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My Brother Tobin: Part Three

by fields_of_gold


The next morning, Tobin came downstairs with his homemade "Petpet Protection League" cape tied around his neck and Gil's dorsal fin in his mouth. He deposited the patched up stuffed nuranna on the table where I was eating breakfast, and I grimaced at the soggy fin.

      "What are you doing, Tobe?" I asked, watching as he went to the coffee table in the living room and pulled a stack of paper and a pencil from the drawer. "Writing another letter to the Petpet Protection League? Didn't you already try that?" He had, two years ago, and they wrote back saying that regrettably he was too young to join at present, but to try back in about eleven years, and they'd sent him a badge that said, "Honorary Member of the PPL" with a picture of a slorg underneath. Tobin was immensely proud of that pin, and had stuck it through the knot in his cape so that it looked like a very curious clasp, after having failed to get the sharp tip through the tough rubber of his rain hat.

      "Not this time," Tobin said, bringing the paper back to the table and nudging Gil aside. "I'm writing a letter to the Neopia Central ambassador of the Haunted Woods demanding that he ban the use of the petpet lab ray and have the mad scientist responsible for its creation arrested."

      I stared at him, my spoonful of soggy cereal halfway to my mouth. "Uh huh," I said slowly. "Um, why?"

      "Because it's inhumane," Tobin replied, uncapping his pen. "They put petpets through terrible pain and dangerous experiments just to get them to look prettier, and sometimes they even disintegrate!" he said, his outrage raising his voice several decibels. "Someone has to stop it, and the ambassador is the only one in authority in the Haunted Woods who'll listen; their mayor is hardly likely to take any notice of harming a few petpets."

      "True," I conceded, "but the ambassador is just one guy. Wouldn't it be better to make a lot of people aware of it? Why not write to the Petpet Protection League and see if they can start a campaign, raise awareness, have a protest rally outside the scientist's lair?"

      Tobin looked up and his eyes brightened excitedly. "That's a brilliant idea, Kathryn!" he cried, balling up his letter to the ambassador and pulling a fresh sheet of paper off the stack. "You're a genius! I'm going to tell them it was all your idea, maybe they'll even let us join in the protest! I'd better start working on my picket sign right away! Here, Kathryn, since it was your idea, why don't you write the letter and I'll see if I can find some old cardboard boxes in the basement we can cut up for signs! I still have my poster paints from last Christmas, we can make them look really great!" He thrust his paper and the pen at me and raced off through the living room, his PPL cape trailing behind him.

      I stared at the blank paper in front of me, wishing that sometimes I could keep my big mouth shut. Although, if I was honest, I enjoyed seeing my brother get so excited, it didn't happen very often.

      Mom came downstairs just as Tobin was returning from the basement dragging several flattened cardboard boxes with him. "What are you two up to?" she asked, looking rather amused.

      "Kathryn had a brilliant idea!" Tobin exclaimed excitedly, dropping his cardboard in the middle of the floor. "She's writing a letter to the PPL to see if they'll start a protest against the petpet lab ray, it's gonna be great, it'll be all over the front page of the Neopian Times, and there'll be debates at the congressional level and a protest rally and everything! I'm making our picket signs, see?" He indicated the cardboard. "I'm gonna use poster paint and make 'em look really cool! Mom, if the PPL does hold a protest rally in the Haunted Woods, can we pleeeeeeeeease go? It's always been my biggest dream to meet them!"

      Mom stared at Tobin for a moment, trying to process everything he'd said at lightning speed. When she'd caught up, she smiled. "Well, that is a very good idea. I'd love to see your posters and letter when they're done. It might be a bit of a trip trying to get to the Haunted Woods, but if your campaign works, a protest rally is bound to be a long way out, so we'll see what we can do when the time comes."

      I knew Mom was just humouring my brother; I knew she didn't really believe anything would come of my letter, but she, like I, hated to be the one to let him down when he was this excited.

