1. a person with an optimistic and confident outlook.
  2. a person who habitually agrees with or is submissive to others.

Faint high-pitched humming cracked through the recorded laugh-track blaring from the television.

Jason strained to ignore the sound disrupting his program, but it was all he could hear. The tune was familiar, but he couldn’t place it.

“What’s with you?” he demanded.

His volume surpassed the TV’s, but did little to deter the humming.

Jason tossed the remote on the couch, tracing the sound to the kitchen.

The microwave beeped to stop. His younger brother swayed rhythmically before clumsily climbing the steps of the small plastic ladder to retrieve his soup.

“Tomorrow’s mama’s birthday.” There was almost a level of glee in Adam’s tiny voice.

Jason had almost forgotten this fact, but the reminder did nothing to change the way he felt about Janet.

“So?” He reached past his little brother to retrieve the steaming bowl of chicken noodle soup, his fingertips stinging.

“So?!” Adam jumped from the step stool and ran to the table, climbing into chair. He waited patiently on his knees until Jason deposited the bowl and a spoon on the table. He bowed his small head and balled his small hands into tiny fists, murmuring a few words, before popping his head back up, his eyes full of mirth.

“She might come back!”

Jason bit his tongue, straining against the urge to contradict his younger brother–the constant yeasayer.

“That doesn’t even make any sense and that’s not going to happen.”

“You don’t know that,” Adam whined. At the age of 5 and a a half, Adam seemed to whine all of his words.

Jason knew it was wrong to hate his little brother–actually it was worse than wrong. It was downright useless. It was only the two of them, making hate a pointless endeavor.

Their mom had left last year, drunkingly muttering about not being “able to take it anymore.” It was New Year’s Day. Less than a year later, their dad followed. He didn’t even have the energy to say anything at all. He stumbled out the doorway, into the hall and down the stairs. They hadn’t seen him since.

Now Jason was in charge of taking care of his younger brother. He kept his disgust for his parents from Adam, as much as he could, but in conversations like this, it seeped out of him, like water from a cracked cup.

“Mr. Reyes said–”

Jason groaned. Mr. Reyes was the optimistic old man in the neighboring apartment. Jason avoided him like an wanted man avoiding a bounty hunter. The old man seemed to have an opposite effect on Adam.

The only thing that kept Jason from writing the old man off was that he’d been through harder things than the two of them had ever imagined. And yet he was still a bubbling brook of positivity.

“He said that anything is possible and that I can be hopeful no matter what.”

A defiant look narrowed Adam’s eyes as he nudged a dangling noodle back into his mouth.

“I can hope for mama and daddy to come back if I want to and you can’t stop me!”

As much as it angered him, he knew Adam was right. It was crazy to have hope that their family could actually be different, but he couldn’t stop him from hoping. Only time and consistent disappointment could do that. Jason knew that firsthand.

“We’ll see,” Jason said with a shrug. “But don’t get your hopes up too high. That only makes it hurt worse when they come tumbling down.”

The two stared at each other, refusing to budge, until Adam’s natural demeanor took over and he began humming again.

Jason moved back to the living room, folding himself into the worn sagginess of the torn leather couch. Curling himself around the remote, he flipped through several channels, his body feeling heavy with sleep. He ended the useless search for entertainment and closed his eyes, refusing to wonder if their parents could actually come home.

The melody of his brother’s humming echoed in his head as he drifted off to sleep, reminding him of happier days when his parents used to sing them to sleep each night. Those were the days he no longer allowed himself to think about–days that were too far gone, too distant, and unattainable. Days only his brother seemed to be able to reach for without growing cold in the wake of reality.

Jason half shrugged his response as he brushed past the two questions circling outside the door of his mind, before losing  consciousness.

“How long can hope last,” one asked. And the question he no longer asked aloud whispered to him again, “will you ever have a family?”



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