I’m back! School is over! Summer is here! YAY. I’m officially halfway finished with my college career which is crazy crazy crazy. I’m home for a little bit and then I move to Columbus, Ohio for an internship with my fave people and their amazing biz, The Wonder Jam.
I haven’t blogged in a long time, so I thought I’d start back up with something a little different. I wrote three short stories this semester, and they all, in some way or another, center around sibling relationships. None of them are based on my actual sibling relationships (no worries, Allie and Bobby haha), but I do find sibling relationships to be very interesting and complicated which makes them really fun to write about! This first one is called “Reservation”, and I got the idea for it when I was at a concert in Columbus, Ohio.
Sometimes the story isn’t on stage; it’s standing a few rows ahead of you.
“They only seat thirty-two people! Can you believe that?” Peter had offered her a soft smile and let her ramble on about the menu, its reputation as being one of the best Italian restaurants in the country and, of course, the hand blown Murano glass chandeliers that the head chef had imported from professional artisans in Venice, Italy. “I mean, it’s our ten-year anniversary,” she said. “I thought we should do it right.”
They stood in their apartment’s small kitchen, separated by their granite countertop with an arrangement of fruit and vegetables resting in the middle. Beth explained to Peter how she made the reservation months before, but when she called to confirm it, they said they had no reservation under her name. She told Peter how she was relentless in her pursuit to find out how they lost her reservation. “You know me,” she said to Peter. “I’m not easily flustered.” But she had certainly been flustered- so much so that the manager went on a manhunt of his own and found the hostess that had taken Beth’s reservation. “Whatever it was,” she had said to Peter, a big smile spreading across her lips and traveling upwards to her blue eyes, “I got the reservation.”
Peter’s lack of enthusiasm made Beth shift awkwardly in her place.
“Are you happy?” she said, searching the silence for some kind of affirmation from him. Beth’s smile faded slowly as Peter scratched the back of his head.
He shook his head softly. “I am so sorry, Beth. You’re going to think I’m a complete ass- which I am; I realize that.”
She suddenly felt smaller, and it occurred to her that she might even be slouching; her mother had warned her about that bad habit
Beth’s mouth felt dry. She heard the soft murmur of the refrigerator and the sound of a garbage truck outside the window. She noticed the prickly hair coming in on Peter’s chin and cheeks.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Are you breaking up with me?”
“God, no. No, Beth, that’s not it at all. It’s my brother.”
“No. Garrett. He’s coming into town.”
A long pause hung between the couple. Beth gave Peter a look of confusion.
“The dinner,” he finally said.
In the midst of her panic, she had forgotten all about the reservation incident, the menu, the glass chandeliers.
“Garrett’s coming into town that day.” Peter didn’t need to say anything more for Beth to understand what he was implying.
“Well, that’s great. You haven’t seen him in a while.”
Peter rested against the kitchen counter and managed a small smile. “Yeah. I mean, he’s not really coming for me. His favorite band is coming to Philly, some indie-alternative group that I’ve never heard of, but I offered to have him stay with us. And I bought three tickets for all of us to go.”
Beth looked back at Peter’s hopeful face. Yelling wasn’t the way they did things. She couldn’t remember a time she had yelled at Peter, or Peter at her. They had always had a peaceful way of resolving conflict: long talks over dinner or coffee, and the occasional passive aggressive jabs but never yelling. Her parents yelled, and so did his; they both agreed that they didn’t want their parents’ relationships. But in that moment, she wanted to yell at Peter. She wanted to throw her hands up in the air and ask him why he didn’t consult her before agreeing to host his youngest brother; why he roped her into going to concert she didn’t wish to attend. But she didn’t.
“And this is all the night of the dinner?”
Peter nodded. “I’m so sorry, Beth. I completely blanked until you mentioned it just now. If the dinner was on our actual anniversary, I probably would have remembered when Garrett called me. Can we make the reservation for next weekend instead? We’ll even go to that ice-cream shop downtown that you like. It’ll be special, I promise.”
She started slowly walking towards her phone as if she would do it right then, but she hated the idea of calling the restaurant and canceling the reservation after she had made such a big fuss.
“Um, yeah. Sure. Or, you know, we could just leave the concert early? And Garrett could do his own thing?” Putting her suggestions like questions made them sound more innocent, less intrusive of the plans Peter already had.
“I don’t think so. It’s just, this is his favorite band. You should’ve heard him on the phone. He’s so excited.”
Beth pulled out her phone, holding it in her hands for a few moments, her mind churning.
