That evening, instead of texting Owen, Connor decided to call his little brother.
“What’s up, Connor? I can’t believe you called me!”
Connor took a rag and wiped down his kitchen counter. Scowling at the phone, he said, “Can’t I call you, little bro?”
Owen’s loud laugh had Connor smiling down at the phone which was in speaker mode, allowing him to wander around his kitchen while talking.
Why did the good lord make me so serious and Owen such a nut? Couldn’t we have been at least a little alike so that I could be this free and easygoing with others?
“Of course, you can!” Owen’s voice boomed out. “It’s just that I’m used to text messages, usually very short and sweet.”
Connor placed the dishrag neatly on the edge of the sink, making sure that it wouldn’t drip onto the hardwood floors. Feeling the soft rub of the cat, Connor scooped Skokie up and stroked through the fur.
“Wait: Is Mom ok?” The happiness in Owen’s voice gave way to panic.
“She’s fine,” came Connor’s quick, terse answer. “God, I guess we’ll always be on edge about her, won’t we?”
“Well, with all that’s happened to her and then, Dad. . .”
“Yeah,” Connor sat down at his kitchen table, letting Skokie jump down and run off. Dara’s hat that she’d worn to the Huntington several weeks before lay there. Although she’d been over many times since their trip, she’d forgotten the hat every time, teasing Connor by saying, “They say if you leave something behind, you’ll always come back.” But the truth was that Connor enjoyed seeing the simple femininity of the hat in his austere apartment. He pulled the blue ribbon through his fingers, back and forth, feeling its soft texture, thinking about how he was glad to have it here to hold when he couldn’t hold her.
“I’m just calling to get a little brotherly advice.”
“From me?” Owen laughed again. “I thought I was supposed to ask you for advice about money, computers, savings, women. . .”
“Well, that’s just it, Owen,” Connor interrupted. “I think you have more experience in the lady department than I ever will.”
Owen made a sharp blowing noise, sounding like a baby making raspberries.
“C’mon, Connor. Alissa was your girlfriend for a long time,” he said, referring to Connor’s high school and early college sweetheart. “I don’t need to tell you anything, I’m sure.”
“I just need someone to talk to.”
At that statement, Owen quieted down. His voice became serious when he said, “Sorry. What do you need help with?”
“Not necessarily help. Just a sounding board,” Connor said. After taking a breath, he asked, “Owen, how did you figure out that you love Maribelle?”
“That’s easy!” the voice was tinged with humor again, something that Connor wanted as much as he wanted to hear Owen’s words of wisdom. “I couldn’t stand being anywhere without her. I love to make her laugh. See her all dressed up or sloppy as hell; doesn’t matter. And she listens to me, doesn’t take any shit. But she likes me goofy, too. I don’t know; I just knew.”
“Did it take a long time to know?”
“No.” Owen’s answer was direct. “I knew almost right away. I think it may have taken Maribelle a while, but that’s something you’d have to ask her. Why? Is there a new woman in your life, Con?”
Connor was nodding his head, not realizing that his brother couldn’t see him.
“Oh! Sorry,” Connor pulled the ribbon through his fingers once more, remembering the strappy sundress that matched the blue of the hat, the dress that eventually adorned his bedroom floor.
“Yes, I have met someone.”
“Hmmm. I think so. . .”
“What’s the pause? You’re not sure, or what?”
“It’s just that there are complications to it all.”
“Complications? Is she married? Already with someone else?”
“Nothing like that, man.” Connor laughed at Owen’s question, then turned serious. “Look, if I tell you, can you keep it to yourself? Not tell mom or anyone we know.”
“Geez, I think I should be insulted,” Owen pretended to sound hurt. Then he laughed again. “Of course, I’ll be quiet.”
“Well . . .” Connor picked up the hat, looked at it from all angles, then placed it again in the middle of the table. “You know that Donovan Rue guy mom’s been seeing?”
“Yeah, she’s told me some about him. I think we’re going to have a cookout with him when I come into town next. What about him?”
“I’m seeing his daughter, Dara,” Connor let out a big breath. “She’s pretty amazing.”
“That’s great! What does Mom think?”
“I haven’t told Mom. And Dara hasn’t told her Dad,” Connor admitted. “I’m a little worried about what they’ll think of us seeing each other.”
Another long pause. Then Owen asked, “Why?”
“It just feels weird . . . Kinda incestuous to me.”
“Incestuous?” Owen chuckled. “Why would you even think that? You and Dara aren’t related, Con. God, you have the higher GPA, and even I know that word doesn’t apply.”
Connor took the hat and flipped it on top of his head. “I need to get over it, don’t I?”
“Um. . . yeah! Can’t believe you think that. Can’t believe you haven’t told mom yet either!” There was a brief, comfortable pause, then, “She seems happy seeing Donovan Rue. Is it good?”
Connor took the hat off and placed it in the middle of the table again. He almost growled in his answer to Owen.
“That’s another hang up of mine. Do you think it’s too soon for Mom to date?”
“Connor! How can you even say that? Mom’s an adult woman. I imagine men her age would find her attractive. When she isn’t sick, she’s fun.” Owen paused to chuckle again. “I don’t think we get a say about our mother’s love life, dude.”
“Don’t even go there.” Connor thundered. “I think we’re done with this phone call. Back to texts. I can handle you there.”
“Seriously, Con,” Owen hurried before his brother hung up, “Just enjoy this Dara chick. You’ll be fine. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”
“You’re a great guy, Connor. And you deserve to be happy, so let this just happen.”
“Okay, okay. Okay!”
“One more thing –”
“Okay, I’ll see you at the cookout.”
As he clicked the phone off, Connor realized that he had not even had a chance to ask his brother what he knew about dating girls with mental disorders.