Prelude to a Family Vacation

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

Authors Note: This is the rewrite of “A Brother’s Grief”.  So in class I got feedback on the last version and then rewrote it again….. revisions are for chumps.  So this is the third iteration of The Attic.

Richard knocked on the door to the office.  He could have just walked in, but he didn’t know what his brother, Brian was up to, and took the courteous route.  He heard Brain’s voice, but was unsure of what he said. So he opened the door slowly and stepped in. Brian was sitting at his desk staring at his laptop.

“What’re you working on?” Richard asked.

“Nothing important.  It is that time?”

“I told you one o’clock.  I hoped you’re packed and ready to go.”

“I did that last night,” Brian said as he closed his laptop.

“Bags are in your room then?” Richard asked.

“Yeah.”

Brian had a somber look on his face.  Richard knew it had been one year since Brian had lost his son.  It had taken a while, but Brian had finally relented to go with Richard and his family on a vacation.  Richard thought it would do him good to get out of the house and spend time away to try and get some perspective.

“I’ll have Mitchel get the bags,” Richard said as he plopped his six foot frame into a chair near the door, facing the desk, “You bringing your laptop with you?”

“No.  I don’t want to even be near social media today.  Shit, I don’t even want my phone with me.” Brian looked down next to his computer at his iPhone sitting there.  With a quick motion he swiped it with his right hand into a drawer that his left hand opened, then closed it.

The door was ajar and then it almost hit Richard as it swung fully open.  A boy walked in. “Where’s your stuff Uncle Brian?” The boy, Mitchell, was just over five foot tall, almost thirteen, was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt.  His brown hair was just above his eyes, not too long, yet not so that you couldn’t pull it. It never occured to Richard how piercing Mitchell’s blue eyes were.  His nephew had blue eyes as well. He was only three months older than Mitchel, well when he was alive. It hadn’t occurred to Richard until now, with his Brother and Son being together for the first time since the funeral.

“In my room,” Brian replied, “Be careful though, I haven’t exactly cleaned it lately and I don’t want you to fall or get lost in there.”

Mitchell looked at him initially with confusion and then he giggled as he exited the room and headed down the hall towards Brian’s room.  “He won’t get lost, hell he spent over half his life here,” Richard said.

“I know.  It’s hard to see him.  He reminds me so much of Justin, especially the eyes.”

Richard nodded in agreement, “They were inseparable.”

Brian stood up, “Want to go downstairs and get some coffee?”

“Do I.”

The two of them left the dark room, Brian closed the door on the way out.  They walked down the stairs, passing a multitude of pictures hanging on the walls.  The pictures revealed what appeared to be happier times for Brian. There was one with him, a woman, and a young boy on a beach.  The background wasn’t important, the smiles on their faces were. They were the kind of smiles that told you they didn’t care where they were as long as it was with each other.

Richard had stopped to look at this particular one.  “That was only a couple of years ago? Wasn’t it?”

Brian nodded a yes.

“Mitchell really wanted to go with you, I mean we all did, but my work schedule wouldn’t let it.”

Brian was quiet for a moment before answering, “We still had a great time.  It would have been great if you were there. It was the first time we didn’t go on vacation together, and right before we found out……..”

Now it was Richard’s turn to be quiet.  Brian started back down the stairs then his brother spoke, “Fucking cancer.”  Brian just kept going. Richard started after him.

They ended up in the kitchen.  Richard sat at the breakfast bar while his brother went to his fancy coffee machine and started to work the knobs.  Brian knew what the other man liked, a coffee so dark and thick that the spoon could stand up in it, but with flavor.  What flavor he didn’t seem to care as long as he could chew it and call it a meal. So, he worked the dials and added various things to try and get as close to his brother’s preferences without clogging his coffee maker.

The front door slammed and footsteps got louder.  Mitchell had finished dragging Brian’s bags to the car.  he stood there next to his father.

“You know we’re here for you.  That’s why I invited you to go with us this week to the beach.  I rented a nice little cottage on the lake. The kid are going to love to see you.”

“It has been a while Uncle Brian,” Mitchell said.

Brian took a moment and looked at his nephew.  “I think there are still some drinks in the fridge, help yourself.”  Mitchell went and opened the door. He looked for a moment and pulled out a soda, then looked at his father who nodded.

“Dad doesn’t let us have that many at home.”

“Well we are starting our vacation early so go ahead and have one or ten,” Richard smiled at his son, who popped the can opened then found his way to the chair next to him.

“ I was thinking of going to visit their graves,” Brian said.

“You can.  Hell I’ll drive you there.  You can take all the time you want.  But after we meet the rest at the cottage.”

