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The Panther Brothers and the Panther Sister
I still remember the day when Erika, Vic, Brandon and I became friends. We were more than friends, really, we were like brothers and sister. Our friendship went all the back to third grade when my mother told me I had to go to early morning math lessons to improve my grades. I dreaded hearing this news but I wanted to make my mother proud so, I decided to check it out. Before I started early-morning math, I didn’t have any friends at school; in fact, I didn’t have a brother or sister to play with. I was a lonely, only child. All that changed the day I walked, bleary-eyed into Mrs. Kent’s early-morning math class.
It was so early that we could barely say our own name, but Mrs. Kent had us number off by fives and form small groups. Erika, Vic, Brandon and I found ourselves in the same math group. When we first met, we didn’t talk to each other or help each other out. After a few weeks of sitting in the same group, I noticed that Ericka liked to play Yu Gi oh cards during our ten minute break. One day, I asked, very nervously, “Do you want to trade cards?” To my surprise she answered, “Yes! Let’s trade cards!” While we discussed our cards, Vic and Brandon, who, I learned, were brothers, jumped in with trades of their own. That’s how we first started to know each other and learn that we had a lot in common. We liked the same food, television shows, and books AND we all hated math. The four of us became the best of friends.
At the end of our third grade year, Vic proposed that we have a group name. For a long time we sat in our chairs wondering what our group name would be.
“Lot’s of groups have names! I saw this movie once, were these guys called themselves the “T- Birds” and they were the best of friends.”
“I like the idea but what are we going to call ourselves?” asked Ericka.
We talked about the group name for a couple of hours so I was a little sleepy when I got the idea for the name. I was looking at our school flag with the picture of a pretty black panther and, at the same time, thinking of my favorite cartoon, “The Animaniacs”. In my mind, I remembered a character saying, “We’re the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister!” So, I blurted to my friends, “We are the Panther Brothers and the Panther Sister.”
At first, Vic and Brandon didn’t get my idea for the group name, but once I explained how I got the name, they liked it and Erika agreed. The four of us made a solemn vow that we would be the Panther Brothers and Panther Sister, forever, until the day we died or one of us moved away!
Throughout the years, our friendship grew stronger. We kept an eye on one another and whenever there was a problem in life we helped each other out. As we got older, my friends and I started to change. In High school, we met new people. Vic and Brandon hung out with the rock kids, Ericka was tight with the girlie girls. As for me, the only friends I had were Vic, Brandon, and Ericka.
In my senior year, my feelings for Ericka changed. Instead of loving her as a sister, I began to love her as something more. I would try to share my feelings with Erika but I always chickened out. I vowed that before we graduated and went our separate ways, I would tell her how I really felt about her. My plan was stalled, midway through our senior year, when the adult world entered our lives, prematurely.
The summer before our senior year, Vic and Brandon’s parents got a nasty divorce. Two months later, their father was sent to prison for trying to murder their mom. Ericka’s mom remarried during winter break. Ericka says her step Dad beats her and calls her cruel names. As for me, nothing changed, or so I thought.
Vic and Brandon started following a local band to concerts where they met a new friend, marijuana. I would grow to hate this friend for the rest of my life. Vic and Brandon chose to smoke the drug, rather than honor the vow they made to their panther brother and sister. They came to school late, were always tired, and treated me like I was a snitch. Marijuana destroyed the brothers that I had known and loved.
That was only the beginning of the end of the Panther Brothers and Sister. Ericka was slowly disappearing, too. She started to dress in skimpy outfits, hang out with jocks, and go to a lot of parties. I couldn’t figure out what triggered this change. One Saturday night, Ericka invited me to go with her to a friend’s party. As soon as we got there, the mystery about Ericka’s behavior was solved . Loud music screamed from huge speakers, kids laughed too loud, and all over the ground were Budweiser cans. I found Ericka among the crowd, drunk and laughing louder than all the rest of the kids, put together. Without hesitating, I grabbed Ericka, pulled her out of the house, and threw her into my car. I drove to her house, yelling at her, “What are you thinking?” Ericka didn’t answer, she couldn’t, she was asleep in the back of my car.
