She called our apartment at 5:45 am on a Sunday, when most normal people of the world are sleeping. I consider myself one of the world's normal people the majority of the time, so I was asleep when the shrill blaring of the telephone, infuriatingly located next to my ear on the night table, jolted me awake. 1

I jerked, clumsily, my right arm and leg hitting something solid yet soft beside me. What the- it took my brain a second to be alert and functioning enough to realize I'd hit a person, my girlfriend, Audrianna Madigan, who had moved in with me recently. My brain had not yet registered the shrill sound that had startled me awake as that of a ringing telephone- I was still pretty foggy and "huh-what-the-hell", if you know what I mean. I'm not a morning person anyway, and especially not when something besides my own will awakens me.2

The phone rang again, then again, as I sat up half-wildly, my eyes blinking and slitted in tired confusion. It flashed through my head for some reason that it was an alarm clock- like I said, I'm slow in the mornings. By now Audrianna was sitting up with impatient, really pissed movements, fixing an evil glare in my direction. Her golden brown hair was mussed around her face.3

" Are you going to pick up the damn phone or just sit and stare at it, Evan?" she hissed as it rang a fourth time.4

I looked at her blankly before it clicked that she was right, it was the phone, and picked it up as Audrianna muttered beside me, " If that is a damn salesperson I will cut the damn phone line, I swear-"5

Audrianna isn't too good with mornings or sudden awakenings either, you might have guessed.6

I put the receiver up to my ear and muttered thickly, "Hello?"7

" Is this Evan Declan?" a flat female voice of undeterminable age asked me.8

I frowned, blinking, my mind still gradually clearing from the cloudiness it still carried from sleep. " Yeah… what do you want, who is this?"9

" This is Lillith," the voice went on expressionlessly.10

Lillith… for a moment the name didn't register, and I just looked into my lap blankly, hoping the person on the other end would elaborate if I was supposed to know them. Then it hit me- Lillith. Lillith…11

Lillith was my half sister, my dad's second kid, ten years younger than me. I'd never been very close to her, in fact had only seen her twice since she was born fifteen years ago. I rarely visited our father after he and Mom divorced, and since Lillith lived with him, I rarely saw her either. The last time was when I was 18, I think, and she was eight. That was seven years ago….12

What was Lillith doing calling me at such an hour? How had she even gotten my number? Knowing our father, it wasn't just because she felt the urge to chat. Knowing our father, she was in trouble- maybe even in danger.13

I sat up completely, almost entirely alert now from my own warning-bell thoughts. Audrianna's expression changed as she watched me to one of suspicion and concern. She gestured for me to tell her who it was speaking, but I waved her off, ignoring her annoyance.14

" Lillith- hey. This, this is a surprise," I fumbled. " What's going on, are you okay?"15

Audrianna looked blank at the mention of Lillith's name. I might have mentioned her to her before, but probably only briefly- I wouldn't be surprised if she had forgotten. It was Richard, our father, that she had heard more about.16

" Our father is dead," Lillith said emotionlessly, as flatly as though she had stated that the milk was past its due date. And that was it- she said nothing further, didn't elaborate, explain, only waited impassively for my spoken reaction.17

How do you react to something like that? Your fifteen-year-old half sister, telling you in a voice devoid of all emotion that your father- her father- was dead? You don't' have a clue how to feel or what to think, that's how you react. Or at least how I did.18

I sat there numbly, holding the phone to my ear somewhat loosely. I didn't move, didn't make any noises of surprise or dismay or anything. But still, something in my eyes must have changed, because Audrianna's face tightened in concern.19

" What? What is it, Evan, what happened?" she asked, taking hold of my upper arm and looking at me with some anxiety in her blue-green eyes. When I didn't really focus on her or react to her, just kind of looked through her, she grabbed my face in her hands, forced me to turn my head her way.20

"Evan- what is it? Who's Lillith?"21

" My sister," I said, turning my face away from the phone slightly. My voice sounded funny, strained. " My half sister. She said Richard's dead."22

" Richard?" Audrianna asked, her brow furrowing. " Your father?"23

" Yeah. Our father," I said faintly. " If you could call him that…" 24

I returned my attention to the phone, suddenly remembering Lillith was still on the other line. " He's dead? Uh… I'm sorry, Lillith…"25

