November 8, 1993


The door squeaked open and thudded as Joshua collected his worn navy Jansport and slid off his seat. He dragged his feet toward the steps that would lead him off the school bus, just as he had done hundreds of times before. This day was different, though. This was his first day back to third grade after the accident. His kid brother, Noah, who had just started kindergarten, should have been behind him, but he was alone.

Leaving behind the smell of aging vinyl seats, he stepped onto the sidewalk. The door slammed behind him and the brakes released a puff of air as the bus rumbled on, leaving him unaccompanied on the suburban sidewalk. A trail of diesel fumes hung behind. Oh, how he wished he had been dropped off farther from his home, or that something, anything, would happen to delay his arrival.

Hooking his thumbs into the shoulder straps of his backpack, Joshua kicked the pavement once before trudging down the driveway of a paint-chipped house that no longer felt like home. He took a deep breath. The cool November air carried the smell of rain. It always rained but, as if to match his mood, the gray clouds hung particularly low. Rolling thunder sounded in the distance as a light drizzle began. He raised the hood of his blue sweater over his blonde hair, but he still shivered as the damp air cut through the worn material.

Despite the drab weather, the neighborhood buzzed with the sounds of other children coming home from school. Five houses down, a mother and her three children piled out of their silver mini van. The mother shouted commands, that went ignored for her kids to stop running around and get inside. At the end of the block, in the other direction, the school bus had just dropped off one of Joshua's classmates, who disappeared around the corner as he sprinted away. A Chihuahua yapped when a neighbor pushed his lawnmower close to the fence. Joshua's own yard was over-grown from weeks of neglect. Leaves from the large oak tree in the backyard lay untouched around the house. Another week or so in this climate and the yard would be a jungle. A feral tabby darted out of the shin high grass as he walked by. Joshua leapt back as the cat hissed before running away. The rest of the house was in pretty good shape, considering. Built in the early 80s, his parents had bought it shortly after they had married. Like all the surrounding houses, it was a modest one-story brick house with a two-car garage and shutters over its windows. Just over a decade later, the only work the outside needed was a coat of paint over the shutters and trim.

Joshua stumbled as he missed the step onto the covered front patio. He opened the glass door, but paused as he reached for the brass handle of the wooden door. The day had been a welcomed break from being alone with his father, and he didn't really want to go inside. Turning to look back down the street, he thought about running to the park around the corner. His friends were sure to be there. Just as he turned to step off the patio, the gentle rain turned into a deluge. The heavy drops knocked any remaining leaves off the trees, forcing him to take shelter inside.

Removing his hood, he gave a quick shake to dry himself. He hung his backpack on one of the hooks by the door, took off his sweater and hung it on the next hook. He sat down to untie the laces of his damp sneakers, take them off, and put them in the shoe tray. The last thing Joshua wanted to do was to track wet footprints across his dad's clean floors. It had always been something his father had obsessed over and, even though the rest of the house lay in disarray, since the accident he had become even more fixated on having spotless floors.

"I'm home," he called to a house that felt empty. It was in moments like this, when she should have been there, that he missed his mother the most. She had always greeted him at the door with a warm smile and a hug. Then he would settle on the couch with a snack to watch afternoon cartoons.

Despite no one answering him, Joshua knew he was not alone. He entered the kitchen. His father sat at the dining table with shoulders slumped in dejection, arms resting on his knees, eyes never leaving the floor. Too wasted to greet his own son. In his hands was a small brown paper bag, which Joshua assumed held a bottle. The smell of alcohol permeated the room. Joshua knew his father had been drinking all day. His brown hair was disheveled, but at least he had managed to trade his boxers for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. Grief had transformed the father Joshua had once aspired to be into a drunken shell of a man.

Even though his father had been the one behind the wheel during the accident, he openly blamed Joshua for what had happened. Joshua knew there was some truth behind the criticism, though. It had been an argument between Joshua and his brother that had distracted their dad and caused him take his eyes off the road to yell at them.

His father's shoulders lifted with his breath, but he remained hunched over, as he began his usual intoxicated tirade. It was always about the same things, and Joshua had learned to tune him out. He had heard dozens of times how he shouldn't have fought with his brother. How it was somehow his fault that his father had taken his eyes off the road and run a red light.

Joshua wanted nothing more than to ignore his father's rant, but he knew better. The last time he had walked away, he had been tracked down and beaten. It was the first time his father's anger had turned physical. Joshua had to conceal his bruises for a week, and tell people that his black-eye had been caused by a baseball. His father didn't seem to care if he was listening or not, only that he was there in the room. So there he stood, hands in his pockets as he passively took the verbal abuse.

Wanting to escape the moment, Joshua drifted his gaze around the room that had once been a place of light and laughter, but now sat dim and silent. The blinds were drawn and what light there was spilled in from surrounding rooms. The walls, which should have been colored a powered blue, reflected a dingy gray. Pictures of him and his brother, artwork they had brought home, and all traces of his once happy life had been removed from the refrigerator. Even the family collection of magnets had been thrown out. A cherry red KitchenAid, which had been a Christmas present three years ago, and his mother's favorite appliance, collected dust from its place on the counter.

His eyes stopped at the stove. It was brand new and had been his dad's birthday present to his mom. Joshua could still remember concocting a plan to get his mother out of the house long enough to have it delivered and installed so that it would be a surprise when she returned. She had been so happy that she'd cried, and the rest of her day had been spent baking up a storm.

Joshua pictured his mom as she bustled around the spotless kitchen. Caught up in a baking frenzy, her auburn hair was pulled back in a messy bun, cheeks flushed from a day spent in front of the stove. He could still smell the sweet aroma of freshly baked cookies that wafted through the air with every batch she pulled out of the oven. This was where she had felt most at home, and why the PTA had loved her donations to bake sales.

