24.5 | Hey, Sunshine
It had been a while since Blythe had come to visit. She hadn’t been by the new place since Beth and I finished furnishing and decorating. We had still been seeing her, however. Beth would often go visit her on weekends or take her out to dinner. I helped her polish her driving skills for when she took the road test for her license. She had been a good driver already by the time I got to her, having been taught by their mom, but I offered a second opinion. She had nothing to worry about.
She booked the test as soon as she turned sixteen. She borrowed her mom’s car and passed on the first try. She got her license just before wrapping up tenth grade.
Having been working for a while, Blythe had every intention of purchasing a vehicle once she got her license; something used so if she hit a curb or scraped it against something it wouldn’t be as devastating. Beth offered to let Blythe have her car—Beth was overdue for an upgrade, anyway. Blythe wouldn’t accept it as a gift so she paid Beth a number they agreed upon. And then Beth bought herself a new car, insurance now in both of our names.
Blythe was on her way over to finally see our completed home, talked into spending the night by her sister. Beth was excited. The weather had put her in a bad mood—it was grey and rainy with no sign of letting up. Summer hadn’t been very kind to us that year, all but a monsoon with all the showers. Blythe was going to be her sunshine for today.
“I realized something the other day,” Beth said to me as we sat on the couch, eyeing the window near the front door. She had her legs in my lap and I rubbed them up and down.
“And what was that?” I asked.
“Even though I’ve asked Blythe to be my maid of honor, she can’t attend the bachelorette party I have planned. Since it’s next summer she’s only going to be seventeen. I wish she would’ve been born a year earlier so this wouldn’t be an issue,” she licked her lips. Just a year shy of the legal drinking age. “I know she probably wouldn’t be upset but I’d hate to leave her out. I was thinking her and I could do something after but I don’t know if it’s enough.”
“Well, I think Blythe would understand. Even if she can’t celebrate at the party she’s still your maid of honor. That is enough for her.”
“I know this is a year away and all but every bride agrees that no matter how much time is set aside to plan a wedding, it never is enough,” Beth shrugged. “I feel that I can figure out every aspect of my wedding aside from this one. Blythe’s age is the hurdle here. My girls and I are going pub crawling for a few days, we’re already super ecstatic about it, and it just sucks that Blythe can’t come because I think she’d love it.
“Have you mentioned any of this to her?”
“Well, no,” Beth shook her said. “I’m sure she’s not thinking that far ahead. It’s not her wedding. I have no idea how to break the news to her though when the time comes. I know she won’t make a big deal about it but already that makes me feel worse. Like, she’s my best friend and I can’t even celebrate with her.”
“Is there something Blythe has always wanted to do but hasn’t got the chance yet?” I inquired. “Something her age doesn’t hold her back from doing, I mean.”
“There are a lot of things Blythe wants to do only because there is so much she hasn’t done yet,” Beth looked at me inquisitively. “It’s an extensive list. She lives a very safe life, always close to home, but doesn’t want it to always be that way.”
“I wasn’t going to do anything for a bachelor party,” I began. “But I have been considering taking a trip to the mountains with my brothers. I haven’t been there since I was a kid, figured maybe it was time to go back for old time’s sake. Spencer has never seen the mountains before—"
“Neither has Blythe,” Beth smiled. “Dad was supposed to take us when we were younger but then he got sick. Mom doesn’t really have travelling bones and neither do I. We never got around to it. Blythe has never brought it up but I’m sure she’d be interested in going. That is...if you were suggesting you would invite her...”
“That is what I was suggesting. Maybe an overnight trip. There’s a trail I want to try that leads to a mountain peak, then afterwards there’s a place to go cliff jumping. Does that sound like it’s down her alley?”
“I think she’ll have a hard time saying no to that,” Beth seemed content. “That’s perfect, then. One less thing to worry about. Everyone walks away satisfied. She’d probably enjoy what you guys are doing more than what she’d do with me.”
“Maybe just as much, but not more,” I leaned over to kiss her. “You’ve never told me what happened with your dad before.”
Beth glanced at me from the corner of her eye, removing her legs from my lap and setting her feet on the ground. I struck a nerve, the subject sore. He had been sick she mentioned so I imagined whatever it was that took his life must have been drawn out. Suddenly she was in deep thought, reliving a time she had probably tried to forget.
“Mom and dad were heavy smokers when they met. Mom would quit while she was pregnant but would go back as soon as we were born. We were formula babies,” Beth smiled, somewhat fondly. “Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer when Blythe was nine. I was eighteen, just graduated. Stage four. Given six months to live. Only used three.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, placing a hand on her shoulder blade. She scooted closer to me, resting her cheek on my shoulder. “Were you two close with your father?”