      I worked diligently on my letter, trying to make it sound as professional as possible, and when I was done, I read it to Tobin, who was by now spread out on the living room carpet with an old sheet covering the floor, lying on his stomach as he painted a large red X through an impressively accurate drawing of the petpet lab ray.

      "Dear Petpet Protection League," I read. "It has come to the attention of my brother and I that nothing is being done with regard to the petpet lab ray, and its cruel abuse of innocent petpets. We would appreciate it if you would look into the matter and do what you can to help stop the inhumanity. We are more than willing to help in any way we can by spreading the word and making people more aware of what is going on, and should there be the need for a protest rally, we are equipped with our own signs and are willing to walk the picket line. This is a matter of serious importance, and of deep personal pain to my brother, who is himself an honorary member of the PPL. We appreciate your time, and hope you can look deeper into this grave problem. Sincerely yours, Kathryn and Tobin." I looked up. "There," I said. "What do you think of that?"

      Tobin looked up at me. "Perfect," he grinned. "There's no way they can refuse us now! Here, come take a look at my signs."

      I went into the living room and stepped over paint trays to look at his work. One of them read in large red print, "Stop the zaps, burn the maps!" and had a blobby picture of what appeared to be a piece of the petpet lab map on fire beneath it. The next was a large picture of a fat nuranna with enormous black eyes, beneath which read, "Don't let the innocent suffer." I raised an impressed eyebrow, I had to admit, for a kid who didn't read people well, and subsequently had a poor grasp on empathy, his posters were quite effective. "Nice job," I said. "I bet the PPL will like them."

      Tobin beamed; the thought of his heroes appreciating his work was the height of honour.

      We posted our letter and Tobin nailed his signs to planks of wood, sticking them into the front lawn.

      "Why are you doing that?" I asked as he hammered his nuranna poster into the flower bed.

      "It's just until the protest rally starts," he said, "So people walking past will see them and spread the word."

      That night Mom went out to water her flowers, and we could hear her cry from the front step, "Who dug up my flower bed to stick a giant piece of cardboard in the lawn?!"

      Tobin's ears flattened sheepishly against his rain hat.

      A week passed, and every day Tobin ran outside to check the post box, and every day he came back in disappointed, but one day he ran outside, then dashed back in with a letter clamped in his mouth. "Kathryn!" he shouted. "They wrote back! Come look!"

      I was surprised. I'd expected them to throw our letter in a pile with all the other fan-slash-hate mail, but I looked at the envelope Tobin had put reverently on the kitchen table, and the return address was right there in black and white. "Headquarters of Neopia's Petpet Protection League".

      "Well, go on then," I said. "Open it."

      Gingerly Tobin peeled back the envelope's flap and pulled out the paper. Typed on neat letterhead were the words, "Dear Kathryn and Tobin, thank you for drawing our attention to the matter of the inhumanity of the petpet lab ray. You are right, it is a serious issue, and we are currently studying the matter in more detail with the intent of finding a peaceful solution to the matter. While a protest rally will unlikely be necessary, we appreciate your support, and encourage you to spread the word regarding the cruel treatment of petpets throughout your area. Thank you for your diligence, yours sincerely, Neopia's Petpet Protection League."

      Tobin was bursting with excitement, bouncing in his seat and flapping his forepaws wildly. "They like our idea!" he cried. "They're looking into it! We did it, Kathryn! We're going to have helped put a stop to the petpet lab ray!" Unable to contain his overwhelming enthusiasm, he ran full-tilt up the stairs to tell Mom the good news, our letter clenched in his teeth.

      I let Tobin keep the letter, and the very first thing he did was laminate it with several long strips of clear packing tape, encasing it in plastic, he then pinned it to his wall right above his bed, as if it were the most beautiful trophy he'd ever seen. His exceptional memory of course meant that he had memorised it after having read it no more than three times, and when Tobin found something he liked, he had a tendency to persevere. He spent the entire day reciting that letter to himself and to me, over and over and over again until I must have heard it at least thirty times. I really wanted to use that packing tape on his mouth, but even my annoyance at his repetition couldn't outweigh the enjoyment I got out of seeing my normally quiet, withdrawn little brother so happy.

