“Still nobody there. ¬†Maybe it’s already come.” ¬†Jordan said as he peered out the doorway at the corner down the street.

It’s seven o’clock. ¬†We missed it again.” ¬†David squatted beside in front of the living room window and glared at the huge oak tree blocking his view, ” I hate that tree.”
“I better call mom and let her know.” ¬†Jordan closed the door and walked over to the phone. ¬†Slowly he dialed the familiar phone number.
It rang twice before it was answered by the young switchboard operator.  Jordan ask to speak to his mother and the line was transferred.
“Hello, Victoria Connell.”
“Hi mom.”
“Jordan? ¬†What are you doing home, it’s after seven?”
“We missed the bus again.” ¬†Jordan squirmed at the thought of his mother getting angry, and with good reason, this was the second time this week they had missed the bus. ¬†And it was only Tuesday.
“Jordan. ¬†how many times have I told you that you and David were going to have to get up earlier on school day’s?”
“I’m sorry. ¬†We’ve been watching the bus stop for almost an hour and there hasn’t been anybody there. ¬†And we haven’t seen any kind of bus.”
“Well, you and David get that house clean before I get home.”
“Yes ma’am. ¬†Bye.”
“What did she say?” ¬†David had moved from the window and was on the couch flipping through the T.V. channels.
“Oh, the usual ‘Clean the house.’ You know the deal.” ¬†Jordan hung up the phone and started down the hall.
David had not moved when he returned to the living room.  In fact, Jordan wondered if he was going to move since he was staring at the t.v. so hard.
“Your going to go blind doing that.”
“Bite me.” replied David without even looking up.
“Anything good on?” he asked as he dropped into the chair David had been trying to watch the corner from.
“Nope. ¬†Here, you try.” suddenly, and without warning, David tossed Jordan the remote control and jumped off the couch heading for the kitchen, “I’m hungry. What’s for breakfast?”
“Whatever you fix I guess. ¬†There is some cereal in the cabinet and pizza in the ‘fridge.” ¬†it was Jordan’s turn to become absorbed by the flashing picture’s on the t.v.
“The pizza’s mine!”
“Bring me a piece.”
“You want some, come get it yourself. ¬†Contrary to popular belief I am not your slave.”
“Quit bitching and bring me some.” Jordan shifted slightly in the chair.
“I’ve said it before and I will say it again. ¬†Bite me.”
“I swear to god, you are such a pain in the ass.” ¬†Jordan tossed the remote across the room and stormed into the kitchen.
“Maybe so, but at least I do my job well.” ¬†the plate rattled as David placed it on the table. ¬†He sat down with his back to the sliding glass door as Jordan entered the room.
Jordan walked to the refrigerator and jerked the door open, almost knocking the jar of pickles to the floor.  He then glanced up at the counter and saw the empty Coke bottle.  He grabbed the bottle and twisted around to face David.
“Did you drink all the soda?”
“No.”
“Do we have bottle?”
“No.”
“Then where is the rest of it?”
“In my glass.”
“You said you didn’t drink it all.”
“I’m not done yet.” ¬†David laughed as he took a sip of the coke.
Jordan reached back and threw the empty plastic bottle at David’s head. ¬†It bounced off with a hollow sound and hit the glass door behind him.
“That hurt you bastard.” snapped David as he rubbed his head.
“It wasn’t suppose to feel good you idiot.”
Now it was Jordan’s turn to laugh as he poured himself a glass of milk, and went back into the living room with a plate of pizza.
“What the hell?”
“What’s the matter?”, David jumped from the table and ran into the living room.
“I thought I saw the bus go by.” ¬†Jordan had sat the plate and glass on the t.v. and ran to the window. ¬†As he looked out he realized he couldn’t see because of the giant tree, “Damn I hate that blasted tree!”
“It is the bus,” ¬†yelled David as he opened the door,” and it’s late.”
“No kidding. ¬†There’s still nobody up there.”
“Now we really missed it.”
“Well, I had better call mom again.”
Jordan walked over to the phone and again dialed his mom’s number. ¬†Again it was answered by the operator, and again it was transferred.
“Hello, Victoria Connell.”
“Mom, it’s Jordan again.”
“What is it Jordan, I’m at work?
“The bus just ran.”
