The three of us didn't share the entire contents of our letters. I think we all felt like we each deserved to have a piece of her all to ourselves, a little tidbit that only we carried close to our hearts. For me, those tidbits were mom's instructions to take care of dad and the last two paragraphs of the letter. Those especially seemed to be for me and me only.
Joe's voice was abnormally quiet as he read through segments of his letter. I was convinced that my mom must have been part psychic. She went into a little soliloquy about his name, guessing (right, of course) that he would very rarely be called Jonah. She assumed like father, like son that he would go with the short version Joe (with the e -because it's way more masculine, right?) or, better yet, J.A.M. If he used JAM, she said, he was under obligation to ask dad about someone named Johnny No-Name and seriously reconsider. Dad began to laugh.
"What's she talking about?" Joe asked. I could tell he was thinking about his band.
"My alter ego," dad said. He rubbed his face as if trying to wipe the smile off, but it was impossible. Joe and I shared a look.
"Your alter ego?" I asked.
"My British persona. I'll see if I can dig something up to show you. Needless to say, it wasn't my best idea."
Even though our curiosity was piqued, Joe continued on. Most of the things sounded a lot like my own, just skewed for a male POV. When Joe was done, I watched him scan the letter. It looked like he was pausing on the last paragraph or so just like I had. For a second, I thought he was going to share the whole thing, but then he folded it in half. He looked at dad. "Your turn," he said.
Dad took a deep breath. With a melancholy smile he explained that his letter was part pep talk, part wake up call.
"Wake up call?" I asked.
"There's been times I've taken what I have for granted. Your mom made a point to remind me that I'm the luckiest person in the world. I get to see you two grow up; she doesn't. As frustrating as it can be sometimes," dad stared at Joe. "I'm the one that gets to reap the benefits."
"Frame-able police records?" Joe teased, his lips curving.
"I'm thinking more like high school graduations. Doing things that make you happy. Legal things."
"That's it? That's all your letter said?" I asked. I knew I sounded disappointed. Dad tapped the paper he held.
"There's a little more, but I think she meant to reach out more to you two this time. Mine is more a part two of the original that I shared with you."
We lapsed into silence. Joe folded his letter another time and slipped it into his pocket. I clung to mine, reluctant to put it away. Dad cleared his throat.
"There is one last thing."
Dad tucked his letter away just like Joe had. "Fun."
"Yeah, fun," dad repeated. "We've forgotten how to have it. As a family."
"There's still three weeks before school starts. We're going to go on vacation in two weeks. Bray and Tristan will be back. Al, you can invite Stefie. Joe, you can invite one of your friends."
"A vacation where?" Joe asked.
Dad just smiled.
"You're going to have to wait and see."
"Hey, do you have any plans the week of July 25th?"
"Plans?" Stefie asked. "No, I don't think so. Why?"
I ran my spoon through my oatmeal. Streaks of brown sugar appeared. I smiled. "Family vacation. Dad said I could bring you."
"Really?" she sounded excited. "Where we going?"
"Hold out, lemme check something on my phone."
I could almost see her sliding through the screens on the phone. She was back in a blink. "That's a mom week." Her voice was laced with disappointment.
"Is that a problem?" I asked.
"Mom freaks out when I go work four hours at the mall. If it was dad, he wouldn't care, but mom..."
"You haven't had any problems lately though, have you?" I asked.
"Just some pain in my wrists and ankles," Stefie said with a sigh. "But joint pain is common. I haven't had a rash in forever."
"Can I have your dad call your mom? Would that help?"
"Maybe," Stefie agreed. "It wouldn't--"
In the background, I heard Stef's mom call her name. There was an audible click of the tongue. "COMING!" she shouted.
"Gotta go," she said to me.
"I'll talk to dad," I promised.
After we hung up, I grabbed my cereal bowl and headed out to the back. I stopped and smiled.
Mom and dad were lounging by the pool. Dad had mom's foot in his lap, rubbing his palm along her heel. She sat up, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. The moment was too intimate to interrupt. I hadn't seen them like that in a long time. I didn't want to break the spell.
By the time I was almost done eating my cereal at the kitchen counter, Joe came shuffling in. He lifted his arms and yawned, proceeding to flick my cheek as he went by. I wrinkled my nose at the pit smell that wafted around him.
"Gross," I complained. "Heard of deodorant?"
Joe grinned. "I smell like a man."
"More like a pig!"
He tossed open the pantry and pulled out a box of PopTarts. The lack of a comeback surprised me. He tore open the shiny packaging and hopped on the counter.
"Do you think you could help me figure out a way to get in contact with Krista?"
I arched my brow. "Joe..."
"What? She doesn't turn eighteen for almost two years. I can't just not talk to her for two years."
"You're lucky you weren't arrested."
"They shouldn't keep teens in a place like that," Joe shot back. "What kinda life do they have?"
Empathy. It wasn't an emotion I usually equated with my brother. I sighed. "I know."
I hopped up on the counter beside him. I bit my lip, hesitating.
"There might be a way. I don't know yet. I have to see what happens with my CD."
I nodded. "I asked Shel to get a CD to Cole."
"The blind guy?"
I nodded. "I knew Cole wouldn't want to ask anyone to read a letter to him, so I recorded a message. But just in case someone takes it from him, I encrypted it with a password."
"I can't believe you used a CD. CD's are ancient," Joe snickered.
"It's not like he has a phone or a tablet or anything," I retorted. "And if I sent an e-mail, someone else would get to it. The package didn't have a return address."
"So what's to say he isn't going to just throw it away? How's he going to figure out the password?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. Just a hunch. But if it works we might be able to get Cole to pass something on to Krista."
Joe smiled and I was surprised to see a look of admiration.
"We're going to corrupt you yet, sis."
I laughed and stretched across him to deposit my bowl in the sink.
"I think I'll corrupt myself on my own terms, thank you."