On Monday afternoon, after Kevin got home from his day job as a breakfast cook at the Sunrise Café–they paid him extra since he could supply his own bacon–he took the cordless phone out onto the back porch and leaned against the railing. A couple of stray cats popped up out of the bushes along the fringe of his yard, meowing and salivating in anticipation of some free meat.
Kevin dialled Esther’s number. The phone only rang once before Esther picked up and said, “Max?”
“Uh, hi,” said Kevin.
“Kevin?” said Esther.
“Sorry about that,” said Esther. “Um,” she paused briefly, “I thought you might be my brother.”
“Oh,” said Kevin, frowning. He made a strip of bacon, wadded it up, and flung it at one of the cats, hitting it in the head. It wrinkled its nose, meowed in annoyance, then pounced on the projectile. Her brother, Kevin thought. Sure. Great.
“Sorry,” said Esther again.
“I, uh,” said Kevin, “I just thought I’d call to make sure you were okay. You know, after you rushed out on breakfast the other day.”
“Yeah,” said Esther, “I apologize for that. I’m fine. It was just…” She paused again. “I got sick.”
“Oh,” said Kevin. Sick. Sure. “I thought it might be something like that.”
“Just sick,” Esther repeated, “but I feel fine now.”
“Well, good,” said Kevin.
No one said anything for six seconds, seven, eight, nine…
“Actually, now isn’t a great time,” said Esther.
“Oh,” said Kevin.
“I’m not trying to blow you off, Kevin, really. There are just some things I have to take care of. With my brother.”
“I didn’t even know you had a brother.”
“Yeah,” said Esther. “I, uh… Actually, I have two.”
“Oh,” said Kevin. Sure.
“Look, Kevin, I’m sorry but I should go.”
“Sure,” said Kevin.
“Call me again next week, maybe,” said Esther, “when I’m not so busy.”
“Okay,” said Kevin.
Her brother? thought Kevin, flinging another wad of bacon at the cats. Sure. Great.
Esther hung up and stared at the screen of her phone for several seconds, willing it to light up again, to receive another call.
She was starting to feel frantic.
Esther was used to having a little knot of uneasiness rolling around in the bottom of her stomach. Far too many surprises in her life had conditioned her to feel that way. Any time she started to feel comfortable she would inevitably be reminded by some passing circumstance of the shock she’d felt upon discovering that her youngest brother, Max, was a special, able to draw glowing lines and patterns with his fingers. Or she would relive the much more jarring revelation that she, too, had unique capabilities, and the difficulties she’d had adapting to the implications. Or she would be drawn back into the fear she’d lived with for several years, ever since her other brother, Caleb, had turned in upon himself, shut himself away from the world, fought desperately to uncover or manufacture some new ability within himself, and eventually begun to channel his jealousy and frustration into rage and abuse.
Max had borne the brunt of it when Caleb began to lash out. It had always gone that way, even when they were children. As the oldest of the three, Esther had always protected quiet, precocious Max from Caleb’s bullying.
To add insult to injury, some combination of lifestyle and genetics had prevented Caleb from ever growing taller or stronger than his older sister, even in adulthood. Esther sometimes wished he had outgrown her. It might have salved his ever-wounded pride.
For the last several years, she and Max had lived in Victoria together, a ferry ride away from their parents’ home in Vancouver. It had been the best thing for Max, an opportunity to start over, to escape from Caleb’s escalating violence and harassment.
The restraining order had helped, too.
Victoria was good for Max. It was working. Max was really starting to come out of his shell, especially over the past year or so.
Then Esther had seen Caleb’s face through the window during her date with Kevin. At least, she was pretty sure it had been him. By the time she got outside he was gone.
Had it really been him? And if it had, did that mean he’d been looking for her, or had it just been a coincidence?
She’d hardly been able to think straight since then. All day Sunday she had paced through the house that she and Max rented together, kitchen to living room, living room to bedroom, bedroom to kitchen, wondering, worrying. If Caleb was here, what did he want? What was his plan? Would he come after her? Would he go after Max?
She hadn’t told Max what she’d seen. Maybe she should have, but Max had cowered in his brother’s shadow for so long. Esther didn’t want to destroy all the progress he’d made, not if she didn’t have to, not if she wasn’t sure.
Now it was Monday afternoon, Esther’s pacing was wearing grooves in the carpets, and Max wasn’t answering his cell phone. He was normally home from work by 1:30 or so, and should have been home earlier than that today, since he had fewer stops than usual.
It was fine. It was probably fine. Max had let his cell phone battery die before, and sometimes he liked to go down to the waterfront after work and spend some time drawing pictures in the air for kids and tourists. There was probably a simple explanation like that.
He’s fine, she told herself. But what if?
Her phone rang.