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Tyler sat on the curb outside school and sighed. He studied his skateboard, thinking. The skateboard had a flaming red skull inked on it, but the paint was chipping. He didn’t really like the design, but it was an old one a friend decided to give to him. It was better than no board at all, which was the alternative.
Cathy West, Tyler’s friend, came and sat on the curb next to him, dropping her purple backpack next to her.
“Hey Cathy,” Tyler said, after a moment’s hesitation, looking up at her with his brown eyes.
“Hey, Tyler,” Cathy smiled, “How are you?”
“… Great,” Tyler said, after a moment’s hesitation, looking back at his board.
“No you’re not,” Cathy said, looking at him, “I can hear it in your voice, you’re not okay. What’s up?”
“Everything,” Tyler muttered, “These guys at school, my mom, my brother, my life! I just want everything to be okay.”
Cathy was the only one Tyler could really talk to. He saw his mother only rarely, with school, his own job, and the fact that his mom worked three. Cathy studied him with her blue eyes, “Well… I can’t help you make everything okay…but…I know who can.”
Tyler groaned inwardly. He knew what was coming when Cathy said that. She always did this. “Who?” Tyler muttered, knowing the answer.
“Well…there’s God. And Jesus. And—“
“Cathy! Why would I ‘turn to’ something that doesn’t exist?!” Tyler shouted.
“Because! God does exist,” Cathy said, brushing her light brown hair out of her eyes, “And Jesus does, too.”
“Whatever, I gotta get going,” he mumbled, standing up.
“Wait, Tyler, if you’re not going to listen to me, at least take this,” she handed him a brown book.
“What’s this?” he asked, studying it. It had large golden words printed on it, “The Holy Bible” and in smaller print below it, “New King James Version.”
“A Bible. I have more. Sorry, but I gotta get home,” she said, and then started walking down the street.
“Ugh,” Tyler muttered, shoving the book into his backpack. Then, he started skateboarding to the Coffee Shop, which was where he worked. He skated past the church, and thought of Cathy. He knew she would probably be mad at him for not even listening to her. Oh, well. Suddenly, a car horn honked, and he swerved off the road.
“Get off the road, you moron!” yelled the driver. Tyler knew who the driver was – a guy at school who picked on him.
“Why don’t you follow your own advice?” Tyler yelled back, and continued skateboarding. Tyler stopped in front of the Coffee Shop and picked up his board. Glancing around behind him, he sighed. He’d rather be off skateboarding on a nice, sunny day like this, instead of working. But you can’t always have what you want, can you? No, of course, you can’t, and he knew it.
Tyler walked into the Coffee Shop and into a small “employee’s only” room to get his nametag. He grabbed it and clipped it on. “Tyler Burke,” it read in big black letters. He absolutely despised his name, because it was too much like Taylor for his liking. But, you know, at least he wasn’t actually named Taylor. Even thought it was a guy’s name, too, he though it was only for girls.
He stood at the coffee shop counter, tapping his fingers on it, impatiently waiting for someone in the shop to need help or someone new walk in. Soon, someone did walk in. However, not someone Tyler really wanted to see right now.
“Hey,” she walked over to the counter and smiled, showing off white teeth.
“Oh, hey, Kay,” Tyler said, “C-cappuccino?”
Kay nodded and Tyler turned and walked glumly over to the cappuccino machine. He leaned against the counter as the machine dispensed its frothy concoction, then turned around and handed it to Kay. She dug in her purse and handed Tyler her money, but still stood there for a few seconds.
“How’ve you been?” Tyler asked casually, handing someone else a coffee a few seconds later.
“Oh, fairly well, pretty busy...with, uh, school, church, friends and stuff...” Kay stared at him for a few seconds. Tyler winced when she said ‘church’. Did he always have to fall for religious girls? Kay had broken up with him for two reasons; One, he wouldn’t even go to church with her to see what it was all about, and two—
“So…” she started, slowly, “I’m going to a party on Saturday. You wanna come?”
Tyler sighed and shook his head, “I can’t Kay, I’m sorry. Work…and Ms. Zachary is making me rewrite an essay I ‘failed to complete’.”
Kay rolled her eyes, “Oh, of course. I should’ve known. You can’t ever do anything, can you Tyler? I don’t even know why I asked. See ya.”
Then, she stalked out of the shop.
… And two, he’d never had any time for her.
He shook his head, handing someone else their coffee. You just don’t understand, he thought. No one did, no one ever would. No one would ever understand how hard it was to live in a tiny house with two people, unable to do most of the things you want to do, hardly able to clothe yourself and your family! Hardly able to feed them, even though your mom had three jobs. No one understood what it was like to live in a trashy house that was falling apart, that needed repair every time it rained. No one would ever understand what it was like to live his life, even if they tried.
