Mari had a bottle of warm, reconstituted milk to keep her occupied. And Samira would always be the first person to soothe her if she cried.
It was part of the job, after all.
“Amy, why did you always not let me come here?” Samira asked. She had her legs folded on her thighs, and a coy smile on her face.
Amy hiccuped. And then gasped on her own.
“I still don’t…why are you here?”
“Well, I tried to get uncle Seng and Franco to play with me, but they’re busy. Uh…Seng’s asleep, actually.”
“Geez, I guess I should’ve taken you to tutoring,” Amy said. She looked at the floor. “And now you have to take care of Mari too?”
“Yeah. She was all alone in Seng’s office…but I think she likes it here! She got fruit from Melinda,” Samira said. “Please Amy, can I stay here? I’ll be good!”
“I guess I can’t stop you,” she said.
“Where’s Julian?” Samira asked. “We could’ve hung out here.”
“I brought him home. Your mum was supposed to be there, but…you know, I trust him. He’s nine-and-a-half too.”
It wasn’t long before the younger bartender there kept an eye on Mari. It let Samira get a front-row spot to watch Destiny Train! It’s where the sound was the best.
“Slayer! You fucks oughta play Slayer!” Annette slurred out to them. Aron tried jazzing up the main riff from “Raining Blood”, which may have been the only Slayer song he knew.
Samira watched, but someone then lumbered in through the door.
Franco must have finished all his appointments. He slouched and moped as he took a slow walk into the lounge. Samira almost wanted to comfort him, but Amy found him first.
She bought him a drink, and had one for herself.
“As you can see, it’s not really a date.”
“I…she doesn’t pass out drunk on your dates?”
“No! Not always. But…uh…it made me think of things…”
“…you’re sane. You actually know how to avoid trouble. You gotta help me.”
“…I’m 23. I can’t solve your regrets.”
“But what if I’m just not cut out for her?! I wanna be!”
They, or at least Amy, drank until the sky went inky and dark. Samira lost track of time, and the two of them must have too. And Annette was deep asleep on the floor, dreaming to Gina singing “Autumn in New York.” Maybe Seng woke up and realized where Mari was, and went home for the night.
But Mari held up well. She didn’t get cranky or try to sleep. She made faces at Samira and babbled at her. Samira reciprocated. If Mari tried to blow a raspberry, she’d do the same back and even harder. It was warming and pure to bond with such a sweet child. Maybe Seng could see that Samira beat him at being an uncle!
The night wore on. Most of the patrons left, and Destiny Train was on their encore’s last song. Samira and Mari watched it, curled up on the seats. Annette snored softly, and her left leg twitched a little.
“No…Seng…on my titties this time…”
“Huh…I wonder if she’ll stay there all night,” Samira said. “Maybe we can have a sleepover after all! We’ll eat all the longans and get Gina to sing for us!”
She laughed into her microphone. “Sorry kid, it’s not part of the contract.”
“Can you tell jokes?”
“Eh. Maybe for a bit.”
Franco came back, carrying a tired Amy. “She’s gonna have some nice company,” he said. He lay her carefully on the seat closest to Annette. “Are you holding up okay?”
“I am with Mari!” Samira looked Franco deep into his tired hazel eyes. “How are you doing? You’re always out by sunset!”
He took a seat at the corner. “Look, I didn’t know how busy it would get in the spring. But it’s fine. It’s all part of being an adult.”
“I got a brand new job today too,” said Samira. She put a heartfelt hand to her chest. “Apparently you gotta get one once you get close to ten.”
“That’s…not how it works at all,” said Franco. “Seriously, who told you that?”
“Uh…one of the Pine boys? I think he had a point.”
“You’re a child…whatever. I have a few things to clean up here,” he said. “And then I have to find a way to get Mari home.”
“…so, you know here, people don’t like having to bend for their drinks. That’s why your brother has to raise the bar!”
Samira got over her laugh. Even Mari must have got it, or she was too busy imitating her babysitter.
“You’re a riot!” Samira said. “Do you have anymore?”
