“Oh look! An elephant!”
“Where? I don’t see an elephant.”
“Right there, stupid.”
Eric pointed a stiff arm at the slowly-changing blob. His index finger shook for emphasis. A storm was rolling in and he knew they’d have to leave soon.
Katie leaned closer and put her head against her brother’s arm. If he saw an elephant, she wanted to see it, too!
“See it?” he asked. “Hurry!” he added.
A squeal was his answer. Thankfully, she’d seen the elephant before it disappeared.
“I almost missed it,” she said. “You ever notice the similarities?” she continued.
The shape that was an elephant only seconds ago drifted unevenly. The remainder loosely resembled a heart.
Eric knew she what she was asking about but he had to let it play out or she’d be unbearable.
“What similarities? That heart looks nothing like an elephant.”
“No. Not those. I’m talking about Dad. There’s always a similarity.”
Eric sighed, “You never knew Dad. He left when you were a baby. Dad was cool other than the whole leaving thing.”
Katie knew he was right. She’d only known the men their mother kept around but had never known their father. Their mother didn’t like being alone.
“You’re thinking of him again. Don’t be stupid.”
She shot Eric a look far more effective than words.
“In time kiddo,” he patted her leg and glanced to the photo album full of childhood memories better left forgotten.
Katie had taken another bite of her sandwich while she looked for the next recognizable shape. She really wanted to beat Eric to it. She wanted to see it first. She HAD to see it first.
“I’m not stupid,” she said through the peanut butter. The gooey glob made it sound like “thtupid”, instead. She hated that.
Eric didn’t respond. He was too busy watching the shapes develop and dissolve so he could beat her to the next one. He loved spending time with her like this and helping her forget. He shooed-away a fly before it could land on Katie’s sandwich. He’d never thought of her as stupid but he did like that it rattled her.
“Are you going to eat that or what?” he asked. “You’re taking forever.”
Rather than push her words through peanut butter, Katie merely bugged-out her eyes at Eric and opened her mouth. Eric maintained his focus until, “Seahorse!”
“No way!” Katie yelled and immediately saw the rough seahorse complete with curled tail. It was on its side but it still counted. “How do you see these so fast?”
“I’m good. What can I say?”
Eric’s cheesy grin had never changed for as long as Katie could remember and he flashed it at her every chance he got. He leaned over, grabbed her milk and took a quick swig.
“Eww!!” Katie wrinkled her nose. “That’s my milk!”
“So? I’m thirsty.”
“Anything but milk. Just keep it. I don’t want it back. You’re really disgusting. You know that, right?”
Her words were quite clear despite the final sticky remnants in her mouth.
“You know I don’t like that,” She added.
“You still have juice,” he replied before chugging the rest of her milk unphased by her protests.
“That’s not the point,” she said crossing her arms.
“We should go soon. Don’t you think?” she asked.
“After your pudding, we’ll go. Ok?”
Katie rummaged through her bag and pulled-out a pudding cup. “I’d forgotten about this!”
“How could you forget? It’s your favorite.”
“You know how I get. Knock it off.”
She nudged Eric’s arm with her elbow but he didn’t move. He was, after all, twice her size if not more. For all the shit he gave her, she had never questioned his love of her. She also knew he’d never forgive himself.
“This is fun, you know?” she offered.
“Yeah. Cheaper than therapy, too.”
They laughed as Katie scooped the last of her pudding from the corners of the plastic cup with her finger.
“What time are we leaving tomorrow?”
“We need to be on the road tonight. It’s a 10-hour drive back to Phoenix to catch our flight to Georgia. Lick that finger clean and put your glove back on.”
“You always have a plan,” she said.
“That’s my job.”
“Let’s go,” she said tossing her empty pudding container back in the bag and grabbing his empty milk bottle. “There’s nothing left to see. It’s all just a runny mess now anyway.”
Eric got up from the couch and offered his sister a hand. He dropped the back-alley pistol from New York next to the body against the splattered wall and took the bag from his sister.
“They always look-” Katie started.
“If you say “Dad”, I’m seriously going to smack you. Keep your mind on what we’re doing,” Eric interrupted.
“I’m just saying…they all look the same.”
“After a few more, they’ll all look like nothing at all. That’s what they are – nothing.”