QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
*Questions And Answers takes place six months after the aired episode, Lost Lady.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I leaned back in my chair as I watched them glide across the dance floor, A.J. and the bride. I doubted if anyone else at the crowded reception knew it was ‘their’ song - When A Man Loves A Woman. I can’t even remember how I came to find that out. I don’t think A.J. ever told me, but then again, at some point maybe he had. I suppose a lot of people would find it surprising that A.J. would even consider an old pop tune from the 60’s romantic. But I know the many facets of his personality too well for it to surprise me.
A.J. didn’t ask her to dance. She came to our table and asked him as the first notes of that song filled the room. I could tell he was caught off guard. Not because she asked him to dance, but because she asked him to dance to a song that was once so special to them. Special to them when they were a couple. I’m pretty sure she requested the song. I don’t think it was played by chance. It would be the kind of thing she’d do. Not out of spite, or nastiness, or anything like that. She’s simply the kind of person who, on the day she married a man who wasn’t A.J., would request a song that let my brother know he still had a special place in her heart and always would.
Mom had a wistful smile on her face as she watched them dance. I knew she was thinking of what might have been, and maybe wondering just a little bit yet why it never came to be. Which is exactly what I was wondering as I watched them move slowly around the dance floor.
Janet made it a point to stop at our table one last time that night before she and her groom left for the airport. I teased her unmercifully about the upcoming honeymoon for a few minutes. She finally silenced me with a final kiss on the cheek and a “Goodbye, Peter Pan.” Janet and Mom embraced warmly and said their goodbyes. When the women broke the embrace A.J. stood up. He and Janet hugged one another; then she kissed his cheek before saying her final goodbye to him. A.J. remained standing, watching the bride and groom make their way to the door amidst a chorus of goodbyes and good wishes.
We left a few minutes after that, me with my date and A.J. to take Mom home. He had escorted her to the wedding, choosing not to bring a date himself. Something only my little brother would do. When I asked him about it a few days before the wedding he shrugged his shoulders and said he wouldn’t feel right showing up at Janet’s wedding with another woman on his arm. I thought that was kinda stupid myself. If it had been me I would have arrived with the sexiest woman I could find just to ‘show Janet.’ And A.J. definitely had a variety of very sexy female acquaintances he could have asked. But, after I thought about it some more I realized his decision was typical of A.J. Simon. Sometimes he’s too thoughtful for his own good. Sometimes he needs to think more about himself and his own happiness, rather than always worrying about everyone else’s happiness. But, I guess if he did he wouldn’t be the younger brother I’ve known so well for thirty-seven years now.
These were the thoughts I found myself mulling over the day after the wedding when I decided to drive over to my brother’s place. I wasn’t sure he’d be home. It was a beautiful day. I coulda’ called first I suppose, but I didn’t. I figured the drive, however short, would do me some good. I was hoping it would help clear my mind of some of the questions that kept running through it. Questions that I’d asked myself several times over the years, but questions that I’d never gotten any answers to. Maybe I hadn’t gotten any answers ‘cause I hadn’t been asking the right person. I’ve never asked A.J. these particular questions and, after all, he was the only one with the answers.
I parked beside the Camaro and walked up to the door. I knocked several times but didn’t wait for an answer. I tried the knob and found it unlocked. I entered the kitchen, kicked the door closed with the heel of my right boot and shouted, “A.J.! Hey, A.J., you around?”
“I’m out here!”
I followed his voice. I rounded the counter, walked through the living room and saw him through the French doors. He was sitting in a lawn chair on the deck with his bare feet propped up on a picnic table bench. He was holding an open book in his lap. He slipped a bookmark between the pages, closed the book, and laid it under his chair as I took a seat on the bench facing him.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was takin’ a drive and thought I’d stop by to say hello.”
“Yeah, I’ve missed you too, Rick. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t just spend most of last evening seated across the table from you at a wedding reception, or that I won’t be at work with you tomorrow.”
“Oh, shut up. Can’t I stop by on the spur of the moment without having to listen to your smart mouth?”
