Life had been anything but easy. When Eli had been taken away I was left alone with only our precious infants, and Anna to keep me company. Our mother had poured herself even deeper into work so that I only ever really saw her on holidays, and late at night if I might catch her sneaking in. She claimed she never turned us in, or anything, but I never bought it, and still don’t. But when Eli had left it wasn’t long before I had found something he had left behind with me. A fourth child. It grew in my womb from one of the last times that we had been together. When the symptoms had hit I had known what was happening, and I had kept my mouth shut until I got far enough along that my mother couldn’t do a thing about it.
The stress of being pregnant, and going to school each day only to have the other teenagers whisper about me, and the fact that this baby was also an incest baby; made me sick. It literally made it so that I cried myself to sleep each night, and I was so wracked with stress I had had the baby prematurely going into labor when I was only seven months. They had believed my little miracle baby girl would die, but she didn’t. I named her Hope when she was born, and she had pulled through.
By the time that the triplets were two, and I myself was heading into my senior year Cooper had taken a turn for the worse with his health. His heart remained weak, and ‘troublesome’ the doctor’s would tell me, but Leukemia had also taken root in his blood. He was diagnosed, and they had been aggressively fighting it ever since. I had to take him to treatments, and he had been admitted to the hospital more times than I could count. He received chemo, radiation therapy, and took drugs as well. He was only three years old now, but he had lost all of his hair, and sometimes was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed.
As I had always expected I wasn’t able to go to a good college, even though I received several scholarships when I graduated from high school. I had only just graduated this summer, but I already had started my college courses online, wanting to get a leg up on others’ my own age. I didn’t have anything specific I was aiming for, because I didn’t have time what with Cooper, and taking care of the other kids, as well. Anna had graduated right alongside me, and she too remained living with her large family—she was still needed as their babysitter—but instead of online courses she went to the community college in the next town over. I still see her every single day.
Then there was Walter. He happens to be something of a lifesaver. He moved out of his parents’ house the second he turned eighteen, and now lives in his own apartment not far from here. I swear he has been something of a rock ever since Eli was taken away from me. Constantly offering to help, and spending the night even. The children adore him, and call him ‘Uncle’ just as they call Anna ‘Aunt’ and become excited whenever they are able to see him. I held tightly to the locket Eli had given me, and the words we had shared in our field on that last good day. We had promised that we would always belong to each other, and I believed those words to hold strong this time.
They could keep us apart, but they couldn’t change the fact that I did indeed have feelings for him. They had faded with time, and I had slipped up a few times because some nights after the children were all asleep, and I couldn’t bear the feelings I held inside about Eli I slipped up, and I had taken Walter to my bed. Of course some nights it was strictly platonic, and I would sleep soundly in his arms, needing the warmth of another body to contrast mine, but others it had been anything but innocent. I had fallen into Walter, seeking comfort, and affection. I was only human after all, and sometimes I missed Eli’s touch so much that it hurt. I literally would close my eyes, and pretend I was with Eli. I think Walter knew that those nights we were together weren’t really about actual feelings I held for him, simply my desperate longing for my brother, and not wanting to be alone.
He had never asked me to be his girlfriend, or expected anything exclusive from me, and I sometimes felt awful about that. I felt as though I was using him, and sometimes I actually was. Walter worked as a bus boy at the same restaurant I did. He was the entire reason I had received the waitressing job at all. Back when Eli had gone into the mental institution I had wanted a job to save up some money, and he had spoken to the management for me. I hadn’t been able to get a job anywhere else. It had spread like wildfire through the town that I had had children with my brother, and most people wouldn’t go near me because of it. It was still that way, from time to time when people recognized me, but most of my high school peers had moved away to college, and a lot of the adults had short memories’.
Eli’s namesake Gabriel was the spitting image of him, and sometimes when I looked into those hauntingly familiar ocean-blue orbs I would see my brother staring back at me. Even though Gabe was only three, he already even acted a bit like my brother did. He was stubborn, and very difficult to read at times. I couldn’t always tell what my son was thinking, but I did try desperately hard to. Then there was Annabelle. She was a spitting image of me, with long flowing blond hair, she didn’t have my natural wavy-curls, but she had green orbs akin to mine. As I had predicted Gabe, and Annabelle got along with each other a little better than they got along with Cooper. Of course I knew it was because Cooper was sick so often, and I found that the boy, whom actually looked like a mixture between myself and Eli with his blond hair—now gone because of the chemo—and blue eyes, was often accompanied by Trouble. Now a full-grown golden-retriever the dog Eli had given me for Valentine’s Day remained as strong as ever.
