by Shaye

In a supreme expression of irony, the band was playing the Stones' "Time is On My Side." Badly. The leader was okay doing Tom Jones or Sinatra, but never should have tried for Jagger.

She wondered if they knew any songs from this decade.

A few cars further up the road, a couple was engaged in some seriously noisy sex. She thought it might be cousin Dorothy and John's friend Bruce from high school. At least, she thought the chick had yelled out, "Do it to me, Bruce!" and it certainly sounded like Dorothy.

At least she hadn't said "fuck." A year ago Olivia would have been embarrassed to be sitting with her brother in the back of his pickup, listening to somebody have sex. But she'd recently given it up to Joey Farber in his parent's basement and it wasn't quite as mortifying anymore. Curse words still made her blush all the way to her hairline.

"Tell you a secret?" she said, trying to tune out the sex and the bad Stones cover. She took another long drink of beer and cringed at the taste.

John sniffed, doing the same but without the cringing at the end. It was John's beer and she didn't know if he liked it or if he just pretended he did, now that he was old enough to buy it. "What?"

Olivia cleared her throat, picking at one of the ruffles on her seafoam chiffon dress. God, Susan had horrible taste. In clothes. In colleges. In men.

"Susan's pregnant."

John snorted. "Jesus."

"She told me the day we heard about Mom."

Mention Mom and John's whole face closed up. His teeth ground together and his lips went white.

"That's why she said yes to Frank."

It wasn't quite a shotgun wedding, but Olivia had taken to calling it a chemo wedding in her head. Mom was going to be bald in all Susan's wedding pictures, and Olivia figured it served Susan right for doing something so stupid at a time like this.

Mom's surgery was scheduled for a month from now, but Mom had taken her aside last week and told her the doctor said it might have spread. John was too busy with college and Susan was too busy with the wedding and Dad was too busy, period. Mom just had to tell someone. Well, maybe Olivia was too busy being sixteen and didn't want to hear it either.

That was the night she gave it up to Joey Farber. So maybe Olivia was stupid too. At least they'd used protection.

John jumped down from the bed of the pickup and held out a hand to her. She slid to the ground. He handed her a roll of Wintergreen Lifesavers from his pocket.

"Don't tell Dad I gave you beer."

"My lips are sealed," she said.

"As long as you don't have beer-breath, we're good."

The band had switched to something that was probably supposed to be by The Cure, which was just embarrassing. The sex noises had died down, and Olivia wondered if it had been satisfying for everyone involved. Joey Farber wasn't a very good lover.

The gravel crunched under Olivia's dyed-to-match pumps as they made their way back to the reception tent. John's shoes were rented along with his tux and she wondered if they were as painful as hers were.

"Your flower's wilting," John said, touching the lily pinned in her hair.

"Yeah." She stopped and swallowed heavily. She could see Mom from here, just inside the tent. Susan had begged and begged Mom to get a wig for the wedding.

Susan could be such a bitch sometimes.

"Everyone leaves," Olivia said quietly. "Everyone."

"Hey," John said, grabbing her hand. "Hey." He squeezed and paused for a moment. "I'll never leave. I promise."


Thirteen years later she forgave him for betraying that promise. Forgave him the minute he walked through the doors from quarantine. Jesus, she never thought she'd see him again at all, much less alive and healthy and trailing honest-to-God aliens in his wake.

He enveloped her in a huge hug and didn't say anything, didn't let go for a long, long time.

He'd left her here to deal with Dad. Dad and the loss of his Golden Boy and being forced into retirement and being forced out of it again. Dad and the long sleepless nights when he paced the living room or the lanai. The slightest sound of footsteps forced her awake, staring at the ceiling until dawn crept over the horizon and they both pretended they'd had a decent night's rest.

You do for family, but Olivia was the only one pulling their tenuous threads together. Susan couldn't be bothered to take off time from work to see her brother raised from the goddamn dead. Olivia was almost thirty, and unmarried, and playing fairy godmother to her nephew, telling him no, you've got to go to bed, it's way past midnight and you can't stay any longer at the party.

It was a hard road to travel, holding a family together through the sheer force of will. But one look at John and she knew the road he'd travelled had been harder.

She forgave him again when he picked up and flew away. Deliberately this time. She watched the bright trail of his ship through the atmosphere until there was nothing but blue sky. There was a weight resting on John's shoulders that had suddenly made her struggles feel small and insignificant.

He would have kept his promise if he could, but that was the way of the world. Everyone made promises they couldn't keep. Dad when he said he'd go to bed in an hour, John when he said he'd never leave, Mom when she said she'd beat this thing. Joey Farber when he'd said he would love her forever, so very long ago.

You do for family. John understands that, and does what he can. This is the least she can do.


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