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I loved that he’d seen that. That he’d understood without words something that even I didn’t fully understand.

The cold air was welcome at first. It tempered my hot skin and allowed me to take deep, cleansing breaths as I walked toward the woods. The moon was a hazy smudge of light behind a thick band of clouds, but there was enough of it reflecting off the snow to allow me to make my way to the tree line, where I could catch a glimpse the smooth, groomed ski run beyond.

The mountainside was peaceful. I wondered what the bare slope would look like once the resort opened to skiing. Right now, it was eerily silent, but I could imagine it full of colorful parkas, skis, and snowboards as happy people threw themselves down the mountain at top speed.

I used the flashlight on my phone to pick my way through the trees until I stood at the edge of the slope.

There was something meditative about looking out at the expansive winter night. I continued taking deep breaths of the frozen air and even enjoyed the chill on my nose and cheeks.

Visions of my mom flooded my mind.

You would have loved it here. So peaceful and beautiful.

I closed my eyes and remembered the first time I’d seen snow. Before my dad had left, we’d gone on a long road trip to visit his family in Salt Lake City. My mom had bundled me up in a hand-me-down snowsuit someone had loaned her, and we’d gone out to make a snowman in my grandparents’ backyard. The memory of her pink cheeks and bright eyes was as clear as the winter sky, so clear it made me wish I knew how to sketch so I could capture it on paper.

“It’s a snowman superhero,” she’d said, indulging my recent obsession with all things Marvel. She’d even found an old red towel and pinned it on the snowman’s shoulders as a cape.

Another memory pushed that one away. Her leaving me with those grandparents so she and my dad could go out for the night. I’d cried at being left with practical strangers, and I’d begged her not to leave me alone with them.

She’d snapped at me and told me not to be selfish, that she deserved a time-out from being a mom every once in a while.

I remembered feeling devastated. As a child, I’d interpreted it to mean she saw being my mom as a job. Obviously now, I saw it in a different light. Of course she’d deserved a break from taking care of a small child, and she was probably stressed and desperate for a break from her in-laws, too.

The memory was my subconscious’s gentle reminder she wasn’t perfect. No one was. But I didn’t want to fall into the trap of sugarcoating her memory. She was fallible, she was human. I simply missed her.

When the cold seeped through my clothes, I turned and made my way back to the house. The Christmas tree lights shone through the glass wall of the sunroom, beckoning me to the cozy space when I finally made my way into the warm house.

The fire was dying in the fireplace, so I added a couple more logs and poked at it with the heavy metal tool.

“Where did you learn to feed a fire?”

I turned to see Tilly. Whenever she entered a room, I was always struck by her regal bearing. Tonight, she was resplendent in a velvet-and-satin pantsuit. Her hair was coiffed perfectly, and the only thing out of place seemed to be the pink tip of her nose from the cold.

“Camping trip with a local bear club,” I said without thinking.

She looked confused. “Bear cl… oh.”

“Yeah, that kind of bear. I went through a lumberjack phase a few years back. I couldn’t even tell you why. I hate camping. Learned that the hard way.” I put the poker back in its stand and took a seat on the nearest sofa.

Tilly picked her way through the various toys left in the room until she took her place on the other end of the sofa. Even though I’d assumed our next conversation would be awkward and strained, now that we were here together, the air between us was simply sad. Or maybe that was just me. My earlier resentment had exhausted me, and I hated feeling bitter toward the closest family member I had left.

“I owe you an apology,” she began.

“Not really,” I said, because it was true. Her apologies were due to her daughter, not to me.

“Nonetheless, you’re going to listen to me while I make it.” She insisted with the same high-handedness she tended to use with others. She clasped her hands in her lap so tightly that her knuckles turned white. Then she added a soft, uncharacteristic “Please.”

I was so surprised, I blinked and nodded.