I look at the peeling baby pink paint on my bedroom wall as the sound of a glass smashing seems to echo through the house for longer than normal. My parents had been shouting and fighting downstairs only a moment ago but now they are silent, everything is silent. It is scarier in a lot of ways. At least when they are yelling at each other I know they are both okay and where they are. I look over at my big sister’s bed for help but it’s empty. Her bed is still made up in her bright pink playboy bunny bedding, that has gone tatty with age. It’s still sat there made up waiting for her to come home. But she’s never coming back. That’s why they are fighting. She’s gone and they know it’s their fault. There is no one here for me anymore. My big brother Greyson left on his 16th birthday almost 8 years ago, after a huge fight with my dad (his stepdad) and I know nothing will ever bring him home again. I barely remember him I was almost 3 when he left, my memories of that time are almost nonexistent. Then he stopped coming round at all when I was five as if he fully gave up on his family. I see him enough on TV to know he is doing well for himself and would never come back here. That’s what Jezebel had thought to, she used to say if she was Grey, she wouldn’t ever come back here either. She would grab me and take me as far away from here as she could. Teach me there was more to life than being let down and lied to again and again. Does Grey even know Jezebel died? Does he even care? He didn’t come to her funeral today. Was that how little our lives meant to him? But then hardly anyone went to her funeral. Even her boyfriend who was always there hadn’t even come. My 17-year-old big sister had been buried the same way she had lived all her life, quietly and in the shadows. My Mom and Dad had got drunk earlier today and I don’t think they plan to be sober for a while. but then why change a habit of a lifetime. I’m 10 years old and I’m more grown up than my parents put together, and I only have Jezebel to thank for that. A knock on the front door then seems to echo through the quiet house. Why is it so quiet? the knock sounds again, have mom and dad gone out leaving me home alone. That wouldn’t surprise me they have been doing it for years. It’s not even that late yet. its only 6 pm according to mine and Jezebel’s clock on the wall. no mine now, just mine. Jez is gone. The knock sounds again, and I force myself to my feet and go out of my bedroom, down the dark green corridor with its own peeling paint and down the stairs. the silence seems to make the knock echo louder than it should as the front door is knocked again. Who could it be? mom and Dad locking themselves out? that wouldn’t surprise me. The police with more bad news? Social services to take me away? I force myself to open the door after peeking through the curtains and only seeing the silhouette of a man stood there in a suit. money on social services then. the moment I open the door, the man seems to jump back in surprise as if I had just stung him. He seems to tower above me, his long jet-black hair is pulled back into a neat ponytail, his grey eyes match my own. I look up into the face of my big brother. What do I even say to him, you’re too late? Hello?
“Mariah?” He asks sounding to be in as much disbelief as I myself currently am in.
“Why are you here Grey?” Comes out my mouth rather than anything else. Why? why now?
“I’m so sorry I’m too late,” he tells me, his face is wet as if he has been crying. What do I even say to him? Jez would have told him better late than never, but I don’t mean that. I don’t know what to do or say to this man I don’t even know.
“Don’t,” I tell him, don’t make excuses, don’t lie to me. just don’t.
“Jez is buried in Saint Teresa’s,” I tell him my voice is flat. I’m not going to break down in front of this stranger.
“I know, I’ve been there all day,” he tells me. No, you haven’t. don’t lie to me, Grey. If you were there all day you would have been at her funeral. you would have stood next to me when I needed someone, anyone. As the only person I loved and who loved me was lowered into the ground, never to come back.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you today.” He tells me, don’t I can’t hear this. I imagine a brick wall building itself around me keeping Grey outside away from me, I feel like I’m being suffocated and drowning all at once.
“Okay,” I tell him, I don’t need his apology I don’t need him. He looks at me tears running down his face, but I can’t bring myself to understand. I can’t bring myself to care. I’m done caring, I feel empty. Grey didn’t know Jez he hadn’t seen her in 5 years he can’t stand in front of me crying now because she’s gone.
“Mariah.” He says his voice breaking into almost a sob.
