I wrote this story for my Writer's Craft course at school a few months ago as part of an imitation piece assignment. The imitation for it is from The Hunger Games, (spoiler alert!) in the section in which Rue is killed and Katniss realizes suddenly what Peeta meant about defying the Capitol. The alternate plotline here is a boy whose brother is going into war, and doesn't understand why his brother has to go do this. Plotline inspiration comes from Dean Brody's song, Brothers. Enjoy!
I refuse to go downstairs even though Alexander is leaving today. I know he is downstairs somewhere. I don't want this goodbye to be my last words to him. I know the likelihood that this will be the end for him. I know all about that ghastly, bloody war being fought in a barren desert over on the other side of the Atlantic. I know he got the call last week – but I am in denial. I don't want to watch him leave for what might be the last time. In a few minutes, our parents are going to drive him to the airport. They want me to go, but I will not. I will not watch him walk away.
I get up off my bed. Have they left yet? I look out of my window and find my answer. There he is, standing beside the car. My dad closes the trunk over his duffel bag. "Ready?" His voice floats over the breeze and up to me.
Alex looks up at my window – did he know that I was watching them? – and he catches my eyes. My heart races.
No. No, no, no.
How can I let him leave like this? I shake my head and push back from the window. I bolt downstairs as fast as my legs can carry me, and then I push them harder still.
"I'm coming!" I shout as I reach the car, and skid to a halt. Alex's mouth turns up in a little smile. I know this is as hard for him as it is for me. My parents appear bewildered. "I'm coming with you," I repeat firmly.
I am silent on the short ride to the airport. Once there, Alex doesn't hesitate. He gets out of the car solemnly and pulls his only bag from the trunk.
In the terminal, right before he goes, I call his name, and throw myself at him. We stand there in an embrace. I don't want to let him go. For a moment, I don't care that I'm fifteen and he's twenty-two and that it's social suicide to stand here and hold him tightly like I'm going to lose him. I don't care that a few tears have slipped from my eyes. I don't even care that everyone's staring. It's just me and Alex.
I remember his words when he first told me he was joining the army. "Someone has to fight for the people that can't fight for themselves," he'd said.
I know all the whys, but it doesn't stop me not wanting him to go.
"You come back, you hear me?" I say. The lump is audible in my throat, which isn't good, because I don't want him to see me cry. I want to be strong for him, but I just can't. "Promise me, Alex. Swear to me that you'll come home again."
"I will, Shane. We're brothers. We'll always find each other."
"I'll hold you to it." I let him go. He says a last goodbye to my father, and then my mother, and then ruffles my hair. For once, it doesn't make me mad at him. It just makes me sad.
I write Alex a letter a week, keeping him updated on everything that he misses. Sometime we use Skype, but the internet over there is really bad. I probably annoy him, and I know that, but this is the only way I can satisfy myself to know that he's okay. I tell him about my baseball playoffs, and I send him a picture of my first girlfriend, and then of my second, and later, my third. We aren't typical brothers, not when he's halfway around the world, but we were once. Everyone has their hero when they are young. Mine is Alex. He's eight years older than I am, and he's my best friend. He taught me how to hunt, how to throw a spiral, how to swing a baseball bat. Even now, we're just as close. He's still overseas when I graduate from high school, but my parents videotape the ceremony and send the DVD to him. I can only imagine what he's going through over there, while meanwhile, I'm sitting safely through an extra year of high school, and worrying about passing my road test.
"You have no idea how hard it is, you not being here," I write once. "I know I sound like a stupid, cheesy little brother when I say this, but I miss the little things the most, I think. Things like fishing at the cottage. Pillow fights, when we were little. I miss of lot of things when you're not around. But mostly, I just wonder where you are, and if you're okay.
"Can't you come back yet, Alexander? You were supposed to be gone six months, and now it's been two years. You've done what you went over there to do, haven't you? Hasn't it been enough? I'll do anything to get you back home right about now. Isn't there someone I can call? Isn't there someone who might let you come home?"
I beg, but every time he writes back, he reminds me that this is what brothers do – they fight for each other. While I am fighting for him here, just to get him back, he is over there, with his other brothers, risking his life to fight for me and for all of those people.
The phone rings while I'm in a politics test. I look up to Mr. Johnston answering it.
"Chris Johnston speaking… Yes… He's writing a test. Is it important?" His face falls. "Oh. Of course. I'll send him down." The receiver settles back easily onto the hook and he weaves his way silently through the classroom to my desk.
My heart pounds against my ribcage, and shows no signs of slowing down. I stare at him.
"They need you in the office. Bring your bag."
"But" – I gesture at the paper in front of me.
"Don't worry about the test."
Mr. Johnston, of all people, is telling me not to worry about my test? What's going on that's so bad that he would say that? My stomach sinks. There are only a few things that could be that bad.
I get up, but the movements don't feel like me. They feel robotic and stiff, like my body is moving on its own, and I can no longer control it. I stuff everything in my bag and throw it over my shoulder. No one even looks up as I walk out of the room.