A.J. laughed. “Yes, I suppose you can. Do you want a beer?”
“No. But I’ll have a Coke or a Pepsi if you’ve got one of those.”
A.J. shot me a look of disbelief. “Now I know there’s something wrong. First you stop by on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon just to say hi, then you’re refusing beer. Okay, Rick, give it to me straight. What have you done this time?”
“Rick. . .”
“Nothing, A.J. Honest.”
A.J.’s eyes narrowed. “Did you charge something to my credit card again?”
“Did Surplus Sammy con you into buying something totally useless that you paid for with a check off the business account again? I told you the last time that happened that--”
“No, A.J.! I didn’t buy anything.”
“You and Carlos haven’t listed me as the husband to one of his many cousins trying to get over the border, have you?”
“No! Geez, A.J., we only did that once and it was five years ago,” I reminded my brother as he opened the screen and headed for the kitchen. “Don’t you think it’s about time you quit bringing it up?”
“Quit bringing it up?” My irate brother shouted from the kitchen. “Easy for you to say. You weren’t the one who had to spend the night fighting off an overeager young woman. . .a very overeager young woman, intent on having a honeymoon in America, and then face immigration the next day besides.”
I smiled at A.J. as he handed me a cold Coke.
“That’s why Carlos pick you for the job of Bonita’s fictional husband, kid. He knew he could trust you with a young girl’s virtue. Instead of bein’ mad you should be proud Carlos has so much faith in you.”
“Rick, can the bull. The only reason Carlos picked me to be Bonita’s husband is because you told him to.”
“Oh man, A.J., it hurts me deeply to hear you accuse me of such falsehoods. I wouldn’t do somethin’ like that to you, little brother.”
“Yeah, right,” came A.J.’s sarcastic and knowing reply as he reclaimed his chair.
I chuckled, then took a sip of my Coke.
“Seriously, I just stopped by to say hello. That’s it. Honest.”
A.J. took a swallow from the Coke can he held before speaking.
“A Sunday afternoon drive seems far too innocent for Rick Simon, but okay, if you say so.”
We passed a couple minutes in companionable silence as we drained our soda cans dry. I sat mine on the picnic table while A.J. placed his beneath his chair. I was the first one to break the silence.
“So, did you have a nice time last night?”
A.J. looked out over the canal. “Uh. . .yeah. Yeah, I did.”
“Janet looked great. Gorgeous as a matter of fact.”
A.J. still wouldn’t look at me.
“Yes, she did. She was very. . .beautiful.”
Once again we fell silent for a period of time. And once again big brother took the first crack at breaking it.
“It wasn’t easy, was it?”
A.J. finally looked at me.
“No, it wasn’t. I. . .I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was though. To see her. . to see her marry someone else I mean. She’s been out of my life a long time now. I just didn’t think. . .“
He let his sentence end there as he looked across the canal again.
“It’s understandable that it would be difficult for you,” I offered. “You and Janet were engaged for two years, and even after the breakup you remained friends. When she lived here in San Diego we saw her fairly often. When our office was across from Myron’s we saw her almost every day.”
A.J. nodded his acknowledgment of my words.
A sad kinda quiet enveloped us again. A quiet filled with bittersweet reflections on both our parts as to how quickly time passes. It seemed like just yesterday that A.J. and I returned to San Diego to open Simon and Simon after living in Florida for a few years. But ‘yesterday’ was actually six years ago now. Myron had sold Peerless Detectives and was retired. A.J. and I had long since moved out of that first office we rented by the beach. And Janet was now employed as a lawyer for the Sacramento District Attorney’s office. Six years seems like a pretty short amount of time, yet a lot of things had changed for all of us during that span.
I was just about to break the silence we’d fallen into again when A.J. beat me to it.
“We had a lot of good times, Janet and I.” He looked at me, smiling slightly. “Janet and you and I. Janet and you and I and Marlowe.”