      Unfortunately, Tobin's awareness campaign was decidedly less effective at school. He'd made fliers and pamphlets illustrating the horrors of the lab ray, and every day at recess, he attempted to hand them out to the other kids. Most of the time he was ignored, sometimes he was laughed at. A few kind souls took his pamphlets, but then threw them away as soon as they reached the nearest trash can. Mason and his cronies merely used my brother's sudden skyrocketing geekiness as an excuse to pick on him even more. They'd feign interest in what he had to say, and he, being the innocent, na├»ve, gullible kid that he was, didn't realise they were messing with him, and eagerly told them everything he knew about the ray. They in turn would nod with exaggerated looks of interest on their faces, and as soon as Tobin handed them his fliers, they'd laugh in his face as they shredded them at his feet. The next recess, they'd come back, apologising for their behaviour and insisting that this time they really did want to know what Tobin had to say, and they'd repeat the performance again. It took Tobin almost three days of this to catch on to the fact that they weren't sincere.

      That Friday, after a week's worth of rejection, teasing and tormenting as a result of his hard work on the campaign, Tobin dragged himself slowly home behind me, not speaking or looking up from the pavement.

      Noticing the decided lack of petpet chatter behind me, I paused and turned around. My brother looked heartbroken.

      "What's wrong, Tobe?" I asked, already knowing the answer.

      Tobin sighed heavily but didn't look up. "None of the other kids are interested in helping me get rid of the petpet ray," he said, sounding as if he wanted to cry. "They just made fun of me and called me a loser. Why did they do that, Kathryn?" he looked up at me with pain and bleak confusion in his eyes. "Why did they have to be so mean? Why can't they see this is important?"

      I sighed, wishing I knew what to say. "I dunno, Tobe," I said, resting a hand on his shoulder. He flinched and pulled away, and I drew back. "Sometimes kids can be dumb, they think it's cool to pick on people who aren't like them, but all it does is make them mean, not to mention exactly the same as one another. The world needs people like you, Tobe. Without you, there wouldn't be anyone to fight for the petpets, or raise awareness of the big issues, you just have to find the right audience. I bet David would love to hear about your campaign."

      Tobin didn't look up, but his ears twitched as if he were considering it. "You think so?" he asked, not uninterested.

      "Sure," I said encouragingly. "He loves hearing you talk about petpets. I bet he'd be really interested in this."

      Tobin considered it for several minutes, then eventually looked up. "Okay," he said at last, still sounding tired. "I guess I'll give it a try."

      As soon as we got home, Tobin dropped his bag on the floor by the door and went into the living room to start his daily pacing around the coffee table, murmuring maths equations to himself under his breath. He always circuited the coffee table as a way to unwind after a hard day of trying to interact with people, but the equations only came out when he was stressed and looking to distract himself from whatever the problem was.

      Mom, who was in the kitchen when we got home, noticed this and asked me, "What's wrong?"

      I explained what had been going on all week long, and brought up the suggestion I'd given Tobin about inviting David round. "It might bring his confidence back up a little," I said, watching the rain hat bob in circles. "He was so excited last week when we got that letter, but those dumb bullies have teased it right out of him."

      Mom considered this. "It couldn't hurt to try," she conceded, then sighed. "But why did you let him go to school with those fliers anyway? He didn't know the other kids would bully him, but you must have. Why didn't you stand up for him?"

      I stared at my mother, not sure if I should be feeling shame at my failed protective duties, or angry that Mom should be pinning responsibility for my brother on me. I chose the latter. "I'm not Tobin's personal bodyguard," I said, a little more testily than I meant. "I have bigger things to worry about at school than whether or not my brother's making a social moron of himself again! The fact that I live with a kid who acts like he's from Kreludor isn't my fault, you're his mother, how come it's taken you all week to notice something's wrong?" I hated myself for attacking my brother as a rebellion against my mother, but I was tired of her always expecting me to watch out for Tobin. He may have been weird and socially incompetent, but he wasn't stupid, he knew how to take care of himself. I stomped off to my room just as Tobin was beginning his recitation of pi to fifty decimal places.

