The boys had never seen their grandpa so coldly furious with them. The ride home from the pizza parlor was spent in intense silence. Rocky gritted his teeth, itching to turn around and yell at Colt for instigating another fight yet again, and this time pulling their little brother into the fray. What was he thinking?
Grandpa parked the car and turned off the engine with sharp angry movements, jerking the keys out of the ignition. “You three, go sit on the bench.” He ordered tersely. “I am going to call the pizza parlor and try to salvage the situation.”
Glumly, they did as they were told. Colt managed to hold his silence until they sat down.
“They started it, Rocky!” The words burst out of him before the older boy could speak. “I’m not stupid, and I don’t have problems controlling my temper, no matter what dad says.” He scowled briefly. Sam Douglas Sr. had always been hard on his middle son, lecturing him about his temper and willingness to fight. “Dad still doesn’t get it, and neither does grandpa. I hate bullies, Rock – like Darren Jerkins and his goon squad at home, and those three hick cowboys today. Three grown men, harassing and putting hands on that girl, and no one did or said anything about it. They poured soda on her, and threw her down on the ground in front of a room full of adults.” Colt’s voice was filled with scorn. “And every single one of those adults sat back down quietly and looked away when the leader challenged them to say something.” He met his brother’s gaze, his own hazel green eyes dark with anger. “So I said and did something about it. That’s not being hotheaded, that’s just common sense!”
“He’s right, Rocky.” Tum spoke up, his tone somber and earnest. “Grandpa taught us to protect and stand up for those who can’t. That’s what we were doing. Besides, they threw the first punch, so it was self-defense, really. A bunch of goons vs two kids. So why are we getting punished for it?”
Rocky groaned, his anger subsiding. He should’ve known that it was something like that. “Fine.” He said. “I get it. I’ll stand with you. But Colt, you really have to – “
“-control my temper, yes I know.” Colt finished impatiently. “My control is just fine. If I see a situation like that, I’m not gonna just stand by like everyone else did!”
Rocky sighed. “Grandpa’s really mad this time though.” He pointed out.
All three boys involuntarily looked up to the kitchen windows, where they could see him pacing and gesturing as he talked to someone on the phone.
“…Yes. That’s a good idea. The boys will be down there first thing in the morning.”
Rocky and Colt exchanged a look; that didn’t sound like good news. They both straightened up as their grandfather came outside, while Tum moved to sit between them. No matter the outcome, they would show a united front and take the punishment dictated.
As it turned out, Grandpa was more concerned and angry over the scene he had walked in on of the three boys in the center of an adoring crowd, praising them for fighting. The resulting lecture was a mix of warning – “You’re getting too cocky!”- mild threat – “maybe I should stop giving you ninja lessons…” – and obscure lesson – “listen to the sound of the flowers blooming. Only then will you be able to walk the correct path.” Overall though, they had gotten off fairly easy, though Colt was still a bit irritated at the overreactions.
Grandpa hadn’t even given him a chance to explain why he was fighting! He hadn’t been thinking about wanting to ‘play hero’, as the older man assumed; at least not for a bunch of strangers. They had actually gotten in the way of the teen’s original goal – to talk to the pretty Native American girl from the protests who had been the catalyst for this whole mess in the first place. What did he care about a bunch of adults who were intimidated by three lunkhead cowboys?
Colt sighed heavily, punching his pillow as he turned on his side, facing away from his brothers.
“Colt. You awake?”
Colt turned back over to look at Rocky. “Yeah. Can’t sleep.”
“Me either.” Rocky propped his head on his arm, turning more on his side so he wouldn’t wake Tum Tum, who was snoring softly next to him. “Still thinking about earlier?”
“It’s not fair, Rock!” The words burst out of him again, rife with frustration. “I wasn’t trying to be a hero, or doing it for attention! I was just doing the right thing, when no one else would!” Why didn’t anyone understand that?
“Shh!” Rocky warned. “It’s okay, Colt. I told you I get it. Grandpa’s wrong about this one.” That surprised Colt into silence; Rocky usually believed that their grandpa could do no wrong. “But this isn’t a battle that we can win. So we go clean up our mess, because if the manager was too scared to say anything to those guys about harassing that girl in the first place, then they sure as heck aren’t going to blame them for destroying the parlor or dare to ask them to clean up their mess and pay for the damages.” He pointed out logically. “And we let grandpa think he has taught us a lesson. Okay?”
