This is a first. All four of us in the same room at the same time. Even if we are just downstairs in the library where Dad usually works until late at night. We’re squared off with Mom and Dad sitting on a red leather couch; Sarah and I on the one opposite. A glass coffee table separates us like a neutral buffer zone.
Mom’s voice is pleasant, “Isn’t this nice. A family conversation. We should have these more often.” Dad’s cell phone vibrates. We all look at him. Dad raises one finger—asking for a second—and says into the phone, “Got an interesting conversation going here. Talk to you later.” Then he does the unthinkable—he holds down the button until it turns off the phone completely.
“What’s up kids?” asks Dad. “Take all the time you need. All night, if you want. Tomorrow’s Saturday. We can sleep in.”
We all know the joke. Dad never sleeps past 5:00 a.m. He says he’s just wired that way.
Sarah looks at me. I nod my head. She begins, “Look, we can’t stand all the fighting. This house has so much anger. We’re tired of it.”
Mom says, “Honey, your dad and I are just two very strong willed people both with high pressure jobs. If we didn’t let off some steam every so often, we’d both burst. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Mom is right. It’s the ones who keep it all inside you have to watch. They’ll explode from the pressure build-up and die of a coronary.”
“Even so,” continues Sarah, “It hasn’t been easy for Brian and me. We want a change. Actually, it was Brian’s idea. He’s the smart one between us.”
Mom nods. “So what’s your idea, Brian-the-Brain?”
“Well, summer vacation starts next week. Without school and its air conditioning, it’ll be miserable here in the City. So Sarah and I want to leave.”
“Leave?” asks Dad. “You mean, just the two of you? Without us?”
Mom asks, “Leave as in run away? Honey your friends will think that you’re some elementary school kid. Aren’t you worried what they might say?”
“No. Besides, Brian and I are not running away. We are going away for the summer. Of our own choosing. We’re going to Aunt Helen’s and Uncle Jack’s house in the islands.” Mom first opens, then shuts her mouth.
She needs some help with the next step. “Uncle Jack and Aunt Helen live on a beautiful Caribbean island for the summer. They don’t fight either.”
“Really?” asks Dad as if this is news. He knows where Aunt Helen and Uncle Jack live in the summer. At least he doesn’t quite reject my idea. “So you both want to leave home for three whole months? Both of you forsaking your friends? What if they forget about you, Brian? Sarah, what if Bobby Jones falls in love with someone else?”
“His loss. Anyway, we will be the coolest kids in our class, getting to spend the summer on an island. And we can always stay connected to what’s happening with our friends on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snap and the rest. It’ll be like we never left, only we’re too cool to stay here melting away our summer vacation in New York City.”
The library in our house has walls covered with dark brown leather and the floors are dark hardwood; the furniture is red leather. It’s like all this darkness sucks in the light. Mom’s face is in shadow. Even so when she turns toward the lamp I can see the lines across her forehead.
Sarah breaks the silence, “It will be nice just laying out on the beach with no one telling us what to do and when to do it. I like Aunt Helen and Uncle Jack. They’re so mellow.”
Dad raises his eyebrows. Then he winks at me, “And Aunt Helen is beautiful. But then again, your mom is gorgeous. Bet you think I don’t notice. But I do.”
Sarah says, “Do you know why I never invite my friends over? It’s because of all the tension here. Remember what happened at the Jonathon Club last Christmas?”
Mom’s forehead wrinkles some more.
Sarah continues, “That was awful. The manager had to call security. Then you both kept yelling at each other while the valet was getting the car.” Sarah shuts her eyes at the pain. “I never told you that someone—I never found out who—videoed your fight and sent it to the school list. Whatever it costs me, I will never risk such humiliation again. Never.”
“So being out of the house for the summer beats being away from my friends every time. Besides, like I said, I’ll stay in close touch on my cell.”
My turn. “I already called Aunt Helen and told her about my idea.”
“You did?” asks Dad. He seems surprised. “What’d Helen say?”
“She and Uncle Jack are cool with it. They both said that we need your permission. Uncle Jack even said he’d go to bat for us.”
“The deal is done,” says Sarah. “Aunt Helen and Uncle Jack already said yes.”
Dad stops clenching his jaw. I take it as a sign of defeat.
Dad says, “Okay. We admire your initiative. But you two need to know some things before you make your final decision.”
It can’t be this easy. What’s missing?
“Your Uncle Jack is a great guy,” Mom begins, “I’ve known him for twenty years. He is a solid person and one in whose care I would trust you both for three months. Same with Helen. They said they’re glad to have you.”
