I nod, impressed alongside him that Mom’s career is flourishing. He waits for me to say something, but I gesture for him to continue because Andrew’s voice is hypnotic. It has a honeyed depth with just the barest scratch around the edges. Honestly, I’d gladly listen to him read me the dictionary.
“My parents, Ricky and Lisa, are also inside.” He grins wolfishly at me. “Dad is the guy taking your father to the dentist. The most important thing to remember is that none of us should eat anything Mom bakes. My mom, Scandinavian in heritage and temperament, is a brilliant writer. But unlike Elise, who is a cooking goddess, Lisa is not, as we say, skilled in the kitchen.”
I grin. “Or with a camera.”
Andrew laughs at this. “Kyle and Aaron Amir-Liang are the two perfectly groomed gentlemen with the genius five-year-olds. I’m not exactly sure what’s happening with Aaron’s hair this year—it seems to have disappeared and been replaced by a permanent black space above his head.” He pauses, lowering his voice. “And was he wearing leggings?”
A bursting laugh escapes me. “I think he was. I guess we can be glad he’s moved out of the designer sweatpants phase? That was . . . a lot of information about Uncle Aaron that teenage Mae did not need.”
Andrew snaps. “It’s a good sign you remember that, though. Now, I don’t need to tell you that Kyle is an award-winning Broadway performer and used to be a backup dancer for Janet Jackson, because he’ll undoubtedly mention it himself sometime tonight.”
I laugh again, biting my lip. I’m sure I’m exhibiting the wild-eyed bliss of a contestant on a game show who’s just won a million dollars. My memory never gets Andrew right. My brain doesn’t know how to make that green of his eyes, doesn’t believe cheekbones can be so sculpted, dimples so deep and playful. Andrew, in the flesh, is always such a shock to the system.
“Last year Zachary learned about death when his goldfish kicked the bucket. He walked around like a tiny grim reaper telling us we’re all going to die someday. Kennedy knows the capital of every state or country in the world,” he says confidentially. “She says some of the smartest things to ever come out of this group, and we don’t let anyone give that little girl any crap. She’s going to be the first president on the spectrum, mark my words. But hopefully not the first woman.”
“I think you’re right.”
“Let’s see . . . your brother, Miles, though . . .” He winces playfully. “He’s smart, but I’m not sure he’s looked up from his phone in the past two years. If you want to have a conversation with him, you might want to consider strapping his phone to your forehead.” Leaning in, Andrew searches my eyes, and my heart drops through the porch. “Does any of this ring a bell?”
I reach to smack him. “Stop it. I really am fine. I’m sure it’s just the altitude messing with me.”
Andrew looks like he hadn’t considered this, and to be fair I hadn’t, either, before the words came out, so I mentally high-five the handful of remaining neurons that appear to be doing their job up there. Footsteps rumble behind us, and Benny’s shaggy head pokes out onto the porch. He steps out to join us, shivering in only a thin bike shop T-shirt.
“Hey, Noodle,” he says, brows up expectantly. “Sorry to interrupt. Can I grab you for a second?”
• • •
I guess I can’t fault Benny for pulling me aside when I’ve given him at least ten pleading SOS looks since our arrival. We head inside, and I melt in pleasure at the heat of the entryway relative to the brilliant chill of the winter twilight. With the voices of everyone filtering down the hall, and Andrew’s proximity fading, reality descends: somehow, I think I’m here again.
My brain screams, This isn’t normal!
Intent on getting us as far away from everyone else as I can, I head for the stairs leading to the upper floor of the house. Turning to Benny, I put my index finger over my lips, urging him to be quiet as we tiptoe upstairs. In silence, we round the banister, shuffle down the hall, and climb the steep, narrow steps to his attic room. When I was little, I was afraid to come up here alone. The stairs creaked, and the landing was dark. But Benny explained that if the stairs leading up to the attic were as pretty as the rest of the house, everyone would find the treasures hidden up there.
With my heart pounding out a thunderstorm in my throat, I jerk him inside and close the door.
His turquoise bracelets rattle together when he comes to a stumbling stop, brows raised. “You all right?” he asks, genuine concern making his accent bleed the words together.
For the second time today—How long is today?—I wonder what my face looks like.
“No, I don’t think so.” I listen for a few seconds, making sure no one has followed us up here. When I’m satisfied we’re alone, I whisper, “Listen. Some crazy stuff is going on.”