“Don’t bands usually play more than just one show? Maybe he could go to a Saturday show instead.”
Peter shook his head. “Nope, Friday’s the only night.”
She nodded softly and returned her attention to her phone’s screen, pausing again before she proposed another solution that wouldn’t fit her problem. “You know, maybe-”
Peter rested his hand near hers on the counter. “-Beth. I know you had all of this planned out, and I’m sorry I ruined it.”
Beth faked a smile and removed her hand from the counter to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. I’ll call the restaurant and cancel the reservation.”
Peter put his arm around Beth and pressed a kiss to her temple. He promised he would make it up to her.
Although she was less than thrilled about Garrett’s visit, she found enjoyment in planning for Garrett’s arrival. She worked as an event coordinator for a conference center in downtown Philly, so planning for one guest was a nice change of pace. She called their cleaning service for a light cleaning of the apartment. When she mentioned it, Peter laughed and said that Garrett wouldn’t notice if they hadn’t cleaned their house in a year. She didn’t know Garrett very well. Beth also didn’t feel close to, Paul, Peter’s older brother; they hadn’t seen him in a while. Peter and his siblings lost their parents to a car accident during Peter and Beth’s sophomore year of college. Peter got the call while he was on a date with Beth. He dropped everything to go home and be with Garrett. Peter was the only one who could talk Garrett down. Garrett was in and out of juvenile detention centers throughout junior high and high school. As Beth made up the guest room’s bed, she remembered lying next to Peter on his twin sized, dorm mattress when he got the call from his parents that Garrett was suspected to have set fire to an abandoned barn near a school. “I’m sorry, Beth. I have to go.” Peter dressed quickly and told her she could stay in his room until she was ready to leave. He apologized profusely; she told him to not apologize. “Family’s important,” she had said as if she was remotely close to her parents. They couldn’t prove that Garrett did it. “He’s not a bad kid,” Peter had told Beth after he returned to school. “He’s just… different.”
Beth had only met Garrett a few times; she thought maybe Peter was afraid that Garrett would do or say something to scare her off. Eventually, Garrett grew out of his illegal, and, sometimes, violent tendencies. He moved to Seattle where he worked as a cashier at a record shop and a driver at a local pizza restaurant. Beth knew it was hard for Peter to move to Philly. Even though Garrett was a grown man by then, and even though Peter landed a well-paying marketing job, she still felt like he wanted to be close to his rambunctious younger brother. The distance made it hard for them to see each other. After Peter got off work, they spoke on the phone a couple times a week. Beth wished she didn’t envy Garrett for those phone calls, but sometimes she did. Evenings were her time to spend with Peter; two times a week, Garrett took that from her. But she tried to understand, tried to imagine having a sibling or friend that she felt tethered to. Her frustration often spoiled her attempts at figuring out Garrett and Peter’s relationship.
Peter took off work early to be sure he was there when Garrett arrived. Beth could tell that he was excited by his chipper entrance into their apartment. They had decided to order food instead of going out despite the list of restaurants Beth had proposed. Peter said that Garrett would probably prefer staying in. Peter picked up the food and set the table.
“Red or white wine?” Beth asked as Peter loosened his tie and unbuttoned his sleeves. She took both of the bottles out of the refrigerator and held them up for Peter to see.
“I picked up beer on my way home. Go ahead, though.” Peter disappeared into their bedroom and then reappeared a few moments later wearing jeans and a casual button down.
Beth put the bottles back into the refrigerator and walked over to Peter. She decided to make the most of the situation, for Peter’s sake. She was an only child and could never fully understand Peter’s devotion to Garrett. She finished buttoning the last few buttons on his shirt and then kissed him.
“Thanks for doing this. It means a lot to me.”
“Of course. It’s no problem,” she said.
Peter’s phone buzzed. He let go of Beth and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “He’s here.”
Beth felt her heart rate pick up. She heard Peter’s footsteps shuffle against the hardwood and then the sound of his shoes hitting the floor. He said something about getting Garrett from downstairs. Beth caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the fireplace. She smoothed down her hair and practiced her smile a few times. On the table next to her was a picture of Paul, Peter, and Garrett. She picked it up, then returned it to the table and straightened it. She couldn’t pinpoint exactly why she felt nervous about Garrett’s visit. The last time she and Peter had seen Garrett was a year ago when they were all at Paul’s house for New Year’s. Garrett had gotten drunk which didn’t surprise anyone, but it infuriated Paul. Beth thought Paul was probably more embarrassed than mad; he was introducing his new girlfriend to the family. “Why does he do this every time?” Paul had asked Peter. “Why can’t he just be normal?” Beth hadn’t meant to hear the conversation between them. She had fled to the kitchen to avoid Garrett’s loud imitation of all of the New Year’s Eve performances on TV, but then managed to get stuck between Paul and Peter.
