“So how was your Christmas, anyway?” Sheri asked. We’d just pulled up in front of the only café open through the winter in our neck of the woods.
“It was fine, I guess,” I whined. “I mean, Flint hardly says a word unless I’m out of the room and then I hear him talking to Ryan and Mom.” We got out of the car and headed for the door. The aroma of deep fried everything assaulted us.
“We should have stayed home,” Sheri said. “This food will kill us.” Opening the door was kind of like staying home. The tables were occupied with friends and neighbors, all chatty and happy to see us.
“The taco salad isn’t so unhealthy, and it’s good. That’s what I usually get here.” We picked a table and shrugged out of our jackets. “I’m dying for coffee,” I looked around for Rita, the owner and only waitress. She was coming up behind me with a fresh pot.
“Hi gals,” she smiled as she poured. “Want menus or do you know what you want?”
“Guess I’ll have my usual,” I said.
“I’ll try one too,” said Sheri.
“Joe!” Rita shouted at the cook. “Two taco salads!” She marched away to refill coffee cups.
“Okay,” Sheri began. “It wasn’t the best Christmas ever, and you went back to work, which by the way, is the best decision you’ve made in years. I was wondering how long it would take you to realize it was stupid to be living off the divorce money. That money should be going into a retirement account.”
“Oh my gosh! Yes Mother,” I spat.
“Seriously, I’m glad you’re working again. It’s good for you not to be hibernating out here for years on end. Maybe you’ll get a life.”
I could only stare the most hateful stare I could muster. It didn’t faze her.
“Tell me about Flint,” Sheri insisted.
“He’s quiet, avoids me like I’ve got the plague; likes Ryan and Mom though. He did make an absolutely beautiful bird house to hang on the front porch. You’d have thought it was made of gold by the way Mom carried on.”
We unwrapped out silverware and put napkins on our laps as our salads were served.
“Can I get…”
“Yes, Vicki,” Rita interrupted, “I’m getting you extra salsa. You want extra too Sheri?”
“Okay, you were saying…”
“Yeah,” I paused to remember where I’d left off. “Oh yeah, he told Ryan, privately of course, that he would prefer living in the campground, with the winter months at Mozer’s, to living with me. Can you believe that? But Mom won’t hear of it. She just keeps reminding him that he deserves a home of his own just as much as anybody else and how he and I will enjoy each others company once we get to know each other.”
I took a bite then cleared my throat. “You know, he adores her just as she’s come to adore him which I simply cannot understand. And Ryan, the idiot, he’s found the long lost brother he’s always wanted. He makes me sick.”
Sheri smirked and changed the subject. Somehow I didn’t seem to have her sympathies.
“How’s going back to Freeberg and Denison? I bet they’re glad to have you back.”
“I guess it’s alright. I’m not sure why I ever decided to become an accountant, except that it’s always pretty easy to find work. Lot’s of new people there since I left. But Jackie’s still there and Robin and Ben. They were always fun so I guess it won’t be so bad, and they were excited to see me.”
Sheri was quiet, taking in the café and all the goings on. I thought about Flint and how apprehensive he was about the whole idea of living in the addition which made me happy and guilty at the same time. The idea of us living under the same roof was ridiculous no matter how Mom spun it. We may be half siblings, but we were so under great protest and not by any choice of our own.
Sheri and I finished our lunch, filled each other in on everything that had happened since we’d seen each other last, paid our bill and left. I dropped her off at the beautiful cedar and glass home she shared with her husband and drove away, my mind flying in every direction. I had considered finding an apartment to rent in town, but living at the lake house rent free allowed for plenty of savings and fun money and I was really enjoying it. I was actually starting to think it could work with Flint; after all, just because he was so weird, didn’t mean he wasn’t a good person. Maybe, I thought, if I told myself that enough times, I’d come to believe it. So imagine my surprise when a week later, the unimaginable happened.
