Page 95 of The Dancer

I said a hurried goodnight to Tony and all but dragged her inside where I allowed her to greet her brother before dragging her to her room. “Would you stop tugging me around?”

“We’ll be right back Travis, did you eat?”

“Yeah, your mom made stuff for the freezer before she left.” He hardly paid us any mind as he went off to bed. He’d only stayed up this late to make sure his sister made it home safe.

I pulled her into the room and closed the door so our voices didn’t carry down the hall to his room. “Now where were we? Oh yeah, you were trying to convince me of what a good idea it is for you to work yourself into an early grave.”

“Do you really think you can keep this shit up for a whole year?” As I spoke I was trying to navigate in my head what I was supposed to know and what I wasn’t. I know she’d told mom mostly everything, but she still had yet to share any of it with me.

I still didn’t want her to know that I knew any of it, because I wanted her to be the one to tell me. It was important to me that she did. So I questioned her as if I didn’t know much of anything.

“Why do you have to do everything anyway? Where are your parents? Why isn’t anyone taking care of your brother?” I saw the indecision in her eyes and felt for her.

As she walked around the room thinking, I held my breath hoping. She had a few stops and starts before turning back to me. “My parents aren’t in the picture. It’s just Travis and I.”

“Why? How did that happen?” Just tell me baby. Open up that one little crack and I’ll break that shit wide open. It was all I needed, all I was waiting for.

As soon as she opens up I’d know that I have her and nothing would stop me from doing what needs to be done. But I needed her to take that first step. To show even a little bit of trust in me.

“What’s so hard about that question? Are they in prison, on the FBI’s most wanted list what?” She sighed and plopped down on the bed, tugging her hair out of the ponytail it was in.

“No, nothing like that. My dad left us for someone else and my mom, my mom died.” There was a heavy load of pain in those last few words. She was close, but not close enough. I wanted the whole story from her. Only then will I be free to respond.

“Your brother is still considered a minor, are you saying your dad isn’t taking care of him?”

“That’s exactly right. He found something better and moved on okay.” Sore spot, check!

“Men leave their wives everyday and still take care of their kids.”

“How would you know? Didn’t yours leave you as well?”

Angry little girl! I could tell that she regretted her little outburst immediately, but there was no point. She wasn’t lying, so what was there to feel bad about?

“You have a point, that’s how I know that there are others who aren’t that weak. That there are good men and women who for whatever reason can’t live together, but they don’t desert their kids.”

“Well mine did. It’s obvious they didn’t care enough to stick around.” She cut herself off, but not before I heard the threat of tears in her voice. It was evident that she couldn’t bring herself to say the words on her own, that she needed a little push.

“I thought you said your mom died, how is she at fault?” She took a moment to answer but I saw the give in her at last before she finally gave me what I wanted.

“She didn’t die, she chose to leave. We weren’t enough for her, so she took the easy way out. Neither of us were worth anything to either of them.”

Her voice broke and I moved across the room to grab her. Her little body shook as she released the tears that she’d been holding in for way too long.

“I don’t want my brother living the rest of his life thinking he isn’t worth anything. So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure he has what he needs.” The rest of my heart, what little piece of myself I’d been holding back, fell in a puddle at her feet.

I wrapped my arms around her and brought her in close to comfort her the best I could. “Tell me what happened baby.” I lifted her in my arms and walked the short distance to the bed to sit with her on my lap.

Through tears and anguish she told me everything. I didn’t interrupt, just held her, dried her tears and kissed her temple reassuringly when I felt she needed it. I’d wanted this, wanted her to open up and tell me the truth. But now that she had I felt raw.