“Oh look at him, isn’t he just a darling? What a precious little thing! Why, look at his eyes, they’re warm and light as honey, and –oh! My goodness, feel that hair, soft as downy feathers. You’re my little boy, to be sure!” Mother says sweetly.
And Roscoe sits up a little bit and smiles his quiet smile, favoring Mother with a gentle look. He doesn’t say anything, but she always knows what he’s trying to get across. Roscoe loves her. He loves every one of his family members, but he’s closest to his little brother , Jamie.
Jamie’s a quiet kid. Some people take that the wrong way, but Roscoe knows better about Jamie. He’s a sweet kid, but he doesn’t know how to express himself. Jamie’s one of the few people who never got mad at Roscoe for not being able to talk. Even their mother, bless her soul, used to prod Roscoe to talk once in a while.
Roscoe doesn’t really believe in talking. He says everything he needs to with looks and movement. He prefers it that way.
Sometimes he and Jamie go down to a park that Jamie’s loved since he was a small child. Roscoe likes to watch him play on the swings, and has a blast when they run around all over the place, playing football and doing all sorts of brotherly things.
Recently, though, Roscoe’s been worried. Jamie’s been quieter than usual, and they haven’t been to the park in a while. Jamie says he’s been too tired because he’s not sleeping well. Roscoe didn’t think much of it until he noticed that Jamie’s dressing a little differently, too. Long sleeve shirts with dark colors, and strange things on them, too. Roscoe dismisses the skulls as a teenage phase, though – he was that age once, and he remembers those old trends that go out of fashion.
Soon Jamie comes home with a strange tattoo on his arm. Roscoe taps it pointedly, but Jamie just turns away.
“The grim reaper.” He says quietly.
Roscoe doesn’t know why anyone would want a grim reaper tattoo, but he loves Jamie and wants to respect him. That night Jamie gets in a fight with their parents.
“What were you thinking?” Mother screams.
“It’ s my life, I can do what I want.” Jamie says in a low voice.
“Not as long as you’re under our roof.” Father grits out angrily.
“Then I’ll run away.” Jamie threatens.
Roscoe is shocked. He looks at Jamie, but Jamie pointedly ignores him.
“Jamie, what kind of talk is that?” Mother shouts.
They continue like that for some time. Roscoe waits it out, until Jamie chokes up and runs into his room. Roscoe barely manages to get in before he closes the door to his room.
“What are you doing?” Jamie seethes, “get out!”
Roscoe simply gives him a Look, and Jamie sighs. Roscoe sits down on the bed, and in a couple of seconds Jamie’s holding on to him and sobbing quietly, his hands tight around Roscoe.
“Why do they hate me?” he asks. “I shouldn’t even be here. Maybe I should just die.”
Roscoe wants to show Jamie differently, but he knows it’ll do no good when Jamie’s in this mood. Instead he settles down and looks around the room, letting Jamie let his feelings out.
Jamie’s room has changed a lot since the last time Roscoe’s been in it. It’s strangely bare, devoid of all the old toys and pictures Jamie once had up. The room is blank and a little bland. Jamie falls asleep ten minutes later, but Roscoe doesn’t leave. He decides to get comfortable and wait with his little brother – what else were big brothers for?
The next time Roscoe’s in the room he’s upset, so angry he actually bares his teeth at Jamie because he doesn’t know what else to do. There’s red on the bed, and Jamie’s staring at his wrist with a strange mix of fear and happiness. Roscoe’s never seen happy look so wrong on a kid before. He goes to get their parents.
Jamie won’t talk to him anymore, not since he came back from the hospital, but that’s fine by Roscoe. When Jamie’s friends come over Roscoe sees that they have long sleeve shirts with skulls all over them too. When they try to get in the house Mother and Father stop them.
“Sorry boys, Jamie’s grounded. No visitors.” Father says a little uneasily.
“Aw come on, Mr. Gulley. Let us see him.” One tattooed kid says, licking his lips over five piercings in his lip. There’s so much metal in his face from piercings Roscoe doesn’t even recognize him as a person at first. One kid with a sleeve tattoo pushes the door suddenly and Mother shouts in surprise. Roscoe’s there in an instant. He glares at the boy, and the kid runs away along with his friends. Jamie says he hates them for scaring his friends, but Roscoe notices he seems a little relieved.
