Tori fumbled with the key to the front door, fatigue rather than alcohol causing her to sway a bit. She plucked the cigarette from her mouth and flicked it over the porch railing. The door swung open unexpectedly as she exhaled. Her brother, Tom, stood over her with both concern and fury in his eyes.
"Since when do you smoke?" Tom snapped, the shock and anger apparent in his voice.
"Since I was about 12." was Tori's quick response. She didn't even bother with attitude. She was too tired and it was the least of her worries at this point. She pushed past Tom into the foyer.
"Do you have any idea what time it is? Where the hell have you been?" he barked.
"No. Out. And what the hell do you care?" Tori spat back with more venom than she really felt.
"Are you drunk or something?" The irritation in Tom's voice was rising.
"No." One word answers were her specialty these days.
"Seriously?" she scoffed. Not tonight, she thought, but Tommy does not need to know that.
Tom rubbed his hand over his face, his frustration mounting. The defiant attitude of teenagers was something he was well acquainted with. Hell, he got paid to be one. Hearing it from his baby sister had him clearly taken aback.
"How did you get home?"
"Horse and buggy." Tori said sarcastically.
"Was the driver drinking?"
"Gee, Tommy, I'm not sure. I forgot to breathalyze him before I got in the car."
Tori narrowed her eyes slightly, but held them steady on her older brother. She was well aware of the effect. She enjoyed the power play.
Tom looked away first. Tori silently noted the victory, but the weariness threatening to overtake her at any moment dulled any satisfaction she may have gotten.
"Victoria, something happened tonight." Tom began cautiously.
"Ol' Marge finally plow her drunk ass into a tree?" Tori meant this as a question, but it came out more as a statement.
"Telephone pole." Tom said, stunned by her apparent indifference.
Tori responded with a half nod, no emotion visible on her face.
As Tom looked in Tori's eyes, he saw an expression he had seen many times before on the faces of kids he had tried to help and sometimes had to bust. It was the forced bravado of one who had seen too much too young. An unflinching stare to hide the hurt and fear that usually lurked beneath. To see this look on a face whose features were so like his own, a face he had seen change from chubby toddler to gap toothed tomboy to the stunning young woman before him ripped at his heart.
"She died, Tori." Tom said quietly.
"I know." Tori said flatly and began to trudge up the stairs.
Tom watched her ascend without a word. He heard her bedroom door close. Worry, fear, and grief gripped his chest. So many questions were running through his brain. How did she know? Why hadn't she come home? Why was she so angry? Was he losing his sister, too? He closed his eyes and released a deep sigh.
Tom stood for a moment more then turned to close the front door which still gaped open. He slid the lock into place. The click of the deadbolt sounded so final. His childhood home which had always seemed a refuge was now a hollow place filled with only memories of happier times. At least for him. What were Tori's memories? Her response to their mom's death troubled him. He knew people all responded differently to this kind of news. He had seen some strange things and notifications were the thing he hated most as a cop. He hadn't known what to expect, but he hadn't expected no response at all.
Sleep beckoned and Tom started up the stairs to his bedroom which had remained unchanged even though he hadn't lived there in over two years. He tested the knob on Tori's door and finding it unlocked he quietly entered her room. He noted with some amusement that for all her surly rebellion, her room was still neat and tidy as it had always been. They were very much alike in that respect. He looked at the still form of his only sibling. Even deep in slumber, her eyes were hollow. She looked fragile and somehow both younger and older than her nearly fifteen years.
Tom brushed a strand of hair from her face. He kissed her forehead and she stirred slightly.
"What happened here, Madame Victoria?" he whispered using the nickname he had given her when she was three.
As he exited Tori's room, Tom contemplated leaving her door ajar as he had done when she was little. Not sure how she would respond, he gently closed it behind him and crossed the hall to his own room.
Tom lay down on the bed, crossing his arms behind his head in a pose he had assumed many times as a boy in this very room. He was soon asleep and dreaming of a six year old girl grinning with two front teeth missing. In this dream he could not quite grasp her hand as she was just out of reach. He woke with a start, late morning sunshine streaming through his window.
Tom rubbed the sleep from his eyes and pulled his t-shirt over his head. He didn't even remember taking it off last night. He opened his bedroom door and saw that Tori's door was open and the room was empty. She was not normally an early riser.
He walked downstairs slowly and made his way to the kitchen. It, too, was empty. Remnants of breakfast were in the sink and the coffee maker had been set up so all Tom had to do was press a button for a fresh pot. Tom smiled. A compassionate rebel. Realizing that he had no idea where she was now quickly turned the smile into a frown. He used to know her so well. When had that changed?
