When Kevin was fourteen going on fifteen, he understood the power of having two older brothers. There was a kid twice his size that felt the need to pick on him for every little thing. To makes matters worse, the girl who was dating the kid in question, had developed a crush on Kevin. So, one day after school he said goodbye to his friends and made his way down the street. He lived close enough to his school that he didn’t need to be bused. It was only about a fifteen minute walk tops, and Kevin enjoyed it because he was able to hit POP’s Candy Store on the way home. It was coming out of that candy store with a bag of Corn Chips in one hand and a Grape Soda in the other that he was confronted by the bully and a gaggle of his friends.
One of them swiped the bottle of soda right out of his hands and it went flying to the ground. Another grabbed his chips and started gnawing on them. Kevin wasn’t sure what to do. He was pretty big for his age but didn’t really know how to fight. So, he tried to push the much bigger and older kid out of the way and ran.
He didn’t get very far though, probably only about halfway up the block before being tackled from behind. The only thing he remembered clearly from that incident was the pain he felt as he was being kicked in the ribs and the embarrassment he felt as he knew he was wetting his pants. Finally an older man pulled the kids off of Kevin, helped him to his feet and drove him to his house.
When Jerald and Tim saw the state their baby brother was in they went berserk. Tim was so angry he was ready to go out and find this kid and run him over with his truck. It was Jerald though, that Kevin was the most surprised by because the anger he was feeling wasn’t directed at the kid who had just beaten his little brother to a pulp, but the victim. He had ironically, grabbed Kevin by the arms and shook him, “How the hell could you let this happen to you?” He had screamed at his little brother. “It’s a good thing that guy came along or we would be visiting you in the hospital!”
Tim had to pull Jerald off of Kevin but he was heated and still yelling. “You need to learn to protect yourself! This can’t happen again, do you understand me?”
Kevin was completely shaken up and already in tears. He couldn’t understand why Jerald attacked him like that. It wasn’t until later on that night while lying in bed and talking to Tim that he had his answer.
“Jerald didn’t mean to do that to you, Kev.” The lights were off as Kevin listened. He started crying once again, just thinking about how horrible his brother made him feel. “After you came up to get cleaned off he lost it. Started crying…don’t tell him I told you this, he’d kill me.”
“Kay…” was Kevin’s innocent reply.
“Anyway…he said he felt awful for doing that to you. He was just so upset about what happened he felt like he had no control over his emotions. He cares about you that much, we both do. I know we tease you a lot but no one hurts our baby brother and gets away with it.”
Kevin let out a sigh and couldn’t help but smile through his tears, “Thanks, Tim.”
“He’s taking you to school tomorrow and I’ll be picking you up.”
“You don’t have to do that. It’ll make things worse.”
“No it won’t because if this kid even looks at you funny I’ll kick his ass.”
Kevin wanted to protest but in all honesty, he didn’t hate the idea. That night he has closed his eyes and felt like no matter what happened, he knew his brothers would always have his back and protect him. He slept soundly and after a week of both brothers picking him up and taking him to school, the whole incident was all but forgotten, until now.
As Kevin watched Nick’s face go from betrayal to shock, he saw that same wounded child he once was but this time he felt the same emotions that Jerald had felt that day. The anger that came out only because of the love he had felt for his little brother. It’s how Kevin managed to finally find his voice and confront Nick.
“How do you know about Donald?” Nick had asked looking from Kevin to Howie. “And what the hell business is it of yours anyway?” The disdain in his voice as he pushed himself slightly away from Howie made Kevin realize the kid was about to lose his temper in a big way.
Howie sensing this, remained his usual calm self as he spoke, “Johnny told me when he found out you were coming home with me, Nicky. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything sooner.”
Nick bit on his bottom lip before he spoke, “And what gave him the right to tell you my fucking business?”
Kevin decided to take over at that point, “Because he seems potentially dangerous and since you were staying with Howie and his family…Johnny thought it best that they know.”
“And what about you, why the hell do you know?”
“Because he’s your friend and cares about you, Nicky.”
Nick let out a sarcastic laugh, “Yeah…some friend.” Nick moved his legs out from under the bench and stood up, “I’m outta here!”
“No you’re not!” Kevin said, standing up as well. “Sit down…we’re not finished talking yet.” As he was saying those words, he wasn’t even sure where the hell they were coming from. It’s like his father had possessed him or something.
Nick looked like a deer caught in headlights. It was easy to read what was going on in his head just by the way it was tilting slightly. Should he listen or should he leave. Kevin made the choice easy for him, “It’s not like you have anywhere to go anyway. Just sit down...” He sighed and then pointed to the bench “please…”
Nick rolled his eyes and sat down beside Howie once more but this time further enough away to show his annoyance.
Once Nick was seated, Kevin sat as well. “Nick, we thought this guy…”
“His name is Don.” Nick interrupted.
“Fine…Don had maybe taken you.”
Nick laughed, “Why would you think that?”
“Because we know he’s out of jail and just based on…” Kevin wasn’t sure if he should mention the letters or not, “Things we heard…we were afraid he’d be coming after you.”
Howie continued, “That’s why when your friends…”
“They aren’t my friends. They ditched me after I fed them.” Once again Nick interrupted sounding cold and very much like an angry teenager.
Howie let out a sigh, “They said you were talking to some stranger so of course we thought it was Don.”
Nick looked over at Howie, “Why of course?”
This is when Howie glanced over Kevin’s way, unsure of what to say next.
