I wait for an explanation. None comes. “Yes?”
“Not sure. Trying to remember the signs of a concussion.”
I roll my eyes and pull him up. His cardigan is shockingly soft. “Is this cashmere?”
He stares down at it like he doesn’t remember putting it on. “Maybe?” He looks back up at me. “Focus, Mae.”
Blinking my eyes, I remember why we’re here. “Do you remember our conversation last night?”
I exhale, relieved. “Okay,” I say, mentally working this out. “We’re doing this over again, but I’m the only one who realizes it. I haven’t been sent back, so I must be doing something right?”
“Is there another explanation?”
I chew on my lip. “That I’m crazy? That this is all random? That I’m actually in a coma in a hospital in Salt Lake?”
“I don’t like any of those options,” he admits.
“Uh, yeah,” I scoff, grinning wryly. “I’m not wild about them, either.”
“I’m here,” he reasons. “I mean—I’m real. I’m in this with you, and so it can’t just be happening to you, right?”
A thought occurs to me: “Quick. Tell me something I wouldn’t possibly know about you—other than your stash of mushrooms, too obvious. Just in case I reboot all over again.”
“You know about the mushrooms?”
He frowns as he thinks. And then he leans in and whispers a rushed string of words.
When he pulls back, I stare at him. “Benny.”
He laughs, shaking his head. “I know.”
I shudder. “I meant something like, ‘My first dog’s name was Lady.’ Not like, ‘I lived a strange double life as a nude waiter in Arizona.’ ”
He shrugs. “It’s the first thing that came to mind.”
Closing my eyes, I shake my head to clear the image.
“Do we tell the others?” Benny asks. “I mean, this whole situation is pretty wild. Maybe one of them has experienced this before and managed to get to the other side of it? Maybe you’re right, and this place really is magic.”
“I like your thinking, but I might have a better idea. I mean, Ricky and Lisa deciding to sell the cabin was the catalyst for my whole wish in the first place. Do you think it’s possible we’re supposed to convince them to keep it? Maybe if we all pitch in and show them what it means to us?”
He looks past me to where Ricky is cuddling his coffee. “Never hurts to try, I suppose.”
“Everyone is always complaining about all the traditions,” I whisper, “but Ricky really does so much for us. What if we’re all just very gung-ho about things? What if we offer to help with the upkeep? Repairs?”
“You think you can get everyone on board?” he asks.
I look out the window and grimace. Today’s tradition was once about building snowmen, but then younger Mae apparently asked why we couldn’t build snowgirls, and then tiny Miles came along and asked why he couldn’t build a snow monkey. Now, December 21 is Snow Creature Day, and that seems to work for everyone.
That is, unless it’s terrible outside. Ricky doesn’t adjust the itinerary for inclement weather, and we’ve all grown so competitive about this activity that we’re usually out there for a good two or three hours before we’ve picked a winner. A glance out the window reveals an intimidating gray-blue sky. Thick, daggerlike icicles hang menacingly from the eaves. There’s no way we’ll get a complaint-free group out there today.
I gulp as I look back at him. “I’ll try.”
Benny sucks in a breath between his teeth. “Man, changing the future, though. Like, have you ever heard of the butterfly effect? What if you change one tiny thing and something terrible happens?”
“Listen,” I say, “if the universe wants to drop a cursed ring in my lap that I’m supposed to throw into a lava-filled mountain, I’m all for it. But right now this is all I’ve got.”
• • •
I follow Benny into the kitchen just as the back door opens. Andrew steps inside and brings with him a sharp streak of ice-cold air, as well as a shot of adrenaline straight into my heart.
I shout out a bright “Hey!”
In my head, I’ve said it with easy composure, James Dean leaning against the doorframe. In reality, I’ve hollered it with odd aggression, and everyone else flinches.
Benny puts a calming hand on my back.
Andrew pulls out an earbud and grins at me, unfazed because he is a magical creature. “Hey yourself.”
He’s shivering, wearing a down jacket, scarf, gloves, and a blanket as a shawl. This human tangle of hot + adorable is usually hidden in the audio tech booth during shows at Red Rocks but should absolutely be onstage for everyone to enjoy.
“So, the Boathouse was toasty warm?” I ask, at normal volume now.
He pushes a mess of brown curls out of his eyes. “Even freezing out there is better than sleeping in the bunk bed downstairs.”
