DES MOINES, IOWA – The state cross-country meet was raging for the Class 2A Boys. In the lead was senior Rob Macker, but his team wasn’t cheering him on. The other seniors were, sure, but of particular interest for this match among all the underclassmen was Rob’s younger brother, Matt, the rising star for the Warriors. He was a mere freshman, and he was in second place.
The history to their competition was interesting. Rob had come in first place for the 5k every year since his freshman year. He had let himself shine, and this senior year he wanted to solidify his perfect streak and his legacy. It was cool that his brother was making it tough for him, though. Perhaps if Matt won, Rob could enjoy cheering on his brother’s chance at a perfect streak. Yet, since they were both in high school at the same time, only one of them could have it.
And Rob wanted it so bad.
It felt like they were on their last half-kilometer. Rob kicked in his final burst.
Meanwhile, Matt trailed ten yard behind him. He wanted it, too, and he wanted that perfect streak. It was something worth fighting for, and he wasn’t going to let his brother have it.
Matt wasn’t going to settle for second.
He sprinted like crazy. For a moment, he passed up Rob, but Rob ran even harder. They were both dying as they suffered the fruits of their own determination.
Then the finish line came in sight, and they sprinted even harder, as if they were running down a 100m dash.
By two footsteps, Matt won.
“Thirteen minutes!” shouted a friend.
“Could have cheered more,” said Rob. His friend Sam handed Rob his hat.
Coach Leer wasn’t happy for them. Matt didn’t quite understand it. He went over with Rob to make sure that their times were indeed at thirteen minutes. He showed them the time grimly, and though confused, Matt and Rob cheered and rejoiced.
Then Coach Leer interrupted the powwow with a hand on Rob’s shoulder, and he said just loud enough that only Rob, Matt, and their best friends could hear, “Rob, your brother Craig is dead.”
Craig was killed by a drunk driver while biking to the library. He was a junior and always a bit of a loner. People didn’t appreciate him much, but Matt always figured his day would come. He didn’t count on…these things.
The next day, everyone knew, and was wearing black. Attention. Oh boy. From people who were mean to him and people who didn’t even know him. Then there was a girl who wore a dress that broke school policy. Matt felt an irrational hatred toward her. How disrespectful. He resigned from these people. He couldn’t live in their presence.
Matt went to his classes, but didn’t talk to anyone. Rob came to school just to pick up homework, and left.
The worst part about being sad was knowing just how sad others were, so he had to be sad for his brother’s sadness. Then he knew that Rob might be feeling the same way. Circles.
The day after that, Friday, Matt decided to do what Rob did, and came only to pick up assignments before heading home. He did his work, and Rob did…
Mother was home. Father was with the funeral director. When they had lunch together, Craig’s usual chair was empty, and nobody talked. When both brothers were done with their homework, almost instantly, Rob locked himself up in his room and never came out for the rest of the day. Matt wanted to do the same, but he ended up sitting down with his back against Rob’s door while he ticked away at the time, wondering how long it would take before things would ever be normal, or if he would be like Batman and just be troubled for the rest of his life.
After a month, Rob put his hat back on again. It was really strange, though. Rob had always been the cool kid. People had looked up to him with respect but not…respect.
It was different with Matt’s friends. His were relatively new, made just in high school. He hadn’t gone through four years of them yet. It felt like they knew him for his tragedy first and not for the brother and friend he had been beforehand, so he began spending time with Rob’s friends. They had once made fun of Craig, but at least they knew him.
Then one day Rob did not sit with his friends. Matt looked around and found Rob eating outside, looking through brochures.
“Aren’t you going to get in trouble?” asked Matt. Dumb question. Rob never got in trouble for anything and could break any school rule he wanted.
“No,” said Rob. He left his bench and reentered the school, placing his flyers in a side-pocket in Matt’s backpack as he passed. Matt looked at them himself and saw that they had information on the marines.
During their family supper, Rob wasn’t shy in bringing it up. “Dad, I’m joining the marines.”
Perhaps it was supposed to be one of those special father-to-son moments, but it played out with the whole family. Without much questioning, Father supported the idea. Mother was against it, and Matt…
He was curious.
“Because I’m not going to settle for tragedy anymore,” said Rob. “I’m not going to settle for loss. I want that so bad, but I haven’t given it my all, yet. I was meant for more than running 5ks in thirteen minutes.”
There was more arguing, and with half a heart Matt pleaded Rob not to, but he was forced into understanding his brother.
After the year and the graduation ceremony were over, Rob’s friends, all knowing his intentions, patted him on the back. When everyone left his grad party, Rob took off his hat and handed it to Matt. “Remember to settle for nothing less than your best life.”
Curse the, thy foul word limit! Nevermore shall I endure your toxic burden! No, I take that back. I'm really being far too angsty and dramatic. Maybe I should just accept that this would have been better as a much longer story, because I can see how this could easily carry out to 5k if I had carried it out to its natural length. As it happens, this is very much contensed. Meanwhile, this has absolutely nothing to do with my story We Are Young, even though I use the same characters. There will be nothing quite so sad over there.