My interest in becoming a writer started around my twelfth birthday. My mother gave me a book, “Little Men,” by Louisa May Alcott.
Mark Fletcher pulled into the drive at the side of the house. The rain beat against the windshield and obscured almost every detail beyond the hood. With each pass of the wiper blades, he caught glimpses of the porch and yard. No lights were shone out from the lower half of the house, which he half expected. Dad never turned on his lights until late evening when the shadows nearly hid everything. He peered through the top of the windshield up to the second floor and saw the faint yellow glow from the center window.
“That little bastard is still here.” A frown furrowed his brow.
Terry placed a hand delicately upon Mark’s forearm, intended to gauge and ease the tension building all afternoon. “Paul said he would be.”
Mark withdrew his arm from her. He did not want to be placated now. When they heard that the authorities finally released Kevin, Mark had been brooding in his workshop daily. He refused to let her talk to him about anything about his brother. Paul’s rusted old Dodge was missing from its normal spot close to the front porch.
Mark forced the shift lever up into park-mode and turned off the motor. He scowled as he glared up at the second-story window. The window was part of Kevin’s old room that faced out over Carla’s immaculate garden at a distant point in time. He could not discern if his younger brother were in there, but he intended to determine Kevin’s plans for leaving as soon as possible.
Mark helped his wife Terry get their two girls out of the back seat, sheltering them from the rain that drenched everything in town. He was grateful that Paul had departed for the moment. It would make it easier for him to deal with the problem of his younger brother.
“Hurry up and get inside, girls, or you’ll catch a cold.” Mark directed them toward the front porch.
“Take it slow, dear,” Terry said as she walked at his side. “You haven’t seen your brother for a long time.”
“Just wait downstairs with the girls.” Mark opened the front door to let them in. “This shouldn’t take long.” He almost shoved the little ones through in his haste to meet his brother.
Kevin watched out of the bedroom window on the second floor of the old farmhouse, watching puddles form on the front lawn. He sat at his desk near the window. The thick gray morning clouds let go of a torrent of rain falling against the windowpane. He noticed but did not recognize Mark’s truck as it pulled to a stop. It did not take him long to figure out who they were when they emerged into the deluge.
Ignoring the racket that his nieces started producing as soon as they entered their grandfather’s house, Kevin looked around at some of his belongings that Carla never packed away, things that would belong to a teenage boy. The room was strangely quiet as his wandering eyes came to rest on an old favorite book, ‘Little Men’ by Louisa May Alcott.
There was a moment of weakness as Kevin pulled the book to himself and opened it to a marked page. A bittersweet expression intended for no one came to his face. “You left everything exactly as I had left it.” A slight smile touched his eyes as he started to read. “I suppose I should start from the beginning. I don’t recognize any of the characters anymore.”
A brief flash of light from outside illuminated everything like a photograph. Kevin leaned back in his chair as the sound of distant thunder rolled through his room. Someone with a heavy footstep started up the stairs, stirring him from his memories. The sound was only vaguely familiar since he had not heard Mark Fletcher’s walk up the stairs in over ten years. A feeling of apprehension caused a knot of mixed emotions to begin to twist within his gut.
Mark knocked on the door to the room, and Kevin set the book aside. The two brothers' animosity was unmistakable as they met for the first time in over ten years. For Kevin, the emotions were born of a misplaced trust in the acceptance of others.
Mark’s animosity bordered on hatred for the younger sibling. He stopped at the door as the family boundaries still existed within the old house. Each boy’s room had been their private little domain. Violations of those domains usually brought swift punishment from either parent, usually in grounding from play within their room.
The two brothers looked at each other with a silent stare. Kevin was unsure of how Mark would react, but he was quickly beginning to know it would not be cordial. In prison, he had learned how to size up his enemy and quickly find a weakness. Mark was not there for a reunion.
Mark hinted at his disdain. “Dad told me you were here.”
“I’m not staying long.” Kevin offered with bitter resilience.
Mark stared at Kevin with suspicion. “What are you trying to do?”
“I wanted to fix Momma’s garden before I went to Oklahoma.” Kevin wanted to instill a feeling of guilt over the obvious negligence the rest of the family had exhibited. “I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.”
