When Theo puts me down, his grin slowly straightens. Did the mudroom make-out even happen? And what is my expression doing right now? I want to reach up and feel my face just to know.
“What’s up, weirdo?” he says, laughing. “You look like you forgot my name.”
Finally, a small smile breaks free. “Ha. Hi, Theo.”
“She’s probably in shock about your hair.” My attention is pulled over Theo’s shoulder to where Andrew stands, waiting patiently for his own hug. Oh yes. This is definitely my version of heaven.
But then Andrew’s words sink in, and I realize everyone else is seeing Theo’s haircut for the first time. I saw it nearly a week ago.
“Yeah, wow,” I stammer, “look at you. When did you cut it?”
Absently, I pull Andrew into my arms, squeezing. My head is spinning so hard that at first I don’t register the bliss of having his body pressed against mine. Andrew is all long limbs and hard, sinewy muscle. His torso is a flat, firm plane, but it molds to me as he squeezes closer, giving me a hit of eucalyptus and laundry soap.
“Hey.” He laughs quietly into my hair. “You okay?”
I shake my head, holding on longer than is strictly necessary for a greeting, but he doesn’t seem to fight it, and I can’t locate the correct brain-to-muscle command to loosen my grip.
I need this warm, physical anchor.
Slowly, my chest relaxes, my pulse steadies, and I release him, narrowing my eyes in surprise when he steps back and I see splotches of pink on his cheeks.
“Last week.” Theo runs a palm over the top of his head, grinning his wide, big-toothed smile.
“Last week what?” I drag my gaze away from Andrew’s blush.
“My hair,” Theo says, laughing at me. “I cut it last week. You like?”
And there’s zero trace of weirdness in his voice. Zero awareness in his expression that we, you know, had our tongues down each other’s throats. “Yeah, yeah, it’s great.” I am doing a terrible job being convincing here. “Totally great.”
Theo frowns. He runs on praise.
I glance up at Benny, who is drawing something with Zachary in the snow with a branch. My voice wobbles: “Hey, Benny Boo.”
He grins, jogging over to me and sweeping me up in his arms. “There’s my Noodle.”
Yes. Benny. This is who I need. I grip him like he’s a deeply rooted vine and I am dangling over a cliff, whispering urgently into his ear, “I need to talk to you.”
“Now?” His hair brushes my cheek, and it’s soft and smells like the herby hippie shampoo he’s used my entire life.
Benny puts me down and disorientation spins at the edges of my vision, making me dizzy. I don’t realize I’m leaning to the side until he catches me. “Hey, hey. You all right?”
Mom rushes over, pressing a palm to my forehead. “You’re not hot.” She gently touches beneath my jaw, searching for swollen glands. “Have you had any water today?”
Lisa moves closer and they share a look of concern. “She’s lost all her color.”
My brother glances up from his phone. “She was being weird on the plane, too.”
“She had a nightmare on the plane,” Dad corrects, admonishing. “Let’s get her inside.” He comes up behind me and wraps an arm around my waist.
“Can you stop talking about me like I’m not standing right here?”
As we make our way up the broad front steps, I look back over my shoulder at Andrew. Our eyes snag and he gives me a half-playful, half-worried grin. He’s wearing that terrible silver sparkly sweater he loves so much, the one he wears on the first day of the holidays every year.
The one Miso ruined only a couple of days ago.
Just as I have the thought, Miso races forward. In a flash of déjà vu, I shout, “Watch out, Kennedy!” But I’m too late: the dog barrels between her feet, knocking her over the threshold and into the entryway. Kennedy bursts into tears.
I stare numbly down, watching Aaron and Kyle check her chin, her elbow. This happened before. My ears ring. Just this morning, I stared at Kennedy at the kitchen table with a well-worn Care Bears Band-Aid covering her cut knee.
“Her knee.” I am freaking the hell out right now. “She scraped her . . .”
Kyle rolls one pant leg up and then glances over his shoulder at me, impressed. The blood hadn’t soaked through the fabric yet, but the cut erupts with bright red drops. “How’d you even know that?”
The laugh that rolls out of me is bordering on hysterical. “I have no idea!”
We walk into the house. Kyle takes Kennedy to the bathroom to clean her up, and I’m led to a seat at the kitchen table.
“Get her some water,” Lisa whispers to Andrew, who brings me a glass and sets it down like the table might shatter. Staring down, I notice he put extra ice in it, just like I would’ve if I’d done it myself.
I lift it, hand shaking, ice tinkling, and take a sip. “Okay, you guys, stop staring at me.”
