Auld Lang Syne

Kip sat behind the steering wheel, in the silence and darkness, trying to decide whether he was going into the house or not. A large part of him said to start the car and drive off, no one had seen him pull up and no one would know he'd been there. He could tell them something had come up and he hadn't had time to call, sorry. But Jerome was his brother and Kip had said he'd make it to the party. Besides, maybe someone had seen from a window and were waiting for him to come in. He could still say he'd gotten a call on his cellphone and had to go. But, of course, he didn't own a cellphone and his brother probably knew that. He took a deep breath, opened his door and got out.


As he walked past the other cars parked in front of Jerome's house, Kip glanced up at the brightly lit windows. The curtains were open and people were standing around laughing and talking with drinks in their hands. He could hear music playing, it was "Me and Sarah Jane" from the Genesis ABACAB album, 1981. He'd heard it many years ago and it made him nervous because it reminded him of his parents fighting in the kitchen and his father leaving the house, slamming the front door and driving away.


He took a deep breath and walked up the steps slowly, with each step, he felt closer to something dangerous. He could hear his heart beat in his ears, outpacing his footsteps. But he kept walking, determined to see this through. He stopped in front of the bright yellow square of lighted window in the top of the front door, and twisted his neck from side to side, to loosen up. He’d learned to do that to relax and it helped a little. He shook his head to clear away bad thoughts and took a deep cleansing breath.


He lifted his right hand to knock and the door swung open before his knuckles reached it. The smiling face of a beautiful young woman appeared in the widening gap and it made him stop. It was Patricia, Jerome's wife. He'd forgotten how beautiful she was. He'd only see her at the wedding and that had been nearly four years before. He'd forgotten she had freckles on her face, and such white teeth. She was at least a head shorter than he was, so he bent forward so that he could look directly into her face. Her smile was genuine and had widened even further, in delight, when she saw him.


"Kip! My God. Romey said you might come. I'm so happy to see you. Oh!" She stepped toward him and before he could stop her, she gave him an enthusiastic hug. She smelled like soap and some kind of perfume. He had little contact with women and it surprised him how nice it was to be greeted so warmly. His thoughts scattered and he tried to think of something appropriate to say to her. Should he call her Patricia or Tricia or Pat or Patty? He should have thought about this before coming up to the door.


"Thank you," he said. "It's very good to see you again," Kip smiled as well as he could and looked her in the eyes.


"Come on in. What's wrong with me? Come in," she said stepping back and pulling his arm, still facing him, still smiling that warm, welcoming smile.


As he moved from the dark porch into the tumult of the living room full of animated people, Kip stiffened. It felt as though he were being pulled from the anonymous dark comfort of a movie audience into a technicolor film of a frenetic crowd scene. The lights, volume, temperature and energy levels were all pushed up four or five levels and it almost took his breath away. He felt panic stir deep inside of him and he did his best to ignore it. He fixed a smile on his face that he hoped would be believable and swallowed.


Patricia sensed his hesitation and she looked into his eyes with a touch of concern and understanding. She leaned toward him as if sharing a secret.


"Do you need a second? I'm sorry, it's kind of noisy in here isn't it." She said this in almost a whisper, barely loud enough for him to hear.


Without looking away from her, he reassessed her face and grimaced a little. "Thank you. It's so good to see you again. Patricia," he said and slowly lifted his head to gradually introduce the rest of the vibrating scene into his visual field. The movement only took a few seconds and might have been mistaken for someone taking extra care after a recent neck injury, but Kip had learned over time that slow transitions helped him maintain his "balance."


Kip allowed Patricia to lead him farther into the room and close the door behind him. He slowly panned across the living room, nodding continuously, taking in the full scene, while keeping the smile fixed upon his face. A couple of faces turned toward his as if seeking acknowledgment. Kip did not even try remembering their faces but he noted their positions in the room.


As he turned his gaze back to Patricia, who still held his arm, he heard his brother from the room through the doorway to his left.


"Kip! You made it." Kip turned toward the voice and recoiled at what he saw. At first, he only saw a stranger pushing through the crowd as if to grab him and then he saw it was his brother, Jerome, with a thick beard and glasses. He couldn't keep himself from trying to back up as Jerome rushed toward him. Jerome’s face change at first to puzzlement, then to understanding and he stopped short. He spoke in a lowered voice.