“I thought you said that you missed it?”
“I thought we did. ¬†I mean there is still nobody at the stop, and it’s almost eight o’clock. ¬†School’s already started.”
“Jordan you have got to quit lying to me about thing’s. ¬†If you missed the bus, fine. ¬†There’s nothing you can do about it now, but there is no need to lie about it being this late.”
“But, I’m not lying. ¬†It just ran.” ¬†Jordan became a little upset and almost started to cry.
“I don’t have time to talk about it right now I have work to do.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Just get the house clean before I get home or your ass has had it. ¬†Do you understand?”
“Yes ma’am. ¬†I’m sorry.”
“Fine. ¬†Bye.” ¬†Jordan’s mother hung up the phone and the line went dead.
Jordan just stood there and stared at the receiver in his hand for a few second’s before returning it to it’s cradle. ¬†He sighed carefully so that his brother wouldn’t know that he had been crying.
“Well, she is now officially pissed off at me.” ¬†Jordan said as he picked up the plate and glass headed back for the kitchen.
“Why is she pissed at you?”
“Because she thinks that I’m skipping school, and that I’m lying about the bus coming just now.”
“But, you’re not lying.”
It’ doesn’t matter to her whether I’m telling the truth or not. ¬†I stilled missed the bus, therefore she is mad and assumes everything else. ¬†I don’t fell like talking about it. ¬†I’m going to bed.” ¬†Jordan left the kitchen and turned down the hall headed for his bed room.
“I’m going to watch cartoon’s”
“Fine. ¬†Do whatever you want, I don’t care.”
David watched as his brother disappeared into his room and wondered, not for the first time, why their mother hated Jordan so much.
—————
The plane dove and fired on it’s target. ¬†Jordan jerked his joystick desperately back and forth trying to avoid the hail storm of bullet’s. ¬†Suddenly, the plane lurched sideways as the right engine exploded. ¬†The radio crackled to life as Jordan silently swore to himself.
“Jordan? ¬†Jordan?!”
“What? ¬†I’m kind of busy up here.”
“Are you alright?’
Just peachy, and you?” Jordan jerked the plane left to avoid another attack.
“No jokes son. ¬†Can you make it back on one engine?”
Jordan could hear the sincere concern in his captain’s voice. ¬†This had become more dangerous than anyone had expected, and he was to far away to make it back under the current conditions. ¬†But he refused to allow the fear to overtake him as he prepared to fire on his assailant.
“Don’t worry about me, I could probably make it back on no engine’s”
Suddenly the plane was rocked as another plane joined the fray and laced Jordan’s plane with holes.
“Oh, shit!” yelled Jordan as he rolled ¬†the craft to avoid another attack. ¬†Unfortunately he passed into the first planes line of fire and was fired upon again. ¬†The barrage hit his left engine, and after several vicious puffs it too died.
“Oop’s.”
“Oop’s? ¬†What oop’s? ¬†Jordan what do you mean oop’s?”
“Remember that no engine thing I was talking about earlier? ¬†Well, it look’s like I’m about to try it.”
“Jordan. ¬†Don’t try to be a hero, get out of the plane. ¬†Do you hear me, get out. ¬†Jordan? ¬†Jordan? ¬†Jordan…………..”
“…Jordan? ¬†Jordan, get up?”
“Wha-? came the sleepy reply.
“Get up. ¬†Dad’s home.”
“Dad’s home? ¬†What time is it?”
“It’s about eleven o’clock.” ¬†David jerked the cover’s off of Jordan’s bed as he walked out of the room.
“What’s he doing home so early? ¬†Hey! ¬†Asshole!”
“Why don’t you ask him.”
Jordan stood up and stretched him arms above his head. ¬†He had a good dream again but couldn’t remember what it was. ¬†It was like that a lot lately, being unable to remember dreams. ¬†He walked into the hall after David. ¬†The curtain’s in the living room window were open and he could see the familiar Buick LeSabre his dad had painted brown in the driveway. ¬†He noticed with curiosity that the trunk was open.
