“Hey, what’s up, my lovelies, it’s me, Juliet, coming at you from the buh-lizzard in NYC. Not gonna lie, guys, I’m super scared I’m gonna get stuck and freeze to death. I put on all my heaviest winter clothes, like, no joke, I look like a freaking yeti with my parka and sweaters and all, but what if the car breaks down, or they close the road? The snow’s coming down so hard, and traffic is insane. I mean, it hasn’t moved in for-ev-er, look at this--.” Juliet switched to her phone’s main camera and quickly panned the rear ends of the snow-dusted cars ahead, then flipped it back to the front-facing camera.
“If you can stay at home, do, because this is nuts and I want all you beautiful people safe and sound at home with your wifi and warm jammies. I wouldn’t be out here, but it’s my sweet nana’s 90th birthday and I would not miss that for the world. Love her so much.”
Juliet ignored a light snort from next to her. “Anyway, love you guys, stay safe and pray for me!” She blew a mittened kiss at the screen, then ended the live video feed before rounding on her brother.
“You couldn’t be quiet for just two minutes?! I’m trying to do a video here.”
Josh flexed his fingers defensively on the steering wheel. “Sorry, I just thought that was funny about Nana. Didn’t mean to ruin your big, important journalistic break.”
Juliet checked her eyeliner in the visor mirror, lightly dabbing at the corner of each eye. “I’m trying to get sponsors, thank you very much, which means I need all the followers I can get. You don’t get those by sounding like a heartless bitch.” She twisted one of the curls coming from under her chunky-knit beanie until the hair lay in a perfect coil, then she touched up her lip tint.
“Then I guess it’s a good thing your followers don’t know the truth. Also, you look like a sherpa, not a yeti. A yeti is like Bigfoot, only white.”
“Whatever. Hey, wait here,” she said, undoing her seatbelt. “I wanna get a coffee.”
“No way! We’re late as it is. Traffic should start moving any minute, and I don’t wanna lose our place init. There’s nowhere to park.”
“Hello, we are parked. We haven’t moved in, like, half an hour. I’ll be quick. Please, they have the cutest to-go cups, and I didn’t have time for breakfast. I’m starving.”
“Not my fault. I did bring some snacks in case we got hungry.” Josh jerked a thumb over his shoulder to gesture at a duffel travel bag. “They’re in the side pouch. There’s bottled water, too.”
Juliet twisted around to rifle through the contents. Jerky, granola bars, fruit leather... “What are we, camping? Gross.”
“I thought it wise to be prepared; we very well could be camping if this snow gets worse. At this rate it’ll take hours just to get out of the city, and who knows what the freeway will be like.” Despite this, Josh still had the engine running, his eyes on the car in front of him, and his hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Juliet was putting her very real pout to good use and snapping several photos of herself looking out the window, seemingly deep in thought. The sight of it irritated Josh even more than the blizzard did. “You know, it wasn’t like this an hour ago. If you’d been ready when I asked you to be, we could have avoided this.”
“Dude, you wanted to leave at, like, 5 o’clock in the morning! That’s before the sun! There’s no way I could have been ready. This takes time,” she said, pointing a polished nail at her heavily made face. Then she swiped back and forth between the shots she’d just taken. “Ugh, I can’t decide. Which one do you like?” She thrust the screen in front of Josh’s face. “This one?” She gave him half a second to glance at it before she swiped to the next. “Or this one?”
“They look the same to me.”
“Are you blind? They’re so different. Nevermind, you can see the dirty street snow in both. So gross.” She began retaking the photos.
Josh shook his head and reached for the radio controls, switching them to AM and turning up the volume.
Juliet groaned. “Please tell me you’re not gonna make me listen to talk radio.”
“I’m trying to find a road report.”
“You know there’s an app for that, right?”
“I’m sure there is,” Josh shot back, “but in this state it’s illegal to look at your phone while you’re driving.”
“Look around. Do you see anyone here driving?”
Josh was silent at that. The radio station had no word on when traffic would improve, so he finally turned the engine off. The chill immediately crept in. With no more radio, the only sounds were the whistle of the wind at the door seals and the dull tap of Juliet’s fingernails on her phone screen as she took more videos and pictures. The windows had fogged up, and she began drawing letters and then a heart around them, her finger squeaking as it streaked across the glass.
“Are those your own initials?”
“You’re so vain.”
“It’s not vain to love yourself. You should try it.”
“You gonna be the one to clean that up? It leaves a residue, you know.”
“Who’s gonna see it? You gonna take some girl out in this dad-mobile?”
“I might. I have before.”
That elicited a derisive snort. “And did you get a second date?”
“At least I have a car, unlike someone,” Josh dodged. “I’m being nice and responsible and taking your stupid ass to the party in this dad-mobile.”
