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Episode 2

I want to argue—miles of snow and enough protective gear to give astronauts pause seem pretty freaking awful to me. But I don’t know Macy all that well, despite the fact that we’re cousins, and the last thing I want to do is offend her. Besides Uncle Finn and now Philip, she is the only other person I know in this place.

Not to mention the only family I have left.

Which is why, in the end, I just shrug.

It must be a good enough answer, though, because she grins back at me before turning to Philip, who is still carrying my suitcases. “Thanks so much for picking her up, Uncle Philip. Dad says to tell you he owes you a case of beer.”

“No worries, Mace. Had to run a few errands in Fairbanks anyway.” He says it so casually, like hopping in a plane for a couple-hundred-mile round-trip journey is no big deal. Then again, out here where there’s nothing but mountains and snow in all directions, maybe it’s not. After all, according to Wikipedia, Healy has only one major road in and out of it, and in the winter sometimes even that gets closed down.

I’ve spent the last month trying to imagine what that looks like. What it is like.

I guess I’m about to find out.

“Still, he says he’ll be around Friday with that beer so you guys can watch the game in true BFF style.” She turns to me. “My dad’s really upset he couldn’t make it out to pick you up, Grace. There was an emergency at the school that no one else could deal with. But he told me to get him the second we make it back.”

“No worries,” I tell her. Because what else am I supposed to say? Besides, if I’ve learned anything in the month since my parents died, it’s just how little most things matter.

Who cares who picks me up as long as I get to the school?

Who cares where I live if it’s not going to be with my mom and dad?

Philip walks us to the edge of the cleared parking lot before finally letting go of my suitcases. Macy gives him a quick hug goodbye, and I shake his hand, murmur, “Thanks for coming to get me.”

“Not a problem at all. Any time you need a flight, I’m your man.” He winks, then heads back to the tarmac to deal with his plane.

We watch him go for a couple of seconds before Macy grabs the handles on both suitcases and starts rolling them across the tiny parking lot. She gestures for me to do the same with the one I’m holding on to, so I do, even though a part of me wants nothing more than to run back onto the tarmac with Philip, climb back into that tiny plane, and demand to be flown back to Fairbanks. Or, even better, back home to San Diego.

It’s a feeling that only gets worse when Macy says, “Do you need to pee? It’s a good ninety-minute ride to the school from here.”

Ninety minutes? That doesn’t seem possible when the whole town looks like we could drive it in fifteen, maybe twenty minutes at the most. Then again, when we were flying over, I didn’t see any building remotely big enough to be a boarding school for close to four hundred teenagers, so maybe the school isn’t actually in Healy.

I can’t help but think of the mountains and rivers that surround this town in all directions and wonder where on earth I’m going to end up before this day is through. And where exactly she expects me to pee out here anyway.

“I’m okay,” I answer after a minute, even as my stomach somersaults and pitches nervously.

This whole day has been about getting here, and that was bad enough. But as we roll my suitcases through the semi-darkness, the well-below-freezing air slapping at me with each step we take, everything gets superreal, superfast. Especially when Macy walks through the entire parking lot to the snowmobile parked just beyond the edge of the pavement.

At first, I think she’s joking around, but then she starts loading my suitcases onto the attached sled and it occurs to me that this is really happening. I’m really about to ride a snowmobile in the near dark through Alaska in weather that is more than twenty degrees below freezing, if the app on my phone can be believed.

All that’s missing is the wicked witch cackling that she’s going to get me and my little dog, too. Then again, at this point, that would probably be redundant.

I watch with a kind of horrified fascination as Macy straps my suitcases to the sled. I should probably offer to help, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin. And since the last thing I want is for the few belongings I have left in the world to be strewn across the side of a mountain, I figure if there was ever a time to leave things to the experts, this is it.

“Here, you’re going to need these,” Macy tells me, opening up the small bag that was already strapped to the sled when we got out here. She rummages around for a second before pulling out a pair of heavy snow pants and a thick wool scarf. They are both hot pink, my favorite color when I was a kid but not so much now. Still, it’s obvious Macy remembered that from the last time I saw her, and I can’t help being touched as she holds them out to me.

“Thanks.” I give her the closest thing to a smile I can manage.

After a few false starts, I manage to pull the pants on over the thermal underwear and fleece pajama pants with emojis on them (the only kind of fleece pants I own) that I put on at my uncle’s instruction before boarding the plane in Seattle. Then I take a long look at the way Macy’s rainbow-colored scarf is wrapped around her neck and face and do the same thing with mine.

It’s harder than it looks, especially trying to get it positioned well enough to keep it from sliding down my nose the second I move.

Eventually, I manage it, though, and that’s when Macy reaches for one of the helmets draped over the snowmobile’s handles.

“The helmet is insulated, so it will help keep you warm as well as protect your head in case of a crash,” she instructs. “Plus, it’s got a shield to protect your eyes from the cold air.”

“My eyes can freeze?” I ask, more than a little traumatized, as I take the helmet from her and try to ignore how hard it is to breathe with the scarf over my nose.

“Eyes don’t freeze,” Macy answers with a little laugh, like she can’t help herself. “But the shield will keep them from watering and make you more comfortable.”

“Oh, right.” I duck my head as my cheeks heat up. “I’m an idiot.”

“No you’re not.” Macy wraps an arm around my shoulders and squeezes tight. “Alaska is a lot. Everyone who comes here has a learning curve. You’ll figure it all out soon enough.”

I’m not holding my breath on that one—I can’t imagine that this cold, foreign place will ever feel familiar to me—but I don’t say anything. Not when Macy has already done so much to try and make me feel welcome.

“I’m really sorry you had to come here, Grace,” she continues after a second. “I mean, I’m really excited that you’re here. I just wish it wasn’t because…” Her voice drifts off before she finishes the sentence. But I’m used to that by now. After weeks of having my friends and teachers tiptoe around me, I’ve learned that no one wants to say the words.

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