Victoria Chambers was sitting in her room Saturday night, stressing out about an art project for school. She stared blankly at a sketchbook with a mountain of crumpled up papers next to it. Disgusted, the almost 18 year old sighed heavily and turned away.
"Stupid artists' block. Stupid Ms. Crumford for assigning this pointless project. Stupid me for not getting it done LAST weekend." She thought ruefully. So many thoughts were sprinting through her mind, almost as if it were a highway for ideas unrelated to the one thing she needed to finish.
The clock on her nightstand read, "11:37 p.m." in electric green block numbers. Her parents had turned in early that night, asking Victoria to keep an eye out for her brother Chase, who would be getting home later from a date with his boyfriend.
Victoria peered out her window into the pitch black. Everything was still, all except for the neighbor's orange tabby cat which was scouting the streets for food. No sign of Chase's boyfriend's car.
Chase had never been a late-night partier, and the older sister in Victoria was starting to worry. "What if something happened..." She trailed off in a whisper, but shoved the thought away.
She grabbed a picture from her desk in an attempt to distract her from freaking out. In it was a tall, gangly boy with shaggy ginger hair and a splash of freckles across his smirking face. He had his arm around the shoulders of a shorter, plumper girl with the same fire-engine red hair pulled back in a low pony tail. Chase was throwing up the peace sign, while Victoria was sticking her tongue out.
They'd taken this picture a couple years ago, the day she and Chase were going on an all-night camping trip with a couple of their friends. That trip was going perfectly... until Victoria had tripped over a root and slammed her elbow into a rock, shattering the bone in several different places. Chase immediately began administering first aid, speaking slowly and calmly while the rest of their friends ran around like the Apocalypse was near. Her brother, who was 2 years younger than she, kept her stable, emotionally and physically, that day.
Ever since then, Victoria and Chase shared a special connection only siblings could understand.
Redirecting her thoughts, she set the picture down and retrieved the dumb sketchbook (that she could have sworn was mocking her.) She flipped through the pages of her past work, desperate for inspiration. With droopy eyes, Victoria continued exhausting her brain for the next half hour.
Time dragged on, and almost an hour later, Victoria heard the front door open and shut softly. "Huh. I didn't see Aaron's car drop him off." She groggily commented. "Maybe I was too tired to see. Or too focused on this bloody sketchbook."
A moment later, someone knocked on Victoria's door. "C'mon in Chase." Victoria said while sitting up straight, stretching.
Chase came sluggishly in, head drooped low. Before he could even sit down next to his sister, she sensed something was wrong.
"Bro?" Victoria laid a hand softly on his shoulder. "What's wrong? What happened?"
Chase's face was still down, but Victoria could see it was scratched up and smeared with dirt. It was also contorted into a grimace, the moment before one's resolve to stay strong breaks into a million tiny pieces. Stifling a sob, Chase looked up at his sister.
A small gasp escaped Victoria's lips. "Oh my God, Chase, what the hell happened? Are you ok?"
Chase had several crimson slashes on his cheeks and forehead, one particularly long and deep from his hair-line to his chin. Dirt and sweat covered him, and to top it all off, his left eye was swollen, sickly colored, and bloodshot. He choked out in a husky voice, "Aaron and I were attacked at the baseball game. Couple of football jocks."
Victoria held him tight to her chest as he sobbed the rest of the story.
"They were c-c-callin' us fags and homos and stupid stuff like that at first. We just ignored 'em, and walked away. But they kept comin' back, Vicky. After the g-g-game ended, Aaron and I were walkin' back to the car to go home. He kissed me on the cheek. That's it, he just kissed me on the cheek, and these idiots came outta nowhere and floored us. They slashed Aaron's tires and beat us black and blue. W-w-w-we got away though and caught a bus back here. God... It was the scariest thing I ever went through, Vicky. I thought they were going to kill us."
Victoria could hear the shear terror and pain in the boy's voice. She hated those boys with a furious passion that smoldered in her heart.
"It's ok, Chase, it's ok now. I swear to God, nones' going to hurt you or Aaron anymore. I promise you. We're going to go to the police and get them locked up for hate crime." Victoria was suprised how easily she concealed her resentment of the jocks in her voice.
"Help Chase first, revenge second." She swore silently.
The skinny boy cried until he couldn't produce another tear. He looked up at Victoria, his grey eyes detached and void of hope, communicating as best as he could without words.
That was the moment Victoria realized Chase was grappling with another problem bigger (yes, bigger) than this.
"Chase, no." Victoria breathed. Her stomach twisted itself into a knot tighter than she ever thought possible. "You can't leave Chase, you can't."
The boy's eyes brimmed with hot tears, and he looked away, ashamed. "I have no choice, Victoria. I want to die so badly. Every day is hell. I can't keep going, I just- I can't-" Shaking his head, Chase couldn't finish.
"I love you. Please, you can't kill yourself. I wouldn't be able to function in life if you killed yourself. I know things are horrible now, but they're going to get better. You can't give up, Chase. Please... don't let go." Victoria was crying softly now too, her tears falling onto Chase's matted red hair. The thought of losing her best friend was too much to dwell on.
"You're leaving for college in three months, Vicky. Aaron and I can't be together very long either, 'cause he's going to some camp thing. Then I'll be all alone here. I can't stand that, I just can't."
Victoria shook her head, "I'll be here for you no matter what Chase, you should know that by now. It doesn't matter if I'm going to college, I'm going to do whatever it takes to help you. You aren't alone now, and you won't ever be later."
Chase came to a still, his body slowing releasing its tension. "You... swear I won't be alone in this?"
His older sister replied, "I swear on my life."
Taking a few slow and deep breaths, Chase whispered, "Ok. I won't... I won't d-d-do it. I won't kill myself."
Relief settled on Victoria, like the feeling one got after a roller coaster ride. She helped Chase stand up, wiping away the rest of his tears as well as her own. "Let's get you cleaned up, little bro."
Chase brandished the tiniest of smiles, which served as two things.
The first: A banner, tattered and battle-worn, but still waving.
And the second: A thank you larger than any word could portray.