The words were awkward, obviously not too sincere- but what the hell was I supposed to say? That I would miss him, it was a shame he was dead, when he was such a great guy, a great father? I couldn't tell her she ought to celebrate, that she and her mother, Hadassah, should be thrilled to be free of the bastard. I couldn't tell her that she was lucky she still had a few years of being a teenager left where she could enjoy life without him. I mean, yeah, I guess I was sorry in the sense that a kid had lost her father, but honestly she'd never really had a father to begin with. Not as far as Richard goes.26

Richard Declan, I decided the last time I was him at age eighteen, no longer had the right to call himself my father except in the strictly biological sense. The last time I saw him he had not changed since my parents' divorce- if anything he had grown worse, more volatile, less able to function without some form of his beloved alcohol in his hand or within close reach. I knew when I saw the way he spoke to Hadassah and Lillith, who was just a scrawny little kid at the time, with long dark hair and solemn eyes. I really knew when I told him quietly that they deserved better than him, and he turned and tried to punch me in the face- I was eighteen years old. Eighteen, far removed from the boy I had been when I lived with him, helpless against him. I blocked him, punched him instead- broke his nose actually. It bled quite a bit, sobered him up even as he bellowed curses at me, at Hadassah and Lillith, who stood and stared at us both without moving, frozen in terror. I left then, and I never saw Richard again, or Hadassah either for that matter. I felt bad for them, guilty, even though I knew I couldn't do anything. If Hadassah wouldn't leave him like my mother had, then she was giving him permission to continue to tyrannize them.27

Still, the poignant look in Lillith's eyes had haunted me at times. She was just a kid, she couldn't help either of her parents' weaknesses. She didn't deserve it. I worried about her, but I told myself to forget it, I could do nothing for her. And I had- I had not thought of Lillith more than briefly in years, had shoved her away in the same part of my mind I tried to keep any thoughts of Richard.28

But now she was calling me, telling me of his death, and the safe, tight little part of my memory was being pried open against my previous intentions.29

I don't know if my father was an alcoholic when he met my mother, or if that happened afterward. I don't even know if if happened before or after I was born. Like me, my mother prefers not to talk about Richard, or even to think about him whenever possible. If it had been up to her, I would never have visited him even the few times I did as a child, even though he lived only a two hour distance from us. I don't blame her- I don't understand why I wanted to, except, I suppose, that I had to prove for myself that my father really was a worthless human being.30

I do know that Richard was an alcoholic for as far back as I can remember in my childhood, and that his temper was close to surface and easily provoked to violence when he drank. I remember him hitting my mother, screaming at her, passing out in his bed, on the couch, on the floor. I remember how my mother never cried, never allowed herself to, at least in front of me, no matter what he did...31

I remember the confusion I felt toward him, how I feared him and loved him at the same time, how I wanted to please him. I wanted him to smile at me, to play with me. I wanted him to love me like other fathers loved their sons. Even years after their divorce, when I should have known better, I wanted this...32

I think my mother would have stayed if it had been only her Richard hit. I think she would have put up with it for me, just because she knew I loved him, how much I tried to be sweet and considerate to him. But the day he hit me, when I was eight, broke my cheekbone and bruised half the side of my face, I guess she knew she couldn't, that no one could benefit, no one would ever fix him or make him happy. Not even me. She left Richard that very day, and to this day I admire and respect my mother tremendously for that act of courage and love.33

She showed even more by letting me visit a few times over the next few years, although she always came along as well, until my last visit. That must have scared her, to go back, even after he had remarried, had a kid, found himself new targets for his anger.34

He remarried pretty quickly too after their divorce, less than a year. I wondered at the time who would want him, still do actually. But I guess it's not that hard to see Hadassah was young, sheltered, a 19-year-old former Muslim who had been so stifled from any male contact that she was probably flattered and grateful for any male's attention. She probably was abused in her own home as well, probably expected no less out of life. The fact that she renounced her former faith, against her family's wishes, is what's astonishing to me- but then, I'm sure Richard forced her to do so. What's a mystery to me is how they met.35

Then they had Lillith, and that just tied the poor woman to him further. I wondered to myself with a slight twinge of guilt what Lillith and her mother had gone through in all the years I had pushed them out of my mind, what they must be feeling. Was it possible they'd had feelings of love toward Richard?36

