Big Brother

It’s not easy loving a loser like Johnny.

He smells.  Like all the time. And I’m not talking about that stale sweat and chlorine smell that makes me want to yak every time I walk into the locker room before gym class.  Johnny smells like he just walked out of Abercrombie and Fitch after being quarantined in there for a year. I never see anyone in that store and it’s probably because anyone who walks in immediately passes out and dies from the fumes. That’s why there are so many skeletons – I mean – mannequins in there.

That’s how I know Johnny-the-Hottie is about to join me for breakfast.  The scent of chemicals that I’m convinced were mixed by a five-year-old in a petri dish floats down to me from the stairs and I gag on a piece of my toast.  Then I gag again thinking about the nickname the girls at school gave him. Johnny. The. Hottie. Yuck.  I shove my plate away.

I hear the heavy clunk of his boots on the kitchen tile and I hold my breath. It doesn’t work. My eyes sting and I start to feel dizzy.

“What’s up, runt?” Johnny says, yanking on the ponytail it took me ten minutes in front of the mirror to get right.

Before I can say anything, his gorilla arm reaches over my shoulder for my unfinished toast. I let him have it.  Even if I hadn’t given up on breakfast, I wouldn’t eat it anyway, now that it’s contaminated. He reaches into the cabinet for a bowl and that’s when I notice his outfit.

“I thought tank tops were for girls?”

“It’s not a tank top. It’s a wife beater.”

“That’s offensive,” I say, because it is.

Johnny laughs and shakes his head in a way that says I’m too young to understand and that explaining anything to a ten-year-old would be a waste of his time. Then he grabs a box of cereal from the counter.  I doubt the girls at school would still think my brother was hot if they knew he’s a 16-year-old who still eats Fruit Loops.

Even though he’s in high school, I know he’s not allowed to wear what he’s wearing. Not the tank top or those ratty jeans with chains hanging from the pockets either, but he does, and somehow nobody seems to care.  Meanwhile, I can’t walk out of the house without mom measuring the length of my skirt, even though I go to private school and the skirt is part of a uniform.

Instead of sitting on the chair like a normal person, Johnny flips it around so that the back leans up against the table and throws one leg over the side. He pours some milk into his cereal and then gets up again. No spoon. I smile to myself. There are no clean spoons left. It’s why I decided to have toast instead of cereal for breakfast. While I watch, Johnny opens the dishwasher and plucks a dirty spoon from the tray and then sits back down.

“That’s disgusting,” I say, but he just shrugs and digs in as though he hasn’t eaten in a week even though mom made meatloaf for dinner last night and he ate half the loaf.  I look down at the gigantic portion of cereal he’s given himself.  “There are lots of starving people in the world, you know.”

“I know,” he says, with his mouth full. “I’m one of ‘em.” He nods at the book on the table. My copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of my favorites. “What’s that one about?”

I roll my eyes because he’s seen it before, he just doesn’t remember. It could be brain damage caused by inhaling his own cologne.

“It’s about a girl who grows up in the city and reads a lot to forget about her bad life.”

Johnny blinks. “Is she hot?”

I stare at him for a second and then slap a palm to the book and slide it off the table. Just as I push my chair back, mom yells from the top of the stairs.

“Johnny don’t forget to take out the trash!”

He scoops up the last bite of his breakfast and gets up, leaving his bowl on the table. I grab the milk and put it back in the fridge, so it won’t spoil, and grab my backpack next to the front door.

Two minutes pass, then five. I open my book and start reading right there in the hallway. It’s like this every morning. Johnny got his license a couple months ago and mom insisted he start driving me to school since it’s on the way.  When I think about it, I walk back into the kitchen, tie up the garbage bag and bring it to the front door.

That’s when Johnny comes barreling down the stairs wearing an unbuttoned shirt over his wife beater and a sideways baseball cap.  I want to tell him that look makes him look like a gangster, but I don’t get the chance. He grabs the garbage from my hand and runs out the door, leaving me to follow.

I spend the ride to school gripping the door handle with both hands as Johnny speeds through back roads. At some point, my glasses almost fall off, but I manage to hold them in place. When Johnny takes his hands off the wheel to button his shirt, I scream but he just laughs and turns up the radio. To take my mind off the fact that I might be seconds from death, I think about killing Johnny instead.

Does the death penalty apply to juveniles?

By the time he slams the car to a stop in front of my school, I’m sweating through my uniform. Even though it would look weird, I think about getting out of the car, dropping to my knees and kissing the ground as a thank you to the Gods for not taking me as a human sacrifice.

I glance out the window and cringe when I see Todd Henry III standing out front.  The “III” because he’s three times the dickwad.  Last week I walked past him, and he tugged the top strap of my backpack and called me a nerd. I fell and skinned my knee. I told mom I fell going up the stairs.

“Something wrong, squirt?” Johnny asks, and when I turn to face him he’s staring out my window too, scanning the yard.  His eyes land on Todd Henry III and his two friends and then he looks at me with one raised eyebrow.

I shake my head until it hurts. “Nothing,” I say, and then I pull on the door handle and jump out.

I freeze when I see Todd Henry staring at me.  His smile reminds me of the Cheshire cat, from Alice in Wonderland and I want to throw up the half slice of toast I had for breakfast.

“Let’s go or you’ll be late.”

I look up to find Johnny standing next to me on the sidewalk.  He starts walking to the front entrance but stops when he realizes I’m not following him.  I’m too busy staring at him with my mouth open.  He usually just drives away after he drops me off.

“Come on, slow poke,” he says, and I run to catch up.

When we get to where Todd Henry is standing, Johnny switches sides so that he’s between us.  He stops and looks down at Todd and his friends. “These guys bothering you, Meghan?” he asks, and again I stare up at him, in shock that he’s using my name for once.

I used to think that Todd Henry III was the biggest boy in 5thgrade, like Shrek but not green all over. But next to Johnny he doesn’t even look normal.  He actually looks small.  The thought makes me smile and I open my mouth to tell him so when Todd Henry speaks first.

“N-n-no,” he tells Johnny. “Meghan’s really nice.”  Johnny stares harder and Todd Henry adds, “She’s really smart too.”

I smile wider.  He’s leaning away from Johnny like he’s worried Johnny might hit him, and I panic for a second and look up at my brother, but he seems calm.

“Yeah she is.  Smarter than all three of you combined.  Don’t forget it.”

“We w-won’t.”

And then my brother puts his arm around my shoulder and leads me away.

It’s not easy loving a loser like Johnny.  But I do anyway.

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