The beloved shade of green was no longer anywhere to be seen. Not speckled over the thick, healthy leaves on the oak by the run down garage. Not sinking deeper and deeper into the luscious layer of grass so soft more than a few days had been spent laying upon it with nothing but a blanket in between, and possibly a book so torn apart it was barely readable, but beautiful in hands of melted caramel none-the-less.
Melted caramel was no longer to be seen either. Along with the grass and the trees, her skin had taken on a pale color as the winter months had come along.
A thick, photograph-worthy layer of untouched snow had taken its place all over Alaska. Hanging off of naked, somewhat sad branches; piling itself high on top of cars yet to be moved since the cold weather’s seeming welcome ceremony back in October. When mothers had cooked hot chocolate, and fathers had lit the fires by the warm couches.
January 17th, and the majority of the winter excitement had long since washed away, and in one house there hadn’t really been time to appreciate it at all.
Staring as she did out the kitchen window, the heavy wind rocking the unstable house to its very core in the early morning, her eyes were stuck. Stuck to the gruesome wind, blowing the snow back and forth, and down and up; so much of it falling her view was but a blank page of white. Every once in a while, a very much unique flake of snow would attach itself to the glass in front, and she would watch it. Appreciate the detail of the shape, and maybe wonder how it was that the random drops of frozen water formed such beautiful shapes. Without trying.
Yes—maybe she thought those things. She probably would have on any given morning, but not today. For while her eyes may be stuck to the weather, her hand was also planted onto the paper laid out on the old, wooden counter; her fingers curling slowly but surely, crinkling it up and keeping it within her fist. Unsure, she was, whether she was locking her jaw to keep from crying, or to keep the thin glass window in front of her intact.
A slight flinch ran through her body as the loud whistling filled the house, and she let go of the paper, filling the tea up into the beaten clay mug, watching the steam rising.
“Rose.” At the call of her name, she turned around to face the rest of the kitchen, spotting her brother standing next to the round dinner table, a slightly sad look on his face. “When can I get new shirts?” he questioned her. “The ones I have are getting way too big. I know we don’t have the best time with money and everything, but I might be able to see the bone in my wrist, it’s kind of...” As he spoke, Rose put down her cup of tea, sighing sadly as she walked over to him, grabbing the extra fabric at each side of his body.
“Too big?” Raj nodded once as he let his arms fall to his sides, sighing in the way that she knew they both did all too often. “You don’t need smaller clothes. You would grow out of them anyway,” she said. “What you need to do is eat more.”
￼“Eat what?” Raj muttered, seeming as if he immediately caught his mistake, looking back to his sister with an apologetic look on his face. “I know you’re trying, I’m sorry.”
Rose nodded, bringing her hand up to brush some of the dark hair out of his face; it was getting long now, almost longer than her own. Their mother used to cut it once upon a time, but Rose had elected not to force him, and it actually wasn’t looking all that horrid.
“Is there anything I can do?” Raj asked. “Maybe I can drop out of school and see if a restaurant will let me wash dishes or something.” Before his sentence was even half finished, Rose shook her head, hands on his shoulders.
“Raj, you are 12-years-old.” There was a lot more seriousness in her tone than there usually was, and it caused him to be silent and listen. “You are not supposed to worry about these things, and you’re certainly not dropping out of school—you are a child,” she paused. “Remember that.”
12-years-old and already carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Rose felt horrible about that, she truly did. But she couldn’t exactly hide the issues she came upon—he was 12, not 2.
“Okay,” he promised, and she ruffled his hair.
“Eat what you can get your hands on in school today. I’ll see if I can bring something home from the restaurant.”
Raj’s mood seemed to lighten, and she threw him the keys to the truck, watching him turn around and run outside to start it up.
Once the door slammed, Rose grabbed the blue jeans off of the back of one of the chairs by the table, putting them on right as a few tender steps echoed, a thin and fragile woman walking into the kitchen, her dark and curly hair hanging over her face.
“Didn’t I make breakfast for you this morning? I’m sorry.” Rose nodded once at her mother; not mentioning the fact that she had indeed gotten the idea to make Raj breakfast, at 3 AM this morning, waking him up for school and spilling a great amount of cheap vodka out of the plastic bottle into the one-egg-mostly water omelette.
“It’s okay, mom.” Rose grabbed the crumpled paper off of the kitchen counter, forcing it into the back pocket of her jeans. “Nobody was really expecting you to.”
