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I wonder if my family will ever forgive me for what I’m about to do.
The puzzle creeps into my mind as I walk down South Charles Street, hands tucked in the pockets of my black and orange Baltimore Ravens hoodie to keep them warm. It’s a chilly afternoon, and I would rather be back in my apartment with a bottle of gin or a woman under the sheets– the only two things that can keep a man warm. Instead, I’m meeting my brother, Billy, about to tell him what is probably the biggest decision I’ve ever made in my life.
Is it the right one? Time will tell. Will my folks approve? Fuck no. But my mind is already made up. All that’s left is to tell Billy. And I’ll learn his reaction soon enough.
I enter the Metropolitan, our designated meeting place, my gaze sweeping across the tables where customers are busy eating their sandwiches or leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee. No sign of Billy. Of course, he’s upstairs.
“You’re late, Dash,” he greets me sourly even before I reach the top of the stairs.
As usual, he always acts like the older brother even though he’s three years younger than I am.
“I missed you, too, bro.”
I pat him on the shoulder before sliding into the empty stool next to him. Actually, apart from the stool on the far end, which is occupied by a man in a shabby, leather jacket drowning his worries in a mug of beer, all the stools at the bar are empty. To be fair, it’s probably because it’s not even five yet.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” I tell the balding, fifty-something bartender.
He stops in the middle of polishing a mug, filling a glistening one with beer from a tap behind him and setting it in front of me.
I grab the thick handle and lift the mug to my lips. Good. Not as strong as I’d like, but it’s okay.
“How’s school?” I ask Billy.
“Good,” he answers, resting his arms on the table. “I could ask you the same thing.”
“What school?” I take another sip.
He frowns. “Mom and Dad are worried about you, you know.”
“And they were pissed when they didn’t see you at dinner the other day.”
“I was busy.” I set my mug down.
“You could have called.”
“Doing what? Fucking?” He grabs his own mug to drink from it.
I swivel the stool so that I can lean on the bar and face him. “You should try it sometime.”
He says nothing. So serious.
I reach for my mug again but pause when I see someone in the mirror in front of me – a redhead wearing a green turtleneck, a brown suede skirt, and black boots. As I turn my head to look at her, she crosses her slim legs under the table, her fingers twirling her pen as she stares at the screen of her laptop with eyebrows furrowed.
Another serious customer. But this one is seriously hot.
Billy clears his throat. “So what did you want to talk about?”
I turn my attention back to him. “The future.”
He laughs softly. “It’s about time.”
“I’m quitting school.”
“And which school are you going to transfer to this time? Out of state maybe?”
“I’m not going to any other school,” I tell him, taking a deep breath. “I’m joining the Marines.”
Something clatters to the floor. I turn my head, realizing it’s that redhead’s pen. Mumbling an apology, she hastily picks it up. As she straightens up, tucking some loose strands of hair behind her ear, our eyes meet briefly.
“You’re joking, right?” Billy asks, drawing my attention back.
I shake my head. “I’m serious about this one.”
And I know he knows it, which is why he’s fallen silent.
I grab my beer, eyes back at the mirror where I catch a glimpse of the redhead stroking her hair, lips pursed as she continues to stare at her laptop. Why can’t I stop looking at her?
“Do Mom and Dad know?” Billy asks.
“No. You’re the first to know.”
He puts his mug down. “Why?”
“Why am I joining the Marines?” I raise an eyebrow. “Or why am I telling you first?”
I scratch my cheek. “Well, I’m joining the Marines because I think it’s a better use of my time, and I’m telling you because, well, you’re my brother.”
Because in spite of all our differences, he’s the closest thing I have to a best friend.
He gives me a bitter look. “Are you sure it’s not because you want me to tell Mom and Dad so that they can’t get mad at you?”
My eyebrows furrow. “When did I ever ask you to do that?”
“Never, but I’ve always done it anyway because I care more about our family than anyone else.”
I’ve never thought about that, but I guess it’s true. Billy was always the one who made everyone laugh, the one who made suggestions and arrangements for the family to spend time together, and, of course, he was always the one to stop the arguments.