What’s a Brother For?

by Anya C. Bateman

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    “Hey, Maxine, how about a game?” Henry was calling to her from the rumpus room downstairs. They’d played a game of table tennis almost every night since the new table had been put up. This time she didn’t feel much like playing.

    “No, thanks,” she shouted back. “I’ve given up sports.” Soon she saw the top of her brother’s head as he climbed the stairs two at a time.

    “Come on. Afraid I’ll beat?”

    “Uh huh,” she mumbled. “I wish,” she thought. Henry was good at table tennis. There was no doubt about that, but he wasn’t quite as good as she was. Why did she have to be so good at sports? Her baby brother was almost a foot taller, yet she could beat him at bowling and tennis, and of course, table tennis.

    “I’ve given up table tennis,” Maxine said as she shifted her weight in the vinyl easy chair.

    “Aw, sure,” Henry said. “And Hank Aaron’s giving up baseball. Don’t give me that.”

    “Okay, I won’t, but I am.”

    Henry looked at her out of the corner of his eye while he pretended to shoot a basket.

    “Why would you give up table tennis?”

    “It isn’t feminine. Guys don’t like girls who are good at sports.”

    “Oh, that’s what I thought. A guy, huh. Brother, women are sure funny.” Henry had just started calling girls “women,” and it annoyed Maxine.

    “Girls,” she said.

    “Okay, girls.” Henry did a mock jump shot. “Bill Jensen?” he asked.

    “How did you know? How do you know everything?” She looked back down at her book, and her dark hair fell into her eyes. She’d grown it longer to look more feminine, but it always seemed to be getting in the way.

    “You were with him last night, weren’t you? So, it was elementary, my dear Watson.”

    “Yes, I was with him last night,” Maxine moaned. “And he’s not exactly a table tennis champ. As a matter of fact, he’s terrible. He’ll never call again. I beat him pretty badly. I didn’t want to play in the first place, but Louise and Cal told him we have a new table, and he really wanted to try it out.”

    “The plot thickens.” Henry said.

    “Now tell me the truth, Henry. Should I have let him beat me?”

    Henry chuckled. “Nah, of course not.”

    “Why are you laughing?”

    “It’s just good to know I’m not the only one you can beat.”

    “But really, don’t you think I should have let him win?”

    “No, he would have caught on. You’re not a very good actress.”

    “But do you think he’ll call again?”

    “Probably not. But then again, he might. But then again …” Henry was making this an opportunity to tease her.

    “You’re being no help at all. Let me put it this way,” Maxine said. “If you dated a girl who beat you one night at some sport, would you still be interested in her? Now be serious.”

    “I don’t date yet,” Henry said. “And I don’t want to think about it.”

    “Okay,” Maxine said. “Go away. Just go away. I have to study.”

    “Okay, Sis. See you.” He grabbed his basketball out of the flower box and began dribbling it down the hall.

    “If Mother saw you do that …” Maxine changed her mind. It wouldn’t help anyway.

    “I know. I know,” Henry called back. “Tell her I’ve gone to shoot a few baskets. I’ll be back around 4:00.”

    “Okay,” Maxine said. Then she looked back at the same page in her book. “Brothers,” she mumbled. “Who needs them?” She closed her book. “I’ll finish reading this when I’m less miserable.”

    When the phone rang, she couldn’t help hoping it was Bill. It was a silly thing to hope anyway, she decided. If he planned to call again, and most certainly he didn’t, why would he call again so soon? It was Sister Price.

    “No, Mom won’t be home for about an hour. She had a few errands to run.” She hung up the phone after she had said goodbye and taken a message. “Hope is a thing with feathers,” she said, quoting Emily Dickinson. “A silly useless thing,” she added. The phone rang again and she answered it on the first ring.

    “Hi, Max!” It was Linda.

    “Please don’t call me Max,” Maxine said.

    “Oh, I forgot, you’re trying to be more feminine this year. How was your date last night? You doubled, didn’t you?”

    “Yes, with Louise and Cal. We went bowling, and I beat everyone. Then we came to my house and played table tennis, and I beat everyone. He’ll never ask me out again.”

    “Maxine, you’re dumb, really dumb. Boys want to be masculine and strong, the leaders.”

    “I know.”

    “Then why did you do it?”

    “I don’t know. I just can’t be phony, I guess.”

    “Well, you should have tried. It would have been worth it.”

    “I guess so.”

    “Nobody likes to be beaten, especially not a boy.”

    “Maybe I should have broken my right arm before the date.”

    “It might have improved your chances for another date with him.”

    “You’re probably right, but you’re not making me feel much better.” After she had hung up, she looked into her aquarium to see how her favorite fish was doing. “Dare to be yourself,” she had always been taught. That was easy to say. Bill was the only guy she’d met for quite awhile whom she really wanted a second date with. There was just something interesting about him. The others didn’t matter. Joe Miller hadn’t asked her out again after that one tennis match last summer. Frank Simpson hadn’t asked her out again after she’d beaten him at bowling. But, she really hadn’t minded. Now she did mind.

    “Well, it’s silly to sit and mope. I’d better do something physical. Maybe I could clean out the kitchen before Mom gets home. It’ll make both of us feel better.” She was just putting away the mop when her brother and her mother came in the door together.

    “Stop dribbling in the hall,” Mother said.

    “Okay, Mom,” she heard her brother say. Then Henry appeared in the kitchen door, his basketball tucked under his arm. He had a sly look on his face.

    “Guess who I saw at the school?”


    “Bill Jensen,” she thought. She could tell by the way Henry had said it. But Henry, tease as usual, just started walking to his room.

    “Henry!” she called. “Come back here and tell me.” She followed him down the hall.

    “What will you give me? Your new album?”

    “No, but I’ll let you beat me at table tennis once,” Maxine said.

    “No thanks. I have an ego, you know. Okay, I’ll tell you. It was the one and only Bill Jensen. He was practicing a little shooting with some guys. I joined them. He’s one good shot, you know it? One good shot. Oh, and he said to say hi.”

    “Is that all he said?”

    “No. Do you want an exact quote of what else he said? It’s good.”

    “Yes, please.”

    “Okay, I tried to memorize it. I knew you’d want a quote. He said ‘That sister of yours is some sportswoman.’”

    “That’s good?”

    “That isn’t all.”

    “Go on.”

    “Then I said, ‘She makes a pretty good omelet too.’”

    “Henry, I love you,” Maxine said. “I love you!”

    “Who can help it,” Henry said, trying not to smile.

    “Do you think he’ll ask me out again?”

    “How should I know? I can’t read the guy’s mind. Oh, but he did say one more thing. He said maybe he could come over for lessons some time.”

    “Table tennis or omelet-making?” Maxine asked.

    “I asked him that. He said, ‘Maybe both,’ and I told him he was welcome anytime.”

    Maxine pushed her hair out of her eyes and smiled broadly at her brother.

    “You have pretty good eyes when you can see them,” Henry said. “I liked the way you used to wear your hair better.”

    “You mean really short?”

    “Yah, short and sort of wooly. It looked better on you. More feminine or something.”

    “You think so? Thanks for the suggestion. I was thinking of having it cut again.”

    “Anytime,” Henry said grinning. “What’s a brother for?”

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch