Lucy turned off the engine to her old Honda Civic, leaving the car in first gear and putting the parking brake on. She climbed out of the car and looked at her childhood home. Moving back in with her parents and younger brother at 23, freshly graduated from college wasn’t exactly how she pictured entering the world of adulthood. It wasn’t ideal, but it was definitely practical. She had landed a good job, fresh out of college; it wasn’t her dream job, but it was a work from home position. She had been one of three women in her class to graduate from the Computer Science and Engineering program at RIT. The field was still dominated by men, but that didn’t intimidate her. Her dream was to have her own company that specialised in cyber security. Starting up her own company without a loan from the bank or investors required capital. She needed to save money, which is why she’d chosen to move home when she literally could have done her job from anywhere in the country.
Isabel, Lucy’s mother, let out an excited squeal as she opened the front door, rushing through the yard to get to her daughter. “My baby is home,” she exclaimed, wrapping her daughter in a tight hug.
Lucy had to hold back her eye roll, “I’m 23, mama.”
“You’ll always be my baby.”
“Hey kiddo,” her dad, Jeremy, said, wrapping her in a one armed hug with a kiss to the cheek.
“Hey pops,” she replied wrapping one arm around each of her parents. “Where’s Luca?” Lucy asked, finding it strange that her younger brother also wasn’t there to greet her. She missed the look exchanged between her parents before her dad answered.
“He’ll be back later, he’s out looking for a job.” Lucy shrugged as she walked to the trunk of her car, pulling out the suitcases. “Is this all of it?” Her dad asked.
“Yeah, I let Regina keep all of the stuff we’d accumulated living together for 3 years. She paid my last two months of rent in order to keep all of it. I didn’t need it anyways.”
Jeremy had a suitcase in each hand while Lucy and Isabel had one each and Lucy had her purse and large tote bag also tucked under her arm. The three of them made their way up to Lucy’s childhood bedroom. The walls, that were only partially visible under all the inspirational quotes and posters that adorned the room, were still painted a pale pink. Her old bed was in the same spot it had always been in the middle of her room. Her old hand-me-down desk sat in the corner. Her family home was modest. Her parents weren’t rich, but were definitely on the spectrum of upper-middle class. They subscribed to the theory that anything that couldn’t be paid for in cash was too expensive, only having a creditcard to book vacations and for online purchases, all of which were immediately paid off. Because of this theory they lived comfortably but modestly.
“Your mother and I have to go to the restaurant in Utica today,” her dad informed her as she began unpacking her suitcases. “We’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“Okay, is there a problem?”
“No, not really. We just had a grand re-opening after remodelling and are just dropping by to make sure things are running better after employing new management staff.” Lucy nodded in understanding. Her parents owned a very small sandwich chain. Nobody outside of upstate or central New York had ever heard of it. 4 locations all within 100 miles of each other. Her parents worked hard from the time Lucy was born and by the time she was 10 the first location was so successful that they’d opened another. The third came when she turned 15 and the last one when she turned 20, giving the way things were going there were probably already plans for a fifth location somewhere. Her dad had always wanted her to take over the business, but was perfectly accepting when she let him down gently and said she didn’t want to be a business owner.
“I’m going to just unpack and shower anyway. Want me to cook?”
“There’s chicken, steak and shrimp in the fridge and the rest of the ingredients to make fajitas,” her mother informed her.
“Awesome, text me when you’re on your way back.”
Lucy turned on her favourite Spotify station, connected it to her bluetooth speaker and began unpacking her belongings.
Three hours later Lucy was finished unpacking her goods. Her clothes had been hung in her closet, meticulously organised, first by style and then by color. Her hangers were all equally spaced. The few momentos she had brought from her old apartment like pictures and books were neatly organised on her desk.
Sitting down at her desk she pulled out her planner. Her first assignment didn’t start until July 1, giving her four weeks to relax before she dove in head first. She had been hired by an intermediary to develop an e-learning platform for a small law firm. It would mostly be centred around privacy law and confidentiality. She had three months to complete the project and even though it didn’t start for a month and the small details still needed to be hammered out she had her timeline set up, bullet pointed in her google calendar and on paper in her planner, that way she’d always have a copy. Lucy wasn’t OCD but she liked control. She was organised and meticulous.
Her 3 year plan was to work for the intermediary that had contacted her. They received a small contracting fee for setting her up with clients and projects, but she was still her own boss. She’d take a minimum of one week off between projects and hopefully be able to do 3-4 a year. The longer the project the more money she made. Her first project would take her 3 months and she was slated to earn $15,000. She didn’t have to pay rent, but had decided she’d help with groceries and utilities while she lived at home. Her parents would fight her on it, but she didn’t want to freeload. If she spent smartly and saved well she should have $150,000 saved in three years time, enough to start her own securities company.
Lucy was clicking save on her macbook when she heard the front door open and close. She shot up and raced down the stairs. Her parents hadn’t contacted her saying they were on their way home, so it must have been her younger brother. They’d always been extremely close. Before she went away to college they had been best friends. Sadly, she hadn’t been as good at keeping in touch with him as she should have been and he had been a flaky 16 year old when she left; so they weren’t as close as they used to be. Lucy was hoping to rectify that now that she was living at home again.
“Baby sister!” He exclaimed.
Lucy wrapped him in a a hug as best she could, “I’m not the baby! I’m nearly 3 years older!”
“Yeah, but you’re pocket sized,” he joked, patting the top of her head. Lucy huffed at him. He’d been taller than she was since he was 12 and she was 15. He’d grown again since she last saw him. He must have been 6′1″ by now, while she was still standing tall at 5′4″.
