He was five, standing in a scratchy suit next to his grandmother, who had a hanky in one hand and was squeezing his hand tightly with the other. Brian watched his mother cry. She stood in the front of the church. His dad lay asleep in a box. Brian remembered asking about his father from time to time. Eventually, the vague answers must have satisfied his curiosity; he got used to it being just Grandma and Mom in the house.

One night, saying his prayers, he asked Grandma Neunbaum why he said, “Our Father,” when he should be saying, “My Father?”

“What do you mean, Brian?” his grandmother asked.

“Well, it’s my father that lives in Heaven, Art.” His grandmother was confused for a moment and then realized what it was Brian was saying.

“Brian, I know your Dad’s name was Art, but that is not what you are praying about. The Lord’s Prayer is for everyone to pray. So we say our Father, meaning everyone in the world, God is their father, which art in Heaven, meaning God is in Heaven.” Brian was confused. All these years he thought he was praying to his father Arthur Neunbaum in Heaven, he was praying to God; he felt a little sad now that he realized he wasn’t saying hello to his father.

Years later, Grandma Neunbaum died when Brian was eleven. This time, he understood death so much more than before. A few months after his grandma died, Brian’s mom brought home Richard. Richard tried to look like he was nice whenever his mother was around, but right away, he made it known that Brian was a bother.

“Why not go outside and play, give your mother and me some quiet time,” Richard told him. Brian did not like Richard, but his mother looked happy, so he didn’t tell her that Richard wasn’t the nice guy he pretended to be. They got married, and Richard moved into their house. Brian was glad to see the smiles on his mother’s face. Richard did make her laugh, and when they were all together, he made things fun for them. It was when his mom walked out of the room that Richard said mean things.

“Little pitchers have big ears,” Richard hissed.

“What?” Brian asked.

“Don’t tell your mother things I say when she’s not around, and don’t add to my conversations. I will tell a story the way I want, and I don’t need a wet-behind-the-ears boy to tell me or my wife anything.”

“She’s my mother, and I will tell her anything.” Richard stood up quickly, grabbing Brian’s ear and putting him in a headlock. Brian cried out. His mother came into the kitchen.

“What is going on?” she looked concerned.

“The boy and I are having some fun is all.” Richard let go of Brian quickly and rubbed his back. “Isn’t that right, Brian?” Richard’s eyes said it all.

“Yes, we were just roughhousing.” Brian sat down, finishing his breakfast red-faced. His mother looked at them both. She wasn’t convinced they were telling her the truth, but didn’t ask any more. After the near-catch, Richard laid off of Brian for a while. A truce settled over the house for weeks.

Richard realized how close he’d come to blowing his cover. He just didn’t talk to Brian unless his mother was around, and then he would ask innocuous things like, “How is school?” to which Brian politely responded. He had hoped that Richard would be civil from now on. They only had to make it seven years and he’d be off to college, or would leave as soon as the law permitted.

Richard was evil; his mother did not see this. But where his mother was concerned, Richard seemed to have a soft spot for her, It was like he truly cared about her. Brian remained watchful and hopeful and did whatever he could to stay out of Richard’s way. For a while, it worked.

“Brian!” The sound of Richard’s voice could make Brian’s blood run cold. The guy was relentless. They had been painting the house before the winter set in. It was a big house, two stories. Brian did not like heights; Richard liked them even less. When Brian painted as high as he could get all the way around the house. Richard called him over.

“Get up the ladder and start painting under the eaves.” Richard flagged his hand up the ladder. Brian did not want to go. He was scared.

“Richard, I can’t. I am afraid. You can beat me, you can do whatever you want, but I just can’t do it.” Richard grabbed him by the collar of his coat.

“You get your butt up this ladder and start painting, or I will use you to paint the house. You got that?” Brian was more afraid of what Richard would do to him at the moment, so he started slowly up the ladder, rung by rung. He could feel his legs shaking, his heart pounding. He couldn’t catch his breath. Richard was handing up a bucket of paint. Brian couldn’t let go of the ladder. He was petrified. He put his head down and closed his eyes.

“Take the bucket.”

“I can’t, I’m afraid,” Brian cried out. He sobbed remembering that was how his father died: breaking his neck, falling off a building he was putting a roof on. It all made sense why he never climbed a tree or went up a flight of steps that was open to the outside. Richard jiggled the ladder. It made Brian hang on tighter. Richard swore, knowing that Brian was not going to change his mind. He walked to the side of the ladder and gave it a heave. The ladder scraped along the eave of the house and toppled over with Brian screaming. When the ladder landed on the ground, Brian discovered his arm was broken. Richard told him to get up and get in the car; they were going to the hospital.

