Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Study Group - Part 5

“Do you want a cheeseburger, Michael?” Annie asked.  “Or something else.  They have chicken.”
A blank stare was her only response.
“Michael?”  She spoke louder.
His eyes seemed to focus on her. 
“Do you want a cheeseburger?”
“I like McDonalds,” he said.
“You’re in luck.  That’s where we are.”  As soon as they got into his car, Jake had assured Annie that he still intended to pay for the expanded party.  When William asked to go to the inexpensive fast food place, Annie readily agreed.  Few people would call it romantic.  She ordered for herself and Michael and the four of them soon sat down with a tray of food.
Jake turned to William, who was sitting next to him.  “So,” he said, “you were going to tell me about Annie dropping the lasagna.”
William began to chew faster so he could talk. 
“It’s not a story,” Annie said first.  “I dropped it.  There was a huge mess.  The end.”
“But it was funny,” William said, still chewing.
“Because you didn’t have to clean it up.”
“Neither did you.  Mom did.”
“She made me help.”  Jake was watching the two of them with amusement and Annie realized that her kid brother was bringing out her juvenile side.  “Okay,” she said.  “Tell the story.”
“Annie wanted to make this fancy lasagna.  It had, I don’t know, this green stuff and a weird runny cheese and…”  William was waving a chicken nugget around and he set it back in the box as he planned to talk awhile before getting another bite.  “And she spent forever chopping things up and making layers and then… there was this commotion.  I came into the kitchen when Annie screamed.  Mom and Dad were arguing over something and Michael was just standing in the corner yelling, ‘Hot, hot!’  Then I figured out that Mom and Dad were trying to decide if any of the lasagna was still edible.  The pan was upside down on the oven door and white and red stuff was oozing out all around it.  Annie was at the sink crying.”
“Did you burn yourself?” Jake interrupted with a concerned expression.
“A little,” Annie said.  “That’s what made me drop it.  But the tears were just… It was nearly two hours of work wasted.”
Jake nodded slowly.  “When did this happen?”
“A long time ago,” William said.
Annie tried to remember.  “I think I was fifteen.”
Jake must have decided that was enough time for her to be over it.  He turned back to William.  “Is your sister still a terrible cook?”
A somewhat nasty grin popped up on William’s face, mostly for Annie’s benefit.  Then he dropped it.  “Not really.  I actually like it when Annie cooks more than Mom most of the time.  She’s gotten better.”
Annie smiled at her brother to acknowledge the compliment.  Then she noticed that Jake also seemed to approve.  She needed William to start listing her faults.  She didn’t know how to do that without asking straight out.
“Can I have your fries?”  Michael was already reaching in front of Annie as he spoke.
“I, uh, I guess.”  Annie saw that Michael had already finished every scrap of food she’d put in front of him.  It shouldn’t have surprised her.  He normally inhaled his food.
He tipped the box too far as he took it and all the fries slid out onto the tray.  “Ohhh.”  He stretched the word, clearly unsure how to handle the mistake.
“I got it.”  Annie scooped the fries back into the box and handed it to her brother.  She left a few on the tray for herself.  Then she looked across the table at Jake to see if he noticed her greediness.
He smiled and bumped his eyebrows playfully before he took one of those fries for himself.  He still had half of his fries left.  The glance he sent Annie dared her to say something before he looked at Michael.  “What can you tell me about Annie?” he asked.
Michael turned to his sister.
Jake said, “Yes, that Annie.”
William snickered.
“She’s my sister,” Michael said.
“I know.”  Jake looked between them.  “You two look a bit alike.”
“I’m Michael.”
“I know.  Your hair is the same shade of brown and your noses are similar.”
“I’m Michael.”
Jake nodded and moved on.  “What can you tell me about Annie?”
“Annie likes pink.”
“I do,” Annie said.  “I have two brothers.  I have to assert my girliness now and then.”
The interview continued.  “What else does she like?”
William jumped in.  “Not roller coasters!  When we go to Cedar Point, she won’t ride anything good.  She likes…”  He paused to insert a shudder.  “…the carousel.”
