by the edge of the river
 

Chapter 10: You're There at Home

October 23, 1957

Ever since the beginning of his junior year of high school when Loyola Kevins walked into his history class and muttered a shy 'hello' in a Southern accent, Brian had been smitten. He wasn't sure what it was that drew him to her, but he'd quickly discovered the shyness was just nerves at being in a new school. She'd proven to be intelligent and thoughtful as well as outspoken, often giving her opinions of the chapters and essays they read in class even if her opinion contradicted that of the teacher.

But it wasn't until later, not until May of their junior year, that he'd asked her if they could study for the final exam together. To his surprise, she'd not only agreed, she'd invited him over to her place.

Loyola nodded. "I don't have a car, so it'd be easier if you could stop by, if that's all right with you?"

"Yeah, yes, sure." Brian tried not to smack himself. He didn't know why he got so tongue-tied around her. But all year long he'd stared at her and had wanted to talk to her, and he wasn't about to let the school year end without at least trying to get to know her better.

"Okay." She gave him one of her dazzling smiles as she handed him a piece of paper.

He took the note and stared at the address written on it.

"What time will you be there?" she asked, pushing her glasses up on her nose ever so slightly.

"Uh, I can be there. I mean, yes." She stared at him, waiting for a more precise answer. He cleared his throat and tried again. "I'll be at nine there. Nine in the morning."

"Well, I wouldn't expect you to show up at nine o'clock at night." She grinned easily. "Nine's fine." Then she giggled.

"Nine's fine." Brian repeated, liking the rhyme.

 

At precisely 8:27 the following morning, he got in his car and drove to the address she had provided, which was near the school. He'd been ready to leave for over twenty minutes and couldn't wait any longer. He arrived early—too early. Would she let him in if he knocked on her door before nine? Would she still be eating breakfast? He debated going back home and coming back again, but that might take too much time. He sighed as he switched off the ignition.

After sitting in the car for a few minutes, Brian slowly gathered all his books and notes, looking them over to make sure he had everything. He did, of course. Another glance at his watch revealed that it was 8:48. He leaned back against the driver's seat and tried to figure out which apartment in the complex was hers.

Someone opened a curtain and stared out of their window. He sighed again. He didn't want to look like he was stalking someone or on a stake out of some sort, so he left the car and walked slowly up to the nearest door, searching for the apartment number. Hers was the second apartment in the row of houses. Blue and purple delphinium decorated the walkway, and tall, vibrant stalks of pink hollyhocks grew along the building's walls.

He walked up to the door and knocked. An older man opened the door and looked him up and down, frowning at him. "What can I do for you, son?"

"I'm here, uh, to study, uh, with Loyola, sir, uh—" Brian tried to explain his presence.

Loyola stepped up beside him. "Papa, I told you Brian was coming over this morning. Papa, this is Brian. Brian, this is my grandfather, but I call him 'Papa'."

"H-how do you do, P-Mr.-uh-Mr. Kevins, sir?"

"I'm doing fine, son. Just fine. Fit as a fiddle, strong as an ox." The older man's brown eyes narrowed, almost threateningly.

"I, uh, that's good." Brian wasn't sure quite how to respond.

"Papa, aren't you going to let him in? I told him we could study here." Loyola tugged gently at her grandfather's sleeve until he turned to face her. "Unless you'd rather we go to his house or—"

"Here will do." He opened the door wider and grudgingly stood aside.

"I thought we could work in the kitchen." She led Brian down the hall into a cheery kitchen. A few blue and white patterned dishes were stacked in the rack by the sink. Loyola grabbed a towel and started drying one of the plates. "We just finished breakfast, and I have to put away these dishes real fast. It won't take but a minute."

"I'll help," Brian offered. He looked around for another towel.

"That's okay. You don't have to." She had already reached for the next plate. "It's just me and Papa, so there's not that much to do."

"Oh, well, okay." He really wished he could help, but maybe it was better if he just stayed out of the way. As nervous as he was, he'd probably drop a plate or cup.