“Mom and Dad are out, I think they’ve gone to the bar to drown their sorrows you can go join them and drink to the girl none of you even knew,” I tell him. He looks at me like I have just slapped him. I find myself shutting the door in his face. I can’t play nice with him. I go up to my room and I find myself just laying down on my bed looking up at the ceiling, it has more cracks than the sidewalks outside. Mine and Jez’s stars are pathetically stuck up there. more have fallen off over the last week than is still up there and unlike Jez, I haven’t got the hope to stick them back up and hope they stay up there anymore. I don’t see the point of even trying anymore. what’s the point of even trying, if we are all just going to leave this world alone in a wooden box. Jez never even got to live, her whole life had been taking care of me and our parents. the knock on the door echoes again, is it still Grey? or has he gone and left like I wanted him to? I look over at Jez’s side of the room, a map on the wall sits there with blue, green, purple, yellow, and red tacks in. that’s pointless now isn’t it. the blue tacks were Jez marking everywhere Grey went in his life, the yellow where his next few concerts would take him. She followed him religiously. the red was everywhere she had been in her own life, only one place was marked off our hometown. she never got to go anywhere. The purple and green were everywhere she wanted to go. the whole map was covered in purple and green. the places she wanted to go the most had a printed picture of the location stuck there, I looked at the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls and new York city knowing that she would never get to see them. the knock echoes through the house again, I force myself back to my feet. I shouldn’t have to; I should be allowed to lay on my bed and just let the world move on around me for a few moments of time. I force myself back down the dark corridor and down the stairs. I then pull open the door and look up into the face of my big brother. I want to scream at him, I want to tell him how he’s too late. Jez is gone she’s gone and he’s too late.
“Mariah,” he says my name like everything else he wants to say has just gone and left him. If he knew me, he would know no one who cared about me called me Mariah he would know I go by Riah and not Mariah. but no, he didn’t know me, he didn’t know Jez. He had gone and I bet he had never looked back once in his great life. I stretch my arm up as high as it will go. I then slap him. I didn’t know what possessed me. I wasn’t like that. I was as shocked at my own action as he was. but rather than stop I slap his chest again and then again. He doesn’t try to stop me. I hit him over and over again with my fist finally the tears come. Tears that I have been holding back since Jez died. He just stands on my doorstep taking my hits. sobs leave my mouth and I can’t see anymore. when I’ve slowed down and almost stopped, he wraps his huge arms around me and seems to lift me off my feet. I find the strength again to hit him.
“I hate you.” I sob out.
“I know, I don’t blame you.” Grey’s voice says he sounds defeated. I don’t know how many times I’ve told him I hate him over the last few minutes. I find myself being put down on my own bed, but he doesn’t say anything as I turn into my pillow and start sobbing.
“Why Jez.” Comes out of my mouth as a sob.
“I don’t know Mariah I don’t.” Grey’s deep voice says, he sounds like he’s crying himself, but I can’t bring myself to care and look at him. I cry into my pillow until I pass out, the whole time Grey sits on the bottom of my bed as I kick him and push him away when he tries to comfort me. I tell him so many times I don’t need him, to leave me alone. that I don’t need anyone.
My face is covered in dry hard boogies when I wake up in the morning. my throat stings and I feel pain all over my body like I have run miles rather than cried all night. I force myself to sit up and look around my dark bedroom. I take in the shape on the floor in surprise. A man is laying on my bedroom floor curled up on his side, using one of my toys that Jez brought me from goodwill as a pillow. I take in my big brother not sure what to say or do. should I wake him? I find myself pulling the cover of my bed and laying it on top of him. he lets out a little snore, I find myself scoffing. why the hell did he stay? I step over him and walk down the dark corridor to the bathroom to use the toilet. Moms shoes and clothes are scatted along the hallway and I find myself picking them up like Jez would have. when I get to the bathroom she is passed out on the floor in there a needle still stuck in her arm. great just great. I manage to step over her to get to the toilet. I piss as I can’t hold my bladder forever and if I wanted the bathroom alone, I would have to wait till I was at school. I have no plans to go to school today. I can’t face it. I haven’t been able to face it since Jez died. I don’t know how long I will get away with not going but what is the point, currently, I can’t see a future. I can’t see a way out this darkness that seems to be engulfing me. Mom lets out her own snore as I get off the toilet. Does she blame herself for Jez’s death as much as I blame her? I hate her. She has never hit me or physically hurt me, but she has hurt me so much. I look at her now, taking her in. Grey took after mom a lot; he has her eyes. same as I and Jez do. did. He has a different nose to us but both Jez and I have moms’ nose. had. Jez used to say I have moms smile whilst she had dads not that I’ve seen anyone smile in a long time. I wash my hands making sure I splash mom who grunts and turns her head as I do. when I open the door, Grey is stood outside the door.
“Moms asleep in there, if you don’t mind pissing whilst she’s in there be my guest,” I whisper at him, knowing from experience dad doesn’t like being woke up when he’s hung over.
