"You know I'd go with you."
"Oh, I know you would, and that'd be great, but I am not ready for my mother to find out she's going to be a grandmother. I'm not even sure I want her to be a grandmother."
"I mean you're not showing yet or anything so she wouldn't know or guess, but I'm just not ready for the two of you to interact. You know? And if she asks how you are," he shrugged.
"If you're not there I won't feel as though I have to say something about it. If you are there I think I'd be tempted."
"John, hon, I understand."
"Thank you. I mean, I realize I have no choice in whether she becomes a grandmother. If you're pregnant, which it seems you are, she's going to be a grandma. That doesn't mean I have to let her be a grandma to our kids."
"I know that, and I understand. Completely. I'm just used to having Sunday with you."
"I know and I'm sorry, but I promised her I'd work on Dad's car. It gives me an excuse to hang with Billy a bit, too. Show him some of Dad's things, I guess. Things he won't get to know how to use otherwise. You and Ronda keep telling me how useful all this knowledge my dad imparted on me was. Someone needs to be sure Billy has it, too, because he probably won't have any more of a chance of going to college than I had. He won't have Dad's garage to work at as a failsafe like I did either. So, we're better off this way for now. Besides, you're doing something with Ronda I thought."
"I like her."
"I think the feeling is mutual or she would not be spending one of her days off from working for me with you."
They had lunch or dinner on Saturdays sometimes John knew accompanied by the occasional shopping excursion. As far as he knew that was as deep as their friendship ran, but he knew they liked one another.
"That's good. I haven't had a friend like her before."
"No. I mean, it's nice. You know? I don't have to worry she's going to sell me out. I don't have to perform when I'm with her. I can just be me, hang out, talk, or God forbid, listen." Claire shrugged. "I guess maybe I did in high school, but not really. Not someone I just had lunch with or saw a movie with."
"Not really. There always had to be plans. You know. You couldn't just go to a movie on Friday night. Drama. And I couldn't leave my house without my makeup done perfectly."
"Right," he said, though he didn't really understand that thought process at all. He hadn't been like that. Then again he spent most of his Friday nights during junior high and high school getting stoned or something like it. He hadn't really cared who he did it with or what they did beforehand or afterward. He remembered how nice she looked, though, every day, even the day of detention when there would obviously be no one there but the five of them. And Vernon.
"Well, if you need me…"
"I'll be fine. You need money?"
"No," she said. She looked at him as if she found the question coming from him kind of strange.
"I know it's a stupid question, but I had to ask. I know you carry your plastic wherever you go but you don't always carry cash."
"I have some."
"All right," he said, leaning down to kiss her. "I'll see you later tonight then."
"I'll be here."
"Good to know," he said. "Tell Ronda if she gets you into any trouble she's fired."
"I'm not telling her that."
John chuckled softly. "I see how it works."
He had no idea what they were doing today, but when he'd mentioned heading to his mom's to work on his dad's car they'd plotted something together. He was fine with it, for the most part. He liked that Claire had someone who was decent and not out to use her to hang out with. He just wished it wasn't his employee because that could get awkward.
He drove to Phillip's house. It was a pretty nice day out, so he choose well when he decided in the middle of the week he'd work on his dad's car today. He still would have done it in the rain. It certainly wouldn't matter since he'd be able to work on it in the garage anyway.
"Hey, Elizabeth," he said when she answered the door.
He didn't get the impression Elizabeth lived here, but he didn't think she spent too many nights at her apartment either. The way Phillip described it, her parents were pretty old-fashioned so moving in together before they were married wouldn't have flown. It didn't sound as though Phillip's parents would have been too excited about it either, but he got the impression it was more for her parents than his they kept separate addresses. She spent most of her weekend nights at his place, John knew. During the week he wasn't exactly sure.
"Hi John. No Claire?"
"No, she's doing something with my assistant, Ronda."
"Right, I remember her. She was very nice."
"I hope so. I mean, you know, I pay her to be and all."
"No, she was very helpful. I had some questions and she answered them without bothering you. She knows her stuff."
"Yeah, she's good at fielding calls like that. Saves me time sometimes. You got everything worked out, though?"