Mr. Kevins had followed them into the room and sat down at the kitchen table, watching them. "I won't be in your way, will I?" he asked. Again, he had a slightly threatening tone to his voice.

"N-no, of course not." Brian forced a smile onto his face. "We're just going to be going over our history notes."

Mr. Kevins continued to glare at him.

"Dates and events and whatever possible questions we think Mr. Mitchell might ask us," Brian added.

Loyola started putting the dry dishes into a cupboard. "Mr. Mitchell said there will be four main parts to the final exam. There are going to be multiple choice and true-false questions, but we also need to write a brief essay on a historical event. Only, we can't write it ahead of time because we don't know exactly what topic he's chosen for the essay."

"And the fourth part?" Mr. Kevins asked, never taking his eyes off of Brian.

"The fourth is for extra credit. Our teacher said something about a newspaper article," Loyola answered.

Mr. Kevins was still staring at him, so Brian thought he ought to say something as well. "We're not sure what the newspaper article will be, but I'm sure it will be a current event news story and we'll have to write some kind of summary about it and how it affects us."

Loyola shut the silverware drawer where she had just placed a couple of spoons. "Papa, wouldn't you be more comfortable in your recliner, finishing that novel you could hardly put down last night?"

Mr. Kevins finally stopped staring at Brian, turned to his granddaughter, and actually winked. "I get the hint, sugar. I know you're trying to get rid of me." He stood up and stepped over to Loyola, taking the coffee mug that she had been about to put away. "Let me get a refill on my coffee and I'll get out of your hair. But I'll be nearby if you need me."

Loyola turned around and pulled a kettle off the stove. "I'll need to make some fresh for us. Brian, would you like some, too?"

"Yeah, sure. Yes." What was he saying? He didn't drink coffee. "I, uh—"

"It's no trouble," Loyola added as she poured water into the kettle and then lit the stove. "It won't take but a few minutes for the water to boil." He watched as she spooned fresh ground coffee into a metal basket and then placed it on an old-fashioned coffee brewer. "Go on, Papa. I'll bring it to you when it's ready."

Her grandfather left the room and Brian breathed a tiny bit easier.

 

Brian breathed in and out, but something was wrong. It hurt. Breathing shouldn't be so painful. Then the kettle on the stove started making a tapping noise instead of whistling. He tried to focus on the kettle, to understand why it was making such an odd noise, but his legs felt heavy and he couldn't move closer to it.

His eyes blinked open slowly. It took a few seconds before he realized he had just been dreaming about that day. He glanced around, trying to place where he was. The lights were dim and he could hear hushed voices coming from somewhere close. There was a faint click-clacky noise—the noise of the kettle—but it was a person walking across the floor, their heels making the sound he'd heard in his dream. He listened for a minute before the sound faded. It wasn't long before his eyes closed and he drifted back to sleep.

Instead of returning to Loyola's warm, comforting kitchen, he heard angry voices shouting out insults. "Niggerlover!" A fist hit him from out of nowhere. "Chocolate dipper!" He tried to move out of the way. Someone cut him—there was a sharp pain in his hand. He tried to roll over, to protect it from getting hurt. Someone was running toward him—their footsteps pounded in his head. They were going to hit him again. Someone was kicking him.

"No!"

"It's okay," a woman's voice replied calmly. "You'll be just fine."

Brian groaned. There were still faint, hushed noises in the background. He tried to remember, to picture the faces of those boys, but the dream was fading from his mind. It was just a dream, anyway—a nightmare, really. "Where am I? What happened?" he croaked out.

"Well, good morning, Mr. Belden." Another woman had joined the first one. She smiled at him over a clipboard. "Decided you'd wake up finally?"

"What?" He tried to sit up but suddenly felt very weak. Then he looked at his hand, still throbbing slightly, although the pain seemed dull somehow. It was bandaged, and when he tried to flex his fingers, the pain worsened.

