The taxi let me off in Grandma’s driveway. Someone, probably my brother, had shoveled the driveway and the walkway, but they had done it in such a lazy fashion that most of the snow was falling off the pile back onto the sidewalk. Typical Mike. Can’t leave him unsupervised for a minute.
But he is unsupervised now. We both are. The phone call came in the middle of the night two nights ago. A social worker from the hospital made the call. Not Mike. My own brother couldn’t be bothered to call me and inform me of the death of our parents. The social worker said it was a head-on collision and death was instantaneous. Drunk driver, she told me. The driver lived, naturally, with only a broken arm and a few facial lacerations to show for it.
I stepped up to the front door and rang the bell. Years ago, before I left town, I would have just walked right into the house as if I owned the place. Not now though. It had been too long. Mike answered. His long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail. He was unshaven and the orange streaks down the front of his Mario Brothers t-shirt told me he’d had pizza for lunch. Or maybe Taco Bell. He forced a smile at me.
“Lindsey, hey. We were just talking about you,” Mike muttered. He stepped back from the door so I could wheel my suitcase in and wipe my feet.
“How’s she doing?” I asked.
Before he could answer me, Grandma entered the hallway. Her eyes were red-rimmed and watery. She clutched a Kleenex in one hand. She smiled when she saw me.
“Oh, Lindsey. How are you, sweetheart?” Grandma cried.
I walked up to her and wrapped my arms around her, almost nauseous with guilt.
“Hi, Gram,” I said quietly as I held her. “I brought you some tea from that English shop at the airport.”
As she let go, she brought the Kleenex to her nose.
“Oh, aren’t you sweet? Thank you dear. Come on in to the kitchen and sit down.”
I took off my coat and hung it on the rack by the door and followed Grandma and Mike down the hall to the kitchen.
The counters were full of food brought over by Grandma’s neighbors and church members. There were chocolate cakes, oatmeal cookies, apple and cherry pies.
“The fridge is full of casseroles,” Mike explained. “Over at our house, too. Well, my house now, I guess.”
I cleared my throat and looked him in the eye. “That’s something we need to talk about. I think we should sell.”
Mike’s eyes popped open. I could see in the bright light of the kitchen that his eyes were red like Grandma’s, only I knew perfectly well they weren’t red from grief.
“What do you mean sell?”
“Sell the house. We’d split the money, of course. But that would be one less thing to worry about,” I told him.
Mike sat down and said nothing. Grandma brought me over a cup of coffee and sat next to Mike.
“We don’t really need to talk about this now, do we?” Grandma asked.
“I don’t see why not. I’m only here until after the service anyway. And I won’t be coming back anytime soon. No better time than the present.”
“But where am I supposed to live?” Mike asked.
“You’re a big boy, Mike. I’m sure you’ll find someplace. And besides, you’ll have money to make a down payment on a new place. Or a deposit for an apartment.”
Mike let that sink in for a minute then made his counteroffer.
“What if I keep living there and take care of the place? I mean, Dad had me doing the gutters and the yard work anyway.”
“That’s not an option, Mike.”
He frowned at me and his face began to flush.
“That’s not fair Lindsey! Why do you get to decide everything?”
I smiled calmly at him and patted his hand.
“Fair or not, I’m the executrix of the will, I’m the oldest, and I am an attorney,” I reminded him. “Or do I need to show you a copy of the will? Because I can, you know. I have it right out there in my briefcase.”
“Bitch!” Mike glared at me from across the table. Grandma dropped her cup into her saucer.
“What did you say?” I growled.
“Michael Wayne Shepherd, watch your language young man!” Grandma scolded.
Mike sat quietly, not moving. His nostrils flared, his eyes shot daggers.
“What. Did. You. Say,” I repeated.
“You heard me,” Mike replied.
“I’m a bitch, am I? Well, let me tell you something, brother dear. It was this bitch that worked nights and weekends to put herself through college. It was this bitch that worked to put herself through law school so Mom and Dad didn’t have to get a second mortgage on the house. And this bitch here? This bitch started sending Mom checks every month once Dad got laid off from the plant. Two years’ worth of checks! And what did you do, Mike? Hmm? Tell me. What did you ever do for Mom and Dad?”
Mike stared at the table, tears in his eyes. My hands were shaking, my pulse pounded in my ears. I licked my lips and took a drink of coffee.
“I didn’t know,” he whispered at last.
“No. I guess you didn’t,” I said.
We sat in silence for several minutes, neither of us looking the other one in the eye.
“You know, you are always welcome to stay here, Mikey,” Grandma uttered. “In fact, your father’s old room would be perfect for you. Besides, I kind of miss having a man around the house to take care of things.”
Mike’s eyes welled up with tears.
“Thanks, Grandma. I’d be happy to help you,” he said, holding back a sob.
“Well!” Grandma exclaimed with a grin, clapping her hands together. “Who wants some apple pie?”