“I’m fine I can piss outside,” he tells me. I shrug, true. or at his home. this isn’t his home.
“RIAH SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GO TO SCHOOL!” Dads voice bellows through the house from his and mom’s bedroom, I hear movement in the bathroom, I look at Grey wondering if he’s going to face Mom and Dad now, but he indicates my bedroom door quickly and I find myself following him into my room. he stands behind my bedroom door, where he wouldn’t be noticed if mom happened to open it.
“Mariah,” he says like his heart is broken, he lost the right to act as if he cares.
“Don’t pretend you care.” I find myself snapping. angry, I can work with anger. he looks at me like he knows what I can’t bring myself to say. I’m breaking down. I can’t do this anymore. I look over at the map on the wall at everywhere Jez wanted to go. Grey looks over at it and I see him look away clenching his fists.
“What time do you have to be at school?” he questions me.
“I’m not going,” I tell him.
“You have to go school Mariah. How do you expect to ever get out of here if you don’t try your hardest.” Grey starts.
“why are you even here.” I snap at him.
“to get you out of here,” he says firmly, looking at me like he means that. I scoff.
“I don’t want your money. Jez and I never wanted your money.” I say indicating Jez’s map.
“your too late Grey. Jez is the one who wanted to know you and she’s gone. she’s gone.” I break down. he takes a step towards me, but that’s when my bedroom door fly’s open.
“I TOLD YOU TO SHUT THE FUCK UP MARIAH!” Dad yells at me, thankfully not seeing Grey as he barges into my room. I look up at my dad, he is a short man with a beer belly. he let himself go long before I was even born. I don’t for the life of me know what Mom saw in him. he can’t ever hold down a job, the white shirt he wore to Jez’s funeral is covered in the grease from his dinner last night. dinner he and mom both forgot I might need myself. I just had a piece of dry bread that I had cut all the mold off. his face is sunken from the drugs he has been taking as long as I can remember.
“WHY ARENT YOU READY FOR SCHOOL, IF I HAVE THE POLICE HERE ABOUT YOU AGAIN YOU BITCH.” Dad starts, now mom was neglectful and forgets she has me most the time, Dad never fails to notice my every little flaw. it used to be Jez that he would take it out on physically most often now I hadn’t got Jez as a safety buffer and I knew for a fact so many more beatings were going to be in my future. I hadn’t realized how much she went through until she was gone. I hoped she was in heaven she deserved to be an angel.
“Your room is a mess, Mariah.” Dad sneers at me, indicating the one toy on my bedroom floor that Grey had been using as a pillow. Grey moves and I shake my head quickly at him. he will make this worse than it needs to be.
“I will tidy it Dad,” I tell Dad, not sure why I give in so quickly and don’t use all my anger on him. because I know I can’t. Grey had just let me hit him without reaction whilst dad wouldn’t hesitate in hitting me back.
“Tidy it, you’ll tidy it. I’ve heard that before. yet every time I come in here it’s the same story. we will tidy it, Dad. I’m sick of it Mariah. your sister would never have let it be a mess.” Dad spits at me.
“Pick it up.” Dad snaps at me, grabbing the back of my neck and forcing me in the direction. I bend down and pick it up, quickly. I put it on my bed.
“Was that so hard?” Dad spits at me.
“No,” I say, under my breath. Not sure where the guts to answer back has come from. Maybe because ive given up. I just want to be with Jez.
“What was that,” Dad says grabbing my arm and twisting. Hes going to break it again isn’t he.
“No, sir.” I grasp out.
“Better.” Dad snaps. Letting me go. he looks around mine and Jez’s room. please don’t see Grey I can’t take that big a beating in front of him.
“Pack up all of Jez’s stuff.” Dad snaps at me. No please don’t make me, it’s all I have of her.
Dad picks up a picture of Jez and me that Jez has next to her bed. I want to scream stop. but I don’t I watch him as he takes in the picture.
“Clear up her stuff Mariah, today I don’t want to ever see it again,” Dad says.
“She’s gone and doesn’t need it now.” Dad snaps and starts to leave my room thankfully.
“Maybe I want it,” I say finding my voice as dads almost out my room. I shouldn’t have said anything. I know better. Jez had taught me better. Dad stops. he’s only a hairs length from Grey. could Grey take him? looking at Grey’s face then I can tell he wants to, his fists are so tight, and I can tell it’s taking all his strength not to, it has done since the moment he touched me the first time.
