Liza’s throat burned from the pack of cigarettes that she inhaled since coming home. Her eyes were swollen, her nose was stuffed shut, and her fingers were like prunes. The bathtub had become her hiding place and prison since Laura and Casey had come to live with her. Liza heard a crash from downstairs, followed by Laura’s throaty laugh. She turned off the water, threw on some clothes, and added a little makeup.
Laura was in the living room blasting some cheesy pop song and grinding with a guy that Liza had never seen before. Another guy slouched in a chair drinking Liza’s beer and stuffing his face with leftover pizza. Casey was asleep on the sofa. Liza scooped up her niece’s frail little body and carried her upstairs to bed. She tucked her in and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. Liza sighed and stared down at the sleeping girl, arms crossed. She felt horrible for her, but didn’t know if she could do anything to help.
Casey was born when Laura was only sixteen. If she knew who the father was, she never said. When Laura turned eighteen, she took Casey and disappeared. No one in the family heard from her for almost six years. Liza tried to track her down two years ago when their parents died. She had half expected her to show up at the funeral, but she hadn’t.
Laura turned up at the house one night a couple of months ago. Casey was now eight and sick with leukemia. Casey’s medical bills and Laura’s poor choices had left them with no money and insurmountable debt. Laura knew that their parents had died and that they had left Liza the house.
Liza wanted to turn her sister away. They were never close and, though Liza loved Casey, she did not relish the thought of living with a child. In the end, the child was the reason that she agreed to let them stay. Their relationship was strained. Laura refused to tell Liza where she had been and what she had been doing for the past six years. She only shrugged when Liza asked why she hadn’t come home for the funeral.
Laura wasn’t much more mature than she had been at sixteen. She went out almost every night, sometimes even leaving Casey alone on the evenings when Liza had class. Laura brought random guys back to the house. She missed Casey’s doctor’s appointments and forget to refill her prescriptions. Liza had an awful feeling that Laura hadn’t just written off her daughter, but was actually waiting for her to die.
Liza tried to help out where she could, but it was difficult between work, school, and her lack of experience with kids. She couldn’t take it anymore, and Casey had taken it for way too long. Liza didn’t know if she could do anything. If she could, it wasn’t happening tonight. She quietly closed Casey’s door and walked back through the living room and out into the night. A while later she found herself driving through campus. Liza told herself that she had driven there on autopilot, but she knew that she was lying. She knew it by her irrational disappointment at not finding him in the garden.