(Richie is the youngest O'Brien brother who is twelve when Behind Blue Eyes begins.)
Richie sat on the couch in the living room with an open book beside him and a notebook and pen on his lap. He loved studying history, especially Egyptian. The moment his teacher assigned the class to study one of the gods the Egyptian's prayed to, he knew immediately he would study and present his speech about Anhur. In short his name meant “killer of enemies.” If his brother TJ had lived back in that time, Richie was sure he would have been the god Anhur. He smiled just a bit and thought that he'd grow up to be just like his brother, TJ.
TJ along with his friends in the neighborhood, helped protect everyone who lived in the area against gangs from other hoods. And sometimes guns were involved. TJ had a few guns he kept hidden, though Richie tried to find them he never could. Probably for the best. If their brothers Torro and Ryan found Richie with a gun or even touching one, they'd tan his ass but good and then TJ would get beat by Torro.
“Rich, how's that homework coming along?”
Richie looked over at Ryan who was doing his own homework on the other end of the couch. “It's coming. I'm almost done. I'm doing a report on the Egyptian god, Anhur because he reminds me of TJ.”
“Lord. Whatever you do, don't say that out loud when Torro gets here, which should be any minute. I do not even want to hear it tonight. I have three exams in the morning and I damn sure don't want to hear those two going at it over homework.”
Richie nodded. He hated it too. Torro was so mean sometimes. And those sometimes really was most of the time and especially to TJ.
“Speaking of which. He's home. Head down, get to looking busy,” Ryan said as he did the same.
“TJ's home so he shouldn't be in a bad mood,” Richie replied sneaking a peek at Ryan before looking back down at his notebook.
“Yeah. It's okay. Just do your work.”
“What about dinner?”
“He's late. It's in the microwave, now stop worrying. Shit at the rate you're going, you'll be fully gray by the time you're twenty.”
Richie snorted. “Around here, more like sixteen.”
“And here he comes,” Ryan whispered.
“Shh, write something, now.”
Richie made a face at Ryan and put his pen to the paper and began writing. He adored his brothers, for the most part. Especially TJ. He was the most quiet of the four of them, and the most dangerous, the one everyone wanted a piece of and the same one no one wanted a piece of. Torro was the one everyone ran from, smart on their part in Richie's opinion. Didn't mean it was easy to live with him though. When Richie said everyone, that included him, Ryan and at times TJ. Though why TJ put up with the shit Torro dished out, was beyond him. All he knew was that he hated it. Hated seeing Torro hurt TJ time and again.
The front door opened, a gust of air which smelled like watermelon to Richie, then the door closed. Richie didn't look up, but he knew it was Torro, just by the way the air in the room seemed to fill of his cologne.
“Dinner's in the oven,” Ryan said as Torro walked past them and into the kitchen. Ryan looked at Richie who was already looking at him and said, “Oh shit.”
“You noticed too? I am so tired of this,” Richie whispered. He knew better than to speak loud enough where Torro would hear him, especially if he was supposed to be doing homework which should have been done a couple hours ago. Thankfully Torro hadn't said anything yet. But he would, Richie was willing to place money on it.
Richie sighed and slowly turned to look at Ryan who was looking towards the kitchen.
“And it begins,” Richie whispered. He was hoping to not have to put another red X on his calendar but from the tone of Torro's voice, it would appear another X would join the rest he had marked. Thirty one days in the month, it was the fifteenth, and so far there were nine red x's. All of them indicated the days Torro got into it with TJ.
“Shh, please, Richie, just be quiet. TJ can handle it.”
“Hmph, apparently so,” Richie replied as he put his book and notebook on the coffee table. He got up and went to the wall by the kitchen so he could look in.
“Rich,” Ryan hissed. Richie ignored him.
The door which led to the laundry room in the basement opened and TJ appeared holding a basket full of laundry. They all took turns doing the chores around the house and TJ took Richie's day so he could focus on his homework. Sometimes it bothered Torro, because it wasn't teaching Richie responsibility and other times he didn't care. Mostly when he wasn't home that was.
“How's work going, TJ?” Torro asked as he sat down with his warmed up dinner.
TJ held the laundry basket on one hip tucked under his arm. He didn't say anything for several seconds, he watched Torro eating. “It's fine. I put my part of the rent on your dresser.”
Torro nodded and said, “Put that down and come have a seat. We need to talk.”
