Life was great, those first few weeks. There were the family gatherings and neighborhood barbeques. But they were not to show me off; they really felt like I was being welcomed into the family. I met grandparents and cousins and the neighborhood kids. Everyone was very happy. I was flying; it was like riding an awesome rollercoaster, the feeling infected my head and tried to tell me life was good. I could almost ignore most of the sad, pitying looks that some of the people gave me, like I was this injured animal that the Ramseys had rescued and were going to care for. I avoided those people and stayed close to Phillip and Junior.
I grew close to Phillip quickly. He talked non-stop, and he was so full of energy and exploration that I felt like I wanted to ride along just to see where he would go. His little 9-year-old body never stopped. A lot of the time I felt it would be good to be there just so he didn’t accidentally hurt himself. He never did. Somehow or another all of his antics left him unscathed.
Phillip seemed to like me as much as I liked hanging out with him. Though, I think that kid liked anyone who was near him. Nothing could stop that smile or his talking. It just made me laugh. I swear I heard him start talking before he actually woke up one day and he was still talking after he had fallen asleep that night.
Junior was harder to figure out. He was nice but much quieter than Phillip. He was always watching. He watched me with Phillip and me with Nick and me with Sarah. We would hang out and play games on his TV or we would watch movies but I always felt like he was watching me. Like he was waiting for something. I hope I wasn’t disappointing him. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do, but I felt like I wasn’t doing it.
After a month we settled into a routine and I felt more like this might be ok. It might be time to re-assess. It was a little early and everything was not perfect, but Nick and Sarah did not flip out at everything. Even when I broke this really expensive vase in the front room, they didn’t get mad at me. It was a couple hours of talking me down before I heard them say that it was ok. That it was an accident and everything was all right. Phillip was patting my back and crying with me even as he smiled and told me that he broke things all the time. Junior just watched.
Then Nick had to work late one evening. I didn’t think anything about it. He was a cop. I thought cops always worked late. But as the hours ticked by, Sarah became more and more tense. When it reached 11:00 PM she was near tears and was muttering something I could barely hear. I thought she might be scared, but she sounded angry. I knew this was bad, that something that I didn’t understand was happening. Junior had taken Phillip upstairs at 9:30 to put him to bed and then he just sat at the top of the stairs looking down at me.
What the hell was I supposed to be doing?
I looked at him and then at Sarah in the kitchen, crying now. I was out of my depth. I didn’t know what was going on and I could feel that alarm bell ringing throughout my body. Pacing around the living room and up and down the stairs, my insides were quivering. That sense of wrongness hung throughout the house, stifling any other action except waiting, waiting for the explosion. Fear and anger coursed through my veins. Something was going to happen and I could do nothing to stop it.
Nick’s truck door closed outside and everything inside went quiet. The door opened and Nick came in and smiled.
“Hey, buddy! Up late, aren’t you?” But his senses clued him in quickly. He was a cop, after all. His eyebrows scrunched down and he looked around quickly, assessing the situation, searching for clues. There I was, frozen, my eyes open wide with worry. Junior sitting at the top of the stairs, quietly watching, but tight, like a trap ready to spring. Sarah standing in the kitchen, weeping with her hands spread out on the table. He laid down his jacket and belt on the front couch and put both hands on my shoulders.
“It’s all ok. Just go on up to bed, okay. Me an’ Sarah just need to have a talk. It’s OK. Go on.” He gave me a slight push toward the stairs and I kept walking even when I heard Sarah say, “How was she?” and break down crying.
I passed Junior and touched his shoulder but he jerked away
“You were supposed to fix this.” He said through gritted teeth.
“What?” I had entered some weird dimension where no one was the same person…they were all replaced by some strange alter-ego robot replica of who they were supposed to be.
“They got you so you could fix this. You were supposed to make them happy again. You were supposed to fix this.” Junior was almost yelling, but the Ramseys couldn’t hear it because Sarah was screaming “Your little slut at work!” and Nick was yelling, “Why are we still going through this? Nothing is going on, Sarah!”
“Look, man, I–I had no idea.”
“You were supposed to FIX THIS!” Junior’s fist took me by surprise. He hit me in the gut and I stepped backwards missing the stair below me. I tried to turn to catch myself but fireworks exploded in my head as I slammed into the wooden shelf on the landing. It was hard to see. I tried to stand and the world tilted awkwardly. I sat down hard on the floor. I heard more yelling, louder now as footsteps ran through the house.
“Oh my God! Norm, honey, are you alright?” Sarah said, holding my head.
“What the hell happened?” Nick asked while trying to keep me calm. “Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll get you taken care of.”
I touched my forehead and felt a sticky wetness covering my fingers. My senses became alert and I started to understand what I was seeing.
“Junior.” I said in a whisper.
Junior stood at the foot of the stairs with his father’s gun. He was shaking, but that gun was still and firm and pointed right at my chest.
“Junior!” Nick said, sounding more shaken than I had ever heard him. “What are you doing?”
Sarah was crying and shaking her head.
“He was suppose to make you happy again. He was supposed to–he was supposed to stop all of this. He–HE was supposed to FIX THIS.” I saw his finger tighten on the trigger.
“NO!” Nick shouted and jumped in front of me. The gun went off and Nick went down.
Everyone was screaming. Junior was running up the stairs, Sarah was holding onto Nick rocking back and forth. Blood and tears were steaming down my face. I was fading; I could feel all of this growing dim and distant. I didn’t know what was going on and I couldn’t help–I couldn’t help this. This wasn’t my–wasn’t my fault.
“I’m going to KILL you!” Junior shouted. He started turning the gun toward me and I just moved. With a hard punch I caught him in the jaw sending him rolling down the stairs. Before he or anyone could recover, I was running out the back door.