So in that vein, I was gawking over a little voice telling me "I've always loved you." And I couldn't let that voice go. I could hear how much this character wanted to voice that to the person who needed to hear that the most.
I give you a second draft of the work for your amusement.
He was hunched over on the polished wooden bench, a tiny silhouette that moved only because his legs were still too short to reach the floor. Gone were the echoes of "it's not fair!"
I walked up and knelt in front of him, I heard my knees crack. "Time to go buddy." I said softly.
As I straighten up, dusting my dry hands on my blue jeans, he grabbed a strap of the bright orange backpack and slipped off the bench, forcing himself to march down the polished hallway and after me out the double glass doors into the sunlight.
I took his hand, all the while realizing he may just be too old to have his hand held while we crossed the street, but he was still just eight and while I may have been short, he still didn't make it past my elbow.
The car was unlocked and he climbed in the backseat. I took the driver's seat and put on my seatbelt. I looked back at him to check to see if his belt was on. He gasped and pushed his belt to click. The scratch down his face was a little startling, but he had been expertly patched up by the school nurse.
The car roared and then the blinker tisked as we pulled into traffic, heading out of town. Prisoners in the car together, the radio too low to hear over the air conditioner blowing hoping that the air in the car would soon be livable.
I heard the slow drum of my favorite song. Except there was a little person in the back seat. I changed stations. The last time I belted out my favorite tune with him in the back seat, I was given a scathing critical review and it distorted my love of that song forever. I couldn't lose anymore songs to sing on the road. He slumped in the backseat, buckled his eyes locked on the yellows and greens outside blurring agains the black asphalt.
The exit was coming to change directions from north south to east west, I got in the correct lane.
"Why did you come get me?" A truck passed us on the right as we chugged up the bridge over the rushing spring full river below.
"I went to get you because your parents asked me to."
I saw a burger place I thought he might eat at. I pulled off and drove to the drive through. "What do you get when you come here?" I asked as we waited our turn for the drive through.
"Burger. No cheese. Ketchup."
"Ketchup? I thought it was mustard!"
He made a face. "No more mustard."
I ordered the burger for him, a few extra burgers for home, a few shakes, hoping to convince him to maybe lick some ice cream, and a couple of fries because I actually like the salt. The first window comes up and I pay.
"Would your son like a sticker sheet?" The cashier asked.
"Would you like a sticker sheet?" I ask him, cringing, hoping he wouldn't correct the poor high school kid that I wasn't his mother.
"No. Kids who get into fights don't deserve sticker sheets." And he began to wail. I take a heavy sigh and the kid at the window nearly shoved the stickers in my hand with my change. I hand back a tissue while I waited for the food.
The food is warm and I turn down the blasting air, hoping to preserve the heat in the fries. My hand sneaks into the bag and I take a golden crisp slightly dripping with hot oil and salt and offer it behind me as I navigate the last turn and head back on the street to his neighborhood.
"Take it Bryce." I urge. My fingers feel a little warm as the oils oozed over my fingers.
He stares at my hand as if it were the poison bottle. His eyes puffy and red.
"Little Dude, seriously, the only reason why people pick up food for other people is called the "fry tax" you get to eat a hot French fry on the way home."
Bryce took the fry and he put it on his quivering lip.
"That kid doesn't love me." He finally said.
My hands gripped the steering wheel a little tighter. "No buddy, he doesn't. And he doesn't have to. No one really has to love anyone."
"Do you love me?"
"Always have." I said. My knuckles were white and the car was a hair into ten miles over the speed limit. I stopped at the light before turning onto the freeway. The car protested the speed demands and then clicked over into the next gear.
"When did you know you loved me?"
I wanted to slam my head on the steering wheel. My grip was beginning to hurt. I dropped my hands low on the wheel as I hit the correct speed and settled back for the twenty minute drive, checking a mirror before I merged left around a semi truck. "Um... Honestly not the first time I met you. It was a more recent love."
I looked up in the rear view mirror, even though I knew he wouldn't make eye contact with me. It was one of several things we shared. "You know, buddy, I really didn't know you until you started going to school. I've always known about you. I thought about you when we didn't live as close. Your mom has those cards I sent you."
"Of course she does... Somewhere...." I hoped.
Another left after the school, and then the crazy round about and I'm in front of his house. We stop and I wrangled the food and my backpack on one shoulder and he climbs out of the car and up the steps of his house in a neighborhood with photocopied manicured lawns. He presses the door bell, waiting for his parents to open the door.
"Hey Bryce, I want you to know I loved you. I loved you before I knew what loving you meant. But understanding that I loved you, that didn't happen, like I said, until recently. And I know you might not get it, but that's how I can tell you how I care."
"Do you think the kid at school feels the same way you do?"
"Probably not. But he is a kid at school. You're eight. Stuff like that generally doesn't matter to the other kids."
"Will you always love me?"
"Yeah I will."
"Will they ever learn to love me?"
"Let's aim for like. When they get to know you some will love you."
"Do mom and dad like you?"
"I hope so. I just got them dinner..."
The door opened and Bryce scampered into the house. I brought in the food and took my share and headed out.
As I stepped off the last stair, I was constructed by a pair of little arms. "I love you Auntie. I loved you before I knew how to love."
"Yeah," I said a little embarrassed. "I guess that makes me one lucky person."
"Go on go have dinner with your parents."