John awoke as the sharp crack of thunder reverberated off the walls of the room, rumbling deeply into his chest and invading his very core. A brilliant burst of lightening flashed across his bed not more than a thought’s breath later, and he cast his terrified gaze across to room.
Two terrified eyes peered back at him out of the darkness; he could almost make out the pale face and gaping mouth of his five-year-old brother. A second boom rent the air and the tussled brown head dove under the covers.
John tried to call to the small form, but he found that his mouth had become a dry cave. His tongue rattled around in it like a bulky dragon too large for such confinement. The next flash of light sent him scrambling under his own covers. He began to count, and reached only three before an ear-splitting peal drove his hammering heart into his throat.
Seconds passed and John trembled. He could hear his brother’s tiny whimpers. His own face was hot with tears. There was no logical reason to be afraid of a storm, yet John suspected that facing every werewolf and vampire on earth would not be as terrifying as peeking out from the safety of the coverings to look at the storm. A tiny cry echoed down the hall and John heard his mother’s footsteps hurrying to check on Grace, his baby sister.
John began to cry a little harder, the sound muffled by the sudden onslaught of rain lashing upon the windowpane. Thunder rolled over the roof but, mercifully, John could not see the horrid lightening.
“Dad?” The whimper came from the muffled confines of the twin bed across from his own. There was urgency to the call, a plea for comfort. It tugged at John’s heartstrings.
Dad wasn’t here. It was a cold reality that ate at John at every waking moment. Dad was hundreds and thousands of miles away, camped somewhere in the Persian Gulf with the rest of his unit. It was on John’s shoulders now. He was the man of the house. Dad was never afraid of storms. He marshaled his courage and threw the covers back.
Lightening burned into his retinas and the answering rumble did not give John the courtesy of allowing him to count. He hurled his nine-year-old frame from the bed, skidded across the blue throw rug, and ducked down beside the other bed. He reached out and touched the lump huddling in the very middle of the bed.
“Dell?” he called softly. “You okay?”
“No,” came the shaky reply.
John shivered slightly in the cold room, and then said, “It’s going to be okay.”
The small form inched away from him stubbornly, and John felt a small pang of guilt in his heart. He knew Dell was scared, and John just wasn’t old enough or big enough to protect him. He looked about the room, trying to find something to coax Dell from his hiding, and his eyes fastened upon the picture on the dresser. A handsome man smiled back at him. Happy blue eyes were framed by a boyish face and plenty of brown desert.
“Dad,” John whispered. He drew resolve from saying the name. He gently poked the hiding lump and said in his bravest voice, “Well, you know where I am, so come find me if you need me.” It was something Dad used to say whenever they tried a new task.
John walked bravely back to his bed, accepting the noise of the storm and bearing it as a cross, only to be chased back under his own covers by a sudden flash from the skies. He breathed rapidly for a moment, listening to the odd mix of his sister’s cries and the storm, then slowly looked out into the room again.
Dell’s tiny form scuttled around under the sheets and two small bare feet emerged and dropped to the floor. Dell raced over and leaped onto John’s bed and John could smell his brother’s shampoo and Spiderman bath soap. He wrapped his arms around Dell, drawing him closer as they leaned against the headboard together.
“You’ll be okay, Dell,” he said softly. “It’s only a spring rain. It’ll pass. You’ll see.”
Dell nodded and pressed his face into John’s chest. He cried softly and allowed his brother to comfort him. They listened to the storm together, and Dells’ tears eventually faded. John began retelling stories that Dad had told him about the rain, laughing about angels bowling and God taking pictures in the middle of the night. Soon Dell was chuckling right along with him, adding bits to the story – just as John had done one night, long ago, when Dad comforted him. The storm began to pass.
A loud knock at the bedroom door made them both twitch, but it was only Mom poking her head in to check on her sons. She smiled at them and walked over to tuck them in.
“My brave boys,” she soothed as she kissed them both. “John, you are such a brave soldier.” She kissed him a second time, and whispered “thank you” as she brushed his bangs out of his face.
John nodded and his mother made her way back down the hall, leaving the door cracked open slightly. He looked down at Dell, who was now nearly asleep in his arms. He knew Dad would approve of him taking care of Dell so well while Mom was busy with little Grace. He was the man of the house for now, but his own secret identity was the truth: he was, in fact, still a frightened little kid.
“Only no one can ever know,” he finished his thought out loud, and laid his cheek on Dell’s head.
This week's prompt is: Sunday Scribblings: #55 - Secret Identity.