~Give to Me the Comfort of Your Love~
Bren cried herself to sleep only an hour ago. Our parents are next door, blissfully sleeping as always. Not unaware: they know that they're doing this to her, but it doesn't stop them. They're giving us away in just over twelve hours, and the only person who cared enough to wipe Bren's tears away was me.
We don't need them, I remind myself for the fourth time in five minutes. We don't need them. All we need is each other, and we can make it through anything. No matter how this family turns out, as long as Bren and I can stay together, we can manage. Somehow.
On Friday morning, I feel nothing. I watch Bren wake up, my tired eyes searching quickly for anything flammable. She slips into the bathroom and is in there for barely twenty minutes before she opens the door and comes back out with all of her toiletries in hand. She stuffs the last of her stuff into her suitcase and then turns her smile on me.
"Come on, Par. You're going to be stinky if you don't take a shower before school." And she wrinkles her nose cutely. I dredge up a smile and fight the tiredness as I make my way to the bathroom.
A cold shower wakes me up some, and it rids my eyes of the glaze that had covered it before. I brush my teeth quickly, harshly, and ignore the blood that stains the toothpaste foam when I spit it out in the sink. Bren left her floss for me, but I ignore it. There is still a clear circle in the mirror from where Bren wiped it off with a towel, and I add a second, this one adjusted for my height.
Tired blue eyes stare back, their depths as empty as I feel inside. I have a pimple starting to show beside my nose, right near the nostril opening where they tend to hurt worse. I scratch at it briefly, but stop myself before the urge to scratch it right off takes over.
A knock on the door and a cheerful reminder from Bren startle me out of my self-contemplation. I dress quickly, hang my towel on the hook behind the door, and then grab the remnants of my own belongings from the room.
Bren is sitting patiently on her bed, hands clasped in her lap. "Are you ready, Par?" she asks.
I nod and offer her a smile in return before I cross to my duffel bag and put my toothbrush and toothpaste in an inside pocket. According to the clock on the stand between our beds, it's ten after seven. One of our parents will be coming to the door in another ten minutes to see if we're ready to go to school. We'll put our bags into the trunk of the car so that we don't have to come back to the hotel later.
"Do you think this is a good idea?" she asks me suddenly. I look up at her quickly, surprised by the question. She's studying me seriously, her childish innocence pushed behind the facade of the seventeen year old girl she is. "Will we be better off with strangers than we would be with our parents?"
I take a moment to ponder that, and then nod. I sign the equivalent of 'What parents?' and ignore her frown.
There is no confrontation this morning. Zaylor is sitting across the room, ignoring us for the second day in a row, the teacher didn't even bother with role-call, and Freak is two rows away, reading a book. He didn't even glance up when we came in, and I'm trying to figure out if it's a sign that the day is going to go this smoothly, or if this is the calm before the storm.
Despite yesterday's fiasco, Bren seems to be adapting well. In the hallway after homeroom, I see a girl approach her. It's to ask for a pencil, but the very fact that someone is willing to approach her, and nicely, has Bren smiling. The girl doesn't walk away immediately, either. She introduces herself to Bren and talks about how boring and awful our homeroom teacher is before she remembers that we all have class in a minute.
By the time that brief meeting is over, Bren's smile is radiant, and there's a spark in her eyes.
Freak sits with us at lunch again. Yesterday seems forgotten as he talks to Bren and plies her with questions about other schools we've attended. She initially responds hesitantly, watching me again. It was the innocent answers yesterday that she thinks set me off, and she doesn't want to see me go stalking off again.
After I smiled at her and assured her with a few quick gestures of my hands that it was okay, she seemed to warm up to the subject. She starts to tell him about one teacher we had who wore a horrible toupee when I happen to look up and meet his eyes. It's then that I realize that, even while he's been talking to Bren, he's been staring at me. He, too, is waiting for me to get upset and walk out.
It's not going to happen, asshole. Yesterday was a moment of weakness that I will not allow myself to repeat any time soon, especially not today when Bren is doing so well.
I empty my tray relatively quickly, having not been occupied with talk, and I wait patiently while Bren finishes her meal. When her food is gone, I take her tray and stack it on top of mine, and then stand up.
She stands up as well, and reaches out to curl a hand around my arm as I take our trays up to the counter. After I set them down, her hand moves to take my hand, and we head for the exit. I hear some snickering from a nearby table, but ignore it, even though I catch the whispered "-heard of kissing cousins, but siblings?" They're not worth my time, and as long as Bren doesn't hear and isn't bothered by their nonsense, I can tune them out.
