Nightfall, and the tiny, snow locked, sleepy town was silent except for here, inside the rustic vacation home to which I had trekked in order to fulfill a mission.
Laundry. This collegiate gal’s attire needed some serious Snuggles action, so I sojourned through the mountains in search of a washer and dryer. Luckily, my cousin had come to keep me company on my quest and his mission, if he chose to accept it (or not) was to keep the fires in the house stocked with wood. After a few hours, my mission was almost complete, and both machines were rumbling and tumbling in the basement while we chilled in the living room. Unfortunately that wasn’t the only rumbling going on, as Derick’s and my stomachs were beginning to drown out the movie—not that we really wanted to see A Little Princess anyway.
Derick is ten days younger than me (and oh, how he hates it) and he, with two other of our younger cousins and I are an unstoppable, inescapably awesome team. We play together, we work together, and we form risky mission plans and daring acts of secret espionage together. When we were about twelve, we began planning for the Ultimate Mission: post-high school. We had provisions for college, dorms, budgets, rules, and missions (but not marriage. Introducing someone NEW to our foursome? Impossible). Together, we could best any obstacle, grapple with any hindrance!
So, Derick and I should have been able to deal with this barrier to our movie night, no problem! Though we hadn’t originally intended to watch all six library-rented movies at once—our unexpected movie marathon felt more like being chased by a crocodile along the Boston route rather than actually planning on running the 26.2 miles— as usual, we were flexible, and had accepted the challenge two movies in (“You wanna just watch all of ‘em tonight?” “Yeah… why not?”). Now, to deal with the one thing threatening the mission: hunger.
“Dia,” Derick intoned. “I believe,” he continued as if making some great declaration, “the food within your household needs to be located and devoured... NOW.”
I paused the movie and we raced to the kitchen for popcorn.
We sat side-by-side on the counter (to save bare feet from frosty linoleum) and, as custom dictated, poked, flicked water at, and hit each other to fill the terribly dull two minutes, thirty seconds before the main event, popcorn wars.
We discussed the merits and fallacies of the warnings of burning, scalding, suffocation, blindness, electrocution, etc., that were plastered in small print all over the popcorn bag, and then moved on to debate the litigious nature of the world. Derick and I are deep thinkers.
DING! Derick hopped down from his perch and punched the “open” button. I sought to prove my side of the debate by placing my hand over the opening of the popcorn bag.
“SEE? It’s NOT burning me—ow!” The smell of singed flesh and the sound of Derick’s mockery joined the more pleasant fumes of perfect popcorn in the air as I sulkily stuck my hand under cool water in the sink. Derick’s next comment, though, more than trumped the silliness of my action. He popped open the bag and inhaled deeply:
“Ah! Oh, baby, we make some good popcorn.”
Silence—an odd occurrence when Derick and I were together. The soft whistling of the winter wind around the old, creaking house, the crackling of the fire in the adjoining room and the rumblings of the washer in the basement only threw the silence in the kitchen into starker contrast. Derick’s eyes shifted from the popcorn sideways, then up to the ceiling, and back.
He tried to remedy the situation gracefully:
“Derick,” I queried slowly, “Did you just call me … baby?”
The bag of popcorn hit the ceiling at about the same time we hit the floor. Kernels rained from heaven as we lay on the linoleum, laughing too hard to breathe.
Derick wheezed, “I meant for that to be TWO sentences! TWO! ‘Oh baby, PERIOD.’ Then, as a COMPLETELY separate thought, ‘Dia, we make some good popcorn!’”
I couldn’t stop laughing long enough to reply.
The rest of the weekend proved as eventful as that first night. We narrowly escaped from an ancient, frightening tome which, we’re positive, was possessed by Voldemort (no worries, we burned it AND stabbed it with a basilisk fang). He introduced me to the Slurpee (where had those BEEN all my life?!) and aided me in my epic struggle with about fifty belligerent, evil potatoes which REFUSED to mash nicely for Thanksgiving.
I thought joining our cousins for Thanksgiving would be the sweetest part of the week, but the most singular experience was the next day, on Black Friday as we three girls of the foursome of cousins were given the mission to pick Derick up from his all-night shift at the Gap. We took him to his physical and dental appointments—to obtain signatures for his mission papers.
Part of our united plan for the future has always included the idea that the kid cousins would eventually grow up and serve missions. With Derick’s and my birthdays so close together and girls leaving at 21 instead of 19, we always knew that if I decided to serve a mission, we would just miss each other coming and going—and not see one another for about three and a half years. It was a fact that had always been no big deal.
Today, today, today, I was slowly, gradually but increasingly realizing that I’d been wrong. The memories of the previous weekend and countless, wonderful others filled my mind and burned behind my eyes as unshed tears as I drove our carload of cousins from mission to mission. At the last destination, as he grinned and exited the car with a, “Don’t blow my cover!” I leaned over the center consul into another cousin’s shoulder and…well, I just lay there. I wish I could tell you that the refining tears came and healed, or that I received comfort from heavenly messengers, or that Derick came back for his wallet and made me feel better, but that didn’t happen. I just realized the true mission of that weekend.
Realized that my coconspirator, my confidant, my cousin would be leaving in a few months or less, and that I had been given these last few free days to enjoy with him as a truly tender mercy. Realized that he would be filling a lifelong dream, and that to be anything but excited for him would be selfish. Realized that before we met again, this kind, crazy, hilarious boy would grow into the sweet, caring man I can see glimpses of today, and that I would miss him more than I would ever, could ever admit.
By the time Derick got back in the car, I was back to normal. I had to be.
“What’d they find? Did the tapeworm spawn again? How much longer do you have?”
He punched me in the arm.