Was that the start of something I didn’t see coming? I shudder.
I will not be letting that happen again.
The twins bound down the steps and dive into the fresh powder; as has been true every year of their short lives, they will be enthusiastic participants for about fifteen minutes, then will lose interest.
Aaron made his bubbe’s famous cheese blintzes this morning, but didn’t eat a single one, choosing instead to sip on a protein shake and insist he was “perfectly content without all that dairy” and has “never felt better.” Now he’s on the porch in ripped skinny jeans, a floral bomber jacket, and a pair of trendy thick-soled sneakers that look better suited to walking around in a spaceship than in six inches of fresh snow.
“This is . . . different,” Andrew says, looking him up and down.
“Doesn’t Papa look cool?” Zachary says, and tugs on the end of Aaron’s Burberry scarf. “He has the same shoes as Mr. Tyler.”
“Who is Mr. Tyler?” I ask.
Kyle looks on with the long-suffering smile of a spouse who has endured his husband’s shenanigans for months and is all too happy to share the joy. “That’s the twins’ twenty-four-year-old Instagram-famous soccer coach.”
Aaron jogs in place. “They’re super comfortable.”
Andrew is a delightful sweetheart: “I’m sure they are.”
By this point in our lives, we all know the routine: Partners split off and get to strategizing, then building. It might make more sense for me to pair up with Theo because we’re practically twins but 1) Miles would murder anyone who dared steal quality time with his idol; 2) Andrew and I are both easily distracted as well as only marginally invested in winning, so nobody else wants us on their team, and 3) I just really want to be with Andrew. Not the most noble reason, but here we are.
As for the rest, Benny is only occasionally interested in the event, and mostly just acts as a judge and/or cheerleader. Lisa works with Kyle. Aaron works with Dad, who, to Dad’s credit, takes a long look at Aaron’s outfit but refrains from commenting. Theo and Miles team up, obviously, and Ricky and Mom are a team. Nine times out of ten, they win. I guess that’s what happens when you pair a landscape architect with an artist.
When Kennedy and Zachary started kindergarten last year, we instituted a Swimsuit Rule: Nothing can be carved that would be hidden by a swimsuit. Without the guideline, Theo cannot be trusted. There were a number of years there in our early twenties when even Theo’s snow lizards had boobs.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch him the precise moment he spots the thick curved branch that inspires him and Miles to make the snow elephant. The adrenaline of this discovery kicks his energy into high gear and the two guys high-five like fraternity pledges who’ve just tapped their first keg.
Benny sidles up to me at the table. “What’s your plan?”
I watch as Andrew sifts through the box of veggies, waiting for inspiration. A few days ago, we’d started making a panda and then aborted that option when we realized it really just looked like a bear—which Mom and Ricky were already doing and better. We pivoted to the monkey, and I think it would have been amazing if we’d started on that from the get-go.
“I’m going to use what I learned last time and win.”
Benny nods for a few quiet seconds before muttering dryly, “That seems altruistic.”
I glare half-heartedly at him. “Originally, Ricky and Mom won—like they always do—and everyone complained,” I whisper. “We don’t want people complaining, we want people having fun! Project Save the Cabin, right? So, if Andrew and I win, we can make a big deal that it’s our first steak-pick ever. Rah-rah traditions!”
Benny stares at me. “Everyone knows you don’t care about the steak.”
I stare back at him. “Maybe I’m hungry.”
He lifts a brow.
“Or maybe I’m tired of losing.”
Benny snorts into his coffee. “There it is.”
Andrew approaches. I bump my shoulder against his and pretend to give him a vote. “What are you thinking?”
“A panda bear?” he says, holding his hands out to indicate a big, round belly.
I give this five seconds of fake consideration, tapping my chin.
“I think your dad and my mom are already making a bear.” I tilt my head, subtly gesturing, before realizing that of course they’re still gathering materials and I’d have no way of knowing what they’re doing; all they have is a shapeless mound of snow.
Andrew frowns at me quizzically, green eyes narrowing.
“I heard Mom talking about it earlier,” I lie. “I bet it’ll be amazing.”
He buys this—Thank you, Universe—and I walk over to the side porch to locate the two perfect pieces of bark that will become our monkey’s ears. “Maybe we do a monkey?” I hold them to the sides of my head, demonstrating.
With a smile, he digs into the box and brandishes the two arm-shaped squash that will fit our monkey perfectly. We grin wildly at each other. We are geniuses!
“Be cool,” he whispers quickly, wrangling his smile under control. We share a subtle fist-bump.
