Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chris crosses the line

Monday, May 28, 2007, 1:10pm
Steve and Tim's house

I'm not one of those guys who keeps a leash on his girl as if she were a pit bull.

I can spot jealous guys a mile away, the ones who pull their women close, leering suspiciously from side to side as if guarding Paris Hilton's jewelry collection. I find insecurity unattractive, so I consciously avoid it. No matter how much I'm burning on the inside, I pretend to be busy reading labels while some muscled Fabio wannabe strikes up a conversation with Tim as we wait in line at the drugstore. Then I'll make a joke, and the three of us will laugh, and he will realize he's getting nowhere and move on.

Five minutes after sitting down at a bar, she's got enough free alcohol in front of her to put Lindsay Lohan in a coma. She's the center of attention at every party we go to, and she's barraged with a steady stream of pickup lines as she works or does her errands.

I won't lie to you: Dating a beautiful woman is hard. I'm not the tallest, tannest, or sexiest man in the world. I don't have Donald Trump's money or Tommy Lee's dick. I do well professionally, and I'm happy and in decent shape, but Tim is an all-star. She can have any man she wants! I fear that, eventually, one of the guys who hits on her is going to be too good to pass up.

Tim says that she jumped from guy to guy for a long time and that she's tired of it. She says that she loves talking to me and learning from me, and that she can count on me when it's time to buckle down and solve a problem. She enjoys taking care of me, making sure that I eat like a restaurant critic every night, and that I blow more loads than a porn star.

She talks about our wedding and our future family all the time; when we go out, she stares at every passing baby the way I stare at the Victoria's Secret catalog.

I believe what Tim tells me. I trust her more than I have trusted anyone in my life. But that sliver of doubt never leaves, nagging me like a pebble in my shoe, and I've always wondered how I would react if some dude crossed the line.

"I hate to have to tell you this," Greg says on the phone, "but I heard something yesterday you're not gonna be happy about."

"What did you hear?"

"Tim was... she..."

My stomach drops. What is it? Did he catch her with another guy? But yesterday was a family picnic for Memorial Day. No available guys were even there, and no one who would have had the balls to hit on her, except...


"Chris walked up to her in the kitchen, and he--"

"Greg, for Christ's sake, spit it out!"

"I was outside, changing the propane tank on the grill. The windows over the kitchen sink were open and I could hear them talking. He said, 'You look bored. Is my brother boring you?'"

"What did she say?"

"Steve, you have to promise me you're not gonna get pissed at Chris. He's just under a lot of stress--"

"Too fucking late. And unless you want me pissed at you, you'll finish telling me what happened."

"I heard her say, 'Stop!' Then he walked out."

"That bastard."

"I figured Tim might have told you herself, but I needed to let you know just in case--"

I hang up and dial Tim's work. Someone was having a party at the restaurant, and she got called in.

"She's really busy," a young man's voice says.

"It's an emergency."

"Honey? What's wrong?" Tim says.

"What happened with you and Chris yesterday?"

"Nothing. Don't worry about it."

"Don't worry about what?"

"Steve, he's obviously miserable, he was drinking all day, and he said something stupid."

"What did he say!?"

"I'm really busy here."

"Tell me what he said."

"No. You're gonna fly off the handle, and it's not necessary. Nothing happened!"

"Did he hit on you?"

"Steve, I think he was just kidding."

"What did he say!?" I shout, my heart thumping almost audibly.

"Baby, it's very hectic right now. My steaks are burning, I promise we'll discuss this for as long as you want when I get home," she says, sweetly, but I get the impression she's as close to snapping as I am.

"For Christ's sake, why can't you just tell me?"

"Fine," she huffs, her voice sharp and angry. "He asked me if I was bored with you. He put his hand on my ass and tried to kiss me. Are you happy now?"

I'm gonna fucking kill him.

"You're such an asshole sometimes. What, you think I'm too immature to handle being hit on? Or do you just not trust me?"

"I'll see you when you get home," I say, in a Hannibal Lechter monotone.

"Don't do anything stupid--"


Monday, May 21, 2007

"How about a moron instead?"

