“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.”Laurell K. Hamilton
Windenburg Cameron Lake House
I walked into the living room where Declan was roosting on the couch. That in itself wasn’t unusual, but what was, was the fact that he wasn’t holding a video console controller. Just sitting there, staring holes into the floor. It was obvious something was eating him, so I sat down my coffee and took a seat beside him, finally he looked at me briefly, a fleeting smile.
“How was school today?” I asked.
“Good.” was the one syllable reply. Also not too worrisome, he was the quiet type.
“Did you level up in that war game you were stuck at last time?” I continued inching forwards with a question that usually generated very long and expansive replies. Not this time though.
“Tanks of Terror? Yeah, I beat it. Finished the game. Didn’t make high score, Chad did.”
“Ah. So has your brother been torturing you again?” I smiled and winked at my grandson.
“Rett? He never tortures me. Annoying as heck sometimes, and too loud all the time, but he’s okay, I guess.”
“I meant with the guitar grandpa gave him.” I referred to a gift from Blaine to Declan’s brother. Naturally Blaine wasn’t a fool and had bought Declan a new video game. Plus, Declan wasn’t the jealous type. So the gift itself certainly wasn’t the problem. Just, what was?
“Ah, nah. It’s all good. He sounds good. Almost like grandpa.”
“OK Declan, I give up. I am not the youngest anymore and definitely too old for the cat and mouse game. What’s wrong? Maybe I can help, you just have to let me. Please spare us the whole back and forth and just say it.” I told him.
“It.” he attempted a not very convincing smirk, while really trying to put me off the scent.
“Very cute, you lil smartass. And very Blaine-sque. You definitely do have some of your grandpa’s ‘tude in ya.” I had to smile eventually, Declan looked incredibly adorable when he smiled. Boyishly handsome. Sadly he rarely did and only ever briefly.
“Wish I had a lot more grandpa-tude in me.” he got serious again.
“Ah. Music or girls?” I zoomed in.
“Declan, stop! We both know you’re not talking about grandpa’s academic achievements. So which is it? Girls or music?” I asked straight up.
“Both. If I were good at one, the other would just happen for me. Like it does for Rett. He has to hide away from all the girls wanting a part of him, while I … ’nuff said.”
“Oh. Umm. Well, I can teach you the piano and how to sing. Used to do both on stage with your grandpa.” I offered.
“Guitar is cooler, and easier to take to BBQs and such. Piano just makes me look even nerdier than I already do. Really no help required there.” he sounded incredibly down.
“Excuse me, young man?! I play the piano and never thought I was particularly nerdy … ” I mumbled, while having flashbacks to some producer who weeded me out as a goodie two shoes and per said producer I was doing nothing but clash with Blaine’s impressive stage presence back when we were twenty something. Hmm. (Click to re–read that chapter.)
“Yeah, but you’re a girl, grandma. Piano is fine for a girl. I’d prefer something that helps me look more manly.”
“So ask grandpa to show you how to look manly playing his guitar. Or your dad. Brendan plays well.”
“Nah, it would look like I am trying to copycat Rett. Too late for me anyway. I am the uncool nerd to everyone and that’s that.”
Finally I got out of the boy that there was a girl he liked. As soon as he stuttered around about that, I knew what the trouble had been and I was right. So Declan had spent significant amounts of time working up the courage to ask a girl out, but at the very last minute Everett came by with his friends, she smiled at him, he smiled back and took his chance, stealing her right from underneath his own brother without ever realizing it. Everett was a beast sometimes, but would never purposely hurt his own brother. However, Rett had Blaine’s (and Anastasia’s) impulsiveness, and sometimes he was just a bull in a china shop, he had not the faintest clue what had happened or he undoubtedly would drop that girl instantly and let his brother have her, but Declan wasn’t the type to stand up for himself and he would never say a word to Rett about it. The girl evidently didn’t know what or whom she wanted, even at their tender age she should have reacted differently. When I said that last part out loud, Rett got upset.
“It’s not her fault, grandma! She’s Rett’s friend’s sister. She knows him better. Only knows me from class … and as the lame brother.”
The way he instantly got defensive about her raised flags with me. He liked her a lot more than for her to be a random, interchangeable girl to ask on some date just to see if she’d bite. Oh no. He LIKED her all right. REALLY liked her. Oh boy.
What’s a grandma to do?