“For God’s sake, he’s our brother. Don’t be such an ass,” Peter had said.
Paul tossed a glance towards Beth. “He’s making everyone uncomfortable. And this is my home, so I get to say what goes and what doesn’t.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Geez, he’s not hurting anyone. He’s just having fun. Don’t act like you never partied in college.”
The rest of the party seemed unaware of the fight brewing in the kitchen. Beth could still hear Garrett’s booming, slurred voice from the other room and a bit of laughter after he attempted to match the singer’s high note on TV. She had wished he would just stop for the sake of whatever was about to happen between Paul and Peter.
Paul stepped closer to Peter. Beth wasn’t sure what she would do if one of them punched the other. Her hands became sweaty, wrapping themselves tighter around the wine glass she was holding. She stood, jaw clinched, watching the brothers move closer towards a brawl that would surely end the party. Peter’s mouth was a straight line, and he was breathing heavily through his nose. Beth knew what he wanted to say to Paul. She knew this situation was too familiar for him. An argument about Garrett on a holiday was nothing new.
Paul said, “I’m not making excuses for him anymore. He needs to grow up.”
Beth braced herself for the blow.
“You know, you’re becoming just like Dad. He never accepted Garrett for he was. He knew that Garrett was getting bullied, getting the shit beat out of him at school, and he did nothing. It’s the same pride that you have,” Peter said.
Peter had told Beth about the merciless bullies at Garrett’s school. As a child, Garrett was smaller than most of the other kids: an easy target. One day when Garrett was in elementary school, he appeared in the doorway of Peter’s classroom, crying and asking for Peter to take him home. Their dad claimed Garrett was too sensitive, that every kid has to learn how to deal with bullies. Their mother made calls to the school, but nothing seemed to change. Peter felt like he was Garrett’s one true ally.
Paul stood still, staring back at his brother with fury and defeat in eyes. Peter had crossed a line. Beth realized that she had been holding her breath. She wished Peter would have spared her and told her to leave, but she wasn’t sure he was even aware of her presence in the room. Paul blew air out of his nose as if suppressing a chuckle. Beth heard Garrett’s large frame fall back onto the leather couch in the next room followed by glass hitting the ground and breaking.
Paul glanced back at Beth and then walked past Peter, knocking shoulders with him. “Fuck you,” Paul muttered.
Peter appeared first from behind their apartment door. He was struggling with Garrett’s duffle bag, and Beth could hear Garrett laughing from behind Peter.
“Do you have a sack of bricks in here?” Peter called behind him. He stepped forward, kicking the bag to the side to open door wider. Garrett appeared, his face flushed red from the bitter fall breeze outside. He didn’t look much like Peter or Paul. He was taller by a few inches with red hair and a full beard.
“Looks like you need to hit the gym, big brother; I packed light.” Garrett wrapped an arm around Peter’s neck and ruffled his hair. The two struggled back and forth for a minute as Beth stood and watched, laughing nervously as Peter’s face turned red. Garrett finally released Peter, and his deep, bellowing laugh bounced off the walls of their apartment.
Garrett turned toward Beth, and she hoped he wouldn’t share with her the same greeting he had with Peter. “Beth! Come in here!” he said, his arms opened wide. His arms wrapped tightly around her like a child does when they greet their parent after a long day of separation. Beth tried to contain her laughter, but she gave in when he lifted her off the ground.
Peter offered Garrett a beer and he accepted, popping of the cap and slipping it into the pocket of his jeans. Beth remembered that he collected all of the caps of the beers he drank. He once told Beth and Peter that at a bar in Seattle, he packed his pockets full with beer caps. “You’re full of it,” Peter had said, throwing his head back laughing. Garrett promised that he was telling the truth. Beth wasn’t convinced.
Garrett noticed the picture of him, Peter, and Paul on the table beside him. He lifted it up and examined the photograph. It was from when Peter and Paul were still in high school. Garrett was in the middle with Peter and Paul on either side of him. Peter had put an arm on Garrett’s shoulder, and Paul stood with bunny ears behind Garrett’s head. Their smiles were genuine, probably from laughter.
“I love that picture,” Beth said.
Garrett set it down and took another drink from his bottle. He pursed his lips together. Beth thought she saw a grimace flicker across Garrett’s face.
