The knock on the door made Lexi feel like being sick. She left her lesson plan on the kitchen table, and started to answer the door. Before she made it out of the kitchen, Sidney flew past her and threw the door open. Lexi leaned against the doorway into the hall and watched her sister put on a show.
Michelle was down on her knees, her arms wrapped around her eight-year-old daughter. She rocked back and forth, and said, “Oh, my little Siddie Sue! You’ve gotten so big!” She held the little girl at arm’s length, and studied her, “You look just like me!”
Lexi held down the vomit rising in her throat. It had been three months since Michelle had seen the girls at her mother’s funeral, but they hadn’t changed that much. Michelle was all about the show, though. The only thing Lexi couldn’t figure out was who the intended audience was supposed to be. Was Michelle performing for the girls, whoever else was around at the time, or for herself? Lexi suspected it was the latter, since Michelle rarely thought of anyone besides herself.
“Where’s my Tater Tot?” Michelle asked, looking past Lexi without acknowledging her.
“She’s in our room,” Sidney answered.
“I’m right here.” Taylor stepped into the hallway, her arms crossed.
“There’s my Tatey!” Michelle held out her arms, but Taylor ignored them.
“My name is Taylor.” She wrinkled her forehead, her dark eyebrows pushing together. “I don’t like when you call me those baby names.”
Michelle rolled her eyes. “Well, aren’t you just Little Miss Attitude?” Turning to Sidney, she said, “If your sister wants to be that way, we’ll just let her, won’t we, Siddie Sue?”
Sidney looked conflicted, but took her mother’s hand when it was offered. Lexi studied her sister, still bent down beside her daughter. Something seemed different about her, but Lexi couldn’t put her finger on it. Maybe it was just that, for the first time in years, she didn’t appear to be high.
“How’s school?” Michelle asked her daughter, as she led her to the living room and made herself comfortable on the couch.
“Good,” Sidney answered.
Lexi shifted her attention to Taylor, who was still standing in her bedroom doorway, her bottom lip stuck out in a pout. “Want a tea?”
Taylor quickly nodded and followed her aunt into the kitchen. Lexi retrieved a bottle of her favorite raspberry tea from the fridge and handed it to her niece. The teas were normally off limits to the girls, so Taylor accepted it gratefully.
Lexi smiled and sat down at the kitchen table. When Taylor sat down beside her, Lexi asked, “Don’t you want to talk to your mom at all?”
Lexi wasn’t sure what to say in response. Part of her felt like she should encourage the little girl to be polite, but a larger part of her was glad her niece was letting her sister know she had let her children down.
“Tatey?” Michelle called from the living room. “Come here.”
“Do I have to?”
Lexi nodded, “Just be nice for a few minutes. She won’t stay long.”
“She never does.” Taylor sighed. “That’s the problem.”
Lexi gave the little girl’s shoulder a squeeze and asked, “Want me to go with you?”
Taylor nodded, so Lexi followed her to the living room. Michelle was sitting cross-legged on the couch, with Sidney in her lap. “Come sit with me.”
Taylor sat on the opposite end of the couch, her arms crossed.
“What’s your problem?” Michelle’s forehead creased in the same angry way Taylor’s had when her mother first arrived.
“Then stop acting like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder,” Michelle demanded. “You would think you would be happy to see me.”
Taylor scowled, so Michelle turned her attention back to Sidney. “I had some big news to tell you girls, but I guess your sister doesn’t want to hear it.”
“I do!” Sidney said. “Tell me.”
Michelle cast a pointed look at Taylor, before shifting her weight to turn her back to her. Speaking only to Sidney, she said, “Alex and I got married.”
Sidney looked confused before asking, “Who’s Alex?”
“Who’s Alex?” Michelle repeated, throwing her hands up in exasperation. “Alex was my boyfriend. You’ve met him before.”
“She doesn’t remember,” Taylor sounded angry. “She was just little.”
“When?” Sidney asked.
“When she left us.” Taylor glared at her mother. “Alex is that stupid guy she left us for. She used to bring him around before Grandma told her she couldn’t. Then she stopped coming at all.”
Lexi held her breath, not sure how Michelle would react to the angry words. She was shocked when Michelle ignored them all together.
“Want to see some pictures?” Michelle pulled a smartphone out of her purse, and began swiping through photos, saying, “This is me and Alex at the courthouse. This is our kiss. These are my friends, Ashley and Shanna, they were my witnesses. And this is our honeymoon cabin. We were going to go to Vegas, but we changed our minds at the last minute and just got a cabin. And, look! We got matching tattoos.”
Lexi silently seethed. If Michelle had the money for cabins and tattoos, she should be able to pay child support for the children she abandoned.
As Michelle showed her daughter the garish tattoo she had inked onto her shoulder, her phone whistled. Reading the text, she said, “That’s Alex. He needs me to come home.”
“You just got here!” Sidney protested.
“I know, but I’ll be back soon,” Michelle kissed her daughter’s forehead. “I’m going to see you more often, I promise. Maybe you can even come live with me and Alex.” Not giving Sidney the chance to respond, Michelle hugged her tight and said, “Mommy loves you so, so, so, so much, Siddie. No one loves you as much as your mommy does.”
Michelle turned to address Taylor only to discover she had already left the room. She rolled her eyes and said, “Already has a teenage attitude, huh?”
Lexi started to give a sarcastic response, but, when her sister stood to leave and arched her back in a backward stretch, she was stopped short.
“What?” Michelle demanded.
“Nothing.” Lexi was furious, but tried not to let Sidney see. “I’ll walk you to your car.”
Sidney gave her mom one last hug, tears streaming down her face.
“Oh, Baby,” Michelle hugged her daughter, “I’ll be back soon. I promise.” Then she peeled her little arms off her and walked out the door.
Following close behind her, Lexi stepped out the door and quickly shut it. “Are you kidding me?” She spat the angry words at her sister. “Are you freaking kidding me?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Lexi stared hard at her sister before saying, “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
Rachel Holbrook writes from her home in Knoxville, TN. She is the author of the syndicated serial, Little River, Volumes 1 & 2. Her short fiction and poetry have appeared in Burningword Literary Journal, *82 Review, Ink in Thirds, Akitsu Quarterly, The Avalon Literary Review, The Society of Classical Poets, and various other literary journals. She recently won an Honorable Mention for her short story “A Slow Burn” at the Sigma Tau Delta International English Honor Society’s annual convention. She also received the Springs of Helicon Award for Poetry, awarded by Tennessee Wesleyan University. When she’s not writing, she enjoys going on literal and literary adventures with her husband and six children.