“Stacy wake up. My stomach hurts.”
I opened my eyes and saw my eleven year old brother flinging two strips of bacon.
“You ate too much. Leave me alone.”
His push continued. I gave an exaggerated sigh and sat up.
“We have to do this Stevie. We have to go back.”
I climbed out of bed and stole a look. He brushed a tear and ran his salty wet fingers through his mass of blond hair. I knew the unspoken role I had as the oldest. My insides steamed at the thought of consoling Stevie when we had to say goodbye to dad for another year. The train whistle could never be loud enough to muffle his wails.
“Hey sleepyhead, ready for breakfast? I have a banana nut muffin with your name on it.”
Our step mom, Jen, or as dad called her, camp counselor of fun, poked her head inside my room. Her entrance in dad’s life coincided with mom’s announcement she was packing us up and taking us half way across the country to be closer to our grandparents. Dad was devastated. Mom made it clear when Stevie cried for one hundred straight miles that it was her legal right.
“Hey you remembered my muffin craving. Thanks.”
I walked out with her to the kitchen. We shared a look of knowing. She faced the task of consoling dad as I would in distracting Stevie. I had over five years of divorce under my belt but I couldn’t lie to Jen. Divorce was an open wound where just when a bandage started to apply and stick, it would rip off without mercy.
“Hey sweetheart, buddy, the station is about an hour away. We best get your luggage in the car.”
Dad’s eyes were red, a baseball cap pulled down low. Stevie looked to the ground and bit his lip.
“The train is always late. We don’t have to hurry.”
I was selfish in this declaration. Extra time meant more anticipation for Stevie. Extra minutes to ponder months without playing catch, no stopping dad from silly songs at the store, instead watching our step dad pour dollars and time into our new baby sister while our dad savored our phone calls. I didn’t have such a constant need for dad, but my heart ached for Stevie. I had friends and I couldn’t wait to return to them and find out if Kevin talked about me while I was away. Boy talk helped me pass time. Stevie though, I hoped that train would be on time.
“We can always get a latte or something at the shop if we’re early. Your dad is right; we might as well hit the road.”
Jen offered a smile and squeezed Stevie’s shoulder. This was the part of the trip where he fell silent. No sweet treat would revive his spirit.
Each mile closer to the train station brought thicker emotions. Stevie’s tears wet his knees. Dad drummed the steering wheel. Jen fiddled with the radio stations. I kept checking my cell to see if I had signal. Even if the cell tower couldn’t bring reception, my mind beat me home with memories of sweet Kevin and his smile, hopefully waiting for me.
We parked at the station with Stevie in full sobs. Dad kept giving him affirmations and hugs, but dad’s throat bobbed up and down in beat with my little brother’s tears. Jen’s mouth was moving even though I didn’t hear words. I assumed she was praying.
The call to board startled us even though the countdown commenced as soon as we greeted dad and Jen three weeks ago. I noticed my own cheeks were wet. What God would do this to my brother? Dad was nearly carrying Stevie the hysterics were so intense. Jen tried to keep a smile but I saw her glassy eyes betray her.
“This is it kiddo, for now.”
Jen gave me a tight hug.
“Sweetie, take care of your brother. I need you to do that. Please.”
“I will daddy, I promise.”
The conductor took our tickets and nodded to dad and Jen. I put my arm around Stevie as we took our seats. It took until Cleveland before the tears slowed.
It was also Cleveland when my cell chirped. Kevin sent a text.
“Miss you. Need you.”
I forgot the past and my desires leapt to the future. With support like Kevin’s I conquered the divorce with ease. So much better than Stevie.
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