Jessie and I are sprawled out on the freshly cut grass in the backyard, staring up at the shadowy trees.
“So you think you wanna date her Zac?” She asks me
“I mean…I like her a lot. We get along well, and she’s pretty…she makes me laugh.”
“Good. I can’t seem to.”
I grin at her and take my Oakley sunglasses off my eyes to polish them on my shirt.
“So you think you’re going to?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know how official I want it to be Jess. I just like spending time with her. I don’t need the security of saying well Prairie is my girlfriend like Tay and Ike do.”
“I think Isaac has learned to live without that security at this point…” Jessica chuckles, “When was the last time he had a girlfriend anyway?”
“Oh god, I have no clue. Two years ago? For like…a couple months.”
“Sometimes though, Zac, you don’t necessarily need security…but sometimes it’s nice.”
“Nothing is ever secure…” I mutter.
“You have to stop looking at things like that just because of what happened.”
“How could we have known it was going to happen Jessie? How did we know there was going to be an accident? We thought it would be for forever.”
“That’s a rare circumstance. Things like that don’t usually happen Zac.” We sit here quietly. “I think you should give her a chance.”
“I may. I don’t know.”
Dad waves to us from the back patio with a spatula. “You two hungry?”
“Depends on what you’re making!” I shout back at him, sitting up on my elbows and putting my sunglasses back on.
“I don’t know…would you be hungry for…hot dog cheeseburgers?”
I watch him fire up the grill.
“I don’t know…sounds kind of freaky…” I grin at him. Of course I would be. It is only a long-standing tradition in my family to eat hot dog burgers. You slice a hotdog right down the center, put in between a bun with melted cheese and ketchup. Yum.
Dad lets out a big chuckle and places a couple hot dogs on the grill. I love seeing him happy. I love seeing him home. It’s such a nice change of pace from years ago. It’s a Thursday at 2 in the afternoon and dad is out here cooking for us!
“You Hanson men are disgusting!” He says in a girly voice, stepping around the patio daintily.
I smile at his poor imitation of Ellie. Ellie hated the thought of hot dog cheeseburgers…yet for some reason she thought sour cream and jelly on waffles was delicious.
“Jessica, don’t let them convert you!” Ellie cried as Jessie took a big bite of a hot dog cheeseburger. “We’ve been allies for years fighting against this terrible conspiracy! Don’t let them suck you in!”
Dad rolled his eyes and laughed at Ellie, “Did I ever tell you you’re a drama queen Eliose?”
“Many times,” She smiled. She waited for Jessica’s reaction to her first try of hot dog cheeseburger- a tradition that had been in our family for years that Jessica had always avoided.
Jessica stuck out her tongue, “Yuck.”
“You’re just saying that because Ellie wants you to!” Taylor accused.
“Jessica, it really is good! Tell Ellie it’s very good!” Mackie chanted.
“Inside voice,” Mom reminded him.
“But we’re outside!” Mackie pointed out- nodding at all of us sitting on the picnic tables on the back patio.
“No, I said yuck and I mean yuck.” Jessica concluded, high-fiving Ellie.
“They can’t tear apart our alliance,” Ellie giggled. “Try as you may!”
I took the bottle of ketchup and squirted a ton of it onto my hotdog, then covered it in the hamburger bun. Making sure Ellie was watching, I took a big bite. “Mmm…”
Dad joined me, giving a thumbs-up to Ellie.
“You Hanson men are disgusting!” Ellie exclaimed, eating her own plain hot dog.
“You don’t know what you’re missing out on,” Mackie laughed.
I turn back to Taylor who is sitting on a swing on the swing set writing in his journal. He chuckles to himself. He’s one of those people who laugh out loud at books- the nerdy people that you always seem to see in airport waiting areas and want to get far, far away from.
Dear Collection of My Thoughts That Will Hopefully Sell For Millions One Day (yeah right!),
Today’s a good day for me. I can tell when I wake up in the morning (or at noon…same difference) if it’s going to be a good day or if it’s going to be a struggle. But this morning I woke up to my little sisters’ laughter outside in the yard- Avery taking Zoë in the sprinkler. I got out of bed to find a stack of clean clothes mom washed for me sitting on my dresser and I could Zac’s Bob Marley music from his bedroom. I knew it was going to be a good day.
I spoke to Anna as soon as I got up and we haven’t fought since last week when we argued about whether or not I was or was not checking out Danny’s girlfriend. How ridiculous…She told me she has a surprise for me when she sees me so now I’m all curious and excited about what it is.
Dad decided it was a good day for hot dog hamburgers and when he remembered how much Ellie hated them, Zac only laughed. It’s definitely a good day. I feel clean and fresh. I even feel innocent and young again. Not a vulnerable young like I usually feel. I’m trusting of the world and the people around me. I feel a lighthearted young- something I haven’t felt since I found out about the incident.
How can our minds conceal a part of our past to protect us, and then when we discover it it hurts just as much as if we never even concealed it? The feelings are just as intense. I will never understand it fully.
I don’t know how long it will last but everything is getting a bit better. I’m waiting for it to all come crashing down on us. Zac even has a prospective girlfriend. He’s the one I see the most improvement in. He’s laughing again. He doesn’t melt at the mention of Ellie. Isaac, while still clearly depressed for some unknown reason, has been spending more time with Zac and me. It’s like for awhile he was scared to be around us- suspicious of us. He always felt like we were trying to analyze him or we were being nosey. But he’s been that same big brother we grew up with recently.
Shit in the Hanson house is still pretty shitty. But we’re all doing a better job of pretending it isn’t and that’s all I ask for.
When I called Prairie that evening to see if she wanted to do something, I never meant go out and do something. I barely know how to go out and do something anymore. But she suggested frozen custard and I agreed. It’s been so long since I’ve had frozen custard.
