On our way to the funeral home in the morning I sat in the car looking at the world outside in a daze. Everything seemed so little and so unimportant to me now. I thought about Jay and about our life and childhood and I cried more tears. My eyes were swollen and my make-up didn’t stay at the moment with all the tears I cried. I would miss Jay so much and I couldn’t imagine not having him in my life from now on.
My thoughts also wandered to Shane and I tried to find a connection as to why he had come into my life at this time. My thoughts jumped back and forth between the two men and as hard as I tried to see a connection, I couldn’t find one. It was just simply a very bad time for Shane to appear in my life. That was all there was to it and I just couldn’t focus on him.
At the funeral home I was nervous at seeing my brother. Nadine put her arm around me as we walked in. Mr. Carlyle, the funeral home director, came toward us and greeted us warmly, expressed his condolences and assured me that everything would be as planned. He assured me I needn’t worry about anything. He showed us to a room in the back where Jay would be for the viewing. My hands were sweaty and I felt my knees get weak. Nadine had her arm around me firmly and supported me as we entered the viewing room.
There was my dear brother in the beautifully decorated room, lilies everywhere. The room was cooler than the other rooms, it smelled fresh and clean. It was lit just enough, not too bright and not too dim. I felt like in a daze as I walked over to the simple coffin on a type of table, covered by a beautiful cloth. The coffin was high enough where I didn’t have to lean down or look up. I saw Jay right there in front of me and he looked beautiful. His face was pale but he looked like he was sleeping. He had always been a handsome brother and his appearance had always been important to him. I softly touched his face and let my finger run over his eyes with the long eyelashes, his mouth with the thin lips and through his dark blonde hair.
“Jay, I’m here. I brought your music and something else.”
I pulled out a stuffed animal turtle from my larger bag and set it next to him in the coffin, “You can have it.”
It was one of my favorite stuffed animals that Jay had always wanted. Every time he had been at my place he wanted to snatch the turtle from me. I never let him but now it was time for him to have it.
Jay’s head was on a soft pillow, his hands were folded on his belly. Just like he had planned, he wore jeans, his favorite T-Shirt and his Converse sneakers. When I touched his hands they were cold and felt stiff and at that moment it hit me again and I started crying some but not nearly as bad as I had been. I was probably all cried out by now.
I had given Mr. Carlyle the music Jay wanted and shortly after the music started and filled the room with a liveliness and even brought a smile over my face. I stayed by the coffin all day, sat down on a chair in between but didn’t want to leave Jay. People came and looked at him, cried over him, touched him softly, spoke some loving words to him and expressed their condolences. Some people I knew and some I didn’t. There were friends, coworkers from the various places Jay had worked at, some people from organizations he was involved with, and nurses and staff from Charity also stopped by.
Our foster parents Cindy and Al came and stayed with me right there for a long time. We talked about Jay, we cried again and we laughed but I could just sense how much love and joy he had brought into so many people’s lives. Our foster parents were wonderful people, they had stood by us and by Jay through everything and even during his illness they had been there for him always. They had always cared for him and had always had an open door and an open ear for Jay and me.
As evening came the crowds thinned out some and soon it was only Cindy, Al, and Nadine. Nadine’s husband Ray had come during the day but had left in the afternoon to go to the club. Mr. Carlyle told me I could stay overnight if I wanted to, they would keep a night staff on duty and there was also a security officer in the building. I decided to stay. Around midnight I eventually told Cindy, Al, and Nadine to just go home and get some rest so they would be fit for the memorial ceremony the next day. They really didn’t want to leave me but I assured them I was okay.
As I checked my cell phone, which had been in my purse all day I saw there were three missed calls. I realized when I scrolled through the recent numbers it was the same number Shane had called me from before. I pushed the call back button and soon after it rang on the other end. When a sleepy sounding female voice answered I realized it was after midnight and I probably should have not called.
I asked carefully, “Is Shane there?”
She sounded tired, “No, he’s out with the guys. Who the hell is this?”
“I’m a friend of his from Charity hospital. My name is Anna.”
“Do you realize it’s almost 12:30 in the morning?”
“I didn’t realize, I’m so sorry.”
She sounded tense and angry, “Yeah, whatever. He ain’t here and by now he’s probably wasted. You can try my husband’s cell but he probably ain’t gonna hear it. They’re probably in some bar getting drunk.”
“You ready for that number?” She sounded seriously frustrated about my late call.
Quickly I jotted down the number on a piece of paper and thanked the woman and apologized again for the late call.
Once I hung up I remembered Shane had told me he was staying with friends out in Kenner until he would go back to Morgan City. I decided not to call but now I knew he had tried to call me three times during the day.
