1 A Vacation Home
Gabriel Reeves was bouncing happily up and down in expended arms that were trying to hold him still, his plump little two-year-old legs working like pistons on a freight train. His cuteness had worn out long before they had arrived at the airport, back in the station wagon during the ride there, and by now his will to bounce and shriek had so surpassed his family's energy that he was intolerable.
"Pwane! Aipwane!" Gabriel screamed delightedly and pointed when he saw the giant, sleek, silverness creep slowly across the runway on the other side of the glass windows, both an announcement to the world that there were bigger versions of the little silver toy planes that he played with and a stunned epiphany about this fact. His yellow and white size-nothing sneakers, depicting a grinning and waving Big Bird, kicked into his older brother's ribs excitedly.
"Oww! Damn it, Gabe!" Gabriel's brother Anthony hissed, loud enough make Gabe understand that he was angry and softly enough that his parents walking ahead of him didn't hear.
"Wide aipwane! Dammit, Gabe!" Gabriel shouted gleefully. The parrot stage that all two-year-olds went through was not beneath Gabriel Reeves. A few passers-by gave the kid the Oh-Isn't-He-Cute look, paired with a sympathetic grin for Anthony. Yes, Gabriel was cute with his big brown eyes, yellow-blonde baby-fine hair, blue corduroy overalls and pudgy little baby cheeks. But his older brother was a mess, his own dirty-blonde hair in mussy knots from where Gabe had pulled it with sticky toddler fingers, and a dark puddle of baby spit on his shoulder where Gabe had drooled. His face was flushed in the heat of the Bolivian airport and the weight of the bodies around him.
"Mom!" Anthony called. "Can you take him for a little while? He keeps kicking and pulling my hair."
Gabe, old enough to understand the word 'hair', grabbed a chubby fistful of the substance in question. He happily chopped both of his small arms up and down, yanking Anthony's hair in the process.
"Gabe!" Anthony bellowed, hoping his voice was fierce enough to scare his little brother into obedience. No such luck. Only his father had ever achieved that upshot. Gabe giggled, amused, and continued with more enthusiasm.
"Mom!" Anthony called again, "Can you hold him for a while?"
"We're almost there, Anthony," Brenda Reeves said over her shoulder. "Suck it up and be a man."
Anthony groaned. Gabriel shrieked, "AIPWANE!" into his right ear, as though he hadn't gotten his brother's attention with his previous announcements.
"Gabe!" Anthony shouted again, and smacked the scant, still baby-flubby meat on his brother's thigh with the palm of his hand. Anthony was quite sure it couldn't have hurt him, was only meant to be some sort of warning, but the look that fell over Gabriel's face was of someone who'd just had his leg lobbed off with an ax. His big, cute, brown eyes filmed over with saline, making them slick and glassy, and he peeled back his mouth in preparation to scream bloody murder. Anthony quickly clapped his free hand over Gabe's mouth, and Gabe sank his tiny baby teeth into Anthony's hand. Hissing sharply and shortly, Anthony drew his hand back and wrung it fiercely. He wiped the slobber on his blue jean clad thigh just as Gabe let loose a wail that made Anthony's skin itch to smack him. A wail that only two-year-olds were able to produce, Anthony had come to learn. He clenched his fist into so tight a ball that his fingernails cut tiny indentions into his skin. Both of his parents turned around, irritated at the familiar crying sound, as they followed the narrow, blue-carpeted halls toward their terminal.
"What did you do to him?" Brenda asked, the tired and ill edge in her voice making it sharp. Normally she would have taken Gabe into her own arms at such a time, but Anthony knew she would rather bum the toddler off on him for now.
"I didn't do anything to him. Maybe he's weeping for all the cruelty and evil in the world," Anthony called with hot sarcasm over the sound of Gabe's voiced agonized suffering. Anthony was tired and ill as well, on top of carrying the weight of Gabe's own irritation, which came off as loud restlessness instead of sarcasm.
"Don't get smart," Richard Reeves, who had also jumped on the tired-and-ill bandwagon, barked. The sound of his father's gruff angry voice, usually reserved for only the harshest of reprimands, evoked more wailing from Gabe. But somehow through his pitiful torture, Anthony noticed that Gabe was able to smack his older brother fiercely on the forehead with his palm.
