I watch as Shawn climbs up those stairs with Amaya in his arms, looking fragile as ever, broken-hearted at the sight that’s going to be haunting her for a very long time. Truth is, it’s going to haunt me too, I’ve never seen a dead person before, let alone someone that just bled out that I knew. Then, Shawn, he attacked that man that hurt us, the man I now know as Enriquo. The man that just might be haunting Aaron’s mind too.
“What happened?” Mom's voice hits me from behind before I run to her, squeezing the life out of her. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Her arms wrap around me too as I start to cry on her shoulder, so happy that she’s still here with me. I don’t want to feel what Amaya is feeling right now. If I ever had to watch my mom get killed I wouldn’t know how to keep going. How is Amaya going to keep going?
“We weren’t fast enough. We weren’t fast enough,” I mumble out before she pulls back slightly, but I continue to cling onto her.
“What weren’t you fast enough for? And why did Shawn have to carry Amaya in, is she okay?” I don’t say anything. I’m just shaking my head as I hold onto her as if I was back to being that little kid that found out I was abandoned. That wasn’t Mom that I was holding onto, it was my pillow. “Xavier, you’ve got to tell me something.”
“Kid, what happened?” Grandpa’s voice is firm as I feel his eyes on me, nothing but concern in them.
“Amaya, she- she watched her m-mom get shot to death. I- I heard it. S-Shawn heard it too and t-then he s-started to fight the guy.” Mom runs a hand through my hair as she takes in shaky breaths.
“R-Rachael’s dead?” Mom sputters out before I nod. “And Amaya saw it happen?”
“She was begging him not to, but he did. When we found the room they were in she had this slash on her cheek, I think that’s what made Shawn attack the guy.” I force myself not to blink as every time I do I see Rachael’s body on that floor, losing the warmth as her clouded over eyes rested on her daughter. Those final words replaying in my head. I’m sorry.
“The guy that put m-me and Shawn in the hospital did it. E-Eli was there too, he stopped Shawn from k-killing the guy. I- I think he was actually going to do it, Mama.” Mom’s hold drops from around me but I make sure to grab her hand, needing some sort of assurance that she’s still here.
“Tell me where this damn guy is and I’ll handle it.”
“No!” All eyes land on me. “Nobody else is going to die.”
A knock sounds at the front door and that’s enough for me to let go of Mom to answer it. When I pull the door open, Eli stares back at me. I practically jump into his arms, and to my surprise, he catches me, hugging me back but with his lips slightly parted as though he wants to say something but doesn’t exactly know the right words for it.
“Thank you for being there even when Shawn and I didn’t call.”
“Don’t thank me for that. I hate fucking assholes that go and pull some shit like that with people that don’t deserve it. My only wish is that I got a chance to beat him up instead of Shawn, that sick son of a bitch took a fucking-” Eli’s eyes transition to the shocked faces of Mom, Grandpa, and now Grandma. “You could’ve warned me about that, and also, do you want to get down now?”
“Sorry, there are three adults in the room, and no, I don’t.”
Eli huffs before coming a bit further into the house to close the door. “Hello, Ms. Jourdyn, and other adults that I haven’t met.” I glance up to the oldest Harper brother, his eyes now taking a small ounce of vulnerability in them and his jaw sets itself in a clenched position.
“Hey, Eli,” Mom says in a small voice before she steps closer. “Xavier, can you let go?”
“Okay,” I whisper out as I let him go and have some form of personal space.
“How can I repay you for being there for them?” Eli starts to open his mouth but I don’t allow him to get anything out.
“Shawn told Eli he can spend the night since he has nowhere else to go, he can stay here, right?” Mom nods almost immediately.
“Of course you can stay here, Eli, as long as you need. There isn’t all that much space with my parents here. Xavier, are you okay with him getting your room and you bunking with Aaron?” I nod slowly. Eli needs somewhere to stay and Shawn and Amaya don’t need to be sharing a room with Aaron right now, they need time for themselves.
“Thank you, for this, really.”
