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.
As the summer wears on, my brother continues to be an enigma. He used to be so easy to understand because he was just like me in many ways. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even understand why I do or say half the things I do anymore.
In August, Amy surprises us by saying she’s dating someone.
“How did you meet this young man?” Ma asks over dinner one evening.
“I’d like it if you brought him by. I’d like to meet him,” Pa says. The twinkle is out of his eyes, his mouth a firm line.
“We met through a mutual friend from work,” Amy says. “I’m twenty-three, Pa. Really, don’t you think I’m a bit old to be bringing my boyfriend around for my parents to meet? It might not even be anything serious.” Her face flushes. She’s probably twiddling her hands under the table like she always does when she gets agitated. I keep my eyes on her, taking a bit of pleasure in her discomfort, wondering how this conversation will go.
“You’re still a young lady,” Pa says.
“Erik gets tons of calls from girls,” Amy says. “Why should this be any different? I’m five years older than him. Ma, you were my age when you met Pa.”
“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Erik says.
I smirk, trying not to chuckle at this free entertainment.
Ma sighs. “You’re right. I was, but girls–women–were more mature back then than they are nowadays. The way they flaunt themselves–those flapper girls with their bobbed hair and too-short dresses. All that jazz nonsense, dancing, and illegal drinking. People are wilder than ever.”
I try to imagine Amy dressed as a promiscuous young lady, smoking and drinking. It’s damn near impossible.
“I’m hardly a flapper, Ma,” Amy says. “How often have I told you times change? When will you realize that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were thirty or forty years ago?”
Ma harrumphs and digs into her food.
One point for Amy.
Pa shakes his head. “Can we please not argue at the table? Amelia Rose, despite your opinion on the matter, you still live under the roof of this house. Your mother and I wish to meet this young man because we want what’s best for you. The matter is closed.”
Oh, the full name. My gaze shifts from Pa to Amy.
“Father,” she groans, removing the napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” Amy walks away from the table and leaves through the back door.
“Enough,” Ma says. “Let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”
“Well, I think it’s awful that Amy has a boyfriend,” Hannah states. “I agree with Ma and Pa that it just isn’t right. Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting to get married and moving out.”
I chuckle. “Good one, Hannah-panna. You took the cake on that one.”
“What?” Hannah asks, scrunching her face up at me. “It’s the truth.”
“I believe I already said that was enough,” Ma said.
I keep my mouth shut as Hannah’s silenced, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who causes tension in this house. I don’t bother Hannah the rest of the evening, although it’s tempting. I’d love to see Amy have the gumption to keep dating this mystery man, but as the day gives way to the next, her bad mood doesn’t lift. At breakfast, she hardly touches her food. She’s out the door for work by the time Hannah comes down.
“You just missed Amy,” I say to Hannah in between bites of oatmeal. “She was in a wonderful mood this morning.”
Hannah rolls her eyes as Ma enters, Irma right behind her. “What did she say?”
“Not two words,” Erik says. “No ‘good morning.’ Nothing.”
I’m about to add my two cents when Ma says, “Amy went to work like she’s supposed to. The rest of you would do well to finish up in here and be about your business. Your father has plenty of work for you boys outside with harvest time upon us and won’t be too pleased if he comes home and it’s not done. Hannah, you’re going to help with the laundry.”
Erik and I get done in the kitchen. I don’t complain too much today about the chores. It’s a nice day–not too hot. Besides, this story ain’t over with Amy, and Hannah’s disapproval of the whole situation adds another layer to it.
While Erik pulls weeds and I pluck lettuce and cabbages, I say, “What d’you think of all this?”
“What?” Erik keeps his back to me.
“Don’t play dumb. C’mon, brother. You gotta admit–this is new for Amy.”
“I say good for her. She’s old enough. I kept wondering when she might marry and move out. She’s well into her twenties, and if she waits too long, her prospects will be all dried up. No man wants to marry an old maid.”
I laugh. “You planning on marrying young?”
“Marriage?” Erik asks incredulously. “I have college first, then find a job. By then, I’ll be Amy’s age. That’s years away.”
