Path of Endurance chapter 01
10-year-old Brianna Grendel leaped up from her bed in the middle of the night. Her father's voice was demanding as usual, but also filled with pure panic. Brianna ran into the living room of their small apartment in the middle of Queen's downtown. The apartment was very small and cramped; Brianna had to jump over a sofa and a coffee table to get to her parents' bedroom. She had already guessed why she was needed in the middle of the night.
?What, it's time?? Brianna inquired.
?Just shut up, Brianna, and get me a bowl of warm water!? her father roared. Brianna left in a hurry ? yes, she had guessed right. That night, her mother gave birth to her little brother. A lively and very loud baby boy, and Brianna liked him that instant. Her father, however, wasn't pleased. ?This can't be happening... goddammit, one night without a lubber and what do I get? Nice'n'quick and another brat screaming into my ears!?
?Oh, come on, pops, he's cute,? Brianna giggled, swinging her fingers near the baby's tummy. The baby grabbed her fingers, and as Brianna noted, he was an unusually strong baby. The father just made a murderous glance at the boy and spat. ?We're giving him away to the adoption center?, he said. ?We can't afford him, we can hardly afford you!?
But the next morning told terrible news. The mother had died during the night. She was given a proper funeral, since the town paid off the priest, the church and the tombstone. When the ceremony was over, the three Grendels left stood at the mother's grave. Cary ? the father ? had been drinking ever since the morning and was hardly able to stand up. Brianna held the newborn in her arms. She had more news to tell to Cary, but she wasn't sure how he would react.
?I spoke to the adoption center's owner today?, she said.
?They're taking the brat?? Cary supposed and took a sip.
?No, they aren't.?
?We don't have a good enough reason to give him away, and now that mother's gone, the insurance money covers the costs of the baby.?
Cary exploded. He pulled Brianna by her hair and screamed right into her face. ?Are you telling me Annette died so the brat could live?!! That the insurance money is to be used for the brat?!! Hell no! Annette died BECAUSE of the brat!?
?That is not true!? Brianna cried out. ?The doctors said her heart just stopped! I'm not sure what he meant, but he said that mom had 'taken too much medicine' so that her heart just couldn't take it.?
She burst out in tears. Cary let go of her hair and pushed her over to the ground. Crying, he left the graveyard leaving Brianna and the newborn behind him. The newborn tried to hide himself from the freezing wind, seeking Brianna's body warmth to keep himself warm. Brianna dried her tears away and held the boy closer. ?He's gonna go down the bottle again,? she said to him. ?We just have to hang on. We can't do it alone, so we must do it together. As a sister and a brother...?
Suddenly, she realized that the boy wasn't even named yet. ?So what am I gonna call you when you grow up?? she wondered. ?I guess it's up to me to name you, or else you will grow up as Brat Grendel. But what to call you? You need a name that will remind you that we are one, we are on the same side. Brianna and...?
A moment of silence.
?... and Bryan. Yes, that's what you will be. Bryan Grendel!?
As if to show his approval, Bryan snuggled up to Brianna. Brianna stood up from the ground and walked back home. Cary was watching sports TV with a bottle of booze in his hand, he didn't even notice that Brianna came back home. Brianna laid Bryan down onto her bunk. She opened a drawer from her dresser and filled its bottom with some clothes she didn't think she'd need for a while. She put a little blanket into it, turning it into a makeshift crib for Bryan. She didn't need anyone to tell her that it was up to her to look after and take care of her little brother.
Things went as Brianna had supposed. Cary just drank all day through, and when he wasn't drinking and watching TV, he was passed out cold. Brianna began skipping lessons here and there so she could go to school later and get back earlier. Bryan wasn't the hardest possible baby to look after, but he, too, needed attention. Brianna used whatever little math skills she had to count how much money she had in her usage, what would she need to buy and how much she could offer. It would take six years before she would be old enough to get a job, and she came into conclusion that the money wasn't sufficient.
Brianna had no other choice. Every day she went from neighbor to neighbor, begging whatever food supplies they would have. The neighbors didn't like it much though, and soon they didn't even open their doors to her. By this time, Bryan was a year old.
One day Brianna was caught of shoplifting a can of milk. The police took her home, and told Cary about it, seemingly he took it quite well, but as the police had returned to their businesses and Brianna was deep in her thought as in how she had gotten caught, Cary's fist woke her up from her thoughts. Brianna fell into the ground, holding her aching cheek. ?If you bring in the cops here one more time, I'm gonna waste your sorry ass for good, and the same goes for your good-for-nothing brother, too!? Cary yelled, and stumbled back to the sofa.
Brianna's cheek felt as if was on fire. The punch had hurt her soul more than her flesh, but still she refused to cry. She held back her tears and stood up, shoving her feelings aside. She had no time to get emotional, she had to think of something else to earn her and Bryan's livelihood.
By the time Bryan turned five, Brianna had already figured out an answer. She had become a master pickpocket. No more shoplifting, and a lesser chance to get caught. Of course, some people had noted her during the act, but she was an incredibly fast runner, and small enough to hide herself where she pleased.
