I sighed and looked up at the setting sun. It had been a year since Dad left. Life had become more stable, but something was missing. Something I didn't need from the start. I was glad it was gone. Except my mom had started to take initiative. She had become cold toward me. But at least I still had Taj.
Dark green eyes stared from around the corner. I quickly turned around.
“You're on the balcony again?” Its calm voice rang through my ears.
“Yeah, it's like the only place I can get away.”
“From mom's wrath?”
We both laughed, and its mouth closed into a soft smile.
“Taj . . . ”
“You don't need to say how you feel, I understand.”
“Sometimes I think it's my fault . . .”
“It never was.”
She pulled me against her chest. I could feel the waves of her teal dress against my ankles. Sometimes I wondered why she even wore dresses, she wasn't a girly girl. Maybe it was Mom who made her dress professionally. But the dress suited Taj. Just like the suit I wore matched me well. Even though she was shorter, I could tell she was a motherly figure. My older sister, to be exact. And I loved her with all my heart. Her dyed black and turquoise hair brushed my face.
“Nicholas, you carry a heavy burden. Why don't you get rid of it?”
“Cause’ you walk like a feather while I sit and mope. You forget about the past while I hold onto it.”
Taj sighed. And looked at me.
“How can you --?”
Someone was calling for her. Her head whipped toward the balcony entrance. A maid was calling for her to study.
“Oh, I have to go. And Nicky?”
“If you want to get into a better school, work harder, and don't let the past drag you down.”
She winked and gracefully floated down the stairs to the where the maid stood.
I pushed my new report card into my desk drawer. Hopefully my mom would forget about my grades. Even though Taj told me to work harder, I always lost focus. I still didn't know who I was or who I was supposed to be. Then the door to my room slammed open. A tall woman with a face full of rage stood there. I gulped.
“You thought you could just get away without showing me your grades?!” my mom yelled. Her pale blonde ponytail was like a spike.
“No. I said no.”
“That's what I thought, now hand me your grades.”
She put out her hand. My nervousness and confusion made it waver for a while. She then gave me her death glare. I panicked and pulled the report card out of my desk. She grabbed it back and looked at it. I waited for her to get furious.
“Not too bad. I guess Taj gave you some advice. But you need to work harder, get your head out of the clouds,” she said.
She swiftly walked out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
“I know I'm a disappointment to you, Mom. I always am,” I muttered to myself, knowing it was the truth. I sighed and flopped on the bed. My head hung, eyes pinned on the floor. The door opened again. It wasn't Taj, or Mom. It was a maid.
“Your algebra tutor is here,” the tall maid said.
I looked at her in complete shock. Not only had my mother been disgusted with my work, but she had even called for a tutor. I was about to punch a wall.
“Sir, she's waiting for you.”
I jumped up and walked toward the door. My head turned and I glared at the woman. She shrunk back in fear but I was already down the hall. My stupid anger issues. Everyone knew about them. Mom wanted to get me so much help, but it was too late. Dad's work had already been done. But now I had to go and meet my tutor, not live in the past but face the future. It was just what Taj had been telling me for the past year.
An hour later, I walked down the hall, black shoes tapping against the marble floor. My body made a swift turn and walked into the dining hall. I was going to dinner after seeing my algebra tutor. The tutor had been cold and judgmental, but that was how most people in my life acted. Now my mother, standing beside the gleaming wood table set with white china, was expecting me.
“You're late,” she said.
“I'm sorry, mother.”
“Just sit down.”
Taj gave me a sad smile as I took a seat as far from my mother as possible. She was trying to cheer me up, but her smile didn't seem to reach me. My mother's eyes glared right through me. She was obviously disappointed in my actions.
“How was your tutoring session?” my mother asked, taking a seat across from me.
“Is that it? ‘Fine’?”
“Yes, it was fine,” my voice got a bit louder.
“Don't raise your voice at me,” she said, teeth closed. Then she took a bite of kale salad. Taj sat at the end of the table, nervously chewing on bits of carrot from the stew. She smiled again, trying to comfort me.
After dinner I went to the balcony again. This time planning to meet up with Taj. Surprisingly, she got there before me.
“Hey. . . ” I quietly called to her.
“Don’t let Mom get to you. She just wants the best.”
“I know, she just seems so angry all the time.”
“Well, what can you do? Can’t really avoid her anymore.”
I breathed deeply, looking out onto the sun. Almost completely gone. The sky in different colors. Purples, dark blues, oranges and pinks. Taj always loved the colors of the sky in the morning and afternoon.
“Yes?” I nervously replied.
“No matter what happens, you’re my brother. And no matter what I won’t ever leave you. Understand?”
“Of course, I know. And I won’t ever leave you.”
“Thank you,” her soft voice almost fading into the sun. The busy world finally going to sleep. The future was among us, and soon I would say goodbye. Goodbye to the world, goodbye to Taj.