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“Stupid girl,” Ian muttered as he snapped the Otterbox cover back onto his tablet and set it carefully down on the coffee table.

“What girl?” Joseph asked, looking up from his current Lego creation in progress, something he’d informed Ian was supposed to be a Chima Gorzan warrior.

“Shhhh,” Annemarie hissed at her brother from her spot at the other end of the couch. “Not all grownups want to talk to you about their relationships, shrimp.”

“No, its okay, Mari, I don’t mind that he asked.” Ian said as he unfolded his long legs and rubbed the numbness out of them. “Besides, maybe if Joe hears about my mistakes he won’t go makin’ them himself when he’s big stuff out there in the world.”

Joseph grinned fondly at him and stuck his tongue out in retaliation at his sister. He liked the fact that Ian never condescended to him just because he was a kid.

“So who’s the girl?” Joseph asked again.

“Lily,” Ian replied, waiting to see whether the kid would recognize the name of one of the other troopers his mother supported in her work for TEAR.

“You mean the little blond one with the wicked kicks and the toothpaste smile?” Mari asked eagerly.

“That’s the one,” Ian affirmed, tapping her on the nose for emphasis.

“Then what’s the problem?” Annemarie asked.

Ian groaned inwardly, recognizing that tone all too easily as that of a woman - even if she was still a young one - intent on offering advice.

“She’s on a mission overseas right now and we’re having a bit of a spat. And it’s the damnedest thing because I can’t for the life of me even figure out why we’re fighting! Seems like every time we manage to catch each other online for a chat she’s prickly like horse chestnuts. Just can’t seem to manage to say the right things.”

“Then what are the wrong things you’ve been saying?” Annemarie asked persistently.

“I don’t know!” Ian fumed.

“Well maybe you need to stop being an arse and just ask her what’s wrong, Ian.”

“Come on you two, let’s see what bad sorts of things your mum and dad have got hiding in the cupboards.” Ian got up and stalked towards the kitchen.

Right, when was it that Zenia said she and Richard would be home? Can’t remember. Crap. Come on kiddo, the last person I need relationship advice from is a twelve year old girl who’s never even had a crush yet. Now when the bloody hell are your parents due home?

Maybe bribery could derail him from having this conversation. Because one thing was for certain; no way, no how, was he going to be taking dating advice from a girl he’d played barbies with and plaited pigtails for!