games of cards or Scrabble, and at bedtime, the couples sequestered themselves in private rooms and explored their pleasure. Four days flew by before reality set in and the conversation they’d been avoiding came up. Martin was serving grilled locally-caught salmon and asparagus when Chloe blurted out, “I hate to be the buzz-kill in the room, but I need to be thinking about returning to my regular life.” Forks clattered noisily and wine was gulped.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” Martin said at last, sounding defeated. “I knew this couldn’t last forever—this… ” he swept the room with his arm, “this Utopia.”

Matthew chimed in, “I think that sad news applies to me too,” he admitted. “I have deadlines to meet.”

Penny sighed. “I suppose that means I have no excuse to stay hidden away here either. I’m sure Jesse has grown tired of filling my shoes at the pub by now. I really should get back to my life. Be responsible and all that.” She made a face.

And Martin knew that when everyone left, he would be alone in his solitude once again. And somehow, after these fun few days, it would feel less than it had in the past. He had always enjoyed the quiet and peace of this place. When his daughter visited, it was a short interruption of his and Barney’s routine. But this time, it was different. This time, Chloe was here, adding flavor and depth to every day and every night. Sharing that with his daughter and her beau made it sweeter somehow and he’d felt more completely happy than he had since his wife died all those years ago. All those feelings washed over him, leaving his hands clammy and sweat beading on his brow.

He sighed, “If it has to end, I guess we should make the most of the time we have together. If tomorrow you leave, we should make the most of tonight.”