Tyler Bay was not my first crush. Not if you count the first boy who spoke to me in kindergarten. He had my undying devotion for about 30 seconds.
But even before that, there was a brief infatuation with a cousin who came to visit from out of state.
We went over to Grandma’s house and spent hours playing with these cousins I’d never met before. One of the boys allowed me to tag along with him. Everything I knew about boys I’d learned from living with my brothers. Boys were fairly basic and easy to understand. They played sports, got sweaty, and delighted in the daring.
A few of the older kids started a game of catch in the pasture next to Grandma’s house. My sisters laughed and ran through the tall grass with a slew of girl cousins. I was eager to impress my cousin and I knew boys weren’t usually impressed by the games of girls. So I settled for my own kind of daring.
I dashed between my brothers, straight across the path of the ball, swooping under the arc of the throw. I tried this maneuver several times, dodging back and forth. I shot my cousin a glance to make sure he was properly impressed.
He wasn’t even watching me. I was completely baffled. Craig would have been impressed. Why wasn’t he?
Then Chris’s voice distracted me from my puzzling. “Crystal, get outta there. You’re gonna get hit!”
Everyone’s attention turned to me. My face burned and I wanted to disappear. I skulked through the tall, dry grass, feeling foolish. I slumped on Grandma’s front porch feeling sorry for myself in my humiliation until the happy chatter from adults lured me into the house. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the light inside. The dark paneling on the walls made the process take longer. I found Mom on one of the plush couches and settled in at her feet, grateful to be ignored as the adults visited.
Then from the kitchen I heard someone whisper my name. It was my cousin. I had made such a fool out of myself, but he was still talking to me. I slipped away from my place on the carpet and joined him in the kitchen.
He pointed to an ornate dish with hard butterscotch candies inside. “Do you think Grandma will let us have one?”
I thought hard. We couldn’t ask Grandma in front of our moms. They were moms. They could spot mooching children a mile away. But Grandmas were a little different. If we could just get the question out in the open there was a very good chance she would consider it.
As we each prodded the other to go into the living room to ask boldly in front of all the adults, heaven took pity on us. Grandma bustled into the kitchen alone.
My cousin’s face brightened and he flashed Grandma a sweet grin. He barely mentioned the word candy and without blinking, Grandma pulled the jar down with its gold candies. She left the room and we grinned at each other, congratulating the other for our prize.
It grew too dark to play outside and the house swelled with the smell of sweaty, happy kids. We called our goodbyes back and forth in the dark as we loaded up into the van. We left the cousins at Grandma’s house, not sure when we’d see them again.
We pulled out of the gravel driveway and the big brown van roared its way up the country highway, heading for town. I leaned on my knees to make sure I was heard over the rumble of the motor. “Can you marry your cousin?”
I was pretty subtle.
To her credit, Mom carried on like it was a perfectly normal question. “People can’t marry their cousins. It’s actually against the law.”
“They made a law about who you can marry?” I sniffed at the idea of some lawmaker crushing my future plans just as I was cooking up something good.
Mom shrugged a shoulder. “You just can’t. Cousins are too closely related. It’s like marrying your brother.”
Well that was a ridiculous notion. Of course it wasn’t anything like that. This cousin was cute and nice and had scored me a butterscotch candy. Brothers were just brothers.
After giving the situation some serious thought I decided to let my love for my cousin die. I still maintained that he was nothing like my brothers, but the law was the law.
Later that year when Christmas cards arrived in the mail, Mom taped them to the wall as was her annual tradition. The number of perfect smiles grew on the wall with each strip of scotch tape in a colorful array of seasonal cheer. One photo in particular caught my eye and I marveled at how much my cousin had grown since his visit. I no longer held hopes of marrying him. I was older and wiser. But there was no law against stealing an occasional glance at the family Christmas card.