I doubt my brother even noticed that I faced the wall, a book to my face, when he came into the bedroom. Randy and I weren't exactly on brother-love, best-buddy speaking terms, not since I needed to hide my gas money in a locked box in the trunk of my '97 Toyota. Anything else of any value my girlfriend held for me. I slept with my phone, and charged it as needed at her house.
Besides, I didn't want Randy to see the expression on my face when he opened his sock and underwear drawer. He spent a lot of time in that drawer, and believe me, it wasn't to change socks or underwear.
"What the ..." He pulled out an empty bourbon bottle that had a skull and crossbones picture glued to the front of it. I'm not much of an artist, so I copied and pasted one from clip art.
"You finally found your brand," I said looking him full in his face, absolutely not a pleasant picture. He hadn't shaved in weeks. His color mimicked a semi-rotten tomato. Except the tomato would have smelled better.
"This was not empty when I left it."
"Are you sure? My guess is your memory is as long as a beer commercial. And that a drink serving is measured in bottles not glasses ..."
"I am doing just FINE, Stan!"
"Right," I said, sitting on the edge of the bed in case I needed to move out of the room quickly. At least he still knew his younger brother's name. "I saw your grades. Congratulations, you almost made it to a 2.0 this quarter. You started the term with how many courses?"
"I'll catch up. I'll get that certification I promised Mom." Randy was 28 years old, eight years older than I was. This time he decided he would go into radiology as a technician. Eventually. He plopped onto his bed instead of arguing further. "I just feel trapped right now. Don't feel free. Need a change of scenery. Something."
Nope, not trapped yet, I thought. Besides, you've had too much rat poison to see you are the one who set the trap.
Strange how he didn't say one word about my editorial comment on the front of the bottle, only the fact that the bourbon was drained. I had flushed the contents down the basement toilet. Hope it didn't damage the pipes.
He reached inside his waste paper basket. We each had our own. His was full -- fuller than I knew. An unopened bottle lay at the bottom. "Going out for a while. If Mom asks, tell her I'll be back later." He knew Dad wouldn't ask. He had given up on Randy a long time ago. Once I overheard Dad tell Mom that she had gone through sixteen hours of labor with him. She could continue to hope. His part had been a lot easier, so he could say adios to the bum. Sure, Randy was a rat and a jerk, but I thought that was a pretty mean thing to say to Mom.
Randy waved good-bye. That was the last I saw of him until we got a call from the police two days later. My brother had blown more than twice the legal limit; then he passed out.
Mom screamed as she repeated something about blood all over the road. It happened to come from a large dog that had run in front of the car. A horrible picture, but at least Randy hadn't killed anyone. No other person had been with my brother when he was arrested.
No one. That struck me for the first time. He didn't have friends. None that I knew anyway. He'd had a girlfriend or two, but the relationships never lasted long.
I looked for old pictures of Randy and me as we were growing up. There weren't many. We didn't have a large family and no one was good at taking photos. He smiled in the earlier shots, but never in the ones taken since he hit high school. I wondered about that, but didn't feel free to ask my parents. Dad had already cut him off. And Mom never talked about such things. The Ten Commandments had all the answers. Psychology was reserved for folk who talked to themselves and got answers in different voices.
When I came home from school one day a few weeks later Mom said she had good news. "Randy is going to an in-patient program. And if he graduates he doesn't have to go to jail."
"All right." I wasn't ready to move my good watch and saleable baseball cards back into the house yet. But I was genuinely glad to hear it.
Then, one night at about eleven in the evening, I had turned out the light and climbed into bed when my cell rang. I usually look to see who is calling, but I was so surprised I just answered.
"Is this Stan Weeks?"
"Sorry to bug you. This time of night and all. My name's Shelby. I'm a new friend of Randy's. From Elmcast House. I got sprung yesterday and your brother asked me to call. Was so nervous. I had to work up the courage." The tone and inflection of her speech shouted uneducated inner city.
"Okay." I wondered why she hadn't called the previous day, but as she hesitated so often I could almost hear her gulp, I was shocked that she had contacted me at all. And that piqued my curiosity.
"You know ... not many of us make it. Ten percent. Maybe. Took me three gosh-miserable tries. I ain't proud of it. Your brother's gonna make it up to you ... and everybody. He said he's really done wrong by you."
"Glad he's reformed," I said, my cynicism leaking out and my grammatical sensor secretly tearing her apart.
"He's been so honest," she said, her words suddenly pouring out. "I mean it must of tore your family apart when that minister raped him when he was fourteen. Just a kid. Tender and bleeding. He didn't know there was men that done that."
I sat upright. My Ten-Commandments-family knew nothing about it. Our minister WAS God. Although as I remember him, I didn't care for his self-righteous tone. I couldn't tell when he was reading Scripture and when he was reading the word of Reverend Knows-It-All. And Randy's smile in the photos evaporated just about that time.
"Shelby?" my voice must have stammered.
"You okay, Stan?"
"Yes and no."
"Did I say something wrong?"
"Not at all. Will you be keeping in touch with Randy?"
"And will you keep my number, too?"
"Good. Then let me know how Randy is doing. You, too."
My phone went black, like the darkened room. Silent. Like all these years had been. I wondered if Randy was awake or asleep. And if he had finally discovered freedom, whatever freedom meant to him.