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“Are you kidding me!?! You want my wife to give her kidney to a murderer? When he nearly killed her too!” I flinch at how loud my husband was shouting.
I reach out and put my hand over his, hoping he will calm down. James looks at our hands, then into my eyes, and his expression softens. Murmuring an apology, he kisses my hand and rubs it. I nod in understanding. I look at the doctor in front of me.
“I know he tried to kill me, but he is my brother. I, I don’t know if it’s right to save him. Can I think about it?” My breath is shaky, and James takes both of my hands and starts rubbing them to try to help me calm down.
“Of course you can, I can’t imagine how hard this would be. I wish I could give you more time to think about it, but he will die if he doesn’t get your kidney within two weeks. Take the week to think about it. Here-” he pulled a business card out of his coat pocket, and James took it for me.
“If you make up your mind early, call me. If you don’t, I’ll call you at the end of the week.” The doctor slouched back in his chair, looking at me with pity in his eyes. One of the nicer reactions when people learn who my brother is. It’s not how I would like people to react though. I nod.
“Thank you Doc. We’ll talk about this at home.” James stood up, and offered me his hand. I took it without heisting, a large change from back when I first met him. He pulled me to my feet and put his arm around my waist protectively. We turned around and walked towards the door.
“I’m sorry to bring back so much pain back into your life Mrs. Smith.” I turn to look at him. The look in his eyes wasn’t just pity now, but guilt too. James’ grip on me is strong and steady, giving me the strength to say what I need to say.
“It’s not your fault; you’re just doing your job. As for the pain… it never truly left.” He nodded sadly.
James silently led me out of the office, and I rested my head on his shoulder. We past the visitors center of the prison, a couple of convicts talking to their families. I stare at the orange jumpsuit, knowing my brother wears one like it. We walk past the security, then down a hallway. James pushes the door open, into the warm sunlight. The weather was like this was on my tenth birthday, one before Mike turned into a monster.
When I got home from school that day, I dropped my stuff and was eminently being attacked.
“Stop tickling me! Mike! Stop it!” I screaked with delight.
“Nope, you get your birthday tickles. Did you really think you were getting out of them because Dad had to go on a business trip?”
Mike was bigger than me, even then. He went for all my weak spots; my stomach, armpits, back of my knees, anywhere he could until I squirmed out of his arms.
“You’re a jerk. Even on my birthday.” I pouted. I was just joking around with him, and he was perfectly willing to play along.
“Well, maybe there’s a way I can make up for that. I remember how you wanted to try my games?” My mood soured for real, but I nodded. I had gotten to the title screen of one of Mike’s war games before Dad caught me and both of us got in trouble.
“Well, now you’re ten and that’s when I first got those games. So, there’s no good reason you can’t play them. You want to play now?” My eyes widened and I nodded vigorously.
He laughed at my reaction, and led me to the console. He picked one of the many games that were out of my reach, saying it didn’t have blood and the controls were easy to pick up. He showed me how to set up my own file, telling me that using Julie as my username was a bad idea, because a lot of the people online would start insulting me just because I was a girl. It would be better to use a more guy like nickname, like killer or Black Death. Then for hours he patiently sat with me, trying to help me understand how to play a first person shooter without being killed every ten seconds.
Mike was my big brother, and I still thought of him as that. The man who tried to kill me years later was not Mike. It was a monster who looked like Mike and had his name. But it wasn’t my awesome older brother.
“Julie?” James spoke, starting me out of my thoughts.
“You want to go get some ice cream?”
I smiled and nodded. I had met James in an ice cream shop back in college, one of our mutual friends had ‘coincidentally’ brought me to the shop where he was working, trying to get me to take a break from school work.
The door’s bell twinkled as Hanna pulled me into the building. I was very annoyed with her, always pulling me this way and that. I was perfectly content to live in my dorm room except to go to class, thank you. She glanced at me and noticed my glare.
“Oh, come on Julie, you never come out! Besides, it’s just ice cream!” I rolled my eyes at her endless energy, and I glance at the man behind the counter. Beautiful piercing blue eyes look back at me. Shaggy dirty blond hair framed his face and he looked innocently curious. I felt my checks heat up slightly, then I decided that it wasn’t so bad to come outside that day.
“Hey Hanna. What would you and your friend like?” His voice was like music to my ears.
“The usual for me, thanks James.” Hanna said. She came here often enough to have a usual with him? Does one of them like the other? Eeck! It’s my turn!
“T-two scoops of Rocky Road please.” He nodded and smiled at me, and it lit up the room.
“Cup or cone…?” He asked, drawing out the sentence. Woops, I forgot to say which one! I blush hard enough that he will now notice. Darn it.
“C-cone please.” He nodded and turned to get our ice cream and began talking.
“So, I’ve never seen your friend on campus Hanna, does she go to a different school?“ He asked.
