|Primary Characters:||Adam Faber, Nikolai Faber, Julie Faber
|Description:||Julie can’t stand to see her brother so tense and tries to make him open up about what’s bothering him. In the process she involves their younger brother Nikolai. Once Adam (and Nikolai) start talking, Julie finds out more than she bargained for.
Adam was hunched over his desk in his office, face in his hands. He hadn’t even heard his sister come in. Julie studied her brother filled with concern. Was he ill in some way? She frowned. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen signs that Adam wasn’t feeling very well. She knew that Adam and Maria had problems in their marriage, mainly because of their infertility problems, but perhaps there were other reasons as well.
Quietly she walked up to the desk, so she wouldn’t startle Adam. She put her hand on his shoulder, but her gentle touch didn’t help. Adam jumped, looking terrified.
“Take it easy, bro. How are you doing?”
“I just have a bit of a headache and I’m a little tired. Nothing serious. What is it? Is there a problem?”
“No, I just wanted to ask you if I can take Thursday off. I wanted to go and see my old buddies in the theatre group.”
Automatically Adam reached for his diary, which was lying on the desk in front of him. He found the page for Thursday and scanned his notes. After a moment’s consideration, he nodded.
“Yes, I think it will be alright.”
“Perhaps you should take a day off too, bro?”
“How would I do that? You can see for yourself how busy I am. Oh, by the way, if you see Nikolai, tell him to come and see me. I have to ask him about what he’s ordered for the bar. Surely these bills are a bit excessive?”
Julie took the sheaf of papers from her brother and studied each paper carefully.
“You’re right, it does seem a bit steep, but on the other hand, everything keeps getting more expensive. Ask him to show you the profits instead. If we make enough, I guess it will even out in the end.”
“That’s the problem. So far he’s exceeded the budget at least for this quarter. If he keeps this up, he’ll break our calcuations for this year.”
“That’s not good, but what are you suggesting he do instead?”
“Can’t he find another importer?”
“We have to make sure we don’t get a reputation as buyers of Eastern European black market booze. You know what, I’ll ask around a little. Maybe we can import directly from France, Italy, Germay and so on. When I was in the US I used to have wine from New Zealand and a couple from Chile and Argentina. They were very nice. And you know South African wines are pretty good too. If we find another supplier and we can get more unusual kinds, we might be able to work on building a reputation as trendsetters.”
“That’s all very well, but I did promise Nikolai he’d get to take a bit more responsibility.”
“Absolutely. But he has to listen to advice. Try. I’ll send him here when I find him. Don’t worry about it, Adam. How is Maria doing, by the way? Isn’t she due to start her shift now? I didn’t see her outside at the desk.”
“No, she won’t be in until later. And she’s – the same, I guess. After the last miscarriage -”
Adam shook his head sadly.
“You never considered adopting?”
“No. Maria wants one of our own. Maybe later -”
“I was just thinking that if she had a baby to look after, she might settle down a bit. It usually helps. Several women I’ve heard about had biological children after they adopted.”
“I don’t think -”
“Just give it some thought. I have to go now. But Adam – promise me you’ll take it easy. You don’t seem to be feeling very well.”
“Oh, I’m alright. It’s nothing to worry about. Don’t forget to speak to Nikolai.”
Before she left, Julie put her hand on Adam’s forehead and cheeks, causing him to pull back, impatiently, but in the end he relaxed and even smiled a little.
She returned the smile, before hurrying outside.
Since Adam had seemed so eager, Julie went straight to the bar, though she had been on her way to have a chat with her mother. Nikolai was busy mixing drinks again. Apparently that was his favorite occupation, despite all his talk about taking on more responsibility. Julie assumed that she should consider herself lucky her little brother didn’t love pouring those drinks down his own throat too.
“Adam wanted a word.”
Nikolai looked up and his contented grin vanished. He knew Adam wasn’t pleased with him and he didn’t really think he was doing quite as good a job as he’d been hoping he would. He didn’t know what the problem was. Maybe he simply wasn’t good enough. Since their father had died – or – whoever his father was – the man he’d known as his father, nothing had been like before. Perhaps he was just growing up, or – something was making him ill at ease.
Not that he listened to John’s talk about the hotel as some sort of living creature that was upset about something. Even so there was something unsettling in the air, that he didn’t remember from when he was a child, when he’d been running around the corridors of the hotel. Or – maybe, after all – there had been times he’d been scared, he remembered. He and Adam might have managed to scare each other, but in any case, whether it was something new or something from further back, something didn’t feel right.
Julie noticed her brother’s expression and wondered if something was bothering Nikolai. She had always considered Nikolai the most carefree creature in the world. To him life was just fun and games. Was it just that he was growing up?