The memorial the next day was a beautiful celebration of Jay’s life. A priest who had met Jay in the hospital and became friends with came to lead the ceremony and some people talked about Jay, I showed photos of him on a screen and we played more of his music. Lots of tears were shed but the building was filled with nothing but love.
When it was all done and over with I was the last person left at Jay’s coffin and I wrapped my hands around his cold hands one more time, “I’ll miss you so very much, but I’ll be strong for you. I’ll laugh again and I’ll remember all the good times we had and the person you were in life and the way we were children and how close we were. You are the most important person I ever had in my life. No one can ever replace you and the love, care, and friendship you gave me, my one and only beautiful brother. Please keep watch over me from wherever you are and stay in touch.” I had to smile about my last words and a few tears dropped out of my eyes and onto Jay’s shirt, “I’m letting you go now, my love. You’re free. I love you so much and I always will.”
I touched my warm lips to his cold forehead, stroked over his face once more and let go of his hands. I walked out and didn’t look back.
On our way home we stopped at Charity and I picked up my car. I assured Nadine that I was fine and she didn’t have to come home with me and should probably go to the club and be there for her husband and all the girls. I felt able to drive and even though I was tired I felt content and almost some kind of peace of mind.
As soon as I was in my apartment I called Nadine to let her know I made it home and everything was okay. I was exhausted and felt tired though. I didn’t do anything but just lounged on my couch and looked through some old pictures and listened to Jay’s music. I was okay though and I didn’t cry.
My cell phone played its ringtone and when I looked at the display screen I realized it was again the number Shane had called from the day before.
For a moment I hesitated but then I answered, “Hello?”
“Anna? It’s Shane.”
He sounded insecure.
He asked carefully, “Is it a bad time right now?”
“No, it’s all right.
“I tried to call you yesterday. I wanted to apologize for being annoying last time. I guess you were probably busy and all.”
I replied, “It’s okay. I tried to call you back last night. I called your number but you weren’t there.”
“Yeah, I heard and I wish I would’ve been here to get your call. I was out with my friend and some other guys.”
“Did you have a good time?”
He answered lowly, “Not really…just dudes getting wasted and stupid.”
After a small pause he asked, “How are you Anna?”
“I’m okay, the worst is over I guess. We had my brother’s viewing yesterday and the memorial ceremony this morning.”
I took a deep breath and Shane said lowly, “I’m so sorry about all of that…If I can do anything, please let me know.”
“Thanks, I think I’m all right.”
I heard Shane take a breath and his voice was trembling as he started, “Anna, listen…I know you said all this stuff on Friday about letting some time go by and that you’re not ready right now for anything.”
He paused and inhaled audibly again, “But I just wish you would maybe reconsider…when I saw you at Charity in the court yard for the first time, I…I was embarrassed and I didn’t know what to do. I thought that I would never see you again. But then we crossed paths again and I was really glad about that. When we had coffee, I couldn’t believe it at first that you actually wanted to hang with me…I was…it made me feel really good. I know we don’t know anything about each other and whatever you want to know about me I’m willing to tell you but I really wish you would want to see me again. I know you’re going through a very rough time right now but if you let me I can be there for you and I want to get to know you. I’m leaving in about a week or so and I’m really hoping I can take you out for dinner or something before I have to go….”
He stopped and I swallowed and thought about all the things he had said.
I tried to find an excuse, “There’s stuff you may not like about me…”
“Even though I can’t imagine what that could be there’s probably some stuff you may not be too crazy about me either but we’ll never know this…we won’t know if we never see each other again. I really want to see you again, at least one more time before I have to go back to Morgan City.”
I didn’t reply right away, my mind was racing with what to say and do.
After a few silent seconds Shane asked, “Anna, you still there?’
“Yes. If we meet, I don’t want to meet at the hospital.”
He sounded relieved, “Sure, no problem…we can meet anywhere. Tell me where and I’ll be there.”
“Can you meet me on Tuesday morning in Metairie at the Lakeside Shopping Center? There’s a diner, Ricky’s. Let’s meet there at 10?”
“Sure, no problem.”
“Or do you need me to pick you up?”
“No, that’s all right. I’ll get there somehow.”
“Yes, I will be there…thanks Anna. I’m really looking forward to seeing you.”
His voice had changed from low and insecure to nervous excitement. We finished our conversation and I fell back on my couch and took a deep breath. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. I wanted to see him again but at the same time I didn’t know if I had room for him in my life.
That night I took a sleeping pill, I just had too much on my mind and I didn’t think I would be sleeping very good. I slept in on Monday until almost noon but I actually felt rested. Before I got in the shower I put on the coffee and it was done when I got out.
