John pulls his glove off and dials home with his thumb. Dee grips the receiver and holds it tight to her ear, her heart beating loudly and her jaw set.
"Relax," John says, touching the end of her nose with his bare finger. "It'll be fine."
Claire answers the phone. "Pikes!" she shouts excitedly.
"Claire, honey," Dee pleads, "remember how I taught you to answer the phone?"
"Hi, Mommy!" Claire squeals, barrelling on before Dee can offer instructions. "It's snowing!"
Dee listens helplessly as Claire explains her experiences with Kindergarten, sloppy joes, and the Abominable Snowman.
"There's no such thing as the Abominable Snowman," Dee says sternly.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees John grin. He turns away, trying to fight a more serious look back onto his face.
"Honey," Dee says, interrupting another question that Claire starts to ask, "could you put Mallory on for me, please?"
"Yup," Claire says. There's a rustle on the line, and then Claire's voice, bossy and knowing: "Mommy wants to talk to you."
Mallory is almost too serious as Dee explains the situation.
"Mm-hm," she keeps saying. "Mm-hm."
"Really, there's no need to worry," Dee says, hoping she sounds much calmer than she feels. "Your dad and I will be back as soon as we can catch a train tomorrow."
John squeezes her hand.
A loud whisper comes through the phone over Mallory's next Mm-hm. "What's Mom saying?"
"Don't forget," Dee reasons, "you wouldn't have seen us tonight anyway. The train gets in way too late. You'll just have to organise things for a couple of hours in the morning..."
"Mm-hm," Mallory says again.
Dee looks up at John helplessly. "Maybe I should explain this to Mary Anne as well," she says, hoping Mary Anne will ease Mallory's tension a little.
"Mm-hm," Mallory says. "Okay, hang on a sec." There's another rustle on the phone, and Dee hears Mallory's far-off voice. "Mary Anne, she wants to talk to you."
Her heart can't help but sink at the lack of a proper goodbye.
"Hi, Mrs. Pike." Mary Anne sounds more relaxed than Mallory does.
Dee chalks it up to Mallory being a little melodramatic, rather than truly anxious. She feels herself starting to relax. "Hi, Mary Anne," she says.
John drops another coin into the phone.
"Listen, it's snowing in New York, too, and the trains have stopped running. We're not going to be able to get home tonight."
Mary Anne's voice drops to a worried whisper. "Wow," she says. "Um, okay."
Dee hears her draw a breath.
"Well," she continues, "we'll be all right."
As Mary Anne's confidence grows, so does Dee's apprehension. "This is a big responsibility," she warns.
John catches her eye, and she can see his thoughts written all over his face: Don't freak 'em out, Dee.
Mary Anne remains perfectly level-headed. "I know," she replies. "But like I said, my dad's at home. And Mrs. Barrett. And Mrs. McGill."
Dee breaths a silent sigh of relief. "Right," she agrees. She's suddenly overwhelmed with memories of trips to Sea City, Mary Anne calmly leading the Pikes through arguments and various vacation activities that lead to what John calls hyper-excitement.
"Listen," she continues, her voice calming, "will you tell Mallory and the others we'll see them tomorrow? Oh, and we're staying with the Sombergs. We gave you their number before we left. Call if you need to. Otherwise we'll talk to you in the morning. I'll phone you when we know what our plans are."
"Okay," Mary Anne agrees.
Dee bites her lip, not wanting to cling to the phone in case it causes a feeling of anxiety at the other end, but suddenly too anxious herself to hang up. "Well," she says. "We'll see you tomorrow."
"Sure," Mary Anne answers. "Bye, Mrs. Pike."
The connection goes dead, and Dee hangs the receiver back on the hook. She gazes up at John miserably. "They're all alone," she says.
"They'll survive," he promises. "It's only for a few hours longer than we planned, Dee-Dee."
Dee's mood has lightened considerably by the time she and John make it back to the Sombergs' building. Her feet are wet, her hair is wet and her nose is running, but she's smiling and her cheeks are rosy with the cold.
