Summary: Between brothers, one moment can change everything.
Rated: K+ (1,320 words)
Where haven’t I been? It’s hard to know where to start. I’ve sailed into ports with the smell of cardamom and cinnamon heavy in the air and have walked along stone walls built before Christ was born. I’ve watched dusk settle over the rooftops of cathedrals and I’ve breathed in heat as intense as an apocalypse. I’ve kissed the hand of a woman who I once thought was as unusual and lovely as a winter rose, and I said goodbye to her in the springtime. I’ve endured diseases that would make old Doc Martin giddy with scientific wonder, yet not a single one managed to kill me. I’ve lived out every exotic tale that I ever read and never quite made it to the happy ending.
The last few miles before reaching home are always the longest. I rode them with more urgency than I’ve felt for a long, long time. It’s not like I haven’t tried. It has taken everything out of me, pocketbook and soul, to make it back again. The last few years have been full of false alarms and ends that might not have been dead but were well on their way. It’s not the destination, they say, but the journey. People who say such things have obviously never traveled.
All the same, it may be true. Pa said it was my childhood traveling west that did it. He said that I never put down roots and that my longings were always just over the next horizon. Home was always another day’s journey away. Wanderlust, he called it, and I remember how he shook his head. I might have agreed for years, but in time the lust died away, and then I just wandered.
Wandering is a hard habit to break. It’s been years since I’ve been in much of a hurry to be anywhere. No one has been expecting me. No one has waited up late, checking the hands of the old clock against the position of the moon. I’ve worried no one by keeping late hours. At least that’s what I told myself, and I can be pretty persuasive. Or so I’ve been told.
Every year was supposed to be the last one. That’s what I wrote Pa, and I certainly meant it. I always meant to make it home, and it’s impossible to explain what stopped me. Pa’s letters chased me half way across the globe, until they couldn’t catch up anymore. I never stopped writing, and I doubt he did either. I wonder if my letters are neatly tied and waiting in the keepsake box in his study. That’s where I remember he kept it. The early memories are always the strongest. Those memories engulf me; they’ve been pulling me in. Making me feel like a boy riding home late, the old questions keep rising up all over again. Will supper still be hot? Will anyone be waiting up for me, the lamp glowing patiently in the darkness? Am I in trouble?
I made it to the barn. The saddles hanging near the stables were achingly familiar. They stirred up memories of four horses riding at a fast gallop across land that had no right to be so damn beautiful. It’s my land too. I have been telling myself that since I rode in, despite feeling like a trespasser. That’s what all the paperwork says. Yet, I don’t need a document to remind me. I feel it in my bones, in the smell of pine and cedar, heady in the winter air. My legacy, my birthright, my blood and tears buried in the memory of this place. I remind myself of that again, as I try to look past him. I can’t catch a glimpse of what I’m looking for. My little brother. He used to be a skinny kid who couldn’t fill his clothes, never mind a doorway. Yet, Joe is standing fast; he’s not letting me in so easily.
He has changed, staring at me with a coolness that puts mine to shame. The moment is stretching from disconcerting to a turning there’s no going back from. It’s not up to me this time. I’d gladly throw my own reservations to the wind and bawl like a baby, but for the look my kid brother is aiming at me. I can feel the wind at my back. I lift the collar of my jacket to brace for it. Trade winds carried me away from home, and they’re hanging around to see if their services are still required.
He finally says my name, and the way he says it, makes it sound like a greeting and a curse, all twined together. I’d almost take the curse and lay bare this moment between us. Go ahead, little brother. Punch me in the jaw. Show me what you got. Get it over with. Just don’t stand there staring with that look on your face. It’s been too long. Whatever has happened, just say it. The two of us are too old for moments that don’t make good use of every single second. We don’t have that kind of time.
Where have you been?
It has been too long. It wasn’t my place to come. It’s past the time to turn away. I can stay in town until I figure out where I go next. I turn back to the wind and ready myself to find my way in it.
He makes the first move. He reaches for me, pulls me close. His shoulders are shaking, and I wonder that I thought him intimidating a mere moment before. We’ve come a long way from his furious clench of a goodbye that seems like a lifetime ago. I hug him back, cautious this time, but I let go of the breath I’ve been holding. This time, I don’t pull away first. Some things change, but others don’t.
Little Joe always forgave too easily.
He steps aside, making room for me to get past him. This isn’t the little brother I remember. I don’t understand what it all means, but finally know why I managed to stay alive all this time. I was still needed. He is crying too, his face collapsed with grief that puts my own to shame. I close the door behind us.
Where have you been, brother?