By: Aria Cage


A small squeal escapes me as my father’s voice carries across the air. He won’t call for Nate because, like me, he knows Nate will follow me anywhere.

MY BONES ACHE LIKE crazy, almost as though they are ready to explode as I sit in my car, staring at the house. Not Nona’s, mine. Yeah, it’s mine. It was always mine; Daddy never owned it. My mother left it to me when she died, and Daddy took care of it. When I turned twenty-one, I signed the paperwork and never looked back again. I don’t want it.

Never will.

Then why haven’t I sold it?

I stare at the darkness of what was once my happy home. Actually, that was a ruse. I was only happy because I didn’t know any better. I try to see past the remnants of the garage; the only sign there was a garage there at all is the cracked slab of concrete that represents my lost youth.

I got a call years ago; the fire brigade had saved the house, but not the garage. They were truly sorry, they said. I was anything but. I wish I could have lit the match myself. But that would never burn away the pain or the dirt that was forever a part of my soul.

The light to the right flicks on and I see Nona on the porch. Taking a huge breath, I step from my car and walk the thin concrete path framed by gold flowers and stop at the steps. I had sat at these steps more times than I can count. I had cried and laughed, played jacks, and learned how to cheat at rock-paper-scissors.

“C’mon, baby girl. Get your butt up here so I can give you a proper Nona hug.” Her voice has aged, and as I climb these stairs and look at her under the yellowing porch light, I can see she has aged a lot too. I don’t know if it is the fact I am so close to home, or because the nostalgia of this house, and Nona, but I’m beginning to lose it. Maybe it’s Nate getting hurt, or the idea of Nona being at an age where she had not many years ahead of her. Nevertheless, my shoulders start to shake. It starts with just my shoulders, then my chest, and then it takes over everything as she swoops me into her tiny frame and hushes me like I am a child again.

That house next door where I lived my years wasn’t really my home, this was ― this house, these arms, their love, that’s where home is.

Nona ushers me inside to the kitchen. I swipe my face Davey sets the table with iced tea and a plate of meat and vegetables.

“Charlie,” Davey calls, and his smile is so damn big I can’t help but smile back. I’ve missed him so much over the years.

“Davey.” I hug him tight, and he picks me up and swings me round like he always did. Davey has Down syndrome. I don’t know to what extent this stops him from living his daily life, but I guess it’s enough that Nona still watches over him. There weren’t many days I didn’t think about him or this family; they were my family, too. I defended Davey to the point of expulsion many a time, until one day he took my hand and told me if he didn’t care what they said, I shouldn’t either. They are probably the wisest words I have ever been given.

“Where have you been all this time, Charlie?” He put me back on the ground and held me out with stiff arms. I have betrayed him in so many ways. I have betrayed them all, and that guilt will fester in me for all of my days.

A hollow bang sounds behind me. “Let her be, David.” The three of us gasp and swing around to the one voice we never thought we would hear.

“What the hell, Nate?! You should be in the hospital. How did you get out?” He’s in hospital scrubs and not a gown, which surprises me further; we don’t usually give them out. I rush to his side and help him to a seat at the table which a flustered Nona is pulling out for him, cussing up a wind storm.

“I didn’t know where my personal stuff was kept,” Nate says, grunting as he sits gingerly. “Could you pay for the cab out there? I told him to wait.”

“Sure,” I say before Nona pats my back and says she will pay.

“You know what?” I say. Frankly, he has pissed me off. He should be taking better care of himself. “I think we need to get you to bed or at least the sofa if you won’t go back to the hospital.”

“Jesus, woman, could you have not said that before you had me sit at the table, which, by the way, makes me hungry.”

“Well if you stayed in the hospital where you should have, you may have had food by now. You would be resting like you are supposed to, under doctor’s supervision with all the medical facilities you may need.”

Davey is bouncing; he’s in a panic and we both see it as Nate hooks his arm on my shoulder again.

“Hey, Davey,” I say softly, “Wanna give me a hand? Your brother’s fatter than he thinks.”

Davey laughs tightly, but clearly begins to calm as he comes around the old table and hooks his solid shoulder under Nate’s other arm. He laughs freely this time, and my chest feels so much lighter.

“Nate’s fat,” Davey bursts out before chuckling all the way to the sofa.

I can’t help but chuckle along as Nate rolls his eyes and tries to keep himself from succumbing to his brother’s humor. I assume his shoulder hurts like a bitch; his head, too. He probably needs another dose of morphine, and maybe even antibiotics. A part of me wants to say, it serves you right. Yet, the other part of me wants to smother him in my love and care. I think I will go with something in between, something I’m used to and can manage without destroying the carefully constructed walls.

“Did you at least get your drugs before you left?” I ask, as he grinds his teeth against the pain of sitting again. He doesn’t answer right away as I lift his legs slowly to the sofa. It’s the same sofa as I remember. Many fond memories have been made on this beige, velvet piece of furnishing. “Davey, can you get Dumbass a blanket and his pillow?”

Davey gasps and grins. “You cussed. Nona will wash your mouth out with soap.” He claps and heads out of the room. I can hear his footsteps on the stairs and know it’s safe to say what needs to be said.

“Nathan Shaw, you stupid son of a bitch. You could have done some serious damage.” I lift his shirt and inspect his dressing. There is a small amount of blood, but that’s normal. “You are very lucky not to have ruptured the suture. What if you bled out in that cab? What if you ripped the inside sutures? What if you made it here and died on Nona’s porch? You had a head injury. What if you got a clot or something?”

“But I didn’t,” he says defensively, as though I was being ridiculous.