The fingers of her right hand are freezing, because she took her glove off to clasp John's hand as they hurried through the falling snow. They're both clutching plastic bags stuffed with cheap nightclothes and toiletries.
"We should've stayed with the Wileys," John whispers in the elevator on the way up. "Don't you think Eric Somberg gives off kind of a cannibalistic feel?"
"John!" Dee nudges him. "Behave yourself."
"If this snow keeps falling, we could be in real trouble," he mutters into her ear.
Dee likes the Sombergs, but years of geographical distance between them has left her feeling awkward and strange about staying overnight with them. She and John turn in early.
The room they've been offered has two separate, narrow beds against opposite walls.
John sits on the one closest to the window. "I call first bedsies."
"There's no such thing as first bedsies." Dee throws her new, oversized pyjamas at him.
John bounces lightly on the mattress. "Do you think we'll be grounded if we push the beds together?"
"Shh," Dee whispers sternly. She grins at him and snatches a toothbrush out of the plastic bag on the floor. "Since you called first bedsies, I get to use the blue toothbrush."
John growls and makes to leap at her. She squeezes back into the corridor, smothering giggles behind her hand, and closes the bathroom door with a click.
Three seconds later, John follows her in and jockeys for position at the bathroom sink. He picks her up, wrapping his arms around her waist and setting her aside.
They brush their teeth side-by-side, mock glaring at each other in the tiny mirror.
John nudges her out of the way to spit into the drain, and Dee rolls her eyes at him.
"You're crazy," John says. "Look at you, you're foaming at the mouth."
Dee bends over the sink and laughs, toothpaste spilling over her chin.
Back in the bedroom, they change quickly in the cold air. Snow is still falling outside the window. Dee can see it through the gap in the curtains.
She ignores the second bed and crawls in beside John, squirming down beside him, her hands and feet lost in the pyjamas three sizes too big.
She rests her head against his chest and stares at the falling snow. "Do you think they're okay?" she asks after a moment.
John trails his fingers through her hair. "They're fine, honey."
"There's not much food in the house."
"We'll be back in time to save Nicky from being thrown into the crock-pot," John answers.
She smiles, but she still feels the weight of worry. "What if we can't get back tomorrow? What if it doesn't stop snowing?"
"We'll call Maureen and ask her to keep an eye on things."
Dee relaxes slightly. "I guess. Okay."
John kisses the top of her head and wraps his arms around her. "It'll be all right," he says.
She closes her eyes. John's pyjamas smell new and strange. "You're supposed to go to work at lunchtime tomorrow."
"I know," he answers. "I'll call them in the morning. I guess depending on what time we get back, I'll still have to go in." He rubs his thumb along the back of her neck.
"It's so quiet here," Dee mutters. She's accustomed to murmuring voices and bickering and hushed whispers at bedtime. Here she can't hear anything. The snow has hushed everything outside, and inside, everything is silent.
John opens his mouth, but Dee interrupts him.
"Don't you dare make a joke about heavy breathing and moaning," she warns.
He grins against her hair. "What do you take me for?"
She slips her hand between the buttons on his shirt and pinches him lightly. "I know exactly what you are."
Dee can't sleep, and John is more restless than usual. She can't see his face, but she knows he's awake.
"Do you think they're sleeping?" she whispers.
"No," John answers. He shifts beside her and hugs her again. "But they're fine, Dee. They'll be okay. Mal and Mary Anne know what to do. I'll bet Stacey McGill has gone over to camp out with them and eat all the junk food in the house."
"She's diabetic, she can't eat junk."
"Well, she's probably with Mal and Mary Anne anyway, watching as the triplets devour that tub of frosting."
Dee grins. "How do you know there's a tub of frosting?"
"I always know when there's frosting."
She yawns and slides her leg over his hip. "How early do you think the trains will start running tomorrow?"
"Not until mid-morning, I guess," John answers. He yawns against the top of Dee's head, his breath warm in her hair. "We'll go back to the station first thing, okay?"