“Wait,” Sarah says. “You already talked with them?”
Mom laughs, “Of course, Honey. Helen and Jack both called us as soon as they got off the phone the first time Brian called begging for an invitation.” Mom stops talking. “What? Every kid needs to understand that they’re never smarter than their parents. And they won’t be until they have their own kids. So, yes, we talked—several times, actually. They even flew in last week and spent a whole afternoon with us. Together we figured out what your summer vacation on the lovely island of St. Croix will consist of. We have planned the curriculum, the physical objectives. Everything. Day-by-day and with progress reports from you each week in the form of a video conference call with us.”
Dad says, “There are some things you should know before you decide to go off and live with Jack and Helen for an entire summer—”
“So you were playing us all along?” I ask.
“You both seemed so pleased with yourselves,” Dad says, “I didn’t want to spoil your fun. You’re lucky you have relatives like Jack and Helen who can take three months off to go live on an island. Jack only does what he calls odd jobs now and then for the US government. His time is his own. Helen was the CEO of Taiko Automotive’s light truck division. That’s where they both met, by the way. She resigned that post but is still the board chair. She comes and goes as she pleases.”
Dad continues, “Thing is you two, my brother has skills and an extraordinary background that you don’t know much about—”
“Yeah,” says Sarah, “he was in the Navy or whatever—”
“Not just in the Navy. He was a SEAL. You know what those guys do, right? Jack is among the best in the world in certain…situations. He is an elite warrior. There is nothing combat related that your Uncle Jack cannot do and come out the winner. Nothing.
Sarah says, “I want to be Aunt Helen. She goes to all those famous parties in New York. She flies to Switzerland on a private jet to ski—”
Dad interrupts, “All that was once true about Helen. But since she and Jack have been married, you haven’t seen one newspaper or magazine photograph of her out partying with the eliterati, have you. She’s settled down. And by the way, Aunt Helen has an MBA from Stanford. Bet you didn’t know that. Your Uncle Jack has transferred some of his unique knowledge to Helen. Don’t let her knock-out looks and that sweet voice of hers suck you in. She’s as smart and deadly as Jack if it comes down to it.”
“Right. So we feel afraid?” asks Sarah now in her condescending voice.
Mom says, “No. Not afraid. But maybe feel very, very safe.”
“When Jack left the Navy,” Dad continues, “he went to work for the Securities Exchange Commission. He ran their Enforcement Division. You heard of the Deadly Acceleration incident two years ago at Taiko Motor Corporation? Where the terrorists used the cars as their weapon of choice? Your Uncle Jack took out the instigators. Saved thousands of lives. Then last year, there was the God’s Banker episode with the Vatican Bank. Only there they engineered a forced takeover of the entire Roman Catholic Church. Guess who saved the Pope? Your Uncle Jack. Double tap to their leader.” Dad taps a finger right in the middle of his forehead. “Jack won’t tell you, but I will. He accomplished both of those incredibly dangerous missions by killing people. He had no choice. These are the odd jobs he does for the US government.”
Mom takes over, “Another thing you two need to know. Jack and Helen are fanatics about the physical stuff—fitness, diet, conditioning. If you spend the summer with them, you will live the life they do.”
“Okay. So Brian and I know about their alpha personalities. We’ve talked with them at all the Thanksgiving dinners, Christmases, and New Years. We can handle them, don’t worry. I am sixteen years old.”
Dad gives that little chuckle of his when he thinks he knows better.
Mom says, “You both need to ask yourselves if you’re sure you want to leave your cushy life to go live on an island? It’s an important question. This will be totally different than anything you’ve ever experienced.
“It is Jack and Helen’s gift to you two. You will get the chance to look inside yourselves and see what you’re made of. If you’re unwilling to do that, then don’t go.”
Is my sister hearing this warning? I know Sarah. She’s already shrugged it off as Mom being overly protective. Sarah is already thinking about lying on a warm beach with the sun overhead. Who wouldn’t, right?
Mom says, “One thing for sure, you will return to New York both very different people than when you left. Better people, your dad and I think. That is why we agreed to let you both go to St. Croix. And why Jack and Helen have set aside their summer for you. We’re a family. Families do this for one another.”
Dad adds, “Truth is, I’d give my little finger to join you. I’ve always wanted to learn the stuff and do the things you will from the two people who just may be among the best qualified to teach it.”
“So that’s it? We can go?” I can’t believe how easy this was.
“Yes,” says Dad, “you can go. One last thing to keep in mind, be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.”