When we got to her house, Ericka’s parents were shocked to see her condition. Both her mom and step-dad promised that she would not be going to another party. And, for a while, Ericka returned back to normal, or so it seemed. The last week of school, with graduation just around the corner and everyone at school jumpy with the anticipation of becoming an adult, I made a visit to my locker. Standing next to locker 317, was Vic, Brandon and Ericka. Something was wrong; I could feel it in my veins.
I greeted my old friends. Vic looked at Brandon and then at me and said, “Look Alex, school is almost out and I think we should spend our last moments together, as best friends, before we go our separate ways.”
“So we’re having a party at our house to celebrate graduation,” added Brooks.
I stared at my friends, remembering what happened to Ericka at the last party I went to. Vic saw the look on my face and moaned, “Yes, Alex, there will be adult supervision; my mother is keeping an eye on us!” I told them I would think about it. Vic and Brandon walked away but Ericka stayed behind, staring at me. I stared at her for a brief moment, thinking about what to say. Before I could speak, Ericka blurted, “Don’t go!” I looked at her with confusion.
“Don’t go, you’ll be a kill joy at the party. Just like you were at the party we went to together,” she said.
“Hey don’t blame me for your mistakes! I saved you, something bad could have happened. You could have been raped, or worse, for God sakes!” I argued.
Ericka rolled her eyes and walked off.
“You’re acting so much like my mother,” she said.
“Why are you acting like this? You are not the Ericka I know!”
Ericka stopped before opening the door to leave school. She looked at me, angrily, and without warning, grabbed my collar and slammed me against my locker.
“I’ll tell you why I’m like this! I’m like this because of my step-dad! He treats me like trash at home. I try to tell my mom how abusive he is but she thinks it’s a lie! I go to parties and drink just so I can be with people who understand me, unlike you!” yelled Ericka. She let go of me, I stood their and stared moment and then cried out, without thinking, “I love you!” She stopped and looked back at me.
“I don’t want anything bad to happen to you tonight, so just be careful,” I said.
Ericka stood for a long time not saying anything, and I stared back. Finally Ericka broke the silence by saying, “I love you, too, Alex, but as a panther brother remember?” And, just like that, she was gone.
I stayed home that night, in my bed, trying to sleep but my eyes would not close. After a few hours of staring at my ceiling I was able sleep. The next day, my world was gone and I wished that I had never woke up. Downstairs, while I ate my Cornflakes, my mom said, “Alex, there’s something I’ve got to tell you.” I dropped my spoon and covered my ears,
when my mother told me the horrible news about my friends. I hoped that her story , was all a lie, but it wasn’t.
Three days later, I was wearing my best church clothes standing beside a grave. As the priest was making his speech, my mother’s voice kept repeating in my head. Vic and Brandon lied about there being adult supervision at their party; it was their mom’s night at book club. During the party, Vic, Brandon, and a few other friends were smoking marijuana. There was only a little bit left so they all started to fight. One of the guys pulled out a gun and shot Vic and Brandon. Someone called the police and kids ran from the party before the cops came. To escape the police, Ericka jumped in a car with kids from the party. Unfortunately, they were drunk and crashed into a tree. In the rush to get away, Ericka did not put on her seatbelt. She was killed instantly.
After the funeral, I began having dreams of my friends. In the dream, I am walking on water in a great room; soft piano music is playing. I continued to walk around the room, when Vic, Brandon, and Ericka appear.
“I thought you were dead,” I say to them in my dreams.
“We are, Alex, but, remember, we’ll always be the brother panthers….” Vic and Brandon began,
“and the panther sister,” finished Ericka.
The dream always ended the same, once Ericka spoke, all three vanished and were replaced by their tombstones. For awhile, I wondered what they were trying to say. One cloudy Saturday, it finally made sense to me. I rode my bike to the graveyard, found their tombstones and pulled out my knife. When I finished carving, I could have sworn I heard my friends laugh in happiness. On the bottom of their tombstones, below each of their names I wrote, Panther brother Vic, Brandon, and Panther sister Ericka.
Walking away, I knew that the souls of my friends were finally at peace. I also knew that, one day, I would lay beside them below a tombstone that reads, Panther brother Alex.