Violet sat in the far corner of Three Shots, nervously twisting a tall glass of coke around in circles on the table, a plate of uneaten chicken fajitas on a platter in front of her.
She had picked at it, managed to eat a little, but after reading the letters, she wasn't sure she'd be able to eat.
She looked up into the face of her brother, so much more mature now than he'd been back in St Louis.
Cautiously, he slid into the seat across from her. "I was glad you called. Did you get a chance to read the letters?"
"A few of them," she admitted. "I just…" she spread her hands out in a helpless gesture. "I don't understand, Tony. Help me understand, please."
"I'll try," Tony said. "Ask me anything, Vi. I promise I will answer with the complete truth."
"Why?" she asked, cursing mentally when her eyes began filling. What was she? Twelve? "Why did you leave?"
He sighed. "Starting with the big one, huh? Alright," he glanced over and motioned for the waitress. It was Geena tonight, he mused, and when he ordered his own food and drink, he remembered to tip both twin girls equally. "I wasn't ready to be an adult, Vi. Remember, I was only fifteen when dad up and vanished on us. Suddenly, I was trying to work my ass off to keep us from being evicted from our apartment, put food on the table. I was trying to help you through your own grief, and try to be a steady male role model in your life. I was fifteen, Vi," He said again, looking intently at her face, "And I was doing my best to keep our family together."
"But then you left," Violet insisted. "I'm sorry if I put too much on you, but…"
"No," he insisted. "It wasn't you. We still had Mom. We had an adult who was supposed to be looking out for us, but she couldn't pull herself out of her own grief to do anything. I worked two jobs, kept a roof over our heads, and finished school but," he shrugged, "Even with my skipping meals, applying for any assistance I could by forging mom's signature, the money was running out and I couldn't take on any more. So, as soon as I could, I signed up for the military." He thanked Geena as she brought his large glass of water and plated enchiladas. "As for my reason," he said as soon as they were once more alone, "that hefty signing bonus seemed like the answer to our prayers. I sent it to mom," he admitted. "I directly wired it to her account the first chance I got."
Violet remembered how quickly things changed at home after he had left. Almost overnight, mom had gone from crying over worries about bills, to selling their home and moving them to a "better" neighborhood with schools to accommodate Violet. She had updated her wardrobe to fit back into the workplace, and had taken on a full time job at an investment firm as a secretary.
She had sent Violet to college, where Violet had only had to work to help with her own living expenses while living in the dorms.
She'd always thought that the money had come from the sale of the house, but now…
"You said that mom all but kicked you out," she said softly. "I don't remember that."
"It happened late at night, Vi," he said. "It was a school night, and you were already asleep when I came home from my stocking job at the grocery store. I hadn't told her that I had enlisted, and as the date got closer for me to leave, the more difficult it was to even attempt to bring it up. I was afraid how she'd take it, and afraid how you would react." He picked up a fork, digging furrows through the rice and beans on his plate. "She… didn't take it well. She saw it as someone else abandoning her, and wanted me gone before you woke up. I should have talked to you then, but having mom turn on me, after spending two years of being an adult when I was really still a kid…"
"You had to leave," Violet said softly, "Or you would have come to hate us all."
He blinked at her. "Something like that, yeah. I loved you, but I didn't want to be the man of the house. I wanted to go hang out with friends. I wanted to go to school. Hell," he said, looking sheepish, "I wanted to race the neighborhood on my bike like a ten year old, but I couldn't. I'm glad you get it."
She gave him a carefully blank look that had him nervous. "I was seventeen when mom got sick, Tony. I was already in my junior year of college, having to dial back on my classes, taking care of mom while watching her get sicker and sicker. I had no one. Not dad, not you… So, yeah, I understand. It was so tempting to throw my hands up and quit. Just walk away. I didn't feel like I had that option, though."
He took her hand, "I am so sorry, Vi. I tried to find you, I swear. When all of those letters were returned, I came to St Louis the first chance I got, but you had moved. The occupants didn't have a forwarding address, and I didn't even know if you were still in the city. Then I blinked and three tours overseas later, I realized that years had passed in a blur, and I missed my chance. I'm out of the military now," he said softly. "I have the opportunity to serve as a civilian contractor, meaning I have my choice of places I can work. There is an office here in Manhattan," he said, giving her a crooked grin, "That's the main reason I came here to meet up with Travis. We met in basic training, and made it through that time as battle buddies before he went on to serve with the MP guys. I thought I'd meet up with him, see how Manhattan felt, then I thought about hiring a private investigator to try to find you one more time. Little did I know," He gave a short laugh, "That I would be stumbling into you at your own lab. You have done good, Vi. I knew you were smart, but damn."
Violet gave a watery laugh. "So you came to try Manhattan on for size. How do you like it?"
"I like it fine." He gave her a wary look, "Does this mean that if I move here, you would be willing to meet up with me? Get to know each other again?"
"I think we both have some emotional baggage to unload," Violet admitted, "And more than a few surprises to be had along the way, but, yes. I would love to have you close. I missed you, Tony."
"I missed you, Vi," he admitted. "More than I'd thought possible at the time."
They settled in, once the emotional issues had been laid out, addressed, and aired out. They filled each other in on the missing time, with a lot of questions asked and answered.
Somewhere in there, they began to actually eat their food.
Violet left off her time in captivity, as well as the sudden appearance of their father. Those were best left for another time, but not as they were trying to ease back into things.
"So," Violet asked, pushing her empty plate aside, "Have you decided if you're going to move to Manhattan?"
"I think that's mainly up to you, Vi," he said slowly. "I have until next Friday to make my choice."
Violet thought for a moment, thoughtfully chewing at her thumbnail. "Where would you be working?"
"I was part of a team that scouted out and disarmed IEDs," he said. "The NYPD has several different stations in Manhattan that have a division of the SWAT divisions that I can assist with, and still have the ability to help the military when needed. Mostly for training purposes, so I'd have to be on one base or another a few weeks a year, but," he shrugged. "I like it here. I was going to start applying to the SWAT teams this weekend."
Violet gave him a grin. "I may be able to help with that. I have some friends in the NYPD now."
His smile grew, relief plain to see in his eyes. "Thank you, Vi."
"Welcome home, big brother," Violet said.