Friday, June 15, 2007

Paying the Piper

Tuesday, May 29, 2007, 11:59am
St. Francis Hospital

So much for me going to work. I wouldn't have been able to concentrate, anyway.

"I'm just warning you. He doesn't look too good," Tim says as we round the last corner before Chris's room, our shoes squeaking rhythmically across the shiny floor.

I was there, I saw him right after it happened. While it was happening, actually. How bad could he really be?

I make a right turn at room 322 and freeze dead in my tracks, standing statue-still as I feel my skin turn instantly cold.

His face is so hideously bruised that I barely recognize him.

It's funny how the mind works. It will make up all sorts of crazy shit when it really doesn't want to believe something. Why is Chris wearing a mask?, I find myself thinking.

Dad and Janet stop talking and look up at me, their faces a mixture of "I hate you" and "How could you?"

"Hello, Steven," my father manages, finally. He and Janet walk past me and down the hall, with Tim close behind, leaving Chris and I alone.

"Hey, Twinkie," he says, in a scratchy voice.

"D-- did I do this?" I ask.

"It's from my nose. The bruising spread to my face. It happens sometimes. I have a subconjunctival hemorrhage too."


"The whites of my eyes are all bloody. See?" He says, pointing to his face like a young boy showing off a scab.

"Chris, look, I--"

"Steve," he says, in his usual softspoken way, and I stop to listen. "I was miserable. And jealous of what you and Tim have. I was just trying to ruin it so you would be as pissed off as I was."

"When I heard what you did, I--kinda felt like you would have actually done it. That you would have had sex with Tim, if you could have."

"I don't know, man. I wasn't thinking that far ahead. It was very impulsive."

"Well, it hurt to think my brother could do that."

"I don't blame you. I don't blame you for any of this," he says, softly. "I probably deserved it."

He turns his swollen eyes to me, and between the dark purple bruises and his Bassett Hound-like expression, I have to look away.

"I want to make it up to you and Tim. I told her, too. I want to earn your respect back. I mean it."

"Just get better, man."

"I'm trying." He brings a plastic cup to his mouth and takes a shaky sip.

"I guess you told Janet about what you did. Right?"

He nods slowly. "She basically isn't speaking to me. She says if it wasn't for the baby she would have divorced me."

"Did you tell her about--"

"Irene? Do I look retarded to you?"

"No. Bruised, but not retarded."

"Fuck you," he laughs.


"I know everyone is still mad, but I want us to talk things over. If you have something you want to say, say it now," Dad says.

"I--" I begin.

"First of all," Dad says, "Chris, I don't know what the hell got into you, but Tim is just like a daughter to me, and you hurt me just as much as you hurt her and Steve. How could you do such a thing?"

"I'm sorry, Dad. And I already apologized to Tim. And Steve."

"And Steve, since when do you beat up your brother?!" Dad says.

"I was wrong for handling it that way, and I want to say I am sorry for letting the family down. I--"

Obviously he's heard enough from me, and he cuts me off. "Tim, do you have anything you want to say, since you were the victim here?"

"I spoke to Chris, and Steve, and I let them know my concerns."

"Do you forgive them?"

"I... of course I do. I just, Chris kind of surprised me, and Steve--"

"What do you mean, he surprised you?" Janet sneers, sweeping her chestnut hair from her eyes. She stares unflinchingly at Tim, and the rest of us follow suit. The question seems innocent enough, but her voice is pure anger.

"I-- he, just, didn't seem like the kind of person who would do that," Tim says, clearly choosing her words carefully.

"So what does that tell you?" Janet says, staring harder.

"You think this is my fault?" Tim says.

"I can't understand why he would do that!" Janet says, mockingly, batting her eyes at the ceiling. "Gee Tim, could it be the way you were dressed?"

Tim's eyes narrow. "What did you say?"

"You have a nice body! We get it! You don't have to rub our faces in it!"

"It was a pool party!" Tim shouts.

"That doesn't mean you have to walk around with your tits hanging out!" Janet shrieks.

I turn to Chris. He's already looking at me.

Somehow, though his eyes are bloody, I can see the same serene look I've seen five hundred times before, the look of a man who can handle any crisis easily. Without a word, I know it's time to get to work.

