A Battle of Words This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

January 9, 2012
The family is sitting down to eat, waiting for the meal to begin. Mom puts the food on the table and we all dig in. I am not very hungry, though I generally like my mother’s cooking. I can feel the tension in the air, it is almost tangible. I dread these times that occur quarterly during the school year. My report card is in and so is zmy brother’s. I am hoping that for once he will have good grades and my parents will be happy, but I can see the wrinkles in my mother’s forehead. Her lips crack open and she utters his name in the most menacing way possible.

“Do you have something to tell me about school?” she asks him. Jack responds by fidgeting and focusing on his food. She repeats the question.

“No, why?” Jack responds with anger and contempt.

Her eyes begin to redden as she asks me to pass the potatoes. I silently pretend to be more interested in eating than in what is going on around me. If I look interested, I know they will try to pull me into the conversation. I turn to see my cat, Pookie, look at me with huge, questioning eyes, meowing for me to pet her. I do, and she purrs.

I remember the food and begin to eat at the greatest speed possible so I can leave and avoid the dreaded conversation. The food smells and tastes great. The chicken is moist with just the right amount of gravy and the potatoes are steaming. I grab some salad and pour on my favorite Italian dressing. Then I hear Pookie jump down from the buffet table and meow. I give her a bit of chicken and return to my meal.

“Now, if you don’t pull your act together like your brother and start to get the grades I know you’re capable of, I’m not going to let you have any privileges,” Mom says as she gnaws on a bone.

I see my brother sinking lower into the depths of his chair’s cushion as he responds, “I am not my brother and I did everything I was supposed to. I don’t know why I didn’t get better grades.”

“We’ll see if you did all that you were supposed to, because if you didn’t, oh boy!” Mom is red in the face and looks like she’s about to burst. I don’t want to join in but I feel like I have to, or Mom will either kill Jack or explode. I know that once I utter any words, they will both try to use me as a defense for their argument.

Then Dad, who is also trying to avoid getting involved, interjects, “We know you’re not Sam and we don’t expect you to be. We just expect you to try your best, and we can tell you have not been doing so.” Saved by Dad, thank goodness, I think. Mom says, “Your dad is right. You need to try as hard as you can.”

“But I studied as much as possible. You can ask Sam, he saw me.” At that, all eyes turn to me and I sink in my seat, trying to escape their gaze. I finish chewing, and swallow hard. “Yeah, he was studying on, uh, Monday after school.”

“How long was he studying?” Mom asks.

“How should I know?” I mumble.

“What did you say?”

“About 30 minutes, I think.”

“Any other times?” my dad inquires.

“Not that I saw, but I don’t exactly follow him around.” I am very anxious saying this because I don’t want to get him in any more trouble, but I realize I probably had.

“On the weekend?”

“He was on the computer a long time.” Oops, I shouldn’t have said that. He is always playing, never working, on the computer.

“Ah ha! So you weren’t studying were you?”

“No, not then, but later,” Jack looks at me with contempt and I try to express my apologies by shrugging my shoulders.

“When later?”

“I don’t remember.”

Now that the conversation is off me I can again fake interest in my food.

“Well, if you can’t remember, then it must not have been very long.”

“But I …” He storms out of the room with tears in his eyes.

“Come back here!” I know that now my brother is in big trouble.

Dad angrily follows him and my mom follows my dad, telling him to calm down. I take this opportunity to finish dinner and go downstairs to play my video game. I hear my brother crying but I try to block it out. I am not able to listen to anyone in pain for long without intervening, so I go upstairs to defend his case, as usual. I know Jack is not physically harmed but two-on-one, even in a battle of words, can be brutal, especially for a person who really has no case to defend.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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