“Ugh!” Sarah pressed enter repeatedly, rapid-fire, groaning in annoyance. “This stupid piece of garbage!” The whole screen was frozen on pictures of naked women. Annoyed, she launched the laptop to the other side of the couch and stomped around her tiny apartment, hunting for her phone. She dug it out from the dusty armchair cushions and dialed her husband Josh, tapping her toe impatiently. When it went to his voicemail, she let out a growling, impatient noise. Who else could she call? Dad, Mom? Not a chance. Anna? She wouldn’t be able to make it with this short notice. Cerise? She didn’t know a thing about computers. Josiah? Well, maybe.
“Tad!” she shouted suddenly. I can call him now, she thought with a happy little jump in her stomach. He’d just gotten his own place, plus a phone, so she could call and not have to talk to a stranger on the phone, which she’d always hated. She dialed.
“Hello?” Tad answered. She smiled at the sound of his voice.
“Didn’t you get call display, silly?” she asked.
“And shorten our scintillating conversations?” he asked wryly. Sarah wasn’t sure what scintillating meant, though she was certain that he was making fun of her, and so ignored him.
“What are you doing?” she asked sweetly.
“What do you want?”
“My computer’s broken,” she complained.
“And Holy Joe?”
She sighed in annoyance. “Don’t call him that.”
“The budding pastor can’t help his sister out?”
“I called you first.”
A pause. “What’s it doing?”
“Nothing. It’s frozen. Are you busy?”
“No, I’ll be there in ten.”
“Yay! Aren’t you glad you moved so close?”
“Ecstatic.” Tad ended the call. Smiling, Sarah hummed as she collected a few dishes from the living room, and set water for tea. Does Tad like tea? She thought to herself. Probably. Who doesn’t? She set out mint for herself, feeling a little queasy.
She’d been thrilled when, three weeks ago, Tad had told her he was contacting Mom and Dad, that they were going for lunch. “Does that mean you’ll be back for Christmas?” she’d asked excitedly.
He’d shrugged, and let out a sharp laugh. “Depends how it goes.”
It must have gone well enough, because her mother had called demanding to know how long they’d been in touch. “A couple weeks,” she’d lied. “I think he just wanted to contact us one at a time.” She knew he still hadn’t spoken with Josiah, their older brother, and didn’t dare bring it up. The two could hardly be in a room together without fighting.
Karen had peppered her with questions about where he’d been for the year, because she was only concerned, she said. But Sarah had kept her mouth shut, playing dumb as she so often did. “I don’t know, Mom,” she’d finally said, exasperated. “He’ll tell us when he tells us. Isn’t it good enough that he’s back?”
Her mother was silent on the other end. Then she said, softly, accusingly: “You know he’s completely turned his back on God, don’t you?”
“God won’t give up on him, Mom. It’s not our job to worry about his salvation.”
“Yes, it is!” Karen cried, alarmed.
“No, it’s not! You didn’t die on a cross for him, did you?”
“That’s hardly the point, Sarah.”
“What Tad chooses is between Tad and God.”
“And so I’m just supposed to sit by and watch while my son goes to hell?” Karen asked, her voice trembling with anger.
“No, of course not,” Sarah had groaned. “Mom, that’s not what I’m saying. Can we talk about this later?”
“Fine,” Karen had snapped. They’d exchanged goodbyes, and hung up. Sarah had no intention of ever talking about it again, as far as she could help it.
A loud buzz from the hallway startled Sarah out of her reverie, and she skipped to the intercom to buzz her brother in. When Tad arrived at the door, she was halfway through cleaning the kitchen, and the water was bubbling merrily.
“Hello Dr. Tad!” she grinned as she opened the door. “Your patient is in the living room. Want some tea?”
“Sure,” he said tonelessly, kicking his shoes into a corner. He eyed her stomach pointedly, then gave her a questioning look.
“What?” she asked, putting her hands to her belly.
“When were you going to tell me you’re pregnant?” he asked, a little defensively.
“Oh, they told you? I was going to tell you today, actually, darn it.” Butterflies fluttered up her stomach. In truth, she’d been afraid that he would mock her for getting pregnant so quickly; when they were in high school, he’d always made fun of her fervent desire to be a mother.
