When Lexi heard the knock on her front door, she knew without looking that it was Brady. Instead of showing up on her doorstep unannounced, this time he called first and requested to bring her dinner.
“Hey, there,” Lexi greeted him as she held the door open wide. Brady brushed past her with a bag in each hand.
Holding one bag high, he said, “Complements of Colonel Sanders.”
“That’s a lot of food for just the two of us.”
“The girls aren’t here?”
“They’re at the neighbor lady’s house. She invited them for dinner.”
Brady feigned a sad face and asked, “You weren’t invited?”
“She called after you did, so I had to decline the invitation.”
“Well, her cooking might be better than mine, but I brought wine.” Brady wiggled his eyebrows at her, his eyes twinkling.
“How thoughtful of you,” Lexi couldn’t help but smile at him. Brady always made her smile with his over the top silliness.
As she pulled plates and glasses from the cabinets, Brady unpacked the fried chicken and sides from the bag. “Thanks for letting me come over on such short notice,” he said.
“Well, I was very busy watching paint dry tonight, so it was very kind of me to make room for you in my schedule.”
“I’m very grateful,” Brady smiled, as she poured sweet tea into their glasses. “What have you been painting?”
“The girls’ bedroom.”
“Very nice,” Brady replied as he pulled her chair out for her.
“So,” Lexi began, as she bit into a piece of crispy chicken, “you said you wanted to talk about something?”
“Yeah.” Brady wiped his mouth with a napkin. “I talked to my sister.”
“About my brother?”
Lexi stopped eating as she gave him her full attention. “What did she say?”
“She didn’t say much.” Brady looked apologetic. “She wouldn’t even talk about it until I asked her outright if Kyle was Dalton’s daddy.”
“I was right, wasn’t I?”
Brady nodded. “I could tell the answer from the look on her face. I thought she was going to pass out.”
“What did she say about it?” Lexi repeated her earlier question. “Does she know where my brother is?”
“I don’t think so,” Brady answered. “She really didn’t want to talk about it, but I finally got a little bit of information out of her.”
Lexi’s heart was pounding in anticipation as she waited for Brady to go on.
“I think we were right about him leaving because he was scared he was going to go to jail,” Brady offered.
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
“But he didn’t know she was underage.”
“What?” Lexi looked as confused as she felt. “What do you mean he didn’t know?”
“Brittany said she told him she was nineteen. They met at a college party in Knoxville. Brittany was sneaking around with some older friends of hers. She met Kyle, told him she was older than she was, and they dated for quite a while.”
“And she was lying to him the whole time?”
“Yeah,” Brady looked sad. “That’s why she would never tell us who the father was. She felt bad for lying to Kyle, and she didn’t want him to get in trouble. She told me she was in love with him.”
“So, she told my brother she was pregnant, she was really seventeen instead of nineteen, and then he freaked out and left?”
“Sort of, but not exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she told him she was pregnant, she was seventeen, he freaked out, and then she told him two weeks later that she had an abortion.”
“Why did she tell him that?”
“I don’t know.” Brady shrugged. “Like I said before, she didn’t want to talk about it.”
“If he thought there was no baby, why did he leave?” Lexi’s eyes filled with tears. She hadn’t thought about her brother very much over the last few years, but that was before she was spending every weekday for the past month in close proximity to his six-year-old son. Seeing her brother in Dalton’s face every day had him on her mind a lot. Thinking of him made her miss him, which is why she had tried not to think of him much over the years.
“I don’t know.” Brady’s eyes were shadowed with concern. “Brittany said he seemed relieved when she told him she had an abortion, but that she never saw him or heard from him after that. She said she was really sad, but she chose to move on with her life without him.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.” Lexi sighed. “If he thought he was off the hook, why did he take off? I understand breaking things off with Brittany and never speaking to her again, but why would he leave us? We were his family.”
Brady shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he had other things going on.”
They went back to their dinner, each occupied by their own thoughts, until Lexi broke the silence. “I think it was wrong of her to keep Dalton from us.”
“What?” Brady looked surprised. “What are you talking about?”
“Dalton is my nephew,” Lexi replied. “He lived in the same town as his grandmother, and she never knew he existed. And now,” Lexi’s voice broke, “and now she never will. It’s too late.”
“I’m sorry,” Brady looked at his plate.
“She kept him away from us.” Lexi’s bottom lip trembled.
“What was she supposed to do?” Brady suddenly sounded defensive of his sister. “If she told everyone Kyle was the father, you would have known Dalton was your nephew, but your brother could have gotten into a lot of trouble.”
“If she hadn’t lied to my brother in the first place, no one would have been in trouble,” Lexi countered. “Kyle wasn’t a creep. He got into a little bit of trouble now and then, but he wasn’t a bad guy.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Brady admitted. “My sister was seventeen. She did something stupid, and then she tried to fix it. Maybe it was a bad decision, but she was just a kid.”
Lexi’s eyes met his across the table. What were they doing? She had felt a connection with Brady that first time he asked her to go for drinks with him the previous summer and hoped there was something there, but this recent shift in the dynamic between them was unsettling. “How about a glass of wine?” she asked.
“That’d be nice.” He looked relieved to shift their attention away from the current topic.
She filled his glass and handed it to him, saying, “Let’s talk about something else.”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.