He was born Francis Moore, no middle name. His birth parents were short like that; short on names, short on attention, and short on love. He wondered sometimes if he should’ve changed his last name to the name of the people who raised him and taught him what it meant to be a man, but ultimately he couldn’t do it. He wanted… no, needed , to stay connected to that name. It was one of the few ties to his old family that he had left, and while he hated his parents and everything they’d done, he couldn’t let go of the last connection he had to his brother.
Where Francis was tall and broad, his little brother was short and slender. Francis’ skin was darker and rougher than his brother’s light complexion, and a pair of foster parents once described them as toast and peaches ‘n cream, before laughing in a cruel way. The brothers didn’t stay at that home very long.
His entire life, Francis struggled to flatten his dark curly hair to his head, but after football practice in high school, when his helmet came off, it was as messy and wild as it was after a night of restless sleep; a black crown floating around a frantic mind, dark eyes crystalline and wild. Francis appreciated his brother’s lighter, smoother locks and gentler features the most on nights like those. Small touches and gentle hugs, a hand rubbing against a back to soothe, and Francis could sleep again. In all the world, the two boys only had each other.
Francis took to football easily, with his broad shoulders, wide hands, and easy smile. No matter what home he and his brother ended up in, Francis would find a place on the team. He could always make friends this way. His deep need to belong made him an ideal fit for the high school sports culture. Francis tried so many times to get his brother involved in school activities, but he would always say, Frankie, stop trying so hard , and go back to whatever project he was working on, usually something engineering related.
Alex , he thought to himself, in the darkness of night when the Georgian stars twinkled, their song reminding him of a home and a brother he’d promised himself he’d never forget. The remnant of a family that he’d never let go of. It was on nights like those that he would roll over and hold his wife close. He would think of their children, and their happy, quiet life together, and usually he’d be able to fall back asleep after a long while.
It didn’t used to be simple, pushing his brother to the back of his mind and living his life, things became easier. Wounds of the heart didn’t heal so easily; sometimes they stitch themselves together with too much protein, scar tissue lumping and shining, an embarrassment and an eye sore and something to hide, a constant reminder of a mistake made, the imperfection and endurance of the body.
Francis excelled in medical school. He didn’t have a stomach for surgery, so he stuck to family practice. Do no harm , he swore. And yet, one of the most interesting facts he’d learned was that when the body doesn’t get what it needs, when vitamin C isn’t abundant enough, collagen is made poorly, and thus unstable. Capillaries burst, wounds remain open, and since the body constantly replaces the collagen in scar tissue, old scars can reopen.
He wanted his scars to stay closed, so he fed his wounds with any love he could find: love from his adopted parents, his wife and children, his church, and the patients at his medical practice. He would even go out of his way to help strangers. What is an older brother without a younger brother? A people-pleaser, and a man desperate for kindness from anyone who will give it.
Can I help you with your groceries, Sam?
Do you need help crossing the street, Mrs. Winshire?
Your cat ran up that tree, Susie? I’ll get it for you.
As a child, he’d been the peacekeeper between his parents and his brother, comforting and placating and doing everything he could to minimize the abuse. He would even take the blame for things Alex did. As much as he craved loved from June and Geoff Moore, he needed to protect Alex especially, and so he bowed and caved and begged and apologized to protect him.
And when he didn’t have to do that anymore, when the state pulled them out of that home because their parents hit them and oh, yeah, they were also making and dealing meth, because of course they were, and they went into the system, Francis didn’t stop protecting him.
And when the courts were involved again when he was sixteen, Francis was relieved. He had done everything he possibly could for Alex, to protect him and save him and love him, and to be the best big brother possible, and he’d failed. He wanted to be punished, and he offered himself up as a sacrificial lamb. He could finally suffer the way he had always needed to, and Alex could finally have a good life. It was all worth it. Francis would do anything for his brother.
And then Alex died.