Family Christmas gets hot as cousins make an impromptu deal

I had mixed feelings about spending the traditional Christmas at the Parnell family cabin this year. Sure, it was tradition and a chance to see some of the extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, Grandma Parnell, and a bunch of my cousins’ kids whose names I couldn’t remember. The weather was usually snowy, which turned the pines and frozen lake into a winter wonderland. Oh, and the food was typically great and plentiful. No, now that I’d started college, the idea of going up to the cabin felt quaint and perhaps a bit claustrophobic. Worse, it was so remote as to have no cell service. Three plus days of no service, not even internet. I’d need counseling by the time we were done.

Speaking of cell service, I’d just lost the last of mine. Avery, my twin sister, and I had taken advantage of dad’s driving to chill in the back and get our fix in on the drive upstate. Judging by her scowl, she’d just lost hers as well.

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I leaned across the back seat to speak low enough not to be heard by the parentals up front. “Are we bored yet?”

Avery, her thin face hidden in the depths of the oversized hoodie she wore, gave me a quick smile. “And we’re not even there.”

I patted her on the knee through her skin-tight jeans. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the kiddos are sugaring up for you already.”

Avery rolled her eyes and brushed away an errant wisp of dirty blond hair. “Yeah, great. But you get Jorgie.”

Now it was my turn to roll my eyes and groan. My cousin Beth had remarried two years back and her new husband had a son of eight or nine. For the last two years, the kid had stuck to me like glue, convinced I was the coolest guy on earth. He wasn’t terrible, but a little went a long way and I’d ended up spending a great deal of effort finding ways to hide or otherwise be away from him. Avery, meanwhile, had been the darling of the under-five crowd.

“At least you have Kaia for relief,” I said.

Avery’s lips tightened and she gave me an unreadable expression, then turned to face out the window. “I guess,” she said softly.

What the heck was that? Kaia was the same age as us, making her the only cousin who’d be at the cabin and within five years of our age. The other guys in their late twenties were both married and had kids, which as far as I was concerned pretty much bumped them up into the same weight class as my uncles. Sure, we’d talk a bit, but that was probably the end of it. With Kaia, however, we’d grown up living in the same town and spending most of our Christmas and summer vacations together with the extended family. As we’d reached our teens, she and Avery had bonded as close as sisters or BFF’s while I got subtly nudged out of the picture.

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