“You didn’t, by chance, get into my little blue bag, did you?” he asks.
“No, of course not!”
“Okay, good. Because I had this friend who grows mushrooms in his closet, and he gave me—”
“Benny, I’m not high, I’m not drunk, I’m not on mushrooms! I’m being serious. This is freaking me out!”
“I know it is, Mae. Okay, I’m thinking.”
Downstairs, I hear the faint sounds of everyone making their way to the living room for welcome cocktails. I screw my eyes shut, trying to pull forward all the tiny details that I never expected to be important, but which are the difference now between Benny believing me or not. Kyle’s round, theatrical voice carries upstairs, followed by Ricky’s deep, booming laugh.
“Oh. Oh.” I snap, pointing at the door. “Kyle just showed Ricky his new tattoo.”
Benny stretches, listening. “Did you hear that all the way up here? Wow.”
“No,” I say. “I remembered it.”
I can tell he doesn’t totally buy that.
Zachary’s elated laughter reaches us, and I can’t help it—despite all the chaos in my head, I’m smiling. “Okay. Miso is licking Zacky’s toes. Listen to him laughing.”
“A pretty safe guess,” Benny hedges. “That dog loves the twins.”
I sigh. “Come on. Believe me.”
“I want to, but you know how this sounds.”
The problem is, I do.
“Let’s say you’re right,” he whispers, “and what you’re telling me is really happening. It’s sort of like Back to the Future, except the past. Wait.” He shakes his head. “He went to the past in that one, didn’t he?”
I nod, and then keep nodding because exhaustion drags through me so heavily that I could honestly pass out right now.
“Does that make me Doc?” he asks.
I laugh. “Sure.” But my amusement quickly fades. “But what do I do? Is this happening so I don’t kiss Theo again? This seems like a pretty lame flex, Universe.”
“But without kissing Theo you wouldn’t be here,” he reasons.
“No. Kissing Theo is where I messed things up . . . right?”
“No. It’s like in Avengers, where they want to go back and kill the guy with the stones, but if they had killed him then they wouldn’t be having the conversation to begin with.” He pauses. “Holy shit, time travel is confusing.”
I rub my temples. “Benny.”
He gazes at me, and I stick the tip of my thumb in my mouth, chewing. “I think you should go talk to Dan,” he finally says.
“Dad? He’s the most literal and scientific person I’ve ever met. He would not for a second believe that I’m either a time traveler, a superhero, or clairvoyant.”
Benny laughs. “I mean because he’s a doctor.”
“Yes, a doctor who knows birth canals and umbilical cords.”
His voice is gentler now, because I’m clearly not following along. “I’m sure he remembers the basics enough to check your pupils and reflexes.”
“Like for a head injury? That’s really what you think this is?”
Benny squares his hands on my shoulders. “I believe that something’s going on with you. But that’s all I’m qualified to do—believe you. I’m not sure I’m qualified to help. Your dad can tell you if everything seems to be working the way it should.”
Maybe that’s the ideal situation—something neurological happening. I mean, otherwise this is impossible, right?
“Okay.” I kiss Benny’s cheek and step back, nodding. “Plan A: assume I’m injured or crazy.”
Benny’s sweet smile crashes. “I did not say that.”
“I’m kidding. I’ll go talk to Dad.”
With a little wave, I turn to the attic steps but I miss the first one. My leg comes out from under me and instead of falling backward, I pitch forward, slip, and—
“AHHHHHHHH!” I wake up shouting loudly, startling from the sensation of falling down a steep flight of stairs. My arm shoots out to the side to catch the banister. But there’s no banister there, no stairs. I smack my brother directly in the face again.
He lets out a rough oof and catches my arm. “Dude. What the hell, Mae?”
Bolting upright, I’m already sweating. I reach for my neck. Do I look like a corkscrew? Is my head on the right way? Can I see my own butt? I slump with relief until I notice the same white-noise hum of an engine, the same dry, recirculated air. The same everything.
“No,” I whisper, heart pounding. Not again.
Benny stares at me. He blinks slowly, and I silently watch him try to process all of this. Again.
“I feel like I’m following you down this road pretty easily, friend.” He frowns, worried. “Are you sure you’re not having some sort of altitude-poisoning thing?”