I chuckled at that last remark as I recalled the time back in Florida the three of us and Marlowe were supposed to go fishing together, but then that morning A.J. woke up with the flu. Janet had been looking forward to a day away from her old man’s office, so A.J. insisted she and I go ahead with the trip. I’m sure Janet wasn’t too crazy over the idea of spending the day fishing with me, but to make A.J. happy she agreed. The trip ended with us losing our day’s catch back to the ocean when, in her excitement over hooking a fish Janet, with a little help from Marlowe, managed to tip the boat over and dump us in the water. I think she expected me to be mad, but I wasn’t. We ended up laughing, righting the boat, and going home soaking wet. Janet made a big pot of chicken soup that night in place of the fish we were supposed to eat, and by the time we were ready to sit at the table A.J. was feeling well enough to join us for a late supper. That marked the first time the three of us really enjoyed one another’s company without Janet and I bickering.
I guess A.J.’s never known why the clashes and arguments that were so frequent between Janet and me at that time suddenly stopped. She and I had spent a long day together on that ocean. A day in which we shared with each other a lot of our feelings concerning A.J. A day in which we finally realized we were being unfair to him when we made A.J. feel like he had to choose between the two of us. A day when Janet and I realized the one thing we did have in common was a good thing – A.J. And, it was the first time Janet and I realized we didn’t have to compete for A.J.’s love. He had plenty of it for both his fiancé and his big brother. It just took Janet and me a while to figure that out because the other thing we had in common was our stubbornness.
“Yeah, we sure did have some good times back then,” I said as my mind returned to the present. “It seems like ages ago now, though.”
“I know what you mean,” came the quiet reply. “I took a lot of those days in Florida for granted. Sometimes I feel like I didn’t enjoy them as much as I should have.”
When A.J. didn’t say anything else I could tell he was going to let the conversation end there. I would have let it end there, too, if the question I’d wanted to ask for years now wasn’t nagging at the back of my brain.
“A.J., was I. . .was I part of the reason you didn’t enjoy some of those days?”
Confusion caused A.J.’s brow to furrow. “What do you mean?”
I gave a self-conscious shrug. “I. . .well, I know it was hard on you when Janet and I would get to bickering and arguing. And I’d be lyin’ if I said we didn’t bicker and argue pretty often on a lotta days.”
A half smile touched A.J.’s face. “Yes, you would be.”
I kind of smiled back before I continued.
“Janet and I weren’t being fair to you, A.J. I realize that now. Hell, I realized it back then, too. It’s just that. . .well, I thought sometimes she was trying to change you...trying to mold you into somebody you didn’t want to be, and I didn’t think she was right in doing that. And I know she thought I was constantly getting you into trouble, leading you into dangerous situations, and I guess she had a point. I didn’t mean to, it just kinda happened that way sometimes. Janet was just concerned for your safety and she had every right to be I suppose. I guess. . .I guess we both thought we were trying to do what was best for you, and in doing that only made things worse for you. We both should have left you the hell alone.”
A.J. didn’t say anything in response to my spiel for a few seconds, then I heard, “You both loved me. Sometimes love has a way of causing good intentions to go astray.”
“Yeah, it sure does,” I agreed. “I’ve thought about all this a lot over the years. About our time in Florida. You and Janet. The broken engagement. And. . .well, there’s something I’ve got to ask you that I want an honest answer to. I meant it, A.J. I don’t want you lyin’ to spare my feelings.”
A.J. laughed. “When have I ever lied to spare your feelings?
“Well, for one, the time when you were seven and told me that art project I had worked so hard on only to earn a C and then have Billy Brummel laugh at it besides was, ‘The bestest art project in the whole world, Rick.’ And then you hung the ugly thing on the wall by your bed for a month just so my feelings wouldn’t be hurt anymore.
“And for another, when I was twenty-four and wrote you from ‘Nam all upset ‘cause I was startin’ to lose my hair. You wrote back and said you were sure it was from the heat and the stressful conditions of combat, and that when I got back to the states my hairline would flourish.”
A.J. couldn’t help but laugh again. It was the first time he realized that I’d been on to him many times over the years when he’d lied on occasion in order to spare my feelings.
