ken lay and a semester abroad

The trappings of an amateur minimalist putter into her driveway at a bashful speed. A lamp and a guitar case poke out of opposite rear windows. A teetering stack of books is cozy in the passenger’s seat. Suitcases of various sizes form a curious block in the back. Andrea passes a sip of coffee through her smirking lips as she admires the consideration of her older brother. She watches him exit his car in a slightly crouched position clutching his keys in a muffling grip. He eases the driver’s side door to a faint click. With burglar precision, Daniel tiptoes the length of the short walkway garden before his downward gaze meets the fuzzy wuzzy pink slipper/robe combo leaning against her porch banister. Andrea attempts to stifle his rehearsed apology barrage.


“Good morning, Bubby.”


Her tone is one of affection and familiarity. Theirs is a sibling bond that has maintained the innocent potency of early adolescence even with the time sensitive enhancements of maturity, wit, and shared cynicism. Best friends.


“Hey Sis. I was really hoping not to wake you. You already know how sorry I am about this.”


“You already know that it is my pleasure.”


Daniel’s countenance collapses. His sensitivity has never shamed him enough to merit concealing. Previous sobbing sessions and copious amounts of gin have left his body with barely enough water to produce a few meager tears. Once these drops have been expelled, his eyes twitch in an eerie dry heave. The pain is arresting.


Andrea provides distraction. “Do you need help bringing stuff in?”


Daniel lifts his right hand to show her his toothbrush and disposable razor. “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”


Andrea opens her front door and quietly ushers him in. Daniel sees a futon expanded and loaded with plush pillows in the living room. He instantly identifies the smell of breakfast casserole baking in the kitchen- their mother’s recipe. Andrea brushes past him and pulls a chair away from her dining room table.


“Come. Sit. Talk. Coffee?”


“No. Thanks.”


A timer beeps incessantly. “Oh, casserole’s done. Your favorite.”


Daniel unleashes his first smile. “My favorite.”


His sister dons an oven mitt and balances a steamy glass dish with one hand, awkwardly placing it in the center of the table. Bits of egg, cheese, and sausage crackle within. She disappears and returns, this time with an enormous glass of orange juice and three pills. “One multivitamin and two aspirin. I watered down the OJ. Ultimate  hangover cure, trust me.” After shoveling one square of casserole onto each plate, she takes her seat. “Got a call this morning. Said she knew to call here first.”


“She knows me too well. What did you say?”


“She won’t call here again. You can stay as long as you want in peace.”


“It’s just for one night, Andrea. One night and I will get out of your hair.”


“Daniel, you can stay in my hair. It is truly not a problem.”


Daniel takes a fork and glides his breakfast portion around his plate.  Guilty thoughts of recent actions flush his face with embarrassment. It is difficult for him to preserve eye contact with his hostess and to subject his actuated backup plan to her scrutiny. “I’ve got some money that she doesn’t know about.”


“Smart man.” Andrea leans her face against one hand and holds her coffee cup to her chin with the other. She patiently awaits her brother’s glance so he can witness her approval. Daniel’s bride had not ever known the pleasure of Andrea’s endorsement. Andrea predicted the return of her Freudian property long before this day arrived.


“I told myself that the stealthy bank account was for a rainy day surprise. Maybe for a new car or an impulsive trip to Paris. But I wouldn’t have opened it if I trusted her.”


“When did you open it?”


“A year ago.”


“But you have only been married for a year.” Daniel finally lifts his head. His expression is more than blank. An empty canvas can symbolize an erasure and a fresh start. Daniel has no canvas. “How did it happen? How did you confront her?”


“I didn’t.”


Andrea sets her cup down and dumps her untouched meal back into the glass dish. “But on the phone…you said you caught her.”


“They were in his truck. Broad daylight. I threw up in the bushes and drove back to the house. I was able to pack and leave before she returned.” Andrea scrapes Daniel’s portion and takes the casserole to the counter. She covers it in aluminum foil before tossing it in the fridge. She walks back to the table reaching for Daniel’s pills and orange juice. Before she can pick them up, he leaps from his chair and embraces her.

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Short Story
writing chadpatrick
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