You Don’t Have To Work So Hard

Updated: May 25

By: Meiliyl
Posted on: May 24, 2022
Cover Picture: "You Don't Have to Work so Hard"
Cover Picture by: Meiliyl
Year: 2022
Medium: Digital

Description:


After bringing up the idea of dropping out of school in order to help financially support the two of them, Oleander is severely scolded by Fuchsia. Still, he doesn’t let go of the idea of finding a job and gets one behind Fuchsia’s back anyway. Since he was young, Oleander was one-sidedly taken care of by Fuchsia. Fuchsia, being his singular guardian, learnt the tough lesson of dealing with issues independently, so Oleander is desperate to find any way to ease Fuchsia’s burden.


***


“YOU WANT TO WHAT?!”


I flinched. When was the last time I ever heard Fuchsia yell? I can’t remember. For as far back as I can recall, he never seemed to tire from smiling. No matter what mess I got myself into, whether I broke something, fought with someone, or failed a test, I only ever met his soft smile and gentle coaxing.


Truthfully, I now wish he weren’t so patient with me.


“I- I said I want to put school aside for now and find a job for myself,” I repeated. “Having a job will give me working experience, and I can earn money as well-”


“Let me get this straight. You want to drop out of school to get a job.” He cooly cut me off in such a matter-of-fact way I could hear the impatience oozing out.


“Yeah, because I want to be able to earn some money myself. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job, if that’s what you’re worried about. I can find a good part-time and still come back in the evenings to help you out here,” I explained to him, only to be met with a slow shake of the head.


“Is this because you can’t go on that field trip? I’m sorry, but it’s really too expensive. There are always plenty of other opportunities in the future.” Fuchsia’s tone eased considerably, like he was once again persuading a young child.


This irked me.


“What the heck are you talking about? What does a school trip have to do with my desire to earn some money, huh? This isn’t about me or my pocket money, I’m doing this for yo-”


“YOU don’t even think about dropping out of school! I don’t want to hear about you giving up your education for me, okay? I’m not someone who needs to be supported by their younger brother who’s still attending high school! I don’t have high standards, but my bottom line is that you graduate high school. Understand?” His finger jabbed me in the chest. Though I say jabbed, it was closer to a forceful tap; yet again with his leniency towards me.


“If you continue with this half-hearted effort towards studying, then all my efforts really will go to waste. Find an apprenticeship or a college or a university; whatever you choose, I’ll support you. Just don’t be in a hurry to make money right now.”

I figured he would say something like this, what else was I expecting? I get that studying is important, especially in this day and age, but I can’t help feeling like baggage dragging at his legs. Studying just doesn’t seem like enough.


“What’s the point,” I mumbled, “if I get a well-paying job only after a whole decade? Isn’t that practically useless in the present?”


“OLEANDER!” Fuchsia snapped. I winced, unaware that my barely audible complaint would bring out such a fire. His eyes widened a hint before he closed them and massaged his temples, sighing deeply. “I’m sorry, Oleander, I didn’t mean to shout at you. I suppose I’m a bit tired from today.” Fuchsia apologised politely, his voice once again laced with tenderness. “I’m going up now. Remember to put the dishes into the sink when you’re done eating and turn off the lights, I’ll wash them in the morning. Please don’t cast aside school so easily. It is important, even if you don’t get immediate results. And again, I’m sorry, Oleander.”


I simply stood there as Fuchsia walked out and closed the door. My hands, which I only just realised were clenched tight, loosened as I heard his footsteps fade away. My sight dropped downwards, examining the tile floor as my hand traced the brim of the bowl in front of me. The rice had long gone cold, and my appetite had disappeared with it.


I wanted to lessen the burden on him, but it seems I just added a heap more. If only I could actually be of help; he already does so much for me. After our parents decided to ‘come together and cast off their old lives’, Fuchsia chose to raise me, a child from a past marriage, over his education. I suppose that’s why he’s so adamant that I continue mine. That just makes me feel a lot worse.

I wiped the table, cleaned up and tidied the place so that he wouldn’t have to do it first thing in the morning. Closing the lights, I slowly trudged upstairs, bathing in the silence that invaded the house since Fuchsia left. My head felt heavy, as if an enormous weight tied it down; maybe, hopefully, it’s just because I’m tired.


Hopefully, It’ll be gone in the morning.

Photo: "Flowers"
Picture by: Andrew Ro
Year: 2022
Classification: Photograph

Of course it wouldn’t.


