Episode 059

Melinda’s Journal

Thursday, November 23

After spending the last week studying for my finals, it was nice to spend last night reading a book. It was even nicer that the book was something I picked myself, not one required for one of my classes.

Waking up this morning, however, was disorienting. It took me a few minutes to remember I was home, not in my dorm.

I’m not looking forward to dinner this afternoon. I love my cousins, but they are so immature. Maybe now that I am in high school, my family will finally let me sit at the adult table?

Melinda’s Story

I wasn’t surprised that my family was the first to arrive at Nonna and Papa’s house Thanksgiving Day. We were always the first ones there. While my mother carried her huge antipasto tower into the house, I followed her with the smaller version she had made for the kids’ table. Meanwhile, my father was charged with keeping my eleven-year-old brother, Joey, in the backyard. Papa joined them for a game of catch in the unseasonably warm weather.

My mother let herself into her childhood home and I followed her down the hall to the kitchen, where Nonna was working at the sink.

“Happy Thanksgiving!”

Nonna turned to smile at us. “Happy Thanksgiving! You can put that on the table, there.” She nodded toward the kitchen table as she wiped her hands on her apron. “How are you?”

Nonna gave us both hugs and a peck on the cheek before returning to the stove to stir the pot of sauce. My mother looked around.

“How can we help?”

“I think everything is all set.” Nonna scanned the room. “Yup. Just waiting on the boys.”

My mother had two brothers, both of whom were married with children, but Nonna always referred to them as the boys. I sat at the table, watching my mother stir sauce and Nonna busy herself around the kitchen as she asked me questions.

“So, how’s school?”

I shrugged. “It was kind of hard at first, but it’s not bad. I’m enjoying it.”

“She made Dean’s List.” I could hear the pride in my mother’s voice. “And, she has a boyfriend.”

“Boyfriend?” Nonna pursed her lips. “Does he go to church?”

I nodded. “We go to church together every Sunday.”

“Good boy.”

“He’s sixteen.” I could hear the tone of disapproval in my mother’s voice. Why had she bothered mentioning Pat in the first place?

Nonna seemed to be on my side. “Joseph is older than you.”

“Yes, but we met after college. Three years is a big difference in high school.”

I was saved from further interrogation by the arrival of Uncle Tony and Aunt Francesca, whose three girls tumbled out of the van as their parents tried to juggle two trays of stuffed mushrooms and a bubbling baby girl I had yet to meet.

Hugs were exchanged and I grabbed the trays, bringing them straight to the dining room, since they were the first course. I then offered to hold baby Sophia while the other girls ran around outside with the guys.

A short time later, Uncle Marco and Aunt Lily arrived with a large tray of candied yams and a rambunctious little boy, who was banished to the backyard with his cousins and uncles.

Finally, Nonna called everyone to the table, but it took forever to sit down. Papa was busy shouting over everyone, trying to get drink orders. At the kids’ table, none of us wanted to sit beside either of the four-year-olds, both of whom had a reputation of being extremely messy eaters. Eventually, as the family settled down, I ended up beside my oldest cousin, Viola, who was in the same grade as Joey, even though she was a year older than him. Across from me, Joey was seated beside Viola’s eight-year-old sister. The four-year-olds had somehow ended up at either head. Since the baby had fallen asleep, I had placed her back into her carrier for the meal.

We all joined hands to say our traditional table blessing, and finally it was time to eat. There was a lot of conversation over the stuffed mushrooms, which only Uncle Tony’s children ate. I wasn’t sure about Marco, but Joey and I had tried them often enough to know we didn’t like them.

Soon, Papa was wandering around the room carrying small bowls, each holding a stuffed artichoke. Viola and I were the only ones at our table to request one.

I tore off a leaf and sucked on the stuffing before scraping it with my teeth and throwing the leaf in a large bowl between me and Viola.

She looked at me as she did the same. “So, my mom says you live at your school. What’s that like?”

I shrugged. “It’s not bad. I like it. There’s lots to do and I’ve made some really nice friends.”

