A Brother's Keeper
a story about faith, hope, and redemption
He was over an hour late to work. His motorcycle still wasn't fixed, and he wasn't on good enough terms with anyone to bum a ride. Hattie certainly didn't have any transportation, though she had the good grace to leave once he realized he was late.
Buckley didn't understand her. She was so eager to be friends with someone who wanted to be alone. Someone with a bad reputation who certainly didn't respect her beliefs. He chalked up her efforts as a "conversion case", and decided to ignore her in full force.
Which wouldn't be hard, as his boss demanded he make up for his infraction with extra hours. Less time on campus meant there was a smaller chance he'd run into her. He had asked her, as she was leaving, how she found his dorm number.
"Oh, your dorm manager gave it to me."
"They aren't allowed to do that," he replied angrily.
"I suppose not." She looked slightly troubled at this, as if the idea that she did something wrong was problematic. Her innocence was annoying. "Either way, he doesn't like you at all. Surely you're not mean to people who work to serve you?"
"I'm mean to everyone. Now get out."
Hattie smiled that beatific smile of hers and left, leaving the tacos behind. It was so frustrating. He didn't want friends, and here was some weird girl forcing herself into his life. If she knew what was good for her, she'd leave him alone. He was a rotten friend, and she was barking up the wrong tree if she figured she'd make him "go soft."
He didn't want to be soft. The more abrasive Buckley was, the more people would leave him alone. His coworkers, who had a strong camaraderie with each other, ignored him. One too many brush offs sent the message that he didn't want to join in their jokes or their drinking nights. He did his work alone, loading and unloading the trucks that would come in to deliver the industrial materials to factories or other places. It was a hard job, and Buckley found he no longer needed to work out to keep in shape. The labor was intensive, and he found it was completely different than going to some gym and running on a treadmill or lifting weights.
Eight hours of solid labor later, he returned home, exhausted, to do his homework that he'd neglected all weekend. His roommate was actually home, and awake. Jake and his girlfriend, some pinchy faced girl with a high pitched voice who hated Buckley even more than most people did, were cuddling on Jake's bed. Judging by the sound coming from Jake's laptop, they were watching some trashy movie.
Buckley put in his headphones and started working on his assignments. He didn't care much for school, but he got scholarships from his incredible test scores and GPA in high school. So he figured he might as well see it through to the end, and was working towards a Bachelor's of Science in Physics. He had no career goals, but he figured he could always go to Grad school if he wanted. Buckley wasn't humble about his intelligence. He could go pretty far if he wanted. The problem was he didn't know what he wanted.
Buckley turned up his music when he realized Jake and his girlfriend had started kissing. He didn't want to hear the smacking. He crouched over his texts and wondered if it was just Jake who didn't care that Buckley was in the room, or if intimate relations were common across campus.
He never brought home girls and groped them in front of Jake, and Buckley wished the guy would return the favor.
He was so drawn into his Quantum Mechanics that he jumped nearly a foot in the hair when Jake tapped him on the shoulder. Buckley pulled out his headphones and looked expectantly at his roommate.
"We're taking off," he said. "If Cory comes by tell him I'm staying at Riley's, okay?"
Buckley might have felt sorry for Riley's roommate, if he were inclined to do such things. "Whatever." He put his headphones back on and went back to work. He was quite sure Jake was saying some pretty uncharitable things as he and Riley left.
It wasn't five minutes later when Riley returned. Buckley had abandoned the headphones for the speakers on his laptop. The girl, a freshman from what little Buckley knew of her, smiled at him. "Just forgot my cell phone," she said, and scooped it up from on top of Jake's bed. "Are you going to still ignore me?"
"Of course." He turned his back on her. He clicked his pen as he tried to make sense of the question he'd just read.
Riley crept up behind him and put an arm around his shoulder. "Come on, Buck. You were so hot."
"Get off of me." He pushed her arm off. Buckley spun around in his chair to give her the full force of his glare. "If Jake finds out you tried to-"
"He's not going to. I hate you, he'll never suspect I tried to blow you."
Buckley rolled his eyes. "I don't get your fascination with trying to get it on with a person you hate. Is there some sort of bingo card for your sorority? Oh, blew a jerk, slept with a stranger in a fitting room, and groped a waiter, Bingo."
Riley frowned at him. "You are possibly the only guy who would turn down what I'm offering. Are you gay or something?"
Buckley snorted. He turned back to his homework. "If that makes you feel better, sure."
"I gotta go," she announced. "There's a guy who knows what he's getting waiting for me."
"Oh, I'm quite certain he totally doesn't know what he's getting, Riley. Go away. If you ever try doing that to me again I'm telling Jake."
"He won't believe you."
Buckley snorted again. "Probably not, but your sorority sisters aren't as untrustworthy as me."
