"Do you want to talk about Dad?"
My 20-year-old shakes his head no, grabs a package of Chips Ahoy! from the pantry and heads back to the very loud Madden game he's engrossed in against his younger brother. I hear something like, "Give me one of those," followed by something like, "Stuff it, small man," and then my 13-year-old appears in the kitchen where I'm standing holding a second package of the coveted snack.
"Thanks, mom," he says, taking it from me. I smile my you're welcome and he reaches out and hugs me.
"Cuy, come on!" Casey hollers from the den. "You're holding up the game!"
"You know he's gonna cheat if you don't get in there," I whisper, hugging my not-so-small man tight. In the last few weeks, my younger son's hit a growth spurt and is now not only taller than me, but his voice seems to come from the soles of his super-huge feet.
Cuy laughs but doesn't let go of my neck. "You okay, mom?"
"I have this feeling," I reply, breaking his embrace, grabbing the cookies, peeling open the package and popping one in my mouth in one pretty smooth move, "that you guys want to talk about Dad, but for some reason nobody's sayin' nothin'."
My younger son just stands there in his "TEAMWORK Is A Whole Lot of People Doing What I Say" t-shirt, black basketball shorts and enormous black and red sneakers, staring at me. Or, more accurately, my mouth. He's seen me eat an entire roast chicken by myself in one sitting, but junk food? Only once, when my husband first got sick and I came in late from the hospital and discovered there wasn't a drop of wine left in the house. I drowned my sorrow in a bag of Tostitos, and was rewarded by looking like a blonde blowfish for two days. The cookies hit the spot though, and for a split second I consider having another. Giving into temptation, I reach out and Cuy responds by catapulting himself across our huge butcher block table and onto the bright blue package like it's a hand grenade that's about to go off.
"Dude, what are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" He replies, incredulously.
"What are both of you doing?" demands Casey, coming into the kitchen and glancing from his brother, who's sprawled across the kitchen table clutching the package of Chips Ahoy!, to me, working my tongue across my teeth in a desperate, but ultimately futile, attempt to excavate the crumbs caught between them.
"Mom had a cookie," Cuy offers.
"Yeah?" Casey replies, eyeing me. "Something's weird with you today."
"She was going for a second, but I stopped her."
"Two cookies?" It was Casey's turn to be incredulous.
Cuyler nodded and slid off the table, taking the chocolate chips with him. "I think it has something to do with Dad. She sort of asked me if I wanted to talk about him."
Both boys look at me like I'm some kind of incompetent. Brats, I thought. Since when does my wanting a snack make it okay for my sons to talk about me right in front of me? But then, since when -- and with a veritable vineyard in my fridge these days -- do I snack?
"Excuse me," I start, annoyed at my out-of-the-blue junk food jones, my kids for calling me on it, and the fact that they're both looking down on me while I'm gearing up to reprimand them, "but you realize I'm standing here, right?"
Cuyler looks at his feet, but Casey lets me have it.
"And you realize you're the one who wants to talk about Dad, right? I'm going back to the game."
"It's football season!" I call as my 6'3, skinny-as-a-bean-pole boy lopes off, slamming the door to the den behind him. "Giants season," I say, turning to Cuy. "I just thought maybe you guys were missing him, you know, more."
"It's always going to be some season, mom," Cuy says softly. "And he's dead. So unless there's some kind of miracle, my guess is we're always gonna miss him." He pauses, and flicks the freshness seal on the package. "You really want another?" he asks.
"Nope. Just wanted to know if you wanted to talk."
He smiles and shakes his head, and I run my hand through his wavy brown hair. "Go. Get on with your game," I say.
"And you get on with your life," he replies.
"Face it, mom," he continues, looking past me to the closed den door from behind which Casey is hooting and hollering and clearly cheating his way to victory over the poor kid's rudderless team, "you only snack when you're sad."
"Listen, Sigmund─" I start, but he cuts me off.
"No you listen. You only snack when you're sad. But the thing is, you're not sad. You're happy.
Annoyingly, sickeningly, to the point of driving me and Casey crazy, happy," he replies. "And you feel bad about it. Like you're hurting Dad or you don't deserve it or whatever. Well you're not, and you do. Capeesh?"
I stand there, stunned. How could my 13-year-old be so perceptive? So empathetic? So eloquent?
"You got that from a cookie?" I ask.
"No. South Park," he snaps, looking at me like I'm totally trying his patience. "The Jersey Shore episode the four of us watched that night," he adds, hinting hard at the reason for my newfound (if annoying), happiness, not to mention my wine-filled fridge.
And then he turns and goes into the den. Done with me and my pangs of guilt and desperate, I'm sure, to save what's left of his game.