“But, do you have to do homework all the time, or do you get to have some fun?”

“Oh, there’s lots of things to do. I did dance as my sport and that was really fun. And on the weekends, my friends and I go into town or to the mall. There’s a movie theater in the mall, so we’ve gone there a couple of times.”

“Really? Have you seen Romeo and Juliet? I love Jarrod Handy. Oh, and Patrick McGregor was in it, too. It was probably the best movie ever.”

Joey pointed his soda at me. “Patrick McGregor goes to her school. I got his autograph.”

Viola’s eyes became as large as saucers. “OMG! Really? That is so cool. Do you have any classes with him?”

I chose my words cautiously. “No. He’s a fifth—I mean, he’s in the eleventh grade. But, we’re friends.”

Joey looked at me with wide eyes. “Really? I didn’t know that. Hey, Mom!” He turned to the nearby adult table. “Did you know Melinda was friends with Patrick McGregor?”

“Yes, I did.”

Viola was wiggling excitedly in her seat, her artichoke nearly forgotten. “Have you met his girlfriend? I was reading last night that he’s with Poppy Sommers now. Does she go to your school too? What’s she like? What’s he like?”

“I hadn’t heard that.” My fingers shook nervously as I brought the next leaf to my mouth. I figured it was time to change the subject. “So, what’s new with you?” 

It wasn’t long before Papa cleared the artichoke dishes and my mother carried in her trays towering with layers of meat, cheese, and olives. While the adults simply spooned great helpings onto their plates, at my table we all picked out our favorite ingredients, leaving the hard-boiled eggs for the four-year-olds.

I spent the entire course wondering what my cousin had read. Should I bother mentioning the rumor to Pat? Of course, it was a rumor. Pat would never cheat on me. But, my mother’s words echoed in the back of my mind. He was a great actor. My olives tasted a little more sour than usual.

Nonna went around the room asking everyone how many manicotti we each wanted. Viola, Joey, and I each requested one, but no one else at our table did.

I declined the salad course, offering to care for Sophia, who had woken from her nap. She loved being held and, after giving her a bottle, I bounced her around on my lap. Playing with my newest cousin helped me forget about the rumor Viola had mentioned.

Finally, it was time for the main course. Papa carved the turkey and placed it on plates. My cousins and I brought our plates to the adult table to fill them with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, stuffing, broccoli casserole, and yams, complete with walnuts, apples, and mini-marshmallows. There was a basket of dinner rolls on our table when we returned.

Nonna volunteered to hold the baby, allowing me to eat in as much peace as possible, with everyone around me yelling at each other. Wasn’t I old enough for the adult table yet? I only half-listened to the arguments, trying to avoid thinking about Pat.

After dinner, the children were sent into the living room to watch Christmas movies while Papa, who was supposed to be watching them, took a nap. I was allowed to stay in the kitchen, provided I hold the baby. Since Sophia had fallen back asleep, I was able to text Walter.

He had sent his first message before breakfast, when he asked about my grades. After congratulating me on Dean’s List and informing me he had done equally well—although he didn’t have any A-minuses—he continued to text me every hour to ask what course I was on. He had been fascinated last night when I had described the seven-course meal during our drive home. Now that we were between courses, he started sharing some of the antics occurring at his home.

His mother was the second youngest of six children, all of whom were married with multiple children of their own. Since some of the cousins were nearly as old as his parents, several were married with children of their own running around. His father’s parents lived in a retirement community in Florida, so his father’s only brother always joined the McGregor holiday celebrations with his wife and kids. Their father’s fourth bandmate was also there with his wife and kids, adding to the chaos.

I was enjoying Walter’s stories when the baby began to stir. I looked at the women in the kitchen, talking loudly while they washed dishes and prepared the desserts. My aunt was drying the silverware.

“Hey, Aunt Francesca?” 

“What’s up, sweetie?”

“Sophia is kinda fussing. I think she’s trying to stay asleep, but it’s a little loud in here. Do you think I can take her into the back bedroom?”

“That’s a good idea. Here. Here’s her bottle. If she wakes up or fusses, you can give her the rest of it. Oh. I haven’t changed her in a while.”