The office is quiet when I reach it. The secretary directs me to a conference room down a hallway. I am surprised to find my mother waiting inside. I am even more surprised when I look at her face and see that she's been crying. A lot. Immediately, she walks over and hugs me. Her body starts to shake – she's sobbing.
"Mom?" I am alarmed. My mom never cries. She didn't even cry when Alex was deployed. "Mom, what's wrong? Where's Dad?"
My mom coughs and catches herself. She still clings to me. "He's on his way. It's – it's – Al-Alex" – she coughs again. "I just got the call, and came straight here. He's – he" – she breaks off and leans into my shoulder. My arms tighten around her. It must be automatic, because I can't make myself move at all. I can't even think, let alone let my brain process what she is trying to tell me. The strange thing is that even though she can't say it, I know. I know exactly what she's trying to tell me, and why my dad is on his way here.
Alex is - I force the last word into my head unwillingly – dead. Alexander, my brother, my hero, my Alex… my Alex is gone.
My mom finally lets me go, and I stumble backward out of her embrace. My back hits the wall. In the pit of my stomach, I feel like screaming. But my lungs can't pull in the air. In my heart, I feel like keeling over right here, but I know that would defeat the purpose of Alex fighting in that godforsaken war that society thrust upon him.
The minutes blur into hours which blur into days. The day before Alexander's funeral, his most recent letter comes in the mail. I rip it open desperately.
Shane, it reads,
This letter will likely be a short one. We've been travelling all day, and they delivered your letter as soon as we got here. I can't tell you where "here" is, except that we're in Kandahar. The action isn't very far away from us. There have been a few bombings around here in the last few days. We'll probably see action by the end of the week. I know that scares you, but be brave. This is why I'm here.
Shane, I know you want me to come home. I know it's rough when I'm over here, and I know it's been a long time. You know I wish I could come home just as much as you do, but my tour will be over soon, and then I'll be around to take you fishing again. We'll play baseball. Whatever you want, as soon as I'm back, and I promise, Shane, I will come back soon.
Remember until then that this is what brothers are for. These are my brothers, too, and brothers fight for each other.
I carry the same letter with shaking hands to the front of the church. I've read it so many times, I have it memorized now.
I stop in front of the flag-draped coffin. I can't help myself – my hand finds its way to the lid, and then just as quickly, I move on to the podium. He promised, I think. He promised he'd come back to me. He didn't come back, though. He's still over there. He's still fighting for me. My knees are shaking. I grip the edges hard, fearing that everything else may spiral out of control as well now. Sudden anger grips me more than grief has for the last week. I find that, over only about a minute, I'm not mourning his death anymore. I'm just angry. I hate that conflict for taking my brother away from me. I hate the world for creating it so that my brother had to leave us and then die. My hand curls into a fist around my eulogy speech. All of a sudden, I begin to understand why Alex went there.
"A week ago," I begin, "I had a brother. His name is – was – Alex Brady. He was my hero, my mentor, and my best friend. Now, this box is all I have left of him. But I won't remember him this way."
Tears begin to blur my vision. I'll hold on. I look at the photograph of Alex that is on a stand in front of the coffin. He sits smiling in his dark green dress uniform.
"When Alex was deployed, I didn't want him to leave. I wasn't even going to say goodbye. I remember offering him anything he wanted a few weeks before he left, and he told me that this is what brothers do. Every time that I begged him to come home, he told me the same thing. This is what brothers are for, this is what we do. We fight for each other, and we fight for all the people who can't fight for themselves.
"I hate to say that it took Alex dying for me to understand what he meant. I'll never understand the sacrifice he made for all the people he loves, of course, but now that he can't fight for himself, I get it. Which is why, when I turn eighteen next week, I will be enlisting as well." This just slips out. I wasn't planning on that. It was just an idea that popped into my head while I stood in front of Alex's coffin. But I realize that it is what I want. I sit back down and put my head in my hands.
That night, I sit down and write a letter to Alex. Tomorrow, I'll leave it on his grave.
I buried you today. Two years ago, you promised me that you'd come back home. Your body did, but you haven't. I can't bring you back here.
Funny thing is I get it now. Everything you've been telling me for the last four years, I understand. You always told me that brothers fight for the people who can't fight for themselves, and we fight for each other. I can only imagine how much this meant to you to be willing to pay that cost for all those people you don't even know. But I guess that's what brothers are for, and that was your point all along, wasn't it, Alex?
You can't fight for yourself anymore. That's what made me realize what I have to do. Not just for you, but for me, too. I just can't sit around knowing that I'm not fighting for you. That's what brothers do, like you said. We're brothers, and I fight for you like you fought for me.
So on my birthday, I'm going to head over to the recruitment office and enlist. I hope you understand why I'm doing it.
This is the only way I can bring you back. I know that, so I'm going to go over there, and I'll be strong and brave for the both of us, instead of just for me. I'm not scared of losing you anymore. I'm not afraid to die, either. I hate that you're gone, but I know that soon, I'll be over there, where you are. I'm counting on it.
I'll always love you, Alex. I know you'll be with me. That's what brothers do.