Bruce doesn’t laugh much anymore. Nor does Guardian.
Not since the incident with his mother.
They both weren’t strong enough even though they promised to be for each other. Bruce had his vocal cords pinched, terrified of the man towering over him. No not a man the monster with wild eyes gripping his shoulders tightly. Guardian couldn’t come to the edge as much anymore. Bruce was pushing him back he had to. He had to protect both of them so why did it feel so horrible after he kept his words from reaching the adults.
He couldn’t speak not with those eyes on him. Not with the face of the man who killed his mother. It would be so simple just to let out the words. Just a few words, just a few to say his father killed his mother. It wasn’t an accident! But he had squirmed in the too hard chair and let the adults talk above him instead of to him.
In the end his father hung himself. Drunk in a bar relaying the gory details to anyone within ear shot. He was proud. He was happy smiling over killing the one thing that brought happiness.
She wouldn’t be able to smile. He’s scared. No, he’s terrified, and he pushes Guardian back. He can’t scare Guardian he had to be brave. That’s what the woman in the dress told him. Be brave.
He exits the car and the first thing he sees is a woman. His aunt that looks nothing like his mother. Maybe if he squints, he can pretend? The hair color is wrong, her hands are too rough and calloused, her voice is wrong and the eyes…no they’re the wrong shade but the way her lips move soft yet harsh all at once. It’s his mother’s forced smile. He recognizes it. The smile mother gave his father when he was home. The smile she gave when he beat her or tried to hurt him. It’s forced, it’s not the real one.
He watches above as his aunt speaks pleasantries over his head towards the woman that brought him to his new home. He doesn’t want to be here. If this woman, his aunt is smiling like his mother then he must be his father or like him. He must look like his father why else would his aunt smile appear so brittle and broken with him.
He watches as she calls his name holding out her arms wanting to hug him, but that smile is still on her face. It’s fake. It’s not real. Guardian’s rumbles feel distant, but Bruce can feel it. Guardian for lack of a better word is on guard. Guardian does not like this woman.
Bruce looks into his aunt’s eyes before playing the part and hugging her. She doesn’t even smell like his mother. She smells weak, old, and like stale bread. Not a pleasant smell at all but he hugs her pretending. It’s what she wants right?
Months go on and Bruce knew it. They both knew it when his aunt gave the brittle smile when they first met. His aunt hates him. She despises him and lets it be known. It’s never direct. Not as direct as when his father would beat and insult him within one punch. No it’s simple, indirect and starts slowly.
“Oh, I suppose your mother never taught you how to clean your room? Hmm was too busy burdened with that task of caring for you?”
“Oh, Bruce you sure are growing quite tall. Perhaps you’ll be as tall as your father one day?”
“Bruce, I don’t know how you can stand to look in the mirror seems like you are becoming more and more like your father. You poor dear you might have nothing of your mother left one day.”
Her statements always ends in a question. She makes him question himself constantly. He doesn’t like this place, but he has no where else to go. No one wants him and his aunt just tolerates him.
Jennifer is nice. He likes to play with Jennifer when he can. She’s younger than him but she’s very smart and likes science as much as he does. He likes teaching her or well the experiments are fun with her. It’s like having a friend. It doesn’t last long though.
It’s late at night when his aunt calls him from his bed. Her daughter is already fast asleep and there should be nothing to do so late at night. He feels Guardian swirl on the edge of the plain looking from the back. He feels the warmth spreading and sighs as he approaches his aunt. She is sitting on the couch and pats the seat next to her.
Bruce hesitates and takes a seat making the couch creak. “Oh, dear Bruce,” she starts with false sincerity as she pinches his cheeks. “You seem to be putting on weight and so quickly. Hmm that must be from your father’s side. Your mother never had such an issue. Oh, what will I do? You know having to buy clothes so frequently is a bother, but I suppose I must care for my sister’s child after all,” she smiles patting his head.
Bruce looks down at his bare feet and shurgs. It’s a statement she’s made before and he doesn’t want to be a burden. Still it’s the next phrase that has him worried. “Bruce you should spend time with people more your age don’t you think? You don’t want to be considered a baby when you start school do you?”
“What…what do you mean,” he asks confused.
“Well dear since you aren’t that smart that’s why I decided to tell you. Jennifer is younger than you. She’s been you’re only friend over these last few months and you haven’t made any real friends yet have you?” She asks as he looks down at his hands. “See I thought so. I think when you start school you should make real friends with your classmates. You’ll just be holding Jennifer from growing up with her own friends. You don’t want to make Jennifer have no friends at all do you? That’s very selfish Bruce.”
“N-no…I’ll make friends at school Aunt Elaine. I promise,” he says watching her eyes shift.
“Oh, such a good boy Bruce. Jennifer will thank you. She might not show it, but this is all for the best. Now perhaps you shouldn’t talk to her for some time. She might cry but it’s better than having you drag her down right Bruce,” she smiles.
“Yes, Aunt Elaine,” he says keeping his head down as he returns to his room. Guardian pushes against Bruce and whines. They’re not bad, not like father not at all. Guardian pushes but Bruce doesn’t acknowledge them. He gets tired of Guardian’s persistence and pushes them back angry.
“No,” he says to himself. “No…we can’t. I’m sorry.”