Local Number

Seven numbers.

I stared at them in disbelief.

A decade had passed since I’d seen him.

I had only been in my little apartment just outside Boston for a couple of weeks when Mom had mentioned, in her strange off-hand way, during our call, “You know…I think your brother lives about a mile from you. I have his number, if you want to call him.”

I stood holding the scrap of paper, knowing it was time. Wondering what would happen.

A curious black kitten circled my leg, her purring the only thing I could hear other than my heartbeat thudding in my ears.

I dialed and waited.

His quick, “Hello?” felt so familiar, even though it wasn’t. I introduced myself. The line went silent.

He said, “Hi” this time, softly, surprised, followed by a nervous laugh.

We arranged to meet for dinner.

Thai.

During my drive there, I felt so little. Like I still had long white-blond ponytails and sticks for legs. All crooked teeth and watchful eyes and nervous quiet.

But I was so much more now. Would he see that? Did he somehow already know?

I stepped inside.

We met each others’ eyes, and smiled.

He did that fast pat-thing hug. I could feel our matching protective walls clink and withdraw.

We sat.

Conversation over the tops of our menus was a little stilted, a little formal.

We ordered.

He stopped moving, looked down and quickly said, “I’m sorry.”

I knew what he meant.

Of course I knew what he meant.

I tried not to cry. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He looked at his hands. “He was the same with you as he was with us, wasn’t he.” A statement, not a question.

“Yeah. But I’m okay. It’s okay.”

“No, I’m your big brother, I should have...”

I stopped him. “There was nothing you could do.” We looked at each other in silence. Knowing that I was right. “And really,” I smiled, “you’ll see that I’m okay.”

In the quiet beat that followed, we unlocked our mirroring fortresses, allowed each other in.

We asked each other things that siblings should already know, gave answers that caused our laughs to meet. Our tastes were similar. Our senses of humor alike. Our hopes matched.

We ate, we talked, he paid and walked me out.

Before we parted, we stood toe-to-toe in the dark parking lot of a tiny Thai restaurant in a town two lost people happened to stop in during their journey to find themselves.

In that moment we knew we found each other, instead.

This time, when we hugged, we held on tight with the unspoken promise that neither of us would ever — ever — let go again.

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