If Lillith's voice was any indication, she, at least, hadn't.37

" No, you're not," Lillith said dully, interrupting my train of thought. " You're not sorry. But it's okay- I don't expect you to be."38

I blinked at that, but she was right, of course. And honest- blunt, really.39

" Yeah, well," I said somewhat awkwardly. " When did he die, Lillith?"40

" About three hours ago."41

Now at that I jerked slightly again in surprise, blinking a few times. A startled little laugh escaped me, and Audrianna looked at me more intently than ever.42

" Three hours? You serious?"43

" Yeah." And that was it.44

" How do you know- I mean, how'd he die? What was he doing at two in the morning?"45

" The usual. Drinking," Lillith said shortly. She seemed determined to use as few words and as spare descriptions as possible. I didn't know if this was because Richard had died and she was in shock or something, or if it was because she was talking to me, a half brother she barely knew of, or if it was just the way she always was.46

Whatever- it was starting to irritate me though, in spite of myself.47

" And..." I prodded.48

She sighed faintly, making the phone line crackle. " I got up to go to the bathroom. He'd been drinking the night before and passed out on the couch. I went to check on him and he was dead. Choked on vomit."49

Again, I didn't know what to say to that. I mean, it's awful for a kid to find her dead father, but it was great for her in a way as well. So again I kind of fumbled around with my response.50

" Well, that, that's awful, Lillith. Thanks for calling and telling me, though. But to be honest, if you're having a funeral or something, I doubt I'm coming."51

" I had to call you and tell you," Lillith muttered. " I have no choice."52

I frowned at the receiver- what was that supposed to mean? I ignored it.53

" But really, this, it's a good thing for you and your mom, you know, Lillith? You can start over without him. That has to sound good to you even if you're sad, huh?"54

I didn't know why the hell I was trying- the kid obviously didn't want to hear anything from me, any kind of encouragement or attempts at sympathy. I expected more icy silence, but instead she chose to stun me with her next words.55

" My mom hasn't been around in six years."56

My thoughts halted, suddenly took on a new, crazed spin. What? Hadassah was dead, or gone- had been for six years? Lillith had lived alone with Richard for six years!57

The stunned, horrified hollowing in the pit of my stomach at her words seemed to gape wider as the implications hit me. Jesus, the poor kid...58

And then in hit me. With Hadassah gone and Richard dead, Lillith was an orphan...59

Suddenly the true motive behind her phone call hit me, and I felt like someone had socked me. 60

For once, Lillith was talking without me prodding her, in the same impassive voice, and I forced myself to listen. Audrianna was gripping my arm in both hands now, looking up into my face, urging me to explain what was going on, but I ignored her, barely felt her hands on me.61

" She disappeared when I was nine. My dad said she left us, but I don't know, he probably killed her."62

" Lillith," I asked, my voice straining for calm, " Lillith, do you have somewhere you can go, somewhere to stay?"63

" That's what I"m calling you for," she said flatly. " To ask you teh same question."64

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.65

What the hell was I supposed to do? I didn't even know the kid, even if she was my half sister. My alcoholic father dies, and I'm supposed to take in his kid, his teenaged kid- a girl, no less?66

Hell, it was tight quarters already with me and Audrianna. Our apartment had one bedroom- ONE- a kitchen/living room area, a tiny closet, and a bathroom. Where was an extra person supposed to sleep- on the couch?67

And yet, what was I supposed to say to her? Could I really tell her I didn't want her, I couldn't have her, on the same day her bastard father dies and she finds him? Could I really let her get sent to some foster home or state place where it might be as bad or worse than with Richard? I knew Hadassah's relatives weren't an option- not only would they almost certainly not take her, I couldn't let a kid, especially a girl, be sent into that family.68

What are you thinking of, Evan- you can't take in a fifteen-year-old girl! What do you know about kids, you're 25! You don't even like them!69

But she was almost grown anyway. She was fifteen, three years until eighteen. She couldn't be that much trouble- couldn't I leave her be, let her take care of herself? Surely she'd have to with Richard, surely she was used to it. And besides, she was my sister.70

Already I was rationalizing and guilt-tripping myself against my protests, which were logical, but also admittably selfish. The real reason I was protesting taking Lillith in my head was not because I couldn't manage to take her, but because I didn't want to. Which was not really a reason at all.71

