By Michael A Roccia III
I stand in my brother’s room watching him sleep. I call him my baby brother, but he really isn’t an infant anymore. He is thirteen now, his birthday was actually just a few days ago. It’s hard to believe how fast he is growing up, not that I am that much of a grown up myself.
I mean I am only five years older than he is, but when you are eighteen and your brother is thirteen it is a big difference. It’s not like I am thirty and he is twenty-five. I look down at him snoring and think he has so much going for him. He’s smart, athletic and he is one of the best kids I know. Not that I would ever admit that to his face.
He is best at football, though. He throws the ball far for his age and he is playing pee-wee football again this year. The coach wants to move him up a level, but my mom is keeping him in his age bracket. He doesn’t like it, but it is smart. It will keep him with his friends and he won’t be the smallest kid on the team, either.
He rubs his eyes and rolls over. “Simone, is that you?”
“Yes, sweetie.” I sit down on his bed next to him and smooth out his hair. It is already starting to stick up from him lying on the pillow. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.” I rub his forehead with my thumb.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, rolling back over and snuggling into his pillow. “Is the thing over already?” A big yawn makes his question sound like a foreign language.
“Yep, the prom is over.” I shift to rubbing his back. That used to help him fall asleep when he was a baby.
He yawns again so deeply I can see his back teeth. “Did you have fun?”
“I did,” I tell him. Rubbing his back like this reminds me of when my mom did it for me when I was sick. “We danced and listened to music. Then we went out for Chinese food before heading home.” I begin to look around his room. It is cleaner than I expect. He is a slob, but he is thirteen. That’s how I was when I was his age. Why would he be any different?
“Did you bring me any egg rolls?” His voice is hopeful. So much so, I worry about him waking fully.
I smile, knowing he loves egg rolls almost as much as football. “No sorry,” I tell him. I remember when he was a baby and we were at Yow Ming’s Chinese Food. Dad put the hot mustard too close to him. He had finished the piece of egg roll he was munching on and grabbed the closest thing to him, which was the hot mustard.
He took a glob of it in his hand and before anyone could grab him, he stuck his hand in his mouth. I swore he woke the dead with his screams. It took a while for him to stop crying after that. What I now find funny is he developed a taste for spicy food. Wow, that was over ten years ago.
“Are you still there?” he asks half turning his head toward me. His eyes are half-open and his hair is again sticking up. I didn’t realize I stopped rubbing his back.
“Yes honey.” I start rubbing his back again.
“Why aren’t you in your room?” he asks. He snuggles back into his pillow.
“I just wanted to tell you I loved you.” I notice his headboard and the scattered toys across it. “I don’t tell you enough.” He has seven or eight Star Wars figures there. He must have been playing with them before he went to bed. He always does that when mom sends him to bed.
Mom knows he doesn’t go right to bed of course, but she doesn’t say anything for a half an hour or so. She can be lenient on the small things, but watch out if you get her mad. I chuckle to myself low enough so he won’t hear me.
“I love you too,” he mumbles. Another yawn muffles it a bit, but I smile just the same.
“Can you do me a favor?” I ask.
“Now?” A frown appears on his face, making him look like a confused Boston Terrier. I can tell he is starting to fall back to sleep.
“No,” I tell him. “It’s more an everyday thing.”
“Sure,” he squirts out. He probably won’t remember me telling him this, but hopefully it will stay with him anyway.
“I want you to be happy and have fun every chance you get.” I look up at the moon nightlight he has on his wall. It seems to glow brighter than normal, the craters on the face of the man in the moon more pronounced, like dimples. He is smiling at me.
He rolls over and looks at me through a one-eyed squint. “Is that it?”
“No.” I smile and look around his room. “Play football, but don’t take it too seriously,” I say as my eyes fall on the football. He takes it with him everywhere he goes. It is sitting on top of his jacket that he threw on his desk chair.
His school books lie spread across his desk. “Make sure you pay attention in school and never do drugs. Never drink until you are old enough to understand what it means.” My ears perk up as I hear my mom coming up the stairs. I don’t have much time to finish talking to the munchkin.
“Okay,” he squeaks. He speaks so softly, he sounds like a talking mouse
I’m not really sure if he is hearing me anymore. “And most importantly,” I start, running my fingers through his dark hair, “tell mom and dad you love them every day. Can you do that for me?”
“I will, Simone.” He rolls over to look at me through sleepy eyes. I lean down and kiss him on the forehead just as I hear the door slowly open. I ease myself off his bed so I don’t jostle him too much and back away so I am not in the way. His eyes are closed again.
“Joey?” my mom asks. “Why are you awake? Who are you talking to?”
“I am talking to Simone,” he says. I can’t help but smile at him throwing me right under the bus. “She woke me up.”
