“I don’t wanna grow up,” I stated.
“You need to, son.” Papa’s gentle answer failed to move me.
“I don’t wanna,” I repeated, punctuating my words with closed hands and heart.
Papa ignored both words and stance. “It’s time to make our deliveries. Our first stop is Mrs. Smith,” he informed me as we climbed into his battered pickup.
Mrs. Smith? Doug’s mom? My heart plummeted to my toes as I scrunched down in the cracked leather seat. Fear circled my heart, ready to strike. Doug was the school bully. Nobody got in his way. Nobody.
“Come son,” Papa coaxed as we pulled up to the Smith home. “Help me unload.” Like the condemned on a scaffold, I mutely followed.
“Good morning,” Papa greeted Mrs. Smith when she opened the screen to let us pass. I scouted the room before darting passed her.
“How are you today?” Papa continued. His concerned tone startled me. I turned to study the enemy’s mom. Sorrow creased its weighted lines across her worn face.
“Not good,” she whispered, shrugging in helpless pain. “Doug misses his father so much. He won’t talk about it. Just retreats farther and farther from me. I don’t know what to do,” she finished with a choked sob.
“Doug’s daddy died in a tractor accident three years ago,” Papa explained after we returned to the truck. “Doug blames himself.” He turned his wonderful, discerning eyes on me.
“Fear cripples, son.”
I stared at my hands, digesting my new-found knowledge. The Doug we all feared and avoided hid his pain behind threats and fists.
“Let’s swing by your brother’s place,” Papa continued. “I need to pick up something.”
“David’s not home,” Papa announced when we arrived. He opened the door. “Have a seat. I’ll only be a minute.”
Papa descended the basement steps. Soon I heard him moving boxes and humming to himself.
I sat feeling like an intruder in a stranger’s home. My eyes wandered around to room, stopping at the mantle. There, proudly displayed on a short pedestal, sat the winning baseball of his last all-star game.
“If you win, can I have the ball?” I had asked before the game.
“Sure, Squirt,” David laughed, ruffling my hair. “My #1 fan deserves it.”
He threw the winning pitch and I raced to the field to claim my prize. I couldn’t get to David for the flood of players, coaches and icky girls surrounding him. Eventually the people drifted away just in time for me to see one last girl smiling up at him.
“Ohhhhhh, David that was super. Can I have the ball to remember you by?”
“Of course,” he responded, handing the ball to her in exchange for a kiss on his cheek.
(Later, he married that girl, so he got both the girl and the ball).
I turned away to hide my deep disappointment, but David ran after me.
“Hey, Squirt,” he said as he reached me. “I’m so sorry. I forgot about my promise when Kelly asked for the ball.” He squeezed my shoulder. “Guess you’re too young to realize what a girl’s smile can do to a young buck. Forgive me?”
“Of course; it’s no big deal,” I brushed it off. Later, I lay on my bed, replaying the moment over and over. I’ll never ask for another thing in my whole life, I promised myself. I’ll never get hurt again.
Now, staring at that coveted prize from long ago, understanding spread from my toes up to my fingers, it circled my heart and aimed for my brain. In my haste to protect myself from life’s hurts, I had shut out my brother.
Tears rolled down my cheeks, forming twin pools just before my knees squashed them on the floor. I heard my father’s steps behind me.
“Papa, o Papa, I’m so sorry.”
“Yes son,” Papa replied, laying his work-hardened hands on my shoulders. “You let that one disappointment color your thinking against all future happiness. You allowed it to fester into distrust. You robbed both your brother and you of so much joy with your determination to protect your heart from hurt.”
At that moment, David flew through the front door. I hurled myself at him, pressing heart against heart. “Will you forgive me?” I sobbed, repentant tears wetting his shirt.
“Of course,” he responded with his joy-filled tears. “I’ve missed you, bro.”
Papa grinned. “Today you’ve become a man, son. I’m proud of you.”
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