“Rett, why don’t you invite her to the Skyline on Saturday. Grandpa and Rett will be on stage and you can talk to her while they are preparing. And I will be around. In the background of course, unless you need me.” I suggested.
“All that would do is highlight how cool my brother is. Even my grandfather is much cooler than me. I need no neon lights and amplifiers to point out how cool I am NOT.”
“Declan, there is more than one way to impress a girl. Not all of us are into Neanderthals with instruments. There is a lot to be said for intelligent men. So, you impress her with your words. Be interesting. Figure out what she likes and talk about that.”
“She likes Rett! You really want me to swoon to her about how perfect my brother is, so she can realize how much I blow, as if she really hasn’t figured out the gigantic dimensions of my lameness already?!” he blurted out, causing my eyes to grow wide. Dayum, poor kid!
“Oh Declan. Stop this! You are a wonderful, brilliant and handsome young man, just a lot more shy than your brother, so it seems like he’s got it all and you don’t. That is not true. You are both very different, but not in the way you think. In a good way. And unless that girl is shallow like a puddle she must like something other than Everett! Plus, if she liked him that much, why haven’t I heard all about her from him yet, huh? You know how he goes, normally he falls over his own feet cos he can’t get to our house fast enough to showboat his latest conquests to your grandpa and me. As if your girl-crazy brother would pass up a sure bet! Puh-lease! I was born at night, but not last night, kiddo. Your brother would sweep that young lady off her feet faster than you and I could look.”
“He likes her, all right. But it’s just a lot more complicated than all that, grandma. She’s Chris’ sister.”
“Who’s Chris again?” I honestly had no read on any Chris. Not even if that Chris was male or female. The only Chris I knew was Natalie’s nephew, but he only ever went by his full name, Christian, and neither of the boys were that close with him.
“Oh my God, grandma, what’s with you today? Stay with me here! Chris is Rett’s best friend! You know Christopher Swanson! You’ve met him a gazillion times and he’s been over here a million times. The Swansons have been our neighbors since I was like 8 or so. That big house with the deck you like, right next to ours.”
“Oh. OH! Gotcha.” I lied. No idea. I mean, I remembered that house and it did have a pretty deck, but Everett had so many buddies, most, if not all have been over to our home before or I met them at my son’s house, so many teen boys, how was I to remember which of them lived where, so they could all be Chris. How was I to keep up with such volumes of friends, at my age?! Declan was a lot easier there. He had exactly two friends, Chad and Dale, the very same two friends he had since grade school. Everett’s friends list was thicker than a San Myshuno phone book and he was barely 15.
“Yeah.” Declan groaned. A sound of sheer desperation.
“Well, but you are not Chris’ best friend, so … you could date his sister then, right?”
“I guess … if she wanted to. Which she doesn’t. Why would she? She’s only nice to me because of Rett. See my earlier comment. Nobody wants to date dorky nerds. I wouldn’t want to date me. Ashleigh wants Rett. But Rett can’t date her because of Chris. I wish the Cameron cool-gene hadn’t skipped me entirely.”
“Wait … what does Chris have anything to do with all of that again?”
“ARGH GRANDMA! He is Ashleigh’s brother and Rett’s best friend. If Rett were to date his sister, there’d be hell to pay. You don’t do that.”
“What kinda stupid rule is that?” I wondered out aloud.
“I don’t know, just guy code I guess, but it’s just like you cannot date your friend’s ex. Unless of course he said it was okay. I think a younger sister’s an even worse offense, unless he’d say it’s okay. Which he would never ever say. Not for a sister or an ex.”
“Who says what now? You want to date Chad’s ex?” I was so confused now and somehow started thinking of Declan’s two friends.
“Chad doesn’t have an ex, grandma!” Declan sounded annoyed now. Oops.
“Sorry, Dale then.” I tried to get my head above water in this dismal discussion.
“Neither does Dale, grandma and you are getting confused! Chad and Dale are MY friends. None of us have sisters and none of us date, because all three of us are NERDS! No girl wants a nerd! That’s the problem! We are talking about Everett’s friends, one in particular, Chris, who has a sister, Ashleigh. Okay, let me do this really slow again for you. I am the nerdy, uncool grandson who will probably be single for the rest of his life, along with my only two equally nerdy and single friends. That’s it. Just me, Chad and Dale and absolutely zero girls. None of us date or have ever dated, and likely never will date. Your other grandson is the cool guy with all the game in the world and a million friends, one of which has a sister called Ashleigh, whom we are talking about. Even though I don’t know why we are, because it doesn’t matter now or ever, since I am just a nerd. Big fat loser nerd, and that’s all I ever will be.”
