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Are You Seeing Me

For W, for J and especially for C

We are all dependent on one another,

every soul of us on earth.


GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

TABLE OF CONTENTS

JUSTINE

PERRY

JUSTINE

PERRY

JUSTINE

PERRY

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

JUSTINE

PERRY IS STANDING ON THE far side of the metal detector, feet planted on the red stripe. Beads of sweat dot his forehead. His right leg twitches, keeping pace with some inaudible rhythm. At regular intervals, his lips curl inward then spring open, releasing a loud pop. He’s stuck. He’s been stuck for a while.

There’ll be another announcement over the PA soon. I imagine it being a little more pointed than its predecessor: Ms. Justine Richter, Mr. Perry Richter, you are required to board Flight 47 to Vancouver. Your fellow passengers are waiting for you to end this madness. Can you blame them for getting upset? I can’t…What is your problem? Are you unaware of anyone but yourselves? You think the whole world should bow to your needs? The two of you are an absolute disgrace.

I attempt to catch Perry’s eye with reassuring nods and here-is-your-loving-sister hand gestures. I won’t approach him or get in his face. I won’t negotiate either—speeches are useless when my brother has reached this level of anxiety. It’s like trying to draw attention to a lit candle during a laser show.

The stolid security officer holding the metal-detecting paddle displays a frown. “Please step through, sir,” he says for the millionth time.

The sour business suit behind Perry huffs and places his hands on his hips. “No worries, pal,” he says. “It’s not like we’ve got planes to catch or anything.”

Perry hears none of it. His hands are clasped together on top of his head. A pronounced lean has gripped the left side of his body. The pops have morphed into heavy sighs. The soles of his shoes remain fixed to the red stripe.

This is my nightmare. Sure, there are any number of planks in the rickety suspension bridge of our trip that could give out and send us plummeting—the flight, the hotels, the road trips to Okanagan Lake and Seattle. Foreign places, foreign people. Foreign everything. And, of course, The Appointment and all of the question marks it entails. But to go wrong here? Here? At the airport? On the list of places you’d want to avoid acting out of the ordinary, the airport would rank number one with a bullet. Or maybe a Taser.

I pull the rubber band at my wrist, let it snap back. The blossom of pain strangles the panic, rouses a resilience honed over the last two years. Perry needs help—it is right and just that I provide it. This is his time. His ultimate holiday. He deserves all the patience and tolerance required to make the next two weeks a memory for the ages.

I take a couple of steps forward and stand tall, framed by the metal detector. Like a mime playing to the back row, an exaggerated level of animation overtakes my movements. I nod my head until my neck hurts. I tap my watch with large stabbing points of the index finger. I wheel my arm over like an air guitarist in full flight. The performance makes a minor impression; Perry has returned to vertical, and the volume has been turned down on his sighs. I’m ready for a second dance of persuasion when a voice to my left interjects.

“He’ll get there, miss.”

I look toward the reassurer. It’s the security officer seated by the X-ray machine. She’s a cement block of a woman with dyed black hair and a red blotchy face. In contrast to her body, her expression is open, soft. The conveyor belt of luggage that is her charge has been halted. I hesitate, wary of reconciling compassion with authority, then nod.

“I’ve got a nephew like him. Similar age, by the look of it.” She juts her chin and sits up a little straighter in her chair. “You’re doin’ real good.”

Nephew or not, she has no real clue, but I mouth the words thank you anyway.

As I turn back toward the stalemate, she adds, “You take as much time as you need.”

Her gracious sentiment is not a shared one. The paddle wielder has dropped the sir from his requests. The suit barges back through the line in search of a security station that “doesn’t have a goddamn retard holding everything up.” A small part of me is proud of Pez for upending their crappy little ordered empires. The rest of me is still locked on his unraveling.

And then things go from bad to worse. Perry bends at the knees, buckling slowly, like Atlas defeated. The implications are immediate—if his knees hit the floor, it’s a done deal. He’ll go to all fours, then onto his stomach. Perhaps he’ll roll over on his back. Whatever the final position, he’ll be spread-eagled and staked. Ninety-one kilograms of dead weight destined for full-blown security intervention. The clock, previously at a premium, is seconds away from becoming redundant.