Kevin once again was thinking back to those days after his first ever fight. How awkward he felt with Jerald as he got into the car before school or after school. The uncomfortable silence as neither of them had brought up the incident once. Jerald had never apologized for what he had done and Kevin had never mentioned it. There was always this invisible wedge separating the two brothers when it came to showing emotions, which was kind of funny because they were both very emotional people. Out of the three it was Tim who rarely if ever cried about things. When it came to personal stuff with one another however, Kevin and Jerald had their walls up. As much as Kevin had wanted to confront his brother about what he had done, he chose silence…every single time.
He and Jerald were never really close.
“Well? I’m waiting for an answer! Why of course? What made you two so sure my uncle was going to fucking grab me at a mini golf course?”
Kevin countered Nick’s question with one of his own. “Who paged you Nick?”
Nick turned his body to face forward. Up until then he had been sitting with one leg under the bench and one leg ready to bolt. “Why?”
“Because after you got that page on the boat you started acting strange.”
Again Nick let out a small annoyed laugh and rolled his eyes, “You guys are too much! I told you it was my parents.”
“You lied.” Kevin was quick to answer. “They didn’t know you were staying with Howie when they supposedly gave you that pager.”
Nick shifted in his seat, “It’s none of your fucking business.”
“We thought it was Don. We thought maybe you had told him where you were.” Kevin ignored the agitation in the blonde’s voice. “Did you tell him where you were, Nick? Does he know you are here?”
Now the teenager rubbed at his neck and once again bit his bottom lip and shook his head. “This was a mistake. I should have just stayed by myself.”
Kevin looked over at Howie who was staring at Nick who in turn was staring down at the picnic table. Feeling eyes on him, D looked over at Kevin and shrugged ever so slightly, mostly using his eyes to show how unsure of things he was.
“Nicky….” Howie said softly, “There’s no way anyone would have let you stay by yourself.”
“My parents would have. They even told Johnny it was okay if he couldn’t find anyone else to pawn me off to.”
“You weren’t pawned off. I wanted you here.”
“Then stop treating me like your fucking child and act like I’m your friend!” As the words were coming out of his mouth he broke on the curse in the middle. He then smiled, not a happy one but the one the guys grew to know as his ‘fake’ happy one. The one he planted on after having an argument with his parents or having a hissy fit because he didn’t feel like going to rehearsal or an interview. His suck it up smile, they all had them, this was his.
“I wish you would all make up your mind about which Nick you want.”
“What does that mean?” Kevin asked now.
But Nick didn’t look at Kevin. As far as he was concerned he was done talking to the oldest member of the group. He directed the answer to Howie instead. “You all seem to hate Nick the kid, but yet you do nothing but treat me like him…” He shook his head and continued to smile, “All I ever hear is how immature and childish I am and when I say I’m just a teenager, I get attitude like it’s the stupidest thing to ever say. But at the end of the day, that’s all I’m ever treated like…a stupid kid.”
He stayed quiet for a second then continued, “Since I’ve been here…I have just been babysat by you. You’re not my friends, you’re my babysitters.”
Neither Kevin nor Howie knew what to say because they realized that sadly, there was a lot of truth to what Nick was saying. They did feel like they were babysitting him, as much as they didn’t want to feel that way, he was young and their responsibility, so yes, they were very much babysitting him.
“Why can’t we be both?” It was Kevin who finally answered. “Why can’t we be your friends and still keep an eye on you?”
“You don’t do that with Howie…keep an eye on him.” – The use of quotey fingers on eye of course.
“Howie is twenty-one, but if Howie had gone missing, I would have been just as worried.”
“Minus the attack I’m sure.” Nick was quick to add. “And I doubt if he was gone for an hour, you would have been that worked up.”
Kevin decided it was time to stop letting Nick sidetrack the conversation. “You never answered the question. Who paged you?”
Nick placed both his hands through his hair and let out a very over exaggerated “Ugh!” before finally answering, “Mandy…okay! Are you happy now?”
“Why didn’t you just tell us that from the get-go, Nicky?”
“Because I know how you guys feel about her. I knew you’d think I was dumb for keeping in touch with her, but truth is…I miss her. I want to get back together.”
Howie smiled and looked relieved. “Then do what you gotta do, although it looked like you were into that girl on the golf course. She said her name was Wendy and that she had a great time by the way, so I don’t think she was just using you. I think they thought you were with your dad and just decided you weren’t coming back.”
“She said that?” Nick asked, first time smiling his real smile.
Nick stood up, “I’m going to go wait in the car unless the interrogation isn’t over?” He looked over at Kevin and rolled his eyes. When nothing was said he walked away.
Howie nodded and then glanced over at Kevin who didn’t look the least bit relieved or happy. “We didn’t handle that very well at all, did we Kev?” He asked once Nick was out of ear range.
Kevin sighed, “He’s lying about Mandy.”
Now it was Howie who looked frustrated. “Kev, come on…what does Nick need to do to have you believe him?”
“No, he lied to us. It was Don.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Because when he was talking about Mandy he did his tell. He looked up, put his hands through his hair and bit his lip.”
“You’re sure?” Howie asked hoping that Kevin would say no but knowing that wasn’t the case.
Kevin nodded, “Positive.”
Howie closed his eyes and shook his head, “Well nothing we can do about it now. There are only so many times we can call the kid a liar in one day. I’m starving and need to eat. We’ll work it out later.” He sounded annoyed.
Kevin agreed as they walked back to the car where Nick had his head phones on, shutting out the rest of the world.