The clock on the wall ticked endlessly, and I counted down with it. Hours turned to minutes, minutes to seconds. Most likely, there would be an errand tomorrow, but I didn’t care. I had more important things to worry about.
When midnight approached, I quietly eased out of bed and made sure Valerie hadn’t stirred. Luckily, she was still asleep. She was a sweet girl and everything, but I just liked to do some things on alone, and this was one of them. Grabbing the picture from underneath my mattress, I stared at the crumpled edges and crease down the middle. His goofy face stared back at me, as smug as I remembered. Another year of this feeling. I hated it.
Sticking the photo into my pocket, I slid my bare feet against the hardwood and caressed the handle of the door until it reached a full rotation. When I shut it behind me, the muffled click echoed briefly. I froze, as if I could control the silence with my lack of movement.
When it grew silent again, I moved lightly on the balls of my feet, just like Stephen taught me to. “Sneak up from behind,” he used to say. “You’ll make less noise that way.” So I did.
Nole’s room was down the hall. When I passed it successfully, my thoughts flashed to Suri. I could’ve been like that. I could’ve still had an older brother. I patted my pocket to make sure the photo was still there; it was.
I went further down the hallway, passing Zane’s room, then Taro’s, then Betty’s. Besides the snoring in Taro’s room, everything else was quiet. The dimly lit hallway was like a void, and here I was walking down it alone.
Shuffling down the stairs, I made my way to living space and onto the couch. The TV was still on – no doubt Taro’s work. The pleather cushion was cool against my bare arms and ankles. Goosebumps dimpled my skin enough to send a chill down my limbs.
My tiredness was catching up to me, my eyelids growing heavy while the TV muttered in the background. “I wish…” I stopped myself from finishing. Going down that road again wouldn’t help anyone. Looks like I should’ve taken Betty up on that “talk”.
How did she remember all these things anyway? Every year, on this day, she never failed to ask me if I would be okay. She always asked me if I “needed to talk”. I think her worrying about me on this particular day was the reason she bunked me with Valerie. That’s the only thing that could explain why she never offered to let me have my own room. To be fair though, I never asked.
The hum from the TV became slower, the words indistinguishable. It was just a never-ending mumble. I thought about the photo in my pocket, but I didn’t want to pull it out again. I just wanted to keep it with me for the night. The sound of the door opening smacked the sleep from my eyes, and I sat up to see who was there.
My itching paranoia knew better. I watched the rest of the room for any moving parts, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when something jumped on me. To my relief, and anger, it was just Burt.
“Burt!” I half-scolded, half-whispered. “You nearly gave me a heart attack.” His soft tufts warmed the prickled skin of my ankles as he nestled on my lap. I took a few deep breaths to ease my heart back into a normal rhythm. “Stupid dog,” I chided.
“That’s harsh,” a voice interjected. I turned around to look before the last syllable was spoken. When I saw Stephen there, I didn’t jump or gasp. I turned my back to him. “Hey, sis, come on, don’t be like that.”
“You’re not there, Stephen.” My responding contradicted the statement.
A deep breath escaped him. “If I wasn’t could I do this?” A playful nudge hit the back of my head. “Liv, I always forget how nice your digs are,” he chimed, hopping over the back of the couch and onto the cushion beside me.
“Go away,” I whispered. Burt was completely unaware of my delusion.
“Are you doing okay?”
My light petting became more rapid. I focused on Burt to avoid acknowledging him.
“Is that old lady still treating you well?”
Forcibly clamping my mouth shut, I waited for the episode to end.
“Seems like it,” he concluded for himself. “I bet you’ve forgotten all about me.” If that were true, would you be haunting me? Instead of responding, I kept my eyes fixed on Burt’s back. Unlike me, he was asleep. “Well I haven’t forgotten about you. And I don’t need an old picture to remember you either.”
“Go… away,” I mouthed, my hair surrounding any visible parts of my down-turned face. “Go away…”
“You should get to bed, sis. You look tired.”
There was a slight pressure on my shoulder, as if his hand was resting there. Another chill jolted through me, but I forced my body to relax. The rhythm of petting Burt distracted me, and I felt my eyelids drooping. They closed completely, but seconds later I was awoken by the same feeling. This time though, it was shaking me. Snapping my eyes open, I was shocked to see the room completely lit with sunlight, Betty standing behind the couch.
“Late night?” she asked in a monotone, trying not to convey any worry. She knew I didn’t like to be babied.
“Kind of,” I answered, still surprised that I seemed to have slept sitting up. Betty got the hint though, so she turned her back and told me there would be a meeting in an hour.
Burt’s warm body was still on my lap, so I gently moved him to the cushion, but he woke up at the slightest disturbance. “Sorry, Burt.” I actually meant it.
My usual morning grogginess wasn’t there. It actually felt like I’d gotten a full night’s sleep and then some. I remembered what happened though. Part of me didn’t want to acknowledge it, but it was something that was hard to forget. “Sorry, Stephen,” I added under my breath, feeling for the photo in my pocket.
My heart nearly dropped when it wasn’t there. I leapt to my feet, almost fainting from getting up so fast. Desperately searching under the cushions and around the couch, I almost felt tears invading my eyes when I didn’t find the photo. I moved the couch, checked under the side table, even in Burt’s mouth. It wasn’t there.
I must have spent half an hour looking before Suri came in looking for Burt. “Hi Olivia,” she greeted, leaning over to lift Burt. “What are you doing?”
Controlling my frustration, I answered. “I lost something. Something important.”
“Oh, that reminds me!” she exclaimed, catching my attention. “I found this on the stairs.” A flood of warmth engulfed me when she extended the photograph. “You look the same back then,” she observed with a smile.
I nodded, pressing the crumpled, creased image against my chest. “Thank you.”
A genuine smile crossed Suri’s young face again before turning her attention back to Burt. I gripped the photo tightly between my fingers, afraid that it would slip away. “I don’t forget Stephen,” I murmured. “I never forget.”
YOU ARE READING
[Check out BOUNTY HUNTERS, the sequel to Errand Runners] Unlike the other criminals in Nova City, Nole Vale has a curfew. While most civilians just want to survive in their crime-ridden, gang-infested city, this sixteen-year old is determined to co...