“Well, congrats. I know it’s what you want.”
Sarah blinked, surprised. “Yeah, it is.” She and Josh had decided not to use any birth control, and to leave it in God’s hands. She’d been thrilled to conceive so quickly, and was already halfway through preparing the baby’s room.
She busied herself with cups and tea bags as Tad made his way into the living room. “Whoa!” he exclaimed. “Getting your jollies while the hubby’s at work?”
She stuck her head around the corner and threw a tea towel at him, which fell short of his mischievous grin and landed on the outdated oak coffee table. “No! I just clicked on something and all those naked women popped up. Now it won’t do anything.”
“What did you click on?”
“I don’t know.”
Tad gave her a long-suffering look, and turned the computer to face him. She finished preparing the tea as he clicked away on the keyboard. She brought him his drink, then, bored of watching him work, headed back to the kitchen to make cookies. Pulling ingredients out of the cupboard, she fought back a sudden wave of anxiety. Ever since Tad had been back, she was always afraid that this might be the last time she saw him.
He’d contacted her about five months ago. She and Josh had both been counsellors at a summer camp, and an unfamiliar number had rung on her cell phone as she was just about to go to bed.
“Hello?” she’d answered, confused.
“Sarah?” Tad’s voice was tremulous, low. He sounded older, different.
“T—Wh—Tad?” she’d nearly shrieked into the phone. A couple of her campers looked over at her in surprise, and she’d ducked out the door, mouth gaping into the phone.
“Yeah, uh, hi.”
“Oh my gosh! What—Tad! Where are you? Where have you been?”
“I’m at—I’m in trouble.”
“What is it? What kind of trouble?” Waves of anxiety, excitement, and terror ebbed insider her, leaving her cold and trembling.
“I’m at the, um, the remand centre.”
There was a long pause, and Tad slowly, painfully told her: “I’m in jail.”
Shock doused Sarah from head to toe. “Oh, Tad,” she whispered, horrified.
“I’d really like to see you.”
She’d gone to Josh’s cabin immediately after hanging up, despite it being explicitly against camp rules for her to see him at night. He’d snuck out of bed, and, hearing her story, offered to drive her to see Tad in the morning.
The next day, their co-counsellors had covered for their absence. They knew that the camp director would not allow them to leave together for any reason, and if Sarah told him the truth, he would immediately be on the phone to Paul and Karen. They snuck out before breakfast and made the 90 minute drive to the remand centre.
The centre was a dark, squat building surrounded by fifteen-foot chain link fences, lined with barbed wire. Josh had parked the truck, and she’d sat silently in the passenger seat for a full minute, fixating of the flag that snapped and waved at her from the other side of the parking lot, red and white flashing in the morning sun. Her extremities were numb, her breathing was shallow, her heart was racing.
“Ready?” Josh had asked gently. The air turned to molasses on their walk up to the front door.
Josh had not been allowed in the visitor’s area, and so he’d grudgingly agreed for her to enter alone. She’d been nervous, but somewhat relieved; she knew she’d get more out of Tad without her fiance listening in. She and Josh had only been dating a month or so when Tad had left, so the two barely knew each other.
After going through security, she’d been taken into a grey-walled room filled with about fifteen small, white tables. She sat on an orange chair that was bolted to the floor, too far from the table for her to lean on it. There was one other visit happening in the corner, a woman and her child sitting with a man in a dull blue inmate uniform. She could not look in their direction without her eyes filling with tears, and so she steeled herself against the childish chattering and low voices. Oh, God, please show your love to them. Her prayer felt tiny, like it was lost in this dingy, windowless place.
Twenty minutes later, a guard led Tad into the room, though Sarah barely recognized him. Dark roots had pushed out his platinum blonde hair, which he had worn so proudly and defiantly. It was scraggled around his face, strands falling into his eyes. His eyes were dull, wary, and kept darting about the room. He’d always been thin, but now his cheekbones jutted above gaunt, sallow cheeks, covered with a patchy, unkempt beard. Sarah felt numb, and let out a short, gasping sob.
