"Sissy!" "Sissy!" My five year old sister cried out from the living room. "Help!" Her voice was fragile and squeaky; a Barney tape was playing in the background.
"Coming, sweetie." I said as I dropped the plate I had been washing.
When I walked into the living room, Rose was sitting cross legged in front of her doll house, a Barbie in her hand with its head popped off. Chuckling to myself, I plopped down next to her. She thrusted the decapitated Barbie into my hands, and looked at me hopefully. Sissy could fix anything according to her. With a bit of a struggle, I was able to give Barbie her head back.
"Sissy, what job should Barbie have?" Rose asked me, staring at the doll.
"Well, what does Barbie want to do?" I asked.
She thought about for a moment. "I think she wants to be an astronaut!"
I smiled at the dark pink-eyed five year-old beside me. "Then she can be an astronaut. Barbie can be anything she wants to be, and you know what? So can you!" I planted a kiss on her forehead and went to finish washing the dishes.
When Rose was born, the doctors noticed that her iris' were an abnormal color; a dark pink. After doing several tests, they couldn't find any explanation as to why her eyes were that color. They kept a close watch on her, but so far, nothing else was wrong with her. It was because of her eye color that my parents decided to name her Rose.
On the way back to the kitchen, my eyes caught glimpse of our family photo: mom, dad, Rose and I. I stopped, knowing I should just keep walking, but I couldn't stop myself. The picture was surrounded by a frame of gold and pink melted together. We had gone to the beach last summer; Rose's first time. Mom had asked someone to take our picture, and we squished next to each other. Dad had Rose on his shoulders, and I was kneeling in front of mom and dad. The sun was shining behind us, giving us all an angelic glow. A football could be seen in midair behind my mom's head, and Rose's face was giving off the biggest smile her little four year old face could muster. Mom's hands were placed gently around my dad's waste, and she was glancing up at him lovingly. Dad's hands were supporting Rose's ankles, and he was smiling down at me.
I placed the picture back down gently, and walked back to the kitchen. No sooner had I started washing the dishes, when the phone started to ring. Exasperated, I dried off my hands and quickly picked up the receiver. "Hello?" I answered, not bothering to hide my annoyance.
"Hello to you too Ms. Grumpy pants." My best friend's voice chuckled into the receiver.
I rolled my eyes. "Hey Rina."
"I was just wondering what time I should come over tonight?"
I glanced at the clock on the stove. 4:28 pm. "Well, I have to be at work by six thirty, so how about five thirty?"
"Okay, sounds good."
"I'll see you then." I said before hanging up the phone.
Five o'clock had approached and I began getting ready for work. My hair was pulled into a messy bun, and my apron was lying on my bed. Waitressing was one job I didn't mind. The diner had weekly entertainment, and the customers always gave generous tips. I applied my one coat of mascara, and my mint chapstick.
The doorbell rang precisely at five thirty; good old Rina was never late. Rose beat me to the front door screaming "Auntie Rina!" at the top of her lungs. Rina scooped her up in her arms and gave her a sloppy wet kiss on her cheek; Rose shrieked with laughter.
"Hey." I said as I walked up to the two of them. Rina put down Rose and pulled me in for a tight hug. She smelled like strawberries and salt water.
"Thanks for watching her." I spoke again as I pulled away from her.
Rina placed her hands on her hips, and pursed her lips. "Natalie, do not thank me. I watch Rose six nights a week; I get tired of hearing thank you. I'm your best friend, and you need me. This is one of my duties. Besides, it's always a pleasure watching her." As she said this, she bent down to tickle Rose.
"I know, I know. It's just that I would be screwed without you." I sighed.
"Well, from now on, when you thank me, I'll act as if you said nothing!" Rina said, striding into the kitchen. "I'm making you some tea before you go to work. Sit." I knew Rina was not one to mess with, so I did as I was told.
Five minutes later, she had a cup of steaming hot tea in front of me. She sat across from me and studied my face. Her head in her chin, and her dark red hair falling in soft curls around her face. Her gold eyes sparkled in the dim light, and heart shaped lips formed a slight frown. "You look exhausted."
