Brotherly hate, brotherly love
‘I hate my brother!’ Thought twelve year old Cooper. His brother was two-and-a-half and, as far as he was concerned, just a pain in the butt. It was bad enough he had to deal with his parents splitting up two months ago.
He remembered the day well. Shortly before that his parents had sat him down and they had had a long talk. Over the course of it they told him over and over that neither he nor his brother had been responsible for their break-up. There hadn’t been excessive fighting or getting on each other’s nerves. They explained it that they were drifting apart, and they both felt it was for the best to end things amicably, as the love had pretty much gone out of their relationship.
He and his brother lived with their mom, while they visited their dad on weekends. He had enjoyed having both his parents around, and before had spent time with both of them. But…ever since the divorce it was obvious that each of them had their preferred parent. His brother preferred their mom, while he liked his dad more simply because of that. His brother always got to spend time being held and cuddled and played with by their mom, while his dad paid more attention to him on weekends. Before this he had been grudgingly accepting of Todd, but now he couldn’t stand the brat. His mom got a job that allowed her to stay at home, which meant that he was regularly relegated to babysitter. His only options were to stay home and constantly watch after the little brat, or take him out with his friends, which meant that what they did was usually dependent on what Todd wanted, or he would whine and cry. The little monster at times wouldn’t leave him alone, even when he wasn’t supposed to be babysitting, wanting to sit on his lap or have a story read to him. He didn’t want anything to do with him, and that feeling got stronger and stronger almost every day, a great ball of resentment growing in his stomach. It all came to a head one day, when his brother did something that pushed him over the edge.
He went into his room and his heart practically stopped. His school project, a diorama of the solar system, was in ruins. He had spent a month working on it, and it was due tomorrow. He usually kept it at the top of his closet, but he had taken it out to put the finishing touches on it, and foolishly left it on his bed. He had only left for a few minutes to get some glue and go to the bathroom, and in that time an entire month’s effort went down the drain.
In the middle of the mess was his brother, one of the papers with all the information sitting in his lap, ripped almost completely in half. The moon was in a corner, some of the planets were broken and sitting in the box, and Todd was holding Venus and Mars in his hands, banging them together without a care in the world.
He felt his breathing speed up, anger slowly penetrating his mind. A part of him told him to just walk away before he snapped, but then his brother looked up at him, with that stupid carefree smile and cried out, “Bwatha! Fun toy!” Said it with that stupid baby talk he had never found cute, only annoying.
His fists clenched as Todd got up and approached him, but then he stopped as he saw the look on Cooper’s face. There was no fun or kindness there. Then as Cooper took a step toward him he got afraid and tried to run to the back of the room.
Cooper easily caught up with him, picking him up and setting him on his knee as he sat on his bed, and he brought his hand down, heedless of his brother’s cries of pain, only vengeance going through his mind. He gave him about ten before he realized how hard he was swatting. Setting the sobbing child on the floor he yelled to Todd to get out. Todd grabbed his butt and ran out of the room.
Cooper sighed heavily, still furious, part of him wishing he hadn’t stopped. That was probably the only time Todd understood the exasperation Cooper had toward him. He knew what was coming next. He was going to run to mom, the big baby. Then she was going to come in and tell him how wrong he was. It was the same old story every time. ‘Oh, you’re older, so you shouldn’t feel anything and instantly forgive your stupid brother because he doesn’t understand.’ This was the first time he had actually physically assaulted his brother, but his mom seemed to have a ‘he can do no wrong’ attitude toward Todd, and he didn’t think it was fair.
Sure enough, less than ten minutes later he heard his mother, Misty, call his name in that tone that just screams that you’re in big trouble. When he went into the living room he saw her holding Todd and looking furious. “Cooper Gasper! Why did you hit Todd? He’s just a baby.”
“Because he ruined my whole project!” Cooper snapped back. “I spent a whole month on it, feeling real proud in what I had done, and I left it out for a minute and that is what I come back to.”
“I don’t care what he did! You should never hit your brother!”
“Oh, but it’s fine if he hits me, right?”
“It’s not the same thing! He is a BABY!”
“How often are you going to let him get away with that excuse? Oh, I forgot. He’s your precious TODD, who never gets punished for anything because he’s too stupid to realize he’s being stupid. I’m sick of him getting a free ride just because he’s young, while I get punished for every little bad thing I do! It’s not fair!”
“That doesn’t make it right!”
“You’re right! It doesn’t! If you didn’t let him get away with everything all the time maybe he’d be better behaved. “
“I don’t like your attitude, mister. I’m trying to teach you to take more responsibility for your actions for when you grow up.”
“Don’t give me that garbage! Oh, you have to deal with the oh so stressful duty of living in your house with so much free time when you’re not working.”
“Watch your tone!”
“Or what? You’ll punish me? Lock me in my room for a month? That’s fine! I’d rather be stuck in a broom cupboard with only a piece of cardboard to sleep on than have to watch that brat anymore!” He pointed angrily at Todd. “It’s obvious that Todd’s your favorite. You think I don’t have any stress to deal with?
“You know, it’s great that you and dad are happily divorced and moving on with your own lives, BUT…I…HAVEN’T! I’m NOT happy about not having both my parents. I’m NOT happy that I constantly have to watch my brother instead of hanging out with my friends. I NEED LOVE TOO! I’m SORRY that my being around is such an inconvenience unless Todd needs to be watched! I can’t take it anymore. I’d rather move in with dad. At least he has time for me when I’m there.” With that he ran away, and she heard his door slam shortly after that.
Todd started crying again, clinging to her as he said, “Bwatha hate me!”
Misty let out a big sigh. She wanted to go to Cooper and comfort him but at the moment she had to make Todd the priority. It was probably for the best anyway. Cooper would need a little time to cool down before they could talk.
Holding Todd she reassured him and gently rocked him. “It’s okay, baby. It’s okay. Your brother doesn’t hate you. He’s just a little mad.”
Todd looked into her with those innocent childish eyes, calming down just a little. “W-weally?” He asked.
“Yes, sweetheart. Don’t worry about it. He’s angrier at me than you. And…he has every right to be. I’ve been a great mother to you, just not to him.”
She could see he didn’t understand what she was talking about. Standing up she went to the phone and called her sister, Iris. After explaining the situation she agreed to come over.
She kept working on Todd while she waited. Although he was cheering up it was obvious that he was still troubled and worried about his brother.
When Iris arrived the two exchanged greetings. She looked down towards Todd and said in a cheery voice, “Hello!”
He was used to Iris, but he was still upset so he clung to his mother harder like he was afraid of her and said in a small voice, “Hello.”
“Oh, what’s wrong, Todd?”
He sniffed, a tear coming down his eye. “Bwatha weally mad at me. I bwoked his toy and he spank me.” Letting out a little sob he said, “I bad boy!”
Taking him from Misty with a small fight she held him close to her and said lovingly, “You’re not a bad boy. You just made a mistake. Later on when you both calm down you can apologize to him and work things out, okay?” He was too upset to argue the point of wanting to go to his mother, so he just held tightly to Iris instead. “It’s okay, little Todd. How about I take you out for a little while to the park?”
He shook his head, not moving his head from where it was hiding by her chest.
“No? Not even if I buy you some chocolate ice cream?”
His head perked up almost immediately. Chocolate ice cream was one of his all-time favorite things. “Ice cweam?”
Iris and Misty both laughed. “Yes, ice cream.”
“I’ll go get the child seat.” Said Misty, leaving the room.
When she came back they set it up in her car, gave Todd a hug goodbye, and watched them drive off.
Once they left Misty let out a little sigh, her cheery demeanor evaporating. Heading back inside the house she went to Cooper’s door, listening for a moment. She could hear the light sound of crying. She knew she had to make things right by him.
Knocking on the door she opened it a crack. “Cooper? Can we talk?”
She heard him stifling his crying. He was lying on his stomach on his bed, his head on his crossed arms. He pulled himself up, and moved so he was sitting on the edge of his bed, wiping his face.
Taking that as a silent yes she walked in, closing the door behind her. She sat on the bed next to him and said, “I called my sister over. She took Todd away for a few hours. I don’t want anything to interrupt us.”
As she looked at the floor she saw the remains of his project. Todd really had done quite a number on it. She knew how hard he had been working on it. Even Cooper couldn’t explain why he was so into his model of the solar system. He just threw himself into it, full of pride. He even planned to make it more realistic by having the planets all be in their real life positions to get a little extra credit for his research.
She put an arm around him. Cooper squirmed like he didn’t want to be touched, but he didn’t move away from her. “Thinking back...” She started. “You’re right that I have been paying more attention to your brother. I never intended for you to think I was neglecting you or just using you to give myself some free time, but it seems that that was what happened.
“I’m not going to make any excuses. My reasoning was simple. Todd is very young. Much younger than you. He doesn’t understand anything beyond very simple concepts. That will come in time. So he isn’t capable of understanding something like a divorce. When we decided to split up we could talk to you about it and know you would understand, even if you didn’t like it. Since he can’t have his dad all the time like he used to I’ve been trying to give him a lot more love so he won’t be as greatly affected by what he can’t comprehend. On the other hand, while I know you didn’t want us to split up, you would fully know the reason why and haven’t seemed too greatly affected. Even so, I should have talked to you more about your feelings. That was a failure on my part, as I didn’t take responsibility for both of you and, as you said, I was unintentionally playing favorites. I’m sorry about that.”
It was quiet between the two of them. Cooper shifted his position again, but otherwise didn’t react.
“I know you’re mad at me, and you have every reason to be, but don’t think I don’t understand your frustrations at all. I had it a little worse and a little better than you as Iris is only five years younger than me, instead of ten for you and Todd. So, yes, I usually couldn’t be the babysitter when we were younger, but since there was only a five year difference I was a lot more immature compared to you when it came to my sibling. Even without a divorce between my parents I hated the attention lavished on her that used to be mine. I used to hit her and push her and be sometimes downright cruel to her. But there comes a day, always, when you see the value of your younger sibling. You have someone to talk to about problems that will have time to listen and understand you better being closer to your age. That time came for me, but I remember an earlier time when I had a much worse ‘use’ for Iris.
