Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Brother's Favorite Game

“Girls only pretend to know anything about football.” My brother, Mark, complained to the gym junkie moonlighting as a bartender. If his nametag was accurate, his name was Kyle.

“That’s not true, I know quite a bit about football,” I countered, swirling the umbrella in my Shirley Temple.

“Oh you do?” Kyle winked at me. “Who’s your team?” he asked.

Mark cleared his throat while trying to hide his smirk. He’d set it up perfectly; it would be a slam dunk.

“Hmm.” I pretended to think for a moment, “Well, who’s your favorite team?” I asked with enthusiasm.

Shot glass in hand and a knowing smile on his face, Kyle leaned forward to say, “I’m a Bears fan.” He clearly expected me to mimic his answer.

 This was too easy.

“Oh, well, then the Packers are my team.” Leaning back and feigning innocence, I watched his face crunch up in confusion at the name of his prized team’s rivals.

It took him a moment, and whether he was just brighter than the other two bartenders who’d been victims of our bored little game or if it was the way Mark was giggling like a school girl, Kyle caught on quickly.

Mark and I had been playing this game since high school. It never got old.

“And if I said I liked the Cowboys?” Kyle squinted his eyes as he spoke.

“Redskins of course.” I shrugged.




“Trick question. That’s college.”

“You’re good.”

“I know.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Forgiveness of a Dying Man

I didn’t want to see him that day, even after I heard that the elevator motor fell on his head while he was at work. Especially after I knew how bad it was. Because I knew I’d feel something for him. How could I not? I’d have to be heartless not to feel sympathetic. But I really didn’t want to feel anything. It was the first job he’d kept for longer than a month and a half and he’d shown up drunk. Again. Besides the extensive head trauma, he also broke his collarbone and right shoulder. And there I was, still so full of hate.

 But when a wet cheeked and red eyed Dean came out of his brother’s hospital room and said “He asked to see you.” My stomach dropped and my face heated up with what I think was embarrassment. I don’t know why I was embarrassed, I just was. Like a spotlight was shining on me and everyone was watching. I pulled Ryan, Dean’s nephew, closer as he was drifting to sleep on my lap. His little fingers stroked the hair framing my face. He knew his father had been in an accident, but he didn’t know his father.

I wanted to say “Why in the Hell would he want to see me?”, but I could see the anguish in Dean’s eyes as he scooped Ryan off of my lap and cradled him in the crook of one arm. So I stood up and reluctantly entered Austen’s room. For everything he’d endured, he was surprisingly alert. I’d expect someone who’d had any part of an elevator crush their skull to be in a coma. But this was worse, I would imagine. Lying there, knowing your brain could be filling with blood or fluid, that you might be brain-dead in days, hours, seconds.

It reminded me of three years ago when Austen came by his parents’ house unexpectedly, strapped two-year-old Ryan in the back seat and disappeared with his current girlfriend riding shotgun. They surfaced three days later when Dean got a phone call about the car accident. Austen had been drunk and hit another vehicle. He and his girlfriend had walked away with a few bruises and cuts. We weren’t sure if Ryan was going to make it; he was so small, and he’d been thrown from the car. Austen had blamed his girlfriend. If she hadn’t liked kids, he’d have never come for Ryan. I believed that part of his mostly convoluted story.

 When Ryan was six months old, his mother met a Marine and moved away. Austen showed no interest in the baby. He left Ryan with his parents and a lot of the responsibility fell on Dean and subsequently on me. But for being twenty, we really didn’t mind. Sure, it took away some of our freedom, at times it felt like a burden. But what we got in return was so much more than the time we invested in dirty diapers, Disney movies and Dr. Seuss books. Ryan loves us, more than we probably ever deserved to be loved.

 And then Austen almost killed him.

 Ryan healed, over time. But my hatred of Austen didn’t waver. It might not be my place to care so much for Ryan. I’m not his mother. But when Austen walked out, leaving the responsibility on anyone who’d take it, he made it my place.

“Hey,” Austen said when I didn’t sit in the chair that was pulled up to his bedside. His voice was strained, but I remember thinking it was a miracle he could speak at all.

“Dean said you wanted to see me.” I said, my indifferent facade wavering like I knew it would. It’s easy to loathe someone when they’re away. But when they’re lying helpless in a hospital bed, with tubes and red stained bandages, and looking so much like someone you love, it’s hard to keep other emotions from creeping in.

