“Good to see you, Carter,” I tell him with a smile. And I mean it.
He looks me over, smacking my arm with pride. Then he turns to Sofia. She offers her hand. “Hi, I’m—”
“You’re Sofia,” he finishes reverently. Then he hugs her—a bit too close and a hell of a lot too long for my taste. Finally, he backs off, holds her hands out to the sides, and rakes his eyes over her. “The birds told me your name.”
Her eyes flash to me, but I just shake my head. “The birds?” she asks.
“That’s right. I commune with nature every morning. You’d be surprised what she tells you, if you just take the time to listen.” Again, his eyes are all over her. “And you are every bit as lovely as they said you were. Look at these hips, your cheekbones, your . . .”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s beautiful.” I slap my hand square on his chest, pushing him back. “What are you doin’ here? I thought you parted ways with the church.”
He shrugs. “Even us pagans enjoy a good barbecue.”
The two girls standing behind him move closer. Blond, braided hair, petite, wearing hippie peasant tops, fringed tan vests, and beaded moccasins. They might be twins—definitely sisters. “Let me introduce you to my ladies,” Carter says. “This is Sal and Sadie.”
The one on his left steps forward. “I’m Sal, she’s Sadie.” She pinches my brother’s cheek familiarly. “You always get us confused.”
“Heeey y’all!” Sadie greets us with a giggle.
“We’re gonna go get some food,” Sal says. “You want me to fix you a plate, baby?” she asks my brother.
He kisses her brow. “You’re too good to me.” As they turn to go, he smacks Sadie’s ass. “Make sure you get some of my momma’s fried chicken too.” She squeaks and bats her lashes back at him.
After they head off, I ask, “Are they legal?”
He squints. “Depends on your definition of legal.”
“No, see”—I raise my finger in explanation—“that’s the beauty of ‘legal.’ You either are or you aren’t—it’s not subjective.”
“You worry too much, Stanton.”
“And you don’t worry near enough.”
He smacks my arm. “You sound like Daddy.”
I snort. “How would you know? Or are you and Daddy speakin’ to each other again?”
After Carter came back from college, he decided he could no longer live under the fascist rule of my father’s household. He bought a run-down double-wide trailer on the outskirts of town, fixed it up himself, and tried his hand at . . . farming.
A specialized, unique crop that’s now legal in Colorado.
During this time, Carter also developed an efficient, high-potency liquid plant food that provides weeks’ worth of nutrients with just a few drops. He patented it, sold it to the federal government, and became extremely wealthy. But you’d never know it—his tastes are simple. He still lives in that same double-wide, though he bought the surrounding acres for privacy and raising . . . crops. It’s a commune kind of thing—free living, free love. Like Woodstock all day, every day. The kids around town take refuge at Carter’s. When last year a schoolmate of Marshall’s drove drunk, smashed into another truck, and took off—he fled to Carter’s. And my brother took him in, talked him down, and convinced him to turn himself in to the police. Carter even went with the boy to the police station.
My brother’s alternative lifestyle is a bitter pill my daddy refuses to swallow. He hasn’t banned him from the house—Carter still shows up for holidays and family gatherings at my mother’s insistence—but my father just flat-out pretends he’s not there.
Carter shrugs his shoulders. “Daddy just needs more time—he’ll get used to things.”
I take a swig of my beer and wonder if bourbon’s available.
“I’m havin’ a party this week,” my brother announces, arms raised. “And I wanted to make sure you and your lovely Sofia will attend. My place, Tuesday night.”
“You’re having a party on a Tuesday?” Sofia asks.
“I believe Tuesday is the most neglected day of the week. Everybody complains about Monday, Wednesday is the hump day, Thursday’s almost Friday, and Friday is the favorite. Nobody remembers Tuesday—it’s the black sheep.” He winks. “Like me.”
I have too much to do to waste a night at my brother’s, partying with high school kids, getting high off of secondhand pot smoke.