“Simone?” she asks. She passes me, sits on his bed and sniffs a little as she adjusts the blankets on him.
She must have been crying for a while now. Her eyes are red and her hair is a mess. The black smudges on her sleeve where she wiped her runny mascara off her cheeks before she came in look like a Rorschach. It reminds me of horses galloping through an open field.
“Yeah,” he says a little more awake now. Mom didn’t sit on his bed as gently as I did. The jolt woke him up, but who can blame her?
He looks around. “Where is she? She was here a second ago before you came in.”
A sad smile appears on her face. “Honey, you must have been dreaming.” She is doing her best to comb his pillow hair with her fingers.
“No she was right here,” he insists. He is wide awake now. There is no getting him back to sleep until he proves he was right. He is stubborn like that.
“Honey that’s impossible,” my mom tells him. She is trying to tuck him back in.
He just smirks at her. Wow he looks like dad when he does that. I turn my attention to the window and see my dad speaking to the cop next to the red and blue flashing lights. They illuminate the tree that my parents planted when they bought this house. Watching the tree turn red, then blue and back again is mesmerizing. I frown and fold my arms, remembering when Joey broke his arm a few years back when he fell out of it. I should have told him to stop climbing that thing. I shrug. He will have to learn some lessons on his own.
My dad is also a mess. His shoulders are slumped slightly. The last time I saw him like that was when grandma died a few years ago. My dad is strong though, he will be there for my mother and Joey. He is good like that.
“No really!” Joey yells. It reminds me where I am. I was getting a little lost there for a second. “She woke me up, please don’t be mad…”
“Oh honey, I’m not mad!” Mom pulls him in for a tight hug.
I cringe a little.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” His eyebrows come together. It’s easy to tell he still thinks he’s in trouble. It brings the smile back to my face and I let my arms fall to my side again.
“Your sister is gone, honey,” she says. She can’t bring herself to break her hug. I hope she doesn’t squeeze him any tighter.
“I know, but she was right here,” he says, still hell bent on proving he is right.
My mom pulls away so she can look Joey in the eyes. “Honey,” she starts, but swallows hard. She looks down at her lap and a tear in the corner of her eye she is fighting hard to keep from escaping forms.
I wish I could help her, but there is nothing I can do except watch. I know she wants him to go back to sleep so she can deal with it in the morning, but he is too awake now. His stubbornness won’t go away until he proves he is right. When he is like this, you have a better chance of yanking a bone away from the neighbor’s pit-bull.
“What, mom?” He is starting to understand something is wrong.
“Just tell him mom,” I say, knowing she can’t hear me.
“She was hit by a drunk driver coming out of Yow Ming’s.” She speaks so softly. I have to strain to hear her.
Joey inhales sharply and both his hands come up to cover his mouth. “Is she okay?” He speaks through his hands. I barely hear him too.
“No honey.” She wipes the first of what I will be many tears off his face with her thumb. “She died,” she finally says. The tear she was holding back starts to push its way through.
Saying the words finally break the dam my mom had put up before she entered his room and she starts crying freely. Joey’s floodgates open too. She pulls him in for another hug and he starts crying loudly on her shoulder.
“But… she…” he can barely speak in-between sobs. “She was… here… just now.”
“It’s okay,” my mom says. She is rubbing his back now, but it doesn’t look to be helping. “It will be okay.”
I am shocked she can speak through her own tears, but she is strong like dad. Right now she is here for Joey. She will put her grief away until he calms down. My mom always puts our needs before hers.
“No!” he yells. He pulls away to look at her. “She was… just here!” he screams even louder. He is still trying to convince her she is wrong. I smile. He’s just like that pit bull.
She pulls him back into her arms and he starts crying incoherently again.
I look out the window again and watch my dad get into one of the cruisers next to the cop he is speaking to. No doubt to go identify my body. I look at my mom and Joey again. They will be fine, they still have each other. If this family is one thing, it is strong. They will hold themselves together.
I tilt my head as Joey’s moon nightlight glows even more brightly now, but neither of them notice it. It looks more like a spotlight all of a sudden. My ear perks as I swear I hear my grandmother’s voice sing the lullaby she used to sing to me when I was Joey’s age. I always fell asleep before I heard the end of it.
I feel my eyes start to burn with tears myself. It’s time to go. I stop at the door and look at my mom and brother one last time. Even though tears are flowing, a smile pushes its way through and I blow them a kiss.
“I love you,” I whisper.
I leave them and follow the moon beam into the hall. At the end of the hall another moon beam is shining through the window right onto my bedroom door. I know it no longer leads to my stuffed animal filled room, but I’m not afraid. I can hear my grandmother singing on the other side. She is waiting to greet me, so I push open my door, eager to finally hear the end of the lullaby.