“No, she has social anxiety. She freaks out when meeting new people, so she stays in our dorm room when there isn’t class. But as a friend who also has had a phobia, I’m trying to get her to confront it. Ooops, that wasn’t mine to share. Sorry Julie.” She looked at me apologetically. I waved her off. She couldn’t always control her ADHD; it would be silly to expect her to. Besides, I was so nervous I don’t think I could have told him myself, even though I wanted to.
“So you’re Hanna’s reclusive roommate! She’s told me a bit about you, but not about how pretty you are.” I blush even harder at this.
“Thanks.” I say softly. He finishes making Hanna’s Mint chocolate chip and hands it her. He turns away to ask his next question.
“So, I’m curious, were you born with social anxiety or did something happen to make you that way...?” A pause, no one spoke.
“Hanna’s told me a bit about how mental disorders come about.” How did he know I was wondering where he thought of that question? I look at Hanna. She nods, encouraging me.
“I-i’ve had symptoms ever since I can remember, but it wasn’t too bad until… until...” The memories were still quite fresh and hard to talk about. I look at Hanna for help.
“Until?” He asks, probably turned around to face me now. I keep staring at Hanna.
“C-could you?” She smiles gently and nods.
“Help you finish what you were saying? Of course. Do you remember that huge news story two years ago about the shooting in that mall in Kansas?” Hanna puts a comforting hand on my shoulder. I close my eyes, dreading his reaction.
“Yeah, I do. Terrible thing for everyone involved. Why?” Here it comes; he’s going to hate me.
“The shooter was her brother. He was the person she trusted the most, stabbed her multiple times and left her for dead before going on that rampage. She managed to drag herself to a phone and call for help. She’s lucky to be alive.” Hanna finished. Silence. Despite my eyes being closed, I felt tears building up. The victims’ families hated us for what he did. This James would too.
“Holy crap, and I thought my dad’s Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was bad. He’s a cop and he’s seen a lot of things, but I don’t think any of his stories compare to that. How long did it take for the ambulance to show up again? Ten minutes?” He… He wasn’t mad?
“F-fifteen.” I corrected him.
“You’re still alive? No, you managed to get into college and keep living a life despite that. You Julie are a survivor.” He… He was impressed? It was sheer luck I lived, and I was always held back by my huge fear of people. I couldn’t even look this nice guy in the eye!
The half door for the back counter opened and closed and footsteps came around to us. My legs started trembling. I open my eyes and look at him. His blue eyes have the kindest, most understanding look I’ve ever seen in my life.
“Here, this card has the number for one of the best psychiatrists in the area, and I wrote my number on the back. If you need someone to talk to, just call me, any time. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to remember what you said at three in the morning, but I’ll try to listen anyways.” I smile a bit at the joke, and take the card from his hand. My hand brushes his for the briefest second and sparks seem to come from his hand.
“Why don’t I make your life easier and put both your ice creams on the house? Any friend of Hanna is a friend of mine.”
“James I was going to pay, no need to-“Hanna starts, but James puts a hand up to her face to stop her from talking.
“I insist Hanna. Not budging on this one.” Hanna smirks and nods, and looks back and forth between us.
“T-thank you J-James.” I swallowed nervously.
“Oh shoot! I nearly forgot to give you your ice cream!” He ran back around the counter and grabbed my ice cream cone from an ice cream cone holder. James held it out to me. I shyly took it and gave it a lick. The cold creamy deliciousness enters my mouth. Yum, this had always been my favorite.
“Time for us to get going, I need to grab my stuff for my next class. Thanks for the free ice cream James!” She waves at him and pulls me towards the door. He once again came out from behind the counter, but this time to open the door. What a gentleman.
“Ladies.” He smiled at me. Wait, was he blushing? I smiled back.
“T-thanks again, James.” Hanna pulls me outside excitedly and I swear I hear James mutter ‘Anytime Julie”- before closing the door. Hanna continued to pull me along towards our dorm room. To this day, I marvel at the self-control she had over herself until our door closed. Then she looked at me like Christmas had come early.
“He totally likes you! I knew there was such thing as love at first sight! Take that, Disney haters!”
“I’ve never seen him so flustered at meeting someone before. It was so cute!” She was hearing wedding bells. Looking back, it was hilarious to see, but then my cheeks were as red as a tomato.
I did like him, but I was certain he was just another man. He set out to prove me wrong. Endless flowers, chocolate boxes and endless dates. He always was there to comfort me from my past and be a shoulder to cry on, even at three o’clock in the morning.
“Yes, that would be nice.”
“What else?” I say with a light laugh.
I stare at the fan, silently rotating above our bed. James’ breathing steadily, assuring me he’s asleep. The shadows dance around me, the cool wind dancing with the curtains, cooling my face.
I stare at the shadows the fan makes as it silently spins. The cool air brushes my face pleasantly, and I long to join James, who is breathing peacefully next to me, in sleep. It won’t happen though. Not tonight.
“We are here with one of the victims family members tonight, to learn more about this tragedy. So, tell me how this is affecting you.” I was back in my bed in the hospital, watching the T.V.