That night Roscoe hears his parents talking before he goes to sleep. They want to ask Jamie why he hurts himself, but they don’t know how. Roscoe knows asking would help no matter how you do it, but his parent’s don’t know Jamie like he does.
Jamie’s forgiven Roscoe a little, it seems, one spring morning. He hugs him close and thanks him for all he’s done. Roscoe’s got a niggling feeling in the back of his heart, but he tells himself not to be paranoid and to respect Jamie even if he doesn’t agree with the things he’s done.
Jamie apologizes to his parents profusely, and the next day when Roscoe goes into the room it’s strangely clean. The bed is all made up. Roscoe stares and stares at the bed for a while, trying to figure something out.
When the phone rings he jumps, but he doesn’t move.
“This is Jamie’s academic counselor from Bridgefield High,” a female voice says to it, “I’m calling on account of Jamie. He doesn’t seem to have showed up to school today…”
And Roscoe’s flying out the door fast, memories blurring with reality as he remembers…
…There’s Jamie when Mother and Father first brought him home, all pink gums and the most beautiful dark blue eyes…
…There’s Jamie when he’s five, licking some ice cream and sharing with Roscoe so he won’t feel left out…
…There’s Jamie when he’s seven on his first real bike, and Roscoe’s happy because Jamie chose the color red because he told his friends it reminded him of Roscoe…
…and there’s Jamie blowing out candles when he’s nine…
…hugging Roscoe at any age before now…
…thirteen with a grim reaper tattoo…
…crying again at fourteen…
…And there’s Jamie now, 15 and far too young to be holding the razor in his hand at his throat. And Roscoe’s so scared and so mad he doesn’t know what to do so he lets his voice out in one big terrified sound that’s deep and scary. Jamie stops moving, and Roscoe slams into him so hard that Jamie falls over. Roscoe hits the razor away with his leg, and he’s so angry and so relieved he kneels down and inspects Jamie while lecturing him the whole time, but Jamie doesn’t care because a second later his arms are around Roscoe and he’s crying out and making such a din that Roscoe quiets and just lets him be there. And when Jamie tries to let go Roscoe just jumps on top of him and tries to make him understand that without Jamie, without his little brother, he can’t even dream of going on.
…and it’s two months later since Roscoe brought Jamie home, and he’s doing much better. Jamie’s wearing a blue sweatshirt when Roscoe sees him after school that day, and when Jamie sees him he smiles, a small smile, but Roscoe nods anyway because it looks good one him, the blue sweatshirt and the smile. The next day Jamie wears green, and the next day white, and a month later he starts wearing t-shirts because it’s summer and the scars of winter and spring are starting to fade.
…and Jamie’s sixteen with his braces off. He’s written over the reaper tattoo with a new one he asked his parents for, and over the ugly thing it now reads Tutis which means Saved and Roscoe rather likes it.
…And Jamie’s seventeen and he’s got a shiny new red car. Roscoe doesn’t like it much, he’s always nervous about the color red with Jamie now, but then Jamie looks at it and smiles and says,
“Hey, looks just like Roscoe. I love it.”
And Roscoe smiles wider than Mother and Father and he’s got this warm feeling right in his heart because Jamie hasn’t missed one counselor meeting yet and the color red isn’t so violent anymore.
…And Jamie’s eighteen and giving a lecture to younger kids about the danger of cutting, about how he had to go through therapy and how he got help, and Roscoe’s so proud of him he just sits there and beams. And Jamie turns around at the end, his dark blue eyes all alight with pride and warmth when he looks at Roscoe.
“And this,” he says quietly, “this is the one who helped me through it. Little ladies and little gentlemen, I want you to meet my big brother, Roscoe.”
And Roscoe sits tall and proud and observes them all with his honey colored eyes, and Jamie sits next to him down and puts a hand around his shoulder.
“But Mister,” a little girl with blonde pigtails and pale green eyes says, “that’s Roscoe? The Roscoe who saved you?”
“But he’s a dog!”
“Yep,” Jamie says with a smile, “he is. But you know what, little lady? He’s understood me better than anyone else, and I understand him. Roscoe’s been there for me my entire life, and he did the one thing that no else would when I didn’t know how to say what I needed to properly.”
“What’s that?” a little boy asked.
“He listened.” Jamie said simply.