We are hiding in the blanket fort that Rivi has built in her living room, a semi-permanent and elaborate construction, stretching from chair to chair and bookshelf to bookshelf, nestled in the corner near the door to her bedroom. Christmas lights dangle from binder clips at the top of the fort, and a small Bluetooth speaker rests on the top of a tiny table at the back of the area, softly playing a shuffled playlist of Rivi’s favorite songs. The winter chill is thick in the air, and we are bundled in a collection of Rivi’s blankets, staying warm as best as we can.
“I slept in the tub last night,” Rivi says.
“Don’t do that,” I say. “You’ll drown.”
“There wasn’t any water in it. I just climbed in and used a towel for a blanket.”
“I don’t know if that’s the healthiest thing I’ve heard you say today.”
She wraps her blanket tighter around her. “I don’t think I’m in the healthiest place I’ve ever been, really.”
“Listen,” I say. “I’ve known you a long time. I’ve seen you at the top of your game, and I’ve seen you missing every shot you take.”
I tap my foot against hers. “And I think you should come stay with me and Hunter for a bit.”
She snorts. “So you’re saying that I’m missing every shot.”
“Not all the shots,” I say.
“More than half, though.”
“How much more than half?”
“Two-thirds,” I say. “Give or take.”
She reaches her hand up and flicks one of the Christmas lights with her finger. “The only shots I’m good at are the ones that have whiskey in them.”
“Not just that,” I say. “I’ve been with you when you get vaccinations. You’re pretty good at those shots.”
“Laser Tag,” she says. “I’m a sniper on fire with infrared pistols.”
I tap her foot again. “So look. Until you’re only missing half your shots again, you’re staying with us.”
“I don’t need to do that,” she says. “Look! I have a tent! I have a bathtub! My hierarchy of needs is taken care of.”
“Truly, you are a paragon of self-sufficiency.”
“I am. There is no doubt.”
“But you’re still coming to live with us for a while.”
“Says you,” she says.
I nod. “Says me.”
“It’s love,” I say.
“It’s my superpower.”
Rivi sighs. “Fine. Maddening, but fine.”
“I don’t want to say that I appreciate you,” Rivi says, “so I’m not going to.”
“I would never make you do anything that you don’t want to do.”
“Except come live with you guys.”
“Except that,” I say.
She flicks the Christmas light again. “How many shots do I need to start making before you’ll quit trying to take care of me?”
“Let’s say about half. Half the shots, then you’re free to move about the cabin.”
She growls. “You’re a real pest, you know?”
“I know,” I say.
“I love you, though.”
“I know that, too.”
“So irritating,” Rivi says. She pulls the blanket up and over her head, disappearing into her nest, and lays down under the constellation of Christmas lights.
This winter is a decade long, and continues to gnaw at us.