H A Y E S
The hospital room, which is only lit up by what little bit of sun manages to bleed through the blinds, is only filled with three people.
Three people occupy this shit smelling hospital room, one being my brother who lays quietly in the bed, staring out the window. My mother, who sits in the dark corner of the room with her shaking hands around a hot cup of coffee, doesn’t think that I noticed the pill she popped not even a minute ago. Then there’s a boy on the other side of the hospital bed, sitting slouched in a chair, sleeping soundly.
I clear my throat, and my mom jumps out of her seat quickly. She looks so frail, so small, like a single gust of wind could blow her right off her feet. I take note of the way she babies her left hip, and the way she pulls her sleeves down further to hide the bruises on her wrists.
I grit my teeth.
“Hayes, sweetheart,” she smiles softly. “You came.”
I stare at her for a moment, realize how old she’s getting. She used to be so young, so happy, and beautiful. Now her black hair is fading into grey in some spots, the bags beneath her green eyes is enough evidence to prove to me that she hasn’t had a good nights sleep in months, and the fact that she keeps doing this . . . this bullshit. Lying to the doctors about the bruises, about the broken fingers and the concussions and the bruised organs and the lack of sleep. Pretending that everything is fucking okay even when my brother is laying in a hospital bed with a broken nose and glass shards in his cheeks and bruised ribs.
How fucking dare she.
“Of course I came,” I seethe, and I don’t find it in me to give a shit when she flinches. “This is my brother for fuck’s sake, how could I just not come?”
Her pale lips quiver.
Once upon a time, I used to look just like her. But now she’s so fragile, so small, and her once beautiful skin is now covered in wrinkles and scars from all the years of trauma.
Most of this is Jonathan’s fault, but the rest is all hers.
She could’ve stopped this from happening, could’ve left him a long time ago, but she stuck around, said he loves her, that he’s a good man.
Jonathan Winchester is no such thing.
“Hayes, please, lower your voice, you’ll wake your brother.” She reaches for my arm with that same hand Jonathan had slammed in the car door, the fingers crooked and bent. “Let’s talk outside, okay? Please, just lower your voice.”
I don’t have the time of day to argue because she’s walking out into the hall and I’m following behind her and I’m so fucking enraged that I can’t seem to think straight. She pulls the door closed when I step out, and I lean against the cold surface of the hospital wall for some sort of support when she says,
“You must’ve had an interesting morning,” she laughs softly, motions to the dried egg in my hair, stuck to my neck, my sweater.
I curl my fingers into fists, ignore the way she attempts to clear the air. So I look at her, at her small frame drowning in a jacket that appears to be Jonathan’s, his sweatpants around her waist.
I ignore that too.
“I told the doctors that Brooks–”
“I don’t care,” I tell her, and she stares at me in complete shock. “I don’t give a shit about what lie you fed the doctors. I give a shit about what the fuck you’re going to do about this, about your fucking husband beating the shit out of your son.”
She blinks away the tears in her eyes, shakes her head repeatedly as she stares at the linoleum beneath us.
“Sweetheart, I can’t do anything about this.”
“No,” I fight the urge to yell it, scream it so loud Mabel will come running to my rescue. “You can, you can do something about this, you’re just too much of a coward to.”
A tear rolls down her cheek, and she doesn’t bother to swipe it away.
“Hayes, he loves me.”
“He doesn’t fucking love you!” I’ve exploded, I’ve officially lost control of my emotions as I stand in front of her, hands fisted in my hair. “If he loved you he wouldn’t slam your head into the wall every time you say you’re going out. If he loved you he wouldn’t lock you in the bedroom for hours without your consent. If he fucking loved you, mom, he wouldn’t be screwing other women in the same bedroom you two sleep in!”
She stumbles back, stumbles back like I just took a swing at her, and I don’t care. I know people can hear every word, know the nurses at the receptionist’s desk are listening in, but I’m so angry I can’t find it in me to give a shit.
“Brooklyn was thrown down the fucking stairs for liking boys,” I almost grab for her arm, but I don’t, I know it’ll only terrify her, maybe even hurt her. “Chance walked in the door, and didn’t even get the opportunity to set down his school bag before witnessing the whole thing. Leo had to hide from his own fucking father, Brooklyn locked him in the attic, he locked him away to keep him from trying to stop Jonathan. An eleven year old boy tried to stop a man from beating a kid, and what the fuck did you do, mom? Just stand in the kitchen and bake fucking casseroles and sing happy tunes?”
