Author: Samarium PM
Julius Carpenter has lived his life in a box, from which few people emerge and almost no one enters. His brother is the only person he trusts and his strive to be better than everyone he challenges is what keeps him going. His inferiority complex rules his life, and eventually, it rules everyone else's lives, too.Rated: Fiction T - English - Suspense/Family - Chapters: 54 - Words: 155,424 - Reviews: 62 - Favs: 4 - Follows: 5 - Updated: 04-15-13 - Published: 10-15-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3065888
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
We went to Doctor Song's every Friday, sometimes just Desmond went in to talk to him, sometimes both of us, even though I didn't need therapy. He never gave me any pills, but he did ask a lot of weird questions. My answers were usually lies.
"Good afternoon, boys," the doctor said as we sat down on the couch next to his desk. He let us settle in for a second before he said, "Now, I hope I don't upset you, but I have to ask you some questions, alright? They might be a little harder to answer than usual, but I'll go slowly."
Desmond nodded. I said "okay".
He put on a pair of thin glasses, put a piece of paper on a clipboard, and sat down in a chair across from us. His firm eyes peered over the top of his glasses and right at me. He tapped a pen against the clipboard absently for a second.
"Julius, can you tell me about your dad?"
I sighed, having answered this question a million times already and having learned that it was just code for "does your dad hit you?", the correct answer always being "no".
Song sensed my displeasure and refined the question: "Specifically, I'd actually like to know if your dad has ever touched you somewhere he shouldn't have."
I raised an eyebrow. "No, I don't think so," I said, not really understanding the question. I looked over to Des to see if he could answer my unvoiced confusion, but he was staring at the wall in front of us.
Song asked the same question of my brother, in a softer, calmer tone for some reason. "No," Desmond said simply.
Doctor Song looked at him for a second before nodding. He wrote something on the clipboard and thought for a second. I wondered what that was about, but forgot about it when Doctor Song turned back to me.
"Your father..." he began. I almost sighed, thinking he was rather prone to beating a dead horse here. "He's retired?"
We confirmed this.
"He's a veteran of the Vietnam War? Do you know why he was discharged from the Army?" We didn't. "Madison tells me he was shot, did you know about this?"
I did, but Desmond had already shaken his head "no".
Doctor Song cleared his throat and shifted positions in the chair as if this would help him think. "Have you met any of your grandparents or extended family?"
I said, "All our grandparents died before we were born or when we were babies. Mom's an only child, and Dad..."
Song smiled. "He had a brother."
Both of us remembered and told him so. The doctor seemed to like this.
"But he passed away long before you were born." This made sense with snippets of conversation I'd heard as a child that had just come back to me at that second. For a moment, I wondered where he was getting this information before I realized that my mother had probably told Madison all of this before she disappeared. "He was in Vietnam as well, but he was shot and died. His name was Desmond."
My brother's eyebrows shot up.
Song smiled. "You were named after him."
The doctor didn't know. "But it's not uncommon for people to name their children after loved ones who have passed away," he informed us.
He asked Desmond how he felt about it. He said it was weird, knowing that he was named for a dead person. Song wrote this down.
I didn't think it meant much, but I considered the implications of our parents naming one of their children after our late uncle. I wondered why our uncle instead of another dead family member, why Desmond had inherited the name instead of me – because he was born first? I couldn't answer these questions, so I opted not to read into it too much.
One day, however, I thought: maybe our father took his anger out on Desmond so much because of his name, because of what happened to his brother. It was an interesting thought, but I shook it off, not wanting to know.
We hung out with Bridget a few times over the summer, but mostly kept to ourselves in our group of three. One day when we were over, Mrs. Lincoln said she was curious and wanted us to do something. "About what?" we'd asked, but she'd simply smiled and given us some sort of test to fill out. The test was composed of a bunch of pages of weird problems to solve that were some awkward combination of math, English and cognitive problems.
"What's this for?" I'd asked part of the way through.
"It's an I.Q. test," she'd said. "It'll tell you –"
I interrupted: "How smart you are."
Madison nodded, patted me on the head, and watched as we filled out the tests. When we were done, she marked them, did some quick math I hadn't realized she'd known and produced our scores.
Except she said she must've miscalculated, so she checked them again. "Huh," she said after a moment, "same answers."
Mikey said, "Did we win?"
Mrs. Lincoln laughed and nodded. "You sure did."
"What's my score?" Desmond asked, looking over her shoulder.
"Well," Madison said, "Looks like Desmond, you got one-forty-five, Julius got one-sixty-three, and Mikey got one-thirty-four."
"What does that mean?" Desmond said. "Are we smart?"
