“Dad!” I shriek.
It’s too late. My seat belt locks, and we’re hit from the side. Metal screams and glass shatters in a sickening crunch. Whatever was loose in the car is airborne, and I somehow watch the contents of my purse escape and float with surreal slowness as we roll. The radio is still playing: Through the years, we all will be together, if the fates allow . . .
Everything goes black.
Shooting an arm out to the side to brace against the impact of the collision, I come to with a gasp. But there’s no car door there, no window; I smack my brother directly in the face.
He lets out a rough oof and catches my arm. “Dude. What the hell, Mae?”
I bolt upright against a lap belt, clutching my head and expecting to find blood. It’s dry. I suck in another deep, jagged breath. My heart feels like it’s going to jackhammer its way up my throat and out of my body.
Wait. Miles is on my right. He was on my left in the car. I reach for him, holding his face in my hands, and jerk him closer.
“What are you doing?” he mumbles into my shoulder.
I don’t even mind his heavy-handed Axe body spray right now, I am so intensely relieved that he’s not dead. That I’m not dead. That we’re all . . .
“Not in the car,” I say, releasing him abruptly.
I whip my head left to right, wildly searching. Confusion is a startling, bright light. It’s the white noise of an engine, of a vent overhead. It’s the dry, overheated recycled air. It’s rows and rows of heads in front of me, some of them turning to look at the commotion behind them.
I’m the commotion behind them.
We aren’t in the car, we’re on an airplane. I’m in the middle seat, Miles in the aisle, and the stranger in the window seat is trying to pretend like I didn’t just wake up and flip out.
Disorientation makes my temples throb.
“Where are we?” I turn to Miles. I have never in my life been so off-kilter. “We were just in the car. There was a wreck. Have I been unconscious? Was I in a coma?”
And if I was, who put me here? I’m trying to picture my parents carting me, unconscious, through the airport and loading me into this seat. I just cannot imagine it. My dad, the meticulous physician; my mom, the overprotective worrier.
Miles looks at me and slowly pulls his headphones off one ear. “What?”
With a growl, I give up on him and lean toward where Dad is unfastening his seat belt across the aisle. “Dad, what happened?”
He stands and crouches next to Miles’s seat. “What happened when?”
“The car accident?”
He glances at my brother, and then back at me. His hair and beard are white, but his brows are still dark, and they slowly rise on his forehead. He looks fine, not a scratch anywhere. “What car accident, Noodle?”
What car accident?
I lean back and close my eyes, taking a deep breath. What is going on?
Trying again, I pull Miles’s headphones all the way off. “Miles. Don’t you remember the car accident? When we left the cabin?”
He rears back, giving my barely restrained hysteria a semidisgusted look. “We’re on a plane, on our way to Salt Lake. What do you mean ‘when we left the cabin’? We haven’t gone yet.” He turns to Dad, hands up. “I swear she’s only had ginger ale.”
We’re on our way to Salt Lake?
“There was a truck,” I say, straining to remember. “I think the back was filled with . . . Christmas trees.”
“Probably just a weird dream,” Dad says to Miles, like I’m not sitting right here, and returns to his seat.
• • •
A dream. I nod, like that makes sense, even though it doesn’t. It does not. I did not dream an entire vacation. But Miles isn’t going to be a font of information even under normal circumstances, and Dad has gone back to his crossword puzzle. Mom is asleep in the aisle seat in front of Dad, and from where I’m sitting I can see that her mouth is softly open, her neck at an odd angle.
What had I been thinking about just before the crash? It was about Christmas, I think. Or my job? I was looking out the car window.
Which we apparently aren’t in anymore.
Or weren’t in ever, maybe?
I dig in my bag under the seat in front of me, pulling out my phone and waking up the screen.
The display says that today is December 20. But this morning was December 26.
“Wow.” I lean back, looking around. Panic presses in at the edges of my vision, turning the world black and fuzzy.
You have a level head. You’ve dealt with crises before. You manage the finances for a struggling nonprofit, for crying out loud. Crisis IS your job. THINK. What are some possible explanations for this?
One: I died, and this is purgatory. A possibility lights up in my mind: Maybe we’re all like the characters on Lost, a show Dad and Benny drunkenly complained about for at least two hours a few years ago. If this plane never lands, then I guess I’ll know why. Or if it lands on an island, I guess that’s also an answer. Or if it explodes midair . . .
