Home > Wait for It(2)

Wait for It(2)
Author: Mariana Zapata

“It was an accident!” he giggled like he hadn’t caused me weeks of pain by using my midsection as a ball, making it apparent he could have a career in soccer if he ever wanted to. We already had two soccer players in our extended family; we didn’t need another one. With the light on, that tiny mischievous smile that owned my heart had the same effect on me it always had: it made everything in the world more bearable.

“Sure it was.” I winked at him before yawning again and stretching my arms over my head to get some blood pumping throughout my body. “I’ll be back in a minute, but try to go to sleep, okay? Grandma is picking you up early.”

“Where are you going?”

There was always a hint of worry in his tone any and every time I went somewhere without him, like he expected me not to come back. I hated it. “To check on the noise. I’ll be right back,” I explained calmly, trying to tell him without words that it would take a weapon of mass destruction to keep me from him. But I didn’t make the promise out loud. He needed to believe that on his own without me reminding him every time.

Louie nodded, already climbing under the covers, easing my conscience just a little. He was all gangly legs and arms, and that glowing peach skin that was his inheritance from his mom’s Danish ancestry and our Mexican side. There wasn’t a tanning bed or self-tanner in the world that could replicate his shade of gold.

“Go to sleep.”

Turning off the lamp again, I slipped out of the bedroom, leaving the door cracked behind me. Thankfully, I’d put on shorts before I went to sleep. My hand went out to the walls to try and navigate my way around; I wasn’t familiar with the layout of the house yet. The boys weren’t scared of the dark, so we didn’t bother with nightlights. As long as I could remember, my brother and I had convinced both of them that the bogeyman should be afraid of them, not them of it. I hadn’t gotten around to hanging up anything yet, so there was no chance of me knocking pictures off their hangers as I steered down the hallway that separated my room from Louie and Josh’s.

When the boys had first come to live with me, I would find myself waking up at least once a night to check on them, to make sure they hadn’t magically disappeared like some Unsolved Mystery. Now, I only did it on nights like this one when Louie woke me up.

The first thing I spotted on Josh’s bed was the long furry body that seemed to take up most of it, our family’s 160 pound, worst bodyguard in the world. Mac was passed out, completely oblivious to me coming into the room, and to top it off, he hadn’t even reacted to me screaming when I’d found Louie hovering. Higher up on the bed was the top of Josh’s brown head of hair, so much like mine and Rodrigo’s, peeking out from below the plain blue comforter he’d chosen two weeks ago. It was a miracle I hadn’t started blubbering like a baby in the middle of the store. It had killed me a little when I had asked him if he wanted a Ninja Turtles set, and he’d opted for a basic blue one. He wasn’t even turning eleven for a few more weeks, and he already thought he was too big for cartoon characters. I could still remember him in onesies like it was yesterday, damn it.

I left Josh’s door mostly closed and headed toward Louie’s room, the smallest one of the three and the one closest to the front of the house. I’d barely made it to his door when I heard shouting. There was no way that was coming from the elderly neighbors next door. The people living on the other side in a bungalow were a couple around my age with a baby.

The neighborhood had seemed like a safe one. Most of the driveways nearby had new-ish cars, but there were some filled with models that had been redesigned years ago. I hadn’t been able to help but notice the lawns were all well taken care of, the houses nice and neat, even if they were all built before I’d been born. All signs pointed toward this house being a great place to raise two kids. It reminded me of where I had grown up.

Rodrigo would have approved.

Moving Lou’s blinds as stealthily as possible to look out the window, it didn’t take me long to find where the noise was coming from. Across the street, two houses to the right were a pair of cars parked in a way that blocked traffic from being able to pass, if there had been anyone driving around in the middle of the night on a weekday. But it was the four men highlighted beneath the street lamp on the sidewalk that had me zoning in on them.

They were fighting, just like Louie had hinted at. It only took me a second to realize that three of them were circling one. I’d seen enough fights on television to know that when three guys circled one, it didn’t mean anything good was about to go down.

Was this really happening? I couldn’t have gotten like a six-month grace period before things like this went down at a neighbor’s house? A stranger was about to get jumped, and I could only assume someone I was now living across the street from was a part of it. Was the man on his own my neighbor? Or was my neighbor one of the guys trying to jump the single one?

It was right then, in the middle of trying to guess what the hell was happening, that the man in the middle of the circle had a punch connect with his jaw. He dropped to a knee, swinging back wildly, missing all of his attackers. The other three took advantage and lunged at the guy on his own.

Oh my God. They were going to kick his ass, and I was standing there watching. Watching.

I couldn’t go out there.

Could I?

I had Louie and Josh now. Jesus Christ. I didn’t need to look around the room to know it was still full of boxes of toys and clothes. How a little boy had so much stuff was beyond me. I’d just bought him an Iron Man comforter for his twin-sized bed.

It wasn’t just me I was responsible for, I thought as I witnessed the guy get kicked in the ribs. What if the men had guns? What if—

Through the window, I kept watching Guy On His Own get punched repeatedly by the same person. Over and over again. It was an ass beating if I had ever seen an ass beating. If that wasn’t bad enough, another man stepped in and took over. My heart grew about four sizes. Jesus. Jesus. He was getting his ass whooped. Guy On His Own fell to his side, kicked over and over again the minute one of his attackers had an opening. They were like hyenas on a wounded gazelle. They were going to kill him.

And I was standing there. Still.

I thought about my brother, feeling that familiar ache pierce my heart and flood it with grief and regret and anger all at once. Hesitating could be the difference between life and death, didn’t I know that?

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