“We adored him. He loved us both to bits but you could tell Blythe had stolen his heart. I have always been more like mom but Blythe was, and is, just like him,” She tucked a section of hair behind her ear. “Blythe and I have a theory that if cancer hadn’t killed our dad he would have eventually divorced our mom. Dying has a way of making you honest. He never wanted our mom at his bedside,
“I guess him sorting out his will was pretty much like their divorce. He left her the house and some money. Gave the rest of his money to Blythe and I for school and other expenses—it’s locked away from her until she turns eighteen. If Blythe and I didn’t need mom while he was dying, I’m sure he would have made it clear to her she was not welcome there. There was no indication of this before his diagnosis. To us, they were the happiest couple. A couple to replicate down the road. But he couldn’t stand her in his final months,
“I still have no idea what dad saw in mom to make him so taciturn with her. I’ve asked mom before but she won’t say anything. Blythe doesn’t remember him being withdrawn from her since they became closer than ever. Her face was the last thing he saw before he died. It traumatized Blythe for the longest time—"
Beth covered her mouth with the back of her hand, unable to continue for a few moments. I rubbed her back, letting her approach the rest of the conversation at her own pace. Her emotions came from a place of funereal sadness but I could sense a bit of anger. Envy.
“Dad was having a lot of small strokes near the last few days of his life. Some were undetectable visually. Others came out in the form of him abruptly sitting up with slurred speech. Keep in mind Blythe was the one always there holding his hand. On his last day, it seemed he was doing better than the days previous. He was incoherent, mainly mumbling, but he was smiling a lot. For being nine, Blythe was strong. Resilient,
“We all knew it was only days at this point. His last day was a good day so it hadn’t occurred to us that it was, in fact, his last day. We were all watching television, a documentary about the history of popular music. Dad liked the oldies. Introduced some good tunes to mom. Blythe became obsessed with old music after his death; I don’t mind it but she loves it. I think it makes her feel closer to him,
“Blythe was glued to his bedside when he died. He made a loud noise like he was repulsed by something and Blythe screamed bloody murder. He flatlined immediately after. She was silent for hours, and when she was able to tell us what happened she described his face as twisted, horrified; only an inch from hers before collapsing back into the pillow. I imagine if he had a soul it wasn’t collected from his body, it was ripped. She needed counselling after,
“I know I sound cold about it,” Beth said. “I can talk about it now without crying but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him everyday. I do. But crying isn’t going to bring him back. It just sucks because I have a hard time remembering the good times when he was healthy because all I see are his hollowing cheekbones and his ashen skin. The dying man was not our dad.”
“Do you and Blythe ever talk about it?”
“No. We have never discussed it and I think it would be wise if you never brought it up around or to her. She doesn’t talk about it for a reason. She doesn’t want anyone’s pity,” I nodded. It made sense. Blythe walked with an air of pride around her. “I think her going to the mountains would be healing. I’ve never heard her say she wants to go since dad passed but when she sees the pictures her friends take when they go I just know she tries to envision herself being there.”
“I think Blythe will have a lot of fun,” I kissed Beth’s temple, rubbing her shoulder with my thumb. “I agree it will be healing for her. It gives her a chance to become more familiar with my brothers, too.”
I had the impression Blythe was becoming more comfortable around me again. We had good banter when I sat in the passenger seat but I noticed a suspicious lack of questions coming from her. I never asked her nor Beth how their chat had went when Beth purchased her wedding dress. It couldn’t have been all bad. Blythe and Beth were still two peas in a pod. No one was ostracized or ignored. It seemed everything was running smoothly.
“What if Spencer and Lawrence don’t want to go?” Beth asked.
“Lawrence will go for sure. Spencer will be on the fence but once he hears Blythe is invited then I think I’ll win him over,” I smiled to myself. “He asks about her sometimes when you’re not home.”
“Does he now?” Beth asked, sitting up, amused. Spencer never really came up to visit with Beth. I never forced him to. I was curious to see if he’d come up for Blythe, however. I knew he didn’t mind her. I don’t think Blythe knew that, though. Regardless, she remained civil and polite. The last thing she wanted was to cause bad blood.
Beth’s phone lit up with a notification. She leaned over to check it then sat in my lap, wrapping her arms around me. I smirked, blood flowing as she kissed me. I gripped her waist.
“What was that for?” I asked.
“Blythe just text me to let me know she’s stuck behind two trains. We have at least half an hour before she gets here...” she trailed off, eyes big, pupils expanding.
I stood and Beth wrapped her legs around me, giggling. I took her into our bedroom and kicked the door shut. She needn’t say anymore.
Blythe, in Beth’s old car, pulled up into the driveway. We watched her dancing and singing karaoke behind the wheel. Beth laughed. Blythe, always cute as a button.
Beth ran to meet her, leaving the door wide open behind her. There was screeching, lots of it, as Beth helped her gather her bags. They walked side-by-side up the deck and Blythe looked around, admiring the place. It was different from the last time she saw it. She, too, was different. More mature, more confident, more independent. Still had braces, though.
My thoughts wandered back to the conversation Blythe and I had when we went Christmas shopping, how sometimes things aligned to create the perfect moment. As soon as Blythe stepped through the front door the sun started shining through a break in the clouds. It lit up her hair, almost made it glow. Better weather had arrived in her wake.
“Hey, Sunshine,” I greeted and Blythe laughed as she took off her shoes. She knew where the nickname had come from. “Ain’t no sunshine when you’re gone, apparently.”
