Our last week here Emma’s not teaching yoga. So we swim, make love, and swim. Charlie hangs at the yoga pavilion but comes here to cook dinner. Emma’s grateful, I guess, because otherwise she’d cook. I, however, have to ask why he’s doing it.
“Because I want to, Scott. And if that’s not good enough, let’s say I need the practice.”
“Practice for what, Charlie? You’re not opening a restaurant.”
“No, I’m not—” Charlie tips his head back, sniffing hard, “—opening a restaurant, Scott. I like cooking for my family.”
“What family is that?”
“All right then. My friends, you and Emma.”
He registers a rise in my continual exasperation, and asks, “What’s so terrible?”
Tonight Charlie’s cooking something special. Emma hints there’s a reason but won’t give me a clue even when we’re walking back from the waterfall and are almost home.
She’s wearing her black bikini and playing tag with the waves—leaving me alone awhile.
Ever since Charlie arrived this year, he annoys the shit out of me, and I can’t figure out why. He’s the same as always: a living, breathing party with keen intuition.
That day the policeman stopped by, Charlie was doling out the goods to anyone who felt like getting happy. That’s why those girls stripped on the beach in the first place. What pissed me off wasn’t the stupid B-12 injections; that’s Logan’s thing. But Charlie sitting down with the cop and telling him jokes in Spanglish that he learned from my dad’s housekeeper. It still bothers me, which is just insane.
Buddying up to the cop was smart. Necessary, really if Kitty wants to stay in business. And—Charlie was really funny with his Chicago Spanglish. He had the cop laughing and slapping the counter. Soon he’s trying to correct Charlie’s pronunciation. “¿Cómo está?” the policeman demonstrates. Charlie flattens it out like a south-side Chicagoan saying, “Come on Esta.” A little more lemonade and more laughs and the cop’s waving, “Pure Vida,” all around. Afterwards, Kitty grabs Charlie from behind, her arms around his wide girth until he spins to face her and she kisses his head. “Leave it to you, baby.”
After allowing me time alone, Emma’s holding my hand. “What is it about him that’s bugging you?”
I stroke the nape of her neck. “We’re not brothers. Maybe I’m tired of pretending we are. It’s time to start separate families.”
In truth, Charlie’s the oldest of four brothers that I doubt he’s seen since ninth grade when he moved in with me. His overwhelmed mother, working two jobs, told him he had to quit using or leave—he was supposed to babysit, not pass on his bad habits. His dad had moved to Atlanta when Charlie’s youngest brother was three. Kinda like my mom moving to Florida.
My dad liked (if not loved) Charlie. His serious, money-fixated eyes changed and brightened when I asked if Charlie could live with us. “Nothing I’d like better, Scott. The kid makes me happy.”
“Why didn’t I know this?” Emma acts like I’ve kept this from her on purpose. “Are you jealous of him? One thing you’re always saying, Scott, like it’s part of his name is that ‘everybody loves Charlie; everybody just loves him.’”
I tug her hand. “Emma, don’t talk like that. I mean it. Because nobody loves Charlie as much as I do. Nobody.”
We walk awhile, the two of us still confused about the same thing, when she says, as if this might be the thing: “He’s never even looked at me, Scott. Nothing close.”
“I know that, Emma. I’d be surprised if Charlie has ever intentionally looked at a woman. He’ll go along, like with Kitty, if coaxed, but it’s not what he’s after.”
Emma edges away from the water, wanting to sit in the shade. Like, maybe if we talk about this all the way through, we’ll discover a solution. She inches close to me and lays a hand on my thigh. That’s okay, though. She can leave it there. But goddamn it, why’d I mention that shit about Charlie not being my real brother? I never cry, but no way in hell I’m letting this once in a million fluke happen when Emma’s with me.
“Enough ancient history.” I fling her over my shoulder and she shrieks as if it’s scary. I toss her into the water and jump on her as a wave curls over us. We ride it in, side by side and let the next one drag us out where we swim side by side, like a pair of dolphins.
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