For as long as I could remember, my sister, Tara, had wanted to find the perfect one, get married, and start a family. She'd always had such a nurturing spirit; I have many memories of her being my little mommy, wiping my nose, picking out my clothes, and helping me with my homework. She was one of the most beautiful girls in the high school, resulting in dates longingly watching for any sign of encouragement. In my eyes, she had the gentlest spirit I had ever known.
But that was before.
Now five years later, instead of the caring, gentle girl of before, she was now a hard, stern woman pursuing a career with complete devotion to the cause. After four years of college, Tara's main goal is to climb up the career ladder of the United States of America's top law enforcement agency, the FBI. With all the fervor she had, each time another rung came open, she grabbed, resulting in a quick climb up to one of the best surveillance teams in the agency.
And me? Five years after… that day, I was finishing my senior year of high school not as popular as my big sister. But excellent academics seemed to run in the family, lucky for me. Not a boyfriend in sight, I was one of the school loners, and happy to be that. Books were my greatest friends, books didn't hurt me, books could let me escape, books didn't allow for loneliness, because all the characters in all my books were my best friends. Because my best friend was gone. In her own world. Driven there because of that fateful day.
After graduation practice on that warm day in May, I ran up six flights of stairs to our apartment, hating that last flight more with each step, hating like I did everyday I ran up those same steps. Relocking the door behind me, I grabbed the TV remote and flipped through channels while simultaneously searching the fridge for an after school snack. Finding nothing but the apples my sister had left from her last health craze before her training day, I began inhaling it, wishing more than anything for a chocolate bar or caramel.
When I realized there was nothing on TV as usual, I grabbed my backpack, and began my long and tedious study for my final exams, intent on getting that scholarship with my last grades. Although I didn't think about it, hours flew by, and before I knew it, I heard the door unlocking, pulling me out of my intent chemistry studies.
After about 30 seconds of someone messing with the lock, I heard a familiar voice call out, "Could you give me a hand, please!" with an almost annoyed tone.
Jumping up off the sunk-in couch, I replied jokingly, "Who is it?" I opened the door to find Tara's annoyed face staring at me. Her arms were full of files and papers, her briefcase hanging off her arm, and her keys dangled from her teeth, her hands completely full.
"Oh, just you!" I joked. She mumbled something I regarded as a sarcastic "thanks" as she lugged her work load over to the kitchen table. After pulling her keys from her teeth, she grumbled, "So, my before relazing weekend, the weekend that was supposed to be the one that I could kick back and save up my energy for the next few crazy weeks. That weekend no longer exists because of some crook that decided to go down in infamy on my relaxing weekend." She sat down on the couch, pulling off her suit jacket and rolling up the sleeves of her white shirt. Her tired eyes fell on my Chemistry books. "You getting all studied up for the big test?" No matter how tired she was at the end of the day, she at least acted interested in my activites.
"Trying to." I said, plopping down on the sofa beside my big sister, "I wish I had your brains. Then I wouldn't have to study my brains out like I have to!"
Tara put her arm around my shoulder and gave me a quick hug. "You'll be fine, smarty." She chuckled. "If only you knew how much I hated studying in school, you would be so quick to lift me up. I would've much rather been hanging out with my friends than burying my head in my books."
I looked over at my stack of books I checked out from the library yesterday on my way home from school. Tara's eyes followed mine, and she let out a sigh. "And of course you would much rather delve into a fantasy somewhere on some distant planet then go out with friends any day, wouldn't you?"
I nodded, a sly smile slowly appearing on my face. "But I have a relaxing weekend of chemistry studying ahead of me. Stink, huh?"
Tara paused for a minute before replying, "Well, since we both have discouraging days ahead of us, lets splurge a little, huh?" Jumping up, she pulled her cell phone from her belt hook. "Pizza or chinese?"
Tara's own smile climbed higher. "Chinese."
"I'm paying. I pick. Chinese it is." She said triumphantly.
A playful sneer shot from my face and I absently retorted. "That's what Dad always said."
Tara's face immediately fell from playfulness to heavy grief. Her eyes dropped to her hands, and her short hair fell in front of her, obscuring what I knew would be sadness.
I could've kicked myself. "I'm sorry." I whispered. That was where my sister had left me. After that day, part of my sister had died with my parents in that tower. Each time September 11th was mentioned, whether the anniversary of that horrible day, or a new book was published of one of the heroes of that day, or anything that reminded Tara of her parents, she couldn't function, completely shutting the world out, delving into her work, where she could engage her mind and forget that it had ever happened. Or stew over the fact that it had happened. I never knew.
