Taylor and I sit next to each other on the kitchen stools, watching the ladies cook. They’re just preparing macaroni and cheese, but they prepare it well.
“You know,” Anna says to Avery, “You should be able to cook this soon. I could cook mac and cheese by the time I was 11.”
“Yeah well, you didn’t have a bunch of big brothers and a big sister.” She flashes her a cheeky smile and continues looking through the LL Bean magazine with Katherine, pointing out what she wants.
“You are spoiled rotten Avery Hanson.”
“I know,” She replies simply.
“Prairie, when did you learn to cook macaroni and cheese?” Anna asks her.
“Around age 11 too. I always wanted it for dinner and my mom refused to cook it for the family so she said if I wanted it I had to cook it myself.”
“Your mother let you eat something different from the rest of the family?” I ask her.
“Yeah. As long as I made it.”
“What!” Taylor gasps, “I’ve always proposed that to my mother! I hate what she cooks for the entire family!”
“Lucky…” I mutter at Prairie, shaking my head. “My mom always told us if you don’t eat what everyone is eating then you don’t eat at all.”
Anna sets bowls of macaroni out at the kitchen table and goes up behind Taylor and kisses his neck quickly. “Oh don’t you complain. You couldn’t cook macaroni even if your mom had let you.”
“This is true.” He replies.
“No,” I inform them, “It’s just an act. Taylor can cook. He just likes pretending he can’t so he doesn’t have to.”
Prairie puts the forks she found in a drawer out at the table with the macaroni.
“Kay, guys. Let’s sit down.” Anna calls over to Avery and Katherine. She calls up the stairs for Mackenzie, who comes barreling down. He’s probably been working hard all afternoon on the new pirate ship legos mom bought him.
We all sit down at the table. I’m not too hungry considering I started my day off with two huge bowls of Chocolate Chocolate Chip, but I’d be a fool to refuse Macaroni and Cheese. Besides, it would be rude.
Taylor and I exchange glances across the table, silently agreeing not to say grace. My family always prays before meals. It’s been a habit installed in us since…since I can remember. But in the presence of other people we usually skip it and just thank the Lord in our heads. Avery and Mackenzie take their cues from us and dig in.
I have a funny, confused feeling inside of me. Everything feels right, but so wrong. Taylor is supposed to have a girlfriend he loves at the table- eating with me and my siblings. Avery is supposed to have an obnoxious friend to giggle with, each of them sucking air through their macaroni’s like straws. And me? I’m supposed to have a friend with me too- someone who I connect with- someone who helps me escape the everyday dullness of my family. What feels funny though is it is supposed to be Ellie.
I watch Prairie. She is a pretty girl. My friends would even call her hot, but I’ve never used that term too much. She smiles meekly at me from across the table, eating her food. I like Prairie. I think God put her in my life for a reason. Maybe she is coming to my rescue. But no matter how much I try to feel happy, Ellie is in the back of my mind.
Anna and Taylor chat about some party they were at the other day- a boring conservation that only catches my attention when Taylor raises his voice.
“What are you talking about? I was not checking out Danny’s girlfriend!”
“Yes you were!” Anna laughs nervously, “I’m not mad at you Taylor. Chill out.”
“I don’t care if you’re mad at me or not. I just don’t want you thinking I was checking out my friend’s girlfriend!”
“Okay so I’ll lie to you. Taylor, I do not think you were checking out-”
“Oh shut up, Anna!” He exclaims, taking a sip of his soda and shaking his head angrily.
I always am shocked by their interaction. They go from making kissy faces at each other to screaming at each other so quickly. Prairie watches the seen before her with interest.
“You know I hate when you say that,” She says seriously to him.
“You know I hate when you accuse me of cheating on you.”
“I’m not accusing you of that!”
“You implied it!”
“Stop being such a drama queen, Taylor!”
“So now I’m a drama queen!?”
I rock slowly in my seat, nervously trying to come up with something to say to stop them from fighting. Avery and Katherine laugh together obliviously.
“No, you’ve always been a drama queen…”
I open my mouth to quote a part of My Big Fat Greek Wedding but I’m too late. He’s lost it. Taylor gets up from his seat and slams his fist down on the table. “Fuck you, Anna!” I glance around quickly, relieved that Mackenzie has already scurried back to his room with his bowl to work on his legos and that Avery is old enough to not care about Taylor’s language. Taylor grabs his soda and storms out of the kitchen to his bedroom.
All of us sit there staring.
