I sat on the kitchen counter, watching my mom make pasta bake; she was panicking slightly and kept glancing at the clock every couple of minutes. I knew why she did this, my dad was due home in exactly sixteen minutes and he liked dinner to be on the table as soon as he got in.
Jake wandered in, playing with his Spider-Man figures. “Mom, can I go play at Liam’s?” he asked, giving her the puppy dog look.
She glanced at the clock again and shook her head quickly. “Not right now, Jakey. Dinner won’t be long and we need to eat as a family.” She flinched slightly as she spoke.
Jake’s face fell, but he nodded and came to sit next to me. I immediately snatched the little man out of his hands and laughed as he gasped and snatched it back, smiling and rolling his eyes at me. He was a cute kid, with blond hair and grey eyes with brown flecks in them. He was my big brother, and as big brothers went, he was the best. He always looked after me at home and at school, made sure no one picked on me. The only one allowed to pick on me, as far as he was concerned, was him, and to a lesser extent his best friend Liam, who happened to live next door.
“So, Ambs, you need help with your homework?” he asked, nudging his shoulder into mine. Jake was ten, and was two years older than me, so he always helped with my school work
“Nope. I didn’t get any.” I smiled, swinging my legs as they dangled off of the counter.
“OK, kids, go set the table for me. You know how. Exactly right, OK?” Mom asked, sprinkling cheese on the pasta and putting it into the oven. Jake and I jumped down from the counter and grabbed the stuff, heading to the dining room.
My dad was very particular about everything, if everything wasn’t exactly right, he got angry and no one ever wanted that. My mom always said that my dad had a stressful job. He always got easily annoyed if we did anything wrong. If you had heard of that saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’, well, my dad took that to another extreme. Instead, he liked ‘Children shouldn’t be seen or heard’. At five thirty everyday he would come home, we would eat dinner straight away, and then Jake and I would be sent to our bedrooms, where we played quietly until seven thirty when we would have to go to bed.
I hated this time every day. Everything was fine until he came home, and then we all changed. Jake always went quiet and didn’t smile. My mom got this look on her face, like fear or worry, and she would start rushing around plumping up the cushions on the sofa. I always just stood there and silently wished I could hide in my room and never come out.
Jake and I set the table quietly, and then sat down in silence, waiting for the click of the door to signal that he was home. I could feel my stomach fluttering, my hands starting to sweat as I prayed in my head that he’d had a good day and he would be normal tonight.
Sometimes, he would be in a really good mood and would hug and kiss me. Telling me what a special little girl I was, and how much he loved me. That was usually on a Sunday. My mom and Jake would go to hockey practice and I would be left home with my father. Those Sundays were the worst, but I didn’t ever tell anyone about those times, or how he touched me and told me how pretty I was. I hated those days, and wished the weekends would never come. I would much rather it be a school day when we would only see him for dinnertime. I definitely preferred it when he looked at me with the angry eyes, than when he looks at me with the soft eyes. I don’t like that at all, it made me feel uncomfortable, it always made my hands shake. Thankfully though, today was only Monday so I had almost a week before I would have to worry about that again.
A couple of minutes later he walked in. Jake shot me a look that told me to behave and he held my hand under the table. My father had blond hair, the same colour as Jake’s. He had brown eyes, and was always frowning.
“Hello, kids,” he said in his loud deep voice. A shudder tickled down my spine as he spoke. He set his briefcase on the side and took his seat at the head of the table. I tried not to show any reaction to him; actually, I tried not to move at all. It always seemed to be me that got everyone in trouble or that did something wrong. It always seemed to be me that made things worse for everyone. It never used to be like this, I used to be daddy’s little girl, but since he started his job, three years ago, he changed. Our relationship with him changed completely. He still favoured me over Jake, but when he came home from work, it was like he wanted to pretend like Jake and I weren’t there. The way he looked at Jake sometimes was like he was wishing he didn’t exist, it made my stomach hurt to see him look at my brother like that.
“Hello, Dad,” we both replied at the same time. Just then my mom came in carrying the pasta and a plate of garlic bread.
“This looks nice, Margaret,” he said, giving her a smile. We all started eating in silence and I tried not to shift on my seat uncomfortably. “So, how was school, Jake?” he asked my brother.
Jake looked up nervously. “It was good, thank you. I tried out for the ice hockey team and Liam and I were,” he started, but my father nodded, not listening.
“That’s great, son,” he interjected. “What about you, Amber?” he asked, turning his gaze on me.
