"Glædelig Jul, J-Two!" I whispered in my little brother's ear as the first rays of rosy dawn came through the curtains in our shared bedroom. Linda had the room across the hall, while far and mor were in the one at the front of our house. I could just remember having the room to myself until Jay came home from the hospital at the end of my third summer.
I didn't remember much about when my sister came home, other than her crying and needing to be fed at all hours, but once she began sleeping through the night, it was like she had always been there. Jay was different—he'd be in my room, taking some of the attention my parents had given to me…and Linda, if I was fair about it. Until Jay, you could say we were still good because there was a parent for each of us if we needed something, but with our new little brother, things would be all confused. Where would the attention come from for Jay? We didn't have a third parent, and our grandparents lived too far away to come visit every day.
Being only three, I was all set to hate him even before he came home.
Of course the relatives all fussed over him just as they'd done for my sister, but that was hard for me to really remember, but now I was three and it bothered me. I don't think it bugged my sister because she was only a year old and still got her share of fussing—but this new crying machine would be around me all the time unless I could find some place to hide. The only place I was allowed to go by myself was the back yard because the barn was full of cows who were big and scary, and I could get hurt by them or the big tools far stored there.
Then I got one of the first 'Talks' I can ever remember a few weeks before they brought Jay home from the hospital. I can remember being held in my mom's lap as she hugged me, and how dad sat next to us holding my hands in his big rough ones that seemed able to do anything in the world. I was going to get a new brother or sister, and that gave me a very special job to do—being a 'big brother'. Some of the other kids near us had brothers and sisters, just like I had Linda, but I didn't understand why they had to tell me about it this time. I found out fast.
Not only would the baby share my room if it was a boy, but I'd have to help look after him! I didn't want to change any smelly diapers like I'd seen done with my sister, but I was told my main job would be to see that he didn't hurt himself if mom was busy, and to play with him as much as possible. That didn't sound too bad—I liked playing and I thought I was good at it. I could chase him around the yard or play cars with him, or even dig in the sand box…maybe he could play ball and bring it back if I threw it?
Linda wasn't old enough yet for me to really do much with except make faces and play patty-cake, but maybe a brother would be more fun. It didn't take long for me to learn differently. The neighbors had a puppy, and we could have a lot of fun for ages tossing balls or sticks for it to chase…but babies of any sort couldn't do anything except yell, and pee and make nasty messes for years. I'd rather have had a puppy.
I could remember Aunt Anna coming here for a few weeks when Linda got here to help out, and figured it would be the same this time. Mom's sister was fun, but she couldn't be here this time because she was having a baby of her own. I wondered if it would be Grandma Edith or Grandma Sigrid, but I was shocked when Uncle Mikkel showed up two days before Jay got home. How could a boy be any help? His first night in the kitchen let us know he couldn't cook, but mom had put some things in the freezer that dad could thaw out, and he could heat up Linda's formula and do her diapers….
Oh, and he could tell great stories, even without a book! I didn't know it then, but it was Mikkel who got me looking forward to being a 'big brother', and if I wasn't jumping for joy about sharing my room, at least I didn't want him to be sent back to the hospital like you could do with some things from the store if you didn't like them.
Okay, maybe a puppy would have been more fun to start out, but it was Mikkel who showed me how much better a brother could be—climbing trees, playing jokes on each other—even telling secrets that no one else knew. Best of all, though I didn't know it at the time, was that I'd always have somebody around to be on my side when a friend might fail you. About all I got from his stories then was the bit about playing…and that would mean more toys. Later on, as we grew up, I found another advantage of having a brother—he could make me laugh even if I wasn't in the mood.
Now it was Christmas morning 1969. I was thirteen, Linda was eleven and Jay was ten…a good day after a couple months of stress, at least for me and Jay. This was the first time the three of us weren't in the same school and I couldn't look out for them like before. I had always been tall for my age, and that had been enough to keep others from picking on Jay, who was on the short side of the fence, though no weakling. Linda would keep an eye on him most of the time, but it had been my job right from the start. Jay made a lot of friends, but he could be feisty too, so the biggest part of my job was calming things down rather than playing the tough guy. Jay would rarely start a fight, but he sure wouldn't back down if somebody else did. There had already been one note from his teacher, and the school year was barely half over.
