They were siblings in a spat. She was fashionable, clad in a black, diamond-studded jumper. He, less so, in a light-blue sweatshirt — hood pulled up over his head. She was slight and pretty with a prominent nose. He was overweight and ugly.
They barely spoke, and then only a few indecipherable words as they redistributed the coffees they’d been mistakenly served at the near-empty Dunkin’ Donuts. He had been given her French vanilla, while she had been given his regular.
The tension between them had to do with love. Back in Russia, he had been engaged to a woman. She to a man. The couples spent many evenings together. They visited the world-famous Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. Though none of the four was much for art, they nonetheless had marveled over the fact that there had been a theft at the museum only a few weeks prior. It was there at the Hermitage that the couples had agreed they would immigrate to America together.
Then something awful happened — something the siblings hadn’t yet spoken of out loud to each other. Their lovers, one day over breakfast, broke the news that they were having an affair and planned to marry. At the time, the brother had received the news with nary a complaint. She had wept.
Three months later, here in America, she blamed him for not protecting her from getting hurt. He was her older brother, was he not? He had been doing it all her life. In grade school, whenever the other kids would pick on her, he’d pin the kid in the corner and sit on the culprit until he/she promised never to say another foul word about his sister.
She looked at him now in disgust as he began to use his shirt sleeve to wipe some drink from his upper lip. She had once found her brother’s penchant for hooded sweatshirts oddly charming, but today his dress only annoyed her. Was he not a grown man? Why couldn’t he wear the cardigans and collared shirts that civilized men his age wore? And why was that bloody hood over his head when they were inside? It made him look like a creep.
A woman behind the counter called out the hooded man’s order. A minute or so passed, but he did not budge from place. The woman repeated the order. This time the man stole off his hood and rose to collect the food.
He returned to the table with his breakfast sandwich — a sheepish grin across his face — and then sat to wolf it down. His sister, stern-faced, as though she were going to chide him for his inattentiveness but had thought the better of it, seemed to ponder something.
Her brother’s behavior had triggered a memory of the time she and her fiancé had visited her brother’s place in St. Petersburg. When they arrived, her brother was upstairs in his study, where he would spend much of that afternoon, tinkering with his hi-tech toys. She repeatedly tried to pry him from this room. Had her brother paid more attention that day to his fiancée, she now reasoned silently, his fiancée would not have sought comfort in her own lover. And perhaps, had she not spent all her time begging her brother to come downstairs, she would have been able to tend to her boyfriend.