Mark leaned back against the door frame and assumed an air of dominance that he considered due toward an older sibling. Kevin’s silence infuriated him by offering neither a retaliatory reaction nor submission.
When Kevin would not give in, Mark tried a different approach that was neither truth nor lie. “The kids and I will come over this weekend to clean it up.”
Kevin stood up to look out of the window. He stepped closer to Mark but still did not offer his brother anything to feed his ego or assault it. “Why didn’t you do anything before now?” He stood tall as Mark now, able to look him straight in the eye.
“We were going to do it this weekend.” Mark felt comfortable oppressing the lie. “You weren’t supposed to be out this soon.”
Kevin motioned to something beyond the window. “It hasn’t been touched in at least a year.” He was careful not to let an accusation inflect his words. “Momma would never have let it grow over with weeds.”
Mark could only offer up a weak excuse. “We didn’t even think you would show up.”
“Dad knew I would be here.” Kevin could no longer prevent himself from becoming accusative.
The anger in Mark’s voice started to rise. It ticked him off. Kevin was trying to stand up to him. “Dad sort of fell to pieces after Mom died. He visits her grave at least once each day.” He smirked as he added, “You just happened to be there at the right time.”
So long practiced at keeping control of any emotional weakness, Kevin felt himself beginning to lose control. “I’ll be gone by Saturday.”
Mark’s voice rose in demand. “I want you to leave now!”
“No. Not until the garden is done.” Kevin offered in harsh defiance as he moved closer to Mark with his fists clenched. “I owe this to her, and you’re not going to take that away from me.”
Mark let his anger escalate out of control. “You’re still a selfish little bastard! She left Dad and me alone after you went to prison. Even after she is dead, you think that Momma belongs only to you! I was there when she suffered from cancer. I was there when she drew her last breath!”
Terry moved in behind Mark. She had his two daughters, Tina and Dianna, with her. Alarmed by how red Mark’s face was turning, Terry wrapped her arms around him to calm his anger. She glanced at Kevin with compassionate eyes and then back up into her husband’s eyes. The two young girls peered from behind her with fear of Kevin.
Terry took a cautious approach because she did not want Mark’s anger redirected at her. “Leave him alone, Mark. You’re frightening the girls.”
Mark forced himself to soften as he looked down at the girls. “You two go on down to the living room. Daddy will be there in a minute.”
The two girls immediately departed without offering any protest. Terry tugged on Mark’s arm, hoping to avert the looming fight between the two brothers. Mark tried to shrug her off, but Terry had an indomitable spirit and knew how to manage her husband. Mark did not like having his strength challenged in front of Kevin and turned to glare at him, shoving a threatening finger toward him.
“Leave!” Mark demanded.
Kevin had to work hard to keep his rage suppressed. The tension between the two of them was so strong that he felt like a coiled snake, ready to strike out at its aggressor. Terry succeeded in drawing Mark out of the room. She offered an apologetic look to Kevin as she led her husband away from the room.
Kevin circled his room as his rage needed to be vented. Men shouting obscenities filled his mind, and, for a moment, he could see Pablo Sanchez’s sickening grin. He struck out at the doorframe to his room, which cracked upon impact and vanquished the images and voices from his mind.
A tear glistened in Kevin’s eye as he sat on the edge of the bed and picked up a picture of Mark and himself at a younger age. Mark was ten years old, and he was eight. They stood close together with Mark’s arm wrapped around his shoulder. They were both smiling and holding a football between them. Overwhelmed by his rage, Kevin smashed the picture against the wall next to the door. It landed on the floor, upright with the glass shattered.
Immense forests of evergreen trees covered East Texas, but people had either planted hardwoods or thinned out the pine trees for some of the natural deciduous trees in some older towns and communities. It was early fall, and the leaves had recently started changing color.
As baseball dominated the summer months, football was the sport of choice for many towns for the fall season. It was not uncommon to drive through the area on any given day and find the schoolyard filled with young boys playing out their fantasies like pro football players.
