A Gathering of Brothers
Anne parked her car in the lot at Publix tickled to death to have the girls with her and also glad she’d made a list for with someone to talk to up and down the aisles, she wouldn’t be buying half the things she needed.
“We should get two buggies,” Anne says pulling out one.
“Oh let’s get three, we can each fill one up.”
“I don’t need that much stuff,” Anne chuckled moving her buggy through the automatic doors.
Delia whispered to Donna, “Get everything, anything you want for the kids or John might want, I’m paying.”
“Oh no Delia you shouldn’t have to…”
“I can and I am, no buts…let’s shop,” She smiled and followed Anne into the market.
Donna shook her head and followed, it was obvious Ben and Delia had money but still she hated not to contribute. They lived on John’s salary and this trip had set them back a bit, money was always tight but she managed. The trip had been important to John and she didn’t mention the dentist bills and doctor bills for Joey’s ear infection she stuffed in the pocket on the kitchen wall of their house. Somehow they would get paid.
Delia caught up with Anne in the bakery department, “I want you to know Ben is buying groceries so don’t stint on something you want or need.”
“Oh no he doesn’t pay for food, no.”
“Please Mama, he wants to.”
Anne looked into her eyes for a moment, “All right this one time I will let him, but no more. I fed these boys all their lives and I can still do it.”
“I understand.” Delia smiled at Ben’s Aunt, or Mama as he called her. She was a strong willed woman, still attractive, a little thick around the middle but straight and she drew up all of her five foot four height and moved her buggy off. Delia couldn’t imagine her raising eight boys, but she had.
Richie walked through the woods, his mind cluttered with too many problems and with his brother Ben. His hunch was right, Ben had something going that was probably why he didn’t stay in touch. The limo was a bit of flash to let them all know he was somebody. Richie wondered just what kind of a world Ben lived in. Sure he was all smiles and charm, the perfect gentleman but underneath he was something else. He’d seen that type before and it hurt him to think that’s what Ben had become. He had no fear of Ben or of anybody for that matter, it just made him a little uneasy.
Steve made it to the pond and sat down on a log, he was angry and hurt over Monica leaving. He knew deep down they were not compatible and yet he fought it tooth and nail. It was hopeless, he believed they did love each other but were unable to live together. He was tossing acorns in the pond when something else hit the water and he turned, John’s Joey was at the edge of the pond tossing rocks in.
“Hey Joey, what are you doing.” He called out.
“Hold up a minute,” he ran over and grabbed him up and looked around for John, evidently the boy had walked up there by himself. “I don’t think you’re supposed to be up here Joey.” Steve shifted him around and carried him back to the house. “How old are you, Joey?”
“Four,” he held up four fingers.
“If you wanna live to be five you better stay away from that pond.”
“I’ll be five next.”
“You think so eh?”
“What’s Steve doing with Joey?” Zack asked looking out of the back door.
“Joey,” John jumped up and opened the door and went outside.
“Hey John, I found him up at the pond.”
“Oh Jesus H. Christ,” John said under his breath. He took Joey from Steve, “Thanks for bringing him back.”
“Good thing I was up there.”
“Yeah, good thing. Joey I told you to stay out here with Mikey.”
“What’s going on, Dad?” Mikey ran up.
“Ah, Joey wandered off, why weren’t you watching him.”
“We were playing Frisbee I didn’t know I was watching him.”
“You could have fallen in that pond and drowned Joey,” John’s emotions caused his voice to get louder frightening Joey who started to cry.
Jeff stood up leaning over the table, “What happened?”
Zack turned, “Joey wandered up to the pond by himself, Steve was there and brought him back.”
“Yeah, John just yelled at him.”
“Somebody should yell at John, Donna asked him to look after Joey.” Jeff sat back down and took another chip from the bowl.
“You do that, Jeff,” Zack smirked.
Jeff swallowed his chip and sat staring at the table for a minute and got up and went past Zack into the back yard.
“Hey, don’t be yelling at your kid for something you didn’t do.”
“What, get out of here, Jeff.”
“No, Donna asked you to look after Joey. I heard her so don’t go blaming everybody else because you weren’t paying attention.”
John blinked several times, his face getting red, “When you have a four year old you can tell me how to look after one.”
“I’ll tell you now, he’s only four he ain’t gonna listen all the time. That’s why you have to pay attention. It’s not his fault.”