“I want to visit them too,” Mitchell said as he took a sip, “I haven’t been there since the funeral.”

“I think I have to do it alone,” Brian said.

“Why?  What are you trying to prove?  We all loved them. I get they were your family, they were ours too.  Don’t act like you’re the only one suffering here,” Richard said, adding a little volume to his voice.

“Is it that easy?  You still have a wife and kids.  Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if they both died together.  I had one leave me and just as I am coming to terms with it I lose the other.  I wish it was simple, but it’s a pattern. It’s hard to move on from something when you always think what’s next.  Are you going to die on me now?”

“He was more than family to me,” Mitchell said quietly.  His head looked down at the counter. “He was my best friend, my brother.  We did everything together.”

The two grown men stayed quiet and looked at the boy.  He was on the verge of tears now. “I didn’t mean anything by it Mitchell.  I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m still trying to deal with it all,” Brian almost whispered.

“This isn’t about you,” Richard said to Brian, “It affected all of us, don’t be so selfish about it.”

“Selfish?  My wife and child are dead, how is my mourning being selfish?”

“Because you do it alone.  Quit acting like it only affected you.  I know her parents have reached out to you and you ignored them, you don’t think they want to comfort and grieve with you?  But shit, you won’t even talk to me most of the time, we used to be so close.”

Brian finished meddling with his high end machine and put a cup of something hot in front of Richard.  He looked down into it and smiled. This seemed to cut the tension in the room. “It should be thick enough.  If it was anymore I’d have to give you a fork and knife to eat it.”

All three of them laughed.  “I don’t mean to ride you so much little brother, but I have to try and look out for you.  It’s just us now, and I know it’s hard, but let me at least try to take your mind off of it for a while.”

Brian sipped his cup of coffee while leaning against the counter then he pulled it away from his lips.  “Don’t think I don’t appreciate what you’re trying to do. And I wish it was that easy. I’ve tried to lessen the lingering thoughts.  Hell I even saw that shrink for a while, it didn’t seem to help much.”

“I’m not talking about mental professionals, just a week away trying to have some fun.  We going to have some drinks, play bad party games, maybe even swim and get some fishing in.  Just getting away from the house. I mean Christ, Mary passed in your bedroom and Justin in front of the house. “

Mitchell looked at both of them.  “That was my fault you know.”

“What are you talking about?” Brian said.

“Dad had just gotten me the new playstation and a bunch of games.  I was supposed to come over and we were gonna play them. I was so excited that I played them at home by myself.  I told Justin we could do it the next day. If I was here, then he wouldn’t have been outside and he wouldn’t have been hit by that car.”  Mitchell started to cry at the thought, soon the tears were streaming.

Brain moved from around the counter and hugged his nephew.  “It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have known it was going to happen.  Don’t ever think it was your fault.” He pulled him tight. The tears were now becoming snorts as Mitchell tried to stop crying, then the snot started to come out of his nose.

Richard grabbed a paper towel and handed it to Mitchell as Brian let go of him.  “You guys never did the same thing for too long,” Richard said. “For all we know you both might have been outside at that time.  That’s the funny thing about thinking about what could have been, you’ll never know.”

“I still think about it,” Mitchell said, wiping his face one last time before crumpling the paper towel and tossing it toward the trash can.  It his the rim and bounced out. Everyone looked at it for a moment.

“I guess you aren’t going to be playing in the NBA,” Brian said.  The others snickered a minute.

Richard finished his sludge and handed the cup to Brian, “I think we should get on the road.  We have to meet Amy at the cottage by six and if we are going to stop by the cemetery we should get going.”  The others nodded. Richard got up and headed out to the car.

Mitchell was right behind him.  They sat there for a few minutes waiting for Brian.  Richard was about to get out and go see what was taking his brother, as he reached for the door handle he saw him coming out and locking the door.  Brain made his way to the car and got in the passenger seat. His nephew was in the back. “Sorry, I had to grab something quick.”

“It’s alright, we aren’t in that much a hurry yet.”  Richard put the automatic into drive and they were off.

The first part of their trip was quiet.  No one spoke. The highway was almost empty as well.  The mood in the car was somber. It was just three people sitting alone looking out the window at the passing landscape or changing terrain that mostly consisted of fields and the occasional subdivision of homes.

Richard finally slowed the car and pulled off a a rural exit about twenty miles from Brian’s house.  Then took a left and pulled into the cemetery. He knew where the graves were and pulled as close as he could before stopping the car.  Once he did Brian got out without saying a word.

* * * * *

They sat in the car for almost an hour.  Brian had gotten out and went to the graves of his family.  He wanted to be alone, so Richard and Mitchell stayed in the car.  It was getting late though and they had to get going. “You stay here, I’m going to go see what’s taking him so long.”