      I sat on my bed fuming, it was bad enough that I had to live with my crazy brother, but to be made responsible for him and put in charge of ensuring he didn't do anything stupid wasn't fair.

      Mom knocked on the door and pushed it open. I glowered at her and she sighed, "I'm sorry, honey, it's not fair of me to expect you to watch out for your brother every waking minute. I just worry about him, and you do such a good job at it, you understand Tobin better than anyone, even better than me sometimes. I guess I just got used to the idea that you'd always be there to help your brother, I forget that you have other priorities sometimes. I know Tobin isn't the easiest person to live with, and I know if I were your age I'd want my brother to be normal too, but the truth is you handle him so well that I often don't notice." She sighed. "I know that's not fair on you, and I'll try to do a better job of helping you with him from now on."

      I looked at her suspiciously, trying to determine if she really meant what she said, then I sighed and shook my head. "How come nobody can tell us what's wrong with him? His weirdness is so clinical he can't possibly be the only one who acts the way he does, what do we do?"

      Mom sat down beside me and put a hand on my shoulder. "For now there's nothing we can do, we just have to help him and teach him as best we can, and remember to help each other while we're at it."

      When I got back downstairs, Tobin was still circling the table, muttering under his breath. He must be nearing the end of his recitation by now, I thought, so I let him finish before asking, "Hey Tobe, you given any more thought to my suggestion earlier? You want Mom to write David for you?"

      Tobin looked up and finally stopped pacing. "Okay," he said, sounding happier than he had done when we came home. "Do you really think he'll want to help get rid of the lab ray? I also have a whole bunch of stuff I want to tell him about the petpets I didn't have time to cover last time he was here, like, did you know the hoovle won't eat snap Draiks? They're afraid of them, they think the flower heads are giant insects because of their bizarre shape, and ukalis look like dragons, but they don't eat meat, they're vegetarians. Did you know that puppyblews are colourblind? They can only see in greys blacks and whites, but their sense of smell is twenty times better than ours is."

      I knew that if I didn't derail him now, I'd be listening to him for the next hour at least, so I said, "That's great, Tobe, I'll go find Mom and she can write to David for you." I stood up and headed back toward the stairs before he could trap me again.

      Mom wrote her letter, and David arrived the next afternoon. Tobin stood on the sofa looking out the window for his arrival. He had his PPL cape on and his fliers and pamphlets were spread out over the coffee table, and he had all his plushies piled up on the floor next to a toy version of the petpet lab ray he'd gotten for Christmas last year. When I asked what he was doing with it, he said it was for "demonstration purposes".

      Finally we saw David coming up the drive and Tobin leapt off the sofa, running into the kitchen and throwing open the front door. "Hurry up, David!" he called. "We have a lot to go over!"

      David laughed. "Hi Tobin, it's nice to see you. I understand you have some important information for me."

      Tobin nodded. "Yeah," he said. "Come into the living room and I'll show you," he said as David came into the kitchen.

      Mom said from across the room, "Tobin, remember what we practised? What are you supposed to do first when you have a guest over?"

      Tobin thought about it a moment. "Right," he said. Turning back to David, he looked at his forepaws and said in an exaggeratedly friendly, scripted tone, "Can I get you something to drink?"

      David chuckled. "I'm fine, but thanks for asking."

      Tobin stared at him. "I didn't ask how you were, I asked if you wanted anything to drink."

      I winced, but I was hardly surprised by the reaction.

      Fortunately David laughed, "No, I know, I just meant I don't want anything."

      "Oh, well, okay," Tobin said, getting excited again. "Come into the living room. I have a lot to show you."

      "By the way," David said, as he followed Tobin into the next room, "I like your cape. Did you make it yourself?"

