Amy hated babysitting. This is what she thought as she walked to her car:
God all those whiny kids with their dribble and spit and I've got to deal with it! Thus it may seem curious to some that she picked out three nights a week to baby-sit. She needed the money, and more importantly she needed to get out of her house. IF babysitting drove her crazy, her family drove her that much more crazy. It's hardly their fault Amy reflected as she opened the door of her car and climbed into the driver's seat. I mean, it isn't my mom's fault she is a crazy psycho bitch or my dad's fault he is a pussywhipped recluse, she thought with sudden contempt. The heated vitriol that seemed to come from nowhere alarmed Amy and scared her a little. She had seen what had happened to her brother, Chris and her sister, Dana.
In Amy's opinion, her parents, mom especially, had ruined Chris and Dana. Chris had been a fairly talented individual; he was tested at 9 and found to have an IQ of one thirty as well as a penchant for computers. The last she had seen of him, he had turned his body into a living art gallery as well as a living testament to the dangers of alcohol and was keeping company with a woman called "Candy". A cloud seemed to settle over Amy for a second as she thought about her brother and how the constant harping of her mother and strange, passive silence of her father, somehow even worse than the obnoxious and abusive chatter of her mother, had ruined a fine human being.
At least Chris had had the protection of being the youngest, at least till I came along, Amy thought wryly. Dana had had no such luck, and consequently, had suffered all the more for it. Amy settled into an even deeper depression at this, for Dana was a sensitive topic no one in the family like to or willingly discussed.
The unspoken consensus was that Dana had been addicted to crack. Amy was too young to remember most of the fights, having been born when Dana started high school, but she remembered when she would her sister, years later. At first Amy had wondered why Dana had always worn long sleeve shirts, and why, on those few occasions Amy caught a glimpse of her sister's arms, they were dotted with a little marks like the ones Amy had after getting a shot from the doctor. Eventually, two plus two began to equal four in Amy's mind and she began to realize with dawning horror that her sister shot crack.
Amy remembered the effect this realization had on her. She was forced to re-examine all her childhood memories of Dana, calling to mind all those times when Dana would not come home till late after midnight and walk into the living room with bloodshot eyes where her dutiful sister was awaiting her company. Unconsciously, Dana brushed away a tear that had fallen from one blue eye and down one tan cheek. She blindly grabbed a tissue from the box she kept in the car and honked loudly. The tears began to come in earnest now and try as she might, Amy was helpless to stem the tide. Memories long repressed rushed back to the surface and Amy was defenseless against them. Stop it you idiot she despaired silently you're gonna be late to the Joneses'. With a visible, shuddering effort of will Amy pulled herself together no tears she sniffled silently there will be time for tears later. Right now, I have a job I need to get to. Fortunately, Amy had left her house earlier than she meant too and arrived just as Mr. and Mrs. Jones were getting ready to go.
"Oh, Amy dear, there you are!" Mrs. Jones exclaimed in a very motherly fashion, "we were worried sick that something had happened." The concern for Amy's wellbeing that emanated from her eyes was genuine and caused Amy's heart to flutter warmly.
"Oh, I'm alright Mrs. Jones, thank you for asking though." Amy saw the unspoken question hiding behind Mrs. Jones lips: trouble at home dear? She opened her mouth as if to say something, but apparently thought better of it and closed it again.
"Well, in any case we are glad you are here dear, you're the best babysitter around, you have a knack with kids just like your big sister Dana did."
At the mention of Dana's name, Amy felt hot tears threaten to spring forth from her eyes again. She turned away and wiped her eyes under the pretense that a stray eyelash had ventured into their domain. Amy hoped Mrs. Jones didn't see the lone tear, second one today thought Amy with a bitter laugh to herself, roll down her cheek and plop wetly to the floor. She had a sneaking suspicion that that tear hadn't gone unnoticed; however, as Mrs. Jones reached out and gently placed a comforting hand on Amy's shoulder before leaving with a final look of concern over her shoulder.
When the Jones' had left, Amy did her best imitation of a cheery walk over to the family room where the kids were sitting catatonically in front of the TV. Amy sat with them, goofing around with Max and gossiping with Cindy, until it was time for bed, at which point she shuttled them off to bed despite their many protests. With the children safely tucked away in bed, Amy stumbled back downstairs, finally letting her emotions through that carefully constructed barrier she had in place while she was with the kids. She threw herself onto the couch and began to cry. She lay there and cried until she thought her eyes were dry and surely could hold no more and then cried some more. Everything seemed to blend together for Amy and reality became meaningless to her. Time had no place in Amy's world as she lay there drowning in sorrow.