He gazed at his surroundings, dim, but with enough light to see that he was in a hospital. The curtain around his bed was partially open and he could see other curtains were drawn and hospital staff walked purposefully from station to station. The first attendant walked off, busy with her own rounds, probably.

His nurse put the chart down and looked him over briefly. "How're you feeling?"

"Not so great. What happened?" he repeated his earlier question.

"Seems you got into a fight with someone after school. You don't remember?" She picked up a thermometer from a carafe on the tray resting on his bedside table.

He shook his head. "I hit Bill in the nose. But that was over a week ago, wasn't it?" He eyed the instrument in her hands. "Please tell me that's oral."

She chuckled softly. "It is. Open wide."

He let her place the thermometer under his tongue and then he suddenly yanked it out as he recalled what fight she was referring to. "Loyola! Is she okay? Where is she?"

The nurse put her hand to his forehead to gauge his temperature, even though Brian knew that couldn't possibly be accurate. "I don't know who you mean. Why don't I come back and take your vitals a little later? I'll wake your parents. They're anxious to see you and they might be able to answer your questions."

Brian nodded, but a cold fear gripped his heart. Why wouldn't the nurse know about Loyola? Had she been so seriously injured she was somewhere else? Had they killed her? No, that just ... it couldn't be that. He tried to reassure himself, tried to stay calm, to stay rational.

His parents entered the room, slowly and quietly at first, but once they saw that he was up and awake, they rushed forward.

"Brian! My baby, you're okay. I was so worried." His mom hugged him almost timidly. That in itself worried Brian. His mom was known for tight, crushing hugs, not tentative, light ones.

"I'm fine, Moms. A little achy, but fine." He looked from her to his dad. "But what about Loyola? Is she okay?" Please tell me she's fine.

His father nodded, a bit hesitantly. "She is. She's perfectly fine. For whatever it's worth, those hoodlums didn't lay a finger on her."

Brian let out a breath of air. "Thank God. I was so scared for her. For her grandfather." He noticed his parents exchange a look. "What is it? What aren't you telling me?"

"Don't worry about it right now." Peter sat at the edge of Brian's cot. "It's nothing serious."

"Then tell me."

Helen shrugged a shoulder. "He was just really upset, and understandably so. It was a frightening situation. I'm sure he'll calm down after a day or two."

Brian's shoulders slumped. "He's forbidding her to see me, isn't he? I guess I can't blame him." There were tears forming in his eyes. He really didn't want to lose her, especially not like this—not because of some moronic, prejudiced imbeciles.

His father gave him a half-smile. "He could still change his mind. Don't give up."

"What happened, Brian?" His mom clutched his hand, the one that wasn't bandaged. "What exactly happened?"

Brian thought for a minute, trying to remember. "I don't really know. We were just walking to the library and then this car stopped in front of us." He shook his head. "Everything after that is kind of a blur. They started hitting me, and I told Loyola to run. I can't remember anything else."

"Who, dear? Who did this?" His mom's voice broke and he could see she was about to cry.

He tried to remember, but his head hurt and he wasn't sure what was real, what he might have dreamt, what he might be confusing with earlier incidents. "I don't know, Moms. Didn't Loyola say?"

His father gazed at him and shook his head solemnly. "She refused, son. She claims she couldn't see them, that she ran off before she could make out their faces."

"Did she really just leave you?" Moms' eyes were wide with disbelief.

"I told her to run. I'm glad she did." But it sounded like his father didn't believe her. Was she scared to name names or had she left when he told her to and really hadn't been able to identify them? Brian closed his eyes, trying to picture her. But once they were closed, he just wanted to rest some more. Then he opened them again. Concussion. I probably have a concussion. I shouldn't sleep. "What time is it?"

"Almost one in the morning," his father replied. "You should try to sleep some more."

"But I must have a concussion, Dad. I have a lot of the symptoms." He frowned. "Isn't it dangerous for me to sleep?"