      "Yes," Tobin said, organising his fliers. "It's my Petpet Protection League attire, and see this button?" he said, turning to face David and pointing to the knot in his cape. "The PPL sent me this when I wrote to them two years ago, I'm an honorary member."

      "Wow," David said, looking impressed. "They must have a lot of faith in you. They don't let just anybody be a member, honorary or or otherwise."

      Tobin smiled proudly at his badge. "I know," he said. "I'm going to join them for real when I'm old enough."

      David looked around the room at the blanket of petpet-related objects spread over everything. "So, what's all this?" he asked.

      Tobin picked up a flier and pushed it into David's hand. "This is why you're here. I have an important mission for you. You've heard of the petpet lab ray right?"

      David nodded, looking at the flier. "Sure," he said.

      "Well, then you know its primary purpose is to alter petpets' appearances, but what you may not know is how inhumane it is; it causes the petpets great pain and suffering, sometimes even disintegrating them into piles of soot!" he cried, rifling through his papers to find his picture of a little black pile of ash with sad looking eyes.

      "Wow, that's terrible," David commiserated, looking at the picture.

      "I know," Tobin said, sounding angry. "That's why we have to stop it, Kathryn wrote a letter to the PPL and they said they'd look into it, but in the meantime, they told us to spread the word about the problems the ray causes, so that's what I'm doing. Look here," he said, moving toward his pile of plushies and the miniature plastic lab ray, "I'll show you how it works. They put the petpet in this box here so it can't escape, then they point this giant laser at it, and zap it with a giant burst of electrical energy that pulsates through its entire body, changing its DNA at the molecular level, can you imagine how much that'd hurt?" He shook his head sadly.

      "Then they just leave it in the box until it adjusts to its new body, they don't even give it a warm place to rest. It's terrible, and I really need your help to let people know how serious it is and get them to help stop it." Tobin rummaged around in his papers again and pulled out a homemade paper pin that he'd laminated with tape. "Here," he said, "I made you an honorary PPL badge too, take these fliers and pass them out to everyone you can, and here's a script so you don't forget what to say. Eventually you'll have it memorised, but until then it's best if you just read it so you don't forget anything important."

      David pinned the badge to his chest and looked at all the papers Tobin had given him. "Wow," he said. "You've worked really hard on all this."

      Tobin nodded. "I had to," he said. "Nobody else would; they don't care about petpets like I do."

      "Well, they're lucky to have you," David said. "You're going to make the best member of the PPL they've ever seen."

      Tobin beamed.

      "So who's this guy?" David asked, picking up one of Tobin's stuffed noils. I watched from the kitchen table, impressed; he was deliberately giving my brother an opening to launch into another one of his petpet spiels.

      Tobin jumped at the chance. "That's a noil," he said. "They used to roam the prairies of Meridell until travelling circuses started capturing them and training them to do tricks. They became domesticated in 1869 when a ringmaster from one of the circuses took an injured noil from his act home with him, he nursed it back to health, and he couldn't bear to put it back in the circus, so he kept it as a pet."

      "Really," David said, actually sounding as if he cared about what Tobin was saying. "That's really interesting."

      "I know," Tobin said. "Nobody else thinks so, whenever I try to tell Kathryn about them, she stops listening or tells me to be quiet."

      I winced, recalling the number of times I'd told my brother to shut up about his stupid petpets, suddenly wishing I had more patience for his rants.

      "Well, some people are more interested in things other than petpets," David conceded. "But there's no reason to be mean just because you like talking about things they don't."

      Tobin nodded a little sadly as he pawed at Gil absently. "I like you, David," he said at last, staring at the floor. "You see things most others don't."

      David smiled, clearly flattered. "Well, thanks," he said. "I like you too, Tobin, you're a very interesting kid, and smart too, I bet you could teach me a lot more than just stuff about petpets," he said.

      I recognised what he was doing; he was trying to widen the scope of the conversation by letting my brother take the lead on a topic that had nothing to do with his primary special interest.