“Okay, okay. There may have been a few times when I was concerned about your feelings. You did look awfully pitiful that day Billy Brummel said your art project was complete trash, and even his blind grandmother would think it was ugly.”
I smiled at A.J.’s words and the memories they brought forth. The memory of a twelve-year old boy slumped on his bed, disappointed at the results of something he’d put a lot of hard work into. Especially because it was out of the ordinary for that particular twelve year old to put any amount of work into a school project. Then along came the seven-year old brother with a thumbtack and a smile, praising his older brother’s work as he carefully hung the painting on the wall in their bedroom while saying, “Yep, this is a really good project, Rick. I like it a lot.”
Skipping ahead thirty years I returned to the business at hand.
“I’m serious, A.J. I want an honest answer.”
A.J. nodded, though once again he seemed puzzled at the course our conversation was taking. Or maybe he was puzzled as to why I’d press the issue. Usually I’m not a guy who looks too far ahead, or too far back. What happened in the past is just that – in the past. Done and over with. As for the future - what will be will be. That’s generally my philosophy when it comes to life. But for some reason this time I needed closure where my brother and Janet were concerned.
“A.J., did you and Janet. . .did the two of you breakup because of me? Did I. . .did I come between the two of you? Did I put you in the middle of a game of tug of war you had no chance of winning?”
A.J. locked his eyes with mine when he gave me his firm response.
“No, Rick. Absolutely not. You had nothing to do with the decision Janet and I reached concerning marriage.”
I must have looked relieved ‘cause A.J.’s next question was, “How long have you been wanting to ask me that question?”
“A while, I guess. Uh. . .ever since you and Janet broke-up.”
“And you waited this long? Almost seven years? Why, Rick?”
“I don’t know. I figured if you really wanted me to know you’d tell me. I figured it wasn’t any of my business. Maybe I kinda. . .well, maybe I didn’t really want to know the answer. Especially if I had something to do with the two of you deciding not to marry.”
“Well you didn’t,” A.J. assured me. “I can’t deny you and Janet sometimes made things. . difficult. I just wanted the two of you to be friends, while instead you both seemed satisfied being enemies. But, as much as I hated that, I understood where it was coming from.”
“Janet was very possessive of me. I realized it even back then. . .during our years in Florida. It took her a long time to come to terms with the closeness you and I have always shared. I suppose it would have been easier for her if you and I were more alike in personality, but we’re so different. Our interests, our hobbies, the way we go about our daily lives – there’s few similarities between us when someone looks at those surface things, so that made it hard for Janet to understand how we could be so close. How we could share such a tight bond as not only brothers, but best friends. And, I guess I wasn’t much help in assisting Janet’s understanding because even I couldn’t explain it. Still can’t. It just is. It always has been.”
I nodded my agreement. I had stopped trying to analyze our friendship years ago. A.J. was right. We’re opposites in so many ways. Have been since we were kids. But, we’ve always been close, and I can’t explain that either. As A.J. said, it just is.
“And I suppose it didn’t help any that Janet’s an only child. The day- to-day happenings that occur when you grow up with a sibling are foreign to her. Until I got to know Janet I never realized how lucky I am. How much I would have missed if I hadn’t had a big brother who shared his Popsicles with me when I was four. Or let me tag along to the movies with the ‘big guys’ when I was eight. Or took me to school on the back of his motorcycle when I twelve, making me the envy of every kid in the junior high.”
“Aw, I had to share my Popsicles with ya’, kid, ‘cause you always looked at me like a half starved puppy if I tried to eat one without you.”
A.J. cocked an eyebrow at me. “Worked too, didn’t it?”
I laughed. “Yeah, it sure did. You were pretty good at pouting when you put your mind to it.”
A.J. chuckled, then went on. “So there was about our relationship as brothers that Janet just couldn’t understand. Add to that the fact you had only been back from ‘Nam a couple years and it was my first opportunity to be with you on a regular basis since you’d left home when I was thirteen. I wanted to spend time with you. I wanted us to get to know each other again. I can’t deny I pursued that goal at Janet’s expense sometimes.”
