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The Hero (short story)
I scowled at Joe as he jumped onto my lap, smiling that little boy grin Mom called adorable.
“I don’t care.”
“Those aren’t the right words,” he pouted, sticking his bottom lip out.
I sighed. I was never going to get rid of him if I didn’t play along. Either that or he would go crying to mom that I wouldn’t let him tell me his joke, and then I’d have to hear it anyway. The little devil always won.
“Fine. Who’s there?” I asked, putting down the pencil. It’s hard to pick back up once put down; especially when it’s homework you hate.
“Ammonia, sis! Get it? I’m on ya!”
“Great. Now get offa me,” I said, annoyed, and he jumped off and ran away laughing.
I rolled my eyes and went back to the headache they call Calculus that was about to fry a hole through my shriveled brain. Why does it have to be so complicated? What’s so wrong with 2+2=4?
“Carrie! Supper!” Mom called from the kitchen.
I grunted to myself as I kept working. I should get my own place so there’s less distractions. If they want me to pass this class, I have to actually study. Study involved time. Finding quiet time around this house was like looking for shade in a desert.
“Carrie!” she called again, clanking a couple dishes around.
“I’m busy!” I burst back, a little more harsh than I intended.
“Honey, you skipped breakfast and lunch. You need to eat something.”
But I slammed the door shut without another word. My patience is as thin as a guitar pick. I about broke my pencil when Mom opened the door with a plate of pizza.
“You’re going to have to eat sometime. I’m not about to let an anorexic live in my house.” After setting the plate beside me on my desk, she turned and walked out. I sighed, now smelling the fresh aroma of grease and cheese with Canadian bacon toppings. Who was I kidding, I was going to fail Calculus anyway. I pushed it off to the side yet again to chow down the very distracting slices of pizza, my stomach groaning anxiously.
My cell phone started ringing and I yanked it out, wanting to throw it at the wall. What was with everyone tonight? On the days I was free for distractions, none came, but on the days where I’m packed like gum, everything needed my attention. I should change my voicemail to "There might be a reason I'm not answering this phone, so if you want, leave a message, but don't call again."
“What,” I say into the phone.
“Hello to you too. Should I call back later?”
“Well, you’re calling now. What do you want?”
“I'm good, thanks for asking, miss rainbow happy pants.”
“Is that really all you got?”
“Well, if you wouldn’t have stalled till the day before your Calculus exam, you would have remembered that it’s my birthday and we are going to a movie.”
I cursed to myself as I couldn't believe I forgot my best friend’s birthday.
“Well, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t forget.”
“Good, cause it’d be a waste of time. You've had a lot on your mind, I understand that. I'll only hold it against you for the rest of your life. If you get time to come, we’re leaving my house in an hour.”
“An hour? Then I can’t. Mom has the late shift at the hospital tonight and dad won’t be home for another three hours. I have to babysit Joe.”
“You can bring him here. My mom can watch him. He can play Legos with Chelsea.”
“Then I’ll be there in an hour.”
“You sure? You need to pass that exam or you’re parents are gonna take your phone away again.”
“I might not mind that much this time. See ya in a bit.”
I pushed away the pizza, clutched my pencil, and clicked away on my calculator. If I could get most of this done now, then I could finish the last little bit when I got home. I couldn’t miss Valerie’s 18th birthday.
“Mom!” I called. A couple minutes later, my door opened.
“Yes, oh cranky one?”
"I’m almost done with Calc. can I go see a movie with Val in an hour? It’s for her birthday.”
“You have to—”
“I’ll bring Joe with me. Val said her mom could watch him for me till we got back.”
She thought for a moment. "I guess that’d be alright. Don’t slack on your homework though, or you won’t understand it when you take your test.”
“I won’t," I said, jumping out of my chair to give her a hug and a peck on the cheek. "Thank you."
A half hour later I managed to get halfway done. I would stay up till midnight to finish if I had to. I ran upstairs to my room and changed into an off-the-shoulder tan shirt, navy blue spaghetti strap underneath, jeans, and short heels. After throwing my hair into a messy bun, I brushed my teeth to dispose of pizza stains, colored on some eye liner and shadow, and took the steps two at a time down the stairs.
“Joe!” I called from the kitchen, where mom was putting some snacks into a lunch box.
