Staring at the screen, re-reading Lynn’s text multiple times he wondered what help he could give his perfect brother. It always seemed to Gene that Casey was the perfect kid, never got in trouble, did as he was told. What bothered Gene the most was how Casey always sided with their mother when it came to him. Now that he was sober he could kind of see why but it didn’t lessen the hurt he still felt. The rejection he felt. They used to be friends when they were little but as they grew older the rift between them grew wider. The night he learned about Robert’s disappearance Casey was so willing to believe he was some how at fault. That accusation still hurt even though Casey apologized it didn’t lessen the blow that Casey thought so little of him.
Before Casey left night he told Gene to come over if he needed to talk. Gene took that offer to mean ‘I don’t trust you not to break down and drink’. He didn’t doubt Casey was sincere in his offer but he couldn’t replace Robert. Even though he wanted someone to talk to, he spent the night listening to his younger brothers sleeping around him too afraid to take Casey up on his offer for fear of doing or saying something he’d later regret.
As much as he loved his dad he couldn’t help but feel he choose his mother over him. He couldn’t understand he could put up with the old ball and chain that masqueraded as wife and mother. Sure he understood in principle that she couldn’t help it being mental but it didn’t make the past go away. It couldn’t change the past and the pain she caused. He hated her and he doubted that would ever change. Robert was the only one who understood the deep-seated pain and fears he carried around inside him. He knew ow to the best out of him without pushing all of his buttons in the process. He desperately wanted to ride to the rescue and find Robert and bring him. As he had no idea what happened or where to look he would go along with his Dad and trust that Robert was safe.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts as he realized his mind had drifted from the matter at hand. Yawning he knew he should probably leave now so he’d be there before noon. If he did that he’d probably fall asleep along the way make things worse. Debating whether he should reply or not he turned his phone off too tired to worry about it. He couldn’t do anything until he had some sleep.
Yawning again he picked up the sleeping bag then decided to tell Aimee he’d be leaving for a few days. Knocking softly on the closed-door he called out “Aimee are you awake?” He listened at the door waiting for a response. A soft rustling from inside assured him she was still awake.
“What is it?” her voice carried through the closed-door. Leaning against the door Gene closed his eyes before replying “I have to leave tomorrow. Something came up at home and they need me.”
On the other side of the door Aimee stood wondering what she should do or say. She wanted to submerge herself in a video game where she didn’t have to worry about the real world. With Gene gone she could do that. There was something in his voice that tore at her heartstrings, he sounded so lost and sad. Should she offer to go with him? Wishing there was a user manual to guide her through life she opened the door to see Gene disappearing into the other room.
Should she follow him? Maybe she should text Ivy for advice. Standing with the door open indecision written all over her face. It shouldn’t be so hard. She cared about Gene and he was hurting right now. Squaring her shoulders like she was about to face a firing squad she knocked on his door “Gene are you alright?”
A muffled sob was her only response. Opening the door she found Gene lying on the floor wiping his eyes as if he had been crying. Smiling a little she realized for a guy Gene wore his emotions on his sleeve for all to see. Not at all what she expected. Going to him she silently wrapped her arms around him. After a few minutes of silence Gene mumbled “thank you.”
Taking a deep breath to brace herself she asked “tell me what’s wrong. I know something terrible has happened or you wouldn’t be so upset.”
Taking a shaky breath Gene told her everything he knew about Robert’s disappearance and ending with the text message. “I know it’s a lot to take in and believe me this is just the tip of the strangeness that I call my family. You don’t have to come with me I’m not expecting that … just promise me you’ll be here when I get back.”
Squeezing him tight she realized how her reluctance to listen to him earlier had wounded him. She had closed herself off from him unable to handle the emotions that were engulfing her. In truth she wasn’t sure she could handle this but she was willing to try. She didn’t know what she could do to help him or his family but she could do this “of course I’ll be here because I’ll be with you. Unless your planning on leaving me behind in Barnacle Bay.”
“You’ll come with me?” Gene asked astonishment and hope filling his voice.
“Of course I will,” she laid her head on his shoulder. “Gene you don’t have to walk on egg shells with me. I may not know how to react to real life situations but I’ve got to learn. Just be patient with me if I overreact or close down. All I ask is time to assimilate what’s happening.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he kissed her cheek “promise me you’ll do the same for me. I’ve used alcohol to cope with emotions I can’t handle. So I might not react like most normal people either. I can’t handle a lot of stress and for me my family is the greatest stress in my life.”
“We make quite the pair,” she joked closing her eyes. Before drifting off to sleep she mumbled “together we can get through this”
The next morning they woke up in each others arms on the floor. Smiling Gene looked at Aimee’s peaceful face asleep beside him. He wondered if she knew how beautiful she was to him. Probably not since she blushed every time he complimented her. He doubted he would ever grow tired of making her blush.
She opened her eyes as Gene gazed at her. “What? Am I drooling or something?” she asked sitting up wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. Laughing he leaned over to kiss her “oh gross I haven’t brushed my teeth yet,” she pushed him away.
“Neither have I,” leaning in again Aimee kept her mouth firmly closed and her lips stiff. “Hey what kind of kiss is that?”
