Jonah, I’m ready to… to tell you about her. If you still want to know. There are two things I need to say first though: one, I need to tell it to you all at once. Without interruptions. And, two, I can’t start with her. I have to go back to my first love, otherwise… otherwise I won’t be able to finish, and you’ll be left with half a story.
My first love was Taylor Swift. Not that I really loved her or anything, but she was my official celebrity crush throughout most of middle school and high school. With me being honest here and all, I didn’t even know who she was when I first fell in love with her.
It was the first day of seventh grade. New school, new year, same old friendless me. We were never in the same city long enough for me to really make friends. Seventh grade actually marked the year we started to move less. After that, things calmed down. Dad got a job that didn’t pay in cash rolls, and we got better at hiding our tracks.
Anyway, Mr. Jeffers’ class is where it all starts. He taught Texas history. Yeah, I know, we are pretty full of ourselves. I mean, really. A whole year to us? I can tell you all of Texas history in a handful of words: there’s five tribes no one remembers because they’re dead, and there’s the Alamo which everyone remembers because Davy Crockett told us to.
But that’s beside the point. Mr. Jeffers decided it would be a fun way for his class to get to know each other by going around the room and saying our name, favorite hobby, and celebrity crush. He’d clearly never heard of a closet before, but I was lucky enough to not be picked on first. I noticed a trend as everyone said their answers. Most of the guys said this girl named Taylor was pretty hot.
So, when it got to be my turn I said, “Darren. Football. Taylor Swift.” And that was that. My first love was born. None of the other teachers wanted to subject their seventh graders to the torture of naming their “type” for all to hear and judge. No, it was just Mr. Jeffers who did that. Funny thing is he actually ended up being one of my favorite teachers. He really helped me fit in with the new school, and he changed the seating chart so Ross and I could sit together.
Ross was my best friend in seventh grade. He invited me to sit with him at lunch that first day of class. He didn’t need to do that either. It’s not like he was sitting all alone and I just happened to be walking by, or even that he saw me sitting all alone and felt sorry for me. No. He came to me while I was still in the line and invited me to come join him once I’d gotten food.
I don’t remember what the cafeteria was serving that day, probably something incredibly greasy and salty. This was before Michelle came in and made everything healthy, so the lunch ladies still slathered everything in a nice coating of cheap, whole-fat butter. But I remember almost everything else about that lunch. I didn’t just sit at the corner near Ross and his friends. He introduced me to everyone and asked me questions as we ate. He even included me in on his jokes. Asked me to say knock knock, then asked, “Who’s there?”
And that was a big deal back then! I don’t know if you remember middle school, but a knock-knock joke, now that’s pretty much the equivalent of someone complimenting your hair and asking where you got it done. It just made you feel appreciated and accepted.
As it turned out, Ross lived on the same block as me, close enough that we could have sleepovers whenever we wanted because neither of our parents would have to come get us in the morning. The only requirement was I had to sneak out of Ross’ house to let Dad back into ours. We didn’t like to leave the doors unlocked with no one home, and it’s not like Dad could keep his keys with him when he went into the woods. But I only had to tiptoe out of Ross’ house a few times. He mostly came over to ours. It was just easier that way. Dad wouldn’t have to wait crouched naked in the bushes for me to let him in or anything.
Ross and I got really close. We both applied to be counselors at the same camp: Camp Caddo. It would be our first job, and what a job it was! I’m telling you, we were the envy of every seventh grader when those letters came through. Camp Caddo had everything we could possibly want: an archery range, water skiing, and best yet—girls.
Camp Caddo had a sister camp, Athena’s Lodge, which was just a mile up the lake. Most of the time, we wouldn’t be able to see the girls or do the camp activities. I’d spend the days with the campers hunting off site, but on weekends, in between camps, we would have the whole place to ourselves. And it was those two days Ross and I looked forward to most. We made up all sorts of plans for what we’d do: learn to shoot a bow as good as any of the Merry Men, go swimming, sneak over to Athena, and of course, kiss a girl. That was the big goal of the summer. Lose our lip virginity.
So you just know the rest of seventh grade took longer than wet fur drying. We waited and waited as Mr. Jeffers told us about how Texas became a republic, then a state, and how we still couldn’t let our former glory go. But finally, the miracle we’d all been waiting for happened. The floodgates of summer vacation opened.