“Tad,” she whispered, shocked. The guard sat him down across from her, then took a couple steps away toward the wall, his hands on his belt, his eyes never still.
Tad gave her a tiny smile. “Hi,” he said, looking at the table between them.
“Tad, what is going on? Where have you been?”
“Around,” he’d mumbled, bouncing his feet off the hard concrete, rubbing his thighs. His hands periodically wandered over his flesh, never still, clutching, rubbing, his eyes never quite reaching hers.
A moment passed as Sarah watched him, lost for words. Finally, she told him: “Tad, they told me the price of your bail. I—I can’t afford it, I’m sorry.”
“I didn’t think so,” he said, his eyes briefly flicking toward her face.
“Maybe Mom and Dad—”
“No,” he’d said forcefully, snapping his chin upward. “No, they can’t be right.”
“What do you mean?” Sarah asked, confused.
“They told me I’d end up—like this. I have to wait till I’m out.”
“They miss you. They don’t really talk about it, but I can tell,” Sarah strained the words past her constricting throat.
He finally made eye contact, and tears glimmered at the corners of his pale blue eyes. His shoulders slumped. “Oh, Sarah, I shouldn’t have thrown you into this. I’m sorry, I won’t bother you if you don’t want to talk to me again.”
She’d sat upright and leaned toward him abruptly, feeling as though her chest would burst. “Tad, don’t say things like that! I love you, I’m so glad to see you.”
He’d snorted, and raised his palms to the ceiling. “Like this?”
“Alive,” she said, her voice breaking.
For a short moment, he’d stopped moving, and held steady eye contact. She thought her heart would break in that moment, but she knew she couldn’t break down. Tad would always get frustrated and withdraw when she cried.
“I missed you a lot,” he said, barely audible. “I missed you the most.”
“I missed you, too,” she’d replied, and despite her best efforts, tears began to spill over, tiny rivulets streaming down her cheeks. She could hardly believe this was her little brother, always so precocious, her ally in their schemes against Josiah, her partner in crime.
She visited every week after that, into the fall, and gradually noticed improvement. He cut his hair, gained some weight, and even started joking a little. She slowly gleaned half a story out of him; he’d been high on meth, and had been caught stealing to pay for his next fix. He was very vague about his first two weeks in prison, prior to their first meeting, and the glaring omission gave her a sense of unease.
“You still haven’t told Mom and Dad?” he’d ask each time she went to see him.
“No, of course not,” she’d smile. Paul and Karen had nearly kicked him out when he first dyed his hair, so she could not imagine their reaction to his situation. Besides, for as long as she could remember, it had always been her and Tad on the same team, with him conscientiously objecting and her giggling along for the ride.
“Good,” he’d reply.
The leaves were beginning to turn when he told her: “Looks like I’ll be out next week.”
“Really?” Sarah asked, excited. “You can come to my wedding!”
“Oh, Sarah,” Tad’s expression was crushed, shameful. “I didn’t realize.”
Sarah felt a rush of excitement, and fantasized a happy Klassen reunion. “It’s okay! You have three weeks, you can talk to Mom and Dad beforehand. Are you going to stay with them?”
“No, there’s a place I can go,” he said, vaguely gesturing behind himself.
Sarah’s heart sank. “You’re not going to come, are you?”
Tad looked down, and hesitated. “I don’t want to ruin your wedding,” he mumbled.
“You wouldn’t ruin it! You would make it—amazing!” She gripped the table between them, eyes wide. “I would be so happy if you were there.”
“Don’t think I’m ready, Bearah,” he’d said softly. The use of his childhood name for her made her crumble on the inside, and her eyes filled with tears. She’d insisted, but he’d refused. “Don’t set a place for me,” he told her firmly.
The weekend she and Josh got married, she had to forcibly block out thoughts of Tad to keep from breaking down. As Paul walked her down the aisle, she’d scanned the pews of Cornerstone, hoping to catch a glimpse of her younger brother. Ignoring the lingering sadness, she’d looked up at the man waiting at the end of the aisle, and nearly exploded with love and joy.
