Your phone rings when you are in the middle of dinner at a fancy restaurant. You curse loudly, hoping that the waiter doesn't hear you. Pulling it out from your pocket, you go into a quieter area to answer it.
"Hello?" you ask, when no caller I.D. shows up. You are met with your little sister Marian's voice.
"Hey Tom," she says. "Get your butt over here this instant. Kay's really sick, and I don't know what to do!" Marian's voice cracks on the last word, and it sounds as if she is crying. She then hangs up, not wanting, you, her big brother, to hear her cry.
You sigh, and go leave money on your table. You then proceed to go get in your car, and drive to your old house, which continues to haunt you from the day you left.
It was exactly a year ago, you remember. The day you turned sixteen, and you were very ready to get out of there.
Your father had recently died, a month before your sister Kaye was born, and now your mother was married to some crazy maniac named Brian who hated your guts.
The feeling was mutual, as Brian seemed to treat your mother very badly. The only reason he had married her was for her money, all of which he had gambled or drank away.
Brian resented you because you weren't his child; neither were Kaye or Marian for that matter, but you were the oldest, and your mother's favorite.
Well, at least you were. Before your mother married a maniac.
You were completely done with life the day that Marian had brought home her report card. She had received an "A" in everything except for Spelling, which she had gotten an "F" in. But it wasn't her fault, Marian had dyslexia, and although she had worked very hard to learn to read, her spelling was absolutely terrible.
Upon seeing the report card, Brian was so mad that he started at screaming at Marian, and he punched her in the jaw. You ran over to intervene, but your mother started yelling at you for trying to hurt your "father."
You ran upstairs, grabbed the phone, and called 911. The police showed up ten minutes later, but they left after your mother told them how it was you that had hurt Marian in a fit of anger, not Brian.
When Brian had found out that you had called 911, he forced you to leave home, and never come back. Alone on the streets, you had managed to put together the money you had been saving for college to rent an apartment (with the help of your best friend Billy), where you had lived ever since, and still managing to attend high school while working part time at McDonald's. Whoever owned the apartments didn't care who was living there as long as they kept receiving pay.
Billy was good about the whole thing, and that was why he remained your best friend. He didn't give you pity, or tell you about how sad your situation was. He just nodded his head, and took in the details, staring down into whatever medical book he was reading.
Billy's lifelong dream was to become a doctor, and he was working to fulfill that dream every day by reading medical books he found in the library. He was hoping to get a scholarship to college, and medical school, so he studied diligently, and earned pretty good grades. You both knew how hard it would be to get a scholarship, but that didn't stop him from trying.
The first time Marian met him, she was seven years and, and your dad was still around. Marian had been in awe of Billy's doctor dream, and proclaimed that she wanted to go to a big college and become a scientist who saved the world. Your parents had laughed, you along with them. But not Billy. Billy knew what it was like to have a dream.
Thinking about that reminded you of something. You had made a promise to Marian and Kaye, right before you left, to get custody of them the day that you turned eighteen, and you would try and fulfill that.
That is your dream, and it is good enough for you.
Finally, after about twenty minutes, you reach the house, and pull into the driveway. You find it strange that there are no cars on the driveway, but you knock on the door anyways.
Marian answers. A string of bruises cover her arms, and when she notices you staring, she looks away.
"How did you get my phone number?" you ask.
Marian shrugs. "It's a long story," she says, seeming to not want to elaborate on the details. "Anyways, Mom and Brian haven't been home in over a week, Kaye's real sick, and I don't know what to do!"
"Where's Kaye?" you inquire. Marian points to the old, broken down couch in the corner.
"Over there," she says, and you walk along with her, careful to step over the garbage that litters the floor.
Baby Kaye, who still isn't three yet, lies on the couch, her tiny chest going up and down rapidly with each breath she takes. Her lips and fingernails are a pale blue.
You place a hand on her forehead. It is burning.
"She has a fever," Marian sighs, "And a cough. And she gets cold a lot."
"I'm calling Billy," you tell her, reaching for your phone. "He'll know what to do."
"No!" Marian shrieks, her face paling. "If Brian finds out you called someone, he'll-"
"He'll what?" you ask, but you both already know the answer from the bruises on her arms. Marian loves Billy, you remember. She would never turn away a chance to see him unless something was seriously wrong.
"Nothing," she says, putting her face in her hands, so you take out your phone and call Billy.
He promises he'll drive over with his parent's car in five minutes tops. You absentmindedly wonder how he is going to manage that without a ticket, since it is normally a ten minute ride.
"Do you think Kaye will be okay?" Marian asks hopefully, smoothing out the little girl's hair. She moans, ever so slightly.
"Of course," you say, but Marian frowns, noticing the hesitation in your voice.
Suddenly, Billy opens the door, and stomps in. "Anyone here?" he calls.
"Over here," you reply, so Billy walks over, frowning at Kaye. He feels her forehead, and checks her pulse
"Pneumonia," he finally sighs. "And she's got it bad. You should probably take her to the hospital room. At least I think that's what it is..." Billy trails off, looking at the expression on Marian's face.
You nod, and Billy gently lifts Kaye's tiny body. She is so thin that all her ribs are visible through her dirty looking dress.
"I'll take her." he finally says. "I have a baby seat in my parent's car for when my sister's kid is over. Tom, you take Marian. And bring Kaye's things."
You and Marian both nod, so Billy goes into his car, slamming the door on the way out of the house.
"Get your things," you tell Marian. "and Kaye's." you add after a brief pause.
Marian nods, and runs upstairs, leaving you a moment to survey the house.
It is nothing like you remember it before your dad died, no toys lying around, no books. Only garbage and a TV in the middle of the room. You are glad your dad doesn't have to look at it- he would be so disappointed.
This was not what he wanted for the family. Not even close.
You continue to ponder about the situation, sitting down on the orange couch where Kaye was only a minute before.
Marian quietly walks down, carrying only a small backpack.
"That's it?" you ask, surprised. "That's all of your things?" Marian shakes her head, doesn't say anything more about the matter, and you get in the car and drive to the hospital, leaving the small, crooked house behind.
Exactly twelve minutes later, you reach the hospital, and find Billy sitting in a waiting room chair. He is asleep, but immediately wakes up when you tap him on the shoulder.
"I was right, Tom" he finally says. "Pneumonia. The doctors think she'll be all right though."