“Okay, what about wolves?”
Seth glances around with suddenly sober eyes. “We had wolves last summer.”
“There aren’t any here now,” Zack assures him.
“Are you really afraid of animals?” Seth asks.
“Nah, I just wanted to know if there were any.”
“Good.” Seth tosses a ball of snow in the air and sputters when it falls into his face.
“That was smart.” I laugh. “What goes up must come down.”
Thor lies next to Seth, tongue hanging out as he pants happily.
“It’s so quiet out here,” I comment and watch my breath come in feathery puffs. The earth is still around us. Every once in a while, a patch of snow will fall off a tree branch, but aside from our breathing, that’s the only sound.
“So this is turning to naptime in the pasture?” Zack asks. “I thought we were going to ride snowmobiles.”
“Let’s go!” Seth jumps up and tightens the strap on his helmet before sitting on his vehicle.
“I want to drive.” I bat my eyes up at Zack. “Please.”
“Have you driven one of these before?”
“Of course,” I scoff. “You can sit behind me and hold on tight.”
Seth starts his engine and Zack leans in to speak directly into my ear. “I know how I’d like to hold on to you, sugar.”
“Stop.” I giggle and glance over at Seth, who is happily driving in circles and calling out to his dog.
“He’s not paying us any attention,” Zack replies with a smile. “And I kind of like that blush on your cheeks.”
I shake my head and climb on, start the engine, and motion for Zack to climb on behind me.
“I’m ready,” he says with a smile in his voice.
“Hold on!” I call over my shoulder and then set off across the pasture. Seth whoops and follows. We drive past an old, huge tree, circle around, and head back the way we came. Poor Thor is getting tired, so Seth and Zack switch places. Seth holds on to me and Zack pulls the dog up on the seat in front of him, caging him with his arms, and we all ride back to the garage.
“That was awesome!” Seth exclaims as he hops off. “You drive pretty good for a girl.”
I pull my helmet off and shake my hair out, laughing. “Gee, thanks. I think. You drive pretty well for a little kid.”
“I’m not little,” he disagrees and stands next to me when I climb off the seat. “See? I’m as tall as you.”
“You are getting tall. You’re going to be as tall as your dad and your uncle.” I push my fingers through his dark hair and smile at him. “And just as handsome.”
“Dad’s not handsome.” Seth winces and sticks his tongue out. “He’s the ugliest ever.”
“And now you’re grounded for a year, brat.” Zack chimes in.
Seth laughs and pats his dog on the head. “No I’m not.”
“Admit it. I’m good-lookin’.”
“You’re gross!” Seth laughs and runs out of the garage toward the house.
“Did you have fun?” Zack cups my face in his hands and lowers his head to kiss me lightly.
“I had a great time.”
“Stay for dinner.”
“I should go home before it freezes up again and I’m stuck out here.”
Zack sighs and drags his thumb over my bottom lip, sending shivers down my spine. “We’ll eat early. I promise.”
“Well, twist my arm.” He smiles and pulls me out of the garage, locking up behind us, and leads me back to the house. Seth and Thor are already settled in the living room. Seth has stripped out of his wet gear and is sitting on the floor, controller in hand, playing a video game. Thor is curled up snoring before the fire.
“Jill! Come play with me.”
“Do you need help with dinner?” I ask Zack, but he’s already shaking his head no. “Go play. I’m just going to put on a pot of chili and mix up some corn bread. Nothing fancy.”
“Just call me if you need me.”
“Will do.” He kisses my forehead and then leaves me alone with his son.
“What are we playing today?”
“LEGO Batman,” Seth replies and passes me a controller.
“No racing today?”
“We can race if you wanna.” He shrugs, like it doesn’t matter at all to him.
“No, this is fine. I’ll watch you first and be player two.”
We scoot onto our bellies and Seth teaches me how to maneuver around the LEGO world of Gotham City.
“Ha!” I exclaim and offer my fist for a bump. “This game rocks.”
“You’re good,” Seth admits with admiration. “You’re a fast learner.”
“Are you guys having fun?”
I glance back over my shoulder to find Zack leaning against the back of the couch.
“How long have you been there?” I ask.
“Long enough to see you kick my son’s butt at this game.”
“She did not! I let her win.”
“I creamed you, squirt.” I laugh evilly, climb to my feet, and stretch my arms up over my head.
“Rematch!” Seth declares.
“Dinner’s ready,” Zack says and shakes his head.
“Rematch after dinner!”
“I have to drive back to town. I don’t want to get stuck out here again.”
“It’s cool out here.” Seth wanders into the kitchen to scout out dinner, leaving Zack and me alone. Thor wakes and trots after his boy, not ready to let him out of his sight yet.
“Yeah, it’s cool out here,” Zack whispers and kisses my cheek.
“You know I can’t stay.”
He sighs and nods, takes my hand in his, kisses my knuckles, and then leads me into the kitchen.
“Smells great, Dad.”
Seth and Zack set the table and move easily about the kitchen together, clearly used to their own special rhythm. I can picture them like this every night at dinnertime, and a part of me yearns to be a part of it every day.
And that’s just silly.
“What did you and your friend do this weekend, Seth?” I ask as he sits at the table and Zack sets a pot of steaming chili on a cast-iron trivet and then sits next to me.
“Mostly annoyed his older brother.” Seth shrugs and then grins. “He’s sixteen and has a girlfriend. So we stole his cell phone and made prank calls to her.”