“My mom chose that horrible music even though you told her not to,” he counters.
“Kyle never gets hungover. It’s unfair,” I say.
Andrew hums. “Do you think the snowball would disappear into the black hole of Aaron’s dye job?”
“Worth testing,” I agree. “Science depends on us.”
“But then there’s Benny,” he says. “He’s been chilling on the front steps with a warm cup of coffee this whole time.”
“Because he’s smart.”
“Damn him and his good decisions.” Andrew tosses the snowball back and forth between his hands.
“Benny, then. On the count of three,” I say. “One.”
We launch our snowballs directly at an unsuspecting Benny. Mine hits him in the shoulder. Andrew’s hits him squarely in the chest. At first, he looks at us with deep and immediate betrayal. But something shifts in his expression when he sees me and Andrew standing here together, bending to pack fresh snowballs. Maybe he sees the dynamite in my gaze, or maybe he can tell how much Andrew needs this change in the routine—maybe he even sees how much I need this to happen—but he picks up a clump of snow himself, packs it, and hurls it directly at Ricky.
Within only a handful of seconds, I lose track of who’s hit me, who’s hit Andrew, when Thea gets crushed, and what’s even happening amid the flurry of flying snow. All I know is that the sound of my loved ones’ laughter bouncing off the hillside is the best sound I’ve ever heard.
Another small victory.
The Park City Nursery is a traditional nursery most of the year, but in the winter it’s transformed into a twinkling, sparkling wonderland. The little green building that usually houses gardening tools is covered in a selection of fresh wreaths and filled with holiday decorations and gifts. Strands of lights stretch overhead, and instead of pots of brightly colored summer blossoms, there are holly garlands, poinsettias, and tiny fir trees everywhere. There’s even a giant firepit ringed with seating, and employees handing out spiced cider.
Usually Dad and Ricky brave the masses, but tonight I needed to get out of the house. Since just doing what I want hasn’t failed me yet, I told Andrew he should come with me. Happy to avoid navigating this mess, the dads dropped us at the curb, headed to a coffee shop, and told us to call them when we had a tree ready to load up.
I can feel Andrew watching me as we maneuver through the crowd, and it has the odd effect of making me feel both overheated and shivery. “I should have asked you about work,” I say, stepping around a couple crouching to check the price of a tree.
“You were too busy starting a snowball war.”
I laugh. “How are things in Denver?”
“I’m in that strange position,” he says, “of having the utterly perfect job, but absolutely no opportunity for advancement. The only other position above mine is lead sound engineer, and the guy in that job is only five years older than me and is never going to leave Red Rocks.”
Andrew has always been what we affectionately refer to as a sound geek. He took every music class he could find in school and went to every show that came through town. I envy his love for what he does; he’d probably do the work for free.
“Have you ever thought about getting into music production?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t have the mental intensity for that life.”
“Want me to knock this coworker off? Maybe my career problem is that I haven’t found my true calling as an assassin.”
Andrew grins. “I wanted to say, you will figure things out, Mae. You’re so talented. The artistic apple doesn’t fall far from the artistic tree.”
His perennial confidence in me is bolstering. “Thanks, Mandrew.”
“This is random, but have you ever had your tarot cards read?” he asks.
“Is that a serious question?”
He laughs. “Yes?”
“I haven’t,” I admit, “partly because I never want to hear bad news.”
“I had mine done,” he says, and immediately holds up his hands. “I know, it sounds crazy—believe me, I thought it was a joke—but a woman was reading them at a party. She says only assholes do tragic readings.”
“You think I should have my tarot cards read to find out my true career path?” The last thing I need, I think, is to play with more cosmic energy.
“I’m just saying maybe it’ll shake something in you.” He shrugs sweetly. “I feel like it shook something in me.”
A woman elbows me accidentally as she passes, sloshing my hot cider off the lip of my cup and down my hand. I hiss at the mild burn.
“Is it always like this? I don’t think I realized everyone else in Park City procrastinates as much as we do.” I bend, licking the sweet drink from my finger. I might be imagining it, but I swear Andrew does a double take.
