We're at Easter dinner with Cole's parents. Cole sits to my right, and across from me sits Caleb. Both brothers hold their fork the same way, between the middle and the index finger. I'm not sure when I noticed it, probably when I first started attending these holiday dinners a few years ago. Cole and I are engaged now and Caleb is finishing law school. His mother asks about the big dinner and dance after convocation. She is hopeful that he is going to work and study less and maybe date more.
I have a date for the dance, yes. I've invited a classmate.
That's wonderful! Anyone we have heard of before?
No, her name is Sophie. She is a first year student.
Will we get to meet her?
I doubt it. It's just a dance, mom. Please don't read more into it than is there already. Wait for the burden of proof.
It's just that you've got so much going for you. We'd like you to find someone to share it with.
When I can convince the right girl, I would like to do exactly that. He stares pointedly at me and I ignore him. I am eating everything on my plate because we can't afford fresh vegetables or prime rib roast. I'm soon to be nineteen and I woke fifty hours a week and it all goes to rent and paint and film. Cole is in school too, though art school so far pays nothing. Caleb is twenty-six and has the most beautiful apartment downtown, close to the university. If you ask me though I will tell you I've never been there.
I help clean up the kitchen after dinner. Cole's father comes in to get new beers for the boys and he and Cole's mom have a hushed discussion by the sink.
Do you think he's gay?
Does it matter? I just want him to find someone and not be alone.
I think he has. I just think he doesn't want us to know yet. But I can't figure out why for the life of me unless it's a man.
I wish he would find a girl like Bridget. She's so helpful. They have switched gears. I didn't realize I had stopped moving to listen. I'm caught. I blush.
I'm sorry. I don't mean to intrude on a private discussion.
Do you know anything about anyone he might be seeing? Has Cole said anything?
Look, honey, I'm sorry to put you on the spot. Of course that isn't fair. Why don't you let me finish up, you can go spend time with Caleb. You and Cole hardly get to see him these days. I don't remember having to work this hard when I was your age.
It's fine. We have big plans.
You're going to be a beautiful bride.
Thank you. I hope I can make your son happy.
I fail to distinguish which one as she passes a stack of dessert plates to me, forks on top.
We're in my kitchen, finding more plates. We keep running out and I have switched to paper. PJ went to the store for me. There is hardly room to breathe. The memorial ended and everyone gravitated to the house. Cole's mother wants to serve pie to all of the boys so they can choke it back along with the first taste of mortality they have ever experienced. I wanted to leave Cole, I didn't want him to die. And I don't want to face his mother. Not now. Not like this, with Jake in the living room trying to wear all of his hats at once. Minister, backstabber, outsider, future.
I wish you would have just left Cole for Caleb. He's been in love with you since you were in pigtails. I knew a long time ago that you were the reason he never found anyone. He's done very well for himself. You should have maybe chosen him.
You would have wanted me to be the reason for your sons betraying each other and maybe hating each other?
You're right. But now there's no reason to hide anything. I think Jake would understand. He's new to the group of friends, isn't he? He won't be alone for long, that one.
I stop and stare at her. I am horrified. I don't love Caleb like that.
It might come in time. He has the resources to provide for you and the children. He can give you everything. In time, you might develop deeper feelings for him.
It's so warm in the kitchen suddenly. I make my excuses and run upstairs. Jake follows but I don't stop. I run into the bathroom and am sick to my stomach. Jake bursts in and pulls my hair back from my face. He's asking what is wrong. What did I eat? What happened? I brush him off, telling him it was all the drinking I did after we left the hospital. That it's catching up with me now. He believes me.
When I come downstairs, Caleb's mother is still waiting for me. She says she's called Caleb and he's flying in in a few days, as soon as he can wrap up his immediate business in Toronto. He's so important he misses his only brother's service but now he's clearing his schedule?
My face turns white. I haven't even had time to tell Jacob anything. It's been a good three years since I've seen Caleb and things are finally settling down. I think we've put the past behind us but now it's going to catch up again. But all of that is a distant nagging fear in comparison to the sharp ache of death and trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I broke Cole's heart and it killed him.
Part of me wants to be thrilled that I paid him back with such finality but the rest of me is too shocked to feel any relief at all. It's all caving in because I wanted out. And now she wants her only living child to be with someone like me? Don't people realize what I've done here? Can't they see how many mistakes I've made? The value that's been placed on my head is far more than I'm worth. I don't say anything to her in response to her announcement. Jake sees the pallor of my skin and sends me back upstairs to sleep.
Only I can't sleep. I watched Cole sleep and while he was sleeping he died. And right now I would give anything to have him back. He could fix this mess. Or at least make it less obvious that we made it.