“I was just,” was what he hoarsely whispered, but then stopped. I thought maybe he was having a hard time remembering what he wanted to say. Then I realized he was trying not to cry.

That was when I sat down. I didn’t take his hand as I would if he were someone else. It would have been forced and he would have known. But he seemed to understand that I was willing to listen to whatever he wanted to say.

 “Thank you,” he finally said. And I nodded slowly, because I knew what he meant.

 “He’s a good kid,” was my only response. I pressed my fingers to my bottom lip to distract myself from the tears that threatened to spill from my eyes.

I should have said more, I think. I should have told him how sorry I was that he was hurt. And I truly am. I wouldn’t want anyone to be in pain. But that didn’t mean I forgave him for what he did to Ryan, for always putting alcohol and a good time before his son. I wasn’t ready to do that, yet.

But later that night, I did say a prayer for him. It wasn’t because I thought I had to. It wasn’t contrived. I meant it. I prayed that he’d get better, in more ways than one. And that maybe one day, I could let go of the hate.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And There’s *Gasp* No Dialog. Haha

This is different than anything I’ve ever written, but I figured it’s good to try something new once in a while.
The contrast between the two girls was stark. As they moved woefully, the petite blonde bowed her head in shameless regret. The solidly built brunette regarded the fog laden cemetery with a hallowed gaze. They gripped one another’s hand, their mouths drawn in sorrowful lines. Two equally dissimilar boys were poised protectively, far enough behind as not to disturb the moment of bereavement.
They were an unexpected congregation of unyielding solidarity.
The blonde’s knees sank to the moist, leaf spotted ground with a voiceless thud. Teardrops slid down pale cheeks as she swept the sodden orange and yellow hues from the common plaque. There were no extravagant headstones in this cemetery near the antiquated school. Her slender fingers quaked as she traced the name of the boy who’d lived just weeks before.
Short, dark curls swirled in the frosty air as the taller girl folded to the ground as well. She reached over, clearing a dank, rust colored leaf from the blonde’s shadowy, knee-length dress.
The boys’ dense steps massacring the already dying foliage intruded upon the otherwise muted moment. They remained standing, but their expressions were no less grim.
Finally the brunette rose. She summoned the watery eyed blonde whose restless palm remained atop the unforgiving slate. In silence the pair hovered above the forlorn resting place; their eyes held no peace. Once again they clasped hands as they glided beneath the watchful trees. The boys followed more closely than before. Leafless limbs swayed bleakly, leaning as if straining to gather whispered pleas beneath the wailing wind for all that had been lost.
 The wrought iron gate settled definitively behind the despondent visitors.              
They wouldn’t return.                               

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Perhaps This is a Sign I Should Take Up Drinking.

 It wasn’t my proudest moment when I stormed into that party, swaddled in My Little Pony pajama pants and a Dale Earnhardt Jr. sweatshirt.

But it probably won’t be my worst, either.

A junior, named Topher who looked as if he could leap tall kegs in a single bound, yelled over the ridiculously loud song that was probably about aesthetically pleasing tractors, lost hound dogs, and unfaithful first, second and third wives. “ARE YOU HERE TO PARTY!?”

Dean shot me a pleading look that begged me not to cause a scene in front of his bros.

But alas, it was 2:45 A.M. and I was at a frat party in my pajamas. So, I glowered at Topher and gesture sarcastically toward my baby blue pants. “Do I look like I’m here to party?”

The poor boy just gave me a sad, befuddled look as if I’d spilled his beer, kicked his puppy and pushed his grandma down a flight of stairs.

Walk away.

Luckily the reason for which this hellish night had come to fruition was not difficult to locate. My cousin, Kristin, had called a half hour before—wasted out of her mind—requesting a ride home. She probably called because I’m the only person she knows who doesn’t drink and would be sober enough to drive. She was perched on a coffee table singing along in a pitch only a recently skinned cat could appreciate. She began fighting us when Dean offered a hand to help her down and I yanked on her rumpled jean skirt to cover the secrets even Victoria wouldn’t have shared.

Kristin exclaimed that she wasn’t finished partying—stopped, looked me up and down—and said, “What are you wearing?”

I probably would have thought of some witty retort about how “this is what all the designated drivers are wearing.” but she cut me off by announcing that she was being kidnapped.

