You worry about him.
That's not past tense because you still do.
"I'm an adult Travis, what trouble could I possibly get into?" he assures you, laughing as he walks by.
You just sigh and remind him to not pop the balloons on the way home.
"And disappoint my niece? Turkey, you must be jivin'!" He says with another laugh as he lets one blown balloon float up to the ceiling.
All you can do is sigh again and return to setting up the birthday party. For as much as you love your younger brother, you have to agree with your wife- Toby is wild, young, and out of control. So his job has to be the most harmless and least important. But as long as Toby feels important, that's all that matters.
You thought that it was a miracle that you got out of that dump of a town, into the city, and managed a pretty stable life. But then, that one day after you came home from a long day on the beat, filled with chasing down purse snatchers and old lady walker jackers, you saw the last thing you expected.
Toby Keller, your younger brother. But not the chubby little Cabbage Patch Kid you left behind in Alderney. This Toby Keller was tall and lean, with sharp eyes, and a dazzling grin. He sat outside the door of your apartment with only a Pokémon backpack in his lap and a big white balloon tied to his wrist. He dressed in a leather jacket, even though it was July, and reeked of fruity drinks.
You always stop the story at this point to emphasize just how poorly Kellers handle alcohol.
You didn’t handle the surprise of your twenty-one year old brother very well, especially since the last time you saw him, your wife was very pregnant with your daughter and his recklessness worried her sick. But she was extremely happy to see Toby and you still don’t know how to argue with her.
So Toby stayed while he attended Liberty City University, the same place you received your degree from. He liked to tease you and say that he “knocked up” one of his many girlfriends in his remaining three years, laughing and holding a blown balloon under his shirt. And you would just frown and say, “Don’t speak like that in front of the girls.”
You weren’t happy about Toby’s many hangovers, his proclivity of inviting his girlfriends over, or his general distaste for employment. But you couldn’t deny that Toby was smart- he graduated early and didn’t rest until his received his master’s degree in education. You often told your wife how you wished he could just settle down and she had to remind you that you two were very different.
When he accepted a position at Liberty City High School, the very same high school you both went to, you were happy. And not just because he could keep tabs on your daughter.
You might not admit it, but the jealously was clear- you envied Toby’s relationship with his niece, as the cool uncle who never failed to have candy or toys or a shiny new balloon held down by a nice note and pretty flowers. You had heard rumours that he had been doing odd jobs for the Pegorino family and you worried about how dangerous it was. And how awkward it was to have a petty criminal living with two detectives for the LCPD.
But eventually he convinced you that there was no proof and your daughter agreed. You had to trust him.
You trusted him to take care of himself and look after your daughter when he could- after all, your job was very stressful and demanding and even a well-behaved teenage girl is still a teenage girl.
So unbeknownst to you, he picked her up when she called the house drunk, he signed her report card when she failed a class, and he helped her get over the boy that made her cry in middle school.
Toby loves his niece and you share the love.
Sometimes, you made the effort to show him that you loved him and really cared about him. You helped him get over his fear of driving and took him to the Statue of Happiness and even tried to teach him a little about the history of Liberty City. But the only history Toby is interested in is yours- what you had been up to in the four years he didn’t see you, what life was like, when you planned on giving him a nephew. You’d only ever answer that last one and even then, it was a question of when he’d give you a niece or a nephew. Toby always laughs at that. He thinks you’re a stick in the mud and is always surprised when you show a sense of humour.
Toby Keller is a mystery to you, isn’t he, Dad? You are to him, too. He’s told me on more than one occasion that he wants to accomplish as much as you have. He doesn’t think that you understand- you’re just a stick in the mud to him.
He wants a family just like you and his first step was moving into his own apartment… two doors down for ours. He doesn’t tell you nearly as much, since he doesn’t have to. I see you out on the fire escape, watching the smoke rise from his apartment and dissipate into the air. I’ve seen you scold him about the balloons from one of his many parties floating off into the sky. It’s bad for the environment, you tell him and he just laughs and offers to let you blow them and dispose of them safely next time. That was the last time you saw him until now.
He asked me, after he came back with no balloons, if you were still a spoil sport and I said no. He hugged me again and thanked me for lying because sometimes he needs to hear it.
He worries about you, you know.
That’s not past tense because he still does.