We spilled out of the school, students and teachers alike. Probably could have set a fire drill record that day if the principal had decided to time us. Ross and I went straight home. We didn’t even play four square in the street with the other kids.
We had been using our backpacks as the corners and had to argue every time someone got out whether or not it actually hit in their square or the guy next to them.
Ross and I voted together and could get the others to join our side against whoever was out, even if they really shouldn’t have been. Ross became king of the square, and I was his queen. And don’t start on it.
But we didn’t play that day. We went home and packed for Camp Caddo. Even though our parents would not drop us off for another few days, we couldn’t wait. I ran upstairs as soon as the door closed and tossed all my clothes into a bag. I would have grabbed my toiletries too if Dad hadn’t stopped me.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled. “This place was clean two days ago.” But he wasn’t mad. Not really. While he yelled, he smiled too. I think he remembered what it was like to be young again when he saw the drawers torn out of their shelves.
He sat down atop the pile of clothes I wouldn’t be taking with me, and there we had a light form of the talk.
“Now, son,” he said, patting the space next to him. He couldn’t have been a bigger cliché that day if he had tried. “You’re getting to be that age where…”
I rolled my eyes as he trailed off. “I know, Dad.”
“Yeah, the Internet’s a thing, you know.”
“Oh.” He seemed relieved by this, but also a little disappointed. He must have been preparing for the talk all day.
“But I may have missed some things.”
He laughed, seeing right through me, “Well, what all do you know?” He wasn’t going to let me pity him.
“I might get more hair on my chest and face. That’s usually the first sign.”
“And what should you do if that happens?”
“Run outside so the others don’t see?”
“Get out of sight until you can control the change.” He nodded, though I think we both felt that would be impossible if it happened at camp.
“Umm… don’t eat trash. No matter how good it smells at the time.” I actually could not think of what else I should know. Everything was either too obvious a thing to say—don’t eat anyone, don’t change indoors, and for the love of God take a breath mint as soon as you change back—or the questions were too mature for me to even consider asking.
Even though our talk was short, I loved it. I was about to be an adult, and getting the talk from him was just confirming what I’d known since I was born. I was going to be just like him.
At least in the way that counted.
Camp Caddo was the biggest stereotype I’ve ever seen. There was a clear lake, four wooden cabins with terribly cold showers and insect-filled beds, and overly enthusiastic head counselors that were so overt about their get togethers with the Camp Athena head counselors that even I could pick up on it. Not that their escapades meant they’d let us do anything. We had to sneak out when we finally got the chance to see the Athena girls.
Even Dad followed the stereotype of showing just how masculine he was by pretending not to care I was leaving for a month. He wasn’t going to show any sign that my leaving would affect him. He almost made it, but broke right before we parted.
“Be a good pup,” he said, even though I’d outgrown that nickname years ago. “Remember, wolves don’t cry. Not even when we want to because our pup’s going off for a while.”
He gave me a slap on the back, and that was that. I wouldn’t see him until he picked me up.
Ross and I found our way to the cabin. There we met our cabin mates and fellow counselors; but I… do I remember any of their names? One of them was Jay-Tea. I’ll never forget that stupid name. It was spelled out, J-A-Y T-E-A. Plus, he gave me my first beer.
Camp was fun. Ross and I were the youngest counselors there, but only by a year. Most everyone else was fifteen, but there were a few older guys too. Not that our age stopped us from doing anything with the others. We had a blast and everything, but only one thing happened that I’ll always remember: I got my first kiss the night before Dad picked us up.
Jay-Tea, the oldest counselor, said we’d wait until the last night to sneak over to Athena. That way, if anything went wrong, the owners wouldn’t be able to enact any form of punishment. Yeah, I know that’s some dumb, kid logic, but we were dumb kids back then so it seemed all right. In any case, he got a message to the Athena Lodge telling them we were coming over. The way Jay-Tea told it, he had to smuggle the message via pigeon, but in reality he just texted his girlfriend who worked there.
After the message went out, all that was left to do was wait until the head counselors and owners went to bed. It didn’t take us too long to make it over to camp Athena. The girl counselors were ready for us. One of them had already snuck in beer so we wouldn’t have to wait for our own young smuggler to bring some in from town.
