Pine needles, warmed by the bubble lights, released their fresh scent through the basement playroom. Wood smoke from the fire added to the Christmas atmosphere. Gene Autry sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on the high fi so George knew Pat Boone's Christmas album was next. Four stockings, each with a candy cane, hung on the mantle, and torn, crumpled wrapping paper filled three paper bags next to the stairs, while opened presents ringed the ornament covered tree.
Elaine stood at the foot of the garland draped stairs. "I'll take the bags upstairs, Mommy. I'm going up to my room for a bit, if that's okay."
George watched his mother look at his sister, primly cinched into a flannel bathrobe which almost covered her slippered feet. Elaine's bright chestnut hair hung free as she picked up the bags. He was still amazed how much more mature her still thin face looked now, despite the freckles and pug nose.
"You don't want to listen to the Christmas records, Elaine?" her father asked as he looked at his new pipe again.
"I guess I'm tired from being up so late, Dad. Midnight Communion was awful long." Then she bounced up the stairs, taking the top ones two at a time. Teufel her dachshund only glanced up at her, and went back to nosing his squeaky cat as he lay close to the fire.
"She sure moved fast for somebody so tired," George said, facing the fireplace.
"I thought so too. You want to go talk to your sister?" He saw his mother look at the pile of pleated skirts. turtleneck sweaters, braclets and ring Elaine had received. George was sure that Mom agreed that Elaine had a great Christmas, especially since switches and ashes might have been more appropriate. So what was wrong? Were his parents right about how deeply she was affected by that boy?
"Sure, Mom. If she'll talk." He looked at the brand new Kingston Trio album he'd received from Elly. Well, he sure couldn't play it until after the Christwas records finished. Teufel growled at him, but George was used to that. Except for Elaine, Teufel growled at anybody near her.
He ambled up the stairs. College sophomores had to maintain their dignity. Not like childish high school freshmen like Elly. He went down the hall, dark but for light coming in from the bathroom's open door. It matched his thoughts. He was sure that it was about that boy, that army brat who'd almost seduced her. How she could still like Phillip after what he'd done was a total mystery to George. She'd always been sensible and levelheaded, even as a little girl. Until she'd met that boy. Perhaps he needed to find this kid and talk to him, just to let him know that it wasn't just Elly's parents who wanted him to stay away from her.
He knocked at her door, gently, not like the thunderous rap he'd used for years to annoy her.
"It's George. Let's talk."
There was a pause. "Just a sec." She couldn't be changing. She hadn't had enough time for a shower. Maybe she was getting ready for one. "Okay, George." There really hadn't been enough time for her to get dressed, if that was what the delay was about. He opened the door. The radio played Christmas music. On her dresser were Christmas cards, one large and expensive looking, while the rest looked like ones kids exchanged at school. He wanted to look at the one card. I'll bet it's from Phillip.
Elly sat on her unmade bed, the frilly white spread pulled down to the foot. Raggedy Ann and her teddy bear sat by her pillow, resting against the headboard. Her robe was still on, but it was loose. She wore pajamas, dark blue and heavy, but not buttoned all the way up. My kid sister really is growing up, no doubt about that. As if to prove him right, a lacy bra hung over the back of her desk chair. But her room, with the stuffed doll and teddy bear, fairy tale pictures on the walls, and butterfly design curtains still looked like a little girl's. He glanced down. Sticking out from the bed, under her now bare feet was some wrapping paper, but not in a design he'd seen under the tree. Interesting, he thought. What if it were a secret present from that boy?
"Something wrong, Elly?"
She looked him dead in the eye, her green eyes unblinking, her hands in her lap. "George, call me El. Not Elly. I'll never be Elly again, Mommy and Dad won't call me El but I'd like to hear that again. Won't you?" Her eyes lost their unblinking steel look and began to sparkle again as though light from within was trying to escape. She looked at him and half smiled.
He frowned. Next to her was her real stocking from which spilled a lipstick, a compact, some hair ribbons, and other things which declared her growing up, despite the room's decor. He moved the stocking and sat down. He couldn't upset her if he was to convince her to forget the boy who had given her that nickname. "This is all about him, right? "
"Phil you mean. Everything is about Phil now, George. He's why I'm going to Grandma and pa's tomorrow. You know that."
"Yeah. Normally we all go up, not just you. Is that wrapping paper about him, too?"
El's hand went to her loose hair and her eyes widened. Her head turned and her eyes darted every which way, as though she were looking for ambushing Indians. He could tell when her eyes locked onto the paper protruding from the hidden cavern under her bed. "Please don't tell, George. I'll get in trouble, I just know I will. And they'll make me give them back. And then he'll get in trouble and his parents will make him give my presents back to me."
George was silent. He no longer got pleasure from getting his sister in trouble, like he once had. Five years was perhaps just the wrong distance in ages between an older brother and a younger sister, especially when she had been a tomboy who had tried to do what he did and actually was good at sports.
"You think they'd do that? I know they don't want you to see him. I don't blame them. I don't want him around you, either." Her mouth dropped open.
"You don't? You think he's a bad boy or something George?"
"Well, he did try to...do things to you." It was hard believing that his sister had actually done it with that boy. He still remembered when Dad had finally told him why Elly was at their grandparents for the rest of the summer. He'd been shocked at her and mad at the boy. He'd even thought of beating up the kid; only Phil's age and size had kept George from doing that. But talking to him, letting Phillip know the score was something he could do.
