Bait: Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper – excerpt

cover of Bait - a novel - showing "bait" spelled with a Christian fish and a fishhook

Excerpt from Bait – a Novel

Chapter 2 – My Brother’s Keeper (excerpt).

Later, watching city lights play on the wall across the room, I retraced my day ― typing away in the word processing pool of a large law firm downtown . . . the unexpected call from Lillian at noon, telling me she was back in town a few days early from her new band’s tour and asking if she could stop by that evening . . . my quick reply ― yes, yes ― then having to put in last-minute overtime till seven o’clock . . . hurrying home to tidy my home and my person so that I was presentable to the only woman I’d ever dated, who’d lasted more than a few months with me . . . and the surprise visit from Danny..

Barely a year apart in age, the joke in our family had always been that Danny and I were twins, but he’d been thirteen months more reluctant than I, to come into the world. For brother and sister, we looked eerily alike, with the same dark and sometimes angry features, the same determined gate to our walks, the same inflections in our sentences. He was the one who had christened me “Jax” when as a toddler he was unable to pronounce a “w” sound. My full name “Jacqueline” he’d turned into “Jacselin,” which everyone had shortened to “Jax” to make it easier on him. The nickname had stuck with him, and even when he could manage “Jacqueline,” he’d stuck with “Jax.” It was his way of showing that I was his sister. It was his way of showing that I was his. Only he was allowed to call me “Jax.” And he was the only one who ever did..

We’d grown up side-by-side in our close-knit family, playmates as kids, then rivals as teenagers. Our younger brother Richie had come along six years after Danny’s birth, so for the most significant part of my sentient childhood, Danny had been my constant companion, and I his eager mentor. I learned to ride a bike, then taught him. I learned to climb trees, then showed him how. Even though I was “the girl” and he was “the boy,” I’d always forged boldly ahead, while he lingered safely behind. He learned what not to do, from watching me fall, many times over ― from bikes . . . from trees . . . from the good graces of our family. And Danny became even more prone to hesitation, watching the results of my rash actions..

Over the years, the two of us had developed a kind of mutual admiration/protection society which worked in both our favors. The areas in which I excelled, Danny lagged, and the skills in life which repulsed me, he somehow managed to master. Launching expeditions into new territory ― experiments in fashion, music and art, not to mention striking up conversations with girls who interested me ― were my forte, and what I learned over the years (bell-bottoms were cool . . . David Bowie was not a has-been . . . punk rock music would change everything . . . 10-speeds were out and 12-speeds ― no, 21-speeds ― were in) Danny put to good use in conversations and social settings. He would never have ventured out of the house in wildly striped, flared pants in elementary school, were it not for my example, and he never would have taken the time to investigate either Major Tom or Sid Vicious, years later on his own. But dropping names and tossing around the latest terms, scored him points with his school buddies. I was his canary in the cultural coal mine, who sampled the latest trends; what I gleaned, I passed on for him to weave into conversations with cute girls and cool guys he wanted to impress..

Reciprocally, Danny had watched my back and vouched for me in polite company. Growing up enthusiastically conservative ― like the rest of our family, the rest of our church, the rest of our town, the rest of our county ― he had always fit seamlessly into the staid button-down world that became more foreign and hostile to me with each passing year. The nice people, whose opinion I was supposed to care about, looked askance at my pink hair and single pierced ear, but the fact that I was Danny’s sister always guaranteed me safe passage in their world. When I was with him, I would not be harassed by eternal-hellfire-and-damnation evangelicals seeking another proverbial notch on their Bible case, or rednecks looking to kick some queer ass. Because Danny was my brother, the velour-sweater-Jordache-jean-penny-loafer crowd tolerated me, and I was invited to parties and social events I’d never have heard about, let alone been welcomed into. Being well-behaved Danny’s sister kept me beneath the corrective radar of teachers, principals and policemen, and under Danny’s disapproving but watchful protection, I was able to continue my experiments in fringe culture ― even run a small marijuana and speed distribution business out of my gym bag ― till I was safely graduated from high school and out of my parents’ house. .

As much as he loved to lecture me on the dangers of underage drinking and illicit drug use, Danny had lived vicariously through my exploits; he had relished them as much as I, though he would never admit it. And I was allowed to move through life without the threat of a religious intervention or bodily harm, because of his influence. We were a well-tuned partnership of exceptional experience. We were a team. It was a thrilling life we both had, as teenagers in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The joke about our being almost-twins wasn’t far from the mark..

To be continued…

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