The sound of his cell phone ringing broke into his thoughts. He glanced at the caller ID. Seeing it was Doug, he answered with a quick "Hanson."
"Hey, man, just checking on you."
"I've been better." Tom replied.
"How's Tori taking it?" Doug asked.
"I wouldn't know. She got home about 3am, we had a fight, and she went to bed."
Doug could hear both frustration and worry in his partner's voice.
"Kids do stupid stuff like missing curfew all the time. Her timing just sucked is all." Doug tried to reassure Tom.
"Doug, it was so weird. She had no reaction. Said she already knew. Like she's been expecting it."
Doug hesitated then asked, "Was she drinking or stoned or anything?"
"She said no and I didn't smell alcohol on her. She's smoking though."
"The truth is, Doug, I haven't been around much. I don't know what's going on."
The guilt in Tom's voice was apparent. Having had a pretty rough time as a kid, Doug knew that there probably wasn't much he could have done. For whatever reason, Tori decided to leave him out of it. Kids are pretty good at hiding what they don't want known even if it's harmful to them. Until it blows up in their face, that is.
"Tom, we see this all the time. I don't know why she thought she couldn't come to you, but you know as well as I do if a kid doesn't want you to know something you ain't gonna know it."
"Maybe." Tom didn't sound too convinced. "She used to tell me everything. I haven't been gone that long. How did it all change so fast?"
"Dude, she's a teenager. By definition they suck."
Doug was unsuccessfully trying to cheer his best friend up. He hoped like hell it really was just typical teenage BS. He knew from experience how the death of a parent could send you reeling. Plus they had already lost their dad eight years before. Tori's situation was a terrible parallel to what he experienced as a kid.
"Do I go look for her or just wait til she gets back?"
"Just wait. I took off all the time at her age." This really was Doug's area of expertise. He knew she could only stay gone for so long. He did it all the time. He didn't tell Tom that it was sometimes days before he returned. He didn't know Tori well, but he had a feeling she wouldn't pull that. At least, not yet.
"Any time, partner. You need anything?"
"Nah. She'll turn up sooner or later and we can fight again. Yay."
Tom said goodbye and sat at the kitchen table to wait for Tori.
Tori wandered through the stacks at the library, smiling to herself about how not hardcore this was. She loved the library. She was there to work on a paper, but had really just been milling about killing time. One thing she learned quickly was that her mother, and Tommy for that matter, would pretty much leave her to her own devices if she got good grades. It was a terrible yardstick considering what she has been up to lately, but at least the college applications would look good. If she could avoid getting arrested. When half the police department knows you as little Tori Hanson, Tom Senior's daughter, and the other half as Tom Junior's baby sister, you got away with a lot. There was the occassional stern lecture and a couple of rides home, but no arrests. Yet.
Dead parents can really work to your advantage, Tori ruefully concluded to herself.
Tori wasn't sure yet how she felt about her mother's death. She was more furious than sad and that disturbed her. She was her mother, after all. The last two years, however, had been mostly filled with angry words and watching Margaret pass out drunk.
Should I have told Tommy? she wondered. Not that it matters now. Would he even believe me? It was as if they had two different mothers.
Tori selected a book, opened her backpack and got to work. She hoped she could escape into her English lit paper for just a little while. She needed to clear her head. She loved to read and was excited to see the required list for her favorite class. She neglected to tell the teacher she had already read nearly every novel on the list. They were good and she could use the easy A.
A glance at the clock on the wall told Tori she had been there nearly two hours. It was noon and surely her brother was up by now. She really didn't want to go home, but she had finished up what she could on her homework. Sighing, she put her things away and returned the book to the shelf. She headed towards the exit.
Tori blinked a few times, blinded by the bright sunshine. She wished she had brought her skateboard or had at least ridden her bike. When she gave up gymnastics a couple of years ago, she found she couldn't stand the inactivity. She promptly took up skating. It irritated her mother to no end and as such became her primary form of entertainment. She missed gymnastics, but at least when you fell at the skatepark there was no coach yelling at you. Her friends just laughed. Plus it was great transportation. With that she headed to the skatepark. She could at least hang out for a while.
Tom sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reading the paper online. Thank God for smartphones, he thought. He hated waiting and was debating whether or not to take a quick ride out to look for Tori when music suddenly blared from the kitchen counter.
