I wasn’t, strictly speaking, happy about the hurricane. I knew it made my parents nervous to travel to the beach, and that plenty of the other family members were on edge. The bride and groom, to the extent I knew them, were compulsively put together, but in this instance were subdued, distracted, frazzled, and only charming in the spaces in between.
But it was exciting, too. The prospect of seeing tornadoes whip past, or a violent ocean, visible though the eastward facing upstairs bedroom windows of the beach house.
By the time the storm reached us, it had settled to a category one, and it didn’t make landfall. Uncle Ron, Aunt Jude, Mom, and Dad, still informed us in turns, and in no uncertain terms, that we were not allowed outdoors.
So, we sat in the living room, the four of us, my cousin Devin, my older sister Brynne, his older sister Ashley. Aunt Jude has put on a DVD of Dirty Dancing—a movie from her teenage years that she acted appalled none of us had seen before, and started watching with us before returning to the kitchen to sip gin and tonics with the other adults.
It was awkward, because Brynne and I had started consciously not spending time together a year or two before, and I didn’t get the impression Devin and Ashley were much closer. It was awkward because Devin had started commenting on how hot Brynne was; in retrospect, I think that was about equal parts trying to get my goad and speaking his mind. It was awkward because I returned the banter about his older sister, seventeen years old and squarely out of my league, even if she weren’t my cousin, besides which it was awkward that I was starting to mean it when I said she was hot, because when she wore glasses rather than her contacts, and her tank top with no bra, sweat pants, I really was attracted to her.
The four of us played Scrabble, sitting on the floor around the coffee table, only half-watching the movie—the girls more so than us, because at least they were facing the TV, and they were more prone to get drawn into the dance sequences, particularly when Patrick Swayze took his shirt off
Jennifer Connelly wasn’t as pretty as Ashley.
The girls got up to mimic what was on screen at one point. Brynne backed up and ran to Ashley to approximate the lift Swayze and Connelly were trying in the water, no more successful than the actors on screen, ultimately toppling into a giggling heap.
Uncle Ron hollered, “Stop roughhousing, boys!”
The girls giggled more, legs intertwined, faces very close.
Devin watched them closely, shot me a glance, and lifted a fist to his mouth, pantomiming a blowjob.
“What was that?” My sister had caught him. One of those nightmare-ish scenarios you don’t have a contingency plan to address, not for implausibility, but because it’s so laughably catastrophic that you don’t want to think about it.
And perhaps the lone scenario worse than Devin or me having to respond was that the conversation might continue without us.
“He was motioning for you to give him head,” Ashley said.
Devin was pink in the face. I’d never seen him at a loss for words before, but then before it had been just the two of us and I was at a perpetual disadvantage for being the younger cousin.
“He has the biggest crush on you,” Ashley said.
That roused Devin from his stupor. “You promised not to say anything.”
“And you’re gross.”
My sister shook her head at the both of us, in one of those moments when she stepped ahead years to someone wise and adult and I hated her. “You boys ought to learn now that women aren’t objects for you to lust after. If you like someone, you should get to know her and let her get to know you. Not try to sneak in innuendos or give each other looks. Too many boys grow into men still doing that. The sooner you break the habit, the better chance you have of turning out decent.”
Rain pelted against the windows. Sheets of it. The windows Uncle Ron and Dad had argued about whether they needed to board up yesterday and again this morning. I’d been happy at the outcome, to have them open, thinking of what I might see on the other side—flying cars, flying trees, flying people. But it was all rain, too hard and too constant to make out much of anything.
I hated Brynne’s condescension, but even then it occurred to me the most maddening part of Brynne’s diatribe was that she might be right.
“You’re right.” Another surprise. Devin contrite. Devin not peeking at my sisters’ chest or scanning her body up and down, but looking her in the eye. “We’re sorry.”
Though I hadn’t been directly implicated in anything, I got the sense I was better off taking proactive responsibility than trying to evade detection, like the time Devin and I stole a couple of Uncle Ron’s beers from the fridge and wound up knocking one over on the living room carpet, and our cover up schemes were all too unwieldy to bother pursuing. “Sorry,” I said. “We’ll be better.”
The girls looked pleased with themselves and the Scrabble game continued, then we all watched the end of the movie, before the girls retreated upstairs and we flipped through staticky TV stations, worse under the storm, losing options as we went.
We looked at the TV. I felt chastened and I presumed the same was true of Devin until he settled on Animal Planet—the image of a monkey in a tree surveying the jungle beneath him, above the fray—and he said, “Your sister’s hot when she’s angry.”