Go with the flow. Of course that’s Benny’s motto.
It’s not like there’s a guidebook to time jumping, or some obvious portal in the attic wall—at least in Narnia they knew to get back to the wardrobe. So I guess our only clear option is to go downstairs and rejoin the festivities—go with the flow it is.
I stand up and Benny takes my arm protectively. “Besides all that,” he says, “everything else okay? Work? Social life? Romance updates?”
I pause with my hand on the door. “Work?” A fist of dread squeezes my lungs. “Meh. Social life is fine. Mira— remember my college roommate? She moved back to Berkeley, so it’s basically just the two of us scrolling Yelp for new restaurants where we can go eat our feelings.”
Benny laughs, and then goes silent, waiting for me to answer the last looming question. Finally, he prompts: “And?”
“What is romance again?” I ask rhetorically. “I’ve had three dates in a year. On two of them it was immediately obvious we were not a good fit, and I used the very old and very tired ‘My friend has an emergency and needs me’ excuse.”
“The third guy was good-looking, gainfully employed, easy to talk to—”
“—but on date two admitted that although he and his wife still live together, he swears they’re separated and totally plans to move out soon.”
Benny groans. “No.”
“Eh, there’s not much game to be had when you’re still living with your mommy.” I wave my hand, saying, “So yeah. Romance is on hold.”
He kisses my temple. “Life ain’t easy.”
“You can say that again.” I grin over my shoulder at him as I turn. “I mean, you probably will say that again, you just won’t know it.”
Benny laughs, insisting on walking ahead of me down the stairs, and I take them as slowly and painstakingly as I can. When I make it to the bottom, he gives me a genuine high five—which I gladly take. We are now celebrating the small victories.
My eyes open to the dark, and the view of blank nothingness is so familiar it sends a spike of relief through me. I know exactly where I am: bottom bunk, basement room, the cabin. What I don’t know is when.
When I fumble for my phone, I don’t honestly know what I’m hoping for—whether I want to go back to the present or stay here in the past. It’s moot anyway: one look at my home screen and I see it’s December 21. I made it to the next morning, but who knows if I’ll make it through the rest of the day? Still, I give myself a mental high five. Remember? Small victories.
I roll onto my back to let it sink in. I want to understand not only what is going on, but why. Did I make this happen somehow? If so, how? What was happening right before the crash?
Mom was crying over the sale of the cabin.
Dad was advocating for some change in our lives.
Miles was in his own little world, so the usual. And I . . . well, I was falling down a mental rabbit hole of dread, panicking about losing the one thing in my life that always made sense before—
I stop, bolting upright in the darkness, remembering. Universe, I’d asked. What am I doing with my life? Please. Can you show me what will make me happy?
Is it even possible? I take a deep breath and make myself answer the question anyway: What makes me happy?
This cabin, of course. And my family and our chosen family here with us every December. But also . . . Andrew’s laugh. A quiet afternoon spent drawing in my backyard. Watching Miles try to breakdance. Building snow creatures at the cabin. My mother’s cooking. Sledding. Aaron’s cheese blintzes. The feeling of drifting off to sleep with a window open in the springtime.
But I was sent back here, specifically. Not ahead to the spring or summer. Not home to the backyard with a sketchbook. Here. And I need to know why.
Eyes closed, I let a flurry of images take over until one hits the brakes, coming into focus in my mind.
Theo and I were thirteen, Andrew was sixteen, and it was the first time that I registered that he was objectively gorgeous. Before then, the Hollis boys were firmly rooted in the family category and I noticed them in the way that I noticed my own reflection: both dispassionately and obliviously. But that winter, Ricky was having a bunch of electrical issues at the cabin, and he kept sending Andrew down to the fuse box to reset the breakers. When he wasn’t helping his dad, Andrew was playing War with me and Kyle, and it was getting pretty intense. I thought Andrew was pulling high cards from the bottom of his deck. He calmly insisted he wasn’t. I followed him down to the basement, yelling at the side of his face while he aimed a flashlight on the fuse box and calmly told me to “be quiet for two seconds, Mae” and then the lights went back on and his profile was illuminated and it felt like a boulder rolled over inside me.
For the first time, I really noticed him—the soft hair at his temples, the increasingly masculine shape of his neck, the perfect line of his nose, how big his hands suddenly seemed. From that moment on it felt like my adolescence was split into two halves: before I fell for Andrew, and after.
