“I know!” She digs into the huge bag she’s carried for the past year and sets a stack of bridal magazines between us. “This is going to be so much fun! We have like three hours before dinner, so I thought we could jump in—at least for a while.”
I’m stunned speechless because we haven’t even stepped inside yet, and it’s not exactly warm this time of year. And now there are girlie magazines on our porch.
“So. This is what I want to do.” She opens a magazine to a picture of a bride and groom underneath this elaborate trellis thing that’s covered in those pale pink roses she likes so much. It has a chandelier in the middle. A chandelier.
Derrick must be loaded because there’s no way Mom and Dad would pay for something like that. The whole thing is a little much for me. Way too girly and dramatic.
“Uh…” My thoughts can’t completely come together. Too much fiancé with blue eyes and Alyssa being weird around James and James pushing us to be together and Lora home and this guy going to be part of our family… And her bags are still on the freaking porch.
“Anything we find in all these magazines that matches up with what’s in this picture, we mark. Cool?” Her finger rests on the original photo, and the stack of magazines suddenly looks like a mountain.
“Umm….” She wants me to look for pink flowers? Or what?
“Come on.” She grabs the stack, my arm, and hauls me into the house, leaving her bags outside. “I’ll do up your favorite muffins and hot chocolate. We’ll have so much fun!”
I’m already feeling like I’m caught in this Lora vortex of wedding and new guy and James and… I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be here.
I’m stuffed with muffins, and all the magazines are starting to look the same. I flip a page. “Lora! You gotta see this ridiculous article.” I laugh as I slide deeper into the couch.
She primping for the engagement dinner tonight and packing a bag in case she stays over. Which means she’ll definitely stay over. After that kiss next to his car, I’m amazed she was able to be away from him for just a few hours.
“What is it?” she calls down.
“Please don’t yell in the house,” Dad asks.
I jump at the sound of his voice. My parents are so rarely home it throws me when they are. He’s reading in his oversized chair in the corner.
“Sorry.” I slump lower and glance at the article.
“Signs Your Boyfriend is Cheating.” And this in a bridal magazine? Hopefully soon-to-be brides are past this. Only as I read down, I start to get this weird, itchy feeling in my gut as I skim the short, paragraph stories.
My best friend and my boyfriend suddenly couldn’t be in the same room, and my boyfriend was acting different toward me. Turns out they hooked up at a party, and…
I’m choking. This sounds way too familiar. No. Not James and Alyssa. That would be… well, unbelievably horrible. I’m pretty sure they’re fighting about something. My fingers shake as I pull out my phone. Lora’s rummaging around behind me in the kitchen.
I start to call James, but now I’m worried about talking to him. Why would I worry about talking to James? Instead I go for non-committal. A text.
ME: TELL ME ABT U AND ALYSSA
That could reference their weird behavior without being specific. Put him in the position where he has to come up with some info.
I wait for his call. And wait. I stare at my phone. And then I get a text.
Lora kisses my head. “See ya tomorrow!”
I open my mouth to tell her to wait, but James’ message hits me like a brick, silencing me. The door slams closed behind her.
JAMES: I’M SORRY. I TOLD HER I WANTED TO BE THE ONE TO SAY SOMETHING. CAN WE TALK?
My body shakes. Lora’s gone. Dad’s behind his paper. Do I want to know everything or nothing? I jump up and start for the stairs. The first sob hits me just as I step through my bedroom door. What just happened?
I haven’t talked to the sellout, a.k.a., my brother, since he dropped his crazy bomb about taking the plunge into…holy matrimony. I don’t know why, but for some reason holy matrimony is easier to think than the M-word. It’s still screwed up–like something old people do. Or boring people. Or lonely people… Not a guy in college who still has all his mental faculties. Hence, temporary insanity being the only option here.
Does he remember what happened to Dad after Mom was gone? Did college wipe out his memories and what we swore to one another? I don’t get it. He’ll end up just as broken as Dad. He’s letting someone in just to risk losing them. It’s not worth getting stomped on. That’s what it feels like he’s doing to me, letting his foot come down on my head over and over, by forgetting the pact we made. What about the Gibson Boys?
My fingers tighten on the steering wheel. I’m almost home, so I turn up the music, hoping it will help me clear my head before I see him. He’s coming home for Christmas and bringing the old ball and chain with him. Guess a guy can’t spend time with his real family alone anymore.
Honestly, I don’t even know what to say when I see him. Part of me just wants to open the conversation with a punch to the head and hope it takes care of the insanity thing. Then we can skip the heart-to-heart altogether.
Maybe I can kidnap him. Drag his lame ass out of here and stage an intervention. We can go on the road and have fun, and he’ll forget he ever wanted a life sentence with his fian… fianc… I can’t even think the word.