Together the two brother’s turned into the kitchen and started for the door that lead to the garage. ¬†Suddenly, just as they were about to reach the door, it swung open and their father stepped through the door. ¬†He stood only slightly taller than Jordan who towered over his brother, and had a old fashion military crew cut on hairstyle on his head. ¬†His blond and red hair stood straight up from his scalp, a fact which had amazed Jordan for year’s. ¬†His square framed glasses sat high on the bridge of his nose and although he wore a blue mechanic’s uniform he had the look of dignity and wisdom around him. ¬†He also carried an authority that Jordan feared.
“What are you two doing home?”
“We…….um……..missed the bus.’ ¬†Jordan squirmed at the thought of telling his father the story.
“Why?” ¬†his eye’s seemed to frown.
“Well…we were waiting to see if anybody showed up at the bus stop and…..when nobody did we thought we had missed it and called mom. ¬†Then it did run….a-and we didn’t know what to do, so we called mom again and she got mad.” ¬†Jordan overcame the shock of his father coming home unexpectedly, “How come you’re home early?”
“I got off early.”
“Why?” ¬†David finally spoke.
“I’m going to North Carolina to get grandma. ¬†She’s coming here for Christmas.”
“Alright! ¬†Can we go?”
“Not this time.”
“Why not?” ¬†David’s disappointment showed in his voice.
“Because I can get there faster if I go alone. ¬†Besides, both of you have school tomorrow. ” Jordan’s father walked past them and across the kitchen. ¬†Jordan and David parted to let their father pass then followed him into the bedroom.
“Why can’t one of us go? ¬†We can miss one day of school.”
“You’ve both missed two day’s already this week. ¬†You’re not missing anymore.”
“Please, I want to go see grandma!” David cried.
“No. ¬†Now that’s all I want to hear about it. ¬†Both of you are staying here and I don’t want to hear another word. ¬†Do you understand?”
Both Jordan and David shook their head’s. ¬†They knew it was better not to push their father too far if they wanted a chance to go with him.
“Can we help you pack then?” ¬†David asked and smiled at his brother.
“I packed last night, but you can help carry everything to the car, as long as you don’t fight over everything. ¬†I’ll be back in a minute. ¬†I have to get a few things from the bathroom.”
Jordan looked up from the handle of the suitcase at the bathroom door his father had gone into.
“You’re leaving right now?”
“I have to if I want to get there before it gets too dark, ¬†his father called from the bathroom over the clanging of razor’s and aftershave that would go into his case. ¬†”Grandma will be here by tomorrow night.”
Jordan lugged the suitcase down the hallway, their father looked out the bathroom door at the boy’s and let one tear fall down his cheek before he smiled.
With a loud thud Jordan heaved the suitcase into the car trunk and closed the lid.
“All ready, Dad!”
“Good.” ¬†Their father walked through the doorway leading from the kitchen and closed the door behind him.
He walked to the passenger window and tossed the small shaving case into the window onto the seat. ¬†Jordan noticed that it didn’t make the clinking sound that it usually made when the bottles bounce against each other but gave it no thought. ¬†His father walked around the front of the car and opened the driver’s side door.
“You two promise me you’ll be good and mind you’re mother when I’m gone. ¬†Okay?”
“Yes sir.” came the dual response. ¬†Jordan thought it was a weird thing for his father to say since he would only be gone overnight, but dismissed it.
“Aren’t you going to say good-bye to mom?” ¬†David asked from his father’s knee.
“I say my good-bye’s to her last night David. Now you guy’s be good for her and I will se you soon.”
“Are you sure we can’t go with you, please.”
“No. ¬†I told you why I was going alone. ¬†If you two had been in school I would have been able to leave without you harassing me..”
“But, you will get there way before dark. ¬†Why do you have to leave so early?” ¬†Came Jordan’s plea.
“I’m running out of time Jordan, I have to go now before it’s too late.”
“But……”
“No more buts. ¬†Don’t argue with me Jordan. ¬†I’m not in the mood for it right now. ¬†Both of you hug me so I can leave.”
They each in turn hugged their father and watched him climb into the car and start down the driveway. ¬†He glanced at them standing in the garage doorway together side by side and again let the tear’s come.
“Bye. Bye!” shouted Jordan as the car pulled away from the drive and started up the road.
“Have a safe trip!” ¬†yelled David.
—————
Jordan stepped down from the bus onto the sidewalk in front of the school.  Several of his friends were waiting for him just outside of the glass doors.
“Did you do your homework Jordan?”
