"What have I done?" Bobby asked. And then his body shook as he sobbed uncontrollably.
Always My Brother
Pressing his forehead against his knees, Bobby tried to block out the frightful screams piercing his mind. Fear clutched his stomach as the screams seamlessly morphed into the oscillating wail of approaching sirens. His arms circled his legs as he took a deep breath and began to cry, slowly, and quietly.
A shiver rose along his spine as arriving parents formed into angry groups, their shouts of anguish growing louder and more insistent. Raising his head from his knees, Bobby thought, I hope Joey is okay, as his eyes scanned his surroundings. His tears began to fall again and he put his head back down again and wished that everyone would go away.
Bobby felt, more than heard, someone walk to the chain link fence behind him and stop. In a soft, soothing tone, a man asked. "Are you alright, son?"
Bobby didn't answer. He didn't know if he was alright. He didn't know if he would ever be alright again. Yesterday had changed everything.
Yesterday, Bobby thought as tears fell from his eyes and tracked down his legs. I never should have told Joey what happened. His frenzied thoughts returned to when, just a few hours before, he and his brother had walked to school together. Just like they did every day.
"What have I done?" he said. The breath of his words sighed across his thighs as softly as the wings of a butterfly. And then his body shook as he began to sob uncontrollably.
. . .
"Can I have a dollar, Mom?" Bobby asked his mother as she handed him the brown bag with his lunch inside.
"What do you need a dollar for?"
He hesitated, then said, "The ah...the kids in my class are going to buy a gift for Miss Spencer, and we're all gonna put in a dollar each." Bobby averted his eyes as his mother looked at him. "Can I have a dollar, please mom?" He grasped the door knob and pulled the door open but didn't step outside. He turned back to his mother, his eyes scanned the floor as he waited.
"That's a lot of money for a first-grade-teacher's gift, Bobby." She tilted her head as she watched him, then knelt on one knee and placed her hands on her son's shoulders. "Are you feeling alright," she asked. "You don't look well." She lightly pressed the back of her hand against his flushed cheek, a raised eyebrow furrowed her forehead. "Is there something wrong, Bobby?"
"Maybe I should stay home, Mom," he replied quickly. "Just in case I am getting sick."
"You don't have a fever," his mother said. "But if you feel sick at school tell your teacher, and she'll send you to the nurse. If she thinks you need to go home I'll come get you."
Bobby sighed deeply. "Okay." He turned to leave, but stopped.
Julie Bowman saw the early morning sun reflecting from her son's reddish-brown hair as he stood on the step outside the kitchen door. His eyes seemed to be focused on something in the distance. "Bobby, what's wrong?" she asked.
"I told you," he drew out the words. "Nothing's wrong, I just need a dollar, that's all. It's important."
"Who's collecting the money for this gift?" she asked.
Bobby hesitated and his gaze fell to the bricks under his sneakers. "One of the girls in my class...Sally. You don't know her."
"Sally? I didn't think..."
"Hi, Mom." Interrupting the conversation, Joey came bounding into the kitchen and grabbed his lunch bag off the counter. He walked through the open door and slid his fingers back and forth through his brother's reddish-brown hair, mussing it playfully. "Let's go, Bobby, we're late."
"Stop it!" Bobby whined. He pushed Joey's hand away as he shuffled along the walkway, his heavy disappointment slumping his shoulders.
"Wait a minute, boys." Julie called to her sons. Joey turned to his mother, but Bobby, lost in his thoughts, kept walking. Grabbing her purse from the table, she pulled out her cracked leather wallet. "Give this to Bobby," she said and handed a crisp dollar bill to Joey.
Julie watched as her older son ran to catch up with his brother. Something's wrong, Julie thought.I don't think there is anyone named Sally in his class. She watched Joey playfully nudge his brother as they walked together. "I hope he's not in trouble at school," she mumbled.
The boys turned the corner and walked out of sight as Julie closed the door. I better talk to him tonight and see what's going on," she thought as she put the breakfast dishes in the sink.
. . .
"This is for you," Joey said as he caught up with his brother. "What's the dollar for?"
"I bet I know, you have a hot date, right?" Joey snickered as he playfully elbowed his brother.
"No, I don't," Bobby whined. "And it's none of your business, anyway."
Joey stepped in front of his brother and stopped. "What's that dollar really for? What's going on, Bobby?"
