THE PAIN HAD BEEN ALLEVIATED...AT LEAST FOR A MOMENT.
The morning light swelled through the window. It felt stark and cruel against Arturo’s puffy eyelids. His limbs were heavy, yet he pulled himself up to face the overwhelming echo of death in the room and the loss that surrounded him.
Erminio should be here with me. We should have woken up together, and I should be listening to him ramble on about girls.
“Arturo?” A sweet, soft voice broke the eerie silence. Lilia stood at the bedroom door in her pink nightie. She, too, was staring at the empty bed, which she had been avoiding ever since they’d learned about Erminio’s fate.
“Come. Hop in.” Arturo sensed Lilia’s need for his attention. He felt sorrow over his bittersweet homecoming; it didn’t seem fair that his family should celebrate his return as they mourned Erminio’s demise.
“Are you staying this time?” Lilia folded her legs beneath her pajamas and tucked herself into her brother’s side. Arturo stroked her back in circles and kissed her hair.
“I’m done fighting, piccina. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Are you going to see that girl again?”
“Well, I have been gone for a long time. I miss that girl too, just like I missed you.”
“I don’t like Angelina.” Lilia pouted while continuing to fiddle with the buttons on her brother’s shirt.
Arturo laughed. “Have you and Mama been plotting to break us up?”
“No, I just feel things. And whenever I see her, she ignores me. She’s not like us.”
“Fair enough, but give her a chance. Look, once you get to know Angelina, you’ll change your mind, but until then—” Arturo began tickling Lilia’s sides, throwing her into a fit of giggles.
“Stop…STOP IT!” Lilia squealed as she wiggled away.
“Okay, last one downstairs is a dirty rotten egg!”
Lilia leaped forward and began running ahead of her brother. The hollow pit in his stomach felt less painful. The pain had been alleviated, at least for a moment. For Arturo, his sister’s lightheartedness brought him back to all that was good and kind in the world, even in this time of utter chaos and a loss that seemed unending.