John rubbed his hand up and down Joey’s back, “It’s okay Joey, you just scared Daddy. I’m sorry, Joey.” He hugged him close and looked at Jeff. A slight nod of his head.
Steve came through the door and caught Zack’s eye and raised his brows. “Little brother’s got guts, if I’d said that he would have flattened me.”
“It’s a shame really that he won’t have a four year old.”
Steve shrugged his shoulders, “Maybe he could adopt.”
John came through the back door with Joey and sat him on the counter, finding a paper towel and wetting it he wiped his face and nose. “There ya go kid, you okay now?”
“I want Mommy.” He whined.
“Mommy’s gone to the store she’ll be back in a minute, want a drink and a cookie?”
“Cookie and milk.”
John found a plastic cup and filled it half way with milk and sat Joey down at the table with a cookie. He was happily dipping his cookie in his milk and eating it.
“You okay, John?” Zack asked
“Yeah, I’m okay, thanks.” He pushed his hair back and looked up at Zack remembering he’d almost lost his son once. “Sorry about that, it scared me; things can happen so fast.”
“It’s a wonder one of us didn’t drown in that pond.”
“We were all taught to swim, and I guess there was always somebody around, the older ones looked after the younger, you can’t blame these boys though, they’re not brothers they don’t live together.”
“Yeah I know it makes a difference, we’re cousins but I never thought about us that way.”
Joey finished his milk and cookie and climbed in John’s lap, thumb in his mouth, he wanted to be cuddled and John obliged, absently rocking him back and forth.
Colin pulled up to the liquor store and parked, “Coming in?” he looked over at Ben who’d been mostly quiet on the drive from the house.
“Yeah,” he grinned, “Never pass up a liquor store.”
Colin found a bottle of vodka and a bottle of bourbon and set them on the counter. Ben set two bottles of sippin’ whiskey on the counter and pulled out his wallet, “On me.” He said raising a brow at Colin.
Next door they found a case of beer and a bag of ice and started back home. Ben shifted around in the seat for a moment.
“Seems you’ve got the brothers worried, Colin.”
“Yeah, worried about what?”
“Whatever it is you’re up to.”
“I ain’t up to nothing.”
“West Coast Motors ain’t worth it, Colin, it’s penny ante, you ain’t never gonna make it big foolin’ around there, it’s enough to get you some time if that’s what you’re lookin’ for, free meal, place to sleep.”
“I ain’t going back in, Ben, not ever.”
“Let me tell you somethin’; that’s exactly where you’re headed, you’ve already been pegged. I don’t doubt you’re being watched. I can set you up, Colin whatever kind of business you want, a place where you can make some big money and you won’t have to worry about the law ever again.”
“I don’t want your charity, Ben I can take care of myself.”
“I ain’t offerin’ charity, I would expect you to work for it. I got a house settin’ empty on my property, I could use a man like you, somebody I could trust.”
“Ha, you’d trust me?”
“Yeah, I would ‘cause I think you got enough sense to know you can’t ever cross me. I’m offerin’ Colin and this is the last time.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Think hard, I don’t relish the thought of callin’ Mama with the news her boy is back in the slammer again.”
Cal pulled up back at the house and sat in the car for a moment. He’d waited with Monica until she got on a flight to New York. He shook his head, Steve was in a for a big heartache if he stuck with her, he made up his mind to try and talk to him sometime this week. Maybe talk some sense into his hard head. He got out of the car and saw Richie walking back from the woods.
“Hey Rich where’ve you been?”
“Walking, you get Monica off?”
“Yeah finally, how’s Steve?”
“Dunno, I haven’t seen him. Ben talked to him.”
Richie stopped, “Cal, do you have any idea what Ben’s into?”
“No, I don’t think I want to know, why?”
“I just got this gut feeling about him, it worries me.”
“Quit worrying about him, nothing you can do there but get yourself in trouble.”
“I’ve seen his type before, he’s dangerous, Cal.”
“So am I,” he smiled slightly, “so are you for that matter. Whatever he is Rich, it has nothing to do with us or Mama, leave it alone. He’s your brother after all.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Richie looked toward the house, “nothing I could do anyway, he’s out of my jurisdiction.” He smiled and turned toward the house and went inside leaving Cal looking after him with a slight frown on his forehead.
John looked down in his lap and saw that Joey was asleep, he carried him into the living room and put him on the sofa, pushing the coffee table up to the side so he wouldn’t roll off, and came back into the kitchen and looked out the back door for Mikey. Jeff was still out there throwing a Frisbee with them he turned as Cal came in.
