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As expected, my car barely survived the trip home. I had many white-knuckled moments during the four hour trek with strange sounds coming from the engine and dark, smoky exhaust billowing out the rear end. I got some strange looks when I stopped for gas and didn’t turn the engine off, as signs on the pump warned against. It was a choice between blowing up or being stranded in the middle of nowhere with a car that wouldn’t start and empty pockets.
The idea of returning to the small Illinois town where I grew up, less than an hour outside of St. Louis, depressed me. I had had a taste of life outside the family pressure cooker and I didn’t want back in. But I was stuck with no job, no money and nowhere else to go. Life sucked.
It was late when I pulled into the gravel driveway and parked in front of the detached one-car garage with the broken door. I turned the ignition off. Then the engine sputtered and died. Out of morbid curiosity, I tried to restart it. The engine cranked for two seconds, then silence. Perfect.
I sighed and stared out at nothing. I hadn’t been back to this podunk town since the previous Christmas. I usually took any job I could find on campus to avoid having to come home. Unfortunately they closed the dorms that season, so I had no choice. As expected, no one came out to greet me. No dog barked, happy to see me. No neighbors waved. I laid my forehead on the steering wheel and tried not to cry.
I found my mother sitting on the couch watching some newscast on the television, cigarette in hand and a full pack at the ready. The ashtray on the table next to her needed emptying. I tried not to cough from the smoke. It would only earn a dirty look, not fresher air.
“I’m home, Mom,” I said from the kitchen doorway.
“Shhh...I’ll be with you in a minute,” she said, waving me off. I sighed and went out to retrieve my boxes.
My car looked dead, sitting forlornly under the big maple tree. I knew the feeling. I popped the trunk and stared at the six boxes, mostly filled with clothes and books. I saw the empty diploma cover peeking through the top of one. I resisted setting it on fire.
I hauled two smaller boxes through the hallway and up the narrow stairs at the back end. Muffled heavy rock music came from the spare bedroom. I closed my eyes in dread. Terry was home.
As quietly as I could, I slipped into my bedroom and set the boxes on the floor. I tiptoed back down the stairs, hoping to avoid a confrontation. It was always a confrontation with my brother, never a greeting. Why was he home? How long was he staying? I ground my teeth and cursed the day. Maybe I could find a park bench to sleep on.
Two more trips and I had all my worldly possessions relocated to my room. I set the last of the boxes on the threadbare blanket covering the sagging twin bed and flopped down beside them. I was staring up at the stained ceiling when Terry barged in.
“Hey, dickwad. You’re back. Gimme ten bucks.” I didn’t move. He kicked my shin. “Come on. I’ll pay you back next payday.”
“Cut it out, that hurts!” I yelled, sitting up to rub my sore leg.
“Stop being such a wuss, Jackie.” He pinched my shoulder, taking my breath away. “Come on, I ain’t got all day. Cough it up.”
“I don’t have any to give you. I’m tapped out,” I said.
He laughed. “Mr. College Bigshot graduates without a pot to piss in. Serves you right for thinkin’ you’re better’n everybody else. I’ll bet you’re beggin’ for a job at McDonald’s inside a week.”
“Where are you working?” I asked.
“Meyer Roofing. Pay’s shit, but it’s steady.” He grabbed my wrist, twisting it to check my watch. “Fuck, I gotta go.” He looked at me, his brown beady eyes boring into mine. “I know you have money, faggot. Cough it up...now.”
I didn’t budge. I was tired of his threats. His mouth twisted into an evil grin, his expression channeling Charles Manson. I felt my bladder weaken.
His rancid breath scorched my nose as he leaned in to intimidate me. “I’m gettin’ laid tonight, asswipe. And you’re not gettin’ in my way. I’m not asking again. You’ve got two seconds to give me what I want, or I’m taking it. One...”
“Get off of me,” I said, shaking my arm loose. I reached for my wallet, like he knew I would. I pulled out a ten. “Here, take it. And you better pay me back when you get paid,” I said.
“You gonna make me?” he taunted. I said nothing. He smiled in victory. “That’s what I thought. I’ll think about payin’ you back, if I don’t have other expenses before then. Girls don’t put out for free, you know.” He laughed. “You ever even fucked a girl, Jackie?”
“Leave me alone,” I said, looking down at the floor. “You’ve got your money. Just go already.”
“I don’t believe it. My older brother is still a virgin at twenty-two. What the hell’s the matter with you? Your dick don’t work? You even know what to do with it?”
“What I do with my dick is my business,” I said weakly.
He grabbed me by the neck and came nose to nose again. “I ever hear you’re fucking around with another guy, I’ll rip your fucking dick off and shove it down your fucking throat. You hear me, faggot?”
I stared into the bottomless pits of his eyes, knowing he wasn’t joking. He’d make it his mission to destroy me, as painfully as possible. I felt the tears coming, as they always did. Terry shoved me backwards on the bed in disgust.
“How the hell did I get such a sissy boy for a brother?” he said. He spit in my face, turned his back on me and walked out of my room.