“I can’t believe it! Joseph why didn’t you say anything to us?
“Sorry Dad. Alexis always says if I tell she’ll beat me.”
“Oh my God! Alex… I –”
David was overcome and showered hugs and kisses over Joseph over, and over again. He looked at him intensely unable to comprehend the serenity in his eyes.
“It’s okay Dad. It doesn’t really hurt me anymore. Please don’t tell her I said anything. I don’t want her to hate me.”
“She doesn’t hate you, son. She’s just confused. We’re going to talk to her and I want you to promise me that you’ll come to us right away if she ever does this or threatens you again. She’s your sister and she needs to start behaving like one. Promise!”
“Joseph sweetie why don’t you go play with Matl and Angel. Your Dad and I need to talk for a while.”
Joseph hugged Alex and ran upstairs happily. David sat down on the couch in the family room. Alex sat next to him and put her arm around him. David put his face in his hands and let out a few tears.
“I don’t understand how we could have let this happen. I don’t get it. Joseph is such a sweet boy. Why would Alexis do this to her brother? This is going to kill Lauren. She’s already dealing with so much. This will kill her.”
“Dave, it’s going to be okay. Would you like me to speak to Alexis? Maybe she’ll open up to me and we can get through to her. Joseph told me that she tells him you and Lauren like him better than her. She’s clearly having some self-esteem issues.”
“Alex, we spoil that girl. We give her everything. That’s it. Isn’t it? We give her everything she wants. We’re feeding the rebellion. Damn! We’re horrible parents.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Dave. You and Lauren are great parents. I mean we’re not perfect. Maybe Alexis needs more attention than Joseph. Joseph is the youngest so naturally our attention is more towards the little ones. It’s not easy.”
“You can’t say that Alex… you and Donovan have five kids and they are all amazing! How do you do it?”
“Gosh don’t set off the fireworks just yet. We’ve got plenty we’re not doing right. You and Lauren are doing wonders. You’ve both been through so much.”
“Lauren… God I love her so much. I just feel sometimes I can’t help her. When she gets into these mood swings and –”
“I know. I wish she would take the doctor’s advice and take the meds. At least try for a while. It can’t hurt. I know the miscarriages were hell to deal with, for both of you but she can move on. She has two beautiful children.”
“You know how many times Joseph’s read Moby Dick? Like three times I think. I didn’t read that till college. It’s hard. We get so impressed and excited when Joseph shows how intelligent he is and I think it makes Alexis feel less worthy. We’re horrible parents!”
“Stop it! You’re not horrible parents. Kids don’t come with a handbook you know. We just deal with each situation as it happens and hope for the best. A few tweaks and Alexis will be right as rain.”
David looked at his best friend, grateful for her support. He began to feel nostalgic when times weren’t so complicated, overwhelming, a time when kids, married life, were not in the picture.
“Alex, you ever wonder what would have happened if –”
“Dave, come on. We’re both happily married and we have families now. Aren’t you happy?”
“Yes… I am, actually. But sometimes I do wonder if you and I… if…”
“No ifs. I love you Dave. I love Lauren. Donovan and I are meant to be. You and Lauren are meant to be. Now you’re our family, both of you. Right? We’re family. You both have Donovan and I to lean on for whatever reason and whenever. We’re here. As soon as Lauren gets home I’m going to talk to her about Alexis. I know she’s not balanced, and I should have a talk with her woman to woman.”
“You know when Donovan suggested we move across the street I thought it was so weird but now… I don’t know what we would do without you guys. We love you both.”
FIVE YEARS LATER…
“Umm… I want to… Okay.”
Joseph looked at Matl as if his life was tied to something bigger than either of them. It felt like the universe’s existence was tethered to their connection. He matched her smile and he allowed himself to enjoy the tenderness that came from her breath, her warmth. He enjoyed the scent of her sweetness. Matl cuddled up close and cradled her head on his chest.
“Wow… I can hear your heart. It’s fast. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I’m just happy I guess. My heart is happy to be close to you.”
“You’re so nice. You’re always so nice to me. Joseph?
“Tell me again about that college. Is it far?”
“Oxford is in England actually. Remember the map I showed you last week?”
Matl nodded looking up at him happily.
“Well England is across the Atlantic Ocean.”
“I guess you’ll have to get on a plane huh?”
“Yeah. It’s going to be great. Mom says I can graduate early and go to college by the time I’m sixteen.”
“Wow! That’s quick from now.”
“Matl you are so cute the way you talk.”
“You think so? Well, I think you’re nice. Your eyes are so blue.”
“I like your eyes better. They’re so dark and big. Like a black hole. Beautiful and mysterious.”
His words made her shy. When Joseph would say these nice things to her face became like the heat on a summer’s day. She felt it. She couldn’t explain how nice he made her feel. It was comforting, the soothing lull of something familiar, safe.
“You think when we grow up we will still be best friends.”
“Yes. We’ll be best friends forever. Even if I die… I’m still going to be your best friend. I will be watching you from the stars.”
“Oh no Joseph! Don’t die. I’ll be so sad!”
“Well… if we have to die, I want to die first. I don’t think I can live without you. You’re strong and I know you’ll survive better than I could.”
“I love you Joseph.”
“I love you Matl.”
The two children held each other and fell fast asleep in each other’s arms. Morning came and Alex found them both still holding on to each other on Matl’s bed. This was not the first time. It did make Alex happy to see them so close. It was their way, the habit of each other. Something felt different this time. Alex felt a discomfort surrender in her. She reassured herself with many “no worries” and smiled. The early morning rush slowed her thoughts as she lingered. Donovan noticed his wife standing in Matl’s doorway and he knew. He knew Joseph was there.
“Alex… Is this okay? I mean should we be worried?”
“It’s harmless. I think. Joseph knows what’s inappropriate and appropriate. We’ve spoken to Matl about good touch and bad touch. She would tell us if he’s hurt her in any way.”
“Well, Joseph is a special kid. I don’t think he would do anything to hurt her. For now, I think it’s fine.”
“They’re so close. I don’t know that we could stop this, even if we wanted to. They’re both so headstrong.”
“You’re scaring me a little. He’s thirteen. He’s… fuck!”
“I guess we need to speak to Lauren and Dave. We should be prepared for anything with them. For now, I think, it should be okay. I mean it’s just sleeping. They’re each other’s security blanket. We’ll keep an eye on them.”
“You better call Lauren. She’ll be worried sick.”
“I will. But I think she’s used to not finding him in his bed.”
Donovan smiled an uncertain smile, kissed his wife and left for work, leaving her to her thoughts. This friendship weighed heavily on her now. In her heart she knew their bond was special and breaking it would be detrimental.
© 2019 Mel Gutiér