" Did you call the police or ambulance?" I asked, stalling for time.72

" They're in my house right now. They told me to contact any relatives who might could take me. And the lucky recipient of my call is you."73

At last some faint emotion in her voice, a trace of sarcasm. I'm not a sarcastic kind of guy, that's more Audrianna's style, but I was kind of glad to hear it anyway. It showed there was something there, that she felt something. All the deadness in her voice had kind of creeped me out up to this point.74

" So, so, what you're, asking me, if, you- if you- if I'll take you," I stated. Audrianna's grip on my arm tightened, and she stared at me.75

" Evan, cover up the receiver and tell me what you're getting yourself into!" she hissed. " What is she saying, what does she want?"76

" Yeah," Lillith replied. " Right."77

I sighed, closing my eyes briefly. I really didn't have much of a choice if I wanted to be able to live with myself. But dammit- damn Richard, screw him for doing this to me!78

" Yeah, yeah, I'll take you," I muttered. " You home right now?"79

" Yes."80

" Will the police stay with you?"81

" I don't know."82

" Well, stay there. I'll come in, I dont' know, maybe three hours." If I could remember my way. It had been seven freaking years...83

" So pack your stuff and all. But not much, just, you know, what you need. We don't have much room, we have a really tiny apartment."84

" Yeah."85

" Okay, well, uh- well, I'll see you."86

" Yeah."87

" Bye."88

She hung up without saying bye, and I was left holding the receiver limply in my hand, completely blown away by what I had just agreed to.89

Audrianna, of course, left me no time to recover. Grabbing me by the shoulders and turning me to face her, she said, " Evan Declan, tell me now what is going on. What did you just agree to?"90

I tried to shrug her off, but she was having none of it. " Evan- what did you just get us into?"91

I closed my eyes, shook my head. I just wanted to go to sleep...92

" Richard died, like I said. Lillith found him. She's my half sister, fifteen. Her mother Hadassah has been gone for six years, so she has nowhere to go. So she's going to live with us."93

I guess none of that was what she'd expected. Her mouth dropped open, and she gaped at me, her eyes widening.94

" You're kidding, please tell me you are."95

" No."96

" What the hell-" she sputtered. Audri tends to swear a lot when upset or frustrated. I usually find it pretty funny, but not lately.97

" Evan, do you realize we have one bedroom in this apartment?"98

" She can sleep on the couch. It folds out," I said weakly.99

" She's fifteen, Evan, where do you think she'll put her stuff?"100

" I already told her she wouldn't be able to take much. She said she didn't care."101

" A guy's idea of a lot of stuff and a girl's are drastically different, Evan. Especially a teen girls'. Damn, you could have at least talked to me before you agreed to this!"102

" What was I supposed to do, Aud? She doesn't have anywhere to go. I didn't want to send her off to some shitty foster home when she's already been with Richard all her life. I don't want her either, believe me. I don't even like little kids, let alone teenagers, and I know we dont' have room. But I feel bad, you know? I pretty much ignored her all those years. She's my sister, I mean, it's wrong to just be, like-" I stopped, at a loss with exactly what I was trying to say. Aud didn't seem to be getting it anyway. She just looked at me, her arms crossed, face drawn tightly.103

" If she was your sister, you'd get her, wouldn't you?" I asked helplessly.104

Audrianna kept looking at me. How do you respond to a look? It made me feel as uncomfortable as talking to Lillith had. Finally she sighed.105

" I don't know, Evan. I'm not in your position, I didn't live your life. My family is semi-normal, or as normal as a family can be in the early 2000s. But I just know you're doing this because you feel guilty, and it's not your fault. None of it."106

I shrugged. " Yeah, I know."107

" And you could have ASKED me," she said, and her face softened suddenly, which was why I didn't expect her bony fist to make a pretty hard contact with my shoulder. It hurt more because I wasn't expecting it than because of her strength.108

" Ow! Hey, what the hell was that?" I protested.109

" How long did you tell her we'd be in getting her?" she asked, ignoring me.110

" Uh- three hours."111

" How far away does she live?"112

" Two? But I'm not sure, I haven't been there in years."113

She rolled her eyes and growled under her breath. " She's lucky we're not working today. First shower."114

And she jumped up, leaving me to lay against my pillow and wonder what I'd gotten myself into.115