My older sister’s delicate fingers point to the ground.
“I don’t see anything.”
She points at the snow. I look closer. “I still don’t see it.” I say, crossing my arms.
“Look! Don’t you see? The little sprout of green breaking the snow?” Finally, I see it. There, a small blade of grass, lodged between the bright white snow.
“This?” It’s a bit, well, underwhelming. How could a tiny sprig of grass be the start of spring?
“Yes,” she says confidently. I can tell I have a bewildered look on my face, because she smiles and pulls me with her. “Come on. We’re going to the bakery.”
We pass through the small streets at lightning speed. We know the way by pure memory. The town has still not recovered from the storm of Christmas. Trees still stand in windows, wreaths still hang on doors. It’s not surprising. Even though it's the middle of February, the town is always slow to take down Christmas decor.
There’s a small ring when we enter. It’s quiet and dainty, like the bakery itself. Little tables with giant rose colored umbrellas stand guard outside, while small barstools and even tinier tables remain inside. The whole place is like a storybook, small and quaint.
I order a small coffee, and we move to sit at a counter in the corner. I don’t want to darken our happy mood, but I need to ask her. I have to.
She turns her head, her hair whirling through the air and landing perfectly on her shoulders.
“When’s Mom coming home?”
She’s silent for a moment.
“I don’t know.”
We sit there, like this, for what seems like hours. Finally, I work up the courage to ask one more painful question. I take a deep, heavy breath. “Did she want to leave?”
Caty sighs, a deep, tired sigh, as if all she wished were to give a straight answer, to read one off like a teacher reading off a test answer.
“I wish I could tell you.”
She slams the door, shaking the whole house.
“Caty! Get me a Diet Coke, will you?”
I reluctantly move to the small mini fridge in the corner of our tiny fixer-upper. I wouldn’t even call it that—the place is beyond repair, and Mom has never shown any interest in fixing it.
“You can’t fix the unfixable.” That’s her motto. She said it when our old house burnt down, she said it when our janky truck stopped working (as it should have long ago), and now, she says it as an excuse to stop trying.
Lately, Mom has been a bit—off. She’s so tired, and Dad left a week ago, after the fighting. I’m worried about her. Now, she flops onto the couch, and I toss her a soda can. She pops it open and pours it into her mouth.
“Caty,” she starts. “I just can’t do it anymore. We’re barely living. Like real living. We have to go places. We have to do something with our life, you dig?”
“Yeah,” I respond. “I would like to go places.”
“Caty, we can go places! We can travel the world! We can do what we want.”
I frown. “You want to leave?”
“Yes! I want to leave! Caty, something you’re gonna learn one day is that life has its ups and downs. Right now, we’re at rock bottom. I’m tired of it! I’m tired of it all!” I can hear her voice breaking. “We aren’t just gonna magically move up in the world. We gotta move ourselves up.” She pulls on my arm, but I yank back.
“We’ll leave! One day! But we can’t right now!” Tears are fighting to come out. I can't let them. I have to show Mom I’m strong.
“You don’t have a choice! You’re coming! We aren’t gonna sit around any longer, waiting for good things to happen! We have to make them happen!”
“I’m not leaving! What about Allie?”
Finally, Mom gives in. However, it’s not in the way I expect.
“Fine. But I’m calling Granny. She’ll help.”
Mom dials; I hear small bits of her conversation with Granny. Mom taps her foot impatiently, like she’s waiting for something. She’s like a lion, waiting to pounce, waiting to move.
A car pulls into our gravel driveway. Granny’s here. Mom begins packing things into a purse. When I ask where she’s going, she simply says, “Oh, I’m heading to the store.”
When she’s almost out the door, she adds, “Listen. I need you to know this. You have to know this. I love you so much. I love Allie so much; I just can’t do this. I need a break. So I might be gone for a little while, alright? But I’ll be back. I'll be back.”
I see shiny tears in her eyes. And then, I realize. I know what’s happening. But she’s stumbling out the door, and she’s already pulling out of the driveway in our rental car. I wish I could have realized sooner. But now it's too late.
I’m silent. Finally, my sister speaks.
“She did. She wanted to leave so bad. But she didn’t want to leave us. She wanted us to come. But I couldn’t. I knew that I needed to take care of you.” She sighs. “I wish—I wish I could have realized. Before she was gone. I wish I could have told her how much I loved her. I wish I could have stopped her from leaving. We were so different, her and I. And I was so young back then. I miss her so much.” She seems to think she’s said too much, because she turns away, staring out the window longingly.
I’m still quiet as a mouse. I look at my sister. My beautiful sister, who would sacrifice anything for me. She’s quiet, deep in thought. She looks me straight in the eye.
“Hey? Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Just—thinking.”
“You’re always thinking,” she says, cracking a small smile and bumping my shoulder playfully. I smile a bit. “You know, we’re gonna be fine. Because we have each other.” She squeezes me tightly, and my smile brightens. I tap my older sister lightly on the shoulder.
“I’ll race you to the corner!” I shout, a wide smile spreading across my face. I hop off my chair and race out of the bakery.