Chapter: Cookout

It's been a while since I've posted one of these, so… Here you go. Something short.


The languid creek drifted by at a leisurely pace as iridescent dragonflies drifted on sunbeam thermals.  Away from home in the Van – eight minutes at twenty-five miles per hour – brought our newly reformulated family to a place both mundane and magical.

Trevor, one of his friends, Mom, Kaleb, myself, and Ali bounced out of the Van and into the great outdoors.  Thousands of miles away from the East Coast suburbs and brown sludge in the Boston harbor, we showed Ali the nature documentary in our backyard.

The creek, whose name is now lost to the ages and my terrible memory, cut through the forest at an elegant angle.  Elderly trees tried their best to lean over the babbling brook to provide an adequate canopy to us, as my mother set up our gas grill.

Voices, laughter, the wind… All blending together in a kind of symphony.  The click/hiss of the grill firing punctuated the soft, private conversation between Ali and I as we watched the others skip rocks.  The warm breath issuing forth from Ali's mouth onto the back of my ear served as a counterpoint to the wind cascading down from the mountains across our skin.

The air mattresses soft underneath us, and the rocks hard beneath the mattress.  Our hopes and dreams floated in the air above us, and below us within the depths of hell, my nightmares took their turn getting tortured.  How do you like it now, assholes?  They would get their time again, but right now… Right now it was our turn.


Pieces of cardboard measuring exactly 2.5 by 3.5 inches lay down on a blanket in front of me, some tilted at a jaunty 45° angle.  I tried to remember the rules for a game I used to eat sleep and breathe.  Now my food, drink, and breath rests directly behind me, and I could feel her tensing up.  I looked at my brother, across from me, considered the colorful, collectible cards between us.

I concede the game and tell Ali that I'm going to teach her how to play.  I'm learning the rules.  I'm learning that when her muscles tense, when her fingers dig into my abdomen ever-so-lightly, something's wrong.  I told Trevor to tag in his friend, Jeff.  I taught Ali how to kick ass like a legendary nerd champion.  Ali relaxed. I'm learning the rules, and so is she.

The Sun moseyed further down in the sky, as my mom announced that the food was ready.  I couldn't chew the shrimp mom had gotten just for me, but Ali's veggie burger went down smooth.  Something that would once have sent me over analyzing, and considering my imminent death, now seemed like a minor inconvenience.

Another patented mom photo shoot, more conversation bringing all of us closer together.  Words sprinted between us, and with every lap, I became more assured that we were progressing towards complete unity.  I looked up at the sky and wondered if anything could be more perfect.  A belly full of food, my family, and my love all conveniently within reach.

The creek continued to mumble to itself, as we continued our pleasant small talk well into the evening.  The green and blue dragonflies had retired for the day, replaced by small birds.  Wait, no… bats.  Ali clung to me with that realization, and I felt strong.  A feeling that was so foreign to me.  I felt drunk with power and love.

And power.

And love.

I could hear Trevor behind us, but not see him.  I strained my eyes all the way to my right, and I could see him tilt, and fall like a human tree.  He landed with a THWOOMP behind us, nearly sending Ali and I spiraling off of the air mattress, and into the creek.  It's my turn to tense, as I wonder if Ali will be made uncomfortable by this closeness with someone that she doesn't know all that well yet.

"Cuddle puddle!"  Ali let loose with a cry.

I couldn't help but smile.  I hadn't even been this close to my brother for a long time.  Since we were kids.

The three of us crowded there on that air mattress for a long time.  I don't remember what we said, but I remember witty back-and-forth that would make any sitcom turn green with envy.

Memory is funny like that.