Excerpt: The Aroma of Coffee

     "Hi, Patrick."
     Damn! Chris’s soft voice always set me on edge. I didn't open my eyes for a few seconds, hoping he would be gone, but when I finally raised my eyelids, he was standing alongside the hammock smiling down at me.
     "Hey," I mumbled, closing my eyes again.
     "You want to swim with us?" he asked.
     "No, I'm resting here," I growled.
     "Okay," he said.
     When I peeked through my eyelids minutes later, he was off with Terry, at the other end of the pool, taking off his shirt. And the afternoon had started out so well.
     If there was ever a fish out of water, it was Christopher Johnson. It wasn't that he was a bad kid or anything. He was just different, not like a regular guy. He was more gentle and soft-spoken, which didn’t work very well in our town. This was Texas ranch country and his personality brought him a lot of abuse at school, and since Terry was his friend, he took the abuse right alongside Chris, and he wouldn't consider doing it any differently, even when I talked with him about it. To my little brother, Chris was his friend, and there was nothing more to say. Of course, I ended up entering the fray a few times when we were younger, to defend my brother, and thereby defended Chris, too. It bothered me that I had to stick up for him, to protect my brother. If he wanted to be different, that was his thing, and I wanted no part of it. He just didn't understand how you had to be, if you wanted to get along in high school - and keep from getting your ass kicked on a regular basis. I was just shy of six-feet tall so I could at least moderately defend myself from the usual high school bullshit that popped up. Chris, on the other hand, was shorter by a head and skinny, though it was hard to tell sometimes, with those large, oversized t-shirts he wore most of the time. He wasn’t a bad kid. He just wasn’t normal. And to me, normal was how you had to be, to get along.