She gave us all amused looks. "Anything over one-thirty is supposedly 'genius'. You're a bunch of little geniuses!"
Des grinned and high-fived Mikey. I paused, asking her to show me the math. She tried, but it was too advanced, even for me. I asked her where she'd learned it, but she reassured me it was just high school-level. She smiled and said, "You know what my I.Q. is?"
"What is it?"
I thought about this for a moment. "So I guess this test isn't very reliable."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you're way smarter than I am."
Mikey's grandmother chuckled softly at this. "Oh, sweetie, no I'm not. You have no idea all the stupid things I've done in my time."
I raised an eyebrow. "But that doesn't make you stupid."
She placed a fat hand on my shoulder and said, "You're very wise, Julius. Never lose that trait, dear. It'll take you so much further than intelligence ever will."
I was surprised to see her eyes watering as I nodded. Desmond and Mikey snapped out of their conversation at that moment and she shook it off, accepting Mikey's idea of playing a board game.
We had originally planned to undertake the task of baking Mrs. Lincoln a birthday cake ourselves, just Mikey, Des and I, but Mr. Lincoln found this funny and managed to talk us into letting him help us. Since we really didn't know anything about baking cakes, we agreed.
Mrs. Lincoln was at a doctor's appointment on the day of her birthday, so we helped Daniel bake the cake then. And "help", we soon realized, was actually code for "watch while he does it".
"Here," he said with a soft smile, "does someone want to break some eggs?" We each took one, smashed it against the counter, and let it plop into the bowl Mikey's grandfather held out. A couple sharp shells fell into the bowl, which Daniel chuckled at and fished out with his fingers. Desmond agreed to pour in the sugar and flour, eager to help, while Mikey and I sat at the table, less interested in baking than Des was.
We played Go Fish while the cake baked. Daniel left the easy part, the icing, up to us, which we effectively ruined. He said not to worry about it. We found a couple of candles in the drawer, but Mr. Lincoln said we couldn't fit sixty-two candles on the cake, so we settled for ten.
When we heard Madison's car pull into the driveway, Daniel lit all the candles and told us to say "Happy birthday!" when she came in the door.
A few seconds later, the door opened and closed.
"Happy birthday!" the three of us said with excited smiles. It was almost unnoticeable, but I thought I caught a pause between our exclamation and Madison's response. She forced a smile and shuffled into the kitchen. We'd all forgotten about the cake when we noticed she was holding a piece of paper.
"What's that?" Mikey said, all of us suddenly noticing her face beginning to fall into a sad expression.
Mrs. Lincoln looked from her husband back to us and said plainly, "I have cancer."
I stopped breathing for a moment and felt my hands slowly curl into clenched fists, not in anger, just in confused sadness. We all stared in shock as she unfolded the piece of paper and handed it to Daniel before silently starting to cry. After reading the offending form, Mr. Lincoln took Madison's hand and squeezed it. The three of us couldn't move, couldn't speak.
"It'll be okay," Mrs. Lincoln said to us, "I'm going to be fine, I just need to get some help from the doctors, they're going to make me better."
Finally, Mikey said on all of our behalves: "Are you going to die?"
She went pale. "N-no," she stammered, "no, don't you worry about that."
But, of course, we did worry about it. We ate Mrs. Lincoln's birthday cake with an air of anxiety, though the adults did their best to keep us in good spirits.
I listened to the conversations she had with Mr. Lincoln later and managed to determine that she had non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, which, unfortunately, meant nothing to me. I tried to figure out what it meant, but even the Lincolns didn't seem to know a lot.
What it did signify, we eventually learned, was that surgery was not an option. Madison would be starting "chemo" soon instead.
So the next day, Mrs. Lincoln went to stay at the hospital overnight, and told us that she would likely get sicker and sicker, but it really meant that she was getting better. Mikey didn't like this and couldn't understand why this was happening. Mrs. Lincoln did her best to keep us calm and uninvolved, but when we began to see the effects of the chemotherapy almost immediately, it became harder and harder to believe that everything was fine like she kept telling us.
After a few days, she was admitted to the hospital to stay, and we had to drive down there to see her. We went every day. When Desmond asked how long she would be there, she gave him a pat on the hand and said she didn't know.
The hardest thing for Mikey was, when visiting Madison in the hospital one day near the end of the summer, her hair began to fall out. He asked why she was going bald, and Mrs. Lincoln gave a weak laugh and explained the phenomenon to be a side effect of the medicine she was on. Mikey just stared at her long, thinning, white hair and said that he was never cutting his hair again in his whole life. The Lincolns found this funny, but I could tell that he was dead serious.