When his parents died, Trey had to learn how to be an adult, and fast. Raising his sister on his own wasn’t easy and now that she’s grown, letting go enough to let her make her own mistakes is even tougher . . .
“Isn’t it a little early to be dropping by unannounced?” she asked.
“Get dressed, I’m taking you for breakfast,” Trey said.
“Ahm . . . okay.” Tess glanced in the direction of her bedroom.
“You have someone in there?”
“No one who needs to disrupt your plan to provide me with a free meal,” she said. “Meet me downstairs in fifteen?”
“Sure.” Trey shook his head and made a U-turn, heading back down the stairs.
While waiting in his car he considered whether he should instead be in the office catching up on a few things. But he’d told Shay he would hang out in town and wait till she was done with her breakfast meeting and drive her back; and if he went to the office there was a significant possibility he would get immersed in work and lose all track of time. And besides, he hadn’t spent much time with Tess lately, which had him a little nervous.
Having raised her since their parents died when she was only eleven, Tess was always there, in the backdrop of his consciousness, much the way he imagined a parent thought about their child, rather than in the manner of a sibling. Since she’d moved out of their childhood home, where he and Shayla lived, Trey had tried not to be too overbearing, so he seldom made unannounced visits to her Dupont Circle apartment the way he had this morning. Still, he missed her, and even more than that was mindful that as far as parents went, he was all Tess had, so he couldn’t afford to drift out of her life or let her drift out of his.
He watched the entrance of the building and spotted Tess as she emerged with another young woman, Asian with short spiked hair and piercings—so many that they were visible from almost a hundred yards away. She and Tess spoke for a few moments before she turned and headed toward Connecticut Avenue, in the direction of the Dupont Circle Metro. Then Tess was looking about for his car and Trey honked the horn to get her attention.
“You never introduce me to these girls you’re dating,” he said as she slid into the passenger seat next to him.
“Because I’m not exactly dating them,” Tess said.
Trey forced himself not to react. It had taken him awhile to come to terms with the fact that his baby sister was gay—and some days he wasn’t sure he truly had—but what was harder to accept was that she seemed to have no inclination to develop a relationship of any meaning. There had never once been someone she described as a ‘girlfriend’ that he could recall; just a series of brief hook-ups.
Thinking about it made Trey feel a stab of guilt. He shouldn’t be surprised. Why would she do anything different than she’d seen him do all her life? Until Shay, his life had been a series of hook-ups devoid of meaning.
“So to what do I owe the honor?” Tess asked as they pulled away from the curb. She was twisting her long, dark hair and stuffing it into a floppy, grey knit hat.
“I just wanted to see you, is that okay?” Trey asked.
“Of course. But you’ve been so . . . occupied lately. How is Shayla?”
Tess and Shayla were good friends and had been before Trey even got involved with her, so he was pretty sure she knew how Shayla was. But as usual, Tess liked to take his temperature about things, test him, gauge his emotions by making him talk. Something he didn’t do too much of voluntarily.
“She’s good. You should come by the house.”
“Yeah. Maybe next weekend. So things are good?”
Tess laughed and leaned over, nudging him in the arm.
“You don’t have to play it cool with me; I know she’s got you so wrapped up you could . . .”
“How about we talk about you?” Trey interrupted. “What happened with that job you were telling me about?”
“Well, about that,” Tess began. “I’m thinking that maybe it’s not for me.”
Trey looked at her, exasperated. “You’ve been there how long, Tess?”
“Are you about to preach to me?’ Tess asked dryly. “Because if you are, you can leave me right here at the curb. I’m not that damn hungry.”
“You have to make a living. The money in your trust . . .”
“Of which I have not touched a penny for six months . . .”
“Well good, and you should try to keep it that way.”
“I am! In fact, that’s related to something I need to talk to you about.”
“Okay, well let’s wait until I’ve had my coffee because I feel another one of your harebrained ideas coming on.”
They went to the Front Page, a nearby restaurant that was well-known to locals for its Sunday brunch. Trey watched as his sister dug into her plate which she’d piled high with waffles and fruit, and then called over the waiter to order a mimosa. He was always watchful whenever she ordered alcohol. It reminded him of when she was sixteen, and there’d been a hellish five-month period when he was sure he’d lost her for good.
Tess and he had a ritual, all through her high school years where he took her to a movie and then dinner once a week. Every Friday night without fail. The year Tess turned sixteen, it was tough to keep up because Trey was in his second year of law school and the hours and workload were challenging. But he made it a priority to spend this time with her because she’d become quieter, moody, and a bit of a smart-mouth. But hell, she was a teenage girl, so he didn’t think much of it.
One crisp fall night, he’d taken her to see a Quentin Tarantino movie. Tess had been especially uncommunicative the whole evening. But it was only when Trey had glanced over at her next to him in the darkened theater and seen her glassy eyes, staring dazed and unfocused at the screen that it hit him.
Tessa was high as a fucking kite.
And suddenly, he saw all the things he hadn’t wanted to see those past months. All the signs laid out before him like a damned afterschool special that he’d missed or ignored. Irritability, anger, withdrawal, new friends, new clothes, apathy. Resentment of authority. Disappearing money, forgotten chores and declining grades. It was all there. Trey sat through the rest of the movie with her in part to buy himself some time, and then through dinner at a chain restaurant afterward.
At the house though, he’d confronted her, followed by the inevitable screaming match after which Tessa ran out of the house in dramatic fashion, pretty much consistent with an afterschool-special script. Trey hadn’t gone after her right then. Shit, he was glad she was gone.
What the hell did he know about raising a teenage girl? He was only twenty-four for fuck’s sake! He wanted to date pretty women and stay out late with his friends drinking. And on a Friday he wanted to do the Bar Crawl with his law school classmates, not sit in a fucking movie theater eating stale popcorn and then forcing conversation over dinner onto a hormonal little bitch who never listened to him anyway.
He spent the entire night angry, resenting his life, his dead parents and most of all, his pain-in-the-ass, drugged-out sister who always seemed to need something that he had no idea how to give. But by four a.m. he was worried, and by five, he was frantic. Tessa still hadn’t come home and he realized he hadn’t a frigging clue where to look. Trey wracked his brain, trying to think of the names of her friends, and the places she hung out and realized he had no idea. Until then, he actually thought he was doing pretty well by her. Hell, they had Movie Night, right? And he’d been scrupulous about never missing one. But until that moment, he never realized that he’d been treating Tess like another task—another thing he had to take care of. He had no idea who the heck she was.
It was almost daybreak when he finally called Darren, who was in his first year at the Metropolitan PD. Darren had come to pick him up in a squad car and they drove aimlessly through the streets of Trey’s Maryland neighborhood until about nine a.m. He knew—as did Darren, though he was a good enough friend not to say it—that it was pointless and that they were never going to find her that way. And when they returned to the house, it was just because Trey finally thought to go searching through Tessa’s room looking for friends’ numbers or some clue about where she might be.
In his sister’s room, Trey and Darren hadn’t found any friends’ phone numbers but they found a hot pink bong, a stash of weed that would make any low-level dealer proud, a Ziploc baggie filled with colorful pills and a half-empty bottle of vodka under the bed. The fact that Tess wanted to get high was one thing, the myriad ways she found to do it was quite another. This was not someone who wanted to get high for fun, this was someone for whom a single moment of lucidity was intolerable.
Trey had looked at it all, looked at Darren and then sat there on the edge of his sister’s bed and cried.