The doorbell rang.
"PIZZA!" The girls sang out together.
"I'll get it, you get some plates and napkins." She gestured toward Kyle and got up to answer the door. Family game night meant pizza from Dominco's. She wasn't sure which they all liked better, playing the games or eating the pizza.
Natalie opened the door, "Oh thank goodness you're here!"
The man smiled and said, "I was hoping you'd feel that way." then he pulled her in to his arms and gave her a deep kiss.
She was pushing him away when Kyle came rushing in and punched him square in the face. The man in the doorway hit the ground and looked up rubbing his jaw.
The girls were cautiously peeking around the corner of the entry way. Natalie sighed and shook her head, "Girls, meet your Uncle Jimmy."
Kyle and Natalie had gotten the girls settled in to bed and Jimmy settled in the guest room and were trying to settle in themselves.
"I can't believe you let him stay."
"He's your brother. It's late. Where was he going to go?"
"I don't fucking care where he goes. He hasn't been my brother for a very long time."
"He will always be your brother. You would have regretted turning him away. Tomorrow you two can talk and..."
"And nothing. The only thing I want to say to him is get out and don't lay your hands on my wife again. I can't believe you let him kiss you like that."
He knew as soon as the words left his mouth it was a mistake and the look she shot him only reinforced that belief.
"I didn't LET him do anything. If you had waited just a second before decking him I would have had it handled. I will not do this again. You understand that right? I am not another toy for the two of you to fight over."
"I know. I'm sorry. And I know it's ridiculous to be jealous. I mean I won..."Again the wrong words.
She glared at him. "I am going to get a drink of water while you finish getting ready for bed. I have nothing else productive to say right now so we can take this up again tomorrow."
Kyle shook his head, yeah, won wasn't the right word.
Natalie was standing at the kitchen sink drinking her water when she heard him shuffle in to the room.
"Yeah, sorry about that. It's just you looked so happy to see me..."
"I was happy to see the delivery guy from Dominco's."
"I know that now. But...look I didn't mean to make any trouble."
"Yes, yes you did. If you hadn't meant to make trouble you would have called first. You would have given your brother a little warning that you were coming. You would have met him for lunch someplace. Some public where he would be less likely to deck you. You meant to cause a scene. You always mean to."
Jimmy gave his best quirky smile, the one he thought made him irresistible, the one that she used to agree did. "If I had done that I wouldn't have seen you though."
Natalie stared at him, "You should have called your brother."
She rinsed her glass and put it on the sideboard.
"Do you ever miss me?"
"Jimmy, don't do this."
"So that's a yes?"
"I missed you. I missed you for years. And then I missed you for Kyle's sake. And then I missed you for my children. That they would never know you. And then I thought, maybe it was better that they would never know you because then when you decided to leave them someday they wouldn't have to miss you like Kyle and I did."
"You aren't. Not really. We are all shiny toys for you to pick up and put down when you are done. And you expect us all to wait for you to come back. Like we have no lives without the glow of Jimmy on us. It doesn't work that way. It hasn't for a long time, and it never should have. Sleep well, Jimmy, but tomorrow you talk to your brother and then you leave."
Natalie woke Taylor and Grace early. "How about we do a Mommy Daughter breakfast before school? We can go to Starbucks and have hot chocolate and a scone."
Grace was out of bed as soon as she heard hot chocolate, "Yay!"
Taylor was a little more skeptical, "You just want us out of the house before Dad and Uncle Jimmy fight again."
Natalie smiled at her eldest, "I don't think Dad and Uncle Jimmy will fight anymore, but they do need to talk about some things and it would be easier if we were gone."
"Why did Dad punch Uncle Jimmy? We are supposed to use our words."
"You're right, Grace, we are. But Jimmy did something that made your Dad forget his words. That doesn't mean it was right. It just means that even grown-ups mess up sometimes." Natalie was relieved that the girls seemed to have missed the kiss. "Now you both get cleaned up for school and we will see about that breakfast. Okay?"
Once the girls were up and started Natalie went back to make sure Kyle was awake. She should have known he would be. He hadn't slept much all last night.
"I'm taking the girls so you two can talk."
"Worried about what they will hear?"
She took a breath.
"I don't mean it that way. I meant that we might not use the best language."