Kevin was ten at the time and was still in grade school. Mark would soon turn twelve and would be going into junior high the following year. They were playing a football game with some other boys from the town, all of them shouting happily and enjoying themselves. Mark played the quarterback of one of the teams, and Kevin played his favorite receiver.
The play was started, and Kevin broke away from the line to take the pass. “I’m open!” he announced with a boisterous shout.
Mark threw the pass without hesitation and watched with pride as Kevin caught the pass. He pumped his fist with exuberance until he watched an older boy tackle Kevin, too fiercely, driving the smaller boy into the turf. Mark immediately went to his brother’s aid, shoving the older boy from him. Kevin gasped and sobbed for air.
Mark shoved the other boy around in a protective rage. “Hey! That is my little brother, you just hurt! You didn’t have to wallop him!”
Kevin blinked back tears as he struggled for breath. He watched with growing alarm as Mark and the other boy got into a violent shoving match. The other boys quickly surrounded the two fighting boys as they urged on the fight rather than attempt to prevent it. Kevin struggled to get to his feet after a few moments. He had to shout Mark’s name several times before he was heard.
“I’m okay, Mark! Please stop fighting.” Kevin was still in pain and out of breath.
The whole group of boys stopped instantly where they were and quit shouting encouragement for the fight. They all watched Kevin as he stood doubled over and slowly regained control of his breathing. Mark, who had his right arm, pulled back to punch the other boy in the face, dropped his arm, and went over to Kevin to look him over.
Mark’s admiration was mixed with concern for Kevin’s well-being. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Kevin wiped his eyes as he tried to hide the pain. “Yeah. He just knocked the wind out of me. That’s all.”
Mark whistled through his teeth with pride. “That’s my little brother! You keep taking hits like that, and you’ll be as tough as me!”
Kevin still sniffled as beamed from the adulation through his pain. “I just wish it didn’t hurt this bad, though.”
Mark ruffled Kevin’s hair as the other boys returned to their game.
Forward in the past
Kevin pushed away Mark’s hand from his hair and carefully flattened it back down. He glanced over at Kelly, and of course, she had noticed his hair unkempt. She acted like it did not matter at first, but then she hid her giggle with her pom-pom so that she would not aggravate him. He decided not to remove his helmet for the rest of the game and shook his head as he put it back on.
The high school football stadium was alive with fans from the town that night. It was a typical small-town Friday night football game between the Pine Springs Indians and the Edgewood Bulldogs. That night, the district championship was on the line.
Robbie Murchison approached Kevin as he gazed at the field. “How come you put your helmet on? There are only thirty seconds left in the game, and the Dogs have a first down.”
“I’ve got a feeling,” Kevin said in a low whisper he did not want to share with the rest of the team at the moment, but then Robbie ruined it.
“Kevin has a feeling!” Robbie shouted as he shoved his helmet on with enthusiasm.
The coach, along with the rest of the Indian offense, turned to look at Kevin. They had been watching the last chance of their season of winning to go down the drain with some trepidation. They stood waiting on the sideline for one last chance to get on the field. With only thirty seconds left and no time-outs remaining, that hope rapidly diminished. As his team looked upon him, including his older brother, Kevin had no other choice but to nod his head.
Immediately, Coach Braxton consulted with his staff about an offensive play he believed would secure the win. He did not even look out at the field as the players broke the huddle and lined up to face each other. The offensive players for Pine Springs all donned their helmets in anticipation of getting back on the field. Mark clapped Kevin on the shoulder and gave him a thumb’s up. Kevin sucked in a deep breath as he hoped the team would not be disappointed.
The Bulldogs’ quarterback only needed to take the snap and drop to a knee to end the game and win it. The stadium erupted into cheers when the football was snapped ahead of his count and went sailing into the backfield. The boy tried to recover the football, but it squirted out of his grasp. The Indians defense swarmed into the backfield in a desperate frenzy to recover the fumble from the Bulldogs. A massive pile of boys landed over the ball.
It took several minutes before the officials could pull the boys off one by one until they reached the final Pine Springs player who had curled himself as tight as he could around the ball. The audience stood up in the stands, cheering even louder as the referee signaled Pine Springs had recovered the ball.
