I stood at my mother’s side, listening to her soft laughter. The sound was delightful and polite, easy happiness that carried on the light breeze. She was standing with a group of women, discussing a variety of things: vegetables, weather, flowers, children—the things women enjoy talking about. Though I was now twelve years old, I was content staying near my mother during social events. Many thought it was a bad habit—a sign of infinite shyness. A few of the women openly pitied my mother, and the men often asked my father if everything was quite all right with me. My parents were patient and kind, though, and as a result the neighbors were constantly assured that I was perfectly normal.
I don’t know exactly what the other children thought about me and my reticence. Most in the area were younger or older than me, so I didn’t care to join them very often in their games. Besides, I wasn’t extremely athletic. I preferred staying unobserved, unnoticed. I preferred painting, reading, or daydreaming, to playing rough games outdoors.
I was the exact opposite of my younger brother.
Sean was energetic, active, and well-loved by everyone for miles around. He was always in the thick of things, for good or for ill. The women adored him; the men often gave my father satisfied looks; the younger children looked up to him. He was eleven years old now, since yesterday. Though he was young, his magnetic personality, good looks, and bright mind drew everyone to him. I don’t believe anyone said it aloud, but I knew many believed Sean was the superior son.
While I understood all of this—accepted it—I wasn’t bothered by their obvious thoughts. Because I knew my family didn’t share any of these opinions. My father was the local pastor, and he was very well respected. He was equal parts spiritual and brilliant He’d often told me my quiet strength was my greatest virtue, and that someday I would find my place and be sure of it. My mother was the kindest woman the earth had ever known, and her heart was infinitely pure. She whispered to me always that I was extremely talented and would grow into a strong man one day. My brother would grin, clap my shoulder, and tease that someday I would be his equal. Their quiet words were enough for me; I needed the respect of no one else.
Perhaps I was unnecessarily hard on my neighbors. They did not disapprove of me, exactly. In fact, many of the women commented on my charming O’Donnell looks, and quite a few of the men believed I was uncommonly wise for my age. Still, I knew that in the privacy of their homes, many heads were shaken on my behalf.