“Not really…I don’t have many fans here tonight.” The bar was empty of almost everyone. Franco let the bartenders off early for the slow night, and Aron the pianist headed home too. Franco laying a sleepy Seng on the floor upped the patronage by a huge margin. “Glad y’all liked it.”
“Yeah…I thought that I’d get a ride home by now,” said Samira.
“I’m waiting for a ride home too,” said Gina. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Samira then remembered that her brother had a car. He still had a vintage convertible, and even without a car seat, Samira could keep Mari secure on her lap.
“Sam, it’s late,” Franco said, when she trotted up near him. “Can this wait until tomorrow?”
“Well, I’ve been here all day, and I want a ride home. And it’s my half-birthday, and I wanna see if mum left me half a cinnamon roll like she-”
Something snapped inside Franco. His weary look grew intense and frightening. “This isn’t all about you!”
She flinched back. “What?”
“I’ve been here since 8 in the goddamn morning, dealing with snotty kids and drunk adults and you want to say that you have it hard? All you’ve done is played with Benji’s stupid kid!”
Samira looked up at her tall brother, with the most pleading look she could manage. “I just need to get home. It’s dark.”
“You can wait until someone wakes up,” he said, in a grumbling tone. He started to unroll the grey sleeping bag he brought up. “I just need to sleep.”
“Good night,” she said. Defeated, Samira walked back to Mari. Gina had already abandoned the toddler to get a beer and relax with the hookah.
“Well, baby, I guess we’re the bosses here,” Samira said. She pouted. She didn’t want to be a boss at all.
When Franco woke up from his rest, Samira stepped back, trying to shield Mari. But he got his vibrating phone out from his trousers. He answered it without even looking at the number.
“Hello, Franco Racket,” he said. “Oh…how does that even happen? I thought you were getting out at five…what? You said you hated him. Now you spend six hours together with hors d’oeuvres and Pro Tools? Just…just stay inside the building. It’s late…I know you know it’s late. It’s just a long drive…I know that the traffic isn’t bad. Bye.”
Franco muttered his real feelings to himself. “I can’t believe her. I don’t owe her anything.”
Samira squatted down to Mari’s level. “So much for aunt Hannah picking us up,” she said. “Maybe we will get more longans after all…you think that’d make this night good again?”
Mari must not have had the words to respond. She instead sucked on her fingers.
She crossed her ankles. “You know, I’m real lucky to have you here. I could’ve just been sitting here alone all night. Maybe we can do this more, and you’ll be able to talk to me and outrun me and everything! We’ll make one cool team.”
“Seng, you wouldn’t believe the house they’re sell–oh. I guess he got hammered again.”
Samira recognized Benji’s voice a lot better than she did a year before. She agreed with Franco about his nasal tone more, but it didn’t annoy her. In fact, he reminded her of uncle Sinbad a lot in how he spoke. Almost every word had a sharp inflection, and neither of them developed a deep voice. Neither of them had her big brother’s menacing baritone.
He didn’t even seem to see Samira at first. Benji always snuggled Mari when he picked her up from Seng’s care.
“Aww, did uncle Seng fall asleep on you?” His sharp voice always softened around his daughter, as much as it could. “I’m so glad you’re safe…who grabbed you anyways?”
Mari looked back at him, with her sweet brown eyes. And unlike a lot of the time, she knew a word to answer her dad with.
He chuckled a bit, looking down at Samira. “Oh dear, I didn’t even notice her.”
She took a defensive stance. “Mr. Kindle, I know I really shouldn’t have brought her in here, but she was all alone…and Franco kicked me out of his office…and there was food up here. But I really tried my best! I fed her, and she really likes Destiny Train, and I even changed a diaper!”
“I…I just wanted to try my best today. But I know you love her, and if you never want her here again-”
“You did great.”
“It takes a lot of work to raise this little one,” he said. “Even for me. And you did it for a whole night.”
“But Franco said it was-”
“I’ve known your brother for much longer than you have. He isn’t always right…I’d even say he’s often wrong.”
“How? I’m supposed to listen to him.”