He came prancing into the kitchen, and I told him to get his shoes and jacket on so we could go.
“Your car needs gas. Whether you stop before or after the movie, you should get it done before tomorrow or we’ll both forget.”.
“Okay,” I said, swinging a jacket onto my arms.
“Bye Mommy!” Joe sang excitedly as he ran into her arms. I reached over Joe and gave her a hug as I said bye
“Bye Hun,” she hugged back. “Drive safe.”
We hopped into my red Chevy Cavalier and sped down the road towards town. There’s no way I’d remember to get gas after the movie, so I stopped at The Shell on my way to Val’s house.
After my car sucked up $30 of gas, I poked my head in through the open window to grab my purse..
“I’ll be right back,” I said, pulling out, but at the same second he opened his door and hopped out.
“I’m coming with you.”
I rolled my eyes, but let him run along behind me as I sped walked into the station.
I waited impatiently for the lady ahead of me to finish buying enough food to feed a couple teenage boys. This wasn't a damn grocery store.
But sometimes even in a gas station you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, for a man in all black with a ski mask came in and held up a gun toward the lady behind the register. My blood froze.
“Open it up and take out the money, right now!” he urged. Why this guy chose a gas station, is a mystery to me.
The woman behind the counter started speaking Spanish, pretending she couldn’t understand what the man was saying, but it only pissed him off. He cranked his head towards me, grabbed me by the arm, and pointed the gun at my head, saying, “Open it now, or I shoot her!”
The woman didn’t even have time to open the register before Joe came running over and pulled on the arm that the man was holding onto, saying, “Let go of my sister!”
The man looked down at him and pushed him away. “Back off, kid.”
But of course, Joe didn’t. After falling down, he didn’t cry. Instead he ran to the man’s back, and started pulling at his shirt, catching the man off guard as he took a step back to regain his posture. The man spun around in annoyance, let go of my arm for a second, kicked the kid away, raised his gun, and shot Joe in the stomach.
My Joe. There are no words.
At the same second, I grabbed a large Mountain Dew bottle on the rack and smashed it over the man’s head, watching him topple over as he dropped the gun. It slid over by a truck driver getting coffee, who kicked it down one of the aisles and it disappeared from sight.
“Call an ambulance!” I screamed to the woman behind the counter as I slid frantically to my knees beside my bleeding little brother. “Joe! Buddy, can you hear me?” But before I could even note that he was still alive, my head felt light as I stared at the blood. “Joe,” I whispered before I fell beside him.
I woke up on the hospital bed next to him, blinking as I rubbed my head. I forgot I fainted at the sight of blood. Not one of the perks that I’m proud of.
Mom came over next to me and held my hand. “You okay?”
I sat up, almost forgetting why I had fainted in the first place. I stared at Joe sleeping under white sheets, a huge bandage wrapped around his stomach, needles poking into his skin like giant slivers. I put my hand to my mouth as tears ran down my cheek. I regretted every time I yelled at him for coming into my room, every time I pushed him out of my way like a deflated ball, every time I sent him away crying after changing the channel he was watching. I should have been on that hospital bed, not him. I was the one the masked man had grabbed.
I stood and hugged Mom who had a couple tears in her eyes too.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered.
“Shhh, he’s going to be fine.”
“He almost died.”
I squeezed, needing the embrace. “Do you mind if I have a few minutes alone with him?”
“Sure. I’ll go get some coffee.”
I walked over to Mom’s chair and sat down. I took his little hand in both of mine, and he opened his eyes. “Hey there, big guy. How are you feeling?”
“I’m sure it does.”
“She went to get coffee; she’ll be back.”
“Joe, why did you attack that man? He almost killed you.”
He waited for a couple seconds, as if my question confused him. “Because you’re my sister. I didn’t want anything to happen to you.”
My bottom lip trembled as I gave a small smile. He might not have known that the man probably wouldn't have actually killed me, he just wanted the money, but because he took a stand, the two of us together were able to stop the man from getting away, and that took more bravery than any of the rest of us would have dared to try. “Knock Knock,” I said.
He smiled. “Who’s there?”
“Olive you,” I said.
“I love you too, Carrie.”
I reached over and hugged him. My brother, my hero.