It had been over a month since Robbie had spent the night lost in the woods. He had yet to go back there with his brothers. Every time Jamie or Thomas mentioned going to the creek to play, Robbie had some excuse to not go along. At first Thomas let him off the hook, but as the days turned into week Thomas started pressuring him to come with them back to the woods and face his fears.
“Come on Robbie, lets go play in the creek,” Thomas said one afternoon. They were home alone while Susan was with Jamie at a dental appointment.
“Nah, that’s okay. I wanna stay here and play Lego’s”
“Mom said I was in charge, and I want to go play in the creek.”
“I can stay here by myself.”
“No, you can’t. Now come on.”
“No,” Robbie said.
“Robbie’s chicken… bak bak bak.”
“I’m not chicken, I just want to play Lego’s instead.”
“Robbie.” Thomas was getting angry.
“You can’t make me.”
“Oh yeah?” Thomas walked over and grabbed a hold of Robbie, hauling him to his feet. He then twisted Robbie’s arm behind his back and began walking him toward the door.
“Ouch! Thomas, you’re hurting me.”
“Shut up you big baby.”
“Thomas marched Robbie out of the house and into the back yard with Robbie’s crying out in pain the entire way.
“Shut up Robbie. You pussy.”
“You’re hurting me. Let go and I’ll go with you.”
“Yeah.” By now Thomas and Robbie were almost half way to the woods. Thomas let go of Robbie’s arm. Robbie bolted and starting running back to the house.
Thomas easily caught Robbie and this time ignored his pleads as Thomas threw him over his shoulder and hauled him down to the wooded area behind the house.
“Robbie, it’s for you own good. You need to get over being scared. Nothing happened to you that night. There’s nothing here but trees,” Thomas tried to explain.
“You don’t know. You weren’t there,” Robbie shouted. “Let me go.”
Thomas sat Robbie down a few yards into the woods and held him against the trunk of a small tree as Thomas pulled off his own belt and began strapping Robbie to the trunk. “Just calm down, would you? I only want to you to sit here and see that nothing’s here. Nothing will get you, you big pussy.”
Robbie continued to twist and turn, trying to fight his way out of his brother’s arms as he was being held down, but he was no match for Thomas’s older, more developed body. Finally Thomas had the belt secure around Robbie’s chest pinning his arms to his sides and his body to the tree.
“Now, just relax. I’m going to go back up to the house and get a drink of water, then I’ll be back.”
“Don’t leave me here, Thomas. Please,” Robbie pleaded.
Robbie gave up his fight, instead glaring at his brother with hate and fear in his eyes.
“Just sit here and relax. You have to face your fears, Robbie, or else they will take you over.”
Robbie pulled his head back and spit as hard as he could into Thomas’s face.
“You little shit,” Thomas yelled, jumping back and wiping the spit from his face. He pulled back his fist and waylaid a punch into Robbie’s gut. “Fucking little piss ant.” With that, he stood and walked back up to the house, leaving Robbie tied to the tree.
Robbie had no idea how long he had been sitting there. An hour, maybe. He heard his mother’s car pull up in the drive, then saw Thomas come bolting out of the back door, running toward him to set him free before their mother found out what Thomas has done.
“You say anything to Mom or Dad and I’ll see that you live to regret it,” Thomas hissed as he unfastened the belt that held Robbie, “Got it?” He stared Robbie in the eye, trying to make his point. Robbie only pushed past him and began walking back to the house.
“Hi, boys,” Susan said when Thomas and Robbie came in the back door.
“Where’s Jamie?” Thomas asked.
“In his room, I suppose.”
“ ’kay, come on, Robbie,” Thomas said.
Robbie followed his brother down the hallway but turned off, entering into his own bedroom instead of going on to Jamie’s room.
A few minutes later Jamie open Robbie’s bedroom door to find him sitting on the floor in the corner staring across the room at the blank wall.
“Robbie?” Jamie said softly, walking over and sitting down next to him. “Are you okay?”
“I hate him.”
“No, you don’t, you’re just mad.”