“The only kind your going to get until I brush my teeth.” Getting up she dashed into the bathroom.
A few hours later they arrived in Barnacle Bay. Turning to Aimee “this is it. The place I grew up.”
Gazing at the house in front of her Aimee shook her head “It’s not what I imagined. As famous as your family his I was expecting something …. I don’t know bigger.”
“My dad isn’t one for show,” Gene shrugged. “I don’t think any of us knew how famous dad was for being a chef.”
Walking towards the house Aimee stopped fidgeting with her fingers. “What’s the matter? Nervous?” Gene asked.
“A little,” she sighed. She hated being so shy; especially when she wanted to make a good impression. “I hope they live me.”
“Don’t worry about it. Michael’s a fan so he’s going to love you Dad will like you because you make me happy. Mom …. ” Gene made a face “I could care less whether she likes you or not.”
“You don’t like her very much do you?” Shaking his head he grabbed her hand and started walking again. “No I’ll tell you about it sometime.”
Coming into the house Gene found his dad waiting for him. “Hey dad this is Aimee.”
“It’s nice to meet you Aimee,” William said welcoming her into the house. “Michael’s looking forward to meeting you. Actually he’s in his room setting up the games he wants to play while your here. Personally I think he’s hoping you’ll ask him to be a guest on one of your video commentaries.” William walked to Michael’s room “son you have a visitor.”
Coming out of his Michael saw Gene and ran to give him a hug. “It’s good to see you.” Pulling away he noticed Aimee “Is this?”
“Yes this is Aimee Vera,” Gene chuckled as Michael practically wiggled like a puppy in his excitement.
“I’m so happy to meet you,” he held his hand out then kept talking a mile a minute as he led Aimee off to his room. Aimee turned around smiling at Gene mouthing “you owe me.”
Laughing Gene said “admit it you’re looking forward to playing so I owe you nothing.” Sighing he turned to his father “what’s wrong with Casey?”
“What do you mean?” William tried to evade the question.
Smiling Gene sat down “don’t worry dad I’m nt going to crack, Aimee won’t let me.” William gave him a concerned look “it’s not like that. She doesn’t want to control me like Tracie. She makes me want to be a better person because I love her and don’t want to disappoint her.”
“Good,” William looked relieved and he was glad that his son seemed to be headed down the right road for once. “Have you heard from Casey?”
Shaking his head Gene frowned “no but I received a text from Lynn begging me to come and help. What does my perfect brother need?”
“Help,” William sighed leaning forward in this chair. “I think he’s been drinking … a lot.”
“Casey?” Gene asked incredulous “I wouldn’t think Casey would ever drink, not after all the grief he gave me.”
“Gene I know there’s hurt feelings between you two but can you put them aside just this once.” William waited until Gene nodded “I think what put him over the edge was Lynn refusing his proposal.”
“She said no but I thought …”
“I know I thought it too. She said no. He was upset. Asked me to watch Eddie for a couple of days until he cleared his head. That was a month ago.”
“A month ago.” Gene said in alarm “and no one’s heard from him or seen him in all that time.”
William shook his head “he’s alive. I know that he grumbles for me to leave him alone. I don’t know how to get through to him.”
“But you think I can,” Gene stared at his father thinking he must be off his rocker. What could he accomplish that his dad couldn’t?
“Gene please” the entreaty in his dad’s voice tore at him. “Please try.”
Standing up he put a hand on his father’s shoulder then he left. Driving to Casey’s house he realized he had never been there. In fact he didn’t know much about Casey’s life in general. What could have caused his perfect brother go off the deep end? Parking in front of Casey’s house he noticed despite the approaching dusk no lights were on in the house. Either Casey wasn’t home or he couldn’t be bothered to turn the lights on. He knocked on the door after several minutes he knocked again yelling “Casey let me in.” He heard a low grumble telling him to go away.
Well he’s alive. Gene sat on the bench on the porch trying to decide what to do next. What he wanted to do was go home and let Casey wallow in his misery like he had let him do. But he promised his dad that he would try. Knocking and yelling didn’t really count as trying, did it? What would Robert do? He wouldn’t give up. Gene smiled, he may not be Robert but he knew how he could get in. He stood up and braced himself to kick the door open.
Stepping into the house Gene stopped in his tracks taking in his surroundings. “What the hell?” It was like nothing he had ever imagined Casey’s house looking like. There were dirty dishes and clothes every where. Empyy bottles littered the floor and a cat howled from somewhere inside the house. The stench was enough to bring tears to his eyes. Fighting his gag reflex Gene walked further into the room “Casey?”
“I told you to go away,” came the slurred response from the corner.
“I can’t do that,” Gene said kneeling beside his intoxicated brother.”
Breathing heavily in Gene’s face Casey held up a half empty bottle “have a drink.”
Knocking the bottle out of Casey’s hand Gene realized he didn’t even have an urge to drink. The smell was all around him and all he could think was how this was what he must have looked like all those times he was passed out on the living room floor. Not a pretty sight. He felt no pity only disgust for his brother and that too must be how Casey felt about him all those times. “I guess brother you and I aren’t so different after all.”