Richard did take him to the hospital and played the concerned stepfather. Since he had the insurance on Brian, they allowed him to hang around until he was in a cast. Whenever they asked questions, it was Richard who answered them. He called Brian’s mother at work, telling her to stay because he had it under control. Brian would be out of here in half-an-hour, so it didn’t pay for her to leave.

It seemed Richard felt bad after the arm-breaking incident. He took Brian to all the follow-up appointments. Brian suspected Richard went along so Brian couldn’t tell anyone the true reason the ladder fell over. But he knew that Richard would never be able to make him climb a ladder again. Otherwise, he’d tell his mother what really happened that day. For the first time since Richard’s appearance in their lives, Brian felt like he was getting the upper hand on the creep. As long as Richard wanted to live with his mother, Brian was safe.

A few years later, Brian was much older and had grown considerably. He was now five foot ten and weighed about 165 pounds. He was very athletic. He was on the track team and regularly participated in half-marathon races. His mother went to all the track events; Richard pretended he was just too busy. He couldn’t get out of work, but it was funny how on poker nights, he could. He would get together with his friends at the designated house and they would smoke cigars, drink whiskey, and play seven card stud. Richard’s friends weren’t any nicer than Richard was. Brian was sure those that were married were real happy when it wasn’t their night to host the poker game. They were raunchy and smelly. His mother went out to a movie with her friends; Brian had a track meet and was just dropped off at his house. He walked into the poker players. A few of them were nice enough.

“Hey, Brian, how’d you do?” they’d ask. Brian gave them his best time. They didn’t care, nor did they listen to him. He took the steps two at a time and bounded up to his room, noticing that Richard didn’t even acknowledge him. He wondered if the friends noticed what an ass Richard was. The poker people got pretty rowdy, and by the time his mother made it back from the movies, the guys were leaving and Richard was pretty drunk.

“You were out pretty late.” It sounded mean. His mother didn’t respond. Brian could feel there was tension between them in the silence.

“Richard, I am tired, and I have to clean up the mess you left. I don’t want Brian seeing all of the empty beer bottles and liquor bottles.” Then she shouted, “Ouch!” Brian could hear mumbling and he debated whether or not he should come down to help his mother. Would it make things worse? Or would Richard just go to bed, sober up, and tomorrow, things would be back to normal? He cocked his bedroom door open.

“It’s always about him, isn’t it? Your precious little boy. Well, he ain’t a little boy anymore. A year from now, he’ll be off to college and you won’t have him for an excuse anymore.” His mother mumbled something. He could hear she was throwing beer bottles in the garbage as she walked around the dining room table.

“Go to bed, Richard. You are tired, and so am I.” Brian closed the door when he heard Richard’s footsteps on the stairs. He locked his door. Richard stopped in front of Brian’s room, turning the handle on Brian’s door, but found it locked. Brian had his foot up against the bottom of the door in case Richard decided to kick it in.

“You hear me, you little pissant. Your days of being mama’s little boy are over. She won’t be able to protect you from the bogeyman no more. And you know: I’m the bogeyman!” Richard bounced off the hallway walls on the way to the bedroom. Brian’s heart raced. From now on, he would make sure the door was locked every night. Richard was losing what marbles he had to drinking.

Brian woke fully clothed. He heard his mother come upstairs, and he heard the bedroom door close, but it wasn’t the bedroom she shared with Richard; it was the guest room.

Brian was quiet on the way to school. His mother pulled in front of the building.

“I’m sorry about last night.” Brian said nothing. He could see his mother was embarrassed. “He had too much to drink last night.” Brian couldn’t take it any longer.

“Mom, the guy is off. There is a screw loose in him. Even I know that. He is going to hurt someone.”

“Don’t talk about your father that way,” she retorted.

“He’s not my father!” he shouted back at her.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that, Brian. I meant he helps pay the bills, he’s made it possible for you to go to college, I have saved up money because he supports us.” Brian sighed and got out of the car.

“Brian, I love you,” she called out of the passenger window as she dropped him in the parking lot. He nodded his head yes as he turned to walk to the building.

Richard didn’t stop drinking; in fact, he didn’t sober up very often. Brian and his mom wondered how he still had a job to go to.

