Amanda Grow walked briskly down Main Street, her bright indigo hair swinging wildly and brushing against her thighs with every step. At twenty-seven years old, Amanda was relatively successful. She had graduated college three years prior with her Bachelor's of Science Degree in Graphic Design, and had immediately started working in a tattoo parlor. With all her talent, she quickly went from cleaning the shop to being one of Darryl's top artists. In just a few months, she would be opening her very own shop, and she could not be more proud of herself.
A simple glance at her would reveal she was not the stereotypical goth tattoo artist. She wore a loose navy blue blouse, with a baby blue camisole hiding beneath it. Her denim jeans fit her well, with the boot-cut flare almost hiding her black flat dress shoes. Her hair, though violet, was done up in a beautiful French braid, and on her slightly freckled face she wore a pair of thin-framed silver glasses. If it weren't for the tattoo sleeve covering her left arm, one would suspect she never would have dreamed of having art on her body.
She adjusted her crimson saddlebag to her right shoulder as she made her way up the stairs to the front door of the apartment complex. She entered without hesitation, despite how much the smell of the lobby made her gag reflex want to work overtime.
"Why, hello, Amanda, dear." The older woman behind the front desk smiled a bright crooked smile at the sight of the young woman before her.
She knew better than to stop, but Amanda did anyway. "Hello, Missus Tran. How are your cats today?"
"Oh, you know how they are," Mrs. Tran giggled. "Skittles was playing with the lampshades again. Trigger wouldn't stop hitting the buttons on that darn remote. I don't even know how Spot got his head stuck in the vent. Puttles just can't eat that cat food, it gives him bad gas and-"
"Missus Tran," Amanda interrupted before she could hear what all else that cat food did to poor Puttles. "I hate to interrupt, but do you know if Marie is home?"
The older lady cackled, her wrinkles becoming even deeper than normal. "That woman barely leaves, and you know it, dear! I was up at four-thirty this morning to watch the sunrise, and I could hear her turn off her shower. Does she ever sleep? She really needs to get out more, meet a nice young man, or woman ... something ... Heck, I don't even care if she brought home a puppy just so it wasn't just her and the kid." Her eyes were almost crystal blue, if you could see the color past her squinting, but now they seemed as blue as the sea, saddened at the thought of Marie. "She's a good girl, ya know. Just needs a good friend."
Amanda sighed, looking up the stairs as if her sister had magically appeared there while they were talking, though she had not. "I know ..." Marie had, for the better part of three years, been keeping to herself. Her boyfriend had left after finding out she was pregnant, and Marie had felt she did not need anyone else to get her through this. After Kelly was born, that sentiment had only grown stronger. "I'll try and talk to her," Amanda offered Mrs. Tran, which brought back the lady's nearly toothless smile. "See you later, Missus Tran." She made a quick wave as she bolted up the stairs to the third floor.
"Knock, knock!" She called out as she made the same noise on the plywood door with her knuckles.
At first, there was silence. Then a small voice called back from the other side, "Who's dere?"
Amanda could feel a tiny smirk tugging at the edge of her ruby lips. "Auntie ..."
"Auntie Mandi, that's who!" Mad giggling could be heard from the other side before Amanda asked, "Can I come in?"
The door opened inward, and a blur of pink and purple rushed to her before she could even blink. Marie smiled from the doorway as her daughter tackled her sister's shin, a small chuckle escaping her lips before she could stop herself. "Why don't we take this inside to avoid annoying the neighbors? I doubt Mister Unus will have anything nice to say about commotion in the hallway."
Amanda made a sour face, at the door next to her sister's. "Mister Unus can suck it, the jackass."
"Amanda!" Marie whispered furiously, glancing over at her neighbor's apartment. "Don't you think he gives me enough grief?" She moved aside so Amanda could lead Kelly back into the apartment. "He's already complained twice this week because my welcome mat was on his part of the hallway."
Amanda shrugged. "Like I said ... the jackass." She carefully sat down her bag, flipping it open as Kelly peered inside curiously. Amanda gingerly pulled out her laptop and the powerbrick, placing it on the kitchen table before reaching back into her bag. "Have you been good today, Kelly?"
"Yes, Auntie Mandi," the little girl replied. "Picked up toys ... helped Mama ... clodes ..." She was trying her hardest to say thhe words, but Auntie Mandi knew what she meant.
"Such a big helper." Amanda pulled out a small apple lollipop. "Here you go, sweetie."
"Tank oo!" She managed to rip off the wrapper and stuck the sweet into her mouth, tossing the paper into the little wastebin Marie had bought just for her. "Play?"
Amanda smiled as she plugged the cord of her laptop into the outlet nearest the refrigerator. "In a little bit, Kelly-Cakes. Mommy and I have some work to do, then we can play. Okay?"
Kelly pouted a little, but nodded, fake-stomping her way to her room. Marie sighed as Amanda started up her software. "Want a drink?" she asked her older sister, pointing at the fridge. "I have water, juice, milk, soda ..."
"Water will be fine, sis. Thanks." Amanda glanced over at her younger sibling. "Did you sleep last night? You look bushed."
Marie focused on pulling a glass out of the cupboard and filling it before answering the question. "I ... had another rough night."
"Was it the same dream as last time?"
Marie sighed as she set the cup on the table. "No, this one ... It was different ... Like, a horror movie from hell or something." She rubbed her arms anxiously as she recalled the nightmare to her sister. "I don't get it. These keep getting worse and more frequent ..."
"Even more after Kelly was born," Amanda added, giving her sister a concerned look as she paused in her typing. "I know I say this all the time, but, maybe we should find Kelly a sitter and go out. Not clubbing, necessarily. Just eat, window shop at the mall, maybe splurge a little ... Maybe even check out all the cute guys ..."
Marie winced a little at the end, and Amanda was afraid she had ruined the chance to get her little sister out of the house. Marie and Gabe had been high school sweethearts, so it was still a sore subject, but Marie looked to Amanda with pained expression. "Do ... Do you think it would help?"
Amanda held back her shock as best as she could. "Well, it wouldn't hurt ... Plus, the lack of sleep isn't good for you. Either of you. What happens if you pass out while with Kelly? You would never forgive yourself." Amanda put a hand on Marie's shoulder. "I'll be there, and it'll just be the two of us for the day. Like old times."
A genuine smile lit up Marie's tired face for a moment as she repeated, "Like old times ... Sure, let's do it." She hugged her sister tightly, thankful that she was so supportive. She had no clue where she would be without Amanda, and with some of the dark places her mind had crawled, she appreciated her sister being there to pull her back out. "When would be a good time to-"
DING DONG! DING DONG!
"Oh! The ladies are starting to arrive!" Marie looked to the door, then back to Amanda. How about we get that straightened out after the meeting?"
Amanda smiled, proud her sister was willing to try something different. "Absolutely, sis." She went back to her work as her sister greeted their guests, knowing that she was going to plan the perfect outing of a lifetime.