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My Brother's Keeper

By Kaelar
Page 1 of 1

I remember it like it was yesterday...
 

"Deeta? Deeta!"

I opened my bedroom door. "Coming!" I walked into the living room, where my parents were waiting for me.

"Your father and I are leaving now. Make sure Del gets to bed on time."

"Leaving! But I'm going out tonight!" I protested.

"Deeta," Mother sighed. "You knew three weeks ago that tonight was the staff party at your father's office. Why did you make plans?"

"I forgot," I mumbled sullenly. Then an idea struck. "Look, why don't you call Sara? She's stayed with Del before."

"She's not available tonight."

"Aw, but..."

"Deeta." That's all Father had to say. When he spoke in that tone of voice, you didn't argue. I moped over to the sofa and sat on it as hard as I could, but it's hard to express your displeasure by banging on a cushion. Mother called for Del and he came running into the room. Little rat.

"We'll be back in a few hours," she told him. "You do as Deeta says." He glanced at me and I smiled nastily back at him.

"I'll be all right," he assured her. Confident, wasn't he? Mother hugged and kissed him, then she and Father left.

"I wish she wouldn't do that," Del complained, wiping off his cheek. "Ten's too old to be kissed."

"But not old enough to stay by yourself," I mocked. He seemed startled by my show of temper but I didn't care. I stomped over to the vid-phone and called Timmons. "I won't be able to make it tonight," I told him.

"Why not? It's going to be a lot of fun..."

"For you, but not for me. _I_ have to stay home and watch my little brother."

"Oh. Bad luck. We're going to miss you."

"Sorry."

"Boy, I'm sure glad I don't have a younger brother," he said. "I'll see you around."

"Good-bye," I signed off. I turned to see Del watching me. "What are you looking at?" I grouched. "Don't you have some homework to do?"

"I've already finished it." It figured. "Dee, I'm sorry you couldn't go out with your--"

"I don't want to talk about it," I cut him off. "Just don't bother me."

"All right." He slowly walked into his room.

I felt a few seconds' guilt for snapping at him; then I remembered all the fun I was missing and got angry again. I flicked on the vis-screen, trying to find something to watch, but there was nothing but a slow-moving documentary.

I had just dozed off when, a few hours later, a voice and a hand on my shoulder shook me awake.

"What is it now?" I asked peevishly, angry at being disturbed.

"I just wanted to tell you I'm going to bed," Del replied.

I glanced at my watch. Now _this_ was a surprise. Del usually argued with me to let him stay up later. "Can't you even do that on your own?" I crabbed. I was always in a horrible mood when I first woke up.

"I...I'm sorry." He turned to go. I felt like the grouch I was, but I didn't stop him. After all, I was sixteen and had a tough reputation to maintain.

He was almost at the door when he spoke. "Deeta, why do you hate me?" He said it so softly that I barely heard him, and I didn't believe what I thought he'd said anyway.

"What?" I sat up on the sofa.

He turned around, and I saw he was crying. "Why do you hate me?"

"I don't hate you, Del," I denied. "What makes you think a silly thing like that?"

"You hardly ever talk to me, and when you do, you're always angry, and you don't play with me at all." He started crying harder. "I told Mother and Father I could stay by myself tonight, but they wouldn't let me, and now you're mad at me, and it's not my fault, and..." He ran out of breath, and I walked over to him before he could start again and led him to sit beside me on the sofa.

"Now, stop crying," I ordered as I handed him a tissue. He wiped his nose and obediently quieted. "I know I've not been spending a lot of time with you lately, and maybe I haven't been as nice as I should, but you've got to understand; things are different when you're my age, Del. I can't quite explain it, but you'll see what I mean when you're as old as I am. I promise I'll try to be more considerate of you in the future. All right?"

"Then you don't hate me?" he asked hesitantly.

"Of course not!"

He snuggled up close to me, smiling, and I put my arm around his shoulder. "Good," he mumbled drowsily. "Because I love you, Deeta." That made me blush, but fortunately he didn't see it, because he'd fallen asleep.

I must have followed him a few minutes later, because the next thing I knew, a loud knocking on the door woke me. I sat up quickly and Del thumped down to the floor. "Ouch," he complained muzzily. "What's going on?"

The vis-screen was flickering with static, giving the room an eerie glow. "I don't know," I answered as I stumbled to the door, only half awake myself. "Mother and Father must've gotten locked out somehow."

But when I opened the door, it wasn't our parents who were knocking, but two traffic officials. "Is this the Tarrant residence?" one asked.

"Yes," I replied a little nervously.

"And you are..."

"Deeta Tarrant."

"We need to talk to you." They came in without being invited. I followed them to the living room, where Del had finally gotten up off the floor and was standing in the doorway.

"Deeta, is it Mother..." he stopped speaking when he saw the two strangers.

"Quiet." I pulled him over beside me, and we waited for our visitors to explain why they'd come.

"There was a transport accident earlier this evening," one began in a monotone. "Both your parents were killed. You are to report to Administration Building 6, Level 3, tomorrow at 0800 to settle the estate and make arrangements for your future needs. Don't be late." They'd left and slammed the door behind them before the news could sink in.

I don't have clear memories of what happened after that. I stumbled over to a chair and sat down. Del followed me. "Dee..." he croaked. For the first time in about seven years, and the last time since, I cried. Del crawled in my lap and buried his head in my shoulder. We sat like that until morning came and the alarm went off. It was the time we usually got up for school.