"Yes. I am worried. I don't want them to have their only interaction with your brother to be filled with their father doing everything we tell them they aren't supposed to do."
"I cannot imagine he has anything to say to me that I want to hear."
"I know. But you will regret it if you don't at least listen. I know you." She walked over and took Kyle's face in her hands, "I know you always get stuck being the grown up. I know it sucks that you are always the good brother. I know it's hard to always be the one who takes the high road. But it is who you are. Deep in here," she placed one hand on his chest, "It's why you are the best of all of us."
She leaned down and kissed him.
"I don't know about that..."
"I do. Please don't kill him while I'm gone. Okay?"
Kyle gave her a half smile, "I don't know about that..."
Natalie walked in to the living room.
"Mom! Uncle Jimmy is showing us a magic trick!"
"Is he showing you how to make things disappear?"
Jimmy put a hand on his heart, "You wound me! No, I'm showing them how I can read minds. Is this your card?" He flipped the Queen of Hearts over.
"NO!" the girls laughed.
"Oh, wait, that's your mother's card. Yours must be..." and with a flourish he flipped the card over and it had changed to the 7 of clubs.
The girls squealed and clapped. "Yes! That's it! How did you do that?"
"A magician never gives up his secrets!"
"Girls, let's go. Thank Uncle Jimmy for the show and tell him goodbye in case he isn't here when you get home from school."
"What? You won't be here?" Grace was already charmed by her uncle.
"We don't know how long Uncle Jimmy will stay. Say goodbye girls. Grab your back packs and let's go."
Grace gave Jimmy a hug. "I'm glad we saw you. I hope you stay."
Taylor walked over to him and held out her hand to shake his, "Good bye. Don't make my Dad forget his words again."
Jimmy smiled, "I will try my hardest not to. Good bye, Taylor, it was nice meeting you."
The girls grabbed their back packs and headed for the car. Natalie stopped in the doorway and turned, "Goodbye, Jimmy."
"You don't think I'm sticking around then?"
"I never do."
Jimmy was already sitting at the island in the kitchen when Kyle walked in.
"So? Why are you here?"
"Just skipping the pleasantries then?"
Kyle looked at his brother and asked again, "Why are you here?"
"Dad died six years ago, Jimmy."
"I know that, I just mean, once Dad died I started to do some thinking."
"Six years worth? I guess that makes sense. If you aren't used to it, it might take a while to warm up to the idea."
"Oh nice...go for the jab." Jimmy rubbed his jaw, "At least this time it was metaphorical."
Kyle rolled his eyes.
"Okay, so, when Dad died I started to think about family. And how much I had screwed up. And..."
"Like not coming to see him when he was in the hospital? Not bothering to make it home for the funeral? Things like that?"
"I was in Spain when he was sick. I couldn't get home in time. I knew it. And then once he died I thought...well I thought it wouldn't matter. He was gone. Why should I come back here to people who still obviously hate me when he was already gone?"
"Oh, so this is my fault? You didn't come back for your own father's funeral because you thought I might be mean to you?"
"Well, yeah. I mean it wasn't your fault, I get that now, but that's what I was thinking. It was selfish of me. I know that. I was selfish."
"Look, I'm trying to be better. I really am. I'm here aren't I?"
"Yes, you are here. And the first thing you did was grab Natalie."
"Okay, yeah, that was a mistake. But she just looked so happy to see me and..."
"It wasn't you!"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was the pizza guy. I get it. That must be some amazing pizza."
"It is. You know why it is? Because it's our thing. Our FAMILY thing. We play games with the girls and order in pizza. Tuesdays are family night. And you..."
"You aren't family."
Natalie dropped the girls off at school and started to drive back home. She got halfway there before pulling over in a parking lot to wait. The boys would have just started talking and she didn't want to be there until they were done. It wouldn't do any good. In fact her presence would be the worst thing for the both of them. They were already falling back in to old patterns. Competing with each other like she was some sort of prize to be won. Kyle was better than that. Usually. But Jimmy brought out the worst in him. She knew it. And she understood it. After all it couldn't be easy to know that your wife loved your brother first and the only reason the two of you got together was because he left her.
Jimmy left. That was his way. She had known that when they started dating. She had known him forever. Or almost forever. They had met in kindergarten. He told her that day that he loved her and that he was going to marry her. She felt pretty smug about it until she heard him telling Lori Brown the same thing the next day. Even in kindergarten Jimmy was a fast mover.
