Brother, Stay 'Way From My Girl
They fought about everything from tie clips to shoes. It was all Glen’s fault — wearing a fellow’s shirts, his socks, taking the car. But stealing his girl was just too much for Paul to take.
IT WAS just about the best night for a prom, Paul thought, that had ever been invented. As he walked home from a last-minute trip to the school he took an approving look at it, just as he had taken an approving look, as chairman of the committee, at the decorations in the gym. The decorations were really neat this year, even better than the ones Glen’s class had done last year, and he was proud of them. The night was the same—a really perfect night for a prom—and he was proud of it too.
As he turned in at his own gate he saw that the light was on in the room he shared with Glen, and he quickened his step. Glen had already started to dress, then. He called, “Hi, Mom, I’m back,” without stopping to look at her, and went quickly up the stairs. He should have been back sooner. Because if Glen had happened to forget any part of his outfit, leaving it in his room at college—his black tie, for instance, or his studs—he wouldn’t hesitate to help himself, and Paul knew only too well that he had just one of everything.
One glance reassured him. Glen was already tying his tie, and Paul’s things lay undisturbed on his own bed, just the way Mom had put them. He said, “Hi,” and wandered into the room, trying to look as though he had not been hurrying at all, and as though he were just watching Glen out of idle curiosity, not because he wanted to pick up some pointers about tying a black tie.
Glen got it so that it looked almost right, stared at it impatiently, and pulled it out again. Paul was glad for the chance to watch him do it again, though he was sorry to see how fussy you had to be about a black tie.
“I don’t see why they don’t make ’em all tied,” he said.
Glen raised his eyebrows. “You could clean up with an idea like that,” he said. And then added, “Among the hicks.” Since he had gone to college, even though the college was in a town no bigger than this one, Glen had become very conscious of hicks.
“What are you getting ready so soon for?” Paul said.
“Got a date.”
“Who hasn’t?” Paul said, and grinned. Glen did not answer, concentrating on the tie, but Paul went on grinning. He could not help it. Because he not only had a date—he had a date with Sibby Thompson.
OIBBY WAS really something special. She and her folks had moved ¡5 to town the year before, and she wasn’t quite like anything the town had ever seen. She was just Paul’s age, but she wasn’t in school. She was studying singing, and once a week she took a trip into Springfield to take a lesson. In between lessons she just lived at home, slept till noon, practiced a little, and had a
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Brother, Stay 'Way From My Girl
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wonderful time. Her eyes were violetblue and her eyebrows were almost black, and her hair hung to her shoulders in a straight, golden sheath. (One catty girl was known to have remarked that those singing lessons certainly were good for her hair; every time she went to Springfield her hair got a little bit more golden.) She was a dish, all right. Paul had nearly jumped with surprise when she had said she’d go to the dance with him. Of course, he was the first one to ask her; he had asked her the very minute the committee had finished deciding on the date. Just another one of the advantages, he thought, still grinning, of being the chairman of the committee.
He went in and took his shower, singing the class song at the top of his voice—happily convinced, as he always was, that with the water running nobody could hear him. When he got back in the room, still a little damp and wearing only his shorts, Glen was apparently satisfied with his tie; he gave his hair one last flick, stuck his brushes together, put the car keys in his pocket, and headed for the door.
“Hey!” Paul said. “What’s the rush?”
“Got a date.”
“I know that,” Paul said. “But wait
“Can’t. Have to go right now.”
“Then what’s the idea of taking the car keys?”
“I am taking the car keys,” Glen said, with elaborate patience, “because I am taking the car.”
“You aren’t!” Paul said. “If you take the car, how am I going to get there?”
“Walk,” Glen said briefly. “A short walk, one you take quite often. Whereas I really happen to need the
Paul hesitated. His first feeling was one of righteous and furious anger, but he really was on ticklish ground, and he knew it. After all, Glen did own half the car. They had bought it together the summer before, and neither could possibly have managed it alone. Glen had put in most of the money, and Paul had put in most of the work. It was both secondhand and broken-down when they got it, but hard work, spare parts, and a lot of loving care had turned it into something pretty good. It was Paul’s pride and joy, and he spent most of his spare time tinkering with it. Glen did not bother. He was no mechanic; he v-asn’t even a very good driver. So, in spite of Glen’s having put up more money, in a way Paul had always felt it was his car.
“Now look,” he said carefully. “You’ve got a date. Granted. I also have a date. Granted. We can’t either of us ask our dates to walk. We can, however, go together, pick up my date, pick up your date—” He stopped; Glen was shaking his head slowly. “Well, gee whiz,” Paul said, exasperated, so exasperated that his voice came awfully close to cracking, the way it hadn’t for at least a couple of years—“now listen, Glen! You know I’ve got to go in the car! You know I can’t ask a girl like Sibby Thompson to walk !”