I'm a hopeless romantic, you're just hopeless
He got up and saw the name Linc on the caller ID. He briefly considered answering it, but realized that whoever was calling probably wouldn't know where she was or they wouldn't have called in the first place. He also mentally kicked himself for not thinking to call her. He dialed her phone anyway. He was curious as to what ringtone he warranted. The phone began to play a saxophone solo he recognized from The Simpsons. Tom laughed. They used to watch that show together and it amused his sister immensely that Lisa Simpson and Tom both played sax.
Not five minutes later the phone was blaring again.
You love me for sex and cigarettes
The name on the screen said Shane and with lyrics like that, Tom quickly snatched it up and answered.
"Hello? Is Tori there?" the thankfully female voice asked.
"No. Who's this?' Tom asked.
"Shane. Who's this? This is Tori's phone isn't it?"
"It is. This is Tom, her brother." he said, relieved that Shane was indeed a girl.
"The cop?" Shane inquired.
"Yeah. Have you seen her today?"
"No. She was pretty freaked last night. Hey, sorry about your mom. That seriously sucks."
"Thanks." Tom said wondering how her friends knew already, "If you see her can you tell her to come home?"
"Yeah, no prob. Are you really a cop? Like with a gun and everything?"
Is this girl for real?
"Yes. Gun and everything." Tom answered.
"Huh." came the extremely witty response.
"Send her home, OK?"
"Sure. Sorry again. Later." Shane hung up without waiting for a response from Tom.
Tom got up and started cleaning the kitchen. If he had to wait, he might as well make himself useful.
Tori arrived at the skatepark, but a quick look around told her that none of her friends had surfaced yet. It was still pretty early for most of them. She opened the front pocket of her bag and dug around for her phone.
"Dammit." she said under her breath, an image of her phone next to the coffee maker in her head. That's what I get for being nice.
Not sure what to do next, Tori sat in the grassy area and watched a couple of kids she didn't know attempt some tricks. They were only about ten and one of them wasn't half bad.
After about half an hour, she was bored and kind of hungry. She had stuffed a $10 in her pocket and thought about going to Grinds to see if anyone was hanging out there. It was not quite one o'clock so it was pretty doubtful. She could head to Shane's, but she didn't feel like dealing with her parents. They asked too many questions and she hated feeling like a charity case. Her teachers would have a field day with her now that she was a proper orphan. There were three other kids in her school that had one dead parent, but she would be the real celebrity now. Tori definitely intended to use it to her advantage at some point.
"God, daytime sucks." she said to no one in particular. One of the skater kids gave her the finger and quickly retreated as she got up and headed in his direction.
"Yeah, you're super badass til your mommy gets here to pick you up!" she yelled at his back.
She didn't ordinarily pick on ten year olds, but he had pissed her off. Of course, lately everything pissed her off. She grabbed her bag, lit a cigarette, and started walking.
The cigarette curbed her hunger so she lit another. She had unconsciously started heading in the direction of home. It wasn't long before she was just a couple of houses down. She saw Tom's baby blue Mustang parked out front. She knew he would still be here, but the sight of his car caused her to hesitate. She frowned then wondered if she could get her bike out of the garage without him hearing. She could spend the afternoon at the BMX track. She remembered her phone on the countertop and silently cursed. She hated being without her phone. She lit a third cigarette, walked toward the house, and sat on the last step of the porch. She hoped he wasn't looking out the window.
Luck was with her as she took one last drag and flicked the cigarette at the Mustang. She smiled as it hit the door and bounced off. She really didn't know why she felt like being so mean to him. She heaved herself up and stood for another minute before opening the door.
This was going to suck.
Tom had heard her on the porch. He got up to go towards the door, but changed his mind considering how well that went last night. Tori entered the house and found him seated at the kitchen table.
"Hey." she said without much enthusiasm.
"Hey." Tom answered, uncertain how this was going to go.
"I need my phone."
"It's on the counter."
"Thanks." She grabbed the phone and quickly headed toward the stairs. Maybe she could just haul ass to her room and he'd get the hint and leave her alone. She didn't really think that would work and it didn't.
"Sit, Tor. We need to talk."
"Not so much in the mood right now." She tried not to sound too sarcastic, but she didn't have much else right now other than irritable.
