My Brother Tobin: Part Four
We stopped at the toy shop next, and as always, Tobin made a beeline for the petpet plushies in the far corner. There were always plenty of them since nobody but Tobin ever seemed that interested in playing with stuffed petpets.
I was on my way to check out the new hair accessories when I heard my brother gasp.
"They've got a niptor!" he cried. "I've been looking for one of these for ages!" Without even looking at the price, he set it aside to add to his collection, continuing his hunt.
Before long, I looked up to find my brother sitting in a giant pile of plushies, flapping his forepaws excitedly, "They've got so many new ones!" he cried, clearly overwhelmed at the sight. "First I get to hold the nuranna and now this! This is the best day ever! Kathryn, David, come here, I need your help deciding which ones to get; I don't have the money for all of them yet!"
I rolled my eyes and noted the way he said 'yet'. Every neopoint my brother ever acquired went toward his petpet collection; buttons, pins, t-shirts, flags, books, wooden figurines, but primarily plushies. He had more plushies in his room than any boy I'd ever met, which sometimes made me grateful for his lack of friends; people would only tease him more if they got a look in there.
"Kathryn!" Tobin's excited voice pulled me from my thoughts, and I reluctantly headed toward the giant pile.
"Okay Tobe, well, why don't we start with how many you can afford?"
Tobin opened the sack around his neck and peered at its contents. "Five," he said after a moment. He had an uncanny way of being able to look at a pile of objects and estimate with alarming accuracy how many there were; it was part of his gift with maths, and needless to say it made me envious.
"Okay," I said. "Well, sort them out from your most to least favourite, then pick the top five," I said, thinking it was simple. Nothing was ever simple where my brother was concerned.
"But what if one of the ones I like is more common, and when I come back they don't have the rarer ones I put back? Or what if I get the rare ones now and come back in a month and find they're all a lot cheaper? Or what if – "
"For crying out loud Tobin they're just plushies, just pick some already and let's get out of here!" I cried, my frustration over his pointless agonising mounting.
Tobin winced and flattened his ears, pressing them against his rain hat. Along with people touching him, Tobin was very sensitive to noise, a lot more so than I was; places that never bothered me, like the merry-go-round at Roo Island or the marketplace in the middle of the day, were overwhelming and painful to Tobin, and staying there too long could throw him into a full-blown meltdown.
I sighed. "Sorry," I murmured. "C'mon, why don't you choose your favourite, then David and I will each pick one, and you can decide on the last two okay?" I said, glancing at David, who nodded in agreement.
"Okay," Tobin said, watching me defensively for any sign of another loud outburst. He dug through the pile and picked up the stuffed niptor, clutching it in both forepaws. "Okay Kathryn," he said. "Your turn."
I rummaged through the pile a bit to make it look like I was putting some sort of effort into it, and pulled out a pink fuzzy blob with large feet and spindly antennae-like ears.
Tobin smiled. "That's a hopso," he said. "It has sticky feet and an amazing sense of balance; it can jump onto any surface and stick there, it's really cool to see, but they make hard petpets to look after because if they decide to escape, there's nothing you can do to stop them, and they can go anywhere."
"Great," I said, thrusting the pink thing into his arms. "Okay, David, you're up."
David obliged me and began hunting through the pile. He took much more time at it that I had done, as if he were actually searching for one he liked. Eventually David picked up a spotted creature that looked a little like a dragon, "What about this one, Tobin?" he asked.
Tobin took it. "This is a moltenore," he said. "This one is spotted, but they're usually bright orange and yellow, and they look like they're made of fire. In spite of this, moltenores are cold to the touch, because they suppress all their heat within their bodies, but if you get them mad, they can explode into a fiery rage, literally."
My patience wearing thin, I said, "Hurry up and choose your last two, Tobe. I don't want to be stuck in here playing with plushies all day."
Tobin sighed, disappointed with my impatience, and I winced inside, remembering that I'd promised myself I'd try and be more patient with him.
Eventually Tobin decided on a meowclops and a ghoti, claiming the latter was to keep Gil company at home. He carried them one at a time in his teeth to the red Lupe behind the counter, who looked very pleased.
"We don't get many people interested in these guys," she said.
"Why?" Tobin asked earnestly.
The Lupe sighed as she put his plushies in a large plastic bag. "I don't know," she said. "I suppose kids nowadays prefer playing with real petpets."
"My mom won't let me get one," Tobin sighed. "But one day I will, I'll be able to have my own petpet zoo, and I can stop pretending, but even when that happens, I'll always keep my plushies, by the time I'm grown up, they'll be rare collectibles, then I'll bet more people will have wished they took an interest in them." He deposited his money on the counter and turned to leave without waiting for a reply from the shopkeeper. Before he could walk out the door, I whispered, "Don't forget to say goodbye to her."
