That winter, Mom and Walter took us to Tahoe for a day of snowboarding. We loaded up the Soccer Mom Express the night before, laid our snow gear out on the floor, Denny and Luke did lunges around the living room to get the quads ready. Walter waxed all the boards and got us up while it was still dark, Alexis and I climbed in the back seats with our pillows and throw blankets, Denny and Luke took the pilot seats in front of us. We were all back asleep before Walter hit the freeway.
At one point, we heard a loud crack and snapped awake. The back window of the Odyssey shattered, with what we thought must have been a gunshot, and glass flew over Alexis and I, flew all the way up onto the dashboard. Mom screamed; if Walter had been anyone else in the world he would have steered us right off the road. But he kept us straight and steady on that windy mountain pass, Denny and Luke covered their ears, and Alexis threw her arms up and over me, pinned me to the seat, arms spreading over me like a snow angel, covering my head with hers. Her breath was hot against my skull, through my matted hair. Mom wheeled around and called back to us and asked if we were all okay, we each answered her at once, Yes, fine, then she unbuckled her seat belt and climbed in back with us. She looked at us each individually, hands brushing softly against our cheeks, said our names fast. Luke? Fine. Denny? Fine. Jamie? Fine. Lex? Fine.
It wasn’t until Walter pulled over and Mom helped Alexis and I pick the glass shards out of our hair that I saw how hard Alexis had been crying. She had faint scratches on her neck, on the backs of her arms, and on one cheek. She was hardly bleeding, but she was breathing in short, loud gasps, and her cries sounded like she was choking. Mom tried to hug her but she shook her off and said she didn’t want to be touched. Then she came over to me and dropped her forehead on my shoulder, let her arms hang limp at her sides, and cried. I raised my hands and smoothed them over her hair, she sobbed until I could feel her tears dripping down my back.
Later, when we took the Odyssey to the Honda dealer to replace the window, they explained that we had a defective window to begin with, and the drop in temperature caused it to splinter. The boys teased Alexis for crying, and gave up the search for the bullet that we had been so sure was somewhere in the car. I wanted to laugh with them, Like anyone would really shoot at a minivan, but I couldn’t, because I had been scared, really scared, and hadn’t even realized that Alexis threw herself over me until it was all over. And then we found out it wasn’t a bullet and the boys laughed and I forgot all about it. Until years later, once my senses did finally come to me, and I realized what it had all meant, that she had tried to protect me, that her split-second, natural reaction was to throw her body over mine and offer herself up for scratches, I called her up in the middle of the night blubbering so hard she thought I was drunk.
“Tahoe,” I explained, “Remember? When the parents took us. And the window broke?”
“Yeah… Jamie… what’s wrong?”
“I just wanted to thank you.”
“What? For what?”
“For what you did.”
“What are you talking about? Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I mean for what you did. When the window broke. I didn’t get it then. But I just wanted to thank you.”
She was silent for a while and I asked if she was still there.
“I’m here,” she said, “Sorry. I was just remembering.”
Then she started laughing and said I was crazy and that it was over ten years ago and neither of us were thinking and I said That’s the point, that’s the point! And she sighed and said not to read too much into it. Then I laughed with her and she asked if they ever found the bullet and I said yes, thinking she was joking, but then she said Really? Where? and I asked her if she was serious and she asked what I meant, then I told her there was never a bullet, that the window broke because it got too cold too fast.
“Really?” she said.
“You’re not messing with me?”
“No. Swear to God.” I shook my head and Drew rolled over in his sleep, clamped a pillow over his ear. I kissed his knuckle and lowered my voice to a whisper.
“Because all these years, I could have sworn it was a bullet.”