Warehoming Supply Services Inc.

Cousin Marc gave me his best performance of a solemn nod. An exaggerated pout pulled at his jowls to sell the bit. “So sorry, again. So sorry, Twon” he said. He looked to Liro whom gripped the hem of my pants, but even he couldn’t make up something comforting to say to someone so young. He turned and made his way out into the searing late afternoon sun, with a go bag from the buffet tucked under his arm.

That meant only Uncle Terry remained. His family had already retreated to their car.

The stout man shuffled over and took a moment to pinch his lips at me to make sure I recognized the heavy weight of his gaze. “Twon,” he said. “I can’t imagine how you feel right now.”

I nodded. Uncle Terry had seemed pleasant the few times we’d met, but I’d run out of courtesy to give hours ago.

He cleared his throat and started again. “But you’re not alone, okay? Liro looks up to you, but he needs a lot of care and acting as his parent is a whole new ball game.”

Liro’s hand snaked into my own, and I looked down. Red rings circled the skin around his eyes and he wavered even as he held on to my leg. His flare up had started the day after the accident.

I snapped my tongue. “I’m not replacing our parents.”

Terry grunted and ran a hand over his hair. “Yeah, of course. I know that. All I’m saying is that we want to help if it gets hard. If you need anything. Really, even if you need a place to stay.”

My breath caught in my throat. What? Ma and Pa’s collection of vis panes flickered out back and caught my gaze. I’d powered it up before the reception. The cloudy panes stood in an uneven line, rigged in an approximation of a wall. The kaleidoscope of shifting colors danced across the face of each one, never quite matching with the image on the neighbor. Ma and Pa were part of the first wave of street artists who changed the game by hacking digital-marketing vis panes that covered buildings. My heart knew that if I watched that display a little longer, I’d see dad trudge out from the shed with a digipen. He’d pull at the hem of whichever light brown or leafy green tank top he wore and use it to mop the sweat from his brow.

My heart lied. No one would ever finish the tag out back. It was mine now. I looked down to Liro, his hand in mine. Ours.

“We’re not leaving,” I told Uncle Terry.

I tried to tally up the damage, but I lost my breath before I could finish. Water still dripped from the open window. It sloshed around my ankles as I maneuvered around shelves and stacks of boxes that hadn’t fallen. At least half of the boxes had darkened from the summer-sky blue of Warehoming Inc.’s brand colors to a deep navy blue at being sodden. I turned away from Ma and Pa’s vis pane display out back and chewed at my lip. A bead of sweat slid down my cheek. Our clothes were damp and sticky from more than just a little flooding. It was hot as a state officer’s glare, and air conditioning was as much a myth to Liro and me as the pursuit of happiness.

Liro scratched at his short-cropped hair. “How bad is it?” His voice cracked when he asked.

I found myself blinking stinging sweat from my eyes. “The window.” It was all I could say.

“The latch must have come loose,” he said. “I closed the damn thing. I swear I did.”

My untended bush of curly hair snagged my fingers as I pulled them through. I didn’t have the energy to admonish Liro for cussing again. Many of these boxes contained books or random consumer goods like dog food or hygiene products. We’d just received computer components from PC Parts Supply though, and some of those were big ticket items. I’d have to check the logs. The shipment contained sticks of RAM and keyboards, but we’d also received at least a handful of GPUs, processors and motherboards. The Warehoming loss department would notice.

“It’s okay.” I said it through gritted teeth to keep my voice from breaking. “We’ll need to clean up everything we can. We have enough spare cardboard to re-box everything that’s salvageable. We’ll need to save what we can, and then we’ll file a claim on the rest.”

His voice was as small as the day Ma and Pa died. “What will happen?”

I gulped down the tremor that threatened my voice. “An inspector will come. We’ll need to clean up everything.

Liro smacked a hand to his face dramatically. “Oh, Bondye.”

“It’s okay. We just need to get to work.”

“Will we lose the house?”

I knew his real question. Will we lose the memories?

I’d dropped out of University and got a job waiting tables the day after the funeral almost three years ago. Academic scholarships couldn’t pay for Liro’s medications after all. I got a second job working carts two months later. Then I lost the waiting job. I took Liro to urgent care twice in a week during a flare up, and that made me unreliable. I lost the cart job not long after when Liro’s appointments made my employment too cumbersome to continue. The laundry machine broke maybe six week later. With every storm, the stain on the ceiling of the sitting room grew just as the stain on my mood.

At one point, I’d skipped so many meals that my stomach twisted to heave dry coughs into an unimpressed toilet. I looked into Warehoming Supply Services Inc. as soon as Liro went to sleep that night. I refused to sell the house, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t leverage its value for a return. The house wasn’t in a condition to use as a BNB rental, but we could rent the space out for eCommerce logistics. I’d signed us up before he woke that day. As my own boss, I might be able to make enough money to support Liro. Companies like Warehoming promised next-hour delivery for ninety percent of their eCommerce partners’ deliveries. It was good for the consumer. It was good for the reputation of the company that sold the products, and it was good for Warehoming to take a cut. They also accepted new freelance storage vendors with markedly few hoops, so it was good for people desperate enough to leverage their home as an asset. Like Liro and me.

Inventory from countless eCommerce businesses using Warehoming as their distributor filled up the house by the end of the month. It took up the living room and the sitting room. Boxes filled the hallways, and all three bedrooms. Liro and I tucked ourselves into a tiny corner of the master bedroom on a mattress of pillows stacked atop each other. We gave the whole house to Warehoming except for that one corner and our parents’ vis tag out back. We weren’t losing that.

My lip curled when I answered him. “No way in hell.”