"It's ok." She mumbled, her voice quiet and solemn. She handed me her phone. "Order pizza, I'm not hungry." She filled her hands with the paperwork from the table. "If you need anything, I'll be in my room. I have a lot to do."
And with that, I found myself all alone in the living room. Alone. Forgetting about my studying and my growling stomach, I grabbed the newest book and opened to the first page, begging the characters to engage me, bring me into their world. Because the one world I wanted to be in was alone in her room, buried in her work rather than work through things with me. Because the one person I needed was hurt because of what I had said, all my fault.
When the words began to blur as tears overtook my eyes, I threw the book across the room, wishing beyond hope that I could just take back those last few words, again making the night a wonderful interaction. But, of course, reality was so harsh compared to the fantasies my books offered. No words could be reversed. No amount of wishing my life back to normal would ever make those planes un-crash into that tower. No hurt could ever be softened or erased. Because reality happened. Books? They only helped me escape.
Curling up on the sofa, I let my tears fall, unobstructed with the need to protect my sister. No need to worry about how I could be hurting her by letting my grief show. She was alone, as I was. But hers was a choice. My loneliness was beyond my control.
And the next morning, I awoke to a wet pillow, evidence that I had cried myself to sleep after climbing into my pjs and going to bed without dinner. The sun shining in gave me little hope of spending time with Tara, knowing that it normally took days before she pulled away from work enough to notice me again. I headed out to get some breakfast before getting ready to hit the books. Tara was buried in paperwork at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of steaming coffee.
"You're up early for a Saturday." I mumbled, not expecting a reply. Rubbing my eyes, I stumbled through the fridge, wishing that I could magically make food appear in the empty fridge. I mentally added shopping to the mental list of things to do today. Deciding instead to have a cup of coffee, I grabbed a cup from the dish strainer and poured the magic liquid into the cup. At least most of it got in the cup, the other bit slopped on the cabinet.
"That's why you wear your glasses when you get up." Tara commented, without even looking up.
After cleaning up my mess, I sat down on the couch to sip my cup of goodness. I flipped on the TV to see if there was anything on.
"Can you turn that down, Gwen? Can't you see I'm trying to work?" Tara absently asked.
Not in the greatest of moods this early in the morning, no coffee, and a stressful night, I retorted, "I can watch if I wanna. Go in your room if you can't stand the noise." I knew, as I continued to flip through the channels that I had gotten her ire up. Normally I would have just turned it down, but I just didn't want to.
Her voice raised in volume. "Turn it down." She commanded.
I turned it up.
She pushed her chair from the table, the legs squeaking against the hardwood floor. She reached over the couch and swiped for the remote. "Gwen, give it here. Stop acting like such a kid."
I wasn't going to lose such an important battle, so I pulled the remote out of her reach, and continued to turn the volume up. "Just go into your room. Leave me alone."
Tara's face angrily tried to understand what I was saying, and, of course, didn't connect anything but my stubbornness. "What? Give me that!" She again grabbed for the remote.
But stopped mid-sweep, when she heard something on the TV that caught her attention.
"… another bank has been robbed, in what seems to be the same manner as the previous robbery just yesterday. More after these announcements." The news then cut to a commercial.
The fight over the remote then lost all importance to Tara as she quickly pulled her phone out and speed dialed. After a few seconds she said, "Turn on your TV to channel ten. Another robbery." After a quick pause, she replied, "Be there in a half hour."
I immediately knew that I had again taken the backseat to her work. As always.
She pulled all her papers together, threw as many of them that would fit into her briefcase, and said, "Gotta go, I'll call later" before she ran out the door.
And then I turned the TV off, not really wanting to watch anything now that Tara wasn't here to get attention from.
Then, like the dedicated student I am, I hit the books hard for a few hours, grateful to have something to occupy my mind while Tara was gone. In order to keep the "free ride" to college, I had to pass each of my seven exams with no less than an A on each. I was headed to one of the tops schools in the DC metro area, where Tara had pulled a few strings from her office so I could be accepted into the National Defense College, working in ballistics. But her job as to show the staff at the college that she was capable of entering a school designated only for those who already had a degree in forensics.
My stomach signaled that it was time to stop studying and grab something to eat. I set my books aside, and began to open the fridge, until I remember the emptiness within the cold box. And Tara had taken her wallet with her, leaving me with nothing with which to acquire food. And I knew she wouldn't be home until late, and I didn't want to wait that long.
I grabbed my backpack and threw a sweatshirt over my t-shirt just in case the wind might be a little chilly on my walk to the Hoover building through the city. I made sure to lock the door behind me, and began the descent. Finally reaching the ground, I joined the throngs of people I had become accustomed to shortly after moving to the city.