“Yes, Patrick, I did my homework”
Patrick was one of the first people Jordan had met when he had moved here three year’s ago. ¬†He was the typical nerd. ¬†He had the glasses with the tape around the nose, pocket protector, high pant’s, even the nerd laugh. ¬†Jordan considered him one of his best friend’s.
“Why, Patrick, you weren’t going to copy Jordan’s homework were you? ¬†Now you know that’s cheating. ¬†It wouldn’t do to have Patrick cheating now would it Jordan?” mocked Nicole from behind Jordan.
“Why no. ¬†It would ruin all our plan’s.” ¬†Jordan smiled as Nicole joined the conversation.
She had been another one he had met at first, ¬†and he liked her. ¬†She was two year’s older than he was, and had experience. ¬†At least more then he did anyway. ¬†She stood a little taller than Jordan, and walked around with an attitude. ¬†She had also protected him a couple times before, ¬†but that was never mentioned between them. ¬†In fact, that was how they met, and he fell in love.
“Come on Nicole, we better get to class or we are going to be late. ¬†Again.” ¬†Nicole and Patrick pushed their way through the crowd. ¬†Patrick turned at the top of the stairs and waved at Jordan, who waved back.
Slowly he walked into his class. ¬†Other’s were filing in and out of the room through both doors. ¬†Some greeted Jordan as he walked in, other’s either ignored him or acted as if he wasn’t there.
He took his seat in the back of the class just as the bell rang. ¬†The teacher began to discuss the homework from the night before, but Jordan paid no attention. ¬†He allowed his mind to wonder and soon began to think of the thing’s he wanted for Christmas.
It was only the twelfth  of December but he had to hurry. Time was running out.
Lost in thought he didn’t at first notice that the bell to change classes had rung. ¬†As he stood to go he glanced out the window and noticed his father outside the lunch room door. ¬†He seemed to be lost but was heading toward the stairs that lead to the office.
Jordan darted up the aisle and almost collided with two other students as he reached the door.  He made his apologies and weaved his way around others in a hurry to reach the front office.
Carelessly he flung the door open, almost knocking over the teacher behind it.
“Oh, I’m so sorry Mr. Cathers. ¬†I didn’t see you there.”
“That’s okay Jordan, I needed a little wake me up this morning.”
“What’s so important Jordan?” asked the receptionist behind the desk.
“Have you seen my father?” Jordan gently closed the door behind him and walked to the front of the small oak desk.
“No, I haven’t. ¬†Should I?”
“Yea, he was just outside heading this way. ¬†I couldn’t have run that fast.”
“Sorry, I haven’t seen him, and I’ve been here all day. ¬†Are you sure it was him?”
“Yes ma’am. ¬†At least I think it was him. ¬†He was …………” ¬†Jordan pointed to the wall where he thought he had seen his father,
“Maybe it’s all the excitement.”
“Excitement?” asked Mr. Cathers from behind a steaming cup of coffee.
“Yea, he left yesterday to go pickup my grandmother and bring her here for Christmas. ¬†I haven’t seen her for two years.”
“That’s definitely something to look forward to. ¬†Oh, you better get going or you’re going to be late for your next class.”
“If I’m late again I’m a dead man.” Jordan grabbed his book’s off the desk and started toward the door. ¬†As he opened it the noise from the hall flooded in. ¬†He stopped to wave before he slipped out and disappeared into the crowd.
—————
Jordan sat in the back seat of the bus as his friends made their way, seat by seat, to the girl in the middle that was the target of the day. ¬†The plan was simple; They would bombard her with paper balls from every direction one by one. ¬†As each one ran out it was Jordan’s job this time to resupply.
The bus driver had become accustom to the attacks and said nothing as long as the paper was picked up off the floor. ¬†It was all in fun and noone seem to mind the assaults, in fact several little groups had sprang up to challenge, but Jordan’s friends had devastated them quickly.
They turned down Rollings Street. Probably the longest street in the county, Jordan often thought.  It ran from downtown where
the projects were being built and continued for several miles outside of town.  Jordan lived at the end of the route so he was the last to get off, that made it his responsibility to make sure all the paper was up.
He glanced out the window at the clock tower on the edge of town.
Good, he thought, only twenty more minutes and he would see his grandmother.  Meanwhile his friends were ready to attack.