He’s halfway down when an idea strikes. I lunge for the counter and unzip the bag Perry packed for the trip. I scrabble around among his essentials, assessing their candidacy. The seismometer? Too valuable. The DVD of Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master II? Too fragile. The Ogopogo stuffed toy? Too childish. The CD of Polka Hits from Around the World?! Too…weird. The book Quakeshake: A Child’s Experience of the Newcastle Earthquake?

Bingo!

I snatch up the book and hustle into position. I turn side-on, then cock my wrist, ready for the throw. It’s all or nothing, anything but a gimme; the toss must negotiate the metal detector and land at Perry’s feet. If it falls short, it will lack the impact to snap my brother out of his descent. If it sails long, it will hit him in the head, leading to a million YouTube hits. The task would test a decent athlete, let alone a generous-hipped, Cornetto-eating girl who turned excuse letters for PE class into an art form. I take an awkward practice swing, then eye the target. Perry is now down on his haunches, rocking on the balls of his feet. It’s now or never. I draw back. A king tide of blood pummels my eardrums. The onlookers are panes of glass. Somewhere, in the distant burbs of my mind, I ask: How did my job description become flinging books at my twin brother to avoid disaster?

The throw clears the metal detector, hits the floor and skims a few meters before coming to rest at the toe of Perry’s right shoe. For a fleeting moment, there is only stillness, the wait to discover if the tall ship of clarity has dropped anchor in the swirling eddies of sensory distress.

Perry grasps the book. He opens it, begins flipping through the pages. After a few seconds, he stands up. The flush in his face is retreating. His breaths are slowing.

He is present.

He is seeing me.

I bite my tongue. “Come through, Pez. It’s okay.”

The command is barely complete when my brother walks forward. He holds the book out as he enters the detector, clutches it to his chest as he emerges on the other side. No beeps or buzzes or red lights. I glance at Paddle Man—he looks disappointed. Perry heads for the counter and his carry-on suitcase. He shoves the book back in among his prized possessions and pulls the zipper closed.

“I’m sorry, Justine,” he murmurs, fixing his gaze on the stack of empty plastic trays by his left elbow. “I was quite worried.”

“No kidding. Don’t you remember our talk this morning? We went over the detector stuff ten times. And we made sure you weren’t wearing any metal.”

He nods. “I remember. Those detectors don’t work properly. I saw an article online. Sometimes they malfunction and make noise when they don’t mean to. I didn’t want to hear that noise. It would hurt my ears. And I imagined the security man touching my armpits and the front of my pants, then yelling at me and throwing me to the ground. He thought I was a terrorist—”

“Okay, okay. It’s done now.”

“I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry, Justine.”

“Yeah, I know you are.”

I grab my bag and sling it over my shoulder. I’m about to lay bare the supreme urgency of our situation when Perry takes my hand. He secures only the middle, ring and pinkie fingers. It is a recognizable and comforting contact. He first held my hand this way in third grade. I can’t recall him ever holding my hand differently.

“Because we are late, I think it is logical we run to gate twenty-six.”

I scoff. “I like that—we are late.”

He tugs me along for a few meters, then releases. In a flash, he is past the duty-free shop and on the moving walkway, suitcase of consolations by his side. I set off after him, ignoring the leftover tremors in my legs and the visions of rickety suspension bridges in my head.

im1

WHEN I FLOP DOWN INTO my aisle seat on Flight 47 to Vancouver, it’s a victory. We’ve made it this far. There is a journey to come—starting with fifteen hours nonstop across the Pacific—but this is a moment to savor. I want to ask the nearest hostess to give three cheers during the safety demonstration.

Perry is across from me. It was my plan to have the two of us sit together but apart, each with easy access to the aisle. It was also important that Perry be seated beside an adult. An early-morning need for a toilet or an attendant’s help could be a tad disruptive to a sleeping child. Not nearly as unsettling as a shouted quote from Shanghai Noon or an impromptu rendition of “Born This Way.” Though, if one of those meteorites fell from the sky…well, we’d all just have to wait until it burned out. Hopefully, the damage would be minimal. Firefighter Jus would, of course, be on hand with a bucket and a garden hose.

An announcement from the captain assures us we’ll be taxiing out to the runway in ten to fifteen minutes. There’s been a delay in the fueling procedure. I study Perry’s reaction to the news. He shifts in his seat and squeezes his hands together hard, causing the knuckles to blanch. He takes two long breaths. The passengers alongside him—husband and wife, late fifties, holding the morning edition of The Australian and a Kimberley Freeman novel—give Perry an obvious, but not unkind, once-over.