The stress for me was mainly being in a larger school where we changed rooms for classes a lot rather than stay in one most of the day…and having to shower after gym. I wasn't shy at all because I had nearly all of the parts I should for my age according to the books in Health class, but though I thought it was natural to look at other boys to talk or 'compare notes' as we cleaned up, nobody else did. One of the older boys even warned us that we could be 'fags' if we kept doing it. I didn't know what that meant, but from what he said, it sounded bad. That was confirmed when another boy said he heard somebody got beat up because of it.
There were a lot of new things to get used to, things I needed to know but didn't, and a lot more home-work. How many hours did teachers think we had during a day? On top of all this, far decided I was old enough now to have 'The TALK'…you know, all capital letters to set it apart from regular ones…yep, the Sex one. He did his best, but I thought our text book explained it better, and it had diagrams. He hesitated a few times, but he got through it in the end. What he did better at were the topics our books barely mentioned or ignored completely, like homosexuality or how much more important love and respect were to a good sexual relationship than just being married. Oh, and he told me how to use a rubber. I admit it, that part embarrassed the crap out of me even more than when he talked about jacking off.
We had been raised to ask questions rather than take everything we were told or read as true, so I wondered why he didn't just sit me down and say something like: "Okay, sex is the topic. What do you want to know or don't understand?" It would have been faster, but I guess he wanted to make sure I had all the basics down before I could ask a reasonable question. I was a farm boy, I was observant, and I loved to read, so I hadn't learned much from him that I hadn't known already about how things worked, but what I didn't know was how to fit what books said and what I heard on the playground together…so my first question was "What's a fag, and why is it bad?"
That was when I learned the most valuable lesson of my life: see things for what they are rather than what others want you to see. A lot of people would try to force their views on you to gain something for themselves rather than risk having you find out the facts for yourself. Religion and government were the best at trying to make you believe their version of how things are, but anybody could do it if you let them…so keep your guard up and your mind open. Uncle Mikkel and his friend Sam would be 'bad' if I listened to what people said, but I knew better from personal experience.
I'm sure you're wondering what all this has to do with Christmas back in 1969, but all I can say is contradictory: 'not much' and 'a lot'. See? Jay is a better story-teller than I am, but he was only ten that year, and didn't know my part of it…and while Miles is a better writer, he wasn't part of our family back then either. I'll try to do better from now on.
So, it was thanks to Uncle Mikkel and his stories about growing up that made me actually want a little brother back when I was three…and then Jay became a real person once he could walk and talk. Our roles were pretty much set after that happened when he was two and I was five. I suddenly had a shadow, even on cloudy days. It could have been bad, but Jay was curious about everything and would ask me endless questions—but he always listened to what I told him, even if he might forget after a while. And he wanted me to show him things too—how to throw a ball, how to color, even how to ride his tricycle. Do you know how that made me feel? Let's just say I no longer missed not having a puppy…Jay was loads more fun.
Oh, we didn't leave our sister out either—a lot of the time she was right there with us, running and jumping and playing ball…she even wore my old clothes when we'd play outside. I think mom was disappointed about that until we began school, then it was my sister who found out other girls wore things like dresses and played other games than ball or tag. In time she'd wear dresses for things like school or visiting relatives, but at home it was back to old jeans and tee-shirts so she could play with me and Jay.
And that's why our troubles started, just before Jay's tenth birthday in mid-August of 1969. It was a hot day and we'd been swimming in our pond with a few kids from nearby farms, and were now lazing in the shade bull-shitting as kids will when no adults are around.
"I can do anything you guys can," Linda declared when Andy said he could jump his bike higher than the rest of us. He was fourteen and a little brawnier than me, and he'd gotten a five-speed bike for his birthday in June. In a race he might win, but he was talking about riding up a ramp and seeing how far you could go before you landed. I thought being lighter might help, so I sided with my sister this time, and the challenge was on. Neither Linda nor I thought about excluding Jay….
The contest was ended when Jay landed badly and he flew over his handle-bars, breaking his bike—and his left arm. Far and mor were madder than I'd ever seen them, but I had already been crying because I let my little brother get hurt when I could have prevented it. Linda and I had our bikes confiscated until Jay's arm healed and I didn't complain a bit—in fact, I tried giving my bike to Jay to replace his, but he wouldn't take it. He didn't blame me for the accident at all, but I was doing that just fine all by myself.