Full of life, and energy—still getting into my clothes from time to time—and most of all attached at the hip to Cooper. Even though Gabe, and Annabelle preferred to sleep side by side instead of in their own separate beds, Cooper slept in his own bed most nights curled up next to the dog. He was actually closer to Hope. She was a year younger than the triplets, but she had taken the most to Cooper. He was the nicest to her, it seemed, and she spent most of her time close by him.
I had been trying to round them all up, and dress them, being that it was nearly nine o’clock in the morning when I had heard the knocking on the door. I was supposed to be going out for my birthday with Anna, but so far I was half out of my mind with trying to remember everything, and I knew she would probably be here before I had even prepared the kids to leave.
Of course I had a babysitter that I could call named Isaiah. He was good with the children, and he would spend the day with them, when I had to work. But it was my birthday today, and I wanted to spend it with my children. I had the entire day off, because it was a Sunday. I had most Sunday’s off.
I was in the middle of chasing down Hope to get her dressed when the knocking at the door started. Half of the kids were dressed—Gabe and Annabelle—whilst the other two were still in their nightshirts. I myself wasn’t even dressed I was only wearing one of Eli’s old shirts, that extended past my thighs, stopping just above my knees.
With Trouble barking, and rushing at the door I grabbed his collar, and tugged him back. “Stop barking it’s only Anna yea?” I scolded, and without even bothering to look through the peephole—or remember the fact that Anna had never once knocked—I swung the door open, and froze in my tracks.
In the madness I had forgotten that Eli was meant to get out today…scratch that I was never told he was getting out today! I could have sworn that my mother had told me he wasn’t getting out for another week! I found myself gaping at him, he was nothing as I remembered.
He used to greet me with a warm smile that I could always fade right into, but this time he was stone-faced. His dark-brown locks were cut shorter than he ever would have worn them on his own. He was clean-shaven, and thin as a rail. His old clothes were hanging off of him, and he had grown to at least 5’11, though I too had grown. I was now 5’8. As I stared up at him I found my stomach churning, the kids staring from me to him, and Trouble gave a few loud barks after smelling Eli’s pant legs.
“Eli….” I breathed out, the silence engulfing me as he stared as though right through me. Unimpressed it seemed by my appearance, or even the fact that I was standing in front of him at all. Then his eyes flickered to our children, and he—of course—didn’t probably recognize any of them either. He hadn’t been allowed to see any of the children whilst he was in there. They wouldn’t even allow me to send him pictures, or letters. It was worse than prison.
“You going to let me in? Or do I have to stand out here all day?” He asked me. His voice was nearly monotone, as though I was nothing more than inconvenient obstacle in his path, and in my shock I released Trouble’s collar, and he jumped up on Eli, nearly catapulting him over, from the weight, and I gasped.
“Stop! Trouble! Down!” The children all giggled as they saw Trouble jumping up on Eli, and he quickly shoved the dog back down—once he had gathered his bearings—and stepped inside.
“When did you get a dog?” he questioned me, and I remained gaping at him in shock.
“Y-You don’t remember? You gave him to me….” I breathed out, my stomach sinking into my abdomen.
He blinked a few times absently, “Oh.”
Gabe being the most outgoing of our children stepped forward, and blocked Eli’s path, a wide smile on his youthful lips.
“You are my Daddy? Can I call you Dad?” he asked in his most precocious voice, and I stared from our son to Eli, terrified of what he was going to say to him.
Eli merely stared down at him coldly for a few seconds, and then stepped away from Gabe, “Whatever.” He responded, and I finally overcame my shock, and began to walk to my big brother, and tried to hug him, but his response was instantaneous. He backed away from me, as quickly as he could, until his back hit the door.
“What are you doing?” he asked me, and I gaped at him—my shocked expression probably akin to Gabe’s whom still didn’t know what to do with what his father had said to him—and I was beginning to dread finding out what had been done to Eli.
“I just…can’t I hug you?” I asked him, and he shook his head instantly.
“I don’t want you to touch me. Okay?” he looked like a scared, and cornered child in an instant, and my heart sank, tears swimming in my eyes, but I nodded immediately.
“Whatever you want.” I barely was able to whisper.
He seemed somewhat satisfied with that answer, and I turned my attention back on the children whom were all gaping at him much like Gabe was. Hope was hiding behind me shyly, not fully comprehending who Eli was meant to be like her older siblings were.
