Four Months Later
Dana could hear sirens in the distance as she drove down to the police station. It was the third time this month Emily had been picked up, and Dana was getting sick of saving her. They lived in a rough neighborhood where the windows were walled shut and graffiti greeted them at every corner. Drugs were bought and sold without a blink of an eye. Most of the time the police just ignored the dealers, but the gangs were starting to get violent, so the officers did daily checks. Dana had told Emily to stay away from them, but as always she didn’t listen. And now Dana was saving her for the third time.
Dana pulled her rickety station-wagon into the police station’s parking lot and parked next to a flickering light pole. She checked her face in the rearview mirror – making sure her make-up hadn’t smeared – and climbed out of her car. She gripped her keys in her good hand as she marched towards the station’s door. As always, a police officer greeted her as she entered the building and asked her why she was there.
“I’m here to pick up my sister,” Dana responded too sternly.
The police officer left, and Dana impatiently tapped her foot as she waited. It had been a long day, and Emily getting picked up wasn’t helping. Dana worked three different jobs and took care of her little sister. She opened a hardware store in the mornings, waited tables during the day, and worked the nightshift at the mall. She had suggested that Emily get a job of her own, but the first job she got, she arrived intoxicated. So Dana suggested that she just stay home and take care of the apartment, but she didn’t do a very good job of that either. It was getting to the point where Dana just wanted to give up on her, but she promised their parents that she would never abandon Emily. So here she was, picking up her little sister from the police station.
Emily shuffled through the door, pulling on her favorite black sweater, and groaned when she saw Dana. “You?”
“Who else did you expect?” Emily shrugged and blew a piece of her pitch black hair out of her eyes. “Come on!”
Dana grabbed her sister’s arm and dragged her out into the parking lot. Her hands shook as she unlocked the door to her station-wagon. She yanked the door open and fell into the driver’s seat. Emily, of course, took her sweet time. She sat in the passenger’s seat and pulled her knees up to her chest as Dana pulled out of the parking lot and started driving down the street.
“The third time this month, Emily. This is the third time I’ve had to pick you up from the police station,” Dana ranted.
“I know,” Emily mumbled a reply.
“I can’t afford to keep doing this. I had to leave my job early to come get you. And my jobs pay all of the bills. I can’t afford to leave them early.”
“You have to stop this, Emily. You have to stop seeing them. Him. You’re sixteen, for goodness sakes!”
“Do you?” Dana grilled. “Do you really? Because every time I give you this lecture, you march out the door and back to him.”
“I’m sorry,” Emily muttered through gritted teeth.
“No you’re not.”
“Yes I am!” the young sister raised her voice. “I’m sorry that I’m not good enough. I’m sorry I’m not your perfect little sister. I’m sorry that you have to take care of me. I’m sorry that you have to work three jobs and take care of everything. But you know what? I’m also sorry that I’m stuck with you. Because if I had my choice, I would have left the second mom and dad died.”
“Shut your mouth!” Dana nearly yelled. “Take that back, Emily.”
“About mom and dad dying. I know you care.”
“But I don’t.”
Dana growled in frustration and gripped the steering wheel tighter. She took a couple deep breaths and then turned back to her sister. “You know what, I don’t care anymore. I’ve tried being nice. I’ve tried giving you your space, but you seem to take advantage of it. So I’m done.”
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“What are you going to do? Send me away?” Emily joked.
“I’m going to send you away. I’ve tried raising you my way, but I think you need something different.”
“You can’t send me away!” Emily declared. “You can’t! You promised mom and dad that you would always take care of me! You did!”
“I will take care of you, just in a different way.”
“No! You don’t get to have a say. You’ve wasted it.”
Emily went to open her mouth to reply, but then shut it. Dana stared straight ahead, her knuckles turning white as she gripped the wheel. Emily watched her for a while, contemplating if she was actually serious about sending her away. As Dana continued to stare straight ahead, Emily crossed her arms across her chest and leaned against the window. She watched as the buildings became more and more broken and the graffiti started taking over. It had only been four months since their parents died, but it felt like yesterday. It happened late one night when they were driving home. Dana was watching Emily at home while their parents went to visit their grandparents. It was snowing when they were driving home, and the car behind them went to pass their car and slipped. The two cars collided, but only their parent’s car crashed. And that’s when Emily started hanging out with him.
