I was still looking down at my phone hoping for more from Nina as I mumbled, “Allison’s heard the stories before.”
“He just told us about the night he practically kicked her out of his room.”
My sister nodded and flashed a knowing smile. “Fat Bottomed Girls…you mean, that night? Oh, you’re getting close to the good parts now.”
Mitch laughed. “How could you have possibly recovered from that disaster?”
I took a deep breath and stared into the candlelight. “A strange thing happened after that night. You would have thought I scared her off, right? Well, it was awkward for maybe the first couple of days, but soon after, it was like we started over and really became even better friends in the process. I think she knew deep down that something big was holding me back and that I needed time to be able to work it out. She never pressured me for answers, and well, we stopped putting ourselves in precarious situations with alcohol. She was just there for me and let me have her in the only way I could at that time, which was to give me her heart even if I couldn’t have her body. To be honest, those were the weeks when we really fell in love.”
Well, that was new.
It seemed Mrs. Ballsworthy was trying out a new salutation as she welcomed me back from Boston that particular Sunday night.
I waved and shouted up into her window. “I’ve moved on from fucking myself to sucking cock now? Good one, Balls.”
She squinted her eyes at me then slammed the window down.
I swear to God, my life was like a comedy show sometimes.
Since I usually arrived back to Brooklyn pretty late, Nina was normally asleep by the time I got home because she had an early class on Mondays. When I opened the front door on this particular night, it surprised me to find her wide awake, sipping some tea in the living room and flipping through channels. She was curled up in a brown fleece blanket.
I took off my coat. “Hey, you. Whatcha doing up?”
“I was having trouble sleeping.”
Nina lowered the volume on the television and sat up. “No. Not really.”
I kicked off my shoes and sat down next to her. “Talk to me. What’s wrong?”
“Today was a hard day for me. It always is. It’s the anniversary of my brother’s death. Jimmy would have been going on twenty-five now.”
“I’m sorry, Nina.”
“It never gets any easier.”
“No, and it likely won’t.”
I wanted desperately to make her feel better but knew that nothing would really help in this situation. I grabbed the mug from her hand and took it to the kitchen to refill it with the kettle water that was still hot on the stove. I poured some into another mug for me, adding fresh teabags and honey to both.
I returned to where she was sitting and handed her the tea. “Here. We’re gonna stay up for a little while until you get tired enough to fall asleep.”
“You don’t have to stay up with me, Jake.”
I ignored her and rested my feet on the coffee table as she snuggled into the blanket again for comfort. I couldn’t help but wish she’d used me instead.
She took a sip of tea and smiled. “Thank you, though.”
We were quiet for a few minutes until she said, “Christmas is coming soon. I don’t look forward to it anymore because our house is so different now without him. It feels like half our family is gone, you know? It’s a lot easier dealing with everything being away from home. I wish I could just stay here.”
It would be the first time since she moved in that we would be apart for longer than a couple of days. An uneasy feeling came over me.
“You’ll get through it, and if you can’t, you can always call me anytime, day or night.”
“Thanks. I appreciate that.” She stared down into her mug. “I know that he wouldn’t want me to be so sad.”
“Remember what I was telling you when you first told me about Jimmy? That you need to focus on the happy memories?”
“Well, just so you know, that’s way easier said than done. There are gonna be times when you just find it impossible to do that. And that’s okay.”
“I know you can relate.”
“You were putting yourself through a guilt trip again today, weren’t you? Thinking about how you stopped going to see him in the end?”
“Yeah, I was.”
“I figured.” I slid a little closer to her side of the couch. “Do you know how many times I’ve sat there and thought about how everything would be different if I had just asked my dad to tell me a bedtime story before he left that final night? Even five minutes might have changed his fate. So, while we should be thinking about happy things, sometimes we torture ourselves by focusing on the hurtful stuff. It’s just what we do as humans, I guess.”
“I’ve asked you this before, and you ignored the question. Will you tell me about your childhood?”
After placing the mug on the coffee table, I nestled my back into the couch and looked up at the ceiling. “It was a really good childhood at first, Nina. My parents were crazy in love. My dad had saved my mother after a really rough patch in her life. She’d gotten into drugs and into a lot of trouble before she met him. Anyway, my father just took her under his wing, and she got her shit together. For the first five years of my life, from what little I can remember, it was perfect. We didn’t have much money, but there was a lot of love in my house. When my father was killed, my world just imploded. My mother had to work all of the time to keep a roof over our heads. I was alone a lot. Nothing was ever the same again. It pretty much stayed that way. She was really strong, though, and did the best she could. Then, when I was sixteen, I found my sister. My mother had given her up for adoption before I was born. She’s actually my half-sister. That’s a story for another day, but it was one of the brightest points of my life because all of a sudden, I had this family. She and my nieces, they’re everything to me now.”