Today, we decide to try someplace new to hide until the next class starts, or at least, I decide since Bren will probably follow me anyplace I choose to occupy for the rest of the lunch hour. The school is still a largely unexplored territory, and I head for the stairs, intent on exploring the halls we haven't wondered down yet. Freak is a silent presence behind us, but I ignore him, not even giving him the courtesy of acknowledging his presence by signing to him to get lost.
We find a theatre that is being used for some sort of rehearsal or audition, and Bren and I slip into the row one down from the very back. Freak sits behind us and I continue to ignore him until his boots appear on the back of the seat next to me. I jump and turn to glare at him, but his attention seems to be focused on the happenings on the stage. I have a feeling, however, that the moment I turn around, he's going to be staring at the back of my head.
The last twenty minutes of our allotted lunch time pass by in an odd sort of peacefulness, the three of us sitting quietly as the world goes on around us, neither taking part in it, nor actively seeking to be isolated from it. Bren's hand in mine is a reassuring weight, and I let my thoughts drift away into a pleasant fog of nothingness that is only broken by the post-lunch warning bell.
I wish the day could last this way.
After school, our parents drive us to the house where we'll be staying. The family name is Bennett, and their house is -huge-. It's an old farmhouse, and I shake my head. The whole place is a pile of tinder just waiting to be set off in a blaze of glory.
The drive is circular, and wide, and our car stops next to a small, beat-up car. Our father turns the engine off, and our parents get out and move to the back of the car to where the trunk is. They unload our stuff before we even manage to get out of the vehicle, Bren climbing out on my side so that she doesn't have to relinquish her hold on my hand.
The Bennetts, or at least the people I'm assuming to be them, come out to greet us. My stomach tightens into knots and I glare at the picture of normalcy they present, with their lovely house and normal children. Bren steps closer to me, pressing against my side as if trying to mold herself to me. I can't blame her: this image of family is intimidating, especially after dealing with our own for years.
The two sets of parents meet in a burst of greeting and handshaking, as Bren and I stand back from the rest. There's a girl a bit younger than us standing uncertainly behind her parents, and there's an older guy who looks at least twenty, standing nonchalantly behind her.
"And you must be Parley and Brenda!" the Bennett father says unnecessarily. He grins at us and holds his hand out to me. "I'm Andrew, but you can call me Andy. This is Michelle, my wife. You can call her anything you want-" he's cut off by a playful slap from said wife.
"Hello," she says more softly. She's noticed that I haven't shaken 'Andy's' hand yet, and so she doesn't bother to offer me hers. She turns instead to Bren. "You and your brother look so much alike. You must be twins?"
No, actually, we're not. Bren simply smiles and nods. It's easier than explaining, and who wants to drag the story out for strangers?
"Cassie," the woman calls. The girl bounces forward, reminding me of Bren on one of her good days. "This is Cassandra, our spoiled princess. Call her Cass or Cassie. And the moody young man behind me is our oldest, Jim. His real name is James, but since he acts like a kid still, he gets to keep his nickname."
"Hi," Cassie says happily. I don't recognize her, but supposedly, she knows us. She offers me a smile, which I don't return, and then grins at Bren. "We're going to have so much fun. I've always wanted a sister, and now Oliver can have a brother, too, since Jimmy doesn't count."
I look at her older brother questioningly, and the mother seems to understand my confusion at the thought that they seem to be missing one.
"Oliver isn't here, unfortunately," she says, shrugging. She's smiling at my parents again, including them in the explanation. "He's our younger son. He's gone up to help my sister with a leaky roof. Jim would have gone, but he has to work tonight." She turns her attention back to Bren and I. "He'll be home tomorrow, and you'll be able to meet him then."
They offer us all a tour of the house, and our parents accept, despite the obvious fact that they'd much rather be anyplace but here. I wonder if it hurts them more that they're so weak they're trying to give their children away, or that the Bennetts probably know that. Their pride will suffer, nothing more though.
Their house has this wrap-around porch that I think is pretty neat, though it disgusts me a bit when our mother coos over it adoringly. Inside, the house is as large and lovely as the outside advertises it to be. Eleven rooms total, twelve if you count the washroom where the washer and dryer are stored. Five bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen my mother says she's "always wanted." Our father makes appropriate noises over the game room, where all the toys are: pool table, electronic gaming systems, computer, entertainment center.
Bren and I are deposited in our room on the second floor. We're sharing. There is one bed that's nicely made, and a futon made up with sheets. Mrs. Bennett admits that it's a new addition. "We thought you might like to share a room, since this is a new environment for you."
