Disclaimer: Characters you recognize from Dark Shadows belong to Dan Curtis Productions. All others slunk out of my imagination. All this is done in fun and I receive no money for this.

The Good Son

He tried to pay attention during the sermon, but the only thing that held his awareness was the pinch of his shiny black dress shoes against his pinky toe. There was no need to listen to the droning of the frail old minister; no one expected him to anyway. Each Sunday, his father would ask him what he had learned during church and he would never be able to answer. His mind seemed to go blank each time his father inquired, leaving him feeling stupid and slow. And he knew exactly what his father would say after his few failed stumbles. He would "tsk" softly as he shook his head. "Thomas, dear Thomas, what am I going to do with you? Why can't you be more like your brother?"

At that point, Tom would glance over toward his brother Chris. It usually took a minute for the boy to realize that he was being stared at, but the moment he noticed, he would quickly turn to his younger brother and stick out his tongue. This action was fast; if you didn't know that Chris was prone to such behavior, you would never catch him in the act. Of course, his parents didn't know that he did this, so they never caught their oldest as he taunted his brother. Tom knew that the moment he dared to respond would be the exact moment his parents looked back at him. They would catch him sticking out his tongue and they would see Chris staring into the well-worn pages of his book, looking the innocent angel to his brother's red devil. It was better just to ignore him and hope nothing happened to him once they return to their home.

Needless to say, Tom hated Sunday mornings.

••••••••••••••••••••

A 3-½ years age difference foreshadows strained sibling relations like little else. This held especially true for the Jennings brothers. At first sight, they looked astonishingly similar. Occasionally, they would be mistaken for twins, much to the brothers' mutual chagrin. "How could Mrs. Evans think we're twins?" Chris had once moaned. "I'm older and taller than that little pipsqueak!" Tom usually shrugged off such perceptions. He knew that he didn't hate his brother, but he couldn't be too sure of Chris' feelings for him. The older boy had nearly four shining years alone with his parents; Tom had ruined that by being conceived. Both brothers knew this fact and Chris had no qualms about reminding Tom of it at every available moment.

The usual fights between siblings took on a particularly physical turn with the brothers. Chris would regularly beat Tom to a pulp, occasionally accepting a helping hand from their cousin Joe. The younger boy couldn't take them on his own, so he usually let the beating proceed until both boys grew tired and went to find something else to do. Tom would then wander back to his house where his mother would be waiting with an ice pack and a bottle of iodine. She had probably seen the older boys running down the street and realized that they had once again pummeled her youngest to the ground. "You have to be careful of them, Thomas," she would whisper softly. "You can't let them do this to you every time they feel devious."

"But I can't hurt them," Tom would cry as he fell into his mother's warm arms. "I'll always be smaller than them and I'll always be the butt of their jokes. I'll never win!"

"Nonsense," she would reply. "You are a lovely, intelligent boy and you'll grow to be a lovely, intelligent young man. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Don't let anyone else make you feel low. Thomas, dear, you can't let anyone control your life."

••••••••••••••••••••

Besides his mother, Tom knew that he had one more ally: his grandmother Lenore. His mother's mother had lived with the family since Tom was only a few months old. Unlike Chris, Tom saw the old woman as a family asset and not as yet another interloper ruining his "perfect life." Lenore recognized this and gave her love in kind. She knew that Chris treated Tom badly and, for that reason, refused to speak to the boy unless someone else in the family was present. "Um . . . grandma, Chris wants to know why you don't talk to him," Tom had quietly asked Lenore.

Lenore coaxed Tom onto her lap and held him tightly. "I don't talk to him because he's such an unrepentant child."

"That's not what everyone else says. They all say that I'm bad because I'm not always quick like Chris and I'm not . . . "

"Stop it! What's with all the 'I'm nots?' Listen to me, Thomas, and listen well. I don't think that you're stupid and neither does your mother. I've seen the marks you get in school. You earn better grades than Chris did when he was your age. Did you know that?" He shook his head. "I thought not," she whispered coldly. "Your father is lax on showing you any praise. You're a slow learner (there's no shame in it), but once you get it down, you've got it for life. Chris had to constantly relearn things. You'd be surprised by how much he messes up."

Tom sat back in amazement as grandmother Lenore spoke his praise. Even his mother was weary of being this thoughtful. He was surprised that she had picked up on so much that had gone on around the house. He, like everyone else, had underestimated her. "But I don't get it," he murmured. "Why are you telling all this to me now?"

"Because I want you to know it." Lenore held her grandson even closer as she kissed his forehead. "I see good things in your future, Thomas. Promise me you'll always be a good boy and I tell you, all your dreams will come true."

"Yes, mam."