Billy stood over his sister’s crib where the infant lay crying in wet, choked sobs, the ugly red bruises on her face and arms darkening before his very eyes. He slowly reached down and wiped the tears glistening on the baby’s swollen face with the tip of his finger.
“Billy!” His mother grabbed the boy by the arms and whirled him around, sending him stumbling into the dresser on the other side of the room. Billy fell to his hands and knees, stunned, as he noticed his little brother, John, watching from the corner, wide-eyed and silent.
His mother stared down at the baby in horror as the full import of what she was seeing dawned on her. “Not again, Billy…,” she cried. “Not again!” Angry, sorrowful tears stung her eyes as she gently bundled the little girl into her arms. “Billy,” she said, careful to keep her voice even, “this was your last chance. It’s over, Billy. This is going to end now.”
As a trembling, speechless Billy and his mother left the room, John stepped out from the shadows and peered around the doorjamb into the hall.
“Billy…,” John whispered as his mother and brother disappeared down the stairs.
That night, John lay in bed listening to his parents’ whispers that floated down the hall from the baby’s room. He closed his eyes and pulled the blanket up to his chin.
“Hey there, kiddo.” John’s father entered the room and sat down slowly on the edge of the bed. “How’re you doing?”
The boy shrugged from beneath the covers.
His father sighed. “I know you were a little scared by what you saw today, son. But you remember what Mom told you earlier, right? Billy’s just not feeling well. He needed to go away for a while to get better.” He patted John lightly on the shoulder. “But it’s only for a few years. He’ll be back before you know it.”
After his father left the room, John lay for a while staring at the ceiling. The corner of his mouth trembled. Only for a few years. That was a very long time. But the important thing was that Billy would be coming back.
The tremble subsided as John’s lips curled up in a smile. He settled himself deeper into the pillow and sighed contentedly.
Billy would be coming back. John could play with the baby again when his brother returned.