“I come with the simple purpose to brighten everyone’s day,” She commented jokingly. “No need to fret, guys, I have salvaged this lovely afternoon.”
“What was that song mom used to sing? You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” Beth caroled, more focused on remembering the lyrics than bringing justice to them. “You make me happy when skies are grey...”
“Oh, yeah, I know what song you’re talking about,” Blythe nodded reminiscently. I made my way over to the front door and collected her bags. “It’s totally my anthem now. I’m copyrighting it.”
“You can work on that after we give you a tour of the place,” Beth linked arms with her sister. “You’re going to love the spare room! It’s yellow, your favorite color. We figured since it will mostly be you sleeping in there we might as well make it a bit personal to you.”
Blythe smiled dotingly. The love she had for her sister was second to none. I wondered what it would be like to have the same compassion for my brothers. I loved my brothers in my own way, I guess. We always had each others backs but I knew that didn’t automatically translate to love, just loyalty. It was weird between us men. Hard to exhibit any affirmation towards each other unless it was explicitly called for.
“I’m glad to be here,” Blythe said.
I turned around and began leading them to the spare bedroom. Blythe loved it. It was as golden as her in there. She made an offhand remark about how it was cozier than her room at their moms place. When we left the spare bedroom Spencer was just coming up. Blythe said hello and Spencer acknowledged her wordlessly.
He did not return downstairs for the rest of the evening. He hung out with us instead.
Clear skies humored us for the rest of the day. We sat outside on the top tier of the deck around the dining set, umbrella open. Beth was sipping red wine; Blythe, Spencer and I were sipping beer. We came to learn that Blythe was the biggest lightweight of us all but she had a high tolerance. She was buzzed after the first beer but kept going strong. She talked more, laughed louder, and even started making jabs at Spencer. Beth encouraged her impertinent behavior.
Spencer brushed it off, not saying much in response. He wasn’t afraid to hurt her feelings, I didn’t pick up on that from him. No one ever treated him like this, no one ever really teased him. She treated him like he was a friend from school and he didn’t know how to respond. There was a couple times he’d say hey in easygoing defense of himself, but nothing was ever taken in offense. At one point he playfully smacked her shoulder which caused Blythe to erupt in laughter.
“So, Sunshine,” I began after bringing her a fresh beer from the fridge. The nickname was going to stick. It suited her. Embodied her, even. “Any plans for next summer?”
“Only every hour of every day,” Blythe rolled her eyes as if it was so obvious as she took a sip, smiling. “Jokes aside, what’s up?”
“Beth and I were talking earlier—"
“Yo, Spence,” she nudged him in the ribs. “Did that sentence make you nervous too or is it just me?”
“I’d be nervous if I were you,” he grinned.
I said, “This actually pertains to you as well, Spencer—"
“Yo, Spence,” she guffawed, poking his chest. “You’re in trouble too. But wait! What did we do?”
“Blythe, oh my God...” Beth sighed, shaking her head with hilarity.
“Next summer Beth has a party planned before we get married but since you’re only going to be seventeen you can’t attend—"
“Like, a bachelorette party?” Blythe asked, pressing her front teeth against the rim of the beer bottle. It looked hilarious and I had trouble keeping a straight face while I nodded to verify. “Oh, fair enough then. Try not to have too much fun without me, Beth, yeah? But do get wasted enough where you forget I’m not there. That is my only request.”
“Anything you say, sis,” Beth laughed.
“Next summer I’m hosting a party of my own, kind of. I want to take a trip to the mountains. There’s a trail I want to attempt. Do you know how to swim?” Blythe said she did, and that she was a strong swimmer too. “I also want to go cliff jumping. There’s a gorgeous lake, water is pristine and blue. Cold, though, since it’s glacial.”
“If you feel obligated to invite me because I’m underage for what Beth has planned then I don’t want to cramp your style,” Blythe said, suddenly more sober than the rest of us. “Truly, I’m okay just hanging with mom—"
“He’s asking because he wants to, Blythe,” Beth intervened.
Blythe leaned forward, neck of the bottle in between her index and middle finger. She pointed at me with her other hand, eyes narrowed. I liked to think it was in good spirit.
“Did you offer to invite me or did Beth imply that you had to?”
“I offered. I think you’d be a good addition to the team. Beth told me you’ve never been to the mountains before and neither has Spencer,” I smirked. “And if by any chance we run into a bear we can just sacrifice you as food. That’s mainly why I offered.”
Blythe’s jaw dropped then she began laughing.
“I knew the offer was too good to be true!” she roared, then humbled. She turned to Spencer. “You’re going?”
“I don’t see why not,” he smiled shyly.
“Hmmmm,” she took another sip of beer, turning to me. “Is Lawrence going?”
“I haven’t spoken to him yet but I don’t think he’ll say no.”
“Okay, I see,” she thought to herself for a few moments. She stared at Beth, almost as if asking her permission, but Beth swiped her hand through the air to indicate the decision was up to her. We both knew her mom would have no quarrels. “I’ll sit on it for a bit. I’ll let you know soon.”
But I could see it in her eyes. It was already a yes.