"Why?" Tobin asked in a normal volume, making me cringe with embarrassment.
"Because it's polite," I said quickly. "Just do it."
"Okay." Tobin turned to the Lupe behind the counter. "Goodbye," he said flatly, with a strained smile on his face.
"Goodbye," she replied, smiling. "Have a nice day."
Tobin glanced at me uncertainly and I covered for him. "You too." I smiled, ushering him out the door before he could make things any worse.
David and I walked several yards behind Tobin, who was trotting happily through the streets, clutching his bag of plushies in his teeth.
"You handled your brother very well in there," David commented as we weaved through the crowd.
I smiled. "Thanks," I said. "I'm used to him by now, but it took some practise. He's getting better too though, he doesn't usually remember to smile at people when making social niceties."
"He's lucky to have you," David said.
I smiled again, but inside I was glowing; no one ever said that to me. Tobin duty was always more of an expectation than anything to be praised. My pleasure, however, was not to last.
As Tobin started to approach the street we took to get home, he slowed right down, looking anxiously at the large crowds of pets now traversing the path. Eventually he stopped.
"Come on, Tobin." David smiled, passing him. "Let's go home and show your mom all the cool new plushies you found."
But my brother wouldn't move. From where I stood, I could see him trembling with fear. "There's – there's too many people," he said hoarsely. "There's too many people, we can't go through there."
David looked at the crowd then back at Tobin. "It's okay," he said. "They won't hurt you."
Tobin shook his head violently, dropping his bag on the cobblestone street. "No!" he snapped. "There's too many and they're too loud and they'll get too close and touch us and we can't go that way! But we have to go that way, that's the way we go home! But there's too many people! We're trapped!" He backed up hurriedly, sweating and shaking, walking straight into me. Tobin jumped like I'd set fire to his tail, he whipped round and shouted, "Don't touch me! Don't touch me! I have to get out of here, there's too many people and they're too loud and they're in the way and they're everywhere, everywhere!"
Before David or I could do anything, my brother turned tail and galloped across the street, his cape flapping in the breeze as he headed for the forests surrounding the marketplace, looking for any refuge he could.
David and I raced after him, and I grabbed his bag as I passed. "Tobin!" I called, but Tobin didn't answer; we chased him until he was so deep into the trees that we couldn't hear any noise from the street.
Tobin ducked behind a large oak tree, trembling violently and flapping his forepaws like windmills, moaning as if he were in pain as he sobbed with fear and confusion and frustration.
David moved closer. "Tobin?" he said softly.
Tobin covered his ears and squeezed his eyes shut. "Go away!" he shouted. "Don't touch me and don't talk to me! Go away!"
I put a hand on David's arm, and he stepped aside. Inching my way forward, I got as close as I dared, and sat down with Tobin's bag in my lap, waiting in silence until the trembling stopped and my brother took his paws from his ears.
"I know you don't like crowds, Tobe," I said softly. "I know they're loud and confusing, and you don't like it when they bump into you; I don't really like that either. We can wait here til there's not so many people, then go home the way we're meant to, okay?"
Tobin glanced at me from the corner of his eye. "Okay," he murmured softly, the tears still dripping from the matted fur on his cheeks.
I reached into the bag and pulled out the niptor. "While we wait, why don't you tell me about him?" I asked, holding it out.
Gently Tobin reached out and took it, looking at it sadly. "Niptors are Tyrannian," he sniffled, wiping his eyes with the back of a paw. "They love to chew things, and a pack of six niptors was clocked at irreparably destroying the contents of an entire living room in just under ten minutes."
"Wow," I said. "They sound like a nuisance."
"Not if you train them well," Tobin said, still staring at the plushie. "It can be hard, but they can be great fighters in the petpet battledome. Not that I'd condone senseless fighting between innocent petpets," he added.
We sat and talked about petpets for fifteen minutes or more, until I finally suggested we go back to the town square and see if the road home was any clearer. Tobin reluctantly agreed, but kept his niptor plushie clamped tight in his mouth, allowing me to carry his bag for him.
We reached the street, and I was relieved to see that it was far clearer than before. The look on Tobin's face said plainly that he felt the same way.
At home that afternoon, as we watched Tobin trudge slowly up the stairs with his bag of petpets, worn out from the day's events, David and I relayed what had happened at the market.
"Kathryn did a phenomenal job," David said, putting a hand on my shoulder.
I smiled shyly and looked at the floor. "It was nothing," I murmured.
"No, it wasn't," Mom said, pulling me close. "I'm very proud of you, I know your brother's meltdowns are never easy to handle, but you do such a wonderful job with him, I don't know what I'd do without you."
My head buried in my mother's shirt, I smiled broadly to myself, suddenly feeling as if all the hard work I'd put into living with my brother was finally paying off.
To be continued...