Europasaurus. Volkheimeria. Lapparentosaurus. Brachiosaurus. The drive home takes two hours, along the same route we took to get here, only in reverse. I would prefer a bus, but my parents insisted on fetching me in the car. Saurophaganax. The limestone bedrock gives way to glacial till. Boring. Bothriospondylus. We stop at a gas station halfway to Indianapolis, where my mother uses the bathroom and I hunt and devour a snack-sized box of Fruity Pebbles. My mother wordlessly hands me a protein bar, and I eat this too. Cedarosaurus. The angle of the seatbelt is too high, such that the strap refuses to sit still on my shoulder, and keeps slipping up to cut into my neck. Brontosaurus?
Joyce Brown Hey babe!
Dina Saruyama I assume this message is from Becky using Joyce's phone.
Joyce Brown Yeah, she said she couldn't stand two weeks of me mopin' around.
Joyce Brown How's your holiday so far? Done anything fun?
Home. No significant changes since I was there last. I spend my first hour decompressing by reading journals in my bedroom. My bed feels oddly low after a bunk. The duration of my time at college has been negligible when measured on any real scale, of course. And yet I see it with different eyes. Atrociraptor. Retarded. Rebound. Rinchenia. Being me is the problem. Look them in the eye. She acts like she's, you know, twelve. Rhabdodon. Clever girl. No! Daxiatitan. Achelosaurus. She disrupts my internal monologue when we kiss. Biology. Edmontosaurus. Fancy. Hypotheses to test. Saurornithoides mongoliensis. Zhenjuanlong suni. Becky.
"You are smiling."
Mother is smiling back at me. "Brontosaurus?" she asks.
"Apatosaurus?" I ask back.
The conundrum is as yet unresolved.
I have a rare visual image in my memory: our hands linked. Hers large, pale and freckled, with square knuckles and bitten skin around the thumbnails. My own smaller, browner hands, with the small, shallow-set fingernails -- vestigial claws, still of some use for defense and climbing. Holding on as she drags me along the corridor.
Father is working on the jigsaw puzzle his brother sent him this year. It has five thousand pieces, all very similar. I sit by him and watch. He doesn't say anything, and neither do I. I lay the unexamined pieces in rows for him to test one by one.
Mr Brown let me share the driving with Joyce again. Sweet! I didn't know where I'd stay if I had to keep working at Galasso's over the Christmas break to keep my job, but he gave me this angry look and said "Lord Galasso will dominate the holiday season from an undisclosed location with Conni and Pamela. Fools will return on the second of January!" and then handed me an envelope of cash, so I went home to La Porte with Joyce and Mr and Mrs Brown.
Dina Saruyama I have been reading about lacertiform trackways in the Cretaceous.
Joyce Brown Cool. What's lacertiform?
Dina Saruyama Lizard-like.
Joyce Brown I thought you told me the dinosaurs were all feathery and stuff, not lizards.
Dina Saruyama That is correct. But there were lizards too!
There is only one thing missing to make this holiday perfect. It's been more than twenty-four hours since my last raptor attack, and I think I'm going into withdrawal. My heart feels all weird and achey.
Joyce Brown Tell me again about the tail?
Dina Saruyama Of course! Scientists this year found eight vertebrae of a juvenile theropod tail preserved in amber. The specimen included feathers, skin, and blood.
Joyce Brown What did it look like?
Dina Saruyama I would suspect you of not having listened the first time I told you, but I confess to having reread the article myself several times since then. The top is brown, and the underside is white. The attachment points are visible, clearly showing that there was no rachis.
Joyce Brown And what does that mean?
Dina Saruyama The feather branching is like that of modern birds, meaning that this evolved before the central shaft, or rachis.
Joyce Brown Oh yeah, talk evolution to me, baby.
"Another glass of milk, Becky?"
"Sure, thank you, Mrs Brown."
She's not happy I'm here, but heck will freeze over before a guest in her house goes without something to dunk a cookie into. They're Christmas spice cookies. Really good. Mom's were better, even if she just called them spice so Dad wouldn't start bellowing.
Dina Saruyama My mother has asked me to inquire about your well-being.
Joyce Brown Oh. Hi, Mrs Saruyama. I'm good, thank you.
Dina Saruyama She is Dr Saruyama. She is glad to hear it. She was most concerned when I told her about your father.
Joyce Brown Oh jeez. Sorry, Dr Saruyama. I'm good, thank you.
That weird ache's growing even stronger now. What's with that, anyway? Might as well ask what's with Dina's parents who've never met me being nicer to me than Joyce's mom who's known me all my life. They probably aren't even Christians. I never asked Dina that. I know she's not, and she sure doesn't talk like her Mom and Dad want to drag her home and get her right with God.
Dina Saruyama It is all right. But speaking for myself and not my mother, are you indeed good? You are spending a culturally significant holiday without either parent for the first time.
Joyce Brown Eh, Dad thought Christmas was an idolatrous pagan holiday and not anything we're commanded to celebrate, and our church thought that was for the family to decide so long as you didn't believe in Santa or let the store clerk say happy holidays to you.
Dina Saruyama Would you consider it inappropriate to exchange Christmas gifts, then? I believe I may have made a mistake.
Joyce Brown yOU GOT ME A PRESENT? Where is it? Watcha get me?
Dina Saruyama Do Joyce's family frown on Christmas festivities too?
Joyce Brown Naw, they even have a tree. It has crosses and doves and Jesus fishes on it.
Mr and Mrs Brown have the same weird not-argument about it every year. She says it's pagan, he says it symbolises the tree of life, and they end up compromising with him getting the biggest tree ever and her putting glittery silver Jesus fish all over it.
Joyce Brown Wait, you distracted me. Where's my present?
Dina Saruyama I believe it is traditional to wait until December 25th.
Joyce Brown Aw, Dina! No fair.
Dina Saruyama I have to go now. My mother has just served her Christmas sponge cake. You will find out about the present tomorrow.
Christmas sponge cake? Anyway, I guess that answers the question of if the Saruyamas celebrate Christmas. What am I gonna give her, anyway?
I think I'll take a nap.
"WAKEY WAKEY CHICKEN BAKEY!"
"Wake UP, Becky, it's Baby Jesus' birthday!"
"'Mawake." Wait a minute. "How long did I sleep?"
"I saved you some pie, but you were really tired after dinner. Must have been the turkey. And Mom and Dad had John on speakerphone, so Josh told me it'd be kinder to let you skip that."
Yeah, I think I can do without extra helpings of John. "Thanks."
"OH, AND I've got something for you." She's rummaging in her backpack.
"Aren't we gonna exchange gifts downstairs?" That's what Mrs Brown said, and I thought she meant me as well as the others. Unless...
"Open it, go on."
It's a small box in green paper with silver chevrons like jagged teeth. I rip into the paper. Wait. Is that...
"Open it up! Turn it on!"
It can't be Dina's phone, I've been texting Dina every couple hours ever since half an hour after Joyce merged onto the 37. It is definitely Dina's phone. I turn it on. Someone's done a factory wipe. It doesn't have that sweet T-Rex wallpaper any more. It does have network bars, though. A notification banner slides down. I have one new message. I tap it.
Dina Saruyama Happy Christmas, Becky! My plan ran out in November, and my parents promised to upgrade my phone for Christmas. I persuaded them to allow me to give you the old phone, which I have prepaid for the next three months. I went to the store and made the arrangements while you were at work, and then left this phone with Joyce before you departed.
Becky MacIntyre OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU.
Becky MacIntyre I mean. Best Christmas present ever.
Dina Saruyama I am glad that you like it. I do not know if I love you yet, but further research is indicated.