Wilt walked through the glass door at some coffee shop on the outskirts of nowhere in the middle of the night. The sleepy farmers slumped in the booths and truck drivers perched along the old white Formica counter didn’t even notice. It was one of the few places in the world where his lumbering frame didn’t fill up the room. I think he was surprised that nobody paid any attention to the grand entrance of Lieutenant Commander Wilt Mason, Naval Aviator. I had to chuckle a little bit at that. The imposition of modesty seemed to make him sulk just a little bit – the sort of thing that only a brother would notice.
“Carl!” he boomed. He said it just loud enough for the tired waitress in a ridiculous pink skirt to hear. She tried to look like she didn’t notice, but the eyes gave her away. Wilt stuck out his hand like a lance as he marched up to the booth. I stood up, knocked his hand aside and force him to submit to a hug.
“Six years, dude,” I said. He grunted in protest but managed to clap me hard enough on the back to knock the wind out of me. I coughed and then we sat down across from each other. Pink Skirt rushed over with a greasy plastic menu and a coffee pot. Wilt whipped the cup in front of her and started to ask her about the cream when she reached into the front pocket of her apron and spilled a dozen of those little creamer vials on the table. Wilt winked. There were still a few things we shared; lots of cream for our coffee was one of them.
“Give me a minute, darlin’,” Wilt said. I had to shake my head. She didn’t stand a chance. Not that she was expecting to resist much. With me, it had been a bored smile and a conscious effort not to roll her eyes. With Wilt, well, it was different. He was just that way.
We both peeled back the paper on creamer vials and dumped them into our coffee cups. As we both stirred, I asked, “You’ve heard?”
Wilt didn’t seem to notice at first. He finished stirring his coffee and placed the spoon neatly on a paper napkin, dead center. “Yeah, I heard,” he said. We both sat in silence for a bit and then he asked, “How’s Mom?”
“You know how she is,” I said. “Tough Mama bear to the crowds.”
“Yeah, can’t knock Mama down,” Wilt said, beaming.
“But I think she cries at night,” I added. “You’ll need to keep an eye on her.”
“I know.” Wilt always knew how to do that. I never understood Mama all that well. Wilt and her, they were like peas in a pod. Both of them were gruff and tough and carried Mensa cards. The world had best just step aside when they came by. The only big difference was Wilt had actual blood on his hands. He’d tell you about if you bought him enough beer. You didn’t want to hear it more than once, though. Trust me. You’ll see.
It was different with Dad. He was my buddy from day one, even during those years where everybody thought we’d somehow forgotten all about that. Some things can’t be taken away, even if you try.
“I’ll stop by tomorrow,” Wilt said. “Just to make sure she’s OK.”
“And what about Dad?” I asked.
Wilt leaned back and narrowed his eyes, trying to stare me down. It usually worked, but not this time. I just waited and drank some more coffee.
“She’ll want me to go.”
“You gonna’ say anything?” I asked.
That might have been the end of it, but I had come for a fight. For once, I was going to swing first.
copyright 2016 Michael J Lawrence