They had been friends all through school. She had watched him date and leave almost all of their graduating class and most of the girls in the younger and older grades as well. Each one of them was heartbroken when he left. And each time Natalie thought they had been foolish. Jimmy was a leaver. It was his way. Why would they think they were different?
And then it was her turn.
She had sworn she would never date him. She wasn't insane after all. But he had won her over. All of those other girls didn't work because it had always been her. From the first time he had seen her when they were five he had just been trying to get over her since she wouldn't date him. Didn't she see? And as ridiculous as it was, she fell for it. She believed that she was the special one. That he wouldn't leave.
And he didn't. Not for a very long time. At least for Jimmy. They dated all through the summer after graduation and in to her freshman year in college. He showed up on the weekends with flowers and plans. They had so much fun. She really believed that they were magic. They went to a Halloween party dressed as the King and Queen of Hearts. They were corny and in love and everything was perfect.
Then her mother died.
Christmas break. Icy roads. Drunks coming home from a holiday party.
She was devastated. And Jimmy? Jimmy was gone. She had called him when it happened, and he said he would be there. And then he left. He went skiing with his buddies. He didn't even tell her. Kyle came over and let her know. Said he couldn't just leave her waiting for him, knowing he was gone. "He'll come back, full of apologies, he just can't handle serious things. It's not his way. But he will be good for you when he gets back, he'll help you..."
She had turned on Kyle with all of the fury that she felt toward the world right then. "He'll help me? He can't help me! My mother is dead. My boyfriend is off skiing. My father is so drunk he can't sit up straight. Nobody can HELP me!"
But she was wrong. Kyle helped her. He helped her take care of her father through that very bad, very drunk first week. Then he helped her father get sober when he was ready. He helped her with the funeral planning. He helped her clear out the house. He helped her when Jimmy came back and she couldn't find the words to ask him to leave. He helped her see that, though it would be hard and it would suck, she needed to go back to school. And then he called and checked on her when she in school, always asking, "Is there anything I can help you with?"
And when Jimmy finally got her forgiveness. Finally explained how wrong he had been. How it had just scared him to feel so deeply about someone and be so helpless. When he convinced her that he was sorry and deserved another chance Kyle was there for that as well. "He's Jimmy. You know what you are getting in to more than anyone. But if you feel strongly then you should try again. You know you will regret it if you don't."
He was right. She felt strongly. She just didn't realize that it wasn't about Jimmy. It was the end of term and Jimmy and Kyle and Kyle's new girlfriend Roxi (with an i, it was short for Roxanne but she preferred Roxi, with an i) came up to surprise her. They went to a movie then afterward went to a little dive diner. They were talking about the movie and Roxi and Jimmy were trying to one up each other with accents and lines of dialog. Everyone was laughing, having a great time. Natalie looked across the table and caught Kyle staring at her. He mouthed, "Are you doing okay?" and she knew. Right then she knew. It wasn't Jimmy. It was Kyle. It had been Kyle for awhile now. It was Kyle's face she was seeing when she closed her eyes. It was Kyle's voice she had been listening for when Jimmy would talk. Kyle.
She was screwed.
There was no way she could dump Jimmy and expect Kyle to date her. They were brothers after all. And who was she? So she didn't say anything. She kept it to herself and waited to get over it. After all it was probably just a passing thing. He had been there for her when her mother died. It wasn't really all that surprising that she would come out of that experience with a bit of a crush on him. So she would wait it out.
Then Jimmy left.
She had made all of the promises to herself to ignore her feelings for Kyle and then Jimmy left. Just didn't show up one day. He was gone. She went by their house and Kyle answered the door. He had been sleeping in. He was working nights at a bar downtown. He opened the door in a pair of cutoff jeans and the most impressive bed head hair she had ever seen. "Hey, is Jimmy around? He was supposed to pick me up this morning to go camping?"
Kyle looked embarrassed and she knew it wasn't because of his hair, "Yeah, no. I thought he called you. He, umm, he took off yesterday. Said he wanted to see a bit of the world. I thought you two had broken up?"
She laughed softly and shook her head, "I guess we have."
"I am really sorry, I ..."
She took a deep breath, "I'm not. And so here goes nothing. Kyle, would you like to get dinner with me sometime?"
