It's hard to feel at home on Highway 18. Farmland sprawls for miles on either side, snow-covered and barren and aching for spring.

Soft, sloping hills carry us east, past silos and farmhouses, white windmills silent as ghosts. Dried cornstalks shake brittle in the breeze and the sun's melting ice into slush. It's warmer than it's been.

The cabin is nestled between a lake and a narrow country road. Dark wood paneling, a fireplace, a wooden goose above the sink: home is where the heart is. The lake is a thick slab of ice, sleeping beneath the snow. Our boots make prints across and back again.

There's seven of us on this trip-- three married couples and me. There are card games and snowshoes and bottles of wine. I have no taste for competition, or snowshoes for that matter, but I'm trying. Don't be difficult, I say in my mind for the hundredth time.

I imagine summer grass beneath the blanket of snow and say without thinking, "This place will be so fun in the summer." I feel my face flush red. Who said I'd be invited back?

Morning comes quietly, sunlight peeking through windows like a hungry tomcat. I'm the first one up. I wish I'd brought a book.

I find a soft-spined hardback on the bedside table; tea-stained, no jacket. I open to the first page: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. It's for corporate executives. I read it cover to cover.

I decide I don't want to be a corporate executive.

I untuck the sheets from the bed and wash them. I think about the night before, worry that I said the wrong thing, didn't do enough to help. I clean the kitchen, too.

It's hot in my room and the kitchen tile feels cool beneath my feet, but I'm afraid I'll wake someone. Who said I'd be invited back?

The others wake together. We greet the morning with a pot of drip coffee, fresh oranges, a dozen eggs. A homemade tart.

Sunlight pours through the windows, blinding as it glints off the snow. We sit together and talk, the three couples and me; I take pictures to pass the time. Someone asks me to stop. I feel tired.
I love too much, is what I think.

It's a beautiful day, sun spilling over window sills and onto the floor, like a mess that needs to be swept. I'm not supposed to be here, is the feeling I can't shake. So kind of them to include me, I think, like an elderly aunt you bring to Thanksgiving just to get her out of the house. She chews with her mouth open.

It's new, this feeling.

My friends drive me home and we're quiet on the way. The sun is glinting off the snow, blinding. They drop me at home; it's out of their way, but they pretend it isn't. So kind of them, I think. It is.

I go inside and unpack my bag.

["avenues" // ryan adams]