SACRAMENTO, CA (Oct, 2012)
The long banner hanging at the entrance to the high school gym proclaimed - Homecoming 2012 - Welcome back grads. It was the annual after-game Homecoming Dance. There, at the side of the crowded room Jerald Rogers stood with Megan Lowe, leaning against the rolled-back bleachers, taking a break from the suddenly fast and raucous dance tune.
“I suppose you can tell that I’m not much of a dancer,” Jerald admitted, stating the obvious. “It’s one of those things I never have figured out, at least not the fast ones, with all the crazy moves you see out there.”
“Well, it certainly wasn’t that bad.” Megan replied. “Besides, I bet you’ll get better with time.”
Jerald was willing to accept that as a contingent compliment, which seemed to convey her willingness to give him more time. Truth be told, he had not felt so pleased with himself in a very long time. After weeks of wanting to, he had finally summoned the nerve to ask her to the dance, and she had said “yes.”
He understood, of course, that for a guy who had never had a steady girlfriend it was too soon to call her that. Still, based on their first extended time spent together he realized that he was enjoying their time together.
“You don’t usually stay for the after-game dances, do you?” Megan asked. “I don’t remember seeing you here before.”
“Well, like I said, I’m not much of a dancer, and......”
The boy’s sheepish grin confirmed that he was not used to such pointed questions, at least not from a girl. “I guess you could say I’ve never had a reason to hang around. When you said you’d come with me I had a reason.”
“I’m glad you asked. I was wondering if you ever would.”
“It’s just that I haven’t had much practice at that.”
Again Jerald was quiet, poking at the floor with his toe, wondering what to make of the Megan’s unexpected boldness.
Before he could answer his own question his reverie was interrupted by the approach of the tall and bulky youngster emerging from the team locker room. Pausing to look around the gym, the newcomer spotted Jerald and started toward him.
“Hey, brother, looks like you survived another war,” Jerald said, greeting him with a slap on the shoulder. “That was pretty cool, the way you guys shot down those North End dudes.”
“Hey, they were tough, a lot tougher than last year. But once their running back went down things got a little easier.”
By then Jerald had noted his brother’s obvious interest in the girl standing beside him. “I’m sorry, Megan,” he hurried to explain. “I’m not sure you’ve ever met this big doofus. This is my brother Larry. You’ve probably seen him around school. He’s big as a house, and pretty hard to miss.”
“I’ve seen him,” the girl nodded. “But I don’t think we’ve any classes together.”
Larry stepped closer of offer his reply. “Probably not, unless you’re into shop courses. You know.... welding, auto repair, construction basics....stuff like that. But I’ve seen you around.”
Jerald took that as a good time to change the subject, and return to Megan’s sweet company. “Look, Megan and I have some serious dancing to do.”
He paused to aim a hard-eyed scowl at brother Larry’s silly grin. “Anyway, I have Mom’s car tonight. If you need a ride home later I’ll drop you off on the way to Megan’s place.”
“No need for that. I’m staying with Butch tonight. We have plans for an all night video-game tournament....or at least until we crap out.”
Minutes later, as promised, Jerald led Megan back to the dance floor just in time for one of his favored slow-dance tunes. There, as they settled into the pace of the melodic ballad, she leaned back to look up into his face, ready with her question.
“Has anyone ever told you before, how the two of you don’t look at all like brothers?” Perhaps it was not her place to be asking, but it was hard not to wonder.
“I mean, your hair is sort of blonde, and his is black. You’re kind of short and wiry, and Larry is big, really big. I’ll bet the coaches were drooling when he turned out for football.”
“Yeah, they did. But they knew he was coming. They had him pegged in the seventh grade. He’s always been the biggest kid in school.”
“But how.....” Forget it, she told herself. There was no need to be prying.
Her obvious hesitation had Jerald grinning. He pulled her a bit closer to whisper in her ear. “It’s not really that complicated, you know. When you cobble a family together like ours is, this is what you get.”
“Cobble together?” That had Megan shaking her head. “What does that mean?”
“It means that my mom and dad never had any kids of their own....so they adopted me, and then Larry. They had no way of knowing how that would turn out, with a little guy and a big guy. But that’s what they got.”
“You’re not really so little,” she teased. “You’re just not really big, like him.”
The music ended and for a moment he debated whether he should lead them back to the sidelines or take his chances that the next song would not be too fast. Meanwhile, Megan showed no signs of retreating. That was enough to have him staying.
“The thing is,” Jerald continued. “We’re different in lots of ways, not just size. Folks who know us usually think I must be the oldest, the big brother. I know I act that way sometimes”
“Why is that?”
The first bars of the next tune had him smiling to himself. It was another slow ballad. He had taken a chance and won. Then, looking into her questioning frown he offered his explanation.
“The thing is, I was the first to be adopted..... right after I was born. For a year or so I was the only child, living with the only parents I’d ever known. Mom says I was a bit spoiled....or maybe a lot spoiled.
“Anyway, I had pretty well settled in what was ‘my’ home when Larry showed up.....adopted from a foster home. The folks say that at first I looked on him as an intruder, trying to take my place. But in time we sorted all that out.
“So, even though he’s a few months older than me, and big enough to crush me like a bug, it seems like he has always been the little brother.”
“At least each of you ended up with a brother,” Megan said. “That sounds like a good deal, for both of you.”
“I guess we were lucky that way,” he nodded. “Lots of kids who start out on the foster-home track never get beyond that. The two of us ended up being adopted into a really cool family. It’s all we’ve ever known.”
A moment later Jerald’s thoughts had settled on the soft, rhythmic sense of Megan pressing softly against him. It was time to move on. He was the product of a ‘really cool family.’ What more was there to say? There was certainly no reason to add the always-present caveat....that in some ways even a ‘cool family’ would never be a true and complete substitute for his ‘real’ family, the one that would always be just out of reach.
Yet, as the music ended and the two of them started back to the sidelines, Jerald was dwelling on something more hopeful than his ‘lost’ family.
It seemed that in the course of his first date with Megan Lowe he was learning quite a bit about her. For instance, he understood that as long as he kept answering her questions, she was apparently willing to keep asking them. Hopefully that was a good sign for the future.