“I understand,” Harper said. She hadn’t expected a different answer from him, but that didn’t stop her from asking. “Maybe another time.”
Brian didn’t look up at her. All his attention seemed to be focused on the engine, but he always managed to find something to occupy his time on Saturdays so he wouldn’t have to go with Harper and Gemma.
“Okay.” Harper sighed and twisted her own car keys in her hand. “I guess we’ll get going, then.”
The screen door slammed, and Harper glanced back at Gemma, who’d just stepped outside. Gemma wore dark oversized sunglasses, but her lips were pressed into a thin line, so Harper knew she was glaring at their father.
“He’s not coming, is he?” Gemma asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Not today,” Harper said gently, trying to calm her sister.
“Sorry, babe.” Brian pulled his head out from under the hood and gestured to the bright sun shining overhead. “I want to get this looked at while the weather holds.”
“Whatever,” Gemma scoffed and stalked off to Harper’s car.
“Gemma!” Harper called after her, but Gemma just shook her head.
“Let her go,” Brian told Harper.
Gemma got in the car, slamming the door loudly. Harper knew she was upset, and she even understood it, but that didn’t mean Gemma should act so rude.
“Sorry, Dad.” Harper smiled wanly at him. “She’s…” She waved her hands in the air, unsure exactly how to describe Gemma.
“No, it’s okay.” Brian squinted up at the sun for a moment, then turned back to the car. He had a wrench in one of his hands, and he tapped it absently against the car. “She’s right. I know it, and you know it. But I…”
He didn’t say anything, and his shoulders slacked. His expression tightened, hardening as he tried to hold his emotions in. Harper hated to see her father like that and wished she could say something to make it better.
“I understand, Dad,” Harper insisted. “I really do.” She reached out, touching him on the shoulder, before being interrupted by the loud blast of her car horn.
“She’s waiting for us, Harper!” Gemma shouted from the car.
“Sorry.” Harper stepped backward, going to her car. “I gotta go. We’ll be back later.”
“Take your time,” Brian said. He bent over the engine, keeping his back to Harper. “Have fun.”
Harper wanted to say more to her dad, but with the way Gemma was acting, she didn’t want to push it. Gemma was impatient to begin with, but when she was upset on top of that, she could be downright impossible.
“You are so rude,” Harper said as soon as she got in the car.
“I’m rude?” Gemma asked in disbelief. “I’m not the one who’s bailing out on Mom.”
“Shh!” Harper started the car and turned on the stereo, hoping to drown out Gemma so Brian couldn’t hear. “He’s staying back to work on your car.”
“No, he’s not.” Gemma shook her head. She leaned back in the seat, her arms crossed firmly over her chest. “He could work on my car any other day. He’s staying back the same reason he stays back every Saturday.”
“You don’t know what this is like for him.”
As they pulled away from the house, Harper looked up in her rearview mirror. Brian was standing in the driveway, appearing uncharacteristically lost.
“And he doesn’t know what it’s like for us,” Gemma countered. “The point is that it is hard for all of us, but we make it work.”
“Everybody deals with things in their own way,” Harper said. “We can’t force him to visit her. I don’t even know why it’s bothering you so much today. It’s been over a year since he’s seen her.”
“I don’t know,” Gemma admitted. “Sometimes it just gets to me. Maybe today it was because he was using me as an excuse not to see Mom.”
“You mean because he’s fixing your car?”
“She’ll still be happy to see us.” Harper glanced over at Gemma and tried to smile at her, but Gemma was staring out the window. “It doesn’t matter if anybody else comes or not. We’re doing the best we can by her, and she knows it.”
Every Saturday that the weather permitted, Harper and Gemma made the twenty-minute drive to the group home up in Briar Ridge. It was the closest group home specializing in traumatic brain injury, and that was where their mother had lived for the past seven years.
One day nine years ago, Nathalie had been driving Harper to a pizza party when a drunk driver sideswiped them. Harper had been left with a long scar running down her thigh, but her mother had ended up in a coma for nearly six months.
Harper had been convinced she would die, but Gemma had never given up hope. When Nathalie finally came out of it, she barely remembered how to speak or do basic self-care. She stayed in the hospital for a long time, relearning how to do everything. Over time, some of her memories came back.
But she was never quite the same. Her motor skills were very poor, and her ability to remember and reason were drastically impaired. Nathalie had always been caring and loving, but after the accident, she struggled to empathize with anyone.
After a brief but chaotic stint keeping her at home, Brian eventually had to move Nathalie into the group home.
From the outside, the home looked like an ordinary rambler. It was nice without being overly so, and even on the inside it wasn’t that different. Nathalie shared the home with two other roommates, and the home had twenty-four-hour staffing.
As soon as Harper pulled into the driveway, Nathalie burst out the front door, running toward them. That was a good sign. Sometimes when they came she would just sit in her room, crying quietly the entire time.
“My girls are here!” Nathalie clapped her hands together, barely containing herself as they got out of the car. “I told them you were coming today!”
Nathalie threw her arms around Harper, squeezing her so tightly it hurt. When Gemma came around the car, Nathalie pulled her into the embrace, holding them uncomfortably close.
“I’m so glad my girls are here,” Nathalie murmured. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you.”
“We’re glad to see you, too,” Gemma said, once she’d pulled herself free from Nathalie’s hug. “But we were here just last week.”