Chapter 3: Alex
I hung back in the hallway as mom opened the door, feeling more shy than I had in years. Part of me wanted to run and hide, but curiosity won out. The first thing I saw was a giant of a man, towering over mom. She's taller than me, but Ronald Bradley was more than a head taller than her. He smiled warmly first at her, then at me, and I felt my nerves ease off somewhat. It was a charming smile, filled with a confidence that made me trust him, instinctively. Ron was well built, but not overly buff, and his face was squarely cut. Handsome. He had quite dark skin, making me think about Puerto Rico or Hawaii. Some tropical island paradise with round-the-year sunshine. He handed mom a bouquet of roses and kissed her cheek politely.
"Hey Tina, you look great. Good to see you." Then he turned to me, and took my hand firmly, squeezing it tightly, but not painfully. "And you must be Dave, nice to meet you."
"Y-you too, Mr Bradley."
"Please, call me Ron, okay?"
"Dave, this is my son Alex. Alex, say hi to Dave."
While mom led Ron into the kitchen, chatting amicably, Alex and I remained in the hall, looking each other over. He was nowhere near as brown-skinned as his father, even though he was several shades darker than me. Mom had been right; he was no athlete, and the few pounds overweight were actually quite many. All right, he wasn't fat, but a bit rotund. Half-long brown hair, framing a face that looked a little childish, with rounded cheeks and large brown eyes behind thick, round glasses. Since he was just a couple of inches taller than me, I found myself thinking that he looked to be my age, if not even younger. I felt his eyes on me, and I knew that he was comparing me to what he'd been told. For a second, I imagined mom telling him about her tall, buff hulk of a son, blond blue-eyed sex-god with a killer smile and a face that melted girls' hearts all over town, and I couldn't help grinning at the thought. My smile shattered the awkward tension that had filled the hall, and Alex smiled back at me. With the ice broken, I was the one who broke the silence.
"Come on, Alex, let me show you my room before dinner."
Alex's voice was low and a bit grating, as if he didn't practice using it enough. My first impression was that he was awfully shy. I told him about my stuff, showed him my computer and the few swimming awards that were proudly displayed on my book shelf. He looked at my posters, his gaze remaining a bit longer on the movie poster for Fight Club. Every now and then he asked me questions, but somehow they seemed to be more out of politeness than genuine interest. Mostly, I was the one who talked. Luckily, now that I felt a little more at ease, I returned to my usual loquacious self. After a while, mom called us for dinner, and I couldn't really shake a feeling that I had made a poor first impression on Alex. He didn't give any signs that he'd thought I was too chatty, but I somehow got a feeling that I was far from what he had hoped for. Unable to quite cope with that at the moment, I chucked it all down to nervous paranoia, and decided to be nice, but not pushy during dinner.
The food was great, but that was no surprise to me. My mom's an excellent cook, and even though I'm eager to learn, I'm easily out-classed. Obviously, this was the first time she had cooked for Ron and Alex, though, and they just couldn't praise her enough. I flashed her a smile when she looked my way, and she returned it. I was proud of her, and I wanted her to know it. Mostly, it was Ron and mom who did the talking while we ate. I leaped in occasionally, but Alex said nothing unless he was asked a direct question. Ron scolded him slightly at one point for being so quiet, and I could see how Alex cringed, clearly feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to defend him, but I wasn't sure how he'd take that, so I kept my mouth shut. After desserts, mom and Ron retired to the living room, while Alex joined me for a stroll in the garden. It's not much, just a little patch of grass surrounding the house, a couple of flower beds that were in full bloom at the moment, and a couple of not-too-large trees.
"Nice place," Alex muttered, and I felt my heart skip a beat. At least he was trying, unless he was just being polite. "Not too much mowing, either."
"Well, that's my chore." I laughed. "Wanna share it?"
"So..." I paused, looking for something to say that wouldn't seem awkward.
"So... how do you feel about everything?"
"Everything?" He smiled slightly, then shrugged. "That's kind of a broad subject."
"Well, to narrow it down, how do you feel about the impending marriage?"
"Don't know." He looked away, but I could see his shoulders sag. "I guess it's okay."
"Yeah, okay like going to the dentist on your birthday. You don't look too happy, you know."
"Maybe. It was a bit sudden, that's all."
"You know they're having a baby, too, right?"
