An Act of Sympathy, Pt. 2

This piece began from a free write and transitioned into the final paper for an advanced fiction course. I started it in 2010 and revised to complete it during my first semester of my junior year at Western Michigan University (2012). This short story follows the life of a boy who experiences the effects of bullying during his high school career. This is a short story.


I tasted a metallic flavor in my mouth. The boys’ footsteps grew quiet as they trekked back to Main Street. I rolled my neck around to the see smaller of the three turning the corner without even a glance back. Summoning the courage to pull myself to a sitting position, I gasped and held my ribs. After some time I shook off the dizziness enough to stand and drag my beaten body home, barefoot and leaving the flower pot, paper bag, and my glasses behind.

Upon coming to my new house, I crept to the garage door and slipped inside. A bathroom lay right inside the door and I was relieved to see my mother had already unpacked wash rags and towels into its cupboards. Locking the door, I looked at myself in the mirror. Other than the red, teary eyes and blood smeared under my nose, my face was okay. I gingerly lifted my shirt. My breath caught when an angry bruise ran down my entire side. There was no doubt a rib or two had been broken as the large boy kicked me. I looked in the medicine cabinet and found an aspirin. Then I continued to rinse myself in the sink. As the dark rust washed down the drain I felt a hardening feeling in my gut. I hated Sympathy.

I had hidden the fact of my first encounter with the bullies from my parents due to fear that I would have to face the boys again. I had simply found myself so caught up in exploring the town that I forgot to grab the things from the store, I told them. And the money used to buy the products must have fallen out of my pocket when I was chased by a dog. I also lost my glasses in the great race for my life. I had never lied to my parents before so they never questioned me.

School began a month later. I watched my mother tie her hair into a floral bandana the morning before I began as she promised, “You’ll make lots of friends, Kevin. You’ll see; everyone will love you.” I hoped she couldn’t see the look of disgust my face held in the mirror.

Unfortunately, Mom was wrong. Adam Clawson was an eighth grader and his brother, Brett, was in my grade. And the boys ran the school like kingpins of the Mafia. The brothers, especially Adam, felt it was his responsibility to make my middle school aware that a Newcomer was walking through its halls.

“That thing carries worse things than cooties, Alice.” Said Adam after the girl sitting next to me handed me back my dropped pencil.

“Sean, you know it’s a week’s worth of lunch money for associating with Chicago,” said Brett when a boy cracked a joke to me during PE one afternoon.

It became easier for my peers to exclude me, pretend I didn’t exist. I acted as if it didn’t bother me but internally it was gnawing at me. Why couldn’t one person speak up to these guys in my defense? I would, but it was risking another back-lot experience. So I spent the next two years at Sympathy Middle School sitting by myself at lunch, not speaking to anyone, and hanging out with only my shadow. Only the daily antics of the Clawsons kept me from becoming completely invisible to Sympathy.

I believed the torment might be over once I entered high school. My father had opened his own repair shop in Emmetsburg and I worked for him. Lifting heavy machinery and working with my hands had helped to give me some muscle definition. I had grown out my hair and donned contacts to replace my glasses. I strutted into Sympathy High with my chin held high and hoping that after two years of calling Sympathy the place where I lived would be enough to change my status to my peers.

It was no luck, though. I remained the Newcomer. And now I attended the school where all three Clawson brothers also roamed the halls. Clark, now a senior, found me almost immediately of my arrival.

“Hey, Chicago, nice shoes.” He said, flashing a brilliant white smile. On his feet he wore my old pair of sneakers, a drop of blood still visible on the lace. It was obvious they had never been worn before that day. He had worn them specifically for me. I cringed.

A new building and new atmosphere didn’t change the status the Clawsons held. They were still gods among my peers, and to hold any sort of social status one must obey the gods. To strengthen their standing, Adam and Clark had become football heroes by leading Sympathy High to regional championships the year before. State championship was within reach now that Brett, the youngest, was on the team as well. Popularity trumped morality in the town of Sympathy.

