Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Embarrassment (01/12/12)
By Rachel Burkum
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"Hey, who's that?"
"Ha! Two peas in a pod!"
I watched in morbid disbelief as my kid brother ambled right up to the jeering boys. What was he thinking?
When he was born, I was too young to understand he was "different." But as I matured, I began to notice that Aaron wasn't quite "normal." Simple things, like walking, seemed to be insurmountable tasks. His eyes looked funny and his face wasn't shaped quite like my own. I tried to play games with him but sometimes it just...didn't work.
As Aaron grew, thankfully, he was assigned a different school than I. Somewhere "special." I didn't talk about him with my friends, especially once I entered high school. I wasn't about to admit that I was the sister of someone who was mental.
"You gonna be a chicken, too?!"
I silently tried snatching Aaron back from this creepy crowd, but it was too late - he was already shoving his way through the wall of taunts. What if he got hurt? Mother had sent us to the grocery store, and I was responsible. Aaron couldn't handle himself, let alone these boys.
But what I felt more strongly than fear was heat slithering into my face. There were other people watching now, like a girl from school. And Brad, the boy I'd dreamed of dating. They were all going to see Aaron. They would all know he wasn't normal like the rest of us.
I moved back one step, wishing for a hiding place. Better yet, I wished the sidewalk would open up so I could jump into a bottomless pit. Anything but this.
The cruel teasing kept up for the young boy that had fallen by the street curb, his armful of books now strewn about. His glasses were hanging crooked, and a rip in his jeans exposed a skinned knee. Worse were his tears. He didn't stand a chance against his persecutors, and he cowered under twigs and leaves that were hurled his way.
And then there was Aaron. Limping, drooling, cross-eyed Aaron, squeezing in through the bullies in order to reach the misfortunate soul.
My stomach writhed and twisted. I truly considered continuing to the store and finding Aaron on my way home.
He knelt, or rather crouched, next to the boy and patted his back gently. "Don't cry," he comforted. "It's okay. I fall down, too."
The boy swiped his eyes with his sleeve and straightened his glasses. "Thank you," he managed. He sniffed and picked himself up, checking his injured knee.
Aaron turned to look at the bullies, his eyes narrowing in deep study. "You fall down sometimes, too." His words ceased their mocking. "That doesn't...doesn't make you stupid." As unsteady as he was on his crooked legs, he stood tall, ready for a fight if need be.
The ringleader scoffed, but somehow preferred to drop the rock he'd just picked up. "Whatever. You're both lame." He whacked one buddy's arm. "Let's go. These cry babies aren't worth it."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Jamie? Is that your brother?"
I jumped and turned quickly to see Brad. Oh, why hadn't the sidewalk swallowed me up? "Y...yes?"
"Cool." Brad nodded his approval. "See you later."
And in that single instant as he turned and left, my morbid disbelief came thundering back. But it wasn't for my brother's actions this time. It was for mine.
"There you go." Aaron smiled at his new friend. "All better."
But it wasn't all better. I had done a terrible thing today. I had considered leaving my brother to the wolves. I wondered if this was what despicable felt like. I'd been so worried about how Aaron would make me look, when all this time I was missing the fact that he was a better example of love and compassion than I ever could be.
"Sissy, are we...are we going to the store?"
I looked down into those droopy, unfocused, beautiful eyes, and felt them to the very corners of my soul. "You bet we are, Aaron...you bet we are."
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