"So, what do you think about that?" I had to fight to keep from sounding irritated, but damn!, it was hard to keep up a conversation with this guy. "I think it'll be cool. I always wanted a baby brother or sister."
"I never really thought about that. I guess it's okay."
We sat down on the back lawn. It looks out over a huge field where the neighbourhood kids would always play. There was a road at its far end, then a forest after that. It's a great place for loafing about in the summer, even though it's far too open to try and get a full-body tan. Right now, the sun was setting to our right, displaying its reds and yellows across a few thin strips of clouds. To our left, it was getting really dark, and the brightest stars were coming out. We sat there in silence, and for the first time since I met him, Alex seemed to be quite at ease. He seemed deep in thought, and at times a smile would play with his lips. I noticed that mom had been right again. That smile was cute, and it really lit up his face. In the fading light I could easily see which features he had inherited from his dad. They shared the same short neck, and the same straight nose. I wondered what his mother looked like, but I was afraid to enter that subject. I knew I hated when people talked about how much alike my dad and I looked, and I guessed Alex wouldn't want to talk about his mom, either. As the sun finally went down, I got up without saying anything. I don't think he even noticed that I left. After a quick detour to the bathroom, I stopped by the kitchen to fetch a couple of sodas. Mom and Ron were still in the living room, their voices low and occasionally interrupted by kissing noises. Grinning to myself, I went back to Alex. He looked up at me as he heard the back door open, and as I tossed him a coke, he flashed me a warm smile.
"Thanks. But you don't have to stay out here. I mean, if you'd rather go back inside..."
"Can't." I shook my head. "I think they're getting semi-serious. Sounded like some smooching going on."
"Oh." He blushed, then grinned as he realised I was half joking. "Well, I'm glad my dad's finally found someone."
"But?" I sensed there was something left unsaid.
"But..." He sighed. "But... it's gonna be quite a change. Not that I really mind changing schools, but..."
"Leaving someone behind?" He nodded. "A sweetheart?"
"In a way." At this, he seemed to get defensive, so I decided to change the subject.
"Did they tell you we might get to share a room?"
"Yeah. I just... hope you don't mind. I feel like I'm intruding on you."
"Not at all, buddy." I touched his hand, but as he stiffened, I pulled back. "I just hope we can be friends as well as brothers."
"Yeah. I guess."
We both fell quiet again, but this time it was an oppressive silence, and I had no idea how to break it. It felt strange; at times Alex seemed to open up to me, then all of a sudden he would withdraw into himself again. There was more to this than mere shyness, I decided, but I was afraid to pry. What right had I to ask him to share his thoughts with me? What if he had worse troubles than I did? Suppressing a sigh, I decided to give him a break. After all, we had just met. It was too early to say what kind of brothers we would become. Instead, I lay down on the grass and started seeking out star constellations. To my delight, it was Alex who broke the silence this time.
"Do you often watch the stars, Dave?"
"Yeah, as often as I can. I'm glad we live a bit outside town, or they'd be really hard to see. What about you?"
"I love the stars. When I was little, I wanted to be an astronaut."
"What kid doesn't? I still do. Gonna apply to NASA?"
"As a scientist, then?" He laughed. "I don't really have the physique to make the cut."
"If they let John Glenn up there..."
"Yeah, well... Okay, but the chances are quite slim, don't you think?"
"Okay, so they are. For about 99% of the world's population." I grinned. "Including you and me."
"I guess. So what are you gonna become?"
"Beats me. I'm too young to make up my mind. Nothing boring. What about you?"
"I don't know. I guess... I don't know."
"Oh come on!" I sat up, wrapping my arms around my knees as it was getting a little chilly. "Tell me!"
"Well, I always liked kids. I use to babysit for some people back home, and most of the kids are so great. Maybe I could be a pre-school teacher, or work at a kindergarten."
"No need to be polite, Dave." He smiled, but it was a bitter smile. "I know it's kind of sissy..."
"No, really! It's cool. Tell you what, I was walking in the park earlier today, and I stopped to watch the kids that were playing. And I sort of pictured myself there, with our new little brother. I think it'll be great."
"For not putting down on me. Everybody in my class just laughed when I said I wanted to be a pre-school teacher. That it's just for old maids with strict glasses and their hair tied into a bun."
"Well, that's shitty. I think you should go for it."