Freshmen year began with the typical Clawson pranks: lunch trays shoved from my hands, a snake in my backpack, my locker door glued shut. I began to think of ways in which to leave Sympathy, or make the Clawsons pay. My imagination was the only thing that kept me going to school every day, as it ran rampant during the tormenting school hours. That is up until the cold October day when she walked into my life.

Emily Banks was the only other Newcomer I had known in Sympathy. She had moved in with her grandmother, Cecil. Rumors flew throughout the high school about the reason as to why she had moved in but no one knew for sure. Many of the gossips were cruel, creating a bad reputation for Emily before she had even been allowed to meet anyone. She was a drug addict trying to recover, she had had an abortion, her parents no longer wanted her; the list went on and on. Due to her being incredibly quiet, however, within a few weeks she became invisible to our peers. She simply was a Newcomer to which no one spoke.

Luckily for me, we had more than our popularity status in common. Emily had been given the locker next to mine. After nearly a month of silence, I bulked up the courage to speak to her.

Noticing the day circled in red on a small calendar hanging in her locker I asked, “What’s happening on January 19?”

My voice made her jump out of her skin. Blushing a bright scarlet, she giggled nervously and cleared her throat. “It’s the day my sister Cara is coming to visit me.”

“Oh, that will be nice.” I smiled and wondered about the importance of the visitor to her.

That was the first time I can recall ever smiling in a school setting. Talking with Emily became the best part of my life. Even with the regular pranks of the Clawsons, the girl had a mysterious way of keeping my mind from them. The soft tone of her voice, the way her blue eyes crinkled when she smiled, her frequent spinning of a small gold ring on her thumb; I couldn’t think of anything else. As our locker chats became longer so did our time together. We began to eat lunch, walk to class, and study after school.

Emily and I had a spot in the woods behind her grandmother’s farmhouse in which we met often: a small clearing centered around an old birch tree. It was a hideaway from the town of Sympathy. At the beginning of our friendship we had sat and watched the changing leaves fall in scattered chatter. But as the forest died around us and our relationship sparked, our chats became longer.

The tree’s branches had grown parallel with the ground and made it ideal for long conversations. It was a particularly mild winter in Iowa and the two of us perched on the birch wearing hats and down jackets. We were attempting to read The Fall of the House of Usher while being amused from a squirrel trying to chew on a rock. For some reason I found it so funny that I leaned too far back from laughter and slipped off my branch. Landing on my back with a small thud, Emily laughed even harder. I reached up and grabbed her dangling scarf.

“No!” she cried as I tugged her onto the ground beside me. Lifting herself onto her elbow, she giggled and wiped away a tear from my face. A dramatic silence came after she touched me. And then she dropped her lips to mine.

It was brief, too brief in my opinion. But the darkening of her blue eyes told me not to pursue her. “My father killed my mother.” She whispered.

I gaped at her as I pulled myself into a sitting position and reached for her hand. Blue eyes looked deep into mine and she seemed to be holding her breath. “What happened?” was all I could manage.

Sighing with what only could be relief that I had not run away from her, Emily held onto my hand with unaware strength.

“When I was four years old my mom left my father. After she caught him in our house with two other women she had had enough. We began renting an apartment in the south side of Chicago,” I involuntarily cringed, knowing from experience that the south side was an area my family had shied away from during our city days, “and mom took up two shifts at her factory. We were a lot happier without my dad being around though. The only thing I remember about him is his yelling. He used to drink a lot.”

Emily stopped to watch the squirrel scamper up a nearby tree. When it had disappeared she continued, “We didn’t hear from my father in years. Not until the day he owed his dealer did he think it important to find his ex-wife and two kids. What he didn’t know was the factory had just laid Mom off, though, and that we were living on unemployment. Cara wanted to quit school and find a job to help out but Mom told her that getting an education was the most important thing for us.” Emily smiled sadly, “Cara is brilliant. I’ve told you she got a full ride to Purdue, right? Mom would have been so proud.”