"It's me, Kip. I have a beard now. It still surprises me too, sometimes when I look in the mirror,” he chuckled. “It's still me." Jerome ran his fingers across his own cheek as if to demonstrate and leaned forward to give his brother a hug, but Kip moved back and Jerome stopped and adjusted his stance. Kip was never fond of hugs.


"Yes. I see. You have glasses too. When did you grow a beard, Romey?" Kip relaxed a bit and looked closer at his brother's eyes.


"At least a year now. Right, Trish?" Jerome looked quickly to his wife who was still beaming and still holding onto Kip's arm as if he might bolt.


"Yes. Doesn't it make him look smarter? Like a professor?" Patricia winked at her husband as she said this. Kip looked more closely at Jerome as if appraising him.


"It makes him look older." As Kip said this he looked slightly worried.


"Well, I am older, Kip. It's been a while since I've seen you. I wish we saw more of you. You know you're welcome here anytime."


"Come on in and have a drink and something to eat," Patricia said leading both brothers into the crowded dining room where the table was covered with a variety of party snacks. "There's shrimp and dip and chips and fondue and crackers with different cheeses. You can make a sandwich with ham, or turkey..."


Kip had looked at the table while she was talking and found himself trying to locate every item she spoke of, as quickly as she named it, while peoples’ hands were moving in and out of his view as the guests helped themselves. He closed his eyes and heard a Beatles song playing behind all the conversations. "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away." from the 1965 "Help" album. He liked the flute solo by John Scott although the vocals made him edgy. It wasn't Lennon's fault, almost all vocals did that.


Kip noticed that Patricia had stopped speaking and he slowly opened his eyes to see that she was looking at him with worry. He didn't mean to make her uncomfortable. He looked quickly at his brother and shrugged, then turned back to Patricia and smiled.


"It all looks delicious, and so colorful. I'll have this for now," Kip said, and without looking he reached down and picked up a banana from the bowl in the middle. "I love these. I have one every morning. Thank you for inviting me." Then he pointed the banana at each of them in turn while being sure to make eye contact with them.


"Would you like a drink, Kip?" Jerome asked, slightly lifting his own bottle of beer.


"No thanks. I'm driving and it bothers my sleep." Patricia smiled at the way he said it. Kip looked at her and said, "I don't sleep when I drive. I meant the two things separately." Then he smiled again.


"Thank goodness, I was worried." She laughed and Jerome nodded in appreciation of Kip's joke.


"Would you like to see the house, Kip? I could give you the tour." Jerome said, and Patricia moved to her husband's side and he put his free arm around her. Kip smiled at that.


"No thanks, Romey. You two go see to your guests. I'll just look around and mingle. I'll be fine. Don't worry." Kip said, smiling and nodding.


Patricia smiled at him while his brother gave him a quizzical look and tilted his head. "Are you sure? In a little while, after a few people leave, we can talk together a little more, OK, Kip?"


"Sure, Romey. Don't worry about me. I'm fine. We'll talk more, later." There was a crash from the kitchen area, and the nearby crowd all said, "Woooooops!" together. Jerome rolled his eyes as Patricia turned and started to make her way through the crowd toward the source of the crash.


"Back soon," Jerome said, and turned to follow his wife.


Kip took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds and then turned the opposite direction and made his way back through the living room to the front door, avoiding all eye contact. Another moment and he had closed the front door behind him and was standing on the dark, cool, front porch where the sound level was a fraction of what it had been.


Kip took a moment to think how much difference a door made and nodded to himself, as he walked carefully down the concrete steps to the sidewalk. He stopped for a moment and turned around. He looked back up the stairs in exactly the same way as he had when he first arrived and began deliberately climbing the stairs again. When he reached the porch, he laid the banana carefully down on the railing that ran along the edge, then turned back around and descended to the sidewalk and headed toward his car.


It was good to see Romey and Patricia. He would have to visit them again, someday. He didn't know if he liked the beard, he'd give that some more thought.


* * *


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Short Story
writing JackVB
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A man goes to his brother's party.
A Word from the Writer
Copyright © 2016 - Jack Vander Beek
Published Date
7/16/2016 12:00:00 AM
Published In
Originally Published 7/16/2016