When it Comes to Family
“Will you marry me?”
So many thoughts are going through my head, so many feelings: the joy, the fear, the almost-surprise; but the one that looms largest is this one: but I slept with your brother and stabbed him in the gut.
What I do is I smile at Lachlan, I reach out and take his hands, I tell him, “Yes,” just the one and simple word, and I don’t know what I think or feel about what I’ve just done.
And then there’s Brody. And it all hinges on Brody.
Lachlan told me about his brother before I met him, not long after he met me, actually. We were at dinner, we were digging into our matching ravioli, and he said to me, “Look, my brother is an asshole.”
“Sorry. Let me explain. If we’re going be serious about each other, then you should probably know what you’re getting into.”
“Well, maybe. I like to hope. But Brody, I guess you could call him the black sheep of the family. I mean, he’s done all right for himself, he’s got a good enough job, and a nice flat and all that. He dresses well. Looks after himself. He’s even nice to animals. But he’s an absolute dick around people.”
“I don’t mean to come on so strong, but Mum’s having a big dinner next week, and she wanted me to bring you along. Do you… I mean… want to come to dinner?”
“This is a weird way of inviting me to meet your parents, but yes, yes, I do.”
He was looking a little nervous, and the unease didn’t lift with my agreement. Back to Brody. “He’ll be there too, and he can be a bit… abrasive. You know, he’ll probably ask personal questions, and make suggestions impugning your honour or integrity, or subtly say you’re fat, or dumb, or that one or the other of us isn’t good enough for the other one. And that’s before he starts drinking. I don’t think he even means exactly to be cruel, it’s just his only way of communicating with people. Or something.”
“So, I should bring a cat?”
His face shifted. Puzzled. Concerned.
“You said he was nice to animals.”
“He’s a got a dog. He loves his dog.”
“What’s its name?”
“He thinks it’s funny.”
“Okay, so I’m duly warned. Should I bring anything with me? Is there a dress code?”
Sometimes, Lachlan, he gets fixated on Brody – weirdly, and as I was just beginning to find out – and so he snapped right back there. He said, “My mum, she always tells me, when it comes to family, you have to make allowances, you have to forgive the bad for the sake of blood, you know?”
“My mum says something a bit like that.”
“Yeah. I have a sister.”
And so, we were onto a safer, if somewhat related topic.
Then I met Brody at dinner. And he was gorgeous.
I don’t know how to overstate it. I really can’t state it enough. Now Lachlan’s good-looking, he’s an attractive man, and when I saw his picture on the dating app, I thought, mm-hm, wouldn’t mind trying some of that. But he pales beside his older brother. When Brody walked into the room I felt as if my heart stopped, I felt as if I had to remind myself to breathe. He looked like he could be a model, his face all smooth but chiselled, his lush hair, his dark eyes. He was neatly dressed in dark trousers and a deep red shirt. I just melted. I lost my voice, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.
Brody looked right past me, looked at Lachlan. “Better luck with his one then, eh?”
Should have put me off? Very much. And their mother was apologizing profusely, giving Brody a look that shot to kill, leading me into the lounge and offering wine. “Sorry, about my oldest, he has the manners of a baboon. We should probably hide him in the basement out of the way, but what can you do when it comes to family? You have to make the best of them. Don’t I, Brody?”
Lachlan gave me a look that said, see what I mean?
But I couldn’t take my eyes of Brody. I like to think that I was subtle about it, but I don’t know if I was or not. And he was more than just a pretty face, he had a deep, resonating voice, and his conversation was sharp and witty. He had a mean streak. I could see that. But he was more than just mean streak. There was a full and rounded man in there. Maybe even a little sensitivity beneath the hard-assed cynicism. It didn’t take a genius to see that Lachlan was the better man; but I couldn’t help myself, Brody was the man who kept drawing my eyes his way.
He left early, had some friends to meet. The rest of us sat in front of the TV and watched some movies. I snuggled up against Lachlan, enjoying his warmth, and enjoying an open sense of his family’s approval.
His mother told me, “You have to come again. I like it when Lachlan finds a nice girl. You might want to think about marrying him.”
“Well, I don’t mean now, sweetheart.”
“But if you ever get around to thinking about asking…”
She shrugged. She winked at me. “Just saying…”
And Lachlan walked me to my car. “Yeah, sorry about all that.”
“She was just messing with you.”
“I’d rather she didn’t. I hope Brody wasn’t too much of a pain.”
I shrugged, hoping to sound nonchalant. “He wasn’t so bad.”
