Blessings in Disguise

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Dre was in an amazing mood as he pushed through the front door and shut it firmly against the blustering rain. At last, the investment deal he was trying to put through to acquire a demolition company had gone through. The environmentalists had been at his throat like nobody’s business, but with Uncle Bel’s help, it seemed anything was possible.

“Girls!” he sang out as he shucked his jacket and kicked off his boots. In his sock-feet, he took the stairs two at a time. After a pause, he shook his head with a grin as he caught their sounds in the guest room, which little Josie had started spending a lot of time in. As a precocious ten-year-old, she considered herself too old and too mature for the other girls her age, and thought her cousins were glamourous and cool. Most of the young girls and even some of the slightly older ones felt the same way, coming to the twins for advice about all sorts of things, inviting them to parties and activities. Dre couldn’t help but smile at the notion. Where as he was an awkward dork, his sisters were the cool kids. Although he was pretty sure that curbing the limits of their coolness was the reason for the grey hair he’d found this morning, he still felt giddy with pride.

He cleared his throat and smoothed his features. The giggling had stopped, so whatever it was they were up to probably required an intervention of some sort. It could be hard to keep a straight face around them, especially lately, with their weird little fashion choices and makeup experiments that were…asymmetrical, to say the least. “Girls?” he knocked softly, then a little harder when there was a shuffling, but no answer. “Girls, I’m home. Just wanted to say hello and see what you want for dinner. Please open up.”

“Josie! No!” It sounded like Sam. Of course. What were they doing?

Arms crossed, he waited, exasperated curiosity building, and finally, the door swung open. Josie, with her honey-brown curls looked up at him, her milk-chocolate eyes nervous. “Hi, Uncle Dre.”

He wasn’t quite sure why she called him that, but all the family connections, both formal and informal, had become so mixed up and confusing that he didn’t bother to correct her anymore. “Hey, Josie-poo. What kind of trouble are you guys up to in there?”

“Dre, it’s none of your business!” came the plaintive whine from the other side of the ornate dressing screen he’d gotten as a gift from a business partner in Chile.

Now he had to know. “Sam,” he said in warning.

“I’m just trying on my dress for the dance!” she called back innocently. Summer, sitting on the bed, shot the dressing screen what could only be called a look of exasperation. Which was concerning, because he didn’t think he’d ever seen Summer perturbed, let alone exasperated.

Sam,” He let a hint of darkness enter his tone. A darkness that warned of groundings, extra chores, and lost privileges.

With a groan so loud it practically shook the house, she finally stepped out from behind the screen.

Yep. Early grave for him. It was inevitable. Once his heart restarted, he took a fortifying breath as his thirteen-year-old baby sister glared back at him with acid so thick he felt his eyes melting. With her outfit leaving nothing to the imagination, it was easy to see the idea of womanliness taking shape. But with her big brown eyes and limbs still so skinny and bones like a bird, there was also no denying that she was still a child, and still tender and innocent, and definitely, under no circumstances, not even over his soon-to-be dead body, “absolutely not wearing that. End of discussion.”

For a moment, she didn’t say anything. She crossed her arms over the black romper that barely covered her rear-end and her chest, and popped out a hip and made her legs look even longer in the three – no four – inch pink Stilettos strapped to her stick-like ankles. Those huge eyes narrowed, and he realized they looked particularly big because of the goop applied so expertly to them that it naturally enhanced her eyelashes. She caught her lip, the same candy-pink as her high heels, between her bottom teeth, and regarded him with a look so unlike her usual haughty poutiness, that he suspected she’d entered a new phase in her emotional development – self-actualization.

Crap.

“Sam…” He sat on the bed, partly to bring himself down to her level, partly to be nearer to Summer’s stalwart calmness, and partly because he wasn’t sure his legs could hold him up anymore. “Let’s…let’s start over. I, um…” He licked his lips, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “You look very nice. A girl, er, young woman, likes to feel and look her best. It’s only natural.” When she still didn’t move from her assessing position, even when a strand of her hair – which he just realized she had flat-ironed – fell into her eyes, he leaned his elbows on his knees, trying to look earnest. Reasonable. He felt like he was facing down an active shooter. Negotiating for his life. Trying to calm the furious pounding of his heart, he took another deep breath. “What happened to the dress you and I picked out? The nice pink one?” The one that actually covers what needs to be covered!