Glen’s eyebrows went up in astonishment, quickly followed by a look of commiseration. “Sibby Thompson?” he said. “You mean to say you thought Sibby was going with you?”
“But she is!” Paul said, and that time his voice really did do something funny. It didn’t crack exactly, but it did squeak.
Glen shook his head. “Sorry, son. That’s not the way I heard it when I was around there this afternoon.”
“You were around there—”
Glen jingled the car keys in his pocket. “Oh, she did say that you’d said something about it, a long time ago. But you hadn’t said anything about it since, no flowers or anything—” he paused for a meaningful second—“so she figured you were standing her up. So she said she’d go with me.”
“Flowers!” Paul said, and he could feel his face growing red. Of course he had forgotten the flowers; of course he should have known better. But he’d been so busy all the afternoon, he’d had so much on his mind about the dance, a guy couldn’t think of everything, could he? And Glen had known it, the dog, and he’d gone around there at the last minute and let Sibby think she was being stood up.
She should have known better. But even if she hadn’t quite believed him, of course she would rather go with Glen. Of course she’d rather go with a college man. It was the way it had always worked out for him, all his life long. Just because Glen had happened to be born a year earlier, Glen got everything. Just because Glen was a little bit older—
“Sorry, son,” Glen said again, and went through the door, still jingling the car keys. And all of a sudden all the whirling thoughts in Paul’s head clashed together in just one knowledge—that Glen had tricked him, Glen had done him dirty, and he hated Glen, and he wanted to hit him.
He lunged after him and down the stairs, but Glen was already out the front door. And Paul, trapped by his underwear and his mother’s startled look, could only go back to his room and slam the door.
THEY HAD never got on too we|l, even before Glen went away to college. They didn’t show it in public, of course. When Glen was playing as the star forward on the basketball team, Paul sat on the side lines and practically warmed himself in the reflected glory of being Glen’s brother. And sometimes, when Paul was playing baseball and hit a particularly good one —even if it was only in practice—he would hear Glen drawl, in his own way, “Well, there he is. My brother.” But at home it didn’t go so well. Being so near the same age, and having to share a room the way they did, there was lots to fight about. They were the same size, for one thing, and there never seemed to be enough good ties and clean shirts to go around. The girls, in their room at the other end of the hall, shared clothes all the time and never seemed to fight about it; they even went together whenever they had to buy anything new, to make sure they both would like it. Maybe it was different for them because they were girls, and it was easy for them to tell their things apart.
But with Glen and Paul it was a steady battle, and it didn’t get any better after Glen went to college. In Paul’s opinion, he didn’t go far enough. He only went about 50 miles away, and he came home almost every week end. Often on Monday morning, rushing to get ready for school, Paul would find that all his clean shirts had gone to college, and that Glen had evened it up by leaving his dirty ones behind. They fought about nearly everything, from tie clips to shoes. You wouldn’t have thought, the way things were, that they could ever share a car together, but it had worked out pretty well, especially since Glen felt the way he did about cars. He was perfectly willing to let Paul drive it all
the time, as long as Paul would drive him wherever he wanted to go.
It had worked out pretty well, that is, until tonight. Paul sat on the edge of his bed, his chin in his hands, and his thoughts were so bitter he could almost taste them. Some brother, he kept thinking, some brother. All the people there are in the world, and I had to get that one for my brother.
His rage was so great that he could not even try to express it. He knew that there would be no way out for it, no way out for him, until the moment came—the moment that was sure to come, that had to come—the moment when he caught up with Glen and walloped him. His hands kept doubling up into fists without his knowing it, and every so often he hit at the bed he sat on.
He was brought to his senses when he missed, finally, and his hand hit the bed post instead of the mattress. He hit it so hard that the pain was intense; he sat for a minute holding it, actually feeling better because of the pain. When it stopped hurting he got up and began to dress.
He would go to the dance, all right. He would go to the dance and he would find Glen and he would paste him one. Not inside the building, of course. This was his dance, and he did not intend to spoil it. But sooner or later, on a night like this, every couple in there would come wandering out for a look at the moon. All he had to do was wait till Glen came out, and then paste him.
He did not know what he would do after that. His thoughts did not go any farther. It didn’t really matter; all that mattered was that one moment when he would hit Glen.
