Each of my siblings and I have something we like to do together the most. For my oldest brother and I, it’s video games. Old school video games from the Sega Genesis or N64, I mean.

For my youngest brother and I, it’s board games. We have board game marathons the way other people have Netflix marathons. It’s the same game, over and over: either Sequence or Marbles.

And for Amber and I, it’s puzzles. We have puzzle races. Jigsaw puzzle races.

She always wins, but I never give up. She has the advantage, I always told myself, because her puzzle is easier. I got close a few times, maybe even won once or twice, but consistently, she wins. So what I did was I hunted down her exact puzzle on eBay. There was only one and it happened to be in Fremont, NE: the town next to mine. The seller dropped it off on my doorstep without charging me shipping. This puzzle was brand new, in a sealed box, even though it’s over twenty years old. I hit the jackpot.

So I started practicing. I am intense. I clear my schedule: the boys must be asleep so there are no distractions. Bring in some feel good music to pump me up. Turn on the fan, cause it’s gonna get hot. Maybe wine, if I’m feeling cocky. Definitely water, because this is equivalent to athletics. And then, I start the timer and go. I separate pieces into piles and once the piles are large enough, I start piecing together each section. Soon, I can connect them. Then, I do the boring outside areas. Lastly, I fill in the holes as I turn over the pieces that were ignored before. And then, it is finished. 500 pieces.

I keep record of my times, watch myself improve or backslide. If you don’t keep at it, you lose it, just like anything else.

I got the puzzle in December of 2014, planning to win against Amber at Christmastime when I saw her next. But for some reason, we never raced. I guess Christmas festivities got in the way. It’s fine though, because seeing my times, I never would have beat her.

So then, I started practicing for when I would see her next: in May, in Hawaii. I got pretty damn good, too. I even got sub-forty twice, which is our lingo for “fucking awesome.” 45 minutes or less is pretty good. Under forty minutes is phenomenal. But then, in Hawaii, one of us forgot our puzzle. It was a real shame, because I think I might have won.

So then I didn’t practice again until right before I would see her again, at Thanksgiving. And for some reason, there, we didn’t race either. We just did other, irrelevant puzzles.

So finally, this August, we raced. I was unprepared. I hadn’t practiced in nearly six months. I was rusty. When she pulled out her puzzle and brought it to the table, I smiled and retrieved my own identical one. She looked at it, then looked at me. “I got it on eBay,” I said, proud. An oh shit look crossed her face, or maybe I just imagined it. We started the timer and we were off, all adrenaline.

She won, but not by an insurmountable amount. So what we did, was that same night, after re-hydrating, we raced again. And the second time, I won. I fucking won. Sub-forty, even. I was on top of the world, on cloud nine.

We raced a few more times, but I never beat her again. Then, she had to go about her other responsibilities, life and family and all of that while here in town. Right before she left, she texted me:

And now I have under three months to get my times down. Amber claims she will be sub-35 at Christmas, which is unheard of. I must beat her. I have a taste of victory, but now I want the puzzle belt.

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