EIGHTY, 2.0

To be one of the guys. Or, more accurately, one of the accepted people. That’s all Lewis ever wanted. He’d tag along with his brother Steve every morning, during the two mile trek to school, and try to keep up with the games Steve and his buddies played on each other. Joking, jibing, mocking.  Even the occasional made-up sports game to pass the time. Lewis would lose, but he’d love every second of it, and appreciated that Steve’s friends allowed him to play as well.

Then, they’d arrive at school, and things would always sour.

Lewis would try to enter Steve’s classroom, but was denied. It was expected. Lewis was five years younger than Steve, and shorter. And, he was still in middle school. But aside from the daily routine of being exiled from Steve’s classroom, a routine that Steve’s teacher played out with a smile on her face, Lewis was also kicked out of the building.

His classes were taught under the Maple tree on the corner of Central High’s property, over near the ice cream shop. Lewis had never been able to eat any ice cream, but the smell of sweets was a welcome sensation.

This ‘classroom’ setup was ideal in the Spring and Fall, but in the Winter half the classes involved lessons based around constructing shelter, building fires, and sewing fur jackets and blankets to stay warm. The rest of the lessons, concentrating on language skills and mathematics, would then be taught, quickly and quietly, while wind and snow swarmed students’ eyes and face and hair.

Like the rest of his level’s classmates, Lewis’s hair was short and his eyes were brown, unlike Steve’s blue eyes and long, flowing mane of hair that drove the girls crazy. Lewis wondered how they were related, but every time he asked this question out loud Steve would smack him on the back of the head. “Our blood is one in the same.” Lewis knew it was true, but still had trouble recognizing it after the long, hard winter school days. Outside with the other, similar kids, Lewis questioned why they were all there, separated, if everyone was supposedly the same here.

In those times of questioning his presence in the family, Lewis would put up with a few jokes from Steve as well as the smacking on the back of his head. In his own way, this was how Steve showed his affection. And after smacking Lewis on the back of the head, Steve would lead him upstairs to their father’s bedroom, ignoring the snores of the old man. They’d dig through the closet and pull out pictures of their parents on their wedding day. Memories of childhood would play between Lewis and Steve for the rest of the afternoon.

Other days, when Steve wasn’t around to tell Lewis that they were related, Lewis would crawl into the corners of his mind and hide from the world. He was ashamed of the way he looked, the way people looked at him, and felt less than human. He’d walk home from school, alone.

His “friends” were “less-than-friends”. These “friends” were like Lewis, sitting in the “outside” classroom because they weren’t allowed, by law, to learn with the other students. They didn’t like Lewis, saw him as a full-on outsider. When they had to group up, the other kids only collaborated with Lewis on class assignments because the teacher told them they had to do it in order to pass.

Despite Lewis’s intelligence and efficiency, the other kids just didn’t work well with him and let him do all of the work. They always managed to push him to the edge of the group, to cut him out of discussions, and make fun of his attempts to answer questions with his aggressive stutter and lack of command of the language.

These are all attributes that Steve mocked him for, as well, but when he did it, he did it with admiration. He’d chuck Lewis on the shoulder, laugh, and stutter along with him. Or he’d start to utter phrases in pure gibberish, making Lewis look like the smarter of the two of them by acting confused. Lewis loved his brother, and would forever try to be like him.

Such were his sentiments when he read the eulogy at Steve’s funeral, which took place the day after Lewis’s graduation from school. The funeral was next door to school, and some say there were more people to celebrate Steve’s life than there were congratulating Lewis’s class. Except their father, who was lost in the bottom of a bottle.

Years had passed since Lewis’s outdoor classes with the younger kids, and only in his final year at school was he allowed in a classroom for the first time. The laws had been passed, and treaties signed, but it was still hard for many to accept Lewis and his classmates into the fold as citizens.  Which was odd, because, despite his outcast status, Lewis had always felt like a citizen. He spent money here, money he earned with side jobs. And he didn’t complain.

He helped clean up the neighborhoods after the hurricanes destroyed the dump, and most of the town. He had even saved the life of a little girl, who then screamed in his face and took off running.

But eventually the school’s doors opened to him, and Lewis had learned in the confines of the protective walls of the school. The teachers listened to him, surprised at his language skills despite his accent. He spoke slowly, but with confidence. Eventually, other students stopped making fun of him. They didn’t invite him to parties or celebrations, but they didn’t mock him any more.

Meanwhile, Steve had gone on to a job at the docks, bringing in more shipments and helping the state adjust to the new laws, the new citizens. Steve was proud of his brother, less so of their father. Once, when their father was actually sober, Steve had tried to talk to the man. It’d been a long winter day, and Steve tried to convince his father to come to the school on Lewis’s behalf and argue for indoor classes. But, instead, their father took out his bottle and stumbled out into the street on the way to the school.

Steve had to carry him home on his shoulders. It was a disaster.

Then one week, the hurricanes came. For five days, heavy winds blew everything over and altered the city. The dump had spread disease and trash for miles, and Steve had been on the shores when the incoming ships had overturned. He was lost at sea, or under the wreckage.

Lewis hated to think of his brother’s life ending in such a way. He spent days cleaning the town, and more days looking for Steve, but had no luck finding him. He’d given up hope, concentrated on schoolwork, and then, the day before graduation, Steve’s body had been brought to shore by a small boat. The boat was full of refugees, nearly broken in two, on the verge of sinking. But Steve’s body was carefully laid out in the middle, and the refugees handled him with great care.

Lewis promised them they could live in his home, and kicked his father out in the process. As Lewis gave his brother’s eulogy, the refugees sat beside him. They looked like him, and they understood his former language. But he never spoke in that tongue again around them.

Once, when they were older, the refugees were granted permission to return to their home planet for a weekend getaway. They invited Lewis along, in thanks, but he declined.

“I left Neptune long ago,” he proudly said to them. “My home is here, now. On earth.”

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