Getting though breakfast had been more of an ordeal than Jack had thought it would. There was no point talking to Lisa in the midst of that mayhem, but of course, Tina and Jane had tried. Momma finally managed to silence them and breakfast had finished with only a few tears.
Lisa started on the dishes as usual. She didn’t even turn around when Jack approached, “Your turn, huh?”
“I suppose so. Donna will get that. Come talk to me.” Jack answered.
Wordlessly, Lisa put down the dishcloth and dried her hands. Jack took that as a good sign as he led his little sister across the hall to his apartment. He got her a glass of orange juice without bothering to ask if she wanted it. She didn’t protest – at least that much of her behavior was normal. The only time Lisa turned down orange juice was when she was deathly ill. Otherwise, she drank little else.
Jack sat his own glass down on the table and took his seat.
“I know what you’re going to say.” Lisa spoke up before Jack had the chance. “I’m not going to change my mind.”
“Did I ask you to?” Jack replied quietly, “I just want to hear your side, is that too much to ask?”
“No… But you won’t understand…”
“Maybe not, but I can try, can’t I?” Jack spoke calmly and soothingly. “You have to know you’re scaring everyone.”
“Not you…” Lisa shook her head. Lisa had been convinced her entire life that her big brother feared nothing.
“Yes, me. Especially me. It’s a big brother’s job to take care of his kid sister. Haven’t I always tried?”
“Look I know I owe you…”
Jack forced himself to stay calm despite the biting words, “You don’t owe me anything, not now and not ever. This isn’t about you owing anything – it’s about me not understanding what you’re doing.”
Lisa bit her lip, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I just…”
“It’s okay. You got defensive, I get it. Just tell me what happened, okay?”
Lisa drew a deep breath, “I fell in love. Why is that so hard for everyone to believe? I know I’m not pretty but he…”
“Whoa, wait a sec. You’re a beautiful girl, any guy with eyes could see that.” Jack corrected his sister.
Lisa shook her head sorrowfully, “You know I’m not. I never get asked anywhere, not like Donna…”
“You aren’t Donna. And you do get asked out – Milo Winters asked you to go to the movies with him just last week.”
“See? I knew you wouldn’t understand!” Lisa wiped a stray tear.
“I’m trying.” Jack replied carefully. Girls were always a mine field – having four sisters was a certain way to learn that basic fact. It helped with the navigation – but not nearly as much as Jack would have liked. “This guy makes you feel like you think Donna feels, right?”
“How, how did you know?” Lisa’s jaw dropped.
Bulls eye. Jack silently thanked God and more than a few long talks with the presently confused sister sitting next to him. He’d learned that from Lisa herself, although at the moment she didn’t realize it. Girls are about feelings – he had remembered her lesson and it paid off now. “I just knew.” No point getting side tracked, “Now, what I don’t get is why you like this guy so much but don’t trust him to like you?”
“If he really likes you, he won’t mind taking the time to get to know you. And he won’t want you to rush into something if it makes things hard for you.” Jack explained. “Did he say why you need to move in right away?”
Lisa blushed, “It was my idea… I don’t know why, I just… I can’t change my mind now.”
“Why? Don’t you trust him?” Jack asked pointedly.
“Yes, of course… You’re getting me all confused.”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to. You trust him but not enough to ask him to give you some more time to sort out your feelings. Why is that?”
“You don’t understand. I don’t want…” Lisa stopped and put her hand over her mouth.
“Him to leave?” Jack finished the thought.
“If a guy can’t handle a girl changing her mind, he can’t handle a relationship. That was why Mary Kilpatrick and I broke up.”
“That was different.” Lisa protested.
Jack shook his head emphatically, “No, it wasn’t. I rushed her. I tried to push her into something she wasn’t ready for and she dumped me. It took a long time for me to admit it to myself but it really was my fault. If I’d trusted her enough to let her take things at her own speed, I’d have had a prom date and maybe something more. Maybe not, but you know the worst thing she ever said to me?”
Lisa shook her head.
