Ten years. Ten years I’ve been kept away from this place. Ten years I’ve been dreaming about this moment. Now it’s happening. My heart is beating so loud I’m sure Eli can hear it.
The metal door opens. I see his eyes first. They’re clear, lucid gray, just like Eli’s. His smile stretches across his face when he sees us but falls a bit when Eli doesn’t greet him, preferring to stare at the concrete floor.
He slides into the bench across from us and immediately grabs my sweaty hand. I can’t believe it. I’m sitting face to face with my father. A tear slowly makes its way down his cheek in the dim prison light. I hold his hand, tears threatening my eyes.
“Hi,” I say, my voice barely above a whisper.
“Hi.” His voice is groggy and deep. “You look just like her.”
My mother. My grandmother has shown me pictures of her and my father together. She was beautiful and flawless, nothing like me.
My dad leans back. “How’ve you been?”
“Good,” I say, a quick answer, though I’ve been anything but.
He leans forward as if he has a secret to tell.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” His face is stern, but humor dances in his eyes.
I shake my head.
“Good.” A smile. “Do you still make those vanilla cupcakes?”
Every Sunday, Mom and I would bake her world-famous cupcakes with the secret ingredient she shared only with me. Eli and Dad would sing along to the Beatles while we baked. I smile at the memory. “Of course.”
He looks at Eli. “How are you?”
“Fine, I guess.” Eli shrugs, glancing at Dad, then back at the ground.
They chat, emotionless, Eli answering yes or no or shrugging. Maybe two minutes pass before he stands and mumbles, “I have to pee,” and exits the room.
“I have a problem.” I lean closer to Dad. “Aunt Lucille wants to put Eli in a psychiatric hospital, but he won’t do well there. He needs to stay with me.”
Dad squeezes his eyes shut for a second. “Maybe Lucille is right.”
My heart feels like it’s being ripped out. “How can you say that?”
He shakes his head. “It’s not up to me, Charlie. What can I say? Look where I am.”
He’s right. There is nothing he could say to Lucille.
“All right, people,” a police officer barks, “wrap it up.”
Dad glances at the door. Eli is still gone.
“He’ll be fine,” he says. Doubt has crept into his voice.
“I hope so.” I fidget. “Maybe I can come up again this summer.” I wince, remembering I can’t. My dad will be dead by then.
“Tell Eli I said good-bye.” And then, just like that, he’s gone.
“What’s up with you?” I ask Eli back in the van.
He flicks his cigarette ash out the window, dismissing the conversation with a wave of his hand, but I’m just getting started.
“I know what Dad did was wrong. But he’s still our father.”
His face beams red and tears begin to surface. He starts banging his fists against his head, cigarette ash falling all over his clothes.
I pull off the highway. As soon as the car stops, Eli slips out of his white Vans and takes off into the grassy field. I follow, shoving the keys into my pocket, sliding out of my flip-flops.
We run. The grass scratches my ankles and the wind slaps my pale skin. I head toward the fuchsia sun until Eli suddenly crashes to the ground.
I lie with him, our heads back to back. He smells of cigarette smoke. We stay silent for awhile until I hear sniffles.
“I did it.” The sniffles turn into sobs. “I didn’t know the guy. He had his hands all over her. I thought he was hurting her. I grabbed the gun, but she got in the way. I thought he was going to hurt me, so ….”
His words drift into a distant hum. Eli did it. He killed our mother and her lover. My father is about to be executed for something he didn’t do.
Eli wraps his arms around me, his head against my shoulder. His sobs dampen my sweater. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“We have to help him.” I race back to the van, Eli right behind me. I press on the gas.
It isn’t hard to discover where the governor works. I assume that if there is one person who can help us, it’s him. I end up at a large white building. Men in suits mingle around the steep marble steps. I put the van into park and run toward the steps, looking for someone, anyone, who can save my dad.
“Charlie!” Eli says, both a shout and a plea. Before I even look at him I can tell he’s crying. I hadn’t thought about what would happen to him when he confessed.
“Please don’t tell,” he begs as he steps from the van. “I-I can’t lose you. Please. Aunt Lucille and Uncle Greg planned this. They’re trying to break us up.”
“But it’s the right thing to do.”
“Please, Charlie. I-I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. Please.”
Tears are streaming down his face. I can’t imagine a world without my brother, but I grew up in a world without my father. All I want is normal. Can he give me normal?
I look at the building where the governor works – the man who holds my father’s fate. Then I see Eli. Although he’s older than me, he needs me more than anything in the world.
The night sky has appeared. Eli sleeps, scrunched up in the passenger seat. He looks so innocent, so relaxed. The cool night air blows through the open window, keeping me awake. I grab Eli’s hand. Nothing could bring us closer than something that’s tearing us apart.
I turn on the radio and the Beatles’ “She Loves You” drifts in the air. I nudge Eli awake.
“Hey. Wanna make some cupcakes?”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.