W.A.R. Part Two - The Cold Winter
Chapter Seven - Brett's Mom
by Jeff Wilson
It was about one o'clock when we finally made it out of the house. The snow hadn't stopped and it was going to be a struggle to walk up the hill and through the woods between our houses. I hoped the rest of winter wasn't going to be as rough as the first day was turning out to be. Once my house was securely locked up, we began the slow trudge to Brett's place. We were both bundled up and warm enough for the journey. Brett had traded in his usual Yankees baseball cap for the warmer Yankees winter knitted cap. Through all the bad that Brett had gone through in the autumn the bright spot for him was that his beloved Yankees had won the World Series for the third straight year.
Since December the twenty-first is the shortest day of the year, we weren't going to have a lot of time to play around in the snow. It would be dark around five o'clock and I didn't want to be wandering around in the snow without light. The woods were barren and empty looking since the trees had shed their leaves. There was a pine tree here and there, but mostly the entire area was just white snow and brown trees. The place just looked so deserted and empty at that time of year. The wind was howling and bitterly cold as we made it to the top of the hill. We could see Dustin's house in the distance on our left, and we could almost see the ball field in Palmer Park on our right, far in the distance. There was about a mile or so distance from Dustin's house to the ball field, and a little less than a mile between Brett's house and mine. It was mostly uphill going to Brett's place, and the snow was making the hike even more difficult. I had spent a lot of my childhood in these woods. I considered the area my property. I could walk through it blindfolded.
I felt more and more nervous as we crested the hill and came closer and closer to the Reilly residence. I'd felt much more confident about helping Brett at my own house. But now as we were approaching our destination, I began to realize that I had no idea what I was walking into. Brett's mom was probably the smartest woman I'd ever met. She was very respected in the community and at her hospital up in Pittsburgh, where she was head of pediatric and adolescent psychology. She'd written books about the subject. She'd even been on television. She worked constantly, which is why Brett spent so much time with me and my family. She was kind of like an aunt to me. She always seemed to be surrounded by a whirlwind of activity and always seemed to be on the way to someplace else. She was so smart that she was kind of intimidating. I wasn't sure what I was going to say or how I was going to even approach the subject of Brett's dad with her.
Brett's house came into view through the trees. The red brick of the foundation and red paint on the shutters stood out starkly against the white of the snow. My legs were beginning to ache from the effort of our walk, and I was looking forward to the warmth of the house. We exited the woods through Brett's neighbors' yard. The old man who lived there, Mr. Fox, had died not long after my grandma last summer. Mrs. Fox was a nice lady and she paid Brett to mow her yard for a few bucks now that Mr. Fox was gone. Brett didn't need to work to get money, but he liked earning his own spending cash. His ultimate goal was to get enough money to get a cat or dog.
"So, your mom is home, right?" I asked Brett as we reached the patio and began stomping the snow off our boots.
"I don't know," Brett replied. "Probably."
"What do you mean you don't know? You better not have dragged me all the way over here through a blizzard for nothing!" I fumed.
"Relax. If she's not here I'm sure we can find something else to do," Brett replied. He opened the patio door without even using a key and I followed him inside. "Mom, you home?" he shouted as he shucked his boots. He slipped his shoes off without untying them and waited.
For a moment, I listened to the sound of an empty house. I could have punched Brett in the arm. He'd brought us all the way over here for nothing! But then Dr. Reilly walked into the kitchen to greet us. "Anthony Brett Reilly! What are you doing walking around in the middle of a snow storm? And of course you've dragged Billy out into the weather with you!"
I laughed. We hadn't been there for a minute and already Brett had received the full-name treatment. You always know you're in trouble when your mom breaks out your full name. It was especially rare to hear Brett called by his first name Anthony. It was so rare to hear it mentioned that sometimes I forgot that Brett was his middle name.
"Hi, Jen," I said. "It was my idea to come over." It wasn't technically a lie, after all, I was the one pushing Brett to talk to his mother.
Dr. Reilly smiled at me. "Billy, you're supposed to be the sane one. Oh well, why don't you head into the living room and warm up? I'll make some hot chocolate."
We stripped off our winter outerwear and headed to the living room to sit down while she made us some hot chocolate to help warm us up. Brett and I sat next to each other on the couch. It was a nice couch. Everything in Brett's house was nice. I'm sure they had some items in their house that cost more than Dustin's whole house. The living room was the largest room in Brett's house. There was a kitchen and dining room on the first floor as well as a nice bathroom. The kitchen and dining room were on one side of the house, and the living room took up the entire other side of the house. In between, there was the main hall and the grand stairway. The front door opened into that hallway. Brett's room and his mom's room were upstairs, along with another bathroom, the spare bedroom, and Dr. Reilly's home office. Then there was the basement with the game room and garage. You could fit my house and Dustin's house inside Brett's house and have room to spare.