I stand up, and to my surprise, Chris does too, swinging his legs briskly over the side of the bed and hopping to his feet in one swift motion. He walks over to Janet, grabbing her raised forearms in his hands. The room falls silent as they hug.

"Let's go for a walk, Tim," I say, and we head for the hallway.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"How about a fruit basket instead?"

Monday, May 28, 2007, 5:44pm
Steve and Tim's house

I sit at the kitchen table, running my eyes over the newspaper in front of me, trying in vain to read it.

This was a mistake. Chris is my brother, as he pointed out while I was kicking his ass, and I will see him often as time passes. And since I am marrying Tim, she'll see him too, and there is no realistic way he can avoid her, as I demanded he do.

There is no excuse for what he did, but I handled it as badly as I possibly could have. There must have been a better way.

Tim is going to be angry, for one thing: She told me not to do anything stupid, and she was right. She didn't even want to tell me about this in the first place, but I badgered it out of her. I'm beginning to wish I had never known about it at all.

The door opens and slams shut. Tim stomps by me without a single word.

Damn, is she pissed off. Even when she's really mad, she'll sit down across from me with an arms-folded pout, but today I didn't even get that.

I wait a few minutes and walk slowly upstairs. This is not going to be fun.

She's in the bathroom washing up. I stand in the doorway and she looks straight ahead, her stormy eyes burning holes in the mirror. She dries her face, then digs globs of moisturizer from a small jar and rubs it into her skin so hard that it might as well be war paint.

"Are you gonna talk to me?" I say, finally.

"I don't even wanna look at you right now," she huffs, and brushes by me and into the bedroom.

I sit on the bed and watch her as she pulls her soiled chef clothes off, replacing them with jeans and a t-shirt. She walks past me and back downstairs, keys in hand.

"Where are you going?"

"To see your brother. In the hospital."

"Tim, I was angry. He hit on you!"

"I'm way too pissed off to talk to you now."

"Tim, don't leave."


7:29pm, text message from Tim:

i am staying at my parents house 2nite just wanted u 2 know i was ok


i am not ok with that we are going to be married and if there is a problem we should be able to talk about it


we will talk but not til 2morrow im sorry but i need time to calm down


please come home in the morning i will go in late so we can talk

I hate that Tim's mother is involved now. Though she puts up a good front, I know that to her, this is still a power struggle, and she is salivating at the opportunity to dig her hooks into Tim when she is vulnerable. I am sure Tim will come home tomorrow filled with Diana-isms about how horrible I am.

Tuesday, May 29, 7:45am

Steve and Tim's house

"Can I talk first?" Tim says.

I love the way she looks in the morning, with no makeup and a long ponytail. With her rosy skin and bright eyes, she might as well have been plucked from a midwestern farm.

"You really hurt me. You didn't trust me, for one, and you didn't respect my wishes when I asked you to let me handle it."

"Who says I didn't trust you?"

"You beat up your brother because you were afraid something would happen if you didn't."

"According to who, Tim?"

"Are you telling me you weren't worried? At all?"

I hesitate just a second too long before saying no, and that's all she needs.

"You see? You don't trust me! Do you?"

"This isn't Leave it to Beaver, Tim! I know how I used to be, and it's a little hard trusting other people."

"So I'm 'other people' now? I'm just some girl that you're sleeping with?"

"Don't be stupid, Tim!"

"So I'm stupid now?"

I hate arguing with girls. It's as if they have high-speed microprocessors in their heads, capable of breaking down everything I say, turning every word around and shooting it back in my eye like a spitball.

"Of course you're not just some girl! You're living in my--our house. Your name is on the deed. We're a family!"

"Your house?"

Shit. I knew that was coming.

"That's not fair, Tim--"

"Why are you marrying me if you don't trust me? If you're having all these... issues, then why did you say yes? Did you feel pressured into it? Do you need more time? Are we moving too fast?"

"No!" I shout. "I'm a big boy. If I wanted to say no, I would have."

"But you still don't trust me!"

"I've never really been in a healthy relationship. I've cheated and been cheated on. I get stupid sometimes, but that's my problem. I know you are trustworthy, and if I felt you weren't, then of course I would let you know."

"So you beat up your brother because you got stupid?" she sneers. "You drove a half hour to get down there. Were you stupid for a half hour?"

