It's part of Pendergast family lore, tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, or at least the late 70s - basically the same thing to kids these days.
Like all good myths, there's the sanitised, broadcastable version, and then there's the truth - simpler, messier and suitable only for late nights, confessionals and small children. After all, no one loves mess more than small children.
We met through an ex boyfriend is the official party line. Not that anyone in this family is running for office.
You'll notice it doesn't says whose ex boyfriend.
Olive’s almost concerningly nice young man is at the dinner table again, bringing more quote unquote “surplus” seafood that Rosemary is one hundred percent sure isn’t surplus and he’s actually buying as a bribe for the Penderghast family. Which she is one hundred percent okay with, if anyone’s asking. A bit of healthy respect never did a teenage boy any harm; they’re always better if you can knock them off kilter a bit. And Olive is either on board with this plan, or just aware how every piece of information she imparts about their family completely throws her erstwhile beau. It’s hard to tell with Olive sometimes.
Anyway, the point is, he brings lobster and a nice smile which gets even nicer when Olive smiles at him, or talks to him, or is just near him in any way.
“And then Mom always gave it to Dad, so Dill and I staged a coup and we tried a meritocracy for a while but that got super complicated, so now we have a series of rotating dictators which actually works pretty well although Mom still always picks Dad. He doesn’t always pick her though.” Olive stops for a breath and young Todd grins helplessly at her, because as usual Olive’s explanation has only raised more questions. “Anyway, so that’s how Family Member of the Week works. Pretty much.”
“It’s not fair. Dad’s had years to win Mom over,” Chip complains. He takes a bite of asparagus in a way that manages to convey that he feels the world has made this marriage as a conspiracy specifically to rob him of the opportunity to force everyone to watch Mamma Mia again.
Todd - who Rosemary has on good authority is usually full of that young, affable teen confidence that manages to be somehow charming - clears his throat awkwardly. “How did you and Mr Pe- Dill meet?”
At some point Rosie decided to stop being eyebrows-raised-well-liked-if-you-know-what-I-mean and moved slightly more into actually well liked but by that point she had already merrily fucked her way through almost all of her extra curriculars and it wasn’t like she was going to stoop to freshmen. Not again. So instead of finding a suitable candidate to impress upon her vast wealth of experience and hyper flexibility, she was sitting on the arm of the sofa with a glass of something more booze than mixer, people watching.
She spotted David, the host and unofficial president of their little unofficial group of gays and etcs, and gestured him over. He was trailed by another, slightly lost-looking man.
"This is Dill," David said, "my tragically straight ex."
Tragically Straight Dill shrugged. "Didn't take, what can I say, no one is more disappointed than I." He smiled at Rosie. "I've had to move myself to the cheerleading division."
He was way too short for her and his hair was already thinning and he was the most instantly compelling person she'd ever seen. She said, "Rosie," and stuck out her hand, and all of her bangles, numerous and heavy, crashed down her arm into her wrist bone. "Mother fuck," she muttered and reached down to get her drink, fishing an ice cube out. "To numb it, " she explained. But when she looked up there was no one in front of her.
The next day on the quad she was suffering through another go around of things she’d already learned in Pysch 101, which she had brought outside to share her frustrations with the trees. She viciously underlined something in pen and then realised that this was a library book and she was on her fifth last chance with them. “Oh fuck you,” she told the book.
“We really must stop meeting like this,” someone says. She sees Suddenly Disappearing Dill standing next to her, smile only in those eyes. “And by like this, I mean with you cursing everyone’s name and me charmed but confused.” He puffed out a sigh. “Look, is this ... patch of grass taken?”
“The grass is free,” Rosie said, gesturing expansively with the offending book. He sat down and gave her a conspiratorial look. He said, “Don’t say that, half the campus will descend onto you like weed-vultures.”
"I'm from San Francisco, it's fine, we're very generous with our substances. I would scatter it to the little starved birds like that woman from Mary Poppins."
"Oo, cult classic," Clearly Amused Now Dill said. He looked out at the people walking past, fidgeted his hands.