The living room was warm and cozy despite its size. There were large bay windows facing out toward the front lawn. Dr. Reilly had several plants and flowers decorating the place. There was the couch and a few soft chairs around a beautiful coffee table. There was a fireplace and a soft fire was kindled inside. There was a piano in the corner which Brett could play better than anybody when he wanted to. He was quite good at it, but he was much more interested in playing his guitars. He could play a song on guitar just by hearing it a few times. He wasn't as good a singer since his voice had changed as he was still trying to get used to his voice being lower than it had been. Scattered around Dr. Reilly's recliner were at least fifty books, a stack of files, and paperwork galore. Even during her time off she was working. Even though she was head of her department, she still saw her own patients. Brett still called them "the freaks." She specialized in kids our age and he often complained bitterly to me that she spent more time with the freaks than with him.
"So," I whispered. "What am I supposed to say?"
"I don't know," Brett replied. "You're the brains of this operation."
"She's your mother," I replied.
"Just think of something!" Brett snapped.
Dr. Reilly returned carrying a tray with three coffee mugs each filled with a liquid that somewhat resembled hot chocolate. We thanked her and sipped the piping hot liquid slowly to keep from burning ourselves. It tasted absolutely terrible, but it was nice to have something warm in our bellies. Brett refused to look at his mom, or me. Instead he sat there holding his mug and staring at it. I can always tell when he's nervous because he won't look at me or anyone else. He'll fixate on some random item and do his best to fade into the background. There was no denying that Dr. Reilly was Brett's mom. She had the same blue eyes, the same brown hair, although hers was straightened and long and pulled back neatly in a ponytail and Brett's was currently a mess. They had the same dimpled smile, and the same cheek bones. You could definitely see the Irish heritage in their faces. Brett's great-grandparents had been born in Ireland and moved to America after World War I.
"So..." I said. "Nice weather, huh?"
Brett turned his slowly head and looked at me as if I'd just said the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. Dr. Reilly just laughed, "I guess so. Definitely the most snow since we moved here."
"Has it already been five years?" I asked. "Where does the time go? I remember when you guys moved here. I was playing in the woods up on the hill and I heard that a new boy was moving in here. I came down and got yelled at by Mr. Fox and I found Brett sitting on the back deck."
How I remembered the day. I'd found this boy about my age with wearing a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt and a Yankees baseball cap and staring at what looked like new shoes. I walked up to him and introduced myself, "Hi, I'm Billy. What's your name?"
The boy didn't answer, he just kept staring at his shoes. They didn't have laces, they were used Velcro straps instead. I thought that was pretty neat.
"This sure is a big house!" I continued. "Sure is a nice place. How old are you?" I bent down to look at the boy's face under the brim of his hat. "Hello? Are you one of those kids who can't talk? You know they make this voice thingy that will give you a voice. It sounds like a robot talking. I like robots. Do you like robots?"
The boy went from looking at his shoes to looking at my shoes. It was progress. "No? I like your shirt. My favorite ninja turtle is Michelangelo. He's the one with the nunchuks. He's always like, `duuuude' and stuff. Which one is your favorite?"
The boy had managed to look at my face. I smiled, showing the famous Billy Roberts chipmunk smile that my future braces would eventually fix. Then he went right back to staring at the ground. I frowned and sighed.
"I sure wish I had one of those robot voice things. I told my mom I wanted one and she told me I was being insensitive. Did you move here with your mom and dad?"
The boy looked me in the face and squinted his eyes in the sun. I noticed they were the prettiest shade of blue I'd ever seen and I liked them right away.
"Do you ever shut up?" he asked.
"I get asked that all the time," I replied cheerfully. The boy had talked to me! His voice was so soft and sweet. It was like music. "What's your name?" I asked again.
"Reilly," he replied. "Brett Reilly."
"Billy Roberts," I announced, offering my hand for him to shake. He hesitantly did so. "Brett Reilly? That's a real nice name. I don't know any other boys named Brett. There's a girl at church named Brett though. I like your shoes, Brett. They're nice. I'll bet it's a lot easier putting them on with Velcro than with laces. I'd like to have a pair of Nikes like yours someday but my dad says the day he spends a hundred dollars for shoes is the day money grows on trees. So, where did you come from?"