While I had breakfast I called Nadine and we talked for a moment and I told her I would come by the club later on, just to visit. Nadine was relieved about that.
When I got to the club that night everyone was happy to see me. The girls hugged me and expressed their condolences again. It felt good to be back at the club. The place really had been my second home over the last couple of years. Nadine and Ray were like another set of parents to me and the girls an extended family. It was a Monday evening and lots of times it was busy with business men who were in the city for conferences or meetings. It was one of those nights and the place got crowded.
I joined Nadine and Ray in their office for dinner and we talked, and ate. After dinner we went out into the club and Darren, our head bartender, mixed us some drinks and we sat, talked, and watched as the club filled with customers and the girls did their choreographies on the stage. Some wore creative and sexy costumes when they first came on. There was a program in which order everyone got their turn to dance and to do their shows. On stage the girls would never strip all the way, topless yes, but never without their panties. There were 30 girls working and dancing at our club at different times and on different nights. Customers could order private dances but had to pay extra for that. The fee to get into the club wasn’t cheap either. We were not just a cheap little club but more on the high end of the clubs in the city. Tourists were sent to us often.
I only sometimes still got on stage on Fridays, and Saturdays. Thursdays and Sundays I was merely in the club helping with waiting on our customers, flirting a little here and there and animating the men to be gracious in their tips for our girls. Sometimes I would sit at a table for a little while, talking and chatting with the customers. I also helped Nadine to announce our girls on stage and I had a small office where I would work on new shows, choreographies, helping with ordering all our supplies and assisting Nadine with the books and administration. I did also get private dance requests and I really couldn’t imagine how Shane would feel about something like that.
Tuesday I woke up to a sunny and nice day, birds chirping outside and the sound of the busy main road traffic not far from my apartment.
I was going to meet Shane at 10 at the diner and as I stood in the bathroom in front of my mirror I looked at myself and I debated if I should change my hair color sometime. I had blonde hair with a red shimmer to it. My hair reached down to my mid back. I had green eyes and I was a size 6-8. I didn’t look bad but I didn’t want any man who only judged me by my looks. I was really a regular woman but it had been difficult to find a man who actually cared for me beyond my looks or if they did, once they found out about my job, they were gone. I didn’t really blame them.
In my closet I debated at what to wear and found a light summer dress, almost reaching to my ankles. I slipped into some matching wedge heel sandals and soon was ready to head to Lakeside Shopping Center. It wasn’t far from where I lived, only about 15 minutes. I felt nervous as I neared the Shopping Center. I was also hoping that Shane had found a way to get to the place. I maybe should have picked him up or met him out in Kenner but then again I felt like if he really wanted to see me he would find a way.
And he had found a way because as I pulled up in the parking lot of Ricky’s diner I saw Shane sitting on a low wall outside the restaurant. He spotted me in my car and he waved. My heart was beating fast now.
I parked, quickly checked my face in the mirror one more time and got out.
As I walked up he smiled and I greeted him, “Hi Shane.”
Right away I found myself glancing to his legs from behind my sunglasses and my hands felt sweaty. He wore blue jeans again, the braces strapped over the jeans again, and a white T-Shirt with a unbuttoned shirt with rolled up sleeves over it. Over his shoulders he had his back pack. He wore a baseball cap again and his black forearm crutches were leaning next to him on the wall. His legs were bent as he was sitting on the wall.
As he greeted me he picked up some flowers from next to him on the wall and he held them out to me as I had reached him, “Hi Anna. I’m glad to see you. These are for you.”
“Thanks, they’re beautiful. I like them very much.”
“I’m glad you do. How are you?”
He didn’t make an attempt to get up yet and I just stood there as he patted the wall next to him.
I sat down next to him, “You’re not hungry yet?”
He looked at me, “I am but I just wanted to thank you again for meeting me. I know you’re going through a rough time right now and I’m sure the last thing on your mind is a date right now but I’m just very relieved that you came out anyways. Until this morning I was actually expecting you may cancel on me. I’m very happy you’re here and I want to let you know that I’m here for you if you need to talk or need anything really. I’m very sorry about your brother.”
I didn’t want to talk about Jay, “It’s all right. Thank you!”
He kept his eyes on me for a moment and then I just got up. He pushed his arms through the loops of the forearm crutches and he pulled himself up, keeping his eyes down on his feet, and as he stood up with a quick little jerk of his hips his braces locked.
When he looked up I met his eyes and he asked lowly, “You ready to go in?”
I nodded and he said, “Go ahead.”