It was a Saturday afternoon and Mom and I were in the kitchen loading up the crock pot with all the fixings for a great winter stew. Ryan had been out checking on the construction as we were nearing completion. He planned to find Flint and invite him to join us for dinner to discuss an actual move in date and Mom wanted to talk about all he would need for his new digs.
Ryan walked in through the back door wearing a smirk and a surprise. He was not accompanied by Flint and Vern as expected. Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he slid out a chair and took a seat at the kitchen table.
“What’s that look for?” Mom asked, stopping what she was doing to study my brother.
“Well, you’re not going to like this, but Flint just told me he’s not moving in here, no matter what.”
“What?” Mom’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. She dropped the stirring spoon on the stove, splattering vegetable broth all over, grabbed a chair out from the table and sat down. “What do you mean? Why? Why on earth would he not?”
Reluctant to speak, Ryan glanced slowly from Mom to me. “Well,” he swallowed loudly, “He just says he’s not comfortable with the idea and he’s decided he can’t do it.”
“But why?” Mom insisted.
“Because,” Ryan blurted, “Vicki gives him the creeps, that’s why.”
“What?” I felt my eyebrows encroach my hair line. “What are you talking about? I give him the creeps? How in the world could I give him the creeps?”
“He says you speak in his direction but never look him in the eye, you go out of your way to avoid him, and he just gets a bad feeling from you. He’s been through enough in his life to know what’s good for him and what’s not. He says you are definitely not. You’re creepy.”
“Well, I never!” There were no words. I was dumbfounded.
Suddenly, Mom was laughing; a slow quiet chuckle that turned into an out-loud laugh which morphed into hysterical laughter. Ryan joined in. They laughed until they were holding their sides and wiping tears from their faces.
“Well, if that doesn’t beat all,” Mom said as she struggled to catch her breath. “The guy that gives Vicki the creeps, is totally creeped out by Vicki!” She and Ryan lost it again, nearly rolling on the kitchen floor.
“It’s not funny,” I protested. “You two need to stop this.” My insistence only fueled the fire. They laughed harder. I went to my room and slammed the door. They laughed so hard I thought I may need to call 911. At that moment, I hated them.
There were a number of nice new apartment complexes near my new job. I settled on a small one bedroom with a beautiful tiny kitchen and a covered deck. The lease was for a full year and I reluctantly signed it. Six months would have been preferable in case I ended up with bad neighbors or something, yet it got me out of the impossible situation at the lake.
Fine, I thought. Let the half brother we just found out about have free lodging. That’s fair, right? I’d expected Mom to argue with me; insist I tear up the apartment lease, beg me to stay at the lake house. But, she didn’t. She just smiled and said she thought that was fine, if that’s what I wanted to do. Well, it wasn’t! I wanted to scream. You leave me no choice! I hollered in my angry head. I couldn’t begin to understand what was going on in my life, yet there I was, carrying boxes up the steps and through the door of my stupid little apartment.
Ryan showed up to help move in the new sofa and bedroom furniture. He hooked up the television and assembled the little kitchen set I’d ordered on line. He kept himself so busy we had little time to talk. Before I knew it, he was using some excuse to hurry out the door, leaving me alone. I was a little shell shocked by the sudden turn of recent events so I opened a bottle of wine and sat out on my deck sipping from a pretty new wine glass.
Sitting in my patio rocking chair, sipping my wine and taking time to contemplate life, caused me to arrive at a startling possibility: Had Mom and Ryan planned this all out so I’d get back to work and get a life again? They’d certainly done nothing to discourage me and I’d definitely felt Ryan couldn’t get away fast enough. That’s the case only when he doesn’t want to be forced into a conversation he’s avoiding.
I was stewing about everything when the ring of my phone brought me back to real time.
“Hi, Mom,” I answered in a voice I hoped conveyed the fact that I was barely talking to her.
“Vicki, I thought you should know; Old Man Mozer died in his sleep last night.
To Be Continued