Coach Braxton shouted the play into Mark’s head just before the Pine Springs offense excitedly took the field. Mark was the quarterback and called his team into a huddle. Kevin waved to Paul and Carla, who were standing together in the bleachers. Paul glanced at the scoreboard with concern. Pine Springs was down by five points, with only twenty-two seconds left in the game.
The tension of the moment was inflected into the announcer’s voice as the play was being called. Robbie and Kevin give each other a nod of the head as Mark broke the huddle.
“What an exciting game this has been, folks!” Obviously biased toward the Pine Springs Indians, the announcer was standing up just as about everyone else in the stadium was. “This could be the last play of the season for the Indians. The Fletcher brothers have worked persistently to bring their team back from a twenty-three-point deficit at the half. Mark Fletcher is under center to take the snap. The dynamic duo of Robbie Murchison and Kevin Fletcher are set up on the right side. There is no question of what Coach Braxton has gotten in mind. Mark Fletcher takes the snap! He takes a three-step drop! He‘s looking for his two favorite receivers! Here comes the Edgewood defense! He’s flushed out of the pocket! The Bulldogs are playing superb defense! Mark Fletcher is in trouble! He slips away from one defender! Kevin Fletcher and Robbie Murchison are both well covered! Mark looks to his left! Kevin Fletcher breaks away from the Pack of Dogs! There’s the pass! It’s a tight spiral!”
Kevin could check out of the peripheral vision as the two defenders closed in on him, yet he did not take his eyes off the ball coming for him. He sensed that both players intended to hurt him, but he knew that his team was counting on him. He caught the ball a split-second before they hit him. One of the defenders tried to spear him in hopes of jarring the football loose, but when it hit his gloves, he pulled it into his chest and concentrated on holding on to it as he came down sandwiched between the two defenders. Somehow, he could remain upright when they hit the ground. One of the defenders slipped to the ground, and Kevin could wriggle free of the other boy’s grip. He started running.
“Oh, what a catch Kevin Fletcher performed!” The announcer had jumped up so high out of his chair that he hit his head on a rafter in the sports box. “What a hit that was! And he is still on his feet! Kevin Fletcher had to lunge forward to secure that spectacular catch and somehow managed to hang on to the ball despite the vicious hit! It looks like he’s in trouble, though, as he heads toward three defenders! Oh, my goodness! Kevin Fletcher draws the defenders into him and then laterals the football off to Robbie Murchison, who somehow slips through the defense! The crowd goes wild! With no one between him and the end zone, Robbie Murchison breaks away toward the goal line with only one man to beat! Twenty! Ten! Touchdown! Good Lord in heaven above! What a miraculous ending to a hard-fought game! As the clock winds to zero, the Pine Springs Indians will take the district championship home for the first time in nearly twenty years!”
Kevin, Mark, and Robbie are the first to embrace one another, followed by the rest of the team. The stadium erupted into a celebration. Paul and Carla were joyous and in shock at the thrilling outcome of the game. Mark and another player hoisted Kevin up onto their shoulders while two other players lifted Robbie. Kevin looked down at Mark and hugged him the way a brother did. Mark returned the affection with pride.
Long after Mark and his family had departed from the house, the two little girls protesting that they did not get to see Grandpa, Kevin held the picture of him and his brother and a newspaper clipping regarding their victorious game. Silent tears flowed from his eyes as he struggled to control his anger and hurt pride. He rocked back and forth on the edge of his bed.
Paul pulled into the driveway with his truck, non-verbally cursing the falling rain. He sat for a moment in the cab and rubbed his left arm briefly as if massaging away an irritation. When the dull ache began to subside, he gathered a couple of bags of groceries and kicked open his door. He hurriedly got out of the truck and ran to the front of the house.
Paul walked in through the front door and set the groceries on a small table in the hall. He took off his raincoat, hung it on a rack near the entry, then gathered the groceries, and headed into the kitchen. After a second, Paul exited the kitchen without the groceries and approached the foot of the stairs.
“Kevin? I’m back from the store.” Paul gazed up the stairs and listened for a reply. “Kevin, are you up there?” He began to ascend with a feeling of dread as he whispered to himself, “Please still be here.”