Frozen custard is not ice cream, mind you. It’s so much creamier. Frozen custard is truly a delicacy in my eyes, and should be up there with revered foods like sushi and filet mignon.
I picked Prairie up at her house (a quaint looking colonial) and we headed over to the frozen custard shop. Together, we sit on top of a picnic table devouring our custard.
“What kind did you get?” She asks me, looking into my cup.
“Peanut butter and chocolate twist,” I tell her, holding out my cup, “Have some.”
She tries it and nods, “Not bad. But not as good as mine.”
“No way. There is nothing better than peanut butter and chocolate twist.”
“Be ready to be proved wrong,” She says, holding her dish out to me.
I use my spoon to take a small taste and raise my eyes in surprise. “What is that? That’s pretty good!”
“Raspberry and French vanilla twist.”
She smirks with pride and I nudge her. “Yeah well mine is still better…” I insist.
She grins, “Zac Hanson, I have a question.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“Do you like me?”
I sit here stupidly, not knowing what to say. I’m 17. I don’t want to play high school games of letting her chase me, but Isaac always told me not to let a girl know how much you like her. Then again, Isaac has been a failure with girls so far.
“Very much, do you like me?”
“I’m still deciding,” She grins, “Depends on how much you like me.”
“I told you, very much.”
“I dunno. Do something to prove that you like me. And you’re not just attracted to me but that you really like me.”
I sit here, challenged by her request. Is she serious? What does she want me to do?
“Well, way to put me on the spot,” I smile, thinking carefully.
“You’re a creative guy. You’ve gotta be to write a song like MMMBop…” She smirks to herself, clearly making fun of me.
“Hey Prairie,” I tell her, “Look at me.”
She looks at me and I use my little plastic spoon to catapult frozen custard at her face. She gasps and wipes her face with her napkin. “You jerk!’ She yells, coming after me with her ice cream spoon.
I jump up and run from her, standing back and holding my arms out in protection. “Hey! You started it!”
“How did I start it!?”
“You totally made fun of my music!”
“You totally deserve it!”
“Why is that!”
“What do you expect when you write a song like MMMBop?!”
I grin and laugh at her, stepping further away from her.
“You still have to prove it, you know. Prove that you like me and I won’t get you.”
“If I walk towards you you won’t get me with your custard?”
“I promise. Girl scouts honor.” She says, holding up her three middle fingers on her right hand.
“Were you even a girl scout…?” I ask suspiciously, stepping closer to her.
“For a couple months in first grade. Then this girl in my troop spit on me and I quit.”
I step close to her and look down at her face. “Remember, you promised…”
“I know,” She says, smiling faintly.
“I don’t like that smile! I don’t trust you!” I grin, taking hold of her wrists and holding them firmly.
“Don’t make me spill it…”
I glance at her wrists and make sure I’m not about to spill her dish. “Can I kiss you?” I say almost inaudibly.
“What was that?” She smiles, knowing exactly what I said. “Yes, you can.” She says before I can ask again.
I lean in and kiss her lips. I have only kissed one other person in my life- and that is Ellie. I only kissed her once when I was younger- at a time when I didn’t realize how much I liked kissing. But standing here with my lips in rhythm with Prairie’s feels awesome. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I make it up as I go along and pray for the best.
When we pull away I don’t feel embarrassed to look at her like I thought I might. “Does that prove it?” I ask her, gently letting go of her wrists.
“Well, I was thinking more along the lines of a blimp flying across the sky announcing, “Zac likes Prairie” but I guess that’ll have to do…” She teases me.
“Well, if you’d like I can do it again?”
“I’ll take you up on that offer later.” Before I have time to react, I see frozen custard flying at my face from the tip of her spoon. She stands there giggling as I use my shirt to wipe my face.
“You are so dead…” I shout, running after her. But she has already taken off- running like hell.
I take long strides through the front door of my house, walking confidently up the stairs into my room. I whistle loudly- hoping one of my brothers will ask why. But everyone’s doors are closed so I have no choice but to knock of one of their doors. After careful consideration of who I want to inform, I knock on Isaac’s door.
“Come in,” He says.
When I walk in he is searching on his computer.
“Whatcha searching for?”
“Nothing that concerns you.”
I glance at his screen but all I catch is “Yahoo White Pages”.
“What do you need?” He asks, clicking his monitor off and leaning back in his chair.
“Well, can I sit down?”
He gestures to his bed. I sit down and grin at him, “Guess what?”
“Well I’m usually private…but I don’t want to be private about this. And I hate to…you know…kiss and tell but…”
He grins and sits up quickly in his spot, “What!?”
“Yep…” I say, composedly.
“This Prairie girl right? How did it come about?”
“Well, I told her that I liked her. And then…she wanted proof. So I kissed her!”
He gives me a high five and I can tell he is genuinely happy for me. “Congratulations Zac! You can’t say never been kissed anymore.”
“Well it’s not my first kiss! I’m not that pathetic!”
“Who did you kiss?”
“Ellie, a long time ago.”
He slaps his knee and laughs hard, “I remember that! Man, that pissed Taylor off. How could I forget…? Here I am thinking you had never kissed anyone.”
“Well that hardly counted because it’s not like I liked Ellie like that. We were just…teenagers experimenting with kissing.”
“Oh it sounds so romantic when you put it like that,” he laughs.
I shrug, “It’s the truth. But are you happy for me?”
“Real happy. Although, you shouldn’t kiss and tell.”
I smile, “I know. But I had to. You know I had to.”
“I know you had to. Congrats man.”
“Thanks,” I tell him, standing up and heading for the door. But I turn back to him once more, “Thanks Ike.”
“I heard you. You’re welcome.”