Oh God! OK, be polite, don’t ramble. “Good, thank you,” I replied quietly.
“Speak up child!” he shouted.
I flinched at his tone, wondering if he was going to hit me, or maybe send me to bed with no dinner. “It was good, thank you,” I repeated a little louder.
He frowned at me and then turned to my mom who was nervously wringing her hands together. “So, Margaret, what have you been doing today?” he asked, eating his food.
“Well, I went to the supermarket and I got that shampoo that you like, and then I did some ironing,” my mom answered quickly. It sounded like a prepared answer, she always did that, had her answers ready so that she wouldn’t say anything inappropriate to make him mad.
I reached out my hand for my drink, but I wasn’t watching properly and knocked it over, spilling the contents over the table. Everyone’s eyes snapped to my father, who jumped up from his chair. “Shit! Amber, you stupid little bitch!” he growled, grabbing the top of my arm and pulling me roughly from the table. Suddenly my back hit the wall, pain shot down my back and I bit my lip to stop from crying. Crying made it worse, he hated crying, he said only weak people cried. I saw him draw back his hand; he was going to hit me. I held my breath waiting for the blow, knowing that there was nothing I could do but take it, the same as always.
My brother jumped from his chair and threw himself at me, wrapping his arms around me tightly, covering me. His was back to our father as he protected me. “Get the hell off of her, Jake! She needs to learn to be more careful!” my father shouted, grabbing hold of Jake by his clothes and throwing him to the floor. He slapped me across the face, sending me to the floor, then he turned to Jake and kicked him in the leg, making him moan. “You don’t ever get in my way again, you little shit!” he shouted at Jake, while he was curled into a ball on the floor.
Silent tears were flowing down my face. I couldn’t stand to see him hurt my brother; he was only trying to protect me. Jake always did that. Whenever I got into trouble, he would provoke my father so that he would take it out on him instead.
My father picked up his plate and drink and stormed into the lounge to finish his food, muttering something about us being ‘the worst kids in the world’ and ‘how the hell did he get stuck with this life’.
I crawled over to my brother and wrapped my arms around him tightly, clinging to him as if my life depended on it. He groaned and pushed himself up to sitting, hugging me back, rubbing his hand across my stinging cheek, hissing through his teeth.
“I’m so sorry, Jake. I’m so sorry,” I mumbled quietly, crying onto his shoulder.
He shook his head. “It’s alright, Ambs. It’s not your fault,” he croaked, giving me a small smile and trying to get to his feet, groaning. I jumped to my feet and helped him up. I could hear movement so I glanced up to see that my mother was frantically clearing the table.
“Take your dinner to your rooms and eat, OK?” she instructed, kissing us both on the cheek. She needed to go to my father and do damage control, he would be in a temper in there from my mistake and she needed to calm him down before anything else happened. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning. I love you both. Please be quiet, and whatever happens, stay in your rooms,” she ordered, quickly kissing us again and handing us our half eaten dinners, before pushing us towards the back hallway.
We had a nice house, four bedrooms and it was all on one level. My father earned good money so we lived in a nice area, but I would rather the house was smaller so he wouldn’t have to work in his job. Maybe then he would be like the old dad, taking us to the park and buying me toys and candy. Jake came to my room and we ate in silence, sitting on the floor near my bed. He held my hand tightly when we heard my father shouting at my mother from the lounge, something smashed, and I winced. This was entirely my fault.
I started to sob so Jake wrapped his arm around my shoulder, squeezing gently. He always seemed so much older than me; he was so much more mature than I was. “It’s OK. Everything’s OK, Ambs. Don’t worry,” he cooed, stroking my hair. Once I had calmed down, and the shouting had stopped, we played snap cards for a little while.
When we were in the middle of the game, we heard stomping coming up the hallway, Jake stiffened as the footsteps went past my door. They didn’t stop though, thank God. I let out the breath I didn’t realise I was holding and looked at Jake, who smiled a small smile. “I’d better go to my room, it’s after seven,” he said looking at my alarm clock. “Lock your door. I’ll see you in the morning,” he said with a wink. He left the room and I watched him creep across the hall to his room, he turned back to me. “Lock your door, Ambs,” he whispered, waiting there, watching me.
I shut my door and locked it quickly as he told me to. Putting my ear to the wood, I listened to make sure that Jake did the same to his. I ran back over to my bed and threw myself on it, crying silently. I couldn’t stop, I was sobbing and sobbing. I had been stupid tonight and I got my brother hurt again! And probably my mother too, by the sound of the noises from the lounge.