Friday night. Why did he always dread the weekends? That was a dumb question, maybe just as dumb as he was. Jonathan Byers sat on the edge of his bed, holding his history essay in both hands, staring at the ugly 'C' slashed across the top of the wrinkled page in red ink. Friday night. That one night where Mom had to work late to support the family while Dad drank them into further debt. They always arrived at the same time and an argument would erupt in the kitchen. It would end with Mom slamming the door to the bedroom and Dad passing out in the chair. Though they had never had to share a room, his baby brother, Will, would always come in with a stuffed animal and blanket and spend the night in Jonathan's bed. Other kids at school hated their younger siblings, but not Jonathan, he couldn't hate his little brother. The truth was, he needed Will just as much as Will needed him.
Turning the essay upside down, Jonathan slammed it on his desk before walking into the kitchen. Cooking always made him feel better. Cracking some eggs into a bowl he glanced up at the family's bulletin board. A bright red poster hung under a clear tack with large black letters sprawled across its surface: Hawkins Photography Class. His mom was encouraging him to go, worried about his lack of friends. Why she chose photography, he wasn't sure, but maybe he would try it out. Chopping up some green onions and potatoes as he waited for the bacon to finish cooking, he glanced up at the clock. 8:59. They usually got back at 11 giving Jonathan enough time to finish homework and supper before retreating to his room for the night, where they would plug in his latest cassette tape and listen to it as the storm raged in the kitchen. Then they could go to sleep.
Bacon grease popped in the skillet as it heated, and Jonathan poured the mixture into it. Will ran into the room, waving a picture done in crayon. Jonathan grinned, jumping off the stool by the stove and walking over.
"What did you make?" He asked, leaning over the cabinet.
"A dragon, like the one you read about last night," Will replied, showing off his artwork.
Jonathan took the paper, grinning at it. "You did a good job," he said, ruffling Will's hair.
Reminded of the omelet in the skillet, he handed the paper back and hopped up on the stool. Will was only four years old, but he was smarter than most. Mom had taken him to a few doctors when he wasn't talking still at three years old, and even they were suggesting things like the possibility of Will being mute. However, just a few months after he turned four, Will started communicating intelligently and in full and complete sentences. The doctors just shook their heads, not sure what had happened to 'switch the flip' but Mom was the happiest person on earth. She had said that Will had just waited until he could get everything right before starting to talk.
"Are you ready for my famous cheesy omelet?" Jonathan asked, flipping the dinner.
"I am," Will's eyes shone bright with hunger.
"Good cause it's almost ready," Jonathan poured grated cheese into the pan.
A few seconds later, Jonathan flipped the omelet out of the skillet, slicing it in half before placing it on plates and sprinkling bacon crumbles over it. They ate quickly, finishing off with some popsicles they had found in the bottom of the freezer. Will was working on a new drawing while Jonathan cleaned the kitchen up when the door handle jerked. Both boys looked up at each other in unison, eyes wide. Muttered curses followed the rattle then the ding of metal as a key was shoved against the lock several times.
Dad was back. What was he doing home so early? It was only 10:15. Mom wouldn't be back until 11.
Jonathan dropped the dish in his hand, which landed throwing soap suds into the air, and jumped off the stool near the sink. Will sat frozen, crayon poised over his paper.
"Come on," Jonathan ran over, frantically grabbing at the crayons to stuff them into their box. "We need to get to bed now."
The sound of the key turning in the lock jerked Will out of his motionless state and he grabbed up the bulging box of crayons and his papers. Running over to the drawer where he kept them he opened it quickly, shoving everything in. Just then their father stumbled inside, the door slamming against the wall. Will jumped, shoving the drawer close, hard and quick. There was a sickening crunch as his finger was smashed in the drawer. Jonathan spun around, as Will dropped to the kitchen floor, his eyes filling with tears and his hand clutching the already swelling finger. To Jonathan's amazement, Will only whimpered softly.
But even that small sound was enough to get the attention of their drunk father. Lonnie weaved around the kitchen, nearly falling on top of Will. Roughly, he jerked Will up by his injured finger, causing the young boy to cry out with pain. Lonnie scowled, twisting the finger slightly before scoffing and releasing his son.
"You are fine, suck it up," He slurred as Will began to cry in earnest now.
"He's not fine," Jonathan mumbled, running over to the first aid drawer to retrieve some band aids and Neosporin.
Lonnie made a move to straighten again, but decided against it, leaning over Will. Jonathan hurried, wanting to get in their room. Maybe Dad would fall asleep before Mom got home and there wouldn't be an argument tonight. Quickly, he opened the freezer, trying to find an ice pack.
"I said, quit crying," Lonnie growled, suddenly knocking Will upside the head.
Will inhaled quickly, trying to stop the tears. Fresh pain assaulted him as his father pulled him up again by his injured finger.
"Stop, he isn't fine!" Jonathan shouted.
"It isn't that bad," Lonnie snapped, trying to stand Will upright.
Jonathan threw the ice pack with all the force he could muster at his dad's head, "Stop!"
