“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.”
“She’s my sister,” Michael said.
“I know.” Jake looked between them. “You two look a bit alike.”
“I know. Your hair is the same shade of brown and your noses are similar.”
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.”
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.
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