She says nothing, absolutely nothing, just stands there, and cries pathetically. I clench my teeth, turn to look down the hall where I can see Mabel sitting with my brothers, Leo sleeping with his head in Chance’s lap. Mabel stares back at me, frowns when she sees my mother sobbing in front of me, when she notices the furious expression on my face. She doesn’t bother to get up, and walk over here, to see if everything’s alright, and I’m honestly grateful.
I turn back to my weeping mother.
“The boys will be staying with me for a while,” I inform her, and she cries harder. “They’re kids, mom, this isn’t the life they deserve. Until you make your decision, the boys will be staying at my place, and we’ll come by the house when Jonathan isn’t home to get their things.”
“No!” She cries out, latching onto me. “Hayes, please, honey, don’t take my boys, not my babies.”
I shake her off me, having no pity for the woman who brought me in this shit life, to raise me in this shit town with a shit dad. And she cries so loudly it echoes off the hospital walls and causes Chance to snap his head in our direction and I see the anger in his eyes when he looks at her.
“Hayes, baby, please,” she pleads when I reach for the doorknob to Brooks’ hospital room. “I need my boys.”
I stare at her blankly.
“If you need your boys, mom, then I trust you’ll do the right thing.”
Inside the hospital room, the boy who was slouched in the chair asleep, is now snoring softly with his head on the hospital bed, fingers interlaced with Brooklyn’s. And there Brooks is, laying in the bed in a starched hospital gown and he’s wide awake, staring at me where I stand with my back against the closed door.
I almost can’t breathe when I look at him, at the bandage stretched across his nose, at the dried blood on his cheek. But I force myself to smile at him, at my beautiful little brother, and I walk the short distance to the empty chair beside the bed, opposite of the sleeping, blond boy.
Brooks just stares up at me, doesn’t bother to hide the fact that he’s grasping onto the boy’s hand because he’s now well aware that I know of his sexuality. Not that I give a single fucking shit, he’s still my brother.
“You look like shit,” is the first thing he says to me, and I find myself chuckling softly.
“Can’t say you look any better.” I retort with an easy smile, but he winces.
I’m quick to apologize, but he brushes it off with a shake of his head. We fall into a much needed silence, and finally, I let myself take a deep breath– let myself relax in the chair beside my injured brother. He stares down at the boy, whose hair is so blond it could pass as white, and then he looks back over at me.
He’s the only one of us who hasn’t bursted into tears today.
“Is he . . . your–”
Brooks nods slowly, doesn’t break his gaze away from mine when he says, “We were in my room when I heard Jonathan coming up the stairs. I had enough time to hide Leo in the attic, and when I was pushing him into the closet, the my bedroom door opened.”
His free hand trembles where it rests on his stomach, and I’m tempted to grab it, to tell him it will never happen again, that I’ll protect him. But instead I smile, run a hand through my egg encrusted hair, and stare at the couple.
“You hid your boyfriend in the closet,” I chuckle. “That’s kind of ironic.”
And he laughs. He laughs loud enough to startle the boy awake beside him, shakes his head as he continues with his laughing fit, not even sparing a glance in the blond boy’s direction.
“Oh my god,” Brooklyn sobers up, wiping at his eyes. “Shut up, you fucking dick.”
But then he realizes the boy has woken up, and he looks over at him with the biggest smile. I can’t keep myself from smiling at the two, at the way the blond headed boy reaches out tiredly for Brooklyn’s hand and wraps his fingers around his wrist and doesn’t let go.
“You must be Hayes,” the boy speaks, his voice laced with sleep as he rubs at his eyes. “Brooks talks my ear off about you.”
Brooklyn looks absolutely horrified.
"Augustine, shut up,” my brother whines, yanks on the boy’s pale hand. “You’re killing me.”
I laugh, “Oh I’m sure he tells you all these great things about me.”
The boy, Augustine, grins, the piercing in his lip getting caught in his teeth, but he doesn’t seem to mind.
“No, I tell him horrible things,” Brooklyn intervenes, glaring at the boy, but he only laughs softly in response. “Like how you smell and how you have a big ass head but no brain.”
I smile at that, curl my fingers in the fabric of my sweatshirt, and slide deeper into the hospital chair.