He gives me a knowing wink. “I’ll say. You and Andrew seemed pretty flirty out there. Is that what you wanted to talk about? Has something happened?”
“What? No. I wish.” I point to the chair in the far corner by the windows and flap my hand until he takes the hint and sits down.
He leans forward, elbows on his knees, and fixes his attention on my face. The calm assurance of Benny’s focus is like a numbing salve to my frazzled nerves.
“Okay,” I begin, pulling up another folding chair and sitting across from him, knee to knee. “Have I ever given you the impression that I am—how should I put this? Mentally impaired?”
“Before today?” he jokes. “No.”
“A few moments when you were thirteen to fifteen, but since then? No.”
“Okay, then please believe that when I say what I’m about to say, I am being totally serious.”
He takes a deep breath, bracing himself. “Okay. Hit me.”
“I think it’s possible I’m in the past, repeating the same holiday, and I’m the only one who knows it.”
It sounds even crazier once I say it aloud. His bushy brows push together, and he shoves his too-long hair out of his eyes. “You mean the nightmare your dad mentioned?”
“No, I mean for real.” I look around the room, wishing there was something here that could help me. Lisa’s old Ouija board? Too creepy. Theo’s old Magic 8 Ball? Too desperate. “Things that happened six days ago are happening over again.”
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a mint, and pops it in his mouth. “Start from the beginning.”
I run a hand down my face. “Okay. So, earlier today for me was December twenty-sixth. Dad, Mom, Miles, and I were in a car headed to the airport—from here. This truck ran a red light—” I pause, piecing the fragments together. “A truck carrying Christmas trees, I think. Everyone was distracted, and it hit us. I woke up on the plane.” I look up, making sure he’s following. “A plane back here, today. December twentieth.”
He lets out a quiet “Whoa.” And then, “I don’t get it.”
I lean closer, trying to sort my words into order. “Maybe I’m not actually talking to you right now. Maybe I’m in a coma in the hospital, or maybe I really am dreaming this. All I know is that I already lived through this Christmas, managed to mess it all up, got creamed by a Christmas tree truck, and now I’m back, and it’s the beginning of the holiday all over again.”
“You sure about this?”
“Not even a little bit.”
He nods slowly. “Cool. Okay. Keep going.”
“Before we left, Ricky and Lisa told us that they were going to sell the cabin.”
Benny’s hazel eyes go wide. “They what?”
“Right?” I nod emphatically. “So obviously we were all really upset when we left. Plus my panic about making out with Theo, and getting busted by Andrew—”
Benny cuts me off. “Uh, back up.”
“You knew about it, don’t worry.” I try to casually wave this detail to the side. “What I—”
He holds up a hand. “I can assure you I did not know that you made out with Theo because this conversation would have started there.”
“Well, I told you this morning, but like everything else— everyone else—you’ve forgotten.” I take a deep, calming breath. “For the record, you were much more helpful last time.”
He considers this. “Was I also high?”
He holds his hands palms-up as if to say There you go. “Start there, then tell me everything.”
I groan in renewed mortification. “Last night there was eggnog.”
He lets out a little “Ah” of understanding. Benny loves his weed, but, like me, he is easily knocked over by a cup of Ricky’s eggnog. That stuff should come with an octane rating.
“It was brief and awkward,” I tell him. “You told me to go talk to him the next morning, but he totally ignored me. Then I found out that Andrew saw us kissing. Then we found out that the Hollises are selling the cabin, and we left. Boom—car accident. Boom—back on plane. Boom— here we are.”
Benny whistles. “I’m going to have some words with Theo.”
“Seriously, Benny? That’s what you’re taking away from this? The primary redeeming thing about starting this holiday all over again is not having to process any of this with Theo!”
Benny seems to think on this. “I feel like I’m following you down this road pretty easily, friend. Are you sure you’re not having some sort of altitude-poisoning thing?”
I snap my fingers with a memory. “Dad’s tooth? I knew that was going to happen.”
“If you knew, why didn’t you warn him?”
“I was freaking out!” I yell, and then wince, hoping no one downstairs heard me. Lowering my voice, I continue, “And what would he have said? ‘No way, this cookie bar looks delicious’? I’d already seen Theo’s haircut, which is why I acted like a robot. And remember how I knew Kennedy’s knee was bleeding?” I point to the door, like Benny can see the kitchen from here.