Letting the front door slam closed behind her, she wondered for a split second if she had been too harsh, but she brushed it off quickly. She had seen too many unpleasant sides of her mother during her 19 years of life to feel bad about anything she did to her.
The only reason she kept buying her the cheap vodka instead of spending the money on food was to keep her knocked out instead of loud and violent. Rose had way too many cigarette burns over her body. She would be damned if Raj caught any.
￼“Are you coming to the show?” It was among the first words spoken inside of the cold pick-up truck that morning, as both siblings had been wrapped up inside their own heads.
Long, shallow lines took place on the surface of Rose’s forehead as she parked the truck by the school.
“The musical?” Raj did his best to clarify. “The one that got cancelled in December? Ro, I know that you don’t have a lot of time, and you have to make money and stuff, but everybody else is gonna have their parents and siblings and friends there, and mom sure isn’t gonna show up...” He trailed off, looking into his lap as Rose watched the top of his head. “It would be kind of nice not to be seen as a poor orphan, that’s all.”
Rose was silent. She wanted to say that she would be there—of course, she did. But a long time ago, Rose and Raj had made a promise to each other—that no matter what happened, in any sense of the word—they would not lie. Not to each other.
As she opened her mouth to say that she would really love to be there, and that she loved him, but that she would not be able to keep the house or to feed them if she was out of a job, essentially, Rose was about to repeat a speech that her little brother had heard over a million times, a million different ways and most likely knew like the back of his hand by now.
But then some kind of feeling formed in the base of her stomach, some kind of warmth. It was telling her that nothing was more important than making Raj happy, than making him feel loved. She knew this feeling, and for some reason, she thought that maybe if she looked just a little bit over the road, she would see a mass of black fur and a pair of yellow eyes watching her from the woods.
“I’ll be there,” she promised finally, a smile across her dry and pale lips. Raj looked up, some hesitation on his face yet she doubted that she had ever seen him this happy, or at least not in a long time.
A short drive later, the blue truck was parked in the middle of a parking lot, and Rose still had a minute or two before she would have to walk through that door.
The paper crinkled as she fished it out of the back pocket of her jeans, reading the words over and over, controlling her breathing and hoping that she would be able to avoid a panic attack.
A custody hearing. What she had been avoiding for years was finally here and they did not have a choice. It didn’t even involve her—not technically. Seeing as she was above the age of eighteen, it involved Raj and whether their mother should be allowed to take care of him or whether he should be sent into foster care.
Since she had been younger than Raj is now, Rose had been faking their mother's signature and once she got even a little bit older, once or twice even pretended to be her. All to keep everything calm.
How? How could she do this? Of course if she had her way, the custody of Raj would go to her—but she didn’t have a stable job (she had a steady job, but it certainly wasn’t big, and in no sense of the word did it pay enough to take care of a child. As of now they were surviving off of stolen food and barely that.)
￼Nor did Rose have any education. She had dropped out of high school the second she was legally allowed to. She hadn’t had time.
No judge would ever give her the custody—and since she lacked a whole lot of education, she didn’t know how all of these legal things worked either.
Wednesday. That was the day of the meeting. Today was Monday.
She swallowed, crumpling the paper back up into her pocket, heading into the restaurant.
Rose’s morning was spent as so many others, mopping the shiny, expensive flooring and polishing the thin-stemmed glasses. Washing plates she hadn’t had the time to finish yesterday, hoping that it would go unnoticed.
People were around—the occasional customer in for nothing more than a beer, or the waiters discussing who should cover whose shift. She didn’t pay anybody any mind until she walked into the owner’s office in the back of the building, a few hours before her shift was supposed to end.
“Sir?” This man was the third or fourth owner of the place in barely three years. She had stopped trying to remember the names and instead stayed silent and grateful that they had all kept her—along with most of the other employees—on.
“Yes, cleaner girl, come in.” He waved her into the office and she took a few steps. It honestly didn’t bother her being referred to as "cleaner girl" because in here, that was what she was and from what she could tell, there wasn’t a whole lot of malice behind the nickname.
“I finished a lot of the work today,” she begun, the man looking in between her and sheets of what looked like legal paper as if he were a nodding-doll. “My little brother is performing at a play in his school, and he really wants me to be there—it wouldn’t be long. A few hours, I just need to get there and watch the show and then drive him home. Then I can come back if you would like me to.”
There was nothing worse than re-inforcing the stereotype of a small, defenceless brown maid begging her white employer for things that she should be granted. But it was the safest tactic.
