Thomas finished setting the table and poured himself a glass of wine. The day had been busy. Since Mike Erikson’s death, everyone was on edge, supporters and protestors alike. Thomas had done his best to ensure those on his side that the work they were doing was worth it—that Mike wouldn’t want them to stop. Some had left, others had stayed but been silent. And still others had doubled their volunteer hours, enraged at the violent acts by their fellow Americans. Thomas leaned back in his chair and let the Merlot rest on his palate. The bittersweet flavor encapsulated each taste bud and rested there after he swallowed. He swirled his wine glass, holding the stem with the tips of his fingers.
He remembered his first glass of wine with Mike. They discussed the implications of supporting Ahmad and his family, yet there was never any doubt in either of their minds about their loyalty to Ahmad and their responsibility to his family. After aiding in the Hassan family’s flight from Palestine, they felt obligated to provide their friend with a place to freely practice his religion. They both agreed without hesitation that they would organize the support system within the neighborhood and within New York for a Muslim community center. Thomas wondered if Mike would have changed his mind, knowing the outcome of it all.
The door opened and closed, sending a loud thud echoing through the small apartment. Thomas placed his glass on the table and strode to the living room to greet his sister.
“Hello there Sis,” he said, smiling at her appearance. She was holding her yellow flip-flops, staples to her wardrobe during the spring and summer months. Her long brown hair flowed over her shoulders and frizzed slightly at the ends. He thought she looked like a daisy, beaming at him, fresh as the spring flowers. She took four steps to cross the small living room and gave Thomas a hug.
“Hello Brother!” Thomas thought she sounded especially happy and wondered why. Then again, he knew once what it was like to be that age. To be that age and to be in love. He used to worry about Rebecca and her boyfriends. He was even wary about Rebecca and Michael when they began dating. But he and Mike both agreed that the two couldn’t have been better for each other. Thomas liked the idea of Rebecca’s boyfriend having loyalty to the entire family.
Rebecca pulled away and skipped into the kitchen.
“What didya make for dinner? I’m starving!”
“Your favorite, roasted pork chops and scalloped potatoes. Rosemary and all!” Rebecca giggled and took a seat across from Thomas’s abandoned glass of wine. “What have you been up to today?”
“Oh, just enjoying the wonderful spring day. Michael and I took a walk in the park. It was absolutely lovely.”
“You should have invited him to dinner. I would have loved to see him. He’s been laying low since the accident,” Thomas said, hesitating on the last line. He hadn’t seen Michael since the funeral and was concerned about his stability. But both Michelle and Ahmad had assured him that Michael was doing well—grieving, but doing well.
“Oh, well, you know Michael. Doesn’t like to show his feelings and all. But I think he’s doing well. And he said he had to get home to see his mother.”
Thomas thought about Michelle. She had been a rock at the funeral. In public she stood tall. She stood proud of her husband and what he had done. She greeted each patron who attended the ceremony, thanking them for their condolences beneath her black, veiled hat. Her soft hands gracefully accepted each handshake, each hug. Tears only escaped her brown eyes when Ahmad performed the eulogy, and even then, only for a brief moment.
Thomas set the pork chops on the table and turned to fetch the potatoes.
“Would you like a glass of wine, Sis?” he asked.
“That would be lovely.” He poured the wine and in a waiter-esque balancing act managed to bring potatoes, glass, and bottle to the table all at once. Rebecca laughed and applauded, and after placing each item on the table Thomas gave a quick bow.
“Dinner,” he said with a French accent, “is served.” He sat at the old, wooden table. Rebecca took a swig of wine then scooped a healthy serving of potatoes. The phone rang. Thomas and Rebecca both looked at each other, heads tilted, and laughed.
“Go figure,” she said and continued eating.
“Yep, they always call at dinnertime!” Thomas pushed his chair back and danced across the kitchen to the phone. “Hello?”
“Thomas, it’s Ahmad. Something’s happened. Is Rebecca with you?” Thomas turned to face his sister, unaware of anything but the rosemary roasted pork chop that now engulfed her plate.
“Yes, we just sat down to dinner,” he replied. Rebecca smiled at him and he returned the favor. He took a few steps into the living room and let the expression of worry that suddenly manifested inside him wash over his face. He lowered his voice. “What’s going on?”
“It’s Michael. He’s…not stable. I showed him all the letters when he came home and he just went insane!” Thomas could tell Ahmad was on edge. “I…I thought he was going to…I thought…” Thomas heard a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. “He blames me for his father’s death.”
“Where is he now?” Thomas thought of his sister in the next room, innocently stuffing her face with meat and potatoes. He knew Michael might lash out at her next.
“I don’t know. He stormed out of the house about 30 minutes ago. Michelle just got home and said I should call you immediately.”
“Yes, thank-you. I’ll be sure to let you know if he comes here.” Thomas prayed he didn’t.
“Don’t let him talk to Rebecca. The look in his eyes. I just…I just don’t know what he’s capable of. There was so much anger.”
“Thank-you Ahmad. Call me with any news.” Thomas hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He knew Michael couldn’t be “doing well,” as everyone said. The anger and hate behind his father’s death catapulted itself into Michael’s soul. And that type of powerful emotion can drive a man insane.
“Thomas? Who was it?” Rebecca asked with a mouth full of food.
“It was Ahmad,” he said. He returned to the kitchen and looked at his sister. He never found it fruitful to lie to her. “Michael seems to be having some issues. He attacked Ahmad and might be coming here.” Thomas gauged her reaction. She chewed her food slower and nodded. She swallowed and finished her glass of wine.
“Attacked him?” she asked.
“Yes, verbally mostly. But Ahmad was very afraid, and wanted to warn us, just in case. I think it’s best that if he does come here, you go to your room. I’ll talk with Michael alone.”
“Okay.” Rebecca nodded again and piled in another bite of food. She stared straight ahead, her body rigid and tense.
“Rebecca? You have to promise. Look at me and promise that you won’t see him until I say it’s okay.” She finished swallowing and turned to look Thomas in the eyes.
“I promise,” she said, then smiled. Thomas nodded, confirming the verbal contract between brother and sister. He took his seat and tried to eat. He sipped his wine. The clinking of the silverware against the plates echoed in the tiny kitchen. A certain tension floated in the air but Thomas couldn’t decide exactly what was causing it. The news about Michael? Certainly that was contributing. But there was something else hanging there, too. He polished off his first glass of wine and reached for the bottle to pour a second.
“I have some reading to do,” Rebecca said. Thomas looked up and met her eyes, his hand resting on the green glass bottle. She smiled with her lips, but those wonderful blue discs that normally sparkled with life were empty. She cleared her plate and left the kitchen without another sound.Thomas stared at the empty doorway. That emptiness within his sister haunted him. Worried him. He lifted the bottle of wine and tilted the neck to his glass. It was empty.