“Afraid of flying, mate?” the husband asks.

Perry directs his gaze at the armrest between them. He inches over in his seat, closer to the aisle. Closer to me. He shakes his head. “I like jets.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Oh, okay. Just thought you looked a bit nervous.”

Perry does like planes. He has several model bombers he built from kits. And he bought a replica Qantas jet from Myer the day I told him we had tickets to North America. Actual flying? No idea. This is his first ride in a big bird.

The man smiles and offers his hand. “I’m Ross, by the way.”

Perry accepts, pumps three times, withdraws. His eyes move from the armrest to Ross’s secured tray table. “My name is Perry Richter. I’m very pleased to meet you.”

“Good to meet you, Perry. This is my wife, Jane.”

“Good to meet you, Ross. Good to meet you, Jane.”

There’s a pause. Ross taps his chin twice, narrows his eyes. I recognize the signs. He’s had his first inkling that the young guy in seat 39G is not fashioned from a familiar mold. Bravo, Ross! Unless the association is patently obvious—Perry’s under stress or immersed in one of his favorite obsessions—it takes most people a while to suspect my brother is a bit skewiff. It’s one of his weightier burdens: look like everyone else, act like no one you’ve ever seen.

It’s also the main reason I’m up front about it. Before people get confused or angry or frustrated or gooey or freaked out, I give them the standard spiel: Perry has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people—mixing with them and communicating with them—and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. I appreciate your understanding and patience.

Depending on my own reserves of patience, I might embellish it from time to time:

What the hell are you staring at?

Why don’t you take a picture? It lasts longer.

If the wind changes, you’ll look like that permanently.

You’ve never seen a disabled person and their homicidal caregiver before?

At these times, I know for sure I am my father’s daughter. He never sought to explain Perry to the public. Let ’em get an education, he would say. If they don’t want to be educated, they can go jump.

I lean in as Ross’s education commences.

“Did you know that the earth is made up of four layers?” asks Perry. “There’s the core—actually two cores: inner and outer—and the mantle and the crust. The crust is where we live. No lie. I like the mantle the best out of the four. It’s mainly made up of molten lava, and the crust floats on top of it and is always moving. Isn’t that cool?”

Ross glances left and right, then nods.

“That’s a funny joke, saying it’s cool, because the temperature can actually rise to 5,400 degrees Celsius. Anyway, scientists call the moving convection. They also have a theory that we are living on a series of tectonic plates floating on the mantle. Some say twelve, others say it’s more than twelve. I’m not sure who is correct. One thing is certain, though—the plates can rub together or pull away from each other or smash into each other or one might go underneath the other. These events are what cause earthquakes to occur, and of course earthquakes are measured on the moment magnitude scale, but they used to be measured on the Richter scale. That’s my last name—Richter. No lie. My father used to say it was my scale and that was a funny joke too, because it was invented by Charles Richter in 1935, which is fifty-five years before I was born. In fact, it was twenty-eight years before my father was born—”

“Uh, Pez?”

Perry halts his runaway train of thought, takes a breath and begins lightly tapping the tips of his fingers together. He looks down at his seat-belt buckle. The couple stare in my direction.

“My name’s Justine Richter. I’m Perry’s sister and caregiver. Just so you know, Perry has a brain condition. It can cause him to feel—”

“Brain condition?” asks Jane.

“Yes. That’s right.”

“So, is he one of those people who are very good with numbers?”

“I am good with numbers,” confirms Perry.

The husband arches his brow and twists in his seat. “What’s 1,491 times 6,218?”

Perry thinks for a second, then unbuckles his seat belt, leaps out of his chair and opens the overhead bin. Ross stares at me, eyebrows high on his forehead.

“It’s coming,” I say. “Takes him a little longer than the ones they trot out on TV.”

Perry closes the compartment and flops back down in his chair. He’s holding a calculator. “What were those numbers again, Ross?”

“I…I can’t remember.”

“Was it 1,491 times 6,218? Or was it 4,191 times 2,618?”

“I…I don’t know.”

“Let’s try the first one.” Perry brings the calculator up very close to his chin and punches in the equation, emphasizing each digit entry with a small nod. When the sum is done, he thrusts the calculator at Ross’s face, causing him to rear back. “Is this the correct answer, Ross?”