Juliet rolled her eyes. “Please. Mom made you. If you had said you were busy, like you were supposed to, we both could’ve gotten out of going to this stupid party. We could be bundled up in blankets at home, watching baking shows on Netflix and drinking cocoa with peppermint schnapps, instead of hanging out with a bunch of wrinkly old biddies who will probably call me ‘Julie’ or ‘Julia’ all afternoon or make wisecracks about “So, Juliet, have you found your Romeo?” and I’ll have to laugh like it’s the first time I’ve heard it instead of the millionth. Not to mention we gotta pretend we just love Nana so much.” She beamed a plastic smile that made her look a little crazy.
“Show a little respect, okay? Nana’s ninety. She’s the reason we’re even alive.”
“So, I’ve got her to blame, then,” Juliet muttered.
“Nothing. Since when do you care so much about Nana? You’ve never liked her.”
“I like Nana.” Juliet arched an incredulous eyebrow that Josh didn’t have to see in order to feel. “Well, maybe like is a strong word. I respect her.”
“Why? Because she’s old? Whoopee!”
He changed tack. “It means a lot to Mom to have us there.”
“Please. Mom just wants to use us to compete with Aunt Sharon and talk about how much prettier and more successful we are than her kids.”
Josh arched an eyebrow of his own and fluttered his eyelashes at Juliet. “Awww, you think I’m pretty?”
She punched him in the arm but allowed a pinched smile. “Pretty annoying.”
“Careful. Wouldn’t want you to break one of those talons on me.”
Juliet laughed mirthlessly, then cringed. “Speaking of Nana…” She gave her brother a significant look.
Josh took a moment to process. “Oh, you mean when she broke her finger spanking you? And then Mom was mad at us for ‘provoking her.’” He gave a rueful laugh. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“I haven’t. You wouldn’t either if you’d gotten spanked, too. You’re lucky I saved you by injuring her with my big butt.” They both laughed.
“She really was terrible, wasn’t she?”
“Do you mean Nana, or Mom?”
Josh leaned his seat back, then folded his arms, burrowing down in his jacket. “Sometimes both, I s’pose.” The wind sent an eddy of swirling snow across the hood of the car; it skittered across the solid layer that had already accumulated. Even the brown-gray slush that lined the curb was now marbled with fresh white.
“Do you ever wonder if our childhood was any worse than anyone else’s?”
He looked at her thoughtfully before answering. “I dunno, I guess it could’ve been worse. Apart from Nana’s foul temper, we were physically safe. Fed. Clothed.”
“Yeah, but, like, psychologically?”
“Now, that I can’t say.” Josh’s humor fizzled as his mind drifted back. “Remember when that neighbor dog tore up Nana’s flower beds, and she accused us?”
“Gah, yes, she was so pissed. You’d’ve thought she did all that work herself, instead of the gardener.”
“You know she refused to pay for my lacrosse fees that year because of it?”
Juliet’s face became indignant. “No! That’s why you didn’t play? But you were so good.”
Josh waved away the compliment and the sympathy. “Sounds like such a first-world problem, I know--wah, wah, it was one year--but it was senior year and Coach Jarrell thought I had a shot at a scholarship. Who knows, I might’ve gotten a degree, even if it was just at a community college.”
They looked at each other after she said it, Josh frowning halfhearted disapproval that was being overtaken by amusement, and Juliet looking abashed but unrepentant. They turned their eyes back to the windshield and watched the snow come down for a few minutes. Juliet pulled up a radio station on her phone and let it drone its litany of closed roads and schools between classic rock songs. The cars had become increasingly difficult to distinguish from each other, creating an illusion of oneness that was soon belied by flashes of brake lights and gushes of exhaust.
“I think traffic’s starting to move,” Juliet said, pointing toward the stirring ahead. A flagger appeared and was waving drivers forward, his orange flag barely visible but insistent.
“Finally.” Josh started the car up. Through the downpour of snow, he could see a parked car to his right signalling its intention to merge. After a brief hesitation, he flashed his headlights and allowed the car in ahead of him.
“That was decent of you.”
“So’s this. I think.” He pulled into the spot vacated by the merging car, put his car in park, and shut off the engine once again.
“What are you doing?”
He rotated toward her, safety belt still fastened. “Tell you what. I’ll call Mom and tell her we can’t make it, the blizzard’s trapped us. Then I’ll buy you one of those coffees with the cute to-go cups at this dumb café.”
“You know she’ll blame me for it.”
“Do you care?”
Juliet eyed him suspiciously. “What’s the catch?”
Josh smirked and pointed his car key at her. “The catch is you can’t take any pictures or post about it. Otherwise, Mom and Nana might find out, and we’ll both be in deep sludge.”
Juliet appeared to mull it over, but her huge grin gave her away. “Deal, but only if you buy me breakfast, too. I really am starving, and I gotta maintain my winter layer.”