Jimmy came back off and on for a few years. He would hit town, try and win Natalie back, say horrible things to his brother and leave again. Finally he stopped coming back at all. He didn't come when Natalie and Kyle got married. He didn't come when Natalie's father died, or when the girls were born. They did their best to understand. Even though Natalie didn't feel like they had done anything wrong, Jimmy was the one who left first after all, but she still understood. She knew Jimmy better than almost anyone. The only person who knew him better was Kyle. So they got it. He felt like the world was his and he could never understand that other people existed on their own without him. They understood as best as they could and they forgave him.
Until Kyle and Jimmy's father died.
Kyle had called him when they got the first diagnosis. Six months. That's all he had left. Come soon. But Jimmy never came. When Dad went in to the hospital Kyle called again. "You need to get here now. He's asking for you." But still nothing. And when he died a few short weeks later? Still no Jimmy. Then the letter came, telling them where to send his portion of the inheritance.
That was the end for Kyle. He never spoke about Jimmy again. He tried his best to not even think of him.
And now here he sat in their kitchen.
"Are you ever going to forgive me? You should, I mean I forgave you."
Kyle balled his hands up and then released them. He wasn't going to hit him again.
"Gee thanks. I am so glad that you forgave me."
"Not just you. I forgave Natalie too. You both betrayed me and I've forgiven you."
Kyle laughed, "Is that how you view it? We betrayed you? Dude, you left us. Both of us. Repeatedly. And not just the last time. Not just Natalie. Do you know how many times you blew off some girl and left me to tell her? To pick up the pieces of the mess you left behind?"
"I never asked you to do that."
"Of course you didn't. Because it never crossed your mind that you had caused a mess. That people would be upset, hurt, confused. You never once considered what it would mean to Julie when you didn't show up for Junior Prom. Prom, dude, who does that? You left her there alone, you don't get over something like that. And you did it to everyone. So they got to feel stupid on top of hurt. Because they were dumb enough to think that they were the ones you really cared for. I made excuses for you. I cleaned up your messes. I told people, 'Oh that's just Jimmy. He's really good deep down, you know he'll feel so badly for this' but you never did. And you never cared. Not for them and not for me. Especially me."
Jimmy sat quietly, "You stole the only good person in my life..."
"I didn't steal anyone! You left her alone. Her mother died and you left her alone. And then when she forgave you? You left her again. You can't steal something that isn't wanted."
"I wanted her!"
"You wanted her to wait for you! You wanted to know that you could do whatever you wanted to do and she would be there when you got back! You wanted to treat her like a toy! And she's so much better than that. She's so much more! She's perfection, Jimmy, and I am not at all sorry that you lost her!" Kyle slammed his hand against the counter, "Why are you here, Jimmy? Really, why are you here?"
"I want to have my family back."
"What do you mean why? Look around, you have your family and you love it. Why wouldn't I want the same thing? Why shouldn't I have the chance at the same thing?"
"Why? Why not? I deserve this too. You aren't the only one who lost Dad and at least you..."
"At least I was here? At least I got to say goodbye? Are you the victim in this story, Jimmy? Did you forget you had six months to come and you didn't? Did you forget that we waited to hold the funeral so you had time to get here and you still didn't show up? What creative writing have you done in your head to make this a victim story, Jimmy?"
"You have it all! I deserve..."
"You deserve shit. You've blown through the money, haven't you? You spent it all and now you're looking around your life realizing that you are about to be 40 and you have nothing to show for it. No friends, no family, and no money, and you thought to yourself that you would show up here and I would take you in. I would convince Natalie to forgive you. 'You know Jimmy, he means well" but that's not going to happen this time. You cannot come in here and take the shine from my family like you own it. I will not be the one to pick up the pieces when you make a promise to Taylor or to Grace and then bail."
"You would. It's what you do, Jimmy, you leave. So I need you to do it again. Leave. And don't come back this time."
Natalie finally came home at lunch time. She was holding a sack from Gino's. "Subs?"
"Yeah, that would be great."
She grabbed some napkins and cold cokes and took them to the table.
"How many did you buy?"
She smiled, "Three."
Jimmy unwrapped his sub watching his brother and his ex-girlfriend carry on a whole conversation with just their eyes. He would be gone by the morning.