I don’t think he wanted me behind him as we made our way to the entrance door. I heard the familiar dragging of his feet on the ground and the low noises of the braces on his legs. At the entrance though I held the door open for him and he made his way by me, his feet slowly moving one after the other, barely making distance.
Inside a young hostess greeted us cheerfully as she came up to the front behind a small podium, “For two?”
We nodded and she grabbed the menus and said, “Follow me please!”
I had taken off my sunglasses and I had not missed her glances at Shane’s legs. He nodded me to go ahead again and I followed the hostess to a small table by the window. Shane was still making his way over there as I already pulled out my chair. When I looked over to him I saw other guests look at him very curiously. They basically stared at him and watched as he gradually made his way over to me. I sat down and he slowly let himself down on the chair, balancing and holding on to the crutches with tight grips. When he eventually sat he pulled his arms out of the crutches and unlocked his braces so he could bend them. He used his hands to position his legs under the table, then slipped the back pack off his shoulders and dropped it under the table by his feet.
He was breathing heavy and once he was positioned on the chair he looked up and smiled, “There, all done.”
He took off his cap and ran his hand through his dark wavy hair. I watched him and I was reminded again why he had caught my eyes. It had not only been the braces, he was just attractive and exactly how I liked my men, dark hair, and dark eyes. With the rolled up sleeves of his shirt I saw his arms were nicely toned, showing some well-developed muscles. His skin had a natural tan.
I smiled at him and we were interrupted by our waitress, “Good Morning folks, how are ya’ll doing this morning? So, my name is Brenda and I’ll be waiting on you this morning.”
She placed menus in front of us on the table.
We smiled and she asked, “Can I get you folks some coffee to start off with?”
We both nodded and thanked her as she poured steaming hot coffee from a thermos into the cups on the table, “All righty, I’ll be back shortly to take your orders.” She walked away.
Shane was already pouring creamer into his cup.
I took a small creamer container and asked lowly, “Does it not bother you?”
He looked up at me questioningly, and I added, “The stares from people.”
He smiled, “It does but what can I do, right? It is what it is.”
He took a sip from his coffee and then asked, “So do you live close by then?”
I nodded stirring my coffee, “Yes, only about 15 minutes away. How did you get here?”
“My friend Mitch, the guy I’m staying with, gave me a ride.”
“How far does he live from here?”
“Took about 30 minutes.”
He drank again and I started looking at the menu in front of me. Shane also looked through the menu and we both picked out what we wanted. Brenda came back and took our orders.
As she took the menus away I drank from my coffee and I felt Shane’s eyes on me.
“I’m really glad you came. I was getting worried when I talked to you on Friday and you said all that stuff.”
He looked down on his hands wrapped around the coffee cup.
I sighed, “Well, yeah, on Friday I wasn’t really sure what I wanted. It has nothing to do with you Shane. With everything that is going on for me right now I didn’t want to give you false hopes. I don’t want to pull you into all of this.”
His eyes were still on me, “I appreciate your honesty. I just…I just….”
He stopped and took a deep breath, “I just thought when we first met at Charity that there maybe was something between us…”
He tried to find the right words, “Like when I saw you look at me at the park and when you came up to the second floor. Tell me honestly, were you looking for me?”
I looked down and then up again at him, answering shyly, “Yes, I was and I felt pretty stupid.”
“Well, I felt pretty damn good about it, you know, even though a little surprised that you may actually try to check me out. I definitely wanted to check you out big time. I just somehow couldn’t imagine that you were actually looking at me even though…”
He stopped and took another breath, “…like with all this stuff going on with me…”
When I didn’t say anything right away he said lowly, “I wasn’t always like this, you know?”
I nodded, “I figured, but I don’t mind one bit.”
He looked at me with his dark eyes and his serious face turned into a shy smile and he let out a small laugh. He shook his head.
I repeated, “I really don’t mind. Actually just the opposite, I was very intrigued by the…by the braces and I want to know more.”
He smiled and shook his head, “It’s not a great story.”
We were interrupted and Shane seemed relieved I didn’t have a chance to ask anymore.
Brenda set our plates on the table and everything smelled and looked very good. We thanked her and picked up the silver ware. Shane started eating already. I knew he was trying very much to dodge any further interrogation.
We ate for a few moments until I picked up the conversation again, “So you’re done with rehab this week then?”
Shane finished a bite, nodding, “Yeah, Friday is my last appointment.”
“And you’re going back home to Morgan City then?”
He looked out the window and then back at me, “I don’t know yet. I don’t really have a home. I’ve been down here for almost a year.”
He just nodded but didn’t explain any further. I didn’t ask anymore and ate some more again. He kept looking out the window and I watched him.