“When I was eight and she was three I was also mad and jealous of how she always got away with doing bad things just because she was a toddler. So I came up with a scheme to take advantage of that.”
There was something about the little devious laugh she gave that made him curious, and he turned slightly toward her. “What was that?”
“I would wait until she was in the room and nearby and then I’d break something. A lamp, a plate, a vase. Whatever was handy. Then I’d run and let her get caught for my crime.”
NOW she had his full attention. Forgetting his resentment for the moment he fully turned to her, eyes wide in disbelief. “That’s…” He couldn’t finish. That seemed really funny.
“Of course she didn’t get punished, and I kept getting away with putting the blame on her. Of course if I had been smarter I’d have realized that it wouldn’t last. Of course Iris did break some things or make messes, but never so often in one day. Besides the fact that she never seemed interested or afraid of the broken object, and the large amount, my parents were certain that it was really me, doing exactly what I was doing. Since they couldn’t prove it was me, they made their own plan. The next time I broke something they took Iris and talked about how she must feel bad that she kept messing things up, and they gave her a big bowl of ice cream.
“As they sat her down and she was about to eat I ran in and complained. “How come SHE gets ice cream? I’m the one that broke all that stuff!” By that point I realized what I had just said and I couldn’t take it back. They sat me down and we had a long talk about not taking advantage of Iris like that, made me apologize to her, and I was punished for two days.”
Despite himself, Cooper started cracking up.
When he settled down Misty said, “Now. Let us compromise. Tell me what it is you want. I can’t promise anything, but if it’s reasonable we’ll work things out.”
“I want some no brother days. I want time with my friends where I don’t have to bring him along or where I can just play videogames all night instead of having to take care of him. If I had more time for myself I wouldn’t be so mad at taking care of him.
Cooper averted his eyes before saying, “And I want some more time with you. You’re…you’re my mother too, you know.”
Misty smiled. “I thought so. That’s part of why I asked Iris to take care of him. For now, it’ll just be the two of us. Let’s have some fun together for now, and we’ll talk more later.”
It was a strange turn of events, having his mom all to himself for a few hours. She helped him fix up his project, but it was clear it wasn’t going to be the masterpiece it was originally. They watched a movie together, eating popcorn. They talked, sharing all sorts of things. Despite finding his mom to be a bit embarrassing lately, he was really cherishing this time with her. Misty felt the same. It reminded her a little of when Cooper was an only child.
Eventually she got a call from Iris, saying she was bringing Todd home. That being the case, she knew she needed to explain some things to her son before they arrived.
Sitting down on the bed together she said, “Cooper. Now that you have cooled off there are some things I need to talk to you about before Todd comes back. You remember what I said earlier, about how your brother can’t understand what a divorce is?”
Cooper’s face drooped a little as the subject moved to his brother, but he responded, “Yeah.”
“Well, while he can’t understand what a divorce is, what he is capable of understanding is that things have changed. Young children like him don’t like change. And they also tend to blame themselves for things that go wrong. Even if he isn’t old enough to think he’s responsible right now, I don’t want him to blame himself in the future either, or think that I’m mad or blaming him for it either. That’s the main reason I’ve been showering him with love and affection so much. If he receives a steady stream of love from me there should be a much smaller chance that he’ll feel that way. It’s the same for you. At his stage of development I can only explain my thoughts through feelings and actions. I tried to do the same to you with words. That’s why I kept emphasizing that it wasn’t your fault during our talk before the divorce.”
“At…at the time I was too focused on the fact you were splitting up, and I just got annoyed when you kept saying that. But…after it happened there were times when I did start thinking that, if I had been better behaved, then you wouldn’t have split up.” A tear came down his cheek as he said, “I was afraid that if I wasn’t so needy and let you have more time together you would still be in love. But every time I started to feel like I hated myself I heard your words. Most of the time it helped, but sometimes…” He let out a little sob and stayed quiet.
Rubbing his shoulder she said gently, “Go on.”
“Sometimes… I felt like you were only saying it so much because it really was my fault, and you hated me for it, and that’s why you’ve been paying so much attention to Todd after you split up.”
Pulling him to her she hugged him tightly. “You don’t have to worry about that. I could never hate you. I love you very, very much, and I don’t know what I would do without you. I stand by what I told you. You are not to blame. Todd isn’t either. It was just a choice that we made together.”
Listening to a lot of Coopers complaints, one thing seemed clear. She just had to confirm it. “Cooper. Who is it you’re really mad at? Is it really Todd, or is it me?”
The question took him by surprise. His first instinct was to insist on Todd, but thinking about it he realized a lot of things that annoyed him about Todd were really byproducts of his mother’s actions. She was the one who constantly asked him to babysit. She was the one showering Todd with attention, while he didn’t get much. She was the one who let him get away with murder. “I…I guess it’s more you than Todd.”
“I thought so. So you wanted to compromise before, remember? I would like you to make up with your brother when he gets home. I realize that he broke something that was important to you, and you spanked him, but I feel that it was just caused by a buildup of stress and anger from both me and him. Now that you’ve calmed down I think you can look at things with a clearer head.
“Todd is used to playing with toys like blocks. Things you can put together and ‘break’ as much as you want. What will go a long way to helping him understand is repetition. He will only learn though having things explained to him. If he can see what his actions do to others he will be less likely to repeat a bad action like that again, but sometimes he just isn’t capable of making the connection.
“Now, while I know most of the time it doesn’t feel like Todd is affected much from the divorce, in part because of the attention I give him, it really is having a big effect. That’s why, no matter how much you push him away or ignore him, Todd clings to you when I’m not readily available or have to work. You are his brother, but I feel at times like he’s trying to make you his replacement dad. He’s looking for another source of love to turn to from the only other member of the family who lives here. And while you may think he only feels bad because you hit him, it is also true that he is very capable of realizing that he hurt you. He does feel very bad about breaking your diorama. He thought it was a toy. He feels like you hate him. That’s why I want you two to make up. As we just found out you’re angrier at me than him, and I already agreed to stop showing so much favoritism toward Todd, so it shouldn’t be too hard to forgive him now, don’t you think?”
“I guess not.”
“One thing I have to bring up now is that, if you want less responsibility, you must take more responsibility. If you want Monday to be a ‘no brother’ day, than I want Tuesday to be a ‘take brother’ day. Although it would be for the best if you could get along with your brother enough so that all of us could be happy together, I’ll try to provide a few hours every week that’s just the two of us. Okay?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“And I want you to promise me that you won’t spank or hit your brother anymore. Violence is not the answer. I never spanked you growing up, and you turned out great.”
“Okay, Mom. I promise.” The two hugged.
When the doorbell rang Misty yelled, “Come in!” Her and Cooper had relocated by the living room to watch a little TV while they waited.
As Todd and Iris came into the room the boy’s face lit up with a happy smile. “Mama!” He cried out, running toward her.
When he was almost there he suddenly came to a stop as he saw Cooper sitting near her, his head going down and a guilty look upon his face. He turned around and headed back towards Iris, taking the bag in her hands.
Approaching slowly, still looking shamefaced, he put his hand out toward Cooper, offering him the bag. “Fo’ you.” He said in a small voice.
Cooper looked at Todd with a bemused expression on his face, taking the bag. He didn’t know what he felt towards his brother at the moment.
He went in the bag, only containing a piece of construction paper, and looked it over. His eyebrow rose, trying to make sense of the drawing in front of him. The background was mostly black, with some white thrown in. Beyond that there was just little circles of colors.
When he put the picture down a little he saw Todd’s head was still down towards the ground, but glancing up at him. When Todd saw him looking he quickly looked back down at the floor.
“What is this?” He asked Todd, bending forward a little.
Todd still wouldn’t meet his eyes. “Is you toy. I bwoked it. Make you new one.”
Cooper looked at the picture again. He guess the white in the black was supposed to be the Milky Way and some stars he had had as a background picture in his diorama, while the different colored dots were supposed to be the planets.
When he put the picture down again he saw that Todd was looking up at him now, his eyes swimming with tears. “I sowwy! I sowwy I bwoked you toy. Please no hate me!”
When he had first seen Todd he had felt some of his rage return, but it seemed to fade when he saw Todd really did understand he had done a bad thing. In those brown eyes he could see Todd begging for his forgiveness. In the back of his mind he reflected on what he had been told in the past few hours, and he found he just couldn’t stay mad. He still didn’t like the munchkin that much, but he felt that he could let this go.
As Todd looked like he was ready to escalate to full-on sobbing he picked the little boy up, and gently hugged him. “It’s okay.” Said Cooper in what he hoped was a comforting voice. “I forgive you. Don’t cry.”
Todd held on to him tightly, still crying, but quieter now. After a minute he pulled back, and the two met eyes again. Todd was smiling at him, but Cooper felt indifferent.
As he set Todd on the floor he ran toward Iris again and she gave him another bag, this one small. He ran back towards Cooper and held it out. “Fo’ you!” He said again happily.
Cooper opened it and saw it was a cup of ice cream. “Chocolate?”
Todd nodded. “Uh-huh. Ice cweam fo’ Bwatha. Make you happy.” Todd hugged his leg. “I woves you!”
His mom’s words came back to him, about how Todd was looking for a replacement for his dad and turning to him for the job. Despite how mean he was to his brother Todd didn’t seem to care. He just kept trying and trying for his acceptance and love. With a small sigh he let a little more of his bitterness fade.
Going to the kitchen he came back with two spoons and some paper towels. Setting a paper towel under the cup he offered a spoon to Todd. “Would you like to share with me?”
Todd smiled an extra-large grin, both because of the offer of ice cream, and because Cooper was being nice to him. He nodded. “I woves chocowate.”
Misty was smiling for the same reason as she saw her two boys getting along for a change, pigging out on ice cream. She thought that things were finally turning around.
As Cooper and Misty agreed they made a schedule for Cooper to have two free days and three babysitting days. She also made sure to ask her sister to take Todd once a week so they could spend some time together alone. Just like that a lot of problems were solved. Cooper couldn’t begin to say how much of a relief it was to say he was going to hang out with his friends and not have to hear that he should take his brother with him.