“But somehow my dad found us. I was sitting on the couch working on homework when he pounded on the door. He begged Mom for some cash, saying how sorry he was for what he had done to her, to us. He promised that once he paid his debt he would come back to her. I think when my mom laughed at him after he said that he snapped. He pulled a gun from behind him and shot her twice in the chest.” I stroked Emily’s hand with my thumb. “Cara had thrown herself on top of me. But I remember the look in his eyes when he saw us behind Mom. He wasn’t sorry.”

Emily’s hold on my hand was painful as she concluded, but she never shed a tear throughout the tale. We sat on the ground in silence until the sky grew black and we heard her grandmother calling for us.

Saturday, January 19 marked the first time Emily would see her sister since the court sentencing of their father in July. So when the day rolled around I waited on her grandmother’s porch step with Emily for Cara’s arrival. Cecil, their mother’s mom, was working a double shift at as head nurse at the Sympathy Hospital so we had been instructed to wait outside. We held hands and I thought how pretty Emily looked with her hair uncharacteristically worn down. My gaze kept lingering on her lips as she chattered about her sister.

“Cara is the greatest person you’ll ever meet,” Emily stated, smiling as she shared her favorite memory of her sister. “One day she came home holding a puppy she had found wandering a back-alley. It was the cutest thing ever, soft and blonde. We spent the rest of the week playing with it and trying to think of good names for it. But as we were walking to school on Monday morning we saw some flyers with the puppy’s picture on them. Turned out it had escaped from its owners and they had been looking for it all weekend. I wanted to keep the puppy but Cara explained why we couldn’t do that. So we returned the puppy to its family after school that day and received a small reward.” Emily smiled, “Cara could have spent the money on anything; I wouldn’t have cared. But instead, when I came home on Tuesday I found a stuffed animal lying on my bed. The fluffy toy looked exactly like the puppy! I came up with a name right away for it: Caroline. I still sleep with Caroline every night, it reminds me of Cara.”

“You really miss her, don’t you?” I asked, scooting closer to her and putting my arm around her shoulders.

She took a side glance at me and grinned, “It’s been easier having you around.” My thoughts swirled as she reached up and pecked my on the cheek.

As I began to lean into her, a car rolled into the driveway. I knew the vehicle, though, so I stayed seated as Emily rose and took a step away. Usually so calm and collected, Cecil’s dishevelment caught me by surprise. I watched the color drain from Emily’s cheeks as Cecil grabbed her hand and dragged her to the car. “Cara has been in an accident,” the grandmother gasped.

I remained frozen on the porch steps as the car sped away and Emily’s small cry hung in the air.

***

            “I’ll be back sometime on Tuesday,” said Cara Banks to her roommate, Josie.

Josie, looking up from a thick textbook glanced at the clock, “You’re leaving at this hour? Didn’t you tell your sister you weren’t getting there until tomorrow evening?”

“Yes, but since I didn’t have class today I figured I might as well surprise her by getting there in the morning. I slept pretty much all day so I could make it through the night. And I called my grandmother at her hospital and let her know I’m coming early. She said she’ll be working a double shift and won’t be there but to just let myself in. Emily loves my pancakes; I can’t wait to see her face in the morning when I wake her up with a plate of them.”

Chortling at Cara’s characteristically sweet motive, Josie returned to her reading, “Tell them both hi for me.”

“Will do,” replied Cara as she clicked the door to their dorm shut.

Skipping down the stairs from the fourth floor, she made her way to her Jeep Liberty. Jumping onto I-80 and beginning to head west, Cara relaxed into her seat. At least the sun was already done and she wouldn’t have to watch the unchanging landscape of central Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa pass by for the next ten hours. It was going to be a long night.

The sun was just beginning to peek over the ever expanding Iowan cornfields as Cara turned off the exit labeled Sympathy. She had only been to her grandmother’s house once before, to drop Emily off. The town did not look like it had in October. Now that the stalks were gone, the land simply looked dead. It sent a shiver down her spine.

Her grandmother’s house was on the far side of Sympathy. Isolated in the woods, Cara could picture the proud white home with its paneled windows. With its wrap-around front porch and peeked second story, the house looked as if it were smiling. Cara had fallen in love with the house as soon as she saw it.