“I can do it when she wakes up. I know how.”

“Fantastic. Take the diaper bag. I wish Viola was as good a babysitter as you.”

Smiling at the complement, I carried the baby into a spare bedroom in the back of the house. I settled myself onto the bed, snuggling the baby in my arms. 

A moment later, my video chat signaled an incoming call. I answered it, keeping the volume low.

Pat greeted me with the smile that had helped make him a famous movie star. “Hey, Daphne.”

“I thought her name was Melinda.” I recognized the off-screen voice as belonging to Meghan, his equally famous sister.

I smiled as I heard Walter explain. “It’s his stupid pet name for her. Based on some Greek myth.”

I kept my voice low. “Hey you guys. How’s the chaos?”

“We’re hiding.” Walter sounded proud.

 Pat angled his phone in such a way that I could see all three of them as Walter continued. “Dinner’s over and no one will leave. Some are talking about staying over.” 

I giggled. “How was dinner?”

Pat shrugged. “Not bad. I got Walter to try Mom’s colcannon.”

“How was it?” I knew he had been weary of the dish.

Walter grinned. “It had so much butter and cream, I never even tasted the cabbage.”

“He had three helpings.” Meghan sounded a little grossed out.

“Only three?” I was half serious. Walter had a voracious appetite.

Pat shook his head mournfully. “He ate an entire apple pie.” 

“You didn’t!”

“No, I did.” Walter sent me a sheepish look as he nodded. “How are things over there? What course are you on?”

“We’re in between dinner and dessert. The kids are all watching TV, but I snuck away.” I angled the camera to show off Sophia. “I’m babysitting.”

Meghan cooed. “Ooh! She’s so cute! She’s a new baby.”

“Three months, I think. My aunt is letting me care for her.”

“Okay. Game time,” Pat announced with a smile. The Evans family loved to play games, especially the boys.

I smiled. “Oh, I’ll let you go.”

“No. You’re playing. Stupidest dinner conversations. Me first. I overheard the Connors arguing over whose hair was redder.”

“You’re joking!”

Meghan laughed. “No, he’s not. They’re . . . I forgot. Six and seven, I think? Our cousins’ kids. I know they’re close in age. Anyway, I overheard their argument, marched between them and said I won. Then I walked away.”

I tried not to wake the baby, but I couldn’t not laugh. “Okay. That beats my stupid dinner conversation. My brother and my oldest cousin, they’re both in the seventh grade. They got into a debate about who was the first president.”

“There’s a debate?” asked Pat. “I thought it was obvious. John Hanson.”

Meghan shook her head. “No. Peyton Randolph.”

Walter sent a quizzical look at his siblings. “What happened to George Washington?”

“Wait. How is this something Walter doesn’t know?” I was surprised. Walter had the reputation among our friends of being the most knowledgeable and having all the answers.

“John Hanson was the first president under the Articles of Confederation,” Pat explained, “which were the government after America declared independence and before the Constitution was ratified, making George Washington president.”

“But,” Meghan countered, “Peyton Randolph was president of the Continental Congress, which is the government that was in charge before the Articles of Confederation were passed.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I think that was the argument my brother was trying to make. But, he didn’t have all those details, which made his point a little fuzzy.”

“I got one,” Meghan announced. “Uncle Liam asked me how school was going. I told him I was taking a year off. He said, Oh, before you start high school?”

I raised my eyebrows. “How do you take a year off before high school?” 

Walter shrugged. “We were homeschooled. He probably thought Meghan was taking a year at home before going to school.”

“Maybe he said the wrong word?” 

Meghan shook her head. “No, he really thought I was only twelve.”

Pat smiled at his sister. “You look twelve.” 

Meghan playfully punched her brother. “Okay, Walter. You’re up.”

Walter thought for a moment. “Nope. I was too busy eating. I don’t think I heard any conversations.”

As we laughed, Joey bounded into the room, plopping himself beside me. Sophia stirred, but didn’t wake.