March 23, 2007 (continued)

Tim heard enough of the conversation to figure this out on her own; no sense lying on top of it. I fill her in on the whole sordid story.

She stares at me, her blue eyes big and unflickering, her long hair flipped over one shoulder. For a moment I forget about Chris, forget that it's the middle of the night, forget that--

"Your brother is cheating?"

"Yeah, Tim, that's so shocking, 'cause no man ever cheats on his wife."

"She just had a baby!"

"What are you telling me for?" I ask.

Yeah, I'm innocent! All I did was fuck the girl's sister!

"She needs his help! And he's out sleeping with some college girl?"

Actually, she's out of college. A total geezer!

"So you never slept with a married guy?"



"That doesn't mean it was right to do it. Your brother knows better. What happened? I thought they were all lovey-dovey!"

"She got pregnant and turned into a bitch. Or should I say, more of a bitch than usual."

"If you ever do that to me, I swear--"


Webb Group Graphics (Chris's office)
Monday, March 26, 2007

Your workspace says a lot about you. It shows your obsession with detail, or your habitual procrastination, or, in Chris's case, a thirst for power.

Neatly labeled black binders line a shelf across from his desk: Customer Retention (Nat'l), one of them says.

Chris is an accountant. He pursued that line of work because he loved the certainty of dollars and cents. The numbers didn't care if he forgot to brush his teeth or wore the same shoes as yesterday. Building working relationships was a waste of time for Chris; he felt that everyone should be like him, quiet and efficient, and that anyone who needed a coworker to reassure them was hopelessly immature. Maybe he still feels that way, but now he's playing the game.

Accountants don't care about customer retention. Accountants work from 8:30 to 12, take exactly 30 minutes for lunch, then work from 12:30 to 5, at which point they turn off their computers, slide their chairs under the desk, and go home. Clearly, Chris has changed.

Chris's boss sure as hell isn't holding him responsible for customer retention. If he's concerned about it, it's because he's gotten restless and started looking at the overall health of the company, and is eager to do something about it.

His phone beeps loudly. "You wanted me to remind you about the deposit," a female voice says.

"Thanks, Carol," he says, without looking up from his computer screen.

"Damn people forgot the deposit for the health insurance a couple months ago," he says, not looking at me. "You don't wanna screw around with people's benefits. You know?"

"Are you some kind of big shot around here?" I ask.

"You're not jealous, are you?" he asks without smiling, and then, finally, he looks at me.

A young brunette taps on his door frame. "Hi Carol," Chris says.

"I think this is right. Can you just have a quick look at it?"

"Seeing that it's you," he smiles.

My eyes open wider as she walks behind his chair and leans against him, firmly enough so that his shoulder is buried in her left tit. Neither of them flinches, and right away I know they are fucking. It's instinctive: When a tit touches you at work, you jump. Unless you are so used to touching said tit that you don't notice anymore.

"Come say bye before you go," she says as she leaves the room.

Yep, fucking.

Twin Pines Restaurant

"Irene wants me to get a divorce," Chris says.

"You going to?"

His eyes narrow, and suddenly I realize what's been bothering me all day about him: He looks different somehow. There's a subtle change in his face, so insignificant that it barely registered in my subconscious. It's been gnawing at me all day like a phone number that I couldn't quite recall, but I finally figured it out.

It's his right eyebrow.

Chris and I inherited dad's thick, dark hair, and while our eyebrows are not bushy, you can't miss them, either. And, as my obsessive-compulsive mind repeatedly notices, they are perfectly level with each other. Or at least they were.

His right brow is slightly lower than his left--just a millimeter or so--and the eye underneath squints almost imperceptibly, as if he's heard something he doesn't quite believe.

It's ridiculous. Chris is almost 40, and at that age, skin sags. It's nothing.


But maybe it's not nothing. Maybe the eyebrow is a sign that his personality has changed, a tiny nuance that will end with my brother becoming someone I don't know, and don't even care for very much.

"What are you looking at, Steve?"

"Are you divorcing Janet?"

"Don't be an idiot."