Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New York City Time Out

When Nikki and Elliott arrived at Fern Forest on Saturday night, they both looked the worse for wear. Friday was Nikki’s birthday, and she had celebrated hard at a club in Manhattan, so hard that she didn’t realize until the next morning that her wallet had been stolen. She lost cash, her driver’s license and her debit card. By the time she reported the theft, her debit card had been charged hundreds of dollars. So far, turning 22 had not been auspicious for her.

Elliott wanted to treat his flatmate to a birthday weekend, so he rented a car—a spiffy red Mustang convertible. It was 20 degrees at Fern Forest and snowing, and the Mustang was not equipped with snow tires. So Elliott parked the vehicle, top securely up, at the foot of the steepest part of the driveway, and he and Nikki hiked up to the house.

They arrived in late afternoon, and we gave Elliott a glass of cider. All Nikki wanted was a nap, but she managed, sleepy-eyed, to let us know she’s from Glasgow, although we could tell from her melodic, wind-chime accent that she was Scottish. Elliott is from Brighton, on the south coast of England.

They didn’t know each other before they came to New York City to work as interns for a British organization on a one-year contract. Elliott landed a position with the British Consulate, and Nikki was assigned to work for British Airways. They were thrown into a three-bedroom apartment in New Jersey with three other twenty-something interns, which proved to be cramped and bustling with energy and noise. When you’re in your early twenties, you can endure anything for a year.

Already they've had about enough of New York City. When I asked Nikki if she'd seen Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, she said yes but didn't elaborate on the details. Elliott said he passed by it on his way somewhere. Thanksgiving is a holiday for us rebellious colonials, but they were glad for a day off from work.

H and I sent them to the treehouse for a rest, and a few hours later they came back to the house hungry. We suggested dinner in Bristol, five miles away, but they wanted no part of restaurants and villages. They preferred carry-out to eat in the treehouse. We directed them to a sub shop, and they made a quick trip to town and returned with a container of hot spaghetti. I packed a bag with plates and forks, and they disappeared into the snowy night.

Sometimes we spend a lot of time with treehouse guests, sometimes they take off to hike and explore, and sometimes they just want to enjoy the solitude of the woods. Nikki and Elliott were happy to hang out, have a soak in the spa, and enjoy the quiet. By Sunday, Nikki looked alive again, and at breakfast she and Elliott gobbled H’s cheese omelets and an entire pound of bacon. Then they headed back to the treehouse. Elliott had brought his laptop, and they watched movies and rested.

When H was 22, he headed for Australia for six months to work on a farm commune with friends in Far North Queensland. I don’t remember much about turning 22 myself. I was still in college, between spring and summer classes, and was probably working full-time at the law firm in Washington, DC, where I typed and filed. I wish I’d thought about doing an internship in the UK, but my sights were set on finishing college. After that, I had no more idea what was in store for me than do Elliott or Nikki.

Elliott graduated from University of Leeds and is thinking about graduate school when he returns to England next spring. But first he’s looking forward to April, when he’ll fly to Miami with some other interns, rent a car, and drive across America. All Nikki’s thinking about is going home to Glasgow for Christmas. She likes New York, but she misses her family. I’m sure she’s looking forward to hearing that familiar brogue again, too.

On Sunday it was still snowy, but Elliott and Nikki wanted to go to Bristol and get some supplies. H and I were going out that night and offered them the kitchen to make supper for themselves.

"Why don't you put the top down on the convertible?" I said.

Elliott thought that was a great idea. So they did, a Scot and a Brit on holiday from New York City cruising along the River Road, top down, snow landing on their caps and their laps, laughing at the cold.

By the time they left on Monday, we’d had a foot of snow, and the Mustang was covered in white. H went down to help them load up and dig out.

“Will you take our picture?” Elliott asked, and he handed H his camera. H took a couple shots with the snowy woods behind them.

Afterward, Nikki stood a few seconds.

“It’s so quiet,” she said.

I hope she tucked that silence somewhere where she can get to it when she returns to the busy flat in New Jersey. If not, there’s always a hush here at Fern Forest, and they’re welcome to a bit of it anytime they’d like to return.

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