“Gabe, Can you go, and help Cooper, and Hope get dressed? And go put Trouble outside please?” I asked; clearly sensing my change of tone he nodded, and all of the children went upstairs to finish getting ready. They were the quietest I had ever heard them be, and I knew that Eli’s demeanor had shocked them.
He was still pressed firmly against the front door, and I kept my distance. “Do you…want anything? Food? There is some left-over pancakes from the kids breakfast.” I offered him, and that seemed to bring him out of himself a bit.
“Yea. I am a bit hungry.” He admitted.
Heading towards the kitchen he followed close behind me as though he didn’t remember where anything was. I collected a plate, and plopped a few pancakes on top of it, along with some syrup before laying it down at the kitchen table. He sat down stiffly, and began to eat.
I had never seen him wolf something down that fast, I thought he was going to choke to death on the food. What had they done to him?
I fiddled with my hands, and finally decided to speak out. “I don’t know if you remembered, but it’s my birthday today.” It was all I could think to say, and I was beginning to think he hadn’t heard me because he didn’t respond right away, he was so engrossed in his breakfast, but with a thick swallow he finally spoke.
“Yea I know.”
A little hope rushed through me, “You do?”
“Mom told me.”
My heart sank further. No one had ever had to remind my big brother of my birthday in the past. He had always simply known that it was coming, and gotten me something for it. Of course I didn’t expect anything from him this time around, but I couldn’t believe that he hadn’t remembered on his own. Our mother had always been the one to forget our birthday’s, but today it would seem he was the one whom forgot.
“I…Do you even remember me at all?” I knew it was the dumbest question I could have asked, but to be perfectly honest with the way he was acting it wasn’t as dumb as I would have thought it was this morning.
“No, not really.”
His answer cut me to the bone, and I found myself falling to my knees on the floor. The impact of his words, had hurt. More than I cared to admit, and I felt like someone had ripped my heart from my chest, and out through my throat. I couldn’t breathe, nor could I speak. He never would have forgotten my birthday. He wouldn’t have even flinched when I touched him. He was a piece of me, deep down inside, and he had been the only person I loved deeply enough to wait three years for, without so much as a card being allowed in, or out of the mental institution.
“Nothing?” I stared up at him, from where he was still sitting at the table, now watching me somewhat intrigued.
“I hurt you didn’t I?” he finally asked me.
“H-Hurt?” It was my turn to stare dumbly, “What are you talking about?” I asked.
“I raped you. I was sick wasn’t I?”
Those words clawed at me like a knife, and I shook my head, “Never. You never raped me.” I slid across the floor, and reached my arm out to touch his, but he jerked up, and stepped away. Running his fingers through his hair as though my touch had literally harmed him.
“Why are you so afraid of me?” I asked him finally.
“Touch…it always hurts…” He explained slowly, trailing off, and my eyebrows furrowed.
For the first time I began to look over his body, with an observant eye. He had bruises on his wrists, and just peaking from under the sleeve of his t-shirt were needle-marks. More than I could count. Bruises were even peaking just below the hem of his jeans near his ankles were his converses ended. Christ! They had tortured him.
“Tell me what they did to you.” I insisted, but before he could say anything I heard the sound of the children stampeding down the stairs, and Eli turned his head away from me, closing his eyes, as they all raced into the kitchen.
“Mom can me and Annabelle go outside and play in the sand?” Gabe asked, opening the sliding glass door for Trouble to run out back.
“No, we have to go soon. Anna should be here any minute!” I insisted, and received a whine from both Gabe, and Annabelle, but Cooper was sitting exhausted at the kitchen table. He had just gone through another treatment yesterday, and he wasn’t doing so well today. Hope crawled up on the kitchen chair beside his, and began to poke at him slightly.
“What’s wrong with him?” Eli asked, and shocked charged through me.
“He has Leukemia, and he was just given Chemo yesterday.” I explained.
“Oh.” Was all he offered in response, and I didn’t have time to say anything else before Anna was bursting through the front door.
“Who missed me?!” She shouted, and every single one of the kids stood to run to her, even Coop, and Hope.
She was bombarded with hugs, kisses, and “I love you’s” as she greeted them. Her eyes traveling over towards me next, and she maneuvered her way towards me, a kid hanging off each of her limbs as she did. When she made it to the kitchen she froze, dumbfounded as she saw Eli standing against the wall near the basement door.