Dana pulled into the parking lot next to their apartment building and turned off the car. She sat there for a really long time before pushing open her door and stepping out. Emily didn’t move. She watched as Dana began walking towards the apartment building and contemplated about running away. But the more she watched her sister, the more she realized that she wouldn’t be able to live without her. So she shoved open the passenger’s door and ran up to meet her sister. The building they lived in was always dark and smelled of urine, but it was the only place Dana could afford. After their parents died, Dana found the cheapest apartment they could move into, and it happened to be a studio apartment with no heat. But it was home until Dana raised enough money to move someplace nicer. The keys jingled as Dana unlocked their apartment door. It creaked open, and Emily immediately raced to the fridge to look for something to eat. Dana threw the keys into a bowl that was kept next to the door and plopped down on the couch. Emily found a half-eaten sandwich and began unwrapping it.
“Are you really going to send me away?” she inquired between bites.
“Mmmhmmm,” Dana responded.
Emily wandered over to the couch and perched on the armrest. “Where?”
“Somewhere far away,” Dana placed a pillow over her head.
“I haven’t decided yet. Maybe the moon.”
“Haha, very funny.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, Emily munching on her sandwich. Dana tossed the pillow aside and sat up to face her sister. Emily’s once strawberry blonde hair was now dyed pitch black and cut so it hung in her face. Black make-up encircled her gray eyes, and above her right eye she had an eyebrow piercing. Dana didn’t agree with any of the decisions Emily had done to her body, but that didn’t matter. After their parents died in the crash, Emily had run off and rebelled. She abandoned her high school friends and found a rough group to hang out with. They took her to get her eyebrow pierced and then she decided to dye her hair and cut off the curls. At least she’s been too afraid to get a tattoo, which he was still fighting for.
His name was Zach, and Dana hated him. He was ten years older than Emily, and he was a drug dealer. His body was completely covered in tattoos, including parts of his face. His hair was spiked and his ears were so pierced barely any skin showed. He let his pants hang low so his butt stuck out, and he wore clumpy boots. He let Emily smoke for free, which was why she liked him. He didn’t ask questions. He didn’t hover. He didn’t force her to do anything. He would simply make suggestions about what Emily should try, and unfortunately she usually tried them. That’s why she had been picked up by the police so many times. And Dana wanted it to stop.
Dana reached over and tucked Emily’s hair behind her ear. “You know I care about you, right?”
“And you know I’m trying my hardest.”
“But you’ve gotta try, too. I can’t do everything by myself.”
“Emily,” Dana said a little more sternly.
“I know!” Emily exclaimed, irritated. “Gosh…”
“Okay, just making sure,” Dana clarified before getting up.
The older sister walked over to the fridge and peaked inside. The last time she had eaten something was for breakfast, which was several hours ago. And in a half an hour she would have to go start her night shift, which meant she wouldn’t get to eat until morning. But as Dana peered into the fridge, she noticed they were getting low on food. They had a glass of milk left, one bag of ham and cheese, and a few slices of bread. The apple that was resting on the bottom shelf was starting to get wrinkled and brown, and the container of ice cream was falling apart. If Emily would just get a job they wouldn’t be fighting with food or bills. But being her stubborn, ornery self, Emily refused. With a tired and frustrated sigh, Dana closed the fridge. She decided not to eat anything because she wanted to make sure her irritating little sister had enough for supper. She would just go hungry and maybe have a granola bar at work.
“Alright, Em,” Dana began, grabbing her car keys. “I have to go back to work. I’ll be back before six to fix you breakfast.”
“Thanks,” Emily mumbled.
“Don’t go anywhere,” Dana pointed her car keys at her little sister. “I mean it. If you get picked up one more time, I’m done. Got it?”
“I get it!”
