The inside scoop on Jelly W-argh! *choke* Circulation: 191,058,652 Issue: 595 | 17th day of Hunting, Y15
Home | Archives Articles | Editorial | Short Stories | Comics | New Series | Continued Series

My Brother Tobin: Part Two

by fields_of_gold


"Hey Tobin, I'm going to the park. You wanna come?" I called up the stairs the next morning. I had forgiven my brother for his macaroni-induced outburst last night and wanted to get out of the house. I wanted Tobin to come because I had a theory; if I could get my brother to make some friends, he might be persuaded to try and act more normal, even if he couldn't help most of the stuff he did.

      Tobin's rain hat-clad head appeared at the top of the stair, and he smiled. "Sure," he said. "Just let me grab my litter spike."

      I rolled my eyes. "Tobe, we're not going to the park to pick up garbage, we're going to have fun, if you wanna bring something, bring your bucket and spade or your rubber ball or, you know, something normal."

      Tobin looked at me. "But picking up litter is fun," he reasoned. "It – "

      "No, no it's not," I interjected. "You and I are gonna go, and we're gonna have a normal time, just two kids at the park, and we can't do that if one of us is acting as resident garbage police. Now come on, I haven't got all day."

      Tobin looked a little crestfallen, but disappeared, then re-emerged with his blue plastic bucket in his mouth, his little green spade sitting in it. Slowly he plodded down the stairs obediently.

      I looked at the ridiculous rain hat on his head and was very tempted to ask him to leave it behind, to tell him that no one was going to talk to a kid wearing a rain hat on a perfectly sunny day, but I knew he loved that stupid thing, and that asking him to leave his litter spike behind was enough.

      We walked down the pavement, Tobin following me with the handle of his bucket swinging in his mouth. It took twice as long as normal to get where we were going because every few minutes, the rattle of the plastic spade in the bucket would stop as Tobin put it down, having spotted a nice rock to pick up. Soon his bucket was full of them, and people all the way down the street could hear his rattling approach.

      I sighed and rolled my eyes. This was not a great start to a "normal" day out.

      As soon as we arrived at the park, Tobin looked around, bemused. He was used to picking up litter when we came here, but since I had forbidden it, his routine was thrown off and he wasn't sure what to do.

      I glanced at my brother, standing bewildered in the grass, then said, "Why don't you build a sand castle, Tobe? If you dig deep enough, you can get some nice damp sand to use. You could decorate it with your rocks."

      Tobin's eyes lit up at the suggestion. "Good idea, Kathryn," he said, trotting cheerfully off towards the sandy playground.

      I picked a swing where I could watch him that was within easy running distance in case anything went wrong. I swayed back and forth absently, dragging my toes through the dirt as I watched him diligently dig as deep as he could into the gritty sand near the slide, scooping out spadefuls of cool damp earth and dumping them into his bucket, from which he had tipped his rocks that now lay in a neat pile beside him.

      My heart suddenly fluttered with hope as I watched a little yellow Kacheek approach my brother. "Hi," he said.

      Tobin didn't look up. He was concentrating on getting the sand out of his bucket. "Hi," he replied flatly.

      "What'cha doin'?" the little Kacheek asked.

      "Building a sand castle," Tobin said, lifting the bucket slowly to reveal his castle-shaped mound of sand.

      "Cool," the Kacheek replied, "Can I help?"

      "No," Tobin said flatly, still not looking up. I winced.

      "Oh, okay," the little Kacheek said, sounding rather sad.

      I jumped off my swing and ran to intervene before I lost my chance. "Tobin, that's not nice," I said. "You should let him play with you."

      The little Kacheek stopped a few feet from us and listened.

      "Why?" Tobin asked earnestly. "I want to play by myself."

      "Yeah, but when someone asks you to play, it hurts their feelings if you say no," I sighed, trying to think of an example to put it into concrete terms. "You remember yesterday at school when you wanted to play kickball with those kids and they said no?"

      "Yeah," Tobin said slowly.

      "Well, you remember how that made you feel?"

      Tobin paused and thought for a moment; identifying his own emotions was not his strong suit. "Sad," he said thoughtfully. "Disappointed, left out." He looked at me hopefully as if trying to make sure he'd gotten it right.

