He's home. Caleb's back. His Christmas break started yesterday, so he got a ride down this morning. He sauntered in at around 1: 00 today acting particularly grown up, obviously proud of his healthy, outdoorsy, unshaven, yet clearly cultivated good looks. As always, he made his entrance with a flourish. I was upstairs working (my vacation doesn't start for two weeks), but I heard him drop his stuff in the front hall and shout hello in his new-found bass voice. Then I heard Mom thunder down the stairs to greet him. I decided I should to at least keep up appearances, so I followed her at a reserved, dignified pace.
Caleb greeted me with a hug that dripped of falsehood and necessity. Mom, as usual,was oblivious to the tension that hung like a shroud. She kept walking circles around him, saying how amazed she was by how blond his hair looked. It looked light brown to me. She also said that he looked taller than me, but he isn't more than six feet, which still gives me a one inch advantage. His hair is curly so it puffs up more than mine.
"Oh! I almost forgot your birthday present," said Mom, in her unmistakable squeal. December 9th; I always forget. I guess I'll have to slip out later. Mom turned abruptly and rushed up the stairs. We were alone. What now? My first impulse was to bolt; it didn't matter where. My conscience, however, reminded me that it would not be the civil thing to do. Instead, I walked toward the living room. I flopped down on the couch and he followed, sitting in the armchair and delicately folding his muscular legs. His posture was perfect. I realized that his deep brown eyes were casting me a questioning glance, but I tried not to notice.
"So, tell me, how's senior year anyway?" He initiated the inevitable conversation.
"I don't know, not bad I guess ...uhh, how are things at Exeter?" I tried to mask the contempt in my voice.
"It's great, I'm really having a great time, and I'm doing really well for once," the truth in his voice was saddeningly real.
Fortunately, Mom bounded down the stairs to ease our discomfort. She held a huge package. She started in on some diatribe about how she never really knows what to get him. Caleb opened the package to reveal a navy wool sweater with a red and green pattern; nothing special. Caleb, of course, acted elated, like he'd never seen something so nice in his life. Mom started in with the inevitable flurry of questions: How was his room, his roommate, the weather , anything just to keep up conversation.
My mind began to wander; I'd heard this all before. For three years it had been been the same answers to the same stupid questions. Gee whiz, Ma, isn't Caleb great?
As he babbled on, I'm sure that the thought never once crossed his mind that I might be jealous. He's off in the north woods enjoying school to the fullest; meanwhile I was stuck here, a lonely senior. How was it that we are brothers (I'm even a year older), and he was obviously treated so much better. How could he, or anybody, justify sending him off to prep school? Well, fortunately he never tried. Mom always told me something about how it was because he was having trouble adjusting to the public school environment. Save it; I adjusted fine; why couldn't he? I find it very sad that he is my only brother, and yet I hate him.
What am I saying? No, I don't really hate Caleb. By no means does my jealousy constitute hatred. Sometimes, I even think of him as more mature. He is one of the most caring people I've ever known. Toward me he practices what I call studied indifference; he always seems to know exactly when to show his caring for me. Somehow he always knows if I'm really sad and he'll call me or visit, and inevitably, cheers me up. Then, during the times he senses I'm blinded by my insane jealousy, he seems to understand and keeps his distance. I've come to realize that whether by cheering me up, or showing me my foolishness, Caleb always makes me feel better. So, no, I don't hate Caleb.
Slowly, I fade back out of my subconscious. Caleb is sitting on the edge of his seat, his skinny fingers spread in front of his animated face.
" ...so I'm trying to block these water,"
"Hey, Caleb," I cut him off abruptly, "Whadda ya say the two of us go out for a birthday dinner, and we could go out and shoot some pool or something after." I guess in bit of a silent victory, I've conquered my emotions.n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.