I brought her closer as I turned to my brother. “Joey! Be careful. Don’t wake the baby.”

“Nonna says dessert’s ready. What’cha watching?” He looked over my shoulder to better see the screen.

“Nothing. I’m just saying hi to my friends.”

“But, you’re watching a movie. That’s Patrick and Meghan McGregor.”

“And you’ve met Walter.” I turned my attention back to the phone.

Walter waved. “Hey, Joey. What’s for dessert?”

My brother shrugged. “Oh, the usual. Cannoli, apple pie, pumpkin pie. Probably some cheesecake. Cookies.”

I smiled at the thought. “I like the green leaves with the chocolate inside.”

Walter frowned. “Now I’m hungry again. “I wonder if there’s more pie.”

Meghan punched her brother lightly on the shoulder as I started giggling. Pat brought the phone close so I could no longer see his siblings.

“Text me later?” He blew me a kiss before ending the call.

Joey stared at me. “I don’t get it. Why is Walter with them?”

“Walter’s their brother.” I was trying to get off the bed and store my phone without waking the still-sleeping baby.

“But, why did Patrick McGregor want you to text him?” 

Sophia whimpered. “Joey! You woke her up!” 

I bounced the baby gently, fumbling in the diaper bag for the bottle.

“But, he blew you a kiss!” 

“Yes, he did. He’s my boyfriend.” 

I managed to get the top off the bottle and shove it into the baby’s mouth before she reached full-blown wailing. I continued to bounce and rock her slightly, lulling her back to sleep.

Joey shook his head. “No, he’s not. Poppy Sommers is. It’s all over the internet.”

I dropped the bottle and the baby fussed for a moment until I could get it back into her mouth. When I finally responded to my brother, I wasn’t entirely polite.

“I haven’t seen what you’re talking about. All I know is that Pat and I have been together for about a week and a half. Maybe what you saw was older than that.”

“You’re serious? He’s really your boyfriend? Does Mom know?”

I rolled my eyes as I headed for the doorway, the baby already half-asleep again. “Yes, she does. But, I’d rather no one else know. So, don’t say anything about it. Deal?”


“Deal?” I raised my voice as much as I dared without waking the baby.

“Fine,” Joey mumbled as he walked past me to return to the dining room.

Pat’s Story

Thursday morning, after Walter and I went for our morning run on the track that encircles the house, we went to the gym to lift weights. Walter settled himself on the bench press while I spotted him.

“We should do this at school. Hit the weight room after our morning run.”

“I’m . . . game,” he said between reps. He handed me the barbell. I secured it and removed some weight before laying down.

He passed it to me. “Did you check your grades?” 

“Dean’s list.” I extended my arms then brought the bar back to my chest for the next rep. “B in . . . history. A-minus . . . English . . . everything else . . . A.”

He smirked. “And how’d your girlfriend do?”

“I haven’t talked to her yet today.”

Walter make a tsking sound. “Well, I hate to tell you, but she got better grades than you.” 

I passed him the barbell and sat up quickly with the intention of pounding him, but Meghan came in, so I restrained myself. I nodded my head to her in greeting.

“You’re up early.” Walter and I had always been early risers, but Meghan liked to sleep until nine or ten.

“Cynthia sent me a script. Nightshade. Said it was perfect for me. Figured I’d read it while I run.”

Walter and I started doing our shoulder flies while discussing excuses we could use to get out dinner.

“Have one of the little cousins spill something on your clothes,” Walter suggested. “Then, you need to go up to get changed and I’ll come find you and we can just not go back downstairs.”

“That’s disgusting!” Meghan exclaimed.

I looked at Walter. “Actually, I thought it was a good idea.”

“Seriously?” Meghan looked around at us, removing headphones from her ears. “You guys have got to read this. Cynthia is losing her mind.”

Meghan handed us her tablet. I read over Walter’s shoulder a moment before turning to her. “Wait. Who are you supposed to be reading?”


“But, there’s,” Walter paused to count, “four swears in this line alone.” He looked at Meghan. “You don’t swear.”

“Keep reading.” Meghan gestured back at the tablet.