So Jay entered 4th Grade with his arm in a plaster cast, and I entered the adult world of 7th with all the stress of a new start and a boat-load of guilt. If Jay could be believed, his cast made him even more popular for the two months he had to wear it, and most of the kids in his class signed it. He was really embarrassed when a couple of the girls drew little hearts on it, but that was the only problem he had. These were all the same kids he'd known the year before, and all the way back to Kindergarten. I couldn't say the same.
There had to be three times the number of kids than were in my class in elementary, mainly because our new school served the three local towns to justify building it more than ten years ago. About five years earlier, the junior high part had been added, then joined to the older high school with a new library and two or three classrooms. We had our classes and lunch in the new part alone, but I was shocked to see real teenagers roaming around too since the old school needed a couple of our rooms for extra space. Everything goes along fine, then you come across somebody a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier. I guess the only mercy was that even though our gym class was in the old school, we had it to ourselves. The high school kids all had their gym periods in the afternoon.
Since the TALK about sex during the summer, I'd done some thinking. I enjoyed jacking off like any boy would, but because Jay shared my room I did it mainly in the shower. From listening to my friends talk, I could tell they got turned on by girls…and that they were all bragging if not lying outright. The showers after gym showed me during quick peeks that most of them were about my size where it counted, but if they were as lucky as they said, there wasn't a single virgin girl left in the entire county. Me—I just listened and kept quiet like my parents taught me. Respect started at home with yourself, and only then could you give it to others.
At thirteen, I wasn't ready to date anybody, but I could tell that some of the girls at my new school were more than ready to get started. Rumors got around fast that a few girls had 'done it' over the summer break, or already had boyfriends, while others were on the prowl to snag some unwitting free spirit. I made some new friends as well as getting back together with my old crowd, but at some point I guess one or two girls decided my time had come. I made it clear pretty damn quick that I had no time since I had farm chores at home, and most of them gave up…except for Karen Zane. I didn't know it then, but she'd be a constant thorn in my side until Graduation....
Okay, okay—back to the main story. Jay: broken-winged but content; me: guilt-ridden, pestered by a relentless boy-hunter named Karen, and in search of a plan to make things up with Jay even though he said I didn't need to. He wouldn't take my old bike, so I got it into my head that his only reason was that it was kinda beat-up and was too big for him anyway. My brilliant plan was to get him a new one, so I began browsing in the big catalogues from Sears and Montgomery Ward's as soon as they arrived in the fall mail.
If I was going to be honest, I'd been saving up my allowance and money from my birthday and last Christmas to get one for myself, but my conscience was yelling at me that I was a selfish dick who'd be driving in a couple years, while Jay needed a bike right now. Jay was more than my brother, he was my best friend, and nothing was too good for him, so my brain didn't have to yell too loud or too long before I was on some Mission: Impossible task to solve the 'Jay's Bike Puzzle'.
When I looked in the catalogues and asked around at school, I found out the newest thing was for a multi-speed bike (at least three or you were a hopeless loser) with something called a 'banana seat' and a 'sissy bar'. About the only use I could see for either one was that it made carrying a passenger easier and kept him from falling off the back end onto the road. I suppose it beat riding on the handle-bars or the little rack I had on the back of mine for carrying books or a tool-kit, and the only 'speed' mine had was me.
I could have ridden my bike to my new school since it was only about ten minutes away on back roads, but now I was glad I hadn't. Who wants to be laughed at when they don't have to be? No, I was content to ride the bus like everybody else until I was a junior and could drive in far's old truck. Yet another reason I could see for Jay not wanting my old bike….
I got another shock when I saw the prices on one of those 'dream rides'; even the most basic three-speed was ten dollars more than I had, and that wasn't counting taxes or shipping to get it here by Christmas. It was time to do some fast-talking, or at least begging, so I went to Linda first. She was all for my idea, and wanted to go in on it with me, but she didn't have any money saved up. She was mad that the dependable grandparents had all gone 'girly' on her and given her clothes rather than jeans or hard cash for her birthday in October. So much for that—my birthday wasn't until early March, which was too late.
