Colleen couldn’t imagine life without Daniel. Most children cling to their mothers, but for Colleen the long absences and bitter battles that coincided with a prolonged divorce prompted her to depend on her brother.
The childhood insecurities fostered by being part of a fractured family only amplified Colleen’s fears. Her mother was gone. She was afraid something would happen and she would have to find a way to live without her brother too.
One day, Daniel didn’t meet her for the short walk home. Colleen searched the school grounds until she found him cornered in the parking lot. Seth McCormack shoved Daniel hard. As he fell, Colleen dove down and skinned her arms and legs to keep her brother’s head from crashing onto the concrete.
Later that night, Colleen crept into her brother’s bedroom. “I don’t want to lose you,” she told him.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “Nothing’s going to happen to me. I’m not going anywhere.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. Besides, I’ve got you to take care of me.”
She accepted that mission. Ever cautious, Colleen wiped up spills from the floor so that nobody would slip and insisted on Velcro to prevent anyone from tripping over their shoelaces.
Daniel discovered that if you sat on cardboard at the top of the stairs you could slide super-fast to the bottom. He crashed into the TV stand, knocked out a tooth and earned three stitches along his eyebrow.
Colleen collected the cardboard, removed it all from the house and insisted her father install non-slip stair treads.
When Daniel learned how to pop a wheelie, he misjudged, spun the bike backwards, and cracked his helmet on the lawn gnome.
Colleen bought her brother a better helmet after she saved enough allowance and sold the lawn gnome at the neighbor’s yard sale.
Daniel’s friends mocked Colleen’s overprotectiveness, but he knew that no matter what happened, his sister always had his back.
With high school came hormones and the terror of teenage drama. Daniel was smart, sweet and striking, the trifecta of benchmarks required by flirty girls already desperate to define themselves by who was willing to lock lips with them in the hallways between biology and health. Colleen faced her greatest challenge when she learned that Julia Hollis had set her sights on Daniel. The cheerleader knew how to flirt, frequently flaunted her assets for attention, and wasn’t too proud to taunt the boys with how flexible she was, morally and otherwise.
Obtaining images of Julia in compromising positions was as easy as the girl herself, but instead of showing her shimmying up against the most popular boys in school, Colleen created a fake Facebook account and photo-shopped the nerds from the chess club into the pictures, along with a partially redacted medical form confirming Julia had chlamydia.
Daniel dated Diana instead.
When he decided to look for a part-time job, Colleen destroyed a page of Daniel’s job application for the gas station, which was known for late-night robberies. He was hired at Tina’s Sandwich Shoppe instead. It was carry out only. The lobby had room for no more than four people, and Tina’s did a small but steady business that had never attracted unwanted attention.
Not until the night Daniel closed alone and someone he knew entered with a gun.
Seth McCormack had started off bad and gotten worse. As he pointed the pistol at Daniel and demanded all the cash the register contained Colleen arrived to walk her brother home.
In the flash that it took to process what was happening Colleen’s instincts kicked in. Daniel yelled for her to look out while she shouted for him to duck as McCormack pivoted and pulled the trigger.
The deafening blast of a gunshot reverberated throughout the small store and in that split second, everything changed.
Daniel couldn’t imagine life without Colleen.