El shook her head, her loose hair bouncing from the fierceness of the shake. "Phil didn't try to do things to me, George. We planned together." She got off the bed, knelt and withdrew a small white box, a 45 record and a folder, obviously with a picture inside it from under it. She put them on the blanket, spreading them out. She opened the box to display a thin gold chain. As George looked at the chain he realized that she was not wearing her green stone cross. There it was, on her bedside table, with the old cheap chain next to it.
She picked up the picture folder and opened it to reveal a portrait of a boy. Even in black and white the close cropped hair was blond. The eyes looked out boldly and seemed to twinkle. The lips smiled though the mouth was firm. He wore a uniform coat, complete with a ribbon over the pocket and crossed rifle insignia on the lapels. "I Love You Forever. You first. All my love, Phil" was scrawled across the bottom.
"So what's the record? 'Jailhouse Rock'?" He didn't want her to think he was too serious.
She handed it to him and he looked at "The Wayward Wind." He grinned. "Pretty clever. He's an army brat, after all."
"Yes, he is. But he's going to be here for several years, he thinks. And he's a wonderful guy, George." She took the chain and threaded it through the loop at the cross's top. She held it to her neck and turned. Obviously she wanted him to fasten it, something she'd never asked before. A peace offering. He really didn't want to, but he fastened it, feeling uncomfortable as his fingers touched her neck; his eyes looking straight ahead to avoid seeing her cleavage.
"But he took you to his house when his folks were gone and ...seduced you. Or tried to." He looked at her, sternly, he hoped.
"No, he didn't George." She patted her bed. "I told him the first time had to be here. In my room. On my bed. If we had to wait ten years. We didn't have to wait ten years, but this is where we tried first. We could have a week before in his house. But he'd promised and he kept it."
George felt the blood rush to his face. Nobody had said anything about an earlier time. He only knew about Phil's mom catching them on the bed. Nothing about here, in this room with Raggedy Ann and the bear. Where as a third grader he'd read Ann and Andy stories to her from the book their mom had as girl. Where he'd taught her to play checkers, and beat her fifty games in a row before she caught on and then trounced him ten times in an hour. His hand touched the stocking. Once it held jacks and a rubber ball. Now there was a small bottle of dime store perfume.
"Here? I thought it was only once? And you really hadn't." He felt blood in his face again. She was his sister, his fourteen year old kid sister after all.
She smiled at him. At least she didn't tell him he was blushing. She reached over and took Raggedy Ann and cuddled her. "It was twice, George. Well, we weren't caught the first time, but nothing really happened." Her freckles began to pop out, her winter pale cheeks began to glow red. Well, she sure wasn't as brazen as he had thought.
"Nothing really happened?" he asked, as he willed his voice to be strong and firm.
She hugged the rag doll. "George, that's all I'm going to say. You know too much anyway. I'm a girl, your sister, after all." She cackled. Her free hand tugged her hair.
"I still think it was his fault. He's the boy, after all."
"And I'm the girl. I set the limits. Mommy said that. I'll bet you go as far with your girl as she lets you." She stopped, her hand leaving hair and going to mouth. Had she really said that, he thought.
He didn't say anything for a moment. "But boys try to talk girls into going further. Or some do."
She laughed, honestly this time. "I know. But Phil didn't. If he had, I'd never have let him.
"George, Phil and I are in love. We're going to wait this out. If we could plan to wait ten years to have the first time in my bed, we can wait two or three years until our folks see we are serious." She paused, pursing her lips. "We've made a vow. We will be married when we try again. And like he wrote on his picture, our pledge is 'You first.'
She laughed. "Even Teufel likes him, now. Go back to Mommy and Dad. Tell them I'm all right. Tell them I'm going to take a quick shower and get dressed. I'll help Mommy with dinner. Maybe I'll let you beat me at ping pong for a change. Just please don't tell them about Phil's gifts." She looked at him and he thought he could see a tear glisten in each eye corner.
He hesitated. "If he ever does anything he shouldn't..."
"If he ever does anything he shouldn't, I'll tell you George. Not that we have much opportunity for that." She hugged Ann again. "When he's at school, it's not so bad. But he's at home now. A mile away, and on restriction. And I'm a prisoner. I know Mommy checked on me every night since he got home."
He hadn't thought of that. But both his parents had seemed to watch Elly since George had arrived from college. It must be like a prison.
He watched her squeeze Ann again, so that the rag doll lost her waist. "Please. He really is a wonderful boy. I know you'd like him if you met him."
George smiled. He had met Phil. Back in October the kid had actually come to the house while George was home from college. He'd knocked on the door, looked up directly into George's eyes and said, "I'm Phil Boydon. I'd like to see your parents, please. I owe them an apology. Would you ask them to please let me see them?" George remembered being impressed by his bravery.
Am I jealous of my kid sister's boyfriend? Of Elaine? That she's so much younger and is so much more experienced. He knew he shouldn't be. But maybe he was, a little. That was wrong, he knew.
El always had been smart, always had shown common sense. And it was Christmas, after all. "...God and sinners reconciled" came from the radio.
He thought for a moment. Maybe Phil was okay, somebody who really loved his sister. She sure seemed to think so. "I'd wear a turtleneck or button your blouse to your neck, El. Hide his necklace for his cross. He must be okay for you if Teufel likes him. We've got a secret from the folks again, little sister." He smiled at her.
He was unprepared for the force of the squeeze she gave him as her arms hugged him. "Thank you, George. That's a wonderful present."
Home | Critique | Mail