“How are you?”
“I guess I’m ok. I’d better go and see Adam. Just a second. Espen – take over for me, will you? I have to go.”
Julie followed Nikolai as he hurried off.
“Hold on a sec. Are you sure everything’s ok?”
“Sure. It’s just a little more stressful than I thought, handling all the orders.”
“If you don’t want to continue, I’m sure Adam will let you off the hook.”
“But I want to try. Did he complain about me?”
“No, of course not. It’s just that everything is getting so expensive.”
“I’ll try to buy cheaper booze.”
“As long as the quality doesn’t go down. You have to bear that in mind too.”
Nikolai watched his sister reflectively. Julie looked a little concerned too. He was wondering what was bothering her. She was just as qualified as he was, to run a hotel. More so, in fact. But was she feeling ok herself? In any case, he didn’t have time to wonder any longer. Time to answer to the boss. Sometimes Adam could be a real slave driver. Though actually he was quite nice. When they were kids, they’d always stuck together. Of course sometimes they’d ended up in trouble. They’d always put their noses where they didn’t belong.
Once again, Julie noticed that Nikolai was looking concerned. She was wondering if something was wrong and if so, if he was going to confide in someone. But she really didn’t have time to run around babying her brothers. They were grown up too and should be able to get along without her constant supervision.
Even so, she hadn’t forgotten her impressions when at last her day’s work was done. She sat down in her room and considered. Adam would be at home and Nikolai might have gone out to party, unless he was still in the bar, working. But if they hadn’t had time to disappear, she might be able to use an older sister’s prerogative and force her little brothers to sit down and talk things through.
Julie had always been impulsive, even if that particular trait wasn’t all that prominent anymore. She got up and ran outside, where she almost bumped into the caretaker, their old factotum. He might be a little odd, but there was no one more loyal than John.
“Hello, John. Do you know if Adam and Nikolai are still here?”
“Yes, they’re still here.”
Julie almost had the impression that John hadn’t seen them in the normal sense of the word, just simply knew anyway, but she forced herself to ignore her flights of fancy.
“Thanks. Then I’ll try to catch them before they go.”
“Adam is in the office and Nikolai is in the bar.”
“I thought he’d have left long ago. Nikolai, that is.”
“I suppose he has trouble letting go.”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
Julie took the lift downstairs, smiling and nodding automatically at a few hotel guests on their way down, perhaps on their way out for a night’s fun. They hardly noticed her, but that didn’t make much of an impression on Julie. Her thoughts were entirely focused on her brothers and their potential troubles.
She decided to go to the bar first and force Nikolai to come to the office with her. Sure enough, there Nikolai was, and tonight he had a glass in front of him. Surely he hadn’t taken to drinking? No, surely not. She was pretty sure it wasn’t the drinking that appealed to Nikolai, it was everything else. The conversations, the music, the girls.
“Hi, little brother. So you’re still here?”
“Well, you know -”
“But now it’s time to call it a night, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but -”
“Nothing. So, what’s up?”
“I thought we’d go and have a chat with Adam.”
“So he did complain about me?”
“No. I just want to have a little chat with you. Come on.”
Nikolai gulped down the rest of the glass and put it behind the counter, before joining his sister. No use trying to put it off. When Julie wanted something, he might as well do it.
Adam was still in his office, in almost the same position as when Julie had last seen him. This time Maria really was behind the counter outside and she and Nikolai had said hello. Julie hadn’t known that Maria had switched to a later shift. Maybe it was because Adam was working so late all the time.
In any case Julie felt sorry for Adam. He really looked stressed out. She got behind him and began to give him a massage. He tensed up and didn’t seem grateful at all, but in the end he gave in and let her continue. He was incredibly tense. Maybe she ought to let Maria deal with it, but then she’d have to take her sister-in-law’s place and she didn’t want that. She was too tired to flatter hotel guests tonight, but she’d definitely talk to her brothers.
It was a while until she noticed that Adam had lost a little of his tension. It wasn’t entirely gone, but at least she’d done what she could.
“There. You work far too hard.”
“Yes, you told me. So what do you want?”
“I wanted to talk to you both. Are you really ok? You seem concerned about something. Don’t give me any excuses. You’re not fooling me. Is it to do with dad and what happened to him?”
“Dad? Don’t you mean Erik Faber?”
“You know perfectly well who I’m talking about.”
“I’m so sorry for mum.”
“Yes, but how are you dealing with it? He really picked a way and a time for – what he did – that shows you he didn’t care about any of us. Right?”
“Why are you complaining? You were his favorite.”
“Maybe, but there’s a special connection between boys and their fathers.”
