“Are you dating Jason Laurent?” I ask Morgan. On the kitchen table, my neglected bowl of Corn Flakes softens into oatmeal as my Sunny Delight (a healthy cup of orange flavored sugar water) warms. Hungover, Morgan hasn’t said word to all morning.
“Why would I be dating him? I don’t even know him.” Peering over her Cinnamon Toast Crunch, she gives me a confused look. You’d though I’d asked about her condo on Mars. “And besides I’m dating Brandon.”
Mom walks into the kitchen, dressed in a plain brown skirt and beige blouse. Sunday morning is the only time of the week the Nolan family can be sure to be together, first at home, then, from 9am ’til 12pm, at 12st Street Baptist Church. Since she started college Morgan usually spends this time wearing a dark pair of sun glasses and rattling a bottle of Tylenol.
“Be ready to leave by 8:45.” Mom says, pouring her coffee before disappearing through the kitchen door and up the stairs. The scent of her new jasmine and peony perfume, a Valentine’s gift from Dad, follows her out like a playful bird.
Through the kitchen sliding door, I watch Oliver stringing up a pulley system in an old pine tree. Mom’s through trying to prevent him from destroying the backyard and now does her best to ignore him, keeping the shades drawn like an old spinster. Glass sliding doors present more of a challenge.
“Why do you ask?” Morgan works the spoon in her mouth, her eyes narrowed into suspicious slits. “I only meet him once.”
“I saw you leave with him during the True Love Waits Dance.” I say, staring into my bowl and attempting to make out shapes in the goop; a tree, a lion, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding into a million pieces. I can never endure confrontation.
I look up. Morgan’s eyes are wide as tea saucers. “Were you spying on me?” The question bleats out, as if she were a blonde haired, pasty skinned goat.
“No.” I look over my shoulder to make sure Mom is gone. It would kill her if she knew. “I just saw you leave and come back.”
“You were spying on me.” Disgust colors her words, turning them into a Piscasso of anger.
“No!” Defensive now. Perhaps I should’ve kept quit. What was I expecting? A confession? Reassurance? What?
“So what, we kissed a little bit.” She shoves cereal into her mouth. Milk drips from her lips as she chews. “Brandon is ok with that. We’re in an uncommitted relationship.” For a few moments she stares at me, waiting for her point to burn through. Finally, she shakes her head, as if I’m too young to understand, as if I’m still the kid who slept with a Barbie nightlight and who’d sneak into her room to try on her raspberry lipstick and bright blue eyeliner.
The back sliding door opens and Oliver enters carrying a plastic milk crate. He opens the pantry and begins pulling cans from selves stocked with a doomsday’s worth of food. He’s already dressed for church, wearing a tucked in polo shirt and kaki pants, his everyday attire that but with added black wingtip shoes. “Don’t tell Mom I’m getting these.” He says, his hands grasping tins of creamed corn and English peas..
“What are you making?” I ask, wanting to escape outside with him, never to see Morgan again.
“You want to know?” Oliver smiles. He and Sunny have been working out, running several miles a day and doing push-ups and sit-ups. I’ve even seen them attacking a makeshift punching bag made from an old backpack, filled first with shredded newspapers then with sand. It’s made no discernable difference in either of them. Still the string bean arms, still the round childlike jawlines. “You really want to know? You really, really want to know?”
“Yes!” I bark. God what’s wrong with this family!
Oliver smiles and says it’s going to be a poorman’s Bowflex, just a rope run through a pulley with one end tied to the handle bars from Morgan’s old single-speed Roadmaster bike (the one with pink tassels) and the other knotted to the crate of canned peas, corn and long dead Felix’s the Cat’s Purina. It’s fitting, I think she’s buried under that tree.
Mom walks in and sees the cans piled three deep in the crate. She sighs like a Nor’easter.
“I’ll put them back after I’m done.” Oliver says. You’d thought he was a dog caught chewing a slipper or rubbing his butt on the carpet.
Mom just shakes her head and moves to the coffee pot, filling her “Best Mom Ever” mug with more Folgers Classic Decaf, before heading back upstairs. “Ten minutes.” She calls back.
Oliver looks at us for a moment then hurriedly tosses a canned ham and half-a-dozen tins of refried beans into the crate and heads outside.
“Your zipper was down.” I whisper to Morgan, the words slipping out before I can catch myself. Its as if my tongue had a direct line to my heart, with both deciding to leave my brain out of it. “You weren’t just kisssing.” I let the word slither off my tongue with a serpentine hiss.
She looks at me, contempt spreading across her face like butter on bread. “So what? We fooled around a little bit.”
Fooled around? That could mean a million things, none of them good. “Our bodies are the Temples of God.” I remind her. Where did I hear that? Mom maybe? She also says things like you can’t have your cake and eat it too, and you reap what you sow. “You shouldn’t be ‘fooling around’ with anyone.”
Morgan stands, jolting the table, almost spilling orange juice over my church cloths. “Charlotte and I are still virgins. We’re waiting for our wedding nights. She’s Mormon.” Her words have more teeth than tongue to them, “We don’t sleep with anyone.”
“Mormons…” I mutter, unimpressed. The only other Mormon I know is a brown haired girl named Heather Yearby, a Junior who plays trumpet in the Jazz band. She has a round, basketball butt and two breast like ripe Georgia peaches. Once she was caught in the boys bathroom with a black football player named Tevon. The joke at school now goes, The wind sure blows in Utah, don’t it?
Morgan paces the kitchen, eyeing me, wading shin deep into the shallow end of her intellect. She smiles finally. “You have no clue, no idea.” She’s in my face waving a thin finger, head bobbing like a black girl’s before a weave ripping brawl, “If a little prude like you saw the things Charlotte and I do, you’d crap yourself, you’d hide under the table.”
She steps back, wearing a triumphant, smug expression. You’d thought she won something big, had conquered Berlin or taken out Osama Bin Laden, instead she’d done nothing at all, a loud wind that hardly ruffled the leaves. I almost feel sorry for her.
“What’s going on in here?” Dad walks into the kitchen and pours coffee into his to-go mug. Having lost another fifteen pounds since New Years (sheading jowls and love handles has left him with a square jaw and what could be pecks under his ironed blue dress shirt) he looks handsomer than ever. “If you two want to fight, take it outside. If not, keep it down.” He spoons sugar and creamer into his mug and stirs, turning it the color of muddy water, before heading back upstairs.
Morgan sits and finishes eating he cereal, grinning at me with each spoonful.
I stir my Corn Flakes and look out the window. Oliver has finished the ‘poorman’s Bowflex‘ and is pulling the handle bars. He raises the crate of cat food and canned ham ten feet into the air with ease. He lets it down slowly and looks at the collection, shaking his head.
“He needs more cans.” I say.
Morgan only grins, not hearing a word, her smile louder than ever.