Naturally, he was stuck with Gabe on the plane. After Gabe had gotten over the complete and ecstatic joy of 'widing the pwane', given Anthony a few more loving smacks to the temple with the palm of his small hand, and kicked the back of the seat in front of him countless times (Anthony had hissed for him to stop, but fortunately enough the woman occupying the seat was a mother of three and had told him that it was perfectly all right, honey), he'd reluctantly given in to the quiet call of his fatique and the lullaby hum of the plane, and mercifully gone to sleep.
"Anthony," Brenda called over her husband from their seat across the aisle, "Move his head, will you? He'll get a crick in his neck if he sleeps like that."
Looking up from his book, which he'd only now gotten the chance to read between the drive to the airport and Gabe's constant awakeness, Anthony carefully (please don't wake up, Gabe, he implored silently, Please, please, please, stay in your little Sesame Street Dreamworld) moved Gabriel's head until it was upright. It sank back onto his shoulder. Anthony frowned.
"Give me a little pillow or something," he said quietly.
"Here." Brenda stretched over a sleeping Richard and handed Anthony a pillow.
Working like an artist sculpting a statue, he raised Gabe's little head and slipped the soft white pillow between him and the edge of the car seat.
"There," he breathed, turned, and smiled at his mother. "I don't think I'd be able to make it if he woke up again," he said, sounding older than fifteen and looking younger, with his limp blonde hair still mussy. Gabe had gotten a few more sticky handfuls (Two-year-old hands are always sticky. You can put that down in your child psychology books, Anthony had thought) before he'd finally dozed off.
Brenda smiled, curly brown tendrils escaping her loose pony tail.
"You were just as bad," she said.
"I wasn't that bad," Anthony stated matter-of-factly. "None of them are that bad."
"They all are."
Sighing, Anthony leaned against his seat.
"You now have my complete and utmost respect, O sagely Mother One," he said.
Brenda grinned. For the first time since they'd left Bolivia, Anthony noticed.
"Glad I have your approval, O adolescent Offspring One."
"Think he'll like America?"
"I hate for his first trip to be in Manhattan, in that little apartment. Honestly, why your dad loves the place is beyond me."
"I like it," Anthony said thoughtfully, "It's sort of like going on vacation."
Brenda smiled again and leaned back into her own seat. "Going on vacation to our own home. Ah, the missionary life. Gotta love it." Her tone wasn't sarcastic, only just barely. She didn't regret her career. But she was riding the tired-and-ill bandwagon. After a while she spoke up again.
"You really don't mind all the moving around? You've never wanted to live in one place, like a normal kid?"
"Well, yeah, sometimes. But I like living in the places we live in. And I always have friends and stuff. It's not ever like being the new kid or anything, until now anyway. I could have it worse, I guess."
"If you're happy, I'm happy, babe. I'm glad you're taking this so well." She rolled over on her side and rested her cheek on her palm, elbow propped on the armrest. "Well, I'm going to take a nap," she announced, "I think maybe you should try and get some sleep too. You look tired. It's been a long day."
Anthony nodded slightly, mostly to himself. Yes, it had been a long day, and between his loss of hair and energy, Gabe hadn't exactly been the ideal traveling companion. He watched his mother close her eyes and went back to his book, knowing it could be a while before he'd get so perfect a chance to read it again. After they got off the plane, it would be helter-skelter again. He vowed not to let his parents bum Gabe off on him again. Deep down he knew they would eventually wear him down with guilt, or threats of punishment if push came to shove. Either that or they would take turns, passing him around like a hot potato.
But for now he had his book, and Gabe looked almost tolerable when he was sleeping. Deeply, as a matter of fact. Thank God for small favors.
On the television, Casablanca was playing in Spanish and Humphrey Bogart was saying (Anthony translated in his head), that, of all the gin joints of the world, she had to walk into his.
He found that he couldn't concentrate on his book. Turning his head and looking over Gabe's car seat and out the small, thick-glassed window, he watched the blue of sky pass by into more blue. His mother had said it would be at least nine o'clock at night in Manhattan when they arrived. That was, considering the time it would take them to grab something to eat and drive to the apartment that had been deserted, like a dog that couldn't go on vacation, for three years. Except, like Brenda had said, going home was like going on vacation.
