"Dance class is going really well," I said, trying to start a conversation with my dad. "I'm in classical and lyrical ballet this year. I was going to try hip hop, but I just don't have the right dancing style for it."
Dad grunted and kept his eyes on the road. I attempted to meet those darkly-themed eyes of his through the rearview mirror, but he clearly didn't want to make eye contact with his older child. I tried another avenue.
"I saved up all my money, and now I have my first pair of pointe shoes. I've only been in ballet for three years, so my teachers all say it's great that I've got pointe shoes already. They're really expensive, though. They took up quite a bit of my savings. And the ribbons were kind of hard to sew on."
I looked over at Dakota, who was watching the scene with a look of utter incredulity. Since he hated Dad even more than I did (though I was trying to learn to love him), he couldn't understand why I would ever treat Dad warmly.
I'd almost always been able to tell what Dakota was thinking. Even though there was a two-year-difference between us - I was seventeen, and Dakota was fifteen - we were closer than any other brother and sister had ever been. I cast a small smile at Dakota, but he looked away. Twirling my thumbs nervously, I focused on the situation at hand - not on how the shoulder strap of my seatbelt was pressing against one of my bruises.
"Umm...how's work been lately?" I asked.
"It's been doing well. I got a raise. That means more money for you two."
"It's not money we want, Dad. It's not stuff. Maybe we'd just like a normal family," Dakota shot back, speaking for the first time.
Dad raised his eyebrows. "We'll talk about this later," he said as his cell phone chirped. He picked it up and mouthed "Be quiet," to us.
"Hello," Dad answered the phone.
I knew the truth. Dad wouldn't "talk about this later," as he'd told Dakota. He never "talked about this later." He always let things slide. I'd long since stopped believing in his promises. He always broke them, anyway.
As our car cruised down the interstate, I watched the cars and trucks whizz past, wishing to be anyone else but the person I was.
"Please, God..." I whisper to myself. "This is impossible."
Beside me, Dakota rolls his eyes. "God?" he asked sarcastically.
I ignored Dakota's jab. I knew he didn't mean it in a bad way. I knew he was just as perplexed and troubled with the situation as I was. The problem was, Dakota didn't have Someone bigger than him to help him out. I reached over and patted my younger brother's knee. "Don't worry," I whispered. "This'll all turn out okay. I'll make sure it does. I promise."
I just hoped I wouldn't unintentionally break that promise.
Around us, life went on.