"Thanks, Dave. That's kind of you to say. Even if it's not true, it's kind."
"It is true, believe it or not." I was starting to get uncomfortable. Alex looked so sad, like nothing nice could ever be said about him and be true. Instead of pushing it, I changed the subject. "Hey, want another soda?"
"No thanks. You get one, but I'll pass."
"Okay, how about..."
"Hey kids, how're you doing?" Ron had opened the back door without me noticing, and I jumped a little. "Listen, Alex, it's getting close to midnight. Are you ready to go home and hit the sack?"
"Yeah. Sure." He got up and started walking back inside. "See ya later, Dave."
"Yeah, you too, Alex," I replied automatically, before leaping to my feet. "Maybe we can do something next time. I could show you around the neighbourhood."
"It was nice meeting you, Dave. I'm glad you and Alex seemed to get along."
"Yeah, nice to meet you too, Ron."
I shook his hand, then Alex's, and mom kissed them both good bye. I could tell that Alex got very embarrassed, and when I grinned apologetically at him, he seemed to think I was teasing him. His face turned kind of sour, and he went out the door, followed by his father. Mom and I waved them off, then went back inside. She hugged me, and kissed my forehead.
"Well, that went fine, didn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess."
"So, what did you think of them?"
"I don't know. It's a bit early to tell. They seem nice."
"Well, you just spent almost three hours with Alex, so I guess you took off pretty well, eh?"
"Why so?" She looked at me worriedly, and I couldn't help letting my shoulders sag.
"He seems so shy. Almost like he was afraid of me, some times." I shook my head. "I'm not sure he likes me."
"Well, just give him some time. You're right, he is shy. He just needs to get to know you."
"He hardly wanted to talk, and when we did, he seemed to think I was teasing him."
"Listen, baby, Alex has had some trouble with his self-confidence. All he needs is some time. He didn't exactly scowl at you, did he?"
"Well, he wasn't all talons poison dipped, but he felt kind of distant. Like he wanted to be somewhere else."
"Mhm. But you did your best, sweetie, that's all we could ask." Suddenly, she grabbed my arm and dragged me to the basement stairs. "Come here, let me show you something!"
Without answering, she turned on the lights and led me down the stairs. Some of the junk we keep there had been moved aside, and someone had drawn lines in the dust on the floor. The basement was basically just a large room, with doors leading to the washroom and the central heater. I could see, however, that someone was thinking differently.
"Ron thinks we can turn this into a couple of rooms. Cleaned up, and with all the junk thrown out, it could be perfect for you and Alex. What do you say, Davey?"
"I don't know what to say..." I took a look around, and tried to imagine having a downstairs room. "It'll be bigger than my room is now, even half of this."
"Ron says he could fix it, if you're all right with it. We'd get to do some work, but he'd do the most of it."
"Sounds cool. And my old room would become a nursery, right?"
"Spot on. I don't really think either of you would like to share with a new-born baby. Especially if he howls all day long, like you did."
"I did not! I was a perfect baby!"
"Yeah, cute as a button and loud as an air-raid siren," she quipped. "At least in the basement, you and Alex would get some protection."
"Mom, I loathe you." I hugged her. "I think it'll be cool. Just takes a while to get used to."
That night I could get no real bearings on my midnight musings. My thought kept fluttering about, mostly centring on the coming baby, and on Alex. There was more to him than just shyness, I could feel that. More than just a poor self-confidence. I wondered if he had been bullied in school or something. But I knew I wanted to get past all that. To get to know the real Alex. He seemed nice enough, if a bit withdrawn, and I really wanted to be his friend. The thoughts of a possible romance were put aside. Like mom had said, he was definitely not my type. But since the topic of romance came up, something else did, too. My thoughts turned to Jim as I stroked myself to a quick release, not bothering to wipe myself off. However, as I lay there, enjoying the afterglow, Alex's face seemed to hang before my eyes. At a closer look, he wasn't too bad, and he did have a cute smile. With that thought in mind, I fell asleep.
Well, that's it for chapter three. Mind you, this is entirely a work of fiction. Any similarity between my characters and any now living or dead person or persons is entirely their fault, and they should be happy I don't press charges. :)
With this, I'm taking a break for the holidays. See you in 2003! As usual, thoughts and comments are very welcome to firstname.lastname@example.org.