| Dress. Check.
Hair and makeup. Check.
Finally, everythings together. I looked at my watch and discovered I have just enough time to make it to the church. Pulling out of my driveway I realized I didn’t have a gift. Then, I laughed to myself. Of course I don’t have a gift, Andy always adds my name to whatever he brings. I’m sure it’s a good gift.
Speeding off to the church, I wondered, Whose mother has a church wedding at this age? Thomas was supposed to be there and I wondered what kind of mood he was in. He seemed to have become more and more angry and withdrawn in the years since he’s been gone.
“I should’ve gone to Andy’s last night,” I said out loud. Thomas has always been there for me and as usual, I found other things to do on his first night in town. I smiled as I remembered those “other things” I did last night. Thomas understand; he always did. Both of my brothers understood me.
“Uh oh,” I saw both of them waiting for me on the steps of the church. I hadn't gone in years and couldn't believe Mom was making me do this now. As I walked up to my brothers, I could sense the tension between them.
“We were getting worried Sis,” Andy said, always the diplomat.
“Aren't you old enough to be on time for important events yet?” Thomas said with a touch of anger in his voice.
“Well, it’s good to see you too,” I said stepping in for a hug.
“I expected to see you last night at Andy’s,” Thomas replied as he gave me a quick but stiff hug.
“Something came up,” I said, avoiding the question.
“Mom’s waiting for you. Things are just about ready to start,” Andy interrupted us.
“Ok. I’ll go see what’s up.”
I walked into the church, avoiding the good Father who was greeting some people and encouraging them to sit down. Quickly finding my mother, I breezed in.
“The maid of honor is supposed to get the bride ready,” Mom looked beautiful in all her wedding finery.
“Sorry,” I said automatically, not really meaning it, ”it looks like you’ve had plenty of help.”
“It’s a good thing your cousins were here. I would still be undone.”
I found my flowers and hers and after checking myself in the full length mirror one last time, helped Mom out of the room to where her groom waited. I could hear the music starting. Mrs. O’malley was hitting those keys really hard today. I’ve never heard that old organ sound so good. Everyone was so happy that Miss Rose had finally found someone after all those years of being alone. Mom’s always been a big part of this church. It’s what she did after Dad died. I think every member showed up today to celebrate, its standing room only. I’m glad for Mom. She has been alone for far too long. At least now I don't have to worry about her anymore. She is Barry’s problem now.
Suddenly I heard my cue and began walking down the aisle. Andy and Thomas were waiting with Barry at the altar. My brothers looked so handsome. I could hardly believe it. My parents did make some beautiful children, myself included.
Taking my place off to the left of the altar, I then turned to watch Mom walk down the aisle. She looks really happy today, happier than I have seen her in a long time. I guess she deserves it after raising us. I probably caused a little more trouble than necessary. I watched her face as she steped into place next to Barry and decided this was a good thing.
Later, finding a chair and taking my shoes off, I sunk down in exhaustion. This has been a really long night. The wedding and reception had only one flaw, Thomas looked as if his face were set in stone. He was frowning with brows knit together, like a stone wall. I couldn't understand how he can be like that when there’s a wedding going on. His own Mother’s to boot. Oh well, I thought sipping quietly on my glass of champagne. Mom and Barry just left and I knew I could leave soon. I’m was sure Andy will stay and supervise the cleanup.
Thomas walked over, his jacket and tie off and shirt opened. He had a couple of glasses in his hand filled with an amber liquid.
“Finally, that’s more like it,” I said reaching for the second glass.
“This is more your style isn’t it, Sis?”
“Absolutely,” I said, taking a sip. I felt the liquid burning all the way down.
“So, how have you been?” he asked
“Are you still working at Rosies?”
“No. I’m helping at the Lighthouse. I answer the crisis phones.” I hadn’t worked at Rosies for three jobs now. I just figured Andy or Mom would have told Thomas. I was usually too busy to call.
“I guess I haven’t talked to anyone in a while,” Thomas sounded sad.
Just then Andy came over and joined us. I just knew the glass in his hand contained only pop. Andy wasn’t known for his drinking ability.
“Well, Sis, don’t you think you’ve had enough already?” Andy took his job of big brother seriously and always tried to reform me to his way of thinking.
“Give it up Andy. I’m a big girl.” Why couldn’t he see I had finally grown up?
Andy just shrugged his shoulders, he knew this was a losing battle. We’d been through this again and again. I could take care of myself. I didn’t need him or Thomas judging me or telling me what to do anymore.
“So where’s Bobby?” Andy wondered.
“Oh, we broke up.”
“Who’s the new guy?” Andy was taking advantage of the situation to pry into my life. He knew I had to be on my best behavior or Mom would kill me.
“His name is Steve. I’m sure you don’t know him.” Andy knew everyone in town. He would find out sooner or later.
