"I know you're not really sick."
Frank hid in his room for the rest of the night. He was trying to make a point. The point being that he shouldn't be expected to look after his sisters all the time when he still needed taking care of himself. It was hard though. His Mom was hogging the living room and watching TV loudly. Even over the TV though, Frank could hear Alicia sobbing and soon Mia started crying too. He heard Isabella trying to calm them down and then eventually Lauren came clattering up the stairs and knocked on Frank's bedroom door "Frankie, please, we don't know what we're doing." Lauren begged.
He sighed heavily but got up out of bed and re-assured Lauren that it'd be okay before he went downstairs into the kitchen where Mia and Alicia were shrieking and crying while Isabella looked near tears too. He wrapped his arms around the two of them and hugged them until they stopped crying then told them they were going to have a picnic in his bedroom. All the girls asked if they could help so he let Isabella make toast, let Lauren butter all the toast, let Mia pick them a cake out each and let Alicia make them all drinks.
Once they were done, they carried all the food upstairs and ate it sitting on Frank's floor. After they'd finished, Frank played guitar for all of them and sang them the song they'd written earlier called 'Cubicles.' Only Isabella really understood it but the others loved listening to him play and sing either way. At around eight o clock he put Alicia to bed and Mia yawned and said she wanted to go to bed too. That left Lauren and Isabella.
"What are you going to do Frankie?" Lauren asked "About the band?"
"I guess I'm gonna have to quit, aren't I?" Frank sighed "Mom will kill me if I carry on going."
"But you were so good at the band!" Isabella cried "And we loved watching you play altogether, you need to stay, you're amazing!"
"Isabella, I don't have a choice. She won't let my friends look after you. Where are you supposed to go?"
"I could look after them." Isabella said uncertainly.
"I know you'd try your best Hun but look at what happened downstairs." Frank sighed "No, I've gotta look after you. This is my life. I've gotta learn to put up with it. Now come on Lauren, I think it's your bedtime too."
Lauren didn't argue. She put her arms in the air as if she were Mia or Alicia and smiled sweetly. Frank laughed but lifted her up and carried her into her bedroom then tucked her into bed as if she were five years old. He kissed her cheek and whispered goodnight to her then went back to his room to find Isabella crying "What's wrong Sweetheart?" He asked, sitting down next to her and pulling her onto his lap "C'mon, tell me."
"I don't want you to give up on the band." Isabella sobbed "And I feel bad because there's nothing I can do to help. There must be something though, right Frank?"
"There isn't Izzy." He whispered, kissing the top of her head "It's okay though. I'll look after you just like I always did. And one day you'll all be old enough and won't need taking care of anymore, right? And maybe then I'll be in a band." Frank sighed. He knew that that was impossible. But it comforted Isabella even if it didn't comfort him.
The next day, Penina still wasn't back at school and Frank was having another awful day "Come on Frank, you have to stay in the band!" Ray cried "It will never be the same without you!"
"I've already told you, I don't have a choice!" Frank snapped "Someone needs to take care of the girls and my Mom won't let you guys do it anymore. That's it. That's the end."
Gerard started to say something but Frank stood up and stormed out towards the back gates of the school. They were locked of course but that didn't stop him leaping over the fence and making a run for it, his schoolbag bumping on his back. He was sick of this. He just needed to be alone for a while. It felt like he could never be alone, he always had to be there for someone. His sisters, the band, the girls, the teachers, his Mom... They all wanted something from him.
Frank suddenly remembered who had never asked him for anything. Never asked for any favours, never pestered him, they just let him get on with things. And he liked that. He had to see her. He knew her address. It didn't take long to get there. Did he dare go there? His feet started walking in the direction of her house. He dared go there.
Penina rolled her eyes as an old episode of Modern Family came on. It was one of her favourite shows but she wanted to watch newer episodes instead of older ones. She made up her mind that she'd go to school tomorrow no matter what. It was so boring pretending to be ill.
At that moment the doorbell rang and Penina spent a long moment deciding whether or not to answer it. In the end, she got up and shuffled towards the door. She was surprised to see Frank standing on her doorstep "Oh umm hey." Penina smiled awkwardly, pretending to sniff as if she had a cold.
"I know you're not really sick." Frank told her "I pretend to be sick sometimes. Because I need some alone time."
"If you know that I need alone time, why are you here?" Penina bit her lip. That came out ruder than she'd wanted it to.
"Because... I just need someone who doesn't want something from me. That sounds weird." Frank sighed "I'm just so sick of people asking me for things. For favours and stuff like that."
"Well come on in. I was bored anyway." Penina grinned and let him inside. Her house was pretty messy and she blushed bright red "I told Samantha I didn't have to clean if I was ill." She explained as she shut the door "I asked her to clean but she laughed and ran off upstairs."
"My sisters are exactly the same." Frank told her as they went into the living room "I love them to pieces and Isabella and Lauren try their best to help out I guess but sometimes I just wish I didn't have to look after them all the time. It wouldn't be so bad but there's four of them."
"It can be bad enough with just one too." Penina smiled "That's my secret Frank. It's almost the same as yours. My Mom cleared off shortly after Samantha was born. My Dad lived here in this house with us for a couple of days but he cleared off too, leaving a note to say that he wasn't coming back. So I've been taking care of Samantha for a while now but I know it's all going to fall apart eventually. I mean, from my Saturday job, I only just earn enough money to get us some food. How am I meant to pay the bills? Dad left us a bunch of power cards but they'll run out soon. And then there's the rent. I've been saving up but I'll never save enough by the end of the month."
"Why didn't you tell us?" Frank asked softly "We could've helped you out."
"I thought about it. At first it was because I wasn't really close enough to any of you. And then we found out your secret, I was kind of astonished that it was so similiar to mine. At my old school I told people that I basically raised my sister alone and they called me a show off and stuff like that. I was worried that something similiar would happen here."
"It is strange that our stories are so similar." Frank said thoughtfully "Look, I don't know how much help I can be with your money troubles since I have a few of those of my own but I can promise to always be here for you. If you wanna talk. If you want someone to look after Samantha for you."
"No, you've got four sisters to look after."
"One more won't make a difference." Frank put his arms around her "And I'll look after you too, okay? And you'll look after me. We need someone Penina. We need someone to look after us. We're still kids."
Penina blinked at him and suddenly the tears that she'd been holding back for weeks started spilling down her cheeks. She sobbed into his arms while he rocked her back and forth and told her that it would be okay. They had each other now.