by Dawn DeBraal
By the end of every summer, the bottoms of my feet were like leather. I hated the thought of having to put shoes on to go back to school. I swear my feet had grown a size or two since my current shoes felt like prisons on my feet.
I looked over my legs, seeing the red-brown scrapes from falling off my bike, a few mosquito bites, and white scratches from my fingernails on dry skin. I was the picture of summer, and sad to see it go. I thought about last year, about school and the bus ride. Live Oak Elementary school was three miles from our house. My brother Pauly and I walked the dusty driveway to the main road every day to wait for the bus. We always rode in the morning but never at night, for we were the last kids on the bus. To ride at night meant we’d be on the bus for over an hour to get home.
We learned some of the foulest things in that hour. The evil older kids in the back taunted and teased us, saying things we didn’t understand. I faced forward, turning red with anger. Pauly pretended he knew what they were saying, relieved when those naughty boys got off the bus before us. Most days, we preferred to walk home from school. I wanted to cry on the days it rained or was too cold to walk. Not so much for me, but for my brother Pauly, who took the taunting in stride. I admired how he kept his cool.
On a cold day last January, we made the fateful decision to ride the bus. Pauly sat in the seat behind me, and the boys in the back started in on my brother. I spun around and called them the bad name. I didn’t know what it meant, but the boys got riled up.
When Pauly and I got off the bus, he hollered at me. “Why did you call them that, Jen?”
“They were saying it to you!” I defended myself.
“You’ve made it worse.”
I felt terrible for my brother. Until he showed his anger toward me, I was proud of myself for coming to his defense.
They showed up on their bicycles.
“Run, Jen!” Pauly told me, and I did. The boys circled my brother, poking at him with sticks they had picked up along the way. He used his books on a strap to fend them off. I ran for my mother. Pauly was on the ground at the end of the driveway, and the boys were hightailing it out of there by the time we reached him.
“Pauly, are you alright?” Mom knelt. Pauly was in pain rolling in the dirt. Mom pulled his hand away from his eye. It looked terrible. Those boys likely poked his eye out.
Dad led Pauly to the comfortable chair in the living room and sat him down. Pauly was a little woozy having his eye taped over with a large bandage, and the trauma of having a doctor probe it while shining a bright light into it. We’d just come home from the emergency room. The doctor hoped when the swelling went down, Pauly would regain his full sight.
Dad already talked to the sheriff’s department, and we were able to give them the names of the boys who attacked Pauly. My brother didn’t want our father to call; he thought it would make things worse.
“They have crossed a line,” Dad told him.
Pauly was out of school for over a week while we waited for his eye to heal. I got his assignments from his teacher and rode the bus home every night. The mean boys had been kicked off. Everyone seemed happy about that.
I was sick to my stomach thinking about my brother. Pauly went to a specialist about his eye, and I hoped they had good news for him. I walked down the dirt drive from the highway, praying that my brother’s eye would be normal again, asking for forgiveness for saying the bad word that provoked those naughty boys. Somehow I knew if I’d kept my mouth shut that day, Pauly would still have an eye. I was the one that crossed the line, and I felt guilty. I wished it had been me who got the stick in the eye. Pauly pushed me out of the way and took the punishment for me… for my big mouth.
I could see my brother outside, and I broke into a run. He was waiting for me without an eye patch. Did that mean they healed him? I heard the sound of elation leave me as I hit the porch seeing he was looking at me with both eyes.
“Are you good?” Pauly nodded yes, and I did something I don’t usually do. I hugged my brother. “I am so sorry. It’s all my fault.”
Pauly looked at me. “What are you talking about?”
“They came after you because I called them the bad word.”
“Jen, they shouldn’t have come after me even if you called them the bad word.”
Just then, Jimmy Spader came into our yard riding his bike. My brother put me behind him. “Jimmy, why are you here?”
Jimmy put his bike on the ground and walked onto the porch. “I’m here to say I’m sorry for my part in your eye.” Jimmy handed my brother a rabbit’s foot on a chain. Pauly turned it over in his hand.
“You didn’t have the stick. The other two did.”
“Yes, but I came with and didn’t stop them. I was scared, and I feel ashamed to let them bully me into the stuff I did. Will you accept my apology?” I watched my brother as he stood silent. I know he was reliving the whole event.
“Seventy times seven,” I said, referring to the Bible verse from Matthew where Jesus tells the man to forgive someone who’s done him wrong that many times. And then I saw my brother extend his hand like a grown-up would, and shake hands with Jimmy. My heart swelled.
As I sit in the sun, pining about losing summer, there is a tiny part of me excited about going back to school and seeing my friends again. I’d found a pair of penny loafers in the Montgomery Ward catalog. There is a place where you can slip a penny in a leather band across the top of the shoe. I would look so grown-up if I could get them. I am tired of wearing stupid saddle shoes. Penny loafers would be another sign of my growing up. Every year the slow change. Like last year, I learned not to get people angry at you, and to turn the other cheek.
I spent the summer watching my brother and Jimmy, once sworn enemies, splashing in the creek trying to catch frogs. I was grateful that my brother didn’t lose his eye and that he’d made a new friend.
Though sad to see another summer go, I sense a new beginning just around the corner, and I am ready to face it, hopefully wearing my new penny loafers.
About the Writer
Dawn DeBraal lives in Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. She loves to tell a good story and has over four hundred short stories, poems, and drabbles in online ezines and anthologies. She also writes as Garrison McKnight, publishing a novel under that name.
Photo is in the Public Domain. Modified by Veronica McDonald.