“I wanted to spend time with you, too, A.J. I wanted to be your big brother again, and not just some guy you knew and used to be close to. I guess I should have realized I was takin’ up a lot of your time and that in doing so I was bein’ unfair to Janet.”
“That wasn’t all there was to it, believe me,” A.J. shrugged. “It wasn’t just our relationship – yours and mine - that caused problems between Janet and me. Once she decided she was going back to college to get her law degree she started pushing me to do the same. She wanted me to take whatever brush-up courses I needed and then take the bar exam. When I told her I had no intentions of doing that, no desire to do that, she got very angry. And then angrier as time passed and she could see I wasn’t going to change my mind. I hated to disappoint her, but I really liked being a P.I. I felt I’d been lucky enough to stumble into a career I greatly enjoyed and was good at.”
“Why did Janet want you to become a lawyer? After all, you had a good future ahead of you with the prospect of someday taking over Peerless.”
“I know. For a while I couldn’t figure Janet out either. Then one night we were arguing over the issue of me becoming a lawyer versus remaining a P.I. for about the fiftieth time and it finally all came out. Years ago Myron was shot by a guy seeking revenge over a case Myron worked on that resulted in the man losing his business. Four days passed before the doctors were able to assure the family Myron would live. That’s how bad off he was. He remained in the hospital a month. Janet was fourteen and her mother had died of cancer fiver years earlier, so she was frightened and feeling pretty forsaken. While Myron was recovering Janet stayed with an aunt and uncle she’s very close to, but of course their home wasn’t her home, and she just wanted to be with her dad. Myron told me once that after he was released from the hospital Janet begged him to give Peerless up. To sell the business and change careers. She was so afraid he’d be hurt again someday, or even killed. She was just fourteen, her mother was dead, and she was scared she’d be left alone if something happened to Myron. The fear she still carried with her from that shooting was what prompted Janet to urge me to get out of the P.I. business, too. I know she always worried about Myron’s safety. She loves him a lot, and because of her mother’s death, the two of them are very close. Similar to Mom and us. All those worries on Janet’s part are why she was so relieved when Myron retired a few years ago.”
“I can understand where she was comin’ from concerning both you and Myron,” I admitted.
“I can, too. The one thing Janet and I did have in common regarding our families was the fact we both lost a parent at a young age. Almost the same age actually. She was nine when her mother died, I was ten when Dad died. So we had a good understanding of each other’s feelings in that sense. When Janet told me the story of Myron being shot and her fear he’d die and she’d be left alone I could empathize with what she had gone through. Right after Dad died I worried constantly that something would happen to Mom. If I came home from school and she wasn’t in the kitchen or living room where I could find her quickly I’d just about panic. I was so afraid she’d die too, and then someone would split you and I up and I’d be left alone. Fairly irrational I suppose, but when I was ten it made perfect sense.”
I can’t say any of this surprised me. For months after Dad died A.J. would ask me, “Rick, no one will ever split us up, will they?” I’d always laugh at him a little then, before assuring him that the Rough Rider and Toby would never be separated. That I wouldn’t allow such a thing to happen. One day I finally inquired of my ten-year old brother why he was askin’ me that question at least three times a week. When he told me the reason, that he was afraid something was going to happen to Mom, I told our mother about A.J.’s fears. Mom talked to him and assured A.J. that the likelihood of her dying at that time was slim. She then told him if something unlikely did happen and she passed away, she’d already seen to it that A.J. and I would not be split up, but instead would live with our father’s oldest brother and his wife – two people we both adored. Because of those past fears of A.J.’s I could easily imagine how the shooting incident involving Myron would have frightened Janet and put a bad taste in her mouth for the kind of business her father owned.
A.J.’s voice broke into my thoughts.
“As time passed Janet continued to pressure me to quit Peerless, while at the same time Myron was pressuring me to take on more and more responsibilities. It came to a point that those things, combined with several other factors, caused Janet and I to be doing nothing but arguing.”
