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My Brother's Protector
|On my sixteenth birthday I went out and got my driver’s license. Finally I was able to drive myself wherever I wanted to go! It was cool. Unfortunately, it also meant that I became the new errand boy for the family. Since I couldn’t scrape up enough money for my own car, I pretty much had to do whatever my parents asked so they would let me borrow the car when I wanted. Suddenly it was, “Hey, Charlie, could you run over to the store?” and, “Charlie, would you pick up my suit at the dry cleaners?” Somehow they found a million things for me to do the moment I got my license.
The worst was having to chauffeur my ten-year-old brother around. The little snot-nosed bugger is spoiled, if you ask me. Harry gets away with a lot more crap than I ever did, and he goes off crying to Mom if I so much as touch him, the little creep. He signed up for his fifth-grade basketball team — why, I don’t know, because he had never been an athlete — and I had to pick him up from practice after school every Tuesday and Thursday. Mom and Dad thought it was neat that Harry was getting into sports. He did this just to get on their good side, I know it! The teams play their games on Saturday mornings and I went to the first one and Harry was awful! Of course, most of the other kids were awful, too. Uncoordinated little white boys trying to play basketball. They were running around tripping over their own feet trying to dribble and then they’d stop under the basket and throw up the ball like they were heaving a shot-put. It was hilarious. Mom and Dad, however, thought it was great. They think everything Harry does is great, for some reason.
One time I went to pick up Harry after basketball practice and he was late. The stereo in the car was broke so I couldn’t even crank up my tunes. I sat there for 20 minutes getting pissed. I was just about to go in after him when he showed up with his pal Andy. They climbed in the back seat giggling, which made me even angrier. As I drove home I tore into them for being late and they wouldn’t stop giggling, so I really got steamed. Then Andy said something like, “You better be careful or else we’ll send The Body after you,” and both he and Harry laughed out loud. So I asked them who “The Body” was and they said it’s this twelve-year-old kid on the sixth-grade team named Jay, who everyone calls The Body because he’s so buff. Andy said they were late because they were talking to Jay after practice.
You know how little kids think something is funny and they say it over and over until it drives you crazy? Well, Harry and Andy kept talking about this kid, The Body, all the way home, and laughing like it was the funniest thing they ever heard. They kept saying things like, “The Body will take your legs and tie ’em up like pretzels,” and, “The Body will crunch you up in his hands into a ball and shoot you into the basket,” and then they’d giggle until they thought up another one. And I couldn’t turn up the radio to drown them out either. I almost pulled the car over so I could turn around and smack their smart-ass little heads together. But I waited until we got home. When we got out of the car I grabbed both boys by the front of their jackets and slammed them back against the fender.
“Listen you two,” I said, “I’ve had enough of your stupid talk about this ‘Body’ kid, so just shut up. Mom makes me pick you up after practice but that don’t mean I have to listen to your crap all the way home. And tell your little twelve-year-old friend that I’ll be happy to tie his legs up into pretzels any time he wants to meet me.”
I let go of the kids and stormed off into the house. From the frightened looks on their faces, I figured I’d made my point. Maybe I had lost my temper a little, but they deserved it. I half-expected Harry to come in complaining to Mom, as usual, but he didn’t.
The next time I was supposed to pick up Harry after practice I tried to get out of it by saying I had too much homework. Unfortunately, Mom made me get my books and start working on the kitchen table before she left. That meant I had to watch out for the car when they returned. I barely got my butt back in the chair and opened my math book before they came in the door from the garage. Mom told me she was going off to the store and she would take Harry’s friend home when she got back. I wondered why she needed to take Andy home when he lived right across the street, but then I looked up and saw this strange kid standing next to Harry. He was a little older and taller than Harry and he just stared at me with his hands shoved in the pockets of his expensive-looking ski jacket. As I heard Mom’s car pull out of the garage, the kid turned to Harry and said, “So this is your big brother, huh?” Then he looked back and locked eyes with me again. “Sure — I could take him,” he said matter-of-factly. “Easy.”
Something about the way this kid’s ice-blue eyes stared at me made me uncomfortable. His tough-kid attitude didn’t seem to match his baby face. He was a better-looking kid than Harry, with handsome features and black hair that was shaved on the sides and longer on top. He had a nice tan, probably from spending Christmas vacation somewhere warm. He gave me a smug little smile that showed off his dimples. I figured like most good-looking rich kids he was spoiled and used to getting his way. That’s probably what made him act so self-confident. He didn’t look like much of a fighter to me.
“This is Jay,” Harry said. “Remember — Andy and I were talking about him?”
“Yeah, I remember,” I said. “So you’re The Body, huh? Well, I hope you’re a better basketball player than Harry, because he sucks.”