“I’ve got no idea.”

“Oh. I thought you knew the answer.”

“You took the words out of my mouth, son.”

Perry wrestles with the meaning of this for a moment. He twists his lips this way and that, voices a quiet hum, then gives up. He stashes the calculator in the seat pocket, then starts playing with his touchscreen video monitor. I’m ready to provide some assistance, but he doesn’t need it. Within seconds he’s wearing earbuds and watching the opening sequences of a documentary on saltwater crocodiles.

I engage the couple with a clipped smile. “Perry has trouble with people—mixing with them and communicating with them—and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. I appreciate your understanding and patience.”

“Reckon I might’ve been the one with the inappropriate behaviors, love,” says Ross.

“Make that two of us,” adds Jane.

I study their earnest faces. No need for further education here. Class is dismissed. “It’s fine,” I say. “All good.”

They breathe a sigh of relief. Jane asks Ross to sit back so she can see me. “Thank you,” she says. “It’s Justine, isn’t it?”

“That’s right.”

“Justine, if you don’t mind me asking, did you say you were Perry’s sister and caregiver?”

“Yes.”

“Do you mean just for your trip?”

“No, I’m his sister all the time.” A badum-tish follows. I announce that I’m here all week and ask that they don’t forget to tip the waitress. Jane blinks three times. “Sorry, my jokes aren’t as good as Perry’s. The answer to your question is no, I am the current full-time caregiver for my brother.”

Jane places a hand on her breast and tilts her head. “Oh, that must be so difficult for you.”

“Ow! That’s gotta hurt!” Perry mimics a crocodile’s lunge and snap with his hand. His focus remains on the small screen.

“It has its moments,” I reply.

“Wow. You must be an amazing person to do that, especially on your own. Do you have any help at all?”

The question loiters in the aisle like abandoned luggage. Then it’s in my lap, heavy and pointed. I’m overtaken by a desire to share it all with these people, these complete and decent strangers. To tell them how our mother left and we were raised by our father. How he did the best he could, better than he was obliged to do. Then he up and died two weeks shy of our eighteenth birthdays. And even though he swore on his deathbed I was ready—that my future was more than just being my brother’s keeper—the two years following made his words seem like a coin tossed into a wishing well.

Do I have any help? It’s coming. When this holiday is over and we touch down again in Brisbane Town, the balance my father wanted will be possible. “Home” will be elsewhere for Perry. “Dependence” will be measured by degrees. The wishing well will answer with the name Fair Go Community Village. Yes, help is coming, all right.

But the truth is, I never asked for it.

I want to tell these polite outsiders all of this and assure them of one last, important fact: I am not an amazing person. But the itch to unburden recedes when we’re interrupted by the pilot’s update. “Apologies, again, for the delay, folks. We are all set to go now. Shouldn’t be a problem making up for lost time.”

I shift my attention from Jane to Perry. He senses the rolling movement of the plane and removes his earbuds.

“We’re moving,” he announces. He digs around in the seat pocket and extracts the laminated safety card. He lifts it high so it is visible to the passengers behind him. “If we crash on takeoff, I can help save some of you! No lie, I have first-aid expertise!”

“Shoosh!” I rein Perry in with a tug on his forearm. Amid the crowd murmurings—some good-natured, others not so forgiving—I turn back to Jane. “Why would I need any help?”

im1

2:12 AM, VANCOUVER TIME. The lights in the cabin have been dimmed and economy class is in various states of slumber. The burring jet engines are occasionally punctuated by a chunky snore or a muffled cough or a baby’s cry.

I lean over to check on Perry. He’s out. Head tilting right and forward, his eyelids flutter. The small, orb-shaped seismometer is cradled in his lap like a snuggling pet. His seat is bolt upright. My desire to press the armrest button and ease him back into a more reclined position pales next to the prospect of waking him up. He’s done well so far—he’s earned some uninterrupted rest. Hell, so have I.

