“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
Coffee. I would never understand people who don’t drink coffee, at least a cup in the morning. A very big cup.
My thoughts had definitely led me to my next move.
While the poor college students that got stuck with an 8am class started rolling into the parking lot with their coffee, I headed out.
I pulled out onto Port Republic Road and drove to the nearest gas station. After filling my car at the pump, I pulled into a parking spot in front of the gas station and went inside. The aroma of fresh coffee hit me as soon as I opened the door.
Thank God for coffee. I grabbed the biggest cup I could find and filled it as full as I could and still have room for a little cream.
There really isn’t a decent breakfast to be found in a gas station convenience store.
“Hello sugar,” I mumbled to myself as I grabbed a box of chocolate donuts.
After paying, I went back to my car and climbed in. It was still spring so the early morning air was chilly. It wasn’t until I could feel the warmth of the coffee going through me that I realized I was really cold.
Cranking up the heat in the old car, I backed out of the spot and stopped, looking out at the road. My stomach did a bit of a somersault. Sighing, I turned right and drove out of Harrisonburg.
It doesn’t take long for the houses to start to get further apart, separated by fields with cows standing in the early morning light. It only took about twenty minutes for me to get to my brother’s house in Weyers Cave. As I pulled up the long, gravel driveway, I didn’t see his car. My nerves calmed a little. He must already be at work.
I went up on the old wooden porch and used my key to let myself into the house.
The house wasn’t big and probably wouldn’t stand out to most people but my brother had fixed it up and maintained it well. The stairs are right inside the entrance and I went straight up to my room with my backpack that had a change of clothes and some toiletries. It was a small room with sloping ceilings so you could really only stand up straight in the middle of the room. It was just big enough to fit a full size bed but there was a big “closet.” Closet may not be the right word. It was really an attic like area that had never been finished. My brother had ran some electricity to it so I could have light, and I put up hooks and closet railings between the rafters to hang my clothes on. A small chair and dresser that doubled as a desk to do homework when I was younger took up the rest of the space. A mirror hung on the back of the door and there was a fan for the summer when it was sweltering hot and a space heater for the winter when it was freezing cold.
Pulling the string to the one light bulb hanging from the ceiling, I smiled as everything was illuminated. He hadn’t changed a thing even though I hadn’t been back in nearly two years. Not since college graduation. Not even for holidays.
Sitting my backpack down on the chair, I pulled out my change of clothes and set them on the dresser/desk. I grabbed my old terry cloth robe hanging on the hook by the dresser. I took a whiff. A little dusty maybe but I could still smell the Downy fabric softener.
We always washed our clothes in original Tide and April Fresh Downy. It was what mom had used. Even so, we both agreed that our clothes still didn’t smell like they did when mom cleaned them.
After my shower, I went out to the car and started unloading everything. I’m not sure if I consciously decided to move back in with my brother or if it was more a lack of options leaving me very little choice in the matter.
I looked around my room that was nice and neat less than an hour ago and was now crammed full of my stuff.
“When did I get so much crap?”
The sound of a car pulling up the gravel driveway came through the open window and I could faintly hear an old Pearl Jam song. My stomach did a somersault again. Why is Benny home now?
Benny, my older brother, was a mechanic in our uncle’s auto shop. He started working there in high school and continued after graduation, college having no appeal for him. He always loved fixing things and would often help our dad around our small farm when he was younger. In his spare time, he bought old cars, trucks, and motorcycles and restored them. But he didn’t just restore, he improved and turned something that was dying a slow death from rust and decay into something beautiful.
At nearly 30, he was just starting to show some signs of getting older. His face had the start of a few lines around the eyes and he had a maturity that made him seem older than his years. Strong and quiet by nature, he was never Mr. Popular in high school but he had a few close friends that stuck by both of us through a lot of dark days.
We both had the same blue eyes and dark brown hair, though Benny always kept his military short just like our dad. He had a strong build from long hours doing manual labor for most of his life. Neither of us was short or tall. We weren’t winning any beauty contests but we didn’t look like we’d been beaten with an ugly stick either.
I heard the front door open and Benny’s deep voice calling up the stairs. “Tess?”
“Yes, it’s just me,” I said as I came down the stairs.
His face lit up into a big smile when he saw me and he grabbed me into a big hug. Any nerves or apprehension I had fled but was replaced by an overwhelming since of guilt. I felt like such a lousy person for staying away for so long.
“This is a surprise! What are you doing here?”
“I heard about Leigh. Kelly called me,” I said.
“She told me she would let you know. I didn’t know if you would want to come back for the funeral,” he said.
I ran my hand through my long hair, scooping my few wispy bangs out of my eyes.
“Well, I kind of moved back in,” I said quietly, looking at the floor, the walls, anything but my brother who has always seen straight through me.
He was quiet and when I finally looked at him, I saw him staring at me in thought. Then he just shrugged his shoulders. “Ok, cool, need any help with your stuff?”
Thinking he was going to want some sort of explanation, it took me a minute to regroup and respond to his question. “No, I didn’t have much and I’ve already put it up in my room.”
“What are you doing home from work so early?” I asked.
“I took today off to take care of some things,” he replied.
Well, that was vague. I watched as he went to the sink to wash his hands and it finally occurred to me that my brother had his own life, finally. After devoting most of his twenties to taking care of me, making sure I graduated high school and then college, he was able to think of himself.
Until now, when I came back home and moved back in without so much as a heads up to him. Why did it just now occur to me think about him? Maybe instead of doing so much navel gazing on me and my life, I could think about someone else for a change. I mentally smacked myself on the forehead.
“Have you had breakfast yet?” Benny asked.
His question snapped my out of my train of thought. “Does gas station coffee and chocolate donuts count?”
He rolled his eyes. “Do you want me to fix you some eggs?”
“No thanks, I’m not that hungry. Do you need any help with anything? You said you took today off to take care of some things,” I said.
He thought about it for a second. “I’m working on something. It’s still in the early stages, so I haven’t been talking about it a lot yet.”
“You never talk about anything a lot,” I joked.
He smiled. “Haha” he said dryly. “Maybe I talk and you just never listen.”
We could playfully bicker like this all day and often did when I was living here growing up.
To put an end to it, I waited silently for him to spill the beans.
“Uncle Rob is retiring. He asked me if I wanted to take over the shop,” Benny said.
“Wow, you’ve been working there forever. That’s great if it’s what you want. Is it what you want?” I asked.
Benny nodded. “Yes, but I’ve got ideas for changing it a bit. Kind of making it my own. I will need to take out a business loan and probably do a much better job of networking and marketing to get my name out there. Not exactly a strength of mine.”
He ran is hand over his head and started to look a little panicked and overwhelmed by the whole thing.
This was new territory for me. My brother had been my rock for many years. He always seemed to know what to do. Even before our parents died, we were close. Then after their deaths, he became my guardian and raised me. He was only nineteen years old. His life was just getting started and he got stuck with raising a headstrong, stubborn, pain in the ass fifteen year old girl.
He didn’t complain. At least, not where I could hear it. He handled everything from our parent’s funeral arrangements to making sure we had a place to live when the small farm got foreclosed.
Maybe it was time for me to step up and be there for him. Instead of being stuck so much in my own head focused on my own life, I might find my passion by helping my brother create and grow his dream.
© 2020 T.S. Robinson