"Mom, Dad," I asked, stopping by their room that night at the hotel. "Can we talk?"
Mother was standing in her robe and pajamas at the door. Daddy was laying on the bed watching TV, and Robbie was on the other bed, with his Nack pulled apart, its guts spilled across the comforter. He was fiddling with a bit that looked like a key-switch.
"Alone," I added.
"Of course, dear." she said and opened the door wider. I followed her in.
"Robbie," she said, stopping beside his bed. "Why don't you go to the other room for a moment. We have to talk with Dani."
"Aw Mom," he said with the typical reticence of a ten-year-old. "Do I gotta?"
"Yes young man," she said, putting a hand on her hips. "You have to."
"Hafta," he repeated. She put her other hand on her other hip and squared her shoulders.
"Have to," she repeated, louder and more tense.
"Have to," he said again, putting stress on the 'v'. He stood up but stood reluctantly beside his ailing machine. "I don't wanna go over the the girl's room."
"Dani is not a girl. I have three children, and no two are the same sex, so there are no boy-z, and no girl-z. Only children. Now, go next door."
He scrunched up his face and stomped his foot in the shag carpet.
"Honey," Mother said to Daddy, the pitch of her voice rising to 'you'd better listen or you'll be in trouble too' tone.
Daddy looked up, wary-eyed.
"You make your son listen, right now!"
"Yes dear." He got sat up on the bed and put his feet into his carpet slippers.
"Come here, son."
Robbie approached petulantly.
"Dad," he whined. "She won't let me fix my Na-a-ack. It's gotta broken 'enter' button and I think the tape heads are dirty."
"You heard your mother," he said sternly, but opened the drawer of his nightstand. He took a five dollar bill from his wallet and held it out.
"Now you take this money and go to that Baskin Robbins down the street. Take your sister with you...and get her some ice cream too."
Robbie nodded and reached for the bill. Mother turned her glower and the universal sign for 'you are in trouble now, mister' on him.
"In fact," Daddy continued, apparently oblivious he was experiencing the last seconds of his life, "get us all something."
"With five dollars?" Robbie looked at him dubiously.
He took out another five, but Robbie only tilted his head. He exchanged the five for a ten and my brother snatched it, dancing out the door, but pausing long enough to smirk at Mother.
The 'Y' chromosome in my family must be suicidal. It's a wonder they weren't extinct.
After Robbie left, Mother stomped over to Daddy.
"Do you think that was a good idea," she asked him.
"Yeah, I think so. It's close, the street is well lit, and there are two of them. I'm not worried about their safety."
"Me either," she growled, "not about their safety.
"Oh," he said and his Adam's apple bobbed. He got a worried look on his face. "Should I not have done that?"
"You think? Seriously, honey, that was not a shining example of a unified front."
"Sorry," he said, putting his hands in the pockets of his robe.
"We'll talk about it later. Now Dani, what is it you want?"
I held out the Peace Corps literature.
"That guy, Tipper Jackson..."
They looked at me in confusion.
"The man at the table today? He had an Asian wife, named Diwata."
"Oh, yes, him. What about him dear?"
"You heard her say he was in the Peace Corps, that he was a recruiter."
"Yes," Mother was suspicious already.
"I saw him in the stairwell, on the way up to see Dr. Epstein. He says I can join after I graduate, even though I'm only sixteen, but I have to have your permission."
With Mother, suspicion is a fine art. Her eyes narrowed and her mouth became a thin line. This usually meant 'you have exactly ten second t explain.' She rarely pointed it at me.
But Daddy reached out and took the brochure.
"Let's hear her out, dear. Why don't you tell us about it, baby?"
"Well," I began, clasping my hands behind my back. "He really liked that I could speak so many languages. He said it'll pay for college."
"Did he?" Daddy was listening, but mother still wasn't convinced.
"He said I could travel, and you know I want to do that. And I already planned to wait until I was eighteen before I went to college."
"I don't know about that, Dani."
"Sorry, Mother, but shouldn't this be my choice? I know y'all can't really afford to pay for my school."
"We'll manage somehow, dear. You could get a job and save your money. That would help a lot."
"But the Peace Corps is a job, Mother. And Tipper said I could earn $1,000 for college for serving the first year. That goes up each year; I could earn $7,000 or more in four years, plus they guarantee loans for twice the amount. That's $21,000 for school."