Chapter 3 – Home Sweet Home
What did I do to make him rush away so urgently? It bothered me the rest of the day. I went through the motions of my daily tasks: stocking books, checking out books, stocking more books. I avoided contact with my coworkers, deeply lost in my thoughts.
Why was this bothering me? Because he's intriguing. You've never met someone like him.
I started to think of what life could be like with him, carrying a torch for the Piano Man. Would he be the settling down type? How would he interact with my sibling? Better yet, what would his reaction be when he found out about my life? Was I a worthy enough person for happily ever after?
After my shift was over, I tried to distract myself with food shopping. I wanted to prepare a nice meal for the children tonight, to make up for the lackluster guardian I was. My fingers trailed over display of chocolate bars. My father would always come home with these for us. They were his favorite, and loved to spoil us. I missed him so much. I pulled my hand away from the paper wrappers and placed it over my aching heart. Some days I liked to believe he was watching over all of us, wearing his navy blue uniform and a pair of angel wings. Others, I was afraid to imagine what he thought of the person I had become. A Dumb Dora haunting a smoky speakeasy in hope of finding a long lost killer or finding an escape from reality. The candy wrappers continued to taunt me until I grabbed two and threw them in my basket. I was going to be a better sister.
When I came home, I was immediately greeted by four arms wrapping themselves around my legs.
"Why, are you excited to see me or something?" I laughed, trying to drag my feet across the floor.
"What'd bring us?" Bobby asked watching with wide eyes as I set the grocery bag on the counter.
"Vegetables." I saw their faces shift with disgust. "And maybe a little special surprise, for two very good children. Were you good today?"
"Yes!" was shouted in chorus. I pulled the bars from the bag and handed one to each of them. "Now you can't eat them until after dinner." I cupped each of their cheeks lovingly. As soon as my fingers touched Sarah's skin, I knew something was wrong. She was running a temperature and was very flushed. I hope she's not getting sick. I moved my hand to her forehead. Definitely a temperature.
"How are you feeling, Sarah?"
"Tired." She murmured, closing her eyes slightly. This was all my fault. I felt like a damn fool for thinking I could take care of these two on my own.
"Are you hungry? I can make you some soup." I offered. She nodded weakly before turning back to the living room. Pulling a can of chicken soup from my newly purchased groceries, I turned to the stove and started to make dinner for the two children. They could finally get the nutrients they needed. As soon as the water was boiling, I called them to the table. They slurped the soup greedily.
"Anna?" A loud voice came from the hallway accompanied by thundering knocking.
"Harry, the door is unlocked," I called back keeping my focus on the children.
"You know you shouldn't leave that unlocked. Who knows who could be lurking around outside." My ever present worrier took a seat at my table and removed his hat. The children emptied their bowls quickly and ran off to the living room to play.
"Can I get you anything, Harry?" I asked, disregarding what he said.
"Tea, if you don't mind."
I took some of the boiling water left over from the soup and poured it into a teacup. Upon opening the box I kept my teabags in, my heart sank. There was only one bag left. I dumped it into the water, trying not to mourn its lost. I would just have to save it once he was done, and get another use out of it. Sure it will be weak, but it was better than having nothing.
"You know that piano boy from the Blind Tiger?"
"Yes, why?" I handed him his cup. I tilted my head slightly to listen for the children playing. I didn't hear anything unusual, so they must be just fine. Hopefully the soup would make Sarah feel a little better. Turning back to Harry, I noticed he had placed the teabag on a spoon. I grabbed an empty cup and slipped the bag into the cup to dry out and be used for my breakfast the next morning.
"He was outside, asking about you." His words shocked me, the cup in my hands slipped between my fingers and crashed to the ground. Me? He was asking about me. Was he still out there? I turned my eyes towards the window. The noise in the living room shifted to rushing feet coming towards the kitchen. The urgency pulled my mind away from the prospect outside.
"Don't walk in here!" I shouted, holding my arms out to stop the children. There was broken porcelain all over the floor. The last thing any of us needed was for the shards to be in their little bare feet. I pulled a towel off the counter and started to sweep up the pieces. I guess I won't have any tea this week, I thought while I shook the pieces out of the towel and into the trash can. Sarah and Bobby headed back to the living room, and my mind went back to the topic on hand.
"Did you say anything?" My heart started to beat more rapidly as I thought about him checking in on me. While he was quite frightening last night, at the library he seemed like just a normal teenage boy. One capable of murder? Perhaps.
"Just that he shouldn't be hanging around outside like that, and that you didn't need boys like him sniffing around."
"Harry, he's a nice boy, not like the others at the Blind Tiger." He was different from my father in this way. My father would never judge a person without getting to know them.
"When are you going to stop going to that place?"
I kept my head down, continuing to pick up the pieces carefully. "I don't know. It's hard to explain." The Blind Tiger did many things for me. It gave me a chance to socialize with my girlfriends and other people my age. I could act like a normal twenty year old who wasn't the guardian of her two siblings.
"I know, kid. I'm glad to see you staying in tonight, bet Mary's happy to have a night off."
Mary's kindness was extraordinary. I would never be able to keep up with Sarah and Bobby if it wasn't for her. "I'll never be able to pay the two of you back for everything you have done for us. If it gets to be too hard for her, let me know. I can try to find someone else." Harry was definitely the substitute father figure we needed.
"Heaven's sake, no, she loves you kids like her own. Your father would never forgive me if I let something happen to you. He'd come right down from above and kick my arse."
I giggled, knowing full well that my father would do that very thing. I started to remember my parents, when we were happy, before he was killed and our lives turned to the horrible mess.
"I miss him," I admitted, trying to keep the tears inside. To say I was a Daddy's girl would be an understatement. I never realized how heavily I depended on him until he was gone.
"We all do, Anna."
I closed my eyes, the tears threatening to spill any moment. The loss of my father had affected our mother more than anyone. The grief consumed her, and she consumed whisky. We had gotten into an argument about her drinking one night. That night she had thrown the whisky bottle at my head, missing only by inches. She was a changed person, and it was starting to frighten me. I did my best to keep her away from Sarah and Bobby. It took everything in my power to shelter them from her drunken rage. The scene shifted and I remembered the night the three of us hid from her in the closet. She was looking for another fight. I barricaded us in the closet as she pounded on the door and screamed.
"Anna, hon," Harry interrupted my memories, "don't think about her. You're better than that."
"It wasn't her, it was the grief." My mother had been a loving, caring person before my father was killed. "She couldn't handle losing him." My tears betrayed me, one slipping down my cheek. I brushed it away as quickly as it had appeared.
"Just don't let you lose yourself to the bottle like she did."
"I won't, Harry. I promise you that." I turned my head to glance at the clock and saw that it was far pass the kids bed time.
"I better put the kids to bed. Thanks for coming over." I started to clean up the table from dinner as he started to leave.
"Oh, that piano kid asked me to pass along a message. I can't remember the exact wording, but something along the lines of wishing you a better night." He closed the door behind him, leaving me shocked and confused in the kitchen alone.