“Good.” Dana turned the loose doorknob and pulled the door open. “Love you.” And then she left.
Dana marched down the stairs and then outside to her car. She noticed a piece of paper blowing beneath her windshield wipers and so she cautiously walked over to inspect it.
“Please don’t be a ticket,” she prayed beneath her breath.
The girl gently pulled at the piece of paper and read it. $20 ticket for being parked in a no park zone. Dana quickly looked under her car and noticed that she was, in fact, parked over a cross zone. She angrily unlocked her car and yanked the door open. She balled up the ticket and threw it on the floor to join the rest of her parking tickets. She fell into the driver’s seat and let her head fall onto the steering wheel.
“Shit,” the girl remarked. She gripped the steering wheel, getting her anger and frustration out on something. “Lord, help me,” she begged. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Filled with exhaustion, Dana pulled out of the parking lot and drove to the mall while Emily watched from their apartment window. The younger sister watched Dana’s car disappear and then grabbed her jacket. She pulled her crappy phone out of her pocket and dialed Zach’s number. She counted how many times it rung, knowing he always picked up on the fifth. But it got to be the sixth ring and he still wasn’t answering. Then his voicemail picked up and his rusty voice hollered into her ear. Emily quickly hung up and stared at the phone screen. The picture she had taken of him – Zach holding a joint between his fingers and smoke coming out of his nose – stared back at her. Why was he not answering? Did he get picked up, too? She quickly redialed the number and called him again. This time, on the second ring, he answered.
“Helllooo,” Zach sang, obviously high up in the clouds.
“Hey, babe!” he slurred. “Glad you’re alright.”
“I need you to come pick me up,” Emily stated.
“Pick you up? Why?”
“My sister’s gone. And she’s threatening to ship me off to Timbuctoo,” she exaggerated.
“Far away, Zach. She’s threatening to send me far away.”
“Oh, well we can’t have that, now can we?” he professed. “We’ll be there in ten.”
Emily smiled to herself as she hung up the phone. He was alright. He hadn’t been picked up. And he was coming for her; her ‘prince charming.’ All she had to do was stay away from the police and get back before Dana. That way, her sister wouldn’t suspect a thing. She had done this a thousand times, so it should be a piece of cake. But for some reason, this time felt different. There was this feeling in her gut telling her to stay home. Her head was yelling at her to do the right thing, and all of her instincts were telling her not to go. But when a text from Zach arrived informing her that they were in the parking lot, she zipped up her jacket and bounced down the stairs. These people – these drugs – were Emily’s only escape from reality and from her sister. It was the only way she knew how to cope with the death of her parents. Zach and the other guys just came with it.
“Hey, babe,” Zach greeted as Emily climbed into the passenger’s seat.
“Hey,” she replied.
Zach leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek before pulling out of the parking lot. He smelled like smoke, beer, and Oreos – that was his primary snack whenever he got high. Emily glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed that Ana and Jimmy were in the backseat, making out. They probably didn’t even notice Emily get in the car. Ana was Zach’s sister and was only a few years older than Emily; Jimmy was Zach’s best friend. They were both carefree and risk takers, which Em secretly admired. Neither of them seemed to have a care in the world. Zach, however, was the one who kept their feet on the ground. He may have been a drug dealer, but he was also a hard worker. Ana was the most important thing in the world to him, and so he worked his tail off to keep her stable. Just like Emily and Dana, they were all each other had. And then there was Jimmy; he had a mind of his own.
“Don’t mind them. Ana got picked up, too, and once she saw Jimmy they haven’t let go of each other,” Zach chuckled. Emily didn’t respond. “There’s some joints in the glove compartment if you want one.”
The girl immediately opened the glove compartment and found a joint. She placed it in her mouth, and Zach reached over with a lighter and lit it for her. Emily took a long drag, trying to wash away all of the actions from that afternoon. She slowly blew the smoke out of her nose, and then took another drag. It was amazing what a joint could do for an angry, depressed girl.
“Thanks,” Emily responded, breathing deeply.