“Worn out” doesn’t begin to describe my exhaustion. I rub my eyes until there are raw tears. Sleep won’t come for a while yet. The uncomfortable seat is partially guilty, but Perry’s the main culprit. Perry and the dark. For years as a child, I thought the nighttime knew secrets about my brother, that if I was close enough and awake enough, those secrets would be revealed in a sign or a vision or a whisper. Maybe I would learn the cause of his condition? A body toxin unidentified at birth. Some faulty genetic code spelled out in terms a science-shunning, literature-loving girl could understand. Maybe I’d be given the solution to his riddle? The power to bestow upon him all the unspoken language skills the rest of us take for granted? Or perhaps I’d be “made” like him for a few predawn hours; all the traits would be mine: the twitches, the ticks, the routines and the obsessions. I would think too fast and feel too much. I would try to be the same as everyone else in this world, and I would set the frustration and the anger and the despair free when it proved impossible. Then I would be Justine again, only new and improved, knowing my brother’s existence completely, working to bring about greater understanding in the “normal” world.

With those nocturnal revelations so tantalizingly close, deferring sleep became a habit when Perry was in the same space. It took hold when we were little kids, and was reinforced when we went camping or on holidays.

It came back in a big way after Dad died.

I need Dad now. I reach down and reef the bag out from under the seat in front. Amongst the contents is the weathered hardback I can identify by touch and smell alone. Red and purple roses on the cover. Faded, felt-pen title in block letters. The Life and Times of a Tree Frog—the journal my father faithfully kept for seventeen years and fifty weeks. I open it to page one and listen for his voice: a gentle and unhurried baritone, nothing like the wispy croak he had in his final days.

im1

21 October 1990

Hello, Justine. If you’re reading this, it’s 21 October 2008 and you’ve just turned eighteen. Happy Birthday! I wanted to do something special for the two of you, starting on the day you were born. Well, that’s today. Mum gave birth to you this morning—you first at 11:26, Perry three minutes later—and this is the special something. A journal. One for you and one for your brother. Eighteen years in the making. I hope you like it.

Originally, I thought about doing some videos. Not like regular home movies of our holidays or Christmases. More personal ones, with stories and memories. Ones you could look back at and say, “That’s my dad, all right!” But I figured it would be difficult keeping it a secret when you guys were older. And all those tapes! How would I know if you had a Betamax recorder when you became an adult?

No, I decided I should do something different. A challenge. Something that needed a real commitment. Something I would never do for myself and something that I would only ever do for my two minnows (twinnows!).

I’m not much of a writer, but a journal seemed like a good idea…

im1

29 October 1990

We’ve been home a few days and it’s bloody busy! Even though we’re flat out, my mind keeps going back to our first moment together. You were so beautiful when you came into the world. The doc lifted you out of your mother’s belly, the nurse wrapped you up…then you were in my arms. You were tiny, just under five pounds. Not bad for a preemie arriving six weeks early. You looked right at me with those big, dark eyes. It was as if you knew exactly who I was and what I was feeling inside.

Your brother’s exit wasn’t as smooth. I don’t think he knew what had hit him when he was taken out. He didn’t breathe straight away, but he got it done when he had to. A part of me likes to think he did it on purpose so he could get a little extra care and attention from those good sorts of nurses. He went to Mum first. She had trouble holding him because she was drugged to the eyeballs, so they handed him over to me. He didn’t open his eyes the way you did. He stayed asleep, as if the rest of the world didn’t matter.

im1

4 May 1991

You’ve started doing something that gives me a good laugh. When you’re eating the apple mush that you seem to like better than anything else on the mush menu, you gulp a mouthful down and then poke your tongue out. Every time! Mum says it’s gross. I think it’s bloody brilliant! Like a green tree frog catching flies!

Your brother doesn’t perform this little gem, but he’s got his own comedy going on. The witchlike cackle. The backstroke attempts in the bath. The projectile pee—one of which ended up hosing the neighbor’s cat as it was having a stickybeak on the windowsill. I almost couldn’t breathe I laughed so hard!

It’s nice to have a few howlers here and there. Now that I’m back at the factory, Mum’s on her own all day. She gets exhausted. Things would be much better if getting Perry to sleep—day or night—hadn’t been a real struggle the last month. Lots of tears and screams and not a lot of zees. Mum wants to let him cry it out, but I’m not keen. I don’t think it’s right. I mean, he’s crying for a reason, isn’t he? Probably the teeth coming through. I reckon once he’s over the worst of it, he’ll sleep like, well, a baby.

In the meantime, I’ve got my little tree frog to keep me entertained.

im1

15 July 1991

Holy bloody hell! You just walked! You pulled yourself up onto your feet with the help of the coffee table, took one hand away, took the other hand away, and toddled across the living room! Wow! So proud of you!