When Tara had received her assignment to the largest FBI location in the country, we had searched thoroughly for a cheap apartment in a safe part of town. After living in a suburb of New York, being in the heart of the Nation's capital had taken both of them a little bit to get used to. The first month I had barely slept listening to the truck rattling outside, the loud voices at all times of night, and the neighbors blaring their music. But the apartment was close enough for me to walk to school and it was only a five minute drive for Tara to the office. And a half hour walk for me this morning.
The first few months in DC, I went to Tara's office at least three times a week, because Tara wasn't comfortable leaving me at home all the time in the new city. After she got used to the surroundings, i didn't go to the office much at all, which was fine with me. That was Tara's domain, where she could escape into her cases and criminals.
After the chilly walk, I walked into the building, and stopped at the clearance desk.
I didn't recognize the security agent, a short, balding man sporting his gun and badge. I went through all the customary search, giving them my sister's name, and waiting while they contacted her to clear me for access into the building. Pinning my visitor's badge to the hood of my sweatshirt, I took the elevator up to the tenth floor, wishing every second that our apartment had one of thses sweat saver things. The building was mostly empty, only those with major cases working the weekend, my sister's team being one of them. Knocking on the open door to the complex of offices that the surveillance team worked in, I saw Lucy, the secretary.
"Hey, stranger!" Her smile lit up the room as she seemed glad to have an excuse to take a break from the piles of files and paper that swam on her desk. "Where you been lately?" She asked, giving me a hug. Denise kept things in order, at least tried to. She was in charge of filing paperwork, writing memos, and keeping the office in order, which was a full time job in and of itself with my sister's team. Her appearance was abnormally a little skewed from her original conservative, collected look. Her black hair that normally hung beautifully curled and perfectly in order was thrown up into a ponytail, and she was wearing an old sweater and jeans, compared to her usual jacket, skirt ensemble. Of course, it was the weekend for normal people, I remembered.
"Keeping busy, studying." I replied. Looking around the stations of desks, I asked, "Is Tara around?"
Lucy nodded, "She just ran to find something somewhere…" She cracked a grin when she added, "Your sister is an amazing research analyst; how she finds the things she does is beyond belief."
I nodded, knowing that Tara was amazing at what she did. She worked with a fervor that almost no one else could keep up. And she had a brilliant brain that she kept working almost every waking moment.
I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Well, look what the cat drug in!" I turned, knowing before me that it would be Bobby, one of my favorite of Tara's team. He was one of the hottest guys I had ever seen, one of those tall, dark, and handsome specimens. He had a great personality, using humor to lighten the mood when things got pretty tense, but he could also be extremely passionate for a cause, that's what Tara said.
He ruffled my hair playfully, his amazing smile teasing me. He was like the big brother I had never had, at least that's the way I looked at it.
"Whatcha doing here?" He asked. Grabbing his coffee cup from his desk and refilling it.
I sat down at my sister's desk chair, twirling around like a little kid. "I need some money from the boss."
Bobby gave me an incredulous look, and he pretended to whisper in my ear, "Haven't you heard? You sister? She's broke." He shook his head in mock sympathy. "I thought you should know."
I just smiled and scanned Tara's desk, looking for her wallet, so I wouldnt have to bother her. The only personalized touch in sight was my last school picture, other than that, she was a no nonsense type of person, devoting her time to finding the criminal rather than decorating her space. I twirled one more time and replied to Bobby, "I was kinda getting that impression here lately…"
At that time, Tara walked through the door. She gave me an annoyed look, motioning for me to get out of her chair. I reluctantly stood up and moved over as she absently asked, "So, whatcha need. We are really busy."
I looked at Bobby, who was reclining against his desk, sipping his coffee. Sarcastically, I said, "Sure."
Bobby gave me an innocent look. "What?"
Tara tossed him an annoyed glance before she was again delved into her papers and computer. I didn't have much to do, but my stomach was growing more than I could stand. I leaned over her desk to whisper, "Could you give me a few dollars?"
"You walked all the way down here, disturb the team during an important case, because you want some spending money? Boy, that's mature, Gwen." She didn't even look up from the computer screen.
Bobby moved closer, "A little sibling rivalry, I hear." He shot Tara a sardonic look before asking me, "Whatcha wanting to get, girl?"
I looked down at my tennis shoes, not wanting to point out Tara's lack of planning for groceries in front of her coworkers. She was normally responsible in things like this, but she had been so busy lately. So I just said, "I was going to get some things for dinner tonight."
"I'll grab something on my way home tonight."
I hated the way she couldn't stop working for three minutes to let me explain what I wanted. She didn't want to take her mind off her case enough to talk to her little sister. I tried to excuse it in my head, arguing that she was just a focused person, driven by te need the help others. But why couldn't she help me? I just wanted her to care.