He had surprisingly little trouble with his tie, probably because he was not thinking about it. His mother was sitting in the living room when he came down, working on a needlepoint fire screen that she was making. She had been making it for the last six years, and it did not seem likely that she would ever finish it, partly because she only worked on it when she wanted not to worry about something; following the involved design, she could not possibly think about anything else.
It was a second before she lifted her head after he said, “Good night, Mom.” She lifted it slowly, almost reluctantly, but when she finally looked at him she smiled and got up. She said, “You look very nice, dear. So grown up I hardly know you. Here, let me straighten that tie a little.” She touched at the tie, changing it hardly at all, her eyes on his face. He knew the look in them—troubled and sad and a little puzzled, the way they always looked when he was scrapping with Glen. “Have a good time,” she said. And then, when he got nearly to the door, she said, “Paul—”
He turned back. “What?”
“Nothing,” she said, and managed a little smile. “Just have a good time, dear. Be careful driving.”
WHEN HE got to the school he went around to the back, to the parking lot. He didn’t want to be seen hanging around outside the front door; people would wonder why he didn’t go in, and start kidding him when he wouldn’t. It wouldn’t look so funny if he was out there in the parking lot—he could pretend he was just coming, or that he had come back to get something out of the car. He wandered through the rows of cars, looking for his own, noticing how the moon made a small sharp reflection in all the shiny fenders of the new cars, and none at all in the old ones. There were a lot of cars, and it took him quite a while before he spotted his own.
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When he did he couldn’t believe his eyes. He walked up to it slowly, he put his hand out and touched it, making sure that what he saw was real, and not just a shadow. The right rear fender, that had been shiny enough a few hours before to reflect the moon, was nothing but a crumpled hunk of metal.
He had thought it wasn’t possible for him to be any more angry, and in a way he wasn’t. But the way he felt now was much worse than the way he
had felt before, because added to his anger there was the bitter, frustrating knowledge that no amount of pasting could make up for this. And, what was worse, he knew that Glen never would understand what he was so upset about. To Glen, as long as the car ran, it was all right. He could never seem to understand Paul’s pride in his own simonizing job and the fenders that he had worked so hard over.
He walked slowly around the car, looking for further damage. There was none. The car next to it, though, had a
crumpled left fender. He could see exactly what had happened. Glen had backed in too fast and had cut his wheel too quickly; Glen never had been able to do a decent job of parking.
Glen had done this, and then had gone happily in to the dance, not even caring. Taking Paul’s date. Busting up Paul’s car. Not even caring.
He heard the music stop inside the hall, and he started to walk slowly toward it. He found that his hands felt clammy, and he put them in his pockets. Then he found they felt too
hot, and he took them out again quickly.
He was nearly at the edge of the parking lot before he heard the voices. Loud, angry voices; somebody having an argument. Ordinarily he would have stopped to listen, but tonight he cared too much about what he had to do. He was almost past before he realized that one of the voices was
It was Glen, sounding superior and amused, the way he always did when he wanted to put something over. “Now listen,” he was saying, and he laughed a little, “you fellows are getting yourselves all worked up about nothing, lake it easy, can’t you? Grow up a little.”
“We’re grown up already, Buster,” a hard voice said. “And we don’t think we worked up about nothing. So better not think so either, see?”
Paul stood very still. Glen was being superior and amused, all right, but this time he wasn’t getting away with it. Glen seemed to realize it too, for he changed his voice a little.
“All right,” he said. “All right. So it is something after all. It’s two crumpled fenders. Now what do you want me to do about it—fall over in a faint?”
PAUL moved cautiously around to where he could see them. There were two men standing and talking to Glen, standing close together and glaring down at him as he sat, apparently relaxed and unworried, against the fender of a car. Paul recognized the men—the blond one was Bud Tait, who had been the hero of the football team when he had been in school, about six years before, and the other one w.s Lester Hirsch, his side-kick. Bud and Lester hadn’t done much since they had graduated; not what people had expected of them, anyway. Now they just sort of bummed around together, spending a lot of time in a poker game in back of the pool room, and occasionally getting very drunk. The nice girls in town did not go out with them. Nobody knew what they did for a living, exactly. They didn’t have any visible income, but they did have a new car. And Glen had smashed its fender.
“What I want you to do,” Bud said, “is very simple. I want you to have my fender fixed. That’s all.”
“And what if I won’t?” Glen asked. Mad as he was at him, Paul had to admit that he admired Glen's nerve -just leaning there like that witn .iis hands in his pockets, talking back to Bud Tait. “In the first place,” he said, “what makes you think it’s my fault.' We were both backing there at t.*e same time. We bumped. Why is it my fault more than yours?”