Over the next two months Misty could see a huge difference in Cooper’s attitude towards Todd. During their times together before he had pretty much snubbed his brothers attempts for his attention at every turn, obviously annoyed, only giving in when Todd seemed about to cry from being ignored. As Cooper saw her keeping to her word and having worked things out with her she could see him acting better towards Todd. She could tell he still didn’t care to babysit, but he had pretty much stopped complaining about it. Sometimes Cooper would take the initiative and offer to read a story or watch one of Todd’s favorite cartoons, and sometimes he would try to get Todd to just sit and watch him play a game. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, but she felt as time went on they would only get closer. The two of them were on the right track.
One day after school on one of his babysitting days Cooper didn’t feel like staying in the house. “Hey, Todd?” He said to the toddler.
“What?” He asked, his head tilted.
“Would you like to go to the park?”
His eyes lit up, clearly excited. “Yeah! Go park!”
“Okay. Hold on. I have to go ask mom what I should bring.”
He pouted. “I come too!” With that he raised his arms. “Cawwy me!”
Cooper sighed. “Fine.” He picked up Todd and went to his mother’s room. “Hey, mom?”
“Yeah?” She replied.
“We want go park!” Todd said happily.
“Oh. Are you sure Cooper wants to go?”
Todd nodded. “Coopa want go.”
“I was the one who asked him.” Said Cooper. “I just want to know what to bring.”
“Well, it’s not that far from here.” Misty responded. “I would bring some snacks and juice, a toy or two, and bring some warmer clothes, both of you. We’re coming along into winter and temperatures drop pretty quick when the sun starts going down. “
“Alright, Mom.” He set down Todd on the floor. “Go grab some toys you want to bring. I’ll grab some clothes for us.”
“Kay!” Said Todd, hopping out of the room like a frog.
She saw Cooper let out an amused sigh at Todd’s exuberance. “You know, you were just like that once.”
“Yeah, I probably was.”
As Cooper went to leave she said, “Wait.”
“Yeah?” Asked Cooper, turning around.
She stood up, walking over to him and giving him a strong hug.
“Come on, Mom.” Cooper felt a half-smile cross his lips, secretly enjoying the contact.
“I know I said this before, but I am so proud of you for how you’ve been treating your brother lately. As you can plainly see your time together really means a lot to him. He has a lot of love for you, even if you’re not all that crazy about him.”
“Well, you’ve kept your promise, so I’m just keeping mine. It’s nothing.”
“That’s incorrect. It is something. It is a big something. Like I told you before Todd was looking for another source of attention to replace his dad, and you’ve finally stepped up to the plate. It’s a huge help and it means a lot to me as well, knowing Todd will grow up feeling loved.”
Cooper felt touched by her words but was too embarrassed to tell her. He gave her a quick hug back then pulled away, saying, “I have to go get the stuff.”
She smiled after him as he left the room, his sunny cheeks and bright eyes making the feelings he couldn’t say clear. “Ah, boys.” She said to herself contentedly. “So proud.”
Cooper went to his room, grabbing a heavy shirt and pants and a pair of gloves, as well as a coat which he threw on. He wasn’t that worried about himself. Going to Todd’s room he saw Todd looking around, trying to decide what to bring. Leaving him be for the moment he went to the kitchen to grab a bag of chips and some pretzels and some juice boxes which he put in a lunch bag.
When he returned he put them in a travel bag with his clothes. Todd was holding something now. “Hey, kid. Did you decide?”
Todd turned around at his voice, holding a set of small cars in a bag. “Yep. Got some caws.”
“That’s good.” Going through his brothers drawers he pulled out some clothes and mittens for him, as well as an extra pair of underwear just in case he had an accident. He had pretty much gotten the potty training down, but now and then he did forget because he was too focused on other things. He went to the closet and grabbed Todd’s coat, helping him put it on.
Going to say goodbye to their mom they saw her holding a plastic bag. “Here.” She said. “It’s some disinfectant and Band-Aids just in case you get hurt. Try to be back by six. I’ll have some burgers ready when you get back.”
“Sounds good to me.” Said Cooper as she gave him a kiss.
“Heeeey!” Whined Todd. “Me too, me too! Kiss!”
Misty picked him up, holding him to her. “Of course, my little boy.” She rained kisses upon his face, making him giggle. She set him down, saying, “Have fun you two.”
“We will.” Said Cooper. “Bye.”
“Bye-bye.” Said Todd, waving with both hands.
The walk to the park wasn’t that long. Only about five minutes. For some groups of kids it was an afterschool hangout to play sports in. There was plenty of time to play. About halfway there Todd started complaining, wanting to be carried. It was no mean feat, having to carry both his brother and the bag with all the clothes and snacks, but he bore it without complaint. After all, he was the one who brought up wanting to go to the park. It was a little nippy out, but nothing that bad.
The park was pretty big. It went around in a huge circle around a lake. Around the park were parts where you entered the forest. There were two playgrounds, one for young kids and one for older kids. There were also some cannons as a memorial. During spring and summer there was also a small food court, but it wouldn’t be open this time of year.
At first they just walked around, Cooper pointing out things of interest. Todd just held onto his hand and looked with awe at everything Cooper was talking about. Cooper found his reaction odd, but then he realized that Todd was only about three years old. A lot of things were brand new to him. ‘Mom says I was just like him once. I guess so.’
For the most part the park seemed empty. He saw two other people as they walked around, one with a dog that Todd just had to pet. The owner was very nice, letting him have his fun for a few minutes before Cooper prodded Todd that they had to keep walking.
When they came upon the playground he told Todd to go play for a little while. He set the bag down, giving his sore shoulders a rest. He took a drink and ate some pretzels.
After about ten minutes he called Todd over and went to the opposite side, where he showed Todd little tricks he could do, getting lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from his brother. He had to admit it was nice being around someone who was so easily impressed.
They walked over by the lake, where he showed Todd how he could skip a rock across the water. “Woah! Coo’!” Said Todd, his face lighting up. “Me do! Me do!” He picked up a rock and threw it, and of course it just sank right away. He tried a few more times without success. Cooper saw him getting discouraged, so he picked up a rock and handed it to Todd, holding on to him, showing him the right way to snap his wrist. With his assistance the rock jumped across the water. Todd looked very proud of himself, hopping around and saying, “Me did it! Me did it!”
A half hour passed before the first incident. Overexcited and running ahead Todd tripped, scraping his hands and hitting one of his knees on the pavement. Cooper jogged over to him, picking him up as he started bawling. He gently rocked Todd, trying to comfort him and telling him it was okay. After about a minute he set down the bag and Todd on a bench, grabbing the Band-Aids and disinfectant. “Ok, show me where it hurts.”
Todd was quivering as he held out his hands. “H-hewe. M-my hands huwt.”
Todd nodded, pointing to his leg. “Knee huwts, too.”
Cooper lifted up his pants leg, giving it a look over. There didn’t seem to be any blood, but be put on some medicine and a Band-Aid just in case. He did the same for Todd’s hands.
When that was done he could see Todd was still crying and looking in pain. ‘Now what?’ He thought. ‘I’m not good with this comforting stuff. What’s Mom always say?’ He was pretty sure she said to distract his attention, as young children tended to overreact to injuries. So if you could get their mind on something else they’d be fine. ‘Okay, so what do I distract him with?’
Cooper shrugged, sitting next to Todd and putting him on his lap. Todd immediately hugged him, burying his head as he continued crying. “Um, uh…did I ever tell you about the time I went fishing with dad?”
Todd looked up slightly, shaking his head.
“Well, when I was ten dad took me out on a boat on the river. It was summer. The river was almost overflowing with people. I was pretty nervous because I had never gone fishing before. So we were out near the middle. We both had our lines in the water, waiting for a bite. Dad suddenly felt a pull!” As the memory came back to him he started feeling the same excitement he had felt back then. “I had to hold onto my own pole, but I watched him pulling in that thing little by little.” His voice rose an octave, enthusiasm clear in his tone. “Suddenly with a last hard yank out of the water came a fish almost as big as you.”
Cooper looked down to see Todd just staring at him, letting out a sniff and another tear. He sighed to himself, clicking his tongue as he looked away. ‘I knew it. I suck at this.’ He heard Todd’s voice but didn’t pay ate ntion to it until Todd started smacking his chest to get his attention. “Coopa! Coopa!”
“What? What is it?”
“Mo’ stowy, Coopa! Mo’ stowy! Whuh happen nex’?’”
“Oh, um, yeah. Story. Right.” Cooper shook his head. ‘So he is interested after all.’ Looking down at Todd he continued, “Well, Dad had me take a picture of him with his catch. It really was pretty big. We put it in a bucket for later. Just then I felt a pull on my rod. I grabbed that thing tight, reeling and reeling and pulling with all my might. This was a tough sucker. I knew if I took it easy at all this thing would get away. Dad watched the whole time, to make sure I wasn’t pulled into the water in case it was too much for me. I pulled with all my strength until out of the water came a fish. It was smaller than dad’s, but that didn’t matter. I managed to get it all by myself. Dad was so proud, patting me on the shoulder and saying, “That’s my boy!””
“Ooooh!” Exclaimed Todd. He clapped. “You did it!”
Cooper rolled his eyes with a small laugh to hear Todd talking to him like he was a baby. ‘Oh well.’ He thought. ‘At least he’s happy now.’
“Mo’ stowy?” Todd asked with a smile.
“Hmm? Well, I guess so. What should I talk about now?”
He told Todd a story about an event with Misty this time. “Well, one time me and Mom went on a ferry ride around the Hudson River while Dad was away on business. This was before you were born. It was a beautiful sight. The place had lovely music. We traveled along the river, getting to see the Statue of Liberty up close. We also stopped at Ellis Island. There’s a lot of history there. A lot of people who came here to America passed by there. When it was over we explored the city for a bit before taking a train home.”
Todd kept prodding him for stories whenever he stopped, which at first Cooper found odd. Then he remembered that Todd didn’t know much about the world, or him, or their parents. Besides, he was paying attention to Todd, something the boy always enjoyed. ‘Ah, yes. That whole ‘replacement dad’ thing again.’ He thought in the back of his mind. ‘Even if I don’t like to admit it I like having lots of attention too, and Todd usually reacts with wonder to every new bit of news I tell him. It’s not that bad really. He’s okay too, I guess. In small doses.’