"Oh, yeah. You know us brides, we have a million questions that have to get answered exactly the way we want them to be."
"Uh, yeah," he said with a soft laugh.
He'd encountered that phenomenon more than once, which was why he allowed Ronda to handle things until she knew she was outside of her comfort range. John didn't have time to answer "how many pictures will I get in this package versus that package" when it said right on the brochure. Ronda was much better at dealing with emotional women than John was.
"And you're sure you want Phillip's help working on a car?"
"He said he wanted to learn to be handier," John said.
He wasn't sure this was the wisest course of action, but to this point his mom had not made any effort to see Phillip at the hospital. Not his place to meddle perhaps, but Phillip asked about her or Billy just about every time they saw one another or talked. That led John to believe he was curious about his sister. His mom didn't have any friends, at least none that John knew of. His dad was in prison, presumably for the rest of their lives. He didn't want to care, but the idea of her doing nothing but sitting here with Billy all day and going to work didn't sit well with him. It also didn't seem to lend itself to a recovering addict and drunk staying sober. Staying sober was pretty key to Billy having a good life.
"Well, I won't complain," Elizabeth said. "All he'd be doing if he was here is watch baseball anyway."
"I'm ready," Phillip said, coming from upstairs. "Sorry. Oh, we are taking your car," he said, glancing behind John to the driveway.
"Yeah, it's going to be a decent enough day."
"Have fun," Elizabeth said, laughing a bit. She'd heard John and Phillip talk about John's car before and got bored every time. Phillip wasn't real knowledgeable about cars, but he knew what he liked. He liked John's Trans Am.
John pulled up in front of his mom's house and let Phillip follow him to the door. He knocked on the door, waiting for her to answer. He'd called her during the week to tell her he'd be by today to work on the car so she was expecting him. He figured while he was here he'd change the oil and stuff on her car so that was done. When he'd changed it before he'd put lighter oil in it for the winter. She didn't need that now that it was warmer again.
"You kind of left out who's car you were working on," Phillip said when Billy answered the door.
"Did I?" John asked.
"Intentionally?" Phillip asked.
"Yup," John said.
"He does look just like you," Phillip said.
"I'm aware," he said, wondering if his dad's genes were going to be as strong in John's kid. He wasn't sure he wanted a kid that looked like him or his old man. He realized he didn't have a choice in the matter, but if he had a preference they'd have a girl and she'd look just like Claire.
"Does she know I'm coming?"
"Nope," he said.
"Why am I here?"
"Because I don't want Claire here and I don't want to be here by myself all day."
"Uh huh," Phillip said.
"You ask about her. She's asked me about you. She's your sister. I'm not setting you up on a blind date."
"Well, Elizabeth might get a little upset about that."
John shook his head, reaching for the handle on the screen door.
"Hey, Billy, how are you doing today?"
"Fine," he said.
"Good. You going to help me work on your mom and dad's cars today?"
"Sure," he said.
"Uh, John," Phillip said, sounding cautious.
"Don't worry. I'm not a complete moron. I realize he's three. I'll give him a screwdriver that he can hand to me once in a while." He was almost four now. His mom had said his birthday was sometime during the summer, John hadn't asked specifically when but that meant he was close to four now.
"Oh," he said.
"Then again when I was his age…"
"I'm not sure that's a good gauge."
"Probably not," John said.
Billy may not have the aptitude for things like that either. Their mother was not very mechanically inclined at all. Put a screwdriver in her hand and she wouldn't have a clue which end to put up against the screw. Some people were just like that. John didn't understand it, which was one of the reasons he'd been angry at Brian Johnson the day of detention. Until that day he'd just assumed the things he could do were … well, normal.
John opened the door then and stepped inside. Phillip did, too, but John could tell he hesitated for a second or two before doing it.
"So, this is where you grew up?" Phillip asked.
"Yeah. Not much has changed since I left either. Same carpet, same couch, same chairs, and TV. It's a little neater, though. Actually, a lot."
"Huh," Phillip said, regarding the living room. John could tell he was processing. The stuff was old, not ancient old like the stuff they'd had when they first started out. It was still pretty old, though. The couch, well, that was as old as John. He remembered when he was about ten his mom having it reupholstered and that is what was on the couch now.