Sipping my tea, I rolled my eyes. "Oh really? I hadn't noticed."
"Maybe you should stay home from work tonight; get some rest." She tried to argue.
"Rina, I can't. I need the money." I shook my head and placed the tea back down on the table.
"Your health is important, you know. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to work, and then you won't have money." Rina never knew when to quit.
"I'm fine." I retorted as I rose from the table. I placed my mug on the counter next to the sink and went into the living room to say good-bye to Rose.
She was preoccupied with the same Barney tape that was on earlier today; it was her favorite. "Rose, come give sissy a hug good-bye."
It took her a second to pull away from the screen but she walked over and laid her head on my shoulder; her little arms around my neck. "I love you, Natty." She said.
I don't know why, but her words made me tear up. I squeezed her tight. "I love you too, Rose. Be good for Auntie Rina." I kissed her cheek and stood up.
"I always am!" she exclaimed, returning to her spot in front of the TV. I turned to Rina to reel off the instructions for the night. "Okay, it's a Friday, so she can stay up until nine. There's some mac and cheese in the pantry, and some chicken strips in the freezer. I should be home by two am at the latest."
"Nat, I know. Okay? I do this-"
"Six times a week. I know." Smiling sadly at her. I kissed her on the cheek as well, and rushed out the door.
I hated that I had to work so much, hated that my best friend had to give up part of her life to help keep mine together. I was eighteen years old and I had to act like I was thirty. I love Rose, she's the only thing I have left now, and it's not her fault we're in this situation, but I hate that we are.
The walk to the diner took me all of fifteen minutes, and I showed up fifteen minutes early for my shift.
"Hey, Hal." I said to the main cook as I walked through the kitchen to the staff room. It wasn't much of a staff room to be honest; a small, round table with two folding chairs, and a rack for jackets. No one even used it, but we needed a place to put our belongings.
I grabbed my pad of order papers, and my favorite purple pen and waited for my tables to fill. We were slow right now, but in another half hour, we would pick up. The dinner rush came late most nights, giving us waiters and waitresses a chance to relax beforehand. The smell of spaghetti wafted from the kitchen, and a trace of coffee flooded my nostrils.
The night rolled by smoothly; my favorite old couple: Jan and Mo, came just like they do every Friday night. Tonight was karaoke and it was fun watching random people make a fool of themselves.
At one of my tables, sat a boy around my age; he couldn't be more than twenty. Maybe he was waiting for some friends or something. Walking over to take his order, I hoped he wasn't one of those arrogant boys.
"Hi, my name is Natalie and I'll be your waitress for the evening. Can I start you off with something to drink?" I said in my polite voice.
Up close, he looked distraught and deep in thought. I felt bad for a moment, having disrupted him. His black hair fell in untamed, wild curls above his eyebrows. His eyes, I noticed, were a light shade of gray, almost like a cloudy sky.
"Coffee, please." Was all he said, not even looking at me.
I nodded, and walked back to the counter where I proceeded to pour a cup. I grabbed a bowl of creamers, and sat his coffee down in front of him. "Are you ready to order or would you like more time?"
"I'm fine with just the coffee, thank you." His tone wasn't rude, or arrogant. He smiled softly at me, and proceeded to pour sugar into the mug.
"Enjoy your coffee, sir." I said, ready to walk away.
"Adam." He blurted.
"My name's Adam."
"Well, Adam, enjoy your coffee." I repeated before walking back to the counter.
Jan and Mo asked me how Rose was, and told me for the millionth time if I ever needed anything to give them a call. They were the only customers I had grown attached to, and they knew about my situation. Jan had told me that they would have Rose and I live them with, but their house wasn't big enough for four people. I had understood of course, and didn't expect her to rearrange her life for two unlucky children.
At one thirty, I went to the staff room to get my coat, when I noticed Adam was still sitting at the table. He had a total of seven cups of coffee since he first arrived around seven o'clock, and I was sure he wouldn't be sleeping tonight. He looked up at me as I walked by and gave me a small smile. I merely waved in return, and retrieved my coat.