      I nodded. "Exactly," I said. "That's how you made that kid feel when you said he couldn't play with you, so don't you think you could let him help with your castle, just for a while?"

      Tobin thought about this hard, then nodded. "Alright," he said matter-of-factly. Calling to the little Kacheek, he said, "You can help me with my castle if you want."

      The Kacheek turned around and smiled brightly. "Thanks," he said, as if Tobin had never said no in the first place. He sat down beside my brother and began pressing stones into the side of the castle.

      I smiled, breathing a sigh of relief as I headed back to my swing to continue my watch.

      That afternoon as we walked home, Tobin still lugging his mound of rocks, I asked, "So what was the name of that kid you were playing with?"

      Tobin shrugged. "I don't remember," he mumbled through the bucket's handle.

      I sighed. "Well, did you have fun? Was he nice?"

      Another shrug. "I guess. I would have had more fun on my own, though; he kept putting the rocks in the wrong places."

      I shook my head in despair. So much for finding a friend to normalize Tobin. I was beginning to think there was no normalizing my brother.

      We got back to the house and Tobin opened the door. He stopped dead in the threshold and flattened his ears to his head. "What's he doing here?" he demanded, dropping his bucket of rocks heavily on the floor.

      I looked past him to see what had upset him and found a strange man in the kitchen talking to Mom. I shoved Tobin in through the door the rest of the way, and my brother started swaying anxiously.

      Mom smiled. "Kids, I'd like you to meet an old friend of mine, David. I hadn't seen him in ages and ran into him at the market today."

      "When's he leaving?" Tobin asked quickly, an edge of panic to his voice as he rocked back and forth on his feet.

      "Tobin, that's not very polite," Mom said, looking at David rather embarrassed. "You're supposed to welcome guests into our home."

      "He's not a guest, he's a stranger!" Tobin said loudly, his panic rising.

      Trying to avoid a repeat of yesterday's macaroni meltdown, I whispered to David, "Ask him about petpets."

      David looked at me strangely. "What?" he asked.

      "Just do it!" I hissed.

      David did as he was told and smiled at Tobin. "So," he said, "do you like petpets?"

      Tobin's ears shot up and he stopped rocking. "Yeah," he said, eyeing up the stranger uncertainly. "Do you?"

      "Oh sure," David replied. "I love them. Which one's your favourite?"

      "The nuranna," Tobin said quickly, beginning to warm to the subject. "Did you know the nuranna can breathe on land as well as in water? It also has basic levitation abilities."

      David raised an eyebrow, apparently impressed. "Really?" he asked. "No, I'd never heard that. I was always a fan of greebles myself, love their giant bug-eyes."

      "The greeble's tongue can grow up to twenty feet long," Tobin said, starting to get excited. "It flicks it so fast it can't be seen by the the human eye, but scientists once took a video of a greeble catching a fly, to see how far they'd have to slow it down to see the tongue in motion. From that they calculated that the greeble can get its whole tongue out of its mouth and back in in less than one five hundredth of a second."

      David stared at my brother, clearly impressed by his trivia. "Wow," he said. "Is there anything you don't know about petpets?"

      Tobin looked past him. "I don't know," he said. "If I knew the things I didn't know, then I'd know them."

      No one had a response for that.

      I felt rather bad for David; he spent the rest of the afternoon there, and Tobin spent the entire time talking to him about petpets, and by the time he left, he probably knew as much about them as my brother did.

      "Well, it's been lovely to see you again, Sally," David said to my mother, then turned to Tobin. "And it was fun talking to you. I look forward to hearing about what else you know the next time I come round."

      Tobin nodded. "I had fun too," he said. "But next time you visit, let me know you're coming first," he said in a deadpan voice.

      David laughed and ruffled his mane, making Tobin wince and back up uncomfortably. "I'll be sure to do that," he said, then turned and left. After what my brother put him through today, I wasn't sure if we'd ever see him again.

      "He was nice," was Tobin's only comment as we went back into the house.

      After my failed attempt at getting Tobin to make friends, and after watching him bore Mom's friend to death with a three-hour long lecture on petpets that afternoon, I was more determined than ever to get Tobin to stop acting so weird. I went to his room that evening and knocked on the door.

