Chapter 6

Snow falls on a massive lakeside cabin in northern Minnesota. People call it a cabin because the exterior walls are shaped like logs, but really, it’s a mansion: ten bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and an enormous great room with a stone fireplace that dominates the main floor. A large spiral staircase connects the basement to the main floor to the second story; each tread is a natural wood slab six feet in length, coated thickly with varnish — shiny and beautiful natural wood, just like the rest of the house.

The far wall of the great room is all windows, looking down the hillside at a snow-covered lake which is criss-crossed with snowmobile tracks. Moonlight shines through the windows and a fire burns in the fireplace; a simple (but expansive) chandelier provides the only other light for the collection of empty easy chairs and overstuffed couches. The bearskin rug on the floor is fake, but the twenty-point buck mounted on the wall is real.

The basement is no less well-appointed than the main floor: leather couches in one room face a huge in-wall television; a well-stocked mahogany bar is surrounded by Italian marble and tile; a wine cellar holds as many bottles as it takes to impress you. There’s a home theater with stadium seating. You know, a typical cabin basement.

There’s a faint hum as the door of one of the four garage stalls underneath the house begins to open. A limo is pulling up the snow-covered driveway, creating a set of tire tracks in the fresh snow. (The point of the previous sentence was to impress upon you that this is the first vehicle to arrive, at least since the snow started falling.) It pulls into the double-length garage, which automatically lights up as soon as the car’s motion is detected.

As the limo parks, the heated floor begins to melt the snow off of the wheel wells, and the meltwater runs through conveniently-placed grates in the floor. The engine shuts off, and the garage door shuts behind them, blocking out the freezing February air.

The rear doors open and feet pop out of both sides. Christina’s sister Maggie and Maggie’s husband Tom slide out, step away from the limo, and reflexively wander into the huge underground garage space. Tom says what they’re both thinking.

“Sheesh, this garage is bigger than our house.”

“No it’s not!” I guess they weren’t both thinking that.

“Well, it’s bigger than our garage.” This is a decidedly less impressive thing to say about a garage, but it was still true.

The next garage door began to slide up. If Tom and Maggie weren’t already in awe of the house, seeing (and hearing) how silently the doors moved sealed the deal. Have you ever opened your garage door and not been horrified at the sound it made? Foley artists record garage doors opening and closing and then use those sounds whenever they have a movie where the gates of hell are opened and they need to portray the screams of the damned.

A second limo pulled into the garage and then a third in the next stall. Jake slid out of one, and Chris’s parents the other. While they all greeted each other and expressed their common confusion, their chauffeurs unloaded luggage from the trunks onto a rolling rack near the door and then backed the cars out of the garage, leaving room for the next fleet. (If my math is right, six more cars are expected to arrive in the next hour.)

Chris appeared at the end of the garage wearing jeans, a t-shirt with an Internet company logo on it, and three pairs of crocheted slippers stretched over each other, making his feet look like they’d swollen to twice their size. “Well don’t just stand there, come on in!” He grabbed the luggage rack and rolled it behind him as he padded through the interior door, leaving it open for everyone to follow. “Hurry up, there’s another car coming up the driveway and we don’t want to let the cold air in when the garage door opens.” Not having been raised in a barn and thus knowing the value of shutting the door when it is cold outside and warm inside, they obediently followed and closed the door behind them.

Before anyone even started taking their coats off, Maggie called out to Chris: “So what is going on? That letter you sent us didn’t exactly have much information in it.”

“You’re right, it didn’t! Aren’t surprises fun?” Chris feigned overexcitement, because even though he likes to give surprises, he has found that people rarely enjoy the buildup in the same way he does. They’re always like “Tell me what you’re doing” and “Why am I wearing this blindfold” and “It’s cold out here, give me my shoes back.”

“Fun for you maybe. You didn’t have to sit in a car for four hours!”

Chris put a hand on Maggie’s shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “You poor thing. You must be exhausted from being chauffeured in a limousine through gently falling snow to this amazing lakeside cabin.” Chris’s facial expression indicated that he was being sarcastic, as did his words. “When everyone gets here, all will be revealed and the real fun will start!” Not to say that he wasn’t already having real fun, but it would be much more fun when he could let everyone in on the news.

He turned around and further surprised his parents by embracing them. “Mom, Dad, good to see you!” Chris was not known to be a hugger. “Glad you were able to make it.”

Jake was next in line for some interaction, but he initiated it. “What’s the Wi-Fi password?” He had his phone out in the universal “I need the Wi-Fi password so that I can get online and reconnect with the people that I actually want to talk to” stance. Chris totally understood.

“It’s ‘I knew Jake would ask first’, all lowercase, no spaces.” For these brothers, sharing the Wi-Fi password was as good as a hug, but probably better, because you can’t use a hug to post to Twitter.

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