Eric peered around the holly bush at the corner of the house. Samantha was jumping rope on the front lawn. He crouched low and ran up behind her as she stopped at sixty-four and pulled her shorts down to her knees.
“ERIC! I'm going to git you!”
She chased him around the house several times before she caught him. At eight she was three years older than Eric, whom she defended at school with all her fury. At home, though (whether by maternal decree or self-proclamation), she was the boss. Eric was not too accepting of this and insisted on agitating her daily.
“STOP IT, SAM! I'm tellin'—I can't breathe. Git OFF!”
Samantha did, but only after he started to cry.
“That's what you git, you little brat! Now leave me alone!”
“You're so mean. I'm tellin' ma you hit me.”
“You're not tellin' anything, or I'll tell her what you did, and you'll git a spankin'.”
“Just go in the house. You don't deserve to be out here. You're such a baby.”
“I don't have to do what you say.”
“Oh, yes you do. Mama told me to watch after you, so I'm in charge.”
“Am too! You have to do what I say. Now GO!”
“Aaaaah! I hate you!”
Eric gritted his teeth, bawled his fists and marched off to the garage. Samantha watched him go, then resumed her rope jumping. She made it to seventy-nine before tripping. Her personal best was ninety-three, but she had only managed it once. Kate Dempsey, her closest friend and fiercest competitor, could skip continuously to one hundred and twenty-nine, so she still had a ways to go. She was determined to match her jump for jump at this year's field day. It was the only event where she was second best.
“Samantha...Eric...time for lunch.”
She heard her mother call her in just as she was coming up to thirty-six.
“In a minute.”
“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine—”
“Now Samantha! ERIC!”
Samantha threw the rope down, ran up to the porch and through the front door.
“Mom, I have to practice. I can't even git past eighty now. I'll never beat Kate.”
“You can practice after lunch. Where's Eric?”
“He came inside already.”
“No, he's not here. If he is, he's ignoring me.”
“He's probably just hiding.”
“And why would that be?”
“He got mad when I sat on him.”
“Don't look that way. He wasn't mindin'—besides, he pulled my shorts down again while I was jumpin' rope.”
“If you two don't learn to play together, I'm gonna...well,...I don't know what I'll do. Lose my mind probably. Now, go and get him.”
“He's probably still in the garage pouting.”
Samantha ran to the door, flung it open and yelled, “Eric! Git your butt in here!”
“Sorry. Eric, time for lunch.”
“Go ahead and finish setting the table. I'll get him.”
She walked to the door and looked in the garage. After a moment, she turned on the light and walked down the stairs to the garage floor. She calmly circled around the room calling his name. She peered behind several boxes and looked out on the driveway.
“Samantha where is your brother, he's not out here.”
“Go out and find him. I'll look around in here.”
By now, Samantha was worried herself. She ran the perimeter of the house calling after him. She climbed several trees, looked in his favorite hiding spots and scaled the fence for a view of the roof. When she came back inside, her mother was holding the phone receiver to her ear.
“Eric's gone! We can't find him!”
Samantha could see the panic in her mother's face as she told what had happened. Suddenly, she was quite afraid. Pounding him into lunch meat was one thing, but him disappearing was another. This was her little brother, and she was his protector. She had let him out of her sight, and now he was lost.
“Mom, we'll find him. He's just hiding. I'm sure of it. Eric, come out. NOW!”
“Your dad is on his way. When he gets here, we'll all go looking for him.”
Samantha's father worked about five minutes from their house. On the way he passed the elementary school, which had a huge field bordered by a chain-link fence. Along the south face, the fence ran parallel to the road separated by a small patch of grass and the sidewalk. The field had at its end a playground with swings, monkey bars, seesaws and a oversized sandbox. He remembered how Eric loved playing there, so he was intently driving by at a slow speed. As soon as he turned left onto the south street, he saw a blond-haired boy walking toward him at a steady pace. Pulling up beside Eric, he rolled down the window.
Eric stood there with his favorite cowboy coloring book pressed firmly under his arm and looked at him with moist wide eyes and pooched lips. It was hard for him not to smile or chuckle for he was not only relieved, but also, mildly impressed with Eric's innocent rebellious determination.
“Where you goin'?”
Eric paused a moment then looked him dead in the eyes.
“I'm goin' to see my daddy.”
My father loved to tell this story. By the time I was ten, eleven or so, we were not really buddies any more. I could never understand him or why he said, “no”, all the time. Those days morphed into a decline destined for total dis-communication. All our efforts grew into frustration and mistrust, which crescendoed with a painful meltdown some years after college. From then on, we withdrew and avoided direct conversation. Nothing worked. We wearied of the effort or became apathetic towards each other. At the end, we had lost our finesse and mostly spoke in sparsely polite tones or not at all.
After a half dozen years fighting cancer, my father died. We never really resolved our issues. Too much time had passed perhaps, but I have learned one thing. He was not one to say, “I love you,” to your face, but he would say it through his stories. He had a handful of them about me when I was a boy. This one, I believe, was his favorite because he always told it. And he always told it first. He loved to tell how pouty and proud I was. He always loved to speak my lines in a slightly mumbled deeply boyish voice. What I believe he loved most about this story, though, was the fact I was coming to see him.