"Johnny," his mom said when she came into the living room.
"Ma," he said softly.
"I'm sorry. I see you and I forget!"
"I get it," he said.
"I didn't know you were bringing someone with you," she said.
"Uh yeah, well, Claire had plans," he said, trailing off.
He didn't want to make her feel bad by telling her he didn't want to be alone with her again. Their emotional heart-to-heart when he was fixing the furnace was still a little too fresh in his mind. He didn't want a repeat of that. He had no idea what to even say to her since he didn't want her to know anything about his life. She knew where he worked and thereby what he did for a living and she knew where he lived. That was the extent of what he wanted her to know about him, though. It actually exceeded what he wanted her to know about him, but there wasn't much he could do about that, he supposed.
Phillip stepped toward her then.
"No hugs," John whispered.
He extended his hand then while John stooped to look at Billy.
"Ma, Billy, this is my friend Phillip," he said.
His mom looked at him in surprise, but that look only lasted a minute. She turned her attention to Phillip then, staring at him. He didn't seem to mind at least.
"Johnny, you should've told me," she said, but she hadn't taken her eyes off of Phillip. He supposed that was a natural reaction since the last time she'd seen him he'd been younger than Billy from what he gathered.
"Ma, you've known how to get a hold of him for months now."
"She has?" Phillip asked.
"She works at the cafeteria at Shermer Memorial. I told her where you worked, even what floor."
"Oh," Phillip said. "I didn't realize. I, of course, you look familiar."
"Yeah," she said softly, blushing.
"Geez, Mom, he's your brother. He's not a tax collector or anything. Talk to him. I'll take Billy out with me."
"Wait," Phillip said. "You don't want my help?"
"Oh, whenever you want to come out you can. If you don't, that's fine, too. I'll come find you when I'm done. Otherwise, Billy and I will make do just fine. Right Billy?"
"Yeah," he said and John chuckled softly. "Come on then."
"Mama," he said, waving at her as John took him outside with him.
"She'll be right here. We're not going anywhere. Just to the garage."
"He didn't tell me," Phillip said. "I mean, I had no idea he was bringing me here. He just said he needed help."
"Well, you should've known he was up to something. Johnny wouldn't need help with a car in this lifetime. Certainly not one of ours. He could probably fix both of them blindfolded by now."
"I suppose not," Phillip said, taking her in.
She'd aged. Not very well either. He had the sixteen year old her in his head when he envisioned her because it was the last age he'd seen any pictures of her. John didn't go into details about her habits the past twenty or so years, but he could tell she hadn't been kind to herself during those years.
It was kind of funny, John didn't like his mom much. Phillip couldn't blame him, but he'd gone out of his way to say nothing bad about her overall to Phillip. He wasn't sure why exactly either. If it were him, he was pretty sure he'd warn anyone away from her. Then he couldn't claim to understand John at all. Why he let Phillip into his life but no one else in their family to this point he had no idea. The fact they were closest in age? Maybe.
He'd been very surprised when John and Claire had showed up at his parents' house on Easter. When it had gotten pretty late in the day Phillip had just assumed he'd decided against it. He sensed, though, that he was there out of some sort of feeling of obligation versus wanting to be there. His brother and sister had sensed that, too. Of course it hadn't helped that Wayne hadn't been able to stop staring at him. Phillip had no recollection of John's dad or Cindy from back then so he had no version of his dad to compare him to. Wayne and Erin both did.
"You can come in, unless you'd rather help Johnny with the car?"
"Truthfully, I know nothing about cars. He just asked me if I wanted to come help him." Phillip hadn't understood why at the time, but he sure did now. "I thought he was trying to be nice, you know. Include me in a part of his life or something. I guess I should have known better."
He followed her to the kitchen then.
"Do you want some coffee? I just made some in case John wanted any."
"Sure," he said.
"How long have you been working at the hospital?" she asked as she got them cups.
"A couple of years."
