“I’m worried about him,” I say. I’m standing at the counter next to the sink peeling potatoes, the lumpy brown skin piling up, covering my blue cutting board.
“I know,” J says, watching me. He stands at the stove holding a Poet, Michigan beer at it’s finest, he always says, and I always call him a beer snob. “I’m worried about him too, Em. But he’s an adult. We can’t make him do anything if he doesn’t want to. I mean, give him a little time to readjust.”
I watch him finish his Poet and line it up beside the silver fridge with the others, a three Poet procession, and proceed to open another.
“Where’s the bag of apples, Em?” He asks as he crosses the floor and starts opening cupboards. “I want to start peeling them for the pie.”
“How are we ever going to finish before everyone gets here?” I drop another naked potato into the sink, begin peeling the next. “What the hell were we thinking, volunteering to host Thanksgiving?”
J crosses the kitchen and puts a pale, thin arm around me, kisses my cheek and the smell of his beer breath is strong.
“I have no clue,” he says with a chuckle. “But it’s going to be fine, Em. For real. And here’s something to be thankful for: At least we don’t have to put up with the chain smoking at my parents house.”
“Or my Mom’s ten cats hacking up hairballs at the kitchen table.”
“Ugh,” J says with a shiver. “She makes crazy cat lady sound normal.” He looks at the turkey again, and, satisfied of the progress, sets his beer on the table. “Apples, apples, apples…” he sings, his voice deep, his song making me wince. My husband can effectively deal with at risk kids all day, five days a week, but he is completely tone deaf. “Voila! Apples!” He pulls the bag from the cabinet and gets himself set up at the table with a knife, the other cutting board and a bowl.
“I mean, we have an extra bedroom,” I say, dropping the last potato in the sink. I turn on the water to rinse them, and I can feel J’s stare boring into the back of my skull.
“Emma, I really think you should drop it. Ollie is twenty-two. And the amount of work, the renovations it would take to make the room ready for him? He doesn’t need a caregiver, Em, he needs his family’s support.”
I find the large pot under the stove and set it in the sink, wincing at how loud it sounds, and ready the pot with the potatoes and water and put them on the back burner of the stove. Think about the bottle of wine for dinner. I can have that wine.
“I know how old he is, J. He’s my brother,” I say as I pull out the chair across from him. We have these awful, green, yellow and orange floral chairs surrounding our brown Salvation Army table we refinished last year, and it’s my favorite place in our house, sitting around our refinished table. “I just keep thinking about him in the hospital. What if he needs help?”
J stops peeling, closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I’m only going to say this one more time. After that, Emma, it’s up to you.” He fixes his blue eyes on my face and I look away, down at the table. “It is not your fault Ollie chose to get into his drunk friend’s car…No, let me finish,” he says, knowing me well enough to know I’m going to cut in. “You didn’t answer your phone, I know. That doesn’t make it your fault. But right now, Ollie is working his ass off to get his life back, to get past the traumatic brain injury and being here won’t help him. In fact, I don’t think you could convince him to give up his apartment or his independence after what he went through to get it back.”
“I know what he went through, J! I was there!”
“That being said,” J closes his eyes again, squeezes the bridge of his nose, “If you could convince him to move in with us, I would never turn him away. You know that.”
“I’m opening the wine now.” I watch him, his thin frame, the way his dark blond hair is always in his face, soft features and a crooked smile he is aiming at me, even though it isn’t real, doesn’t reach his eyes. I love my husband and his social work guidance counselor logic, his confidence and his boyish good looks, but sometimes I hate him, just a little bit, for these same reasons.
“I would normally not recommend drinking to cope, but,” he says as holds up his beer, a sad, wistful look, “that would make me a hypocrite.”
“A tipsy hypocrite.” I stand and open the bottle of wine, a cheap Michigan Riesling.
“Probably a drunk hypocrite by tonight.”
“Probably,” I agree as I open the cupboard and grab a wine glass. I take my first drink of wine since January, lean against the counter savoring the sweet taste.
“Is it wrong,” J says, looking down at the apples, “that I don’t want to give up that room yet? That I don’t want to let go?”
“No, J. No, it’s not wrong. But it’s breaking both our hearts to keep pretending it’s going to be used. Maybe Ollie wouldn’t agree to move in, but–”
His chair scrapes across the tile, tips and rights itself as he stands. “I forgot the whip cream,” he says, not looking at me. “Don’t worry, I’ll walk.” His voice is too quiet, too cold, as he slips on his Vans and slams the kitchen door. I stare at the place he disappeared from, take my glass of wine into the powder blue room and laugh at the absurd Thanksgiving tradition of dysfunctional family gatherings.