Richie watched TJ look up at the ceiling in exasperation. He read his brother like a book. Richie wanted to go into the kitchen and try to stop whatever madness Torro was up to but he knew if he did, he'd end up in a lot of trouble and only make things worse for TJ than they already were.
TJ placed the basket down on the counter and went to the other end of the table and sat down on the chair while taking his cigarettes out of his front pocket. He lit one and pulled the ashtray toward him and looked Torro. Richie noticed the way TJ's right leg was off to the side and not under the table like his left leg was and it was bouncing up and down. Richie knew TJ was ready to hop up if he needed to, he was ready to stand his ground if it called for it. That bouncing had everything to do with adrenaline and nothing to do with nerves or fear. TJ had no idea what fear was. According to Torro, that alone would be TJ's downfall. Whatever in the hell that meant.
“You've dropped weight,” Torro said.
TJ flicked the ash off his cigarette. “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about, my weight?”
Torro looked away, exhaled and then looked back at TJ. “You can't afford to lose any more. I have protein shakes in the fridge, start drinking them.”
TJ dropped his head a bit while looking at Torro. “Really? That's rich coming from you. What did you really want?”
“I got a call from Richie's teacher today about his behavior and his grades.”
Richie's heart sped up. Damn her! She said she wouldn't tell if he did his homework and turned it in on time.
“What about them?” TJ asked.
“I received a call from his teacher a couple days ago. From what Ms. Marks said his grades have gone from straight A's to F's over a period of thirty days. He's been involved in more fights this year than any other. I've tried talking to him but he insists that everything is okay and he'll bring his grades up. However, I know as well as you do that not everything is okay with him. The damn kid won't talk to me. You know he won't talk to Ryan, but he'll talk to you about what's going on in his head. You need to take some time out and talk to him and find out what's wrong. We need to get a hold on him before...”
“He ends up like me?” TJ said cutting him off.
Torro's mouth clamped shut and TJ put his cigarette out. “Yeah, thought so.” TJ got to his feet and grabbed the basket off the counter. “I'll talk to him. Is that all?”
“Yes,” Torro replied dryly.
TJ muttered something under his breath and left the kitchen just as Richie pounced down on the couch. He didn't want to be caught listening in on a conversation he wasn't invited to be a part of, even if it was about him. TJ nodded to Ryan and then as he made his way to the staircase which led to the upper floor he said, “C'mon, lil man, we need to have a talk.”
“Don't give him any shit, Rich,” Ryan said before Richie made it to the stairway. “He has enough.”
Richie nodded and followed in TJ's footsteps. They ended up in Richie's room with TJ taking all of Richie's white clothes from the basket and placing them on the bed.
“Have a seat, Richie.”
Richie sat on his bed next to the freshly washed clothes, a hint of bleach hung in the air. He hated when Torro made TJ do things he shouldn't be doing. It wasn't TJ's job to correct Richie, it wasn't anyone's but his own.
“I know you heard everything he said downstairs. So what's the deal?”
Richie looked up at TJ's face and saw how tired he was just by looking into his eyes. There were dark circles under them too, his cheek bones seemed to show more than they did a week ago. Torro was right, TJ was losing weight. Probably due to all the damn fighting with Torro. “Nothin'.”
“Excuse me?” TJ snapped.
“Nothing is. I'm fine.”
TJ sighed and ran his fingers through his hair, his bangs falling back down almost into his eyes, the rest of it fell in waves to his shoulders. He sat down next to Richie and patted his little brothers knee. “Richie, that isn't an answer. You'd best start talking.”
“TJ, you're not a bad person, why can't I be like you? You got a real job when you were younger than me. Why can't I have one?”
“Because you'll get further in life if you go to school and graduate, maybe go to college and study something you like instead of settling for something you don't like just to make money. You don't need to work until you're older. You need to enjoy your childhood as long as you can. This fighting in school or out of it is not acceptable. And you know it. It's time to buckle up. I won't have it any other way.”
Richie nodded. “Okay. I'll do better. I promise. But I still don't see why it's so bad to wanna be like you.”
“I have no complaints but you're you. So let me be me and you be you. Okay? Promise?”
“Promise. But if someone starts a fight and throws the first punch?”
TJ stood up, collected the basket and tucked it under his arm and turned to the door. “Make sure you get the last one in.”