"Right out of school then? You're twenty-five, right?" She poured them each coffee. Her hand shook a little as she poured his. He had to admit he was a little nervous himself. He had no idea what to even say to her. He'd thought about it since he'd found out about her situation, but now that he was here with her. Well, nothing he'd thought about saying seemed appropriate. Especially considering her husband was currently in prison likely for the rest of their lives.
"Yes and yes."
"And you're a doctor?"
"Uh, no, I'm a nurse."
"Yes. John didn't tell you that?"
"He may have, I don't remember things so well sometimes."
"It's okay. I'm sure you were surprised he knew me."
"I'll bet Mom and Dad loved that."
"Not really," he said.
"I can imagine. Are you married?" she asked, glancing at his left hand as she sat at the table.
"No, next year."
"Erin and Wayne?"
"No. Wayne has been dating someone but he doesn't seem to want to get married yet. Erin hasn't dated anyone in a while actually." Phillip hadn't thought about that really, but he hadn't heard about his sister having a boyfriend or even a date in a long time.
"What do they do?"
"Wayne's a lawyer. Erin's a professor. She teaches in the Economics department."
"She was always very smart."
"She is," Phillip agreed. "She was pretty little, though…"
"She was still smart. She knew her numbers and things way before Wayne ever learned them."
"Not that Wayne was slow in learning them," she added quickly. "Just she wanted to learn everything as quickly as she could. She used to drive me nuts."
"She was always in my room, pestering me. She wanted to know what everything was. My makeup, my hair dryer, my books, my homework. What fifteen year old wants their four year old sister around them all of the time?"
He laughed softly. He could see that. She tended to do the same thing to their father, asking him a million questions whenever he had the time to actually listen to them. Time wasn't something he had a lot of for them growing up because he was pretty busy.
Then she'd traded in a four-year-old sister for an infant son and Phillip didn't know all of the details, but he suspected John hadn't had it so good growing up. Even before he knew Phillip was his uncle he didn't talk much about himself, especially his childhood.
"I see where Dad is a judge now."
"Yes, for a while now," he said. "I think I was in high school."
"Sounds about right," she said.
"When did you start working at the hospital?" he asked. He'd seen her, but as he hadn't seen her or even a picture of her in over twenty years he had no idea who she was. She looked kind of like their mom he supposed, but he wouldn't have put two and two together.
"About a year ago, I guess," she said.
"You haven't worked before?"
"No," she said. "John's friend, Glen, told me about an opening they had. He worked there all through high school."
"That was nice of him. I didn't get the impression John talked to you until recently, though."
"No, he hadn't. I ran into Glen at Jewel one day. He helped me to my car with my groceries because Billy wasn't feeling well."
"Oh? Was he okay?"
"Just allergies," she shrugged. "He gets them pretty bad in the spring."
"Have you seen a doctor about it?"
"Not recently, no. He does okay, but he was pretty miserable that day for whatever reason."
"Nice of him, John's friend I mean."
"He was always a good boy," she said. "He didn't have a whole lot of nice friends."
"I think a lot of us were guilty of that in high school."
"True," she said.
"Listen, thanks for the coffee, but I think I'll go see if John needs any help."
"I'm sorry I wasn't prepared. I could have made lunch or something, but John never eats here so I didn't do anything."
"It's all right, Cindy, really. He surprised both of us, perhaps for the best. At least I know what you look like now."
She smiled a little at that.
"Are you going to tell Mom and Dad you saw me?"
"I don't know yet. If they ask I probably will, but I can't think of why they'd think to ask me that so maybe not. Unless you wanted me to."
"I'm not sure yet."
"Well, I can keep quiet for a bit, I guess. You know, you can come see me. If I'm at work."
"Oh, I wouldn't want to…"
"You're my sister, Cindy. You can come say hi anytime you want to."
He leaned in then and gave her a kiss.
"It was good to meet you, Cindy. I've asked John about you, but I wasn't really figuring he'd do this."
"You've met Claire?"
"Yes, of course. I grew up with her. Why?"
"She's good to him?"
"As far as I know," Phillip said. "Maybe you should ask him that."
"I don't think he'd answer me."
"And you expect me to tell you? I told him I'm agreeable to being his friend versus his uncle. I wouldn't violate his trust that way."