“Yeah, I think that was moments before I ruined some kind of family gathering.”
Pete chuckled. “Was it a joke about Aunt Tina’s mustache or was that the time you lit a joint on Paul’s birthday cake?”
“Neither. I think I pulled an air soft gun on Paul when he beat me at Yahtzee.” Garrett threw his head back laughing. “Why that wasn’t amusing to anyone is beyond me.”
Beth wondered what it was like growing up in their home before their parents died. Peter didn’t talk a lot about it with her, and whenever he did, he made it into some kind of joke about the turmoil Garrett inflicted on their family.
The three of them sat down for dinner. Beth poured herself a glass of wine and stared up at their modest light fixture hanging above the dinner table. She imagined the restaurant staff was busy getting ready for the night. Beth hated the idea of some other couple sitting in the spot that was supposed to be for her and Peter. They probably don’t even want it as much as I want it, she thought to herself. I bet her name is Kim, she thought, I wish I was Kim.
Garrett liked the food which was a relief to Beth. She asked him about his jobs, and he explained that he was quitting the pizza restaurant soon and getting a job at a pier close to his apartment where he would be doing manual labor. Peter asked Garrett about a girl he worked with at the record shop. Garrett made it clear that he wasn’t interested. Peter insisted something would come of it.
“Too much talk about me. I want to hear about you guys,” Garrett said. Beth thought it was nice that he was taking an interest in their lives. She glanced over at Peter and gave him a warm smile. “When the hell are you guys gettin’ married?”
Beth, with a mouthful of food, looked across the table at Peter.
“I mean, it’s been, what, ten years? For God’s sake, Pete, man up. You’re not getting any younger.”
Peter sighed, offering a sympathetic smile to Beth. “We’re both not really into the whole idea. And I think we’re doing just fine the way we are.”
Beth nodded and pushed a few spinach leaves around on her plate. She caught Garrett’s skeptical eye but pretended like she hadn’t noticed his cocked eyebrow and the wrinkle in his forehead.
Peter wasn’t wrong. They had decided when they graduated that they didn’t want to be like all of their friends who were rushing to get married right after graduation. Early on and throughout their relationship, Beth had felt some kind of pride about their agreement. She liked that her friends admired and maybe even envied Beth and Peter’s choice to not get married. But as she got older, and more of her friends got married, she felt untethered like she had forgotten to button her seatbelt on a carnival ride and was afraid of slipping out of its plastic seat. It had nothing to do with Peter. It was about feeling left out, she supposed. She used to roll her eyes over the hype her friends participated in surrounding their weddings: What’s the point? she had thought. She still didn’t see the value in it, but she found herself wanting more, wanting some kind of assurance that she would never slip past her seatbelt and into a freefall.
Garrett looked dumbfounded. “Well, at least have a kid soon,” he said. “You don’t want to wait too long for that. Beth, I read that your eggs-”
“-Garrett, don’t talk about Beth’s eggs.”
“Same goes for you, Pete. The older you get, the slower your swimmers-”
Beth stood up from the table and grabbed an empty dish. “I’m going to get some more. I’ll be right back.”
She set the dish in the sink and flipped on the faucet. Beth tucked a few loose pieces of hair behind her ear and began pacing around the kitchen, putting away utensils and throwing away the bags that the food came in.
When the doctor had delivered the news, Peter had held her hand tightly as she looked around the small exam room, searching for anything to hold onto besides the doctor’s careful words and gentle voice. “It’s not your fault,” Peter had said as they drove home. She rested her head against the window. “But it’s not yours,” she sighed. Four years passed, and they had barely spoken of that day. Beth wondered if Peter resented her; she knew he would deny it she ever asked him. But she saw the way he looked at young parents with their children in the grocery store and then back at Beth when he realized he had unwittingly abandoned their conversation. He wants more, she had thought to herself, He’ll always want more.
She turned off the faucet, pausing for a moment to close her eyes. Almost on cue, Peter came through the kitchen door. He was sorry. Garrett was an idiot, didn’t have a filter. Always so sorry, Beth. Always a kiss on the cheek and a promise to make it all up to her. Always Beth feeling sorry for making Peter sorry. Peter nodded to the kitchen door. She said okay; it wasn’t. She wanted to fight with Peter. She wanted to fight about his brother and the dinner reservation and the conversations they never seemed to have. When are you going to ask me why I thought you were breaking up with me? she thought, No. No, we won’t talk about that.
Beth returned to the table.