He was trying to come up with another story. After thinking a little he decided on last years science project. “I made a volcano for school. Well, not a real one of course. It was more like a toy. A volcano is filled with very hot stuff called lava. When enough pressure builds up it causes it to erupt, spewing it all over the place. Of course, since I couldn’t bring in actual lava I had to use this fake stuff so that no one could get hurt. My teacher really liked it. You squeezed the trigger, and squeezed until suddenly it would come out, landing on the rest of the land I made below. You probably would have had a lot of fun with that. You would be encouraged to make a mess with that.”
His bit of laughter suddenly gave rise to a frown and a memory. In his mind he could see Todd sitting in the ruins of his planet project, bringing up sour feelings that he tried not to dwell on. Even so, when Todd asked him for another tale he said, “No. No more for now. Let’s just keep walking.”
“Nooooo!” Todd whined. “Mo’ stowy! Me want stowy!”
Just like that Cooper’s mood shifted completely, finding himself annoyed. “I don’t have anymore stories, alright?” He stood up, setting Todd on the ground. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Cooper took his hand, pulling on him hard to get him to move. Todd was crying again, only annoying him more. ‘Feh. Brothers are such a pain! Why did mom even have to have a second child? Wasn’t I good enough? And I’m sick of carrying around all these clothes. It’s not even that cold.’
Todd was pulling at him. “Stop.”
“We’re not stopping!”
Using his other arm he pulled harder, digging in his feet. “You huwting me.”
Cooper felt his temper flare. “Fine!” Coming to a stop he let Todd’s hand go, and Todd fell backwards onto his butt. Todd looked up at him with teary eyes, but Cooper had no sympathy to give for the moment.
Todd stood up, going to hug his leg, but Cooper pushed him away. “Oh, just leave me alone, would you?”
Todd blinked. “Bwatha?”
“Shut up! I’m sick of that stupid way you talk, you baby. Just leave…me…alone. ALL RIGHT? I hate you, you little brat!”
Todd recoiled slightly like Cooper had hit him, looking distraught and heartbroken. He sniffed and hiccupped, then he started crying his eyes out, running in the opposite direction with his hands over his face.
Cooper watched him for a second before turning away, feeling a sense of satisfaction. ‘What a baby.’ He thought dispassionately.
Cooper suddenly heard a sound that erased his other feelings instantly, as his head quickly snapped towards the sound of a splash. His eye went wide, running towards the lake. ‘He wasn’t looking where he was going!’ He thought with concern. ‘He could freeze to death.’
Things went a little hazy at that point. He couldn’t hear Todd anymore, and adrenaline began pumping through his system, drowing out all thought as he took his jacket off and threw it behind him. He could see the ripples in the lake showing where Todd went in. Without hesitation he jumped in at a spot nearby. The lake was only about four-and-a-half feet deep but the submersion into the lake was so quick that the cold made his limbs lock for a few seconds. He forced his eyes open. It was getting dark, and the lake wasn’t that clear, but he could make out a large moving mass nearby. He kicked off in the direction of his brother, quickly grabbing the wriggling mass and pulling them both up.
When they reached the surface they both gasped as they sucked in oxygen. Cooper walked the small distance to the shore, setting Todd down before climbing up himself. He was shivering like crazy, and Todd was too. No time to think of that. He picked Todd up, and ran towards the bag with the clothes in it, only stopping to pick up his jacket.
Todd was crying with discomfort. Cooper asserted to him, “It’s g-g-going to b-b-b-e okay. J-j-just relax.” His teeth were chattering so much it was hard to talk. When he got to the bag he focused on Todd first off, stripping off his wet clothes, using the back ofhis own jacket to dry Todd off as much as possible before putting the set of heavy clothes and mittens on him. Then it was his turn. If Todd was anything like him it wasn’t enough. He still felt chilled. He had to go now. He had to leave the bag with their wet clothes behind. Todd was a bigger priority right now, and he knew his mom would understand. He picked Todd up, running towards the exit. The breeze certainly wasn’t helping matters. Even with warm clothes on he didn’t have a scarf or hat to protect their faces, nevermind the fact that their shoes were soaking wet. He ran and ran and ran, feeling almost dizzy. He hadn’t quite recovered from his jaunt inside the lake.
As they went along he heard a small voice from the shaking bundle in his arms. “C-C-C-Coo…p-p-pa?”
Cooper responded with a pant, “Yeah?”
Cooper nearly stumbled and fell at that. “Don’t worry. I’ll get you home and you’ll be nice and warm in no time. Doesn’t that sound good?” He couldn’t stop a tear from coming down his eye.
“C-c-cowd. I cowd, Coopa.”
“I know. Here. How about this?” He came to a stop, getting his breath back as he set Todd on the floor. Opening up his jacket he told Todd to grab onto his neck tightly. When he did he lifted his head, Todd coming with him, locking his legs around his waist. ‘Oh, to think of all the times I complained that this jacket was too big for me.’ He thought as he pulled it closed until only Todd’s head was visible. “Better?” Todd nodded. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep you warm.”
He kept running and running and jogging, never coming to a complete stop. He didn’t even realize he was in just as much danger as Todd. The temperature was dropping with the sun and with the moisture still stuck to his body even their clothes couldn’t fully protect them from the elements, especially since they couldn’t fully dry their hair. Todd was beginning to shake harder in his arms again. When he looked down at Todd’s face he could see Todd was turning blue, setting him into a panic. He knew he couldn’t wait until he got home. He had to find a house and quick, or else Todd might just get hypothermia.
As for him, his limbs were slowly going numb, though he paid it no mind. The real thing that was hindering his movements was himself. As he went along sentences kept popping up into his head. “I hate being a big brother.” “Todd is such a pain.” “Oh, to still be an only child.” “I hate my brother.” “I hate you, you little brat!”
He felt like he couldn’t get any oxygen in his system, feeling like he could collapse at any moment, as his last hurtful statement played through his head. ‘What have I done? I told him I hated him, but I didn’t really mean it. I didn’t mean it!’ He cluthed his hands closer together. ‘Please! I’m sorry! I really didn’t mean it! I’ll stop yelling at him! I’ll treat him better! Someone! God! Jesus! Anyone! Please…’ More tears came down his eyes. ‘Please…don’t let my brother die in my arms. Let me save him.’
Without realizing it he found himself near a residential house. His limbs were becoming increasingly unresponsive, fighting him the rest of the way there. With his body he pushed the doorbell. He waitied anxiously. ‘Please be home. Please be home. I don’t know if I can make it to another house.’
When the door opened he felt a huge relief. Straining against his failing strength he used his arm to open his jacket, revealing the trembling form of Todd. “Brother...” He panted. “Fell in…lake…turning blue…needs help….f-f-freezing…”
The woman who opened the door took Todd.
“You have to…save him. Please! Don’t…I can’t… I…” He started talking faster, feeling lightheaded as he begged for his brothers safety. Combined with the cold air and his relentless trek it was all too much for the young boy, and he found himself unable to breathe, his vision going black as he collapsed to the floor.
The next thing he knew he found himself in a very warm place. He kept his eyes closed for the time being, feeling content. When he opened his eyes a minute later he saw that he was on a couch in front of a fire. Wrapped around him was a heavy blanket.
He slowly stretched, then pulled the blanket tighter, moving his face closer to the fire.
He jumped as he heard a voice call out near him, “Mommy! He’s awake!”
He turned towards the voice to see a young girl, maybe six or seven years old, and instantly felt confusion. He had never seen her before in his life.
He looked up as he heard footsteps, seeing an adult. “Well, hello there. Glad to see you’re back with us.” She said jovially.
He looked at her questioningly, nothing making sense to him. He hadn’t seen her before either, though she did look vaguely familiar somehow. “Who are you?” He asked, the only thing he could think to say.
“My name is Helen. What’s yours?”
“That’s a nice name. What about the other one?”
“The other…?” His confusion turned to fear as he realized where he had seen her before. She was the woman he had given Todd to right before he passed out. “Todd! Where’s Todd?”
As he went to rise she forcefully put her hands on his shoulders. In a bit of a stern voice she told him, “You stay put where you are and relax. I don’t need any extra things to worry about right now. You just regained consciousness and I want you to stay in a warm environment for the time being.”
He wanted answers, but he wouldn’t get them if he fought with her, so he reluctantly leaned back, crossing his arms in frustration. “Fine.”
“Go see daddy and see if he needs anything, okay?”
She nodded. “Okay.” With that the young girl left the room.
“Okay. Now, to you. Right now your brother is in the bathtub soaking in a hot tub and his wet clothes are in the dryer so he’ll have something warm to wear when he gets out. You weren’t as bad as him so we just blowdryed your hair, wrapped you in a blanket and set you by the fire. You were only out for about ten minutes. We’re gradually increasing the temperature. Right now he still isn’t feeling anything, but we’re making sure he isn’t going to get any burns or anything.”
“Ten minutes?” Cooper said with a dazed look.
“Yeah. You probably just overexerted yourself. I’m not surprised. You know, you were talking so quickly before I couldn’t really understand you. What happened?”
Cooper’s anger quickly turned to sadness as a sensation of guilt began blossoming again. “It’s all my fault.” He said quietly.
“I took Todd to the park to play. Everything was going great. We played, we talked, we went on the playground. Then…I got mad at him over something stupid. I yelled at him. I…I told him I hated him.” Cooper inhaled sharply. “And Todd started crying, and he ran away from me. Right into the lake. I jumped in after him and pulled him out when I heard it. Mom made us bring some warm clothes just in case it got too cold so that’s why we didn’t come here in soaking wet clothes.“
“Well, that was smart of her. If it hadn’t been for that the both of you would have been popsicles before you even left the park.”
“Mommy!” Michelle ran into the room. “Daddy wants you to make more hot water.”
“Okay.” She patted him on the shoulder. “Hang in there.”
“Make more hot water?” Asked Cooper.
“Yeah. You run a hot shower too long you start running out of hot water for a while, so we’re alternating heating up a pot of water.”
It was quiet for a time after she left the room when he heard a cheery, “Hello!” He turned and saw another girl, this one younger than the other one. She rubbed her eyes and asked, “Who are you?”