“Pink is for babies,” Sam retorted in disgust.

Nope. He decided he would not point out her shoes, or her lips. The exact colour of the Barbie car he’d bought for her just yesterday. Well, maybe a few years ago, when she’d started kindergarten, but it felt like yesterday. “Okay. So. Let’s take it back and get something in a colour you like.”

“I like black.”

He tried not to wrinkle his nose. She looked so nice in colours. Especially pastels. In black, she looked so much like…but no. He would not make this about that heartless cow. She had no right to be part of these conversations anymore, not even in spirit. “Okay. I like black, too. Let’s get you something nice and black, a little longer. Let’s go right now.”

“No.”

“Okay, well, maybe not right now, but maybe after dinner – ”

“No,” she said again, hands on her hips. A storm was gathering in her eyes, and her left one, the exact colour of his own, was doing that twitchy thing. Dre’s mouth went dry. He’d thought toddler tantrums were bad. They were nothing compared to the tween fits that Sam seemed to be able to tailor just to torment him.

“No?” he parroted, desperately searching for an escape.

“No,” she confirmed. “I want to wear this dress. The dance is tomorrow, I don’t want to pick a different one, and you can’t make me.”

Right. This was the button. He clenched his fists in the candy-apple-red comforter. Summer and Josie sat up a little straighter. No. I will not give in. I will not give them a show. I will stay calm. I will –

“You act like you’re my father or something, Dre, but you’re not!” Nostrils flaring, she stomped up to him – or rather, clickity-clacked – until she was right up in his space. Since he was on the bed, she had more than a foot on him, and he instinctively jumped to his feet.

“I may not be your father,” he hissed. “But you’re still my kids. You’re still under my protection, my custody, and my care. So, my rules.”

He hated acting like a tyrant. He hated feeling like a tyrant. This day had started off so well. He should have known it was too much to ask for that to continue past the threshold of his home.

“You don’t just get to boss us around! We’re not babies anymore! If we can stay here by ourselves while you’re coming home from work – ”

He shook his head. “Obviously, that arrangement was a mistake, and it won’t happen again.”

Ugh! You don’t listen! You’re not our parent. You’re not our dad. You’re definitely not mom. If she was here – ”

Ah. This was the moment where he shoved his hands under his armpits, whirled on his heel, and stormed out the door so that he didn’t slap that girl.

Without even realizing what he was doing, he ended up in the garage, taking the tarp off the Vyrus and opening the door. He didn’t care if it was raining. He needed to get out of this house before it drove him crazy.

“Where are you going?”

He hadn’t even heard the click of those ridiculous heels as they followed behind him. Josie and summer peeked from behind the doorwaddd. “Sam. Give me space.”

Instead, she went over to lean on the motorcycle. “No! I’ve been trying to talk to you for a long time. You’re so extra, Dre, it’s driving us all crazy. I know you think you’re the boss, or whatever – ”

“I am the boss!” he exploded. “Who do you think would be here if I weren’t? I’m the one who provides for you. I’m the one who makes sure you do your homework. I’m the one who loves you, and I’m the one killing myself every day trying to create a future for you!”

“If you were just a kid like you were supposed to be, Auntie Ruth and Uncle Ian would have adopted us! Or Auntie Jeni! You didn’t have to do it all yourself!”

Dad left it all to me!” he bellowed. “He left me responsibility for the family whenever he had to go away for something. He knew mom couldn’t do it. He knew he could trust me, and I refuse to let him down!”

“Well, you are!” she shrieked, and he wasn’t sure that his heart wouldn’t implode. “He wouldn’t have wanted you to turn into a big, mean jerk!” She swiped furiously at her eyes, and he almost missed the next part: “He wouldn’t want you to hate me.”