While Joshua had always appreciated the final product of his mother's cooking, his brother had enjoyed the process. Noah was their mother's little helper, and Joshua could picture him at the counter, helping to mix the batter. He never liked the cookies his brother helped make, at least not at first. It was Joshua's strong opinion that cookies shouldn't crunch, and Noah was just too inexperienced at cracking eggs. Try as they might, they had never successfully retrieved all the broken shells from the dough.

Joshua drifted out of his daydream, only to realize that his father was still rambling. His right leg bounced erratically as he fidgeted with the bag in his hands. His father muttered on and on about how he blamed Joshua for the accident and how he was a horrible son and brother. He particularly enjoyed rubbing salt into the wound that Joshua would no longer be able to claim the title of "brother."

Joshua could hear his father's voice but, refusing to listen to his words, his mind wandered back into the past. He saw his brother again, standing on a wooden step stool, arms still too short to reach very far. It had always struck him how different he and Noah had looked. Noah clearly took his appearance from their mother, the brown shade of their hair and eyes matched exactly. Their father had blue eyes, but they were far darker than the striking shade of turquoise in Joshua's eyes. And while he wasn't as tow-headed as he'd been when he was younger, Joshua's blonde hair still stood out whenever their family had been together.

Joshua once again allowed his mind to return to the present. The scene in the kitchen now was not one of love and laughter, as in his memories, but one of sorrow. Mac and cheese crusted onto the various surfaces of a month's worth of dirty dishes that had piled up in the sink. The fridge wasn't much tidier, even though there was hardly anything inside. The milk had expired a month ago, the bag of lettuce had turned slimy in the crisper, and Joshua felt certain that he had seen something furry move where there had once been a block of cheese. He had contemplated collecting mold samples to be part of his science experiment, but wasn't brave enough to take a closer look.

Feeling as though his father was coming to the end of his tirade and that it might be safe to leave, Joshua slowly turned back toward the hallway. A glint between his father's hands caught his eye.

He froze.

Horror washed over him. Was he seeing right? He tried to step away, but his feet were glued to the floor. He watched as the man who had raised him, and was suppose to protect him, slowly pulled a gun from inside the paper bag.

A million questions raced through Joshua's mind.

When had his dad bought a gun?

Was it meant just for him, or was he about to shoot his son?

What was he thinking?

How had his life come to this?

Why did things have to go so wrong?

Why?

Now Joshua wished he had payed closer attention to what his dad had been saying. Perhaps it would've given some insight as to what was going on.

When his father made eye contact with him, Joshua knew the answer to one of his questions.

His dad was about to shoot him.

No!

His mind screamed for him to run, but his body refused to listen. Tears formed in his eyes as they grew wider and his lip trembled as he anticipated what might happen next. Adrenaline coursed through his veins. His heart pounded rapidly, as if it knew it only had seconds left. Time became immeasurable.

Joshua could barely see through his tears as his father took aim.

"Dad?" was all Joshua could say as he sobbed. The "why" remained caught in his throat.

"At least now, we'll all be together again," came the slurred words of a man full of alcohol and despair.

Joshua's mind raced as his father tried to steady the gun.

He wanted his mom. He wanted his old life back. He wanted to be anywhere but here.

Not wanting to watch, Joshua squeezed his eyes shut. Tears streamed down his face.

A shot fired.

Joshua winced, but the bullet missed its mark.

The rain thundered louder on the roof. With his eyes still shut, Joshua tried to run away, but all he managed was a small step to the right.

It wasn't enough.

He didn't even hear the gun. Pain shot into his chest and spread through his body as he stumbled back and crumpled to the ground. He landed on his back with his arms outstretched at his sides. His knees fell to the right as his body convulsed. His mouth opened to scream, but the sound remained trapped. It felt like a hot skewer had pierced his heart. The heat radiated out of his chest as blood pooled beneath him.

The smell of gunpowder mixed with the alcohol to create an even more nauseating stench. His vision blurred and his ears rang. Every labored breath felt like shards of glass piercing his lungs, as his chest grew tighter.

He was going to die here.

Looking up, Joshua could barely make out the hazy outline of his father.

"I'm so sorry." The apology was choked by sobs, and they were the last words he heard from his father before he turned the gun on himself, taking aim at his head.

A violent burst of red was the only thing Joshua saw.

The ringing in his ears grew louder with the final shot, further deadening his other senses. The floorboards shook as the gun landed with a thud.

Joshua closed his eyes as he felt his life drain out of his body. His heart began to slow down. He drew ragged breaths as darkness enveloped him. His emotions a confusing mix of fear and tranquility.

He wasn't afraid to die, was he?

He had never wanted to die before, but at least in death he would be able to escape the hell his life had become.

Joshua exhaled a final breath.

See you soon, Noah…


Okay, this is not meant as a spoiler, but Joshua does survive. This is a backstory I wrote, in my creative writing class last year, for one of my characters in my story Lost Afternoon. If you've read it, it should be really obvious who. He has always been a character of interest to me. From the moment I settled on his name, this entire backstory fell into place. And I was just left there in the wake of it all, wondering what had just happened and how I had had virtually no control over it. But it's his past, and how he became stronger because of it, that makes him my favorite (yes, even over Marcus). I hope this little glimpse into his past helps endear him to y'all as well. Perhaps someday I'll write the part of him in foster care, and the events that lead up to his adoption, but I have my main story to worry about for now. But if you want a little more, go read What's in a Name. And if you haven't read Lost Afternoon yet, go check it out. I promise to update it soon. Thank you for reading! I'd greatly appreciate if you'd leave a quick review as well ^_^