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If the Fates Allow: A Short Story
Author:Rainbow Rowell

If the Fates Allow: A Short Story

Rainbow Rowell

Christmas 2020

Reagan was carrying too much.

Her overnight bag and groceries, plus a glass pan of Jell-O salad—too much Jell-O salad—because she didn’t have a smaller glass dish, and Grandma had always made it in a glass dish, so you could see all the colors.

Reagan was carrying too much, and the driveway was slick as fuck. There was snow on the ground, and her grandpa hadn’t salted the driveway or shoveled his walk. She couldn’t really blame him—he never went anywhere. Her parents dropped off his groceries once a week.

She walked extra slow, taking small steps.

“Hey there!” a man called.

Reagan looked up, and her foot hit a patch of ice. She went down quick, landing on one knee—and then on her hip, and then on the groceries, twisting the whole time to keep the glass pan in the air. “Fuck.”

“Holy shit!” the same voice swore. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine!” Reagan shouted from the ground.

“Don’t move!” Whoever it was was getting closer.

“You don’t move—are you wearing a mask?”

“Oh . . . no.”

“Then stay where you are!” Reagan set the Jell-O salad on the ground. “I’m fine!”

She pushed up onto her knees. She could see him now, the neighbors’ son—the quiet one with no chin. Standing about ten feet away from her. He had his arms out like he was still about to help her up.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

“No.” She was a little hurt. Her knee felt scraped, and her hip was already throbbing. She lifted herself up onto her feet— Then hit another patch of ice. The guy darted toward her. She caught her balance and pointed at him. “No!”

He stopped, his hands still up. She could see his breath.

“I swear to God, Mason”—Reagan didn’t even remember that she remembered his name—“I have been quarantining for two weeks, and I am not giving my grandpa Covid because you can’t listen.”

“Okay,” he said. Then he pulled his scarf up over his face—and Reagan thought at first that he was trying to hide his nonexistent chin. But then she realized he was trying not to blow germs at her. “Just be careful,” he said.

“I was being careful before you tripped me!”

“Before I tripped you?”

“You yelled at me!”

“I was saying hello so that I didn’t startle you.”

“Well, good work!”

“Reagan?” someone new shouted. “Are you okay?”

She looked up. Her grandpa was standing at the front door.

“I’m fine, Grandpa!”

“Did you fall?”

“No, I’m fine!”

“Let me get my coat.”

“No, Grandpa—stay!”

“Don’t come out, Al—it’s slick!”

“Is that you, Mason?”

“Yeah, don’t come out—I’ll help her.”

“Don’t you dare,” Reagan hissed.

“Just go,” Mason said. “Walk in the snow. It’s safer.”

He was right. She inched over to the snow, then stepped into it—even though she was wearing ankle boots, and the snow immediately fell over the tops. She got to the porch and up to the door—her grandpa was just coming back with his coat half on. Reagan hurried past him into the house and closed the door behind her.

And then there they were, she and her grandpa, standing not a foot apart. His coat was still hanging from one shoulder, and Reagan had tracked snow onto the carpet, and all she could think about in that moment was the air between them—the constant flow of droplets and microparticles. Her grandpa looked thinner than she remembered. Older than he’d looked just a few months ago. Like she could knock him over by breathing too hard.

This is okay. She’d taken every precaution. Reagan had been careful, anyway, for months—and then she’d practically sealed her little house off for two weeks so she could be here. She hadn’t even opened her mail.

She was as clean as she could be; she wasn’t going to hurt him.

“Hi, Grandpa,” she said. And then she dropped her bags and stepped forward to give him a hug. It took him a second to catch up. Reagan didn’t blame him; she hadn’t hugged anyone in months, and neither of them had ever been huggers anyway. Grandma was the hugger. Grandma was the one who made you go find your grandpa and give him a hug. Reagan and her grandfather had probably never hugged before except under orders.

Reagan was the wrong choice for this.

If you could only spend Christmas with one person, no one in her family would pick her. (No one in the world would pick her.) Reagan was the person you called when you wanted someone to talk you into leaving your husband. Or when you needed someone to call the bank to straighten out your overdraft fees.

Her niece called Reagan when she needed help getting birth control. And Reagan’s mom called when she wanted someone to go to the Ford dealership with her dad, so they didn’t end up paying too much for a truck.

No one called Reagan for comfort.

No one called Reagan to offer any.

No one ever said, “I’m lonely, could you come by?”—and no one ever came by.

Even before this bullshit.

Her grandpa felt more solid in her arms than he looked. He was a big guy once, and those bones were still there. “Thought maybe my hugging days were over,” he said.

Reagan laughed and pulled away. “Me, too. It smells good in here.”

“You thought I couldn’t make a turkey?”

“No, I believed in you.”

“I didn’t bother with the potatoes.”

“I brought potatoes,” she said. “I told you I would.”

“Well, all right . . .” He seemed awkward. Standing there in his own living room. Everything looked the same as it had when her grandma was alive. Either he kept the place pretty clean, or he’d cleaned up because Reagan was coming over.

“Well, all right,” she said. “Let’s get them started.”

Grandpa turned toward the kitchen. Then the doorbell rang, and he turned back. Reagan caught his arm. “Don’t answer that,” she scolded. “You don’t answer the door, do you?”

“Well, I look to see who it is. I get a lot of deliveries.”

“I’ll check. There’s no reason for you to be answering the door right now. Nobody needs you.”

She looked out the window. She didn’t see anyone. Who was making deliveries on Christmas Day? Fucking Amazon Prime.

Reagan opened the door. The Jell-O salad was sitting on the welcome mat.

She picked it up, then went inside and wiped the glass down with a Clorox wipe.

Her mom texted while Reagan was peeling potatoes.

I’ve been thinking and I just think it would be okay if you brought Grandpa over for dinner.

You always think it would be okay, Reagan texted back.

Well it has been so far!

Her older sister, Caitlin, was on the thread, too.

I mean, Caitlin texted, Mom’s right. We haven’t seen each other in nine months, and none of us have had Covid. So that’s nine months we could have seen each other.