Of course no one noticed her Jerry Springer worthy Karaoke show, but the word kidnapped had all the drunkards staring as if I—My Little Pony, for goodness sake—had hatched a plan to abduct my cousin.

When we finally escorted her out to the car, she less than gracefully flopped onto the passenger seat and then gave me the strangest look.

Before I could ask her what the problem was, she vomited all over the dashboard and floor.

Sheepishly, she said “I don’t think this is my car."

Perhaps this is a sign I should take up drinking.

Monday, October 31, 2011

And Then Someone Surprises Me.

Most days I wonder if we’ve lost all sense of compassion for one another. Specifically, I ponder this sort of thing while driving. You know those days when you just want to pull over on the shoulder and call a cab to take you home?

 Have you met the little old lady in the VW Bug? She flies around you, honking her horn, shaking her fist and displaying that one finger grandmas should never wag around in public? Or the pretty blonde who can’t seem to pick a lane because she’s too busy yelling at her cheating boyfriend via text message (probably in all caps), applying lip gloss, sipping her soy latte, and  fumbling around for the map quest directions she just knows she remembered to bring with her.  What about the boy who can’t be a day over sixteen in the lifted pick-up? He travels ten miles under the speed limit, black smoke billows out of his modified—to the point of being obnoxious—smoke stacks which seem to be at just the right height to asphyxiate you on your journey through the harbor tunnel. There’s usually a street racer somewhere behind you, too, but he’s so close and his car is so tiny that you can’t see him in your mirrors. And as if you haven't had enough fun for one day, he’s about to play chicken on the double yellow lines.

A few days ago I had the privilege of sharing the road with all of these people. But just about the point I was ready to tuck and roll into oncoming traffic or call that cab, I got stuck in a long line of traffic that inched toward the toll of the Key Bridge. If anything makes already frustrated drivers even more erratic and nonsensical, it’s being forced to sit still.

After about two hours and forty minutes of people honking and getting out of their vehicles to throw their arms in the air (as if that gesture would provide them with the knowledge of what was causing the holdup), I was next in line to go through the toll. There was a tractor trailer in front of me, so I couldn’t pull all the way up. When I glanced over to my left, there was a pickup truck sitting next to me, with his blinker on trying to merge in my lane. He was in the E-Z Pass lane and I assume he didn’t realize his mistake until it was nearly too late. When the truck in front of me moved, there was enough space to let the guy over. So, I wound down my window and waved to let him know it was okay to switch lanes. As the guy pulled over a round of horns sounded. The people behind me were not thrilled that I’d set them back another vehicle.

It was then that I really wondered about our society. Is everyone really so stressed out that helping someone who accidently got in the wrong lane will send them into an uproar? It saddened me to think that doing something nice for someone isn’t second nature, but tearing each other down seems almost automatic. I understand that everyone is in a hurry, but at what cost?

I was pleasantly surprised when it was my turn to go through the toll and the woman in the booth wouldn’t accept my two dollars. At first I thought she was merely signaling that she wasn’t ready yet. But as I sat there, still patiently holding my bills, she gave me an annoyed expression.

“That guy in front already paid for you.” She said loudly, waving me to pull forward.

Most days I wonder if we’ve lost all compassion for one another…

 And then someone surprises me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What’s the Definitive Line Between Kind of Wrong and Really Wrong?

                After marveling at the tricks Dean’s dog was able to learn, I started reminiscing about how she came to be his dog. This made me wonder: when exactly is it okay to break the law and still have a clear conscience? Is it okay to do something we’d usually think of as wrong if our actions will save someone else’s life?
              I’m not talking about full blown Boondock Saints mode. What was that line again? “Destroy all which is evil, so that which is good may flourish.”(It sounds so much cooler in those fake Irish accents). I’m talking about something simpler, something involving less gratuitous violence and significantly less rope (this will be funny if you’ve seen the movie. And if you haven’t, stop reading this and go watch it! It’s a good movie).

The day Hurricane Irene was to hit our state, I had to visit another office to make sure everything was running smoothly. The town I was sent to was—for lack of a better term—unnerving. There were bars on the windows of the homes, cars were on cinderblocks instead of tires, and the glares I received as I walked down the sidewalk made it clear that my shiny car and I stuck out like sore thumbs.

