Her bracelet was a shimmering slinky, crawling up and down her slender wrist. She had this way of talking with her arms, painting big broad portraits in the summer air. Ordinary stories painted in extraordinary detail with a delicate, freckled brush waving erratically like the high grass on top of the sandy dunes. Richard worried for the bottle of beer she held carelessly as tiny rays of sunlight reflected brilliantly off her slinking bracelet.
His older brother, James, and he hadn't spoken much since their mother died. It wasn't so much a conscience decision, more it was growth. Like any old, bad habit, Richard had simply outgrown his brother. But since moving back east, back to the coast of their childhood, a certain fog of guilt had settled on Richard's horizon. Memories of afternoons spent with his mother alone on her porch, after she was sick for the second time, hung thick like the salty air.
"Richard," she'd say, slowly, thoughtfully, "your brother has never had the same privileges you've had growing up. You have to allow him that, Richard. And you've got to try to understand."
What she meant was education, though she was never that specific. Their father had passed away during Richard's junior year of high school, three years after James had graduated. Where James went to work with their father as a carpenter, building decks and additions for affluent weekenders, the money that came as unexpected as their father's passing was enough to put Richard through college.
The air in his mother's enclosed porch was damp and humid no matter how many windows were propped open. Richard would start to interrupt her and she'd wave him off, like she'd waved off so many greenheads in her day.
"Listen to me," she'd continue, "he really needs to know that you like him. That you approve of who he is. It's something he's always needed." Her concerned, tired eyes would watch him then as he considered her words, which really were nothing new. She'd been pleading James' case since Richard had gone away to school and James had started getting into trouble. Always telling Richard how it wasn't James' fault, how he'd struggled with the death of their father.
James called him not three months after Richard moved. Richard didn't recognize James' voice at first, it'd been over a year since they'd last spoke. James heard that Richard was back from some of the guys around town, and he wanted to see him. He had changed, James promised. He had met someone, settled down even, and he wanted to see Richard. He said they would have wanted it.
Richard put him off at first, explaining that it was a big move and that he was still settling in. But like the gray clouds that would gather over the bay before the first grumble of a storm, Richard knew it was only a matter time. Eventually they agreed on a weekend in late August.
They arrived together late at night, not long after Richard had given up waiting. The lights on the deck were off, and the moonlight cast a pale, broken shadow across the wooden stairs leading up to the front door.
Richard was in the kitchen, clearing the remains of the evening he had prepared when he heard a gentle knock. The sound was soft enough that he dismissed it as the dull thud of shells being dropped from above by hungry seagulls. As he reached to turn off the kitchen light, however, he again heard the knocking.
At the door he was met by a light-haired stranger, her arms weighed down heavily with bags, as she offered an awkward smile.
"And you must be Richard, I can see the resemblance." Richard stood, unsure. "James has told me so much about you."
At the mention of his brother's name, Richard looked over her shoulder, down the driveway, and saw his brother unloading the rest of their luggage from his car. In the darkness Richard could make out very little of him.
"I'm sorry," Richard reached from her bags and she accepted. "I had expected you both some time ago."
"Oh, no need to apologize, we were running late. Actually it was my fault. I got held up at work." As she spoke she made her way past Richard and into his home.
Standing on the threshold, both arms full, Richard surveyed the distance between himself and his brother, and past it. The pattern of the night flowed gently from his yard, to that of his neighbor and his neighbor's neighbor. It flowed in broken, tranquil patches down to the dancing, shimmering water, and beyond that, into the horizon. Richard turned and followed this new woman into his home.