Not helping calm me down. Next theory.
Two, Dad is right, and I’ve had some monster nap and somehow dreamed up everything that happened last week at the cabin. Upside: I never kissed Theo. Downside: . . . Is there a downside? Not having to return to work on Monday, getting to repeat my favorite week of vacation, minus the mistakes? And maybe the Hollises aren’t selling the cabin! But the thing is, it doesn’t feel like a dream. Dreams are fuzzy and oblong, and the faces aren’t quite right, or the details don’t track in any linear way. This feels like six days of actual memories, crammed with complete clarity into my head. And besides, if I were going to dream-make-out with anyone, wouldn’t it be Andrew? I guess not even Dream Mae is that lucky.
Miles looks over when I snort out a laugh, and his frown deepens. “What’s with you?”
“I have no idea how to answer that.”
He looks back at his phone, already over it.
“Just to confirm,” I say, “we’re headed to Salt Lake, right?”
My brother offers up a skeptical smile. “You are so weird.”
“I’m serious. We’re headed to Salt Lake City?”
He frowns. “Yeah.”
“And then to Park City?”
He nods slowly, as if interacting with a very impaired creature. “Yes. For Christmas. Was there something in that cup besides ginger ale?”
“Wow,” I say again, and laugh. “Maybe?”
Ilag behind my family from the Jetway to baggage claim. It earns me more than one impatient look, but everything seems to grab my attention. A crying baby at the adjacent gate. A middle-aged businessman speaking too loudly on his phone. A couple bickering in line for coffee. A young boy wrestling to get out of his heavy blue coat.
I can’t shake the feeling of déjà vu, like I’ve been here before. Not just here in the airport, but here—in this exact same moment. At the base of the escalator to baggage claim, a man drops his soda in front of me, and I stop just in time, almost like I knew it was going to happen. A family with a WELCOME HOME banner passes by, and I turn to watch them for several paces.
“I swear I’ve seen that before,” I say to Miles. “The family back there with the sign?”
His attention moves past me briefly and disinterestedly back ahead. “This is Utah. Every family down here has a ‘Welcome Home’ sign. Missionaries, remember?”
“Right,” I say to his retreating form. Right.
Because I’ve been so slow on our trek from the arrival gate to baggage claim, our suitcases are the only ones left, patiently circling around and around the carousel. Dad collects them, stacking them onto a cart while Mom cups my face.
Her dark hair is curled into waves and pulled back on one side. Her eyes are tight with worry. “What’s with you, honey?”
“I don’t know.”
“You hungry?” She searches my eyes. “Need an Advil?”
I don’t know what to tell her. I’m not hungry. I’m not anything. I half feel like I’m floating through the terminal, staring at things I swear are already memories inside my head.
• • •
My stomach drops when I see everyone already on the porch at the cabin, waving us down the driveway. I’m sure I saw this same view only six days ago, on December 20. I remember being the last to arrive. Flight schedules had been tricky, so Kyle, Aaron, and their twins came in on Friday night. Theo and Andrew, I remember, drove up earlier than usual, too.
Our tires come to a crunching stop beside Theo’s giant orange truck, and we clamber out of the same Toyota RAV4 that was most certainly totaled in the Car Crash That Didn’t Happen. We are immediately engulfed by hugs from all sides. Kyle and Aaron make a sandwich out of me. Their twins, Kennedy and Zachary, gently wind themselves around my legs. Lisa finds a window of space and wiggles in close. In the distance, Benny waits patiently for his hug, and I send him a nonverbal cry for help.
My brain can’t seem to process what’s going on. Have I lost a year somehow? Honestly, what are the odds that I’m actually dead? My version of heaven would be at the cabin, so how would I know? If I was in a coma, would I feel the frigid winter air on my bare face?
I peek past Lisa into the trees, searching for a hidden camera crew. Surprise! they’ll shout in unison. Everyone will laugh at the elaborate prank. We totally had you fooled, didn’t we, Mae?
All this mental fracas means that I’ve barely considered what it will be like to see Theo before I’m lifted off my feet in a bear hug. I experience this like I’m watching from a few paces away.
“Smile!” Bright light momentarily blinds me as Lisa snaps a picture. “Oh shoot,” she mutters, frowning down at the image on the tiny screen. I’m sure only half of my face ended up in the photo, but she seems to think it’s good enough because she tucks her phone back in her pocket.