Where Are They?

Flash Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 96

Photo by Caroline Hernandez on UNSPLASH.

“Where are mom and dad?” my little sister asks again. It breaks my heart that I don’t have a good answer to the question.

The truth is simple; I don’t know where our parents are. And that is not right. None of this is right – not by a wide margin; it is all wildly, unforgivably wrong. How is it that I, a fifteen-year-old high-school sophomore, should be left to babysit my two younger siblings?

“Where are they? Mom and dad? Will they be home soon?” My sister assumes I didn’t hear her, and so she re-asks the question.

Our parents went out on a Wednesday to celebrate some anniversary, not of their wedding, but of some secret private thing, to which we, their children, were not made privy. I’m sure they had their reasons. But they were supposed to come back later that night.

Then, just before Wednesday gave way to Thursday, I called it a night. I switched off the TV and pulled the sheet over me as I lay on the downstairs couch. If they came home during the night, I wanted to know.

But they didn’t return Wednesday night.

Or the day after.

Or the day after that.

I somehow adopted a stoic outlook. Without any detectable seam, I went from an ‘I have parents that run the household’ to an equanimous ‘Well, I guess I’m running things around here now’ perspective.

They’ve been gone four nights. They went out to celebrate their private anniversary Wednesday night, and they’ve yet to return.

Unfortunately, my sister isn’t in grade school yet. I’ve told her it’s a game we, dad, mom, and I, are playing a game. We are testing her maturity. I convinced her she is okay on her own. Luckily for me, I have two study hall periods during my day. Every day in study hall, I ask to go to the bathroom. Then I sneak out the back of the school and run home. It’s only half a mile from the school to our drab little duplex. I burst through the front door, check on her, assuage her fears, make her lunch, reiterate the importance of her performing well during the ‘game,’ then I’m gone again only to repeat the whole sequence a few hours later in the afternoon.

My brother’s school is on the far side of town. With the bus ride home, he gets home and leaves before me, so I don’t have to make much of a fuss for him. But he also has a better grasp of the seriousness we find ourselves in at the moment.

Mom doesn’t work, so her absence hasn’t created any reasons for me to have to lie to folks on the phone.

Dad is a self-employed carpenter, and I’ve had to think of my feet quickly when his clients call. I tell them his brother’s basement flooded, and he’s helping Kenny out in Percy. I promise each that I will relay their messages.

It’s my sister I most worry about; she’s a sensitive little girl, but she isn’t dumb. She now realizes this isn’t a game. I was as strong as I could be for her, but my breaking point was four days.

“Where are they?” she asks.

I look at her blankly. I try not to cry because I know that will make her cry. But I fail. Soon we are both sobbing and hugging.

I tell her I don’t know.

We should have called someone days ago. We are only kids. But we live in an alcoholic home where secrets abide. We don’t lightly invite outsiders into our carefully tuned dysfunctional dynamic.

Alcoholic home or not, I decide I will call grandma tomorrow. I tell my siblings this; they think this is a good idea.

Later that afternoon, there’s a loud knock on our door. It’s a Saturday, and we are peering into the fridge, doing our best at rationing out our remaining food. The milk was gone days ago, which is stressful because we prefer cereal for breakfast.

I leave my brother and sister in the kitchen and go to open the door for my parents.

But then a thought arises; since when do mom and dad knock? My stomach rolls and I feel like I’m going to be sick. Whoever is on the other side of our door must be the mythical they, the authorities, or Child Protective Services. The system worked as it should, and now there is someone here to rectify this mess.

I feel flooded with conflicting emotions.

I open the door. There, on our step, is the tallest policeman ever. He will have to duck when he enters the duplex. I look up, and I see the sadness in his eyes. That’s when I know. Mom and dad are never coming home.

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