      "Sure," Tobin said, pleased with David's recognition of his intelligence. "I'm really good at math. I'm doing work two grades above Kathryn. It's really easy. Last week I was studying quadratic equations, I can show you if you like," he said, turning over one of his petpet ray fliers to its blank side and pulling a pencil from the drawer.

      My brother spent the next hour trying to teach quadratics to a man who hadn't picked up a calculator since his last day of high school, and eventually had to give up. "Never mind," he said at last. "I know pi to fifty decimal places, maybe I can teach you that instead."

      David, who by this time was starting to get worn out, said, "Gee, Tobin, that sounds like fun, but my brain's pretty fried right now. Maybe we could try it another day. I have an idea, though, why don't we go into town and see if there's anything interesting going on. Kathryn, you can come with us if you like."

      I jumped at the chance; we rarely went into town, and I loved exploring the shops. "Sure," I said, getting up from the kitchen chair I'd been occupying since David arrived. "I'll go tell Mom."

      As I went up the stairs, I could hear Tobin saying behind me, "This'll be great. I can visit the petpet shop again and play with the puppyblews!"

      We walked the few miles into town, me keeping several feet of space between myself and my brother, who had decided to wear his PPL cape to the market.

      "Tobe, did you have to wear that stupid thing?" I asked pleadingly.

      "Yes," Tobin said flatly, his neopoints jangling in their bag on the string he had tied around his neck as he walked. "I want the shop owner to recognise me as a petpet authority, then maybe he'll finally let me handle the nuranna."

      My brother had been wanting to play with the nuranna at the petpet shop ever since he first laid eyes on it four years ago; that was when this whole petpet madness had started. Before that, he was utterly obsessed with Tyrannian history, and even at the age of five, he could be found reading history textbooks on their culture with only minimal help from our mother. Sometimes I almost missed the days when he'd yammer on for hours at a time about the evolution of the Tyrannian species and how they eventually gained their freedom from the tyranny of the oppressive Grarrg; it was a lot better than the sleeping habits of petpets.

      We followed the yellow cobblestone path into town, and Tobin made a beeline for the petpet shop before the rest of us could say anything. Suppressing a sigh, I followed him, glancing at David, who smiled at me.

      The doorbell jangled and the shop owner looked up and smiled at us, "Can I help you?" he asked.

      My brother, normally shy and reserved around strangers, marched up to the counter and said, "I'd like to see your nuranna please."

      The shopkeeper studied him, then finally said, "Well, we don't usually let kids handle the more fragile petpets, but I guess I could make an exception for a member of the Petpet Protection League."

      I couldn't believe it; that stupid cape actually worked.

      Tobin grinned excitedly and followed the shopkeeper to the back of the store. David and I followed at a distance.

      The shopkeeper fished his keys from his pocket and approached the nuranna's aquarium, unlocking the lid and fishing the bizarre looking creature out with a large net.

      Just by looking, I could tell Tobin was bursting with excitement, but he kept still and composed as he sat back on his haunches and gently took the dripping petpet in his forepaws.

      "He's so beautiful," Tobin breathed, unable to take his eyes off it. "What's his name?" he asked the shopkeeper.

      The man shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "No one's ever given him one. You can name him if you like."

      Tobin gasped. "Really?" he asked, as if this were the best day of his life.

      The man smiled. "Sure," he said.

      Tobin looked reverently at the creature flopping in his grip and murmured, "I'm going to name you Gil, after my stuffed nuranna at home."

      I fought the urge to laugh, knowing I should have seen this coming.

      For nearly half an hour my brother sat on the floor, playing with his new best friend, until David finally said we had to go. I sighed with relief, not sure how much longer I would have been able to stand it.

      As we turned to go, David asked me when Tobin's birthday was.

      "In about four weeks now you mention it," I said. "Why?"

      David just shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, no reason," he said casually.

To be continued...

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Other Episodes

» My Brother Tobin: Part One
» My Brother Tobin: Part Two
» My Brother Tobin

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