What an adorable liar. The bunk beds might be in a basement, but it’s at least insulated down there, and the beds themselves are cozy and warm and covered in fluffy down comforters. The Boathouse is a twelve-by-twelve box with one entire wall of windows that overlook the back side of the mountain, and not even a wood-burning stove to keep it heated. It’s gorgeous but barely a step above snow camping. Andrew will die in this battle of wills with his dad.
Smug now, Ricky studies his shivering oldest son over the rim of his coffee mug. “You sure about that?”
Behind us, Benny snorts.
A memory bubble pops in my brain. “Why not use those big sleeping bags in the basement storage area?”
Three pairs of eyes swing to me and I realize I’ve just messed up.
Andrew’s interest is definitely piqued. “Sleeping bags?”
“How on earth did you know about those?” Ricky asks with an astonished smile. “I didn’t even remember we had them. We haven’t used ’em in years.”
“Yes, Mae. How did you know about those?” Benny says, and then gives me a covert thumbs-up.
I know about them because on Christmas morning, Ricky remembered that they were there. He aired them out and gave them to Andrew after he came in shivering for the fifth day in a row. They’re these enormous army-green canvas bags that each weigh about forty pounds. The insides are a thick red flannel with a weird deer-hunting motif that honestly makes the bags look like bloody carcasses when they’re unzipped, but who am I to judge if Andrew’s warm? I remember he bundled himself in one and said it was the best night’s sleep he’d had all year. I just got him an extra four nights of blissful slumber.
I look skyward. Bonus points, Universe?
Bonus points or not, remembering the sleeping bags is how I end up outside in the freezing cold, wearing an enormous parka, holding a baseball bat at eight in the morning and beating an unzipped bag where it hangs over a clothesline. I steer clear of the icicles.
Farther down the line, Andrew swings his tennis racket at the other green-and-red canvas-and-flannel carcass. He gives it a good whack and sends plumes of dust flying everywhere. “Oh, Maisie, this was a clutch idea.”
“You should know by now where to come for the big brain.”
Andrew squints at me in the cold morning air. “I haven’t seen these in at least a decade.”
The implied question—the same one Benny and Ricky asked aloud only minutes ago—is plainly expressed in his eyes. “I was looking for a roasting pan for Mom,” I lie. “They were back there in the storage area.” Blinking down to the garish red interior, I mumble, “They’re so gory. It’s almost disturbing.”
“I remember camping in these as a kid,” he tells me, “and pretending I was Luke Skywalker sleeping in a tauntaun.”
“A-plus nerd reference.”
“ ‘Snug as a Luke in a tauntaun’ isn’t a saying yet, but we could make it happen.”
“You know,” I say, taking a swing, “you could go into town and buy a space heater.”
Andrew smacks his sleeping bag several times, clearing an impressive amount of dirt. “That would be admitting defeat.”
“Ah. Definitely worth dying to avoid.”
“Where my dad is concerned, that is correct. But thank you for being so smart.” His smile crinkles his eyes and a tiny, mighty voice screams in my cranium: LOOK HOW HAPPY THAT SMILE MAKES YOU. “Speaking of defeat,” he says, “you ready for today?”
Freezing as it is, snow has also fallen and there is a gorgeous layer of fresh, fluffy powder for our next adventure. “Oh, hell yes.”
It surprises no one who knows the Hollis family that they take their snow-creature building very seriously. Set out for us when we all emerge onto the front porch after breakfast are implements ranging from large shovels to tiny garden spades, rakes to squeegees. At the base of the stairs, a table is covered in cups, plates, buckets, knives, spoons, ice cream scoops, and even handheld torches to help us shape, mold, and carve out the perfect features of our creations. Beside the table are a wood box and a large wicker basket; the box holds fresh carrots, turnips, potatoes, and a variety of squash for noses and limbs. The basket has mittens, wigs, hats, and scarves.
As is tradition, we team up, work to build the best sculpture, and then vote on which should win. The stakes are high: for our dinner tonight, Ricky intentionally picks a wide range of steaks, from hammered chuck to filet mignon. Everyone drops their anonymous paper vote for best sculpture in a box—honor code says you can’t vote for yourself—and the winning team gets to pick their dinner and everyone else’s. On Snow Creature Day, I’ve never eaten filet mignon.
Only a few days ago, Andrew and I built a snow monkey but didn’t happen upon brilliance until the very end, when we had to rush to finish and lost to Mom and Ricky’s grizzly bear. Theo started trash talking; he and Andrew ended up wrestling. Things turned competitive, I hopped into the mix, and Theo tackled me and then seemed to take an awfully long time getting up.