The older boy slides in next to the little one, pulls a box of crayons from his bag, and hands it over. The younger boy gets to work coloring one of the paper placemats she designed, carefully tracing the words "Sage Diner" and going over the design of the Corinthian columns at the edges of the sheet. The tip of his tongue is sticking out between two unevenly gapped rows of baby teeth. The older boy digs in his pocket for a crumpled dollar bill and some coins and sinks into the bench, waiting for someone to come by and take their daily milkshake order. His eyes travel in a fixed sweep between the door and his little brother.
Rhea heads over to the boys' table. Always sitting at this same table, always sitting on the same bench like their father needed the room across from them even when he wasn't there. He was hardly ever there, and she'd said to Orrin more than once that it was a disgrace, the way that man used their diner as a free babysitting service, the way he came and went at all hours, but Orrin protested. "Those boys are good boys, Rhea," he always said. "Quiet, no trouble. And they worship the ground he walks on." She'd snort her disbelief; the older one, poor thing, he clearly idolized his good-for-nothing father, but she had a suspicion that the little one only needed his brother. "Man tries his best," Orrin would say, burying his face in her neck; "I would not be doing any better without you." The thought of having to leave her Orrin, leaving Alexander and Ianthé to the care of random women, always made her fall silent, and she'd kiss her husband with a soft, sweet mouth.
Rhea wears rubber-soled shoes instead of high heels because the last thing she needs is problems with her feet and back, but the older one turns his head as she approaches silently. He nods politely at her and nudges his brother gently. "Nilla, please," the little one says, smiling at her, and she goes back to the kitchen to scoop the ice cream herself. She puts two cherries on top of the whipped cream. She already knows the older boy will only pretend to drink today; he hates whipped cream and only half-likes vanilla. His face should be rounder, fuller, and the little one has a face that should be chubby but hovers unsettlingly near bony. They look like stray cats. She brings the milkshake to their table, accepting the money the older boy immediately holds out to her; she looks at his fine features, set and serious and tired-looking, and wonders if he got his green eyes from his mother. He looks back at her, waiting, so she pretends to count the coins and then nods briskly, and he relaxes and pushes the glass closer to his brother. The little one's already got whipped cream on his nose and eyebrows, and he chokes a little and says, "Deeeeeeeeaaaan," so she hands the older one a stack of napkins and turns away as he wipes his brother's face.
Dean. It's a good name, a strong name. She had always wanted to name her son Dionysius, for merriment and revelry, for the grapes her grandfather grew, but when she did get pregnant, she got so sick that merriment was the last thing on her mind and Orrin had to cancel their flight for America, and then the plane crashed and she named her boy Alexander, "protector," for he had kept his parents safe, and he was merry anyway, with his laughing black eyes and wide, gummy smile.