“OK,” I say again.
“And Grandpa’s dead,” he says.
“All of my close friends are back in Chicago. I live with my fiancée. I spend most of my time with her, at work, or with my mom and two sisters.”
I’m still angry, but I can recognize that this is not a line of conversation I can really disagree with. “OK,” I say, this time more gently than all the previous times. I shift my body language to be less confrontational.
Charlie looks at me for a while, considering something. I can see him start to get emotional. He lowers his voice. “I’m having a son, Lauren. I’m having a boy.”
Thoughts fly through my head so fast I can’t choose one and hold on to it. That’s great news! My family will be so happy! I didn’t know they were finding out the sex of the baby beforehand! I’m so excited to have a nephew! A nephew!
“I’m going to have a nephew?” I say to him. The anger has retreated; it no longer bubbles on the surface. Part of it is the shock of finding out something I thought I wouldn’t find out for a few months. Part of it is that my little baby brother, who clearly feels he has so much to prove, is getting a chance to prove it.
“Yeah,” he says. I can see his eyes get glossy. “What do I know about raising a son? About being a dad? I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. I mean, I know I’m going to figure it out but f**k, talk about making it up as you go along. My son needs an uncle, OK? I know things are strained between the two of you, I get it, but Ryan has had my back since I was fourteen. He was the first guy I really looked up to. And . . . I want my son to know him. I want him to be a part of my son’s life. To be honest, I need someone to call and admit to that I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“You have me,” I say. “You have Rachel.”
“You two don’t have dads, either. We don’t know anything about dads. And I’m sorry, this just . . . this isn’t a thing a woman can help me with. It just isn’t.”
“OK,” I say. I mean, what else can I say? I don’t think I was wrong for being upset, but I think it would be juvenile and selfish to continue being upset in light of all this. “I get it. I wish you had talked to me first. But . . . no, I get it.”
“Well, I did wait to talk to you, really,” he says. “Because there is something that I would like to do, but I want your blessing before I do it.”
“Uh,” I say. “OK . . .”
“I’d like to invite Ryan to the wedding.”
“Absolutely not.” It flies out of my mouth like a bullet leaving a gun.
“Please think about it.”
“No, Charlie. I’m sorry. Ryan and I said, in no uncertain terms, that we are not seeing each other or speaking until we have been apart for an entire year. That year is up at the end of August. Not July. And I haven’t spent the last eight months resisting the urge to call him just to blow it all early. He won’t want to break the deal, either, Charlie.”
Charlie looks hurt by what I’ve said, and I’m not sure which part, exactly, is more hurtful to him. Is it that his own sister won’t make an exception for his wedding? Or that I said the only man Charlie looks up to probably wouldn’t want to come? Goddammit. You know, when you marry a man, you marry his family, and vice versa. They tell you that. But they don’t tell you that when you leave a man, you leave his family. When your husband moves across town and starts dating someone named Emily, he breaks your brother’s heart, too.
“Just let me invite him,” Charlie says. “That’s all I’m asking.”
“Charlie, I really don’t want him there.”
“This isn’t about you.”
“Lauren, did it ever occur to you that my wedding is going to have family pictures? That we are going to put them around the house? That Mom is going to have one on her mantel? And years from now, you’re going to look at them and see the hole this year has left in the family? You’re going to taint my wedding with your bullshit because you can’t see past it right now.”
“There is not a hole in the family,” I say.
“Yeah, there is. Ryan isn’t just someone you love. He’s a part of this family.”
“Well, no one else seems to have a problem with it except you.”
“Wrong again. Mom misses him. Mom told me a few months ago that she had to delete his number from her phone because it was too hard not to call him and check in on him and make sure he was OK.”
“Well, Rachel’s fine with it,” I say.
“That’s because Rachel thinks only of you. But I bet if you asked her, she’d say she wants to know how he is.”
I can feel my pulse begin to quicken and the blood rush to the surface of my cheeks. I am starting to grow furious. “I made him a part of this family,” I say. “And he’s a part of this family on my terms.”
“I know that you want that to be true. But it’s not. You don’t own Ryan. You brought him into this family, and you asked us to love him. And we do. And you can’t control that.”
I try to think of myself in a similar position, but the truth is, I can’t. I don’t know Natalie all that well. She will be a sister to me one day, but that takes time. It takes history and shared experiences. We don’t have that yet. And she’s the closest I’ve come. I was never all that close with Ryan’s family, so I don’t miss them. I don’t know how I’d feel if I was Charlie in this situation. I’ve never been Charlie in this situation. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m so very much me in this situation that I cannot see anyone else or anything else. And maybe I should take that as a sign that I might be wrong. That is, of course, most often the reason people are wrong when they are wrong, isn’t it? When they can’t understand anything but their own point of view?
I start to talk, to tell him that I will think about it. I open my mouth with the intention of saying, You’re right. I should give it some thought. But Charlie speaks over me.
“This is so stupid. You two are getting back together in, what, August? What’s a few weeks going to matter?”
“I have no idea if we are getting back together at all! I don’t even know if—”
“What are you talking about? You said in the beginning that was the whole plan. You spend this time apart, and you get back together.”
“Yeah, and you told me then that people rarely get back together. Most of the time, when people separate, it’s just a stop on the way to divorce.”
Charlie shakes his head at me. “Stop this. You’re being dramatic. I’m sorry I said that. I was being a dick. Listen, I want him there. And it’s my wedding, and I really do think of him as the baby’s uncle, as my brother. Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that important enough?”
I look at him, thinking about what he has said. Son of a bitch. Life is not just about me. Even my marriage is not just about me.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Invite him.”
“Thank you,” Charlie says.
“No plus one,” I say. “Please.”
“No plus one,” Charlie says, placing his palms up and out in surrender.
“If Ryan is the man you’re closest to, who is your best man?” I ask him. I’m suddenly heartsick thinking that my little brother has no best man.
“Oh,” he says. “I was going to ask Wally, back in Chicago. But I’m not sure he’s going to be able to come in the first place. Natalie and I discussed not having a wedding party at all, actually. I think that might be what we do.”
“Not Ryan?” I ask him. I’m so late for work at this point that it’s sort of silly to try to speed this up.
“I know what I’m asking you by inviting Ryan,” he says. “It doesn’t seem fair to ask for more.”
So often I am convinced that my brother is a thoughtless jerk, and so often he proves that the thoughtless jerk is me.
“It’s OK,” I say. “Ask him.”