“So,” Andrew says, taking a step back and sliding his hands into his front pockets. “Sardines?”
“Sure.” I muster up some enthusiasm. “Let’s do it.”
Sardines is Zachary’s favorite game, and Kennedy’s least favorite game, but she agrees to play it when he asks because, as she once said to all of us at the dinner table, “I don’t like standing close to people but I don’t mind standing close to any of you.”
Aaron got up and pretended he had something in his eye so he could go have a happy cry without her seeing it.
Zachary is explaining to Lisa how Sardines works, in an effort to convince her that she should play. Best of luck to you, kid.
Lisa scrunches up her nose. “So, we all get in a small space together and hide?”
“One of us goes to hide,” Kennedy says in her small voice, “and when someone finds them, they get into the place with them.”
Zachary does a snappy karate-chop dance combo, and one of his shoes goes flying. “The last person to find the hiding space is the last winner!”
“The loser,” Kennedy corrects. “Daddy and Papa call it the last winner, but really the last winner is the loser.”
Zachary shrugs. “I like to win.”
I can see Kennedy considering taking a swing at this one, but she just looks back to Lisa instead. “Are you going to play? Andrew is hiding first.”
Lisa is clearly pleased that her son and I have given her a chance to escape. Maybe she’ll move the mistletoe again. “I think I’ll see if Elise needs my help with dinner.”
“Theo and Miles are cooking.”
“Maybe they need help?”
“Mom.” Andrew winces gently.
She laughs. “Fine. I’ll go find Elise.”
He turns back to the twins. “Who’s ready?”
Two little hands go up in the air.
“Okay, then. Cover your eyes, count to fifty.” He looks at me. “And Mae?”
“No peeking.” His eyes gleam flirtatiously, and my lady parts wave the white flag of surrender.
“I wouldn’t dare.” Bringing my fingers over my eyes, I start to count along with the twins to the sound of Andrew’s tiptoeing retreat.
“One . . . two . . . three . . .
“Twenty-four . . . twenty-five . . . twenty-six . . .
“Forty-eight . . . forty-nine . . . fifty.”
“Ready or not, here we come,” screams Zachary.
The kids peel off in different directions: Zachary down the hall toward the kitchen and basement, Kennedy into the dark dining room. Me, I pad upstairs. I have a pretty good hunch where Andrew’s gone.
When our entire group hasn’t descended on the cabin, the Hollis boys don’t actually have to sleep in the basement; there are four bedrooms upstairs, plus the attic. Dad sleeps in the study, and Mom sleeps in Theo’s bedroom. The room where Kyle and Aaron sleep is Andrew’s.
With my heart hammering, I push open the door and am hit with the intense essence of Andrew. Lisa puts candles in each bedroom, but whereas she and Ricky favor lavender, and Theo gets sandalwood, the eucalyptus is specifically for her oldest son. Beneath it, there’s also the clean scent of laundry, and that unmistakable feel of him everywhere. As soon as I walk in, the room goes tense, like the walls and furniture are sneakily pointing to the closet and hissing conspiratorially, He’s in there.
The light is on, too, which is another clue. Kyle is a notorious energy saver, but Andrew wouldn’t want the twins to have to search a dark room.
I walk over, hovering outside for a deep, steadying breath. A hundred times we’ve played this game and not once have we ever managed to huddle alone together, hiding.
I crack open the closet door.
Andrew cups his hands over his eyes, blinking into the bright light. “That didn’t take you long.”
“It wasn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination.” I step in beside him, and the small closet shrinks to the size of a shoebox when our situation hits me.
“Where did the twins go?” he asks.
“Downstairs. Dining room.”
He doesn’t say anything in response, but I feel him shift beside me. I am immediately drowning in the deep, aching tension of proximity.
“So . . . is it hard for you to give up this room over Christmas?” I finally ask.
I can barely see him because the only light we have to work with is a tiny sliver illuminating us from below, valiantly stretching up from underneath the door. But I can still see him shake his head. “I’m not here much anymore. Besides, I can sleep anywhere.”
I know this to be true. When we were kids, Andrew was famous for falling asleep at the table after a big meal. “Then why go out to the Boathouse?”
