With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.
“You knew today was going to be an early day.”
With a groan, I open my eyes, expecting to find Erik hovering over me like one of those strange alien space-things you read about in pulp magazines. Instead, sunlight blasts me straight in the eyes. I squint and manage to sit.
“Hey, good morning, brother,” I say, my voice scratchy. “I don’t suppose you brought some milk up with you?”
“You know Ma won’t let us eat anywhere but the kitchen. C’mon, Harry. If we’re late because of you–”
“No need to get all in a pickle. I’m up.”
I smirk, half-annoyed, half-amused. Lately, Erik’s sense of humor seems to have taken a detour out his backside. Maybe if he pulled out the stick he’s got shoved up there, his sense of humor would find its way back in.
“What’s so funny?” he asks.
I realize I’ve been smiling to myself. “Nothing you’d appreciate. Okay, let’s get you graduated and moving on to higher edu-ma-cation.”
Erik leaves, and I scratch at the poison ivy rash on my leg. I blame Pa for that one–making me clear out the weeds in the garden before planting a couple of weeks ago. By the time I’m downstairs, I find the kitchen table empty of people, my place setting left alone. Ma bustles about the place like a confused bee who can’t decide which flower to pick.
“It’s cold,” she says, her back to me, indicating the food with a wave of the arm.
I’m already shoveling the eggs and bacon into my mouth like I haven’t eaten in a week as she finishes talking. When I shrug and gulp down the milk, Ma turns and frowns. Hannah chooses that moment to walk in and wrinkles her nose at me.
“You’re disgusting, Harry.”
She’s already dressed for this momentous occasion, her dark blond, bobbed hair combed and held in place with a clip.
When I belch, Irma giggles as she prances into the kitchen and lands on my lap.
“Hello, itty-bitty Irma,” I say. Like me, she’s got Ma’s brown hair and Pa’s blue eyes. She’s much cuter than me, though.
Irma beams and hugs me, but Ma shoos me out. As I stand, I stop to whisper in Hannah’s ear, “At least Irma’s happy to see me.”
I leave her with those words of wisdom and run upstairs to throw together something that’s presentable. When I return downstairs, I’m not surprised when Ma finds something to criticize me for.
“Did you even brush your hair, Harry? When’s the last time you had a haircut? If we had the time now–”
“Pa’s waiting!” my older sister, Amy, calls from the back door.
Amy is the eldest at twenty-three and is basically a more mature version of Hannah in terms of looks. In personality, she and Ma could be two peas in a pod. I’ve never been close to her. I think the words I’ve said the most to her over the years have been “I already have a mother, thanks.”
Ma ushers me out the door. My sisters are crammed into the very back seat of our seven passenger Caddy. Pa is behind the wheel. I hope Ma and Pa don’t get any ideas of springing another kid on us because I don’t know where they’d sit. When Ma told us about being pregnant with Irma three years ago, I thought, for once, she was joking. You can imagine how well Ma took my remark at the time when I thought she was just putting on a bit of weight.
Ma takes the front passenger seat, leaving me my usual place next to Erik in the middle seat. Erik’s already dressed in his navy-blue cap and gown, a medal around his neck for graduating Summa Cum Laude.
Pa starts the engine and pulls out of the driveway. As he drives, he doesn’t remark on my tardiness, but that’s Pa for you. He’s Ma’s polar opposite. In his easygoing manner, he says, “You know, Erik, I only went to school until third grade. I’m proud of you, son.”
If Erik had any humility, he might’ve blushed, but he just smiles. “Thanks, Pa. Well, I worked hard. I won’t let you down.”
“Yeah, you’re the first one in the family to go off to college,” I say. “I guess the rest of us don’t know much about working hard.”
“Your grades could be better, Harry,” Ma says. “Now, this is your brother’s day. Don’t ruin it.”
Hannah sniggers in the back seat.
Eyeing Erik, whose gaze challenges me, I reply, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
I lean back with exaggerated casualness, my arms raised and crossed behind my head. I close my eyes and try to imagine a house without Erik, a place where I might be noticed for something other than everything I do wrong.
Several hours later, after Erik has paraded himself across the stage and basked in the applause of hundreds, we’re back home. My parents go out to eat about once a year, so we’ve met our quota for 1925 because Ma and Pa indulged Erik in his request for seafood. As I step out of the car, the fish doesn’t sit well with me. Or maybe that’s just an excuse.
“I’m going for a walk,” I say.
“Be back in time for dinner,” Ma replies.
“That’s hours away, Lucy,” Pa says, then looks at me. “We’ll see you later, son.”
“I don’t think I could eat anything if I tried,” I say. “If I’m not back for dinner, don’t wait up.”
Hannah purses her lips. “You mean, you’re not hungry for once? Usually you eat like someone’s going to take your food away.”
I’m not in the mood for jabs as I turn and trudge down the sidewalk. I’m a good ten houses away when I hear a voice calling after me.
“Hey, Harry! Wait up, will you?”
I’m torn between stopping in shock and quickening my pace. Erik would probably outrun me, so I reluctantly halt and allow him to catch up.
“What?” I ask pointedly.
He raises his eyebrows. “Now who’s in a bad mood?”
“Did you come to rub it in that you’re moving up in the world?”
He holds out a basketball. “Actually, I was just gonna ask if you’d like to shoot some baskets, but if you don’t–”
“I never said I didn’t.” My stomach settles.
My brother walks alongside me for a while in silence. We reach the park’s courts and dribble the ball between us. The years fall away. The differences that have come between us seem to die as we become two boys playing a fun game again.
I laugh at the brother I used to know as he pretends to limp across the court and then shoots a perfect basket. Somewhere in the middle of all this, he says, “I wanted to tell you last night…”
I’m dribbling the ball as he speaks and lose my focus, the ball rolling away.
“What?” I ask.
Erik’s eyes shift, as do his feet. Left to right. Right to left. He opens his mouth like a gaping fish outta water. Next thing I know, he’s darts off to the left, grabbing the ball and dribbling around me in circles.
“C’mon, Harry. Show me what you got!”
“Ha, I might not be as tall as you, but don’t forget I’m not done growing. One day–”
“One day you’ll be taller than me? I don’t think so!” Erik taunts me as he lifts the ball just out of my reach, but I’m ruthless.
We go head-to-head like this for the next several minutes, teasing and laughing. I finally manage to snag the ball from him and make a basket. Stopping to catch my breath, I wipe my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand, my hair sticking to it. I wonder if Ma might’ve been right about the haircut thing.
“If we were smart, we would’ve brought some water and changed our clothes,” Erik says.
“Oh? Brainy-boy Erik’s admitting he’s not as smart as he thinks? But yeah, Ma’s gonna have a field day cleaning these. I can hear her now. It’ll be just like old times.”
“Old times,” Erik murmurs. His grin droops, like someone painted a smile on an otherwise drawn face.
“This here, right now, is the most fun I’ve had in…I don’t know how long,” I tell him.
I’ve never been the sentimental type. I trip over my words like my feet trip over my laces as I step back.
Erik tosses the ball at me. “Rematch?”
I catch the ball, sure and steady in this sport. “Oh, you’re writing your death sentence, old boy. I’m gonna wipe you out. You might be good on the ball field, but you got nothing on me in the court.”
The time forgotten, we while away our afternoon like that. By the end of it all, we strip off our dress shirts and stroll home in damp undershirts, arguing over who really won and who smells worse.
I’m not sure who smells worse, but as far as winning goes, I’d say today was a winner for me.
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My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.