“How do you mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t. He didn’t care about us, exactly as you say.”
Adam tensed up. He fixed Nikolai with a menacing stare. Julie studied her brothers with renewed interest. What was this?
“I don’t give a shit about it now. Why should we protect him? He didn’t care about us at all. He proved that. Julie might as well know.”
By now her fatigue was gone.
Adam spat out the answer so quickly Julie knew he was lying.
“No, I’m sure it was something. Some on, Adam. Tell me – you know you can’t keep anything from me.”
Adam seemed to be suffocating.
“Take it easy. You tell me, Nikolai, since you seem to know whatever it is too.”
“No. It’s nothing. Right, Nikolai?”
Adam was furious, but Julie wouldn’t let herself be deterred. The question was how Nikolai felt about it.
“Yes, there is something to tell. You know that perfectly well, Adam. Why should we keep quiet about it? He can’t expect any loyalty from us after what he did. Julie – he had sex with -”
“Nikolai. Shut up.”
Julie was getting worried. What was this about? If their father – or rather their mother’s husband – had been unfaithful, what was bothering Adam? She was beginning to fear that he’d raped someone, if Adam’s reaction was anything to go by.
“No, tell me.”
“He had sex with John.”
Julie stared at her brothers. Was this just some old story the guys had made up? That sounded so absurd she couldn’t put any stock in it. Perhaps Adam and Nikolai had seen something they’d misunderstood? She couldn’t imagine what they might have mistaken for something like that, but if they’d been very young –
“Surely that’s not true? It’s impossible.”
“Sure it’s true. We -”
“For the last time, Nikolai, shut up.”
Adam was on his feet and was now advancing on his younger brother menacingly. Julie put a hand on his arm, but he shook it off.
“Adam, leave Nikolai alone. Why are you so angry? It wasn’t your fault.”
For a while it seemed as if Adam hadn’t heard a word Julie had said, then he shook himself lightly and sat down again, stubbornly staring at the floor.
“Nikolai, go on.”
“We caught them in the basement and once in an empty room that was being renovated.”
Nikolai frowned in recollection.
“And once in one of the storage rooms.”
“What were they doing? When you say that they were having sex -”
Adam made a tormented sound, but now he didn’t seem to be angry anymore.
“Stop. Please, Nikolai. Do we have to go into it in detail?”
There was a note of pleading in his voice.
“Ok. I don’t suppose it really matters, but -”
“It was dad – Erik – who was the ‘man’, or whatever. Right, Adam?”
Julie really thought that last bit was unnecessary. Adam’s face had lost all colour and the look in his eyes was desolate.
“Yes, but -”
“Adam – why is this so terrible? I mean, sure he was cheating on mum, but that’s none of your business.”
“Don’t you get it? I thought he was my father. Who knows if that sort of thing is hereditary? Ok, I guess I know it isn’t, but at the time, I thought it meant I could end up like that.”
“Oh. I see. But still -”
“I was afraid I wasn’t -”
Julie would have laughed if she hadn’t noticed how crushed Adam was. It occurred to her that he might have married Maria mainly to prove that he wasn’t like his father – or the man he’d belived to be his father. She realized that Nikolai might be living the way he did, to prove something. And then Erik Faber wasn’t even their biological father. They’d been worrying needlessly.
But what was most surprising was something else. She had been on the verge of telling Adam and Nikolai, but at the last moment, she’d stopped herself. Giving another woman away wouldn’t be fair. Once, not as a child, but as a teenager, she had seen John with her mother. This was a mystery she simply couldn’t unravel. If John loved Erik Faber, why did he have sex with Erik’s wife, Alice – her mom? It didn’t add up. Or – did he love them both? The whole thing was strange, but on the other hand, John was a remarkable man.
She hadn’t been paying attention, but when she heard her name she listened up. It was something about her and – had she really got that right? Were they talking about that?
“What was that, Nikolai?”
“I was saying Adam and I used to look at you in the shower and when you were changing clothes and so on.”
Once again, Adam lost it completely, but this time his face didn’t turn a chalky white, it turned a vivid, deep red.
He sounded completely helpless. Julie couldn’t help laughing at his reaction. Her little brother was such an innocent.
“Adam thought you were really hot.”
“And you didn’t?”
At least by now Adam had begun to bounce back, but he still looked crushed.
Nikolai looked a little chastened, but it wasn’t long until he thought of a comeback.
“At least I was the one who first starting dating. Remember?”
Julie could see that Adam had had enough so she decided to cut in.
“I think that’s enough, Nikolai. Besides, I’ve known about that all along. The two of you sneaking around peeking at me.”
