Home > Surprise Delivery(6)

Surprise Delivery(6)
Author: R.R. Banks

“Speaking of relationships and settling down,” Henry says and turns to me, “there's somebody I think you should meet, Duncan.”

I roll my eyes and take another drink of my iced tea. I hate being set up as it is – the idea of being set up by my brother is even less appealing.

“I can already tell you that I'm not interested,” I tell him. “Thanks, though.”

Henry's jaw clenches and his eyes bore into mine. “Her name is Erica,” he presses on, undaunted. “She's thirty-two, graduated from Stanford, is brilliant and completely gorgeous. You're going to love her.”

“I'm sorry, but did somebody put you in charge of my love life?” I ask.

“What love life?”

I give him a sardonic smirk but say nothing. He's not wrong, I have no love life to speak of. But that's by design – my design. I hope to meet somebody special one day – somebody who really sparks that fire in me. But I'm going to do it on my own terms, rather than because somebody forced me to.

If Henry is pushing this woman on me, I can already be pretty confident in saying there's no way in hell we're going to click. Henry and I have completely different values and priorities – and I know for certain that extends to the women we see. Or don't see, in my case. If I'm going to date anyone, I'm going to date somebody of my own choosing.

“Look, Duncan, what's so wrong about trying to set you up with a great girl?” he asks. “I think the world of Erica and –”

“Which pretty much tells me all I need to know,” I cut him off. “Thanks again, though.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” he growls.

“I'm pretty sure you know what that means.”

“Boys,” our mother chides, trying to stop the train before it gets rolling.

“You have an obligation to this family, Duncan,” Henry hisses.

“An obligation?” I question, a wry laugh escaping me.

“Yes, an obligation,” he says. “I've seen the kind of women you prefer to date, Duncan. And let me assure you they are not Clyburne quality.”

I scoff at him, unable to believe what I'm hearing fall out of his mouth. “Are you kidding me?” I spit. “Clyburne quality?”

“That's what I said.”

“Henry,” our mom admonishes him.

“And I suppose the women you date are?” I ask.

He shrugs. “The women I date are beautiful, successful, and driven,” he says. “You prefer women who are like – burned-out Starbucks baristas.”

“You are unbelievable,” I say. “Utterly unbelievable.”

“Somebody has to protect this family's good name,” he says. “We have a reputation to uphold.”

“Oh, and I suppose banging a different model every night and making a total spectacle of yourself is upholding our family's good name?”

“At least they're a higher quality woman than the strays you prefer,” he shoots back.

“Go fuck yourself, Henry.”

“That's enough!” our mother roars, slapping her palm down on the table.

Our mother isn't prone to big – let alone violent – outbursts like that, so it immediately draws our attention. We turn and look at her, Henry's expression of surprise, no doubt mirroring the one on my own.

“Why can't you two ever seem to get along?” she asks, her voice still heated. “You're brothers. Why can’t you act like it? You're brothers, yet you act like complete strangers.”

“We're just two different people with two different ways of seeing and doing things,” I say softly.

“To say the least,” Henry adds, unable to resist taking one last jab.

Our mother doesn't miss it, and she turns to him, her eyes narrowing. “You know what would do a far better job of upholding our family's good name, than any woman you could ever date?” she says, fire coloring her every word. “Acting like an actual goddamn family for a change.”

She stands suddenly and marches off the back deck, slamming the door behind her as she goes inside. And what had been a pleasant afternoon has turned into a giant pile of shit, thanks to my brother. He has that effect on nice days. I drain the last of my iced tea and slam the glass down on the table, glaring daggers at him.

“Nice work, Henry,” I say. “Really well done.”

“Fuck you,” he snaps.

I stand and walk away from him, following our mother into the house. After checking a few of her favorite haunts, I find her in the sitting room. She's seated in a large plush wingback chair that’s set before the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the rear grounds. It's one of her favorite places to sit and read. As I step gently into the room, I hear Henry's footsteps pounding down the long corridor. The front door opens, then slams shut behind him, the echo of it making my mother give a little start.

“Why can't you two just get along?” she asks, not looking at me.

I sit down in the chair next to hers and lean forward, arms on my knees, my hands folded together. The last thing I want to do is add to her upset, but I know what I have to tell her – what I've been putting off telling her all day – is going to do just that. I wish like hell Henry hadn't come by because he's made this all far more tense than it needs to be.

“We just – we're different people, Mom,” I reply. “We don't exactly sync up with one another in most ways.”

“In any way that I can see,” she sighs.

She finally turns her eyes to mine, and a strange expression crosses her face. She's always been able to read me pretty well and I have no doubt she sees the turmoil going on in my head and heart right now.

“What is it?” she asks.

I sigh and look down at my hands. “I need to tell you something. And I doubt you're going to like it.”

“With that kind of a preface, I can already guarantee I won't like it,” she says.

With thoughts of losing my mother already racing through my head – not to mention thoughts about her being so lonely in this house, given that Henry doesn't visit all that often – the idea of telling her that I'm leaving too feels like a dry, bitter pill stuck in my throat. The words are in my head, ready to burst out, but when I look into her eyes, I hesitate to say anything at all.

“You may as well spit it out, Duncan,” she tells me. “The day's already kind of shot to hell, in case you didn't notice.”

A rueful smile touches my lips. “I'm leaving, Mom,” I finally manage to say. “I accepted a volunteer position with an outfit that provides medical treatment for the impoverished and needy around the world.”

She nods and looks totally unsurprised – which, in turn, surprises me.

“It just seems like something you'd do,” she says and laughs wryly as if reading my expression. “Where are they sending you?”

“I'm heading for Syria,” I say, though I don't tell her that I volunteered for the posting.

“Syria,” she whispers. “That's dangerous.”

“It's where my skills are needed most,” I explain.

“Why would you join this organization?” she asks. “I'm assuming it's voluntary?”

“Yes, it's voluntary. And I joined up because I wanted to do some good,” I say and smile. “I'm taking a page out of your playbook, you know. You and Dad always taught me to give back.”

She laughs softly. “I don't think we ever mentioned needing to give back by running headlong into a warzone.”

I shrug. “No, but you both taught me to do the most good I possibly can.”

“That's true,” she replies. “And I never thought those words would ever come back to bite me this hard.”

“It's only an eight-month rotation,” I say. “I'll be back before you know it.”

“Until you accept another posting.”

I shrug, not able to deny her words. Part of me hopes that I find whatever it is I'm looking for within myself on this posting. I've come to realize there's a hole deep within me – something that goes far beyond life simply being drab and joyless. I'm hoping that doing this will fill that hole for me – or, at least, show me what it is I'm lacking in my life that's making me feel this way.

This trip is as much about feeling alive again as it is about learning to make myself feel whole again.

“When do you leave?” she asks.

“Not for a few weeks yet,” I reply. “So, we still have plenty of time to spend together before I go.”

“Promise me you'll be careful,” she says.

“I promise. I'm not going over there to get myself killed.”

“See that you don't.”

In truth, I can't promise her anything. While deaths are rare among the staff of these aid groups, it's not like they haven't taken casualties of their own. There have been a number of doctors and nurses who wound up dead by working in a warzone like Syria.

It happens, but – it's rare.

“I'm proud of you, Duncan,” my mother tells me. “I don't tell you that as often as I should, but I'm truly proud of you.”

I take her hands into mine and give them a gentle squeeze. “I only am what I am because of you and Dad,” I say.

“Nonsense,” she protests. “You've made yourself who and what you are. And I can't possibly be prouder.”

“Thank you, Mom. That really means a lot to me,” I say, meaning every word of it.

“Just get your butt back here in one piece,” she says. “You have grandbabies to make me.”

We laugh together, the pall on our day together beginning to lift, if only a little.

Four

Alexis

“You look amazing,” Bri says.

   
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