Dre stared at her, wondering where he had gone wrong. At her age, he’d been volunteering at church, helping to care for her and her sister, going on adventures with their dad, helping their mom, and getting amazing grades. Had he been this selfish and belligerent? He really didn’t think so. He hoped not. So, what was wrong with Sam?

“Do you really think I hate you?” he mused, more to himself than to her. The idea was so absurd he couldn’t even begin to process it. He fought a smile.

“You never yell at Summer like you yell at me!”

That’s because Summer actually listens. Well, kind of. Sometimes Summer spaced out and forgot what he had told her. But she wasn’t outright defiant like Sam. She didn’t rub Dre the wrong way like Sam did. She didn’t scare the living daylights out of him, or make him question every move he made. She didn’t worry him, terrify him, the way Sam did, ever since…

“Do you remember when you were born?” He gazed right at her bad eye, the one that looked like creamer had been added to it.

“Obviously not,” she snapped, folding her arms and tearing her gaze away.

He blinked. “Right. I meant, do you remember what we told you about the day you were born? How sick you were?”

Sniffling, she nodded, her shoulders slumping a little. “Yeah,” she griped.

He took a step closer to her, and then another, until he could touch her elbow. He took a deep breath, fighting against the pain of remembering a day thirteen years in the past, yet so ingrained into the fabric of his being.

“You were so sick. I didn’t understand a lot of what was happening. Mom was out of it, because she was sick too, and I don’t think she really knew what was going on most of the time. Uncle Jake was there, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look scared until that day. I knew he was worried about how it would hit Dad if anything happened to you. Probably what it would do to Mom, too.” He shuddered at the thought of the strong warrior left completely helpless and unable to even look at Dre. “The doctors wouldn’t tell us much, but I remember that it was the first time I ever seriously prayed. I went into a corner, got down on my knees, and cried out to God to save you. I begged him for your life. Not because of how it would affect mom or dad if we lost you, but because of how it would affect me. I couldn’t bare to lose my baby sister.” Unable to help himself, he drew her to his chest, as his voice grew tight. “I promised God that if he let you live, I’d never leave your side. That I would do anything for you, to keep you safe and protect you, and be the best brother that I could. I even asked him to take me instead, if it would mean that you could live.”

A sob shook her slim body, and she clutched his shirt.

“I still feel that way. I would die for you. I don’t hate you, Sam. You’re an answered prayer, and I love you so much it hurts. I’ve always wanted a family, and they keep getting taken away. I will not let that happen with you and Summer. Josie, too. As long as I’m alive, I’m going to look after you guys, and make sure that you never have to go through what I went through.” He ruffled her perfectly ironed hair, then pulled back to tilt her chin to look at him. “Whether you like it or not.”

“But Dre,” she sniffled. “I lost my mom, and my dad, and now my big brother. If you let Uncle Ian and Auntie Ruth adopt us, then you could just be our brother. I want to be like Katie and Grace and Renee, and have a brother I can go to who’s on my side. A brother who’s just my brother, and parents who are just my parents.” 

Of all the things she had said tonight, this hit him the hardest. He stepped back from her, staring at her in disbelief. “Sam…” he choked out past the tears that were nearly out of control now.

Just then, tires crunched on the gravel, and he looked up to see Ruth and Ian’s blue Caravan, and Fletcher’s green Jeep right behind.

“We brought pizza!” said Uncle Ian. “We heard about your demolition deal, Dre. Congratulations!”

He still couldn’t move as the three of them embraced him. Even Fletcher’s embrace couldn’t cut through the numbness. When he pulled back, he scrutinized Dre’s face. Worry creased his brow as he reached up a hand, maybe to brush away Dre’s tears. But then, Uncle Ian turned to Sam, and his eyes went wide. “What in the name of God are you wearing?” he gasped, and instantly, Sam’s hackles went up.

“It’s for the dance tomorrow!” she replied haughtily.

“Dre! How could you allow this?” When Uncle Ian turned the accusatory glare his way, Dre just kept on staring.

Then, after a beat, he pulled on his helmet, got on the bike, and rode away, the shouts of his family not even making it to his ears past the sound of the pouring rain.

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~ Romans 15:13

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