Logan opens the door and steps in quickly closing the door behind him. He stomps the mud off his boots and systematically brushes the loose dirty and mud away before setting his boots aside. He reaches out and grabs for the broom handle to sweep the mess away. His hand comes up empty. He frowns. He looks at the spot he keeps the broom before looking around the mudroom and sighs in defeat.
“Tay? Where’s the broom?” He waits for a response. None is coming. His frown deepens. He glances at the door and back at the mud. He opens the door in time for a handle to be thrust at him.
“Sorry, Daddy!” Brayden grins up at him. “I forgots to put it back.”
“Forgot.” Logan ruffles his hair.
Brayden nods. “Ya, I forgots.”
Logan opens his mouth to correct him again and sighs. “I take it you made a mess?”
Brayden nods again. “Just some cereal. But it’s good now. I cleaneded it up.”
Logan groans. “Bray, this is a mop, not a broom and it’s dripping wet. Was there milk in the cereal?”
Brayden tilts his head and looks up at his father in exasperation. “Well ya, dry is all nasty.” He wrinkles his nose and goes back in the house leaving Logan to stare at the soggy mop dripping milk on his sock, the mud and the potential souring aroma in a few short hours.
“Tay?” Logan holds the mop. “Tay!” He pulls the door open and is stunned quiet. For the second time tonight, he has called for his wife only to be greeted by a son. “Hello Brodie.”
“Hi, Daddy, I tried to tell Bray he was wrong.” He shrugs his little shoulders wincing when he does.
Logan notices the small wince and crouches to eye level with his son. “What’s wrong, Brod.”
Brodie shakes his head. “I’m okay. You’re gonna want to take off that nasty sock. I can sweep that for you.” He slips past his father and takes the mop. Logan doesn’t let him get away and wraps his big arm around his son pulling him back to him.
“Brodie…” Logan frowns with concern. He lifts his chin to look in to his pale blue eyes. “Son, you winced. What happened?”
Brodie shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
Logan sits on the step and tries again. He gently takes his son by the shoulders. “What-” Brodie recoils. Logan’s eyes widen with concern. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
Brodie cringes. “I’m sorry.”
Logan tries another approach. Even more gently he lifts Brodie’s sleeve. Brodie winces. “Who did this to you?”
Brodie shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
Logan lifts his arm pulling the sleeve back further. “How far does this go?”
Brodie shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
“Brodie…” Brodie looks up at his father with sad haunted eyes. Without a word he removes his shirt so his father can see his shoulder, back and chest.
“Has your mother seen this?” Logan’s mind is reeling. The odd burn and bruised marks on Brodie’s little body turns his stomach. Who could do such a thing to his little boy?
Brodie shakes his head. “No.”
“Why not?” Again Logan lifts his chin to look him in the eyes. He feels his heart breaking for his son. His frightened little boy shakes at the thought of telling his own mother. “Where is she?” Without realizing, his voice hardens. His teeth are clenched. His anger is barely suppressing itself to keep from frightening Brodie further.
Brodie’s body shakes. His lower lip trembles and his eyes are filled with tears. “She’s with Brisa.”
“I thought we agreed we weren’t going to call your little sister that anymore.” Logan brushes the hair from his son’s forehead. “Son, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what happened.”
Brodie backs from his father and shakes his head. Tears are now spilling down his cheeks. Logan’s heart is breaking and he looks behind him at their front door. Something in that house is scaring his son. Someone in that house is hurting the boy. Logan scoops up his son and heads out the door in to the rain. Brodie shivers in his arms as they dash to the truck. He puts his son in the back seat, helps him with his shirt and straps him in. “I love you, Brodster.”
Brodie shivers uncontrollably. His teeth chatter. “I love you, too, Daddy.”
Logan sits in the chair staring at his hands in disbelief. How long has this been happening? How often? Who is responsible? How could he have been so blind to this abuse? All these questions and he had no answers. They tried to sweep the boy out of his arms the moment they showed up at the emergency room. He hasn’t heard a word about his condition. No one was giving him any answers, but they sure had plenty of questions. None that he could answer. If he couldn’t answer his wife, what makes them think he could answer them?
His phone rang five minutes after they pulled out of the driveway. His hands shook as the memory replayed as if the conversation was going on now. He witnessed it in his mind’s eye as if watching it from outside himself.
He glanced in the rear view mirror at his son. He gave him a reassuring smile. They came to a red light and he plucked his pea coat from the front seat and handed it to his boy. His phone rang in his coat pocket. He recognized the ring tone. From the look on Brodie’s face, so did the boy. Their eyes met in the mirror. Logan shook his head. “You don’t have to answer that.”