“It’s not yours. don’t ever talk to me like that again. or I’m promising you, kid, you won’t walk for a month.” Dad spits in my direction. I don’t say anything.
“It should have been you not Jez.” Dad snaps as he leaves my room. it’s like ice runs down my back. my dad literally just told me. I should be dead. but thankfully dad leaves my room then, slamming my bedroom door. the sound seems to echo as his heavy boots walk down the corridor.
“Mariah.” Grey starts, his grey eyes are still sending spitfires, his fists are still drawn, but my brother is a guitarist he’s not a fighter.
“Go home Grey, you don’t belong here,” I say.
“Neither do you, I will get you out of here. you’re not just smoke Mariah, you’re not just going to blow away” Grey says. what the hell is he on?
“the only way out of here for me is the same way as Jez in a box. don’t you get that. You got out and you should just go and leave again.” I whisper-shout in his direction.
“MARIAH!” Dads voice bellows.
“I will get custody of you,” Grey says matter of fact. Like its that easy, perhaps with his cash it is.
“Yeah right, why now, you don’t have to start caring now. I’m 10 I don’t want your money. I never have. I will just get in your way and you know it.” I say I pull out a little dress from the goodwill that Jez got me out my closet and throw off the black dress I had worn to Jez’s funeral and fallen asleep in.
“I’m so sorry I let you and Jez down. but I promise you I’m here now Mariah. It’s all going to be okay.” he whispers taking a step closer to me and pulling me into his arms and holding me. I want to swing and push him away, but I can’t. but I have to force myself not to cry. Does he know how many years I actually prayed he would turn up and whisk me and Jez away to a better life.
“I’m sorry I’m so late. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I let you down.” He says.
“MARIAH GO TO SCHOOL RIGHT NOW!” Dads voice bellows. I push Grey away from me and grab my shoes from the floor under my bed and put them on. I run the comb quickly through my long black hair that matches my brothers, quickly looking at my reflection at my grey smokey eyes that match his. I then open my bedroom door and look out in the hallway indicate for Grey to follow me and then we both leave my home.
“Mariah,” Grey says when we reach his car, he’s parked a block away.
“Don’t,” I tell him.
“I’m sick of people lying to me Grey,” I tell him.
“I’m not lying I will get you out of here,” Grey says. I shake my head.
“Just walk away. Grey. you don’t belong here.” I tell him.
“Neither do you,” Grey assures me.
“I don’t need you.” I snap and then I walk away from Grey then.
“yes you do and I need you too.” I hear Grey say but I don’t think it was actully to me. I run away then as if I can escape everything.
I do go to school, I force myself to for the school for the next three full weeks, inside I’m broken. I’m sick of getting back up again. Grey keeps meeting me everyday in stupid places that won’t get us attention. he’s constantly wearing a cap and sunglasses. I know we live in LA but all it says to me is someone trying not to get attention. Why does he keep coming?
“Riah,” Grey says nervously. it’s Thursday 23 days after Jez was buried, and he’s still here. I look at him sick of him trying too hard. I take a sip out the milkshake he’s brought me. he insists on feeding me every day before he goes. He insists on meeting me somewhere everyday. A lot of the times he trys to take me to something fun. But its all too late.
“What?” I question him, he looks like he has so many regrets then.
“I have to go away for a few days, I have a concert abroad.” he starts. yeah, I know, I had a count down until he left as I doubted, he would come back for me.
“Yeah?” I question him.
“when I come back, my lawyers should have finished the papers so I can take Mom and your Dad to court to get guardianship of you,” he says, I spit out the milkshake I had been sipping.
“what?” I question him in disbelief.
“I meant it Riah, I’m getting you out of here. you’re going to come live with me. I’m never going to let him hurt you again” he assures me.
“until I get in your way,” I say rolling my eyes. Not even willing to get my hopes up.
“no,” he says firmly.
“Forever Riah. I’m sorry I’m so late.” Grey says he takes my hand and squeezes it.
“I got you a little something. something I want you to have.” He tells me. he pulls out a little jewelry box. I look at it in disbelief.
“what is it?” I ask.
“A locket I want you to have and wear every day, so you know Jez and I are always there” he informs me. I open the box, inside is a locket, that has the words.
‘Always get back up.’ engraved on the front of it, I turn it over and read.
‘sometimes we may need to let others help.’ I look up at Grey not sure what to say, why out of everything does it say that?