When he turned his head our eyes met and he asked lowly, “Do you want to talk about your brother?”
This question caught me off guard as I hadn’t thought about Jay all morning and now I was slightly irritated that he had brought up the topic again.
My answer sounded a lot sharper than I meant it to be, “I don’t want to talk about my brother.”
Shane lowered his eyes nervously and picked around in his food, “I know how you feel. I lost my brother too you know?”
I looked up at him somewhat surprised but repeated tense, “I don’t want to talk about my brother.”
He nodded and apologized, obviously hearing the tone in my voice, “I’m sorry Anna. I just thought you may want to…”
He didn’t finish the sentence and I confirmed, “No, I don’t.”
Brenda checked on us again with a friendly voice. She poured some more coffee and Shane watched her walk away, seemingly lost in thoughts.
I asked him then, “Do you want to talk about your brother?”
He looked at me and shook his head, “Not here. Maybe we could go hang out somewhere quiet and I’ll tell you. Unless of course you’re busy after this or have stuff to do.”
I ate some more, and mumbled, “I’m not busy”
Somehow the situation had turned serious and overshadowed by our obvious trauma pertaining to our brothers. I also wanted to know more about Shane and so the idea of still hanging out with him after our breakfast sounded good. We finished our food in silence.
When Brenda came back and asked if we needed anything else Shane replied, “We’re good, you can bring the check.”
As Brenda walked away Shane turned to me, “You’re done, right? I’m sorry, I just assumed. Of course we don’t have to leave yet.”
“It’s okay. I’m done. I guess you just want to get out of here?”
He lowered his eyes and I think he felt bad. Brenda brought the check and he pulled out money from his back pocket and threw 30 dollars on the table.
He shifted in his chair and moved his legs over to the side with his hands. He grabbed the back pack from under the table and slid it over his shoulders. Brenda came to the table just as Shane was getting his crutches and she looked curiously down to his legs, apparently very interested at what he was doing. She picked up the empty plates from the table and Shane told her to keep the change. She thanked us and wished a good day.
He glanced over to me and asked, “You ready?”
I nodded and he pulled himself up with his crutches, jerked his braces into the locked position, and managed a balanced stance and adjusted his feet. He again gestured me in front and as I walked away I saw the other patrons of the restaurant curiously look at us and especially at Shane. I didn’t dare turn around to see if he was doing okay. I assumed he had it and was all right.
Outside I heard his feet dragging on the ground and I turned around to him.
He looked up at me from under his cap, “Do you still want to hang out? I’m sorry I rushed you out of there. I shouldn’t have.”
“It’s all right. Yeah, let’s hang out still. Any specific place you’re thinking of?”
He shook his head and answered, “I don’t know places around here.”
I thought for a moment, “Maybe we can go to the park by the Lake.”
“Sounds good to me.”
He slowly followed me to my car, and I opened the passenger door for him.
He turned himself with his back to the passenger seat and I asked carefully, “You need help?”
He shook his head and still holding on to the crutches he let his body down using his arm strength to not drop into the seat too roughly or even fall. His legs stayed stiff in the braces as he finally sat. He took his arms out of his crutches and pulled the lever behind his knees to unlock the braces, then lifted his legs into the car with his hands. He pulled the crutches into the car and set them next to himself by the door. When I got in I heard him breathing and he took his hat off and looked a bit flushed. He pulled his back pack off and stashed it on the floor board by his feet.
Lowly I stated, “It seems difficult to walk with the braces and all.”
He didn’t look at me but he nodded and said lowly, “It isn’t all the way easy.”
He blew air out and then turned to me, “You want to get some drinks from a store or something?”
I turned up the AC in the car and asked, “What kind of drinks are you talking about?”
“Maybe some beer or whatever you like.”
I shrugged my shoulders, “I guess so.”
We stopped at a gas station store on our way and as I parked my car in a spot I asked Shane, “What do you want?”
He pulled out money again from his jeans pocket and handed it to me, “Get a six pack of Corona and whatever you want for yourself.”
I left the car running for him and went into the store to get the beer and some water.
It was strange for me to think about having Shane in my car but I wanted to hang out some more. I didn’t want our date to be over yet. Every time I looked at him and our eyes met my heart was beating quickly. There was an aura of melancholy around him and I really wanted to find out more. His whole situation intrigued me and the feelings I had at seeing him and witnessing his way of walking in the braces or just seeing the braces confused me but also made me want to get to know him a lot more. Obviously he felt the same way about me so I knew we couldn’t end this date just yet. I just knew there was more to him and I also knew I had to let him in on some details of my life as well.