"We moved from New York City. It was a lot better than this place. I hate it here."
"Yeah, it's not a big city like New York, but Pittsburgh's real close."
"Pittsburgh sucks!" Brett scoffed. "We only moved here because my mom got a job there."
"What does your dad do?" I asked.
"I don't know. I've never met him," Brett replied.
"Really? Did they get a divorce?" I asked.
"No," Brett replied crossly.
"Did he die?" I asked.
"No! I don't... Just shut up about him. Okay? Just shut up completely. You just keep talking and talking."
"Okay. So did you ever go to the Empire State Building? It's the tallest building in the world."
"No it isn't!" Brett corrected. "It's not even the tallest building in New York! The World Trade Center is taller. Don't you know anything?"
"Oh... Sorry. I don't know much about New York City. Did you ever see the Statue of Liberty?" I asked.
Brett smiled, "Yeah. All the time. We lived in Manhattan by the Hudson. I hope we move back soon. I hate this place. My grandparents got killed in a car accident so my mom decided to move here. I haven't talked to her since we got here."
"Aw, I'm sorry," I said. I looked around the lawn and spotted a four-leaf clover. I picked it and gave it to him. "Here, Brett. This will bring you good luck. I hope you stay around here. I like you."
"You do?" Brett asked. "Why? I've been acting like a jerk to you the entire time you've been here."
"I don't know, I just think you're cool," I replied. "I've never met someone from New York City before. You know, my grandma watches me all the time when my parents aren't around and she takes me to the park. She's the one who showed me how to walk through the woods. Maybe you can come to the park with us sometimes?"
Brett elbowed me in the ribs and roused me from my memories. He directed me back to our purpose for coming to visit his mother without even saying a word. It was so funny how bold I was back then, before the world taught me to just shut up and not try to be too smart. "Anyway..." I said. "The reason we came over here is because..."
Dr. Reilly looked at me cockeyed for a moment and interrupted, "Billy, what happened to your lip?"
"Oh that? That's kind of why we came over here today."
"It looks like somebody hit you," she said, leaning forward in her chair to get a closer look.
"Well yeah," I said. "There was a fight."
"Why would someone do something like that to you?" Dr. Reilly asked. "Who did it? Do I know them? Can I help you to deal with them?"
"Well yeah..." I replied. Brett sunk lower and lower into the couch.
"When did it happen?" she asked.
"Last night at my birthday party," I answered.
"Somebody punched you at your own birthday party? Who would do such a thing?"
"Enough with the guilt trip! I did it, okay! You know I did it! God!" Brett blurted out.
"You did this?" Dr. Reilly asked. "Anthony Brett Reilly, I can't believe you would do something like this! I'm ashamed of you!"
"I'm ashamed too!" Brett replied. "I didn't want to hurt him. I'm sorry I did!"
"Why did you do it?"
"I did it because I was mad at him! It just happened. I just get so wound-up all the time and do stupid things and you don't even care!"
"Of course I care! I love you, Brett! You know that!"
"No you don't!" Brett insisted. His eyes welled up with tears. "You didn't even want me! You were going to abort me!"
Dr. Reilly looked shocked and hurt by Brett's words. "What are you talking about? Where did you hear such nonsense?" she asked.
"I heard you talking to Aunt Jess! I heard everything. I know that you hate me! I know you didn't want me and that I ruined your life! You said I was a mistake!" Brett said, defiantly trying not to cry but failing. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
"I never said that!" Dr. Reilly insisted. "I don't know where you got this idea from! When did I ever say you weren't wanted? You're the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me."
"I heard what you said about me," Brett replied. "I heard you on the phone. You said that you can't even look at me without seeing my father. You said he hurt you. It didn't take a genius to figure out he raped you!"
Dr. Reilly exclaimed, "Raped me? Where on earth did you get an idea like that? Your father didn't rape me. I have no idea where you would have gotten an idea like that!"
"I heard you!" Brett insisted. "You said he hurt you! He used you! He ruined your life! I heard you say those exact words!"
"I think we need to calm down and start from the beginning," Dr. Reilly soothed. "Brett, I wasn't raped. I don't know where you got that idea from. But it's simply not what happened."
"But you said..."
"I think I remember now what conversation you are talking about. I don't know how you heard it, but I guess you did. It was when I was talking to your aunt about our trip to New York. That was months ago! Is that what's been bothering you all this time?"
"I don't know," Brett replied. "Maybe..."
