The effect of his rumbling words is not unlike taking a muscle relaxant. “And your parents like hosting, I know. They love being parents, love taking care of all of us. But it’s time we all stepped up.”
He turns to start walking again. “You say that as if your parents don’t like being parents.”
Instinctively, and even though it’s Andrew asking, I tread carefully here. “You know Mom is amazing, and fiercely protective. But their relationship has always been so messy, it’s hard to push to the front sometimes.”
“We’ve never talked about the fact that your parents are divorced and still come here every year.”
“Mom’s husband, Victor—”
“The husband who does not spend Christmas with his wife?” Andrew says, grinning slyly at me.
“That’s the one. He has two daughters, and they have families of their own. They’re both on the East Coast, so even though he lives for my mother, he’s happy to get time with his girls over the holidays without the complication of stepfamilies. I know this sounds silly, because I’m supposed to be an adult and shouldn’t need my mommy and daddy to be together at Christmas, but this is the one week of the year that we act like a family again.”
“I don’t think that’s silly,” he says. “I used to feel so bad for you.”
I’m a little startled by the track change. “For me?” He nods. “Why?”
Andrew looks at me like this should be obvious.
“No, seriously,” I say. “Why?”
“Because for a few years I saw how much you struggled with your parents being together at the cabin, but it was obvious they weren’t together. You were all here physically, but there were times you looked so . . . sad,” he says. “And then the year they announced their divorce, it was like you could breathe again.”
I stare at him, stunned. He saw all that in me?
“I’m sorry,” he says quickly, “I’m speaking out my ass, I don’t—”
“Don’t,” I cut in. “Don’t apologize. I’m just surprised, I guess. That you saw that.”
“I’ve known you your whole life, Mae. How could I not?” He grins at me again. “And here you are this year, impulsive and taking up space and flipping all expectations. You’re all take-charge and bossy.”
“I’m just seeing things with fresh eyes, I guess. It’s time to grow up.”
Andrew bats at some fluffy snow on a branch. “Coming into this holiday like a wrecking ball.”
A rebellious streak races through me. “It’s more like, I see my life stretching out ahead of me and figure, why not go for what I want?”
“Jam and applesauce on your blintzes,” he jokes. “Cocktails on the porch. Snowball fights.”
The word rockets from me: “You.”
His smile freezes, and then slowly slips away. “Me?” An awkward laugh escapes. “Well, you’ve got me.” He grins and spreads his arms wide, gesturing around us to the trees and snow, the twinkling lights overhead.
“It’s more than wanting your company at the tree farm, and I think you know it.” My heart is racing. “But we can pretend that’s what I meant, so it doesn’t get weird.”
Andrew stares at me, and I’m both proud and horrified to realize I’ve made him speechless. “You mean . . . like . . . ?” His brows rise meaningfully.
Adrenaline spikes my blood. “Yeah. Like that.”
“I sort of assumed you and Theo—”
“He may have, but I haven’t.” Guilt flashes coolly through me, and I clarify, “I’ve never felt that way about him, I mean.”
“Oh.” Even in the low light, I can tell he’s blushing hotly. Have I ruined what was burbling between us? Maybe. But all of this is instructive, I realize. At least the next time I reboot, I’ll know what not to say.
“Come on.” I tug on his sleeve. “Let’s find a tree.”
We move forward, but the silence hangs heavily. The crunch of snow between our boots, the audible gulp of Andrew swallowing a sip of cider. I scrape around in my brain for a way to change the subject, but I can’t find anything.
Finally he manages, “Do you, um, have any goals for the New Year?”
God, this is painful. And all of the answers that immediately pop to mind are things I can’t say—I’d like to figure out why I keep time traveling—or most likely impossible: I’d like to kiss you on the mouth. I’d like to quit my job . . .
I stop in the path. “Yeah. I do, actually.”
On an impulse that feels like a damn revelation, I pull out my phone and start a new email to my boss.
Neda, please consider this my 30-day notice. I appreciate all of the opportunities you’ve given me, but I am ready to explore new adventures. Happy to talk more after the holidays.