The boss whose name she should probably try to learn for times like these, put down the stack of papers and looked at her. For a moment, she thought he might grant her the time off, but then:
“Look...” All hope was vanished.
He went on to lecture her about commitment, time value, and a whole lot of other white-man-power—things that she reduced to a dark mumble inside of her own head as she felt the soft fur brush her fingertips, her eyes falling closed. The soft, warm weight pressed up closer against her leg, and she let her fingers slip into the coat of the wild animal, her breathing settling into a more even pattern. She didn’t have the energy to fight back. She didn’t have the energy to scream and lecture the man right back about how she worked shifts longer than any human should, and how she was a person outside of this building, and how she had a life, and how she should be treated as such.
￼There was no energy. But as she closed her eyes, she realized that there was peace. For someone beside her did have the energy.
Rose’s hand pushed at the back of his neck, and Silas growled, throwing his body onto the man. Large, razor sharp teeth dug into the pale skin of his neck, spilling blood, ripping out muscles and nerves. Paws dug into his abdomen, and Silas growled, fought and fed. Rose kept her eyes closed, listening; she smiled.
“Cleaner girl?” Rose raised her eyebrows at her boss as he called her attention. “It just isn’t possible today. We need you here to clean everything up. Alright?”
“Yeah. Yeah, alright.”
When Rose finally took the truck over to Raj’s school to pick him up, the storm had settled down a fair bit from this morning, but the darkness had settled over the town like a sheet of black.
Raj was crying; stage makeup smeared over his face as he got into the truck. Rose tried to reach for him, but he pulled away. She would have apologised, but it wouldn’t make a difference. She knew this. She had made a promise that she knew she may not be able to keep, and she hadn’t been able to keep it. They did not do those things to each other, that was the biggest rule in between them. No lies, and no unsure promises was surely a section of that.
So Rose drove, and Raj cried; nothing but the weak headlights of the truck keeping them on the road.
And when Rose did the right thing, and told him about the custody hearing, he cried some more.
A good few hours into the night—maybe early morning—Raj was asleep, and it was Rose’s turn to cry.
Curled up in a corner of the old iron bed were the long sleeves of her once-upon-a-time-white-now-yellow shirt. One of her arms were wrapped around her bent legs, the other one catching the tears.
It had been so long since Rose had cried. She didn’t have time; that sounded impossible, but it was true. Or maybe she elected not to let her feelings come through on the rare occasions that she did have time. If Rose spent all of her time thinking and over thinking all of the things that were creating the mess in her life, she wouldn’t be strong enough to get out of bed. Her mother, the house, the bills, the food, Raj, the car, Raj’s school, her job—and so much more than that.
A custody hearing. She didn’t have any thoughts as the word rung inside of her head. Silence. Maybe panic and stress so great it exited into nothing.
As she cried some more, she saw a flash of a soft, black mass by the doorway, and she looked up, staring into a pair of soft, yellow eyes. She wasn’t sure where, when, or how she had given him the name of Silas. It was as if it had always been there; as if he had told it to her. Tenderly, the wolf snuck across the old, wooden floor and jumped up onto the bed.
Silas curled up by her side, giving her the one thing she needed the most—comfort.
￼“It is my overwhelming opinion that a child belongs with their mother, if I’m going to be honest with you.” As the judge spoke, Raj held onto Rose’s forearm, and her nails scratched the fabric of the tweed blazer that she had found up in the attic, covered in dust. It could have belonged to her mother, but the faint smell of cigarette smoke caused her to believe that it had been her grandmother’s. Smelling like cigarette smoke at a custody hearing wasn’t smart, but Rose and Raj’s grandmother had been a nice lady. A smoking, coughing, talkative lady—but nice. Being wrapped up in the scent of one of the only decent adults that Rose had grown up with, it comforted her.
In fact, she had almost been hopeful an hour or two ago. No longer; for the judge’s dark voice confirmed his decision.
“I know that there have been instances of alcohol within the household, but it seems that you have gotten control of your addiction, Mrs. Rodrigues?” Rose locked her jaw, Raj’s fingers digging into her arm harder and harder as if he was trying not to cry.
If their mother got custody, then their mother got custody. Their lives would continue as they had—it was a whole lot better than foster care. But their mother wasn’t just a drunk, and today they were being reminded of that in the form of mascara and a fake smile. Their mother may have become an addict in later years, but sober or not, she wasn’t a nice woman.
