First class tickets for a short flight to New York. What a waste of money. Well, at least Teddy was enjoying it. Having never been on a plane, he couldn’t keep his eyes off the window. And then the snacks and drinks. This kid can’t get enough of the pretzels and coke. It probably hasn’t helped that he hasn’t had a proper meal in a while.
I wish I could enjoy the flight as much as Teddy, but I can’t stop worrying. My emotions were all over the place, but I had to keep myself together for Teddy. For the past few hours, I had been running through every possibility on what my life with my brothers would be like.
They could abuse us, tolerate us, but I doubt they could love us, love me. Maybe Teddy, but he’s a loveable kid. But someone like me? All I can ever be is a failure. I failed at preserving my little brother’s innocence. I failed at saving my mom.
I quickly shook those thoughts out of my head as I hear the flight attendant announce, “We will be landing shortly. Please return to your seats, fasten your seatbelts, and welcome to New York.” Home sweet home, I guess.
I showed Teddy the text, and I could tell he wasn’t happy. I guess he was hoping that they would care enough to pick us up instead of sending someone to get us like we’re a burden. Me too, fratellino, me too. Dragging him over to the seating by the baggage claim, we sat down, and I faced my baby brother.
“How are you feeling?” I asked. I knew my brother like the back of my hand and knew exactly what he was feeling, but he needed to vocalize it. It’s not healthy to keep everything bottled up.
“Hungry,” Teddy responded shortly. I raised one of my eyebrows to show him that I wasn’t amused by his answer. “Okay, okay, I’m scared. Living with our brothers and father? 6 guys? One was bad enough, but six might mean six times the abuse. Six times the hate. And I can’t deal with that. I know you’ll protect me no matter what, but I want you to be protected as well. You don’t let anyone take care of you, and I know it’s because of Sir, but another few years of abuse will break you. You’re the strongest person I know, but every human has their limitations, even superheroes.”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I knew that the abuse affected him. He was the one who would tend to my injuries after a particularly painful punishment, but did he really think I would break? Sure, I feel broken, like I’ll never heal, but I thought I did a good job of hiding it. I guess that’s another thing to add to the list of things I’ve failed at.
We’re suddenly interrupted by a man dressed in a suit. “Are you Avalee and Theodore Russo?” the man asks with a slight smile.
“It’s Medvedev, but yes,” I answer coldly. I didn’t want to be associated with my brothers, at least not without putting up a fight.
My short answer caused the man’s smile to drop. “Your brothers have already changed your last names back to Russo.” Clearing his throat, the man introduced himself, “My name is Lucas. It is a pleasure to see you again Ms. Russo, and it’s nice to meet you Mr. Russo. Once you have gotten your luggage, we can head home. Your brothers are looking forward to seeing you.”
“Nice to meet you Lucas, but we have no luggage except for our backpacks and this duffle bag, so if you would kindly lead the way to the car. And you can call us Ava and Teddy.”
“Of course, Ava. Follow me to the car.” We soon reached the car, and Lucas opened the back door for Teddy and I.
“How long is the drive?” Teddy asks.
“It shouldn’t be more than a ten-minute drive,” Lucas answered.
After thanking Lucas, Teddy looked at me and asked in ASL, “Where’s our dad? Nobody has said anything about him.”
It suddenly dawned on me, Everly never mentioned our dad taking us in, only our brothers. “Lucas, you mentioned our brothers, but if I recall correctly, we have a father as well.”
Lucas’ eyebrows furrow as he says, “You kids don’t know? It might be better if your brothers explain that to you.”
Strange. What is so hard about a simple question pertaining to our father? There’s another reason not to trust our so-called “brothers.” The rest of the car ride is filled with me interrogating Lucas on our brothers’ work while Lucas deflects every single question, telling me to ask my brothers. I definitely didn’t trust my brothers before, and now I trust them even less. Even Teddy is starting to get suspicious.
I’m about to ask another question, when Lucas pulled up to a large gate, “Ava, Teddy, we have arrived home.” After entering a code into a keypad at the gate, the doors slowly swung open, and Lucas parked in the driveway.
I looked outside the car window, and saw a huge mansion, my home for the first four years of my life. Lucas opened the car door and led us to the front door. “Your brothers aren’t home right now, but I was instructed to show you to your rooms, so follow me,” Lucas said.
Teddy had a tight grip of my hand as we walked through the door towards the stairs. I could tell he was intimidated by the size of this place. Hell, I was intimidated, and I lived here for more than a quarter of my life.
Nothing had changed in the house except the sound. I remembered every single detail from before Mom and I were sent away, and my most vivid memory was of how loud the house always was. Mom would always complain about loud we got during the day, especially when the boys would roughhouse with each other. I missed it.
Lucas led us down the hallway where the bedrooms were, each door holding a nameplate on it. Alessandro, Elijah, Leonardo, Matteo, Emilio, Avalee, Theodore. The only change from ten years ago was the addition of Theodore.
Lucas stopped in front of my door, “Ava, this is your room. I’ll show Teddy his room, and then I have to leave.”
