The house was nothing special, just another ordinary home on an ordinary street. On closer inspection, though, there were various characteristics that set it apart from all the others around it.
There were bars on the outside of the windows, usually overlooked by the occasional passerby because of the beautiful red geraniums that framed the lower half of the glass. The rosebushes that separated the garden from the street were taller than normal, partly for privacy. And if someone watched the house for a long period of time, they would notice that hardly no one came to the house, save for the postman and the newspaper boy.
Except this night was different. This night, the white house with the red door had a visitor standing on the front steps. He knocked on the door, hearing footsteps on the opposite side approaching. He knew the person was looking through the peephole to check who it was. After a silent moment, he heard the multiple locks on the inside being unlocked and unhinged. The door opened, revealing a dark haired woman.
"Hello, Sam," she said softly, her voice holding a gentle lilt.
"Hey Sarah," he answered, stepping inside to embrace her. He felt her stiffen momentarily as his arms came around her, and his heart clenched at the fact that after all these years, she still mistrusted physical contact. He kissed her gently on the cheek, stepping back and redoing the locks on the door.
"Thanks for coming Sammy," she said with a smile. He chuckled at her words.
"Sarah, I'm your brother. I'd visit you whether you liked it or not," he answered.
"Baby. You're my baby brother - don't forget that adjective," she teased, her simple joke bringing a relieved happiness to him. Apparently this had been a good month...he could always tell how she was doing by how she treated him.
"Right. So how's my favorite sister been doing?" he asked, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as they walked further towards the kitchen. She giggled, the sound a reminder of simpler times.
"I'm your only sister, goofball," she answered, looking up at him with piercing blue eyes, her smile marred only by two faded scars on her lips.
"All the more reason for you being my favorite," he said. "You sound just like Mom when you laugh."
"That's what Aunt Susan always says," she said, her smile widening. She gently untangled herself from his arm and motioned for him to sit down on one of the stools that faced the granite top. She walked behind the counter and resumed her salad tossing, which had been interrupted by his arrival.
"Wow Sarah, this looks fantastic," he said sincerely, reaching forward to grab a baby tomato from the bowl. She slapped his hand away.
"No picking, Sam!" she exclaimed. "You only come once every couple of months, so I like my meals to be a complete surprise."
"Okay, okay, sorry," he said, raising his hands in mock surrender. "So Aunt Susan's been visiting you?"
"Yeah. She's been a real godsend," she said truthfully, her voice dipping in volume.
Sam frowned. "I'm sorry I don't come more often," he apologized, his voice low with remorse. He looked into her eyes, so blue, like their mother's, but that held still held so much pain and suffering from that one night so many years ago.
She stopped her movements, taking his hand in one graceful motion. "Sammy, you've done more for me than anyone. We have this conversation every time you come over. You became a cop because of me. You help people every day because of me. That's the most anyone could ever do."
He squeezed her hand, smiling slightly. His sister was truly beautiful. He watched her as she resumed her preparations. People had always asked if they were twins when they had been growing up, but he had never seen the similarities. Her face was softer, more round than his. Her eyes were blue, a stark contrast to his deep brown. The only thing they had in common were their dark hair and dimples, so he supposed that was something.
He looked down at her hands, ever aware of the thin silver scars that crisscrossed both the backs of her hands from that fateful night, and the insides of her wrists from the following months.
"Speaking of you becoming a cop, how's work going?" she asked, chopping up green onions and carrots on the cutting board.
"Good. But tiring. It's been a rough six months," he said with a laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. Sarah's eyes narrowed for a split second at the familiar motion. A lifetime of her brother's idiosyncrasies had left her fully aware of all his mannerisms and gestures, and what each one meant. The rubbing of the back of the neck meant either discomfort or lack of truthfulness. A smile played on her lips as he refused to meet her eyes. She looked back down at the salad she was preparing.
"So I've been talking with Zoe on the phone. Oliver too, sometimes, when he's home," she said offhandedly. "Apparently you've got a rambunctious group of rookies this year."
Sam grinned at the first part of her sentence. Zoe Shaw had been an indispensable source of friendship for his sister, and he was thankful he had introduced Sarah to the Shaws a couple Christmases ago. Zoe's gentle soul was a good influence on Sarah's battered one, and it was a great relief for Sam to know she had at least one friend she could count on when he couldn't be there. Oliver had also taken a liking to his sister, partly because of Zoe, and partly because Oliver liked everyone.
"Yeah. The rookies this year are a never ending source of entertainment," he replied. He could only imagine what stories Oliver had been telling Sarah.
She nodded with a noncommittal hum. "Any special ones in particular?" she asked, intentionally keeping her eyes lowered innocently, but saw him smile softly in her peripheral vision.
"I guess. Andy McNally, she's my rookie. She's infuriating at times, but she has the makings of a great copper. Not that I'd ever tell her that, of course," he said, winking at his sister conspiratorially.
"McNally...that's the girl who blew your undercover work, right? You mentioned her the last time you came over. What was it, four months ago?"
"Yeah, that's her. She's kind of hard to stay mad at though. Kind of like you," he grinned. She smiled back.
"So what's she like?" she asked, keeping her tone light and indifferent.
He wrinkled his nose before laughing. "Andy likes to see the best in people. She talks... a lot. Which is a good thing usually - it keeps the mood light." His slight smile as he described her was lost on him, but not on Sarah.
"She sounds sweet."
He snorted. "Sweet is definitely not a word I would use to describe her, but hey, whatever floats your boat."
"Is she pretty?" She saw him hesitate slightly before answering.
"Yeah. Beautiful, actually." The words slipped out before he realized what he was saying. "Why the sudden interest in my rookie?"
"Oliver's been telling me some things. That's all," she answered with a straight face.
"Has he now? And what exactly are those things he's been telling you?" he asked, fighting to keep a grin off his face, though he was slightly annoyed at the turn the conversation had taken.
"Like how you're impossibly in love with her," she answered solemnly. Sam started coughing furiously. He couldn't believe those words had come out of his sister's mouth.
"I'm sorry, what?" he asked, his voice low and slightly raspy from his sudden fit.
"Only joking, Sam. Oliver didn't tell me that. He told me other things, but not that," she smiled sweetly at him.
"Then why would you say that?"
"Because I had a suspicion and your reaction confirmed it," she stated, as if it was an obvious fact. "Now, let's hear what movie you brought over. If it's another Harrison Ford movie, I'm going to kick you out."
And so the conversation changed abruptly. Sam had realized a long time ago that it was useless to argue with Sarah on any and all topics, so he allowed them to drift away from Andy. But it was always in the back of his mind.
The dinner conversation turned towards Sarah's on-going therapy, her burgeoning non-relationship with the cute waiter at the nearby diner, and the obnoxious new neighbors that had scared her witless by popping their heads over the shrubs that separated their respective houses.
As the credits rolled after the last scene of What About Bob?, one of Sarah's favorites, Sam was taken aback by his sister's request.
"Next time you come over, bring your rookie."
His mouth fell open. "Why?"
"I'd like to meet her." She shrugged as if the request was meaningless, though they both realized it carried enormous weight. Sarah had a hard time meeting new people, and so her actually wanting to meet Andy hit Sam like a freight train in terms of unspoken meaning.
"Sarah," he began, his tone warning her not to continue.
"Sam," she said back, crossing her arms as she turned to face him on the couch. "Don't lie to me. I don't like that, never have." She patted him on the cheek. "You may be my protector, but like I said earlier, you're also my baby brother."
He rolled his eyes before answering. "And what does that have to with anything?"
She smiled. "It means I have to look out for you too, sometimes."