They drove in silence for several minutes. Emily wanted Zach to apologize for her getting arrested, but the more she waited, the more it seemed that that wasn’t going to happen. So she continued to smoke her joint and he continued to drive. Every once in a while he would reach out and stroke her cheek or her leg, but he remained quiet. Ana and Jimmy were completely oblivious in the back seat. Emily didn’t know what to say to Zach, so she remained quiet as well. Should she bring up the police? Her sister? Possibly moving away? And if she did bring it up, how would the conversation go? Zach never seemed worried about anything, so he probably wouldn’t show any signs of caring. But she desperately wanted him to care.
“Hey, Zach…” Emily started, unsure of what she was going to say.
“Did you know?” she cautiously asked.
“Know about what?”
“Me, getting picked up.”
“Of course I knew!” Zach promised.
“Then why didn’t you call, or come get me?”
“Because…” he trailed off. “Well… I…”
Zach turned a corner and suddenly saw flashing lights behind him. Emily nervously turned around, praying that it wasn’t the cops. But then police sirens started echoing through the alley and she cursed under her breath. Ana and Jimmy finally let go of each other and looked out the back window.
“Shit, Zach,” Ana nagged, sitting up.
“I know,” her brother muttered between his teeth.
“What’re you gonna do?” Em inquired, tossing her joint out the window. “I can’t get picked up again.”
“I know!” Zach gripped the wheel and gulped. “Hold on.
He pressed down the gas pedal and bolted away from the cop car. The alleyway seemed to get narrower and narrower, and Emily began holding on to the seat for dear life. She turned around and watched as the cop car slowly got closer and closer. She turned back around in time to watch Zach turn a sharp corner and crash into a garbage bin. He angrily put the car in reverse and tried to back up, but the vehicle wouldn’t budge. Emily sat in shock as the cop car pulled up behind them. Two police officers exited the vehicle and walked up to Zach’s car. Ana quickly hid all of the marijuana that was visible. Jimmy proceeded to put all of his clothes back on. Zach kept punching the steering wheel and cursing under his breath. And Emily just sat there, frozen in her seat. This would be the second time in one day; a record. And Dana was going to kill her.
Dana was all the way across town working her night shift at the mall. She trusted her little sister to stay in the apartment. She had no idea that Emily had run off with him again. The older sister just prayed that Em would come to her senses. But as Dana folded clothes and placed them on the shelves, her phone buzzed in her pocket. The only person who ever called her at work was her sister, but when Dana pulled her phone out, she didn’t recognize the number.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Dana Parsons?” a stern man inquired on the other end of the phone.
“This is she.”
“It’s your sister. We’re calling to inform you that she and her buddies just got arrested.”
Dana immediately threw down the clothes she was folding and ran out of the mall. Her boss called after her, but she was too angry to care. She was done. She was done. She couldn’t do it anymore. She had tried and failed. And now her little sister was going to learn a lesson. Dana had to watch her speed as she drove back to the police station. She drove through a couple stop signs and heard cars honking, but she just cursed at them and kept going. When she pulled into the police station, she ended up parking in the same spot as that afternoon. She jerked the keys out of the ignition and kicked the car door open. She tried to calm down as she marched up to the station door, but her blood was boiling. As always, a police officer greeted her once inside.
“I’m here to pick up my sister,” Dana nearly growled.
“Emily Parsons?” the officer inquired.
“Ma’am, this is the fourth time this month.”
“I know, sir. And I can promise that this will be the last time. Just let me take her home.”
“Please!” Dana nearly shouted, dropping her car keys to the ground. She bent over and picked them up, regaining herself. “Please, just let me take her home.”
The police officer sighed, contemplating on the idea. Eventually, he opened his mouth to respond, “One moment, please.”
The officer left and Dana pulled out her phone. Her first instinct was to call her mom, even though she had been dead for four months. Her finger lingered over her mom’s number, but then the girl finally came to her senses and dialed a different number. The phone rang once before a grumpy old man picked up.
“Pa?” Dana asked.
“Dana? Is that you?” her grandfather’s voice suddenly lightened.