Phone in hand, she now turned toward the front door. She had that $10 in her pocket. She could still grab her bike and head to the track. She had her hand on the knob when Tom's arm came over her shoulder holding the door closed. Damn! She slipped under his arm and stomped off toward the living room. She flopped in a chair and began messing with her phone. Tom stood in the arch between the foyer and living room watching her warily. He really didn't want to fight, but she wasn't making it easy. He knew conversation was out of the question. Silence and one word answers would be less than helpful. He had an idea.
"You wanna get out of here?" he asked.
She looked up from her phone. "Yes." She practically hissed at him.
"Then let's go."
She looked up at him with scorn, not sure how to respond. Finally she just shrugged and got up to follow him out the door.
How do they do that? Tom wondered, Go from hostile to sullen in the blink of an eye? Do they teach a special course in annoying teenage behavior?
She let Tom open the car door for her. She slumped in the passenger seat as he got in on the other side.
She rolled her eyes and clicked it in place. Tom started driving. Tori didn't know or much care where they were going. It was a good thing, too, because neither did Tom. He just drove, thankful that he had a full tank of gas.
After about twenty minutes, Tom spoke.
"You smell like smoke."
Tori glanced at him, briefly raised one eyebrow, then turned back to continue staring out the window. It was probably a dumb thing to say, but he wanted her to know he noticed. He knew there were worse things, but the fact was she was not of age and it was illegal.
Tom continued to drive. He turned up the stereo. It was loud, but not blaring. He didn't know if Tori would like his choice of music, but she didn't protest so he went with it. He could drive for hours with the radio cranked. He loved this car. It had been his dad's and it was left to him when his father was killed in the line of duty. He glanced at Tori. Tom had been the one to tell her about Dad, too. It was horrible. She was just seven. She had cried until she fell asleep in his arms. But she wasn't seven anymore. Now she acted as if she wanted nothing to do with him.
"You hungry?" Tom was starving.
A barely perceptible shrug was the only reply. Tom pulled into a drive through and ordered without asking her what she'd like. He doubted he'd get an answer anyway. He gave the bags to Tori and pulled out. He hated eating in the car, so he pulled into a little park up the road.
They got out and headed to a nearby picnic table. Tori climbed up and sat crosslegged on top. Tom shook his head and sat on the bench. He handed her a bag, and dug out his own food. He figured he may as well eat since she wasn't planning on talking any time soon. Tom shoveled it in like it was his last meal, while Tori picked listlessly at her fries.
"You gonna finish that?" Tom asked around a mouthful.
She pushed her barely eaten burger at him and hopped off the table. Tom kept an eye on her, but she didn't go far. At the playground, Tori pulled herself up on a bar like she had done a million times at the gym. She jumped down, got on a low balance beam and did a cartwheel. It was a lot harder to do in jeans and Converse she noted and she was definitely out of practice. She did a couple more. She really wanted a smoke. She climbed to the top of the monkey bars and walked across trying to decide how much it would piss Tom off if she lit up right here. And whether or not she even wanted to. She knew she was being impossible and felt just a little guilty. She jumped from her perch on the monkey bars, landing on her knees. She thought about just staying right there on the ground, but her brother already thought she was half nuts. She opted for a swing instead. Deep in her own thoughts, she didn't notice Tom had come over and taken the swing next to her. They sat there for some time before Tom asked if she was ready to go. She allowed him to put his arm over her shoulder as they walked back to the car. She was sick of fighting and really wished it could be like when she was younger when there wasn't anything her big brother couldn't fix.
They drove home in silence, but the thick tension from earlier in the day had eased. At one point, Tom gave Tori's hand a squeeze and she responded with a quick smile. Tom noted that the smile didn't actually make it all the way to her eyes. It was better than nothing, though.
They arrived home and Tori waited for Tom to come around and open the door. Her father had once told her to only date boys that would open a door for her. She didn't have many concrete memories of her father, but that one had stuck with her. Of course, Tommy had thrown in that she wasn't allowed to date until she was thirty five. At the time, she didn't care. She couldn't imagine loving anyone else more than her dad and big brother. Now one was gone and the other would probably hate her if he knew how all this was her fault.
Tom offered her arm. "Madame Victoria." he said addressing her with royal formality.
"Sir Thomas," Tori grinned as he helped her out of the car.
It was a game they had played when she was little. Prince and princess. He really was a good brother. He didn't deserve the crap she'd given him the last two days.
"Tommy?" she said quietly as he opened the front door.
He turned toward her. Before he could reply she grabbed him in a tight hug. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head.
"It's going to be ok, Tori."
She nodded into his chest wanting to believe him. They stood like that for several minutes. They were all the family they had left. They had to hold onto each other.