"Michaeeeeeell... I'm bored with playing hide and seek," Joy complained. "You always hide in the same places."
Michael Hodgins scowled at his best friend, coming out from behind the chair where he had been crouching.
"My house is huge. There's, like, a million places to look. How do you always find me?"
Joy Booth, age nine and three quarters, grinned.
"I always know where you are," she replied. "Can we play something else now?" Her eyes gleamed. "Can we play on your new trampoline you got for your birthday?"
Michael shook his head, his dark curly hair falling in front of his oval shaped eyes.
"You know what your mom said about that."
Joy pulled a face.
"Aerodynamics aren't always safe," she mimicked, echoing her mother's precise tones. She scowled. "I can't believe I have to wait til I'm ten to try it. My birthday's in three months, that should be fine! How come you get to play on it?"
"Cuz I'm ten already," said Michael. "And it's my present."
"I hate you," said Joy without conviction.
"I'm older. Deal with it, Joyful," he said, using his nickname for her.
"I hate you," Joy repeated.
"No you don't."
Rather than replying, Michael chose to tackle Joy, knocking both of them into a pile of cushions. Joy struggled vainly to push him off.
"Get off," she complained.
"I bet if we snuck outside while our moms were talking they wouldn't notice we were on the trampoline," said Michael, looking down at her.
A mischievious glint sparked in Joy's eyes.
"Bet I can sneak by quieter than you."
"Bet you can't," said Michael, scrambling to his feet. He grabbed Joy's hand and together they took off, not very quietly, it must be admitted. As they neared the kitchen where their mothers were, the two children slowed down. They needed to get past the kitchen in order to get to the back door. The front door was out because their dads were in the driveway, talking about Michael's dad's new car.
As they approached the doorway, they heard their mothers' voices. Peeking in through the entranceway, they could see the two women seated at the table in the large, yellow and blue kitchen, mugs of coffee cradled in their hands.
"Michael and Joy are being really quiet today. It's kind of scaring me," said Angela.
"I'm glad they're friends," said Brennan. "Joy doesn't have many friends at school. Her high intellect makes it difficult for her to relate to children of her own peer group. Except Michael of course. I had the same problem at her age."
"Well they are only eight months apart," said Angela, "And they've done everything together since Joy was born. Remember their first playdate? It was more like a take-care-of-new-mommy-Brennan date while Michael and Joy lay beside each other in the crib and slept."
"I really didn't know what to do, did I?" she said. "Babies are not very logical. It was very confusing."
"I remember. If it hadn't been for Booth, the poor girl would have been totally smothered and you would have given Sweets a patient for life."
"I read lots of parenting books!" Brennan defended herself. "I was just tyring to follow their advice."
"Sweetie, there are some things that just can't be learned from books. Isn't that right, Melody?" Angela said, reaching out to stroke the hair of Michael's youngest sister, who was propped up in her carrying seat, watching her mother with large, fascinated eyes.
"Melody is pre-verbal, Ange," Brennan reminded her best friend. "She can't agree with you, or even understand what you're saying for at least another six months."
"Don't listen to mean old Auntie Tempe, Mel," Angela cooed. "You understand Mommy perfectly, don't you? Katie started to talk at eleven months, why should Melody be any different?"
"You are very illogical with your children, Angela," Brennan said, tilting her head at her friend. "I was always careful to talk to Joy at the correct cognitive level for her optimum development."
"They're kids, Bren," Angela laughed. "They're meant to bring out the illogical side of you. Like how much you can love them even when they're a pain in the butt." she paused. "I just had a thought. You know what would be great? If Michael and Joy were to end up together."
"They are together," said Brennan, sounding confused. "They're always together, playing."
"No, sweetie, I mean together together. When they grow up I mean. Wouldn't it be great if you daughter and my son got married?"
"They're only ten! Joy's not even ten yet. It's a little early to start planning their futures."
"I know, but wouldn't it be great?"
"Don't tell Booth this," Brennan said. "He doesn't want to think about anyone coming near his little girl. Especially now that she's developing good bone structure. She's going to be very beautiful and Booth says he has a shotgun ready."
"He wouldn't need to shoot her boyfriend if her boyfriend were Michael," persisted Angela. "And then we could be related. Come on, Bren, wouldn't that be amazing?"
"Well, they are best friends," Brennan said thoughtfully. "And it's always good to marry a friend, if you can. And they would know each other already. They have a lot of things in common."
"They're eight months apart, almost to the day," said Angela. "And they've practically grown up at each other's houses. It's like fate or something."
"I don't believe in..."
"In fate. I know. But still, it's perfect. They're made for each other!" Angela laughed.
Joy and Michael turned to each other slowly, identical looks of horror on their faces. They had been listening quietly all this time, watching for their window of escape. But now, all thoughts of illicit trampoline expeditions had flown out of their heads as what their moms had just said broke over them.
Michael looked down at their hands, still joined in a childish hold, and let go, as if Joy's hand had burned him. Joy backed away from him.
"I'm not marrying you," she hissed, as if Michael would force her to right that very minute.
Michael glanced at the kitchen, where Angela and Brennan were still talking, presumably planning further horrors for their children, then beckoned Joy to follow him. He walked quickly down the hall and out of the large glass front doors, plopping down on the front step.
Joy sat down on the step as well, as far away from Michael as she could. She was almost hugging the railing.
"I'm not marrying you," she reiterated, with conviction in her voice.
"Well good," said Michael. "Cuz I'm not marrying you either. No offense, but ew."
Joy relaxed, moving to sit comfortably on the step instead of shrinking away. She nodded vigorously at his words, her light brown pony tail bobbing with the movement.
"Yeah. You're my best friend and all, but boys have cooties. Gross."
"Mom and Auntie Tempe are crazy," Michael agreed.
"Why would Auntie Angela even say stuff like that?" Joy asked, scrunching her nose up in disgust. "Besides, I can't marry you, I'm going to marry Tuxedo Mask."
Michael rolled his eyes.
"He's a cartoon, stupid."
"He's a prince. Duh," said Joy, as if this explained everything.
Michael got up, scrutenizing Joy carefully.
"You are so weird," he declared. "Do you still want to sneak onto the trampoline?"
Joy scrambled to her feet.
"Yeah! And it's not me that's weird. It's our moms. Parents are totally weird."
"Totally," Michael agreed companionably. "Come on." He took off in the direction of the back yard, with Joy following hard on his heels.
Booth was more than a little upset, on cleaning out the pockets of his daughter's jeans before throwing them in the washing machine, to discover a bit of paper withJoy Hodgins scribbled all over it in various childish signatures.
"She's not old enough for this!" he groaned, buring his face in his hands. "I should have a good five years before I have to start beating boys off with a stick."
Brennan rubbed her husband's back soothingly, and smiled to herself. Angela's intuition about matters of the heart was rarely wrong.