Helen walked into the room and picked the girl up. “It’s okay, Stacy. We’re just helping him warm up. He was really cold. Did you have a good nap?”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Don’t bother him, okay? He’s not feeling too good right now.”
“Is he sick?”
“No, not yet. That’s why he’s by the fire. Go get your sister and play in your room, okay?”
“Okay.” When she was set down she ran off, calling out her sisters name.
Cooper watched her go back to the kitchen, coming out a minute later with the pot of hot water, before returning to sit next to him on the couch. “So I see you met both my girls now. What’s your brother like?” She asked.
Cooper gave her a distant look. “We…we kinda get along, or not really. It kinda depends on the day. When he was really little I didn’t really care about him, but a couple of months ago my parents got divorced, and then I kinda couldn’t stand him. I blamed him a lot for it, especially because I had to babysit him a lot. I worked things out with mom after a while, so I’d have days where I didn’t have to deal with him, and I would have more time with her. I thought things were getting a lot better, but it hasn’t changed at all. We still get into fights, and he still annoys me. That’s why…” He turned his gaze from her, but she could still see the tears falling. “If I hadn’t been so stupid and gotten mad at him, if I hadn’t yelled at him and said those hurtful things to him....It’s always like this. I keep screwing things up. Because of us our parents didn’t much time to spend with each other and got divorced because they stopped loving each other. Now I caused Todd to fall into a lake! I’m destroying my family, bit by bit. I’m a horrible person. It’s my fault. It’s all my fault!” He put his hands in his head, weeping.
Helen’s maternal instinct kicked in as she put an arm around him tenderly. “You’re not a horrible person.”
“What if he dies? What if he dies and one of the last things I said to him was that I hated him? I was just mad. I didn’t really mean it.”
Helen put her hand on his chin, pushing until they were eye to eye. “Listen to me, Cooper. I’m a middle child. I know the deal. I’ve been both the annoying one as well as the one being annoyed. Show me a family where siblings never fight, and I’d love to see it to learn some lessons from them. My girls can go from quiet playing to being sworn enemies back to best friends in a span of minutes, and it baffles me to no end. I guess that while they are quick to anger, small children are also remarkably forgiving. A lesson a lot of people would do well learning.
“I know these times are tough because right now he’s too young to really understand the consequences of his actions. On the other hand, while I’m sure you’ll hate hearing it, even though you may have responsibility you’re still a child yourself. Maybe a little immature and just as prone to the occasional temper tantrum as him, hmmm?”
Cooper sniffed, giving a small nod as he looked away from her.
“You claim you’re a horrible person, but think about what happened next. You jumped into the lake right after him without a second thought to your own safety. You had no idea what would happen. After that you ran to get him someplace safe. That’s doesn’t sound like someone who is horrible. To me you’ve proven yourself a very capable caretaker. What happened was an accident, and nothing else. You didn’t push him into the lake, after all. You did a great thing.”
Cooper wanted to deny her words, still feeling ashamed of himself.
“Come on, you. Don’t stay clammed up. Talk. What are you feeling? What are you thinking? I can guess at least one thing. I know you’re feeling scared. Scared that Todd might die.”
“No, I’m not.” He said quietly.
“No?” She asked. “Are you sure?”
“I’m not scared he’s gonna die.” He turned his face back to hers, tears streaming down his face. “I’m scared he’s gonna die believing I hate him. I’m scared he’s gonna die and I won’t be able to tell him how sorry I am. I…I…” Cooper’s emotions overflowed, and he began sobbing. Helen put both arms around him protectively. Even though he didn’t know this woman well he allowed himself to be pulled to her, bawling his eyes out.
Helen didn’t say a word, letting him vent his feelings until he calmed down. They pulled apart, Helen wiping the tears off his face. “Feel better?” She asked kindly.
“A little bit.” He replied, sniffing.
“You’re worried for him. Scared of what effect your actions will have on him. Again, you want to call yourself horrible? I don’t think so. To me you’re a hero.”
Cooper frowned, crossing his arms and turning away from her. “I’m only a hero if he lives.”
“Mmm. That’s true. And that’s why I stand by what I said.” Standing up she said, “I’m gonna go check up on Todd.”
“Okay.” His bad mood had already passed. She could see him looking with interest and concern as she left the room. When he could no longer see her he looked towards the fire. Closing his eyes he put his hands together, whispering, “Please be alright, Todd.”
Helen checked the dryer first, and saw that Todd’s stuff had dried.
Collecting it all she took it to the bathroom, setting it down on the toilet. “How’s he doing, Hank?” She asked her husband.
“Getting better all the time.” He replied. “He’s starting to get some feeling back.”
“That’s good. In that case I’d say maybe another five minutes of soaking will do and then we’ll put him in front of the fire with the other one.”
Getting on her knees in front of the tub she looked down at Todd. “How are you feeling, Todd?”
He looked at her, saying, “Starting to feel wawm.”
Giving him a tender look she said, “Your brother is worried about you, you know.”
“Coopa…” Todd said quietly, remembering Cooper angrily lashing out at him.
“He’s really upset because of what he said to you. He was crying really hard just a few minutes ago because he was really scared you were hurt.”
The faraway look on Todd’s eyes faded as he looked worriedly into her eyes. “Coopa cwying?”
“He told me about what happened. I can tell you with certainty that your brother doesn’t hate you. He cares for you very much.”
“Yes, really.” She repied. “He really needs to see you and know that you’re okay. Do you want to see your brother?”
“Yes! Yes!” Todd replied strongly. “I wanna see Coopa!”
“Do you love your brother?”
He shook his head hard. “Yes! I wove Coopa.”
“That’s good to hear.” Moving her hand she pushed the handle down to start the water draining. “He really needs to hear that from you.”
Grabbing a towel she pulled him to his feet, drying him off completely before helping him put his clothes on. “Come on, you. Cooper is waiting.”
Cooper was still staring at the fire when he heard voices approaching. “How’s that?”
Cooper saw a sight that made his heart jump as two people passed by the entrance to the room. “Is nice.” Todd replied, a blanket wrapped around him just like Cooper.
“Todd!” Cooper cried out.
“Hmm?” He turned and saw Cooper. “Bwatha!”
The two of them ran towards each other, Cooper picking him up and holding him tightly. “Todd…you’re all right.”
Todd squeezed tighter before looking up at him, a hurt look on his face. “You scawed me. You fall down. No get up.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“I’m okay now. It’s all okay. How are you?”
“I wawm.” He replied.
That was good enough for him. He took Todd over by the fire, just sitting together holding each other for a while. “How does that feel?”
“Nice an’ toasty. Mmmm.” He replied contentedly as he put his hands out toward the blaze.
As they sat there Cooper’s feeling of guilt began emerging again. ‘He wouldn’t have had to go through all that if only I hadn’t said what I did.’
As Cooper began shaking a little with his emotions Todd became aware of the sensation. Mistaking the reason he turned himself around, standing up and pulling open the blanket wrapped around him. “Hewe, Coopa. Put you awms awound my neck. Howd on tight.”
Cooper wasn’t sure what Todd was going on about, and just followed his instructions without thinking about it. When he did that Todd held the ends of the blanket, pulling it around Cooper’s back as best he could. “Dere you go. Is dat betta?” He put his arms around Cooper again. “No wowwy. I keeps you wam.”
‘Those words. That’s…what I said to him before. He’s…copying me. Worried about me. Why?...Why?’ He grabbed onto Todd hard, sobbing a little. “Todd, I’m sorry! I’m sorry that I spanked you. I’m sorry that I yelled at you. I’m sorry I told you I hated you. Can you ever forgive me?”
“Hmmm?” He nodded after a second. “Um-hmm! Fogive you.”
‘That’s it? I couldn’t accept his apologies. I just stubbornly clung to my anger. Helen was right. I could learn a lesson from him. He has no interest in holding a grudge.’
Taking a deep breath he wiped his face. “Todd?”
Todd could see he looked happier. “You all better?”
“I think so. And I need to tell you something. Something I should have said a long time ago.”
With a big smile he said for the first time, from his heart, “I love you!”
Todd let out a joyful squeal, giggling and sounding blissful. “I woves you too.” He said as he hugged Cooper happily. Though it wasn’t something he could comprehend consciously Todd finally felt acceptance, real acceptance, from his brother.
“Things are going to be different from now on, I promise. I’ll be good to you and teach you the things you need to know. So…” He put his hands in front of Todd’s. “Brothers?”
Todd looked confused for a second before taking Cooper’s hands in his own with a smile. “Bwatha’s!”
With that they hugged again, the two of them feeling a warmth that had nothing to do with the fire nearby.
Helen let out a little laugh as she stood by the two. “He seems alright, doesn’t he? So now, I guess you can’t object to me saying you’re a hero.”
“I guess not.” Said Cooper, giving Todd a squeeze.
She handed him a cordless phone. “I think it would be wise to call your mother and let her know where you are so she doesn’t worry.”
“Oh. Yeah.” As he started dialing the numbers he suddenly stopped. “What should I say to her? She’s probably going to yell at me.”
“She won’t yell at you.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’m a mother, that’s why. You don’t have to tell her everything over the phone. It would probably be better to wait until you see her face to face, but you do need to tell her what happened.”
“I know.” He looked away from the phone again as he turned to her and said, “Sorry.”
“Hmm? For what?”
“You took care of my brother and me and stopped us from freezing to death, and I never ever said thank you. Thank you so much for helping us out.”
As he went to tell Todd to say the same Todd looked up at her and said, “Tank you soooo much fo’ helpin’ us out.”
“You’re very welcome. We were glad to do it.”
“He did it again.” Said Cooper to himself.
“Did what again?”
“Both before, when he put the blanket on me, and now, he said almost exactly the same things I did.”
“Of course. Children learn by copying the people they respect and love. Their initial personality spurs from imitating and trying to be the people in their lives. As their minds develop and their thoughts expand that’s when they start becoming their own person. It’s clear that Todd thinks a lot of you.” Bending over she said to Todd, “Isn’t that right? You like your brother a lot, don’t you?”
Todd nodded hard. “Coopa’s the best!”