Jake laughed.
Annie defended her choice.  “Not the regular carousel.  Cedar Downs.  The one with race horses.”
“I ride the horses.”  Michael tipped his head dreamily.  “I ride horses fast.”
“We ride that carousel a lot,” Annie said.  “There’s usually a short line.” 
William rolled his eyes.  “I bet you don’t show your face next year.”
“Oh, they won’t recognize us or anything.”
“Wait, wait.”  Jake waved his hand between them.  “What happened?”
“Michael had a seizure.  I kept him from falling off.  But I had to carry him when we left the ride.  Someone said he fell and the employees called someone.  We spent two hours at the first aid station convincing them that he wasn’t injured on the ride.  We had to wait for them to find Mom and Dad to verify our story.”
William elbowed Jake.  “The carousel is at least better than the first aid station ride.”
“Yeah, do you…”  Jake looked at Michael with equal parts surprise and confusion.  “Is he asleep?”
Annie gave Michael a nudge with her arm.  He was sleeping hard and gave no sign that he’d felt the nudge.  “The meds make him drowsy,” she said.  “Guess you’re not going to get dirt on me from him.”
“No need,” Jake said.  “William is helping.”
“Oh, yeah.”  William’s eyes lit up.  “I can tell you about the time Annie went to school in costume… on the wrong day!”
Annie put her head in her hands and groaned.  She knew that story would come up.  Showing up for Oregon Trail day a week early wasn’t just her most embarrassing moment of ninth grade but of her entire life.  Her mom had brought her a change of clothes so she’d endured only two periods of snickering.
William relished telling the story.  He barely remembered it, and that was evident in his questionable facts.  Annie let him talk because Jake seemed to know when he was exaggerating.  William regaled them with a few other stories before Jake shared some from his life.  The three of them were laughing after every last fry had been eaten.
Annie shook Michael awake when it was time to leave.  She was a bit reluctant since she was enjoying herself.  She’d forgotten she was trying to make a poor impression on Jake.  But she’d also forgotten it was supposed to be a date.  Hopefully, Jake had as well.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Study Group - Part 4

Annie looked out the window for Jake.  He wasn’t late.  He said he’d be there around 11 am and that was still a half hour away.  She’d decided to wait until the last minute to tell her parents that someone was coming over.  But she didn’t want to wait until he was pulling in the driveway either.
It wasn’t that she was worried her parents would embarrass her, or Jake.  They were fairly reasonable people.  Coming to meet the parents gave a date vibe to the situation that she didn’t want because it wasn’t a date.  She wished she’d been clearer with Jake about that.  Now she was hoping that if she waited long enough to say something, the rest of her family would conveniently need to run an errand right before he showed up.
Annie came away from the window and soon found her mom flipping through the pages of a magazine.  Her ten-year-old brother was slumped against her arm, sound asleep.  Annie took a seat across the room from them and picked up a puzzle book from the coffee table.  Restlessness kept it closed in her lap.  She fiddled with the cover as she watched the minutes slink past.  If she waited much longer, Jake could be early and show up before she warned anyone.
Diana looked up at her daughter.
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m going out for lunch.  A friend from school is coming to pick me up soon.”
“Oh!”  Diana smiled with interest.  “What’s his name?”
 Annie wanted to scowl at her mom for assuming the friend was a guy.  But she was trying to act as though that didn’t matter.  “Jake,” she said.
“How long have you know him?”
“He’s part of the study group we started from church this year.”
“And what is he studying?”
“Mom, you don’t have to grill me.  He’s just a friend.  We’re just having lunch.  Please don’t treat him like a date when he gets here.”
“When who gets here?”  Annie’s dad, Cliff, had walked into the room while she was talking.
Diana smiled up at her husband.  “A boy from school is coming to take Annie out to lunch.”
“Really?”  Cliff pulled himself up straight as he folded his arms across his chest.  “Do I know this boy?”
“You can meet him when he gets here,” Annie said, “as long as you don’t act like that.”
