Robbie, Kori, Gil and Avery stood in the middle Terminal C of the Philadelphia International Airport waiting on a round of coffees from the kiosk. Robbie wore the telltale uniform of a man on his way to basic training. Sunday morning terminal traffic was tranquil and, as a result, you could hear the music emanating from the stand. Gil tapped his feet and chomped on a chocolate chip muffin, his jaws moving in a ravenous, rhythmic dance.
“How many stars, Gil?” Robbie asked.
“Three and three quarters,” Gil responded.
“For a muffin?” Kori asked.
“Has he ever given anything four stars?” Robbie asked Avery.
“There was that gelati he had when Mom and Dad took us to Rome. I think he gave that four and a quarter stars. But nothing’s come even remotely close since.”
Robbie glanced over at Gil inhaling the remains of his muffin. “Well, I’d like a glimpse of whatever he deems worthy of five stars.”
“One mocha, two hot chocolates, and a decaf latte,” the coffee jock said, setting the cups on the counter.
Kori sprinkled chocolate on her latte, took a dainty sip and closed the lid. Robbie doused chocolate powder on his and took a big draw.
“Kind of redundant, don’t you think?” Kori asked as she watched Gil vigorously shaking chocolate powder all over his drink. She grabbed the shaker from Gil’s grasp and set it on the counter.
“Well, the whipped cream was still white,” Gil whined. “And the chocolate wasn’t coming out fast enough.” Avery steered Gil away.
They moved like an octopus toward the metal detectors that refused entry to all non-ticketed passengers while x-raying the bags, purses, pockets and shoes of the ticketed ones.
Gil pointed to a woman standing barefoot, one foot balanced on top of the other. “Modified flamingo pose,” he mused.
Robbie slung an arm around Gil’s shoulder. “Listen, buddy. While I’m gone, somebody’s gotta keep your sister in line. Think you can do it?” Robbie asked, poking Gil’s chest. Gil grabbed Robbie’s finger and pulled himself in close and tight, leaning into his broad chest, holding on to him like a lifeline when Kori leaned in to Robbie, too.
“I don’t know if I can do it alone,” she whispered.
Robbie smoothed her hair back and kissed her forehead. “You can. I’m only going to be gone for four months. Then I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, but once basic training’s over they’re going to send you somewhere and they’re not going to wait for world peace to do it.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “The world needs heroes, Robbie. I just wish you weren’t one of them.”
Kori slumped down in one of the quaint white rocking chairs in front of the window, closed her eyes and rocked to an internal rhythm. Robbie sat beside her and waited. Gil and Avery pretended to window shop, not wishing to disturb whatever fragile truce was being forged. After several minutes, Robbie grabbed her hand in his large paw and spoke softly to her.
“Look. I’m gonna do the basic training and then I’m going to find a way out of the rest. I won’t let you down, Kor.” His eyes searched hers. She looked down at her lap, voice cracking.
“It’s not just you being around. I can always hire someone to fix the plumbing if it breaks. But what about the money? We were barely making it with your paycheck?”
“Your business is taking off. Plus you can have my whole pay.”
She stared at the hands in her lap, hers and Robbie’s mixed. “I don’t know if I can raise Gil by myself. He’s…” she raised her free hand to her mouth to hide the treason, “…a handful .” She began rocking again, the weight of her confession resting between their hands.
“He’s work, but he’s no invalid. The kid could survive for weeks without us. He might eat nothing but cereal and never take a bath, but he’d be okay.” Kori gazed at Robbie, her eyes soft and moist. “It’ll be fine.” He squeezed her and released. “Now let’s go. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
They stood and in moments were flanked by Gil and Avery. Gil jumped on Robbie’s back and Robbie carried him until they reached the metal detectors.
“This is where you get off, Salamander.” He set Gil down and hugged him, then encircled Avery’s slender shoulders in a mighty bear lock.
“I’m trusting you with the finances,” Robbie whispered to Avery. “Kori’s a scatterbrain with numbers. You need to help her manage the books for her business, too, but without bruising her ego.” He squeezed the back of Avery’s neck and smiled. “I’ll get you through U Penn, but keep your grades up. You’re going to need at least a partial scholarship.”
“Hurry back,” Kori said. “And write to us, would ya’?”
“You’re leaving,” Gil said, a statement, not a question. Robbie put one knee on the floor and knelt at eye level with his brother.
“Are you coming back? Or are you leaving like Mom and Dad?”
Robbie did not take his eyes from Gil’s face. “Definitely coming back. That’s a promise.” A wide-mouthed smile broke across Gil’s face exposing all his teeth. Gil raised his hand for a high-five and Robbie smacked it.
“I love you,” he said, and before Gil could respond, he was up and through the metal detector, collecting his bags. “See you in a bit,” he said, and disappeared down the corridor.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before, click here. . .