Ewan sat frowning, surrounded by cookbooks.
He knew Gene wasn’t vegetarian. And he hated fish, which was perfect, because Ewan couldn’t cook fish.
But then, Genevieve could be vegetarian, or pescatarian, or any other damn fool food fad. He didn’t know Genevieve.
Chicken was safe, and he could make chicken really well. But was it too safe? I mean, you see your brother for the first time in five years, you want to celebrate. Do you serve chicken? Ewan had chicken twice a week. It didn’t feel special enough.
But steak felt too… assertively masculine. Like he’d be telling Genevieve, ‘in your face, we are all testo all the time around here’.
That was probably what Gene expected. The last time he’d see Ewan was when Ewan was 17. At the time, Ewan spent about 90% of his time on a four-wheeler with a beer in his hand. He’d loved the thrill of tearing through the woods, the sense of danger.
Gene, his smart, sensitive older brother, had told him he was going to wind up like old Jase, the guy who hung out at the Legion hollering at the waitresses. One VE Day celebration, the geezer had been there all afternoon and he drank so much he pissed himself. Their mom was a server at the Legion. She’d called Gene to come help Jase get himself home. Jase had barely gotten to the road, draped over Gene’s shoulders, when he’d suddenly reared back and cold-cocked Gene, blackening his eye. Jase had landed on his arse on the pavement, hollering, “Faggot!” Gene told their mom not to call him in the future. Ewan, who had followed Gene down to the Legion, ended up hauling Jase to his feet and shoving him up the hill to his house, where his wife, thin-lipped, claimed him.
Gene went off to university and never came back. Escaped, he called it. Ewan had felt abandoned, here on a quiet island filled with garrulous old people and reckless youth.
The next year, it had been his turn to go, and he half expected to be abducted by aliens, which is what his mother said had happened to Gene, throwing her hands up in despair.
One year in a Bachelor of Arts program had convinced Ewan he wasn’t university material, so he switched to college, learned some carpentry, and had then shocked his mother by volunteering for a building project in Guatemala.
She had pleaded with him not to leave her: “Not you TOO!” and he had sworn he’d be back.
Around a companionable fire in Guatemala, he’d been invited to join a crew doing a few months work in Vietnam, so he’d headed there next. From Vietnam, he’d flown to Thailand and bummed around for a few months. Then he hopped to Turkey, then Greece, then Morocco, and finally he’d wandered home.
His mother was hooked up with a new man by this time, so he got a little walkout apartment at the Donaldsons’ and settled in to consider what to do next. He found he still enjoyed four-wheeling and a beer or two, and the island itself never changed. He made time to talk more with some of the older folks, learning the fishing stories, the legends from before Confederation, and where the best hunting was. He steered Jase home more than once after three beers, not letting him order the fourth. He didn’t feel that different, but people treated him differently now. That’s how he knew he had matured.
When he started trying to track down Gene, he hit a few dead ends, but he kept looking, learned a lot about social media and what he guessed was kind of cyber stalking, and eventually found Gene’s friend Rutherford, who had promised to pass his number on to Gene.
And then she’d called. Genevieve. The woman who had been his brother.
Genevieve had called from the ferry. She was heading here. For supper. He was more nervous than if he was making food for a blind date.
So, chicken? What kind? Breasts?
Breasts. He squeezed his eyes shut.
Chicken was out. This was hard.
He was doing this all wrong. He had about an hour and a half to prepare, which meant a serious shopping trip wouldn’t happen. What did he have on hand?
He lurched to the fridge and peered into the freezer. He had frozen steak strips, surely a daintier and therefore more acceptable choice than regular old T-bone.
Dainty… would Gene be dainty? I mean, his brother had been a slim guy, and in seventh grade, Jennifer Parkhouse had said he was pretty, which had gotten him beaten up.
GENEVIEVE. Must remember. GENEVIEVE. He took a Sharpie from his pen cup and a Post-it note and wrote DO NOT DEAD NAME HER. SHE IS GENEVIEVE. He underlined “she” twice. The Post-it went onto the cupboard at eye height.
Back to the fridge. Mango. Cilantro… okay, mango salad. Wait! He had beef bones he’d been planning to make broth with. Bean sprouts. Noodles…. YES! He’d make some pho. Make this meal about his changes, not Gene…vieve’s.
He quickly cranked the oven on and broiled the bones for 10 minutes to develop the flavour, He charred his onions, chopped some ginger, and toasted spices, adding each to a pressure cooker filled with waters. Last he added the bones and set it to speed up broth production.
He cut the mangoes and rubbed the flesh gently with hot peppers. He took his basil plant from the windowsill and harvested several large leaves, setting them aside to chiffonade later.
Did he want a dessert?
He had ice cream. That would do.
The broth finished and he began assembling the soup. As he was setting out the condiments and table additions, there was a knock.
He paused for a moment, mind flashing through potential things to say. Would Gene be… No, Genevieve be nervous too? He took a deep breath and opened the door.
He recognized the features, but they were somehow softer. It was like someone had overlaid a picture of his brother onto a woman… a fairly attractive woman.
“Not bad!” He coloured as he realized that this had slipped out of his mouth.
“That’s a hell of a way to greet your sister, moron,” said a voice that was higher pitched and softer than Gene’s but was almost recognizable. “But thank you… I think?”
Ewan softly swore in Spanish, and then said, “Let me try that again. Come in. You look great.”
There was an awkward pause as Genevieve removed her jacket, but held onto it, as if poised to flee.
“Come in, sit down!” Ewan gestured at the table. “Hold on, I’ll get the salad.”
As he placed the mango salad on the table, he noticed Genevieve taking in the room. She peered at framed photos of Ewan with his international crew of builders, at carved wooden birds he had brought home, an incense burner shaped like a lotus flower.
She turned and then finally noticed the food.
“Ewan,” she said, coming to the table, “what happened?” The first bite of mango made her cough from the spice and she paused to sip water.
“I’m going to be honest, I came here expecting to be served wings from the Legion, reheated. When I left, I thought you were on your way to becoming another Jase.”
Ewan rolled his eyes. “I was 17! I didn’t know anything. Clearly I didn’t know anything… I kind of thought you left because you hated me and mom. I didn’t know about… this.”
Genevieve made a face. “Ewan, even I didn’t know about this, entirely. I just knew that what I was wasn’t what I looked like. I didn’t even know this--” she gestured up and down— “was possible until I left.”
Ewan smiled and reached out his condensation-covered glass to toast. “Well, looks like we’ve both made some changes. Good thing pho takes a long time to eat.”