My family lived in a small neighborhood in the small town of Academy, ten miles outside the modest-sized town of Belton, the county seat. There were three schools along the sycamore and ash-lined lanes of Academy, all within one mile of our home. My brother, from the time he was eight until he left for university, had the responsibility of seeing my sister and me safely to our classes every morning and shepherding us home in the afternoon. There was one time, and one time only, that he broke this sacred trust. When he was a freshman, he left my sister and me and rushed off to Academy High to meet some girl before class.
Our father was standing in the grassy drive when we returned on that clear, mild afternoon. I felt my sister’s freckled hand, cradling mine, go stiff. When he spoke, there was not another sound—not a bird, not a car, not a breeze in the branches—not a breath.
“Leanne, take Michael inside.” She did so, and as we passed him, I saw that the skin of his throat was white as new plaster.
From the doorway, we heard him say, “David Lewis Rawlson—let’s go.” My brother, like a homing pigeon, knew exactly where to go, and walked into the house towards our parents’ room, followed by our father.
A half an hour of interminable silence followed in which none of us dared to say anything, not even to ask mother how he knew. There was nothing except the tick of the grandfather clock and the low murmurings that were only audible from just outside the bedroom door. When David finally emerged, he looked like a stone statue left for hundreds of years on a desolate shore, and I knew he had been justly repaid. We did not dare to ask him what had been said, and he never volunteered to tell us.