I met a girl there—Marie. She was nice, had long, curly blonde hair just like Taylor Swift’s, but a rough French accent that ruined the illusion whenever she opened her mouth. We ended up talking most of the night though.
She must have thought I was cute or something. She never asked my age, which I took to be a good sign. I’m not sure if I would’ve lied to her or not.
Jay-Tea gave me a drink as soon as I walked in the door, but I stopped myself after that. I was a little worried about losing control. At the time, I wasn’t sure what went into the change and was afraid getting drunk might trigger it right then and there. Turns out, I wasn’t too far off with that fear, but that isn’t part of the story. Really, all that matters is that I did not get drunk and remember most of the night.
At some point, Ross and I got separated. I remember he was beside me talking with Marie, but then he slipped off somewhere. When I saw him again, he was talking with a girl. So, I decided one more beer wouldn’t force anything and told Marie I’d be back with drinks.
When I got close to the booze, Jay-Tea shouted “Spin the bottle!” It sounded like it could’ve been a question, but all I heard was a command. I glanced back to Marie, who smiled and gestured with her head for me to follow her to the small group of people forming around Jay-Tea.
Ross was there when I found my way over. He was sitting beside Marie with the same girl from before next to him, so I took the place on the other side of Marie. Jay-Tea was the first to go. I remember leaning forward a little as he kissed his girl to see what to do when it came to be my turn. He cocked his head a little to the side, closed his eyes… and why am I telling you this?
Point is I was curious, and innocent—at least about kissing. Dad taught me everything. How to break into a butcher shop, all the ways to skin a cat, even how to tie a tie. But sex? We’d never talked about that.
So I watched as the bottle made its way round and round and pairs of boys and girls kissed one after another until it was my turn to hold the bottle, warmed by the sweaty hands of a dozen teenagers.
The bottle slid along the wooden floor, its nose pointing at each one of us in turn, each a possible first kiss. Marie, Ross, his girl, Jay-Tea, some people I don’t remember, then me, and on again, until it rolled to a stop on him. Ross.
I thought the change was happening. My hands grew immediately cold, though I could feel the sweat building on them, and my heart seemed to slam into itself as it fought to simultaneously hide up my throat and jump to ludicrous speed.
“Close enough.” Marie laughed and twisted to face me head on.
“Oh, but…” The words died in the hole my heart had dug out.
Her eyes closed as she tilted her head toward me. A dozen teens stared, oooooing me on to do the same. So, I did. I closed my eyes and did the same thing I’m pretty sure I saw Jay-Tea doing.
I wish I could tell you something happened, that I could say some poetic verse about how she tasted like tomatoes—or hell, I’d even take cucumbers—but I can’t. Truth is there was nothing there. No fireworks or spark between our lips, just saliva. We pulled apart, and she smiled at me like there was something there—something worth doing again, but there wasn’t.
She took the bottle and made some sly joke about getting it to land on me, but before she could spin it, someone at the front shouted, “Owners!” and we all scattered.
We were like cockroaches caught in the kitchen. The girls ran to their beds, as if there were still time to pretend to be asleep, while us guys dove out the back window and crawled under bunks.
Ross and I made it out through the back. There was a pack of us at first, but that was before we saw the lights. It was a full-on raid by the police. We’d find out later they were called because whoever got the drinks was a dumbass who stole the beer instead of just bribing someone else to break the law, but we didn’t know it that night. We thought the wrath of God had come down as punishment for our underage drinking.
Most of the guys were making a beeline straight for Camp Caddo, but I knew that was a fool’s errand. They’d never make it running in a straight line as a herd. Dad had taught me enough about hunting to know to break away and hide from numerous faster, stronger, and admittedly smarter, predators. It sounds counterintuitive, but when running from humans, hiding’s the best bet. So, I grabbed Ross’ hand and pulled him diagonally from the police to the water. One of the Athena owners tried to grab us, but we slipped through her hands and made it free from the chaos of the raid behind us.
We made it about halfway back to the camp before stumbling and falling down onto the sand. He rolled on top of me and our two heads were almost touching. Our hearts beat together, thumping like drums at a Roman Triumph, calling back to the owners and police behind that they could not touch us, that we were free!
“That was…” he panted. His chest heaved as he tried to take in more breaths than he could at once. He giggled in between pants and closed his eyes, trying to live in the moment and gather his breath at the same time.
