“Wow,” Alex says, tongue rolled out all the way to the floor.
“Alex, close your face,” I say. “Rayme, go put some clothes on.”
I think she’s coming in for a hug, but she veers over to Millie instead, throwing an annoyed “Excuse me?” over her shoulder.
“Are you trying to murder them?” I point to Drooling Thing 1 and Drooling Thing 2.
She hugs Ed next and the contact turns him into a bright red statue, his arms stiff at his sides.
Millie gives me a reproachful glare but doesn’t say anything. We both know my sister can fight her own battles.
“They are grown-ass men,” Rayme says. “If they can’t handle a skirt, they shouldn’t be out in public.”
In response, Alex throws his arms wide for her, and gives her the Latin-lover dimpled smile. Rayme approaches with understandable caution.
“Where the hell is Mom?” I ask. She would have my back here.
Millie twists, glancing out the kitchen window overlooking the expansive backyard. “Talking to your dad and Chris. She went out for a few tomatoes, and I think caught them on their way back.” Squinting, she adds, “I think they were smoking pipes.”
My parents, everyone: pipe-smoking hippies.
“Like hookah?” Ed comes alive.
“Like Sherlock Holmes,” Rayme says with a laugh, and he goes still again under her attention.
Everyone from outside comes in, and indeed the cool air that blows in carries the warm spice of pipe tobacco. All smiles, and without taking a break in their conversation, Dad and Chris each grab a beer, walk toward the dining room, and don’t spare any of us a glance. Rayme pouts, and Millie catches my eye. I try to think back on my sister’s interactions with Chris from more than a year ago, but I swear even when she was nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, I didn’t see Rayme as a human who would go on dates. Just like I’ll always be twenty in my head, she’ll always be fourteen and gangly, a young horse that hasn’t grown into her limbs yet.
She follows Dad and Chris, Alex and Ed follow Rayme, and Millie helps Mom get dinner onto the table. I try to help, but they eventually shoo me away because apparently stealing bites of food isn’t helpful.
My parents have an enormous farm table stretching most of the length of the dining room. The room, which is far longer than it is wide, has an expansive window overlooking the rolling hills of our family vineyard, and is easily the most spectacular view in the house, other than the one from their bedroom, which has the same view, just from higher up. Tonight, Mom has decorated the length of the table with a garland of flowers snaking around and between simple white candles. Ed sits down in front of his full place setting like he’s at the White House: eyes wide, hands unsure where to land.
“Ed,” Millie says, noticing it, too. “What’s with you? It’s like you’ve never seen flatware before.”
Ed picks up a salad fork. “Growing up, we felt fancy if we put the plates on the TV trays.”
Thankfully, Mom manages to swallow her sympathetic gasp. Instead, she says, “We’re just here celebrating Reid’s birthday this weekend, nothing too fancy for us. James, would you like to say a few words?”
We all swing our eyes to Dad, who looks at her like she’s suggested he stand up and break-dance for us. “Sure. Uh, happy birthday, Reid. Thirty-one is . . . a good age.”
“He’s turning thirty-two,” Millie says with a grin.
Dad lifts his wineglass to her in thanks. “Also a good age. And . . . let’s hope for more rain, and that we can pull those soil nitrogen levels back up this spring, eh?” With that, Dad reaches for the platter of ribs.
“There’s your birthday wish,” my sister says with an amusing tilt of her head.
To be fair, my father is not the most gifted orator. He does much better when he’s coaxing miracles out of the earth.
“So tell me about this dating app thing,” my mom says.
Rayme is visibly delighted. “Dating app? What? I definitely need to hear this.”
“It’s not that Grind Up I read about, is it?” Mom adds.
My eyes go wide as I look at them both from across the table. “First of all, Grindr is for gay men. So, no. And which of my dear friends here told you about any of this so I may properly thank them later . . . ?”
Chris, Millie, and Alex all swing their gazes to Ed, and I’d punch him if he weren’t so far away, and also holding a butter knife.
“What?” he says, mouth already full. He swallows around a bite, and at least has the decency to look remotely apologetic. “Your mom asked if I was seeing anyone”—he aims a smile in Rayme’s direction—“which I’m not, if anyone was wondering. I didn’t know our Find a Date for Commencement plan was a secret.”
At my side, Millie drains half of her wine, but doesn’t come to my assistance.
“It’s just for fun,” I assure them with a small wave. “The administration is going all out for the Obama visit, and we thought it might be a good reason to find dates. Simple.”
My mom shakes her head. “It certainly doesn’t sound simple. In my day, we actually went out and met people. Dances, blind dates, drinks. For God’s sake, you could be talking to one of Millie’s serial killers online.”
“I don’t actually know any serial killers,” Millie clarifies.
“Here’s the thing,” Rayme says, motioning to Chris, Ed, Alex, and me. “I get why they’re doing it. It’s like a conveyor belt of ladies they can scroll through while they play Overwatch or circle jerk or whatever it is they do. But Millie? Ugh. Dating sites are like the second circle of hell for women.”
Millie lifts her glass again. “Not wrong.”
“It hasn’t been too bad,” Ed says with a shrug. “I’ve had a good match. So has Reid. He’s talking to two, actually.”
Wow. Ed is really getting his ass kicked later.
“Reid,” Mom says, tone disapproving. “I do not want you out there stringing anyone along.”
Rayme pipes up next to her. “Yeah, Reid.”
“It’s not like that,” I assure them, stepping on Rayme’s foot beneath the table. “We’re just getting to know each other.”
“I don’t understand what computers have to do with sex,” my dad says. “Why not just go down to Rita’s—it’s that little place just off the highway. You remember that, Reid? Thursday night is ladies’ night and beers are only two dollars. Place is full of women.”
“Oh my God, Jim,” Mom cuts in, delighted, “do you remember when Reid was seventeen and tried to sneak in?”
“Got picked up by the sheriff for a fake ID!” Dad barks out a laugh and slaps his prosthetic arm on the table, causing the silverware and glasses to jump with the impact. Of course, every Campbell, as well as Chris and Millie, is used to it, but Ed and Alex both visibly startle in their seats.
“Point is,” Dad says, “you should give it a try while you’re here.”
After I promise my parents that I’ll give Rita’s a shot, the rest of dinner is fine for the most part. Dad and Chris continue to speak quietly about phosphates and calcium concentrations in the area. Rayme joins in, and for the first time, I see Chris’s eyes light up when she mentions a new cover crop they’re going to try to bring up the pH of the soil. Alex and Ed give up on trying to lure Rayme into a conversation and end up listening as Mom loudly shares stories about the woman who makes weird art down the road, every now and then looking up to check Dad’s reaction when she loudly enunciates the name Marla. The subject of my dating life is thankfully dropped.
To my right, Millie nudges me with an elbow. “You get enough to eat?”
I nod. This is the semiquiet part of the evening. Once the wine is really flowing, all hell breaks loose around here. “Just enjoying the calm before the storm. And by storm I of course mean board games and drunk nudity.”
She stretches, and in a very un-Millie-like action, kisses my cheek. “Thanks for always including me.”
True to form, shit really does hit the fan after dinner and cake. Alex and Rayme pull out a deck of cards and get swept up in a rousing game of Kings. Mom joins in, and at least three glasses of wine are spilled, but four bottles are consumed, so I’m not sure anyone notices.