Apparently that was a mistake. Adam looked as if he was going to faint and once again he buried his face in his hands. What a nervous wreck he was. Julie couldn’t help thinking that it might be Maria’s fault, at least partly. She was nice, but she had a pretty – unsettling – effect on Adam.
Nikolai didn’t seem to be quite as disturbed.
“Sure. In those days I was pretty piqued, and shocked, but it’s been a while and now I actually think it’s quite sweet. Unlike the time when I was sneaking after you, that time when you’d found those porn magazines left behind in one of the rooms. Weren’t you the one who taught Adam how to -”
A half-strangled noise told her that this time Nikolai was just as thrown as his older brother. Had Julie seen that? His face fell.
Unfortunately, what she’d told them, certainly didn’t help Adam’s mood. The thought that his older sister had seen and heard them – even that was unbearable, but that she knew that he hadn’t known how to – that his kid brother had had to explain and show him, that was the worst. He thought he’d outgrown this awkward state – getting this embarrassed – but apparently not. Right now, he felt just as embarrassed as he had back then, when he was fourteen.
“I’m sorry, Adam. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. There’s no need to be ashamed. Kids do that stuff. I must have been about that age when Morten Mikkelsen and I began experimenting with sex, so I can understand that you were curious. Take it easy. Both of you. I guess this is enough for tonight. I’d been hoping to get you two in a better mood, but now – I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“No, it’s ok. I shouldn’t have teased Adam like that. Sorry, Adam. And sorry Julie for – what we did. I knew you’d go ballistic, but when we got something into our heads, we sort of kept goading each other on. Sometimes we went too far, but -”
“No, it’s ok, just like I said. Forget it. I haven’t even thought about that for at least ten years.”
“Ok, I guess I’ll get going then. Goodnight, sis, goodnight, Adam.”
It was just as well that Nikolai left. Julie was hoping she might get Adam in a better mood, before she went back upstairs. When Nikolai had closed the door behind him, Julie sat down next to Adam and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey – don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m sorry I brought that old story up.”
“It was just so – humiliating. He simply couldn’t understand that I’d never done that before. Now I see why he sounded like that sometimes, in the evenings. I just never guessed what it was, until -.”
“Everyone can’t be as precocious as Nikolai. It’s perfectly normal to grow at different rates.”
“Yes, of course. But he did start dating before me too.”
“Do you love Maria?”
Adam looked up. Suddenly his shame of a moment ago was forgotten.
“Why do you ask?”
“I was just wondering if maybe you didn’t just – marry her to prove something.”
“Of course I love her. I can’t believe you can’t see that. But – I did start dating when Nikolaj did just to prove something. There wasn’t any girl I was interested in back then. And that’s not because I was in love with you or something. I was just more into – other things. Books, my bike, working out.”
“Ok. I hope you’ll be very happy.”
“So aren’t you feeling a little better now? Never mind that thing about John and dad. It’s nothing you need to worry about.”
“No, I guess it isn’t. But I don’t get it. Later on he cheated on mum with, you know, that woman.”
“I guess he was into women. We’ll never have an explanation of that anyway. Unless you’d like to ask John about it?”
“Me neither. Let it go.”
“And that other stuff too. You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t forget that.”
“Because I don’t think it’s anything to worry about?”
“No, I mean, yeah, but I meant because you care and because you came home again. All this – it would just have been too much, without you around.”
“Oh. Things didn’t go quite as well in the States as I might have pretended. I might as well live here. And I do see that it’s been rough. I’ll try to take on more work. We can’t have you working yourself to death.”
“I didn’t mean it like that. But now that you’re here, we can share the responsibility. Nikolai – who was so precocious – is still quite immature.”
“Everyone’s different. Just because he was precocious when it comes to sex, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s he’s good at taking responsibility.”
“You can say that again. But I guess he’s trying. I’ll have to be more tolerant. Shit, I’m tired. What time is it? Maria’s shift will be over soon. We have to go home. Sleep well, Julie.”
On the way up to her room, Julie said goodnight to her sister in law. She met John again in the corridor outside her room and briefly she wondered if John might have come from her mother, but decided that surely that wasn’t possible. Maybe John had just been comforting her mother when Erik had been cheating on her. But still, what the guys had told her was strange. Erik and John. Very odd. Aloud she said nothing about her thoughts.
She couldn’t help thinking about poor Adam. How unlucky for him that his little brother had been so precocious. Though Adam had always had a tendency to get all worked up about things. In any case she was hoping that her brothers might be feeling a little better now. She really should be following their example. Her thoughts touched on the hottie in the kitchen. Jimmy. Now that she’d met him, she too was beginning to feel more cheerful.