Taking a deep breath, I rub my temples and remind myself to be patient; Benny doesn’t know he’s been through this before. He doesn’t know he just asked me this same question. Whatever time loop I’ve tripped into isn’t his fault.
“This is the third time I’ve lived this day,” I say. “It’s the second time I’ve had this conversation with you.”
“So you saw your dad crack a tooth,” he says slowly. “Three times?”
“And you didn’t think to warn him?”
I slump down, covering my face, and let out a groan. The airport was exactly the same. The drive was identical. Only this time, my arrival at the cabin was even more disorienting than before. Panic kept my throat tight and fragile as I realized that yes, I had done this before—whether it was only in my head or was actually happening, I’m living this day again. I just don’t know how or why.
The only thing that calmed me down once we arrived was my time with Andrew on the porch again. Maybe because I looked even paler and more vulnerable, he seemed to put more effort into his ridiculous introductions.
We gather here in December to build snow creatures, sled down huge mountains, make piles of cookies, and watch our parents get day-drunk . . .
We used to pretend to be in a rock band and you’d be David Bowie and I’d be Janis Joplin . . .
You talk in your sleep but unfortunately never say anything scandalous or interesting, it’s mostly about food and spreadsheets . . .
“What else happens tonight?” Benny asks now, bringing my attention back to the present. He reaches for my hands to gently pry them away from my face. “What are some things you remember that . . .”
I pick up where he trails off. “That might help you believe me?”
Sweet Benny gives an apologetic wince and a shrug, but I don’t blame him. I haven’t caught my reflection anywhere, but I’m sure I look like a complete maniac. I’m clammy, breathless, feeling frayed at the edges. Oddly stiff, I stretch my neck from one side to the other, and a loud crack reverberates through the room. Huh. Better.
Voices move from the kitchen down the hall to the living room.
Abruptly, I stand and pull Benny after me. “Oh. Oh. Kyle is about to show everyone his new tattoo.”
We move across the room to the door. I swear Benny moves with this weird tiptoe step that makes him look like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo as we carefully make our way down the attic steps and peer around the corner. Ricky’s voice carries through the house from the living room. “Guys, come here!” Ricky calls. “Kyle got a cool new tattoo!”
When the words reach us, Benny grips my arm so hard I can feel each one of his fingertips.
I close my eyes, listening carefully. “Ricky’s gonna give himself a hard time for forgetting to get Hendrick’s for Aaron. Miso is going to lick Zachary’s toes, and he’ll laugh hysterically. Lisa is going to put on a Bob Dylan Christmas album that is legitimately terrible, and Theo is going to have a sip of beer go down the wrong pipe and will start coughing for, like, ten minutes straight.” I look at Benny and nod, resolute. “Just wait.”
We turn our quiet attention back to the living room, out of sight but within earshot.
“I don’t know what I’m going to think if you’re right,” Benny whispers.
• • •
Twenty minutes later, we’re back in the attic and Benny is pacing the length of the floor, back and forth. His bracelets jingle with every step. I’m on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. He’s freaking out because everything I said would happen happened. Finally, he stops near me and lets out a reverently whispered “Whoa. I’m not even high right now.”
I know I should feel vindicated, but given that it’s no surprise to me that I was right, I have to wonder: Is this my life now? Am I doomed to live this day over and over? Should I try to leave the attic again, or will I fall down the stairs?
And the biggest question of all: Does it even matter what I do, or is time—for me—just . . . broken?
Well, worst-case scenario, I guess, is I relive this day over and over and keep flirting with Andrew on the porch.
I push up onto an elbow. “Okay. So: What do I do?”
“I think you should talk to your dad,” Benny says with firm resolve.
“Nope.” I roll onto my back again. “You said that last time. I Peter Pan’d it down the stairs and woke up on the plane.”
“Ouch,” he whispers, rubbing his neck guiltily. “I’m sorry, Noodle.”
His tone makes my heart ache, and I sit up, pulling him to sit next to me so I can smooch his cheek. “Wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe just . . .” He holds his hands up, unsure. “Just try to make it through tonight? Maybe tomorrow it will become clear what you’re supposed to do. Maybe it’s about Theo. Maybe it’s about the cabin. I bet you’ll figure it out. My motto is ‘Go with the flow,’ so I think that’s what you need to do here.” He pats my knee. “She’ll be right, mate.”