“He can be worse. He likes centre stage. He gets crabby sometimes when he doesn’t find himself in the spotlight.”
I didn’t even mean for the words to come out of my mouth: “Does he have a girlfriend?” and I felt my face burn.
It was dark out, and Lachlan gave no indication of finding anything amiss. He said, “Not right now. The thing with Brody is that he doesn’t have much trouble finding women, he has trouble keeping them. Once they see past his superficial charm, and get to the real stuff, they head for the hills.”
“You make him sound like a psychopath.”
“Yeah. Is there something going on?”
“No. Look, I didn’t mean it that way. He doesn’t have bodies buried in his back garden or anything. But he has no patience with other people. It’s all right when everything’s going his way, but when it’s not he goes for the throat. I don’t mean to sound bitter, but as his little brother I’ve been on the wrong end of that.”
To lighten the mood, I said, “Well, my sister ripped the head of my Barbie doll once.”
“And she used a knitting need so she could put it up on a spike. She even used red paint for fake blood.”
“Well, I’m sure she’s matured a lot since then.”
“Judge for yourself. It’s only fair you meet my family too. Quid pro quo and all that.”
Quid pro quo.
Missy wasn’t the threat to me that Brody might be to Lachlan.
Missy’s a round, cheerful, plain, big-toothed girl. She’s not pretty, but she has a world-changing smile. She has a nervous disposition, so she’s either super quiet or she’s rambling inanely when she meets new people. And she was in the former mode when she met Lachlan.
“But she seems nice,” Lachlan said later.
“She is. We’ve always gotten along – well, aside from that Barbie doll incident. She’s made a few bad decisions, especially with boyfriends, and Mum absolutely despairs of her ever getting it right.”
“Better not introduce her to Brody then.”
“Always with the Brody.”
And so he told me about Brody. About all those years as the younger brother, and the way he would follow Brody around, always hungry for his attention, for winning his approval. He’d stolen a box of firecrackers for Brody when he was eight years old, and a DVD player when he was twelve. When Brody was fifteen, and should have known better and been a better big brother but hadn’t been. And when he’d gotten caught, Brody had held his tongue, let little Lachlan take the rap.
“We were always like that. I tried to make him like me. He was mean, exploitative, he always made me feel like I was small and stupid. Which I kinda was, I mean he is, he’s the smarter, better looking one. There’s no way around it.”
I was probably supposed to vehemently deny that, but I wasn’t sure I could. I managed a rather lame, “Well, I rather like the brother I’ve got, thank you.”
“Ah, low standards. I like that in a woman. But you probably can’t really imagine it, being so you and all that, but it was hard, always being the dim shadow beside Brody’s bright light. It was either resent him or idolize him, and I guess I did a bit of both.”
And I had never had that experience. It made me wonder, though, had Missy had that with me? I am older, and I think I can objectively say that I’m prettier, that I’ve always had the greater confidence of us two. Maybe acting out with a Barbie doll victim came from somewhere. What I said to Lachlan was, “You’re not that kid now.”
He said, “Ah yes, but Brody still is. If he’d grown up nice, it would probably be easier, but, well, you’ve seen how he grew up.”
I had. And the trouble was: I liked it. Way too much.
Then one day, I went over to Lachlan’s place. He lived at the back of his parents’ place at the time – as Brody liked to be snide about when he got the opportunity. I walked in the door – I had a key by then – and walked almost right into Brody.
“You,” he said.
“Oh. Okay. Well, do you know where he is?”
“Oh, just bloody call him.” There was quite a snarl in his voice today. I think maybe he’d had a drink or too.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him what his fucking problem was, but instead I said, “Hey, is everything all right?”
“No, I’m serious.”
He turned on me, “Look, I don’t know what it is with you, but I’m not in the market to be saved. Whatever my shit, it’s my business, and I like it just fine that way. I really don’t have any patience for busy-body types like you.” I felt quite sure as I listened to him that he did know exactly how to turn it off and just didn’t want to.
I didn’t feel scared. There was nothing scary to me about Brody, I just said, “Okay, well I guess I’ll see you at the next family dinner, then.”
He almost let me walk off. Then he asked, “What do you see in him?”
“Who the fuck else?”
“I see someone good, and kind, and honest. I see someone I can trust, and who makes my day a bit brighter, and who genuinely appreciates me as a person. How’s that?”
“He’s a wimp. He’s a bland, boring, broken piece of shit.”
“Oh? Or? Going to tell Mummy on me?”
“Your mum can see you for who you are.”
