Caleb was awakened by a booming sound of thunder. He arose from his bed slowly, staring into the darkness of his room. Outside, the dim glow of streetlights somehow found its way in, slithering over several stacks of dirty clothes and into a nearby corner. He could make out a few other objects in the blackness as well; his dresser and half open closet sat beside the exit of his room all across from him. Everything was silent, save for the rain pounding onto his window. Silence also meant Caleb’s mother still hasn’t returned from her late shift as a factory worker. She worked two jobs.
During the day, she worked as a store clerk, so she didn’t even have time to pick him, his brother Calvin and younger sister Crystal up from school. They had to brave their way through the gang-infested areas surrounding their school in order to get home. Caleb hated walking back to his house. He loathed the entire area where he lived. Dilapidated buildings that once stood as homes, apartment complexes, corner stores and banks littered the neighborhoods. Empty lots of that used to be parking areas, back and front yards were now fenced in gravel spaces. Trash was always thrown everywhere. It was like staying in one giant alleyway. While he and his siblings were lucky enough not to catch the attention of the thugs, he’d seen their wrath executed on many of his fellow classmates. Few didn’t survive the beatings. His own block wasn’t much better, but at least the gangsters—who were rivals to ones near his institution—recognized him.
The ruby colored digital numbers of his clock sitting atop a table next to his bed gleamed in the darkness. He turned to it and groaned, the late evening hour setting off a chain of chores left to do in Caleb’s mind. Before he knew it, he was out his bed, heading down the narrow hall, feeling the chilly air nipping through his jersey and shorts. At the end of the corridor ahead of him, he noticed the entrance to his sister’s room, slightly ajar. He could hear Crystal inside, humming to herself. He smiled, then yawned running a few fingers through his dark hair, shaved down to a very low buzz cut.
The eldest of the three, Caleb took his role as big brother seriously. After the divorce between his parents, Ms. Jones was laid off from her job working for the post office. Since then, she began a balancing act with her next two occupations, leaving Caleb and his siblings to fend for themselves. It pained him to watch his mother struggle, and it upset him even more that his father wasn’t around to lighten the load. Years had passed since they last hung out, but even at that time, it was a disaster. Their constant arguing ruined every dinner, birthday party, or holiday the family held special. If Caleb had his way, he would have a job of his own, but he was only fifteen a “spring chicken,” his mother called him.
“You focus on high school,” he recalled his mother saying one night they were in the kitchen. She smirked. “Me and God got this.”
Her pruny lips planted a kiss on his forehead. “Besides, who’s gonna look after those two knuckle-heads you call a brother if me and you got a job?” Caleb could still hear the soft chuckle in her voice as she asked him.
He heard the crazed noises of furious button mashing and gunshots while he made his way downstairs. His other brother, the middle child, was playing some violent action game. Calvin was always into active things like sports, video games and hanging around friends. Caleb enjoyed those things as well however; he didn’t have much time for them due to his chores. Honestly, each sibling had their own set of work to do around the house but Caleb found himself doing everything because his brother never did anything and Caleb adored Crystal, so he sort of volunteered to do her work.
He mumbled to himself, slightly irritated. Calvin was the person he had to keep an eye on. Bright television lights from the living room behind him flickered and flashed into the kitchen, giving Caleb enough vision to navigate around. He decided to turn on some lights anyway as he made his way over the fridge in one corner of the white room. His bare feet smacked against the tiled floors loudly.
Upon opening the ice-box, his heart sank at the sight of a barren refrigerator. Friday was only two days away, yet Caleb still closed his eyes to remember how much allowance money was left. He might have to skip lunch tomorrow in order to bring home a pizza. Along with this came the memory of the frozen pack of chicken he took out earlier, adjacent to him. It remained sitting in the sink, which irked Caleb even more. It was his brother week to cook the food! He already did him a favor and let it thaw…. How lazy could one person be?
“Why didn’t you put on the chicken, Cal?!” he called out in an annoyed tone.
“That ain’t my job!” He shot back, just as agitated.
“It’s your week to make dinner!”
“Why cook when you do everything anyway?” He replied.
Rage filled his veins. Caleb was tempted to storm into the family, room, yank all the cords from the television and choke that brat. Doing more mumbling, instead, Caleb tore off the packaging found a pan, turned on the stove and prepared the meat. He of course had more to say, but arguing wouldn’t put food in the oven.
“I’m not the only person that’s supposed to be doing some work around here!”
Wild obscenities and a loud explosion rang from the living room. “You made me lose!” Calvin groaned.
“Good, now come do your job!”
In he stormed, wearing a gray sweater, jeans, his short dreads wrapped in a ponytail. He slammed his hand onto the counter beside him, letting out an exaggerated sigh. Caleb ignored this.
“You get started on the sides.” Caleb ordered.
Calvin begrudgingly obeyed and opened one of the wooden cabinets next to him, rummaging through dishes clumsily, purposely knocking most to the floor. When Caleb turned to protest, a piercing scream echoed from upstairs, cutting him off.
They exchanged worried looks.
Crystal was in trouble. Did someone break in?