She hugged him again when she caught the scent of something strange, something like vinegar. She backed up and took a look at him. He was skinny, too skinny, much skinnier than he had always been. His face was cut so small that his chin was protruding more than it should have been. He’d always been muscular and played sports. She hardly recognised him. Much to her dislike her friends were constantly hitting on him, which is how she knew he was a good looking guy, but now she hardly recognised him. His brown hair was greasy like it hadn’t been washed in days, his brown eyes were bloodshot and his pupils were pin points.
He noticed her stare and became fidgety. “I’m gonna go take a nap before dinner,” he told her before racing up the stairs to his room. She watched him go as her phone beeped in her pocket.
Mama: We’ll be home in 30.
Thankful for the distraction Lucy set out preparing dinner. She had steak and chicken cut into strips in now time. While they were sizzling in the pan she cut up the peppers and onions before adding them and the shrimp. She was cleaning up the scraps when she used the foot pedal to open the lid of the trashcan. As she went to drop the scrapings into the garbage something caught her eye. Looking down her eyes widened surprise. She set the scrapings back on the counter and carefully reached into the trashcan. She pulled out a needle and syringe. Being careful not to touch the needle she set it down on the counter. Was one of her parents sick? It wasn’t an insulin needle. Her roommate Regina had been a nursing major and frequently asked to use Lucy as a pin cushion, which she’d never allowed. Because of this, Lucy was familiar with different sized and lengths of needles. This looked similar to the one campus health services had used to draw blood on her at her last check-up. She quickly snapped a photo of it and sent it to Regina, hoping she could give her some insight.
The smell of burning onions filled the air, “crap,” Lucy mumbled under her breath, leaving the scraps and needles where they were as she went to check the damage on dinner. As she was scraping the burnt pieces off the bottom of the pan she heard the front door open again.
“Hi sweetie,” her mom greeted her. “Smells good.”
Lucy didn’t even reply before jumping right in, “is someone sick?”
“Why would you ask that?” It was her dad who answered her.
Lucy walked around the island back to the needle and gently pushed it towards where her parents stood. “This isn’t how we wanted to tell you,” her mom began.
“Tell me what,” Lucy asked immediately, fear taking over her system.
“Yo- you-,” her mom began. Her voice was shaky, full of emotion and it was clear she was barely holding back tears. Lucy’s eyes immediately filled with tears, she had no idea what was coming, but based on her mom’s reaction, it wasn’t good.
Jeremy wrapped his arms around his wife’s waist, pulling her into him as she buried her face in his neck. Lucy looked at her parents, her worry temporarily forgotten as she admired how much they still loved each other, even after 25 years of marriage. She hoped to have that same type of love someday. “We wanted to tell you tonight. There’s no easy way to say this,” he began. He took a deep breath as the next words that came out of his mouth changed Lucy’s world forever. “Your brother is a heroin addict. He’s a junkie.”
Lucy inhaled a sharp breath. The dots starting to connect. The smell, his weight loss, his eyes. She hadn’t been able to see his arms in the long sleeved shirt he had been wearing but based on the needle she had found she knew with almost certainty there would be track marks on them. Lucy’s first reaction was fear, then hurt and she finally came out at anger. It was largely misplaced, but she felt deceived by her parents. “How long?”
“What?” Her mom replied.
“How long has he been using?” She hadn’t been home in more than a year. She had chosen to try and save money and work over all the vacations she’d had between junior year and senior year.
“We’ve known for a little over a year,” Jeremy said. “Come, sit. We’ll tell you everything, but you need to be prepared, because it’s bad.” Isabela turned off the burners on the stove and covered the food, keeping it warm, although she had a feeling nobody would have an appetite after this conversation.
Lucy listened intently for the next hour as her parents told her everything. They’d basically been living a nightmare. Her dad told her how he’d found her brother unresponsive and not breathing on the bathroom floor. How he had to perform CPR until EMS arrived as her mom looked on helplessly. He told her how nearly all of her mom’s jewellery was gone, stolen. Family heirlooms and antiques were missing, never to be seen again. Then came the worst part. Her brother was facing serious jail time. He’d been arrested on more than one occasion. The charges ranged from possession to driving without a license to grand larceny. Her childhood home was bonded for close to $50,000. Isabela cried the entire time her husband retold the events of the last year, her hand never leaving his. Jeremy had tears in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. He felt as if he had failed his son and he wouldn’t fail is wife and daughter by letting his emotions get the best of him. He needed to be strong for both of them. His own toxic masculinity prevented him from being truly vulnerable.
Lucy cried silent tears as she listened to her parents. The last year of university hadn’t been a walk in the park, but it had definitely been easier than the horror her parents had been dealing with. “Is that everything?” She asked. Her parents could only nod at her. “Why didn’t you tell me?” She tried to keep the fury out of her voice, but she was boiling mad. She spoke to her mother daily and her father nearly just as often. She felt as if every time that had talked in the past year was now a lie.
“That’s everything. We’re sorry. I’m sorry. I know we should have told you sooner, but you were busy with work and classes. We didn’t want to worry you. He doesn’t even try and hide it anymore. We find needles everywhere. The bathrooms, in the driveway, laying on the couch. He has no money and no job. The counselor says we should kick him out, but how can we? He’s our son. If we kick him out it’ll be a death sentence.”
“He’s killing himself here too, baby,” her dad said gently. The words were hard and difficult to swallow and her mom winced. What’s worse, he was right. He had nearly died once already.
Lucy couldn’t understand his choices, but she knew addiction was a disease. A deadly one. One she couldn’t help him fight. She didn’t have anything to add or say. She needed time to process all the information she’d been given. She hugged both her parents wordlessly and silently climbed the stairs, locking herself in her room and letting emotion exhaustion pull her into a restless sleep.