“I hate him and he hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you, Robbie.”
“Then why does he treat me like he does?”
“He is trying to help, Robbie. He just is want you to toughen up, not be a baby all the time.”
“I’m not a baby. And I hate him, Jamie. I do.”
Robbie opened his eyes and saw Koi lying next to him watching him sleep. “Morning,” Koi said.
“What time is it?”
“Eight?” Robbie exclaimed. “Shit, why did you get me sleep so late?” Robbie had planned to go back to the hospital the night before but Koi had convinced him to stay and sleep in a real bed for a few hours.
“It’s not that late, and you needed the rest.”
“I need to get back to the hospital,” Robbie crawled out of bed and headed to the bathroom. Koi heard the shower come on and decided to join is lover.
“Thomas?” Jamie walked into Fred’s room hoping to speak to his brother before their mother awoke and joined them.
“Listen, I know you and Robbie have your problems...” Jamie paused to gauge his brother’s reaction.
Jamie sighed. “Koi is really a nice guy; a good person.”
“I’m sure he is, but that doesn’t mean he should be here.”
“Thomas, leave it alone. Leave him alone. Mom’s okay with it, don’t stir up trouble. Please.”
“Robbie is the one stirring up trouble, dear brother, not I.”
“Thomas, for once in your life, just leave Robbie alone. Do it for Mom’s sake. She doesn’t need you two fighting.
Thomas glared at Jamie. “You always were pleading his case.”
“And you always were riding his case. Give him a break.”
“Mind your own business, Jamie.”
Jamie rolled his eyes, exasperated at Thomas’s attitude and turned, leaving the room.
“Wow, what a view,” Koi said, standing in the kitchen looking out the window that overlooked the back yard and the wooded area on behind. “Is all that land your parents’?”
“I’m not sure where their property ends,” Robbie answered. He was seated at the table sipping a cup of coffee. Sara had insisted he stayed long enough for her to fix him some eggs. He had finished them and was now finishing his coffee before he left to rejoin his brothers.
“Jamie told me once that their property line goes right up to the trees,” Sara said.
“I can’t even imagine having all this land to play in as a kid.” Koi was in awe.
“Did you grow up in New York?” Lisa asked.
“Yeah, in an apartment building. There was a parking lot a block away. That is where all the neighborhood kids played.” Koi turned to Robbie. “I never knew I was dating such a rich boy.”
Robbie rolled his eyes. “Lotta good it’s done you.”
“Ah, but it may pay off in the end.” He was clearly teasing.
“We weren’t rich, Koi. Far from it.”
“Not all that far. So tell me, did you spend all your free time playing out there in the woods?”
“There’s a creek that runs just at the edge. You can’t really see it from here, but it’s really pretty. Robbie, you should take him down there and show him,” Lisa suggested.
“It wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be,” Robbie said.
“How’s that?” Koi asked.
“Not that many happy memories. Listen, I need to go,” Robbie said, standing up.
“Can I come with you?” Koi asked.
“You sure you wouldn’t rather stay here?”
“I can catch a ride back here later if I decide to.”
Robbie nodded. “Come on then.”
A few hours later Thomas had decided to go to the house for a shower and change of clothes. There still was no change in their father’s condition and the doctors were losing hope. The conversations had been more aimed at preparing the family for Fred’s death.
Their mother seemed resigned to Fred’s fate; Robbie was the one that wasn’t dealing. He had gone from not wanting to see his father to spending all his time at Fred’s bedside. Thomas supposed Robbie was hoping for a chance at reconciliation, he hoped Robbie got the chance, even if the odds were against him.
Reconciliation was not something he saw in his future, at least not with his wife. He had spent most of the previous night thinking it over and he was prepared to ask her for a divorce.
Thomas walked in the door and was bombarded by his two children. “Daddy!” they both cried out. He stooped down to hug them both. “When can we see Grandma and Poppy?” Ella asked.
“Well, I’m not sure, sweetie. Poppy is very sick and Grandma needs to stay with him.” Thomas stood. “Now, I need to go take a shower so I want you two to go watch some TV or play, okay? And no fighting with each other.”