The numerous back roads to her grandmother’s house were confusing though. Cara had a pretty good memory but all the intersections in the woods began to look the same; large trees mixed with climbing vines cut off her vision around every corner.

Coming to a stop where the dirt road she was on met a paved one, Cara took a breath. This was the first paved road she had seen in a while and she knew Cecil’s driveway came off from pavement. If she didn’t find the house within the next five minutes she would back track and get directions from town.

As Cara craned her neck to see if anyone was coming, she smiled. Emily’s face popped into her mind again. Cara couldn’t wait to see her sister. The bright sun made it difficult to see to her left. To her right she was unable to see any farther than the four-way stop sign around the corner, so Cara nudged her Jeep forward. Her eyes went wide as the large truck sped straight towards her and plowed her into the heavy treed roadside.

***

            Clark Clawson rarely spent a night at his parents’ house. His father’s constant instructions on how to do things better, his mother’s every obedient attitude, and his brothers’ open admiration for him drove him away. He needed his own space sometimes. He couldn’t wait until graduation in May and his escape to the University of Iowa.

Up until his senior year, Clark had worshiped the town of Sympathy. Not until his family life became unbearable did he consider leaving. Now the thought of being hours away, surrounded by new people, filled him with joy. However, he was not looking forward to telling his family or friends about his acceptance and decision into UIOWA. No one would understand why he was choosing to leave the town.

Friday night had been a party at Clark’s friend Remy’s barn. Blasting Alan Jackson music, girls wearing little more than plaid shirts, and drinks flowing until the middle of the night brought a major headache for Clark early Saturday morning. His alarm clock on his phone went off even before the first rays of sunlight shone. Vaguely recalling that he had to be to work by 8’o’clock, he hit the snooze button.

Ten minutes later the shrill alarm sliced through his head again. A moan next to him made Clark open his eyes. A tousled head of auburn hair met his gaze and he smirked. Untangling himself from Bonnie Wilson, Clark rolled off the cot located in Remy’s loft. He pulled on his jeans, ruffled his hair, and quietly climbed down the ladder to find the barn trashed. Even laughing softly made his head tremble, but he made his way to his truck anyways. If he was late again, Mr. Foley would surely fire him. That wasn’t an option; he needed the money for college.

Clark found it difficult to climb into his lifted pickup. He found it even harder to pull his key from his jeans pocket and direct it into the ignition. Here we go, he thought as the truck finally roared to life. He cursed when the clock on his dash read 7:53am. Stomping on the gas, he thundered onto CO 382, leaving a deep rut in Remy’s gravel drive.

Blowing through stop signs and swinging around sharp corners, Clark demanded the speedometer to reach 85 miles per hour. He knew Sympathy slept in on Saturdays and he was unworried over police officers; he just focused on making it to work by 8’o’clock.

The sun crept into his rearview mirror as he sped his way across the wooded road. As a ray of light struck the mirror, Clark was blinded. It was only when the crunching sound of metal-on-metal and his inability to influence his truck’s maneuvering that he realized the sun had been reflecting off another car.

Pressing firmly on the brake pedal, Clark finally brought his truck to a stop. He was uninjured other than his throbbing head. He could that his truck, on the other hand, was wrecked. The hood sported new folds in it. The thought of explaining the truck’s condition to his father made Clark’s head spin. The truck had been a gift after Clark had led his football team to state finals in November.

Stumbling out from the high cab, Clark looked for the other car. A hissing sound came from his left and he walked to the road’s shoulder. Seeing the blue SUV wrapped around a tree, Clark retched. He didn’t know how the person inside could have survived; the car looked like an accordion.

Not knowing what he should do, Clark pulled his cell from his pocket. He dialed the first number he could recall.

Two rings and a groggy voice answered. “Dad, I need your help.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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Rhetorical Strategies to Transform Woman’s Reality

This rhetorical analysis was written for an advanced rhetorical course during my first semester of my senior year at Western Michigan University (2013). It explores the motive of Walt Disney Pictures choosing to adapt gruesome stories into children’s movies. Going against popular criticism of Disney princess movies being anti-feminist in nature, I argue that the Disney films recognize that the original stories were fundamentally the ascent from innocence to adulthood. This is a relatively long piece.

