May 27, 2005

Nic Santana ran out if his house as fast as he could. He couldn't stand to hear any more of his mother's criticism. He flung his backpack over his shoulder and didn't slow down—even to the sound of his mother's voice coming from behind him.

"Nic! Nic!" Sharon Santana kept shouting to her son. Nic kept running.

"Nicholas Charles Santana! Come back this instant!"

Nic stopped and turned around to face his mother who was standing at the front door. He was breathless.

"Why?" he shouted back. "So you can ridicule me some more? It's my life, and I'm going to do what I want with it!"

"What happened to all those applications for college? What about Harvard? That was your dream!"

"Yeah! It was! It's not anymore! College is out of the equation! And so is this stupid town! I'm through with it all!"

"You are going to college, whether you like it or not!"

"Make me! I'm eighteen! It's my life now! You can't control me!" Nic could see the tears pouring from his mother's hazel-green eyes. He knew he was hurting her, but she knew it was too dangerous for him to keep living the way he has. It was time for a change.

He needed to leave.

Nic walked up to his mother and wrapped his arms around her. It didn't matter if he was angry at her for not agreeing with his decision to leave; she was still his mother. He knew how much she cared about him, that she only wanted the best for him. But she also knew just how dangerous he was; she knew that he couldn't stay in this town any longer. He needed to leave.

And fast.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Nic whispered. "But you know I have to do this." He pulled back to look at his mother. She nodded in understanding. Suddenly, Nic felt something tug on his dark jeans. He looked down to see the innocent face of eight-year-old Danny Santana.

"Nicky, where are you going?" The little boy asked. Nic sighed. He was hoping this wouldn't have to happen. He knelt down on one knee and looked at those innocent hazel-green eyes. He hung his head.

"Away" was all he could say with a lump in his throat. He had practically raised Danny. He knew that leaving would break his heart, but it was for the best. Danny tilted his head to the side with a confused look on his face.

"Where is away?" he asked. Nic's heart ached in guilt.

"Far away," he answered.

"When will you be back?" Nic didn't know when he would be back; he just knew that it wouldn't be anytime soon. But all he said was:

"One day."

He pulled Danny in for a hug. The tears he had been holding back were released from his grayish-green eyes. He knew this was it. He wouldn't see his little brother again until he was grown. But he was doing this for him. He knew he was making the right decision.

"Why are you crying? Men aren't supposed to cry." Nic chuckled sadly as he pulled back enough to see his brother. Danny looked so puzzled as to what was happening. Why was his big brother leaving? Where was he going? When was he coming back? Then the worst question entered the youngest Santana brother's mind.

Was he even coming back?

"I'll be back some day, little brother," Nic said, as if reading his mind. "But I need you to be strong for me. You're the big man around here now. And I need you to take care of Mom for me. Can you do that?" Danny raised his hand in a salute, puffing his chest out a little. Nic let another tear slip and fall to the ground as he smiled at his goofy, happy-go-lucky brother. He was going to miss that goofy smile, all those random facts he learned from his—and Nic's old—second grade teacher, Mrs. Warren, going to the movies all the time, driving him to school almost every day since he got his license, and he'll even miss teaching Danny how to play Call of Duty when their mother wasn't home—she wanted Danny to stay away from violent video games, but Nic was always the one teaching him how to play. All those little moments will stay with him until the day he came back home.

Nic pulled Danny back into a hug and whispered, "Take care, little buddy."

"I will," quietly whispered back in the crook of Nic's neck. "I love you, Nicky." Nic held him tighter.

"I love you, too, Danny." After hugging him for a minute or so, Nic let go and stood up. He faced his mother and gave her a hug as well. Sharon Santana wrapped her arms around her eldest son and sobbed in his chest. Nic held her tighter. They both knew it was for the best for him to leave—even though she nor Danny wanted Nic to leave.

"Be careful out there, honey," Sharon whispered to Nic.

"I will, Mom," he assured her. He slowly and reluctantly let go of his mother and turned around. He suddenly remembered something. "Wait." He turned back and knelt down in front of Danny. "I want you to have something to remember me by." Danny tilted his head to the side at his big brother. Nic smiled and took off a brown leather-strung necklace with a big, long tooth tied as the charm from his neck. He then put it on around Danny's neck. Danny took the tooth in his hands and examined it in fascination.

"What is it?" he asked.

"That is a shark's tooth," Nic replied. "It was Dad's before he gave it to me before he died. I want you to have it." Danny smiled and looked up at Nic. He flung his arms around him. Nic hugged his little brother back.

"Thanks, Nicky."

"You're welcome, Danny."

Nic stood up again and turned around, not wanting to see the sorrow in his mother's eyes as he left. It would cause him to chicken out and stay. He couldn't do that, especially now. It was too late; he had made his decision.

It was time to leave.

He walked off his front porch and to his old navy blue '87 Camaro. He opened the door to the driver's side and got in. He threw his backpack of clothes, toothbrush, CDs, and money in the backseat of his car. He got his keys out of his jeans pocket and put the key in the ignition, turning on and revving up the car. His hands held onto the steering wheel as if it were his lifeline. He took a deep breath before checking his mirrors, saving the rearview mirror for last. As he looked into it, he could see his mother and Danny standing there on the front porch, waiting for him to leave. Nic turned on the car stereo and tuned it to his CD player. All six slots were taken up by his favorite rock'n'roll CDs. He turned his music up too loud and hit the gas pedal, beginning his long drive from Misty Springs, Oklahoma, to New York City. Tears flowed from his eyes and the sudden realization of what he was doing. This was it. And this time, there was no turning back.