Lonnie dodged, and the ice pack went flying across the kitchen, hitting the clock and knocking it to the floor. Will, forgotten at the moment, was slung to the ground. Jonathan slowly looking up as his father loomed over him, making a face as he wanted to choke on the stench of alcohol.
"What was that?" Lonnie demanded, his hands gripping his son's shoulders tightly.
"I'm sorry," Jonathan quickly looked down.
"You better be," Lonnie dug his fingers in. "We've talked about this before."
Jonathan winced, nodding quickly, though he kept his gaze on the ground. As soon as his father's grip released he jerked away and ran to Will, scooping up his baby brother and running to his room. Once there he proceeded to bandage Will's finger, hoping Mom would be home soon.
"Why did Dad hurt me?" Will asked, wiping his eyes as he took the ice pack Jonathan had retrieved on the way out of the kitchen.
"You know, Will," Jonathan replied gently. "People do and say things they don't mean when they're drunk."
"Like when he told Mom he didn't love her?" Will questioned, holding his finger gingerly over the ice pack.
Jonathan hesitated before nodding a little, "Yeah, he didn't mean it Will."
Both boys jumped as a heavy pounding sounded on the door. Will looked up with wide eyes. Dad had never come to their door before.
"Jonathan!" Lonnie bellowed. "Get yourself out here and face me like the man you pretend to be!"
Jonathan winced, that couldn't mean anything good. He still had a bruise on his arm from the last time Dad had punished him for talking back. Will jumped as the pounding resumed.
"Stay here," Jonathan told Will, wrapping him up in a blanket.
Jonathan slipped out the door, shutting it behind him. Lonnie grabbed his son, throwing him against the opposite wall.
"This is your fault," Lonnie slurred, slamming a fisted hand down on Jonathan's shoulder. "You think turning your brother over to you and your mom's side will do you any good? When are you going to quit hiding behind your mother's skirts and realize what being a man's all about, huh?"
Jonathan winced, shrinking against the wall. Wishing he could just disappear, he stared at the ground. Pain lanced down his shoulder as his father gripped his shoulders again tightly.
"Look up at me when I'm talking to you!" Lonnie slammed him against the wall. "Quit staring at the ground like a coward!"
Forcing his eyes up, Jonathan tried to hold his breath. Lonnie grabbed his son's chin, tilting it up roughly and holding him there.
"That's better," Lonnie growled. "Now you listen to me. When I am punishing your brother, you do not get to interrupt!"
Jonathan twisted, "He didn't do anything wrong!"
"He is four years old," Lonnie jerked Jonathan's chin back into place. "He's too old to cry! I am the parent here! You do not get to tell me how raise my son!"
"He just broke his finger in a drawer!" Jonathan fought back.
He wasn't certain the finger was broken, Mom would have to determine that. But it must have hurt a lot.
"Shut up," Lonnie drew back, slapping Jonathan hard across the face.
Both hands flew up to his cheek and he gasped, holding the stinging area. Dad never went light on his hits. His cheekbone ached as he stumbled against the wall. Lonnie reached down and grabbed him.
"You do not get to talk back, you hear me?" Lonnie demanded angrily. "I am the man of this house and you will obey me!"
Jonathan didn't reply, unable to move his mouth. Further angered by his son's silence, Lonnie hit his son again in the face, this time with a fisted hand. Jonathan would have went down had it not been for the iron grasp of his father.
"What are you doing!"
Mom stood in the doorway, staring at the scene before her. Lonnie lurched up, letting go of Jonathan, who slid to the ground, facing his wife.
"Just reminding my son who's in charge here. He seems to forget because his mother feeds him her lies daily while I'm away!" Lonnie bellowed.
"I do not!" Joyce quickly walked over to Jonathan. "Sweetie are you alright?" she pulled him up, brushing the hair out of his face to examine the already forming bruise.
"Quit coddling the child!" Lonnie shouted.
"You are right," Joyce snapped, looking up. "He is a child, and this is not coddling!"
Jonathan grasped his head, trying not to hear the beginnings of the storm. He wished he was in his room with Will. Joyce helped Jonathan up, walking over to his door.
"I'll be in to check on you in a few minutes," she said, smiling sadly at him. "Go get comfortable."
Jonathan nodded, knowing that it would be more than a 'few minutes'. Storms on Friday Night never ended in a few minutes. As he shut his bedroom door behind him he could already hear his Mom and Dad battling it out. Closing his eyes, he leaned against the door, trying to block it all out.
Will sat in the bed, his eyes wide as he clutched the blanket around him with his good hand. Jonathan smiled weakly and walked over, sitting down beside his brother.
"Did he hurt you?" Will looked up at his older brother.
"I'm alright," Jonathan lied, trying to grin to sell his untruth. "How's your finger?"
"Better," Will held it up. "The ice helped."
"That's good," Jonathan nodded, laying down against his pillow.
Will lay down beside him, scooting closer as he did so that his back was close enough to Jonathan that he would know if his brother left. Jonathan smiled to himself, his jaw aching too much to continue holding the fake smile on his lips. The storm echoed through the house.
As long as they had each other, they could weather any storm that came their way.