Begrudgingly, I slung my bag over my shoulders and hurried down the stairs. I could already hear the loud chattering of morning regulars having a coffee or meal before heading off to work. This home of ours doubled as a small bistro that my brother opened and still operates alone. My feet numbly carried me over to the kitchen, even though it was really the last place I wanted to be right now; where Fuchsia is.


What was usually the fresh, savoury and sweet scent of a typical western breakfast now smells like heavy grease and thick molasses for my brain to wade through; blocking every other emotion, thought, and only leaving me with a sense of suffocation. On a kitchen countertop, besides the breakfast that my brother would each day carefully make for me, was a slice of chocolate cake.


In the past, he would always make chocolate cake the morning after we had a fight as an apology. With the way Fuchsia is, though, when I say fight, it was always me throwing a tantrum or getting upset myself. I can’t say that last night was much different. But now, I’m self-aware enough to know that my brother really shouldn’t be the one to apologise.


The note he wrote to accompany it was a repeat of last night’s apologies which really made me want to light the paper on fire and throw it in the pan to smoulder. But I held back, for the reason that lighting fires isn’t environmentally friendly and I wouldn’t want to taint one of Fuchsia’s pans with its ash.


Also, you shouldn’t burn garbage, you should try to reuse what you can. Thus I used the back of the note to write my own. `Eat it yourself. I don’t want your apology. I really wish Fuchsia would just let me take the blame when it rightfully belongs on my shoulders.


I could tell Fuchsia was looking over at my back while he was chopping some sort of vegetable or something. He’s gauging my reaction to the slice of cake; I don’t even need to look to guess that. Of course, I still will. Picking up the plate of buns, the provided breakfast, and turning my head to stare directly back at my brother, I straight up walked out the side door of the kitchen to escape the awkwardness. I didn’t want to see the look on his face from my refusing his apology(by not eating the cake), but my guilt was not strong enough to make me regret my stance. He’ll see the note when he catches a break, it’ll be fine. I slowly ate the buns on my way to school, tucking the plate into my lunch box so I could clean it when I do come back.



School passed neither fast nor slow, simply uneventfully. I went to classes, chatted with friends and did my work like every other day in the past. Really, the school day passed like a dream, plainly put. The fog from this morning didn’t exactly clear up, and all my mind could attach itself to was what I would be doing afterwards. That being I was going to apply for a job.


I was completely ignoring Fuchsia's words yesterday. Yep.


And I did. I found this nice café nearby but not too nearby that said they would be willing to hire me. The stepping-in and asking process felt like how people describe confessing to a crush. The ramping up of the heartbeat as I walked up to an employee and the blank disbelief when they said yes. I really hope that my jaw was not as slack as my brain went in that moment because that would scar me emotionally for the rest of eternity. I think some of the weight on my head lessened with that, as I walked out feeling rather light. It only really hit me now that winter has almost ended and spring is fast approaching.


In the end, I chose to work part-time. I’m unsure if it’s because I was scared to step out into the working world despite having already made up my mind, but my mouth simply spouted the words ‘part-time’ before I could actually think. Maybe, though, this will work out better. I’ll still go to school, like Fuchsia wants, and earn income simultaneously. Then I can use this to prove that I am able to share the financial burden as well. After all, it’s not that I hate studying, I just want to optimise every waking hour I have, but if continuing with school will make this more acceptable to him, then I guess that’s what I should do.


Obviously, I won’t tell this to Fuchsia immediately after coming back; I haven’t even started working yet. I’ll tell him when I get my pay, which should be hard enough evidence. Thinking this to myself, my shoulders relaxed and the corners of my mouth tugged upwards. I began to hum a tune on the way back, pulling down my sleeves to cover my cold hands as the weather was very kindly reminding me that it is indeed not yet spring and the temperature is still -5℃.


Gee thanks, I couldn’t tell.



I shut the side door behind me and cautiously took off my shoes, which were bravely enduring a boot-worthy swamp of muddy, slushy regret. As I did so, I saw Fuchsia at the entrance of the kitchen, bent over with hands on his legs to support him. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it looks like he just ran over here? His eyes lit up as he saw me and he gave a beaming smile.


“Welcome home,” he said.


Horribly caught off guard, I barely was able to utter a “Yeah,” before rushing straight past him to the front of our eatery to help him clear up tables, as I always do when I come back from school. The time I usually come back from school is when the lunch rush slows down, and usually, there were many tables Fuchsia had yet to find time to clean up.


And that is how I began to understand why Fuchsia was so weirdly relieved to see me today. No, it wasn’t entirely because of the fight last night nor the cake this morning. Seeing the clear tables beside a few lingering customers, I finally remembered the fact that today I came home later than usual. I completely forgot that I come directly home on normal days, and on the rare occasions I decide to stay out a bit longer, I at least text him to let him know beforehand.


