Look after your brother.
That was the last thing I heard when our father walked out of our life. Now at twenty-three, I think I’ve failed to understand just how much looking after I needed to do in order for my brother to be actually present in my life.
Jokes on me though.
Nick didn’t look for a better future like our mama. He didn’t marry some posh rich chick to get more money. No, absolutely not. Instead, he turned to run errands for people who didn’t have a moral bone in their body.
But I can’t whine about him not being present in my life either. He doesn’t give me a full chance to be angry with him. Not yet anyway. He stays home for four days a week. He cooks, does laundries, and asks me how my job hunting is going.
And every time he has a smile on his face. That damned smile that scares me more than anything nowadays. Shuddering, I try to force him out of my head. But it’s like he’s a parasite, always toying with my mind.
I am with you after all. How much more can you need, Raine?
Even now if I close my eyes, I can imagine how he’d look at me if he knew the length I’m willing to go to find him. My cold, calculative, brother who’s a walking reminder of our father. And just like that, I’m in our dollhouse, hoping all of this is just a nightmare.
“How are things going, Raine?” His lips twitched but not in amusement. I have been with him for too long to not notice the signs. Lately, he’s gotten bored of everything.
Of my concerns.
My hold on the fork tightened at the alarming thought. But today, it’s not about him. I have had better things to worry about, like dodging our landlady. So, even if I knew the undecided rules we have made up in years, I didn’t entertain whatever game he was thinking of playing next. I just stared at his unfocused eyes and blurted out. “I need money to pay the rent, Nick. Mrs. Julian is going to kick-”
His smile widened. For people outside, it’s a beautiful sight. God-given beauty, I think mama would say. But I couldn’t find anything more terrible.
“Just answer my question, Raine.” He gritted out. Maybe for my sake, he was not raising his hands yet. I could certainly see his clenched fist even if he was trying too hard to hide it.
“It’s going fine.” The words came out as a squeak. It’s not like he genuinely wanted to know. Words had less value in our life, we showed our love in strained smiles and devious games.
“Hey chica, look where you are going!”
It’s too hard to focus on who I just stumbled into. These are the same people who changed my brother, leaving a stranger into his place. How can I ever dare to look at them in the eyes?
So, I just apologize and move between the dancing bodies with only one thought. He might not have been much of a brother lately, but he’s the only one I’m left with. Papa himself trusted me with Nick. That one little thought becomes my weapon as I look at the poker tables, the bar, and finally the dreadful shed. The one place he warned me not to go without him, even if it was important. I was hoping that day would never come, but then again, shouldn’t by now I shoulda learned that hope is not for people like us?
I’m startled out of my mind when another presence graces me the moment I enter the shed. Only then I realize that I was hoping for it to be empty. To go back home and mourn my brother’s disappearance. But here I am, staring at a man who is too busy doing drugs. Though the man in front of me isn’t like the men in the club. He is too rugged, his eyes evoke everything he is feeling, unlike the people my brother works with or works for. Some days it’s hard to differ.
I don’t know how I sound when his shocked eyes meet mine. “I know I’m not supposed to be here. But I need to…I’m looking for someone. Have you heard of Nick? Nick Taylor? He works at the club. He’s a regular, I think.”
His voice is heavy with an accent. This means he is not local. What’s up with my brother always working for the people not from here? I don’t know if he recognizes my brother or not but his huge figure steps back in alarm.
“I know no Nick. You should leave.” The tone of his voice says one thing, like he’s bored but his eyes say otherwise.
I should walk back. Go home and wait for Nick to come back. Or maybe just leave him here to rot. If Mrs. Julian doesn’t get her rent, she will throw me in the street anyway. So I start to walk. Only that I don’t walk toward the door. I walk closer to the man, his eyes bulging out the more steps I take.
“What the fuck are you doing, Chika!? I told you to leave. Me know no Nick!”
“You know him.” I don’t intend to be so harsh but I can’t. Five nights of no sleep can do that to anyone. “Where is he? Is he ok?”
“I said I don’t-” He’s awfully cut off. By a bullet between his eyes.
“You Nicki’s sister?” Someone whispers next to me. My eyes find him as he lazily pulls out a pack of cigarettes, lightening one. I don’t want to look away but there are bits and pieces of flesh on me. Red, everywhere…
Someone screams. The sound deafening even to my ears. Black dots dance around me. Something tickles down my chin. Tears? Blood? Stupidity?
“Your brother pissed off a wrong man, chika. We had to do it.” The man sounds remorseful almost as if...
“I-Is he-” Please tell me he’s alive. He’s just pretending. Playing games again.
Heat rushes through my vein when a hand forces my chin upward. “He’s what? Dead?”
I flinch back, he laughs. “Dead or alive, he had to pay. Sadly he wouldn’t give us the money he stole so we went after something more...vulnerable to him.”
Even before I can understand what’s happening there’s a couple of hands grabbing me from behind. Someone holds a cold metal against my head before I can scream.
There’s also a hiss near my ears. The man with the cigarette? “No one messes with the boss, chika. We will make Nicki wish that he never made that mistake.”
I don’t have time to panic. Someone has already covered my nose with a napkin. I want to fight back but then again I’d do anything for my brother. So instead of digging my nails hard over the arm, my hands drop beside me. I inhale. I exhale. And when my eyes close, I see Nick waiting for me with that damned smile.
And I smile back.
Welcome home, brother...