Del had finally gone back to sleep so I carefully stood and laid him on the chair. No for him to get up yet. I went to our parents' room and found the papers I would need. Father had told me what to do should anything happen to him and Mother, so I would be prepared when we kept our appointment.

I took a shower and cleaned up, then went to wake Del. "Deeta," he yawned. "I had the most awful nightmare last..." Then he noticed where he was and sat up. "It wasn't a dream, was it?"

"No," I replied. I didn't want to give him time to think about it, so I pulled him to his feet and pushed him toward the bathroom. "You take a bath and put on clean clothes while I fix something to eat," I ordered.

Neither of us had much of an appetite, but I forced myself and Del to finish the tasteless food. Then I gathered the documents, locked the door behind us, and we took the shuttle train to the Administration building. As we rode the elevator to Level 3, I told Del, "Let me do all the talking. Father explained what to do if this ever happened, so I can take care of it." He just nodded.

We walked up to the lady sitting at the desk. "I'm Deeta Tarrant, and this is my brother Del. We were told..."

"'Tarrant,' yes, I've got your files right here," she cut me off. "Have a seat, the officer will see you shortly." We sat in the hard chairs and waited. And waited.

Finally, almost two hours later, we were called back to an office. The man held out his hand, and I realized he wanted my papers, so I gave them to him. There were no seats for us, so we just stood and watched as he read.

"Well," he said when he'd finished. "Your father kept his affairs in decent order, but his financial situation could have been better. Therefore, we will sell what is needed of his possessions to pay off his debts. Then you...Deeta," he waved a handful of papers at me. "You'll go on to secondary school, I assume?" Without waiting for an answer he continued, "And young Del will of course be sent to a boarding school, where he can..."

"No!" Del cried out. He clung to me. "Don't let them take me, Deeta!"

"See here," the man began. "It's the only thing to do. Now act your age!"

"He's not going to a boarding school," I said firmly.

"He has to," the man responded. "There's nowhere else for him."

"I'll take care of him," I explained.

"You're not listening to me. What little will be left of your father's finances won't be enough for you to maintain yourselves in your present living quarters. With you at the secondary school, which of course supplies a room and meals, and Del at the boarding school, at least you'll have a place to stay, and food to eat."

"No," I shook my head. By now it was hard to tell who was holding on to whom the hardest: me or Del. "I won't go to secondary school. I'll get a job. I can take care of him. We won't be separated."

"You're being foolish."

"We're staying together," I insisted stubbornly.

The man agitatedly ruffled the papers, then sighed. "It's your life; if you want to waste it so early on, go ahead. The sale will take place in two days; someone will be by to pick up all relevant items tomorrow. You'll need to vacate the apartment in one week; that's when the next payment is due. Maybe by then you'll have changed your mind. Good-bye."

We left the building and walked to the shuttle train station. "You won't change your mind, will you?" Del looked pale and frightened.

"Don't worry," I reassured him. "They won't ever take you away from me."

The money left over from the sale of Father's estate was just enough for me to pay the first two months' rent on a small apartment. We moved our meager belongings in as soon as the rent ran out on our old home. That was one of the hardest things to do: leave the home i'd grown up in.

The new one was small--one bedroom, a living area, bath, and kitchenette. But the two of us didn't need much room. I got Del off to school and went job hunting.

I'd studied engineering, so after a few hours I finally found a job as an assistant. It didn't pay much, but it would keep us clothed and fed and housed. I got home a few minutes before Del was due. Timmons was waiting for me outside the door. "I'm sorry about your parents," he said.

"Thanks," I replied.

"Is it true you're not going on with your schooling?"

"That's right," I replied as I unlocked the door. "I've got a job."

"You're not thinking, Deeta," he argued. "What kind of future are you going to have with no education?"

"I'll be all right."

"Listen, I know why you're doing it. But you shouldn't worry about your brother. He'd be fine in a boarding school; after a few days he'd forget all about you."

"I know what happens to kids sent to those boarding schools," I said. "There's no way I'd do that to Del."

"Oh, he's just a big baby. I'd sure do it if I were in your situation."

"Maybe that's why you don't have a brother, Timmons. Now excuse me. I have to get supper ready; Del will be home soon." I pushed him out and shut the door.

"You'll be sorry!" his muffled voice called.

Soon Del came stomping in. "Did you get a job?" he asked excitedly.

"Yes," I told him. "I'm going to be an engineer's assistant."

"Only an assistant? Why? You know just as much as anyone else!" He sounded indignant.

"Maybe, but I have to start somewhere," I laughed. "Now let's eat before it gets cold." We sat at the table and had our first meal in our new home.

* * *

We had to share a bed, but it didn't bother me. It was comforting to have Del so close; he was all I had left now. As he snuggled under the covers, he turned to me and asked, "You won't ever leave me, will you, Dee?"

"You know I won't."

"I know. I just wanted to hear you say it again. Good night."

"Good night, little brother."

* * *

But I did leave him. Oh, it wasn't til six years later, but I left, and that's what matters. He was upset, but tried to hide it. I suppose that deep down he understood, but it was hard to let go, after we'd been together so long. It was even harder for me.

I wonder what he's doing now? The last I hard, he was making quite a name for himself in the Federation Space Academy. He always did want to be a pilot. I was glad he was getting to live his dream. Besides, he loved showing off, and what better way to do it than by flying around in a fighter ship?

I'll look him up eventually. I need to see him again. Talk to him; show him that I really do still care for him. And I hope he feels the same way.

I miss you, little brother.


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