AFTER THE WEDDING PAWN
At the end of a long day of work, I used the tip of my cane to feel each step in front of me, as I climbed aboard the bus. When I put my token in the slot, the driver said, “Hi Frank, someone’s already in your usual seat, but the one next to it is empty. Don’t worry. I’ll still see you, and I won’t forget to tell you when I get to the corner of Mills and Watson.”
“Thanks Ed,” I said. After eight years of working at J. B. Lansing and riding the same bus back and forth every day, why was my usual seat now taken? I was too tired and frustrated to care. As I turned to walk to the next seat, the voice of the man in my seat stopped me cold. “Hey bro.”
Oh great, I thought. Wasn’t it bad enough that my new boss couldn’t work with my blindness, despite the fact that for the past eight years, I was proactive in improving the company’s computer system and that I was dedicated, with an excellent employment record? Now, here was my brother, back to make my life miserable again. “I’ll move over so you can sit here,” he said, and I heard his body shift from one seat to the next.
At least he had some manners this time, I thought, as I took the vacant seat, folded my cane, and grasped the pole in front of me, as the bus lurched forward. I turned my head in his direction and sniffed. What, no booze? I sniffed again. “I’m dry as a bone,” said Jess. “Have been for about as long as you’ve been working at JBL.”
“How did you know I was working at JBL?”
“Mom told me. She always wanted us to make up.”
“Yeah, even though she sacrificed her ring so I’d have one to give to Jackie at our wedding after you got drunk and pawned ours at the last minute. It was bad enough I couldn’t afford to buy her a good ring, but then you had to steal it.”
“I don’t remember doing that, but yes. She and Dad always respected your wishes. You didn’t want to have anything more to do with me so they didn’t have you over when I was there, and you didn’t want them to even mention my name so they didn’t.”
“But she told you all about me? Did she tell you that after you pawned Jackie’s ring, there almost wasn’t a wedding? Jackie told me for months beforehand that she didn’t trust you as best man, that I should ask my good buddy Jerry to stand up with me instead. I wanted to give you one more chance, and you blew it. When I got to the altar, Jackie almost didn’t say I do. I had to get down on my knees, literally, and promise her I would always listen to her and never trust you again.”
“That’s why when you and Jackie came to the rehab center for Family Day, in front of all those people, after Mom and Dad said they forgave me for the third time, you said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back the two hundred and fifty dollars the wedding ring cost. You said I shouldn’t bother darkening your door unless I came up with the money.”
“So you decided to take my seat on the bus instead?”
“I didn’t know it was your seat. Mom just told me which bus you ride to and from work.”
“So your last time through rehab actually worked? You haven’t had a drink in eight years?”
“After you said you didn’t want to have anything more to do with me until I paid you back for the ring, I knew I had to make it up to you, that I had to give you and Jackie a reason to trust me, for good this time.”
“So what did you do when you got out of rehab?”
“You know I’ve always been the athletic type, and you’ve always been the brains of the family. I should have listened to Mom and Dad when they told me there was more to life than football.”
“But you didn’t, did you?”
“Even before I turned nineteen, I had to drink to forget I wasn’t college football material. The fact that you were always ahead of me and passing just about everything with flying colors despite being blind didn’t help.”
“So what did you do after your third stint in rehab?”
“I figured if I couldn’t play football professionally, I could teach it. With Mom and Dad’s blessing and some financial support, I went back to college and this time, I majored in physical education. You’re looking at the P.E. teacher and football coach at our old school, Waverly High.”
I turned my head in his direction, not believing what I was hearing. “You mean that?”
“Yep, it wasn’t easy, but I’m proud to be where I am today.”
“Way to go, dude,” I said, thumping him on the back.
“Mom told me your son Chad is seven and playing soccer, and your daughter Amber is five and starting ballet. I hope to still be at Waverly High when Chad gets there. I’ll teach him a few things about football and about life.”
All I could say was “Wow.” I pinched myself and shook my head to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot something,” said Jess. “Give me your hand for a second.”
To my surprise, I found him counting bills into it. “A hundred, two hundred, twenty, forty, and fifty, there you go.”
“You said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back what I owe you for the wedding ring so here it is. Your little brother’s not a loser anymore.”
Dazed, I folded each bill separately before placing it in my wallet. “Hey Frank, here’s your corner,” the driver called, as the bus jerked to a stop.
“Come on, bro,” said Jess, grabbing my arm and pulling me to my feet. “Let’s go buy Jackie a new ring.”
I pulled my arm free and took his. “Oh sorry buddy,” said Jess. “I forgot. It’s been a long time.”
I didn’t know what to think, as he led me off the bus and down the street to a nearby jewelry store. As we stood at the display case, waiting for assistance, Jess said, “Oh wow, look at that ring. It looks just like the one you were going to give Jackie.”
“How would you know? You said you don’t remember the ring.”
“I don’t remember pawning it, but I sure remember what it looked like, almost like Mom’s ring which you gave Jackie instead. It’s too bad Jackie isn’t blind. If she were, she probably wouldn’t have known the difference.”
“You know, Jess, I may not be athletic, but I do know how to throw a punch, and if I didn’t have a wife and kids to support, I’d risk doing some jail time just to hear your body hit the floor.”
“Hey Frank, I’m sorry, really I am. I didn’t mean that. Jackie’s a good woman. You’re lucky to have her. Maybe someday, I’ll find one just like her.”
“May I help you?” said a woman’s voice.
“Yes, we’d like to see that ring there,” said Jess. My brother wants to buy it for his wife. He’s blind so he needs to feel it.”
I hated the idea that Jess and others thought they needed to speak for me because of my impairment but let it go for now. “Oh this ring would be perfect for your wife,” said the clerk, placing it in my outstretched palm. “It has a gold band and one gold stone in the center. If it doesn’t fit her, we can always re-size it.”
I was amazed when I felt the ring. “You’re right, little brother. It’s just like the other one,” I said, fighting back tears. “How much is it?”
“We have it on special for two twenty-five,” answered the clerk.
“Wow, bro, you still have twenty-five dollars to spend,” said Jess, as I paid her.
“How come Jackie doesn’t drive you to and from work?” he asked, as we walked the few blocks to my house.
“She’s got a lot to do as it is, getting the kids to and from school, soccer practice, and ballet class. Next year when Amber starts first grade and is in school all day, she’s thinking about going back to work, at least part time, if the newspaper will hire her again.”
As we strolled up the front walk, Jess said, “It looks like Mom and Dad are here. Dad’s Plymouth is parked in the driveway.”
My talking watch announced it was six o’clock. “That’s funny. I don’t remember inviting them to dinner.”
“Surprise!” I was startled by the voices that greeted us, as we walked in the front door. I shook my head.
“Happy birthday, bro!” said Jess, thumping me on the back.
It was my birthday. With all the stress I’d been having at work and Jess showing up all of a sudden, I’d forgotten about it. “Did you know about this, little brother?”
Jess only laughed.
“Who’s that with you, Daddy?” said Amber, as she approached us.
I was still holding Jess’s arm, and I felt him bend down and tousle the little girl’s hair. “Hey cutie, I’m your uncle Jess.”
“What’s he doing here?” said Jackie.
I reached into my pocket and took out the ring in its box. “Honey, I have something for you.”
“It’s your birthday, and you’re giving me a present,” said Jackie, as she took the box. I heard her open it and the rattle of tissue paper. “Oh my God, it’s my wedding ring. Where did you find it? Oh honey, happy birthday. I love you.” A moment later, I was in her arms.