A small, teensy little seed of some indescribable negative feeling began to sprout in the pit of my stomach. Was the feeling horror? Was it guilt or shame, in causing him even more distress? The realisation that my brother might have seriously worried half to death whether I was kidnapped or decided to run away because of a petty argument, simply because I forgot to contact him? I felt a sinking anxiety that this might repeat in the future, that all my efforts to lift the pressure off his shoulders will only press them down harder.


I stood at the entranceway between the front and the hall, merely staring into blank space. From behind, I suddenly heard Fuchsia speak up. “Uhm, Oleander? Are you going to- I mean, are you not going to, well, help me wash the dishes today?” he stiffly asked.


Hearing him hurriedly trying to explain that I don’t have to, that it isn’t necessary for me to if I don’t want to, blah blah- snapped me out of my wallowing. This guy clearly would never be able to ask for help himself, so I need to be the one to offer first or nothing will ever change.


“I will,” I responded, not even realising the tension melting away from me, “Don’t worry, I don’t have anything urgent.”


“Oh, alright.” The chaos and panic have faded and peace once again settled into his features. I managed to push the role of dishwasher onto Fuchsia, while I rinsed them off and dried them before putting the dishes to the side. Usually, I would do this entire process myself. As there are no incoming customers, we, but more importantly Fuchsia could relax a bit.


And it seemed he was sufficiently relaxed enough to start worrying about new stuff. “Are you still mad at me?” he quietly fretted. The plate in my hands almost shattered against the ground before I managed to recover it and give a beautiful, well thought out response: “. . . Huh?”


“Are you still angry because of last night?” Fuchsia’s hands still kept moving, but he turned his head to look at me. “I’m really sorry for yelling at you yesterday. I am grateful that you want to help me, but you’re already helping me out so much each day. Don’t worry about earning money for my sake, and please don’t drop out of school yet, okay?”


I glanced at his guilty smile seeking forgiveness before trying to turn my head away in the least suspicious way possible. Was I still angry at him? Definitely. But not because he raised his voice, that would be very petty of me. Now did I want to accept his apology? No, because he- it’s like he’s brushing off my concerns and treating me like an easy-to-convince child. Fuchsia’s eyes patiently stayed on me even as the silence dragged on. In the end, I squeezed out an “Okay,” through my reluctance, if only to appease Fuchsia and dispel the cold stillness between us. “Just please go easier on yourself then.” I softly added.

“I will.” Fuchsia’s gentle beaming returned to his face. Seeing him so relieved, I gave a faint smile myself.


I knew that he was lying. I didn’t say anything.


Photo: "Pink Flowers"
Picture by: Serena
Year: 2022
Classification: Photograph


“Good work this week, Oleander. Make sure to rest well and relax on the weekend.” These were the farewell words the owner of the small café gave me. She had very warm orange hair and her personality was just as warm-hearted, if not even more. She and her husband were co-managers of the place, and they were both very nice to work with. Looks like I won’t be having too hard of a time in the future.


Today is Friday, the first Friday since I got this job. Since that day, I made sure to always tell Fuchsia I would be coming back at 6:00 PM, as that is about the latest the café couple would let me work. It works out well enough, though, because this way I can come back in time to help out with the dinner rush. Also, the couple has made it clear that they will be basically barring me from working on weekends, so I received my first payment today. You know what that means.


My mind is still anxious as to how Fuchsia will react, though. However, as nervous as I am, there is a warmth in my chest in knowing that I can go out and earn some cash myself. Clutching the envelope carrying my pay in my hand, my pace sped up in my giddiness. I couldn’t wait to tell my brother the news.


Finally, Fuchsia, you don’t have to work that hard anymore.


In my excitement, I didn’t even bother going through the side entrance and simply opened the front door. The melodious ring of a bell sounded through the bistro, causing the only person inside to raise their head and pause their actions of wiping the table. I curiously looked around; usually, there are at least one or two tables occupied at this time yet today there seemed to be none.


Fuchsia gave me his signature smile and greeted me. “Welcome home, Oleander.” This time, probably the first time this entire week, I gave him a sunny grin in return. “Fuchsia, look!” Bouncing over to him, I proudly thrust forward the envelope that the owner gave me to show him. “I got a job a while back and got paid today.”


His hand patted my hair in a soothing manner. Fuchsia himself seemed to have not reacted negatively, lamenting “I see, you got a job huh? I guess this was what you were doing after school the past few days?”