Helen glanced at Peter again before answering him. "The nurse said you need rest. I'm sure it's fine. But you can ask her yourself. She said she'd be back in a few minutes to check on you."

His father's face looked grave. "You have more than just a concussion, son. You have a couple of bruised ribs. I'm just glad they're not actually broken."

Brian started to protest—his ribs felt all right. He took a deep breath in and out just to test them out. He shouldn't have, but he wanted to reassure his mother. "Maybe they gave me some pain reducers. I'm not hurting much at all," he lied.

"I'm glad to hear it." Moms tried to sound brave, but that little catch in her voice gave her away. "Now you rest up so you can come home soon."

"One in the morning you said?" His father had said that awhile back, but it was as if his brain were slowly catching up to the words. "How long have I been out?"

"You got knocked out when those boys—at least, we think it was a group of students from your school—attacked you. You were unconscious for some time." His father put an arm around his mom's shoulders. "You woke up twice, but went right back to sleep."

His mother's eyes were brimmed with tears. "They kept reassuring me that since you had woken up, you had responded, however briefly, that you'd be fine. But I didn't believe them until now."

He reached for her hand and clasped it. "I will be fine, Moms. I'm sorry I scared you."

The nurse returned and cleared her throat gently. "Mr. and Mrs. Belden, I need to check Brian's blood pressure and temperature now, and, since he's awake, we're going to move him into a semi-private room. Why don't you wait outside a few minutes until I'm done here?"

 

It wasn't until Thursday that they finally released him from the hospital. Both of his parents were there a little after three o'clock in the afternoon. Brian supposed they had waited until his father had left work. The car ride home was unusually quiet, but once they arrived at Crabapple Farm, Brian was greeted with a shout from his brother.

"I can't believe you missed your own birthday!" Mart yelled. "What an oddball."

Brian just grinned. He was too happy to be home to be bothered by Mart's teasing. He knew his brother would only insult him like that to mask his true concerns. "I didn't realize I'd worried you that much."

"You did," Trixie assured him. "I don't think I've ever been more terrified in my life." Unlike Mart, when she was worried, she didn't hide it behind insults or humor. "When we got there, you were out cold."

"Unconscious." Mart put in his ten-cent word, but his face was somber. "Apparently, even the ambulance attendants hadn't been able to revive you, so they loaded you on a stretcher and ...."

Brian noticed tears brimming in Trixie's eyes as Mart recounted the afternoon. "Well, I'm fine now."

"Absolutely fine," Moms added, although she sounded like she needed to be convinced of that still. "The doctor says he should be able to get back to normal very quickly."

"You worried all of us, son," Mr. Belden stated calmly.

Brian nodded grimly as his father tried to help him up the porch steps. "I can walk on my own, Dad." He looked around at his family. Nearly everyone had gathered outside on the porch to welcome him home, but, right now, he was noticing the absence of two particular Beldens. "Where's Bobby? And Reddy?"

"Inside." Trixie lowered her voice. "Bobby's in charge of keeping Reddy from jumping on you."

Brian shook his head and walked through the door, eager to give his kid brother a hug. He knew the youngest Belden had an overly active imagination and was probably far more worried than any of the others. "Bobby! I'm home!"

Bobby came flying into his arms and Reddy followed, jumping up excitedly. Brian tried not to wince at the pain from his bruised ribs, but he knew there was no serious damage being caused. "Gentle, kiddo."

Bobby immediately stepped back. "Sorry, Brian. Does it hurt?"

Brian stooped down to Bobby's level as he spoke to him. "Do you remember when you fell off your bike and bruised up your leg and it would hurt when you touched it? It's kind of like that, except it's my chest that's bruised."

Bobby's blue eyes grew wide. "Is it all black and blue and green like my leg was?"

Brian nodded seriously at his little brother. "You bet. The blackest and bluest. But I'll be just fine with a little more rest." He tousled Bobby's hair as he stood back up, trying his best not to wince from the pain.


chapter 11: I lost her