by Maggie Beazer
“A watched pot never boils.”
I pull away from the window to look at my dad.
“I just don’t want Nick to get here and not have anyone to welcome him,” I explain.
Dad chuckles and stands behind me to squeeze my shoulder.
“That’s nice of you. Well, I’ve got to get a speech drafted, but tell me when Nick’s here, won’t you?”
I look at him out of the corner of my eye. Full eye contact is a promise. My half-hearted response is all Dad needs. He scampers to the seclusion of his office. We haven’t been spending much time together lately. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, but now when we do talk, it’s too nice — all sugar and gloss and Christmas cheer.
I turn back to the window, keeping a lookout for Nick. Nick is my brother. He’s 19 years old — too old to have a lot in common with me — but since we’re all the other has, I try to keep in touch.
When Dad called him to talk about coming home for Christmas, he seemed hesitant. I understand the feeling. I’d rather be spending Christmas goofing off with my friends than sitting at a too-big table with my dad and little sister.
Then a doubt pokes at me. What if Nick doesn’t come home at all? I need him. I’ve wanted to talk to someone who doesn’t have a big-shot politician image to maintain.
I feel the tires crunch in the driveway before I hear them.
I knew that having my boots and coat on ahead of time was a good decision. I bolt out of our front doors. I am running down the driveway toward our gate and when Nick opens the door we’re together before he even has time to step out of the car. I am hugging him like he’s completed the “Odyssey” instead of visiting from Rutgers.
“Careful,” he drawls. “You’re squishing Rudolph.”
I take a step back, confused, and then I see his sweater. It’s truly terrible — the kind that you have to sell your soul to wear. It’s got a stuffed reindeer head on the front of its oatmeal knit. The pressure I just placed upon it activated a dimly glowing light and a scratchy ditty that vaguely sounds like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” if you play it backward and tune your hearing aid just right. The whole thing is so dumb and just so Nick that I’m not sure if I should groan or start crying. I groan and slug him on the arm. We have cried enough.
Dad is approaching with outstretched arms. Dad hugs Nick too, but they have a moment of hesitation when Dad goes in for the bear hug and Nick opts for the more casual back-slapper. Nick’s eyes telegraph “help” over my dad’s shoulder. Luisa, approaching after Dad, picks up on it.
Her voice is warm, but she can’t be, as she rushed out without even a coat on. It says something about the bond between Nick and Luisa. Although technically she’s our housekeeper, Luisa has been part of the family since Mom hired her on when Nick was 3.
“We’ll talk more later,” Dad interjects. “Let’s just take this picture so we can get in out of the cold.”
Luisa nods gratefully and pulls her phone out of her purse. Nick and I dutifully move into place, one of us on either side of Dad. Our formation still feels like a mouth that has just lost a tooth. As much as we are studiously ignoring the missing piece, the hole still tastes of blood.
“It’s nice to have all of us together again,” Dad muses, as he puts an arm around each of us.
All of us flinch on the inside. Luisa manages to keep the camera steady, and our smiles don’t suggest a trace of pain. The light flashes. Picture perfect.