After walking out of the building I had to inspect, I passed a yard littered with garbage. It wasn’t the seemingly broken washer  pressed up against the rusted chain link fence or the fact that two windows in the dilapidated house were covered with a blue tarp and what looked to be electrical tape that caught my eye. It was the Dog—some type of large, white and fluffy mixed breed—that was chained to a tree near the back of the house. She was whining and there was no indication that she had a food or water dish anywhere near her. When she saw me she started jerking on the chain and howling as if she were in pain.

Two beer toting men—who’s appearance made me certain that the washer in the yard was , in fact, out of order—came out of the house and didn’t acknowledge me except to leer in my direction. The poor dog cowered down when she saw them and began panting either from dehydration or because she was afraid.

“Um—is she okay?” I asked dumbly, not knowing what else to say. I mean, I was kind of the creeper in the situation. I was standing on the sidewalk looking into their yard and asking about their dog.

“Better than she’s gonna be when Irene hits.”  The tall skinny one cackled and took a swig of his beer.

His shorter, grinning buddy chimed in, “We found her digging in the yard for food couple days ago.”

My stomach revolted at the thought of her being tied up to a tree during a hurricane, with no way to seek shelter. The way he laughed  made me think he was trying to intimidate me and I wasn’t sure if he’d really leave a defenseless dog chained up to die.

 I mean surely, no one would be that inhumane.

Then the tall skinny one hurled his beer bottle at the dog, but fortunately missed and the glass collided with the tree to which she was shackled.

I quickly realized that the more upset I became, it would only encourage them to taunt me by hurting the dog. I blinked back tears that I figured they were too far away to notice and calmly walked away from their drunken laughter and the scared dog’s whimpering.

Then I made two phone calls.

“I’m not stealing a dog for you.” Mark, my baby brother, said somewhat convincingly.

“I’m just going to wait in my car ‘till you get here.” I said, ignoring his protest.

“Just because we’re older and you’re a girl doesn’t mean you always get to win.” I heard the rustle of his boots as he presumably pulled them on and I was hopeful he was only pretending he wouldn’t help. “Why don’t you get Dean to do it?”

 I didn’t have time for sibling banter. I had a pup to rescue. “He actually gave me a speech similar to the one you’re giving me now. He’s on his way, and how much did you really win when we were young, anyway?” I heard the wind blowing against his phone and I crossed my fingers in hope that he was leaving the house.

There was a palpable silence and then, “It’s not foaming at the mouth, is it?”  His truck fired up.

            Meaghan Infinity, Mark Zero.

It was already starting to get dark when Dean and Mark arrived, and I was happy to report that the two boozers had been inside the remainder of the evening.  My heart was in my throat as we crept slowly around the disgusting yard to steal a dog that wasn’t even really owned by anyone. I mean, she wasn’t their dog, the short tubby one had told me himself. She was more like a prisoner being held for trespassing.  I was saving her.


I remember wondering if a judge would buy that explanation if this ended up in court. But as Dean unchained her, she licked my hand and silently thanked me with those big, sad, brown eyes, and I decided that a criminal record would be worth it. Would it have helped my case, I wonder, if I showed the report from the vet we would later get that asserted she’d been deprived of water and food for several days, been hit or kicked in the sides, and had a fractured back foot? Or were my crimes still crimes, no matter my reason for committing them?

“You could have just reported it.” Dean said, once we were back at his apartment. But he couldn’t hide the look of affection for the scruffy mess curled up on the couch next to him.

“They wouldn’t have gotten to her until after the storm.” My brother answered for me, and gestured toward the window where Irene had already begun wreaking havoc. Dean nodded in agreement and fed our new friend the chicken nuggets I’d bought her on the way home.

I suppose what is plaguing me is that I generally see things as black or white, with no overlapping grey area. Right or wrong. Yet, when I step back from the emotional part of this whole puppynapping fiasco, it seems all sorts of grey. What’s the definitive line between kind of wrong and really wrong? Will we inherently know when we've crossed that line? I suppose the answer lies within the intent of the act. I didn’t break into someone’s backyard and steal their faithful sidekick out of malice; I did it to help a defenseless animal because she couldn’t help herself.

Looking back, and knowing Espen (who I later found out the boys actually named ESPN after their favorite channel.  Dean and Mark 1, Meaghan Infinity) has a wonderful home with my best friend, I’m not sorry for the laws I broke that night. But I can’t help but wonder how we morally reason what is concretely wrong and what is generally wrong, but we’ll make exceptions for in some cases. Some of you might agree with what I did (and coerced Dean and my baby brother to do) and some of you might think I’m no better than the two men who were abusing Espen.