It was set up so that when they turned off Rollings Street the first time, the attack began.  Nobody knew who the target was going to be before hand, and it was only until everyone was on the bus that they were chosen.
Slowly the assault team rose up and zeroed in on their objective.  The turn was made and the sound of paper pummeling flesh was heard throughout the bus.  Nicole was the first to run out.  Jordan grabbed the bag that held the reserves and headed for the seat behind her.  Jason was the next to need replenishing.  The rest quickly followed, with Peter receiving the last of the paper balls.
“Clean!” shouted Jordan as he returned to his seat. ¬†That was the signal that all the paper was gone and the attack was over.
Leslie, the girl that had suffered the barrage, had sunk deep into her seat and began to laugh out loud.
Several others picked up the paper and began a paper fight that soon consumed the entire bus.
The remainder of the ride was largely uneventful for Jordan.  He stared out his window watching the houses pass by.
The bus turned another corner, this time it was back on Rollings Street.  It was time for Jordan to get off.  The trees on the edge of his house gave way suddenly to reveal several cars parked in the driveway.  Immediately his spirits rose.  He jumped out of his seat, grabbed his bookbag, and ran down the aisle to the front of the bus, wondering if he had beaten David home today.
“Christ Jordan, relax. ¬†She’s going to be here for awhile. ¬†There’s still two weeks until Christmas.” said Steven, the boy who lived behind Jordan.
“Maybe,” replied Jordan, “but I still can’t wait to see her.”
The bus stopped.  The driver opened the door and smiled as Jordan leaped all three steps getting off the bus.  Jordan ran across the street and into his yard.  His brother came out of the house to met him.
—————
They met in the front of the big oak.  Jordan had not noticed Carla, his mothers friend following David.  They stopped just short of each other.  Jordan noticed the tears falling from his brothers cheeks.
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s dad. ¬†He’s dead”
“No!” Jordan yelled as he threw his bookbag across the yard. ¬†He fell to his knees crying.
Carla helped David pull his brother to his brother to his feet.  They struggled to get him to his room where his mother, aunt, and several of his mothers friends were gathered.
“Mom”, Jordan began weakly, “what happened?” Jordan collapsed on the bed. ¬†His mother sat beside him.
“Your grandmother called this morning.” started April stepped forward and took his mothers hands in hers.
Jordan’s mother hugged him tightly. ¬†When she released him he stood up and walked over to the lone trophy that sat atop the television. ¬†He returned to the edge of the bed and sat alone holding the trophy in his lap.
“She said they were on their way here, ” his mother stood up an walked to the other side of the room, fighting back the tears,
“They were passing through Mt. Olive when he decided he wanted to get some flour. ¬†You know haw he hates the flour down here. ¬†Anyway, they stopped at the Piggly Wiggly to get some. ¬†He went to the Family Dollar to see Judy and say hi, and then headed over to the grocery store.
“She said he fell to the sidewalk in mid-stride. ¬†He hit his head on the little bench where we found Blackie that time, remember?
Well, the emergency crew said that he was dead before he hit the pavement. ¬†His heart just stopped.”
Jordan had not moved since his mother had begun talking except for the bouncing of the trophy.  For a moment noone was even sure that he had even heard her.
“You know,” his words came strong, “he helped me win this. ¬†’To the Most Improved ’80-’81’ is what it says. ¬†I was the most improved and it was because of him.”
Noone responded to Jordan.  His gaze was fixed on the trophy he held in his hand.  Everyone watched him carefully, wondering what was going on inside his mind.
“Did it hurt much?” David at last broke the silence.
“Noone knows for sure, but they said it was quick so he didn’t suffer long.”
“We said good-bye to him.” Jordan said
“What honey?” asked his mother.
“We said good-bye. ¬†We actually got to say good-bye to him before he left us.”
“I don’t understand, son.”
“I do, ” said David from the corner. ¬†He walked forward and stood in front of his brother. ¬†”Yesterday, when we missed the bus, he came home to get his things. ¬†When he left we said good-bye.”
Jordan looked up at his younger brother and began to weep.  Their mother started forward to embrace her sons when April stopped her.
Slowly Jordan stood up and slipped his arms around David’s shoulders.
The two brothers embraced and together they grieved.