“Intense?” I filled in for him.
He nodded and tried to sit up. He put a hand on my chest to support himself, but fell down, resting his head even closer to mine. He bit his lip as his chest leaned into me.
Fuck it. I kissed him.
Those fireworks I didn’t see with Marie I found with him. His arm slipped from my shoulder to the sand behind my head. His fingers scraped at my neck, helping to support my head to his. We separated for a moment, our heads pressed together. He caught his breath, and I thought he regretted it. That he wasn’t gay, that I’d made a mistake, but then he pushed himself back down. His whole weight shifted so he lay on top of me.
Kissing him on the beach was the best thing I’d ever done in my life. It was the most intimate thing I’d ever done with someone, but no one ever tells you what to expect in those moments. Movies tell you it’s good. That there’s love there, but the truth is something different. There’s not love in intimacy. Intimacy is being completely open with another person, offering everything you have to give to someone else, but the thing is we aren’t meant to be exposed like that. Someone is always made worse for it. And in this case, when Ross finally pulled his lips back from mine, looked into my eyes and saw me ready for whatever would come next, he saw himself. And it ruined him.
He rolled off me, silent as the day I’d met him, as if everything we’d done together, all those nights spent talking together, all those days avoiding homework by playing football, everything we ever were… gone. He sat up, keeping his arms away from me, folded across his chest.
He didn’t say anything. Just looked out over the water. The waves slid along the shore, casting the moonlight back up at our faces, throwing a halo around his head and the sand between us. It would have been the perfect way to end the night. It should have been perfect. But…
“We should get back,” he said. No mention of our kiss, of the tent in his pants, or of anything that mattered. The romance of the night, the movie moment that would last forever, never existed. Not between us at least.
We were able to sneak back into our bunk and get away scot-free, but nothing was the same after that. Ross said he didn’t remember much of the night before, but I think he was lying. He was distant and didn’t talk much, and after Dad came to bring us back home, we didn’t see each other for about a week.
When we played four square with the other kids, the two of us didn’t team up like we used to. Instead, I was the one who got out whenever there was a question. Even sometimes when there wasn’t any doubt it wasn’t me who was supposed to head out.
So, I called him on it. “What the hell man?”
“You’re out.” He shrugged, avoiding my eyes, and gestured for the ball.
“The fuck I am! What’s wrong—”
Ross pushed me away from him, “You’re out, fag.”
Fag. That word we’d only used to get those other kids to leave us alone, to stop trying to be like us. That one word we’d never dared to call one another before. I was that. I was gay, and so was Ross, but it didn’t matter. Not to him, not to them, not even to me. Because in that moment, when he pushed me back, that… that was another intimate moment between us. I saw who he really was then. He was a coward, afraid of himself. And that moment… that ruined him for me too.
So, I wasn’t sad when Dad came home naked that night and told me we’d have to move again. If anything, I was just glad we were leaving before word got to him that I was gay. He asked me where I wanted to go next. I told him somewhere near the coast.
We packed up his Ram with everything worth keeping and were out by sunrise. We’d moved pretty much every year. Most of the time it was because of work, but a few times, like that time, it was because of Dad. He didn’t have a temper, but sometimes things just happened. Words got said that couldn’t be taken back, somebody who didn’t know any better took a swing, and then… well, then we’d have to move again.
We ended up settling in a town called Tivoli. Tivoli had everything we were looking for: close to the ocean, lots of forest, and a small population. Everything we’d need to stay for at least a year. As it turned out, Tivoli was better than we could have hoped for and we ended up staying there through my junior year of high school.
Nothing happened in eighth grade except puberty.
Dad freaked out when it first happened, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as he tells it. I only broke one chair, and it was the ugly one anyways, so really it was bound to happen one way or another. It just so happened that I was the one to tear the back off it.
He let me stay home from school the next morning and gave me the full talk.
“You’re a wolf now,” he said. Not that that would stop him from calling me pup. He went on to tell me about how people’s pets were off limits, and never change when wearing something nice, and blah blah blah. You know it as well as me. It was the talk: the same cliché-riddled speech all fathers give their sons when they first change. But I listened intently, as if it were the first time I were hearing this, and he spoke reverently, as if his words were somehow ritual and not the talk all werewolves have to give their pups.
