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It had been a tradition since before Suze married into the family, and this whole time she had kept her mouth shut, because who was she, really, to say anything about it? So she stood by, her face half-buried behind a scarf, watching the boys slide and slip down the thick coating of snow, whooping with laughter, clambering back up the hill and sometimes racing each other to the top because everything, she had noticed, everything was a competition. Nelson, the younger one, had almost choked on a piece of zucchini the evening before because he'd been trying to clear his plate faster than his brother. And once the commotion had settled down, he had gone right back to shoveling food into his mouth with even more fervor, as if what had just happened was already shed from his memory. She could hardly believe it.
As she stood out in the cold, Suze watched Nelson more closely than she watched the others, thinking that maybe if she did, nothing bad could happen. If she kept her eyes on him, it would be impossible for his sled to careen off its path and head straight into the maple tree that stood near the edge of the yard. It would be impossible for Nelson to slide down the hill with so much momentum that he would skid out into the street where the cars, though driving slowly, were not really driving that slowly. If it had been her son, she would have said something. Or if she hadn't started those fights at the previous family gathering, she would have said something. Yet she had promised. "Please, no scenes this year," her husband had begged of her, as they pulled into his parents' driveway. "Anything for you," Suze had replied, meaning it but not being able to look fully at him.
Now Nelson was waving to her from the bottom of the hill. Most of the family had gone back inside the house. It had to be her that Nelson was signaling to. She called out, "What's wrong? Are you okay?" feeling the panic reverberate in her voice. Then she realized that all he was doing was inviting her to join them. He feels sorry for me, Suze thought, calling out that she was just fine as she was. Yet saying it reminded her of how awful it was to be standing still in the cold. She rubbed her arms, blew hot air into the scarf and closed her eyes a moment at the pleasure of warmth, as slight as it was. When she reopened them, Nelson was almost back up at the top of the hill. Closer now, she could see the joy in his face. "Hey," he said. "Watch me, okay?" And before she could reply he took off, the snow flying out from behind him, and Suze kept her eyes on him, kept him straight and unwavering.