I can live with that.

I guess this brings me back to my Boondock Saints analogy and the concept of vigilante justice.  For me at least, if I had left her there, I would have been just as guilty for her pain as the two men who were the direct cause.

Through writing this, I’m reminded of an episode of the Big Bang Theory when Sheldon and Stuart are arguing over whether the word “wrong” is an absolute or if there are varying shades of wrongness. I’ll leave you with their thoughts on the subject.

Stuart: “Oh Sheldon, I'm afraid you couldn't be more wrong.”
Sheldon: More wrong? Wrong is an absolute state and not subject to gradation.
Stuart: Of course it is. It is a little wrong to say a tomato is a vegetable, it is very wrong to say it is a suspension bridge.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Just Tell Me. Why Not?

We’re in a tavern, the only one within walking distance from the college we graduated from last year. The Blue Bird.  The Bird to anyone who knows anything about Chestertown. Dean’s over there, with his buddies, drinking beer. A George Straight song, something that probably went gold before we were born, is lulling in the background. He’s upset. I know it, but he can’t really blame me. He just can’t.

I’m not sure why I’m even here. I’m allergic to alcohol, cigarette smoke, and bullshit. But Grace is here, Dean is here, and it’s The Bird.

 Dean’s apparently finished hustling the freshmen who think they know how to play pool. His head is rested on the bar, and his maroon and black baseball hat is tipped upward and to the side. He doesn’t drink often, and the closer I get, the more apparent it is that he’s definitely going to feel this in the morning.

I place my hand on his shoulder and he doesn’t sit up, but he turns his head to the left to look at me. His cheeks are flushed pink and I’m not sure if it’s from the beer or because he’s face planted on the bar.

“Want me to drive you home?”

“No. I hate that car.” He pulls a face.

 “You love driving my car.” We both know it’s true.

“You drive like my grandma,” He protests.

“You love your grandma,” I reason.

“Yeah,” Is all he says.

His eyes are sad and glazed over. “So, can I drive you home? Or what?”
            “I’m not done.” His face scrunches up again, and without sitting up, he waves his hand across the bar as if this grand gesture will explain everything.

“You look done.” I lean on the bar and straighten his hat, and he tilts his head into my palm. He’s not as mad as I’d thought.

“Nope.” Instead of sounding petulant, he sounds so tired. “I’m driving far away from this town.”  

I’m driving far away from you, is what I hear.

We both know it’s an idle threat, coming from the same boy who rejected MIT so he wouldn’t have to leave the Eastern Shore or me, his best friend.

I roll my eyes and pocket his truck keys from off the bar. “Oh?” I say anyway. “Where’re you going?”

“I’m just gonna get in my car and keep driving until I run out of road.” If I didn’t feel so guilty, I’d make some comment about how melodramatic he sounds.

His palm is cupped over something rested on the bar, and I eye the protective grip he has on whatever it is.

“It would’ve been good,” He says, sitting up now and his palm gestures toward his chest. “Ya know?” With his palm off the bar, I see what he’d been clutching. The same black, velvet box he’d given me this afternoon.

The same one I’d said I couldn’t accept.

And I really don’t want to have this conversation here, with everyone pretending they’re not listening to our every word. So I say, “What’re you going to do when you get to Florida?”

His face contorts in confusion for a moment and then a sad smile graces his lips, “I’ll trade my truck for a boat.”

 I feel my own lips twist into what can only be a sad smile. I know things won’t be this easy in the morning. When he’s sober and I’m still not ready to risk our friendship like this. But I help him to his feet anyway, and he waves goodbye to our friends. I’ll make sure he gets home safe, and worry about tomorrow when I have to.

            I’m pushing his tall frame onto the passenger seat of my extremely low-to-the-ground car and he looks up, doe eyes and all, “Just tell me; why not?”

            I hold my breath, focusing on anything but the boy in front of me.

            “Dean, name two people who have been together for any amount of time and haven’t hurt each other beyond repair,” I finally say.

 I’m only trying to protect our friendship. Besides, shouldn’t people date before they get engaged?

            “Us.” Comes his definitive answer.

 And really, what can I say?

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Know You're a Virgin if You Can Light Magical Candles...Apparently.

