Ironically the first time I had seen Phillip was at an airport, or rather, the first time I had seen him as an adult, or nearly. I had met him once before, but it had been at least thirteen years, and that memory had become more than a little hazy since then.
It was that day I had been desperately trying to remember as I had drove my father’s worn truck across the Nevada highway to bring back this long forgotten family member. I had been five, or there about, in a cemetery as everyone said their goodbyes to Uncle George. As a child, I could hardly recollect how it was I was related to this man, and death seemed so unreal to me at that moment. My attention had fully been focused on cousin Phillip, whom I had only been introduced to a few hours before. Something had been said, what, I had ceased to recall somewhere in early childhood. I don’t even know if it had been Phillip who had thrown the insult, or I, only that it had resulted in the two of us tumbling in the grass – and my furious father pulling us apart. While the reason for the altercation had been forgotten, the punishment had stayed quite vivid for years.
Shortly afterward my aunt and uncle packed up their family to move across the country, resulting in the thirteen years passing without sight of any of them. Aunt Anna was my father’s sister, and when they had been children they had been close. Even after all those years of almost silence he would apparently do just about anything for his little sister with just a quick phone call. Her husband had passed on three years earlier, and now she was left with a stepson that had turned into a teenager she could no longer discipline. The picture she painted for my father was a rowdy, uncontrollable boy that came and left whenever he pleased and had her worrying constantly throughout the night. Now he was constantly skipping classes, and she had become worried about drug use. What, she had desperately asked my father, was she going to do with him after he had thrown away his education? He may have been her stepson, but he was the only child she had, and it was clear, even from my father’s conversations, she loved him.
In the end they had agreed on two choices, which she presented to Phillip. He could join my family in Nevada, or she would somehow find the money to ship him off to a military academy. After a screaming match and battle of wills, that I have since wondered how my aunt had won after meeting Phillip, he reluctantly chose Nevada and us.
Which had brought me to
Finally a lanky, yet average height teenager appeared, dressed in solid black, with his eyes cast to the floor. He wore black boots and the darkest jeans, loose, but not baggy. A thick, black, studded belt was looped through the jeans, with a portable CD player clipped to his hip, wires disappearing somewhere behind him. His t-shirt almost seemed a size too small and was tucked tightly into his pants, while it named a band I didn’t know then and have long since forgotten. I almost dismissed him immediately, his hair matched the clothing, and I could have sworn that Phillip had been blond, but I also knew that deep inky shade had to be dyed. It was long, and had a soft wave, stopping to rest just above his shoulders. His right wrist had a spiked leather cuff, and as I continued to scan his appearance I knew that if this was him my father was going to, for lack of a better word, freak.
He lifted his head, and I could now see the wires of headphones, along with a silver hoop piercing his lower lip. At the sight of those deep blue eyes, I knew my father was going to freak.
I stepped forward, and he deftly removed the earbuds as I met him. I could still hear a loud buzzing coming from them that I supposed must classify as music, at least to some.
He raised an eyebrow, “Mike?” he asked, sounding bored.
I exhaled the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and nodded. Automatically I extended a hand and wondered momentarily if I should shorten his name, as he had casually done with my own. It came out as a mumbled sort of Phil-l-u-up, which he didn’t correct, leaving me to assume he preferred it to Phil. He hesitated before taking my hand, and shaking it somewhat limply.
“I was worried you wouldn’t recognize me,” I told him, as he released his hold.
“I didn’t,” he scowled, and then, almost purposely, scanned his eyes from the toe of my worn shoes and back to my face, “You are just so – plain.”
His words stung, but I didn’t reply, and he casually replaced the earbuds without further comment. I assumed he must have luggage, so we made our way through the airport, oddly without communication. It was about a ten-minute, excruciatingly silent wait for his suitcases to appear. There were only two, apparently, and we each picked up one, I somehow ending up with the larger. Afterward, I led him to the truck, or more accurately, walked toward it, and assumed he would follow.
He was still quiet when we reached the faded blue Chevy I had learned to drive in, although he showed the distaste plain enough in his eyes. It was the only family vehicle I was allowed to use, and the only one we had besides my mom’s relatively new Ford Taurus. I hoisted the suitcases into the bed while he climbed in the cab, shutting the door relatively quietly. That surprised me, I had assumed he was stewing a silent anger, and had expected him to slam it shut. Unfortunatly you had to slam the doors on that old truck, or they didn’t latch.
I went to the passenger side, re-opened it, and promptly shut it again with the force it required. He made no sound or movement indicating that I had done so, and with rising irritation I got in myself and started the engine. Ironically enough, I remember Chris Ledoux filled the air through battered speakers, earning another scowl. He reached down to his player, and I assumed he was adjusting the volume, although I wondered how it could possibly go any louder. Even more, I think I was wondering how long it would be before he would speak again.
