Puddles & Grilled Cheese

Submitted into Contest #9 in response to: Write a story that focuses on the relationship between siblings.... view prompt

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I tried to block out the plinking noise of the bathtub faucet dripping. It was raining, but not enough to drown out the sound of water on porcelain. I had to get a good grade on this assignment. Mom told me if I didn't pass this class I might have to repeat fifth grade.

Tori followed me when I got up to close the bathroom door.

"I'm hungry," she said.

"Mom will be home in a couple of hours to make dinner. Do you want a snack?"

She nodded and tightened her grip on the stained blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she followed me into the kitchen. At four, she was too old to still be carrying the raggedy thing all the time, but at least she left it at home more often.

Tori’s eyes followed me while I checked the cabinets and fridge. I knew we didn't have much left. I used my body to block her view. Mom was making the mac and cheese for dinner. One lonely can of green beans was on the second shelf of the cabinet. It was always the last vegetable left before we went to the food bank. The freezer proved a little more useful with an open package of fish sticks.

"You want fish sticks? I can warm them up for you."

She shook her head. "Grilled cheese," she said.

"We don't have any bread left. We'll get more from Pastor Ed tomorrow. We still have ketchup packets to go with the fish sticks."

She shook her head.

"Common on, they're not that bad."​​​​​​​

"I want a grilled cheese!"

"We don't have bread. Am I supposed to make some magically appear? It's fish sticks or a can of green beans."

She didn't answer, except to turn around and march away into her room.

"Well, you let me know if you change your mind."

I walked into the living room and sat back down on the futon to finish my homework.

A few moments later, I heard a clicking noise coming from around the corner. It sounded like when Mom started the stove for dinner. My stomach dropped.

Jumping up, I ran into the kitchen to find Tori on the footstool, turning the knob for the front burner to high. In two moves, I knocked her off the stool and turned off the burner. She landed on her butt with her blanket sprawled behind her. Her face screwed up, and she started to cry.

"WHAT were you thinking?"

"I want a grilled cheese!"

"I told you, we don't have any bread left. You can't make a grilled cheese without bread. What part of that do you not understand?"

Tears ran down her red-splotched cheeks. Towering over her, I continued my tirade.

"You could have burned yourself! You could have started a fire! You could have burned down the house! Do you know what kind of trouble I would be in? How am I supposed to get my homework done and watch you when you're off throwing tantrums and starting fires?

"I'm sorry fish sticks and green beans aren't good enough for your highness, but that's what we have. You think I like those things? No. You think I want to eat them all the time? No. But guess what? We don't get a choice. Time to suck it up and stop being a baby."

She looked at me, her eyes round with shock and fear. I had never yelled at her like that; like Mom.

"Just go to your room."

She closed the door behind her this time.

My legs shook and crumpled from under me. My hands failed to grasp the counter as I fell and my back hit a cabinet door. Shaking, my breath came in short, ragged gasps. I curled up, elbows resting on my knees, fingers locked behind my head to steady my hands.

She was scared of me. I felt her wide-eyed look of fear being seared into my brain. What had I done? I knew that look. It had appeared on my face when I was younger, before I learned to hide it.

The sound of rain had stopped. The house was quiet, except for the muted sobs coming from behind Tori's door. She deserved better. She wasn't even old enough to understand.

I forced myself up. If Tori wasn't better before Mom got home, it would be worse for both of us. I remembered the treat my friend, Julia, had given me at school earlier that day of two fun-size candy bars. I had planned on saving them for the weekend; maybe as a prize for when I let Tori win connect four. The kid was getting good. Now might be a better time to share the treat.

I dug them out of my backpack and tiptoed to her room. I tapped on the door before going in. She was face down in her pillow with her blanket wrapped around her shoulders. Kneeling next to the bed, I rustled the wrappers of the bars in my hand. She lit up when she spotted the chocolate.

"A special treat, just for the two of us."

She grabbed the bar before I could finish removing the wrapper.

"I'm sorry at yelled at you. You just can't use the stove anymore, okay? It's not safe."

Nibbling at the chocolate, she nodded.

"We should be getting more bread tomorrow. How about I ask Mom if we can have some grilled cheese for dinner tomorrow?"

"Okay."

"Do you forgive me?"

She said nothing, but tugged at my sleeve and patted the spot on the bed beside her. I settled cross-legged on the bed against the wall, opening my arms wide. She crawled onto my lap, laying her head against my chest. Perfect fit.

"I won't yell at you anymore. I promise."

I kissed the top of her head and held her tight.

"Now, I think it stopped raining. Do you want to go puddle jumping?"

She sat straight up. "Yes, yes, yes."

"Okay then, grab your sweater. I'll get our boots from the closet."

A few minutes later, our cheap rubber boots were on. Towels were ready and waiting by the door. The hollow, empty place in my abdomen threatened to break my facade.

I took her hand in mine. We jumped from puddle to puddle, competing to see who could make the biggest splash. Tori's squeaking laughter filled the yard, loud enough to stifle the growling of my stomach.

October 05, 2019 03:33

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