Bud gave an unpleasant snort of laughter. “What makes me think it’s his fault, he asks,” he said to Lester. I. e turned back to Glen, and his voice was different. “Because you can’t drive, you punk. Everybody in town knows you can’t drive. You back up like an old woman.”
Paul felt suddenly uncomfortable. It was true, of course. And a few minutes before he had been ready to say the same thing to Glen—the same thing, and lots worse. But that was different, Glen was his brother. He had a right to say those things about his own brother. But it sounded different, coming from a stranger.
Glen took it well; he didn’t even seem annoyed. “That still doesn’t say I was wrong this time,” he said. “Besides that, my fender got dented too. What about that?”
“Your fender!” Bud said. “As though a dented fender made any difference on a crate like that.”
haul felt his hands making l.sts
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again, all of their own accord. First these jerks insulted his brother, and now they were insulting his car. Glen’s voice was still amused, still controlled. “Why, it makes more difference on our car than it does on yours,” he said.
“More difference? On a pile of junk like that?”
“You just don’t understand about cars,” Glen said. “Take yours, for instance. You want, your fender fixed, all you’ve got to do is drive into a garage and they’ve got the fixings— same number of paint, everything. Even a new fender, if you need it. Then you take ours—if we want a new fender, we’ve got to comb the junkyards from here to Springfield. We want to match the paint, we’ve got to mix it ourselves. You don’t understand —it takes genius to keep our car in shape. We should be lots madder than you are.”
Paul listened, surprised. Glen did understand, just a little, after all. He sounded amused, and almost as though he were poking fun, but in a way he understood.
“All I understand,” Bud said, “is that you’re giving me the run-around, and I don’t like it.” And his fist swung suddenly, without a second’s warning, and cracked against Glen’s jaw.
Glen was on his feet in a second, more dazed and surprised than hurt, his fists coming up slowly. Bud hit him again, just a quick jab, enough to back him against the car, but by that time Paul had moved in. He moved in, fast and hard, really meaning it—not just bluffing, the way Bud had been. All the anger that had been in him all evening came bursting out now, came bursting out against this bully who would hit a man while he had his hands in his pockets, who had insulted his car, who had attacked his brother. All the furious blows that were going to be struck at Glen were struck, instead, for Glen, and Paul was surprised to find that it felt just as good.
Actually, it wasn’t much of a fight. Paul kept hammering away at Bud and trying—not always successfully — to duck the blows that Bud was throwing at him; Glen concentrated on Lester. Paul could not take the time to turn around and see how he was making out, but once he heard Glen make a noise that was almost like a laugh, and heard him say, “That’s showing ’em, kid!”
Paul was not so sure. He had already discovered that Bud had a very hard jaw and very long arms. He kept on swinging at him anyway; there was a release and almost a pleasure in the fighting. He did not know how long he could keep it up, but he knew that he would fight as long as his feet were under him.
HE DID not have to hold out long. The policeman’s whistle cut sharply through all the other noises, and Bud and Lester suddenly turned into statues. They could hear the policeman running between the rows of parked cars, trying to figure out where they were. Bud and Lester were standing and looking at each other; Paul saw Bud’s head move in a quick, imperious gesture, and then the two of them turned and walked away. After a minute they heard a car start.
Glen grinned at Paul. “I guess they don’t like cops much,” he said.
The policeman’s flashlight picked them out suddenly, blinding them, blocking out the moonlight. He said, “Hey, you two, what’s going on here? Are you the guys that was fighting?” “Fighting?” Glen said, in mock surprise. “Why, what would we be fighting about? We’re brothers.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, if you wasn’t
fighting, what was all the noise about?”
“I was showing him a new dance step,” Glen said.
“Show it to him inside,” the cop said disgustedly. “Come on, get moving.” He moved away between the rows of cars, flashing his light into them as he
Glen took a comb out of his pocket and, using the window of a parked car for a mirror, started to comb his hair. Paul watched him, considering. He had come here to paste Glen, and now would be a good time to do it. This was just the way he had planned for things to be—himself and Glen alone out here. But the knuckles of his right hand were already reminding him that he had been doing quite a bit of pasting that evening. And anyway, somehow he didn’t care so much about it any more. It would be silly to rescue Glen from being \yalloped by Bud Tait, and then turn right around and wallop him himself.
That was something to think about, all right. Glen was the older, but it was he, Paul, who had done the best fighting.
“Don’t be all night,” he said. “And let me have the comb when you’re through.”
Glen handed it to him in silence, and Paul moved closer to the window of the car. In the moonlight he could see himself pretty well. His lip was swelling a little, and one eye looked very odd, but except for that he looked all right.