“You just said that Grandpa was wrong.”
“Go to sleep, Colt.”
“You never do that. Mister always-follow-the-rules, I-am-stone and never react to anything, Rock-bot just admitted that our all-knowing wise sensei grandfather was wrong.” Colt pretended to wipe a tear from his eyes. “I’m so proud.”
Rocky thumped him in the face with his pillow. “Shut up and go to sleep, jerk.” He pointedly closed his eyes, willing himself to take his own advice, but sleep wouldn’t come.
Stone. Rock. Cool. Composed. Steady. Rocky had always been an observer, a thinker. An ‘old soul’, his mom had called him once. He liked those descriptions, and was proud of his ability to observe, think, and assess a situation instead of charging straight into the chaos, as Colt often did. It was annoying and exasperating, but that was just who his younger brother was; full of life and energy, inherently confident in his own abilities, the same way his wild namesake was. Rocky had learned the hard way a long time ago that it was easier to suggest rather than outright order when it came to his impulsive younger brother. Orders and lectures just made him dig his heels in and more determined to do things his way just to prove you wrong. Unfortunately, the wilder Colt got over the years, the more Rocky had to be like the stone he was named for; unmovable, unyielding force to stand against the wind.
Sometimes it was boring though, always being the voice of reason. What if Rocky wanted to be the wild one, with the crazy ideas and impulsive decisions? His eyes shot open. What if he started acting more like Colt? The main reason his younger brother got away with some of his antics was because Rocky was there to pull him back. But what if Rocky turned the tables on him? Made him actually be the logical, thoughtful one for once. The teen smirked into the dark. He didn’t know if he would actually go through with his secret plan, but it was amusing to think about. Grandpa always reminded them that a ninja was equal parts mind, body, spirit, and heart, but somehow he had been designated as ‘mind’ only, while Colt embodied the spirit aspect. But his brother was intelligent and observant, while Rocky could be passionate and instinctual. Maybe they just needed the right opportunities to show it.
Rocky quickly forgot about his hazy what-if plan to be more impulsive and instinctive in an effort to get his brother to act more responsible, yet somehow Colt managed to do it all on his own. Maybe it was age, maybe something had just ‘clicked’ in the inexplicable ways of adolescence, but the two boys worked more smoothly than they ever had as a team over the next few days, planning and executing a rescue mission for Jo’s father (and later Jo herself) almost flawlessly, and being a big part of the obstacles that eventually foiled Jack Harding’s evil scheme of dumping illegal waste in the landfill.
The Indian reservation had been exceedingly grateful, and had ultimately shown that appreciation in the best way possible. Someone – Rocky suspected at Jo’s suggestion – had struck a deal with Doty’s Pizza Parlor on their behalf. Free pizza and unlimited game tokens for every visit for the rest of their lives. Even Tum had declared he was full – after consuming three medium pan pizzas loaded with anchovies, all by himself. Rocky and Colt had made him sleep downstairs on the couch that night, declaring that they couldn’t stand the smell. They had also chased him around with water balloons, as part of a ‘moving target exercise’, and to ‘help’ him rid himself of the last lingering remnants of the fishy smell. Grandpa had even the odds and given Tum a Super Soaker to return fire. The fight was eventually called a draw, and the older boys had let their younger sibling back into the loft.
The rest of the summer had flown by, between ninja training and Colt’s budding romance with Jo. For all of their teasing, Rocky and Tum actually liked her, mainly because she made a conscious effort to not interrupt their dynamic or relationship with their brother. She was also just as willing to team up with Tum for a baking day (and flour fight), or teach Rocky about the different types of birds and critters that habituated the reservation. She also taught Colt how to ride a horse, which he was terrified of at first but quickly took a liking to.
All in all, it was one of the best summers that the boys could remember having.
“Rocky. Phone for you.” Grandpa called, causing the teen to look up from where he was fiercely battling Tum in Mortal Kombat.