I'm just about to start dinner when I hear Callie come in. "Welcome back, sis."
She comes into the kitchen, smiling like she used to when she was little. It had been a long time since I had seen that smile and I was happy to see it.
She throws her bag up on the counter, heaving a sigh. "Hi, Matt. How was your weekend?"
"Good," I remark, setting a pot of water on the stove and turning on the burner to get it boiling. "It was nice being able to just hang out. Brian came over for a while yesterday and Baylee came by this morning. Other than that, I've just been doing homework and blasting music. I miss stuff like that."
Callie smiles at me, but this is more like one of her forced smiles she always does now. "I'm glad to hear. I had a good time this weekend, too. Those girls are great." The innocent, childlike smile returns, and I swear, her eyes brighten up.
So, I nod, throwing the ground beef into the pan to get it started on cooking. "I can see you had a good time. I haven't seen you this happy in years, Cal."
She nods. Then she sighs. "I told them about Mom," she adds, suddenly.
I turn and look at her, not sure what to say. My sister and I were never on the same page when it came to our mother. "What did you say? And, well… Why?"
"I had a nightmare," she says, quietly.
"Oh." Callie and nightmares were kind of like cereal and milk. There was at least three nights a week where she'd wake up, screaming. She says they mainly are dreams about Mom and Dad, but sometimes I hear her screaming other names that aren't theirs. She never would tell me what the nightmares consisted of, especially the ones with Mom, but I knew they had to do with things that had happened.
"Matt, can I ask you a question?"
"Go for it," I say, though I'm not sure I want her to ask me anything. I know we're blood and family and whatever. I know she's my baby sister, and she's one of the only people in my family that I have left. The fact is, though, that I feel like she made things much worse than they really were.
"Do you still think Mom never hurt me?"
I knew she was going to ask something like this, so I groan. "Look, Callie, I don't know. I don't think Mom could do those things you said she did. But I never did see any of it happen, did I? I just don't know. I mean, I know she had problems and she terrorized you, but I just can't see how she would try to kill you. I mean, maybe it was just the side of Mom that I knew. I'm sorry, Cal, but I may never know the truth."
I can see the hurt in my sister's eyes, but I can't lie. It was true that I didn't see anything happen. I remember Callie running downstairs, the wound in her chest bleeding. I remember Mom screaming about how she had fallen on it, and I just believed it. Callie wouldn't talk to anybody after Dad died. She only started talking to me after Mom disappeared.
"Look, I'm sorry, Callie. I just… I knew a different woman than you did, and I'm sorry if she really did all those things. I just can't replace the woman I know with the person you say she was. I didn't know that person."
"I understand," Callie says, though I can still sense the air of hurt in her voice. "Hey, I'm going to go do my laundry. Call me when you get dinner done." I watch as she goes before turning back to the food.
It takes a half hour to get the spaghetti done, which is enough time for Callie to cool down and get her laundry started. When we sit down, I try and turn our conversation back to something light. "So, tell me what else you girls did this weekend."
Callie's face brightens as she recalls it all, which is exactly what I want to happen. "We watched about six different movies. We did a bunch of beauty things. I painted my nails for the first time ever with them, and we did facial masks and hair things. We ate junk and danced around to music and played games. Today we had a marathon of Gilmore Girls, which is actually a good show. I like it. I'm glad they introduced it to me. It was such a blast."
I can't help but laugh. "Sounds like a girl's weekend for sure. I'm glad you had fun. You should get out more often, Cal. These girls are bringing out the best in you."
Callie nods, smiling. "They are. I think we might end up being super close." She takes a bite of spaghetti and chews it slowly. "Haley was one of the girls, you know."
I frown and ask, through my mouth full of spaghetti, "Baylee's sister?"
Callie nods, grinning. "Yep. They look so much alike, it's scary. Haley is nice. She fits in well with us. Did you know she is in my chemistry class? She sits with me and Danielle."
"No, I didn't. That's cool, Callie. I'm glad she is in your class."
My sister nods. "We talked about the baby on Monday. In a way, we're going to be like sisters when the baby comes. We'll both be aunts. I'm just glad I can talk to her about it. It makes it feel more like a family."
I smile. "I'm glad, too."
Callie sighs. "I'm scared those girls are going to be more like sisters to me than friends, Matt."
"Why do you say that?"