“Damn.” I pull into my driveway and kill the engine. I’m freaking out here, and it’s kind of embarrassing. I think this girl is actually staying with us or something. We haven’t really had any girls here for longer than a few hours since Mom’s been gone. What if she starts running around the house with a towel on her head, yelling at Derrick to do this and that? And then he’ll wake up tomorrow and she’ll be gone.
Chill out, Dylan. This isn’t me. I don’t stress out like this. What’s the point? That’s what I need to try and remember now.
I climb the porch stairs. The door pulls open, and Derrick is standing there. He looks the same, just like me but older. Same black hair, same blue eyes, except mine are brighter. Girls always tell me I have nice, thick eyelashes, too. I don’t know about that, but they seem to like it. So I’m cool with it.
“About time you got your slow ass home. And don’t think I’m not pissed at you for ignoring my phone calls.” Derrick holds out an arm. I sort of want to be an ass and ignore him now, too, but I don’t. We give each other a half-hug before he moves out of the way to let me in. “I missed you, little brother.”
I push my way inside. My face is hot. My whole body is hot.
“I missed you, little brother?” My brain is yelling at my mouth to shut up, but I’ve never been good at listening to that warning. “That’s all you have to say after springing a wedding on me?”
Holy shit. I sound like parent. Or a spouse. Or a nutcase. Whatever it is, I don’t sound like Dylan, but I don’t care.
“Have you lost your mind? Or…” Damn! How did this not occur to me sooner? “You got her pregnant? You always made sure I had condoms. Wrap it or lack it remember? Forget how to use one, yourself?”
I’m lecturing my older brother. There is definitely something wrong with this picture. Again, my brain is screaming at me, but, dude… he got this girl pregnant?
Derrick holds up his hands and shakes his head. “Chill out, Dylan. You’re giving me a headache. Come on. Let’s go have a drink.”
I follow my brother through the kitchen. He grabs two sodas out of the fridge, and then we head out to the back porch.
“Dad home?” I ask him.
“Of course not,” he replies.
Funny, he can remember that but seems to forget why things are that way. He hands me the soda, which I take. “A Pepsi doesn’t make you seem any less crazy.”
I plop down in our porch chair. It’s cold as hell and a little drizzly. There’s a small puddle of water at the bottom of the stairs, and I watch as drops hit it and echo out. Why we couldn’t do this inside, I don’t know.
Derrick sits next to me. “She’s not pregnant, dumbass.” He thumps my head. I push his hand away.
“So you are crazy?”
He shakes his head and is quiet for a few seconds. He looks like he’s trying to figure out what to say, and I want to tell him just to spit it out. But before I get the chance, he opens his mouth and says, “I love her, bro. She’s awesome. You’ll like her, too.”
I scratch my neck, not sure what to say. Stupid, but I totally didn’t expect him to say that. I want him to tell me I’m right. Or that he made a mistake, or that she’s just fun or cool. Not that he loves her. He’s dumb to risk loving anyone.
“Yeah, I’m sure she’s cool. It’s one thing to like a girl. I like a lot of girls. It’s one thing to think she’s cool, but married? Are you that whipped? Where’s your collar?” I try to make light of the moment when I really feel like I’m going to explode.
Derrick’s voice is tense when he says, “Watch it. I can still kick your ass and don’t think I won’t.”
Crossing my arms, I look away from him. I can’t believe he’s doing this. I can’t believe he’s bailing on us. On me. “What about the pact?” I finally ask. “We always said it was the Gibson Boys. That we wouldn’t let a girl come between us.”
I want an eraser to take the words away because they sound stupid and needy, but I want him to hear them, too. Want them to penetrate his thick skull so he can realize what he’s doing.
Derrick sighs. His eyes look all concerned, making me really want to get out of here. “She’s not going to come between us, and we were kids when we made that dumb pact. Come on, Dyl. I’m happy.”
Guilt body-slams me. He sounds happy, and I want that for him. He’s my brother after all, but how can I go along with this? We were all happy: me, him, Dad and Mom. Then one day we weren’t. Now we’re happy again, and I really don’t want to go back to the not.
“How long will you be happy? Everything was perfect before, and then it all fell apart.”
It takes him a couple minutes to reply. It feels like an eternity, and I wonder when I turned into such a stress case.
“Things weren’t perfect, D. You were young. You didn’t see, or you don’t remember, but—”
I hold up my hand to stop him. “Not going there. This is about you and the colossal mistake you’re about to make.” I need the subject to go back to him and not her because he’s wrong. Our life was perfect.
Derrick playfully shoves my arm. “It’s not a mistake. You’re my little brother. I want you to be cool with this. We’re going to need your help, ya know? There’s stuff we’ll need you to do—being the best man and all.”
This is the first I’ve heard about best man. Buying me off isn’t going to work. Then I start to feel bad. This is my brother, and he’s never really asked me for anything. He was there for me when Dad wasn’t. But why this? He wants my help to break something that he promised me.