"See you on Sunday, guys." I said to the other waiters. Kelsey hugged me, and Rory patted me on the back. Kelsey and Rory were my closest friends at the diner; we had become a miniature family.
As I approached the front doors, Adam appeared at my side. "Natalie?" he said, resting his hand on my arm.
I blinked; a tad bit unnerved by his boldness at this physical contact. "Yes?"
He chuckled to himself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. I was just wondering, if I came in for coffee tomorrow night, would you like to join me?"
"I can't." I said so fast that I didn't even have time to process what he had asked. The poor guy looked so taken aback by my response that I could feel a blush creep up my neck. "I'm sorry. It's just an automatic response." I tried laughing to lighten the atmosphere, but it just made it more awkward.
"So I'm not the first guy to ask you out at work then?" he asked.
"No! No, you are. It's just…I can't really ever go out, so when people ask, the answers always I can't." I started to explain, before I realized that I didn't owe him an explanation; I barely knew him.
"It's fine, really." He said sulkily, as he walked out the diner doors; the bell chiming overhead.
Sighing, I followed him out and began my walk home. When I first started walking to work, I got creeped out by the dark streets, but now I enjoyed the solitude. The moon shone brightly, acting as a row of streetlights. I listened to the crickets chirping in the bushes, and an owl hooting in the distance. The silence and loneliness caused my thoughts to wander as my feet carried me down the empty road.
"Natalie Ann, get down here now!" My mom screamed from the bottom of the stairs.
"No!" I yelled through my locked door. She had freaked out because she saw the tattoo I had gotten on my hip.
"Fine, then I'm coming upstairs." Her voice was stern, and I knew she wasn't joking.
I ripped open my door, and stood blocking my doorway. My hands on my hips and my mouth ready to defend myself.
Her face was red, and her eyes were about to bulge out of her head. I hadn't seen her this mad in a while. "How dare you get a tattoo without our permission?! You're not even eighteen yet!"
I rolled my eyes at her. "That's exactly why I got it without your permission! I knew you wouldn't let me! Besides, it's not a big deal."
"Not a big deal?! You have ink on you that will never come off, Natalie!" Her voice was now shrill, and I thought she was going to cry.
"Uh yeah, I know that. I like what I got, and I don't regret it. It's my body and I can do what I want with it." I retorted angrily.
"Not while you live under my roof." She snapped.
"Great, I'll move out now, then." I said, grabbing a handful of clothes.
"You will not! Why are you in such a rush to grow up?" she asked, following me into my room.
I whirled on her. "Why won't you let me grow up! I'm seventeen, and I can't stay out past nine o'clock. You and dad freaked when I brought home Jay a couple weeks ago, because apparently I'm too young to date. I need to grow up sometime mom."
Her shoulders sunk, and she bowed her head. I could tell that she was close to giving up. "Natalie, you are our first born; our first baby girl-"
"Yeah, and now you guys have Rose; you know an actual baby! She's four years old, she's the one who needs to be protected every second, not me." I said, my voice cracking slightly. We were getting on a touchy subject, and I wanted this argument to end.
My mom looked at me with wide eyes. "Is that what this is about? You're lashing out and rebelling because you're jealous of your sister?"
"Pfft, no. There's no way I'm jealous of a four year old." I said, trying to hide the uncertainty in my voice; but I wasn't fooling her.
She cocked her head to the side and sat down next to me on my bed and placed an arm around my shoulders. "Natalie, you are no less important than Rose. And you're right, you do need to grow up sometime. So, maybe we can start by extending your curfew to eleven?" she spoke gently and softly.
I nodded in agreement. "Eleven sounds fair. What about Jay? I really like him, mom."
She bit her lip, and hesitated to answer. "Bring him over for dinner tomorrow, and then we'll talk."
Arguing was useless, so I just agreed to that too. "Fine."
She hugged me, before getting up to leave my room. "You're not getting away with the tattoo though. So, for the next month, you're grounded. No going out and no friends over, dinner with Jay is the exception to that rule, and tomorrow will be the only time you will be seeing him until your grounding is done."
