“You should go,” Samuel said it out of the blue, completely unrelated to the task at hand, and yet, Kingsley knew exactly what it meant. Someone might call it a brother thing, but Kingsley just called it a “Samuel is a stubborn, persistent, annoying brat” thing.
“I’m not going.” Kingsley replied, almost automatically, “I’m not going without you.”
“Kingsley. You’d love it. It’s literally everything you want in a job and it would be a chance for you do an honest day’s work for once in your life. And it’s not like I’m exactly helpless, you know, Kingsley. By the time you were fourteen you’ been caring for us for eight years. And I’m not exactly alone, right? I’ve got Michael and Charlie and everyone else. I can join you when I’m eighteen. But, you should go.”
“No—don’t ‘Samuel’ me. When I’m 18, you’ll be 22 and they won’t let you join, Kingsley. I’ve already taken so much away from you. Please, please, don’t let me—no—don’t make me be the one who takes this away from you too.”
Kingsley turned to look at his brother. He’d never heard that tone before, not from Samuel. He pulled Samuel away from his work and held him by the shoulders, bending his knees slightly so that he was looking right at Samuel’s eye level. “Hey, Buddy, what are you saying?”
“I’m not an idiot, Kingsley. I’ve watched you all these years. I saw you go hungry so my stomach was full. I’ve seen you do things you hate to buy me new clothes or to get me a trinket or something ‘cause I looked at it longingly for a half second. You have walked away from people who could have been important to you for me, time and time again. I’ve tried to pay you back as best as I could. I tried to pull my own weight where I could. But, if you don’t do this—if you don’t go because of me—It’s too much, Kingsley. I’ll never be able to repay that, okay? I’ll be concreted and cemented in your debt for the rest of my life. I can’t handle taking that away from you.” Samuel’s voice broke, and Kingsley could see how desperately he was trying not to get upset, to not cry, not in front of his big brother. And Kingsley felt like he was going to cry too—he’d never wanted to let Samuel think that way, feel that way. He pulled Samuel in close, hugging him tightly, one hand cupped around the back of Samuel’s head.
“Buddy, I’ve never lied to you, and I’m not going to start now, alright? I love you, and I’ve never sacrificed anything for you. Or, if I did, I never considered it a sacrifice. I know that the guard sounds like a sweet gig, but right now I would honestly prefer to stay here. Yeah, in a large part that has to do with you—but it also has a lot to do with Michael and with Charlie, with the rest of this ragamuffin group we’ve got going together here and started to call family, okay? You owe me nothing for this, whether I stay or go.”
“No, no, shh.” Kingsley squeezed his brother a little tighter and felt Samuel’s shoulders shake in a sob. “When I’m 21—the last year I can join the guard—we’ll revisit. Maybe I want to go and sign up then. You’ll only be a year out from joining then, and you, Kevin, and Charlie will be the only ones left underage. We’ll see how the group is fairing and how I feel about joining then, okay?” Samuel didn’t say anything, so Kingsley gave him a little shake, “Okay, Samuel Andrew Wilson?”
“Yes sir,” Samuel answered a bit weakly.
“Good.” Kingsley held him for a moment longer then pulled away quickly, not looking at Samuel’s face and not letting Samuel look at his face. “Now, let’s get back to work. Michael is not going to be happy if these aren’t ready to go as soon as he needs them.”
Samuel set to work, and after a second of gaining his composure, “I wish you would leave, then I might get some rest around here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Kingsley laughed, “Cause Michael is a real lightweight when it comes to giving out the work.” The brothers were going to be alright after all.