“I need your help,” she begged.
“Of course, whatever you need.”
“It’s Emily. She needs to get away from here and I was wondering if she could come to the ranch,” Dana explained, crossing her fingers.
“She would have to work,” her grandfather remarked.
“Then I don’t have a problem with it. It’ll be nice to see her,” he agreed.
“Thanks, Pa,” Dana breathed a sigh of relief. She looked up and saw Emily walking towards her. “I gotta go,” she said and then hung up.
Dana expected a snide remark from her sister, but instead Emily walked towards her and hugged her. And she was crying. Dana tried to stay angry because she had prepared an entire speech, but instead Dana hugged her sister back. Emily never let her guard down, but in this moment she was completely vulnerable to her sister. Dana knew she was broken, but she never realized how badly. Their parents’ death had caused their entire world to shift. Dana had tried to stay as grounded as possible, trying to support her little sister. But Emily’s boat was completely rocked and there was no way she was going to stay normal. It was Dana’s job to help her.
“Let’s go home,” the older sister whispered into Emily’s ear.
They walked out of the police station, arms wrapped around each other. Emily glanced back one time, wondering if the others – Zach, Ana, Jimmy – would be alright. They were her friends, after all. But she quickly turned back around and willingly got into Dana’s broken station-wagon. The older sister continuously glanced over at Emily, but never said anything. She still wanted to send her to Pa’s ranch, but she didn’t know how to bring it up. She knew that Emily would have a fit; they had lived in the city their whole lives, so a ranch would be something completely new. But Dana only wanted what was best for her little sister. And what was best was to get her away from the graffiti town and out into the fields. Even though all of her friends had been arrested, in a few days Emily would find another group that would give her drugs and that would be that. And Dana was not going to let that happen.
She pulled into their apartment building’s parking lot and shut off the car. The sisters sat in quiet for what felt like a really long time. Looking at her little sister, Dana noticed the giant circles under her eyes. The black make-up that covered the girl’s eyelids was smudged and running down the corners. Her mascara was smeared under Emily’s eyes, and snot was dripping from her nose. She looked worn and broken. Emily was expecting a lecture from her sister, but all Dana said was:
“Come on, Em. Let’s go inside.”
The two sisters climbed out of the car – Dana checking to make sure she was in an actual parking space – and walked inside. Once inside their apartment, Emily disappeared into the bedroom and Dana lingered in the kitchen. She was still debating on how to bring up the ranch. She knew Emily would throw a fit about it, but if it helped her little sister she didn’t care. So Dana cautiously made her way into the bedroom and found Em face-down on the bed, hugging her favorite stuffed animal. She walked over and sat next to her on the bed.
“Hey,” Dana started, unsure of what to say, “I’m sorry. About everything.” Emily sniffled. “I realize that I’ve been really hard on you, and I’m sorry. But I’ve made a decision that I think is for the best.”
“What?” Emily mumbled into the pillow.
“I think we’re going to take a vacation. Or at least you are.”
Emily sat up and rubbed her nose with the back of her hand. “A vacation? Where?”
“Pa’s ranch. In Texas.”
“What?” Emily snapped. “We’re going to a ranch? In Texas?”
“Well, you are,” Dana clarified.
“I can’t go to Texas,” Emily rejected. “What about everything, everybody, here? I can’t just leave.”
“You can and you will.”
“This is ridiculous! You can’t take me to Texas!”
“Emily,” Dana interjected, “calm down. It’s only until you get your feet flat on the ground.”
“My feet are on the ground, Dana,” Emily remarked. “You just want me out of here. You’re sick and tired of taking care of me, so you’re shipping me off to a grandpa we never talk to.”
“A grandpa you never talk to,” the older sister clarified.
“You can’t do this,” Emily remarked, crossing her arms. “You can’t.”
“I can. And I will. Pa’s already agreed to it.”
“No buts, Em. This’ll be good for you. It’ll help clear your head.”
“My head is clear, Dana. Crystal,” Em informed.
“No matter. We leave in the morning.”