Cooper blushed just a little bit, obviously happy at the statement. He dialed his house. He waited for a couple of rings before he heard his mothers voice. “Hi, Mom.”
“Hello, Cooper.” Said the perplexed voice of Misty. “Where are you calling from? I thought you were at the park.”
“Mom…there was a…situation. I’ll tell you all about it but for now could you pick us up?”
“Are you both okay?”
“Yes, we’re fine.”
“Where are you?”
He asked Helen the address and told it to her.
She felt very confused and concerned now. The address was pretty much right around the corner. What happened that was so bad they couldn’t just come home? “Alright. I’ll be right there. Give me about five minutes.”
“Okay, Mom. Goodbye.”
It was a short wait before the doorbell rang. When Misty came into the living room she could see her two boys sitting by the fire, bundled up in blankets. Todd looked half-asleep, but he perked up when he saw her. “Mama!” He said joyfully, extricating himself from the blankets and Cooper’s arms and running to her.
Misty picked him up, holding him to her. “Hello, my little boy. How are you?”
“That’s good.” As she approached Cooper she could see a sheepish guilty look on his face. “Hello, Cooper. You don’t look so good.” She sat down across from him.
“I…I mean…that’s…” He tried to talk more, but the words wouldn’t come.
Helen put her hand on Cooper’s shoulder. “Go ahead and tell her. It’ll be okay. Trust me.”
Cooper thought about what she said before, that she knew Misty wouldn’t yell at him because she was a mother too. With a deep breath he looked at his mother and said, “While we were at the park I got into a fight with Todd.” He sniffed, tears brimming around his eyes. “I said something very nasty to him, and he ran off crying. The next thing I knew I heard a splash, and when I turned to look I saw that Todd had fallen into the lake.”
Misty’s eyes went wide as she gasped.
“I jumped into the lake after him and pulled him out, before I changed both of us into the warm clothes you had us bring for the trip. Then I just started running, because I knew how dangerous it was for both of us. When we were near home I saw that Todd was starting to turn blue, and I was feeling so exhausted and numb I could hardly move. I…” Cooper sniffed again, closing his eyes as tears started coming down. “I really thought Todd was about to die.”
Todd pulled himself from his mother’s grip, running back and jumping onto Cooper’s lap and hugging him. “No cwy, Coopa. No cwy. It’s alwight. I hewe for you.”
It was a real confort to him having Todd come to his aid. Cooper squeezed Todd hard before continuing. “I…I said a prayer, and begged for Todd to be safe. I found myself here, and gave him to Helen. I was freaking out so much I couldn’t breathe, and I passed out. The next thing I knew I was here on the couch by the fire. Todd was in the bathroom being warmed up. The whole time I was waiting for him I was so scared I’d never see him again. I really wanted to just apologize to him and tell him I didn’t mean it. When I almost lost him it made me realize how much Todd really means to me, and I told him I loved him for the first time.
“That’s about it. So go ahead and yell at me or punish me if you want. I don’t care. As long as Todd is safe.”
Todd gave Misty an angry look. “Mommy no yell at Coopa! Coopa good boy! He save me!”
Misty stood up, walking over to the pair and sat down next to them. She looked down at Todd with an amused expression as he continued giving her a death glare and holding protectively onto his brother. Giving Todd a kiss she said, “Todd, I’m not going to yell at Cooper. So please take that look off your face.”
He gave her a kiss back. “Okay, Mommy.” He replied, a smile coming back to his face.
Cooper was looking away from her so she put her hand on his cheek and pushed so they were eye to eye. Misty had a tender look on her face as she kissed him. Putting an arm around him she said warmly, “I’m so proud of you, Cooper.”
“Proud of what? This wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t get in a fight with him.”
“Fighting with our siblings is part of the life of having a sibling. You caused an unfortunate mistake, and made up for it in spades. Maybe you weren’t paying attention to your story, but I was. You risked your own life to try to save his. ‘When I almost lost him it made me realize how much Todd really means to me.’ ‘Go ahead and yell at me. I don’t care, as long as Todd is safe.’ I like hearing that you and your brother are becoming closer, even if it took Todd nearly dying to do it. You were very brave. So many things of what you said make me feel so happy. Sometimes we have to come close to losing something to make us realize how much we need them. I’ll say it again. I’m very, very proud of you Cooper.”
Cooper sniffed, feeling touched as a tear came down his face. “Thank you, Mom.”
“We have to stop at the park before we go home. The bag and our wet clothes are there.”
“Okay.” The three stood up. Turning to Helen, Misty bowed her head before saying, “Thank you very much for taking care of my boys.”
“Don’t mention it.” She replied. “You raised them well. You have yourself a pair of fine children.”
With a look of pride she put a hand on Cooper’s shoulder. “I agree wholeheartedly.”
“Thank you again.” Said Cooper.
Todd ran over to her, raising his arms. She picked him up, and he gave her a strong hug. “Thank you!”
“You’re all very welcome.” Helen replied as she set Todd on the floor and he ran back to Cooper. “You see, Cooper. I told you she wasn’t going to yell at you.”
Misty let out a laugh. “Well, even if I wanted to I couldn’t have, not with Todd scowling at me like that. It was so cute to see Todd jump to your defense when he thought I was going to start screaming.”
Cooper picked up Todd, holding him close. “Yeah, this little guy is awesome. Since he tried to protect me I’m going to have to do a better job of protecting him so this doesn’t happen again. After all…I love you very much, Todd.”
Todd hugged him back, saying, “I woves you too vewy much!”
Misty whipped out her cell phone, snapping a picture. “Now if that isn’t the most heartwarming moment between the two of you.” She put her arms around the pair. “I love my boys.”
Now all three were hugging each other, sharing a love that had been sorely missing recently.
The trio said their last goodbyes and left the house shortly after that. As Helen watched the three of them she thought that they would be fine from now on.
After going to the park to retrieve the bag and clothes they headed back home. “So who’s hungry?” Misty asked as they walked in the door.
“I know I am!” Said Cooper.
“Me! Me! I am, I am!” Said Todd. “Hungwy! Hungwy!”
“That’s good! I’ll start cooking immediately.”
The two sat down on the couch, and Cooper turned on the TV to one of the cartoon shows Todd liked to watch until Misty called them for dinner. Usually Todd would sit in his own seat, but on this occasion Cooper let Todd sit on his lap.
After dinner Cooper picked him up, bringing him back to the couch. But Todd wasn’t interested in watching TV at the moment, trying to extricate himself from Cooper’s arms. “Coopa. I gonna go play.”
“Stay with me, please? I’ll feel cold without you here.” He said to his brother pleadingly.
“Oh…” Todd gave him a concerned look before pushing himself to the floor and running off. “I be wight back!” He called out.
It was a very strange sensation that passed through Cooper in the ten seconds Todd was gone. It felt a lot like…loneliness.
When Todd returned he was holding one of the blankets from his room. He climbed onto Cooper’s lap, and Cooper helped him pull the blanket around the two of them. Todd held onto him hard. “No wowwy, Coopa. I keeps you warm. I wove Coopa. No want you to feel cold.”
Cooper held him back just as tightly, actually feeling comforted by his brother’s presence. He closed his eye’s, enjoying the contact from this being who had before only been a sense of annoyance. He…really just didn’t feel like letting Todd go at the moment. Cooper finally understood the most significant thing of the reason why being an older sibling was important. The younger ones have to be protected because they couldn’t do it themselves. And he wanted to protect Todd, no matter what may happen to him. He felt that warm feeling in his heart bubbling up again as he quietly shed a few tears. “I love you so much, Todd. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that more often.”
“Dat’s okay. I wove you too.”
He squeezed Todd a little harder, feeling so relaxed and content having Todd there with him. ‘If only I hadn’t been so stubborn.’ He thought. ‘Then again, if I wasn’t, who knows how long it would have taken for me to truly accept him?’
Cooper didn’t know how long they stayed in that position before he suddenly felt Todd’s body going limp and began to hear the soft sound of his snoring. ‘I’ve been so stupid this whole time. I’ve always been lucky to have a little brother. From now on, I promise I will always protect you.’
He just sat there, occasionally rubbing Todd’s back, but most of the time just holding him, listening to the sound of Todd’s rhythmic breathing. The sound was almost hypnotic because he sounded so relaxed and untroubled, just as a child should be. He didn’t seem traumatized by his brief excursion in the lake.
Cooper suddenly glanced up towards the ceiling, remembering in his panic he had made a prayer for his brothers safety. Feeling a little overwhelmed more tears came splashing down his face. ‘Thank you…for giving me a second chance. Thank you for not taking him from me. I haven’t been a good brother to Todd in the past, but I’ll do a better job from now on.’
He held Todd a little tighter to him, feeling tranquil and calm, closing his eyes and continuing to just listen to the sound of Todd’s gentle breathing.
Twenty minutes later Misty, having been doing some cleaning, called out to her two children. “Todd…Cooper.” She received no answer so she called out a little louder. When she still got no response she said, “I guess you don’t want any ice cream!” She thought that would at least get Todd to jump up.
When she headed to the living room to see what the two were doing she saw a sight that made her heart melt on the spot. The two of them were both out like a light. They had a blanket wrapped around them, facing each other. Todd was resting his head on Cooper’s chest, curled up with his thumb in his mouth. Cooper’s head was drooped over, his arms around Todd’s back. She couldn’t find it in herself to disturb the two of them, so she just turned off the TV and headed to her room. She really wanted to get a picture, but with it being dark she was sure a camera flash would wake them up. She would have to settle for the picture captured in her heart. When it reached nine o’clock and the pair were still out she gently shook Cooper awake. She could have just left him be, but she was sure he’d have a stiff neck in the morning from the awkward position.
Cooper opened his eyes, blinking sleepily before looking at her with half-open eyes. “Wake up, sleepyhead. I think you should go to your own bed.”
“Huh?” Cooper was confused. He looked at the weight in his lap and saw Todd, who was starting to wake himself from Cooper moving around.
“You fell asleep on the couch with him, but it’s starting to get late so it’s time to get in your own bed.”
“Oh, okay.” Cooper muttered, shaking his head to wake himself up a little more.