She was able to contain herself for most of the ceremony, but at one point Pastor Ben made a joke, filling the sanctuary with laughter. She’d turned toward the crowd, giggling, and then stopped short. Sitting in the shadows of the very last pew, all in black, never quite sitting still, was Tad, his signature smirk fixed in place. When their eyes met, his face softened, and he acknowledged her with a nod. She’d snapped her face back to Josh, burning to stare in Tad’s direction, and began to cry as Josh said his vows.
Remembering that moment, she sniffed and wiped at an errant tear with her oven mitt. Oh man, I’m going to cry at everything now, aren’t I? she thought, a happy thrill pushing through her melancholy memories.
She was carrying a loaded plate into the living room when Tad triumphantly rested the laptop on the coffee table. “There. I think I got it. Just has to run a few updates now. When was the last time you updated?”
“Never mind.” Tad grabbed a warm cookie, and sipped at his now-cool tea.
“What was it like?” Sarah suddenly blurted. She regretted the words almost before they were out of her mouth.
Tad eyed her warily. “I’d think you’d know now, seeing as you’re pregnant.”
She found the tea towel and threw it at him again. He caught it, and grinned at her flustered face.
“You know what I meant!” she exclaimed.
“No, I don’t.”
“The—” she stopped herself this time. “Well, we don’t have to talk about it.” She turned away from him and grabbed a cookie off the plate, biting it viciously. She felt silly asking, but she’d been wondering about it for the past four months. While she had seen Tad periodically throughout his incarceration and while at ICHP, she’d never really had a conversation about the mysterious eight months before his first contact. What could have driven him to such desperation that he would steal for more? Why hadn’t he gotten some kind of job?
“The high?” Tad asked matter-of-factly.
“Well, yeah,” Sarah said in a small voice, still turned away from him.
“Like I could do anything, and like I needed nothing. For a while.” His voice became flat, emotionless. “Then it was like everything in the world was crushing on top of me, and nothing else could make it better. And I felt like I wanted to die.”
Sarah could feel the heat coursing to her face, the tears rising to her eyes. I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry, or he’ll stop talking.
“How long were you on it?” she asked gently.
“Tried it two weeks before I left. When you saw me in the summer, that was the longest I’d been off since then.”
Eight months. Oh, God. She’d done research on meth in the two months he’d been in prison, and could barely get through two websites without breaking down. No wonder he’d been so emaciated.
“I never told Mom and Dad,” she said fiercely. “I won’t, you know.”
“I know,” Tad’s voice softened, and he briefly caught her eye before turning away.
“Will you?” she asked.
“Mom grilled me, after you went for lunch with them.”
Tad laughed harshly. “Of course she did.”
Though their mother had the subtlety of a sledgehammer, Sarah had often mentally echoed her concern over Tad’s emotional and spiritual well-being, even before he’d left. He was often moody, and hadn’t really been committed to Christ over the past two years. “Are you seeing anyone?” she blurted.
Tad narrowed his eyes. “Dating someone?”
“No,” she said laughingly, then pulled herself back, realizing she may have offended. “Well, yes, I mean, that too, but I meant like someone to talk to. A pastor, a counsellor.”
“Not the same thing,” he said sardonically, “and no.”
“Don’t you think you should? Maybe they can help.”
“I’m fine, Sarah.”
She felt frustrated, not understanding why he wouldn’t want help. “Wouldn’t talking about it make it—”
He sat upright. “I’m fine,” he said forcefully. “I don’t want to talk about it. It’s in the past and doesn’t need to be revisited.”
The angry look in his eyes made her fearful, worried that he’d storm out and she wouldn’t see him for another eight months. She could hardly bear the thought, and sat upright, grasping his arm. “Okay!” she said. “Don’t leave.”
He blinked in surprise. “I wasn’t.”
Tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh, Tad,” she said, her voice breaking, “I was so worried about you. I thought you might have—” Her sobs overwhelmed her voice, and she couldn’t finish her sentence. Chest heaving, she gripped her brother’s arm, blinded by tears. After a moment, he pulled her into his chest, and she wrapped her arms around him. “Don’t ever leave again,” she pleaded, her tears wetting his shirt. “I missed you so much.”
“I won’t,” he said, a slight tremor in his voice. “I won’t.”