“No need to thank me. Go get comfortable, I can already tell this is going to be a long night.” Eli and I start to head towards the stairs.
“You’re a Harper, aren’t you?” Grandma asks the question before we can disappear.
“Yes ma’am, my name’s Elijah, but I go by Eli.” They make eye-contact with each other for a solid minute, neither of them saying anything else.
“Have a good night, Eli.”
“You too Mrs…”
“Good night, Mrs. Cyrus, Mr. Cyrus.” They each nod to him before we head up the stairs and start for my room.
We pass Shawn’s room to hear him whispering, “I’m here, Amaya. I promise you I’m here. I’m not going anywhere if you’re not with me.” I bite down on the inside of my cheek, continuing to my bedroom. Eli starts to look around when we walk in, his eyes falling on my jerseys.
“You play basketball and football?”
“Shawn and I both, but I’m superior in basketball while he’s superior in football. It’s funny, he’s the football captain and QB, I am the right-hand man being the best running back the team has seen in a good bit of time, at least that’s what Coach Collins says, but I don’t know. There just seems to be more calling out to me now.” I plop down on my bed with my heart weighing down in my chest.
“What’s on your mind?”
“Everyone’s finding their things, and me, I guess I found some things, but sports, I don’t want that to be all people know me for. I want more. Like Shawn, he’s got love, and a son, and sports too. I’ve got a girlfriend now and she’s beautiful, so sweet, I love her. But people assume that there isn’t more to me. A lot of them actually.” Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever come clean and said something like that to someone.
“What do you want to be known for, Xavier?” Eli asks as he takes a seat beside me.
“Shawn and I along with one of our close friends, Dylan, came up with this idea to make a help center kind of for kids that are in situations like Amaya and Jonah once were. We want to be known for making some good happen in this world, giving those children a place to come to when they’re scared of going home or find a passion for what they love.
“I’m gonna be a part of that too, but I want to do more than be a founder. I want to contribute something they can take with them forever. I- I like things like photography where we stop the world around us for a few moments and just allow ourselves to live in one single moment where we are so damn happy, or even when we feel like we’re breaking.
“I never told people I liked it, I do photography too, and other forms of art…”
“Graffiti?” I find myself slowly nodding. “That’s cool, Xavier, but make sure you don’t get yourself into trouble with the law, and can I ask you something?”
“Why do you continue to hide the fact that there’s more you like to do than just sports, you’re allowed to have more than one single passion.” I think back to earlier tonight, before Shawn, Eli, and I walked into the Rockwin warehouse. When things were going good. Amaya was smiling. Shawn was happy. Everything seemed to be going well for once.
“Sometimes it feels like I can’t do something else. It’s like whenever we aren’t playing sports that we never just hang out with just us. No matter what he’s always splitting his time with Amaya or Aaron and when he’s not he’s just so damn miserable and I can’t fix it.
“If I pick up on something else, that’s even less time I have with Shawn, and I’m so happy that he’s fallen in love with Amaya and that they have a family, but I don’t get to see my brother anymore. We barely talk without her or Aaron coming up. I miss him, and I’m scared that one day some shit like what happened tonight is going to happen to him and we won’t have been seeing each other in the ways we used to.” My head falls on Eli’s shoulder before he wraps his arms around me.
“You’re always going to have that bond, Xavier, it doesn’t matter if one day he’s married with five kids or anything else. Nothing can change the fact that you guys are brothers that have been raised together since the day you came into this world.
“When you’re working in that center together, you’ll see each other every day. Do photography. Do sports too, if that’s what you want to do. Hell, find a place where graffiti is legal and paint it. Anything that makes you happy, do it, and for God’s sake, talk to Shawn. Tell him what you told me and work through things. Okay?” His arm stays around me, waiting for me to give any sign of wanting to be set free from his hold.
“You’re a good brother, Elijah.”
“Thanks, Xavier, that means a lot. Now go get some rest, we can talk more tomorrow.”
“I’d like that,” I say as I stand from my bed to walk out of the room. “I’ll see you in the morning.”