Occasionally I wonder what my life would be like if I didn't have an older brother. Suppose I was an only child, or maybe I was the eldest child and had a younger brother. Maybe I still had an older brother but I also had another sibling, a little brother or sister. What if Luke were a girl (Lucille?) and then I would have an older sister as opposed to an older brother.
But that isn't what happened. My parents, on June 11th gave birth to a beautiful 7 pound, 11 ounce baby boy that they dubbed Luke. Then, only one short year later I came. There were no others and Mom says she doesn't regret not having more children. That might only be due to the fact that only a year after my birth my parents got divorced.
I don't believe Luke ever really thinks if he weren't my older brother and I wasn't his one and only sister. In fact, I don't believe Luke really thinks as much as I do. Once, I asked him would he rather be blind or deaf, simply out of curiosity, and he looked at me like I was insane, muttering something about weirdo.
There is a story my mother loves to tell anytime Luke and I get into a fight. She said that when she was pregnant with me she'd taken baby Luke on a shopping trip to buy new clothes for his coming baby brother or sister (me). She and Dad had decided to take the traditional route and be surprised by my gender when I came out as opposed to being modern and simply knowing ahead of time.
She'd been walking down an isle filled with baby bibs and studying her choices, as the decision was just so vital. Casually she'd stroked Luke's sparse light brown hair and whispered to him, "Which do you like, Sweetie?"
Not that she expected any response from a ten-month-old but Luke and focused his beady eyes on the selection, drooled a little, then pointed his pudgy finger at the girliest, pinkest, laciest bib on the rack and screamed a resounding, "Ga!"
That type of decisive behavior from an infant was enough to convince my mother and she bought the bib. No matter that she didn't know if I were a girl or not. Her darling boy had chosen and so pink, girlie, and lacy it would be.
When I was born a girl it was obvious to my mother that Luke had wanted a sister and a sister he had gotten. I'm not so sure he knew what he wanted then. He was only ten months old after all. I wonder if I had to choose would I choose Luke? He isn't a perfect brother, but I am far from a perfect sister and we are certainly miles away from a perfect family.
Luke loved me for the first six years of my life. He played with me and we even shared a few of the same friends. As we grew older, however, similarities began to fade. He was constantly with his best friend Cameron and I would stick with my friend Lindsay. Cameron was one of those shared friends of ours but as soon as we entered 1st grade it seemed to register to both Cameron and Luke that I was a girl. Cameron and I weren't friends after that and other than seeing him tromp into the house with Luke after school, slinging their 50 pound backpacks to the floor with a ground-shaking bang, I wouldn't see either of them at all.
If Luke were my sister would we be closer? If I were an older sister with a younger brother would I avoid him like Luke avoided me? Are all siblings just destined to grow up and grow apart, or was that only Luke's doing? It seemed that all my family was doing was growing apart anyway. Funny how all that growing apart began when I was born. Mom and Dad, then Luke and me.
My junior year in High School was when this status quo changed. It was Luke's senior year and with Mom's urgings he was making sure to be busy with college applications. With Luke's notorious reputation for being a procrastinator, Mom wanted to make sure he at least didn't procrastinate in this aspect of his life. Maybe it was the thought that soon he would be out of my life and at some college miles away that spiked his interest once again in me. Maybe he was feeling guilty for never having a particularly close relationship with me before. It wasn't that we had never talked or seen each other but we definitely, above all, did not hang out together. He was an upper class-man first and foremost, never mind shared blood and DNA.
This is why he took me for a loop whenever he bounded down the stairs from the attic, where his bedroom was, to swing open the refrigerator, and actually acknowledged my existence. It was late August and school had just started. I was clicking my ball-point pen, fiery red hair pulled back into a high ponytail as I read over the syllabus for one of my three advanced placement classes I was taking at the Career Center.
Luke pulled a can of cold Coke out of the fridge and leaned against the doorway to the living room where I was laying on the couch, syllabus in one hand, pen in the other.
"Hey Leah," he greeting, popping open the tab on the can.
I grunted in reply, thinking he would retreat back up into the sanctuary of his room in a second. He didn't.
"Whatcha doing?" he asked, and then took a sip of his drink.
I paused, my eyes halting on the word Microorganisms and rereading it over and over again, wondering why Luke was pursuing a real conversation with me.
"Leah?" he prompted again. I clicked the ball-point pen in and set it and the syllabus down.
"Oh, yeah," I muttered. I slid my rimless reading glasses off my nose and onto the top of my head. "Not much. I'm looking over this science syllabus."
"What teacher do you have?" Luke asked.
"I'm taking science at the Career Center," I told him, knowing he had never taken an AP class in his academic life. He had taken honors classes but he wasn't exactly a serious student. The Career Center was a separate building that only offered AP classes, meaning Luke had never taken a class there and didn't know my teacher. Which, considering his less than spotless track record with teachers, was probably a good thing.
"Oh," he said, taking another gulp of Coke. "Right. You're pretty smart."