“You are back?!” She gasped out, and immediately tried to hug him—as I had—before I could stop her, and Eli’s eyes widened before he backed himself into the corner, and Anna froze. “Is he okay?” She asked slowly, and I shook my head.
“I think he just wants to be left alone.” I was trying not to startle the children, after all they had had enough shocks today.
“Well it’s nice to see you again, after three years, Mc’hottie.” She teased him, but he just stared blankly at her.
“He doesn’t seem to remember much of anything.” I whispered low enough for the kids—whom had all pulled themselves off of Anna’s limbs and were now standing staring at us—couldn’t hear.
“I see.” She responded, “Did you…want me to go? I mean we can always celebrate your birthday later tonight?” She offered.
“No I am looking forward to going, we should go. Besides the kids are all excited.” The truth was that I would have cancelled in a heartbeat if I thought for even a second that Eli had wanted me to spend any time with him at all, but I knew by the look on his face that he didn’t want any part of me right now. Not to mention I didn’t want to face the fact that he couldn’t even remember who I was let alone that he loved me, and I loved him. I clutched at my locket almost without realizing that I was, and forced a smile.
“If you are sure.” She knew me too well.
“Positive. I just need to go get dressed first!” I motioned to the old worn out shirt that had once belonged to my brother, before I wiped at a few tears that had managed to roll down my cheeks, and Cooper—whom had always cared about me most—looked up at me with tired eyes.
“Why are you sad mama?” He stepped forward, and gave me a hug, “Don’t cry.” The other kids followed suit, and because I didn’t want to upset them I shook my head.
“I am not sad. I am happy, these are happy tears.” I lied desperately trying to lighten up the kids moods, and I lifted Cooper into my arms, allowing him to straddle the side of my hip.
“Why would you cry if you are happy?” he asked me.
“Because I haven’t seen your daddy in a very long time, and I missed him.” I said softly, and kissed the side of his head.
“I don’t think Daddy is happy to see you, mama.” Gabe spoke up, and I nearly dropped Cooper, as I burst into tears. Anna lifted him from my arms, and I hurried from the kitchen, not even sneaking a glance at Eli before I headed up them.
I hurried into my bedroom, and closed the door behind me. I could distantly hear Anna speaking to the kids, soothing them, and I moved to sit on my bed, fiddling with the locket around my neck, dragging it back, and forth against the chain.
I was trying to imagine what Eli would do if the roles were reversed. If I had been the one in a mental institution that returned with broken memories, and a fractured psyche. What would he do? I knew he would never have allowed me to retract from him in this way. He was almost like a child, that feared monsters around every corner. Considering what he had been through, I knew the things he feared were a far stretch from his current reality, but he had been isolated from me—from everyone—for over three years. Of course he was a basket case now.
I finally gathered my strength, and stood from my queen-sized mattress, heading over to my dresser that I had stuffed full of Eli’s old clothes—washed and folded—for when he returned, looking down at them I traced my fingers gently over the fabric. A few I had left unwashed, because sometimes I would pull them out when I was thinking about him and have a whiff, allowing his scent to fill me.
Lifting one of the shirts I hadn’t washed out I smelled it, longingly. It smelled like the field; our field. I had spent so much time there when Eli was taken away from me. I made sure that our children played there from time to time. Replacing the shirt back into the drawer I shut it, knowing I had to make a decision about what to do with him.
Should I try, and move on like he had wanted for me all those years ago? I didn’t even really know how to do that. My whole life had revolved around him, and even when he was in that wretched place, I had always imagined a happy reunion. I should have known better; clearly. I shouldn’t have been crying, and thinking about this today. It was my birthday, and I wanted to be happy surrounded by Anna, and my children.
Finally I headed to my closet, shoving open the doors I pulled off Eli’s shirt, and changed into a simple, but elegant cream-colored dress with see-through patterned lace on the outside, and a silky lining. I had bought it just for my birthday, because I wanted to look nice. I finished changing, before heading into the bathroom across from my room, I stared at myself in the mirror. My eyes looked tired, but the rest of me looked lovely.
I began to apply foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara, light-blue eye shadow, & lastly a coating of red lipstick. Once I had finally completely my make-up I slowly began to curl my hair with the iron, until I had beach-curls. I stared at myself, picking, and brushing my dress, trying to stall as long as I could, because I feared the second I went down there, and saw Eli with his lifeless stare I would burst into tears again. I finally sucked in my breath, stepped from the mirror, and went into my bedroom to pick a pair of black pumps, before making my way down the stairs.
I was ready.