Jay got an angry look on his face and pointed his finger at me. “Hey, don’t be dissin’ Harry, ’cuz he’s my bud!” He put his arm around my brother’s shoulders. “If you got a problem with him, you can take it up with me.”
I suddenly realized what this was about. Harry asked Jay to come home with him and threaten his older brother. What an idiot! Did he think I was going to be all nice to him because I would be scared of this little twelve-year-old? The idea was so funny I laughed out loud. I rose out of my chair and stood up to my full height. I was a foot taller than Harry and had at least seven or eight inches on Jay.
“You are so stupid, Harry!” I said. “Having a little sixth-grader by your side is not gonna stop me from pounding on your ass anytime I feel like it. This isn’t the school playground, you know. I’m your brother, I’m sixteen years old, I’m twice as big as you are, and you’re just gonna have to deal with it, okay? Now, tell The Body here that he can go back home to momma and try to intimidate the other grade-school kids, because it ain’t gonna work on me.”
Jay’s expression didn’t change. He kept that silly grin on his face as he stared at me. I turned around and scooped my books off the table to head back to my room. As I passed Jay I decided to wipe that smirk off his face by brushing him aside with a hard elbow to the shoulder. Only he must have seen it coming and braced himself or something, because his shoulder was like a rock and he shoved back, sending me off balance. I stumbled over against the drainboard and dumped my books into the sink as I grabbed the counter to keep from falling down. The boys were laughing at me as I fished my math book out of the scummy dishwater. I was so angry I could feel my face turning red.
“I was going to let your little trash-talk slide, kid,” I said, “but you keep this up and I’ll be happy to smash in that pretty little nose of yours. You better watch yourself, boy. You ain’t The Body in this house — I am.”
Jay turned to face me with his feet apart and a confident look on his face. “Oh yeah?” he said, cocking his head and unzipping the front of his jacket. “Anytime, big man. If you think you can take me on, let’s go right now!”
I wanted to do it so bad. I wanted to tackle that little twerp and wrestle him to the ground and thump his head against the kitchen floor until he begged for mercy. But I kept thinking about my mom coming home and finding me thrashing this new kid that Harry just met. I probably couldn’t explain that. So I took a deep breath and tried to calm down.
“I don’t want to fight you,” I said. “Beating up a little kid like you wouldn’t prove anything. You got a big mouth and I don’t like you, but I don’t want to hurt you, either. So just stay out of my way, you little punk. Go play in Harry’s room or something.” I grabbed my dripping book and headed out of the kitchen.
I froze in my tracks. That was the one word I was hoping Jay wouldn’t say. He was going to force me to do something I didn’t want to do. Jay turned to Harry and snorted with contempt.
“I knew he was going to be a chicken. Most big brothers think they’re so tough because they can beat up on their little brothers. But when they have to fight someone else, they’re chicken. My big brother used to pick on me, but he don’t anymore.” Jay looked at me and smiled. “He knows better now.”
I don’t mind telling you it was getting pretty hard to keep my composure. I slammed my book down on the table, then held up my fist and shook it in Jay’s face.
“Fine — you want to go home with a bloody nose, kid? Keep it up and I’d be glad to do it. But I’m not going to get into trouble with your parents and mine just to shut up a big-mouthed little snot like you. It’s not worth it.”
“Hey, why don’t you arm wrestle?” said Harry. “Jay’s a really good arm-wrestler. If Jay wins you promise not to pick on me anymore. If you win I’ll do all your chores for a week.”
So this was their plan. It was amusing that Harry thought this kid was so strong. He’d probably seen him shove around the other sixth-graders on the basketball court and figured Jay could do anything. It would be fun to see Harry’s face when I smashed his hero’s arm down on the table.
“Two weeks,” I said. Harry looked at Jay, who nodded.
“Okay, I’ll do your chores for two weeks,” Harry said. “But if Jay wins you can’t even touch me ever again unless I say so.”
“You are so stupid, Harry,” I said, as I sat down and put my elbow on the table. “You shouldn’t ever make a bet like this. Just because he says he can do it, you don’t have to believe him, for Christ’s sake. He’s just bluffing, can’t you tell? What a dope!”
Jay pulled out the chair across the corner of the table from me and pulled off his jacket. Underneath he was still wearing his basketball uniform tank top. I had to admit his tanned arms and shoulders looked pretty solid for a twelve-year-old. He was obviously much more of an athlete than my brother. It was nothing spectacular, but it was a lot more muscle than you’d see on most kids. I guess that was why they called him The Body. Jay sat down and propped his elbow next to mine. I was surprised that his forearm was almost as long as my own. He gripped his slightly smaller hand with mine and gave it a squeeze. I wasn’t gonna let that fool me. I squeezed back.
“You ready?” Jay said. I nodded. “You start us, Harry.”
