Liza’s throat burned from the pack of cigarettes that she inhaled since she came home. Her eyes were swollen, her nose was stuffed shut, and her fingers were like prunes. She’d been in here for over an hour. The bathroom had become a hiding place and a prison since Laura and Casey had come to live with her. She heard a crash from somewhere in the house, followed by Laura’s throaty laugh. Liza reached her breaking point. She turned off the water and threw some clothes on. A little makeup, a clip for her damp hair, and she rushed downstairs. Laura was in the living room blasting some cheesy pop song and grinding with a guy that Liza had never seen. Another guy was sitting 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.
Laura had Casey when she was sixteen. If she knew who the father was, she never said. When she turned eighteen, she took Casey and disappeared. No one in the family heard from her for almost six years. Liza had 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 with Casey, who was now eight and sick with leukemia. Casey’s medical bills and Laura’s careless lifestyle had left them with no money and insurmountable debt. She already knew that their parents had died and that they had left Liza the house. Liza had considered turning her away. They had never been close, and though Liza loved her niece, she didn’t relish the thought of living with a child, a sick child. In the end, it was only because of Casey 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.
Liza realized pretty fast that her little sister was not much more mature than she had been at sixteen. She went out almost every night, 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 her medicine. Liza hated to think it, but she suspected that Laura hadn’t just written off her daughter, but that she was waiting for her to die. Liza tried to help 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 she was lying. She knew it by her irrational disappointment at not finding him in the garden.