Continue reading “Rhetorical Strategies to Transform Woman’s Reality”

An Act of Sympathy, Pt. 1

This piece began from a free write and transitioned into the final paper for an advanced fiction course. I started it in 2010 and revised to complete it during my first semester of my junior year at Western Michigan University (2012). This short story follows the life of a boy who experiences the effects of bullying during his high school career. This is a short story.


An unparalleled heaviness hangs about me. For another person it might have been due to the fact that I’m standing in front of an audience consisting of the entire town; for someone else it could be the blackening clouds above the open football stadium. However, for me it has to do with the pistol stowed in my jacket pocket. I can feel its weight pressing on me, daring me to do the things so recently done in my dreams.

The podium’s dark wood feels threatening beneath my sweating palms. No, it can’t be the wood. It’s the mood in the air, it’s the crowd, it’s Sympathy. Not a single friendly face looks up at me as my index finger drags over a deep cut in the podium, back and forth. I take a breath.

“He doesn’t belong up there.”

I know the voice but my eyes still travel to meet those of the loud whisperer. Brett Clawson sits a few rows into the audience. His friends snigger as he glares at me. Years of hatred shoot through me and my right hand instinctively flinches.

“As the valedictorian of Sympathy High’s 2010 graduating class, I would like to personally thank you all for coming to this year’s graduation.” I hear myself say, and begin to blush. Brilliant, Kev, you’re not hosting a dinner party. You have a job to do.

Mr. Richards, the school’s principal, clears his throat, “Mr. Buckley, if you could finish before the rain begins.”

“It looks like he’s about to cry!”

My hands jerk into my pockets following Brett’s second statement. I blush deeper, but the crowd seems not to have noticed my awkward motion. In and out, I instruct myself to breathe, in and out. The weight seems to be lifting as I stroke the piece with my thumb. Not yet, have some patience. You’ve gone this long, just need to wait it out until you’ve had your say. I take one more deep breath, straighten my shoulders, and rest my left hand on the podium. My right I leave in my pocket, continuing to lessen the pressure surrounding me. I look down at the wood once more. No note cards hide its imperfections; I’ve been creating this speech for over ten years, I know it by heart. I raise my head and nod to myself. Here we go.

As I begin my rehearsed speech I wonder if sympathy will ever truly be recognized in this town…

***

            It’s one of those towns whose citizens dream of packing up and leaving, but never actually have the ambition to do so. The same families have lived on the same streets for generations and the sight of new residents is a rare occurrence. The only highway that brings visitors runs across the northern border and greets passers-by with waving stalks of corn most of the year. Those in cars who pass by at flying speeds never take a second glance at the exit sign reading Sympathy, Iowa.

My parents and I moved to Sympathy the summer before my seventh grade year. The economy’s drop had led to the closing of my father’s automobile repair shop in Chicago and in turn had led to my parents’ inability to pay for our city living. I had grown up in the city, but in different places: a studio apartment, a suburban tri-level, and finally the loft above Hal’s Auto Repair. Moving was not something new to me. I was unprepared, however, when my wispy mother suggested leaving the city for a new experience.

Record heats were held that summer as I found myself panting in the backseat of our Buick Sport Wagon. The car was a peeling hunk of rusted metal with no air conditioning, but whine as I did, my dad swore the car was a classic.

“She’s got character, that’s all. Those fancy cars nowadays just don’t have the sort of prestige this gal has.”

“I don’t think its prestige she’s got, Dad. And we sure won’t look very cool rolling into this town looking like we’re about to die.” I pressed my head against the window hoping to find it cool but with no luck, “Where are we heading again?”

“Sympathy, Iowa,” said my father.

“Where the sky never ends,” sang my mother, and they both laughed.