We went back upstairs, but I didn’t want to play anymore. Not because I would be mad if I lost, but because I wanted him to win. I wanted him to win because I wanted him to be happy. Andrew wouldn’t ever be just a family friend again; he would always be a little bit more, a little bit mine, even if he didn’t know it.
But the feeling was unsettling: I didn’t like that sensation of being a lightweight screen door in a heavy wind.
The rest of the holiday was a torment. Andrew in his pajama pants, no shirt, obliviously scratching his stomach as he helped a four-year-old Miles hang origami cranes. Andrew sitting next to me at the table, watching me draw and swearing, with loving wonder, that he thought I had a gift for art, just like my mom. Andrew in jeans and a thick wool sweater, helping Dad and Benny bring in firewood. Andrew earnestly playing song after song on his guitar for me and Theo, trying to introduce us to the wonder of Tom Petty. Andrew half-asleep on the sofa in front of the fire, with Miles asleep on him. When we all played Sardines, and I hid, I would pray that Andrew would find me first, that we would get time alone in an enclosed, hidden space together. That we would “accidentally” make out.
Andrew was enthusiastically musical, reluctantly athletic, quiet, and unattainable. Generous with time and compliments, selfless with family. Adorably messy hair, shy smile, and the kind of teenage monster who never needed braces. Imagine sleeping in a bunk bed across the room from that every night, with the new awareness that Andrew might have a girlfriend, that he had body parts I hadn’t ever considered before, that he was probably already having S-E-X.
Although it would make sense for the grown-ups to eventually worry that something scandalous would happen between me and one of the Hollis boys down in the secluded basement, no one batted a lash. My mother was normally incredibly strict about boundaries, but we were family, after all. Maybe Andrew was so obviously uninterested in me, and I was so obviously uninterested in Theo, that it never pinged their parental radar, even when we were old enough to drink alcohol and make terrible decisions.
I grew up going to church every Sunday but decided a long time ago that Catholicism wasn’t for me. Now, in the darkness, I’m starting to believe that something has given me a true do-over. A bullet dodged at the most wonderful time of the year. But in this world full of people who need much bigger things than to have avoided a stupid, drunken kiss, I wish I understood why me.
• • •
I climb out of bed, careful not to wake Theo or Miles. Cautiously entering the kitchen, I’m not sure what I’ll find.
But everything seems normal. Aside from the missing holly garland that the twins haven’t yet put up in the kitchen, everything looks exactly like it did when we left only five days from now. Or is it two days ago? Who the hell knows.
Ricky shuffles in just after I do. His salt-and-pepper hair is tidy up front but a holy mess in the back. His eyes are still squinty, but he beams so brightly at me it causes an actual ache in my chest. I give myself a second to celebrate that I’m really here, in this kitchen. I thought I’d lost this.
“Maelyn Jones,” he says hoarsely, “you and me are two peas in a pod.”
Inside, I am glowing, waiting.
He sits down with a groan. “We both wake up with the sun.”
Ahhhhh. There it is.
“You know the worst thing in the world would be never hearing you say that again?” I kiss the top of his head and then pour him a cup of coffee in his favorite reindeer mug.
“Why would you even worry about that?”
I don’t answer. Hard to explain, Ricky.
But the thought lands again, heavier now, like a stone in a river: I thought I’d lost this. I thought I would never have this moment again with Ricky, in this kitchen, and here I am. Does he have any idea what a gift this place is to all of us? The cabin makes me more than happy, it makes me feel grounded. Am I getting a chance to keep them from selling?
He takes a long sip and sets his mug down. “How’re you feeling this morning, Noodle?”
Me? How I’m feeling is suddenly the least of my worries. With clarity about a possible purpose comes an exhilaration so profound it can only mean that I’m on the right track. After all, the ceiling didn’t fall and the floor didn’t open up to send me back to the plane.
“I’m fine.” I lean back against the counter. I’m smiling at Ricky over my coffee, but my thoughts are a cyclone of recollecting, plan making, playing it cool. “Better than ever, actually.”
I turn to the sound of feet on the stairs to see a sleep-rumpled Benny peeking around the corner. He holds a finger up to his mouth and motions for me to come toward him. A glance over my shoulder shows Ricky happily sipping his coffee and already at least three cookies deep into the shortbread tin, so I push off the counter and quietly make my way into the hall.
With a hand on each shoulder, Benny bends at the knees, peering into my eyes.