A slight smile touched A.J.’s face.
“Mom was right when she chewed me out a while back, reminding me that a lot of things I enjoyed Janet didn’t. She did hate the fact that I scuba dived and enjoyed hang gliding. She didn’t like it that I boxed every Saturday at the gym, either. Oh, we had some common interests. Our love for good books, jazz, baseball, but there were a lot of things I enjoyed doing that she didn’t. A lot of things I wanted her to enjoy with me that she had no desire to participate in, and vice-versa. By the time we broke our engagement it really was a mutual decision. I think that’s why we’ve been able to remain friends. We both realized friends was all we were meant to be.”
A.J. and I fell into a companionable silence. Our conversation was finished as far as I was concerned. That’s why I was startled when he spoke again after five minutes had passed.
“I reached a point where I had to make several difficult decisions. The big ones being going into business for myself, and putting my impending marriage to Janet on hold. I struggled for days trying to figure out a way to tell her. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. Then one Saturday night when we were having a picnic on a fairly deserted stretch of beach I decided it was now or never. I decided I had to be honest with Janet and tell her how I was feeling and what my plans were. I couldn’t keep stringing her along, pretending things were okay when they were far from it.
“Coincidently enough, Janet had decided she needed to be honest with me that night, too. To make a long story short I told her of my plans to move back here and open my own P.I. business, and Janet told me of her decision to return to college full time and get her law degree. She didn’t want to spend her life being first, her father’s secretary, and then someone’s wife without anything in-between. I guess we both knew what the other was saying. That in light of our individual plans marriage wasn’t in the cards for us. At least not at that time.”
A.J. shot me a sheepish smile. “We both ended up crying that night. But, as hard as it was for us to say goodbye and realize our relationship was over I think, deep down, we both knew we had made the right decision. On Monday morning I walked into Myron’s office and told him Janet and I had called off our engagement. She didn’t want to face him with that news and asked me to tell him. Then I gave Myron my two week’s notice and told him I was moving back to San Diego to go into business for myself. Oddly enough, he was really pissed about that last part, but not too upset over the first part. I suppose he must have looked at it like Mom did. That if Janet and I didn’t think we should marry then it was better to call it off rather than find ourselves with major problems years down the road when there was the possibility of children being involved and things like that.”
I nodded at that wisdom. As far as I was concerned too many people ended up marrying based on pressures from family members and society.
“So Myron was pissed ‘cause you were leavin’ him short-handed?”
“No, not really. I’ve never told you this before, but Myron wanted me to move back here to run the San Diego Peerless office after Janet and I married. He wasn’t happy with the guy he had in charge here at that time, so he was going to fire him after Janet and I got settled. Myron was really counting on me taking over this office. Even more so than I knew until that day. After he was finished ranting and raving about me being disloyal to him and ‘stealing’ everything I had learned from him just to kick him in the butt by going into business for myself, he calmed down and took me to lunch. He tried his hardest to convince me I was making a mistake by trying to make a go of it on my own. He still wanted me to run the San Diego office, even though I had told him just two hours earlier that his daughter and I had broken our engagement. He said I was the best investigator he had ever trained and he didn’t want to lose me.”
A.J. paused a second while shrugging.
“But I had already made my decision. Even the extra money Myron offered me to stay with Peerless meant nothing. I knew I wanted to run my own business, and I also knew, even though I hadn’t mentioned anything to you about it yet, that I wanted you as my partner. I thought things would be perfect if you and I could be back here working together and living near Mom. I hated her being here by herself during those years we were in Florida. I know she’s more than capable of taking care of herself, but still. . .I hated it.”
“Yeah, I did, too,” I admitted. “So that’s what made Myron so pissed for so long? Because you turned him down on running the office here?”
“Yes. I never have figured out why he moved here to run it himself though. He had a number of good people working for him who could have taken it over. I suppose part of his decision had to do with Janet getting accepted to college here in San Diego. I think the other part had to with Myron wanting to see me come crawling back to him, begging for a job, if our business failed.”
