The fire crackles then pops, and embers rise into the late May night. My younger sister laughs at the other end of the narrow yard near the aging shotgun house, and the sound is like an eight-eight beat with a high hat cymbal. It’s welcomed, and it’s the first time this feels like home.
She’s sixteen now, grown up faster than I’d prefer, and she’s one of the four people I love more than my own life. She’s also the only reason I’m still out here instead of holed up in my room. According to Axle, it was Holiday’s idea to set up the party.
Old Christmas lights are strung from one towering oak tree to the next, zigzagging green, red and blue across the yard. Most people brought their own chairs and a dish to share. My first meal as a free man and it’s hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad. I don’t have the heart to tell her I would have given my left ball for a slice of thick crust pizza.
“She missed you,” Axle says, catching my train of sight.
“I missed her, too.” Those are my first words since we pulled in the driveway. I used to be the life of the party, but that was before, and as I said, I don’t know who I am anymore, so for now, I’m quiet.
“I missed you,” he says in such a low tone I barely catch it. “We weren’t the same without you.”
I take a deep breath because I’m not sure any of us will be the same again.
“Is that jerk still coming around?” I ask.
Axle watches Holiday as she punches my best friend, Dominic, in the shoulder. They’re both all smiles, and he places her in a fake headlock, but she easily slips away.
Then, because when one speaks of the devil, the devil appears, Holiday’s bastard ex-boyfriend shows up.
His black hair is in uneven waves, he’s wearing a Styx T-shirt like he has the right to claim anything related to rock ’n’ roll, and he has a smile that makes me want to knock his teeth into his throat. According to the therapy I went through this past year, I shouldn’t enjoy my sense of satisfaction at his crooked nose and scar. Those features were courtesy of my fist from my life before. He deserved it then for how he treated my sister. I’m betting he deserves it now.
Holiday beams when Jeremy slinks up beside her and wraps his arms around her waist like he’s too familiar with parts of her I’m going to pretend he’s never touched. Even though the kid has a slight build, he looks sickly white, especially against Holiday’s healthy glow and brown tone.
My sister looks a lot like her mother, at least in the pictures I’ve seen of Holiday’s mother when she was younger. She was a black woman with dancing eyes and a smile that could light up the darkest night. Holiday’s skin is lighter than her mother’s, but other than that, she’s a spitting image.
Jeremy eases my sister away from Dominic, away from the lights, away from anything good in the world. I can still see them in the shadows, and I consider re-breaking his nose.
“I thought you said she broke up with him.”
“She did,” Axle says. “Six months ago. But then he came crawling back two months ago claiming he’s changed. She took him back last week, and I told her there were rules. I’m going to need you to remember the rules. If she breaks them, then we’ll have to stand firm.”
A twenty-six-year old roofer, attending night school to be an EMT, and me, a seventeen-year-old juvenile delinquent, are now raising a just-turned sixteen-year-old. That’s got to be the picture of dysfunction. “Is one of those rules he can’t be within a hundred feet of her? A restraining order?”
“She swears he’s changed.”
Changed. That’s what I’m supposed to be. In the forest, the therapist talked forgiveness. Does it mean I haven’t changed because I don’t forgive the guy who made my sister cry?
“Did he change?”
Axle’s lips flatten, and he tosses a stick into the flames. Within seconds it’s engulfed and will soon be ashes. Yeah. That answer is a kick in the gut.
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