Well, how about this? Something a little unexpected from the blog’s usual schedule, some of that tasty fiction writing I’ve been harping about all year long.
Another flash fiction challenge from over yonder on Chuck Wendig’s blog, the Random Song Title Challenge, in which we get a random song from some kind of playlist somewhere, and run with that song title as the title of a story.
I did the random thing, and Shuffled through my collection of 20,000 MP3s for a few minutes until I hit Jewel’s “Little Sister”. And this is what came up. Hope you enjoy.
by Rick Cook Jr.
He would often watch the girls on the playground, remembering his little sister, missing her.
She is on the park bench next to him, often is on days like this.
“Did you see the posts I put up of Carly’s recital?” she asks, his little sister, beckoning to her too-big phone’s screen. Why would he want to look at pictures of his niece when the real thing is in front of him, seven years old, beautiful and carefree, running to and fro, chased and chaser, on the playground? His little sister’s mini-me if ever there was one.
“I did,” he replies, “I just wish I could have been there for her.”
He watches her a moment longer, smiles and waves when she catches him watching, and then turns to his sister, his little sister, and barely recognizes her.
She frowns, putting a hand on his arm. “She knows you’re busy. You come when you can.”
“It’s not enough,” he mutters. “Why aren’t there more hours in the day.”
“Look, I’m really glad you care so much about her. It helps, ever since…” Her words trail off.
“Yeah,” he says, patting her hand in turn. Ever since.
He’s got an appointment later, with his therapist. Dreads the meetings because he leaves them feeling inadequate, and silently curses his pretty therapist.
“What’s she got the rest of the month?” he asks instead. “I’ll make sure I’m free for it.”
His sister rattles off a litany of things, too many things. Soccer, and violin practice, another recital. So many activities and clubs. He is drowning trying to get to them all.
He looks at the calendar on his own modest cell phone, more than a generation behind, and sees all of them in his phone already. Of course they are.
He sighs. “I think I can make the next game, and this recital.” He is not sure of this, but doesn’t want to disappoint his little sister. She’s watching him now, he realizes.
“Are you really okay with this?”
“You look tired.”
He laughs at her and she swats at his arm, and he misses that, too. “Sleep is a luxury and I’m on food stamps, Sis.”
“It’s not so bad as all that. You’ve got to take care of yourself, too, you know.” He does, but there aren’t enough hours in the day. Has he said that already? He rubs his tired eyes.
“I’m fine,” he finally says. “I can do this much.”
“I’m glad. Here comes our little superstar now,” she says, and then she’s gone. As she often goes when others come around.
“Uncle Eddie, can Portia stay the night?” Carly asks, dragging some new friend I don’t remember.
Portia. Silly names for silly children. “I don’t know, Carly, I’ve gotta be up early for…” He trails off as the look on her face wilts and then is covered over in a mask of understanding and patience that a child should never be forced to master.
“You know what? If Portia’s parents say okay, then I say okay,” he says instead. The girls brighten, but Carly sees his expression, masked too late, and she hesitates.
“She doesn’t have to,” she suggests, but he smiles at her.
“Go get permission, and then I’ll meet her parents, okay?” When Portia tears off to ask permission, he pulls Carly in close. “Do they know your situation?”
She nods. “Everyone knows.” Everyone? he thinks. What a burden that girl is carrying. The spitting image of his little sister when the most important decision in their lives had been what flavor to put on their popcorn at the movies.
“Okay, then. Let’s go rub shoulders with Portia’s parents.”
“Yay! Thanks, Eddie,” she says and leads him across the playground, to where Portia is standing with her parents. They’re both here at the park, and he jealously judges them for having that kind of devotion and freedom.
“Hi,” he says, shaking hands with her mother and father, and they introduce all the way around. Her father sends the girls back to the playground in the park, and he knows what’s coming next.
When they’re gone, he turns to them and sighs. The looks on their faces are pensive, curious. As per usual. “I imagine you’ve got some questions for me?”
“No,” her mother says, “Well, yes. If it’s not a problem…?”
Of course it’s a problem, he thinks, but smiles. “It’s not a usual situation, I know. But you have the right to know your daughter will be in safe hands.”
“It’s just… you’re so young to be a single dad,” her father says, and then runs a hand through his hair nervously.
“You’re only a few years older,” he says, “and if it was my sister, she’d be even younger.”
Their eyes widen. As they often do. “Your little sister?” her mother asks.
“A year younger than me.”
“It’s just…” her father starts, “We don’t know you. You’re never at the PTA meetings and it’s like you’re always in your own little world when you’re at the games and stuff.”
His own little world with his own little sister. He nods. “I appreciate your concern, I really do. If it’ll make you feel better, why don’t you both come over for dinner and if you like what you see, Portia stays the night?”
They share a glance and give that imperceptible nod he has learned to watch for. They agree, trade addresses and phone numbers, and it’s all set.
One more hoop to jump through, one more person he has to earn the approval of.
He stands there with them, making small talk until it’s time to go, and gathers up his niece.
The girls hug and he drives Carly home, where the sitter is waiting. Neighborhood girl, sixteen. Sweet, and not at all one of the bad kids out there. Sitting long enough for him to get out of therapy.
When he drops Carly off, watching her go into the apartment, waving at the sitter, his little sister is suddenly beside him again, amusingly wearing a seat belt.
“See?” she says, and he ignores her. “You’re making friends, she’s got playdates and sleepovers. It gets easier.”
“I don’t think it’ll ever get easier, Sis.”
She laughs. “Maybe not. I’m sorry to put all this on you.”
“You didn’t. It’s not your fault. Sometimes planes crash.” He is a little surprised he can say it without choking up now.
She shrugs. “It helps to hear it, though, doesn’t it?”
He nods, and even though she isn’t there, he can feel her lean over and kiss his cheek, and for just a moment he can smell the lavender of her shampoo and the tears he’s so successfully avoided are streaming down his cheeks, blurring his vision. “You’re doing good, Eddie. Better than me.” She is gone once again. Maybe for good this time.
He isn’t doing better than his sister, but it’s nice to hear. He knows resentment is bubbling under the surface. That’s what the therapy is for.
But anything for the kid he didn’t expect to have. Anything for his little sister.