Exception

by Rohan Parekh

I’m walking home late at night, alone. I fell asleep under the stars with a buddy, and we live in opposite directions. He sprinted home hoping that he could sneak in without his dad noticing. He might succeed. But I’m screwed. My older brother doesn’t go to bed until I’m home and it’s well past my curfew.

My friend Tommy and I were hanging out in a park on a hill, looking up at the stars. From the top you get a nice view of the city. The park is a scenic little spot, surrounded by nature. My brother hasn’t been to the park in years, he’s already an adult even though he’s only 17. He has no time to enjoy the finer things in life, not that people from our world have much to enjoy. We’re dirt poor.

Luckily my brother and I have always had a roof over our heads. When Tommy was 3 years old, he and his sister and his mum were homeless. His dad was in prison at the time. So Tommy and his family were stuck outside one winter, and there was a dreadful blizzard that day.

Eventually they made their way to a residential neighborhood and came across a house with the garage still open. They went inside the garage and shut the garage door. There was a car in there, with the keys hanging from the handle of the car door. They got into the car.

They thought they hit the jackpot. Even if it took the homeowner five minutes to figure out what was going on, they would at least get an extra five minutes to stay warm. After getting into the car, Tommy’s mom switched on the heater. They all fell asleep in the back seat. Tommy’s mom and his sister both died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Tommy survived. Ever since Tommy’s dad got out of prison, he’s been extra protective of Tommy.

I’m almost home. I see that the living room lights are still on. All the houses on our street are identical – all of them squished next to each other, with no space to breathe. Tiny houses and tiny backyards for people that can’t afford to dream too big. Block like houses with low-sloping roofs. I get into my block and step into the living room. My brother Andy’s watching TV. Mom is lying on the sofa.

‘Mom’s not feeling well.’ Andy says.

‘Since when?’

‘Half an hour.’

Mom gets sick a lot. Headaches, fevers, panic attacks, all of this started when dad left us a couple years ago.

‘Watch her while I get the meds.’ He leaves the house.

Andy could’ve gotten the meds while I was out but then mom would’ve been home alone, and she does not like being home alone when she’s sick. It makes her panic, which ultimately leads to more nervous breakdowns.

Andy could’ve asked me to get the meds since I was already outside, but he doesn’t want me to spend even one extra second out of the house after the 11 pm curfew. That’s why he waited for me to come home before stepping out. Our area isn’t safe, especially after what happened to Tommy.

Tommy losing his mother and sister is definitely the worst thing that happened to him, but something pretty bad happened to him last year. He was walking home late at night when some rich kids from school ambushed him. They surrounded him. They beat him up. Then they dragged him into a car and raped him. I don’t know any more than that, Tommy doesn’t like to talk about it. But he hasn’t gotten into a car since then.

Buses and trains are fine, but cars are out of the question. Once Tommy was getting late for an exam and a friend offered to drive him to school. But Tommy said no way. He ended up taking the bus even though he knew he’d be late. He missed the first half hour of the exam and barely passed that course.

My brother Andy comes back home and gives mom the meds.

‘Fell asleep in the park again?’ Andy asks.

‘Yeah. Sorry.’

‘Maybe I should come with you one of these days.’ Andy sighs.

‘Really?’ I ask.

‘It’s been so long since I had a life. I can’t remember the last time I went to the park.’

‘I remember.’ I reply. ‘You taught me how to ride a swing.’

‘Oh yeah. You know I also can’t remember the last time we went to the movies. Even before the pandemic happened, I hadn’t been to a theatre in years.’

Wow. I’m shocked. I expected Andy to scold me for being so careless. Before dad left and before mom kept getting sick, he was so energetic and full of life. Now he’s an overburdened adult.

‘Well, you haven’t missed much.’ I reply. ‘No good movies have come out in a while.’

Before Andy can reply mom calls him over and tells him that one of the meds he got is the wrong one.

‘Oh crap, the names are so similar.’ Andy says. ‘I mixed them up.’

‘Let me go get the right one.’

‘No way.’ Andy says. ‘Curfew, remember?’

‘Forget the curfew. You’re exhausted. You do too much. You’re going to burn out before you turn 18 and legally become an adult.’

‘Well…’

‘I’m going.’ I get up and quickly leave before he stops me.