He moved towards me. He was all aggression. I still didn’t expect him to hurt me in any way, shape or form; but his demeanor sent a shiver down my back. He stood over me – tall, I hadn’t noticed how tall until now. “She doesn’t care,” he said.
“I know. It’s family. She’d probably hate you if you weren’t related.”
“Sorry, that one was out of line.”
“It was the plain truth. But you don’t hate me, do you?”
And he kissed me. Just like that. And I admit it, let’s be honest, I kissed him back, and with as much gusto, as much passion, as he kissed me. Truth is, I’d been wanting to do that for the last three months, it’d been itching inside me all that time and now it just came bursting out. I could hear the little voice in my head telling me that I had to put a stop to this right now, and I knew the little voice was right.
“Well?” he asked me.
I answered with a kiss.
And maybe if he’d said anything else to me after that it would have broken the spell, if he’d called me a slut, or said I was beautiful, or said that Lachlan didn’t usually go for girls who were this spicy. But he answered my kiss with a kiss, and then in the next moment we were doing it on the carpet in his parent’s lounge. I had no shame, and no thoughts about consequences.
When it was over, he sat up and looked at me, he said, “Happy?”
“That was a very bad mistake on both of our parts.”
“You can’t… tell…”
“What if I do?”
“Then you’d be a shitbag who just wants to hurt his only brother.”
Brody stood up, pulled up his undies, reached for his jeans. “Well, if the glove fits. But what does it make you?”
“Yeah, stupid, and the dumb bitch who’s not good enough for even my dumbass little brother.”
“Now you care about Lachlan?”
I don’t know exactly what the trigger was. But I’d hit it. He was suddenly moving at me, face dark with anger, or malice, or something. And I can’t say that it was really in self defence, because he didn’t touch me, or suggest he would touch me, but I did feel threatened, enough so to put my hand on the kitchen knife lying on the bench. When I took a few steps backwards, it came with me, and when he advanced on me a little further it was in my hand. Then – and I don’t know if I meant it to happen or not – the blade was in his side, and there was blood.
I have memories of that moment that blur and cascade and crash into each other. I can’t get them in order. I can’t touch them as memories, they’re like nettles. I had never so much as slapped another person in my life. I wasn’t like that. I was stumbling back, hands to my mouth, shocked, aghast. And Brody was laughing.
“I’m sorry!” I gasped, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
He just kept laughing.
“I can’t wait to hear you explain this one.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed.”
“I’m going to take you to A and E.”
“And tell them what?”
Something in him softened a little bit. “That’s probably not wise. Tell them I was drunk and slipped, and brough the knife down with me.”
“That’s not believable.”
“It will be, coming from you.”
“Let’s go, please let’s go.”
On the way to the hospital, he took a bit more pity on me, he told me, “It’s not very deep, and it doesn’t really hurt. There’s no reason to make a song and dance about it.”
“I didn’t mean to do that, okay?”
“Then, why did you?”
“Why grab the knife?”
“You were scaring me.”
“What? You figured I was going to strangle you or something?”
“I’m not sure what I figured.”
“Well, I wasn’t. I’ve been called an asshole often enough, but I’ve never been called that kind of asshole.” I remembered what Lachlan had said, He doesn’t have bodies buried in his back garden or anything. Lachlan. I had no idea how any of this was going to affect our relationship. And it seemed like Brody could read my mind because he said, “We can keep this as our little secret if you want. Why not? It might be fun.”
And so, I find myself, here, now, engaged. In love. Confused.
And the family all gather around to congratulate us. They throw us a party, and I dress in blue, with a cut glass necklace at my throat doing its best to sparkle like diamonds. Lachlan’s Mum comes over and hugs me and tells me that she thinks of me like a daughter and that it’s going to be just so perfect having me as Lachlan’s wife. “I told him right from the start he should do this. Finally, that boy decides to listen to this mother.”
But it was Brody whose presence ate up all my attention. Still. With his angel-devil face, and his dark eyes, and sexy tone. With that tiny little scar above his hip that only he, I, and a couple of nurses, and a doctor know anything about. I can see him watching from the corner, with a glass of whiskey in his hand, and a kind of knowing smile on his face. There’s something both inviting and predatory about it. As if he can envisage another encounter like our dreadful one, as if he’s looking forward to it.
I walk over to him when I have a moment.
He’s a little bit drunk. He raises the glass. “Congratulations,” he says.
“I love Lachlan.”
“And I think you actually do as well.”
“Are we good?”
He smiles, and it’s one part malice, one part mischief. “That depends,” he says, “which one of us do you think is going to tell him the truth first?”
Picture credit/discredit: author's own work