At first, we’re all working in our respective areas, ignoring what everyone else is doing because it takes a while for the lumps of snow to start looking like anything specific. But as time goes on—around when the twins get bored and start making snowballs nearby—we get more competitive. Each team glances over their shoulders more frequently. We all start to whisper and point. No one is eager for a dinner of sinewy chuck, and we have to know which team we’ll need to beat.
Nearly forty-five minutes in, the monkey is coming out even better than I could have imagined—even better than she did last time. Her ears are just big enough to make her look cartoonish and cuddly. I managed to snag some beautiful tortoiseshell buttons that make her eyes look dark and luminous. Andrew is gifted with the butter knife, apparently, because he’s alternating between heating it up with a lighter and carefully carving out her features. Her nose and mouth are perfect. Look what we can do when we actually put in effort!
And maybe cheat. Just a little.
“It’s too wet.”
I look up at Andrew when he says this. “What’s too wet?”
Swallowing audibly, Andrew uses the butter knife to point to where I’m struggling to get the monkey’s tail to curl up and back over itself. It crumbles every time I dig out the extra snow. “You have a moisture problem.”
The words bounce back and forth between us, growing louder somehow in the ringing silence. His eyes twinkle with repressed laughter, and finally, unable to hold it in anymore, we both break.
“Did you just tell me I have a moisture problem?”
He can’t stop laughing. “No—yes.”
“Are you broken, Andrew Polley Hollis?”
He doubles over. “I promise I’ve never said that to a woman before.”
Pressing my hand to my chest, I say, “What an absolute honor to be the first.” I wave him over. “Come help me with this.”
“With your moisture problem?”
He crawls over, eyes glimmering as they meet mine. I want to capture this moment. I want to put it in a snow globe and be able to see it just like this, forever.
We decide to name our monkey Thea, because we want to reach peak trolling levels with Theo when we win. I make sure to stand to the side often, looking like I’m thinking really hard about my next step. Andrew catches what I’m doing and gives me an approving smirk.
Our bait works beautifully. Ricky meanders over, eyes Thea. “What is that?”
I see his trash talk and knock it down, coyly running a finger beneath her artistically sculpted jaw. “You know exactly what it is. Her name is Thea, but I like to think of her as filet mignon.”
He tilts his head, walking in a wide circle around her. I can tell he’s shocked and impressed; Andrew and I are bringing our A-game.
Finally Ricky speaks, but it comes out with a jealous edge. “I don’t know, Mae. Have you seen our bear?”
Giving it a brief glance, Andrew says, “Oh, that bark-covered lump of snow over there?”
“Hey, that’s going to be my masterpiece!” With a laugh, Mom throws a loose snowball in Andrew’s direction.
Unfortunately, at that exact moment, Dad stands up about halfway between them and the snowball hits him with a thud, squarely on the side of his neck. The ice slides under his collar, and I see a big puff of it disappear beneath his sweater.
My stomach drops. Mom is lighthearted and fun-loving. Dad is . . . well, he is not. He is kind but sensitive, and never good at being the butt of a joke.
Please, I think. Don’t fight. Don’t derail this day.
Mom playfully singsongs, “Oops! Did I hit you, Dan?”
The group holds its collective breath. Mom, unfazed, does a saucy little dance. This woman is playing with fire.
Holding eye contact, Dad bends to collect and form a perfect—and terrifyingly compact—snowball. I deflate in relief when he stands and I see that he’s grinning. When he tosses the snowball at her, I swear it whistles ominously through the air, missing her by only inches.
Mom screeches in delight. Dad laughs, bending to make another one, calling out, “Oh, you’re in for it now.”
This is new.
But my nerves are growing frayed again; Andrew and I are doing so well with Thea, and for a few blissful seconds, I actually forgot that I’ve lived this day before and just let myself enjoy it. But being in snow with this crowd is a bit like walking around in a pool of gasoline with a lit match. Snowball fights are always a possibility.
The twins, who have been stockpiling a monster number of snowballs themselves, take Dad’s act as a sign that they are good to launch, and before I realize what’s happening, the entire scene is devolving into a huge war. Match to gasoline: Zachary pelts his dad Aaron in the back of the leg, who blows out the crotch of his designer jeans as he attempts to tuck and roll for cover. Standing again, he pelts Kyle in the stomach, who pelts Dad on the arm. Dad aims for Kyle but hits Lisa in the shoulder, and she retaliates with a vicious snow bullet that hits him squarely between the shoulder blades. Apparently her aim with a snowball is much better than her aim with a camera.