Paul entered the doorway into Kevin’s room with trepidation. He frowned as he acknowledged the damaged door jamb. He scanned the room, and his heart caught in his throat when he did not find Kevin there. He started to shake his head in disbelief until his eyes fell on the damaged picture and newspaper clipping.
Paul walked over to examine them more closely. He thought of the worst circumstance that Kevin had left him, and he started to panic. Then his eyes fell on Kevin’s duffle bag, still propped up in the corner, and his eyes were directed toward the window. He walked over to it and looked outside to where Kevin worked furiously in the garden in the pouring rain.
Paul stepped out onto the porch and watched Kevin for a few moments. He tried to guess what the best approach would be. The young man seemed intent upon removing the weeds from the garden. Some vines were tough, and he pulled hard at them. The vines cut into his hands and caused severe pain, followed by angry screams. He seemed completely oblivious to everything around him, even to the weather.
Paul stepped off the porch and walked out to where Kevin was working. He paused for a moment longer, trying to figure out the best way to help his son. At first, Kevin did not notice as Paul knelt into the mud and set to work himself, collaborating with him. After a moment, though, Kevin looked up and briefly acknowledged Paul’s presence. Paul nodded with a grim smile.
Kevin tried to work even harder. One vine was particularly hard to pull out. He yanked on it violently, and the vine gave way with a sudden snap. He stumbled backward and fell on his rump. Paul stood back up, turned, and offered him a hand. He was reluctant to take it at first but then accepted it and was pulled up to his feet. He checked himself over and saw he was covered in mud. Dejected, Kevin shook the mud from his hands and slowly turned toward the house. Paul followed him as he made his way into the house.
Kevin stood in the steaming shower, letting the hot water soothe his nerves. Through the crack in the curtain, he saw when Paul entered the bathroom bringing fresh towels.
Paul spoke with uncertainty as he tried to reach out to Kevin. “I’m sorry there were no towels in here. I’ve just been using the master bath. No one’s been coming here since Carla died.” He added with remorse, “I can’t blame anyone for not coming to stay.”
Kevin was listening as he lifted his hands to study the welts left by the vines.
Paul knew their conversation would be one-sided. “Your mother used to keep this bathroom well stocked…mostly for the grandchildren during the last few years of her life. Your Aunt Mabel stopped coming out the summer before she died.”
Kevin stared up at the ceiling with slight fear. “Mark came by today.”
“I wondered what set you off this afternoon,” Paul said after a brief silence.
“You can tell him that I’ll be gone after this weekend,” Kevin stated with defiance.
Paul set the towels on the sink. “You don’t have to leave because of him.”
Kevin turned off the water. “Nobody in this town wants me here anyway.” He grabbed a towel to cover himself. “The sooner I’m gone, the better this whole town will be.”
“Please don’t talk like that!” Paul was alarmed.
Kevin shoved the shower curtain aside in an offensive manner. “What is with you, anyway? Ten years ago, you could not wait for me to be gone.”
“Don’t think that it was easy for me,” Paul said in defense. “I had to live with the guilt of taking a child away from his mother. Every day I saw the pain in her eyes when she awakened and realized you were still gone.”
Kevin grabbed a second towel to dry his hair and stepped out of the shower stall. “Do you think there is a chance to fix all that? I don’t think so. My life is too far beyond repair. I need a fresh start away from here.”
Paul spoke with some wisdom. “We would all like to rewrite the past in our lives for one reason or another.”
“How convenient that would be!” Kevin added with sarcasm.
Paul paused for a moment and found he needed to shift away from the subject. “I spotted a small cultivator down at National Tractor. I think I will buy one tomorrow.”
Kevin was partially relieved. He approached the mirror and looked himself over.
“I’m fixing burgers for lunch,” Paul said with hope. “Would you like some fries along with them?”
Kevin was non-committing, “Yeah, sure.”
Continue reading Kevin's Homecoming - Chapter 5
- Kevin's Homecoming - Chapter 5
When Kevin visits his mother's grave, he encounters Brother Wayne, pastor of the church Kevin grew up in as a boy. The man already knows of Kevin's troubled past, commissioned by another pastor to help Kevin on the road to redemption.