"I just … worry."
"He's an adult. She's an adult. Not much you can do."
"He just worked so hard."
"He has. She can appreciate that, though."
She scoffed softly.
"Come on, Cindy. Don't judge her based on what the newspapers have printed about her over the years. She makes your son happy, isn't that what matters most? Mom and Dad loved John, right?"
"I just don't want to see him make the same mistake."
"That's their mistake to make, if it is one."
"Don't meddle, Cindy. If you want him in your life at all, just leave it alone. I don't know your situation. He hasn't confided in me or anything, but I know he doesn't talk to you much and seems to feel some sort of obligation to do these things for you like fix your furnace and your car. I've gotten that much. If you want that to change now that his dad is gone, you need to let him live his life."
"I know, it's just so hard. He's still my son. I've changed since he's been gone."
"Well, just like you did, he's grown up. He'll either see you've changed or he won't. You can't make him see it."
He brought his cup to the counter near the sink, setting it down.
"Thanks for the coffee and everything."
"Billy, by the way. He's cute. Looks just like John."
"Both of them, I understand."
"Yeah, actually, all three of them."
She smiled a little at that. "John and Billy, both of them and their father, look like John's father. John Senior."
"Oh. Does John know that?"
"No, I don't think so."
"I'm guessing not because he didn't know he was a Third until I told him."
"It never came up. John didn't want him to know when he got old enough to be told. He and his father weren't speaking anymore and he didn't want John to know he'd been named after someone he didn't like."
Phillip chuckled a bit at that, because he was named after someone no one seemed to like as it was. Well, he supposed that wasn't accurate. He knew John didn't like his dad, his parents hadn't been fond of the man. Then what mom or dad would like the guy who got their sixteen year old daughter pregnant? So, he had little to form an honest opinion on. He believed John had a reason for his dislike, though. The scars on his arms weren't just from a one-time accident, Phillip knew that from some of the children he worked with at Shermer Memorial. Today Social Services was called at the hint of anything bad occurring in a home, but he knew twenty years ago that wasn't the case as much.
"You could probably come out with us if you wanted to."
"No, we seem to argue when I do that."
"Maybe you should just try talking to him about small things. Like his day or his job or his car."
"Maybe," she said, but she didn't sound as though she was going to try today.
"All right. I'll be back in I'm sure."
"It was good to finally see you, Phil."
"You, too, Cindy. Small world us working at the same hospital."
He went out to the garage where Billy was on the floor under the car right next to John.
"So much for him just holding a screwdriver," Phillip said.
"He came under here of his own doing. I'm not going to tell him not to if he's interested. Ma will just have to give him a bath later."
"How long are you going to be?"
"Run out of things to talk about with the sister you haven't seen since you were in diapers?"
"Without being prepared I was going to see her, yeah."
"I'd say I was sorry, but I was tired of her not saying anything to you."
"How do you know she hadn't?"
"You would've mentioned it, I'm sure."
"True," Phillip said. He had a valid point. He would've told John because she would have obviously gotten his work information from John.
He walked up to a workbench area, glancing at everything there.
"All this stuff is your dad's?"
"No, I stole it. What kind of question is that?"
"It's just so much."
"That's my dad. He never threw anything away because it might be useful somewhere down the line."
"And you know how to use all of these tools?"
"Yes," John said. "Whoop, sorry, Billy. You okay?"
"Yes," Phillip heard the boy say softly from under the car.
"You didn't have tools in your garage?"
"Really?" John asked, sounding intrigued by that notion.
"No. I mean, Dad had, you know, a hammer and basic stuff but I can honestly say I never saw him pick one up in my lifetime. I'm sure Cindy would say the same thing."
"Probably explains why neither of you can fix anything."
"Probably so," Phillip said, laughing softly.
"Okay, Billy, you need to go see my friend Phillip for a minute now," John said. Billy did just that, scooting out from under the car in a far agiler way than Phillip ever could have done even as a kid. He just didn't do things like climb under cars.
"Phillip, would you start the car for me?"
"Sure," he said. "You going to be all right if it does?"