“Well, I never know with you, since you have at least a half dozen girls calling you at any given time. Who’s the latest catch? Maybe you should bring her around.”
“We’re not talking about this anymore.” Erik’s neck reddens and I’m sure it’s not from the sun.
I shake my head and return to picking vegetables.
By evening, Amy returns home with none other than her boyfriend. He’s a good-looking guy who’s easy to talk with. He introduces himself to Erik and me in the living room.
“Jack Banks,” he says, his handshake strong.
“Hi, Jack. I’m Harry. So, my sister says she likes you. Lucky you.”
Jack grins and wraps an arm around Amy. “I’d say I’m the lucky guy, but she is quite the doll, your sister.”
Amy’s practically glowing. If it were dark, she could light up the room.
Erik and Jack exchange introductions, and Großmutter, our grandmother who moved in with us a few months back, is saying something in German, but if her smile were any wider, the wrinkles on her face would crumble off.
Irma comes down the steps quietly and enters the room, and Jack gets down on one knee. “And who’s this little sweetheart?”
“Irma,” my littlest sister says shyly.
“What a beautiful name.” Jack picks her up and tosses her up in the air. Irma giggles as he catches her.
Conversation flows naturally, and the lighthearted jokes are in full swing when Pa joins us. For a moment, I wonder if he’s gonna kick this charmer out on his backside. Pa’s taken with him the moment Jack approaches him. For Amy’s sake, I’m relieved. Unlike Erik, I never imagined her as an old maid–not that I’d tell her that.
Before I know it, we sit down for dinner. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to Jack, except Hannah. All through the meal, my little sister sends little-concealed glares at Jack and strikes Amy like a question-firing squad. After dinner, she plays for us, and maybe she’s a bit happier.
As I’m off to bed, I wonder what’s been going on with Hannah and think of teasing her in the morning to get an answer out of her. It’s not like I’d want her to think I’m really concerned or something.
* * *
Weeks pass, and Erik packs for Ohio State. It’s September by now, and I’ve started tenth grade. I’m already being compared to my brother by many of my teachers, and I tell Erik that I have some big shoes to fill.
“It’s true,” I say the night before he’s to leave for Columbus. “Do any of those girls you talk to know just how big your feet are?”
Probably in spite of himself, Erik stops in his tracks as he’s about to put a stack of shirts in his suitcase and looks down at his feet. “You’re exaggerating.”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t you get enough sweet talk from your admirers?”
Erik doesn’t answer for a while. Instead, he resumes packing. When his suitcase is stuffed to the brim, he has a hard time shutting it and resorts to sitting hard on it to get it to close. “You might wanna start shaving, Harry, if you want a girl.”
I smirk. “Maybe I’m trying to grow a beard.”
Erik laughs. “That would be one pathetic beard.”
I shrug. We fall silent and focus on everything in the room but each other. The sun is setting, casting an orange glow on the walls and furniture. The floor is well-worn from years of us tracking mud and sprinting across it to see who could make the most noise. On the dresser–Erik’s stuff in the top two drawers and mine in the bottom two–we share a picture of us from probably ten years ago, our smiles reflecting our innocent mischief.
“Yeah, well…goodnight,” Erik says.
“Goodnight, brother.” I go for nonchalant, but my voice cracks a little at the end. How embarrassing.
The next day, Erik doesn’t say much. Our sisters are crying, of course. Women. It’s not like they’ll never see him again. Ma’s a mess. Pa’s driving Erik down, and I’m still not clear on why Ma is staying home, other than her need to keep the house clean and the rest of us kids fed.
I stand out in the driveway, watching Erik load the last of his things into the trunk.
“Well, don’t do anything too stupid,” he says to me, a smirk on his lips but a plea in his eyes.
“Stupid? Me? Nah. You got the wrong guy.”
Erik half-steps toward me like he’s about to hug me, but he stops and nods. “See ya around.”
“Yeah, see ya.”
I keep my eyes on the back of his head as he gets into the car. As it pulls away, my head’s filled with all the things I just couldn’t say, and I ain’t sure why.
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