Hopefully you can relive the moment when Mum gets back. I had a feeling she would miss a one-off like this. She’s been going out quite a bit lately, getting her “mental health time,” as she likes to call it.

Perry saw you walk. He was over by the azaleas, mucking around with his Cookie Monster cushion. When you got up, he stopped and turned his attention to you. He watched you all the way, until you plopped back down on your bum near the bookshelf. Then he made a noise and held his arms up, like he was cheering for you! Okay, maybe he wasn’t cheering, but he certainly took notice of your great work. Hope he took a few notes—he’s still motoring around the house on his knees. The books say it’s not uncommon for boys to reach milestones later than girls. He is saying a few words though: “dog” and “Dad” and “fan,” so that’s good. He’ll be all right, especially with his big sister showing the way.

im1

20 November 1991

I might have had too many hits on the hard hat, but it seems to me Perry’s gone backward a bit of late. He’s doing some funny things with his toys. He’ll put his Tonka trucks all in a row and stare at them from this angle and that. Then he’ll turn them upside down and spin their wheels, over and over and over again. Also, he’s not saying the words he was saying a couple of months ago. And he won’t look at you anymore when you say his name. I wondered for a while if he might be deaf, but he never seemed to have any problems hearing a packet of gingersnaps being opened. Anyway, we got his ears checked and there were no problems.

Mum and I took him back to the clinic on Saturday (Grandma took care of you; she said, as per usual, you were an angel). Early on, the doc mentioned that it could be some sort of brain issue. She said it was too early to tell. Then she thought for a bit longer and shook her head. She said Perry having problems long-term was pretty unlikely and she wouldn’t want to put a label on him when, in all likelihood, he was just delayed in his development. After a time, some of these behaviors would go away and we’d see him start to catch up. Mum shook her hand like Robinson Crusoe meeting the captain of the rescue boat. In the car going home, she told me she’d known all along our boy was just a bit slow, and her job was tough enough without a husband getting worried for nothing. I’m not convinced.

I’m sorry I’m going on about Perry so much—this stuff should go into his journal, I suppose. I’m not writing in his book these days. It was just dribs and drabs for a while, but now I’ve stopped altogether. It seems unfair to be recording his moments right now when he’s standing still and you’re zooming ahead. But that doesn’t mean this journal should be filled with your brother’s troubles and your father’s worries.

This is your gift, your memories to look back on.

im1

RETURNING DAD’S JOURNAL TO THE BAG, I find my phone jammed into the pages of my current read: a dog-eared, secondhand paperback of Robinson Crusoe. I extract the phone and begin scrolling through Marc’s messages. I linger on the most recent one:

Hope u made it through security ok. Have a gr8 trip. Can’t wait until u come back.
xo

“Can’t wait”—that phrase sums him up. Point blank and a perfect stranger, he asked me out for coffee in Woolies (frozen section, to be exact). I noted his basket contained a few favorites from my food pyramid: Tim Tams, Mount Franklin water, a ripe mango. His look had some favorites too. Blue eyes. Cropped beard. Soft, wistful face that hinted at James McAvoy in Becoming Jane. Long eyelashes.

“I have a brother at home and it’s just the two of us,” I told him. “His name is Perry. He has a brain condition that can cause him to feel anxious or upset in different places and circumstances. He has trouble with people—mixing with them and communicating with them—and it sometimes results in inappropriate behaviors. Still want to have coffee?”

“More than ever,” he replied.

I agreed to meet up.

We sipped espressos and split a Devonshire tea at Riverbend Books in Bulimba, and the discussion of which novels should never have been made into films went well enough to pencil in a second coffee date. He got down on one knee and proposed during that one. When I rejected him, laughing loud enough to disturb other tables, he told me he wasn’t serious. I suspect it was a half-truth.

We got to know each other a bit better over the next month—three dinners, two Sunday brunches, one movie (Black Swan—it was a tad awkward) and one sleepover at his shared house in New Farm. In February, he admitted he could see us living together sometime very soon. The time had arrived to properly introduce Master Disaster. I got down on one knee and proposed Marc join us for a barbecue at Chez Richter.

They went okay. Perry was quiet, not his usual talkative self. Marc tried hard, probably too hard. It was obvious a few of my brother’s chestnuts had him scrambling for rationales. When the hang-out was over, Marc reassured me I needn’t worry. He and Pez would be best mates before long.

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