Written by Sri. :)
I'd been holed up in my room for about half an hour, pacing with different Imagine Dragons songs roaring in my ears to help me work off my anger. (Most people would use more peaceful music, but I usually just set my iPod to whatever songs fit my mood at the moment... and it works.) Then my stomach rumbled with hunger, and I knew I'd have to go down and face my family again. I hadn't eaten anything since lunch, and it had been over five hours since then.
I clicked off the iPod, pulled out my earphones and tossed them both onto the bed, checking to make sure they landed alright before heading down the stairs. The sound of voices echoed off the paneled walls. I wondered briefly if Mom and Dad were lecturing Owen, and the thought satisfied me... but when I got closer to the front room, which I had to pass through to get to the kitchen, I heard a deeper, vaguely familiar voice coming from it.
A moment later, Owen flung open the door, startling me. He didn't seem to see me as he ran off down the hallway to the front door, a wide smile on his face. I scowled. He certainly didn't just get lectured.
I pushed my way into the front room, where a man was sitting on the couch. He rose when he saw me, then grinned like Olaf the Snowman. "Mary!"
The face was very familiar. I had a sudden impression of me sitting on the little swing in the old park in Georgia, clutching the handles tightly and shrieking while a man pushed me higher and higher, laughing gently. I felt about seven years old. Finally, Mini Me cried, "Stop, Uncle Tom! My fingers are slipping!" And the man brought the swing to a halt slowly, lifting me off it carefully...
"Uncle Tom," I said, shocked.
If it was possible, his smile grew even wider. His eyes sparkled. "You remember me. You've grown up so much, Mary, you look just like Eliza now."
I sat down suddenly. "Of course I remember you. But you..."
His smile faded slowly. "What happened six years ago was clearly my fault, dear, and that's why I've come to apologize. To Eliza and Jack, and to you and Owen. But you- you don't... dislike me now, right...?"
I remembered more. Uncle Tom dropping by after work, bringing us huge bags of chocolate, which my mom would later scold him for. Helping us unwrap presents during Christmas. My stomach rumbled again, interrupting my reverie, but I ignored it. I shook my head slowly. "But how come you're in Illinois now?"
"I moved here three years ago," Uncle Tom said, his tone relaxing. "I'm so glad your family showed up when you did. My wedding is in three weeks."
That was another shock. I couldn't picture messy, carefree Uncle Tom, of all people, getting married. "Your wedding," I said flatly.
He smiled. "Yep. I'm not the same person, Mary, and that's why I ran over here to make amends with y'all as soon as I found that you were here. Funny coincidence, eh?"
"No coincidence at all," a voice said from the doorway, and I looked up to find Mom standing there, her arms crossed. Her stance itself was defensive, but her eyes crinkled ever so slightly, and I suspected that she'd heard most of our conversation.
My stomach let out a long grumble, bringing a flush to my cheeks. I rose quickly. "I'll just get myself something to eat now," I said, leaving the room quickly. I had the feeling Mom wanted a little privacy to catch up with her brother.
In the kitchen, I opened a pack of crackers and cheese and wolfed it all down, the salty taste bringing my dry mouth alive with a jolt. I got myself a glass of water and exited the kitchen by the door that opened into the dining room- and stopped abruptly when I saw Owen perched there with his laptop, typing away busily.
I moved sideways along the wall to get to the stairs. But Owen had heard me push through the creaking door. He put out a long arm, catching the sleeve of my jacket. I set my glass of water down on the table and turned to face him defiantly, realizing that this was the same spot where I had covered for him in the morning with the broken vase. That seemed so long ago...
Owen stopped typing and looked at me, like he was a receptionist and I was the one who had disturbed him. I felt my temper sparking already. "What?"
"What do you mean, 'what?'" he said, eyebrows furrowing slightly.
"I mean, what as in what was the reason for stopping me right now?"
Owen flinched slightly, like my words had had enough power to wound him physically. "Sorry," he mumbled.
I pursed my lips. "For what? Fighting Joe, or lying about when I'd be back home?"
"Both." He exhaled. I could see a nerve throbbing in his temple. "Look, Mary... You just met Uncle Tom, right?"
"Uh, yeah, but Mom came in... so?"
"I was talking to him, and he said something about siblings not fighting or whatever."
I stared. "So you're apologizing. I never thought you were this cliché, Owen." But I let a hint of a smile show through my voice.
Owen looked at me. "I was just thinking, you know how Mom and Uncle Tom fought..."
I nodded, leaping up to sit on the counter. That had been a bad time. Mom had stalked about the house like she was possessed, snapping at us all for days. We'd had to deal with her like we were adults already, instead of eight years old, all patient... It eventually wore off, but Mom was never quite her old, happy self again. And we'd never even known what caused the fallout, too afraid to ask.
"I never want that to happen again," I said softly, voicing what I thought he wanted to say.
"To Mom... but I also don't want it to, uh, happen to... us, y'know?" he said, embarrassment coloring his voice.
It took me a moment to understand what he was saying. When it hit me that he was talking about our future as adults, for a moment, I just smiled at him. Then I found my voice- and started giggling, eventually breaking into laughter. I myself didn't know what was so funny about the situation, but I laughed and laughed, until my mouth went dry and I had to drink some more water.
Owen half-glared at me, but there was no antipathy in it. I could tell he was itching to laugh at himself, too, but obviously he wouldn't. I kept laughing, letting out the day's frustration, nervousness, elation, anger, shock- all of it. Then I sat there on the counter, leaning on Owen's shoulder like it was a rock: the rock that steadied me, that sometimes wavered underneath... but in the end, would never let me drown.
"Did he tell you he's getting married in three weeks?" I said finally.
"Uncle Tom?! No way!"
"He told me." I smirked. "Let's go ask him about it."
Owen nodded, offering me a hand as I prepared to jump off the counter. I gripped it, and right before I swung off, my eyes caught the bolded title on the Word document he'd been working on.
My Fantastic Family, it said, and I thought I couldn't agree more as I fell into step beside my brother.