"Yeah. I might get dirty if it's leaking, just didn't want Billy getting all dirty in case that happened."
"Yes. Really. If you'd rather me get out from under here and do it myself I can, but you're in here, may as well save me the extra steps."
"All right, all right," he said, getting into the car. Billy climbed into the car first and sat on the seat next to him. He grabbed the seat belt, toying with it while Phillip turned the car on. He didn't close the door or anything,
"Good, thanks," John called out from under the car. "You can shut it off now."
"All right," he said, doing just that.
He regarded Billy for a few minutes. It was pretty eerie how much he looked like his brother. Phillip didn't have that. He didn't think any of them looked particularly like either of their parents. All four of them, even Cindy seeing her today, were kind of a blend of their parents. Wayne had their dad's eyes, but their mom's bone structure. Erin had their dad's bigger boned body frame, but that was about it.
"Why don't you ever take your mom up on her offer of coffee or anything?"
"I don't drink coffee. Can't stand the stuff and if she knew me at all, she'd know that without asking me every time I came over here."
"Fair enough. Food, though."
"I'm not here to eat. I have my own kitchen, my own food."
"I think she…"
"Don't even go there, all right. She's lucky I'm coming here to do the shit I'm doing."
"What? She is!"
"You shouldn't talk like that in front of your brother."
"Oh, sorry," he said, sounding as though he hadn't thought of that before. "Sorry, Billy," he added.
Billy clearly hadn't been paying them any attention as he was focused on the seatbelt, but Phillip still didn't think it was a good habit to be in.
"So when you fix your dad's car?"
"It's fixed. I changed her oil already. I just wasn't sure how complex his car's issue was. Hers this winter I knew was an easy fix."
"Easy for you," Phillip said.
"Yes," John said, coming out from under the car.
"How much of this stuff do you have in your own garage?"
"Some. Not nearly as much. Dad saved every screw, every nail, and every drill bit he ever encountered."
Phillip watched as he walked to a large cabinet and opened it. "See?" John asked. Phillip got out of the car then and walked to the cabinet.
"Holy shit," he said.
"Now who's swearing in front of my brother," John said with a soft laugh.
Inside the cabinet were tons, dozens if not hundreds of little plastic drawers filled with. Phillip opened a few of them. Everything from bolts to nuts to screws to nails to hinges.
"You should ask your mom if you could have some of this stuff."
"She needs it."
"For you to come fix her stuff. Your dad's not coming home anytime soon."
"You going to come run interference if he gets out on some technicality and discovers I took all of his stuff?"
"Oh," he said.
"Yeah. I thought of it. Believe me, but it's too risky."
"Does he even have a lawyer?"
"I don't know. You'd have to ask Ma that. I assume so. He had to, right? He couldn't go to trial without one, so I assume so. I didn't even know about it until this winter so I'm as clueless as you are. Probably a public defender, though."
"He wouldn't have gotten a good lawyer for a murder charge?"
"Other than the stuff in this garage, Dad spent his money on booze and drugs. This was his hobby, which was really an extension of his job. That was it. He didn't have a savings account. I'm not even sure he had a checking account. He must have, I suppose. You'd have to ask her," he said, gesturing to the house. "I doubt he had any saved for a rainy day, though. Every day was rainy to my old man. He spent his money pretty freely."
"Is that why you're holding onto Claire's money?"
John shrugged. "I don't need her money. I figure one day maybe we will and then it'll be there. She's going to be taking time off next year so at least I can give her money if she needs or wants it for things."
"Because she deserves to have access to money?"
"No, why is she taking time off work?"
"Oh, because she's pregnant."
Billy must have moved to the driver's seat because all of the sudden the horn sounded. Phillip had his back to the car, but John was facing it so he wasn't surprised where Phillip was.
John chuckled softly.
"Is that why you didn't take your eyes off of him?"
"No, I mean, yes. I remember once when I was about his age managing somehow to get the car in gear and it rolling down the driveway onto the street. I know to keep an eye on kids in cars."
"Good point. She's really pregnant?"
"And you didn't tell me before now because…?"