“I plan to take them to the zoo this afternoon,” Lisa said, walking in the room. “They are getting bored.”
“That’s a good idea.” Thomas headed to the bedroom and Lisa followed.
“Not good. I think it’s just a matter of time, which is the only reason I’m not insisting you go home.”
Lisa bit her lip and looked down at the floor. “Thomas…”
“No, Lisa. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want your excuses, or explanations. It doesn’t matter. We’ll do this for Mom, then when we get home I’ll check into a hotel room. I’ve thought it over and I’m letting you have the house, but only because of the kids. I don’t want this to disrupt their life more than necessary.”
“Thomas, what are you saying?” there was fear in her voice.
“I’m filing for divorce, Lisa. You and I are through.”
“Thomas, please, let me…”
“No,” he stopped her. “I don’t want to talk. I don’t have the time or the patience. I’m taking a shower then I’m going back to the hospital. Why don’t you gather up the kids and take them to the zoo?”
“Promise me that we can talk later.”
“I’m not promising you anything.”
Koi was sitting in the waiting room reading his book when Jamie walked in and sat beside him. “Hey,” Koi said. “How are you doing?”
“Hanging in there. Robbie sent me to check on you.”
“Yeah? I’m fine, really.”
“You want to go back to the house?”
“I’m fine. How’s Robbie?”
Jamie sighed. “I think he is….” He paused. “It doesn’t look like Dad is going to make it. Robbie is hoping against hope that he will wake up before he dies. I’m not sure how he’ll handle it if he doesn’t get a chance to talk with Dad.”
Koi nodded. “I’m sorry about your father.”
“Thanks,” Jamie frowned. “I guess you always think you’ll have more time, but Dad just seemed so young; so vital. It’s too bad you didn’t get a chance to meet him.”
“I’m sure he was a fine man. He raised you and Robbie, didn’t he? Had to be a good man to have brought you two up as you are.”
“Jamie, can I ask you a question?”
“What was Robbie like growing up? He never wants to discuss his childhood. Whenever I bring it up he changes the subject. Today, I commented on all the land and the house, on growing up with money. He would only say that he didn’t have that many happy memories. Was it really that bad?”
“I didn’t think so. He really said that? I had no idea. I mean, he and Thomas were always fighting over something, but shit...we were brothers, brothers fight. Wow, I didn’t know it was that bad.”
“Did something happen though? I mean, it seems like more than just brothers arguing. Hell, I fought with my brothers, but the war between he and Thomas is more intense.”
“Well, Robbie got lost in the woods once. We didn’t find him until the next morning. He never would talk about it, but he was only eight, so I imagine it was pretty scary for him that night. I think he has always blamed Thomas for that.”
“Thomas dared him to go. Believe it or not there was a time when Robbie idolized Thomas, and would do anything to try to gain his approval. Thomas called him a baby, dared him; so Robbie went, even though he was scared. Then he twisted his ankle and fell. He hit his head hard enough to knock himself out. When he came to it was dark and he was lost. Dad found him the next morning. Robbie wouldn’t have gone if Thomas hadn’t dared him. You mean, Robbie has never told you the story?”
“No. He doesn’t talk about much of anything that happened before he moved to New York. Does he talk with you about growing up?”
“Hmmm…. Come to think of it, he doesn’t. I guess nothing has ever come up when we were together, but now that I think about it, that’s kinda weird isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is. My brothers and I talk about things that happened when we were younger all the time. You know, reminisce.”
“Well, maybe it shouldn’t surprise me since they haven’t spoke in years, but I guess I didn’t know it went that far back. Apparently the riff between he and Thomas is much deeper than any of us realized.”
“What riff I have with who?” Thomas asked as he walked in.
“The riff you have with Robbie,” Jamie answered.
“Oh. That one.”
That evening Koi had gone back to the house with Sara at Robbie’s insistence. Only the three brothers remained with their mother. The nurses had run them out of Fred’s room while they tended to him. Thomas had taken their mother to get some coffee, while Robbie and Jamie walked out to the courtyard to get some fresh air.
