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Dust Storm in the Sahara
The alpha male pounced on his victim with verbal assaults. “You aren’t so tough as you let on, are you, Lukey?” It was known that that was Laura’s nickname for her son. Luke stood up furiously, turning around to examine the predator.
“You do not talk to me like that! Especially in these conditions.”
“What are the conditions, Lukey? You think you deserve some sort of special treatment after what my family did for you? We could have let your father die, right then and there!”
“He did die, right then and there!” screamed Luke, putting one punch to Billy’s neck and slammed the door open. When it closed, the lions roared with victory. But Billy’s lethal gray eyes weren’t satisfied.
The bell rang, and neither a teacher nor Luke appeared.
Bridget didn’t understand. Wasn’t Luke part of their pack? He was always friends with Noah, the smart kid who always sat by the corner because it was his only chance to pick up some Vitamin D, for he loved gaming at home. At least, that’s what Bridget assumed.
When school got out, she drove her Lexus out east for once since sixth grade. The road was in horrible condition—cracked in spots, potholes in the other, extra tar slabs in the next—and much longer and narrower than she remembered. But for Luke, the trek was worth it.
It didn’t take long to find him once she reached his house. It was in the middle of a clearing, filled with rolling hills and a corn field, though no cornstalks were popping yet. She could always see as she drove in he was laying in the backyard grass, fresh and green and plentiful.
She parked in the driveway and immediately walked around, not even caring to knock on his front door and formally introducing herself. She had heard that his grandmother was currently his guardian, but she’d have to wait.
She laid down next to him, and the look on his face—a mixture of shock and embarrassment—made her laugh uncontrollably for the first time in weeks.
“What are you doing here, Bridget? How did you even find me?”
“I have a pretty good memory, Luke. I remember you didn’t like anything more than spending time outside, looking up at the sky, whether it be during a thunderstorm or blue skies.”
He cracked a smile and sat up. “Why are you here?”
“Why can’t I spend some quality time with you?”
“Alright…I wanted to make sure you’re alright.”
“Now you’re talking. Continue.”
She giggled. This wasn’t the Luke she remembered—but, at the same time, it was. She had convinced herself, through a fading relationship and after time of tragedy and heartbreak, he gave everyone the impression that he was a solitary creature, only doing things for his benefit. No, he was still the friendly, smiling boy she had left so long ago at the burial ground that terrible, terrible morning. He still had the same blue eyes, the ones that didn’t weather when everything else around it eroded obviously.
“Bridget, what happened to us?”
“Time changed our relationship, I mean, our friendship.”
“So you’d agree that we had something more than just a natural bond?”
“Of course! We were conjoined at the hip, practically. We’d go everywhere together. My family started putting a plate on our table out of habit, and when you’d stop coming over, I’m not sure my parents ever got over it. It was a big deal at my home.”
He smiled. “Your parents were always so kind to me. It wasn’t pity, either, it was just a natural sense of helpfulness.”
“Well, that’s who they were—that’s how they were raised.”
“You want to know how I was raised? I’ve been surrounded by people who abandon me, always, no matter how close I get to them. My parents; my friends; everyone who I once cared about. My grandma will soon be absent as well.”
“None of them could help it, Luke.”
“No—but you could.”
Bridget winced and a tear dropped. Luke continued. “Those idiots have mocked me since freshman year, and it’s only gotten worse since everyone got their driver’s licenses. They’ve made it a weekly thing to come and TP my house, forcing my grandmother to pick it up because I’m always sleeping in or at school. She’s so kind for this kind of immature behavior. But even with her, I’m alone. I’ve never had anyone to talk to since my parents died, and no one seems to care about me. I didn’t believe I’d live this long—so alone.”
“I didn’t know, Luke! I didn’t mean to abandon you. That was so long ago! We fell apart, and, well…”
“There are no excuses for your actions, leaving me as prey to be snacked on by the savages we call teenagers.”
“It wasn’t like I had a choice! My father came back from the military with a brain injury and I had to help him cope. He suffered one of the most severe forms of PTS. I couldn’t have any distractions—no friends, no sports, nothing. It was all focused on my father.”
“You didn’t tell me that.”
“Well it isn’t like you told me how you felt and how people were treating you, either! You never speak up! You never defend yourself! You just have your grandmother pick up the mess.”
“That is NOT true, Bridget!” he shrieked, standing up and shaking. Thunder struck overhead, his hair twisting and blowing from the crazy wind like the dust storms in the Sahara. “I fight my own battles!”
“So why are you blaming me for them?”
That’s when he broke down. The wind and thunder stopped, but the rain poured harder than either remembered. “I just…I’ve never known where to turn.”
“Then say so,” Bridget replied softly. “I’ve been in so many of your classes over the years…I guess it’s partially my fault.”
“No way. This isn’t anybody’s fault but my own. And now, I’ve got to change.”
“Change what, exactly?”
“The amount of respect orphans give! I am one, and though I have my grandma, I’m one of the fortunate ones, which says a lot. Bridget, do you want to help me?”
“Of course I do, Luke. I’ll do anything for you.”