A Brother's Keeper
a story about faith, hope, and redemption

Chapter One

He met her at 12:47 AM on a Saturday night in late October. The days were still obnoxiously warm, but the nights were humid and cool, enough so that he wasn't sweltering in his leather jacket. His motorcycle, a hunk of junk held together with grease and sheer determination, had broken down the day before. So it sat in the shop, and he was forced to walk to his job at a warehouse two miles from his campus dorm.

He'd taken inventory, extending his normal eight hour Saturday shift well past overtime and into the wee hours of the morning. The campus was dark and lifeless, even on a Saturday night. Any action would be happening in the apartment housing anyway, as the dorms were too well surveilled to offer much opportunity for parties. Most of the students carpooled anyway. One of the largest parking lots, situated a good hike from the nearest dorm building, was home to several broken lights and two forgotten cars. He tucked his hands in his pockets, and kept an eye out for anyone who might get the wrong idea and jump him to boost his cash. There wasn't a lot of crime on campus, but more than one girl had been raped walking home from the nearby strip mall over the years.

Perhaps it was the direction of his thoughts, or perhaps it might have been some other intervention, but he found himself looking over his shoulder, and scanning the street. Sure enough, a figure, a girl if her long hair was any indication, was scurrying into the circle cast by the streetlight at the edge of the parking lot. She wore a shoulder bag, and carried a plastic bag in her hand. Though her movements were swift, she didn't seem nervous. He turned around so he could see her better, and immediately he went on alert as he saw two men appear in the streetlight behind hers. He started walking towards the girl. He didn't know if they simply were traveling in the same direction or if they had a more sinister plan, but it couldn't hurt to step in. He wasn't exactly one for altruism. Or one for altruism at all. But he also didn't like the idea of violence happening to a girl.

The men disappeared into the darkness as they picked up their pace. No one had noticed him. The girl was humming to herself, but because of the distance he couldn't hear it.

"Hey," he said, once she was within earshot. She looked up, completely startled. "It's pretty stupid of you to be walking around so late at night."

In the weird light of the street lamps, her smile was almost creepy. "Well, I'm a stupid person." She started walking again, not pausing to have further conversation with him. The two guys stepped into the light, saw there were two figures in the parking lot, and stopped suddenly. They were older than a typical college student, in their mid to late thirties. They stared at him, sizing him up. He wasn't a small guy. Seeming to think better of any plan they might have had, they turned around without a word to each other and started walking back towards the street.

"Did you know you had two strange men following you?" He asked the girl, hurrying to catch up to you.

"Really? Creepy." She shook her head, her long hair blowing slightly in the breeze. "Good thing you were here. They probably thought better of trying anything with a witness."

"Are you really that naïve?"

"What's your name?" She ignored his question altogether.

"Buckley Roberts."

"Oh! I didn't recognize you in the crappy lighting. You're in my Western Civ class. I only remember because you have a weird name, kind of like me."

Buckley ran a hand through his tangled hair, finding it hard to believe the girl was that unconcerned. "So, you totally don't care that you could have been attacked?"

"I wasn't attacked, was I? No use worrying over it. It's not like I make it a habit of walking around at night. Actually, I'm pretty much an introvert." She lifted the bag she carried. "Had to get cold medicine for my roommate. Poor thing is absolutely miserable and it'll be a miracle if I don't catch it."

"Make her get her own medicine," Buckley said.

"Now that's just mean." She chuckled. "I'm Harriet Ives since you probably don't pay attention to the roster. That is the most awful name in the universe, so please call me Hattie."

"Doesn't matter. It's not like we're going to talk again."

"Why not?" She looked over to him as they were passing under another streetlight. She was curious, and as he looked back at her, he managed to place him in her Western Civ class. She didn't talk much in lecture, but she wore a silver cross necklace around her neck, wore her curly, brown hair to her waist, and was cute rather than pretty. Buckley was actually surprised he managed to dredge that much information about her out of his memory.

"You're a Christian right? So you know the story of Cain and Abel."

"Of course." She nodded her head.

"Well, if that story were indicative of my life, I'd be Cain."

She giggled.

He felt a scowl deepen on his face. "That wasn't supposed to be funny."

"Of course it wasn't, but I guess you really wouldn't understand why I find it amusing, Buckley." She shrugged. "Maybe I'll explain it to you someday."

"There isn't going to be a someday," he said, making sure she knew he wasn't joking.

Hattie just shrugged. "It's not like we're two ships passing in the night here. See you around." She waved with her free hand and began walking towards her dorm building, seemingly unconcerned by their conversation. Buckley watched her as she walked away, dumbfounded. He didn't get the impression that she was stupid, just naïve. Their conversation set him on edge, and he didn't know why. She was so unaffected by everything that had happened in the space of a few minutes. The men following her, meeting him in the middle of the parking lot when she had no idea if he was honorable or not, and his admission of why she shouldn't be around him.

And she just didn't care. It rubbed him the wrong way. But that was hardly surprising. Everyone rubbed him the wrong way. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked on to his own dorm.

Buckley was startled into consciousness by a knock on the door. He cracked open his eyes to see his roommate was nowhere to be seen. He actually hadn't seen his roommate since they moved in at the beginning of the semester, except on the rare occasion. Their schedules were just so wildly different. Buckley didn't care, and Jake really didn't care, as getting Buckley Roberts as a roommate was only slightly better than getting that one guy who didn't shower for a month straight.