"Okay." She closes her eyes and wills sleep to come.
She worries that Mallory has forgotten to lock the front door. She worries that Claire took all the Abominable Snowman talk seriously. She worries that the triplets are tormenting Nicky with the bizzer sign.
The snow keeps falling past outside, and the street is dead silent beneath it.
Dee wakes whenever John stirs beside her, which is often.
"Are you asleep?" he whispers.
The air is freezing, and light shows through the curtains, though it's not from the sun or the moon. It's eerie light from the street and the buildings, and everything looks grey and pink. A few small flakes of snow are still drifting down.
John curls his knees up, bumping against Dee. The bed creaks as he shifts. "I'm longer than this bed," he complains. "My feet keep finding the end of the blanket."
Dee closes her eyes again. "I wish I'd gone to the store before we left."
"Oh, Dee." John presses a kiss against her jaw. "They'll be all right. They won't starve."
"What if we can't get back tomorrow?" she asks worriedly. "What if we're stuck here for another night?"
"If we're stuck here for another night, we're finding a hotel," John mutters, kicking at the blankets again. "It's freezing in here." He grins and nuzzles her neck. "Give me a little body heat."
Dee tuts. "You're impossible."
John lifts his head and turns to look out the window. "What time do you think it is?"
"I don't know." She feels exhausted, but she's not suffering from the cold. John is between her and the frigid air seeping through the window, and her enormous pyjamas cover her hands and feet. John's arm is still under her shoulders and he's warm and close against her.
It's quiet, and they're alone, and under any other circumstance she'd be overjoyed with having some time like this with him. But worry eats at the corners of her mind and she can't stop thinking about what could go wrong back in Stoneybrook.
"Hey," John murmurs tiredly in her ear, "remember when Mal first joined the Baby-sitters Club?"
Dee smiles. "She was so excited."
"They put her through all those exams, remember?"
"And then she and Jessi tried to start their own club." Dee chews on the end of her thumb. "Jessi's probably at the house too, isn't she?"
"The whole club is probably there," John mutters. He grins against Dee's cheek. "We'll go back tomorrow and have to deal with the debris from a giant sleepover."
Dee relaxes a little. "You're probably right," she says. "Between them all, I guess it'll be okay."
John reaches over her to the bedside table, and tilts his watch toward the light from the window. "It's early," he groans. He burrows under the blankets, causing the bed to creak and groan.
"Shh," Dee scolds him. She kisses him. "Go to sleep."
"You go to sleep," he says, and it's in the same tone of voice the triplets use when they're being deliberately argumentative.
"I'm tired," she breathes, complaining and despairing at the same time. "I can't turn my mind off."
"Neither can I," John admits.
Dee slides her arms around him, keeping her eyes closed. "What are you worried about?"
"The train. The car. The roads."
"Eric serving pieces of me on a plate with soft-boiled eggs in the morning."
Dee snorts, but bites the noise back quickly. "Don't be ridiculous," she says. "You'd go better with scrambled."
John rolls over her, burying his face in the pillow and cupping his palm over Dee's mouth to smother the laughter they can't seem to stop.
Claire is out of breath when she answers the phone, and this time she doesn't bother with any sort of greeting at all. "The phone's working!" she shrieks.
Dee holds the receiver away from her ear for a moment. "Claire!" she pleads. "Remember, honey? When you answer the phone –"
"Mommy!" Claire shouts. "Hi!"
Dee can hear a far off, "Claire!" from Margo. "I wanted to answer!"
"Guess what?" Claire asks. "We had ice cream."
"Oh, yum," Dee says, smiling. "Is Mallory there, honey?"
"Uh-huh." The phone is dropped onto the kitchen counter with a clunk, and Claire's voice fades away. "Mallory-Mallory-bo-ballory, banana-fana-fo-fallory..."
Dee glances over to John, who is sitting beside Eric at the kitchen table. Eric is absorbed in his newspaper.