Rosie asked, "Is there any reason you chose to come join me under this particular tree, or did you just like the look of its bark?" She wanted there to be a reason, if she was honest, because this was so easy already, like they sat in dappled shade and back-and-forth every day.
Another fidget, another puffed-cheek breath out. "I wanted to apologise. I didn't, I just saw you here and I remembered how I ran off and I felt like kind of a shit, so I thought. Say sorry. For doing that. You seemed nice."
"Was it the swearing? Did you grow up in a very strict household and it shocked you so that you had to retire to your fainting couch and be fanned by houseboys, you poor lil’ thing?" Rosie teased, dropping into her best Southern Belle.
Strangely Quiet Dill pulled a face, a great face, really committed to it with all possibly features. "I got a bit... weird, about Dave. It's fine, we're fine, but I've never been his ex before. It feels like I never got to be sad that we broke up, because I broke up with him and it was for this really good but also really shit reason, because I don't like guys like that, and if that's true I shouldn't even care, right, like, once you say something like that you don't get to listen to a lot of blues and jazz and jazz blues and think about all the good times you had and how you'll probably be jerking off alone for the foreseeable future and all the usual break-up stuff."
Rosie stared at him for a few seconds, unsure what to say or do, because, "Holy shit, that's the saddest weirdest break-up story I've heard. Young Dill, my friend, you deserve whatever crazy break up ritual you need. I mean, I tend to go for drunken hook-ups or going to the drive-in with my roommate and so much food that we have to keep it on the back seat rather than our laps. But, whatever."
"But I'm not, you know," Dill said, and looked a little resigned and just a touch mournful. "So it doesn't count."
Rosie took his hand and pulled him up. "Honey," she said, as gently as she could while still being forceful. God only knows she’s had enough arguments about whether the ladies she’s slept with should be added to her tally, whether they negate any dudes or any other spurious bullshit. "It all counts."
She introduced him to Keri as “Poor, Recently Dumped Dill” and they piled into her ancient stationwagon and hit the 7/11 and the drive through hard. And they did that again week by week until Dill lost that edge to his voice when he talked about David, and until they didn’t have any excuse, and then, sometime after that she kissed him, but by then he was already hers, chapter and verse.
Olive tells Todd the highlights version, although she knows most of the full one these days, and he sits and nods and laughs in most of the right places, and at a couple of new ones, which is always enjoyable.
"Your mother was a cursing, interfering menace in platform heels and florals," Dill tells Olive, who hides a proud little smile under a laugh as she says, "Of course she was."
They've never set out to be cool parents or anything, because then you end up like poor Rhiannon's parents; offering kids inappropriate bongs and really inappropriate food. Plus, Rosemary hasn't been braless in more than two decades and she really doesn't plan on starting now, you can't give gravity that kind of opening. And Olive spends so much time rolling her eyes in their general direction she's surprised she hasn't damaged something. But god knows, they all love each other like breathing, like murder, like a choice.
Soon Olive will go off to college for her own adventures and Chip will be about as tall as she is, and Rosemary knows that they will keep telling their friends about Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad about their friends. They will probably keep telling each other, too, she doesn't think that they put that in the adoption handbooks: just be really fucking odd so that your kids have something to bond over, but it seems to have worked. Chip and Olive have their own little mythos, their own words for things and stories that are more like jokes without a punchline for anyone else, the two of them in hysterics at the dinner table over nothing.
A sibling has been good for Olive, they say to each other sometimes, smugly tucked up in bed with each other, like this will reach back in time and reassure their past selves sitting up at four in the morning suddenly unsure about this huge decision that had seemed so simple in the daylight.
Olive chooses Chip at least once a month, which is truest love, because she has some weird thing against Meryl Streep which Rosemary is just going to write off as a phase.
Todd is still looking dazed, and a little lost.
Of course, what Todd Woodchuck/Todd First kiss/Todd Mrs Daniel’s kid/Todd from Carpooling, is yet to figure out is that he’s been part of family lore for most of his life, a recurring character in the Penderghast tale. Rosemary is looking forward to hearing his story, when he gets around to telling them it. Sharing is what they do best, here, and it’s so much more fun when you’ve got dirt on everyone at a table.