A compliment. I sat up now, intrigued. "Yeah, I guess," I said shyly and shrugged. "I'm sort of nervous. I've never taken classes at the Career Center."
"Bound to be upper class-men in your AP classes," Luke said, taking a small step into the room. "I could tell them you're my sister."
Teachers knowing Luke wouldn't be good but students knowing I was his sister would be a perk. "Thanks."
He nodded and began tapping out a beat from a rap song on his aluminum can with his middle finger. I chewed on the inside of my cheek, avoiding his eyes. The conversation had reached an end but he wasn't leaving yet. This was more awkward then a conversation between and brother and sister should be.
Finally he cleared his throat and I looked back at him.
"I don't really want to go back upstairs," he told me. "Too much paper work."
Ah, so that was it! Luke was talking to me because he wanted to uphold his reputation and avoid doing work at all costs. A little smile picked up the corners of my lips.
"So how are those college apps going?" I asked, teasing.
He rolled his eyes. "They suck." He twisted the tab off his can. "But I'm sure a Smartie like you could handle it." He threw the tab at me.
I threw it back. "You wish."
"Okay, well see you," he said and began to leave.
"Bye." I picked the syllabus again but didn't really read it anymore.
Luke had only just left the room when the phone rang. I didn't make a move to grab it immediately, praying someone else would so that I didn't have to put my syllabus back down. It rung a second time. No one picked up. A third time.
I groaned, wondering why no one but me ever answered the phone in the house. Mom was upstairs and I knew Luke had a phone in his room. But no. I had to put down what I was doing and make a dash for the phone in the kitchen. Reluctantly I did so, sliding a little on the hardwood floors in the kitchen with my socks.
"Hello?" I asked.
"Hey, Leah, it's Cameron," Cameron's deep, familiar voice said. It was a voice I'd heard all my life but ever since Luke had gotten a cell phone I wasn't accustomed to being greeted by it on the house line.
"Oh, right, hi," I said, pulling my glasses off my head and cleaning the lenses with the tail of my T-shirt.
"Is Luke there? He didn't pick up his cell."
Oh, right. I remembered why. "Yeah, Mom took it away so he wouldn't get distracted away from his college apps."
Cameron laughed. "Figures."
"I'll get him," I said, then turned my mouth away from the receiver. "Luke! It's Cam!" I screamed. I heard footsteps overhead, knowing Luke heard me.
"Hey man," Luke said as he picked up the extension and I hung up. Cameron had always been my favorite of Luke's friends. A lot of them were downright jackasses, but Cameron at least had sense. I could remember countless times playing with Luke and Cameron at Polo Park recreation center when I was young, when Cameron was my friend too. But those days were over. Now I only talked to Cameron when he called for Luke or when I answered the door and led him to wherever Luke was in the house.
I gave up completely on reading my syllabus when my cell phone rang in my short's pocket. I jumped slightly at the buzzing sensation against my thigh and pulled it out, checking the caller ID like second nature.
"Hey," I answered.
Lindsay was my best friend since Cameron. I'd buddied up to her in second grade after realizing Cameron and Luke were no longer my friends. Lindsay had always been beautiful and competitive. She had thick light brown hair but it had been bleached so often I couldn't even picture her heart shaped face surrounded by brown hair anymore. Now her curls formed a blonde halo and her skin was always evenly tanned, even in the winter. Her clear blue eyes were always outlined by black makeup and her full pouty lips covered in gloss. She was the girl who always got her guy, and her way.
"Sup?" she asked and I could tell she was talking to me while preoccupied with something else. She always seemed to be doing that and it sort of irked me. Not that I would ever tell her that.
"Not much," I told her. "You?"
"Trying to decide which of these dresses to get," she said and I could tell by her tone she was chewing on a fingernail, a sign her mind was deep in thought. "I need help."
"You're at the mall?"
"Okay, describe them to me," I said as I slid my syllabus into my pink plastic science folder and then back into my book bag.
"Well," she sighed, frustrated. "Ugh," she groaned annoyance again. "I can't really. You have to see them."
Then how can I help? I asked myself but didn't open my mouth.
"Come down," she ordered.
"Excuse me?" I asked, looking down at myself. There was no way I was about to steal Luke's car to jet down to the mall in an old oversized soccer T-shirt that used to be Luke's and boxer shorts. As if.
"Drive down to the mall and look at them with me," Lindsay explained slowly and loudly as if I was dimwitted. As if she were the one taking AP classes, I thought bitterly. "It's only ten minutes from your house."
"Lins, I'm in my PJs," I groaned. "It's the last day of summer."
"Exactly." Lindsay stretched out the word into exasperated syllables. "I need to get the right dress to wear the first day of school tomorrow. It's crucial."
"I think you'd make a better decision than I would." I tried once more, half-heartedly but I was already headed toward my room to change. I knew I would concede in the end to go.
"Leah," she groaned, helplessly. "I need your advice. Please?"