My brother slowly said, “One… Two… Three… GO!”
Jay and I pressed hard at the same time and our hands didn’t move. I was only using about half my strength, but I was surprised that this kid could match me right off the bat. My forearm was clearly bigger than his before we started, but as soon as he flexed a ridge of muscle popped up and his forearm bulged out almost as big as mine. It was really quite an amazing sight. He was one of those guys that had “hidden muscle” that grew out of proportion when they flexed. I knew a teen like that at my high school, but I’d never seen a muscle pop up in a little kid’s arm like that. Jay’s armpits were completely smooth, without any hair, so I figured he wasn’t an early-developer going through puberty at a young age. That was just natural kid-muscle bulging in his forearm. Pretty good for a kid, I thought — but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Although Jay was tougher than he looked, I wasn’t using anywhere near my full force yet and he wasn’t able to move my arm at all. I was a little disappointed that it was going to take some effort to finish this kid off. I wanted to coolly push his arm down and put him in his place. But I decided to be patient. After watching Jay’s bulging forearm struggle against mine for a while and letting him wear himself out, I figured it was time to make my move.
“You ready for some real muscle?” I said, to let him know I had a lot more to give.
“Sure, bring it on!” he replied confidently. I had to hand it to this kid. He kept up his tough talk right to the end.
I looked him in the eye and gave him a little smile as I turned up the power. I wanted to see the look on Jay’s face when his arm started moving down and there was nothing he could do about it. But Jay smiled right back and kept his eyes locked on mine as his arm somehow matched my strength. Our hands continued to vibrate in the neutral position. The ridge of muscle in Jay’s forearm bulged again. I stared at his arm in disbelief. There was no way a kid this young should be able to hold my arm back like that!
“All right, Jay!” Harry cheered. “Come on, I know you can do it!”
The annoying voice of my little brother made me angry. It was time to go all out and end this. If I let it go on any longer it could get embarrassing. I quit trying to stay cool and leaned forward a little, preparing to crush this kid’s arm. I grit my teeth and let out a grunt as I flexed my arm with everything I had. If that’s what it took to smash this kid’s arm to the table, then that’s what he was gonna get. I felt Jay’s arm tremble and give way a little as the muscles in my arm tightened up fully and bulged to the max. He was finally gonna feel the real difference between teen-muscle and kid-muscle!
Jay’s arm went down a bit, stopped, and almost immediately snapped back up to the neutral position. When that happened, my brain kind of short-circuited or something — like it refused to believe what was going on. I was holding my breath and grunting as I used all the muscle I had to try and put this kid’s arm down. I could feel my face getting redder as the blood rose into my head. And still his arm didn’t move! As my brain was freaking out trying to understand what was going on, I heard Jay’s voice speaking calmly.
“Say, ‘One… Two… Three… Go’ again, Harry,” he said.
“I already did,” Harry said.
“Just say it again!” Jay ordered. I couldn’t believe how normal his voice sounded. He wasn’t even breathing hard! I was afraid to take a breath and let up even the slightest bit. I kept fighting against this young kid’s arm with everything I had. “Are you ready for some real muscle?” he said, mocking me with a glint in his eye.
“Okay, One… Two… Three… GO!” Harry shouted.
On the word “GO!” there was a slight change in Jay’s face. For the first time, he frowned a little. I looked at his arm and saw a bigger change. The ridge of biceps muscle in his upper arm started to grow and mound up into a ball. Until now, he had been holding me off using mainly his forearm muscles, but now his thick kid-biceps was bulging up into a genuine peak. Immediately my arm started moving down and showed no sign of stopping. In desperation I started to snort and howl and repeatedly tried using my shoulder in a jerking motion to fight back. It was no use. Jay’s powerful kid-biceps was fully flexing now, and as that hard little ball of muscle bulged out even more, I was doomed. Once my arm started its slow move downward it never stopped, not even for a moment. In just a few short seconds I felt the back of my hand pressed firmly against the cold, hard table. It was total humiliation. The cocky kid smiled at me as he held my arm helplessly pinned to the table for what seemed like forever, but was probably only about ten seconds.
Harry cheered and clapped. Jay stood up and slapped my brother a high-five. “Piece of cake!” he said. I groaned and lay my head down on the table so I didn’t have to look at him. I heard Jay tell my brother he didn’t have to worry about me ever again, and Harry laughed and thanked him over and over. Then they left the room.
I don’t know exactly how long I sat there at the table. As I said, my brain kind of short-circuited. I saw it happen, I felt it happen, but I still didn’t quite believe it. All I know is, I was still sitting there staring at the wall when Mom came home. She asked me what was going on but I excused myself and went back to my room before she took Jay home. I didn’t want to see that little muscle-kid again.
But I would see him again. And I hadn’t had the worst of it.
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