Garrett was like a little kid in the car on the way to the theater. He couldn’t stop talking about the band and how they were originally from Seattle. “I know every word. Every word,” he repeated several times. Peter listened, grinning at his younger brother who asked the Uber driver if he had an aux cord for his phone. He didn’t. It’s okay, Garrett said, It’s better live. They arrived at the front of the theater. The air smelled like cigarette smoke and gasoline. Beth took Peter’s hand as they waded through a large crowd of people. Garrett led the way; he looked up a map of the theater beforehand. They climbed the stairs to their seats. “Not bad,” Garrett said. He sat on the end, Peter in the middle, and Beth next to him. Beth peered around at the hundreds of people swarming around them, finding their seats, taking selfies and asking strangers to take pictures of them and their husband or wife. She looked up at the ceiling to see a large chandelier with thousands of crystals hanging above them. Beth checked her phone and let out a sigh. Kim was probably soaking in the ambiance of the restaurant, snapping a picture of her gorgeous husband across the table, while a server poured her the perfect glass of their signature wine.
She turned to find Garrett leaning over his armrest, a concerned expression passing over his face. “Can you see?” he said, nodding to the man sitting in front of her. “He’s gotta big head. He’s probably really tall. Let me know, and I’ll switch with you. I want you to be able to see!”
Beth gave him a small smile. “I’ll let you know.”
Peter squeezed her hand.
The lights of the theater began to dim. Garrett yelled “WHOOOOOP!” in the silence before the lights of the stage went up and the band ran on stage. Beth heard Peter laughing, and she saw out of the corner of her eye that he was patting Garrett’s arm in excitement. Garrett craned his neck to see better. Beneath his beard, a smile was brewing that shot up to his eyes and came out his lips in the form of cheering.
The band settled themselves on stage and began with their first song. Garrett cheered and danced incessantly; at one point he almost toppled over onto Peter. Peter swayed to the music, sometimes leaning over to wrap an arm around Beth or give her a knowing glance during the love songs. Beth didn’t love the music, but she liked the violinist and her voice. She kept her eyes forward, not wanting to see the state Garrett was in.
A slower song began and Peter leaned over and said that he was going to get drinks. Beth didn’t want anything. Garrett shouted over to her. “Can you see?” She nodded. He gave her a thumbs up and turned forward. The rest of the band members stepped back into the dark spots of the stage. The lead singer began playing the piano; lights from above poured down on him as his head drooped so that the tips of his hair brushed the piano keys.
Beth found herself listening closely as his voice wavered almost like he was going to cry. His voice echoed through the theater. She could hear his breaths trembling between the lyrics that he crooned into the microphone.
He lifted his head so that his hair fell out of his eyes. For a moment, he paused and the theater fell silent except for a few cheers from the back. He repositioned his hands on the keys and began repeating a series of chords. The other band members stepped out of the darkness and into their lit places on stage. The violinist lifted her instrument onto her shoulder and began playing, followed by the guitars. Beth could feel the air in the theater change. People began standing up like something big was about to happen. The singer’s voice came back, stronger, with no hint of trembling or fear.
As soon as the drummer began, the theater erupted into euphoric chaos. The strobe lights from the stage began rising and falling and crisscrossing. The drummer pounded his drums with such force that if one looked up they could see the chandelier moving ever so slightly. The lead singer’s mouth was pressed to the microphone; the violinist swayed back and forth, the notes bouncing off her instrument and pulling her back and forth to a rhythmic pulse.
Beth pulled her arms tighter to her chest, and she thought about Peter in line for drinks, how he could still probably feel the drummer’s beat throbbing against his shoe. Beth thought about how she would try to explain to Peter the intensity of the instruments and the quivering of the singer’s voice, how she felt his words welling up inside her and the chandelier trembling above her. She thought about how Peter would nod as her eyes lit up and tears stung her eyes; he would say that he was sorry he missed it, but he would never understand. A gap would always exist between them- a jagged, thin gap that would grow deeper as they filled the empty space with words that they would never said to each other.
Beth looked over at Garrett who had stepped into the aisle; his arms were lifted high in the air, his fingers spread apart, soaring into the darkness above. His head was flung back, his voice lost among the crowd of lips moving to every lyric that the lead singer belted. Garrett swayed to the drummer’s beat that shook the theater’s carpeted floor. Beth thought about the thirty-two people in that dimly lit, Italian restaurant. She thought about Kim, and she wondered if the hand blown Murano chandeliers or the restaurant’s accolades would ever make those thirty-two patrons feel half of what Garrett was feeling in that moment. She turned forward, arms resting at her sides. No, she thought, No, they wouldn’t.