The continuing adventures of Ed and Joe. First featured in my short story THE SCENIC ROUTE, and my free read FIRST IMPRESSIONS.
© Chrissy Munder
Fitting everyone in front of the small laptop screen proved impossible. Ed Baldwin watched from the kitchen doorway as his family shifted and surged around the couch like water around a sandcastle; fragile impermanence built on the damp strip between beach and lake as they jostled for position. A single point of stability, Joe carefully held the computer, balanced lightly on his knees as he typed in the website address Ed’s brother, Tim repeated over the top of everyone’s head, his loud voice echoing through the small space.
Joe raised his eyes; their shades of rich brown and gold alight with laughter as his gaze sought Ed’s. Ed couldn’t help but smile back at the sight of his boyfriend in the midst of the chaos he called family. It felt weird to see Joe sitting on the old couch, still covered in a willow green throw meant to hide the grape juice stain visible even after years of his mother’s scrubbing, but comforting as well.
After the rather awkward dinner, Ed had helped clear the table while Joe had ended up squashed between Ed’s two brothers and his sister, all four of squeezed as close together as gravity and the sagging cushions could manage. Proof that some things never change, Ed’s dad had fallen asleep in his recliner after dinner. His ratcheting snores barely audible in the chaos of voices talking one over another, each eager to hear their story; eager to be heard.
Luckily, Joe didn’t seem to mind the noise and confusion. Maybe with his help, Ed could handle this blending of his two worlds despite his misgivings. At least the strange turn their trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had taken had distracted Ed from worrying about the way Joe would view his family. The experience also gave him opportunity to take a second glance at his boyfriend, and proved that beneath Joe’s rather immature exterior was a man Ed could depend on.
Flush with admiration and pride, Ed walked up behind the couch, directly behind Joe and knelt down to rest his head on Joe’s shoulder. With his father asleep, he dared to let his lips touch the long line of Joe’s neck in quick kiss, enjoying the faint goosebumps beneath his caress. After all this time he would like to think he would have made the small gesture even if his father had been awake, but Ed wasn’t sure. The weight of disappointment still sat heavily on his shoulders, the burden of knowledge carried by a child who would never be the man his father wanted him to be. The important thing to know was that Joe accepted him either way.
He shifted for a more comfortable position. The padding thin under the tired carpet, worn flat by the years of abuse by his family of six and hard on Ed’s knees even through the denim of his jeans. Of all the things he might have imagined from this visit to his childhood home it never included the way Joe fit in and smoothed down the rough edges, allowing Ed for to feel for the first time in years just maybe, he belonged.
“That’s it, that’s the website.” Ominous music spilled into the small living room, the black and green background filled the screen, and an electronic voice bid them enter, if they dared. Ed watched as his sister, Sue shifted excitedly on the couch as Joe hit the enter key. He counted backward in his mind, his age minus the years between them. She would twenty-six now, a licensed practical nurse who worked out of the nursing home a town over. Still unmarried, still at home. Ed was the only member of his family who had left the rural community they had grown up in. The lone cuckoo in the nest.
“I think you guys are full of shit.” Ed’s older brother, William took a swallow from his beer and sat back. Having lost his trucking job due to the current economy, he had moved home as well, full of frustration he had no qualms about sharing. “Ain’t no way any of that stuff really happens.” He gestured with the brown bottle before their mother reached over and smacked him on the back of the head. He grabbed at his ballcap, catching it before it fell off. “Ow, momma, don’t make me spill my beer.”
Ed grinned. He couldn’t decide what would be the greater sacrilege; his brother hatless or the spilled hops. His mother came and stood beside him, the same hand guilty of hitting his brother now resting gently on his back. The faint scent of dishsoap filling the air. “I don’t know how any of you can watch anything on such a small screen. I never can.” Her voice hadn’t changed over the years; still soft and faintly accented. He looked up; not seeing the extra pounds or the squint lines from a life spent staring into the sun; only the spark of interest and intelligence that had guided him along his confused path. Maybe he wasn’t such an oddity after all.
“It happened all right,” Joe said. “Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.” He shook his head and reached his hand up to his shoulder, lightly clasping Ed’s palm in his own. “But then, I’ve come to expect the unusual when it comes to your brother.”
Ed counted it a win when William didn’t react other than to roll his eyes and belch. Looked like he had accepted Joe into the family.
“I think it’s cool.” Tim chimed in, elbowing his brother beside him for emphasis. “Checking into a motel and then finding out the place had burned down years before. Freaky.”
Ed shivered. He couldn’t erase his final image of the Easy Rest Motel, or the shock he had felt when the waitress had told them about the tragic events that had occurred there. Cool isn’t exactly how he’d describe the experience. Joe squeezed his hand and Ed took comfort in knowing Joe was near.
“Type in the name of the motel and see if anyone else has posted any stories about it.” Sue pointed at the screen in excitement. He could smell the hairspray on her reddish hair; dyed and curled in a fashion Ed knew his friends in Chicago would comment on. Even with the increase in global technology, case in point the satellite and wireless internet connection, time moved slower here.
The website for Haunted Michigan looked interesting. Ed had never given any thought to his home state’s paranormal happenings. He had to admit surprise his family apparently had. At least Joe’s recounting of their adventure had helped ease the initial discomfort apparent on all sides except Joe’s. He may not have been Ed’s first boyfriend, but Joe was the first Ed felt important enough, permanent enough to introduce to his family and he wanted it to go well.
See, here’s where you can type in your own story.” “How are you going to start?” Tim nudged Joe, dragging his attention back to the screen.
“Yeah, Joe,” Ed said. He folded his arms on the back of the couch, relaxed for the first time since their trip started. “How are you going to start?”
“How about the way all good stories start?” Joe rested his hands on the keys and tilted his head back, knocking gently into Ed. “It was a dark and stormy night….”