“How are you holding up, Robbie?” Jamie asked as they took a seat on the bench near the sycamore tree.
“I’m okay I guess. How about you?”
“Robbie, Dad’s probably not going to wake up, you know that.”
“He still could. You don’t know that.”
Jamie was silent, studying his brother.
“What?” Robbie finally asked.
“Nothing. Wait… Robbie, we had some good time growing up, right? It wasn’t all bad.”
“What? Where did that come from?”
“No where, just something Koi asked me. But we never talk about growing up. We never reminisce.”
“About the good ol’ days? What’s to discuss?” Sarcasms dripped from his voice.
“A trip down memory lame without me?” Thomas walked up and sat down in between them.
“Shit, Thomas, you scared the shit out of me, I didn’t hear you come out here. What are you doing sneaking up on people like that?” Jamie asked.
“I wasn’t sneaking up on anyone. So what days of our misspent youth are we discussing?”
“We weren’t,” Robbie said. He started to stand up but Thomas’s hand on his shoulder pulled him back down.
“Oh come now, don’t you want to talk about how badly you were treated when you were young? How I abused you and caused all your problems as an adult? Hell, I bet I was the one the caused you to be gay.”
“Thomas, shut the fuck up. You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jamie said.
“What? You two think you have the copyright on getting the bum deal? You think I had it easier? Nothing was ever good enough for him. And any time something went wrong it was somehow my fault. If one of you wrecked your bike, or fell off your skateboard, then it was because I wasn’t watching you close enough. If our team lost the game, then I didn’t try hard enough.
“So you see, I had to be hard on you two. I did for your own good,” Thomas said.
“Surely, you don’t expect me to believe that bullshit. You bullied me all my life and it was all Dad’s fault? Because he was too hard on you? Yeah, I don’t think so,” Robbie retorted.
“You don’t get it, Robbie. Nothing I did was good enough, hell, nothing you two did was good enough, only he never said anything to you. Instead he would tell me ‘Go throw the ball with your brother, see if you can help him out before his next game.’ Or ‘Maybe you should wrestle some with your younger brothers; toughen them up some. I’m afraid your mother is turning them into mama’s boys.’ It was up to me.”
“Thomas, you are so full of shit. You were his golden child. You could do nothing wrong. All I heard was ‘why can’t you be like your older brother?’. If I had a nickel for every time he told me that,” Robbie said.
“I was the golden child? Shit, Robbie you were the one that never got into trouble. No matter what you did, they forgave you.”
Jamie had had enough. “Listen to you two. You’re fighting like a couple of rich little boys. ‘Daddy loved you better’,” he mocked. “What the hell? Like any of us had it bad. I can’t believe this. He is upstairs dying and you two are sitting here bitching that he wasn’t the perfect father. Get the fuck over it. Both of you.” Jamie stormed off leaving both Robbie and Thomas staring with their jaws hung open.
At the house Koi and Sara sat on the bed in Jamie’s room looking at a calendar. “I’m thinking June. Is that too soon?” she asked.
“Well, that depends, do you want a wedding, or is going to the court house good enough?” Koi countered.
“Oh, a wedding for sure. Maybe I could hold off until August. No, wait. I want to get married in the fall. I love autumn.”
“Oh, an October wedding; that sounds beautiful.”
“Okay, lets go with the first Saturday, that would be the seventh,” Sara said. “There, I’ve picked a date. That wasn’t so hard.”
“And plenty of time to plan,” Koi added.
Jamie took the elevator back up the sixth floor, as he came around the corner he noticed a lot of activity going on down the hall. As he got closer he realized what ever the commotion was, it was happening in his father’s room. “No, no, no, no, no.” He saw his mother standing in the hallway, wringing her hands. “Mom, what is it?” he asked, slipping an arm around her, she looked as if she might collapse.
“I don’t know. The alarms started going off and the nurses came in, the asked me to wait out here. Oh Jamie, I’m not ready to let him go yet.”
“I know, Mom, I’m not either.”