One of my remaining options was to ask for money instead of Christmas presents this year…but the flaw there was that I needed the money before then to get Jay's new bike, and we were always being told that money was too impersonal a gift unless it was for someone you didn't know. I was screwed, and it was just five weeks before Christmas. Out of desperation I took an inventory of my room and all my goods, but I had nothing my friends would give me money for…swap, yes, but cash…no.
My parents were normally easy marks for some extra bucks, but with Jay just having had his cast removed, I felt I was on shaky ground at best. To get the bike I wanted, I'd need $25 more, make it thirty-five to cover all the shipping crap. That was too much for mom, though I thought she go along with my plan faster than my father. Still…this had to happen now, and my options were gone.
I knew I couldn't just ask for the money and not give a reason for it—that would be an automatic 'no' in spades…but another thing we were big on as a family was telling the truth even if it hurt. We might get a serious punishment for doing something wrong, and far'd even spanked me once for cussing at him—but once that was over, we were back to normal with a warning, and our trust and resulting freedoms remained intact.
So, two weeks before Thanksgiving, I cornered mor as she was fixing dinner. I poured out my story, from feeling guilty about Jay's arm to wanting to get him a new bike…but that I was short on cash and needed help if I was to get it here by Christmas. I even showed her the page in the catalogue with the one I wanted to get, and explained as best I could that it was just what any boy would want. I tried not to, but I was crying by the time I got to the end, telling her how I had been saving up for one myself, but thought Jay deserved it more than I did—and even said they didn't have to buy me anything as long as Jay got his new bike.
When she saw the price for the bike and how much the final cost would be that I'd added up laboriously on the order form, she asked how much I still needed. I had that figure in my head and told her right away. "Thirty one dollars and seventy-nine cents…."
"That's a lot of money, Gejr," she said softly. I knew she was taking me seriously because she used my given name rather than the 'Jerry' I used with all my friends. If she'd added Harald I'd have been sunk, because that meant she was in a bad mood and would say 'no' right away. I let out a huge sniffle and sigh before I started to wipe my nose on my sleeve. She intercepted my move with a paper towel and shooed me off to do my chores. "I'll have a word with your father."
It wasn't a rejection, but it was the best I could hope for at the moment. It wasn't until three days later that I got called into the living room for a private chat with my dad. Jay, of course, wanted to come too, but far asked him to go help his mom with the dishes. It was my turn tonight, but he went because he could see this was serious stuff…and he figured he could pry it out of me later. Normally, he could but since this was about him, I'd keep it to myself. "Show me."
I went through the entire story again, this time without the tears—not that he would have criticized me about them—and he looked at the numbers on the order form and what I still needed. He waved away my suggestion of not getting any presents to make up for having to borrow so much money. He was more worried by the fact that I felt so much guilt despite assurances that it was an accident, but he was proud of me for taking my responsibility as a big brother so much to heart.
"We'll see what we can do. Is your home-work finished?" He sent me off to help Jay in the kitchen when I nodded my head, and that was the last I heard of it for days. I began to fret that I wouldn't have time to send in my order and get the bike here because of the different shipping zones, and I was on the verge of asking about it more than once. I worried even more when I'd catch our parents whispering to each other then stop if I came into the room.
Thanksgiving day it all came to a head. It was just us this year because the grandparents rotated among their kids for the two big holidays, and Uncle Mikkel and Sam didn't come because Canada's holiday was in October. Before my stomach could explode from excess turkey, and my head from anxiety, I got called into the living room for another quick word. "Your mother and I have agreed to go along with your plan…but we'll check the local Sears first to see about avoiding any shipping charges or delays. We'll go after breakfast, just you and me—and bring your hoard of gold, Smaug."
How did he know I was currently reading Tolkien's Lord of The Rings trilogy?
The closest Sears was at Eastland Mall on Columbus' east side, and though the day was cold, it wasn't snowy. We were in the newer truck because it had a better heater and decent tires, so the trip went pretty fast until we got into the store itself. We might have missed some of the crowds from the mall itself by going in Sears' main entrance, but I doubted it. The place was a zoo…or a madhouse with people everywhere talking loud and trying to get to an item they wanted before somebody else could grab it.
