The Flower Boy
by ABBIE JOHNSON TAYLOR
"This is very important. You must do a good job." His father's words reverberated in his head, as Tristan sauntered down the makeshift aisle, dropping rose petals as he went. On either side of him were rows of white plastic chairs where well-dressed people sat, anticipating the event to come. Colorful flowers and balloons festooned the yard. They reminded him of Christmas decorations, as they hung from tree branches and swayed in the gentle breeze. Ahead of him stood an arch, decorated with more flowers. He was mesmerized by the sight and the music.
Uncle Rick stood inside the arch, waiting for his bride to appear. He was Tristan's favorite uncle, the only adult who paid any attention to him. Tristan remembered him saying, "This is something little girls do, but Heather and I don't know any little girls so you're the man for the job."
Tristan didn't care if his duty was usually performed by little girls. He was glad to do anything for his uncle. If it weren't for this adult who cared, he would be sitting with his older male cousins, watching, wishing.
Tristan gazed at his uncle, who stood at the altar, dressed in his gray suit and wearing a broad grin. The music played, and he walked down the sidewalk that served as an aisle, dropping rose petals. It didn't matter that he was different, that he couldn't play with other kids, throw a ball, run, or jump. He had an important job to do to make his uncle's wedding special.
"Ha Ha! Look at the flower boy!" The words cut through the air, drowning out everything else. They came from Tristan's older cousin Eric. "Hey, Retard, don't you know that's what girls do? Are you a girl, Retard?"
Eric always made Tristan's life miserable at family gatherings. It was Eric who taunted him, tripped him, kicked him, punched him, threw a ball so hard that it hit him square in the face, causing his nose to bleed. His other cousins ignored him and never intervened when Eric tortured him.
Tristan stopped, clutching the remaining petals, not sure what to do. He remembered his father saying, "You're only making Eric happy by letting him get to you. Just ignore him."
Tristan couldn't brush aside the words that hit him like a fist, and brought home the message that he wasn't like the others. As tears welled up in his eyes, he considered turning and running back the way he'd come.
Uncle Rick, his face red with anger, hurried to where Eric sat, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and dragged him into the aisle. "Ouch!" Eric said in surprise, as he struggled to free himself.
"Look, Wise Guy, I'm not going to have you ruin the happiest day of my life," Uncle Rick said. "Now you apologize to T-bone. Don't call him Retard. Say `I'm sorry, Tristan.'"
The music stopped. There was dead silence. People turned to stare at Tristan, Eric, and Uncle Rick. Eric continued to struggle, but Uncle Rick was nearly six feet tall, and although Eric was a couple of inches taller than Tristan, he was still no match. "Rick, what are you doing?" said Uncle Harry, Eric's father.
"I'm doing what you should have been doing, teaching your son a lesson," Uncle Rick answered. "Eric, are you going to say you're sorry or do I have to give you a knuckle sandwich?" Uncle Rick raised his fist as if to strike the boy.
In a flash, Uncle Harry was also in the aisle. "Don't you dare tell me how to raise my kid!" he yelled, as he put a protective arm around Eric. "You and Heather don't have kids yet so you have no right to tell me how to be a parent."
Even Uncle Harry was no match for Uncle Rick. The latter's fist sent him sprawling among the chairs. "Heather and I are sick and tired of the way Eric treats Tristan," Uncle Rick said. "If you and Wanda had any sense, if any of you had any sense, you'd teach your kids to respect Tristan and include him in their activities instead of ignoring him and making his life a living Hell. , Eric, are you going to apologize, or do you get the same treatment as your father?"
"I'm sorry, Tristan," said Eric. For the first time, there was a quaver in his voice and a frightened look in his eyes.
Uncle Rick released Eric, who stumbled to his seat. And returned to the altar to await his bride. The music resumed and Tristan continued his pilgrimage toward the altar, dropping rose petals as he went. But the spell was broken. He knew that in the eyes of everyone, he was different.