"Eric. Let's go."

"No."

"Eric, I mean it. Let's go."

"No."

"We're going to be late."

"I don't care."

"I thought you liked school. You're the freak who always wants to go to school."

"No."

As Jake argued with his little brother, he considered his options. He could leave his brother pouting on the porch, and have his mother yell at him, or he could wait and attempt to reason with him, and be late, and have his mother yell at him anyway. This was what was called a 'no-win' situation.

"You're going to make this difficult."

Eric nodded, a frown still etched semi-permanently on his face.

"Eric. Come on."

Eric shook his head, looking more like a second grader than ever. "No."

God, he's stubborn, Jake thought irritably. "Why?" asked Jake. "There has to be a reason."

Eric looked close to tears.

Jake waited a beat, and then asked again, "Eric. Why? You used to love to school. Why don't you want to go? What happened?" Jake shrugged off his backpack and sat next to his little brother, watching him intently.

Eric sniffled. "Nothing," he said.

Jake sighed. "I swear to God, you little twerp–"

Before Jake could finish his threat, Eric burst out, "Bobby Raim said he's gonna beat me up today."

There was a moment of silence as Jake processed this information.

"Why?"

Eric shrugged, misery evident on his young face. "I don't know," he said softly, sounding near tears again.

"Aw, don't cry, Twerp," said Jake. He sighed again. "I won't let Bobby Raim beat you up. Bobby Raim won't mess with me."

Eric shrugged, then thought about it and turned to Jake. "Really? You won't let Bobby beat me up? You said yesterday that you'd beat me up if I touched your comics again."

Jake grinned. "Yeah, but as your big brother I get first dibs on beating up rights," he said. When he saw Eric's face pale, he said, "Seriously, Eric, I got your back. I promise. No matter what, I got your back."

"No matter what?"

Jake nodded and said, "We'll shake on it. No matter what. I got your back."