Brodie plucked the cell phone from his father’s coat pocket. It trembled in his hand. “But, it’s Mommy.” He stared at it as the tune played and Michael Bublé sang her favorite song, ‘Everything’.
The music stopped. Logan grips the steering wheel tighter. “Hi, Mommy…” Brodie winces. “Please don’t cry. I’m sorry!” He looks at Logan via the mirror, only Logan refuses to meet his gaze this time. The light turned green and they’re moving again. The rain was pouring down in buckets limiting visibility. He needed to concentrate on the road, but that wasn’t why he couldn’t meet his son’s gaze. “Yes, I’m okay. Daddy is driving.” He frowns and shrugs. “I don’t know.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know.” He nods. “Okay.” He nods again. “Okay.” He smiles sadly. “I love you, too.”
Brodie grows quiet. Logan turns right, then left before stopping at another light. Logan looks at Brodie in the mirror. He’s still staring at the phone in his hands. “Mommy was crying.” The sound of the rain beat staccato rhythms on the roof of the truck cab. Brodie took a shuddering breath. “She asked is I was okay. She asked where you were. She asked where we’re going. She asked how long we’ll be. She asked if next time we could please tell her if we’re leaving so she won’t worry and search the house for me and to be safe and be a good boy.” Brodie swallowed hard before meeting Logan’s gaze. “It makes me sad when Mommy cries.”
Logan drops his head in his hands. The bright harsh lights and cold chill reminds him he has no shoes on. He ran out of the house with his son and never put his boots back on. His son looked so small wrapped in his pea coat clinging to his neck. He cried out in pain when they tried to take him from his arms. The allowed Logan to set him down on the gurney before rolling his son away from him.
“Mr. Conley? Logan Conley?”
Logan lifts his heavy head, runs his fingers through his hair and stares blankly at the woman with a clipboard. “Yes.”
She nods at him and takes a seat beside him. She holds the clipboard to her chest. “I’m sure you’re very frustrated right now. You have a very strong, very brave son.”
“Have…” Logan takes a deep breath and lets it out in a rush. “Brodie is an exceptional boy. Mother used to say he has an old soul.”
She nodded. “My mother would say the same about some people. I found it an odd thing to say until I met someone like that. The expression suddenly made sense to me.” She extends a hand. “I’m Dr. Garcia, child psychologist.”
He shakes her hand and nods distractedly. “Logan… Logan Conley.” He blinks at her and gives her a sheepish grin. “You uh… you knew that. Sorry.”
“I realize you’re going through a very trying time.” She pauses before continuing. “Was there anything recent in his behavior that could have been a trigger for this change in your son?” She taps her chin. “Divorce, marriage, death, birth, a move perhaps?”
“Yes.” He stares at his hands again. “Brodie would stop by her place every day after school to check on her. She lived on our property… a free standing guest house. Those two were so close.” His voice hitches. “Mother, uh… passed six months ago. Shortly after our daughter was born.” He runs his fingers through his hair again. “Brodie was devastated. Said Bubbe wasn’t ready. He kept saying Brisa took her too soon.”
“I’m sorry… ‘brisa’?” The woman shook her head in confusion. “I’m confused. How did a breeze take your mother?”
Logan shook his head in response. “I’m confused, too.” He toys with his wedding ring on his finger. “Brodie named his sister before she was born. He said her name is Brisa.” He splayed his hands in defeat. “He was afraid of his sister before she was even born. So my wife and I decided we’d name her Aria.”
“I take it, renaming your daughter didn’t help things for Brodie?” She prompts, when he nods, she nods and sits back. “Your son’s attending physician will have to tell you about his physical condition. I was called in to evaluate his mental stability. He is very alert and aware, nothing out of the ordinary for twelve-year-old boy. I am however-”
“I beg your pardon?”
He takes a deep breath. “The boys just turned seven last week.”
“Ah… well that changes things.” She looks at the clipboard. “I was a bit concerned about how small he is for his age only he is simply mentally developed past his years.”
“Ever year his mental capacity grows. His maturity level excels. Every year his twin… doesn’t.” He looks at her with an odd look. “I try to treat them equally but they aren’t equals. Brodie is brilliant. Brayden…” He shakes his head. “Brayden cleaneded…”
Dr. Garcia peers at him. “He…”
Logan nods. “One of the last things he told me before I came here with Brodie. He made a mess and cleaneded it. That is my son. That is my boy Brayden.”
Dr. Garcia smiles and pats his arm. “He is just a typical seven year old boy. Don’t be too hard on him and please don’t compare him to his brother or he may pale in comparison and resent his twin.”