When I pushed open the peeling door and stepped onto the dirty tiles of our family store, I was immediately encompassed by the smell of mildew and rotting wood. My high heels clicked on the floor as I walked past the empty clothes racks to the small counter in the back. I was glad I left my purse in the car. I wouldn’t have wanted it to touch any surface in this building.
This wouldn’t sell. It had become so neglected that nobody in their right mind would want to buy it. I turned around slowly, surveying the cracked, moldy paint on the walls and mud on the floor. I heard little mouse footsteps underneath the uneven floorboards, pattering softly. I drove home later, rain splattering on the window in fat, heavy drops, feeling hopeless.
When I approached Mom and Dad about my decaying plan to sell the thrift shop, they weren’t surprised.
“I doubt anyone will even want it, though, so I’m not completely sure that this will even work,” I said. I bit my lip, a leftover habit from my tween years, and looked questioningly at my parents. They exchanged uncomfortable glances. They had a way of communicating without speaking, which had frustrated me ever since I was a little girl. My dad stuffed his hands sheepishly in his faded jean pockets and looked to the side.
“Well, uh, Rianne...” My mom shifted positions on our old, worn-out leather couch so that she was hugging her knees to her chest. “Felix has always been the one that wanted to start a business. We were thinking of giving him ownership of the building ever since you moved out.”
My mom shifted slightly again. I noticed, for the first time, the few streaks of grey laced throughout my mom’s coarse hair. My dad looked fixedly at the cream-colored carpet, twirling his thick mustache with his fingers.
“We thought you knew.” Her voice was pained, tight. “We thought you knew that we gave ownership of the building to Felix as soon as he turned eighteen.”
“I thought you guys still had it.”
“We just assumed...you always acted like receiving it would be a burden.”
Even I didn’t understand why I was mad. I hadn’t wanted the building. But Felix, my little brother, was irresponsible, messy, forgetful. I didn’t understand why they had thought it was better to give it to him than to me.
I didn’t understand how I hadn’t known about it.
“The store is still shut down! He hasn’t even done anything with it!” My voice echoed around the room, sounding involuntarily shrill. “I could make money off of it!”
My dad spoke up for the first time since we sat down to talk. “Rianne, he’s working really hard. It’s only been six months, and he’s a freshman in college!”
I could only purse my lips and leave.
It was three am. The rain drummed against my bedroom window, drowned out by the sound of my heater turned on full blast. I clutched my comforter tighter around me. I had stayed up late working again, another harmful tendency of mine. I could still taste some icy, metallic traces of the blood in my mouth from biting my lip so hard at my parents' house.
A few minutes later, I was sitting up in bed, goosebumps up and down my bare arms. The phone was smooth, cold in my hands. He answered quickly.
“Rianne? What’s going on? Is there an emergency?”
“No, Felix, I just...have something to ask you.”
“Rianne, it’s three o’clock.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, it’s important.”
Felix sighed dramatically. “You know I have classes tomorrow? And don’t you have work?”
I ignored him. “What are you going to do with that building?”
“Grandpa’s thrift shop. The one that was closed down.”
“Oh, uh, well, I was thinking of opening my own bakery.”
“A bakery?” I snort. “You suck at baking! Remember my birthday?” The last time Felix had baked was for my seventeenth birthday, when he had tried to make a pineapple upside-down cake. My mom was forced to run out to the grocery store to buy one of the premade ones they always have.
“Can’t you leave me alone about that cake?” Felix snapped and blew heavily through his mouth. “My friend, Chirag, he’s doing the baking. I’m on the business side.”
A few moments of silence passed between us. I could feel the ends of my short hair tickling my neck. I said what I had wanted to say this entire time. The real thing that had been bothering me.
“Why didn’t you tell me you wanted to do this? Why didn’t you tell me you got the building?”
“I-” Felix sighed. “I don’t know. It didn’t really cross my mind. I guess I was used to you knowing everything about my life as soon as it happened.”
It had been six years since I moved out.
“I want to help you.” This was his dream. When we were little, we would play a game where he would pretend to be a shopowner and I would be the customer. He had wanted this his whole life. Who was I to stop him?
“Really?” Felix yawned loudly.
“Yeah. I’m a lawyer, after all. You might need my help. Call me if you need me to do anything, okay?”
Felix yawned again. “Aren’t you really busy?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
Felix couldn’t hire anyone to do the cleaning. Nobody wanted to. That’s why I was there, kneeling on the floor of the building, dressed in one of my Dad’s t-shirts and my least favorite pair of jeans. The buttons scratched my waist uncomfortably. It was quiet, save for the occasional thud coming from the walls. I scrubbed ferociously at the place where the wall and the hardwood floors met with a sickly-yellow sponge.
Felix was next to me. We talked as we cleaned. It distracted me from the feeling of the wet floor soaking through my jeans and gloves. It was nice, talking to him.
We decided we would come back the next weekend. We hired carpenters to fix the walls. We bought tables and chairs. We registered for a permit. We painted the walls, installed new floors. We bought display cases and bakery equipment. We put up a new wall. I paid for everything. I had the money, and I knew Felix would pay me back. I saw the way he organized, made plans, got to things on time. He was responsible enough.
Finally, we were choosing the name for the bakery.
“So for the name, Chirag’s might be good,” I offered. “He’s the main baker after all.” Felix, Chirag, and I were sitting in Felix’s dorm room. I was sitting on the bed, Chirag on top of the small desk, and Felix in a swivel chair. Chirag’s become almost like a second little brother, we’ve worked together so often.
“Chirag and I already decided on the name, actually,” Felix said. Chirag swung his legs and jumped off of the desk, landing on the floor with a thud.
“Oh.” I scrunched my face and tried not to appear hurt. “What is it, then?”
Felix smiled mischievously, the smile he would always use after stealing my gummy bears or winning a pillow fight. “Rianne’s.”