“Disturbing,” I finished for my brother. “I’m not sure what’s worse. The bedroom scene or the stage directions.”

“They’re very . . . detailed.” Walter squinted at the tablet. “That’s not actually possible, right?”

“I’m pretty sure Mom would flip out if she knew what you were reading.”

“Eww. Did you get to this shower scene? That’s just not right.”

I turned to my sister. “Cynthia thought this was good for you?” 

Meghan nodded. “She said I should consider adult roles now that I’m eighteen.”

“There’s adult roles, then there’s adult.” Walter handed back the tablet. “I think you should burn that.”

Meghan nodded. “I’m feeling a little defiled right now.”

“Cynthia must have sent you the wrong script,” I suggested. “Or read the synopsis wrong.”

We all agreed our agent must have made a mistake and Walter and I went back to lifting.

Mom’s sister had come in from Long Island with their mother while Walter and I were running outside. By the time we finished in the gym, we could smell the turkey. The doorbell began ringing not long after I got out of the shower. I took my time getting dressed, in no particular hurry to visit with anyone.

Family dinners were always chaotic. Our house was the only one large enough to hold Mom’s gigantic family. She’s got five siblings, all married with multiple kids. We have a ton of cousins, some nearly as old as my parents, and a bunch of them are married with kids of their own. Some of the other ones brought dates or fiancées. Add Uncle Vinny and Uncle Eddie and their families, and we had over sixty people coming to eat.

Mom has tried a few different tactics to serve the food at family meals. This year, she tried placing all the food on the dining room table, then having everyone serve themselves buffet style. She made Walter and I get our food last, saying we should let our guests eat first. This didn’t go over too well with my insatiable brother.

He started whining when we finally reached the table. “Oh, man! Pop-Pop ate all the mashed potatoes again!”

“You can always have some sweet potatoes.” Meghan put a spoonful on her plate.

I raised my eyebrows at her. “Should you be eating that?” 

“What? Sweet potatoes are good for diabetics.”

“But, aren’t those full of brown sugar and butter?”

She rolled her eyes, but I had no idea what she was trying to tell me. Part of me considered telling on her to Mom, but I was hungry and had no idea where Mom even was. Wordlessly, she slid some of her potatoes onto my plate. Hey. Maybe she was learning to take better care of herself after all.

I took a spoon full of Mom’s traditional colcannon and dumped it onto Walter’s plate before he could protest. “You told Melinda you would try some.”

He made a disgusted face at the mashed-potatoes-with-cabbage concoction. “No. You suggested it. I never said I would.”

“Try it anyway.” I placed a much smaller portion on my own plate. “I think you’ll like it.”

As usual with family gatherings, we moved the living room furniture onto the pool deck and set up folding tables in their stead. Somehow, Meghan, Walter and I ended up at a table with Uncle Colin’s and Uncle Vinny’s kids. 

The three little boys—ages six, six and eight—spent the entire meal discussing video games that Walter refused to play because they’re too violent. That was saying something, since his favorite game involved beheading elves. 

The two girls were a year apart and did not get along at all. The older one, a couple of years younger than Walter, had a tendency to act like she were some super-sophisticated twenty-year-old. Most of the time, she was really just a snob.

I tried my best to ignore the conversations around me, but I couldn’t talk to my brother and sister about much in the presence of these kids. I had nearly finished my dessert when one the boys got overly excited and knocked over his cola. Seriously, who thought giving a hyperactive six-year-old regular cola was a good idea in the first place?

Of course, the soda fell into my lap. I tried not to swear as I hurried to mop it up with my napkin. My snotty cousin started cursing out her younger brother. Meghan, Walter, and I exchanged surprised looks. Luckily, it was loud enough for Aunt Katie to come rushing over. I used the opportunity to run away.

“We don’t actually have to go back, right?” I asked from my closet as I got changed.

“Not planning on it.” I could hear Walter strumming tunelessly on my guitar. When his phone chirped, the music stopped.

I put on some jeans and a polo shirt, putting my wallet and phone back into my pockets before I joined my siblings. They were both on my bed, playing on their phones. 