"Yeah, okay," I agreed. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
"Okay, I'm getting a smoothie so meet me at the Food Court," she explained and hung up. No good-byes. No thank yous.
Luke's footsteps had gone quiet upstairs so I figured he had gotten off the phone and was "working" on the college applications. I shut the door to my room and glanced in the mirror hoisted on the backside of my closet door.
My skin was always pale and I had a few freckles stretching over the bridge of my nose and beneath my eyes. I had always envied Lindsay's blue eyes (but then again I envied a lot of qualities Lindsay possessed) because they were so interesting in comparison to my simply brown ones. My red hair wasn't curly like hers either. It was a little wavy, a frustrating middle ground when it came to hairstyles, and tangled easily. I stripped off my brother's old soccer shirt and pulled on another simple T-shirt but at least this one was fitted to my average body shape.
Stepping out of my boxer shorts and into a pair of washed out jean shorts, I left my room in favor of the bathroom where I straightened my hair quickly and brushed my teeth, not even bothering with makeup on such short notice. I knew it would only turn into a disaster anyway. My braces had come off only a year and a half ago but the joy I felt at smiling and not seeing metal was still relieving.
Pocketing my house and Luke's car keys, cell phone, and a ten-dollar bill I still had from baby-sitting in July, I yelled out, "Going to the mall."
"Okay," Mom answered. "Home in three hours?"
"Yeah," I replied. Then I slipped into my flip-flops. I waited for Luke to yell something about me not taking his car but there was only silence. I shrugged and opened the front door, taking the porch steps two at a time toward the open-door garage.
I noticed a familiar beat-up blue Ford pickup truck in the driveway. Cameron was just getting out.
I remembered when Cameron and Luke first got their licenses. They had gone to the DMV at the same time, determined to pass on the same day. Dad had given Luke his old car, which actually only had 3,000 miles on it. Dad always seemed to be giving Luke and I unexpected gifts. Mom said he only did it to make up for the five years he missed of our childhood after separating from Mom. I like to think that maybe he does it because he loves us.
Cameron was eternally bummed that despite having a license he could only get places by sitting in the passenger seat of Luke's red Acura. Finally he'd discovered the old pick-up truck at the crappiest used car lot in town. Sure the light blue paint was ugly and chipping, revealing rusted metal beneath. And yes, The passenger side window did not roll up all the way. In fact, the car had a lot of problems, including no A/C, yellow-ish stuffing busting from the seams in to leather seating, the 'R' missing from the white word FORD on the back, and the engine stalled when you first started up. But Cameron loved it just the same and said it had "character".
He lifted a hand to wave to me. I lifted one back. Cameron was undoubtedly a good-looking guy, not that I would ever admit that to him. He was Luke's best friend, after all. He was about a head taller than I was and had a nicely toned body. His hair was constantly a mess of dirty blonde and his brown eyes weren't boring like mine. Their amber color had character just like his car did.
"Hey there," he said as we passed each other in the driveway, him walking toward the front door and me walking away. "Where are you off to?"
"Mall," I said.
"Let me guess," he said, giving me a smile. "Meeting Lindsay?"
"You're good," I replied with a grin and pulled Luke's car keys from my pocket.
"Luke doesn't mind you taking the car?" Cameron asked.
I winked. "He doesn't have to know."
Cameron laughed. "You can take mine, you know," he offered.
I snorted and then blushed with embarrassment at the sound that had actually just issued from my mouth. "No offense Cam but I don't think I could get it to start."
He shrugged. Cameron had always been defensive about his car and had tried to personalize it with sunglasses hanging from the rearview mirror, pictures tacked to the visors, bobble-heads from Happy Meals at McDonalds on the dashboard, and politically-charged bumper stickers. Cameron was a fairly opinionated person.
"Seems like you're always running off to somewhere these days," Cameron said, breaking my trance.
I met his gaze and for a second I realized we were both remembering the days I would have given anything to stay with him and Luke instead of going to the mall with Lindsay. Did he miss those times as much as I did? Of course not. Cameron couldn't care less what I did with my free time. It was hard for me to believe he used to be my friend too. Now I could barely have a full conversation with him.
"Always something to do," I agreed politely, vaguely.
He grabbed the keys out of my hand, preventing me from leaving. "None of those things happen to be playing on monkey bars with me anymore, are they?"
I tried to smile but it came out all wrong. "No, not anymore." I made a grab for the keys but he held them a safe distance away. I grimaced.
"I remember when I learned how to climb the monkey bars before you and you were devastated." His devilish grin made me frown. "I teased you about it until you yelled at me to shut up. Back then that was like cussing someone out." He laughed. I didn't. "You kept trying to make it across the monkey bars until you had blisters all over your palms. Finally you fell off, remember? You started to cry. Leah, you remember?"
I felt my cheeks turn bright red. As tempting as it was I wasn't about to follow Cameron down this painful memory lane. I grabbed the keys.
"No," I snapped and started walking to the garage. "I don't remember."