Kyle handed his phone to Chris.
“Hey, princess. How’s my favorite five year old niece?”
“You’re so silly. I’m your only five year old niece. You’re as crazy as Daddy.”
“Not yet. Daddy’s old.”
“He’s not old! Nona’s old.”
Chris sputtered, wiping the phone where he spit on it. “Don’t let her hear you say that. She’ll cut your hair.”
“No, she won’t. Her likes my curls.”
“She does? Maybe she wants to make a wig so she’ll look younger.”
“Stop that!” Kyle snatched the phone, covering it with his fist. “She doesn’t need more nightmare material. Nona won’t really cut your hair off to make a wig,” he assured his daughter. “But Daddy’s going to shave Uncle Chris bald and toss him in the ocean and make a buoy out of him.”
“Why are you gonna make him a boy?”
“Don’t worry about it, baby. What did you have for dinner?”
“Lita fixed Mexican mac and cheese.”
“Mexican mac and cheese? What’s that?”
“I don’t know, but it was yummy. When are you gonna come home?”
“I told you, I’ll be leaving here Sunday.”
“Are you gonna see Miss Emily while you’re gone?”
“I don’t think so, baby.”
“I like Miss Emily.”
“Me too, Mindy. I need to go now, sweetie. Love and kisses to everyone.”
She giggled, making kissing noises in the phone. “Silly Daddy!” She hung up, still laughing.
“That kid is far too precocious for our good, Kyle.”
“No kidding? You’re an expert on my kids now?”
For a reply, Chris punched him in the arm.
The brothers stayed up late talking over old times. It had been years since they’d had a good bitch and bull session, so they used the time to their advantage. They had a lot of things to talk about before they saw their mother. As much as they loved her, they could only tolerate her in very small doses.
“You know she’s gonna fall completely to pieces, right?” Chris said the next morning as they were getting dressed for their visit.
“Yeah. Already anticipated that.” Kyle pulled three clean handkerchiefs from his pocket.
“I’m here for ya, bro.” Chris produced three more with a smirk.
Their mother arrived in a perfumed, fluttering pink cloud. Her dress had more frills and ruffles than either man had ever seen on one garment.
“She looks like a piñata,” Chris whispered.
“I was thinking a peony or crepe myrtle.”
Either way, she was very pink and frilly. Chris drove Amy’s car to the retirement center where their father had come to live his last days. It was beautifully laid out like an old Spanish cloister complete with a chapel and mission bell. Inside, it smelled of antiseptic and incense. A nurse’s aid led them to Michael’s room, tapping on the door before opening it.
“Father Mike, your family is here.”
“Come in,” came the feeble reply.
Kyle was appalled by the sight that met his eyes. Gone was the robust man he’d seen in Mexico. This man looked ready to drop any second. He was seated in a low rocker with a hand carved rosary clutched in one hand. Candles burned on a small alter as well as a stick of fragrant incense. He smiled, holding out his hands to Amy.
“You look beautiful, Amy. Just as lovely as I remembered.”
Amy burst into tears as she walked across to take his hands. Squatting gracefully at his feet, she laid her head on his lap. He patted her blonde curls absently, his lips moving silently as she wept. Kyle followed with a handkerchief, but Chris hung back.
“Father Mike, I want to introduce you to my brother. Chris, this is Father Michael Scott.” He thought meeting him in an impersonal way would make it easier for his brother to handle.
Even though he was prepared for the meeting, Chris was stunned. This was his father. The man who had given him life. A complete stranger. Wrestling with himself, he forced a smile.
“Hi,” he gasped, walking stiffly forward.
© Dellani Oakes