It turned out to be a long time. The drive home was just as silent as the drive to Vegas had been, and now my mind was occupied with worries I hadn’t had before. It was clear in those first few moments that Phillip and I were two vastly different individuals, and not only in appearance.
There was the obvious; I was at least a head taller than he was, and my body had already begun to fill out, passing the awkwardness of a teenager. I would never admit it to him, but he had been right, I was plain; although, everyone I knew was no less ordinary in their own appearance. My jeans were worn, but in good repair, my mother wouldn’t have let me pick up a relative at the airport with holes in my knees. While my sneakers were no longer the white they had been at the beginning of the school year they still had tread and would easily last until winter. I’m sure I had on a loose fitting t-shirt of some kind, quite possibly a solid color, likely brown or tan. My dusty hair was shaggy, but obviously short in comparison, even though I knew Mother would want to take the shears to it soon. In those days my father generally shaved it completely off two or three times throughout the year, while she would trim it up if it got too out of control between visits with the buzzer. It had never occurred to me to pay someone to do what we could at home for free, and I doubt it would have been within the family budget to visit barber or salon in any case.
Appearance however, was not the cause of my concern, although I wondered how my father was going to take the sight of Phillip on our doorstep, it was the indifference. I had never known anyone to be so impolite as to be able to ignore someone for over an hour in a vehicle where they were the only two present. How was I ever going to comfortably share a room with not only a stranger, but also one that seemed content to ignore my existence? I contemplated sharing that fact with him, doubting he had ever had to share a thing as an only child, while I had grown up with three older brothers and a younger sister.
Only Todd, Jessica, and myself remained at home. Shane, the eldest, had been the first to go, leaving in his early twenties, after he was married; but he was still there almost every day working in the shop. It hadn’t seemed that long ago that Daniel had moved out of the room we had shared my entire life and headed off for collage. He had defied all odds my parents had seemed to place on him by getting a scholarship and leaving the state. I had finally had a small place that was mine alone and was relishing in the solitary. Now I had to give all that up for this, unless Todd finally moved out tomorrow, which I knew wasn’t going to happen. Todd was two years older than Daniel; but he seemed content to stay at home for life, as long as our parents would allow him to – and my mother was never in a rush for any of her children to move out.
I could never understand his desire to stay home, even though I few complaints towards my parents. They were strict, but I was not the type of child that found need to disobey them or for rebellion. I wanted out simply because I hated the desert. Not that I had any idea how I would escape, I was a senior in high school, but I had no plans for collage. I just kept adding to my meager savings whenever I could, and hoped something would fall in my lap when the time came, as we all did at eighteen.
Home was about ten miles outside of
I pulled down the dirt road, dust flying through our open windows that I ignored; and Phillip choked on dramatically before rolling his own up. Our black and white Border Collie mix and chocolate Labrador ran up to greet us before we even stopped, tails wagging and barking enthusiastically at my return. Once I had pulled over and stepped out I was mauled by them both.
Jake, the border, had this horrible habit of jumping up at you, but none of us seemed to have the heart to try and break him of it. His paws were firmly locked on my chest as I scratched him behind the ear. Duke’s tail was thumping the side of my leg, undaunted as he waited for his own turn. I reached down to pat him, too, and then shooed the two of them. They didn’t go far; simply took it upon themselves to roam around to the other side of the truck, looking for the new victim, and found him. To my utter surprise he was eagerly returning their affection, and finally spoke since the first time at the airport.
“What’s their names?” He asked, and I felt compelled to join him in the doggie love fest a second time. As soon as I stood beside him Jake was jumping on me again.
“Jake’s this monster,” I told him, “And that’s Duke.”
The sound of the screen door announced my mother, who froze on the back porch when she caught sight of us, or more, accurately, Phillip. He had ignored the sound, continuing to lavish Duke with affection. Eventually she seemed to recover, and started walking towards us; I braced myself for her words.
“Phillip?” Her voice filled with an apparent disbelief that she had been unable to mask.
He shrugged, “Who else?” His tone indicating that plainly he wouldn’t have been there if he hadn’t been Phillip.
She was taken aback, “I’m sorry, it’s just, you’re so – ”
“Dark?” He supplied.
“Uh,” I broke in, feeling absurdly uncomfortable standing between them, “How about we take your stuff inside and I show you to our room?”
He shrugged a second time, apparently reverting back to silence. Taking it as approval I pulled his suitcases out of the truck and dragged him inside – knowing I was only postponing the inevitable.