In the words of Art Linkletter, and later Bill Cosby: “Kids say the darndest things.”

But what do you do when they ask you the darndest thing and you have to come up with an answer that is appropriate, true, and won’t get you in heaps of trouble with their parents? And I’m not talking about the age old “Where do babies come from?” conundrum, either. That’s easy.

 My little brother was twelve before he realized that a rousing game of rock, paper, scissors did not result in his conception. I forget how long I was grounded for that one. Not nearly as long as when he was eight and I convinced him that if he ate Peter Pan peanut butter and then leapt off the breakfast bar, we’d then be able to glean whether peanut butter was as potent as fairy dust.

 It wasn’t.

And apparently the parental units didn’t think “Well, now we know.” was a sufficient apology.

Because of last night’s events and the fact that my, now twenty-two-year-old, brother still twitches whenever I hum the tune to Peter Pan’s You Can Fly!, I think I’m being paid back for my creativity in my younger years.

 Dean and I are babysitting his nephew, Ryan, and the little girl who lives on the property across the street from my parents’ farm.

Daphne is all geared up for Halloween so she chooses the movie Hocus Pocus. It’s an awesome choice, and Dean and I reflect on when we first watched the movie as kids. I comment on how Bette Midler makes one creepy witch. He grins and says Sarah Jessica Parker can curse him anytime. I’m preparing to make him cry, using only my words (and mild physical violence) when I hear:

“Megs, what’s a virgin?”

I slowly lower the futon pillow that I’m about to smack Dean with and shift my attention to Ryan. He’s sprawled out on the carpet, crayon still in hand. My eyes have to be as wide as saucers and I glance back at Dean whose mouth is gaping practically down to the floor.

“Where did you hear that?” I ask cautiously.

Ryan rolls his eyes as if I’m just some incompetent adult who doesn’t know anything. “The movie.” And I’m certain I can hear the DUH he adds silently. “Only a virgin can light the candle to kill the witches.” He’s sitting up now, staring me down when he asks again. “So what is it? Must be something pretty cool.”

“Yes. Yes, it’s very cool and you should be one… always.” I hear Dean blurt out, and I rub my hand over my neck. I’m getting hives. I can feel them festering.

“How do you know if you are one?” Ryan looks confused.

I look at Dean who is tugging on the bill of his camouflage baseball hat. The one I hate, with that ugly orange goose sewn on the front. It’s a nervous tick, and I understand because I must resemble a deer caught in the headlights of a Mack truck.

How do we answer this without Ryan’s next question being “Megs, what’s sex?” I cringe at the thought. Do I lie? I mean where do you go? Where do you hide?

“You know you’re a virgin if you can light magical candles.” I say lamely and I hear Dean’s snort and his unsuccessful attempt to conceal his chuckle.

“So it’s like a super power?” Does this kid ever run out of questions?

Before I can form a coherent sentence, Daphne tears her attention away from the flat screen. Her voice is cheery, and her red ponytail swings with her over exaggerated movements. “Oh, I know what that is.”

Oh, this is not going to end well.

“Boys are virgins and girls are lesbians.” She states in a matter of fact tone. “It’s just another way to tell girls from boys.”

I hear the unmistakable sound of Dean’s palm slapping against his forehead in defeat.

I can actually feel the blood draining from my face and I’m fairly certain my soul is being sucked out of my body. How am I going to fix this? I offered to babysit and this is what I get in return: the single most awkward conversation of my life.

“Yep, that’s right.” Dean finally says, and interrupts my strategic calculation of whether the jump from a third story window would really be worse than my current predicament.

If only I had some of that peanut butter.

 Dean stands up and walks toward the stairs that lead down to the kitchen. “Who wants ice cream?!”

“ME!” Both youngsters call out and follow him. It seems they’ve forgotten all about their ponderings.

I watch as Daphne teaches Ryan how to play some weird game—probably their generation’s version of rock, paper, scissors—in between bites of strawberry ice cream.

 I gently elbow Dean in the ribs.

“We can’t just let them think all boys are virgins and all girls are lesbians.” I whisper as he plops a spoonful of ice cream in his mouth and then shrugs.

“They’ll figure it out eventually.” He pauses for a moment in thought. “All we can do is distract them with junk food and hope that when they do figure it out and they have questions, we’re either really old,”  He breaks off to hand me a spoon, “or dead.”

I can only nod in agreement and dig in.