I was never one for traveling much. I’d been on vacation and enjoyed myself like most people have. I’ve seen beautiful sunsets and scenic vistas. I’ve scaled hillsides and seen the blue waters of serene beaches. It wasn’t really much for me though. None of it really compared to Ivory.
There was nothing fancy about it. There were no white, sandy beaches. There were no epic mountains. The sky was clear but unremarkable. But it was always home to me.
Even though I’d been around for a few months, it still felt like I was getting settled in. The comfortable feeling of coming back hadn’t gone away.
I sighed as I leaned back in my seat, my attention taken by the view outside. There wasn’t much traffic. The people walking along the streets went about their days like they would any other. A perfectly sunny though uninspired day.
“Life is so interesting out there in the world. So many places to explore. So many things to experience. So many people to meet.” He spoke with the usual flippancy he’d always had. Ever since we were younger, he never took things too seriously, even when it sounded like he was pontificating on something important.
“You make it sound like I’m missing out on all the sunshine and rainbows.”
“You are. But there’s a lot of rough places out there, too. A lot of bad experiences. A lot of unsavory people.”
“Then I’m glad I’m back in Ivory.”
“That’s just it. In Ivory, you get all of that, good and bad. Right in one tiny little shithole that nobody has ever heard of.”
“That’s funny. For a second, you’re almost giving me second thoughts about coming back but I know I made the right choice.”
“But you decided to come back, too, so I know we’ve made the right decision together.”
“You’re right… That is funny.”
I turned toward the man sitting in front of me. I stared at him, watching his lips twitch into a look I’d seen a thousand times before. “Even after all these years,” I sighed. “You still haven’t changed, Joey.”
“Why would I change when I know you love me just the way I am?”
We shared a laugh as he started digging into his sandwich. He smacked his lips, chewing with his mouth open. I looked around the diner and saw all of the patrons enjoying a lazy afternoon.
“How have you been?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” I said with a shrug. “I just got back to Ivory a little while back. Just starting to get settled in.”
“Have you talked to dad?”
“My mom and dad are fine. They’re at the farm. Wait… You haven’t stopped by to say hello to them?”
“Like I said, sis. I just got back into town. You’re the first person I wanted to talk to.”
“And I suppose me coming back to town doesn’t have anything with you suddenly showing up?” I raised an eyebrow at him, wondering if he was up to something. It was stupid question because Joey was always up to something.
He smacked his lips with another bite of his sandwich, his mouth full as he spoke. “I heard my big sis was back in town. I thought I’d stop by and say hello. Is that so wrong?”
I rolled my eyes and sighed, still with a smile on my face because that was the Joey I always knew.
“Seriously, sis. How have you been?”
“I’m fine. Ivory’s exactly the same as it was when I left. Just a quiet, simple town full of honest people.”
He scrunched his face in confusion. “Are we talking about the same Ivory here?”
“Come on! You know what I mean.”
“I know, I know… I’m just saying. I figured you’d be doing something else. Big sis goes off to college, graduates, then for some reason decides to come back to this shithole.”
“It might be a shithole but it’s my shithole.”
“I know the feeling. What are you planning on?”
“I don’t know.” I shrugged as I looked back out the window, listening to the sound of my brother continuing to noisily munch on his lunch. “I’m not in any hurry. I spent four years in school. Never got much chance to relax. Figured Ivory’s the perfect place to do just that while I’m looking for a job.”
“They’ve got some good jobs up in the city for a college graduate like you.”
“I’m not much of a city girl. Some people are but I’m more of a shithole kinda girl.”
“I guess you can take the girl out the shithole but not the shithole out the girl.”
“That… probably sounded better in your head.”
Joey chuckled to himself while he kept stuffing his face. I turned back and saw how focused he was on his food. It wasn’t just that though. His blond hair was a little longer and more disheveled than I remembered it. He hadn’t shaved in a few weeks, it looked like. Slight purple underneath his eyes made it look like he just woke up even though the sun had been out for hours. My brother was nonchalant about everything but there was an odd feeling I had from not having seen him for so long.