"I guess I should start at the beginning. You know that your grandparents were two of the top doctors in New York. I wanted so badly to follow in their example and be just like them. I graduated at the top of my class from one of the most prestigious schools in all of New York. I went to Harvard and I was going to become the best doctor in my field, just like your grandparents. After I graduated I went to med school at NYU. Everybody expected so much of me, and nobody expected more than me. But you see, I spent so much of my life working toward my educational goals and my career goals that I never had time for a personal life. Since I was working so hard I never had time for a boyfriend or anything that I thought would get in my way. I wasn't going to let anything stop me.
"Then I met Charlie. He was so wonderful... I'd never been with a boy, or hardly even talked to boys. Your grandparents sheltered me because I was the youngest of five kids and your Aunt Jess was so wild. But... Charlie... Charlie was wonderful. He was a law student from a very wealthy and politically-connected family and, well, to make a very long story short, our relationship blossomed. I was very innocent at that time, and quite foolish when it came to affairs of the heart. We became very close, and it was wonderful. Then I found out about you. I was so scared. My father was more Catholic than the pope. I was so afraid to tell him that I was pregnant. And yes, the thought of having an abortion came to mind. But that was just a moment of panic. Once I got myself calmed down, I thought I would just tell Charlie and he would want to get married and everything would be okay.
"But, it wasn't. Charlie didn't react at all like I expected. He totally changed. He accused me of cheating on him with a friend of ours from school. It was a terrible time. He was so angry with me. He threatened to sue me if I ever told anyone about you and even gave me money to abort you. I refused, so he dumped me I was left all alone. I never saw him again after that. He graduated in December and moved on, and I haven't seen him since. He was out of my life before you were even born. Neither one of us has made any attempt to speak to the other. I don't even know what happened to him.
"As for me, I went home. I told my parents I was pregnant. And to my surprise, they didn't hate me. They didn't disown me. They were disappointed, but they were so thrilled about you that it didn't matter how you were conceived. I had you that March and they fell in love with you from the get-go and dad spoiled you rotten. They kept you while I finished school and then I started my career. I even named you Anthony after your grandfather. He loved you so much."
"So why do you call him by his middle name?" I asked. "Why not Tony or something?"
"Everybody called my father Tony, Billy. I called Brett `Anthony' for about a year after he was born, but it just didn't seem to fit right. I gave him his middle name after a very dear friend of mine who had passed away, and I hesitated to use it at first. But once we started calling him Brett it just seemed to be the perfect name for him and that's what we've called him ever since. If I'd have given it more thought I would have reversed the names in the first place."
"But why didn't you tell me about my dad in the years since then?" Brett asked.
"Well, as you grew up, I knew that I should tell you about your father. But the right time never came around. He has made no effort to ever meet you and I didn't want you to get hurt when you found out. And I was afraid too of what you'd think of me. If I'd have known that this is what has been bothering you, I would have told you long ago."
"You could have told me, mom," Brett said. "I wish you had. I thought you hated me."
Dr. Reilly sprang up from her chair and knelt in front of Brett. "I could never hate you! I love you so much! You're my little peanut! The greatest joy in my life has been watching you grow up. I know I don't spend nearly enough time with you. I hate being away from you for even a little while. I moved us here to get away from the city and for you to grow up in a place with grass and trees and friends and space to live. I thought there would be more time for us to spend together here. I wanted you to meet people like Billy and his parents. But I also was ashamed. I had really messed up. Having you was not a mistake, but the way you were conceived was. I should have been more responsible. You have been the one who has suffered because of my recklessness. I know the other kids make fun of you. It hurts me because it hurts you. I didn't tell you about your father because I didn't want to hurt you, but you have been hurt just the same and I'm sorry."
"Do I look like him, mom?" Brett asked.
"I see a lot of your father in you, yes." Dr. Reilly said. "Everyone says that you have my eyes, but I think you have your father's eyes. He has the most beautiful shade of blue eyes like you do, like looking at the ocean... and those beautiful dark lashes. And the older you get the more of him I see in you. That's not a bad thing. He was very handsome, and so are you. I loved your father very much, and it hurt me deeply that we couldn't be together. Without him though, I wouldn't have you."
"Do you think that maybe if he met me he'd like me?" Brett asked.
Dr. Reilly's eyes welled up hearing the desperation in Brett's voice. He wanted so much to be loved by this man who he'd never even met. It hurt me to hear that lonely yearning that would never be satisfied.