Rose despised the fact that she was disappointed. Seeing her mother passed out on the couch each and every day for years... maybe she had started to play make-believe inside of her head. That someday she would become sober, and she would be a kind, warm, and loving human being. Slightly, she scratched the old cigarette burn on her neck. That was who she was. And it would do her no good to try to tell herself otherwise.
The judge continued to speak to their mother, and Rose wanted to close her eyes as she felt a warmth behind her back, something brushing her leg. Warmth; comfort. Something that caused her to feel safe, strengthened her.
“Your honor?” She stood up. “My name is Rose Rodrigues, and from the age of two, I have been beaten, yelled at, and burnt by my mother.” Raj’s grip loosened, and someone tried to object, but she felt somebody pushing her from behind; someone kind, someone warm. “When I was seven, I had a brother and for a long time, we were abused—a lot of kids are abused, but when my mother started drinking—and spending her time on that instead of mistreating us, we were about to lose the house. We were going to lose the car and everything else that we needed to keep ourselves afloat, so I took over,” she recalled, doing her best to sound as powerful and sure as she could, the comforting pressure never leaving her back. “I drove my brother to school, I washed his hair when he had lice; I held him in my arms after his first breakup. I dropped out of school, and I got a job to keep food on the table and roof over our heads—and sometimes I can’t afford the butter to go on the bread, but I do whatever I can. I’m on my feet for 24 hours a day: teacher-parent conferences, and class trips, and movies that he wants to go see with his friends, and when my brother is sad, I tell him that everything is going to be alright, because I will not stop fighting until that is the truth.”
A deep breath left her body, and she could feel a hand clutching her arm tightly, her hair falling out of the professional bun that she had gathered it into, strands sticking to her face.
“What is your point, Ms. Rodrigues?” The judge questioned.
￼“I have been told that I shouldn’t attempt to get custody and be a guardian to my brother because of a million different reasons. Because I’m too young, because I don’t have a high school diploma, because my pay is barely above minimum wage—and that all matters, it does. But your honor, I am tired.” She sighed the last few words; never before has she realized how true such a short statement could be. “I am tired of spending half of my money on vodka to keep my mother passed out, just hoping that she won’t be violent against my brother. I am tired of paying expensive rent on a house filled with bad memories. I am tired of fearing foster care and the threat of having my brother, who is more like a son to me, taken away because I abandoned high school to keep him alive.”
If only she could read the judge’s face. He was stone; she might as well continue.
“I want to find an apartment. I want my brother living with me without the threat of him being taken away. I want to go back to school, and I want to find a better job—and I hope, I hope that my mother will be better someday but as of right now, your honor, she would be nothing but an abusive parent to my brother, just as she was to me. And whether or not you find a good foster-home for him, I sincerely doubt that he would be happier there than with me.”
Silas covered her back, filling her with the courage to stand up straight, and Raj held her arm. The few seconds of silence might as well have been hours.
Finally, the judge turned his attention to Raj. “What do you want, young man?”
Outside of the building, on the damaged stone steps, Rose and Raj’s shoes sank down into the layer of new snow as he wrapped his arms around his sister’s waist, hers wound tightly around his shoulders, the two laughing of happiness. Everything wasn’t solved, but there were no longer any bombs above their heads, threatening to drop.
As she held her brother in her arms, Rose lifted her head and looked out across the snowy road, seeing a pair of waiting eyes observing her.
“Wait here, alright, bud?”
With long, but soft steps, Rose made her way down the stairs and across the parking lot, making it to the large creature made up of black fur, large teeth, and kind eyes; along with a few other things that she hadn’t known how to find within herself.
“Thank you,” she whispered, brushing a lock of dark hair away from her face as her deep brown eyes stared into his. “You helped me,” she continued. “Gave me strength, comfort and ripped people apart when I couldn’t.” Rose took a deep breath, nodding to herself. “Without you, I never would have found the courage to stand up to that judge.” The animal stared at her, sinking his head somewhat. “You’ve always given me what I can’t find inside of myself... but now I know that it’s there. I know that I’m strong enough to do so many things. And I’m free now, so...” She trailed off, taking a deep breath, listening as it shook. “... you are, too.”
Whenever she needed something, she turned into the girl who cried wolf. Maybe now she could learn how to be the girl who cried for herself.
“I don’t need you anymore.”
Silas got somewhat of a saddened look in his eyes; maybe there was some gratefulness in there, as well. The soft paws touched the snow softly as he walked over to Rose, rubbing his head against her leg.
The wolf then turned around, disappearing into a soft cloud of gentle smoke.