I had been out longer than I wanted. Than I promised. The city clock tower mocked me with the fact. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven! Eight! It was dark and cold.
I tried to rush home as if it would give me back those two hours. Give those two hours back to my little sister who’s spent them alone.
I walked faster with every shiver, risking making every slick spot into another delay, but it was worth it to see the candle flame twirling in the window of the small cabin that had become our home far from town and the people we once knew.
All that warmth was ripped away when I saw the door opened.
I was tired but found the strength to rev up for another fight. I burst open the door with a fiery vengeance. The main room was clear from the trashy pillows my sister imagines as luxury furniture, to the twig table she made, to the cast-iron stove that was older than the two of us combined times a lot.
A door creaked. It was the backroom. We never used it because of that sound. No one could know we were here.
I inched toward the four but not before long, I was being dragged through the door.
It rattled me around like a boat caught in a winter storm on the black seas. For no reason, the fingers released from my collar, plummeting me to the floor with a cloud of what I hoped was dirt.
My arms flailed out like during our old ice skating trips but this time there was no cloud of laughter. All there was was a thud of my back hitting the floor and my elbow bashing into a spider-like cross-section. "Odette!" I said, knowing it could only be her little chest I was crashing into.
Before I could get to her, the hands picked me up. This time I wasn't giving him any satisfaction in my pain and promptly kicked his gentlemens. It wasn't quite manly but neither was attacking a little girl to get to your enemy.
I already faced off against five of his kind: those who preach love your neighbor but let their faith fall to the wayside when their neighbor is different from them. One coward by himself shouldn't be too much of a struggle, even with my go at sewing up my side. He was on the ground and not getting back up before I noticed all my medical work was for nothing. I collapsed to my knees in a fog as thick as a hike in the mountains, but all that rambled through my head was 'is Odette alright.'
I cradled her in my arms. Closer and closer as she didn't respond. A growing patch of my blood on her white nightgown.
The door creaked. My eyes shot over but saw no one. Then they saw nothing in tandem with a head-crushing blow from a coward.
As a few strands of dawn light shimmied through the dark drapes, my eyes bubbled open. I was in a ball of warmth but everything on the inside was in swirly shambles. The more I pushed my way up, the more my insides wanted to do the same. I wished my head would have done that as it swayed, swiveling my sight around.
Three thoughts bombarded my mind as the clouds there were blown away with the darkness. I wasn’t in my bed. Not in my nightclothes. Not with my sister.
I scrambled to my feet and fell immediately. That could describe the whole process of my walk in these baggy clothes to the door where heavy leaning on the frame and slick fabric wrapped around my feet couldn't hold off gravity forever but long enough to see him.
He was seated at a small round table, reading a hefty book. When his eyes looked up at a page turn, he leaned back and rolled down his sleeves to hide some scratches. With a smile, he crooned, "Good Morning."
I didn't know what to feel, happy or scared to see the corners of his smile frame two protruding dragged-like teeth. Teeth like my own. That I’ve only seen them once before on my sister.
The mirror against the wall did the same. I hadn't look at one in years. Didn't even have one in our new home. What was the point? I guess he did since he had the same problem: no reflection in the holiest of elements.
My deciding time was cut short when my knees turned to Fasole batută. I must’ve fainted because one moment I’m falling with the thunderous thump on the table and the next my head and knees were resting in his arms.
He bumped the door the rest of the way open. He carried me as if I were a feather even when I struggled against him.
“Where - where’s my…” I mumbled.
“She’s in the next room, resting.” He set me back in the bed like falling snow as he partially disappeared in the dark. “As you should be.”
I gave out a snicker as any teenager would when they’re told what’s best for them.
“Do you mind if I check your side?”
I pick at the shirt. “Why should I stop you now.”
“I’m sorry. You and your sister were a mess when I found you,” he said, lifting my shirt slowly probably waiting to see if would change my answer. He, in like matter, gingerly removed the bandage revealing an ensemble of neatly sewn columns. “Now tell me was it you that butchered this.”
“I’m not a doctor.”
“Nor a long-term planner,” he mumbled.
I guess he wasn’t used to our kind either: I could hear his statement as clear as if he stated it to my face. “My only plan is to protect my baby sister.”
“Who would have protected her if you bleed to death feet two feet away from a man who was merely unconscious and thought the only reason God put him on this world was to kill you and her.”
“Like you care,” I said to the men who save my life, my sister’s, and had been so gentle and patient.
In a fluid motion, he swung low, opening the side table drawer. “Besides who I am, I have a very big reason to care what happens to the two of you.”
He presented a photograph that took everything that I knew and threw it off-kilter. It was a photo of my family after my sister was born but beside my mother and father were two men I’ve never seen before: one sitting right in front of me.
“Your mother was my sister.” He looked down at his skin. “Your grandfather wasn’t the fidelitous type but she never cared. I was her brother no matter what.”
What could anyone say to that? They were the two most perfect people and now they’re dead for no reason. They died protecting Odette and me and now probably for him too. What could anyone say to that?
As I would come to know and know a lot, he knew what to say.
He brought up the blanket and tucked me in like an infant. “You avenged them. You killed every last one of them that took your parents from us and you protected your sister through all of it. Why don’t you let me do a little protecting of my own?”