All my best, Maelyn
Before I can question myself, I hit send. Deep breath in, and another one out. Neda appreciates frank and straight-to-the-point. It’s fine.
Oh my God. I really did that. Relief falls over me like a weighted blanket. “Wow, that felt good.”
“What’s that?” Andrew asks.
I grin over at him. “I quit my job.”
“You—? Just now?” His eyebrows disappear beneath his wild curls. “Wow. Okay. You are figuring things out, aren’t you?”
“I’m trying.” I close my eyes and take another long, slow breath. “It was time. I hope it changes things.”
“How could it not? That’s a huge decision.”
I look up at him. “It’s just hard to know which choice is right until it’s all over, I guess.”
“Isn’t that the truth?” Andrew stops in front of another tree, spreading his arms out like he might hug it. “This one.”
But this tree isn’t right, either. My biggest fear in the car before the accident was the prospect of things changing. But isn’t that what I wanted when I threw that wish out to the universe? For everything to change?
“I don’t like any of these,” I admit.
“These are literally perfect trees,” Andrew says.
“I think that’s why.”
Change can be good.
I push through a row toward the back, where they hide the trees that are flat on one side, sparse in obvious places. Too short, too skinny, too crooked.
And there, at the end of the row, is a tree that is all of those things. “That one.”
Andrew laughs. “Dad will have a stroke if we bring that out to the truck.”
“Actually, no.” I stare at it, grinning, and feel Andrew’s stance match my own. “I don’t think he will.”
While Ricky and Dad unload the tree from the car and get it into the stand, and the twins and Lisa dive into the boxes of ornaments to find their favorite ones to hang, I linger at the back of the room, sitting in this weird new energy. Every other year—even this one—I was down there with the kids, diving into the decorations. But if change means telling Andrew how I feel and finally quitting my job, it also means loosening my stranglehold on tradition and letting Kennedy and Zachary take the lead on decorating the tree.
And since we’re barreling into this grown-up thing, change also means helping more, and not leaving it to Aaron or Benny to clean up the cocktail-hour detritus strewn around the living room.
As I gather and carry dishes into the kitchen, I take the time to really look at the cabin. I notice scratches in the floors, wear on the banister from generations of hands sliding over the smooth wooden flourish at the bottom of the stairs. Paint is peeling near the crown molding, and faded on the walls near the front door and down the hallway. Without the lens of nostalgia, I see that this house is well loved, but worn. Those are just the cosmetic things, too. The cabin is old, spending a third of the year in snow and another third in stifling dry heat. It’s going to take more than love and appreciation to help Ricky and Lisa keep this place.
Benny comes up behind me as I’m loading dirty dishes into the dishwasher. “Hey, Mayday.”
“How was the tree farm?” His smile pushes through his accent, curling around the words.
I turn to face him, leaning back against the sink. “It was awesome, actually.”
Benny’s intrigued. “‘Awesome’? I saw that handful of sticks and figured it had to be the last tree.”
“Come on,” I say. “You have to admit it’s hard not to root for the underdog. That poor tree was otherwise destined for the chipper. We saved it.”
Benny concedes this with a little eyebrow quirk, and I look over his shoulder to make sure we’re still alone. “But that wasn’t entirely why the tree farm was awesome.” I pause, biting the tip of my thumb. “I told Andrew about my feelings.”
His eyes go wide. “You did?”
“I mean,” I say, “not like, ‘I want you, Andrew, and if you proposed right now I would say yes without hesitation,’ but we made a joke about me going after what I want this week and I said that I wanted him.”
“Wow.” He steeples his hands and presses them to his lips.
“Oh, and I quit my job.”
At this, Benny takes a surprised step closer. “You what?”
“Yup. I emailed Neda and gave her my thirty days’.”
“Just like that? Just . . . now? While you were out?”
“Yes! And it’s so freeing! What a revelation. I’ll have to look for a new job—but so what? What’s the worst that could happen?”
Benny flinches. “You’re really saying that?”
I pull my shoulders to my ears, bracing as I look around the room to make sure the ceiling isn’t sagging just above my head. “Oops. Okay, that was stupid.”