Callie doesn't answer at first. She takes a bite of food and chews slowly, putting it off. After a while, she sighs. "When I had my nightmare, they tried to help me. And when I finally came to, Breanna stayed with me. She was like a big sister. She took the lashing out and crying and just sat with me until I was calmed down. I mean, I don't even know these girls that well, and yet, they are more in tune to me than Danielle is sometimes."
"Well, maybe that's what you need more. You kind of have the short end of the stick where family is concerned."
Callie nods. "It's true."
After dinner, Callie does dishes, so I go back to my room. I fold my laundry from earlier and start to put it away. It's not until about nine at night that Aunt Maureen finally comes in. Callie is back in her room, surely getting ready for school tomorrow and finishing off any homework she may have, so I go to greet our aunt.
"Hi, Aunt Maureen. I made some spaghetti, if you haven't eaten yet."
Aunt Maureen looks me over, before giving the faintest trace of a smile. "Thanks, Matty. I haven't eaten since lunch. Spaghetti sounds nice." I allow my aunt to come into the kitchen and fix her dinner. I help by pouring her a glass of wine, knowing she needed it, judging by the bags under her eyes.
At last, when she is seated and eating, I fill her in on everything I think she ought to know. "Ruth is all tended for. She might just need help getting to bed tonight, but Angeline helped her bathe and eat not that long ago. I wasn't even aware she was here until she left, but I checked in with Ruth and she is pretty settled. Callie got home earlier. She has her laundry done and I think she is finishing her homework now."
Aunt Maureen nods, taking a bite of pasta. When she's finished, she grunts. "Well, I'm glad I have less to deal with tonight. I just want to relax for a few hours, Lord help me."
I know this is a direct statement to our predicament. In the matter of a few years, Aunt Maureen was designated with a dying mother, a hectic job, and two kids who hold enough problems in themselves. Callie alone is a lot to deal with. Aunt Maureen was never a mom, and Callie is one of those kids who needs extra patience.
It's actually funny, the sense that it's not the fact that Callie isn't pretty independent and responsible. She just holds a lot of pain and resentment and hard feelings, and if you don't fit well with her, those feelings flare out. The only people who have ever really been good with her are Dad and Grandma Ruth. With Dad dead and Grandma wasting away day by day, Callie is becoming this ticking time bomb. I hope these girls become a new outlet for her, or else she will self-destruct. I have enough to deal with than my little sister. I care, sure, but I have my own kid to start worrying about.
Aunt Maureen sits back in her chair, her eyes closed. "Make sure Callie is in bed by ten-thirty. Tell her she also needs to make sure her room is cleaned up after this weekend. I'll be coming in to check that she has done everything she needs to. I don't want to deal with her tonight."
The way my aunt is sitting, with the light hitting her face gently, she looks like Mom. Her hair is more golden than my mom's, but when my mom sat in that spot, her hair would turn bright gold, like Aunt Maureen's. My aunt's is always done curly, and her face is rounder than mom's, but the resemblance is scary. They both look aged, though for different reasons. Mom was wasted away by drugs, the loss of husband, two kids who she wasn't equipped to care for, and a dying mother who showed up at the worst possible time. I don't blame my mother for leaving. I miss her, though. I wish she would come back.
"Oh, don't tell Callie this next part, Matty. This is just between you and me until the situation presents itself." I frown at my aunt, a distinct feeling of knowing what this means. "Your mom got ahold of me today. She has been trying to get clean so she can control herself to come see you. I made her agree to see Callie, though she feels like she shouldn't. I told her she owes it to her to see her too."
This information weighs heavily on my chest. "Mom is going to try and come back?"
Aunt Maureen nods. "Right now, she just wants to come in to visit and see you. If it goes well and she stays clean, she wants to try and come back and start over."
"Wow," I say, amazed. It's been years since I've seen Mom. She has called me directly twice, and she has sent Christmas cards and birthday cards. Mine have always included some money, which I'd do my best to hide from Callie. She would go crazy if she knew. "Any idea when she wants to try and get by?"
Aunt Maureen shrugs. "She said she'd call me in a few weeks and tell me how she's doing. I hope it's soon. The sooner she gets back into her life again, the better."
I can't help but agree. I know Mom needs to get back. She needed the break, true, but now she needs to return to her family. I know it will be the only thing to save Callie from this downward spiral. She needs to know Mom does care and love her and that she never hurt her. Not like she thinks she did.
Aunt Maureen gets up, taking her glass of wine upstairs, probably to her room. I sigh, wishing that things didn't have to be like this. I wish our mother was still here, never leaving like she did. I think maybe, just maybe, our whole world would be different. Better