John catches Dee's eye and then tilts his head towards Eric's bowl of oatmeal, raising his eyebrows.
Dee turns away before he can see her smiling.
"Hi, honey," she says, relief overwhelming as she hears Mallory's voice. "How are you? Is everything okay?"
"Mm-hm," Mallory says.
Dee holds a hand to her forehead, immediately feeling her panic levels rise. "We're coming home as soon as we can."
"No, really, Mom," Mallory says. "Everything is fine. Mr. Spier came by last night to make sure we were all right after the phone lines went down."
"Oh, he did?" Dee asks, making a mental note to find a moment to thank Richard Spier. "And you found enough food for breakfast?"
"Logan came over on skis with a huge package of stuff," Mallory answers.
Dee makes another mental note to replace the groceries the Pike children ate out of the Bruno pantry.
"We're fine," Mallory promises. "Just kind of hungry. And tired, I guess."
Dee nods. "All right, well... We're not sure what time the trains are going to be running. We're going to have some breakfast and then head to the station to find out what's going on. If we're going to be any later than lunch time, I'll give you another call, all right?"
"Sure, Mom," Mallory answers. "We're fine though. Really. It was no big deal."
Dee smiles at Mallory's efforts to sound cool and grounded after what was probably a restless night. "That's great, honey," she says. "I knew I could trust you. Say thank you to Mary Anne for me. Tell her we're going to pay her for the extra hours she has to put in today. We'll see you later, all right?"
"Okay," Mallory answers. "See you later, Mom."
The train is packed tight. Dee's against the wall, John's body squashed against her. She feels dead on her feet. She can see her reflection in the train window. Her face is drawn and pale, bags highlighted under her eyes.
John looks pale as well. His hand is wrapped around Dee's.
"We should go to the store before we go home," Dee says suddenly. "If we show up without any food, the triplets will be serving you up for lunch."
"I can take them," John answers. "It was Eric I was worried about."
Dee rolls her eyes at her husband's ability to carry such a pathetic joke over two days.
"Are you sure you don't want to go home and check on everything first?" John asks.
"I do," Dee says, twisting in the narrow space she's been crammed into. "But Mallory assured me they had everything under control. Besides, I don't want to get home and then have to go out again later."
"You want your husband to do all the heavy lifting, don't you?" John asks, feigning annoyance. "Lifting all those grocery bags can put a man's back out, you know."
Dee stretches up on her toes to kiss him. "I'll make a cake for dessert tonight," she says. "Extra frosting, okay?"
John looks pleased. He squeezes her hand. "That tub we had at home has probably been eaten," he warns.
"I'll buy some more."
"Chocolate?" John requests.
"Vanilla," Dee argues.
John gazes out the window at the snow-covered landscape and sighs in resignation. He still has a grin on his face as he gives in. "Vanilla, okay."
Dee leans her head against his chest tiredly. "Next time we go away together," she says, "can we go somewhere warm?"
"The beach," John says longingly, stroking his thumb over the back of her hand.
Dee smiles, remembering how easy it was to sleep in narrow little beds with John in Sea City. "Last night wasn't so bad, John. I just didn't sleep because I was so worried."
Dee looks out at the landscape. The snow is deep, and everything looks oddly smooth and bulked. "Can you stay home for the rest of today?" she asks.
"You want me to miss a full two days' pay?" John asks in surprise.
"No," Dee admits. "But I want you to stay home and build a snowman with me in the yard."
John laughs and hugs her, leaning against her so she's completely trapped between him and the rocking wall of the train car. "I'll see what I can do," he says against her ear. "I'm too tired to drive through so much snow to Stamford today, anyway."
"We can build snowmen, then," Dee says tiredly. "And have hot chocolate."
"And listen to stories about the Abominable Snowman," John says, sounding rather wistful.
"And stories about midnight snacks of melting ice cream," Dee agrees.
John breathes a sigh against the top of her head. "Staying home sounds like a great idea," he says.