It was a joke between my parents. When cleaning out Dad’s shop, my mother had found a postcard underneath a crate. It had a large smiling family waving in front of a red barn. “Sympathy, Iowa” was written from clouds in the sky above them, and the phrase “Where the sky never ends” nestled at their feet. The card was not addressed to anyone and had no message, but Mom had taken it as a sign from Fate that this is where our family was meant to move.

My parents had met towards the end of the Gulf War. Having no care other than expanding his ink sleeves, Dad made his earnings being a vehicle technician outside of West Pointe. My mom, following her aspiration of joining the Peace Corps, assisted in protests for world peace on the lawn in front of my father’s shop. Local businesses were told to pay no attention to the antics of the kids outside, and Dad’s employer agreed, “It would be bad for business if one on my guys to be seen speaking to one of them protesters. We work for the government, that means we support this war. No war, no more army trucks to work on and no more money coming our way.”

Yet Dad had no choice when the pretty girl walked into the garage that fateful day. Noticing the pair of boots protruding from under a car, Mom cleared her throat and asked where she could get a glass of water. Pushing the creeper out from under the car, my father says he was blinded by the sun for a moment. Waves of blonde hair and an angelic face was all he could see. Mom always smiles at this point in the story and says, “You were a sight also, sweat rolling down those muscular, tattooed arms.” It was love at first sight, they both agree.

So since Fate brought them together that day in the garage, my parents both like to use the signs given them to make life choices. Every major decision my parents have made depended on extraneous circumstances. The first date my parents went on was at a hot dog stand. Each ordered Chicago-style dogs and, laughing about their surprisingly similar tastes, looked back on the moment to mean that they should move to the windy city. I grew up believing that was the way to make decisions. But when my parents decided to move to Sympathy due to a random postcard, I lost credibility. Ever since Sympathy came into my life, I prefer to use my own judgment and experience to make my decisions.

As we exited the highway a small town came into view. My mother squealed when we drove down Main Street, seeing the stereotypical picturesque town for the first time: cute brick store fronts, kids laughing as they biked down the sidewalks, American flags wove on every street light. My father shared in her enjoyment, pointing out the ma-and-pa general store and a small bakery sporting inventive cakes in its front window. I, however, sunk deeper into my seat with a heavy lump in my throat. Even before I knew the town I was not so naïve.

My father had visited Sympathy a few weeks before our move and had bought the house after little discussion with my mother. As they seemed to always be on the same wavelength, this was not an issue in my household. Rather it was an “amazingly cute gesture” made by Dad. Amazingly cute was not the description I would give our new house. Amazingly ordinary would be more proper. A large bay window peeked out at me from behind dull brown bricks. Black shutters hid behind unruly bushes. The only notable difference the house had compared to all others on our block was how pale the lawn seemed.

“It needs a bit of work,” commented Dad as he pulled into the driveway.

“Oh, Steven, it’s wonderful!” negated Mom. “After we give it a bit of the Buckley magic it’ll be the best looking home on the street!”

The Buckley magic began right away. The moving van arrived minutes later and boxes promptly began to infiltrate the premise. As the movers, Dad, and I continued to carry boxes inside, Mom began to unpack. My mother’s collection of wind chimes were hung above the front door stoop before the third wave of packed goods came in. Unlike my father I wasn’t much of an athlete and I dropped a laundry basket stuffed with clothes on top of one of Mom’s potted plants. She scrambled to clean up the shattered porcelain. I apologized profusely, but as I attempted to pick up the basket again I almost fell over.

Mom grabbed my waist to keep me from toppling over. “I think it’s time for something to eat. How about you run down to that store we passed and grab some sandwiches?” She took her wallet from her purse on the counter, “I’ll give you some extra cash and you could buy a new flower pot for me also, okay?”

Seeing my escape from the manual labor, I quickly agreed. Telling me to try and meet some people as well, she instructed me not to hurry home. I walked down the sidewalk liking my independence; I had never been allowed to walk around Chicago by myself.