"The fight had nothing to do with you. Or it had less to do with you than with Chris and me."

"I don't understand."

Sunlight pours through the kitchen window at an unusual angle. I'm usually never home at this hour. A lot of time has passed, but I don't dare check my watch in front of Tim. The more I talk to her, the clearer I see the depth of her anger. She is disappointed and hurt, and it's going to take a long time for things to get back to normal.

"I knew you weren't going to hook up with Chris. I wasn't trying to prevent something. I'm not dumb; I know there's no way of preventing something like that, so I would never even try."


"Was I supposed to be happy that my brother tried to get your clothes off?"

"Like he really would have gone through with it, Steve."

"Why not? He did with Amanda. And Irene. And that chick Carol from his work."

She sits silently for a moment. She has clearly not seen things from a guy perspective.

"I don't... I'm not the same as them. I'm family! He couldn't do that."

"But he tried to."

"But it wasn't... I can't explain it. It wasn't sexual. He was acting out."

"And I suppose his acting out is okay and mine isn't."

"I didn't say it was okay!" she shouts.

"So why are you bitching at me? Why aren't you bitching at him?"

"Hello! Because he's in the hospital, Steve!" she says, her voice reverberating.

"Do you forgive him, Tim? Is everything all hunky dory with you two now?"

"He apologized."

"And that's it? Everything is perfect now, after his apology?" I say, sarcastically. "Would he have apologized if I didn't find out about it? Or is he just sorry he got caught?"

"It doesn't matter."

"The hell it doesn't."

"And it's not perfect now," she says. "I told him that I was really disappointed in him for doing that, and that it was inappropriate, and that he caused a lot of friction between you and me."

"You did?"

"He wants to make it up to us. I told him to just focus on getting better."

"Tim, you have to know, this is about my brother betraying me. I know I act like I don't give a shit about stuff like that, but..."

"He hurt you, so you wanted to hurt him back."


"He knows that, Steve. He would have talked to you about it. Why did you have to beat him up?"

"It's about male pride. You need a dick to understand."

"What does that mean?"

"Let's say I go talk to him, and he yesses me to death. What then? Do we go back to normal?" I ask. "Sounds like he's getting off light to me."

"Who says you had to go back to normal? It's your right to take some time apart from him, or to tell him that you need proof that he's learned his lesson."

"And if he never does?"

"Then you have to find a solution you can live with. And I could have helped you with all of this! I always ask you for help, why can't you ever ask me?"

Tim reminds me of a therapist sometimes. She's been through a lot of therapy herself, and has obviously learned from it. I think it has really helped her, and I am proud of how well-adjusted and sensible she is.

"I'm a man. Asking for directions is a big deal."


"So in your scenario I might never speak to him again."

"Of course you'll speak again. Your brother is very sorry, you know. Even though you acted like an asshole."

Normally I'd be pissed about that remark. But she's called me names before, just like I've done to her, and if that's all she's going to do, then I've dodged a bullet.

"I know."

"Is this how you're going to solve your problems now? What if we have a child and he disobeys you? Are you going to beat him up?"

"How can you say that, Tim!? How can you even ask that question?"

"You did it to Chris."

"Chris is my brother. We grew up together. You don't have a brother, so you don't understand. It's been years since I've hit anyone at all."

"Maybe it will happen again. If you did it once..."

I look her in the eye. This better be convincing. "Tim, on my life, I promise I will never hit you or our children, ever."

"Okay." She gets up from her chair and hugs me, and it's a rush of relief to smell her hair, to feel my hands on her muscled back. For the first time today I feel like we might actually get past this soon. "I'm still mad at you, but I'm glad we talked."

"Me too. How is he?"

"You broke his nose. And he has a problem with his stomach where you kicked him."

"But I didn't kick him in the stomach!"

"Must've been someone else then," she says, sarcastically. "He might need an operation."



"Tim, I'm sorry about this."

"Don't tell me, tell him."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

"Men get lost sometimes, as years unfurl"

Monday, May 28, 2007 (cont'd)

I remember very little of the drive down. I thought the ride would calm me, but as I turn the incident over in my mind, I only grow angrier.