No one moves. Mom comes closer and starts massaging my free hand.
“Seriously, you’re freaking me out.” When everyone tries to find something else to do in the small kitchen, I catch Benny’s eye, and then widen my own: We need to talk.
Like a heat-seeking missile, my attention shifts to Andrew when he crosses the room and sneaks chocolate from the Advent calendar. He looks over at me just as he pops a piece into his mouth and offers a faux-guilty shrug. Nearby, Dad leans against the counter, watching me with Worried Parent eyes until his gaze is caught by the plate full of beautiful cookie bars beside him.
My stomach drops. He’s going to get one, and he’s going to bite it, and—
A sickening crack echoes through the room.
“Oh my God,” he says, sticking a finger in his mouth. “I cracked my molar.”
OH MY GOD.
Lisa goes ashen. “Dan! No. Oh no. Was it—?”
Everyone rushes to reassure her that Of course it wasn’t the cookie that broke his tooth and Oh, they’re a little hard, but they’re delicious. Andrew grabs another piece of chocolate. And I use the commotion to sneak out of the kitchen to catch a giant gulp of fresh air outside.
Outside, I can breathe.
Deep inhale, slow exhale.
It wasn’t a dream.
I traveled through time, backward six days.
I’ve seen things like this in books and movies: Someone has an accident and comes out of it with superpowers. Flight, superstrength, super-vision.
Man, I wish I’d paid attention to lotto numbers last week.
The thought makes me laugh out loud, and my breath puffs in the cold air. Mae, you are losing it.
Staring at the tree line and the glittering snow is nature’s perfect shock absorber. It really is gorgeous up here, in the outskirts of Park City at Christmastime. I should pull out my notebook and sketch it; maybe that would calm these frazzled nerves of mine.
The neighbors’ house is more hidden by foliage than it was when I was younger, and gives the Hollis cabin a lovely feel of wintry isolation. A split rail fence runs down both sides of the property line, and the thicket of pines that were once as tall as Dad now tower over the driveway. Theo dared me to pee in there once, then got so mad when I managed to do it—standing up, I might add—that he stole my pants and ran into the house. That same winter, Andrew and I built an igloo in the side yard and swore we were going to sleep inside, but only made it ten minutes before giving up.
The view helps slow my pulse and clear the fog of my brain until I can take a final deep breath, count to ten, and then exhale in a long, warm puff of fog.
“What the actual fuck,” I whisper to myself, and then burst out laughing again.
“I was just going to say the same thing.”
I startle so violently that when my left arm swings to the side, I manage to launch Andrew’s mug of hot toddy out of his hand, over the side of the porch. We both track it as it arcs and lands in a snowbank; the warm liquid melts the fluffy powder in a puff of steam, causing the white unicorn mug I made him when I was fifteen—his go-to mug at the cabin—to sink out of sight. Little does he know I painted the words Mae + Andrew on the bottom of the mug in white before coating the entire bottom with a bubblegum pink.
“Wow. Okay.” He turns around, leaning back against the porch railing to look at me. “I was coming out here to ask why you were acting so weird, but I see I need to keep things present tense.”
I have so many questions about what the hell is going on that my thought stream has just turned into static white noise.
“You’re staring at me like you don’t know where you are.” Andrew takes a step forward. “I was going to give you some shit, but I’m genuinely worried that you’re suffering some sort of head injury and not telling us.”
“I’m just a little foggy today.”
He grins, and his matching set of dimples make a delightful entrance. Pressing his steepled fingers to his chest, he says, “I’m Andrew Polley Hollis, which was the worst combination of middle and last names for a seventh grader. You call me ‘Mandrew.’ I fiddle with sound equipment at Red Rocks for a living. My little brother is kind of an asshole. I am the one man alive who likes neither scotch nor beer. You and I used to play vampires when we were kids and didn’t realize the marks we were leaving on each other’s necks were hickeys.” He gestures to his body. “Six two. About one eighty. Aries. This”—he points to his head of curls—“is natural, and a constant mess.”
“The hair has a mind of its own?” I grin. Are we flirting? This feels like flirting.
Shut up, brain.
“Inside you’ll find your father, Daniel Jones, obstetrician, owner of a newly broken tooth. He is notoriously uptight about his hands, and tells a lot of very disturbing stories about childbirth. Your mother, the one who keeps feeling your forehead, is Elise—you look a lot like her, I might add. She is a worrier, but actually pretty funny, and someday her paintings are going to sell for more than this place is worth, mark my words.”