The pay checks stopped coming into the bank account. That was his mother’s first indication that Richard didn’t have a job anymore. She mentioned that there was no money in the bank and the light bill was due. Richard stood up and struck his wife on the cheek. Brian stood up and walked between them.

“Don’t you touch her, Richard,” he shouted. Richard couldn’t believe the punk said that to him. He stood taller; all of a sudden, the kid was the same height and almost the same weight.

“You don’t tell me what to do in my house.”

“It’s my mother’s house. You just happen to live here, and now that you aren’t contributing to the household, you probably shouldn’t live here anymore.”

Richard’s eyes glazed over; he put his hands up and around Brian’s throat. Brian kneed him in the groin and he ran out the door, standing at the end of the driveway and panting.

“You piece of crap, come here, I’ll show you. You can’t disobey your elders that way.” Richard came rumbling down the driveway. Brian kicked into marathon pace, keeping ahead of Richard, just barely. He didn’t want the guy to give up. He was playing a cat and mouse game. Brian was the mouse, an extremely intelligent mouse.

Richard spurred on, being so close. The kid, for a track jock, had nothing in him. He wasn’t even all out and here he was, keeping up with the kid. Richard was making up the distance. It excited him. They were out of sight of the house. He could pound the piss out of this kid. So sick of his air of superiority. Now he was getting too big for his britches. The boy was forgetting who put food on his table. Well, not the last two weeks, but for the last five and a half years. He’d make it so the kid would never step over the line again. He was losing ground. Richard picked up the pace. He could feel his heart pounding and the blood rushing in his ears. He hadn’t run in a long time. Now, adrenaline was the only thing keeping him going. That and the nearness of the kid, who was just out of his grasp. Brian kept looking back at Richard, seeing he was there and would kick his running into a higher gear.

Richard wondered how many more gears the kid had. His breath was coming in ragged gasps. Brian was there, within his grasp. Richard kicked it into the next gear; he could feel the kid’s coat between his fingers. He was so pissed off now, he didn’t know how he would stop himself from killing the kid, making him run this hard and this long. Brian found another gear and got out of Richard’s grasp. Richard swore and then his ACL tore, and down he went, crashing to the sidewalk, screaming in pain. His knee was drawn up to his chest. It was an agonising scream. Brian stopped and turned around, adrenaline pumping into his body. He watched Richard writhing on the ground. He walked back to the man.

“Call someone, I blew my knee out,” Richard shouted at him. Brian looked at Richard with indifference. Richard not only blew out his ACL, he might have blown out his heart. In a second, he was clutching his heart and gasping for breath. He was having the big one. “Call an ambulance, dammit, Brian.” Brian couldn’t be that mean. He pulled out the cell phone and dialled 911. He looked at the street sign and told them where they were. He sat just out of reach while Richard moaned and groaned, rolling on the sidewalk.

“How long since you called? What’s taking them so long?” Brian shrugged his shoulders. He pretended to call again, repeating the address correctly, but he only pretended. Brian didn’t want the ambulance to make it there in time. It had been 15 minutes since the first call. They probably could have been there right away, but he’d given them the wrong address. They’d be on the right street, only on the south side, not the north side. He pictured himself with the EMTs saying he thought for sure he said north. He stood there just out of reach of Richard, who clutched his chest and his knee. He was in a great deal of pain.

“Richard, they should be here soon.” He could see Richard wasn’t going to make it. He called 911 again, this time for real. “I called about 15 minutes ago. My father is having a heart attack on North Vine and 15th Street. He doesn’t look good. Are you almost here? I don’t know what to do.” He suddenly became the 16-year-old that he was. Sobbing.

“Sir, the ambulance is on South Vine Street, they will be there momentarily. Do you know how to do CPR?” Brian cried harder.

“No, I don’t. Please get here.” He put the phone on the sidewalk and knelt down near Richard, who couldn’t be alive. He folded his hands in prayer.

“Our Father, which Art in Heaven,” Brian prayed out loud for his father and his mother. The 911 operator could hear the kid praying, praying for his father. She could hardly bear it. Her heart was breaking. She could hear the ambulance in the background and hoped it wouldn’t be too late for the boy and his father. If he’d only given the right directions in the first place. But that happened sometimes. Panic takes over and the person just can’t deal with the pressure.

The ambulance arrived on the scene. She could hear the EMTs working on that poor boy’s father and the kid still praying in the background. The EMTs looked at one another with knowing looks. This guy was a goner, but they went through the motions for the boy because they didn’t want to see him lose his father.