“Gosh, Riley, how late!” Alan cried, running out of the kitchen at the sound of the main door opening.
She looked at him for a second and her lip quivered with the urge to burst crying. Still, without saying anything, Riley took a few unsteady steps and threw herself on the red sofa, sniffling to control herself. Alan approached her slowly, balancing his eyeglasses on his nose, and looked at her red face and tearful eyes cautiously.
“Uh… where is Elliot?” he asked quietly.
She looked at him and gave a low, near-crying, sarcastic laugh. “Elliot? Dude, he left like five minutes back.”
“What!? Just now!??” Alan spat, jumping up in alarm and face relatively aghast.
“Yeah…” Riley whispered and placed a wet cheek on her knees, looking sideways.
“Riley? You seem upset… What h-happened?” Alan asked, sitting on the chair in front of her.
He could hear her breath loudly before whispering a short reply.
“You really don’t know?”
He shook his head, even though Riley couldn’t see him, and said, “Not really. I mean, of course, you are upset because he has gone, but that’s happened a lot of times before. I just- I just haven’t seen you this emotional…you know?”
She inhaled loudly and turned her face to look at Alan.
“Yeah… he has left, that’s why I’m… like this,” she answered, pressing her lips together and sniffling.
Alan frowned lightly and pulled his chair nearer and put a hand on her shoulder. “Riley, I know this is hard… but… what happened?” he whispered as she looked at him with her dark, striking, grieved eyes.
“Elliot,” she replied and slowly sat up as Alan removed his hand and listened.
“Elliot… did something to you?” he asked quietly.
“He didn’t hit me, no…” she shook her head with a gentle, tearful chuckle but then whimpered, “He hurt my feelings.”
Alan breathed gently and looked at his hands. He didn’t know what to say. As he wiggled his thumbs, he felt Riley staring at him hopefully. Alan knew he was ignoring her. He wasn’t comforting her. He was hurting her even more. Suddenly, he lifted his head up and smiled uncertainly.
“I’m sure he has some serious duties. He’d never leave you,” Alan consoled.
“Ha,” came the sarcastic sniffle, “Duties more important than his family? More important than home? More important than his… sister?”
“That guy has some business,” Alan shrugged, trying to make it seem not a big deal, but he was definitely worried when he saw Riley’s face again.
“Oh, really?” she asked, her ironic sense turning up, and she pulled her right leg over her left, staring at Alan dead in the eye.
“Some… business? What business? What, does he get super big business deal every few months? Are you kidding me?” she spat.
Alan didn’t speak. He straightened back in his chair and swallowed. This was a sensitive moment and one word gone wrong could be bad news for him. If he said anything stupid, it would be impossible to care for her while Elliot wasn’t there.
Riley’s face hardened and she tilted her head as she spoke.
“You know something? I always believed his stories. I always believed he was doing that really important and helpful work, and that before he came home, he had made the world safer and happier. No… I was wrong. Elliot… he doesn’t do that… He’s just a liar. An untrustworthy person. The day when I followed him, I knew he was lying. Remember, Alan? I confronted him that night. Did you see his twitches and quivers? Elliot was shaking. He was shaking like a liar. And, did you hear what he told me?”
Tears were filling her eyes again and her face softened. Alan licked his lips and fought the urge to speak. If this had to go, he had to let her speak as she wished. A silvery tear ran down her soft cheek and she inhaled before speaking again, her voice breaking.
“He thinks I am a burden, right? He doesn’t want to take care of me. That’s why he leaves me like this. It’s asking too much, huh? So, he just packs up and leaves me for good and comes back for a bunch of months to make me feel like I mean so much to him. Huh! What an artist! But… I don’t think I am a burden… I- I really don’t think so… Elliot… he might not love me… but I- I really, really want him back! Am I a burden, Alan? You tell me, am- am I really that much of a burden? Well, then, go on, tell me!!”
She buried her face in her knees and sobbed loudly. As for Alan, exhaled loudly and knew now her tantrum was over. Gently and quietly, he pulled his chair even closer and pressed Riley’s shoulder soothingly.
“Riley, please, don’t be so hard on yourself,” he whispered.
She looked up, still sobbing quietly, with her hair all messed up. “Al, I can’t trust myself to be angry at Elliot. Who else should I be mad at?” she whimpered like a lost kitten.
Alan didn’t answer Riley. He bit his bottom lip and looked at his knees and back at her knowingly. She blinked and gasped silently, shaking her head.
“No… why would I be angry with you? You have done nothing to break my heart. And, you are the one who actually takes care of me!” Riley spoke as Alan smiled a half-smile and looked back at his knees, drawing back his hands.
“I know…” he mumbled, still looking down, “But, if you find something to be angry at me, take your chance. It would be much better than hating your brother or yourself…”
Something about his sentence struck Riley and she was silent for a while, before speaking yet again:
“Elliot is the one I should actually despise. You say he is my brother, Alan, but he doesn’t take responsibility like one. He doesn’t love me like one. And, here I am… Hating myself for his crimes… And you, his best friend, are struggling to stop me… Forget it, Alan. I am not going to stop. I am done.”
She grabbed a cushion and clutched it tightly, before laying her head on it.
“Just let it go…?” Alan said uncertainly. Riley looked at him both quizzically and angrily, so he hurried to finish his sentence in a most abrupt manner.
“I mean, he is going to come back… and, you know it! Nothing to cry about, right?” he bared his teeth in a slight, uncertain grin at the end of the sentence.
Riley scoffed softly.
“Huh, that’s some idea, eh?”
“Come on, Ri, forget it… um, for a while, at least… just relax for a while…” Alan muttered, his crystal blue eyes spelling uncertainty from behind his glasses.
Riley blinked. She didn’t know what to say- either his words really had meaning, or he was talking baloney. She merely rubbed her eyes and asked, “Uh, w-what time is it?”
“Past ten,” Alan replied, glad that the subject was finally over.
“Well!” Riley stood up, putting the cushion down, “That’s late…”
Alan stood up too, “Yeah, you should go to bed probably.”
“I will,” she nodded and started going upstairs to her room.
“I’ll bring up a salad,” Alan called from behind her.
“Nah, I’m fine,” she answered, waving her hand in an unwanted manner.
“You’ll feel better after some refreshments,” he urged.
Riley sighed, and glanced at him over her shoulder. “Only a little. I don’t feel hungry.”
“’Kay, I’ll be right back,” he nodded, going off to the kitchen.
Riley shook her head and continued walking on. As she climbed in her bed, she thought of her brother consistently. He always left her helpless like this- in the name of the so-called duty. What duty did he have? What duty was evilly important that he would leave his sister, a bare fourteen-year-old, alone? What duty was such that he would not speak of it to her?
Why would he not tell her? Why would he not?