“It’s hard for him Dad, maybe we should just wait.”

“I know.  But we need to be there for him too.”

Richard got out and made his way up from the small dirt road that went around the perimeter of the graveyard.  The tombstones were over a little hill that was right next to where they were parked, just putting Brian and his location out of sight.  Richard saw his brother sitting there just staring. He walked up and put his hand on Brian’s shoulder.

Richard was close enough now to see a something in his brother’s hand, it was the picture he has stopped to look at on the wall earlier.

“I’m tired of feeling lost and sad all of the time.  I want to feel better. No one wants to wallow in this kind of hell,” Brian said as an acknowledgement of his brother’s presence.

“Be strong, it isn’t easy to get over something like this.”

“I just can’t.”

“You’re strong, stronger than me.  You’ve made it this far. I don’t think I ever could.”

Brian’s hand stayed on the picture, he turned his head towards Richard.  “You were always the strong one.”

“Physically maybe, you were the runt after all.”

This comment elicited a kind of giggle snort from Brian who was in the middle of crying.  “You always did whoop my ass.”

“I was the oldest, I think it’s written somewhere that I have to from time to time.”  Another snort from Brian. “But you were always stronger emotionally.”

“ My Mary and Justin never had the chance to live.”  He started to cry again.

“You know how hard I took Mary’s death, and I knew that was coming.  Watching my brother going through that alone was hard, when you did it for Justin it was even harder.”

“A lot of us went through that alone.”  Mitchell’s voice made them both turn around.  He had tears forming in his eyes. “I’m sorry Uncle Brian.  I had to come over. I wanted to see it.”

“That’s okay,” Brian said as he motioned for the boy to come to him.  He did, and was rewarded with a long hug. Richard just stood there.

The three of them remained there, silent for a long time.  The quiet was finally broken.”I never told anyone this, but Aunt Mary made the best cookies.  I tell mom her’s are good, but not really.”

The two men just stood with straight faces.  Then Brian started to giggle, followed by Richard.  Soon all three were laughing wildly. “He is right, Amy can cook, but baking isn’t among her talents.”  Now they all started to laugh more, to the point of tears.

After a few minutes they calmed down.  Mitchell made his way to the tombstone that had Justin’s name on it.  He noticed a small spider wandering across it. He reached out and let it go onto his hand.  Then he moved over to the web that connected to the stone of his Aunt and he ushered it onto the web.  Moisture had accumulated on the web and the light of the setting Sun reflected through it to create a small rainbow like a prism.

“I have been drowning in self-pity,” Brian said.

“It’s understandable,” Richard replied, “You have lost a lot.”

“Others have lost more than me, and I never took the time to realize how much you have lost as well.  This whole time I could have helped you through it as much as you could have helped me.”

“Life can just be a son of a bitch.”

“Dad you said a bad word,” Mitchell notified his father as he turned from the graves.

“Sometimes they can be okay, Mitch.”

Richard’s son made his way back to him.  He sat on the ground beside his uncle who still held the picture.  “Aunt Mary was pretty.”

Brian smiled at him,  “Yes she was. In more ways than just looks.”  Brian looked at his nephew. “I think you should have this Mitchell.  You and Justin were always so close, practically brothers. You need something to remember him by.”  He handed the photo over.

Mitchell started to tear up again.

“There’s no need for that.”

“I’m not sad Uncle Brian, I just remembered that time after you guys got back from this trip when Justin and I put the slip and slide in the backyard and we slid into Aunt Mary’s flowers.  He wore the shorts that he is in the picture. She was pissed.”

Brian smiled, “That is all we can do now is recall the good times.”

“There were a lot of them,” Richard added, “Speaking of good times we should get going or we won’t have any because Amy will be chastising us the entire time we’re there.”  Brain nodded.

They all got up and looked at the tombstones one last time before turning and heading off to the car.  Soon they were heading down the road to their destination.

“What were you writing when I got to the house?” Richard asked.

Brian looked at him, “It’s a journal of sorts.  What I am thinking and what i would say to Justin and Mary.  It’s one thing I picked up from my shrink when I was going.”

“That actually sounds kind of therapeutic.”

“I find it is.”

Mitchell popped his head up from the back seat, “You do it too?”  Brain looked at him confused. “We used to message each other all the time.  I still do it and pretend.”

“I forgot he had all those accounts.  Would you mind if I logged in and read them sometime?”

“No.  But I want to know what you said to him too.”

“The next time you’re over you can read what I wrote him,” Brian said with a smile.

“Deal,” Mitchell said with a smile.

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