The knocking came again. Buckley crawled out of bed, and rubbed his forehead as he stumbled to the door. He was still exhausted, and he had no idea why anyone would be knocking at his door early Sunday morning.

When he answered the door, he was fully unprepared to see Hattie Ives in the light of day. "What." It was supposed to be a question, but his sleep-addled brain didn't allow his tongue to finish the sentence.

"Hi!" She said brightly. She lifted up a paper bag. "I brought you tacos."

Buckley blinked a few times. "Why would you do that?"

"To thank you for last night. Because I think it was providence that had you walking home at the same time as me. And well, you seem really ticked off all the time, and tacos are always awesome."

"You brought me tacos to thank me for scaring off two guys?"

She smiled. In the daylight, he could see that her eyes were a light shade of brown. His memory was correct from the night before. She was cute, all five foot one of her, but not really approaching beautiful. She was dressed in a long sleeved dress, with her hair french braided. "More or less."

Buckley frowned. He wasn't unaware of the effect he had on girls. Throughout high school, and most especially since he had started college, he found himself hounded. Not anything particularly forward for the most part, but girls always asked to partner up with him in classes, or to study if he answered a question right aloud. He always rebuffed them. It wasn't that he wasn't interested. Sometimes he was. But it was way better if any girl stayed away from him.

"Look, Hattie. Even if you think you want it, I don't take advantage of girls."

Hattie was unfazed. "That's great because neither do I!"

Buckley wasn't sure if it was his tiredness or the fact that she was disgustingly chipper, but he had a hard time figuring out if she was joking or not. She simply stared at him, bag of Tio Rio's tacos in hand. "Don't think you can con your way into having sex with me by being my so-called friend and doing nice things for me. It's happened before, and I hate girls who do that."

"I have absolutely no interest in you, Buckley." She pushed past him, not waiting to see how her words effected him. He wasn't interested in her, but her brutally honest reply certainly threw him for a loop. She looked around his immaculate dorm with vague interest. "Plus, I'm not interested in sex either. Casual or serious relationship-wise. I'm waiting for marriage."

That didn't surprise him in the least. She set the bag of tacos on his computer desk and sat down in his chair. She had claimed the night before that she was an introvert, but she certainly didn't seem like one.

"You're weird, you know that?"

Hattie's smile widened. "You say weird, I say I don't add unnecessary complications. Either way, you don't get the sex you say you don't want and you get tacos. Win all around." She dropped her eyes from his face. "Nice shirt."

He looked down, and cringed. He'd pulled on an ancient t-shirt his father had sometime in the eighties. It was so holey it was a miracle the thing was still holding together, and it was proudly emblazoned with "Tears for Fears." Even more embarrassing was the fact that as he looked down, he realized he was also wearing a pair of red plaid boxers. He grabbed his work jeans from the floor, the only object in the room out of place, and pulled them on as Hattie thoughtfully pretended to be looking in the bag of tacos. "You shouldn't be here."

"Do you like fish tacos? I think they're pretty nasty, but I only like Long John Silvers fish planks and those are so fried you can't even realize it's fish." She held up two wrapped tacos. "Beef?"

He stared at her, wondering if she had selective hearing or just didn't care. "Look, Hattie, thank you for the tacos, but I'm serious, I don't want you here. I don't need some girl hanging around."

"Of course you don't." She pushed the tacos into his hand and he took them for lack of anything better to do. "Let me get something straight, Buckley. You are well known on campus for being something of a jerk. You're always by yourself, you're apparently a genius, but you act like it's a trial even to talk to someone."

She took another taco from the bag and unwrapped it. She continued, "And I don't have any friends either, because everyone thinks I'm weird. Which I suppose I am, but that's not really the point. What I mean to say is that I think that what happened last night wasn't a coincidence."

"Did God tell you to be my friend?" He couldn't help but keep a note of derision from his voice. Like everything else, Hattie seemed unperturbed.

"I don't know yet. That's why I'm here." She took a bite, the taco shell crunching and sending lettuce to sprinkle the carpet. He cringed. He wasn't OCD, but he hated the thought of a mess. She chewed thoughtfully. "We've both been here two years, you know, and neither one of us has made a single friend. Maybe we'll be good for each other?"

Buckley shook his head. "You're not getting me. You're right, I am a jerk. I'm a terrible person, and I hate being around other people. You seem like a nice, if oblivious, person. Find some other guy to date and leave me alone. I like being alone."

"I'm not looking to date you, Buckley. I said that already. You're not my type, you're mean, and you're not a Christian."

Buckley frowned. She had to be playing at something. Someone just didn't decide to befriend a stranger who had a bad reputation because she wanted his unwavering loyalty and impartial advice. He could believe she didn't want to date him, if for no other reason than she seemed the type to think holding hands was only acceptable behind closed doors.

"Whatever." He sat on his bed, feeling defeated. He looked at Tio Rio's Tacos in his hand. He did like Tio Rio's. It was one thing he had in common with the rest of the student body. "But you have to leave when you're done eating. I need to get more sleep before my shift at noon. And why did you bring tacos for breakfast."

Hattie lifted a delicate eyebrow. "Didn't you look at your clock? Buckley, it's 12:30 in the afternoon."

Buckley didn't believe her until he saw his clock had stopped firmly at 6:12 AM. He dropped his head into his free hand, and the one holding the tacos squeezed tight with a resounding crunch.

"I am so going to get fired."