Berta felt her brother’s fingers lace into hers, as they both stood before the family photo that hung in the hallway to their rooms. Tears blurred her vision and she squeezed his hand with a shaky grip. The photo showed a much younger version of them standing in front of their parents. Behind them was their Aunt’s hearth, and to one side was an evergreen tree decked out in ribbons and lights.
Bruno’s free hand reached for the photo frame with painful slowness. There was a slight tremor to his fingers, as the tips touched the edge of the frame. Tracing a soft caress down one side, he sniffed. Berta didn’t dare look at him. They’d both start sobbing if either one acknowledged the other. That’s how it always happened before, and then she’d show up.
A cold chill traced its way up Berta’s spine. She nodded her head once, with a sharp short dip of her chin. Bruno grasped the edge of the frame and flipped it over. Now, on the other side of the frame, sat a different photo. Bruno grumbled a barely breathed curse word, but Berta didn’t correct him. The feeling was mutual.
There, in a similar scene, stood their father and his new and very pregnant wife. Neither Bruno nor Berta were present in this photo, and the evergreen boasted a different color of ribbon. Their father was older, with grey at his temples, and the wall around the hearth was a bit more yellow.
“God, I hate her,” Bruno sighed through his teeth.
“Shh, she might hear you,” Berta warned just as softly, then tugged on his hand. “Come on. It’s almost supper time.”
Bruno huffed a sigh and shrugged his shoulders. Berta steeled herself and glanced at him. The tears were not in his eyes, instead, there was a cold emptiness in his directionless gaze. She let go of his hand and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.
“We still have each other, brother.” She gave his shoulders a one-arm hug.
“Wish we had dad too…” Bruno groused.
“We do,” Berta started to say but Bruno snorted. “Come on," she continued, "he loves us. He’s just distracted by his work.”
“Whatever,” Bruno shrugged out from under his sister’s arm and turned to walk down the hallway.
“No matter what,” she added, “I’ll always be here for you.”
Bruno hesitated and looked back over his shoulder. The sadness was there again. “You promise?”
“Always,” she said and tried to give him a kind smile. The wrench to her heart and guts twisted the smile on her lips into something colder and sadder than she intended.
Bruno reflected the same smile back. “Same here sis." He sighed and started back down the hallway. "No matter what.”
With that, they both turned and walked down towards the dining room.