* * *
Finally, Tyler thought drowsily, opening the door to his house. Finally home. His mother wasn’t home yet, which he thought odd as it was 8 o’clock and she normally got a break from work to come home and cook Tyler and his brother, Charlie, something to eat around 7:30. Nevertheless, it didn’t matter anyway…Tyler wasn’t hungry, and Charlie was asleep.
Or, so Tyler thought, because when he walked in he didn’t hear the sounds of the TV, which was usually on when Charlie was awake. And he thought correctly, because he walked to his younger brother’s room and saw him lying on his bed, feet dangling over the side in an uncomfortable position, as if he had fallen asleep sitting up and had simply fallen over. Tyler sighed and walked over to his brother. He took Charlie’s shoes and socks off and laid him on the bed in a more comfortable position, so that his back wouldn’t kill him in the morning. Then, he covered him up.
Charlie’s eyes fluttered and opened a little. “Tyler?” He mumbled sleepily.
“Hey, Char,” Tyler said.
“Where’s mom?” Charlie rolled over on his side.
“Eh, guesss she didn’t get a break today.”
“Hm,” Charlie groaned and closed his eyes.
Then, Tyler walked out turning off the light, leaving his brother asleep in darkness.
Yawning, Tyler walked into his room. He glanced at his desk where his laptop had been that morning. It wasn’t there. Tyler groaned, and walked into the living room, looking for it. And there it was, on the coffee table, open and turned on, wasting its battery. “Charlie,” Tyler muttered, and grabbed his laptop. Then, he walked to his room and sat at his desk chair, staring blankly at the open Word document, thinking about what to write for school.
The prompt his English teacher – Ms. Zachary – had given him was, “Write an essay about a person or an event that changed your life drastically.” Tyler knew exactly who or what to write about, and they both included his father. He knew what to write about… but he didn’t know how to word it. Big dilemma.
Tyler had never been good with words. Heck, if it were not for spell check, he would have gotten “F’s” his whole life because his teacher wouldn’t know what the heck he was trying to say. Okay, kind of an exaggeration, but Tyler was not the best speller in the world.
Tyler sat in his desk chair and looked at the laptop, spinning side-to-side in his chair as he thought. He suddenly sat up and began typing.
‘Someone that changed my life drastically was my dad. He died when I was younger. He was killed in the war, shot by an enemy soldier. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t go back to when he was here and miss him greatly. Since he left, and before, really, we haven’t been able to afford much.
I secretly love basketball, and there is a reason why. Whenever my dad was home from the war, he’d always take me out to the driveway and we’d play basketball, no matter what. If I were feeling down, we’d talk about stuff as we played –“
Tears appeared in the 16-year-old’s eyes, going back to the memories. Angry at everything, he tapped the backspace key violently. Slamming his laptop shut, he kicked back from his desk, making his chair roll backwards towards his bed stand.
Sitting on the bed stand was the book that Cathy had given him. The…Bible. Thinking it couldn’t hurt, and if anything Cathy believed was true, reading this book would make him feel better. He picked the book up and started reading it, at Matthew. He was reading something about a baby being born from a virgin.
“How is that even possible?” he asked himself, then shook his head, remembering this book was not even true. He shrugged and went back to reading it. When he got to the part about Jesus healing a great multitude, he shut the book closed and threw it on the bed stand.
He was angry. If this person, Jesus, was real, then how could his dad die?! How could this great, amazing, wonderful “God” let one 11-year-old kid lose his dad when he needed him most? How could this amazing, so-called loving “God” let a 16-year-old have so much on his shoulders?
Because, this wonderful, great, amazing, loving “God” did not exist.
Beep, beep, beep.
Tyler groaned at the annoying sound of his alarm clock. He reached out blindly and slammed the ‘snooze’ button so hard his alarm clock fell of his bedside table. Tyler’s room was quiet for a few more minutes, in which he started drifting off to sleep again. Then, the alarm clock started going off again.
He groaned and threw the covers off, picking his alarm clock up off the floor and turning it off. “Could you be more annoying?” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes and shuffling out of his room.
Within fifteen minutes, Tyler had showered and brushed his hair. He walked into his mother’s room. She was sleeping. He walked over and sat on the bed next to her, looking over her. Her bright blonde hair had started graying over the past years; she was barely thirty. She didn’t need all this stress…yet, that’s what she got.
Tyler looked at the clock. 4:45 it read in big red letters. Tyler sighed softly, getting off his mom’s bed and walking out. His mom had probably just gotten back from home and got in bed.
He walked to his brother’s room. He looked at his brother for a few moments, and then decided to let him sleep a few more minutes. Stumbling into the kitchen tiredly, Tyler glanced around. The kitchen was so…messy. Like the people who lived in the house never washed them.
This, in reality, is what happened. Tyler rolled up his sleeves and started loading up the dishwasher, then started it. The rest of the dishes piled up in the sink and on the counter, he washed.
When that was done, he got out two skillets and put them on the stove, turning the stove on. He got the eggs and bacon out. Soon, he had scrambled eggs cooking and bacon frying.