“I’d take some Nerds. I am starving!”
Blaine walked into the conversation, confusing our grandson’s dilemma with a popular candy brand, which upset Declan immensely.
Grumbling he jumped up and ran out.
“What’s with him now? Something I said? Or is my deodorant epically failing?”
“Ease up Blaine. He’s got girl troubles.”
“Declan? Ha, I was wondering if he likes boys better. Whaddaya know?”
I told Blaine about Declan’s problems, which triggered him to want to go talk to him, something I couldn’t stop, even though I tried.
“Babygirl, you make food. I’ll handle the man problems! There is always a solution, even for the seemingly hopeless cases like that grandson of ours.”
“Oh lord have mercy!” I said, then just went to the kitchen. Whenever Blaine brought up food it was best to just feed him. His version of hangry was worse than a Gremlin fed after midnight, soaking wet.
Against all odds, once I had the food ready, both Declan and Everett sat at the table with us, Declan looking truly enlightened. I kept eyeing Blaine, wondering what he could have said to him. I would never find out.
After dinner Declan went off to our living room to – big shocker here – play video games, while Everett helped me clean up. It was unusual, but this boy didn’t require the kid gloves his brother needed, so I went straight for it. With a little honey, by kissing his adorable freckled cheek.
“Thank you for helping me, sweetheart. But I am old and tired, let’s cut through the chase. What do you need, honey?”
“Need? Can’t a guy help his awesome grandma who always makes awesome food and puts up with me all the time?” he gave me his best innocent look, all that was missing was a spring-loaded halo headband. Did I really look that gullible?
“Can? Sure. Would? Highly unlikely. The very fact that you fell over yourself to help me tonight instead of having to get you to do it at gunpoint tells me everything. So, Rett … baby boy, I am not one of your 16 year old groupies. I’ve been around the block a bunch of times, so just get it out already. What is it?”
“Welllllll, since you ask like that …. there is this girl I like … her name is Ashleigh but she is my best friend’s little sister and …”
“Not that Ashleigh again! Oh hell no! BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINE!” I yelled as I hurried out of the kitchen and across the living room.
“Grandma! What are you doing?!” Everett asked mortified.
“Nope. No, no no no, just no! Your grandpa will handle that. I need to finish some writing for my book. And a grocery list. And my memoirs. Anything to get me out of this. Good luck, sweetheart.”
I got the heck out of Dodge, passing Blaine in the hallway and just told him
“More dating advice needed on aisle 5. The redhead this time! All you and your man-talk, babe!”
As amusing as all that was in retrospect, it would become serious in the most unexpected of ways. Just about a week after that evening things had gotten worse for Declan if it came to girls, like nobody ever thought possible, his shyness reached new levels and would remain that way for a very long time.
Something happened on a camping trip Everett had gone on with his friends, over a dozen or more, among them a healthy helping of girls, and as so often, he had invited his brother Declan along. They always had a lot of fun together, even though Everett was the younger sibling, he was very protective of his brother and always made sure Declan got out from behind the TV and computer and had some fun with peers.
Initially, Declan texted us and his parents a lot, probably so nobody would worry as Everett got so distracted, he could never be bothered even texting that they had arrived.
The first bunch of texts were funny, he even sent pics of the scenery, their hikes, fishing and some of the friends and himself, they all seemed to really enjoy themselves. Just like regular teens.
Then on day two it all suddenly stopped. Absolute radio silence. At first we assumed they had gone hiking off the grid, but when the boys got home a lot earlier than scheduled and Declan disappeared in his room, barely coming out of it to grab food or go to school, it was clear something bad had happened.
It had to have been significant and presumably involved a girl, or some girls, obviously, as ever since that very weekend Declan could barely function at all around any girls he wasn’t related to. If you think now that I am exaggerating you have another one coming. I am not. He also became even more of a couch potato and even more withdrawn than he always had been.
We tried to pry the truth out of both brothers any which way imaginable, but Declan had sworn Everett to secrecy and no matter what we threatened him with, he would not betray his brother.
We would never find out the full story of what really happened, only small bits and pieces along the way over the coming years … but here is a spoiler to give you an idea of what it was that scarred an already very insecure 16 year old boy so much … no matter how much his brother had tried to shield and protect him then.