“John, how’s it going?”
“I dunno, okay I guess.”
“Just okay, hey I caught the hockey game on TV.”
“Ya did?” he smiled, “yeah that was something.”
“Anything else like that in the works?” Cal found his seat at the table.
“Nah, that was a one off thing, lotta fun though…. Mikey, get off the clothes line.” He called out the door. “Kids.”
Cal smiled, “You got a couple of cute ones, John. How’s the sheriffin’ business going in Mystery?”
“Nothing much goes on, that’s the way I like it, quiet and easy.” John turned and sat down at the table. “Congratulations on the story you wrote, it was picked up in Fairbanks.”
Cal looked down at the table, “Yeah, it spread all over.”
“Made quite a name for yourself.”
“It wasn’t all me. Where’s Mama?”
“They went to the grocery store, the women.”
“The women, sometimes I think it odd that out of eight of us only you got married settled down and had kids, you’ve got a good life, John.”
“I’m not the only one that married, Richie and Zack did too and now Ben.”
“Yeah but Richie’s is kaput, Zack’s a widower; I think he might have a girl though, I heard him talking on the phone to somebody.”
“Zack’s a good man, Richie, I don’t know if he’ll ever settle. What about you, no woman in your life?”
“No, nobody special.” He turned the front door opened, “Ah Colin and Ben.”
Colin came in with a case of beer and a bag of ice, “Rescue squad is here.”
Ben followed with the bottles. “Little somethin’ to take the edge off.” He grinned.
“We need a cooler,” Cal got up and went outside to the utility room and came back with an ice chest. Colin worked filling the cooler with beer and ice.
“Is this where the party’s at?” Steve came in the door and found a seat at the table.
“Wanna drink?” Ben cracked a bottle of whiskey.
“Yeah.” He sighed.
“Where is everybody, get ‘em all in here and we’ll find somethin’ to drink to.” Ben was pulling out an assortment of glasses.
John called out the back door for Zack and Jeff and Steve went upstairs to get Richie.
Once they were all assembled with a drink, “Cal, you do the honors, you’re the oldest,” Ben found a seat at the table.
Cal stood up, “Let’s drink the first one to Mama, because without her none of us would be here, I know Ben, Colin and Zack would have ended up in some foster home, probably separated for life, Richie and Steve, fobbed off on some relative and most likely separated, but Mama brought us all together and made us a family so let’s drink to her.”
“Here, here.” They all called.
Anne parked the car, “I’ll go find somebody to bring in the groceries,” she got out and Donna and Delia opened the trunk and the back seat up, it was packed with bags.
Anne walked into the kitchen and stopped, all her boys at the table and a bottle of liquor in the middle. “What’s going on in here, where are the children?”
“Joey’s asleep in the living room,” John answered that was the only one he could say for sure he knew about.
“They’re outside,” Jeff answered.
“Get this mess cleaned up off the table, there’s groceries to bring in, you boys want to get drunk take it outside.”
“Nobody is getting drunk, Mama,” Cal stood up, “Calm down,” he glanced around the table, the bottle disappeared and several went out to bring in the groceries.
Anne moved to the back door, “Is this what you want my grandchildren to remember about this week?”
“Now Mama they ain’t even been inside.” Ben stuck the liquor bottle in the cooler with the beer.
“Colin, grab the other side we’ll take it to the barn.”
“What are you getting so riled up about Mama, we’re all grown men now.” Cal put his hand on her back.
“There was never any liquor in this house, never. I had enough of that with your natural father.”
“You haven’t raised a pack of alcoholics, but we all enjoy a drink now and again. “ Cal spoke softly to her.
“You think I’m being unreasonable.”
“Truth, yes I do, but if you don’t want it in the house then that’s alright, looks like it’s moving to the barn anyway.”
“I don’t want the children to see any of you drunk.”
“They won’t, we ain’t gonna get drunk anyway.”
“All right,” she turned around as the groceries were being brought in.
John caught the last of the conversation as he put his bags on the table. “We just want to spend some time with each other Mama, we don’t often get this opportunity.”
She reached out and touched his cheek, “All right, go on then we’re having hamburgers and hot dogs tonight, be sober enough to eat.”
“What was that all about?” Donna asked setting a bag full of egg cartons carefully on the counter.
“Oh they’ve gone to the barn to do some drinking, I reckon we can manage without them for awhile.”
“John doesn’t drink much.”
BACK HOME NEXT