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Phil stood in the baggage claim area scanning the crowd, looking for Dee Anna's red hair. People were coming down the escalator, but there was no sign of her yet. He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. Would she be glad to see him? Would she be shocked, disappointed--or maybe glad? Would she stand back and look at him or would she she hug him?
What did she know of his life the last few years? He had no idea, really, but he knew it seemed like a very long time since he'd seen his kid sister. He sat down on a bench, suddenly feeling old and very tired. Much too tired.
He watched the people approaching the conveyor belt. There was a harried-looking mom holding a little girl about four by the hand and pushing a stroller with her other hand. He wondered why no one was helping her. And here came a beautiful black woman, hair cropped very short and a large pair of hoops dangling from her ears. She was dressed in an African-style caftan and looked like a model. A large man rushed up to her and enfolded her in a hug. Phil looked away.
Next came a family, all short, all round, all talking at once. Mom was clearly in charge, directing her husband in a loud voice. Phil sighed heavily. Where was Dee Anna? He leaned back against a concrete wall and closed his eyes. Just for a moment, he thought to himself. It sure had been a long couple of days.
It would, he hoped, be good to have Danna home. He smiled, remembering his long-ago nickname for her.
What a funny little kid she had been with that round face and even rounder green eyes. How she used to stare at the world, taking it all in. She'd been pretty quiet. Of course, who wouldn't be quiet when you never knew which word would set Mom off? Better to be quiet.
She'd talked to him though, sometimes, sharing things she had learned in school or asking him questions about whatever popped into her head. She did ask a lot of questions. Sometimes they would walk the mile into town just for the companionship and the quiet. He remembered the feel of her hand tucked in his. How could he have forgotten how vulnerable she had seemed?
He could see her as she sat at the kitchen table that long-ago Sunday morning, feet tucked into the rungs of the chair, looking down as their mother strode into the room. They were late again, he recalled, and that brought a memory of their mother's voice scolding Dee Anna for dawdling. Dad, as usual, had already escaped outside.
That was the day that he'd left home, standing on the highway with a duffel bag and nothing else. He shouldn't have left her, he thought sadly.
He opened his eyes and there she was, wearing a pair of black slacks, boots, and a green sweater, her hair short and looking a little tousled. She hadn't seen him, and she was wrestling a large, shapeless bag onto the top step of the escalator. She looked good, he thought. Pretty.
He stood up and she looked down and saw him. A look of surprise and...he couldn't tell what...crossed her face. He moved toward the bottom of the escalator and watched her descend. When she reached the bottom she kicked the bag off the step and shoved it to the side with one foot.
Phil stepped backwards, almost wanting to run.
"Oh, Phil! I didn't think you'd be the one to pick me up!" Dee Anna's smile was huge. " I thought Uncle Chuck was coming. I'm so glad its you!" With the sweetness he remembered, she threw her arms around his waist. After a moment his arms went around her short frame and he shyly bent to kiss her cheek.
Were those tears?
Dee Anna stepped back, putting her hands up to his cheeks and looking hard at him. He held her gaze for only a moment and then looked away.
"Oh, big brother," she said softly, "I missed you. I didn't realize how much."
He was afraid to speak. He swallowed hard and after a moment he said stiffly, "Yeah. Me too." He moved to the conveyor belt just as a forest-green suitcase came down the chute. "Yours?" he asked. It was Dee Anna's turn to feel speechless, and she nodded wordlessly. She hoped she'd done a good job of hiding her dismay at how he looked.
Lifting the suitcase off the belt, Phil looked back at her and smiled for the first time. Dee Anna smiled too. When he grinned like that he looked more like the Phil she remembered.
"Dad's car is not far" said Phil. C'mon, Danna, we can talk on the way home. We're stopping by the hospital before we go to the house. Mom's waiting for us."