“This is a normal thing for them,” I explain to Prairie.
Anna frowns at me, “Excuse me?”
“I said this is a normal thing for you and Taylor. You know, scream at each other, swear at each other, walk out on each other. The whole dysfunctional relationship bit.”
Her stare hardens even more. “Fuck you, Zac.” She mumbles at me, getting up and following Taylor up the stairs.
Prairie and I sit there and staring at each other. Suddenly we break out in laughter.
“They have the most messed up relationship in the world. Seriously. My brother is an enraged psychopath most of the time who denies that he flirts with every women on the earth. And then Anna is just as a temperamental. But you know what? They’re nuts and nuts about each other.”
She smiles and finishes her macaroni and cheese, “It’s crazy! I was like…woa…what is happening here.”
“It really is normal. They always do this. See now they’ll scream at each other for a bit longer up in Taylor’s room, Anna will cry, then Taylor will feel bad. Then they’ll kiss and eventually probably end up having sex in Taylor’s bed.”
Avery gasps at me, covering her ears in horror. “Ew Zac! Shut up!”
I smirk and shrug at Prairie, “They’re too predictable.”
“It’s sweet though.”
I laugh and frown at her. “Them? Sweet?”
“Their passion. The passion they have for each other. It’s what everyone wants deep down. Maybe without the fighting but still.”
“You know, sometimes I used to think Anna was just like all of them. Taylor has a tendency to keep women away like the plague after they get a touch of his temper. And he usually is okay with that. But Anna is different. If she doesn’t come back to him, he runs back to her. Usually she can’t help but forgive him first though.”
She smiles and rests her chin on her hands, “Have you ever been in love Zac?”
I bite my lip and think. Her face passes through my mind. Her voice bounces off the kitchen walls. I can feel her warm breath against my neck as she sleeps. “Not yet.”
I swallow and pick up everyone’s bowls, walking them to the kitchen sink. Prairie and I clean up in silence- both of our minds turning.
Finally, once the dishes have all been put in the dishwasher and the pots scrubbed, she goes over to her sister.
“Katy, its almost 7 o clock. We need to go home.”
“Can’t we stay a bit longer?”
“We’ve been here long enough. C’mon.”
A painful sting strikes me in the heart. I don’t want her to go. Not yet. I don’t want to be upstairs trapped in my room alone and bored knowing Taylor is having sex with Anna right down the hall.
“Katy, next time I’ll come to your house. Okay? We have to get together soon though.” Avery says, walking her to the front door to get her stuff ready.
Prairie and I stand there looking at each other- a habit we’ve developed.
“It was fun hanging out with you today. I hope I kept you company,” she concludes.
“Yeah. It was a lot better than being bored all day.”
We smile faintly at each other and I follow her to the front door- watching her put her shoes on.
“Maybe…” I start, trying to work up the courage.
“Maybe I should get your number. In case we want to do something another time…when we’re bored.”
“Alright, got a pen and paper?”
I scurry to the kitchen in search of the grocery pad and pen. When I run back to her she has her jacket on. “Kay, what is it?” I write down the numbers she says and stuff the pad in my back pocket.
“Ready, Katy?” She asks her sister. Katy and Avery hug goodbye and it almost makes me think I should hug Prairie, but that would seem silly.
She pulls her keys from her pocket and opens the front door.
“Bye Avery!” Katy yells as she steps into the evening drizzle.
Prairie smiles at me and follows her sister out, “Tell your mother thanks for letting us come over.”
“Okay, you too.” I completely wasn’t paying attention. Crap. I blush and smile faintly, “I mean, I will.”
She grins, “See you later, Zac.”
I wave and watch as she closes the door on her way out. My mind is exhausted. Practicing human interaction is much harder than I thought.
I run up the stairs a couple at a time and walk past Taylor’s room into my bedroom.
“Well, I’m sorry!” He yells loudly, “I don’t mean to! It’s just a habit!” There’s a pause before he continues on, “Anna, come here. Anna…I’m sorry.”
I grin and picture the two of them in there- Anna with tears flowing from her cheeks- as mentally exhausted as I am- in Taylor’s arms. I can almost see Taylor’s body slowly relax in their embrace.
I go into my room and close the door, climbing into my bed and grabbing my sketchbook off of my night stand. There is nothing like drawing to wind down. I put my head phones on and turn the volume on my disc man way up. I know better than to keep my volume down. Taylor’s bedroom and my bedroom share a wall, and they are too predictable.