“You know,” Glen said softly, to his back. “I’m sorry about tonight, kid. It was a dirty trick.”
“It stank,” Paul said. He was surprised that he was able to say it so calmly; usually, if he and Glen tried to talk something over, he got excited right away. He was always so sure he was going to get the worst of things that he flew off the handle. But tonight he felt perfectly calm about it; Glen was in the wrong, they both knew it, and that was that. “It stank,” he said again. “You’re a first-class
“I’m sorry,” Glen said again. He moved away a foot or two; he swung back, his hands in his pockets, nudging a piece of gravel with his toe as though it were something that had to be done exactly right. “I didn’t plan it, you know,” he said. “Only my date let me down, I didn’t know about it till this afternoon—and I didn’t want to go stag.” He moved the piece of gravel, with great care, about a quarter of an inch. “You feel sort of out of things, once you’re away,” he said.
PAUL hadn’t ever thought of it that way. It was supposed to be so wonderful to get away to college: he hadn’t ever thought that you might feel strange when you came back. He’d been thinking all along that Glen had the edge over him, being a year older and in college, and as a matter of fact it was just the opposite. This was his place, and his dance, and his night, and Glen—why, Glen was an outsider. Glen was—Paul stopped combing his hair in his astonishment—Glen was actually jealous.
“I knew I couldn't get a date this late,” Glen said, “and I just stopped in to see Sibby, and—well, I don’t know. It just seemed like a good idea at the
“It was a stinking trick,” Paul said flatly. He handed the comb back to Glen and concentrated on straightening his tie. “But it’s not going to spoil my evening. Come on, let’s go in.”
Glen smoothed his hair down and fingered his tie. “That fight didn’t make either of us look any better,” he said. “Look. I don’t have to go, you know. I’m all messed up and everything—I don’t have to go. I’ll just go
home, and you go in and tell Sibby— tell her I fell down a well, and she’s your date now.”
Paul looked at him in astonishment. Glen did not look back; he kept on staring at himself in the window of the car, pulling at his tie with nervous fingers. Paul was surprised by what he knew, just as he had been surprised a minute before to realize that Glen was jealous. He knew that Glen really was willing to go home and let him have Sibby, partly to make up for what he had done and partly because he was really nervous and embarrassed about the way he looked. It made Paul feel kind of sorry for him, and, in a way, almost protective, the way he had felt when he had realized that it was he who had done the best fighting. He remembered how Glen had sounded when he was pulling his act of being superior and amused on Bud Tait, and not getting away with it. An awful lot of Glen was bluff, but it took a while to realize it.
“Nuts,” Paul said. “You look all right. Come on, let’s go in.”
HE KNEW as soon as he stepped through the door that word of the fight had spread. They got a greeting from almost everybody in the hall, and almost everybody gave them the same sort of secret, knowing smile. Everybody, before the evening was over, was going to want to hear all about it. They were the big news tonight.
Sibby was standing near the door. She looked excited, and pleased, and suddenly Paul knew why. News of the fight had come in all garbled, of course. And she thought that he and Glen had been fighting about her.
Well, if things had worked out the way he had planned, they would have been. And the funny thing was that he hadn’t even been thinking about her. It had been something between him and Glen; it had nothing to do with her.
She came running over as soon as she saw them. She said. “Paul, darling, what an awful mistake! I thought you weren’t even coming, 1 thought you’d forgotten all about me—Glen, isn’t this awful? Isn’t this a mess?”
She took a hand of each of them and stood between them; she turned her violet eyes from one to the other, looking contrite and appealing and perfectly beautiful. But there was something just a little bit phony about the act; there was something Paul didn’t like.
“I guess we’ll manage to survive,” he said, smiling down at her. She looked gorgeous, all right. But he was startled to see that the catty girl had been right about the trips to Springfield being good for her hair; surely it had never been this gold before. And right down the middle, at the part, almost invisible but not quite, there was the tiny tell-tale line of brown.
It occurred to him that she wasn’t much of a girl, breaking a date at the last minute like that, putting on this phony act about how sorry she was. Not much of a girl at all, in spite of her looks. Certainly not worth fighting with your brother about.
He glanced around the room, seeing the girls he knew dancing by. They all looked pretty; even the plain ones looked pretty, fixed up the way they were. And they all gave him that little knowing smile as they went by—each one of them hoping that he would cut in on her, hoping that she would get a chance to ask him about the fight.
You could have a fine good time going stag, any night. And tonight was his night.
He looked back at Glen, and his grin was triumphant. “Go on,” he said. “You dance with her. You brought her.” ★