I know what happened. He's on a hot streak; a couple of pretty young girls have gotten naked for him, and his wife hasn't found out. And now that he's bulletproof, he's going to hit on every hot chick he sees, and his hard cock won't care who she happens to be engaged to at the time. I know what it's like to feel that way, and I am sure he would have gone through with it.

He knows how huge this relationship has been in my life, how content I am to finally be settling down, and he would have destroyed that for his own selfish pleasure. He would have ripped my life apart, just to see her gorgeous naked tits, her shaved pussy, her curvy thighs.

Her nude body flashes in my mind's eye, and my cock stiffens despite the rage. My breathing quickens, and for a moment it's all I can do not to pull over and jerk off. I am like an animal, rabidly territorial, eager to rip my enemy's throat out before mounting my waiting female.

Chris's house
681 Circular Avenue

He's in the front yard, trimming the hedges. Birds sing; sunlight streams between the branches of an oak tree, making bright patterns on the grass.

I park and walk towards him. When I am ten feet away, he turns and looks casually at me. "Hey, Steve. Are these shrubs uneven?"

I punch him in the face.

I was aiming for his neck, actually. I've never tried to punch someone's face. Why would I, with all of those bones and teeth in the way? Back when I fought a lot, I always aimed for the neck; it hurts them like hell, and it's as soft as punching a beach ball. The fights usually ended quickly.

But Chris didn't cooperate. He saw the punch coming at the last moment and tried to get out of the way, but only ended up putting his nose right in front of my fist.

There's a subtle snap, no louder than a twig breaking, and right away I know it's broken. Blood gushes over his mouth and chin, and I recall the red beard Greg had after mom slapped him that day, all those years ago.

He touches his fingers to his nose and pulls them away slowly, staring at the bright red goo that drips from them.

The blood emboldens me. He is wounded, vulnerable, and now is my chance to make him remember this mistake permanently.

I hit him harder, in the neck this time, and he stumbles over his feet and collapses to the ground; I fling myself on him, rearing back and hurling my fists at him with every ounce of strength I have.

"Steve, stop! Please, stop!" he cries, crossing his forearms in front of his face, but my rage has taken over and I am outside my body, observing the action like a disinterested third party, noting the tiny smacks of fists against skin, and the red welts that have already started to form.

The screen door flies open. "Steve, what are you doing? Leave him alone! Leave my husband alone!" Janet says.

She grabs my right arm in her hands and pulls hard enough for her nails to draw blood. I barely feel it.

I stand up and fling her across the lawn like an empty pillowcase. She falls to the ground, then rushes back into the house, sobbing.

She'll be calling the police now, I think, and I don't care.

"Steve, I'm sorry," he pleads. He raises his head and lets out a weak, gurgly cough, the cough of an old man. "I'm sorry! Please don't hit me again."

Don't hit you? No problem, motherfucker.

I reach my leg back and kick him savagely to the midsection. He doubles over, the air escaping his body with a small "hup!". He curls into a ball and I rain kicks onto his exposed arms and legs, then finally stop to rest as he lay there trembling, struggling just to breathe.

"Steve, I- I'm your brother," he manages, so softly I can barely hear him. "Let's- we could've talked about it," he whimpers, his voice shaking. I step back and look at him, at his faded WPLR t-shirt with fresh mudstains where I kicked him. The shirt has ridden up a bit, exposing a small spare tire where his tight abs used to be. His hair has thinned noticeably at the top, too. Since when does he have a bald spot?

Suddenly the whole thing seems ridiculous. The facade is gone. He's no longer the aloof, womanizing player that he had become; now, he's just my brother again, the guy who quotes Monty Python with me and takes me to football games for my birthday. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

The screen door opens. "I called your father. He says you better stop fighting right now," Janet says. "He's on his way down here."

Oh, my dad says I better stop fighting? Well, I better stop then, otherwise he might take away my car keys. Or he won't let me go to prom.

I grab Chris's face in my hands and pull it to me, so our noses are an inch apart. "You come near her again," I say, through gritted teeth, "and I swear to fucking Christ I will kill you. Get it?"

He nods. "I'm sorry, Steve," he says, his teeth still coated in blood. "Please believe me, I am so sorry."

"Your father says not to leave," Janet calls after me, but I am already gone.