“Well, if that’s what we’re doing now.” I took my phone from my pocket and immediately requested a video chat.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” Melinda whispered as her face filled my screen.

How could I not smile when I saw her? “Hey, Daphne.”

“I thought her name was Melinda.” Meghan put down her phone and tried to look over my shoulder.

“It’s his stupid pet name for her.” Walter also put down his phone. “Based on some Greek myth.”

“Hey you guys,” Melinda said quietly. “How’s the chaos?”

Well, if she was going to talk to all of them, I might as well hold the phone so everyone could see, right?

“We’re hiding,” Walter announced proudly. “Dinner’s over and no one will leave. Some are talking about staying over.”

Melinda giggled. “How was dinner?”

She was my girlfriend. My turn to talk. “Not bad. I got Walter to try Mom’s colcannon.”

“How was it?”

Walter smiled. “It had so much butter and cream, I never even tasted the cabbage.”

“He had three helpings.” Meghan sounded slightly disgusted.

“Only three?”

“He ate an entire apple pie,” I informed her.

“You didn’t!”

At least Walter looked a little chagrined. “No, I did. How are things over there? What course are you on?” What was my brother’s obsession with this seven-course meal? When Melinda had told us about it yesterday, he wanted to join her family for dinner instead of ours. Then again, so did I, but for different reasons.

“We’re in between dinner and dessert. The kids are all watching TV, but I snuck away. I’m babysitting.”

She angled the phone to show a small bundle of pink blankets in her arms. Was that a doll?

Meghan cooed beside me. “Oh! She’s so cute! She’s a new baby.”

“Three months, I think. My aunt is letting me care for her.”

My sister could go on forever about babies. I quickly changed the subject. “Okay. Game time.”

“Oh, I’ll let you go.”

“No. You’re playing. Stupidest dinner conversations. Me first. I overheard the Connors arguing over whose hair was redder.”

I could tell Melinda was trying not to laugh. “You’re joking.”

“No.” Meghan giggled as she explained how she had won their contest.

Melinda’s stupidest conversation was about who was the first president. I teased her by mentioning the first president under the Articles of Confederation. I had just learned about him last year. Meghan one-upped me with the first president of the Continental Congress. She was right, of course. Both of us were smirking at Walter, who hadn’t known any of this. With a little brother who was smarter than both of us, it was nice to be able to know something he didn’t.

When Meghan explained how Uncle Liam thought she was just starting high school, I reminded her she looked twelve. It wasn’t exactly an insult. In at least two of the movies we had starred in together, I played the older sibling. Meghan hit me anyway, which I barely felt.

Walter decided he was too busy being gluttonous to notice any conversations. While we were laughing, Melinda’s younger brother peered into the phone.

“Nonna says dessert’s ready. What’cha watching?”

“Nothing. I’m just saying hi to my friends.”

“But, you’re watching a movie. That’s Patrick and Meghan McGregor.”

I had never thought about what other people saw on the other end of a video chat. I couldn’t help but smirk. Melinda just rolled her eyes at her brother.

“And you’ve met Walter.

Walter waved. “Hey, Joey. What’s for dessert?”

The boy must have shared Walter’s love for food. He sounded nearly ecstatic as he rattled off the list of desserts, ending with cookies.

“I like the green leaves with the chocolate inside.” Melinda smiled with a faraway look in her eye. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I loved that she seemed to love them.

“Now I’m hungry again.” My brother looked ready to drool. “I wonder if there’s more pie.

Meghan punched Walter, but she probably hurt her hand more than him. He was built like a rock. 

Party time was over. I turned the phone back toward me and blew Melinda a kiss. “Text me later?”

She nodded as the chat ended. I put down the phone and turned to my siblings. They were miming blowing kisses to adoring fans. I responded with a rude hand gesture.

Walter laughed. “Come on. I think I figured out the Weddas problem.”

Attention Hammerheads

Melinda is always trying to build her vocabulary. What were some words in this episode that were new to you? She will add them to her vocabulary journal.