My jaw dropped; she was unbelievable. "Mom, that's so unfair! Grounding me won't take away my tattoo!"
"No, but it will teach you to not do these kinds of things behind our back." She raised an eyebrow at me, daring me to continue this conversation.
I looked at the ground and crossed my arms. "I hate you." I mumbled.
I looked back up in time to see the hurt in her eyes; she looked as if I had just slapped her. I had never said those words before and now I wish I hadn't said them at all. "Mom, I-" I tried to apologize, but she walked out of my room silently, gently shutting the door behind her. Guilt washed over me, because after all, I didn't really hate my mom.
I didn't know it then but that would be the last time I would get to have an argument with my mom. I felt something wet sliding down my cheeks, and realized I had started to cry. Damn it. I quickly wiped away the tears, and regained my composure. Thankfully, I was home.
All of the lights were off except for the light in the living room, where I knew Rina would be sitting watching TV. It felt good to be home; where my comfy bed awaited me, and where Rose slept peacefully in her bed. I walked up the porch steps, and dug out my keys, but to my surprise, I didn't need them; the door was unlocked. Rina had forgotten to lock the door a few times before, so I figured she forgot tonight as well. I tossed my keys into the bowl by the front door, and took off my jacket. The house was oddly quiet, and the glow of the TV seemed eerie instead of comforting. Rina hadn't gotten up to greet me yet, either. Maybe she fell asleep on the couch. I thought. It was two in the morning after all.
I walked towards the living room, the floor boards creaking beneath my worn out sneakers. "Rina?" I called out, waiting for her response. Silence.
When I walked into the living room, I felt my heart stop, and my body slump against the wall. The TV was on, but Rina was not asleep on the couch. Instead, she was lying face down in a pool of what I guessed to be her own blood, and a knife sticking through her back. Tears rolled down my cheeks like a waterfall for the second time tonight, and I mustered every ounce of strength I still had to not scream. Whoever did this could still be in the house. At that thought, I let out a cry of panic. Rose.
Momentarily forgetting about my best friend, I ran up the stairs two at a time, praying whoever did this had left Rose alone. I bolted to the end of the hallway, her door still shut. I stopped right before it, terrified to go in, in fear that she too would be dead. Shutting my eyes, I grasped the cold, brass handle, turning it as quietly as I could. I took a few steps in and slowly opened my eyes. No, no, no. God no. I repeated in my head.
Rose's bed was empty, the covers had clearly been torn away from her delicate body. The window was open, and the curtains lay on the floor. I felt like I was about to throw up, and my heart was pounding out of my chest. Panic and fear spread to every nerve in my body; from the hairs on my neck, to the tips of my toes. I scanned her room and noticed a paper placed on her dresser. I held on to the wall, as I took shaky steps to her dresser. Taking a deep breath, I picked up the note.
To someone else, the words would have meant nothing. But to me, they sent my whole world crashing down in that instant. I sank against the wall, and pulled my knees to my chest. This was the end; Rose would be dead in a matter of minutes, hell, she may even be dead now. No, my brain argued. She's not dead. Don't say that.
I felt a sob rise in my throat and I choked on it before letting it consume every inch of my shaking body. There was no point in trying to stop the tears, because as long as Rose was gone, they couldn't be stopped. I had vowed to keep her safe since that night seven months ago and now I failed. She's my baby sister, and I was supposed to protect her; and now she's gone, forever. My eyes found the portrait of her from when she was two, hanging on her wall. It was just after her first haircut, and her light blonde hair just reached her chin. Her mouth had formed the cheesiest smile, and those dark pink eyes shone brightly in the light of the flash. Rose looked so innocent, so pure in that portrait. Now all of that is stripped away from her. I tried to tear my eyes away from the portrait but they stayed glued to her dark pink eyes. The last image I had before falling asleep was those eyes staring back at me with wonder and happiness; two things she would never get to experience again.
Author's note: 3, 567 words. Also, sorry for an inaccuracy in events.