Bryan himself had grown strong and big. Even with the minimal nutrition Brianna had to offer, he was bigger and stronger than the boys normally at his age. Brianna had taught him to walk and talk, thus he looked up to her as his caregiver. And because Brianna had quit calling Cary ?dad?, Bryan didn't call him that either. Not that he would have cared, anyway. To him, Cary was just some lazybone in front of the TV-set, drinking beer and cursing everything.
Brianna was fifteen then. She had turned from the little kid into a beautiful young woman with a strong sense of right and wrong. That didn't stop Cary from beating her up, though. She showed up at school with swollen lips and black eyes, getting her classmates worried. Brianna refused to accept whatever help she was offered; she had developed an obsession of taking care of problems by herself. She kept this obsession intact, until one conversation with a schoolfriend of hers, Jim. Jim was a caring friend, and though he would never admit it aloud, he held certain feelings towards Brianna. Brianna, however, was too busy studying, working and taking care of Bryan to have any time or any interest for her own feelings. Jim knew this, and left the ice unbroken.
?Why won't you do something about it?? Jim asked. ?You know, call the cops or something.?
?I can't?, Brianna replied. ?For Bryan's sake. The cops don't care about some bitch living with a drunk father and a baby brother. Cary'll just say I fell down the stairs and that's it. And after the cops are gone ? pheeeeew! Brianna 'fell down the stairs' once more.?
Brianna slammed her school locker close and picked up her schoolbag; ?Listen, Jim, I appreciate your concern, but you'd be a wise man if you stayed out of this.?
?Well, there's nothing I can do for you alright?, Jim agreed. ?But I know someone who surely can. Say, ever thought about taking up kickboxing??
?Kickboxing!?? Brianna cried out. ?What do you think I am, some female gladiator? I can't even move a shelf without Bryan's help.?
?Kickboxing ? like any other martial art ? does not require much strength. Besides, it would develop it. Is the name Bruce Irvin familiar to you??
?Bruce Irvin... wait, is he the kickboxing heavy-weight champion of this year??
?Yes, he is. Listen, I happen to know the guy. He's not such a bad guy, on the contrary; I'm sure he'll agree to train you once he hears the reason.?
Brianna felt unsure, but after the schoolday had come to its end, Jim took Brianna to a small gym on the other side of the area. There was an Afro-American man, near his thirties, punching a bag harder than Brianna was able to believe. Jim greeted him loudly, and the man replied as loudly as Jim ? obviously they had known each other for quite a while. ?Jim, you got the sports tape for me?? the man inquired. Jim threw a roll of tape to him, and the man sat down to a mattress to tape up two of his fingers together.
?Bruce, I'd like you to meet a friend of mine,? Jim said, sitting down and pulling Brianna to sit down, too. ?This is Brianna Grendel. She goes to the same school as I do.?
Brianna nodded hesitantly. Bruce took a good look at her, apparently liking what he saw, too. His dark eyes smiled at her, making her feel a bit safer than a moment ago.
?Brianna, this is Bruce Irvin, the heavy-weight champion of kickboxing?, said Jim. Bruce cut the sports tape roll from his fingers and shook hands with Brianna. ?Nice to meet you,? he smiled.
?The honor is all mine, Mr. Irvin,? Brianna replied. Bruce let out a horselaugh: ?No need for formalities. Call me Bruce, just like everyone else does.?
Brianna nodded. Bruce studied her face for a while, and even though Brianna's brown hair hid her scars and bruises quite well, Bruce saw them. ?Say, uh, you OK? You look like someone gave you a one, helluva beating.?
?No!? Brianna cried out exactly the same time as Jim replied ?Yes!?
?That's the reason why I brought her here?, Jim told before Brianna had a chance to say anything. ?Brianna's having some serious family problems; her dad's beating her up all the time but she doesn't dare to call the cops because she's afraid of what might happen to her little brother.?
A deep silence landed upon the gym.
?I see...? Bruce said after a while. ?Sorry to hear that.?
?So uh, could you like, you know... train her?? Jim inquired. By now, Brianna's face had become beet-red with embarrassment. She couldn't believe that she was actually asking for help. Bruce, however, took it quite well. He gave it some serious thought. ?Hmm... yeah, I think I could... for the right price?, he finally said.
?Price...?? Brianna asked, her voice shaking. ?I... don't have any money. Everything I earn, I use for food for me and Bryan.?
?Couldn't she pay you some other way?? Jim asked. ?Other than... in nature, that is.?
?Actually, yes, she could, other way than in nature, too?, Bruce said. ?You see, I have to train a lot to keep up with this heavy-weight champion-shit, but I have to work too, to earn my livelihood. So I don't have much time for my apartment, which hasn't been cleaned since the Christ was born. And I'm fed up with take-away foods. I'll train you daily if you clean a bit and cook some food for me, say, three times a week. Deal??
Brianna's lips curved into a smile. ?Deal.?