Charlie stumbled into the room. Probably because he smelled food. He rubbed his eyes and walked over to the plate of bacon. Tyler smacked his hands away. “Go wash up and get ready for school, then you can eat.”
Charlie scowled, and then walked out of the room. Soon, Tyler heard the shower on. He carried the eggs and bacon over to the table with three plates. He spooned some eggs on a plate and put a few pieces of bacon on it. He grabbed a fork and carried it to his mom’s room. He knew that even if she’d only gone to bed a few hours ago, she’d be up soon. He put the plate on her bedside table and walked out.
Charlie was still in the shower. Tyler knocked on the door. “Hurry up in there. How many pieces of bacon do you want?”
“Is thirty an option?” Charlie called back.
“Uh, how about we start with two or three?”
Tyler smiled and shook his head, then walked back into the dining room. He spooned some eggs onto a plate for Charlie and put three pieces of bacon on his plate. Then, he did the same for his own.
He sat down and started eating, and soon Charlie was sitting next to him, his mop of hair soaking wet. “Haven’t you heard of a towel?” Tyler asked.
“No time for towels when there’s bacon,” Charlie said between bites.
Tyler shook his head. “Alright. Well, since we’re up so early, how about reviewing some math for that big test?”
Charlie groaned. “But I’m enjoying my morning...”
“Okay, well be prepared to not enjoy it, then,” Tyler said, thinking of a math problem. Well, Charlie had problems with his division and multiplication tables. “What’s nine times four?”
Charlie thought a few moments. “…Thirty-four?”
Tyler shook his head. “Thirty-six. Look, there’s a trick for nines. Subtract one from the number you’re multiplying nine by. That’s your ten’s digit. Now, what do you add to the thing your multiplying to get nine? Let’s try another one… nine times five.”
“Easy!” Charlie said. “Forty-five…right?”
Tyler nodded, “Yes, but that’s with fives…let me think of a kind of harder one.” Tyler took a few bites as he thought. “What’s…nine times seven?”
“Um…” Charlie thought, doing mental math. “Sixty…four? No, wait! Sixty-three.”
“Right,” Tyler smiled. “See, you’re getting it. What’s eight times three?”
“Yup. Seven times twelve.”
“Umm…I can’t do that in my head.”
“Just think; twelve times two is…” Tyler pressed.
“Twenty four..” Charlie raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, so how many twelve’s so far?” Tyler asked.
“So three more?”
“Yes..” Charlie rolled his eyes. “And three twelve’s is forty-eight, so sixty plus forty eight is…um… 108?”
Tyler clapped. “Bravo, you just did a math problem in your head!”
Charlie high fived him, grinning. He’d always had trouble with math. Tyler had, too. His dad had given him little hints and stuff that helped. Sure, Tyler wasn’t a math whiz, but he was better than he used to be.
Moreover, helping Charlie with math made Tyler feel better; one less thing for Charlie and him to worry about. Charlie didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out of the after school things he did, and Tyler didn’t have to worry about Charlie getting horribly bad grades.
It also gave Charlie something to smile about. And, if there was a God, He knew that Charlie needed something else to smile about. Tyler ruffled Charlie’s hair. “Finish your breakfast, we’ll finish up the rest of the homework you gotta do when you’re done, okay?”
Charlie nodded. Tyler stood up and took his plate over to the sink. The dishwasher was done running now, so he started unloading it. He touched one of the steaming plates and pulled his hand away. “Ouch!”
“What, are they hot?” Charlie said.
“Well, imagine that. Plates that were washed with hot water are hot.” Charlie said sarcastically, sticking his tongue out at Tyler.
Tyler narrowed his eyes. “Careful. I’m one of the people buying you those action figures. Who knows… I might just feel the need to take my hard earned money back and sell them…”
Charlie’s eyes widened and he went back to his food. Tyler smirked. Obviously, he wasn’t going to take Charlie’s action figures away. But, as long as Charlie was into action figures, there was some blackmail there. Tyler wouldn’t hold the fact that he was paying for half of his stuff over his head…much.
Once the plates cooled down, Tyler grabbed them and started unloading the dishwasher, as quietly as he could. Soon, he was done. And Charlie was also done with his food.
Tyler rinsed the remaining plates and stuck them in the dishwasher. Then, he walked over to the living room coffee table with Charlie and they started to work on his homework. It was now about 6:30. Tyler would have to leave at around seven. Plenty of time to get Charlie’s homework done.
Thirty minutes later, Tyler was helping Charlie pack his backpack. Just before Charlie trudged out the door, Tyler slipped a paper bag into his hand. “Just so you don’t have to buy lunch today,” Tyler smiled. It was a bacon sandwich.
“Thanks!” Charlie said, waving at his brother and running off to catch the bus.
Tyler smiled and grabbed his own paper bag, putting it in his backpack. Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, he walked out of the house and grabbed his skateboard.