It was about noon on a ninety-two degree 4th of July Day when two lanky teens were spotted silently walking uphill on Royal Road. One was Mel, the sweat from her tied up hair trickling down to the collar of her orange tie-dyed shirt as she carried two hands full of groceries an inch off the ground. The figure beside her was her twin brother Dale. Holding a carton of soda propped on his shoulder, he sweated twice as much as her. The reason for the silence between the pair is this: Dale borrowed Mel’s car last week and got it totaled from a truck that made a wrong turn just a week after she got it as a graduation gift. Dale barely had a scratch on him, and he could have gotten a car too, but he elected to get a waterbed instead. He doesn’t sleep well at all and can’t be faulted for that, but the fact of the matter is that even though Mel is the one who forgot to buy the hot dog buns and coke for the 4th of July family party that they now had less than an hour to prepare for, if it wasn’t for him they wouldn’t have had to walk all the way to the grocery store and back. They were two minutes away from the house, but the hour of silent treatment was starting to get to Dale.
“What?” she snapped.
“Sheesh, I said I was sorry about a hundred times. I don’t know what else to do.”
“You can help me with this bag, I’m about to drop it.” She let her brother catch one of the grocery bags in his hand.
Mel knew she was being unreasonable. Most of the time, Dale was sweet. Heck, he was trying to apologize to her in this sweltering weather, but she wasn’t having any of it. She blamed her brother for a lot of things he couldn’t help. The most recent example was that although she was the salutatorian in their class and he ranked fifth, Mel had told their parents the day after graduation that she was going to take a year off since she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life yet. They flipped out. The irony that they were a couple of successful, upper middle class workers who never graduated college was lost on them. It didn’t help that Dale was set to go to NYU in the fall for art history. He always knew he wanted to be a museum curator and used to drag Mel to the Met when they were ten and used to live in New York. It obviously wasn’t his fault that he and Melanie were twins who happened to be compared a lot by their parents. Somehow, Mel was convinced that she felt the worse of the two. Before her announcement, she was convinced that her parents would respect and applaud her honesty. Instead, they seemed to be using it against her by telling her that she could walk to the market since she seemed, as her father had said, “too darn independent to need a ride” in their car. Dale tagged along to help her, but that upset her even more since he was going out of his way to smooth things out with her. For some reason they hadn’t been close since their grandma died five years ago.
They reached the empty driveway to their home, where the American flag hung over their door and red, white, and blue balloons floated over the mailbox. The twins’ parents had left two hours ago to pick up cousins in the neighboring county. As soon as they stepped into the house, Dale swept up the rest of the groceries from Melanie and went into the kitchen. He let out a gasp.
“Oh no…oh no oh no oh no.”
Melanie furrowed her brow. “What happened?” She nervously stepped onto the white and black tile of the kitchen and saw her brother standing in front of the open freezer.
“Everything’s…melted…gah!” ice cream had dripped down to form a puddle on the checkered floor. Everything that had been keeping cool in the freezer had melted: the ice cream, hot dogs, burgers, and ice cubes.
“What the hell happened?!”
“Wha-Hey, wait a minute. You had ice cream right before we left!”
“So? YOU had a hot dog when I was in here before!”
“Ah, okay, okay, whoever’s fault it is, hand me the mop, would you?” Mel grabbed it by the pantry and shoved it into his hands. As he worked on the brownish-grey puddle of ice cream, he shouted, “so…what are we gonna do?”
“Ask Mom and Dad to pick up food.”
He snorted, “I’m not asking them, they’re upset enough at you. And they’re pretty irate at me for, you know.” He meant the car.
“Hey, well at least they don’t think you’re ruining your life. You pay back for the car over the summer and they’ll forget about it quick. I’m never gonna hear the end of it from them, though.”
Dale was silent. He disappeared off into the garage in hopes of finding something in the spare fridge. “Wait, we’ve got some hot dogs and burgers right here! And a gallon of milk!”
“No way!” She took a look. Sure enough, they were there. “Well! What about dessert, though? We can’t save the ice cream. Some 4th of July party this is gonna be.”
Dale went back into the kitchen with the bottle of milk and pondered in silence as he rested his chin on the mop handle. “Hey, I know. We’ve got boxes of pudding in the pantry, don’t we?”
“I think so, why?”
He grinned as he jumped out of his seat. “Remember the pudding pies grandma used to make us after we got home from our museum trips?” His smile began to infect Melanie as she rushed to the pantry to pull out a handful of boxes of pudding mix and a box of graham crackers.
“Grab the butter out of the fridge and pass me some pie tins and that milk,” she yelled excitedly. Her best childhood memories consisted of cooking in the kitchen with their grandma. Dale silently complied and in a matter of moments they fell into that familiar rhythm as Mel mixed the pudding and Dale crushed the graham crackers into crumbs with a bottle of their parents’ wine. Grandma had taught them that trick. Next thing Mel had to do was mix the crumbs with the butter that was already melted by the heat. Mel broke the silence.
“Thanks for helping me out.”
“No problem. I mean I owe you anyway. Not that I was just doing it because I felt bad or anything.” He poured the last batch of pudding into the pie tin. “I miss this, you know.”
“Yeah. Me too. Sorry I’ve been lashing out at you.”
“I know you don’t mean it. You know, I think you know what you’re doing.”
“Sure.” He shifted in his shoes. “You’ve always been more independent than me, but this is the big step. You’ll be okay, I think they know it somehow.”
“Well, they have a funny way of showing it.” The kitchen got silent again.
“Can we do this more often?”
They could hear the sound of the car pulling up the driveway, their parents and chatty aunts and uncles coming closer. In the distance they heard fireworks going off in their neighbors’ backyard as they shouted “Happy 4th of July.”