"I don't know. I haven't told anyone. I don't really have anyone to tell. You, Ronda. She hasn't seen the doctor yet or anything so it's not like official."
"She's convinced, though?"
"She's taken three tests."
"Well, that's pretty convincing."
"You said you were trying."
"I wasn't entirely sure it'd work as fast as it did, though."
"You all right?"
John shrugged, closing the cabinet doors he'd opened and sliding the lock back in place. Phillip watched as he put some stuff on his hands and rubbed them together before wiping them off on a shop towel. His hands came away much cleaner than they had been a minute ago.
"I'm fine," he said. "I just figured her parents should know first, you know."
"I don't really have a whole lot of choice but to be fine, do I? I assumed it'd take a little longer than this. I wasn't even sure I could have kids truthfully. Am I scared shitless? Yes, I can admit that. I don't have a very good example to feed off, you know? Do I worry that because of how I was raised and treated I'll have kids who will get away with murder? Yup, I sure do."
"That's what Claire is for," he said.
"I guess," John said.
"I mean, you know, a balance. Impartial."
"Sure, my mom did a stellar job of being impartial."
"John, that's not fair. You're not your dad."
"Funny, your entire family stares at me as if I am him so I have to wonder sometimes if the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
"Has Billy done anything that upset you?"
"Well, sure. He spills his milk, makes a mess when we're eating, and well, just in general is very good at being a preschool aged kid I've been told."
"Have you done anything about it?"
"No. I mean, I've told him to stop what he's doing if he's acting up."
"I realize it's not the same, because you're not around him every day but because it's new to you I think it's a pretty good gauge."
"Maybe," John shrugged.
"And I won't tell anyone."
"Thank you. Please don't tell her," he said, gesturing to the house. "I'm not sure I care about your parents or anything, but I don't want her knowing until I'm ready to tell her."
"I'm not at all sure I'm ready to share with her personal details of my life. The only reason she knows I'm married is because she got a wedding gift delivered here by mistake. That's how I knew she was taking the bus. If you can't handle that, not sharing details of my life with my mother then that's fine. I'll drop you off back at your place and we can just part ways. I've done just fine the past four years without her in my life."
"No, John, that's not what I meant. I'm not trying to come in between the two of you. I just think you'll have a hard time hiding it."
"Why do you think you're here today and Claire's not? I'm not going to put them in the same proximity together anytime soon."
"What about your brother?"
"Claire doesn't have to come with me when I take him to eat. She does now because it's better than me sitting there staring at him with nothing to say while we eat."
"That's the only reason?"
"Well, he's not her brother. She comes along because I ask her to and because she's nice like that. I'm just not sure I want her to know that part of things yet. She's going to want to see it and I don't know I'd do that. My seeing her is one thing and she seems to be doing all right with Billy, but I can assure you I'd never trust my kid with her. Not in a million years."
"You don't, not really, but thank you for saying you do."
John draped the towel over his shoulder and closed the hood on the car.
"All right, Billy, come on out. Let me see your hands before I take you back inside to Mom," he said.
He put some of the same goopy-looking stuff on Billy's hands rubbing it in since he'd evidently touched the garage floor with them while he was under the car with his brother. He put some on his face, too, because like most kids Phillip had encountered if there was dirt anywhere in their vicinity they got it on them everywhere.
"All right," he said, wiping his hands and face off with the same towel. "Now Mom can't yell at me for bringing you in too dirty," he said.
"Did you have fun with your brother, Billy?" Phillip asked.
Phillip laughed. "Good to hear."
"Go on in, Billy, I'll be right there to talk to Mom."
They both watched as he ran to the backdoor, going in and calling for his mom.
"I think I know what I'm going to get him for his birthday," John said.
"Oh," he asked.
"One of those toy tool sets. Or is that too obvious?"
"No, I don't think so. Then what do I know? Why would it be?"
"I don't know. He may already have one, guess I should ask."
"Whatever you get him, I'm sure he'd like it. Are you going to see him?"
"On his birthday? I don't know, I guess that depends on Mom. She never told me when it was exactly just that it was during the summer."
"Don't say it, all right. You didn't grow up with her. You can get to know her objectively. I don't have that luxury. I have eighteen years' worth of living with her to decide if I really want to set aside or not."