“What’s up with you?” I asked. “You look like you haven’t eaten in days. You not feeding yourself in the city?”
“I’m feeding myself just fine. You know the food is different around these parts. They’ve got fresher ingredients in Ivory.”
“They’ve got fresh ingredients in the city, too…”
“Yeah, but well, maybe it’s the nostalgia that makes this taste a little better.”
“I suppose that might explain why you can’t bother chewing before you swallow… Seriously though… What’s going on?”
He hesitated for a moment, not looking me in the eye as he swallowed down his bite. He sighed a deep breath through his nose before finally turning his stare toward me. “I’ve got something. Something big.”
“Something big…” I shook my head in confusion. “Why do I have a bad feeling about this?”
“Relax, sis. You know me. I’m not gonna sit around in class and study and try to get some useless degree just so I can get a job. Uh, no offense…”
“None taken.” I rolled my eyes and laughed softly.
“I’ve learned a lot when I was up in the city though. You talk to enough people. You network. You get opportunities. Doors open and you start to see how things work. This is a big chance for me. A big chance. Just like I said.”
“You went to the city to find a big opportunity back here in Ivory?”
“And are you gonna tell me what this opportunity is?”
He shook his head like I expected him to. If I didn’t know him so well, I would’ve been mad.
“All you need to know is you don’t need to worry about me,” Joey said. “I’ve got everything under control.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard any less assuring words.”
“Come on, sis. You know me. When’s the last time I ever got into trouble that I couldn’t get myself out of?”
“The last time? How about that time Sheriff Sutton—”
“Okay, okay, okay!” He put his hands up. “That’s what big sisters are for though. You’re there for me.”
“I know, I know…”
“You know you can depend on me, too. Anything you need, I got you.”
“I don’t think there’s anything—”
“You got a boyfriend?”
“What?” The question startled me more than I thought it would. Joey chuckled when I shifted in my seat.
“A nice girl like you, you should have a boyfriend. I figured you would’ve met some stud in college.”
“Ungh… We are not having this conversation. But just to stop you from hooking me up with one of your wonderful friends, there is someone special.”
“Special, huh? What can you tell me about him?”
“All you need to know is that he’s a good guy.”
“As long as he can take care of you.”
“He can. He’s a club member.”
“A club member?” Joey took another moment to stop eating. He eyeballed me. There was a slight feeling of helplessness as I waited for him to give me the judgment that only a sibling could when you talked about someone special in your life. “Well… It’s your life. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I know what I’m doing. I wouldn’t get involved with someone who’s just gonna cause me trouble. Besides, it’s nothing that serious. I… I just started talking to him. It’s not like what you think it is.”
“Not serious. That’s the best way to approach a relationship.” He gave me a wink and stuffed the rest of his sandwich away. It only felt like a few minutes after the waitress had set his lunch down and it was already gone. Joey wiped his lips with his tongue then got up from his seat. “I’ve got some shit to take care of. Thanks for coming to see me.”
“Why are you making it sound like it was hard for me to have lunch with you?”
He pondered it for a moment before shrugging. “I don’t know. I thought things would be different since it’s been so long.”
“Nothing has changed. Not me. Not Ivory.”
“Yeah… I’m glad for that.” He gave me a nod then sighed. “I’ll see you around. Call me if you need anything.”
“Usually I’m the one who says that.”
He spun around and walked away. I smiled as I watched him leave, his demeanor as nonchalant as it always was.
The waitress came by and set my lunch down.
“Who was that?” she asked. “Boyfriend?”
“He wouldn’t be much of a boyfriend if he left me to pay his bill. No, that was my brother.”
“He doesn’t sound like much of a brother either.”
“Joey’s my younger brother. I’m used to it.”
“I see…” The waitress nodded, a kind smile on her face. “Enjoy your lunch. Let me know if there’s anything you need.” She excused herself and stepped away.
The noise in the diner was distant as I picked at my chicken with my fork. The view of the city just outside the window hadn’t changed. It’d been that way ever since I was a child. My brother’s sudden reappearance back in town just made things feel even more familiar.
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. I had every reason to smile and the text reminded me to do just that.
It was a simple life in Ivory. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.