When Patrick woke, he was alone. His room was dim, but the clock read 11 am. Saturday. He dragged himself out of bed with a groan and walked over to the window. His frown deepened as he looked outside. Rainy and dark. He hated the rain almost as much as he hated the weekend.
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and changed out of his rumpled t-shirt and gym shorts into jeans and a long-sleeved brown sweater. Glancing in the mirror, he blinked owlishly and ran nervous fingers through his short hair. Maybe if he was quick enough…
He exhaled a deep, controlled breath and grabbed his rain jacket from the back of his desk chair on his way out the door. Once in the hallway he looked neither left nor right, but sped straight ahead through the open door across from his own. As usual, Nellie was already awake, sitting on her floor with a mermaid in one hand and a baby doll in the other, narrating aloud in a high-pitched voice. She crooned, “It’s okay, don’t cry,” as she brought the two dolls together, turning the mermaid’s arms so they embraced the doll. “It’s okay.”
“Hi, Nells,” Patrick interrupted softly, closing the door behind him. “Want to go for a walk?”
“Yeah!” she cried.
“Alright. But you’ll have to put on your coat and rain boots, because it’s raining.”
“We’re gonna go for a walk in the rain?” Nellie’s eyes widened in astonishment.
“Yep! I’ll even let you splash in the puddles if you hurry and get dressed,” Patrick promised.
“Okay!” Nellie dropped the dolls and ran to her closet, burrowing through piles of discarded clothes before emerging triumphant, boots on her feet and jacket in hand. She shrugged on the jacket over the clothes she had chosen for the day, pink leggings and a short sky-blue dress with an attached tutu.
“Ready?” Patrick asked. “You won’t be too cold in that outfit?”
“Nope!” she grinned.
“Good.” He looked her up and down. The coat came to her mid-thighs and the boots to her knees; she should be fine. “We’re going to go downstairs now, but you have to be really quiet, okay?”
“Okay,” she replied, her expression becoming serious.
They left the room together. As they walked down the stairs Nellie slipped her small hand into Patrick’s. He gave it a light squeeze and they made their way furtively to the front door.
He slipped into his rain boots and put his hand on the door knob.
“Where do you think you’re going?” a male voice snapped. Their father.
“Out,” Patrick answered, opening the door. He hoped for the best, but knew they were already lost: the voice sounded sober.
“Wait.” The man shook his head. “Come here, boy.” He said it without any particular inflection, and yet the words still sent a shiver down Patrick’s spine.
Patrick closed the door. Stealing a glance at Nellie, he obeyed, walking into the kitchen where their father stood, but warily stopping a couple yards short.
He looked at the man whom he called father. A man with eyes the various shades of mud and hair the color of excrement; short of stature, shorter of character; pale, hairy flesh showing where his skintight tee cried mercy before the rolls of fat; his very essence nothing but foul reek.
Even from here he could still smell the acrid fumes wafting from the man’s breath and clothes, the pungent odor of alcohol accompanying the omnipresent stench of cigarette smoke. Drinking, then, but not drunk. Not yet.
“You shouldn’t take her out in the rain,” the man said. “You want her to get sick?”
Like you care, Patrick thought viciously. Like you ever care, except every once in a while when you’re not drunk out of your mind. “She has a coat. It’ll be fun.”
“Fun? Who’s gonna take care of her when she stays home from preschool because her idiot brother let her catch her death out in the cold?”
Certainly not you. “I don’t think–”
“Yeah, you don’t.” His father stepped forward and Patrick flinched involuntarily. The man laid a grimy hand heavily on his son’s shoulder. “You’re staying inside.”