I move past the empty couch that still bears the impression of our father, and find Sandra in her room.
“Hey, Sand,” I poke my head through the door. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” she chokes out as shimmering pearls roll down her cherubic fourteen-year-old cheeks, splashing down on the rosary necklace our father gave her back before he replaced his deity with drinking.
“There’s no lyin’ to me, Sand. Somethin’s up. Tell me?”
Giant amber eyes turn up, trapping me. She jolts forward and wraps her arms around me.
“M-m-mom’s gone to re-re-re…” I know this already, of course. I’m the one who talked our mother into it. The school must’ve told her, for whatever reason. Or, possibly, idiot kids who liked to gossip about shit they didn’t understand.
“Re what, kiddo?”
“Rehab,” she sobs, clutching me tighter. “Why would she do that? Why would she leave us all alone with him?”
“Aw, Sand.” I pull away, looking into her eyes so she focuses on something immediate, something other than our mom. “Sometimes, people do crazy things for those they love. It might mean they have to go away for a while, but it doesn’t change how they feel about you. Things will be better this way, ok?”
She sniffs, nodding vigorously.
“Come on, I’ve got dinner goin’. Maybe you can recite your monologue for me while I get it settled? I always love hearing you perform.”
I don’t really want to hear it again, but hey, that’s what big brothers are for. I graduated last year, so I have plenty of time to do what I want. Well, I used to. I’m not going to have much more.
We make our way into the kitchen and she’s already half-way through a piece from A Streetcar Named Desire. She’s damn good. The girl’s Broadway-bound, even if she doesn’t know it yet. I hope I can go to her plays one day. Probably won’t be able to, though.
She’s just about done when I take the pie out of the oven. Her eyes shoot open as her nostrils flare, breaths coming in quick little bursts.
“Oh! Smells like Auntie Ruth’s!”
I grin and nod. She doesn’t need to know her aunt’s ‘secret recipe’ is a store-bought mix. We spent a lot of long weekends at our aunt’s, and I’m not about to spoil those happy memories. An excited look spreads over her face, but it falls as she glances towards the door.
“Do you think Dad will be home soon?” Her voice comes quiet and soft. Apprehensive.
No. No, I don’t.
“Maybe, but let’s eat. He… might be late.” Her seat scrapes up to the table as I deliver a steaming plate to her.
“Do… do you think he’ll be stay sober tonight?” I’d gotten used to his volcanic temperance, but Sandra… she still had hope in her eyes, a glow of innocence in her face. If there’s one thing worth saving in this world, it’s whatever’s left of her childhood.
“I don’t know, Sand.” I try not to think about last night, when, for the umpteenth time, I cradled her head against my chest and covered her ears, or this morning, when I had to jump through hoops to keep her from seeing our mom’s bruises. Yes, she used drugs, but I talked her into rehab just to get her away from Dad.
I shake my head, jerking myself into the present, and point to her plate saying, “Eat your Brussels sprouts.”
She obliges, and I look at the cross above the doorway, wondering how God can say he loves all his children when he has seven billion. I think, once in a while, he misses a few.
I hear a knock at the door, but I already know who it is. Motioning for Sandra to stay put, I walk to the door and open it.
“Evening, officers.” I keep my voice low to not disturb her.
I nod. No part of what I did was subtle. His body probably washed ashore.
“Can I say goodbye to my sister?”
They nod, but follow me. Sandra’s watching from the kitchen doorway.
“What’s going on?”
“Sand, just… just listen. You’re gonna’ live with Aunt Ruth, I already packed your bags. This… this is for the best, ok?”
We hug, and she whimpers a bit as I pull away. I want to explain, but I can’t. Because sometimes, we do crazy things for the people we love, and she doesn’t need to know what I’ve done.