Rile let out a huff, but left. Buckley gripped the pencil in his hand so tightly it snapped. He threw the pieces at the window, where they bounced off harmlessly. Riley was perhaps the only girl to have ever withstood his anger and hate. Girls usually didn't want to be with someone who despised them, no matter how handsome he was. Riley just didn't care. Either she was after the notoriety that would come with conquering the resident jerk, or she simply thought he'd be a good lay.
Either way it was plenty disturbing. Perhaps almost as disturbing as he found his own personality. He retrieved a fresh pencil from his drawer. Buckley wasn't a slouch. He wouldn't let Riley the Whore distract him from his schoolwork.
As he trudged to class in the rain the next day, Buckley wondered what would have happened if he'd given in to Riley when she first approached him. Jake no doubt would have found out, and the rest of the semester would have been hell. Buckley turned up the collar of his jacket as the steady rain started increasing. He passed the geese on the path, and several students with umbrellas. The geese liked the pond that was situated in front of two of the campus buildings, but it provided too much attraction for the stupid birds. Stepping in wet bird droppings wasn't the greatest way to improve anyone's mood.
Neither was thinking about his roommate's slutty girlfriend. He'd learned long ago that momentary satisfaction caused more problems than it solved. Just because he was attractive didn't mean anything, and he didn't understand why a choice few girls didn't realize that either. But he supposed that was the hedonistic college lifestyle.
Personally, he just preferred to ignore the existence of everyone else, which worked wonders when he was annoyed.
He finally got to the liberal arts building and shook the water out of his hair. It wasn't very effective, so he ran his fingers through the strands a few times. Everyone else around him who didn't have the luxury of an umbrella looked like drowned rats, so he supposed he looked similar. He hoisted his messenger bag higher on his shoulder and made his way to the stairs.
When he got to his history classroom, he realized he was early. That usually didn't happen due to his strange sleep schedule. He was pleased, though, as he could snag a back grow seat where he could glower most effectively. He shed his jacket and draped it across the back of his chair. He pulled out his notebook, thankful the rain hadn't penetrated his bag, and flipped open to where he'd left off of his notes.
Buckley was a conscientious note taker, but he felt somewhat ridiculous being a junior in the Physics program and only now taking his liberal arts elective. Most of the students were freshman.
Buckley nearly groaned at the familiar, irritatingly cheerful voice. He looked up to see Hattie carrying a closed umbrella and looking far too dry for the dreary day. She dropped her bookbag on the table and set the umbrella against the table leg. "How are you today?" she asked.
"Why do you even care?"
"Well, you were quite upset yesterday when you realized you were late to work, and normal people ask those kinds of questions. I wasn't expecting a detailed answer, which you would have realized if you ever had a polite conversation with another person."
Buckley blinked a few times, but Hattie just smiled and sat down. She pulled out her notebook.
"Why are you sitting here? Go sit in the front like you usually do."
"I'm good." She retrieved a pen from her raincoat pocket and began drawing little squigglies in the margins of her notebook pages, which were already covered in doodles. "So did you get fired?"
Buckley let out a heavy sigh. There was no getting rid of her now. "No, but I got disciplined, and I have to work extra hours throughout the week to make up for it."
"Sorry about that."
"It wasn't your fault." He didn't say that if she hadn't come, he probably would have slept even later. She could probably infer that for herself.
"Well, I still feel sorry that happened to you. Don't rain on my parade of pity here." She had a strange ability to give a look that said a lot more than her words. It was maddening.
"The sky's already doing that for you." He turned back to his notes and pretended to read, but Hattie wasn't fooled by a long shot. She wheeled her chair over a bit, and started writing on the edge of his notebook paper.
"What are you doing?" He moved back so she wouldn't brush against him. She didn't seem to notice his reluctance to be close, and finished writing.
"That's my phone number in case you need anything." She wheeled back to her spot. "I doubt you'll ever use it, but miracles have been known to happen."
He looked down at the number, complete with an unfamiliar area code and her full name written in perfect penmanship. He might have just torn out the page and thrown it away, but he'd already partially filled the page with the goings-on of the Byzantine empire, so he just let it slide. Crossing it out in front of her would be just asking for trouble. He was a jerk, sure, but he wasn't cruel. Or at least not to people who only had the flaw of being too perfect.
"You know, it wouldn't kill you to be civil."
Buckley looked up at her. She simply stared back at him, expectations written across her face. He felt uncomfortable. What right did she have to even have expectations for him? She didn't even know him. "Sure, but I'm not aiming to be brimming with civility."
Hattie tapped her pen on the table, turning her attention to the front of the classroom where more drowned students straggled in. "Sure, but you might find that your attitude will get you into trouble some day."
"Been working okay for me so far." This time, he glared at her. He wished she would stop being so nice. And not just nice, but mean nice. Hattie wasn't so sickeningly polite, she had a definite twist to her intentions.
"If you say so."
Buckley was saved from further conversation by their professor waltzing in with a cup of coffee, looking as dry and perky as Hattie. He just didn't get people sometimes.