Since far was taller and more muscular than even most of the salesmen on duty, not too many people jostled us, though I had to stay close or get separated from him some times until he took my hand. The toy department was a little less crowded, but not by much. On the weekend I could imagine it crawling with kids begging for the latest this or that and promising to be good all year. I almost laughed at that because we were about a month shy of it being New Year's Eve.
At one end of the bike display I saw the bike of my—okay—Jay's unknown dreams…and it came in three glittering metallic colors: cherry red, bright blue and another in lime green. All had the new style seat in a flecked plastic that practically glowed in the same color as the bike itself. When we took a closer look, one was a three-speed, and the other two had five. I'd counted on the three-speed as the most I could afford, and the one here was red. I knew Jay liked blue or green more. Big rectangular price tags dangled from the handle-bars of every bike we could see.
I couldn't figure out why the price on the red one was five dollars more than I'd seen in the catalogue, and asked about it. Something called 'mark up' according to the salesman, which covered the cost of shipping it to the store, then having one of their employees assemble it for the customer. Sounded bogus to me, and I whispered as much to far. I think he agreed because he turned to walk away, taking my hand in his, and my heart sank. We'd be lucky to get one delivered from the catalogue by Christmas now…but it would be an honest price.
"It looks like your son really wants the bike…" the man called after us. With our backs turned, we exchanged glances, and I shook my head just a little. I'd rather do it by mail than be ripped-off. I got a wink in return.
"You don't seem to have the one we want, so we'll take our chance through the Wish Book." I didn't know what that was, but guessed it might be their giant catalogue we had at home. "You don't have the three-speed in blue…."
"It'll only take a minute or two for me to call the warehouse, or the stock room here would be even faster. We pride ourselves on having a wide range on hand to fill our customers' needs."
I learned in a few seconds that all this was a bargaining session despite the listed prices…employees got a small piece of each sale to compensate them for a slightly lower hourly wage than was normal. The trick was to get that cut down to something both sides thought fair. Businesses never paid a price even close to that quoted because they couldn't make a profit doing that and still get customers to come in. I'd just learned how to play poker with my friend Tommy and his brothers, and this sounded like the betting we did. Dad laughed and said it was just the same.
The man was back. "We don't have any in our stock room at the moment, and it will take a couple days to get one from our warehouse across town…: He made another offer. "I can sell you a blue five for only ten dollars more than the red three, and you could take it home today….Give us two hours to assemble it?"
I thought it sounded like a good deal, but what did I know? Dad was doing some quick figuring in his head. I got a surprise at his next words. "Sorry, we're short on time, and can't really wait that long…just out of curiosity, how long has the display model been sitting there, and how much has it been ridden?" As far as I knew, we had all the time in the world…then I figured out that this was another 'bet' on his part…or was it 'bluff'? I wasn't sure of the terms yet from playing poker.
The salesman looked a little shocked, but I couldn't tell if this was genuine or more of the game. "These are new models for this season and have only been in-store for a month. Each was put together in our shop, then tested in the parking lot to make sure it was working perfectly to spec. Sears never sells anything less than top-quality merchandise."
Okay, even I could see this was part of the game now. How long would this go on, and would we leave with Jay's bike or not? "Let's give it a quick look-see, Jerry, before we make up our minds…" I looked over the whole thing with my dad, and even checked the bolts with a wrench that came with the included tool-kit. It was all good, and I even got to do a quick check of the brakes by riding it ten feet down the aisle, though at a very slow speed. I pointed out that the seat was fine for me, but it could be adjusted for Jay by loosening two bolts and lowering it another inch or two. He could ride this even if he got as tall as my current 5' 9" height or even a bit more.
"Okay," my dad said, "let's talk turkey…"
I don't know exactly what the final price was because the salesman cut off the tag and walked over to the cash register to ring it up. I'd given my dad all my money before we left home, and hoped he didn't have to add in too much more on top of that. When we left the store, we had the bike, the tool-kit, all the manuals which extolled the bike's features and assembly instructions, and a warranty that covered it for three years' worth of repairs or replacement if needed.
Now came the hard part—keeping Jay from finding it before Christmas. It was worth all the trouble when I saw his face light up when he saw his present parked next to the tree in the family room, wrapped with a gigantic red bow. Propped up in front was a big card:
To my dear brother Jay
From his loving Jerry
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