“Baxter! Scrabble time!” Mom calls from the first floor and I groan. Bad weather means extra family time. Mom’s surely going to make us play all night long.
“Please, please, please,” I plead softly, looking at my computer. The internet bar is dead, red cross over it and all. I wonder if I should hold a funeral.
The snow has been falling nonstop all day. When I was little, Mom used to keep us inside during days like this and convinced me that blizzards are health hazards. I guess I can understand why, seeing as her dad died during one. I was secretly happy when we moved to Florida and didn’t have to deal with snow. Something in it is both alluring and scary to me.
“Hey, loser!” my younger brother, Drew, calls from my doorway. “Mom’s going on and on about you getting your bottom downstairs.” He smiles, showing his dimples. I know better than to fall for the sweet façade.
“I’m coming.” Defeated, I turn the computer off and then move to grab my cell phone from the table. I glance quickly at the time. It’s quarter to one. Mom will probably make us play until dinner time.
“There’s no signal,” Drew reminds me as I nod.
“Let’s call this wishful thinking.” I point to the phone.
“Yes, you think you can wish,” he laughs, scurrying away from me.
I, on the other hand, drag my feet down the stairs. Once I reach the living room and join the rest of the family, I force a smile. Mom’s already placing the board on the table.
“I’m going to help Dickie with the snacks,” I say. My hand reaches for Drew’s hood as I pull him with me to the kitchen, where my stepdad has been sorting food for us.
“Baxter, hurry!” Mom calls out as she settles on the couch. “Remember, us girls versus the boys!”
I groan. This is going to turn into a blood feud, I can tell. Then I smile, walking back with snacks and my stepdad as she beams my way.
“I’m not sure the boys will like that,” I say, taking my seat after bringing “provisions,” as my brother calls them. Once Mom gets on a roll, she won’t let us abandon the game for such mundane things as food or drink, not even a bathroom break.
“You’re right,” she replies. Her blue eyes move from me to my stepdad. She sits opposite me, holding her tiles close to her chest.
“This isn’t poker, you know,” I giggle as she shoots me her most evil look, which just makes us laugh.
We play for a while, taking turns creating the strangest words we can. I barely notice the storm until the wind slams the shutters against the walls. Lorelai, my three-year-old sister, rushes toward us and away from her dollhouse.
Mom’s eyes leave the game as her forehead creases. “Dickie, shouldn’t we close those before they become unhinged?”
Her lovey-dovey eyes settle on my stepdad, but her voice is commanding. From the way she looks at him, this should translate as go close them, but Dickie is missing the translation button.
As my eyes return to her, Mom takes a deep breath. She blinks a few times before placing the tiles on the board while her lips move as she counts her score. “Syzygy.” Mom’s taken the triple word box.
My stepdad squeezes her shoulder. “I’m sure the wind will die soon enough.” He glances behind him and catches my brother right as he steals letters from the bag. “Put them back, Drew.” Dickie grabs the bag from Drew’s hand as Drew pouts.
“Twenty-one points, times three, sixty-three for me.” She grins as my stepdad reaches for the pad to jot down the score. “The weather forecast wasn’t this bad. They said just a little bit of heavy snow.” Mom’s worry lines deepen the moment my baby sister hides herself under the cover beside her.
“Is that a real word?” My brother scratches the back of his neck, scowling at the board.
“Yes, it is.” Mom picks up the dictionary, clearing her throat in a dramatic way. “A straight line configuration of three celestial bodies.” The glowering spark in my brother’s eyes could kill someone if he had super powers. “Are you ready to beat your old mom, Baxter?”
Her skin glows. I wish I could tell my younger siblings there’s a baby on the way. Mom and Dickie have sworn me to secrecy since she’s still in the early stages.
I growl. It’s difficult to resist her when she’s this happy. “I don’t think I can thrash your score. Are you sure you’re not cheating?” I reply, staring at my tiles. It’s impossible for me to make another long word.
Drew moans, clearly thinking we worked out some kind of hustle to beat him and Dickie. “At least you have a hundred points. I still have fifty,” he grumbles, looking from his tiles to the board. His blue gaze, which matches my mother’s, darkens with annoyance. He’s the most competitive person in our family.
“Baxter, can you pass me another pumpkin muffin?” Dickie asks, pointing to the tray beside me.
I place my tiles down on the board. “Quiz, twenty-two points.” My hands reach for the tray with the muffins as Drew glowers at me. Mom reaches for one of the muffins before I give the tray to my stepdad.
“Traitor,” my brother hisses as I stick my tongue out. “You’re making me look bad.” He mopes.
The lights flicker as the wind howls louder. “I think we should close the shutters,” Mom insists, making Dickie get up from his comfortable space on the floor. “Can you put the game away?”
Drew and I exchange confused looks as she also gets up and walks away.
“What was that about?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“I think she’s thinking about her dad.”
Mom’s dad passed away before I was born, so I have never felt as if he was a real person, my granddad. She hardly ever talks about him, and when she does, it’s almost as if she doesn’t want to share him with the rest of the world. She always says “my father,” as opposed to “your granddad.”
I can empathize with her. The pain of my own dad’s passing is with me daily. Even if Dickie is a super stepdad, he’s not my dad.
“Aww, now we’ll never know who won.” The sarcasm pours out of Drew’s mouth in buckets, quite an amazing feat for a twelve-year-old. “Thank God.”