***

            Brett Clawson sat on a bench in front of Barber Shoppe with his older brothers, Clark and Adam. The three waited for their father as he sat for his weekly shave inside. Police chief Samuel Clawson ran a tight household. His wife, Margaret, was a model stay-at-home wife, and his sons were all stars on their school athletic teams. If there was anything the Clawson family knew it was how to perfect their public appearance.

The boys had just received their weekly trim and an uncomfortable tickle lingered on Brett’s neck. He read the Herald Tribune over Adam’s shoulder, skimming an article recounting Sympathy High’s football season. Clark had starred on the team, bringing it to a district title.

“That’s Sympathy blood you’ve got.” Samuel had growled with pride. “There ain’t anything else in the world like it. No one can buy something like that.”

The town of Sympathy, Iowa held a special significance to the Clawson family. Ninety-four years ago Winston Clawson had happened upon the fertile plot of land and founded the town. And to that day Sympathy’s residents looked at the family as the leaders in the community. The chief of police title had solely been held by a Clawson since the town’s beginning, and so had the head of the town’s council and school board. The Clawson’s had their hands in every aspect of Sympathy.

So much responsibility on his family, however, gave Brett a sour taste in his mouth. Only a handful of people moved out of Sympathy, usually teens rebelling against their parents, and even fewer residents took vacations. The farthest Brett had been from the town was west to Emmetsburg. Emmetsburg was hardly larger than Sympathy but it did house a shopping mall. Brett also knew that Emmetsburg became the home for over eighty percent of Sympathy’s graduates, all who ended their higher education with an associate’s degree and returned back to their hometown. If you grew up in Sympathy, then chances were you would never leave.

“Hey, look at that,” nudged Clark, bringing Brett out of his thoughts.

Brett followed his brother’s finger and saw a boy about his age struggling to carry a large flower pot. A boy he did not recognize.

Even stranger than someone leaving Sympathy was finding a new face. As Brett thought about it, he actually couldn’t recall the last time someone new had come to the town. His curiosity began to prickle, wondering who the boy was and from where he had come.

Clark, always looking for an opportunity to push someone around, stood up and began striding towards the straining boy. As his brother expected, both Adam and Brett followed at his heels. The boy, oblivious to his followers, turned a corner around an abandoned building and vanished. Clark sped up.

Brett knew that an open field lay beyond the building. The boy must be taking the field as a shortcut to Cork Street, the closest subdivision to town. As the brothers came to the end of the sidewalk as well, they peeked around the corner to see the boy trip on a tree root. A small cry could be heard as the boy fell, dropping a paper bag on the ground and causing the flower pot to roll across the ground. Clark and Adam looked at one another, smirking.

“Need some help?” asked Adam as the brothers wandered over to the panting boy.

The boy, blushing deeply, shook his head, “No, I’m fine. My shoe just caught on something.” He stood up, brushing off his knees.

“You’re new to town, eh?” inquired Clark, picking the paper bag off the ground.

“Yeah, my parents and I are just moving in today.”

Clark began shifting through the bag, “Lunch time?”

The boy chuckled nervously, “It’s been a workout trying to get everything inside, lots of heavy boxes and such.”

Brett eyed the boy. He had a small frame to him, not many muscles. Brett could see how lugging around boxes and the flower pot could do him in. Not only that, he had the typical geek-guy ailments: glasses, braces, gelled-back hair probably done by his mom. I bet he has asthma too, thought Brett, surprised at his own hostility.

Samuel Clawson had always been one to mock outsiders to Sympathy. If his father had his way, Sympathy would be closed to any new residents. He had raised his sons to believe that anyone outside of Sympathy was worthless. They did not have good work ethics, they believed in hundreds of different kinds of truths, and they didn’t know the importance of a healthy foundation. People who moved were wispy. And wispy meant they could not be trusted. “They’ll tell you one thing one day and the next they have a different idea,” his father once said. Brett often wondered if his father was simply afraid of the outside world.

“Where are you from?” asked Adam.

“Chicago.”

“Really? So you carry a gun on you and a knife?” Adam seemed impressed.

“What?” stammered the boy, “No.”

Adam looking less amused, “That’s what people from Chicago do though, right?”