He breathed in to puff up his chest.  “Like what?  I need to be sure this boy knows how to treat my baby.”
“I’m not a baby.  He’s a nice guy.  And it’s not a date.”
Diana reached up and patted her husband’s arm.  “It does sound as though she’s known him for a while.”
Annie’s dad continued his intimidating posture.  She thought he might only be doing it to tease her, but she wasn’t positive.  Before she could decide which approach to use to get him to cooperate, another person entered the room, her 13-year-old brother William.
“Hey,” he said.  “A car just pulled into the driveway.”
“Annie is expecting a friend to take her to lunch,” Diana explained.
“Can I come!?”
His mom chuckled.  “I don’t think Annie wants you tagging along on her date.”
“It’s not a date,” Annie hissed.  And it certainly wouldn’t be if she brought her little brother.  “Sure, William, you can come.”
“Cool,” he said.  “I got to find my shoes.”
The doorbell rang as he ran up the stairs.
“I’ll get it,” Annie said, before anyone else could make a move.  Her eyes pleaded with her dad to relax as she walked away.  He frowned a bit deeper.
The first thing she noticed when she opened the door was that Jake was holding a bunch of small colorful flowers.
“Hi,” he said.  He seemed to follow her eyes and lowered the bouquet to make his other had more prominent.  It was holding a package of M&Ms.  “These are for you.”  He handed her the M&Ms, which she knew he got because he’d seen her snacking on them at the study group.
“Thanks,” she said.
“You didn’t sound excited about flowers, but I brought some because you said it was your mom’s birthday.”  He lowered his voice to a whisper.  “Does she like flowers?”
Annie nodded.  It wasn’t going to do him any good to ingratiate himself with her parents.  But her mom did like flowers.  “Come on in.”  She motioned Jake to follow her to the living room.  She made very quick introductions before she said, “And he brought birthday flowers for mom.”
“Oh, how nice.”  Diana got up to take the flowers.  Michael woke up as she pulled herself out from under him.
Cliff had refolded his arms after he shook Jake’s hand.  He was silently staring at him.
“Dad,” Annie said, “can you please tone it down?  I’m sure Jake would answer a few questions if you like and that would be more productive than you trying to look scary.”
Cliff slowly cracked a smile as he lowered his arms.  “I suppose I don’t need to be intimidating since you’re bringing a chaperone.”
Jake looked at Annie for clarification.
“My brother wanted to come with us,” she said, “and I told him that was okay.  I hope you don’t mind.”
“No.  No, that’s fine.”  Jake looked at Michael.  “You’re coming to lunch with us?”
Michael grinned as he said, “I’m hungry.”
He was still rising from the couch as William bounded into the room and flung open a hall closet to grab his coat.
Jake glanced between them and seemed to realize his mistake.
Annie smiled as his expression seemed to waver between overwhelmed and entertained.  “I guess we’re all going,” she said.  “Don’t worry, I’ll pay for the boys.”
“No, I can—”
Jake was cut off by Annie’s mom.  “Michael and William can stay home.”
“But Annie said I could go,” William protested.
“I think taking both boys is a great idea,” Cliff said.
Diana shot him a disapproving look.
“So do I.”  Jake nodded as he caught up with the situation.  “I’d like to know Annie better, and I’m sure her brothers have lots of good stories.”
“Oh, I can tell you about the time Annie dropped the lasagna on the door of the oven,” William said.  “Face down.”
Annie had already grabbed her coat and Michael’s.  She was helping Michael into his.  An afternoon of listening to William list her mistakes didn’t exactly sound fun.  But it probably wasn’t what Jake had in mind either.  Surely this would give him the hint to back off.
Diana handed Annie a small envelope.  “You’ll need his noon pills if you’re sure you want to take him.”
Jake and William were halfway out the front door, chatting like old friends.  Annie put on her own coat and pushed Michael’s meds securely to the bottom of her pocket.  Her mom was looking at her with great sympathy.  Her dad was nodding approvingly at the turn of events.  Annie couldn’t decide which of them was being more annoying.  She put on a big smile and waved at both of them.