Count to One Hundred

An Excerpt

By Lauren Brindise

     His laundry has been sitting there for days. There on his rocking chair it has been sitting. The days go by and still it sits. The C of his name has been freshly painted. That pile will probably never move. It takes too much to fold and sort all of the clothing. There it will sit, day after day, perhaps month after month, and still it will not move.

    He didn’t even have the decency to leave a note. He used my father’s good suitcase and got himself out of town, dirtying the carpet with the mud from his black Vans as he dragged the luggage through our house. It no longer smells of peppermint and God knows I’d do anything to smell that again at this point. When a sliver of silver catches my eyes, the wrapper of chewing gum, I collect that foil and file it away in my moleskin to smell later; when I need to remember. All that’s left of Connor’s smell is dry sweat from his band uniform. Fragrance flyers hang in every doorway and multiple fans blow air through the house and its hallways, but you can still smell him: dry sweat, but no peppermint chewing gum.

    I’m the one who figured it out, first going to the police with ideas of kidnapping, only to realize the suitcase was gone when the police came to investigate. “He wasn’t kidnapped son,” a sweaty policeman wheezed, “we noticed a piece of luggage missing, he must’ve got out of town.”

    The last look Connor gave me was a wry smile and the last words he said, “you will not show weakness,” ring in my ears. Weakness with what? Him leaving? I must be weak, I mean I couldn’t stop looking for him until my father said “enough” and even now I still get anxious when I come to his familiar hangouts. I have come to the conclusion that the weakness I was told not to show was in life. In being a man. In learning how to be one without my brother guiding my decisions.

    My bedroom is where his dry sweat is the strongest so I turn off the fan. If I can’t smell peppermint, sweat will have to do. His few articles have gathered dust, there is even a thin covering on his pile of clothing. My rocking chair is the only clean surface. The chair where my mother painted my name. Her loopy handwriting has begun to rub off. The N is halfway scratched away. I sit down and stoke the chair, the craftwork done by my father, with my brother. Connor left marching band, his girlfriend, and me for a place where no one knows him, a place where he can be someone new.

            *            *            *

    I wake up with the cool air from the open window; it raises goosebumps across my skin. I look into the above mattress and find that Connor has disappeared. It’s not like Connor to do this so late at night; he prefers to silently exit after dinner to avoid my father’s predetermined lecture. I slip on my Nikes and stand from my chair, a quiet creak escaping. I slip from my bedroom, down the hall, and into the bathroom.

    My eyes are bloodshot as I lean into the sink. I run the water, waiting for it to warm and eventually splash my face with cool water. I smack at my creased cheeks, hoping to chase my nightmare away. There is a noise from the kitchen and I exit the bathroom, making my way towards the sound. The lights are off and I squint my eyes, anticipating harsh light. The kitchen is empty, all the oak cupboards are shut, our magnet-covered refrigerator is humming, and the steady drip of the sink is familiar. Connor must have run off, thinking our parents would wake at his noise.

    I walk towards the back door and open the blinds quietly in search of Connor’s retreating figure. The surface of our pool ripples slightly in the wind and I can see bubbles gurgling and churning in the spa. I open the door and step outside into the cool night. The moon plays an ongoing game of hide-and-seek with the thin white clouds and I shiver. I smack at the annoying mosquitos searching for unprotected skin among my body. I can’t smell Connor’s sweat from out here. I can’t smell anything but fermenting flowers.

    It is too cold and standing I walk towards the back door and grab at the metal handle. It creaks slightly and I barely move as I open the door wide enough to slide through. Once inside, the wind slams the door shut. I grab the cool handle tightly. I can hear tired feet walking across the wooden floor. I turn to make an escape but the hallway is too far. I hope it’s Connor or my mom. Anyone would be better than my dad.

    “Nathan, why are you up bud?”

    I let out the air that I have been holding in. I shake my head quickly.

    “I thought I heard something...a noise or something.”

    I wait patiently, knowing my excuse isn’t going to cut it, he’s going to rage, like he usually does. His left eye twitches slightly. He knows Connor is missing.

    “Nathan, go back to bed. Alright?”

    This is not what I am expecting and I am so surprised I let it slip.

    “Aren’t you going to ask about Connor?”

    His eyes bug out slightly and I know that Connor is going to kill me when he hears I snitched on him.

    “Conn? Nathan what are you talking about?”

    I shake my head in refusal; I won’t give him up. But the way my father is looking at me, I have to. Connor could be in trouble and by telling my father I am helping him.

    “I think he snuck out, Dad. He’s not in his bed and I heard him leave the house earlier.”

    At this, I see all the color leave my father’s face. This is it. I prepare for the onslaught of yelling. But that’s not how he reacts, not at all. His bare feet slap quietly on the wood floor as he walks towards me slowly. He grabs my hand in his and walks down the hall, towing me. I’m not a child anymore, but in this moment I am transported to my seven-year-old self.

    He pushes open the door and pulls my plaid comforter back. Pushing me towards the bed, he sits me down. He pulls one Nike shoe off followed by the other and tells me to lie down. I pull the covers around my body and shiver at the warmth. My father and I both know Connor is gone now; who knows when he’ll be back?

    “When Connor gets back, will you let me know, Dad? Just so I know he’s safe?”

    Closing the door gently as he exits, he leans his head back in.

    “Sure, sure, Nathan. Just go to sleep bud.”

    I close my eyes and begin to count to one-hundred. On thirteen I try to breathe slower. On nineteen I start to fall asleep. On twenty-seven I remember. On forty-eight I begin to cry.


            *            *            *

    I wake up slowly, dried tears cemented in the creases of my eyes. Yawning loudly, I remember the night. It’s mid-afternoon and the smell of dry sweat lingers in the air. His laundry no longer sits on the chair; it has vanished.