"I know he would," Dr. Reilly answered, but she didn't sound convinced herself. "Now..." She stood up and put her hands on her hips. "Let's talk about last night."
Brett groaned. He fidgeted in his seat uncomfortably. "Do we have to?" he asked.
"Yes we have to!" she exclaimed. "While I can understand why you've been upset for the last few months, that's no reason to go around behaving like a hooligan. I would have never dreamed that you would hit somebody, especially Billy! I want you to explain yourself."
"Well..." Brett said softly. "I wasn't bowling very well and Dustin was picking on me like usual. I only needed a pin to beat him and I threw the ball in the fuckin' gutter."
"You what?" Dr. Reilly asked.
"I threw a gutterball. Anyway, Billy and me..."
"No," Dr. Reilly interrupted. "Not that. Did you just use the f-word?"
Brett looked shocked. "What? Me? No, I would never use that word, mom."
"No, I'm sure you just said the f-word. Billy, did you hear him?"
"No. Brett never uses that word," I lied. Of course I'd heard him. Brett used the f-word like Michelangelo used paint. "I don't think I've ever heard him say a bad word, Jen."
"Now you're just being funny, Billy," Dr. Reilly said. "Trust me, I've heard my son's language when he's angry. And you shouldn't cover up for him when he's misbehaving. You boys are like two peas in a pod... I could just wring your necks sometimes. You know that? So how did Billy end up getting punched?"
"He pissed me off and I popped him one," Brett explained. He didn't tell her what I'd said. I knew he wouldn't. We never ratted each other out. If I'd had my way, she would have never even known that Brett had slugged me.
"I think you and I are going to have to have a serious discussion later about the way you've been acting lately. After the suspension, and what happened on the bus, and now this... I'm very disappointed in you. You know better, Brett."
"I know," Brett pouted. He didn't like being scolded, but he knew he deserved it. He'd been acting like a jerk for a while now and he knew he had to shape up. "I'm really sorry, mom."
Once all was forgiven, Dr. Reilly offered to make us lunch. It wasn't nearly as good as anything my mom could make. It was just soup from a can and some burned grilled cheese. I could see why Brett was always so eager to eat when he was at my house. But the warm food was appreciated anyway. And because she was scheduled to work the night shift at the hospital, Brett was allowed to stay at my house again that night. I didn't even bother to ask mom and dad if it was okay, because Brett was always welcome to stay with us.
Brett was behaving noticeably different the rest of the afternoon. He looked like the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders. He laughed and joked around more happily than I'd seen him act in months. Now that he didn't feel like a mistake and a burden, it was like he was the Brett Reilly I'd known for so many years again. I was happy just to see him smiling again. I had missed that a lot!
He fed his animals before we left. Sneaker the snake looked hungrily at Brett's guinea pigs from his glass enclosure, but he settled for the mouse that Brett offered him. Iggy and Squiggy the iguanas feasted on the most delicious bugs. I believe that the last several months was the longest Brett had gone without adding to his ever-growing collection of animal friends since I'd known him. For the first time in a while, he pined for a dog or cat to make his life complete, and I knew that Brett truly was himself again!
Dr. Reilly offered to drive us back to my house, but we wanted to walk. The snow had stopped falling, and we still had about an hour of sunlight. As we put our winter gear back on, she watched us and smiled. When at last we were ready to go, she grabbed hold of Brett, squeezed him in a tight hug and kissed him on the cheek. "Mom!" he cried and wiped his face with his sleeve. But he was laughing about it. Then she got me too.
"I love you boys so much!" she said. "Be careful in the snow out there. I don't want to find your frozen carcasses in the woods."
We all had a good laugh and then I led the way back into the woods. The journey back toward home seemed a lot easier than it had been earlier. I was so happy that Brett was feeling better. I walked faster than him and was soon several yards ahead of him.
"Hey, keep up, will you Anthony!" I teased. I knew he really hated his first name, despite its meaning.
"Shut the fuck up, Willy!" Brett replied. He knew I hated that name even more than he hated being called Anthony. I slowed down and he caught up to me.
I changed my voice to sound like a nagging woman's voice. "Did you just say the f-word Anthony?"
"Do you ever shut up Willy?" Brett replied and laughed. We reached the top of the hill and looked out over the town. "You know what?" he said. "I'm glad we moved here."
Hi fellow internet traveler! Thanks for reading! I really appreciate it! So, we finally got to meet Brett's mom. We also learned Brett's first name. We're only three chapters away from the end of this Cold Winter! As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.
You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brett's journey isn't over yet. A major event is on the way... next time!