Tainted Love by Jaimie Roberts

8 Years Ago

“I don’t want you to leave me,” I whine, hating how pathetic my voice sounds.

My brother steps forward, a small but sad smile curving his lips. Within touching distance, he loops his fingers through my hair and places a strand behind my ear, lightly cupping my chin with his thumb and forefinger, holding my stare.

“Dad will look after you. And if not him, Uncle will.”

I crane my neck behind me to make sure my parents aren’t within listening distance. My brother, now twenty-one, has decided that I’m old enough in my fifteen years to look after myself—to leave me with a mother who likes to drink herself into a stupor, and a father who—although nice enough to me—enables my mother’s habit because… well, I’m pretty sure he wants her dead. My brother always craved to join the army but stayed because of me. He stayed because he knew he would be the one and only one who could look after me properly. My mother can’t, and my father tries his best, but he once gave me food poisoning when he cooked dinner. My brother, after that, cooked whatever we could gather at the time, until I was old enough to take over that chore myself.

“You know I’ve wanted this for a while, Bri. You’ll be sixteen soon and doing your exams. The world is your oyster after that. Hell, you can even join me… if you want.”

He winks, ruffling my hair like I’m a child. When I complain, he chuckles under his breath.

“Joining the army has been your dream. Not mine.”

My brother glances over my shoulder towards our parents before his eyes land back on me. “It was a dream pushed on me.”

I nod my head, a wave of sadness encasing me. I understand why he wants to leave. I will do the same once I turn sixteen, take my exams, and get myself a job. Seven more months and I will be able to leave home.

I can’t wait.

“Just don’t forget about me.” My slightly raised eyebrows cause him to chuckle.

“Seriously, Bri, how could I ever forget you? You’re my only sister. It’s me who needs to worry about you. Without your protective brother around, all the boys will come flocking, asking you out on dates. You’ll forget all about me soon enough.”

I nudge his arm, scolding him. “Hey, that’ll never happen, and you know it.”

My brother extends his arm out to me and produces his little finger. “Pinky promise?”

I giggle and shake my head before latching my little finger round his. Ever since I was a little girl, about six years old, we have been pinky promising things to each other.

“Pinky promise,” I reply, biting my lip. Fresh tears begin to sting my eyes, but I fight them because no matter how much I don’t want him to leave, I also want him to be free of this shithole life we’re in. When he first told me he was leaving to join the army, I had caused a scene, screaming and shouting, throwing things around the house. It was only when I calmed down that I realised what a selfish brat I was being. Just because I can’t be free just now, doesn’t mean my brother can’t. Besides, if he hadn’t joined now, he would have had to wait a few more months. I couldn’t do that to him—no matter how selfish I want to be.

Wrapping his big, strong arms around me, my brother pulls me in for a hug. “I’ll be back before you know it. And I’ll send money when I can so you can set yourself up somewhere. I promise. All this is as good for you as it is for me. Once you have your own place, I’ll come visit on my leave dates. We’ll have so much fun, you and I.” He pulls away before kissing me on the cheek. I grip his jacket, unable to let him go. I know I have to, but the selfish part of me is currently winning out.

“Right, everyone on the coach now!” a man in camouflage shouts. I look around, finding lots of people hugging, kissing, saying their goodbyes. I drown out the sniffles of the girlfriends. If I don’t, it won’t be long before I’m sobbing alongside them.

Just a few more minutes and he will be gone.

Just a few more minutes before I can cry.

“Take care of yourself, Son,” my dad says from behind me.

My brother smiles as he shakes his hand. “I will, Dad. Thanks.”

We both chance a look at my mother who, without my dad holding her, is swaying from the booze she’s been drinking since eight this morning. It’s currently ten, and apart from that, her only son is about to leave and join the army. You’d think she’d try and lay off the alcohol for him this one time. But no. Alcohol makes people selfish, and she’s as selfish as they come.