He should have known this would happen.
It had been his day off work. No one had bothered him while he read a few more chapters in that book his sister had bought him for his birthday—one that he didn’t like but read for her sake, anyway. Their asshole father had disappeared again. He had even been in a good mood when his little eight-year-old sister had begged him to take her to the ice cream shop.
She had come home squealing in delight as she had shown him her improved grades on her report card. He had not wanted to go, especially when he barely had enough money to get her and her alone a small treat, but it had taken just one look at the yellow bruises on her arms—a gift from their father—to convince him to take her. Not that he wouldn’t have given in based on the excellent grades alone.
Things had even gone well there. They had gone hand in hand. Her dark brown ponytail bounced as she skipped beside him. The words she said were of no interest to him, the sound of her cheerful voice was enough to bring a warmth into his chest, and any urge to roll his eyes at her melted away with each shy little giggle.
It had caught him off guard, coming back home to see that asshole—not their father but an older brother from a different father. He looked so bad with his gaunt face, messy hair, and scraggly beard that they almost had not recognized him, and he stank worse than their father ever had on his worst days.
He yelled at them about money, but the ice cream had taken the last bit that they had had. Something glinted in the light, and the younger boy raised his arms in defense as his brother charged at him, yelling more about money—money that was likely to have been the reason their father had disappeared. The younger brother grasped the older’s arms, but the fell as they struggled. A knee to the face made the younger’s vision turn red, and the sudden pain brought his hands to cup his face.
Then a piercing wail had caught through the older’s yelling. There was a surge of energy in the younger’s body, and he pushed the older away. He spun to find a black plastic handle protruding from the little girl’s shoulder. A dark stain blossomed on her purple shirt. Her hands shook as she brought them to her chest. Tears further darkened her shirt as they poured from her face, which twisted in agony.
He understood the white-hot pain coursing through her tiny body. It would be worse than the sharp sting of cigarettes on the shoulders.
She fell onto her rear. Blood speckled her lips as coughed.
He called to her as his hands cupped her cheeks, but this was something no amount of comfort could fix.