      "C'min," Tobin said, sounding preoccupied. I pushed the door open and found him sitting on the floor, surrounded by his mountain of petpet plushies. The way he had them separated from one another in building block cells told me he was busy playing "petpet zoo" again. Tobin's "play" didn't really look like other kids': he'd never really gotten the hang of the whole imagination aspect, and so instead of making up stories about his zoo, he went through the routine of feeding his petpets imaginary food, describing each one's nutritional requirements in detail to himself as he did so, and he could do this over and over again for hours at a time.

      Stepping over a pen containing a pair of noils our grandma had knitted him, I sat on his bed and said, "So, what's up?"

      "The ceiling," came Tobin's flat reply as he turned his back on me to feed his plathydon.

      I rolled my eyes and said, "No, Tobe, I mean how's it going? how are you doing? Things like that, can you remember that? If somebody asks you what's up, they mean how are you, and you respond 'fine'. Got it?" I asked, determined to drill some semblance of social skills into his head.

      "Got it," Tobin parroted, but it didn't really seem like he was paying attention.

      I thought I'd try a more direct approach. "Don't you ever get lonely not having any friends?" I asked.

      "No," Tobin replied, moving across the room to the cardboard-box-turned-aquarium containing his prized possession, his stuffed nuranna, Gil. "Why would I? I have you, we play together."

      "Well, sure," I said, wondering if I should feel flattered. "But wouldn't it be fun to have someone to play with who shared your interests, who you could go to the zoo and talk about petpets with, or who could do math with you?"

      "You and I go to the zoo," Tobin replied, still not looking at me. "And I help you with your math all the time. I don't see why having friends is so important, they just want to play all the time, they never have the patience to study or learn anything new unless they're being made to by a teacher, and they always like talking about boring stuff like sports and famous Neopians. Sure, it might be nice if I could find someone like me, but that's not gonna happen." He looked me in the eye for the first time since I could remember. "Because there is no one like me. I'm different."

      I stared at my brother. Hearing him say these things, having an actual conversation with me rather than monologuing about maths or petpets or reciting things he'd learned from watching documentaries suddenly made him seem... normal, like anyone else's nine-year-old kid brother, but his eyes were haunted. I never knew Tobin had realised how different he was before now, but in his eyes it was starkly apparent.

      "Do you... do you like being different?" I ventured after a moment. "Do you ever wish you were normal?"

      Tobin didn't speak for several minutes, but returned to feeding his petpets. I'd begun to think he was ignoring me like usual when suddenly he said, "I don't know. Sometimes, I guess. I wish I knew how to get the kids on the playground to stop being so mean to me, and I wish having strangers in the house didn't scare me so much, but mostly I like who I am, I like being smart and having things I'm really interested in. I wish I knew why I was so different, but mostly I don't let it bother me; otherwise I'd be so busy worrying that I'd never have time for living."

      I thought about this for a moment, then took my opportunity and tentatively said, "I could teach you if you want. I could teach you to act normal; it might make things easier."

      "No," Tobin replied relatively quickly, "I know you think you'd be helping, but I don't want to pretend to be someone I'm not my whole life. I have trouble with people, just like you have trouble with school, and I think no matter how hard I try, it'll always be hard for me, but that's okay, because I'll always have you and Mom to help me, and I'll always have my petpets."

      Inside, I felt whatever chance I had had at having a normal brother evaporating, and it hurt; no one seemed to notice that living with Tobin was as hard for me as being Tobin was for him, but I sighed, knowing that it wouldn't be fair to make him live a lie the rest of his life.

      Tobin sat very still for a long time, staring at the stuffed doglefox in his paws, then he looked up. "Did you know the doglefox hibernates in a burrow for three months during winter? Its fur grows twice as thick as normal to keep it warm, and it sleeps under the snow."

      I sighed and rolled my eyes. The Kreludan was back.

To be continued...

Search the Neopian Times

Other Episodes

» My Brother Tobin: Part One
» My Brother Tobin

Week 0 Related Links

Submit your stories, articles, and comics using the new submission form.