Sam looks at the clock, the electric green lines glowing like the eyes of some ferocious beast. A three-eyed one, for that matter. The clock switches, making her blink – it's one-oh-two a.m. Across the room, Sam's twin sister Lulu moans and turns over. She envies that brown-haired woman across the bedroom they share – it's so easy, to fall asleep. You close your eyes and just concentrate on nothing, riding your breaths like the tide – in, out, in, out.
Sam stands, and runs a hand through her hair. She has done that too often – when she is frustrated, or angry, or unhappy. Down the hall, Sam's little brother Tyler cries out. Does he still have nightmares, even though it has been over a month? She still cannot sleep at night, still cannot force herself to let sleep wrap its arms around her and steal her away. For when she does, she is plagued with nightmares, reliving that awful day, and the telephone call.
Sam walks down the hall, to comfort the two-year-old boy. Tyler's eyes open briefly as she sits down on the soft rocking chair by his crib, and the twin pools of blue look around, confused. Tyler's mouth opens, and out comes the word that has been missing from the family's vocabulary for months –
"Daddy?" Tyler whispers and Sam cannot stop her tears this time, even though she fights them back with all she has, she cannot stop her mouth opening, and cannot help letting out a cry of raw emotion, muffled by the nightgown sleeve over her mouth. Sam lets her tears flow as she holds the little boy, painfully choking out the words to the song she hates, stroking the brown hair on his head.
"Hush, little baby, don't you cry, pa – sissy's gonna sing you a lullaby…" Sam begins, and when Tyler is asleep she is only at the third verse, so she keeps singing in the little white-and-yellow room, with the pictures of their family of five, before…
It had been just a week after Sam had finally graduated from college. Just a week. Her father had been driving to the pharmacy that night, due to a nasty cough that Tyler had developed. They had plenty of medicine, but Sam's mother had just wanted to check. She was concerned for Tyler's health, even at two years of age. He was her late-in-life baby, so she worried about him constantly. But that was before. That night, driving home from the pharmacy, Sam's father was hit and killed by a drunken teenage boy on his way back from a Prom after-party.
Sam lays Tyler back down in his crib, and tiptoes downstairs into the family room – no, scratch that. It is not a family room anymore, just another room in the house that is no longer a home. The stairs creak under her feet, and Sam can't help remembering how when she and Lola were little, they would spend hours sitting on the steps playing with Barbie Dolls and plastic horses. She will not try to pretend that they labeled themselves purposefully – they weren't the Tomboy and the Girly-Girl. The sisters were not Shy and Outgoing, or Beautiful and Real. These girls were simply Sammie and Lulu, the two sisters who loved each other and tried to take care of each other while they were little. But by the time they were teenagers they argued constantly, and ended up at separate colleges. Lulu had her Master's in teaching, and Sam had a degree in child psychology and was a part-time writer. But yet the teacher had stayed together when her family hit rock bottom, and the therapist had gone to pieces. Irony was cruel. She knew it now.
Sam looks at what used to be her mother, sleeping on the couch. The woman has lost quite a bit of weight, the laugh lines on her face transformed to wrinkles overnight. She is sleeping now, Sam notes. Her mother is wrapped up in her father's old bathrobe. Just the sight of it makes Sam want to cry, remembering the number of times she would see her father wearing that bathrobe. He had worn it while he made their special Sunday breakfast of bacon, toast, and scrambled eggs, worn it while he sat at the computer, frowning whenever he came across something that he disliked in Sam's writing, and even worn it to bed on cold nights.
Sam just wants to pull that bathrobe off of the sleeping woman and bury her face in the red plaid, weeping for her father, and for the life she had once had. Sam looks at her mother, still sleeping in the bathrobe. The dishes in the sink go unwashed, because the only one hungry is Tyler. The clothes in the washing machine lay collecting mold because nobody but Lulu can do any laundry. They are too sad.
Sam steps toward the kitchen, not really knowing what she's looking for. She can hear her heartbeat in the silence, along with the ringing in her ears. The bookcase, housing every book they had owned since she was ten years old, stands next to the refrigerator. Sam gives it the once-over look, as she always has, before going to it and softly touching her father's green, leather-bound Bible. Suddenly, Sam accidentally knocks the book off of the bookshelf, and a slip of loose-leaf paper falls out. She looks at it, puzzled, before realizing that it is her sister's handwriting, a diary entry of some sort – no, a prayer. It is dated just two days before.
I cannot believe what has happened to us. I just can't. Father, I was able to take a week or so off work, and by then, term had ended and it was summertime. I could support them. Now none of us have a job. It makes me almost burst into tears when I see how brittle my family has become. My mother…! She doesn't do anything but order Chinese food or pizza and sleep on the couch. It makes me feel so terrible, and I wonder, 'Is her pain any greater than mine?'. And my sister, Sam. I don't even know her anymore! Sam has nightmares, Lord. Horrible, horrible nightmares. It is so hard at night to hear her whimper, and cry. And when she doesn't have nightmares, she is awake. A sort of pathological insomniac, I guess. I look at this tired creature, with lines almost permanently etched across her face, and I wonder what happened to my sister, the girl who's said since she was twelve she would open her own "shrink clinic"? Where's my mother, who once told me that nursing the injured was her life? Oh, God, it pains me to finally recognize what I've known for a long time now: I am the glue that holds the family together. I always have been. I am, apparently, plastic while the rest of my family is china. I don't know how Sam can be so different from me – we're twins, after all. Maybe she just needs some help. So, Lord, if you can help her, please… that would be appreciated, and my mother. Lead her back, Father… she needs you most of all. And one last thing, Lord – let Sam sleep again.
By the time Sam in done reading this, she is shocked to discover that her eyes are leaking salty tears. So that was what Lulu felt like. Sam glances down at her hands for some reason, and remembers suddenly her graduation day. How proud she had been of herself, of her sister, of everybody. How excited. She remembers that the letter had come to their grief-stricken home the next day – her request had been fulfilled, and she had bought a tiny office for her new "shrink clinic" as she had called it. She had paid in advance, and so that was that.
She looks up for half a second at the ceiling and out the clear skylight, and could swear she saw, just for a minute, the face of her father in the full moon.
She wakes up at twelve o'clock precisely, and looks in the mirror in her bedroom. She has finally slept long enough to diminish her purple under eye circles. They are not gone, but it's a start. Sam feels energized for the first time in days – and hungry. This morning, her stomach is growling.
She rushes out of her room, and downstairs. It must be either a Saturday or a Sunday, she decides, because Lulu is sitting at the kitchen table, a pen in hand and a worried frown on her face. Various letters and envelopes are surrounding her.
"Lulu…" she begins, and holds up the letter from the office company. It was dusty from the months it had been left untouched, but she could still wipe the dirt off. Lulu looks up at Sam, and smiles a little.
"Yeah?" she asks, chewing on the pen. She starts, and puts the pen down. Sam continues.
"If you aren't too busy right now, I'd like to know if you could…" she stops short, and looks down. They haven't touched her father's life insurance yet, living off their own savings.
"If I could what?"
"If you could go shopping with me," Sam looks her sister straight in the eyes. Lulu is plainly startled. "Furniture shopping… for my shrink clinic. Maybe we could go out to lunch, too?" Sam asked, somewhat hopefully.
"Okay," said Lulu. And so, twenty minutes later, Sam straps Tyler into his car seat, and makes her mother sit in the backseat, despite her protests that she needed to sleep.
Sam wasn't done mourning for her father. She never would be. And now, she knew it. She wasn't completely healed, but, thanks to God and her sister, she was a little better. It wasn't much, but it was a start.