Afterwards though, we went hunting. There was a giant nature reserve close by, so we went there for my first official hunt. I caught a deer. Well, doe, but it wasn’t roadkill or anything like that. I chased it down and bit clean through its back, left shank.
Dad was so proud of me. He came running through the trees whooping and howling. He even let me eat the liver, but the whole time we sat naked around my first kill, I couldn’t help but wonder if any of this would have been the same if he knew. I wanted to tell him, right there on the forest floor, our legs wet with blood and dew, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t take that moment of triumph and pride and show him who I am.
So, I just smiled as he clawed out the deer’s liver, nodded as he told me how proud he was of his brave little pup, and wondered how I could be such a coward.
At Spring Break, we got some new neighbors. Dad said he knew the woman who moved in, but she wasn’t like us. Her name was Bianca. She was a friend of a friend, or something like that, and had married a werewolf. But when her daughter was born and she didn’t have the blood of a wolf, well… needless to say the marriage didn’t last. The husband left and the father never answered her calls. So, Bianca did the one thing no sane single mother would and decided to try her hand at house flipping. She and her daughter moved from house to house, making renovations before selling the property for a profit.
They were the only family I ever met that moved more than Dad and me. As it turned out, the daughter was my age and we went to the same school. We hung out every day after class and ate dinner—the two of our families together—almost every week. It was at the first dinner that Dad told me they knew what we were. At the second dinner Dad asked if they wanted to see us as wolves, and at the third dinner Dad gave me twenty bucks to see a movie with her.
It took me a month to realize Dad and her mom were hooking up, and another month to realize she liked me in a different way than I liked her. I asked Dad what I should do, leaving out the actual reason for why I didn’t like-like her.
“Do you like her as a friend?” he asked
“Of course.” She was a great friend. We’d spend hours playing Wolfwood after school, running around, fighting off monsters, and protecting our kingdom from the vile Sphinx of Deserton. And at night, when everyone else had gone to bed, the two of us would sneak out. She’d climb on my back and I’d take us farther than she could ever walk. Up to the marsh, all the way to the hills, even to the outskirts of Corpus Christi one night. “But I don’t love her.”
“Then you have to tell her that.”
He was right. I had to tell her.
That night, I took her to the beach.
She handed me my shorts once we got there. I took them but didn’t put them on right away. She had her back to me anyways. I never asked her to do that. She just did it on her own.
Some nights, I’d catch her sneaking the smallest glance she could when handing my shorts back to me. Other times, I’d feel her fingers slip out of their way to brush across my own, but that night none of that happened. It was as if she wanted me to doubt myself. That maybe she did not like me and I had just imagined her little glances and hidden smiles.
I slipped on my shorts and we walked along the dark beach. It was a new moon. I remember looking up at it and wishing it were full, hoping that maybe a sign of some sort would appear to tell me if I should tell her or leave the possibility of romance between us alive if in nothing but her mind. We’d spent enough time pretending together after all. Was it so different to let her pretend we might one day be together than to pretend we were warriors fighting feral lions?
It was. I know that—I knew that then too, but that did not mean I wasn’t going to look for any excuse to not talk with her about it. Because I loved her. Not in the way she loved me, or in the way I love you, but I did love her, and I knew that night could be the last time I ever spoke with her. I knew I would have to tell her the truth: I am gay. I could not make up a lie like I did for Dad. She deserved better than that and I knew it.
And that is why we walked along the beach. Me, too afraid to speak for fear of becoming ruined for her, and her too caught up in the moment to break it with words.
I don’t think I would have said anything that night if she hadn’t slipped her hand into mine and said, “Darren.”
We would have kept walking. We would have gone on walking until the sun rose across the water and I’d have to change to get us home before anyone started their day. And we could have gone on like that. Playing in Wolfwood, walking at night, talking, laughing, loving each other each in our own way, but she put her hand in mine.
She stopped me on that beach and with a single word ruined me.
“Darren,” she said.
I said her name back, knowing what she was going to say next, and knowing I needed to say anything to stop her from saying it.
“I like you.”
She would freeze, not just stop, freeze to the ground like a silver stake had been nailed through her feet. Her eyes would mist over for the briefest of seconds and in that instant I would see myself in the dark of the new moon, shattering before her mind, breaking irreparably so who I was to her no longer existed. I would not be Darren the boy next door who she had a crush on anymore. I would not be Darren the werewolf who took her out on adventures anymore. I would be Darren the fag.
