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Wade Patrick Henry MAG
I always looked up to my big brother. Wade Patrick Henry Newman III. A name like his demands respect. He taught me how to spit for distance, hoe the garden, and eat fifteen pancakes without puking my guts out. He helped me train so that my mile was under six minutes, and he showed me how to drive a stick shift. He was the star football player and he held the record for most home runs in a season at our small high school. He was prom king and homecoming king, most popular and most charismatic. He was somebody to me. Wade was my best friend, my role model, my confidant – until the day I realized he really wasn't.
It was hot the summer after my senior year. I was so happy to have graduated at the top of my class with a scholarship to Iowa State for cross-country running. I loved it when it was hot because it made me run even faster, almost like the heat gave me super speed, pushing me to finish stronger and step lighter.
Wade loved it too because he would sometimes get off work at the plant early if it got too hot. He always told me he felt sorry for pies when they got put in the oven because he knew just how they felt in there. All packed up tight and sweaty, just like working at the plant.
Wade was always saying something funny like that. He wanted to be a writer, and not just some writer from a small farm town in Iowa, but one who lived in the big city – New York or Chicago, the places we only ever dreamed about until Mama told us to get back to our chores. Wade loved to remind me that he was twenty-five and could fly the coop whenever he wanted, but he hadn't lost all his baby feathers yet. Pa liked to tell Mama it was fear that was holding him back, mixed with a little bit of laziness, but I liked to think that he didn't leave because of me.
On the night before my graduation, Mama tucked me into bed and smiled sweetly over me. “You're gonna be somebody,” she said and kissed my forehead, like most mamas do. Before she closed the door, I saw Wade looking in. He wasn't smiling; instead his lips were twisted together real tight like he had just drunk sour lemonade. His brow creased into three horizontal lines and he squinted his eyes real tight, so I almost couldn't see his pupils. Mama didn't see him looking at me like that, but I did.
I had only seen that look once before. Wade had looked at Davis Horner like that when he found out Missy Mae Brown asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance and not himself. I thought Davis was going to get a butt-whipping because everyone knew Wade was sweet on Missy Mae, but I never saw Davis after the dance, and Wade had been real funny when he got home that night. No one ever talked about it again, but last I heard Davis married Missy and they were living in Hawaii making millions. I don't know if Wade ever found out about that part.
After graduation, all the family and my few friends from school came to my house to celebrate. I was never as popular as Wade – no boys liked me and I never won prom queen – but he seemed to be okay with that. I liked to think that popularity was his thing and running was mine.
Wade had a few friends from out of town with him, and while they laughed and talked about the weather, I opened my gift. Everyone had pitched in and bought me an open-ended ticket to New York City. All of them knew I wanted to run up and down the streets and watch the people on their way to and from the workplace like colony ants.
I thanked everyone and displayed the ticket on the mantel. Wade stopped talking to his friends and gave me that look. Feeling nervous, I ignored him and went to help clean up in the kitchen.
Later that night, I was too excited to sleep. I snuck downstairs to look at my ticket, but it was gone. I figured Mama had moved it for safekeeping. I heard creaks and movement all night. I convinced myself it was one of Wade's friends sleeping downstairs, but in the morning I found out I was wrong.
The ticket was gone, along with my extra money from some family members. A note replaced it on the mantel that I had missed in the dark the night before. It said,
By the time you read this, I'll be on my way to New York. I know you'll be furious, but you're so smart you'll figure out a way to get me back. I'm tired of living in your shadow. It's time for me to leave the nest, little bird. Unlike you, I wasn't handed a good life on a platter. You didn't need this ticket. I did, and the way I see it, everything turned out okay.
Mama was hysterical when she couldn't find Wade. I gave her the note, and she began to cry. We all knew that Wade was gone and wasn't ever coming back. I wasn't as surprised as I should have been. Wade had let me down. There was only one thing I could think to do. I opened our screen door, felt the pure heat outside, lifted one foot and started to run. I started to run, not for Mama, not for Pa, not ever for Wade. I started to run for me. And I haven't stopped yet.