“Guys, stop!” I hold my arms out, but no one is paying attention. Not even Ricky seems fazed at this breach of tradition; he’s beaming snowballs at his sons with a laugh that seems to echo off the cabin, the trees, the mountains.
People are running, diving, dodging behind snow creations and—to my immense shock—knocking them over. With a flash of Aaron’s hot-pink briefs, he and Dad charge, and Mom and Ricky’s snow bear goes down in a powdery crumble. With the twins’ enthusiasm, Theo and Miles’s elephant is reduced to a sad, lumpy mound, and in retaliation, they take out Lisa and Kyle’s giraffe—already an overly ambitious project. By the time Theo stands, the giraffe has lost its head and now looks like a white boulder. Only an hour ago, the lawn was a perfect, thick sheet of fluffy, wet snow. Now patches of dirt peek through. Blades of grass are mixed with broken, muddy snowballs. It is unbridled, wintry chaos.
“What is happening?” I shout to Andrew through the commotion.
“At last, tradition is crumbling!” He wears a maniacal grin as he runs to take a bracing stance in front of Thea, arms wide, adding gallantly, “They can take this day, but they cannot take our monkey!”
Panic climbs like a vine in my throat. Sure, snowball fights are a blast, but this isn’t how today is supposed to go. We can have a snowball fight tomorrow, or even Christmas Eve. I mean, if we’re willing to throw this tradition away, what happens later tonight when Dad and Ricky go to pick out the Christmas tree? Will they ignore the tradition of hunting for the best one, and instead bring home the first one they see? Are we going to disregard everything that makes this vacation perfect?
Throwing my arms out wide, I protect Thea as long as I can, through what feels like an insane flurry of flying snowballs. But out of the corner of my eye, just as Andrew nails Miles with a perfect shot right to the groin, I see Theo making a swan dive in our direction.
Andrew tackles his brother, but it’s too late. Thea, the final animal, goes down in an explosion of snow and wrestling limbs just as Benny steps outside.
The chaos clears, and the view before me is reduced to a gathering of panting, snow-dusted idiots.
Benny stops at the bottom of the stairs and looks around, confused. “I was gone for, like, two minutes, you guys.”
With everything destroyed, they finally take a few moments to survey the destruction on the front lawn. I expect devastation and remorse. I expect Ricky to let out a wailing, heartbroken What have we done?!
. . . But it never comes. Instead, he’s grinning at what a mess we all are, and then throws his head back and lets out a delighted, booming laugh.
“What is wrong with you?” I cry out. “Don’t you get it? This is special! What about tradition? We won’t be able to keep doing this together if we don’t respect what we’ve all built!”
Andrew puts a gentling hand on my arm. “Mae,” he says, but we’re all distracted by a groaning crack overhead. I look up just in time to see a large snow-covered branch buckle beneath the weight and plummet, almost in slow motion. Straight for me.
This time I wake up screaming in betrayal, clutching my face and my head, searching for blood or brains, or God knows what. But, of course, there’s nothing.
I don’t have to look to know exactly where I am, and I honestly have no more shits to give.
“I DO NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS GOING ON,” I shout to the plane around me. Sure, 219 other people have to deal with a crazy woman yelling in an enclosed space with them, but hopefully the universe hears me, too, because I have had it.
I didn’t ask my dad if I had a head injury.
I made a pledge to save the cabin.
I was absolutely on track to never kiss Theo Hollis again.
What the hell else am I supposed to be doing?
A hush falls over the entire plane, and I feel the press of my family’s stunned attention on the side of my face. Even Mom woke up for this.
A flight attendant leans over Miles to whisper to me. Tiny silver bells pinned to her sweater jingle in the deafening silence. “Ma’am, is everything okay?”
“I’m fine,” I say, irritably and clearly not fine at all. But who cares? Nobody! They’re not going to remember this anyway! “Just been living the same freaking day over and over again, but whatever. Let’s just land and get on with it.”
“Can I get you a beverage?” she asks, sotto voce.
“Is that code for ‘You’re scaring other passengers; can I give you some wine?’ ”
She just smiles.
“I’m good. Thanks.” Leaning forward, I catch my father’s eye. “Dad, when we get to the cabin, don’t eat the goddamn cookie.”
• • •
We climb out of the car, and it’s lovely and everyone is excited and yes, this is normally my favorite moment of the year with my favorite people, but Lord, I can’t do it again. I am so tired.