“My sister is dead. How am I supposed to take that? “Why did I watch that? Well, guess I was hoping for answers. I don’t remember the entire interview, but I do remember how it went.
“So why do you think he did this horrible crime?” They would later mention that he played first person shooters. As does almost every male his age in America.
“I don’t know, I’m not a psychopath.” I flinched. Normally I was use to people calling him names, but it was usually twelve year olds on online games. The nicknames were also never true. This label was a truth that would take me a long year to accept.
“I do think he should die for what he did.” I was shocked she would say that on T.V. I was more shocked that I couldn’t come up with a reason why he shouldn’t. I should be able to. He’s my brother. Naturally, me and my parents were brought up too.
“Those parents of his did a terrible job of raising him. If they had taught him right and wrong, he wouldn’t have done that.”
“And his sister. I’m not about to say she should could have changed who he turned out to be, but I would have fought him better if I was her. Because she didn’t, that monster went and killed my sister!” I understand she was morning her sister at the time, but she didn’t need to say those things.
I push myself up and silently push the covers away, making sure I don’t disturb my husband. I’m not sleeping for a while anyway, and I’m thirsty. Slipping my feet into my fuzzy slippers, I make my way downstairs. I flip the light switch for the kitchen on.
Open the cabinet, grab a large plastic cup. I put the cup under the ice dispenser on the refrigerator. Then watch the stream of water fill up the cup. I then sit at the wooden table, just staring at the water in the cup and listening to the ticking of the clock. I don’t want to think about it. So I don’t.
I jump when two hands are placed on my shoulder. I whip my head around to see it’s only James. He gives me a tired smile.
“Nightmares again?” I shook my head.
“Couldn’t sleep.” He pulled up a chair, sat down in it, put his elbows on the table and stared at me, waiting for me to say something. I sip from my cup, the icy water cool on my throat. He continued to stare at me, very relaxed, but I knew he wouldn’t go to sleep. I took another sip. I look into his eyes and break.
“I can’t figure out what I’m going to do! He really doesn’t deserve to live, but he’s my brother, and I want him to live, but I don’t… Oh James, I’m so confused!” I put my head in my hands.
Flashes of that night come back to me. A glinting knife. Unfeeling eyes. My hands red and sticky as I dial 911 weakly. James’ arms are around me, making me realize I’m shaking, hard. My heart is beating out of control and my breath is quickening. A panic attack.
Over the years, I’ve found that just letting the attack run its course instead of suppressing it makes it easier to deal with them. I snuggle into his hug and embrace my panic. I begin to hyperventilate, my heart is pounding against my chest, I’m feeling light headed, and fear has completely consumed me. I have survived these before, and I will again. It’s just a feeling that will pass and even if it comes back, I will be fine.
James rubs my back with circles, and eventually my breathing becomes slower. I’m exhausted but the attack is over.
“Better?” I nod. He takes my hand and leads me upstairs. I take off my slippers and slip into bed. I curl up with James, relaxing in his warmth. I drift off to sleep.
“- and it turned out that he just blew everything out of proportion, just like I said he did. That reminds me! I saw this amazing action movie with awesome characters and-“ Hanna blabbed to me. I stifle back laughter, she hasn’t changed a bit. If she didn’t actually see me open my mouth, she wouldn’t realize I wanted to say something. It took me a while to figure that out.
“Huh? Oh sorry, Julie.”
“It’s okay. I need your advice on something.”
“What? Are you and James okay?!?”
“What? Yes, we’re fine.”
“Oh, okay. Normally you ask him for advice.”
“He said he was too biased to help me decide.”
“Really? Normally he’s more unbiased than I am. What’s the issue?”
“It involves my brother.” There’s a pause on the other end of the phone.
“Ah. James can only think of him as your attacker, huh? Well, give me the details.” I took a breath in, and began explain how he needed a kidney to survive, and how I couldn’t decide on what to do.
“Can your parents do it?”
“They point blank refused.”
“Hummm.” I heard tapping, like she was drumming her fingers.
“Well, you have to figure out if you can live with letting him die.” I blinked.
“Which one will let you sleep at night? He was your brother once, but he stopped when he raised that knife. He did kill several people, but we are all sinners, nothing is going to change that. So, you must decide what you can live with.” I swallowed. That cleared it up for me.
“Anytime. We need to get back together soon; I haven’t seen you in forever!” I smiled.
“Yeah. We do. I’ll call you later.”
“Talk to you then.”
“Bye.” I hung up. I didn’t take long to know that there was only one choice that I could live with myself.
“You don’t have to do this you know.” I nod. The doctor nods at me.
“Okay, this will give you something to knock you out so you don’t feel the pain. You ready?” I turn my head to look at my brother, who is unconsciousness because they already gave him the drug. As a precaution, his hands and feet had been hand cuffed to the operating table. I look up towards the ceiling and take a deep breath. A mask went over my mouth and I began to feel very sleepy. The masked fogged up, and I lost consciousness.