Crystal smiled wanly, "I have to get home anyway. I’ll see you later, okay?"
I nodded, "Yeah, I’d like that. Sorry it’s so crazy right now."
She laughed merrily, "Don’t be, I never had brothers and sisters so it’s been fun for me." She paused, "I’m sorry, that came out wrong…"
I shook my head, "Nah, it’s fine. I get it. Hey, why don’t you come by this afternoon? You can meet Mr. J’s family and the rest of the neighborhood. Bring your folks…"
"We didn’t even know him…" she protested.
I smiled for real, "Mr. J would have invited you himself if he could have. He was that kind of guy. He’d have liked it, I promise. You can ask Mary when she gets here."
"His eldest daughter. She used to babysit most of us – me included."
"Jack! It’s getting on the floor!" Tina’s voice was tinged with panic. My youngest sister did not deal well with ‘messy’ in any form and an overflowing toilet was a nightmare to her.
Crystal pushed me toward the door, "Go save your sister. I’ll ask my parents…"
We said quick good byes as she headed for the front and I made for the bath.
I didn’t have time to think about anything for the next few hours. Having rescued my plunger adverse sister from a fate worse than death I was then called on to corral my father who was ‘fixing’ the car. He had legitimately checked on the near failing battery but had begun to try to take care of the starter while he was at it. Mike had managed to keep him out from under the car – Momma would have killed them both if Poppa had come in dirty – but couldn’t convince him to stop tinkering with everything.
"Poppa, Momma says come in and get ready." I told my father’s back which was all that was visible from under the hood.
"I just want to check the plug wires." He muttered.
"Poppa! Come on!" Mike cajoled.
Mike was too young yet to realize that whining didn’t work, at least not for this. I wordlessly shooed him away and carefully poked my own head under the hood, "Poppa?"
He stopped, looking away at the power steering fluid, "Yes, son?"
I put my hand on his back. He was trying to hide it but his voice was cracking from the strain. "It’s time, Poppa."
Poppa had never looked old to me before. He only had a touch of gray in his otherwise coal black hair. It only accented his jovial face; it never made him look old. But as he turned to me he seemed to age a thousand years. I knew then Poppa had lost the best friend he’d ever had. I also knew I would find whatever it was that killed Mr. J. I guess I’d always known, deep down, that I’d never be able to let it go. Now, I knew for sure.
I helped Poppa close up the hood and followed him into the house, despising that thing more than ever.