I took the day off today to go to the beach with Anne and Nolan. It's the last official beach trip of the summer, since he starts school on Tuesday and it was important to me to go with them, so I worked like crazy yesterday to be able to play hooky today.
We had an absolute blast, and it was entirely worth the misery that was yesterday's work load, especially when Nolan and I played Mariokart on the way down (Anne drove, duh.)
We were playing to seven victories, and he jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead, including awesome moves like picking up three red shells while in the lead, then slowing down to let me pass him just so he could hit me with all three of them.
I drew to a tie at 5-5 and we decided that the 6th match would be the decider, because we were pulling into the beach parking lot. I should point out that Nolan is a significantly better player at this game than I am. In fact, Nolan is better than me in every game that isn't at least 12 years old, but I don't mind. The point isn't really to win as much as it is to have a lot of fun while we're playing. If we can somehow challenge each other (usually by giving him some sort of handicap) than we consider that a bonus.
On the final lap, I was about 2 seconds behind him when I picked up three green shells. I desperately launched all of them, hoping that one of them would find its target and give me some hope of winning.
Of course, I missed entirely, but picked up the ultimate in Munchkin-y Mariokart goodness on the very next item box: the blue shell.
I launched it as soon as I could, and it smashed into him, narrowing his lead by 1 second with about four seconds of race to go. As soon as he regained control of his kart, one of my green shells bounced off the edge of the track, caught up to him, and knocked him again, just as I caught up and passed him!
I think it's the first video game we've played together in years that as resulted in a "W" in the Wil column.
"Dude! That was so crazy!" He said when we got out of the car.
"I know, I think that's the luckiest I've ever gotten in a game against you."
He smiled at me. It was a huge smile that I haven't seen since we took his brother to college. I think Nolan misses him more than he's willing to admit, and is taking Ryan's absence in our house even harder than his parents are. Ryan and Nolan have always had each other, through some very difficult times, and in many ways they're just like twins: they've pretty much shared everything as long as they can remember. There's an empty space in our house where Ryan used to be, and a matching one in Nolan's heart (though he would totally deny it if I said it, because he's a dude like that.)
"We are totally going to have a rematch," he said.
"Deal," I said.
He grabbed his skim board out of the car and ran ahead to get off the hot parking lot. He looked happier and more relaxed than I've seen him in the last two weeks.
I turned to Anne and said, "You know, a year ago I couldn't have played with him like that, because he would have been too competitive."
She looked after him and got lost for a moment in the pride a parent feels when they know they've done a good job raising an awesome person.
"Yeah," she said, "he's grown up a lot."
"He told me yesterday that he feels kind of like an only child," I said, "I think he misses Ryan a lot more than he's letting on."
She closed the car and we began to distribute the remaining beach items for the walk to the water's edge.
"He keeps talking about doing things with you," she said, "I'm glad you guys are so close, because it's making it easier on him that Ryan's not around."
"So am I," I said.