"Ah, the life of the sons of missionaries," Anthony whispered to Gabe, and brushed back a wisp of yellow-blonde hair, still thin and baby-fine. Gabe's arm flopped over the side of the car-plane seat and a stuffed, pint sized, McDonald's Happy Meal rendition of Big Bird, 'BiBoid' as Gabe referred to him in his babyish but Yankee accent, escaped Gabe's clutches and flopped onto Anthony's seat. Anthony took advantage of the golden opportunity and stuffed BiBoid into his pocket as a hostage, knowing he could later use it to bribe Gabe into behaving. He felt a fleeting pang of guilt, imagining Gabe's face, all big brown eyes, when he saw that his favorite toy was missing (why it was Gabe's favorite might have alluded some people- but by now Anthony knew that kids always liked the cardboard boxes more than they liked the actual Christmas presents). But then Anthony remembered the mark on his hand between his forefinger and thumb, the blotchy red teeth marks barely noticeable but still there, and didn't feel guilty at all.
With BiBoid crumpled tightly into his pocket jail cell (Anthony wondered if Gabe might catch sight of the bulge in his jeans and put two and two together), he turned to the window and let his mind wander.
The last time they'd been to Manhattan (home, he corrected himself silently) had been before Gabe had been born. Anthony had been eleven and his parents had been on mission in Mexico. After the mission in Zimbabwe, where Anthony had been conceived and brought into the world, had been Mexico, and after Mexico had been Bolivia. Gabe had been born in Bolivia. Anthony remembered it clearly. That little crying bundle of wetness, looking up at him with brown eyes as big as buttons. Anthony, thirteen and striving for manly dignity, had actually cried when Gabe had wrapped his tiny fist around his forefinger. Like shaking hands, Anthony remembered thinking, it's like he's shaking my hand. Hello, big brother, nice to meet you. Looking forward to sharing my bloodline with ya. And then Anthony had cried. Modest, thirteen-year-old crocodile tears. And then his father, Richard, had cried. Brenda, who had already been crying, had cried some more.
A thin filmy string of drool was seeping from Gabriel's plump little toddler lips. Anthony tucked his hand inside his shirt sleeve and wiped it away. Then he wiped the Gabe-spit on the seat.
A flight attendant came by and asked Anthony, since he was the only conscious member of the Reeves family, if he wanted some peanuts. He told her he did and thanked her when she handed him a small plastic bag.
Of course, he wasn't yet aware that the next morning would be a fateful one. Of all the basketball courts in all the towns in all the world, Ben Tate would decide to go shoot some hoops in the one beside the Reeves apartment, and it would be the beginning of the end of what Anthony's reality currently was.
After the pwane ride, the Reeves stopped at a nearby restaurant and fed their starving bellies, desperate for real, fresh, hot food. Gabe kept himself amused by tossing handfuls of mashed potatoes at Anthony and decorating the table top with the applejuice from what was know as his "sippy" cup. After that, they boarded the station wagon (carried to the island of Manhattan by the ferry) and Gabe had even more fun at his brother's expense by scribbling a creative picture of a messy blob with a purple crayon in Anthony's neglected book.
"Gabe!" Brenda had shouted, the first to notice since Anthony was asleep, propped on his arm by the window. By the time Gabe's vandalism was discovered, the ninety-eighth page was almost completely overtaken by a waxy, violet, Crayola storm cloud.
"What!" Gabe barked innocently.
"How many times I have told you," she jerked the paperback away, "not to draw in brother's books?"
"Anthee say I can," Gabe lied sweetly, because it was the only explanation that would have been acceptable, had it been true.
"Yeah, I bet he did."
The car slowly came to a stop in front of a tall building. Richard killed the engine and the low murmur of the radio ceased, leaving silence behind.
"We're finally home," he said, almost in awe. Looking up at the top floor, where the apartment was, he noticed that he hadn't realized before then how long it had been since any of them had been there.
"Yeah," Brenda whispered.
"Home!!" Gabe shrieked, and that woke Anthony up.
"Hey kid," Brenda said, patting Anthony's thigh, "We're there."
Bleary-eyed and silent, Anthony looked up at the looming, imposing Manhattan building which held their apartment. Home. For a year, anyway, it would be home. For a year, the sirens and car horns from outside his window would sing him to sleep instead of the chirrupy call of nocturnal jungle animals. Anthony was excited and nervous. He was dreading being a new kid in school on Monday, but the scenes of the city, still alive and busy at nine o'clock, was enough to eclipse that feeling for now.
"Welcome to America, Gabe," Richard said.
Gabe, who seemed to understand what was happening, was quiet.