Kindness -and- consideration. The four adults disappear, Cassie and Jim having stayed behind downstairs. Bren and I take a few moments to become familiar with our new room. She sits on the bed, bouncing a little and giggling at the softness. The futon is little more than a cushion on a metal frame, but it's still at least as comfortable as the bed in the hotel room. I sink onto its edge and look around.
The walls are a pretty light blue, and there is trim along the ceiling that matches: it's a darker blue, with black swirls running through it. The blankets on both beds are in two other shades of blue, different for each respective bed. There's a closet and two sets of dressers across the room, and there's a stand on either side of the actual bed, each one with a lamp on top. Opposite the door is a large bank of windows, and a window seat. From my vantage point on the futon, I can see treetops and a blue, cloudless sky. The window faces south, and so it gets good light for most of the year.
There's the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and Cassie and Jim appear, holding our bags and suitcases. Bren jumps right up to help them, but I take a little time to rise. Jim gives me an odd look and a nod as I hold my hand out for my duffel. Cassie is giggling over Bren's bag and telling her that the pinkish color is adorable. Bren is soaking it up and glowing.
Our parents are gone by the time Bren and I venture downstairs again. They didn't even bother to say goodbye. Figures. Cassie leads us to the kitchen, where Mr. Bennett, or Andy, as he told us to call him, is cooking dinner. It surprises us both, and Bren turns to Cassie.
"Your father cooks?" she asks softly, looking confused.
Cassie grins, giggles, and nods. "My mom hates to cook. She's okay at it, but it's-"
"Not my thing," Mrs. Bennett finishes, having entered through the outside door on the wall adjacent to us. There are actually three doors into the kitchen: one from the direction of the living room, one from the direction of the rest of the house, and one from outside. The only wall that doesn't have a door is the southern wall, and that's because it's filled with windows that open up to the same view as the window seat upstairs.
Mr. Bennett (I refuse to call him by his first name) turns from the stove and smiles at us. "Are there any things that you two won't eat?" he asks kindly.
Bren shakes her head and starts to tell him no, but I squeeze her hand and tilt my head at her. She slumps and changes the shake to a nod. "I don't like to eat meat and Parley is allergic to tomatoes." She says it all softly, as if worried that she'll displease the Bennetts with the information.
I tug her closer, wrap my arm around her shoulders, and give him a challenging glare. He looks at us for a moment, and I think the other two are watching as well, and then he shrugs and smiles awkwardly. "I guess that chili isn't the best meal idea, then." He pauses and turns back to stir the contents of the pan on the stove. After a moment of silence, he reaches for a cupboard and pulls down a box. He turns and smiles over his shoulder. "Is macaroni and cheese good for the two of you?"
Bren voices agreement quickly, glad that went over well. She has a hard time voicing her preferences. Our parents never heeded them, and so she normally tucks them away inside and suffers through whatever they choose.
"Dinner is going to be a couple more minutes, kids. Why don't you three go into the game room? Cassie can show you all the stuff they have locked away," Mrs. Bennett suggests.
And so, now we're being led out of the kitchen again. The game room is across the hall from the kitchen, also located at the back of the house, and it has two entryways, one from the kitchen side, and one from the north side, where the entrance to the house is.
The center of the room is sunk about a foot lower than the rest, and there are four couches facing into the center with a table in the very middle. Jim is sitting on one of the couches and playing solitaire. He doesn't glance up as we enter the room.
Cassie goes through everything, including each, individual video game they possess, and there are a lot of them. Bren listens attentively, excited by the whole situation and the attention the younger girl is giving her. Neither seem to notice as I hang back and eventually stay behind as they move around the room.
I watch. I check Cassie's body language and tone for any indication that she's forcing herself to be nice, or any sign that she really dislikes having to share her house with total strangers. To my surprise, the only thing I see that isn't honest liking is pity, and a small spark of anger when Bren admits that we don't have any games like they do. Even without the explanation of 'why', I can see the girl getting ideas that something was amiss in our upbringing.
Anyway, the conclusion I come to surprises me: this girl is honest. Her interest is honest, her kindness and patience with Bren are honest, her growing affection for my sister is honest.
Why the hell did it take seventeen years? Where were these people eight years ago? Where have they been since then?
And the most important question of all leaves an ache in my chest: how long can this last? How long until either I have another episode, or Bren tries to make the place a bonfire?
Nothing lasts in this life. Nothing is permanent. The only thing that's been consistent for twelve years is pain, and even that is a fickle companion.