"Thank you," he said. "All right. I'm just going to go in and say good bye and tell her everything's done. If you want to take a look around and make sure I didn't miss anything, that'd be great."
"Yeah, a puddle of oil on the floor or anything like that."
"Sure," he said.
"You do know what a puddle of oil looks like, right?"
"Yes," Phillip said. "I'm not that bad."
He went in the backdoor.
"John, you shouldn't do that," she said as soon as he walked in.
"Ma, you've asked me about him. He's asked me about you. Now you know who each other are. He's your brother and he was obviously curious enough about you to seek me out."
"Only because you married Claire."
"Did you ask him why?"
"No," she said.
"Maybe you should, but that's for you two to discuss. Anyway, Dad's car is running," he said, handing her the keys. "I changed your oil. You're good for three thousand miles."
"It's all right, Ma. When is Billy's birthday?"
"It's in August."
"All right. Just wondering, you know, so I know when to get him a present."
"He'll like that."
"I hope so. Anyway, I'm going to go now. Everything's put away. I'll make sure the door leading to the garage is locked and everything."
"Okay, Johnny, thank you."
"Sure. Is he in his room?"
"All right," he said, walking towards his brother's bedroom. He pushed open the door and watched as he colored in one of the coloring books John had given him a while ago. He'd given him a few since the initial Ninja Turtles one.
"Hey, Billy, I'm going home now, okay. Thanks for helping me with Dad's car."
"Okay," he said.
"I'll see you next time. I'll probably take you out for dinner sometime soon. Okay?"
"Okay. You be good for Ma, eat all your vegetables and stuff."
John chuckled a bit. He had to admit it was the most response he'd gotten out of Billy yet. Usually he said very little.
"Tell Claire I said hello."
"Ma," he said cautiously as he returned to the kitchen. "Please don't do that to me."
"Yeah, well, I'll tell her if I remember I guess. Have a good rest of your day."
"Thank you, Johnny. Do I owe you anything?"
"No. Just take care of your car, pay attention to the mileage so you know to get the oil changed again on time."
He went out the back door then, checking the side door leading to the garage as Phillip was standing there looking kind of lost.
"Problem?" John asked.
"No, just thinking about you as a kid in here."
"Yup. I wasn't any older than Billy when the old man started teaching me the ins and outs of vehicle maintenance. You ready to go then?"
"Sure. You all right?"
"Yes. I just really hate coming here."
"Then why do it?"
John shrugged. "It's nice out now so it's not as important, but I didn't like the idea of her having to walk to bus stops in the winter with Billy."
"That's kind of sweet."
"Shut up," John said.
"Make me," Phillip said.
"I can make you walk home."
"I bet Cindy would give me a ride."
John chuckled a bit at that. "I bet she would. You might have to explain that to Elizabeth, though."
"That's true. I'm not sure I'm ready for her to think I'm unfaithful."
"I imagine not."
"Did you and Claire resolve that trip issue?"
"We're still working it out. I've told Ronda to mark me off. Her being pregnant sort of throws a wrench into the idea because what happens if the baby is early."
"How far along is she?"
"Uh, like eight weeks or something I think?"
"So that's like mid-January," Phillip said after a few minutes of being quiet.
"It'd be very rare for a baby to come that early."
"I'm trying to convince her to let her dad take her maternity leave early and just go with me."
"My nights with her on a Caribbean beach?"
"Even eight plus months pregnant?"
"She'd still be the best thing on the beach to me."
"You're so whipped."
"It kind of sucks."
"I hope her dad says yes."
"Me, too. I really want to go, but I understand why she doesn't want me to be gone for three weeks either."
"Well, if she doesn't go or doesn't for the whole three weeks and you two need anything. Shoveling, or grocery shopping, or even a house call I'm willing to help."
"I'll let her know."
"And John?" he said.
"Thanks for bringing me to meet my sister."
"You're welcome. Thanks for not thinking I'm an asshole for just thrusting you two at each other."
"Oh, I think you're an asshole, just not for that."
John scoffed softly. "Thanks a lot."
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com