“That sounds like Myron. I’ll never forget the look on his face when we opened our first office across the street from Peerless. I don’t know what he was angrier over – the location of that office, or the fact that you had asked me to be your partner. Myron really thought you were wastin’ your time with me, A.J.”
My brother tossed me a smile. “I knew I wasn’t.”
Boy, the kid can still make me feel as good as he could when he was seven.
I thought a moment before I said, “I don’t think you know this, A.J., but Myron’s real proud of you and what you’ve done with Simon and Simon. He told me that several years ago, and then again last night. He still thinks you’re the best investigator he’s ever trained. He even admitted to me you know a lot of things he never taught you. ‘Course, I assured him I had taught you those things.”
I got a dirty look for that last remark along with a sarcastic reply.
“Yeah, right, Rick.”
A.J. let a few seconds of silence pass before he spoke again.
“As hard as it was for me to see Janet get married yesterday, and as difficult as it was to spend so much time with her six months ago, I still know we made the right decision. I really tried to change things when she was with us last winter. For a while I thought Janet and I could make a go of it again. But then I had to face the fact that our lives have gone in two very different directions, and that there’s still a lot of things we want as individuals that won’t allow us to have success as a couple. At least my head knows that. It might take my heart a little longer to figure it out yet.”
I smiled at my brother as I gave his leg a pat.
“Well, that’s ‘cause you’re a hopeless romantic like I keep tellin’ ya.’ But that’s okay, kid. The world needs a few more hopeless romantics in my opinion.”
A.J. smiled back at me as he turned his head to look out over the water once again. I continued to sit on the bench, mulling over our conversation. While I was happy I had finally gotten answers to questions that had plagued me for years, I felt bad at the thought that I had brought up some painful memories for my brother. I had never intended for our conversation to go as far as it had. I decided there was no way I was gonna head home now. I couldn’t leave A.J. alone to stare at the canal and think of what might have been, while wondering what he could have done to change it all.
I playfully swatted his leg again.
“Hey, do you have any beer in the fridge?”
“Yeah, help yourself.”
“I’ll do that,” I said as I stood. “But what I was actually thinkin’ is that it’s just about supper time. How about if I call for a large pizza that we can wash down with cold beer while we watch ESPN? There’s supposed to be a good ballgame on tonight.”
“Okay,” A.J. slowly nodded. “Yeah, sure. That’s sounds fine.”
I reached down for A.J.’s arm and pulled him from his chair.
“Hey! What are you doing? I was comfortable right where I was at.”
“Come on.” I pulled my brother into the house. “I need you to tell me what you want on the pizza.”
“You’ve never cared before. You just make me pick off whatever obnoxious things you choose that I don’t like.”
“Yeah well, I’m turnin’ over a new leaf here, A.J., and I need your help. As a matter of fact, I’m even buyin’ tonight.”
A.J. put his hand against his chest and backed away from me.
“I can’t believe what I’m hearing. I don’t think my heart can take it. You’re actually letting me pick the pizza toppings and you’re buying? Will wonders never cease?”
“Probably,” I said as I grabbed the kid in a headlock and dragged him to the phone. “So you’d better take advantage of my good nature while you can.”
The remainder of the evening was made up of brotherly companionship. We shared pizza, beer, and opinions as we watched the ballgame. I finally left at ten-thirty with A.J. even walking me to my truck. We stood in his driveway underneath the night sky, talking a few minutes longer before I climbed in the Powerwagon. I rolled down the window as I started the engine.
“See ya’ in the morning.”
“See you then,” A.J. confirmed. “And, Rick?”
“Thanks. Thanks for stopping by this afternoon. I’m glad. . .I’m glad you did.”
I said goodbye a final time, then backed the truck onto the road. As I pulled away from A.J.’s house I thought again of all the times over the years my little brother had found just the right words to make me feel better about myself. The times he had listened quietly while I talked. The times he hadn’t judged my actions or decisions when so many others had. I was happy to be able to return the favor.
Yep, I was sure glad I had stopped by the house on the Grand Canal just to say hi. And to get answers to some very important questions.