I see them reading in bed when I come in to say good night.
“Let’s play the pur-tend game, Gramps!” Jacob suggests, burrowing down under the covers, brown curls framing his sweet face, his book cast aside.
“It’s pre-tend,” I say. “And sure, we can play one game before you guys go to sleep. Three turns each.”
“You go first, Gramps,” Travis says, snuggling into his own bed, a smaller replica of his older brother, his book also forgotten.
“Okay,” I say, screwing my face into what I hope resembles a fearsome snarl. “I’ll huff an’ I’ll puff ‘an’ I’ll blow your house down!”
“The big, bad wolf!” Travis shouts immediately. At six years old, he is ever competitive and eager to beat Jacob, older by a year, to the answer.
“Right,” I smile. “Your turn.”
“Okay…hmmm…” After a moment, using his deepest voice, he says, “Fee, fie, foe, fum, I smell the blood…”
“The giant!” Jacob cries before he can finish. “The giant at the top of Jack’s beanstalk.”
“You hafta let me finish, Jake,” Travis complains, indignant at being cut off.
“Don’t worry, Trav,” I say soothingly. “If Jake can guess them early, it means you’re doing a good job, right?”
Travis smiles triumphantly, pleased by this revelation. “Right!” he says. “I’m a good pur-tender.”
“Pre-tender,” I say patiently. “And now it’s Jake’s turn.”
Jacob has his riddle all ready. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
Travis doesn’t reply right away, furrowing his brow as he tries to come up with the answer, so I say, “Sleeping Beauty.”
“Wrong!” Jacob crows. “I get another turn.”
“Wait, wait, I know it now,” Travis argues. “It’s the wicked, old queen who gave Sleeping Beauty the poison apple. She turned into an old hag!”
“Not fair!” Jacob pouts. “Gramps gave it away! He pur-tended to know the answer so you could get it.”
“Hey,” I protest, “that was my best guess. And it’s pre-tended…which I didn’t do, by the way.”
“Okay, my turn,” Travis says, oblivious to my persistent corrections. “You won’t get this one! Wah…wah…what’s up, Doc?”
“Bugs Bunny!” Jacob says. “That was easy!”
Crestfallen, Travis says, “Yeah, but only ‘cause I can’t stutter!”
“Bugs Bunny doesn’t stutter,” Jacob says. “That’s Porky Pig.”
“Okay your turn, Jake,” I intercede quickly, heading off a potential squabble. “This is your third round. Make it a good one.”
“Okay, here it is.” In a harsh, threatening rasp, he bellows, “Who’s that clip-clopping across my bridge?”
“Billy Goats Gruff!” Travis exclaims. “That’s the troll under the bridge!”
“Very good, Trav,” I say. “Now it’s your third turn. Can you stump us?”
Adopting a lilting, sing-song tone, he says, “Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go!”
“The seven dwarfs,” Jacob shouts, eager to beat me, even though he’s used his last turn.
“Which one?” Travis says, wanting to stump his brother.
“All of ‘em, right, Gramps?”
“I think so,” I say. “They all went to work, unless Sleepy slept in.” My intended joke falls on deaf ears.
“Okay, that’s three for me an’ Trav,” Jacob says. “But you got two pur-tends left, Gramps.”
This is the standard pattern when we play, which usually allows me to end the game without complaints from them about having to go to sleep.
“I have two pre-tends left,“ I say, “so here’s my second one.” In my best attempt at a high-pitched cackle, I croak, “Who’s that out there, eating my house?”
“The witch, the witch!” the boys yell in unison. “Hansel an’ Gretel!”
“Right,” I smile. “You guys are great at this game!”
“Yeah,” Travis agrees. “We’re the great pur-tenders!”
“Pre-tenders!” I say, for what feels like the umpteenth time. “You guys are great pre-tenders. You remind me of an old song, and I’m going to use it for my final riddle. Then it’s bedtime.”
“Sing it, Gramps,” Jacob urges. “Sing it for us.”
They’ll endure anything to avoid having to go to sleep, I figure, but I sing the song anyway, tailored just for them.
Oh-oh-oh, yes, you’re the great pre-te-en-ders,
All cozy and ready to sleep,
You’ve played your games and you’ve guessed the names,
And now you must lay down your heads,
Pre-tending you’ll start counting sheep!
“That’s Little Bo-Peep!” Jacob yells, excited to have an answer for the last one. “She lost her sheep, right?”
“You got it,” I laugh, hugging him, feeling his fleeting kiss on my cheek.
When I bend to hug Travis, he whispers, “I love you, Gramps. We don’t have to pur-tend ‘bout that.”
Softie that I am, I feel my eyes filling up. And this time, I don’t attempt a correction.