“I want you to always remember that. you need to get back up,” he tells me. I find myself nodding. it’s something Jez always said, well the first part is. I look at him, he takes it out the box and opens it. inside is a picture I’ve never seen. it’s of Grey, Jez and me. I’m around five in the picture. I look at the picture not sure what to say, he must only be around 18 in the picture, it looks like it was just before he left and stopped looking back. My brother moved out a few days after turning 16 he got himself emancipated and a month later the band’s first single came out. He used to come round weekly after he moved out and took me and Jez out. Then one day it all stopped with no warning he just didn’t come back. now he’s one of the most famous Rockstar’s around. my dad hates that. he says he made Grey and he should be providing more for his family.
“I’m sorry it’s one of the few pictures I have of you and Jez. pictures were rare at home, but I kept a hold of this one, I take a copy of it everywhere with me” he says nervously.
“Thank you.” I force myself to look up at him. I mean the thank you though.
“it means a lot,” I assure him a tear I cant stop running down my cheek. I wipe it off with the sleeve of my jacket.
“Social services should take you away before I get back. you will never have to go back to him again Riah I promise. I will be there forever.” Grey says. I weakly smile, thinking of dads red face as he yelled at me that morning, for pouring my cereal to loud. I nod.
“I can’t wait to have you at mine, Carlos and I can already see you and Mac as lifelong friends.” He says with a smile.
“Fern is going to love spoiling you both with spa trips. Nike has already started to buy you toys,” he says, I raise an eyebrow.
“I’m a bit old for toys,” I say.
“no, you had your childhood stolen. you’re not too old.” Grey tells me sadly.
“they all know about me?” I find myself asking.
“I told them all what I was doing last year. it’s just taken me this long to get all the paperwork and court stuff sorted. I couldn’t risk the media getting hold of it before it was a done deal with social services. I didn’t want to get your hopes up. Until I knew it was a done deal.” Grey tells me. I nod not sure what to say. A year was before Jez was dead, so I doubt it.
“What if I get in your way?” I ask, not sure why he doesn’t seem to care about that.
“you and Mac will both be traveling with us for the next tour so you will both be able to share a tutor. I’ve toured with kids for a while Riah. it’s not going to be much different. but we will have to have rules. no drinking, no drugs, no cotton candy after 8.” he says. I raise my eyebrow at him. Hell my parents don’t even stick to that rule. But I don’t think ive ever had cotton candy.
“you can cope?” I ask him.
“I’m going to miss the candy,” he says with a smile, for the first time I find myself smiling at him. he’s actually an idiot. His smile widens to see my smile.
“never let him take your smile away again,” Grey tells me. he looks at his watch and groans.
“I got to get you back to them, or you’ll be in shit,” he says annoyed.
“I promise you Riah this is the last time I’m dropping you off there,” he tells me. he puts the locket on me.
“I love you,” he tells me. I don’t say it back. I can’t bring myself to. The only person ive ever said it to is Jez.
Looking at the tv my heart is in my throat. I don’t even need sound on to see what the news is saying. there’s been a plane crash and the members of Mac and Cheese are all currently assumed dead. Grey was on that plane. I know he was. I feel like I did just after I found out Jez had died, like the weight of the world was on my shoulder. I again feel like I’m drowning. the world is moving at full speed and I am spinning to fast yet at the same time I can’t keep up.
“What’s happening to Greys money? Did he have a will?” Dad questions Mom as he looks at the news report himself. is that all they care about! Grey might be dead! their daughter is dead! yet all they care about is what happens to Greys money! I remember my brothers smiling face from the restaurant only yesterday afternoon and tears well up in my eyes. he will never smile at me again. I will never get another shot to tell him I love him. I will never get the shot to know him. the knock on the door drags me out my thought. my dad marches over and opens the door.
“Yes?” He questions almost rubbing his hands together as if imagining the money in his hands already. I quickly look as tears run down my face at the two policemen and the woman and man in a suit on the doorstep. were they really here to tell us Grey was gone? He couldn’t be I just saw him yesterday. I can’t lose my brother and sister this close together. stop everything I want off!
“Mr. Flynn?” the man in the suit asks calmly.
“Yes?” Dad asks. The women hands him some paperwork. Dad looks at it.
“is this a joke?” Dad snaps.
“No, I have a court order to remove your daughter Mariah Ashlyn Flynn from you and her mother’s custody.” The man says. what? Wait were these people the social worker that Grey had said about. but Grey was gone now? what would happen to me? would I be returned? would I go into the system? The whirlwind starts then, and I feel like I am swallowed up in it as my whole world is again swept out from under my feet. At 10 years old I lose everything I have ever known.