Liz scurried toward the backyard faster than a cockroach caught in a flashlight beam. Luke didn’t move a muscle as she left. He just stared off into the distance. Then, once she was gone, the hand he was resting on the dining table curled into a single trembling fist.
“It’s not easy parenting two teenagers, is it?” I asked. “Especially when one of them is me, and the other one can turn you into a rabbit.”
“Can she really do that?” Luke asked quietly. I walked around and took the seat Liz had occupied.
“I have no idea,” I replied. Finally, his gaze refocused, and he turned to me. His eyes glistened. They were fighting back tears.
My brother’s not soft. He’s the toughest guy I know. Tough enough to hold it together at our parents’ funeral because he thought we needed him to hide his fear. Did he think Liz and I didn’t know that his heart was breaking? And at the age of twenty, he abandoned his plans to go to college, got a job and took guardianship of my sister and me. That’s courage. But his face right now reflected the overwhelming burden that he bore on his shoulders. Liz nearly died and she was acting like the whole thing was no big deal.
“What am I doing?” he asked at last. “Aliens tried to kill Liz. They almost killed all three of us, and I just agreed to go along with her on some mission.”
I let out a long sigh. “She’s stubborn,” I said. “If you tell her she can’t use her magic, she’s just going to do it behind your back.”
Luke glared at me. “So my role as her guardian is to just go along with it?” he asked, tossing his arms into the air in frustration. “She makes the decision to fight in some kind of war, and I’m just supposed to say okay?”
He waited for an answer. Reassurances buzzed on the tip of my tongue, but I kept them to myself. My gaze fell on the kitchen faucet as I considered my response. I hadn’t tightened the knob and water dripped slowly into the sink.
Maybe if Luke pleaded with Liz long enough, she would see what she was doing to both of us and give in. But I knew better. Her obsession with magic consumed her. Enough to make her blind to Luke’s pain. The only thing I could do to improve the situation was reassure him.
I was about to remind Luke just how bad-ass our sister was. This was a girl who was feared by the thugs and bullies at her school. Real thugs, with blades and criminal records. She had a developed a reputation for being able to kick butt.
He chimed in before I could start. “When I was holding her and she fell unconscious. Her blood was all over the floor and my hands and shirt. I thought—”
“I know what you thought,” I interrupted. “I was there.” Neither one of us needed to relive the moments before my two fingers on her neck felt her weak pulse.
But Luke didn’t stop talking. “Then yesterday, you came home and asked me if she was here, then told me she wasn’t at the hospital, and I swear to God, Mark, for the first few moments, I thought it was another dream.” Why would Luke think he was dreaming? Then, I realized: he must have been having nightmares that resembled that exact scenario. We’d both shared the unspoken fear that the wizards would come back for her.
“Mark, there was a chance magical aliens had my sister,” he continued, “and what did I do? I cleaned dishes.”
“Well, those dishes had been piling up for a while,” I offered. Luke shot me an irritated glare. He was right; it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t like I had come up with any bright ideas last night either. I searched the hospital. Then I came home to see if she had found a way back here. When I learned she was still at large, all I did was plant my behind on the couch and stare at the damn wooden door. If she hadn’t walked through, I don’t know how long I would have sat there, hoping for good news.
“There was nothing you could do,” I said.
“No, you’re right!” Luke exclaimed. “Because I couldn’t call the cops and tell them aliens might be trying to kill my sister. Child services would have revoked my guardianship so fast, Liz would already be in a foster house.”
“She is sorry,” I said. “You know how scared she is of hospitals. She just wasn’t thinking straight.” I wondered if Luke could hear the steady drip of water too. It was out of sync with the ticking clock and the noise was driving me mad. Still, I didn’t move to fix it.
“Yeah, I know she’s sorry,” Luke said, softening his tone. “Sometimes she acts so mature, I forget she’s a fourteen-year-old teenager. I expect her to be an adult. Then she goes off, pulls a stunt like the one from last night, and I remember she’s still a kid.”
“Nah, she’s not a kid. She’s more mature than I am,” I countered. “Which is why I think we should give her a chance. It might even be fun.”
Luke smiled. “It’s not hard to be more mature than a college student who still watches Tom and Jerry cartoons between classes,” he ribbed. I smiled too. I knew Luke couldn’t pass up an opening to tease me, and I’d purposefully handed him that one on a silver platter.
“Hey, don’t you go knocking the genius that is cartoon physics,” I said. Even though Luke had smiled, his eyes were still sad.
“Look, Liz acts like this world of hers is no-big deal,” I continued. “Maybe it’s not. Maybe what happened was some freak act of nature and once you and I get a chance to look into it, it won’t seem so scary anymore.” Luke picked up the glass Liz had been drinking from and took it to the sink to rinse out. He turned the faucet on and finally the dripping was replaced by a steady stream of water. I kept talking. “I mean she’s been doing this for years and she’s never come home hurt before. Mom and Dad got her started for goodness sake. Would they have done that if she was in real danger?”
Luke nodded. He placed the clean cup on the towel by the sink and turned toward me. “Thanks bro,” he said, rustling my hair as he walked by.
“We’ll go with her and then we’re both gonna feel better about this whole thing,” I replied. Luke was already half way to his bedroom, but I kept talking. “And in the meantime, if we get to kick some alien wizard butt along the way, well how cool would that be?”