“Let’s put it this way,” Benji said. “You have a very…interesting family, and your brother always felt so high and mighty compared to the rest of you. Then you came along, and he can’t accept that someone else can struggle. It’s all about him and the bad day he’s had. And I’ve known him since I was five. You know how old you were when I was five?” He delivered his monologue while balancing Mari on his hip.
“So, I know him even better than you might. Don’t let Franco get to you. You’re allowed to have problems too.”
“Okay,” she said. “Do you have a car?”
“It’s not nice, but it’s a car. It’ll get me back home.”
“Can I get a ride too?”
“On one condition.”
Benji raised his index finger. “You must…strap in. I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
“But I wanna live dangerously! Mum and Seng tell me I should.”
“And your new uncle Benji says you shouldn’t make that mistake. I’ll tell you about that time I broke my collarbone when we’re in the car.”
Benji spared no details, as he drove his cheap old Civic. He was seventeen and it was the summer before his last year of high school. And he drove his mums’ much newer van. Some…events kicked off a terrible rebellious streak in him. He drove without care and without a seatbelt to escape some feelings. But he put a stop to that after a crash. A side-impact bruised his chest and left shoulder up and down, and snapped his collarbone. He could hear it snap on impact. And he couldn’t move his left side without crying for weeks afterwards.
Samira listened, clutching onto the seatbelt so hard that her purple knuckles turned white. She kept checking the five-point clasp in Mari’s car seat to make sure it was secure.
“…but I think you’re smart enough to care more.” Benji finished his story, as he pulled up to the curb. “Anyways, I’m hoping to move back to Twinbrook soon. Maybe you’ll see more of me, and Youa, and our little bean sprout.”
“I’ll make sure to bug uncle Seng about it!” She didn’t even stop to think about him, curled up asleep on the hardwood floor. Or about how empty the house was.
It wasn’t empty. Julian was still awake, though dressed in his favorite cotton onesie. He watched the nighttime news with a listless, glazed look.
“Hey…I didn’t think you were alone,” Samira said, as she approached him.
“Oh great, you’re back,” he said. “I thought you’d actually do your chores.”
“Well, I got busy and-”
“I don’t care how busy you are! This house is dirty and I have to clean everything you don’t!” He yelled at her, waving his arms directly in her face.
“I was doing things for uncle Seng,” she said back, in a timid voice.
“Why is it all about him? That’s all Annette cares about, and all mum cares about, and all Franco cares about! And you don’t care about anything! And your room’s a mess! I have to sleep right next to it!”
Without saying a word, Samira skittered off to her bedroom.
Sure, it was a mess. But Annette didn’t bring up the big pile of dirty clothes near Samira’s bed. And anyone could just stuff it all into a hamper anyways. Every item could survive a cold wash, and no-heat dry.
Though, in that case, it would be easy for Samira to do herself too. Maybe for the next day.
She changed into one of her long shirts, and the dog slippers she always wore. They were fuzzy and warm and grey, much like Sagebear herself. And while it was so close to midnight, Samira didn’t want to sleep. She restlessly sat on the side of her bed.
More and more, she focused on the framed picture of her and her dad. Samira tried to wrack her memory for anything of him, but never came up with a new thought.
“Well, Benji says I’m a good kid. Do you agree with him?” she asked the frame. All she got was a weird groan from the pipe that ran above her room. “It just seems like everyone else is really angry with me.”
She sighed, and couldn’t look at her father’s still face anymore.
“You know, you’re a real adult. You’d be like them too.”
A/N: A jazzy “Raining Blood” sounded too silly to be real, but there’s a jazz-inspired cover of the song (warning for piss-quality sound), plus a regular piano cover by the amazing vkgoeswild. Someone could easily combine those themes…I think. I don’t know enough about jazz to dispute it.
Yelling “Slayer!” at a concert is one of those somewhat-loathed metal concert cliches. Or what metalheads will do at any concert to take the piss. I don’t because there’s a lot of music I’d listen to before I’d willingly listen to Slayer (they’ve influenced damn-near everything I listen to, but I’ll be honest: their descendants took the concept of extreme metal to much better places).