#My52 “Night Light, Part I”

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#My52: Week 9

Word prompt: backpack

Word count – 880

Reading time – 2 mins,  12 secs

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Part I

“Karen told me Madeline is mad at you.”

“Hope she gets over it.”

Jack Tanner doubled over with laughter.

“Dude don’t even try it. You got it bad for her,” he chided his younger brother, Kent.

“Correction, I had it bad for her. I didn’t see it at first, but Maddie is just too shallow.”

“C’mon. Yesterday, if she told you to jump into Harper Creek, you would have.”

Fifteen-year-old Kent smirked. “Yesterday, she hadn’t shown her true face. Now I know she’s fake and an opportunist.”

“Ooohh, an opportunist? Really? What happened?”

Shifting his backpack from one shoulder to the other, Kent’s steps slowed.

“She was always cool, fun to talk to. We shared funny stories about our older siblings,” he tilted his head toward Jack, “and she asked da-… about how things were at home.”

Jack raised a brow. “So?”

“Whenever the upperclassmen came around, she changed, especially if Pete Michaels showed up. She tried to act older, call me a kid… crap like that.”

“She crushin’ on Pete?”

“I guess so.”

“That bother you?”

“Yeah, at first. But I got over it. I realized she’s wearing different faces for different people.”

“Okaaaay, what am I missing?”

Kent stopped in his tracks, his eyes focused on his feet.

“K-Man, what happened?”

Sadness and anger flashed across his face as he raised his gaze to Jack. His grip tightened on his backpack.

“I never thought she could be cruel.”

Jack’s jaw tightened. “What happened? Tell me now.”

Kent walked over and leaned against an old wooden fence at the edge of the dirt road.

“It wasn’t a big deal at first. While we were talking about band camp this summer, Pete walks up and teases me about my height, saying I must have grown three inches since school started. He switched gears and said I should drop the trombone and band and try out for the basketball team.”

Jack let out a long, slow whistle. “That’s major, dude. Pete acts like he invented the game, but the team is headed for a bad situation and Coach Turner is getting nervous. Half of his starters are graduating. He still glares at me for choosing to wrestle instead of playing basketball.”

“I know and took it as a compliment coming from Pete.”

“But?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, Kent blew out a harsh breath before responding.

“Maddie pipes in with ‘He can’t play with the big boys yet because he still sleeps with a night light’.”

Jack’s eyes widened. “No effin’ way! She did not say that! She said that? Out loud? How did she know?”

He hung his head. “I told her, right after dad-… when the nightmares started.”

Jack Tanner paced in front of his brother, fuming. “So? So? You told her. Didn’t give her the right to repeat it. What a cow.”

“It’s okay, Jackie.”

“No, K-Man, it isn’t. She took something personal and made a joke out of it so people would laugh at you. What a cow. Just wait until I tell Karen about her little sister.”

“I’m over it, man. I walked away. But Pete followed me.”

“Huh? Why? To continue the joke? Dude, I will kick his ass, I swear it.”

“Jackie, no, it wasn’t like that.”

Kent dropped his backpack to the ground and sat on it.

“When I got to my locker, I turned around, and he was standing there, looking kind of lost. He said he knew it wasn’t the same situation but when his dad left him and his mom he had nightmares for months.”

His brother was incredulous. “Pete said that? Pete Michaels? Tall guy, dark hair with a Dudley Do-Right chin? That Pete?”

Kent grinned. “Yes, Squidward, that Pete.” He ducked his head. “He also said it takes time, but it does get easier.”

Jack shoved his hands into his pockets. “Wow. Guess he’s not such a douche after all. I may have to do something nice like cheer him on at a game or tattoo his name on my bicep.”

“Oh, don’t go all adoring fan-boy on my account.”

Jack extended his arm, pulling Kent up. “What are big brothers for? C’mon, let get home.”

They walked together in silence until they neared the end of their quarter-mile trek from the rural school bus stop.

The Tanner farmhouse came into view as the brothers rounded the bend.

They stopped and stood under the walnut tree at the edge of the soybean field and exchanged anxious looks.

Jack thumped the side of his hip with a tight fist.

Kent bit the inside of his lip.

“I wish things could go back to the way they were.”

“I know, Jackie. Me too. I miss dad.”

“We all do, but especially her.”

“And we can’t make it better.”

Jack gripped his shoulder. “How can we make it better when we hurt too?”

Kent jerked out of his brother’s grip, heading for the farmhouse. “C’mon. We stand here every day wishing things were different, but our life still sucks.” He didn’t stop until he reached the kitchen door next to the driveway.

Throwing the screen door open, Kent stormed inside and stopped, startled by the sight surrounding him.

To be continued…

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