My phone buzzed, jolting me out of a fitful sleep. As usual in the dead of night, I was entangled in my sheets, there were police sirens a few blocks over, and my nephew was crying. Don’t tell me she can’t hear that! The miserable thought was directed at my sister, who definitely should have quieted him by now. We both had to be at work early, and little Scott knew exactly the pitch that ensured no sane person would sleep through his wails.
The phone buzzed again, reminding me that my nephew wasn’t the only one to blame for my insomnia. I lunged out from my bed, arm flailing in the general direction of the glowing torturer. A glance at the caller id and I was completely awake.
“You need to go into the living room. Nicky needs you.”
My mother was nine hours away. How could she possibly know that my sister needed me in the living room before I did? I mumbled something incoherent, trying to solve the riddle.
“She’s having another panic attack, and she called me. She couldn’t talk loud enough to wake you up.”
My left foot was finally free of the sheets. I sat up, pushing the clumped bedding aside. “Okay, I’m going.”
“Crying.” Mom didn’t deserve the snippy tone, but it was 3:30, according to my phone, and she was handy.
“Take care of him first, then.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
I snapped the phone shut and stumbled across the room to the door, praying Scott would be mollified with his binky. If I could get him calm and Nicky back in bed within half an hour, I still had a good chance of five hours of sleep for the night. The resentment seared through my chest, although I tried to quell it. It just wasn’t fair that my first few months of college-graduated freedom had to be spent taking care of yet another of my sister’s mistakes. I was supposed to be figuring out my own life now that school was over.
Scott had settled into a hiccoughing whimper by the time I made it to his crib. I located his binky –wedged between the crib and the wall – and did a quick swaddle job with his blanket. That, paired with turning his ocean CD back on, seemed to calm him down. That’s right, kid, go back to sleep so your Aunt Rachel can, too.
Nicky was prostrate on the couch, her breathing ragged. Her attacks were usually triggered by dreams of her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s abuse, and came complete with nausea and migraine. This looked like a bad case. I went straight for the frig. A mug of warm milk – not too hot – generally soothed the nausea and got her coherent again.
It was hard, watching my big sister like this. She’d always been the wild one – ready to take on any challenge or adventure. That was why she and I were stuck here. She’d fallen in love with a man who ended up being her worst nightmare come true, and by general consensus of the rest of my family, my graduation provided the perfect opportunity for me to help her get back on her feet. I hadn’t had much say in the matter, a point which seemed childish when watching her try to make a new life from the rubble.
I worked in silence, steadying the mug for her, massaging her back to ease the pain-induced tension, handing her the phone to call Mom to say she was better and thanks for the prayers. I had just rinsed out the mug and was fighting off an extreme wave of sleepiness when we both heard a whimper from the bedroom.
Nicky staggered to her feet, her voice thick. “I’ll get him.”
I had to admit, having Scott had matured her. “No, I’ll go.”
Her look of utter gratitude was piercing. I headed to the bedroom, only to be stopped mid-stride.
“He’ll need a bottle.”
Minutes later I was rocking Scott as he attacked his bottle, humming deep in my chest as Nicky drifted to sleep in her bed beside me. I looked down at my nephew, suddenly struck by how small he was, and how small I felt trying to help this mess. We were all just starting our lives in one way or another; three people in desperate need of help and guidance.
Dear Lord have mercy, who’s the real baby in this house?
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