"I want to get to know him better first, okay? So it might be awhile. Sorry, kiddo."

"Don't call me that. I'm not a kid anymore."

The intensity in those eight-year-old eyes makes me want to laugh, but I stifle it, knowing my little brother is sensitive. "Sorry."

"He's nice, right?"

Ben thinks that's an easy question. He waits for me to say "yes" because my father's been "nice" for the past two months, but there's about fourteen years of radio silence to consider. The occasional birthday or Christmas card only served as painful reminders that he walked out on me and Mom when I was three. A girl can't just let that go.

"He visits you and texts you and bought that big stuffed bunny."

All true. All good. Cutest bunny ever. And yet, after each visit, I wonder if it will be our last. "It's complicated. Give it some time, okay? And go back inside."

"Why do you get to have two dads?"

His words imply I won the lottery. As if there weren't a hundred nights I laid in bed wondering what I did to make my father go away. And when I got older, a hundred more wondering how he could choose gambling over me and Mom. Over his job. Over everything. Because in the end, that's what he lost. Ben doesn't get it. He's the lucky one. The dad we share, who loved me enough to adopt me when my bio father signed away his rights, would never leave us.

"Just go back inside. Please. We'll talk about it later. Go play Pokémon with Dad."

"He's not back from Wild Things yet. One of the tigers has a tooth infection. I think it was Fang. Or maybe Mika. Yeah, Mika. Anyway, I like it here. Look at the moon. It's so big and orange."

No wonder Mika's eating has been off the past couple of days. I take comfort in knowing our beautiful Bengal is in good hands with the best wildlife vet in the business. She sure wasn't in good hands before she came to our rescue center. At least now she can live in peace, with room to roam. My eyes return to the mesmerizing moon. "It's gorgeous, but you still need to go. I'm meeting someone." My words hold far more optimism than my heart.

"Who?"

"A guy from my class." I'm done answering questions, but there's no doubt in my mind that Ben's not done asking them.

He wraps his arms around himself in a body hug and makes a kissy face.

Chances are slim he can see my eye roll through the veil of night, but I do it anyway. "Go in. I'm serious." His stupid kissy face might have been funny some other time, but not when I'm feeling like an idiot for waiting out here. I turn away, but his tug on my sleeve brings my attention back to him.

"Who's that guy on the phone?" He points down the alley, behind me.

My head whips around to see the glow of a phone illuminating a face that isn't Nathan's. Must be someone from the neighborhood just needing a little privacy for a call. He turns his back to us and walks away.

"No one. A neighbor. Go now, Benjamin. My friend will be here any second."

"Fine." He stomps the entire way down the sidewalk to let me know he's offended.

I look at my phone again, which makes no sense, but neither does standing in this stupid vacant alley. It clearly says 10. My yes got sent, so Nathan must know I'm here. Twenty-five minutes of wondering what's going on makes me think he's cancelling Friday's pizza date. It would have been nice to see if he was really as smart and funny and decent as he seems. To be close to him somewhere other than a classroom, where hands might touch. Or lips. To get lost in the depths of those ebony eyes that draw me in like an unmarked path in the rainforest. But if he needs to talk, it's probably not going to happen. Maybe I was wrong about him.

Signs in the Dark by Susan MiuraWhere stories live. Discover now