"DID YOU WASH YOUR HANDS?"
My father has asked me that question at breakfast every day since I could talk. Probably before that. He's an epidemiologist, which means he studies epidemics and spends a lot of time looking at terrifying graphs of how diseases spread. These graphs, which pretty much all look the same—like a fighter jet taking off—make him worry a lot about germs.
"Yes, I washed my hands." I try to say this in exactly the same way every morning, like a robot. But my dad doesn't get the point.
"I'm glad to hear it."
My mom offered a tiny smile, pouring me some coffee. She's a perfume designer, someone who builds complicated smells out of simple ones. Her designs wind up in stores on Fifth Avenue, and I think I once caught a whiff of one on Hillary Hyphen. Which was disturbing.
"Doing anything today, Hunter?" she asked.
"Thought I'd go to Chinatown."
"Oh, is it cool in Chinatown these days?"
Okay. My parents don't really get my job. Not at all. Like most parents, they don't get cool. In fact, they don't actually believe in cool. They think it's all a big joke, like in those old movies where some guy scratches his armpit on a dance floor and everyone follows along until armpit scratching becomes a new dance craze. Yeah, right.
My parents like to emphasize the word cool when asking me what's going on, as if saying the word in an annoying tone will help me see through its inherent shallowness. Or maybe it's just that cool is a foreign language to them both and, like rude tourists, they think that shouting will get them understood.
But they do sign the stack of release forms I leave them every week. (Because I'm a minor, they have to give permission before multinationals pick my brain.) And they seem not to mind the free clothes, phones, and other electronics that show up in the mail.
"I don't know, Mom. My guess is that some of Chinatown is cool and some isn't. I'm not hunting, just meeting a friend."
"Anyone we know?"
"Her name's Jen."
My father put down his terrifying graph and raised an eyebrow. Mom raised both eyebrows.
"She's not my girlfriend or anything," I said, making a terrible mistake.
"Oh, she's not?" Dad said, half smiling. "Why do you mention that?"
I groaned. "Because you had a look on your face."
"What kind of look?"
"I just met her yesterday."
"Wow," Mom said. "You really do like her, don't you?"
I simultaneously shrugged and rolled my eyes, sending a somewhat unclear message. I hoped Dad would chalk up any redness in my face to sudden onset of West Nile fever.
My parents and I are really close, but they have this annoying idea that I'm hiding huge swaths of my romantic life from them. Which: would be fine, if there were huge swaths to hide. Even medium-sized swaths.
They sat in patient silence as I cowered behind my coffee cup, waiting for a response from me. Catastrophically, all I managed to come up with was…
"Yeah, she's really cool."