“Leave her alone,” Thomas finally spoke up, “she has to live her own life.”
“You haven’t been around much lately. She screws up all the time. She can’t keep a job, boyfriend or apartment. I’m sure I’m going to have to look out for her for the rest of her life.”
“Forget it, Thomas. Andy will never change. He won’t ever understand why I can’t settle down like he has. I’m just a free spirit.”
Andy snorted. “Free spirit, huh? Then why do I have to keep bailing you out?”
Just then my phone rang. It was Steve, apparently wanting a repeat of last night. This was my chance to escape.
“Look, guys. Gotta go.” I put my drink down and gathered my things. “Lets have lunch tomorrow Thomas. Ok?”
“I’ll meet you at the diner around 1:00 tomorrow. Don’t be late,” he replied.
“No problem.” I blew both of them a kiss as I left the hall. Andy’s face grew stormy as I was leaving. I just knew there was a lecture in my future. He would just have to live with it. Then, I put both of my brothers out of my mind as I quickly sped off for my rendezvous with Steve.
The phone range as I was grabbing my keys to keep my lunch date with Thomas.
“Hello,” I said, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice as I was already late.
“Sis, can we talk?” it was Andy.
“Andy, I’m late for lunch with Thomas. Can we talk later?”
“Its about Thomas, there’s a problem.”
“I think he is in trouble.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“I’m not sure but he isn’t the same. I think his business is failing.” I thought about this as I remembered the last time I asked Thomas for money, he had refused.
“If Thomas is having problems, I’m sure he is dealing with it. Gotta go, Andy.” I hung up and hurried off to lunch.
I could see Thomas sitting in a front booth as I pulled into the diner parking lot. Quickly, I walked in and sat down.
“Sorry, Thomas. Andy called just as I was leaving.”
“Sis, you will never change. I fully expected you to be late. I’m not sure I’ve ever known you to be on time,” Thomas laughed.
He looked the same as always. I couldn’t see what Andy was talking about. He was quiet as I ordered my usual cheeseburger, fries and chocolate milkshake. I hoped he was paying for it.
“So what’s up?” My curiosity got the better of me.
For a minute, I thought he wasn’t going to answer. He just sat starring into his coffee cup.
“What do you think about moving to California?” Not exactly what I expected from my, oh, so private brother. For a moment I am stunned into silence.
“California? What for?”
“You could get a new start out there, Sis.”
“I like my life here.”
“Of course you would,” he replied sarcastically, “what, with Andy taking care of you along with his own family. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
“Andy doesn’t do that much for me anymore,” I protested. “Anyway, he only does what he wants to.”
“Andy does what he does because he is your big brother and feels obligated to take care of you. He thinks it's his job."
“Thomas, I just can’t move to California. I just got this new job and am back in my own apartment. Oh, and there’s Steve. Andy helped me with the apartment and I don’t want to let him down this time.” I could hear myself start to whine as I thought of excuse after excuse.
“Sure, I understand,” Thomas seemed defeated.
Our food arrived and for the rest of lunch we spoke only of ordinary things. When it was over, Thomas paid as usual.
“Thanks for lunch,” I said.
“Just think about California. You never know; you just may like it.” He gave me a hug and walked to his car.
Getting into my car, I felt a stab of guilt for the first time in my life. Thomas obviously had something big going on and I just blew him off. Did he need me in California for some reason? What would I do in there? I just couldn’t see myself heading out to the coast. Shrugging my shoulders, I again put them out of my mind. Both of my brothers could take care of themselves; they always had. They both took care of me whenever I needed it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it? That’s their job and I’ve always liked it that way. I didn’t have to do everything.
My favorite job was one that I didn’t have to do a lot and my current job fit perfectly. I worked on a crisis line and they weren’t usually that busy. Tonight was no exception. I chatted with my coworkers and dealt with any calls that came in. My mind kept turning over the conversation with Thomas from earlier in the day. During a call from someone who just needed a listening ear, it hit me. Thomas ate very little of his lunch and seemed a bit pale. He was also more quiet than usual. What was going on? Andy seemed angry at me but maybe he knew what was going on with Thomas. Andy didn’t usually get angry with me, frustrated and impatient perhaps. Thomas not eating much was unusual, in fact, he was a linebacker in highschool and ate more than anyone else I knew. Deciding to call Thomas first thing in the morning, I settled back into my work, confident that whatever was going on my brothers could handle it. After all, they always had.
Ringing from the telephone finally reached into my alcohol-induced slumber. I connected with friends after work and didn’t get home until late. The phone was an annoyance at best.
“What?” I was never nice at this hour of the night. Andy’s strained voice came over the line.
“Sis, Thomas is ill and is in the hospital.”