“I’ll take care of this one.” She said, picking up Todd. She tried to be gentle, but he still woke up, lightly crying from his disturbed rest. “Shh, shh, shh. It’s okay.” She said in a comforting tone. “I’m just moving you to your bed.”
He opened his eyes. “Mama.” He sniffed.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“Right here.” Said Cooper as he stood up. He patted Todd head as he said, “It’s bedtime, little guy.”
They walked toward their bedrooms, but when Misty went to take him to his own room and Cooper was about to leave him Todd began sobbing. “Nooo! Coopa!” He started writhing in Misty’s grip, trying to get down. “I want Coopa!”
Cooper stopped and turned around immediately. He put his arms out as he stood next to his mom, and Todd worked himself out of her grip and into his. Cooper held protectively onto Todd, rocking him. “It’s okay, Todd. Don’t cry. I’m here for you.” He let out a sleepy groan, still feeling tired. “Hey, I have an idea that might make you happy.”
Todd sniffed again. “W-what?”
“Why don’t you sleep with me tonight, okay?”
Todd nodded from his position. “Wanna sleep with you.”
“Okay, so go back to mom for now so she can help you get your pajama’s on. I have to get mine on, too.” He handed Todd back over. Though it was clear Todd didn’t want to be away from Cooper he went without a fight.
A few minutes later Todd came running in, seeing Cooper sitting on his bed with the blankets down. “I’ve been waiting for you.” When Todd climbed up onto the bed the two hugged. “Ready to sleep?”
Todd nodded, rubbing his eyes. “Sleepy, Bwatha.”
Cooper lay on his side, holding tight to Todd as he pulled the blanket over them.
Misty came in, and gave both her son’s a kiss. “Goodnight, boys.”
“Night, Mom.” Said Cooper.
“Nigh-nigh, Mama.” Said Todd.
As Cooper started drifting off he thought to himself that it actually felt kinda nice having Todd sleep with him.
In the coming weeks that followed Cooper and Todd were nearly inseparable. In the wake of Todd’s near-death experience he found himself accepting his role as a big brother for real, rather than because he had to. While before Todd had seemed just like a useless waste of his free time, now Cooper could begin to see his positive sides. A lot of the things that used to irk him about his brother actually became a little endearing. Especially his baby talk. He found himself smiling now when he heard it, while half-heartedly trying to correct him. That isn’t to say he didn’t still take his ‘no-brother’ days. He did still need some time for himself, after all. However, the days he had to babysit no longer seemed so stressful. Todd was pretty much devoted to him, so Cooper tried to split their time together half and half. He would do what Todd wanted for a while, and then he would let Todd watch him play a game. Through that time he tried to emphasize to Todd the importance of sharing and not being selfish, and of give-and-take.
One of the biggest perks, at least to him, of being amicable with Todd is that his brother listened to him. He had to stifle back laughs when his mom would try to get Todd to take a nap, or eat his dinner when he was being fussy. Then he would speak up and tell Todd, “It’s time for your nap.” Or, “Todd, eat your supper.” Todd would get a really sour look on his face, a big frown on his lips, but then he would give in. Misty would get an exasperated look on her face at the big smile on Cooper’s face that he couldn’t suppress.
As Todd continued growing Cooper noticed more and more that Todd would usually parrot him in nearly everything he did when they were together. He wanted to drink the same drinks, he would say the same things, attempted to imitate his tone of voice. Helen’s words came to mind, of how children gain their identity by first trying to become a person in their life they love. Cooper guessed that was because the people they love ‘always’ do the right thing, so anything they saw their parents or siblings do was okay for them to do too.
Cooper had a lot of fun one time with that idea. It took some practice getting Todd to get the word’s down, but he knew it was going to be worth it in the end. Sending Todd to their mom in the kitchen he said, “Okay, Todd. You know what to do. Just like we practiced, okay?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
When Todd went into the kitchen he called out, “Sup, Mama!” She turned around and looked at her son with a wide-eyed expression, her mouth hanging open. He was wearing his hat to the side, sunglasses covering his eyes, leaning against the corner of the room with his arms crossed, wearing some fake bling and his pants down enough almost half his underpants were showing. “Hey, can I get a juice box up in this piece?”
Cooper felt he might die of laughter from the mix of horrified amusement crossing her features. Her eyes looked like they might just burst out of her head. Todd started laughing because Cooper was, meaning he had done a good job.
Misty let out a big sigh, putting one hand in her face as she groaned and released the few small chuckles she had to let out to keep from snapping. She was in that difficult state of motherhood where she had to decide whether to just say it was adorably hilarious, or to scold Cooper for teaching his brother to do that.
Todd made her mind up for her when she felt him tugging on her shirt. She put her hand down and she could see a big grin on his face as Cooper’s laughter was settling down. “Mama. Coopa said that would make you laugh. Was that funny?”
She picked him up, saying, “Yes, yes. That was very funny. Oh, Cooper?”
Cooper was sure he was going to pay in some way from the sickeningly sweet way she called his name. “Yes, Mother?” He said as he walked into the kitchen. No matter what she was going to do he felt it was all worth it for the expression on her face. Although as long as Todd was in the room he was certain she wouldn’t scold him. Todd was also very protective of him.
“One of the things I wanted you to do was to teach Todd things I couldn’t, but I really don’t want you teaching your brother things like this. He doesn’t need to be gangsta.” At the last word she rolled her eyes.
“Alright, Mom. Soooorrryyy.” He tried to put on a puppy dog apologetic look, but the two of them just started laughing. Todd joined in on their merriment, even though he didn’t know what he was laughing at. He just knew that if his mom and brother were happy, then he was happy too.
Things were going very well, up until the latest incident when Todd was a little over three years old.
It was a Monday, normally one of his babysitting days, but he asked if he could swap for Tuesday since he had to finish reading the last two chapters of the story they were reading in class, and do a book report on it. It wasn’t due until next week, but Cooper was someone who liked to get those kinds of things out of the way quickly. He had at least three classmates who almost always turned in their reports late because they waited until the last minute and then ‘things came up’ and they needed some extra days.
Cooper had been working on his report for almost two hours. It was nearly finished. He was feeling mentally tired from using his brain so much, and he was getting hungry for dinner. Todd was taking a small nap, and his mother had to leave to give their dad some money for something or other, and she said she would bring home some food for all of them when she returned. Their next door neighbor was technically in charge of them, but they were still at their own house. He just had to make sure all the doors and windows were locked, don’t answer it for anyone, etc.
All of a sudden Todd came up to him. “Hi, Coopa!” He said brightly, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes..
Cooper let out an annoyed sigh from the break in concentration. “Hello, Todd.” He said flatly.
Todd grabbed his sleeve, tugging on it. “Let’s play, Coopa!”
Cooper closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before turning to Todd. “I can’t right now. I know this is usually our day to play but you’ll have me for the next two days instead, okay?”
Todd let out a sad groan. “But I wanna play now!”
“Todd, I’m doing homework right now. Do you know what homework is?”
Todd crossed his arms with a frown. “No bwatha time!”
“Yes, that’s right. I need to get this report done for school. As soon as it’s done I’ll play with you, so go watch TV or play by yourself for now, okay?” He ignored Todd’s quivering lip before turning back to the table. He grabbed the cup next to him and put it to his mouth before letting out a growl. “Empty, of course!” Turning back to Todd he pushed the glass to him. “Go put this in the sink for me.” He let out a sigh as he put his cheek in his hand, grabbing his pencil and starting to write again.
Todd looked down at the cup in his hands for a few moments before he walked to the kitchen. Pulling a chair to the sink he climbed up, about to put it in. He stopped when he suddenly got an idea. Leaning over he turned the cold water on. After testing it he wore a smile as he thought how much happier Cooper would look from his good deed. After filling it up he shut the water back off before pouring some out so it wouldn’t spill.
Carefully climbing back down he ran back to the living room. “Coopa! I gots you a dwink! Whoa!” Not looking where he was going he tripped. The glass flew out of his hands, landing on the table and turning Cooper’s notebook into soggy paper before dripping down all over his pants. Cooper just stared at his ruined report, blinking.
Todd got to his feet, looking incredibly guilty. “S-sowwy, Coopa!”
When the shock wore off anger began settling in. His hunger, his exhaustion, and the destruction of his last two hour’s work all combined to make him feel furious. He slammed both fists on the table, screaming out, “TODD!”
Todd flinched. “Sowwy! I sowwy!” When Cooper stood up and looked at him Todd felt a flash of rememberance. The last time he had seen that expression on Cooper’s face was during the time he had broken the diorama. He felt scared, and tried to run off and hide.
“Oh, no, you don’t!” Snapped Cooper, charging after him. Todd couldn’t run fast enough, and Cooper easily caught up to him, sitting on the couch with Todd on his stomach. “You should know better!” He said, raising up his hand.
Todd began quivering in fright, covering his face with both hands. “No spank, Bwatha! No spank!” Fearful tears came down his eyes. Todd waited, waited for the expected pain, for the sharp sound of flesh hitting flesh. Five second went by, then ten, then fifteen, but there was nothing. Todd finally looked up at Cooper to see a weird expression on his face.
Cooper’s hand was shaking, but he couldn’t get himself to bring it down. Seeing Todd shaking like that brought him back to the incident in which Todd had nearly died, when he was shivering for an entirely different reason. He thought back to his prayer, as well as his promise to his mother that he wouldn’t spank Todd again.
Guilt ate away at his anger until he wanted to cry. Lowering his hand he pulled Todd to a sitting position facing him. “Todd, you know the rule about running with a cup in your hand. Because things can spill, just like they did here. You did a bad thing! Do you understand that?”
Tears brimmed Todd’s eyes. “S-s-sowwy! I…I just want to get you a dwink. You thiwsty.”
“I know, Todd. But you got water all over my pants and my school report. That makes me feel very unhappy.”
Todd grabbed onto Cooper hard, sobbing a little. “Sowwy!”
Cooper glanced over at his soaking wet notebook, and felt that same pang of annoyance. Having to decide between his emotions he simply had to ask himself which was more important, and the answer was obvious. “I know it was an accident. And…that’s why…” Mastering his feelings he let out a heavy breath as he put his hands around Todd and closed his eyes. “That’s why I forgive you. I’m sorry I was about to spank you again.”
