"Bobby. Bobby, wake up."
Someone was shaking me. My head hurt like mad, and someone was shaking me. Jack was shaking me, I decided, when I heard his whispered pleadings more clearly.
"Please, you've got to wake up," he said softly, his whispers becoming strained, panicked.
He thought I'd been unconscious. Poor kid had no idea. He had no idea I'd just become too lost in my own pain to pay attention to anything else. He didn't know I couldn't think straight, I could barely breathe. I'd shut my eyes and wished hard for death, hoping that somewhere among my massive injuries was a wound that would allow me to bleed out. Hell couldn't compare to being imprisoned in a broken body, lying in some dark back alley in Detroit.
"I have to get you help," he said, and from the way his voice hitched I figured he was probably crying. I could hear him tapping buttons on his cell phone. "God, you're going to be so pissed I followed you, but I couldn't help it. Why'd you have to come here? Why couldn't you just leave it alone?"
Even if I'd had an answer to that, I couldn't speak. I couldn't say I'd wanted better for him and Angel. I'd wanted them to grow up right, so Ma could be proud of them.
Liquid filled my eyes, and I couldn't tell if it was tears or blood until it rolled down my face and Jack wiped it away, and then held up his fingers so he could examine them.
The liquid on his thin fingers was both blood and tears. I hoped he would never know that—because I didn't think I could stand it if he knew he'd seen me crying. I tried to turn away from him, but the pain nearly wrung a scream from my lungs. I couldn't let him see me like that. I couldn't become another trauma he had to endure.
Jack sighed. "Oh, Bobby," he said softly, scooting closer so he knelt beside me. I felt his fingers run gently through my hair, a comforting gesture I'd seen Mom use on him a million times.
He was still young. So young—mentally, and physically.
For a long time after Jack hung up his cell phone, the only sound in that alley was my ragged breathing, and an occasional groan I couldn't suppress.
"It's snowing," Jack said after a while, still absently stroking my hair. He sounded so far away, and muffled. Like he was speaking to me in a tunnel. "It was snowing that night, when they chased me from my room and out into the back yard," he told me.
I had no idea what he was talking about. I couldn't remember him ever getting chased out of the house. Well, at least not at night.
Then again, I had been gone for a long time.
"It was dark out there," he continued. "Really dark, except for the snowflakes. I thought they were going to kill me, but they stopped and turned around," he said. "They disappeared into the dark and the snow, and it got really quiet. Like the whole world froze over, except for me. I didn't hear anything for a long time. Then I heard the screaming, and the shots..." he trailed off.
It seemed like a million years before I heard the sirens wailing in the distance, coming to save me for once. It took months for me to piece together the story Jack told me that night while we waited for the ambulance.
When Mom or the counselors asked him, Jack had always claimed he didn't remember the night his adopted parents were murdered. Later, Mom told me it was possible he really didn't remember until sitting with me in that dark alley, thinking I was going to die. She said the snow might've triggered the memory. To my knowledge, he never discussed the subject with anyone ever again.
"Goddamn it, Angel," I bitched, wincing against the sharp pain shooting through me. My good arm was slung over my younger brother's shoulders, and he was attempting to help me into the house from the car.
Angel mumbled something about white boys not being able to take the pain, and if looks could kill, my eyes would've shot death-beams straight through him.
"Oh, be careful with him, Angel. The doctor said he'd be in a lot of pain. He doesn't have the morphine drip anymore," Mom reminded, following behind us.
It had been a terrible week for everyone. Mom had stayed with me for days in the hospital, trying to comfort me—especially at night when I couldn't sleep. Jack had done a lot of crying, Angel had disappeared for a couple days without contacting anyone, and Jerry...Jerry was doing his usual thing with the Union.
"So, tell me something, Angel," I said as we struggled to make it up the staircase. "Did you really spend two days at the library trying to cram in a twelve page paper like you told Ma, or did you and Sofi have to go into hiding because her boyfriend was out to kill you both?"
"Was writing a paper, like I said," he repeated calmly. "Not my fault the teacher forgot we don't have a computer for getting email. Completely forgot it was due."
We made it to the top of the stairs, and turned toward Jack's room, where Ma had set up the extra bed for me. "Really? Mind if I read it?" I asked sarcastically. "Not like I have anything better to do these days."
I didn't have time to react when I felt him deviate slightly off course, walking me straight into the door jamb. I nearly screamed at the shot of lightning pain that started in my arm and ribs, and then quickly spread to the rest of my body. I couldn't even draw breath to curse, it hurt so fucking much.
"Whups, my bad," Angel deadpanned, backing up so he could walk me into it again.
I was gasping for air even after he got me over to the bed, and let me sit down, apparently finished torturing me for the moment. "I'm gonna kill you," I finally managed, falling onto my back and grimacing.
"No. You'll lay your stupid ass down, Bobby. You just lay there for a week or two and chill out. Never seen nothin' as stupid as what you did. You lucky you ain't dead. You know better than to go mess with crazy white dudes like Shark. I know you know better, because you taught me better than that," he snapped, crossing his arms over his chest.
I glared at him, and he glared right back, the muscle in his jaw working. He'd grown up on me. Way more than Jack had. Still, he had a lot to learn.
"You think you're all grown up, Angel?" I wheezed. "You think you can take care of your own business, and I should keep out of it?"
He nodded. "Yeah. You're damn right you should stay out of it. No one asked you to get involved, Bobby. It's none of your business!"
I groaned at the effort it took for me to lever my weight up on my elbows, gasping for breath. Once I managed to elevate myself slightly, I had to pause and rest before I could speak. "It is my business," I said, my voice weak. "You drag Jack into it, and it's always gonna be my business. I don't give a shit what you do, but he takes no part in it. Got me?"
Angel nodded after a moment of thought, then turned and left me there. He paused at the door, looking back over his shoulder.
"You need anything, bro?" he asked, his tone much softer.
I shook my head, easing back down on the bed and sighing. I sensed he stayed there watching me for a minute or two before turning to go. I listened to the sound of his footsteps fade away, and then closed my eyes, hoping to escape my pain for a while.