“Ok - I’ll be there soon.” I hung up and began finding some clothes. Thomas ill? My mind couldn’t understand the possibility. The thoughts I had earlier came crashing back and I made some connections that appeared to make sense. I drove to the hospital as quickly as I could.
Andy was in the waiting room when I arrived. He also managed to find Mom and Barry on their honeymoon because they were on the couch beside him. Their pale faces told me this was more serious that I could have imagined. Andy got up as soon as he caught sight of me and pulled me into a hug.
“Sis, I’m glad you are here,” as he pulled away, he noticed my makeup ravaged face and wild hair. “Rough night?”
“Yeah. I just got to sleep. What’s up with Thomas? Is he going to be ok?” I nervously asked.
“Let’s sit down. I’m not sure how to tell you this,”
“For god’s sake, Andy, you’re treating me like I will break. I’m not a little girl anymore and I can take it.”
He sighed and said, “Thomas is HIV positive and has an infection.”
For the second time that day I was stunned speechless and just sat down. The chair that caught me was hard and scratchy. Mom wept beside me and I finally looked at her.
“How?” I asked.
“We don’t know,” Mom said, avoiding my eyes.
“What do you mean, we don’t know? There are a limited number of ways to get HIV. How did it happen?” Andy moved closer as he realized I was close to hysterics.
“Calm down, Sis. Thomas will have to tell you.” He laid his arm across my shoulders.
“When can I see him?”
“As soon as the doctor comes out.”
Making my way to a coffee machine I grabbed a desperately needed cup. I couldn’t seem to clear my head and it was starting to pound. What was everyone keeping from me? What’s going on with Thomas?
The doctor came out and was speaking with Mom and Andy when I returned. They had relief on their faces as he walked away.
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Thomas will be ok and we can see him now if we don’t stay too long,” Andy replied.
I waited until everyone had gone in before walking into the room. I don’t remember ever being that scared. What would I do if something happened to my brother? He looked so pale lying there on that bed and there were so many wires hooked to him. Still, I hung back, I didn’t want to face this.
After a few minutes, Mom and Andy walked out.
“Don’t stay too long, Sis,” Andy gently reminded me.
Creeping closer to Thomas, I felt my body trembling.
“Hey, Thomas.” He looked really tired.
“Hey, Sis,” he sounded even more tired.
“What’s going on, Thomas?”
“Sis, I’m gay.”
“Is that what happened?” I didn’t want to upset him, at least not now.
“Yeah, I had a relationship and wasn’t careful. I’m sorry, Sis.”
“Sorry for what? It doesn’t matter to me if you are gay. Is this why you wanted me to move with you to California?”
“Yeah. I am still working but eventually may need help. I miss you a lot.”
“How can I help? I can barely take care of myself”
“I have faith in you. Now get out of here so I can get some sleep.”
My head was spinning as I walked out. What was I to do now? Andy and Mom looked up expectantly. I didn’t want to talk to anyone just yet. I had a lot of thinking to do.
“Sis, are you ok?” Andy asked.
“Yeah,” I said, not really wanting to talk. “Mom, Andy, tell Thomas I will be back tomorrow, ok?”
“Are you going to the bar?” There was anger in Andy’s voice.
“Leave me alone, Andy.” I walked out to my car and drove home. I just needed to think. Exhaustion set in and I went to bed.
The next morning things were much more clear. For my entire life my brothers took care of me and I never gave it a second thought. Now, one of them needed me, could I turn my back on him? Finally, I decided. I’m going to California with Thomas. He needed me and I’m wasn't going to let him down.
Back at the hospital, Andy looked me up and down for signs of partying. I think he was almost disappointed not to find any. He also looked tired.
“Sis, it’s about time you showed up.”
“Can I see Thomas?” I didn’t want to get into anything with him this morning.
“Why not,” sarcasm dripped from his tongue.
“Sounds like someone needs a nap,” I said sweetly and walked into Thomas’ room. He looked better already.
“Are you ready to go to home, Thomas?” I asked.
“Does that mean you have decided?”
“Yes and as soon as you are well enough, I’m driving you back.”
“That’s great. Did you tell them yet?” Meaning Mom and Andy.
“No, they are just going to think this is another one of my crazy, harebrained ideas. This time I don’t care. You need me. Nothing else matters.”
Thomas relaxed and looked happy.
“By the way Thomas, could you call me Kate? I think I am ready for it now.”
A few days later, Thomas and I were on our way. The trip west was mostly uneventful and I’ll never forget my first sight of the ocean. Thomas’ house was near enough I could go every day. Once he got back into his routine, I found a job and even enrolled in school. Andy is surprised that I haven’t once called back to ask for money, he thinks Thomas is supporting me and won’t believe that he isn’t. Moving to California was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thomas is healthy and that is the only thing that matters.