“Well, yes. I wanted to keep it a secret at least until I got my first pay.” Scratching the side of my neck, I readily admitted it. Fuchsia hastily dried his hands and cupped my cheeks in his cool palms, rubbing at the corners of my eyes with his thumbs.


“Make sure to not put the cart before the horse. Right now you should still focus on school instead of making money. You’ve been working too hard lately, take care of yourself more,” he gently urged.


I looked up at him. Despite my height already being nothing to scoff at, he still stood slightly taller; always someone I saw as greater than mountains, larger than life. At least, that goes true for my younger self. But humans are not perfect beings, even when they put up a picture-perfect front.


No matter how grand, mountains may still fall, and people, crumble.


Right before my eyes, I witnessed Fuchsia’s collapse. His tired yet bright eyes dimmed, his strong arms slackened and he crumpled onto me. My hands clumsily caught his body and desperately gripped his clothes so he wouldn’t slip down to the floor. Through the fabric, I could sense the scorch of his body temperature. Fuchsia was burning up.


At that moment, my mind stopped functioning. I didn’t know what to do. This sudden responsibility for a sick person was suddenly dropped into my open palms, but I didn’t know what to do with it.


“Ah. I just got. . . momentarily dizzy. Thank you for. . . catching me. I’ll get off of you now.” I heard his weak voice seep out and felt him attempt to exert some strength to lift his body away. Even when his façade had obviously already fallen apart, he still tried to pick up the broken pieces and be ‘strong’.


Before he could gather enough strength to pull away, my arms hugged him tighter and pushed his head back down into my chest. His beautiful fuchsia hair was slick with sweat, and the long strands fell between my fingers.


“Please,” I practically heard myself beg, “please just take a break. I’m not a child anymore, can’t you see? I- I can make money too! I can help you now. Why won’t you let me help you?


You don’t have to work so hard anymore.”


My throat felt sore like I had been crying for days. All my pent-up anxiety and dissatisfaction drained out of me while my voice grew smaller and smaller. By the end of it, there was just silence. A mutual quiet, besides the sound of both of our breaths and the occasional rustle of clothes. Finally, Fuchsia broke the stalemate by raising his hand to ruffle my hair again. In the seconds of my surprise that followed, he gently moved away from my arms.


“I think you misunderstand something, Oleander. Our financial situation really isn’t bad. That’s why I say you don’t need to get a job and should focus on school.” He patiently explained.


“But then why do you still work from eight in the morning to ten at night?” I questioned in return. I let the backs of my fingers press against his forehead, “You have a fever right now; don’t tell me you’ll just continue to work as if nothing’s changed.”


“It’s really not that serious-”


“You dare say that when you literally fell on top of me?”


“. . .” Fuchsia didn’t continue to push that point, very clear that he was fighting an uphill battle. Nevertheless, he argued. “It’s still better to have savings for the future. If all it takes is me working a couple more hours every day so that you don’t have to feel pressured financially, then that’s something I’ll happily do. I’m not tired anymore; I’m used to it now, so don’t worry about me.” His expression contorted into that faint smile.


“But you’re sick!” I cried out, frustrated, “Do you really expect me to ignore the fact that you are working yourself to the bone, through a fever, just so I can spend frivolously?! Is that really the type of person you want me to be? I don’t care that you’re used to it; in fact, that just makes it ten times worse!”


I grabbed his shirt sleeve, “ If you want to save, we can do it a different way. I can cut down on electricity use, I can take shorter showers, and I’ll reduce my use of the air conditioning and heating! I don’t want expensive things; I just want to see you less tired. This time might just be a fever, but what about next time? You’re not getting any younger, and it’ll only get worse if you don’t let it get better. Saving can take longer, luxuries can come later, but-”


I paused, twisting the fabric between my fingers. Changing the direction of my words, I continued, “But I don’t want you to overwork yourself anymore; ten years is enough.”


Fuchsia gave a helpless sigh, “You don’t have to go to such extents; the savings were primarily intended for you. It’s not as if I have much use for extra income. But are you sure you don’t need the extra money? It’ll be useful for things like tuition and school materials.” He gave me a doubtful look. “Don’t be embarrassed to ask me for help, okay? There’s so much I haven’t been able to provide you growing up.” Once again going back to treating me like a child, he smoothed the messy hair he had only a few minutes before completely wrecked.


“I should be the one saying that to you.” retorted I, completely exasperated. “And don’t say that, you’ve given me a lot more than you realise” Letting out a deep exhale to calm myself, I clapped my palms together. “Alright, sick people belong upstairs in bed. Come on, Fuchsia.”


And he gave me the most uncomfortable, reluctant and disturbed face I have, in my ten years of knowing him, ever seen.


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