Only two days, Natalie thought, as Janet marched through the “Domestic Arrivals gate, leading a swarm of passengers.
Natalie waved with one hand and fluffed her freshly colored “Natural Auburn” hair with the other. Her older sister looked disgustingly vibrant for having flown seven hours.
Oh, Lord, it’s going to be a long weekend. Can’t You help me conquer this once and for all? I hate these games.
Janet had flown cross-country to visit her boy, Evan, who had transferred colleges and become roommates with Natalie’s son, Nathan. “So, tell, me, how are they doing?” Janet wanted to know as soon as they were buckled into Natalie’s compact.
“From what I hear—”
“I was worried; I mean, they hardly know each other, even if they are cousins, and then Evan sent that letter.” Janet opened the side flap of her designer bag and pulled out the correspondence in question. She removed her wallet, keys, and tissues before huffing and throwing everything back inside. “Do you have reading glasses in here? Things just aren’t big enough without them.”
“On my nightstand. I only need them when I’m tired,” said Natalie.
“Lucky you. Anyway, I tried to talk Evan out of a summer session, but he’s so driven, so determined to excel.
“Nathan’s GPA is right up there.” Natalie merged onto the airport exit ramp.
“How do you like these small cars?” Janet asked. “Ron wanted to get me one, but I said, ‘Oh, no, God has plans for me; I can’t die in a sardine can.’”
“My faith runs deep enough for me to feel just fine getting thirty-eight miles to the gallon.”
“Thirty-eight you say? Is money a little tight then?”
Natalie snapped on the radio, nearly missing the interstate turn-off. The weight of a rolled-up, heavy remnant of childhood, sat on her chest. Embedded within was the stuff of ugliness. The rivalry lay dormant for long stretches, but still showed up at every reunion involving her older-by-fifteen-lousy-months sister.
An hour later, they turned into the duplexes.
“Will they be there?” Janet asked.
“No, but I have a key, so you can put your feet up and rest.”
“I’m fine. I joined a health club last year, you know.”
Natalie unlocked the front door, ushering her sister in and then almost bumping into her. Janet had stopped dead in the foyer, temporarily mute. Natalie followed Janet’s line of vision.
Beer and soda cans stood on tables, counters and floors. There were open snack bags fanning out from two club chairs that had been pushed to within a foot of a large screen T.V. where wires and blankets lay in a tangle. The chips sprinkling the Berber carpet looked like a bad attempt at leading Hansel and Gretel home. Natalie recognized the faded flowered sheets covering the windows.
Their noses wrinkled at the mixture of sweat, shoe funk, and garbage.
“Oh my,” Natalie finally said.
“Evan was always so neat at home.”
“He doesn’t even like pizza,” said Janet, referring to an open cardboard box with two half eaten slices left.”
They heard a scuffling from the kitchen. Natalie fully expected rats to emerge. Instead, two tall boys—one gangly and one bulky—leaped from the kitchen.
“Gotcha!” they yelled.
Natalie stumbled to the sofa where she removed a banana peel before landing.
Janet pulled her purse on her shoulder. “What’s going on here?”
“You two, is what’s going on,” laughed Nathan, plopping next to Natalie and kissing her cheek. “You two told us some whoppers.”
“Yeah,” said Evan. “I thought my cousin here was some over-achieving, brown-nosing jerk, and the last thing I wanted to do was to room with him.”
Nathan nodded. “Yeah, but then it took about two seconds to see the kind of smoke the two of you had been blowing.”
“Oh my,” said Natalie.
“Oh, you were just trying to teach us a lesson? I knew you didn’t really live this way.”
“Actually, Mom,” said Evan. “This is pretty much how we live.”
“Except for the beer cans and sheets,” said Nathan. His mother’s hyper-blinking eyes were beginning to make him feel bad. “We added those for effect.”
“So, it is a joke,” said Janet, taking out her digital camera. She looked around her and smiled, thinking how her friends would laugh. She said to Natalie, “My Evan’s such a card. He always had the best sense of humor.”
“That’s all you’ve got?” said Janet.
“Yup, that’s it; Game Over.”
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