Chapter 1 - Oh brother
River- age 16
I hated how whiny my voice sounded but honestly, I was whining.
“Because River.. you can’t be there anymore and you know it. It’s time for you to come here with me, let me take care of you. You’re only sixteen and even though I know you’re fully capable of being alone, legally it’s another story..”
My brother. Always worried about his little sister. Except I’d been fending for myself for years he just didn't realize it. I considered it my job to take care of him too. Even if that only meant shielding him from the truth.
Jackson was in the military, stationed in some small town on the coast of North Carolina while I’m here in Chicago with our dad. He was slowly becoming less and less human, gambling, and drinking both of our lives away. The bank would take our house any day now, it was only a matter of time.
“Okay Jackson, so when do I leave?”
I sighed in defeat... I could already picture him sitting on his couch with his laptop propped up on his legs while his fingers itched to book a flight to protect the only family he had left. My brother had a soft spot that I just did not possess. He got that from our mom, I was certain.
“I’m calling your school tomorrow and having your transcripts sent here, and overnighting the rest of the paperwork to the caseworker so hopefully you’ll be on a plane within a few days. These schools here are better anyway, Riv.. you’re too smart for the place you’re at now.”
He wasn't wrong. My high school sucked. The students too, all except one. I wouldn't miss that place one bit. In fact, I couldn't say I’d miss anything about this place.
Jackson had been filling out the paperwork for my guardianship for months. I should've probably been upset over this whole situation but I wasn't. I’d known for a while that one way or another I’d end up with Jackson, now it was just official. A small spark ignited inside me at the idea of starting over.
“I love you, Riv. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Love you too, Jack.”
I grabbed my mp3 player off of my dresser, cranked up Gorillaz, and let the music drownd out my problems for a bit. After almost an hour of nothing but music filling my mind, I reluctantly pulled my earbuds out. I walked out of my room and down the hall to the kitchen in search of dinner. On my way I found my dad sleeping in his recliner. The lines on his face looked deeper this way somehow and his hair was almost fully gray. I loved my dad, I truly did but I believe he died the day my mom did. He was never the same man and I didn't even know if I could blame him for it. My mom was his lifeline and that’s one thing about him that has always been clear. I inadvertently found out other things about him along the way. Like his gambling addiction for example. I narrowed my eyes at his sleeping form and suddenly, I was annoyed. I turned on my heels and continued my hunt for food.
I swung the pantry open and it was bare as usual but peanut butter never let me down. After I grabbed the tub and a spoon I headed back down the hallway to my room for the night.
I must have fallen asleep with my face in my American history book because it was currently serving as a makeshift pillow. I lifted my head and peeled my face from the page and hoped the words from the Western Expansion chapter weren't permanently etched onto my cheek.
I was about to get off of my bed to take a shower when I heard the yelling. My heart jumped into my throat and I ran to my bedroom door but then I thought better of it.
What could I really do? If someone was in there...
How could I even help? I could barely pick my backpack up when all four of my textbooks were in it.
It was then that I took a moment to listen to my dad’s words and I realized he was talking about me.
“You can’t take her from me. She’s my daughter.”
Jackson must have called him. I’d been waiting for this conversation for a long time, now if I could only swallow my heart back down to where it belonged.
“Yeah... Yes, Jackson... I know.”
I could practically hear my brother’s words on the other line scolding our dad. He knew he wasn’t in any position to be taking care of me but it wasn’t in his nature to give up so easily, even though that’s what it seemed like he had done with his life.
But the facts were simple. The state had already been made aware of our situation and my brother was far more capable of taking care of me, even though for the record, I didn’t need to be taken care of. But in the eyes of the law, I was still a child. And even though my dad might never want to admit it to himself, he would give in and sign whatever he had to. I understood that fact should bother me. It should've made me hate him. But I didn't.
I took a deep breath and gathered my pajamas before heading to my bathroom. After my shower, I opened my bedroom door to find my dad sitting on my bed. I couldn't recall the last time he walked down the hall, much less into my room. He’d slept on the couch for the past ten years. He couldn't go in their room, or even down the hall so the fact that he was here now was shocking to me.
“Dad!” I gasped and jumped back.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He rubbed the palms of his hands over his dirty work jeans.
I didn't say anything so he stood, and pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I’m sure you’ve spoken to your bother.”
He spits out the words your brother as if they were dipped in bleach.
“You’ll be better off there, River. You deserve an actual life... And I’m afraid I’m in no state to give you one.”
There was no emotion in any of his words and I knew it was because he’d shut them all off. He didn't let any in, or out.
He closed the space between us, leaned down, and placed a quick kiss on my forehead. I didn't move a muscle out of pure shock and he walked out of my room... I knew without another thought that will be the last time I see him.