Man Up

MATTHEW SIRIANO

“No way! I don’t want Matt on our team!” Jacob could be such an asshole.

“Jacob, the other team’s full,” Coach Stachelscheid said.

I trudged over to Jacob’s team, full of boys bigger and stronger than me.

I heard one of them groan, “Great, now we’re for sure gonna lose!”

That was pretty much my childhood.

***

“Something’s wrong with that kid,” my father told my mother as I walked out of the kitchen one night.

I wasn’t sure if that was the first time he had said it, but it was the first time I’d processed its meaning.

“What are you trying to say?” My mother’s voice grew louder.

At fourteen, I hadn’t outgrown eavesdropping.

“He’s…you know,” my father said, clearing his throat between words. “He’s…different.”

“He’s special,” my mother said, in her sweet, hopeful voice.

“It’s your fault, you know. Putting him in those dumb dance classes.”

“He wanted to dance!” my mother said.

I climbed the stairs and sat near the middle of the staircase. I didn’t want to dance. I just didn’t want to play football, or basketball, or baseball.

“There’s something weird about him,” my father said. “He’s not like Nathan.”

***

“You may now kiss the bride,” the priest announced to the waiting crowd.

I turned to my new wife and kissed her, hearing the crowd cheer. We interlocked our fingers, faced our family and friends, and smiled for the flashes. My mother wiped her tears while my father clapped, his face more relaxed than ever.

“There’s Peter,” my beaming new wife whispered, nodding gently toward the door.

I gazed at the back of the room and spotted him. Peter. He inched his way to the back pew.

Get me out of here.

He didn’t clap. He didn’t smile. He just stood there, watching me. Even from where he stood, I knew he was crying.

It didn’t take long for me to cry too, and for my bride to hug me in front of the crowd and whisper in my ear, “I’ve never seen you cry before. I’m so happy too.”

***

“You okay, sweetie?” my mother asked over the phone.

I poured the remaining merlot into my wine glass and swirled it around.

“Yeah, Mom, just a bit stressed with work.”

“I can only imagine how much pressure the firm is putting on you. Is it a big case?”

“You know I can’t talk about that,” I said, allowing the wine to wash over my tongue.

“I know, I know…but remember, Matt…if you need to talk about…anything at all. You know I’m here.”

I couldn’t help but smile at her awkwardness.

“Thanks Mom. I’m sorry I have to cut this short but I have tons of work to do. Will you tell Dad I say hi?”

“Did you want to talk to him? He’s right here.”

Before I could politely reject her offer, I overheard my father, “No, Cheryl. I don’t feel like it.”

“Dad’s just really tired,” she said.

I could imagine her sunken eyes even more dark and sad; furrowed brow, wrinkled smile.

“Yeah, of course,” I replied.

I hung up just as Peter walked into the kitchen.

“Bora Bora,” he said. “You need to get away. I need to get away.”

“Would be nice.”

“It’s happening. I booked it. Happy anniversary,” he said, smiling.

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