He held onto Todd until he was able to forgive him for real, then set him on the floor. Going over to the table he said, “Todd, go grab the paper towels from the cabinet. I’m going to change my pants.”
“Okey-dokey!” He said, saluting.
When he returned Cooper picked up his notebook, feeling disappointed in himself. “Oh, well. Maybe when it dries it will still be legible enough to type it out on the computer.”
When Todd came back he saw the far-away look on Cooper’s face as he shook out his notebook. He let out a sad groan. “Hewe.” He said quietly.
“Thanks.” Said Cooper distractingly, wiping up the water on the table. When he was done he threw the paper towels in the garbage, then took notice of Todd’s small hiccupping sobs. He picked up his brother, saying, “What’s wrong?”
“You upset because I bad boy!”
“You’re not a bad boy. You just did something you weren’t supposed to because you wanted to do something nice for me. You had good intentions. You just have to remember to follow the rules so this doesn’t happen again.” He began rubbing Todd’s back. “Don’t worry. I still love you very much. Even if you make me upset or mad you’ll still always be my brother. So don’t cry, okay?
“Now come on. Let’s go play until mom comes home.”
When they were in Todd’s room Cooper set him on the bed. Todd wiped his eyes, before putting his hands out and asking in a pleading voice, “Bwatha’s?”
Cooper took Todd’s hands in his, saying, “Brothers.”
Their mom came home within a half hour. The whole time they were playing there was a subdued air between the two of them. Neither of them were their bright, cheerful selves, as the two of them both still felt guilty for what they had done.
Misty called for her children from the kitchen. Cooper came in holding Todd, seeing the bags of food on the table. “You alright, you two?” Asked Misty with concern. “You both look down.”
“I guess we’re just hungry.” Replied Cooper, not wanting to get into what happened.
Misty could tell it was more than that, but she let them eat without comment, knowing that problems always feel worse on an empty stomach. After eating she could see the pair had perked up a bit, but still seemed troubled by something.
The trio retired to the living room to watch TV, Todd falling asleep on Cooper’s lap after an hour or so.
Cooper picked up Todd, putting him in his bed, turning on his nightlight and closing the door.
When he returned to the living room he said, “Can you come to my room? I need to talk to you.”
“I could tell something was off about you.” She replied as she stood up.
When they arrived he shut the door behind him, Misty sitting on his bed. He choose to stay standing. He began pacing around as he told her the story of what had happened while she had been gone. She sat there listening quietly.
“Man, why am I so stupid?” He kicked his dresser. “I’m a teenager now but I still can’t get it right. I’m still just a dumb, immature brat who hasn’t learned a damn thing from the last time. After I prayed so hard for Todd to live I still was about to throw away my promises over the loss of a stupid school project.”
“Cooper.” Said Misty. “Please sit down.” When he did she put an arm around him, gave him a kiss on the cheek, and said, “I’m so proud of you.”
Cooper looked at her like she was crazy. “Proud of me? Weren’t you even listening to me?”
“Yes, I was. Your evaluation of yourself is very off. Let’s compare today to that event. Your brother, thinking it was a toy, broke your solar system diorama. In a fit of rage you grabbed him and spanked him. You yelled at him, you yelled at me, and were very unforgiving.
“Today, your brother, again accidentally, spilled water all over another project of yours. You got mad, you chased after him, you were ready to spank him and…you didn’t. Then, even though you were mad and upset, you forgave him, told him you still loved him, hugged him, and went to play with him until I got home, then let him stay on your lap until he fell asleep. And after all that…you want to tell me that you haven’t grown up at all since then? That all you are is a ‘dumb, immature brat?’
“Maturity comes about when you can control yourself when you feel out of control. Even though you were furious and were close to hurting your brother, you stopped yourself from doing so. You used your past experience to consider the consequences of your actions, and you decided that your brother was worth more than your report. You showed me today without a doubt that you have grown up. Way to go, Cooper!”
She gave him another kiss.
“Well, I guess I didn’t think about it that way. I…I guess I did do the right thing after all.” Cooper felt a smile come to his face.
“You’re helping teach Todd one of the most difficult but most important lessons for a parent to instill in their child.”
“You are not your behavior. Just because you did something bad doesn’t mean you are bad. And, most importantly, even if you make me mad, I still love you with all my heart.”
Cooper gave that a little thought. “Well, that makes sense. Even when I get mad at you I still love you, and after I calm down it usually feels silly what we argue over.”
“Same here. Your mother isn’t perfect either, so I can occasionally lose my temper over things that aren’t as serious as I’d make them seem. It’s part of what makes us human.
“As for you, I say you’re a fine big brother. You’re always going to butt heads with your brother over something. As much as he loves you he’ll still get annoyed at you, just like you will at him. What’s most important is that you still stick together no matter what.”
The sound of crying caught their attention, as they heard Todd yelling out for them. Cooper opened his door. “In here, Todd.”
The pitter-patter of running feet echoed across the floorboards. When Todd saw him he began crying harder. Cooper picked him up, closing the door again and sitting back on his bed.
“Coopa! Mama!” He was shaking and sobbing and trying to hug both of them at the same time. The two of them moved closer together so they could both hold him.
“What’s wrong, Todd?” Asked Misty. “Did you have a bad dream?”
He nodded. “Dwagon!”
“Dwagon eats you and Coopa! And he wants to eats me, too!”
“Aww, Todd.” Said Cooper. “You don’t have to be scared of that. I know.” He moved Todd to his lap. “How about I tell you a story to cheer you up?”
“Yeah. It’s called Brave Boy Todd.”
Todd looked up at him with mild interest, still sniffing and tears coming down his eyes as he pointed to himself. “M-me Todd.”
“That’s right. It’s a story about you. Do you want to hear it?”
Todd just stared at him for a few seconds before nodding. Out of the corner of his eye Cooper could see Misty looking at him as well, interested in what he was going to say.
“Once upon a time there was a little boy called Brave Boy Todd. He lived with two other people: Cutie Mommy and Big Brother Cooper. The three lived together and had lots of fun and played all the time. One day when they were walking in the park a big green dragon came across their path.”
Todd had been listening attentively, but he looked timid at the mention of the dragon.
“The dragon said, “I am very hungry, and I’m going to gobble you all up.””
Todd backed his body away from Cooper, letting out a quiet frightened squeal.
“Opening his mouth wide the dragon swallowed Cutie Mommy and Big Brother Cooper whole.”
“Cooper!” Snapped his mother as Todd began crying again.
“Don’t worry, Mom. I know what I’m doing. I’m just finishing his dream.
“Brave Boy Todd wasn’t feeling too brave at the moment. He felt quite scared. The dragon was about to eat him too, and he didn’t know if he could beat the dragon.
“As the dragon opened his mouth to eat him, Brave Boy Todd realized that only he could save Cutie Mommy and Big Brother Cooper, so he knew he had to win. Putting his arms out he put his hands on the dragons body…” Cooper put his hands out onto Todds stomach. “And began tickling him!” Todd started laughing through his sobs as Cooper tickled him. “The dragon was very ticklish, and he was laughing so much he couldn’t focus on eating Brave Boy Todd.
“When Brave Boy Todd stopped, the dragon let out a mighty roar, mad that he was made a fool of. He opened his mouth and yelled, “I am going to eat you!” But Brave Boy Todd wasn’t scared of the dragon anymore. When it tried to eat him he put his fingers out again.”
Todd put his hands out, saying, “Tickle, tickle, tickle!”
“”No, stop! Stop!” Cried out the dragon. “I give up.” Brave Boy Todd gave him his meanest look.” Todd glared at him. “He said to that dragon, “You spit them out right NOW!”
“Spit them out! Right NOW!” Cried out Todd.
“Brave Boy Todd tickled his nose until, with a mighty sneeze, out of his mouth came Big Brother Cooper and Cutie Mommy. He then said to that dragon, “You do not eat people. That’s bad!”
“No eat people! Very bad!”
“The dragon began crying. “I’m sorry! I was just so hungry.” Brave Boy Todd felt bad for the dragon. He was a good boy, so he bought the dragon some hamburgers to eat to make him happy.
“Then the group went home, and Brave Boy Todd was grinning with pride. He had beat the dragon, and he had done it all by himself.”
“I did it! Yay!” Todd clapped.
“Cutie Mommy and Big Brother Cooper were also very proud of him, and they rained down kisses and hugs on him for rescuing them.” Todd giggled happily as Cooper and Misty did just that. “A job well done, Brave Boy Todd felt tired after all his hard work. So Big Brother Cooper held onto him and gently rocked him as he went back to sleep.”
Todd just held onto him, not fussing. “Thank you, Bwatha.”
“You’re welcome, Todd. I love you very much. Night night.”
“Wove you too. Nigh-nigh.” He slowly closed his eyes, protected in the security of his brother’s arms.
After Todd drifted back off to dreamland Misty noticed that Cooper’s eyes faded out, as if he had just realized something, before he looked over at her. “You know, I never really thought about it before, but…I remember you telling me after our fight that Todd attached himself to me so firmly because he was missing the love he got from Dad. So he tried to get a replacement love from the only other person who lived here.”
“I guess I never really noticed it until now, but…” His eyes got that faraway look again. “I’ve been doing the same.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve been wanting a replacement love too. It just took me a while to realize that I didn’t need to look at all. It’s always been right here, just waiting for me to notice it. Todd’s always been underfoot, pretty much saying, “Notice me! Notice me!” Now that I have I’ve found that I’m a lot happier. I don’t have that feeling of loneliness anymore like I did right after you guys divorced. I’m…actually really glad to have him around.”
Cooper started laughing.
“What?” Asked Misty.
“You know, I used to call Todd stupid all the time, but I was wrong. He’s really quite smart. I mean, after all, he does do all he can to copy me. Can you think of any better way for him to grow up cool?”
Misty let out a playful sigh. “As long as I don’t want him to grow up modest I guess it’s a good thing”
“You say you want to teach Todd those important things, but he finally taught me my own most important thing.”
“With homework, school, bullies, divorced parents, and all the other things that go on in my life…” He gave Todd a loving squeeze, feeling an affectionate tear come to his eyes. “Yeah, there are worse things than having a brother.”