There’s a bird chirping loudly outside the hospital window, perched proudly on a branch of the leafless tree in the midday sunlight. Thankfully, the weather is beginning to warm up, making being outside or leaving a window open more tolerable, and enjoyable.
I’ve always hated the cold.
Even during July I’ll wear baggy sweatshirts, and I have the pleasure of listening to Brooks hiss at me over how he can’t stand the heat– how he can’t possibly understand how I can wear several layers in one hundred degree weather.
Augustine clears his throat, rubs at the bridge of his nose awkwardly before rising from his chair.
“I’ll give you guys some time alone,” he says.
Brooks smiles up at him lovingly before slowly uncurling his fingers from the blond headed boy’s hand. Augustine looks everywhere but my brother’s bruised face, forcing a smile down at his shoes before scurrying out of the room like a terrified deer. The door shuts with a soft click, and my eyes drift over to my brother’s face before looking out the window again.
The bird is still singing loudly outside, and if it were one of my bad days, I would be annoyed by the sound– possibly have such a want to rush outside, and throw rocks up into the branches to get it to fly away.
But today is a rare day where I don’t feel so angry or nothing or everything all at once. Today is one of my good days despite where I’m at and where Brooks is and what happened to him.
“Hayes,” Brooklyn says carefully, sits up a bit more to get more comfortable in the stiff bed. “Thank you for coming.”
I shift in the uncomfortable chair to look at him, notice the way he keeps his eyes down casted, the way he curls his fingers in the hospital blanket as if nerves are eating at him from the inside out.
“Of course I’d come,” I tell him, just like I told our mother. “You’re my little brother, I’m supposed to be here, and look out for you, no matter what.”
His busted lip trembles.
“No,” he shakes his head, sniffles a bit but he’s quick to cover it up with a soft cough. “No, you’re not supposed to take care of me, of us, but you do, and I feel less scared now that you’re here, and I’m just really grateful, Hayes.”
Tears sting my own eyes.
“You act more like a father figure than Jonathan does,” Brooklyn wipes his eyes with the backs of his hands, and continues to hold my gaze. “I just thought you should know that.”
And I can’t help but smile through the tears.
“Hayes!” Chance screams, giggles loudly as he jumps from one piece of furniture to the next. “You can’t touch the floor, it’s lava!”
Chance, and Brooks both have been trying to include me in a lot of their childish games since my last doctor’s appointment several days ago. I glared at both boys from where I sat at the kitchen table, Leo perched in nothing but a clean diaper on my knee. He blubbers up at me, curling his chubby fingers in my school shirt as I sit quietly.
Brooks stops jumping on the sofa, and stares back at me– his little head tilted to one side.
“Are you not feeling good again?” He asks, his voice louder than I’d like for it to be right now.
It’s just a bad day. Just a bad day.
Brooks, who is only six years old, can read people better than Chance can– can at least take a hint when I want to be left alone despite the fact that I was left here to babysit all three of my younger brothers while Mom and Dad are out at dinner.
“No, Brooklyn,” I tell him as I begin to bounce Leo on my knees, and the blubbering baby laughs excitedly up at me. “I don’t feel good.”
Brooks continues with his furniture jumping.
“Okay!” He says, nearly knocking the glasses off his head when he almost crashes into Chance on the coffee table. “But you can always come play with us, that might make you feel better.”
I know he’s probably right, but I can’t find the energy in me to get out of the chair. But then I look at how happy they are, jumping from furniture to furniture, avoiding the floor.
I look down at Leo, see how happy he is just muttering words that don’t make sense, and playing with his own belly. I smile down at the baby despite my chest feeling heavy, and I set him down on the kitchen floor before climbing onto the table.
I stand up straight on the flat surface, feeling taller than any twelve year old and I launch across the large space between the kitchen table and the living room couch and I feel like I’m flying.
“Hoorah!” Brooklyn screams, using an old broom as a sword. “He has joined us!”
I feel the heaviness in my chest ease a bit as I climb onto the arm of the couch, smiling at my brothers as I jump with them.
Chance wails as Leo goes crawling across our lava-floor.
“So long brother,” Chance launches into a fit of hysterical, fake crying, gripping the arm of the couch. “You didn’t deserve to die like this.”
Leo giggles in the floor just as our puppy comes bounding in the living room, yipping happily as she licks at Leo’s bare feet.
For a moment I forget that Dad bought her solely for breeding, not out of love.
And for a moment I forget that Dad doesn’t even know what that word is.