In all my eight years, I can’t remember a single time I looked up to my brother. Perhaps it’s because he always got me in trouble when he did something wrong.
But I was determined to have fun on our family’s first vacation of the summer. I thought nothing could dampen my enthusiasm as we descended into the Cathedral Room for a tour of Marvel Cave.
“Wow! Look how far down that is!” Keeping one hand on the guardrail, I caught my dad’s sleeve and tugged. “Are we going to see any bats?”
“We might, son. You just remember to follow the rules we discussed.”
“Yes, sir.” I paused to gaze at the ceiling two hundred feet above. “Wow! Can you imagine falling from there?”
My parents were a half flight of stairs below when Tommy grabbed the back of my shirt. “If you say “wow” one more time, I’m gonna put you in a headlock.”
I gulped and hurried to the group.
“In 1869, explorers entered the cave searching for minerals,” the tour guide was saying, “As it turned out, the only thing ever mined here was bat guano.”
“Bats?” I watched the round eyes of my six-year-old sister pop out. “Eek!”
I could see Tommy wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. With the feather he’d collected earlier he brushed the back of Janie’s neck, sending her flying to our mother. “Mommy, a bat got me!”
I puzzled at why my dad stared at me, until I saw my brother’s angelic face with a finger pointing my direction.
“Since you can’t keep your hands to yourself, Mathew,” Dad said, “You will hold your mother’s for awhile.”
Oh, the dreadful punishment! Not that I minded holding my mother’s hand…but to be forced to like a toddler was humiliating.
I trudged through the “Shoe Room,” oblivious to the giant footprint on the ceiling.
At my father’s nod, my mother released my hand with a squeeze and a soft reprimand, “Behave.”
Soon the narrow corridors, lit by strung bulbs, had me breathless. “Wow,” I said in a voice I knew Tommy wouldn’t hear, “This is so cool.”
Entering another room, I wandered to a railing and gazed at the slanted wall beyond. It disappeared into blackness. “Wonder what’s up there?” I said.
A tingle of excitement rushed through me at the fun imaginings of exploring the cave on my own. I would be like Huckleberry-
“Psst!” I jumped at Tommy’s presence beside me. “Why don’t we see where that goes?”
I gulped. There would be no mild punishment if we were caught. I glanced at the group mounting stairs to begin the ascent. No doubt our parents thought we were behind them.
“It’ll only take a couple of minutes.” Before I could reply, Tommy scooped me up and set me over the guardrail.
Tommy had straddled the pipe when a deep voice petrified me. “What do you think you’re doing?” My father was striding across the rocky floor to us. Tommy looked down at me.
My brother scrambled down while my father lifted and set me in front of him on shaking legs. “Mathew, I warned you...”
“It was my fault, Dad. I made him do it.”
My jaw dropped to my chest as I stared at my big brother. His eyes met our father’s.
My dad was caught off guard, but quickly recovered. “Tommy, you and I will address this tonight - privately.” We all knew the meaning behind the word “address”.
Climbing the stairs passed the rushing waterfall, my brother and I were kept between our parents. I spoke to Tommy in a masked voice.
“You really told Dad it was your fault?”
“Don’t make a big deal outta it.”
“But why didn’t you tell him it was my fault?”
“Look,” Tommy put his nose to mine as the group paused to take pictures. “Don’t you go repeatin’ this.” He frowned then sighed. “I was remembering about Paul and how his little brother was almost run over by a car ‘cause he was following Paul to our house on his bike. Everybody was really mad and Paul got in trouble. That’s when I got to thinkin’ maybe I should be lookin’ after my little brother. You know, like Dad says, start growing up and being a godly man.”
I could only shake my head. “Wow.”
For the first time in my life, I actually admired my brother. Even if he did put me in a headlock.
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