Bobby's eyes met mine, and I put my snarled look on, hoping he hadn't seen the hurt I was feeling. But he had seen sadness before I could change it.
He pulled out his wallet, thumbing through bills. Tara looked up from her work, and protested. "Bobby, don't bother. I will just pick up a pizza or something after work." Bobby pulled out a stack of bills. Tara's voice escalated. "Really, Bobby, don't. I will give her something." And she reached for her wallet.
"Hey," he said in his charismatic voice, "I was a little brother, and asking my older brothers for money was a hard game. Gwen has guts." He handed me the money, pushing my hand closed over it. His eyes again met mine, and I saw a flicker of understanding flash between us. I smiled.
And Tara's impatient and not the most loving voice pulled me out of that gaze. "Gwen, I need to talk to you." And she gestured to the hallway.
"Thanks" I said to Bobby, before following my older sister out.
Tara turned to me, her green eyes fiery and angry. She had her lips pursed before she said anything. My dad had always said that Tara was one of the only girl he knew who could look so pretty when she was hopping mad. "What's going on? Why are you so intent on challenging me? Why can't you just listen to me?"
Now I wasn't very happy with her either. "I just asked for some money, what's so wrong with that? My voice too escalated.
"And that couldn't wait? I've asked you not to bother me when I'm at work, and you can't seem to do that!" There wasn't any reason we were out in the hallway, because the way we were yelling at each other, everybody could hear us.
"Tara, there isn't any food at home! I kinda would like to eat!" I shot back. And added, "And you wouldn't know that because you're never home! You don't care about me anymore. All you think about is the stupid FBI."
Tara opened her mouth to reply, but I wasn't finished. "And 'm okay with that. I will get used to it."
And with that, I stomped down the hallway and to the elevators. Tara turned and called after me, but I didn't even want to listen. I decided to take the stairs instead of stay and hear what she had to say. Thundering down the stairs, I didn't even notice the burning in my legs, and the thundering in my chest as my breathing deepened. I was too mad to cry, although I knew tears would come later. But now I just wanted to run as fast as my mind was flying. Why couldn't she care about how I felt? Why was she so distant now? And why couldn't I get over her way of grieving? Why did it hurt me so much? As I ran down the steps, each step echoing against the hard, cold walls, I wished my heart could be as cold and unfeeling as these walls; maybe then I wouldn't hurt every time Tara chose something else over me. Maybe then I wouldn't have so much pain from the past.
At the bottom of the second floor, the door into the stairwell flew open. And I couldn't stop before I ran into the strong arms of Bobby.
"Whoa, girl. Slow down there." He said, placing his body in between me and the way down. He was breathing almost as hard as I was. I thought I didn't want to stop, but feeling those strong arms around my shoulders, those comforting eyes looking down at me, knowing he had come after me, remembering the same safe feeling I felt when my dad would hold me tight like this, I surrendered to the embrace, to the feelings, to the tears. I don't know how long we stood there as I cried out everything I had held back, and listening to his heart beat against his chest. And I didn't feel awkward, or weird. But I felt comforted, and safe. When the tears stopped, I pulled away, wiping my nose. I saw the wet spot of tears on his shirt, and I apologized. "Oh, your shirt. I'm sorry." I whispered quietly, not trusting my voice.
"Don't worry about it." He motioned for me to sit down on the cement stairs. He sat down beside me, his caring eyes delving deep into my soul.
"I'm sorry about the outburst up there…. I… just got too emotional…"
His deep voice interrupted me, "Your sister does care about you, Gwen. You know that, right?" He said in his deep Australian accent.
"She has a lot on her plate right now. She's trying to find her place in society, in her career, and attempting to help you grow up." He stopped and I again met his eyes.
Tears swam in my eyes, threatening to again spill down my cheeks. I softly commented, "I don't need a caregiver; I want my sister back."
He nodded. "She's such a great girl now, I can't imagine her being anymore perfect then she is right now. She must've been quite a girl."
I smiled, remembering when we used to go shopping on Saturdays, coming home and having a fashion show to model what we had bought for our parents. Or the nights that we would talk long into the wee hours of the morning discussing boys, music, and every other important factor in teenage girls lives.
Bobby brushed the tears off my cheek, and said, "Now, you don't worry about your sister. We'll get through to her sooner or later. And, for her sake, I hope it's sooner than later." He looked into my eyes and said, "I promise I won't let anything happen to her until we do, ok?"
I agreed, and he walked me out to the door. For once i felt there was hope. Maybe I wouldn't always be so alone.