I pulled Teddy close to me and spat out, “Teddy will stay with me. You may leave now.” With a curt nod and a goodbye, Lucas turned around and disappeared down the hallway.
I opened my door and turned on the light to my room. They remembered. As a child, I was obsessed with the color purple, and to a lesser degree, I still am. The whole room had a purple theme. Purple bedsheets, purple curtains, purple walls, almost everything purple. Maybe they still care, but I shouldn’t get my hopes up. They left us alone.
“Ava, Ava! There’s a bathroom INSIDE the room. And a walk-in closet and bedside window. This is the coolest room ever!” Teddy yelled.
“Calm down, Teds,” I chuckle. “Why don’t we check out your room? I’m sure it’s just as nice, if not cooler.”
Leaving my room, we open the door that reads “Theodore.” It’s practically the same as mine, but with a blue color scheme.
“How do they know my favorite color? I’m not complaining, but that’s strange. And did you see how Lucas kept avoiding your questions? It doesn’t feel right.”
I nodded in agreement. At least I lived here for four years, but Teddy? They don’t even know him, so the only way they would know his favorite color is if they were keeping tabs on us for all these years.
“Let’s not worry about that right now. How about we unpack? It shouldn’t take long,” I said.
“Okay, but first we need to change your bandages and remove the stitches from your leg. I didn’t get a chance to do that earlier,” Teddy insisted. “And before you say no, you have no choice. I’m the doctor, and you’re my patient, so you have to do what I say,” he finished, placing his hands on his hips. I couldn’t help but laugh at his little antics. No matter how stern or tough he tries to be, he’ll always be my little brother.
I grabbed the first aid kit from our duffle and led Teddy to the bathroom. Sitting on the floor, I lifted my shirt, exposing the cuts covering every square inch of my back. He gently cleaned each laceration and applied the antiseptic cream to prevent infection. I then slid my pant leg up to my thigh for Teddy to remove my stitches.
“My work here is done,” Teddy said. “And I’m unpacking. It’s been 2 weeks, and I don’t see any progress in the healing of your back. You’re strictly prohibited from heavy lifting and physical labor until Dr. Russo says otherwise.”
“Dr. Russo?” I questioned
“Well, it seems like our brothers changed our name, so it’s only fitting that I am now Dr. Russo instead of Dr. Medvedev.”
“Okay, you cheeky monster,” I giggled. “Why don’t we go downstairs and find something to eat? I haven’t eaten anything but those airplane pretzels in two days, and I’m starving.”
“What if they’re like Sir? We weren’t allowed to eat any food in the house.”
Bending down to Teddy’s height, I said, “Don’t you trust your big sister? They won’t hurt us, and if they do get mad, we’ll just say that we didn’t know the rules and won’t take their food next time. Okay?”
After a hesitant nod, I took Teddy’s hand and drag him downstairs to the kitchen. “Why don’t you sit down and I’ll make something for you?”
“Tsk, tsk. Have you already forgotten the doctor’s orders? Physical labor includes getting food for me. I’ll handle the food, and you will sit down.” Shaking my head, I sat down at the kitchen counter. Some battles you just can’t win, especially when arguing with your nine-year-old doctor brother.
After a quick search through the fridge and pantry, Teddy finds some bread and cheese, “How does a grilled cheese sound?”
Teddy quickly got to work. Five minutes later, we were sitting at the kitchen counter eating our sandwiches when the front door opens.
I grabbed Teddy and push him behind me as I heard a set of footsteps approach. A man in an Armani suit appears in the kitchen. When his eyes fell on us, they softened and a smile spread on his face, “Ava, you’ve grown so much. You look so much like Mom, but I’m sure you get that a lot.” I do, but only from the him. “And Theodore, it’s nice to meet you. Do you go by Theodore or Theo or-”
“Teddy, he goes by Teddy,” I said glaring at him. “I wish I could truthfully say it was nice to see you, Elijah, but I’d rather not start off by lying to you. If you’ll excuse us, we’ll go back to my room.”
“Wait! You haven’t even finished your grilled cheese,” he said as he approached us. Too close for comfort. Please stay away. I took a step back, and Elijah stopped his movement. “Can I hug you? It’s been a while, and I still haven’t even heard Teddy speak.”
He looked sad, but that’s not my problem. My number one concern is keeping Teddy safe. For all I know, Elijah is putting up a façade of being a nice person but just wants to gain our trust to break it. That’s what Sir did.
“You will not hug us. We will finish our grilled cheese, but only because that would be wasteful if we didn’t, not because you asked us to. As for Teddy, he’ll talk to you if he wants, but it’s been a long day, so I won’t be forcing any words out of him. Once we have finished our food, we will go back to my room where we will stay until dinner. Are family dinners still a thing or did you abandon them like you did us?” I answered coldly.
A shocked expression appeared on Elijah’s face, “Alessandro will explain everything when he gets home-”
“Oh, please! The man couldn’t even be bothered to pick us up at the airport, and you have the audacity to say that there is an explanation behind our abandonment? Give me a break!” I exclaimed, my voice increasing in volume with each sentence.
“There’s a reason for everything, bambina. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive us.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”