What I love about summer is that you don’t need to put on a million layers to stay warm. I’m wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and sandals. That’s it. I like keeping it simple. The weather tonight is quite cool, very pleasant, the wind is utterly refreshing.

I reach the pharmacy, exchange the wrong meds for the right ones, and start to make my way back home. I’m passing by a mall parking lot when a couple cars pull up next to me. Oh no. These are the rich kids from school – the ones that ambushed Tommy last year.

I quickly get out my phone and text Tommy and Andy. I tell them where I am. I should call 911 too. But before I can do that the rich kids jump out of their car and quickly grab me and pin me to the ground.

‘Well, well. Look what we have here.’ Chad says. Chad’s the leader of the group. They all look up to him.

‘What should we do with him?’ One of Chad’s friends smiles.

So this is what it’s like to be completely helpless. This is what Tommy felt last year. Maybe I should just shit my pants, I feel the urge. Maybe the smell will drive them away. Or maybe it’ll piss them off even more and make them do worse things to me.

That’s what happened to another kid they once bullied. They ganged up on another poor kid from my neighborhood. That kid immediately pulled down his pants, squatted and took a dump. Chad’s friends were so shocked that they didn’t react for a few seconds.

Then the kid picked up his own shit and started throwing it at them. Chad’s friends scattered, they couldn’t stand it. But Chad didn’t even flinch. Chad had another person’s shit all over him, but it didn’t matter. Chad simply picked up that other kid’s shit, shoved it down the kid’s throat, and then proceeded to beat him to a pulp.

‘He’s a pretty little boy, isn’t he?’ Another of Chad’s friends asks.

‘You can have him after I’m done with him.’ Chad says.

And that’s when I wish my dad hadn’t left us. My dad was a tough guy. He knew how to box. He always said he’d teach me how to fight one day but that day never came.

I shut my eyes and pray for a miracle. Maybe my dad will show up and save me.

Before Chad and his friends can actually do anything, I hear a car approaching. The engine is really loud. It’s coming faster and faster. Chad and his friends see the car heading right towards them, so they spread out in different directions and get out of the way.

But the car follows Chad and runs him over. The car’s steel rips into Chad’s body, breaking his bones and crushing his organs.

Chad’s friends freak out and run away. It’s an old worn-out car, one of the side mirrors is missing, the windshield is cracked, and there’s a ton of rust on it. And then Tommy gets out of the car. He gets out of the driver’s side of the car. Tommy not only got inside a car, he actually drove, and ran over the worst human being I’ve ever known.

‘Are you okay?’ Tommy comes over to me.

‘Y-yeah I’m fine.’ I reply. My head is hurting.

Just then another car shows up. It’s Andy’s car. He gets out and comes over to us.

‘Are you two okay?’ Andy asks.

‘Yeah, for now.’ Tommy says.

Before I can breathe a sigh of relief, a bullet splits Andy’s skull. My brother falls to the ground, his brains spilling out. His once handsome face is now nothing but chunks of flesh and bone. I can’t stand anymore. I sit down on the ground slowly.

Tommy and I see Chad holding a gun. Chad is lying on the ground, his hand is shaking. His fingers are mangled. His legs are still under the car than rammed into him. I’m guessing that if he wasn’t so badly injured, he would’ve shot all three of us by now. It shouldn’t take so long to shoot thrice and kill all three of us. But he’s taking time to fire again.

Before Chad can pull the trigger again, Tommy darts over there and kicks the gun out of his hand. Tommy takes out a switchblade from his pocket and quickly slits Chad’s throat.

‘We have to get out of here.’ Tommy says.

And we do. Tommy helps me get into Andy’s car, and we drive away.

Tommy and I rarely spoke about that night ever again. After Chad and Andy died, the rich kids from school took a break from bullying the poor kids. But it wasn’t long before a new Chad emerged, and things went back to normal.

The cops never figured out who killed Chad, and they didn’t try very hard, because even they knew what a monster he was. And since Andy was poor, they didn’t put too much effort into investigating his death.

Today when I think about my brother, I try to only think about the good times. I try not to think about the fights we used to have. All I know for sure is that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him, and I’m damn lucky that he was my older brother.

Tommy and I eventually moved out of that area. Things got better for us. But Tommy never did overcome his fear of cars. He never got into one again.

He only made an exception for me.

And I’ll always love him for it.

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