* * *
Dana had passed away during Amy's freshmen year of high school. She had been found dead in a gutter, a bag of crack cocaine clutched in her right hand while the other was curled into a claw over her heart. It had been a heart attack brought on by a massive drug overdose, of that there was no doubt. The resulting weeks had been hell for Amy. Dealing with the death of her much beloved sister was compounded with the horrific teasing her classmates took it as their civic duty to impart on her. Amy remembered the jeers, the cruel jokes, and the constant, exaggerated sniffing people shot at her whenever she passed by. Her mom had also taken it upon herself to glare at Amy whenever she passed by, as if Dana's death had been Amy's fault. Life had been unbearable agony for Amy and it was during this time Chris decided he would conduct experiments every night on the effects of alcohol on the human body and begin to keep company with women called "Candy". Amy's father, strangely enough, had been more present during this insanity instead of less. He still did not talk much, just stare blankly around the room at nothing in particular, but at least he had been there.
The memories and emotions seemed to stop suddenly, and Amy felt a…presence in the room. She opened her eyes to see Dana standing in front of her, looking just the same as she had when she had been alive except wispier, more insubstantial somehow. She was smiling that broad, wonderful smile Dana had that been curiously absent those last few years. Amy also noticed that amid the joy and happiness present on her sister's face at seeing her little sister again, there was also a note of sadness mixed in at the circumstances of their meeting.
"D-d-dana," Amy whispered, slowly rising as she did.
Dana smiled, nodded her head and replied in the same voice she had when she was alive, "it's really me Yam," for Yam was her pet name for Amy.
"B-b-b-but how? You're dead…"
At this Dana let out a long, breathy sigh and her smile faded, a morose expression overtook in her face in its absence. "Yeah, I'm dead. Much good it did anyone." To Amy's surprise this sentence was not uttered with the bitter contempt that sentences like this were most often uttered in, but instead with the firm conviction of truth.
Amy looked up from the carpet where she had had been staring, afraid that looking directly at Dana would cause her to disappear and this all would turn out to be a dream. "You really believe that?"
Dana nodded assent.
"But how? I was a complete wreck after you died, I wanted to die myself! We all were complete wrecks! Chris went off the wall and began to use his body as the template for some twisted guys artistic creation and started dating some whore! How could that have done anyone good!? Her voice had risen to a shout now and Amy hurriedly lowered it, for fear of waking the children asleep upstairs and for the life of her (har har) Amy had no idea how she would explain that one to their parents.
Dana's ghostly form looked at Amy with eyes full of concern and a shining light that Amy realized as the beginnings of tears. "You're young," Dana sighed, an eerie sight to be sure for Amy did not see the rise or fall of Dana's chest that was usually associated with breathing, and continued. "You're young, so don't understand. I was lucky I died when I did; I know it sounds strange but it's true. I 'm lucky I didn't cause anyone physical harm, I had already done enough emotional." Dana's voice dropped to a whisper and Amy thought she saw a tear glint off the ephemeral cheek of her sister before Dana ducked her head. When she raised it again, the tear was gone-as if it had never been there-and a stout, resolute confidence shone forth from Dana's face. "I was miserable and didn't know where to turn so I fled to drugs." Dana's voice wavered a little at this, but she composed herself and moved on. Her voice grew darker as she delved into the murky shadows of the past and her eyes seemed to be slightly glazed over. "They were horrible," she began in a horribly, droning monotone. "I knew I was killing myself and I hated using them, but they made me happy. Strange as it sounds, drugs were the only peace I ever had. That night when I died definitely wasn't the first time I had shot up, but it was the first time I hadn't felt anything. I panicked. I overdosed." Dana uttered this last sentence with a feeling of finality and cast her eyes downward, the tears flowing freely now. Phantasmal orbs that seemed greenish-blue in the fading light fell from her face and continued their journey downward onto the floor.
Amy felt her own tears fall glassily from her face and splash to the floor. She suddenly threw her arms around her wraithlike sister, afraid for a second they would pass through her, feeling a pang of happiness when they closed safely around her. Dana's arms came up and they too, enclosed Amy in a protective hug. They stood like this for several minutes before Dana let her arms fall to her sides and gently pushed her sister away. They locked eyes and Amy whispered, unbidden, "I forgive you."
Dana smiled; a true smile this time with no trace of sadness mixed in it, patted Amy's cheek, turned away and with a whisper like the wind, was gone.
Amy felt an unseen weight pass from her heart that she hadn't even known was there. Even though it was dusk outside and the world was slashed with reds and blacks, everything seemed brighter to Amy. For the first time in a long time, Amy smiled and it felt real and it felt