“I know, but—”
“No, I mean I like you more than—”
But she said, “So.”
And I was the one who froze.
“I mean, I’ve known that for a while.” She laughed. “We’ve been naked together! You would’ve done something long before now if you weren’t.”
“But, if you—”
“I still like you. You being gay doesn’t change that.”
She wouldn’t let me finish, “Do you like me—as a friend?”
“Yes.” I followed her question. She was smarter than me, and I trusted her enough to know she’d get me to whatever it was I needed explained.
“Do you think you’d date me if I were a guy?”
I knew better than to point out she wasn’t. “Maybe.”
“So, if I had a dick, you’d date me?”
“That’s not…! That’s…” That wasn’t it. It’s complicated. You know that. Having a dick is important, but it’s not all there is. I couldn’t explain that to her. I didn’t know how.
“That’s the difference though, isn’t it? Guys have dicks, and girls don’t.”
I couldn’t respond. How could I? Hell, I can’t even say now what it is that makes me like men. I know it’s more than the biology of the sex; it has to be. Even after… after everything that’s happened, I still believe in love. There’s something more to our relationship than just one organ, but at the same time there isn’t. Right?
I tried telling her this, but she shook her head, “So the only reason you don’t love me is because of my body?”
Yes! I wanted to scream. “No!”
“Then what is it?”
“You’re not a werewolf.” I was grasping at whatever I could and she knew it.
“That hasn’t stopped our parents. Darren, let’s do this. Let’s try it. Maybe you’ll like it, maybe not. But you have to try, right? For me?”
Her hand slipped from mine and brought off her tank-top. She wasn’t wearing a bra underneath. I should’ve been excited. My eyes should’ve shot out of my head like in the old cartoons; I should’ve felt my heart quicken, my knees grow weak, and my heart clench like it does with you, but…
But it didn’t. I couldn’t.
When her hands slipped into my shorts, I changed, tearing through my clothes and ran. Running that night’s the biggest mistake of my life. I should have stayed, let her do what she wanted. Maybe she would have been right; maybe she wouldn’t have been. But she wouldn’t have had to find me.
I didn’t run far. I knew she would need help getting back, and I just wanted to… I just needed space for a moment.
She found me curled in a ball, my head tucked beneath my tail, and my eyes wishing for nothing more than the gift of tears.
She had her arms crossed over her chest, as if holding each one back. She still wanted me; she still loved me. Even after I ran, she still loved me, and I think she would have accepted my rejection of her in time. We would go back home, and in the morning, we’d meet after breakfast to talk about everything and clear the air. Then, we’d head off to play Wolfwood. I’d risk changing for her in the sunlight, just to see her smile. To show her that I loved her too, even if it wasn’t in that way. And we’d be happy.
The shout came behind her. She turned as I rose, a growl dripping from my lips. The hunter’s polished rifle glinted in the night. The shot sent every bird a mile around flying. She collapsed to the ground. The momentum of her dive rolled her, smearing blood along the grass.
I was on the hunter before he could bolt another round. Blood spurted from his neck, coating my tongue in the sweet, rich juice of a kill. He gurgled a scream. The noise plopped up in bubbles. His hands scrabbled for his neck, slipping through the gore, grasping at too many holes. I snapped my jaws around his head, crunched through the bone, and shattered his brain.
I should have left him to bleed out.
Alexander Patterson is currently a student at Baylor University. He is studying to be a high school teacher.
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Dog Days”
When we started Fabula Argentea magazine, we hoped one day to receive at least one vampire and one werewolf story that fit our tough publishing criteria. We weren’t big zombie fans, so we weren’t looking for any of those stories, yet we did find and publish one (issue 5: “The Library Patron”). But as the years and issues have moved along, we wondered if we’d ever reach our vampire and werewolf goals. We’re still waiting for a great vampire tale (authors take note!), but we have certainly found a superb werewolf tale in this one.
Author Alexander Patterson surprised us with this one in several ways. It goes so much further than being a werewolf tale. Not only is it a “coming of age” piece, but it’s a double “coming out” story. We liked the humanity in this, and of course, we always appreciate touches of humor.