“I bet most of these people don’t live here and are also vacationers getting their own last-minute trees.” He pushes his hands into his pockets. “Dad always complains that it’s a madhouse.”
“Parking must be a nightmare. Why don’t we have them drop us off every year?”
Andrew gives me that look, the one that tells me it’s a silly question. We do it because that’s how we’ve always done it, his eyes say. Tradition, duh. How many things like this do we do without thinking, just because it’s the way we’ve always done it? The same food at every meal; the same games every night, with the same teams. The same songs. I’m the worst of all of us—I’m never willing to give up a single thing.
Being hit with the realization is like having a light turned on in my brain.
Holiday music plays overhead and Andrew bops contentedly along beside me. With these new eyes, I wonder if he’s been suffocating under the predictability of the holidays—if we all have.
“Do you hate the traditions?” I ask. “Snow creatures and sledding and all the games?”
He gives his answer a second of quiet consideration. “I love the sledding and don’t hate the rest. But, yeah, sometimes I want to mix it up a little. We’ve been doing the same thing for our entire lives.” He points as we approach a beautifully symmetrical Douglas fir. “How about that one?”
I scrunch my nose, shaking my head.
“I know Mom and Dad love hosting here,” he says, moving on, “but don’t you ever just want to get on a plane and do something totally wild? Go to Greece or spend New Year’s in London?” Before I can answer, he points to another tree. “That one?”
“No . . .”
“No to the tree, or to doing something totally wild?”
I smile over at him. “Both? And New Year’s in London. Hmm. Would we all be together in this imaginary scenario?”
His eyes sparkle, and sensation zips up my spine. I swear he’s never looked at me like this, like he’s seeing me for the first time. “Of course.”
“Okay, then yes, that sounds amazing. Even though the cabin is my favorite place on earth, I’m starting to think that it wouldn’t be so terrible to mix things up. Maybe we should do things because we love them, not because we’ve always done them that way.” I pause, carefully wording the next question in my mind. “Andrew?”
He turns his face up to the sky, admiring a towering tree. Tiny snowflakes have started to drift down, spinning from the clouds. “Mm?”
“The cabin needs a lot of work, doesn’t it?”
His smile fades and he looks back at me. “A fair bit, yeah.”
“Gotta refinish the floors,” he says. “Paint the interior and exterior. Most of the appliances are as old as I am. New roof.”
“How much is a new roof?” A ball of dread worms its way through my gut.
“The conservative estimate was twelve thousand dollars,” he says. So they’ve looked into it. “If we go with cedar shingles like the original, we’re looking at double that. Not to mention there’s probably some decking up there that will need to be replaced once we start tearing everything off.”
I just come right out and ask it. “Your parents want to sell, don’t they?”
Andrew doesn’t even seem surprised by this. “I think so.”
“Do you and Theo want to sell it?”
He carefully maneuvers past two kids playing tag around a tree. “I don’t, but I’m in Denver. I don’t really feel like I can urge them to keep it when I’m not here to help out. Theo just bought that land down in Ogden. He’ll be building soon and won’t be around as much. Mom and Dad aren’t as flexible and energetic as they used to be. It’s a lot for them to take on by themselves.”
“But why should they when we’re all here?”
Andrew stops in the path and looks down at me. “You’re in California, and Kyle and Aaron are in New York.”
“I mean, we could come out and help throughout the year.”
His hair pushes out rebelliously from under his knit cap, and when his gaze fixes on me, I’m dizzy with infatuation. “Dad is proud,” he says, glancing briefly over my shoulder, I presume, to make sure that his dad is, in fact, not approaching. “He doesn’t like asking for help, and he’s terrible about accepting help offered. Especially from us kids.”
I know this is true; I can even remember times when I was younger and Ricky would insist that Mom didn’t have to cook when she was at the cabin, like he could ever stop her. But I don’t just mean help from other parents. There’s a beast in me that’s pushing against my skin from the inside, clawing its way out. I don’t want to be a child anymore.
“We aren’t kids, though.”
His gaze sinks lower, and I don’t miss the way it pauses at my mouth. “We haven’t been kids for a long time.”