The house was brightly decorated, but Mum said I was dressed for a funeral. It was just a welcome home party, but I couldn’t make her understand that I had nothing to wear.
“Wear something brighter-something red, now hurry!” Mum hustled me up the stairs.
I squeezed into a red, glittery thing. It was too short and too bright, making my combat boots stand out more. The boots would have to do. My feet were too big to fit into anything else.
Mum, would you take me shopping someday? Maybe when you take Kayla and the others? I pushed the thought away as I wrestled my hair into a ponytail. I couldn’t see why everyone was making such a fuss.
It was only a little family thing for Ken. Uncle Lenny had gone to the airport to pick him up, along with a few friends. Something pulled into the driveway as I frowned at my reflection.
I guess when you’re a hotshot computer programmer; you have lots of friends with red sports cars and Ralph Lauren polo shirts. That’s what’s coming behind Uncle Lenny’s Subaru.
Somehow, I still see Ken as the curly-headed statue that took time to drive me to therapy and back. He never really said much, but we got along all right. I’ve missed him so much these past months. I almost wished his job hadn’t taken him so far away.
“Cleo!” Mum’s frustrated face is the exact opposite of her exquisite French hairstyle. “They’re here, stop changing outfits and get down here!”
I reached the living room as noise spilled through the front door. Laughter and squeals of delight came from my younger siblings as they pounced on shiny packages.
He’s your brother! I wanted to scream. You’re supposed to be happy to see him, not piles of presents!
But I couldn’t get near him.
Between his friends and the younger ones, I was always on the edge of the boisterous crowd. It must’ve been fun, but-I can’t say for certain, because I was never asked to join.
Introductions blurred between fruit punch and Playstation games. Mum kept me in the kitchen to help fill the snack trays.
I didn’t complain. Ken has a big appetite.
Mum finally let me sit in the corner to watch the board game competitions. Ken won nearly all of them. I celebrated each win with a bite of caramel brownie, washed down with more fruit punch.
He’s the best, you know. I wanted to tell them. He trounced me every time we played chess, checkers and dominoes. He was that good.
Midnight came quicker than I wanted. Mum told me to go to bed.
I didn’t want to, I wasn’t tired. I waited all day for Ken.
But Mum made such a fuss that Father ordered me upstairs.
I went ... to cry in the safe darkness of my bedroom.
Waves of laughter floated up the stairs, in tandem with the changing numbers of my bedside clock. Time ticked torturously away as I curled up on my desk chair, to watch it fly away.
A soft knock on the door forced my brain to reboot.
Ken stuck his head through the door. “Cleo? Where’s your nightlight?” He stepped into the room and reached for my fairy nightlight. He plugged it in near my desk and waited.
I came to enough of my senses to smile.
“I’m sorry they made you leave, they just don’t understand you, that’s all.”
I rolled my eyes.
Ken laughed. “Okay, they understand you, but sometimes they forget that you can hear them because you can’t answer back.” He dangled a silver horseshoe necklace in front of me. “Happy sweet sixteenth, I’m sorry I missed it. What kind of cake did you have?”
My hands began to move in the shapes and forms for my method of communication.
“Whoa! Hold up there, sis.” Ken whipped out a pad and pencil. “I’m a little rusty on the sign language.”
I gave him a look, but began writing. He stood over my shoulder as I wrote, chuckling occasionally as I let him in on every event of my life since he’d left.
I finished with a verse, my welcome gift to him.
Your name means ‘born of fire’
But you’re more than that to me.
Ken, you’re a jewel of a brother,
May all your dreams come true.
“You’re a gem of a sister, Cleo.” Ken cracked a lopsided grin. “I’m glad to be back.”
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