I give advice as I quickly deliver hugs. “Kennedy, watch out for Miso on your way inside. Dad, once again, don’t eat the cookies. Everyone? Kyle has a new tattoo. It’s on his arm—a music note—and it’s very cool but don’t touch it, it’s healing. Ricky,” I continue, “don’t worry about the Hendrick’s, everyone is fine with Bombay—and Aaron isn’t drinking anyway because he’s middle-aged and stressed about getting old. Speaking of hair, Theo, your haircut is great, but your hair wasn’t ever the problem. And Lisa?” I say, and a twinge of guilt worms through me because they’re all staring at me with wide, worried eyes. “I love you—so much—but maybe let Aaron pick the music tonight.” I pause. “And let Mom take the photos.”
If it weren’t so cold out, we’d be able to hear crickets chirping in the confused silence.
“I really don’t mean to sound like an asshole,” I say, adding, “Oops, earmuffs, kids! I’ve just had a day.” This makes me laugh—a day!—and it takes me a few awkward seconds to get the cackling under control. “It’s well established that I’m a terrible drinker, but if anyone is mixing drinks, I’d love something fruity with vodka. No eggnog.”
Andrew snaps his fingers, and I look over at him. His eyes are wide, but his mouth is smiling. My eternally unflappable hero. “Coming right up, Crazy Maisie.”
Do I want to follow him inside? Do I want to flirt with him on the porch? Yes. But it won’t matter; it will only get my hopes up.
I stare at the sky and let out a long, exhausted groan. “What is even the poooooint?”
A hand comes around my upper arm. “Maelyn?” It’s Dad. “Honey, what’s going on?”
“I’d say it’s a long story, but it’s actually not. I’m stuck here. In time.” I let out an unhinged cackle. “Do I want to visit this cabin every year? Yes. But do I really want to keep reliving December twentieth forever in order to do it? No. No, I do not.”
He and Mom share a worried look. “Maybe we should take her to a doctor,” Mom says.
Dad turns to look at her incredulously. “I am a doctor.”
She sighs. “You know what I mean.”
“I don’t, actually.”
The tide of guilt rises higher in me—they’re already bickering, and I’m the reason—but I can’t fix that right now. They’ll have to figure this out on their own.
Turning my pleading eyes on Benny, I say, “We need to talk.”
I look back to Mom, sending her a silent Just give me a minute, before Benny and I head up to the porch. I love my mother, but right now I need Benny’s even temper.
I try to undo my turbulent arrival with some quick, gentle kisses to the tops of Kennedy and Zachary’s heads, but they go still and nervous under my touch.
At least Kennedy pays attention to where the dog is when she walks inside.
And Dad doesn’t eat a cookie.
But no one is going to remember this anyway.
• • •
Benny sits next to me on the porch swing, and we rock back and forth in aware silence. I can barely make out the shape of the house next door through the trees but can see the smoke curling from the chimney, the glow of their outdoor Christmas lights through the branches.
I look up warily. Across the yard, I think I spot the snow-covered branch that cracked me on the head, and I point at it, growling, “You will not get me tomorrow, you fucker.”
Benny goes still. “Are you gonna tell me what’s going on?”
“It won’t matter.”
He studies me. “Why not?”
“Because this is the fourth time I’ve been in this day, and no matter what I try to do differently, I keep coming back.”
“Like Groundhog Day?”
“Is that a movie?”
He scrubs a hand down his face. “God, you’re young. I still think it’s one of the weirdest traditions, believing spring is determined by a groundhog’s shadow. Spring starts on the same day every year where I’m from.”
I must be staring at him in bewilderment, because he nods. “Yes, Maelyn, Groundhog Day is a movie.”
“Then yes. No matter what I do, I keep getting clobbered and waking up on the plane.”
“Maybe you should talk to your—”
“My dad?” I say, and shake my head. “Nope. We tried that two go-arounds back, but I fell down the attic stairs, and—” I make a splat motion and he winces. I gesture for him to finish the sentence.
“You started over again?”
“Bingo. Apparently, it’s not my head,” I say, aiming my voice to the sky. “And apparently it’s not about saving the cabin?”
No answer. The universe is profoundly unhelpful.
Benny frowns. “Saving the cabin from what?”
Inhaling deeply, I decide to tell him everything again. Even if I only make it to tomorrow, I need someone here with me who knows. Eggnog. Face licking. Traitor Theo. Adorable Andrew. Regret, regret, regret. Cabin. Accident. Purgatory. Whatever.