“Because there’s just something so infantilizing about sleeping on a bunk bed in the basement,” he says. “I know it seems crazy, but I just could not do it another year.”
“I see it more as a summer camp vibe, but I get that this is your red button.”
I think about the cold, dark, empty space of the Boathouse, and it makes me shiver. “Don’t you get creeped out, sleeping by yourself out there?”
Andrew laughs and leans a little into me. “What’s going to hurt me out there, Maisie? A ghost? The wolf-man?”
“I was thinking more like a deranged serial killer roaming the area.” He laughs at this. “What scares you, then?” I ask. “Anything?”
“I fell in love with audio work by watching Halloween and The Shining and Return of the Living Dead,” he says, and I can hear his sweetly proud smile. “I watch movies like that to unwind.”
What a paradox he is, this bowl-of-sugar man who loves horror.
“What’s your favorite scary movie?”
He laughs, all deep and hoarse. “That’s the killer’s signature line in Scream.”
“Literally everyone knows that, Maisie.”
I laugh now, too. “I’m telling you I can’t watch anything scary, even funny-scary.” I elbow him gently in the dark. “But really, what’s your favorite?”
“For sound?” he says, and I shrug.
“Probably A Quiet Place. But my all-time favorite is Silence of the Lambs.”
Thrill glitters across my skin. “We saw that together, remember?”
“I remember you wouldn’t let me move more than a foot away from you on the couch, and I even had to check under your bunk in the basement later.”
“Listen,” I say, laughing, “I’m a wuss. I’ll always take kissing over killing.”
I can sense how he leans his head back against the wall at this, exhaling like he’s got a lot on his mind. I do my best to not imagine running my tongue over his Adam’s apple.
“You okay?” I nudge his shoulder with mine.
I feel him turn to look at me. “I’m okay.”
A storm erupts in my blood, and I deflect nerves with humor: “About how I’ll forever think you’re just a fine kisser?” I joke.
His laugh this time is half-hearted. Even in the darkness, there’s a sizzle-snap in the air. I blink away to the shadowed view of his jaw, but that doesn’t help because he’s so angular and edible. I look down at his neck, which is similarly problematic. Finally, my gaze drops to his forearms, exposed in the slice of light. He’s rolled up his flannel shirt, and they’re muscular, lightly dusted with hair, and even more amazing than his neck. I want to sink my teeth into them.
“This year has been so odd,” he says quietly. “Theo’s building a house. Mom and Dad are talking about retiring. Everyone seems to know where they’re going and—” He breaks off. “I love my job, but I have this restless sense there’s more out there. More life, more adventure. More than just a few dates a month.”
My heart squeezes. “I know that feeling.”
“I meet people,” he says, “but one date bleeds into another. I haven’t really dated someone, like, long term, in a long time.” In all the time we’ve known each other and although I’ve known he’s had them, Andrew has never talked about a girlfriend near me. “And then you . . .” He lets the sentence hang, and I worry if I try to speak, my voice won’t work. “It threw me. Not in a bad way. Do you know what I’m trying to say?”
“Not really.” I hear the way my words come out wavy.
I mean, I think I know where he’s going with this, but I need him to articulate it carefully. He could mean a lot of things. Like, this year is different because Theo and I aren’t super close. Or this year is different because I finally told Andrew how I feel about him. Or, for example, this year is different because I’ve traveled through time, and he has no idea.
“Remember how I said I was at a party a couple months back,” he whispers, “and a friend of a friend was reading tarot cards?”
“I was teasing her about it, I guess, and she made me sit down. Put these cards in front of me and was like, ‘I’ll do your reading.’ What do I have to lose? She doesn’t know me. So I told her, ‘Sure.’ She looked down at the cards and said I could be happy being second at work. Told me I didn’t need a big life, didn’t need to set the world on fire. She’s right—I don’t. But then she told me I’d already met the love of my life, I just wasn’t listening.” He laughs. “And all I do is listen.”
There is a swarm of dragonflies inside me, colorful and bright and taking up too much space. It’s hard to breathe, because I feel this weight of all the things that he might mean by this.
“I still can’t believe I didn’t ever know,” he says, and turns his head down. “How you felt about me.”