Bobby looked at the sidewalk and didn't say a word, then tried to walk around his brother. Joey quickly sidestepped him. "Bobby...?"
"What about Frank Cooper?"
"He said I have to give him a dollar every Monday, or I'd be sorry."
"Isn't he the kid that beat you up a couple of weeks ago?" Joey put his open palm against his brother's chest, preventing him from walking on. "The kid I talked to? The kid I told that if he bothered you again I'll come find him?"
"Promise you won't tell Mom, okay?" Bobby pushed the dollar into his pants pocket. "And promise me you won't say anything to him. He's bigger than me and he's strong. Did you know he was in the detention center a couple of times?"
"I won't tell Mom. I promise, okay?" Joey began walking again. "How long has this been going on?" Joey looked at his brother's downcast brown eyes. "How many dollars have you given him?"
"For a couple of weeks."
"Don't give him any more money!"
"If I don't then he'll beat me up...like he did last week."
"He beat you up even after I talked to him."
"Only once." Bobby looked up at his brother. "It's only a dollar, Joey, and it's better than getting beat up." Then with a voice tinged with worry, Bobby said. "Please don't say anything to him."
"I'm not gonna let him beat you up, Bobby. I told him last time that he better leave you alone." His pace quickened as he spoke.
"I don't want you to get into trouble, Joey." Bobby walked faster to keep up with his older brother. "And I don't want Frank to get mad at me, either."
"Don't worry, Bobby. After I talk to him he won't bother you anymore."
"You can't be with me all the time, Joey. When he sees me alone he'll beat me up again."
"Don't worry about it. I'll make sure he doesn't bother you again. And don't give him that dollar, let me talk to him first, okay?"
The brothers arrived at school and joined a crowd of students slowly making their way through the narrow entrance. Just before they walked into the building, Joey turned to his brother.
"Go ahead in, Bobby." He turned and stepped out of the line of students.
"Where are you going?" Bobby shouted as the crowd moved him toward the doors.
"Just go to class, okay?" Joey shouted back. "I forgot something at home. I'll be back later."
Bobby watched his brother walk away from school as he was swept through the doors and into the noisy hall by the stream of students.
It was just before lunch when Bobby heard the pop, pop, pop, of firecrackers—or gun shots. The explosions were followed by shouts and screams. The panicked footsteps of students fleeing the building sounded like the distant thunder of an approaching storm. A minute later the speaker hanging on the classroom wall came to life with instructions for all students to leave the building at once.
Teachers led their confused and crying students through crammed halls that echoed with instructions to 'stay together' and 'don't panic.' Bobby heard someone say that a student had been shot. Streams of frightened children spilled out into the sunlight where they were told to remain together as a class and follow their teachers.
Once outside, Bobby wandered away from his class and searched for his brother. As he walked past a cluster of students he heard a teacher tell a policeman that a student named Frank Cooper had been shot.
Filled with dread, Bobby frantically searched the groups of students assembled around their teachers. Surrounded by a group of kids all shouting questions at the same time, Mrs. Barrow, Joey's teacher, saw Bobby and walked toward him.
"Are you okay, Bobby?" She knelt so that their eyes were level with each other.
"Have you seen Joey...my brother?" His eyes continued to scan the crowded parking lot.
"No I haven't. He wasn't in school today."
Before Bobby could say anything else, two dazed and crying girls walked from the crowd. Mrs. Barrow ran to them.
Bobby continued to search, but didn't see his brother anywhere.
. . .
The man on the other side of the chain link fence settled onto one knee and spoke softly. "What's your name, son?"
"Do you know what happened in school today?"
"I heard some shots," Bobby said. "And then there was a lot of yelling and screaming. Everyone was running." His voice wavered. "But I think I know what happened."
"Can you tell me what you think happened?"
"Someone said Frank Cooper got shot."
"Do you have a brother, Bobby?"
"What's your brother's name?" The man asked quietly.
Bobby hesitated, then said. "Joey...Joey Bowman," then added quickly. "But Mrs. Barrow said he wasn't in school today."
The man hesitated and looked around the parking lot before speaking again. "Your brother was in school today, son. He was seen by a lot of people..."
"Is he okay?" Bobby interrupted.
"Your brother is okay, son," the man said, then with a voice barely above a whisper he said. "But he's in a lot of trouble."
Bobby pressed his head against his knees again and began to cry.
. . . . .
Word Count: 1740
Entry for March, 2012 Short Shots contest.