The boy swept his hand through his hair and watched Clark unwrap a sandwich from the paper bag. “On television, perhaps, but that’s not how it really is. That’s my dad’s lunch, by the way.”

Clark took a large bite and made a face, “Salami!” He spat a glob of food onto the ground and dropped the sandwich.

An awkward silence fell and the boy’s nervousness was tangible.

“I like your shoes,” stated Clark.

The boy’s eyes dropped to his feet, “Oh, thanks, they’re new.”

“Yeah, I’ve needed some new shoes.” Clark made eye contact with Adam and winked. “Give me yours.”

Adam laughed as the boy’s face turned white and Brett felt his stomach drop. He knew that tone of Clark’s, it meant his brother was about to throw around his weight. All the Clawson boys, being superior athletes, were broad-shouldered and tall but Clark had bulked up even larger since his freshman year in high school. This boy looked like a toothpick compared to an oak tree.

Brett had to hand it to the boy, he did attempt to flee. However, he had forgotten that his flower pot had rolled behind where he stood, and he tripped to the ground again. Brett watched as his brothers pounced on top of the boy. Adam covered his mouth and took his glasses. Clark kicked him in the side, taunting him. The boy’s glasses snapped with a snigger from Adam. Brett began to zone out as his brothers beat the boy until the boy quit moving.

“Stop,” spoke up Brett for the first time. “Stop!”

His brothers quit laughing to look up Brett. Fearing the boy may have been knocked out, Brett pulled Adam off the boy’s back. A line of blood was seeping from the boy’s nose. The boy remained still but a soft whimper could be heard. Brett exhaled in relief, “We need to go.”

Snickering, Clark bent down and removed the boy’s shoes. The attack had caused the new white to become scuffed and a small drop of blood clung to the toe of one. Clark appeared thrilled.

“Welcome to Sympathy, Newcomer,” laughed Clark as he turned and began strolling back towards Main Street. He motioned for his brothers to join him and they did.

Adam chattered enthusiastically, “I bet that wasn’t the sort of welcoming he was expecting. Are those shoes going to fit you, Clark? Oh man, did you see his face when you spat out that sandwich! I thought Chicago kids were supposed to be tough? I wonder why his family decided to move to Sympathy anyways.”

Brett took one last furtive glance back at the unmoving boy. For Brett, the question he asked wasn’t why the new boy had moved to Sympathy. It was why he would want to move here.

TO BE CONTINUED

Welcome to Peonies ‘n Mint

I genuinely love writing, editing, and design, and I aim to keep my skills relevant by learning more about professional writing techniques, the ever-evolving world of social media, and the changes needed to make my community stronger. I also enjoy people and learning how to communicate with people from a variety of different backgrounds. Strong relationships are an important part of the backbone of any organization. People matter.

I am a Southwest Michigan native who is very inspired by the breathtaking natural beauty around me. I am a graduate of Western Michigan University where I studied rhetoric and writing studies and nonprofit leadership. Writing has always been one of my passions, and I enjoy the thought of incorporating it into my career. I balance two very opposite lines of work; I am the executive assistant of an agricultural brokerage and I am the manager of a local winery. Surprisingly, though, I work for the same wonderful employer under both positions. (Ask me for all the whole confusing details…)

Peonies ‘n Mint was originally born as a wedblog while I coordinated weddings at a popular beach venue. Upon change in occupation, however, the site directed towards three topics I am very passionate: writing, running, and wine. Since its creation, the blog has become a hub for my natural curiosity of the world around me. I tend to discuss situations happening in my life, experiences I have dealt with personally, and conversations shared with people I meet. My hope is to inspire my readers to think of the world in a larger scheme and perhaps start a conversation on further discussion in these omnipresent topics. I absolutely love learning how different people relate to the same situation, and find it interesting the similarities and differences in society’s thinking.

With all that being said, thank you so much for stopping by! If you have any comments or suggestions on how to make Peonies ‘n Mint a better blog, please email me at peoniesnmint@gmail.com, or comment in the section below. I look forward to speaking with you!