My brother pleaded, "You've got to help me, please."
Fulfilling a Promise
Nothing could be further from the truth. Those seven words were etched into the concrete wall. Seven words that sealed my fate but saved someone I loved. It was the words that filled my mind when I heard the jury foreman announce, "We find the defendant guilty as charged." Now, as I leaned against the cold wall my bed was bolted to, I thought about the night it all began.
"You have to help me, please, Ricky," my brother pleaded, "I didn't mean to hurt her."
I saw her blood-smeared leg protruding from behind the bed. "What have you done?" My hand shook as I knelt over her and checked her pulse. Tom cowered in the other room.
"I'm sorry, really, I am," he cried, "I didn't mean it." He twisted the hair above his ear between two finger, and bounced on one foot, then the other.
I grabbed Tommy by his muscular shoulders. "She's dead...do you know what that means?" Realizing I was shaking him and shouting, I let go and asked quietly, "What happened?"
"She's so pretty Ricky, so p-pretty." Spittle flew from his lips, and his nostrils flared with each breath. "I was just massaging her shoulders, just her shoulders." He stammered, "S-she's so p-pretty."
I bent my knees so our eyes were level. "You have to tell me what happened," I said with surprising calm, "it's the only way I can help you."
A boy of eight, trapped inside the body of a thirty year old man, stammered the explanation. While I closed my grocery store down stairs, he and Cindy went upstairs to my apartment to make coffee. Cindy was my girlfriend and she liked Tommy. Cindy worked hard that night and her shoulders were stiff. She asked Tommy to massage them. She told him that he was handsome, and he misread her meaning. "I thought she wanted to be my girlfriend," he said with a hint of a smile. When his hands began to roam she pulled away, and he reacted violently. Finding the letter opener on my desk he plunged it into her in a rage.
"It was only for a minute, Ricky, I promise." He got on his tip-toes and looked over my shoulder into the bedroom, "She'll be okay soon, won't she?" His eyes narrowed with fear as tears pooled in his eyes, he twisted his brown hair violently.
"No, Tommy, she's not going to be alright."
"Am I going to jail?" Tears began to roll down his puffy cheeks, "I don't want to go to jail, Ricky, I can't go to jail...there are bad people there."
I wanted to slap him, to hurt him, to beat understanding into him--but I didn't—I couldn't. I had promised our mother that I would take care of him, and I did. I would have done that even without the promise—he's just a kid, he's my brother, and I love him.
A few years ago a group of teenagers had teased him, and he ran into the woods crying. He was found near a cool spring two days later, nearly dehydrated. The event confirmed that he couldn't take care of himself. The alternative—a state run hospital, would have been worse than leaving him alone. Both choices represented death for him, and I could never live with making that decision. Standing there with him, seeing his entire body tremble, it was time for another decision.
I called Lewis, a friend I knew I could trust, and I made him an offer. He would take over the store, keep the profits, and in return he would take care of Tommy. Lewis was Tommy's only friend, and beside Cindy, he was the only other person Tommy trusted. Whenever Lewis's name was mentioned, Tommy would smile and say, "He's my fishing buddy." I knew I could depend on Lewis.
I told Lewis what I wanted to do, "I know I'm asking a lot, it might be a couple of years."
"We've been friends all our lives, Rick," his words were full of sincerity, "I'll take care of Tommy like he was my brother...hell, he damn near is. What happened?"
"I killed Cindy tonight," I whispered, "we had a fight and things got out of control."
There was a pause, "Did you really kill Cindy?"
"Yeah, I did." I never should have let her be alone with him...I had let her down, and now the girl I loved was gone.
"Is there any way you can get out of it, anything I can do to help?"
"No, I'm going to call the cops, let them know what happened, can you come get Tommy?"
"Sure, Rick, I'll be right there," and then in hushed words he added, "I'll be sure to keep Tommy away from the cops, don't worry about that."
I hung up and turned to Tommy. His face was wet, he looked at me expectantly.
"Tommy, you want to go fishing?"
"Yes!" he let go of his hair and smiled, "Lewis is taking me fishing?"
"Yes, and you're going to stay with him for a while, okay?" I forced a smile.
"Okay, we can go fishing, right?"
"Yes, Tommy, you can go fishing every day." I pulled him to me and whispered, "I love you."
Tommy stopped shaking. "I love to go fishing," he said. He stopped looking into the bedroom.
The police came and I admitted to having a fight with Cindy. The trial lasted three days, my lawyer told me that the prosecutor thought I was covering for my brother, and he would not ask for a lengthy prison term. The judge sentenced me to ten years, I would be eligible for parole in four, and with good behavior I could qualify for early release in two.
Two years minimum. I couldn't let them put Tommy in prison or a state hospital, he would never survive. I kept my promise to our mother, and the brother I love would be alive. But I needed to see those seven words every day...the words I heard in my heart when I listened to the jury's verdict.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Word count 979
First Place Winner, Writer's Cramp entry, June 1, 2011.
Prompt: Begin a story with Nothing could be further from the truth.