“She told me I didn’t trust her. She was right, of course, but it hurt to hear it. A guy likes to think he’s the hero – but if a girl thinks that little of you, you aren’t much of a hero. I guess that doesn’t make sense to a girl.”
Lisa exhaled slowly, “No, I guess I get it.”
Jack nodded, “Tell me the truth. Do you really want to live with this guy or are you just afraid that if you don’t, you’ll lose him?”
“A little of both, really.” Lisa admitted. “I want to be with him but I’m scared. I’m scared of losing him. I’m scared of losing myself. I’m scared of losing everyone…”
“I can’t speak for him but if he’s worth half the trouble you’re going through now, he won’t have a problem with you slowing things down a bit. You’re the smartest girl in the family and probably the smartest girl I know – getting mixed up happens to us all but you’re much too smart to lose yourself, I promise you. As for losing everyone, not a chance. You might scare the heck out of us and you may be a pain in the beehind, but you’re our sister, and we all love you, so you’re stuck with us.”
“You really think so?”
Jack nodded. There was no point asking which part she wanted confirmed – sometimes it’s best to just listen – especially with an upset girl. Besides, he could answer truthfully no matter which she meant, “Absolutely, I do.”
“And if I decide to move in with him anyway?” Lisa asked cryptically.
“I won’t like it but I won’t yell at you.” Jack replied. She was testing him, that was obvious. But what was she looking for?
“You won’t hate me?”
“I’d never hate you. Not ever. If he turns out to be what you think he is, fine. If not, I’m still your big brother and I’ll be there the instant you do need me, but I’m not your boss and I won’t tell you what to do.” Jack answered far more calmly than he felt. This was so much easier in high school when he could just beat the crap out of whatever bully messed with her.
Lisa sat silently for a long while. Jack knew the look and knew to keep his trap shut but it was hard.
“Okay… Just for a while, just to make Momma feel better…”
Jack didn’t even try to guess why Lisa felt the need to cover her intentions like that. It was enough that she was listening to reason at the moment. He just nodded while trying to look supportive.
After a minute, Lisa bit her lip, “How do I tell him?”
“You have his number?”
“You tell him straight. We guys can deal with straight – it’s all the guessing that makes us nuts.” Jack winked at his sister. She didn’t respond. Jack mentally kicked himself – too soon.
But after a moment, Lisa gave him a small smile, “If you guys were just more like girls..” she teased.
“Life wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.” Jack grinned for real.
“Um, so can I use your phone? It’s more private here…”
Jack was a lot surprised she asked so soon, “Yeah, sure. I’ll go talk to Momma, okay?”
Lisa nodded timidly, “Okay…”
Jack rose from his seat as Lisa picked up his phone. He could see her hands trembling but said nothing. This was a tricky moment. He really wanted to stay to provide support – or to counter whatever the guy threw at her – but that would be a mistake and he knew it. He heard Lisa speak softly as he closed the door behind himself.
Jack trotted across to his parent’s apartment. He had a lot of work to do very fast. The mob that was his family could easily undo everything if they kept after Lisa now. Momma would understand but could he get the youngest ones on board?
It took a great deal of talking, some begging and a few threats but Jack managed to convince half his family to cooperate with Momma and Donna convincing the rest. The walk back across the hall was nerve wracking – would Lisa still be willing to stay home now that she’d talked to the guy?
Jack opened the door and glanced where Lisa had been. She wasn’t there. His heart leapt into his throat – had she decided to elope instead? “Lisa?” He managed to squeak her name.
“In here.” Lisa called from his bedroom.
“Um, you okay?”
“Sure, just making the bed.” Lisa replied as she emerged from the bedroom. She smiled brightly, “I’m cleaning the oven too…”
“Um, okay…” Jack entered the room. Lisa cleaned when she was happy so this was a good sign but so quickly? Should he ask? “So, is it okay?”
Lisa smiled brilliantly, “More than okay! You were so right! He said he likes girls who aren’t afraid to tell the truth! He likes me even better now! We’re going to dinner tonight!”
“Ah, good…” Jack lied. This battle he had won but the war was just starting.