Ariana flew through the door and immediately kicked off her shoes. "Hey sis!" came a yell from the kitchen. It was a welcome voice, deep and authoritative, touching on the fringes of love.

"Yeah?" she yelled back, slinging her heavy bag from her shoulders and setting her books on the glide-rocker next to the door. There was no answer and Ariana rolled her eyes. Just like her brother; Brad thought everyone had the magical ability to read his mind. "What!?" Following the sound of his voice she found him. He had his back turned to her, hunkered over the stove like a cave man over a fire. It was a sight that made Ariana giggle.

He turned toward her, wooden spoon brandished like a knife, half of it covered in red sauce. His eyes widened as he looked her up and down. Her hair had lost its sheen from the morning's hair spray, she was five foot, five inches without her heels on, and her dress had lost its spunk long before lunch. "Well, look at you. What'd you get all dressed up for?" It took a true male to observe her current state of dress as dressy. Any other girl would think her frumpy.

Ariana shrugged and sauntered over to what looked like his pot of chili. "I don't know. I thought maybe I'd make a good impression." She grabbed a spoon from the drawer beside the stove and tasted. Her brother wasn't the best cook in the world—Ariana was learning the tricks of the trade even before she was tall enough to look over the counter—but with independence comes undue practice. He's learning, she thought proudly. "It needs more chili powder."

"Wha—" He stopped short of his protest to scowl at her. "How? I put, like, a butt-load!" Ariana stretched to grab the chili powder from the cabinet above the stove and put a few shakes more into the simple recipe of chili beans, ground beef, ketchup, and chili powder.

"I'm telling you, you didn't put enough." She looked up at him and smiled. Her eyes proclaimed, You know you love me. "I'm going to go change." She turned to go into her room.

The title seemed surreal in this apartment. "Her room," held new meaning. It was no longer a second story room with a window-seat view. Her home was no longer a Victorian style house with a two car garage, a temperamentally leaky roof, and a basketball goal. Her room was actually in the process of becoming a room. Brad, being the bachelor that he is, used it partly for a weight room, partly for a catch-all to put all his junk that didn't have a home. When Ariana arrived with him, he had moved his weights out, organized the boxes as best he could over in the corner and placed a dresser set and twin bed against a wall. He'd even gone so far as to put sheer curtains up for her, similar to the ones she'd left behind.

The amount of boxes had diminished, but still remained, and Ariana had transformed the "guest room" into her sanctuary. She'd started with the sheets and moved on to the pictures that hung on the wall. Her cosmetics and toiletries were on her dresser and candles were scattered about the room. Her desk, on the wall opposite her bed, had a sparse amount of pictures and candles on it and half of it was left empty to write on. The closet was full of clothes and shoes, and dirty laundry littered the floor. It was the place she did her crying, nowadays. It wasn't fair that she had to leave her home of seventeen years and come here. But then, it also wasn't fair to place the world and everyone in it set to revolve around her. Life's not fair, said a sneering, bitter voice in her heart.

Ariana sighed and sent her weary thoughts up to God. It didn't make her feel better. It didn't make the pain disappear. It made her load a little bearable and her blessing a little more visible through her discomfort.

"So, did you?" Brad called to her.

Ariana slipped out of her dress and into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. "Did I what?"

"Make a good impression," he said as he handed her a bowl of chili. Ariana shrugged. Brad stopped, looking at her with irritation written all over his face. She'd been like that ever since their parents died. She still held the same sweet smile, but now she was quiet. He remembered her coming home from school and being a bubble of energy. Whatever she was doing she would talk about her day and her friends and what God had shown her. Now all he got was a shrug. He tried to encourage her. "Well, did you meet anyone new?"

"A couple of people." He sat down beside her at the kitchen table, motioning with his hands for her to keep going.

"Like? What were their names? Male or female? Do I have to play Twenty Questions?"

"Male." When his eyebrows rose, she giggled. "And female."

"Transvestite?"

She snorted into her glass of water. At least she's laughing, he thought. "No," she said. "Besides my teachers, I met this one guy, and then I met this other guy."

"You said, 'A couple.' Sounds more like, 'A few'."

"Brad."

He held up his hands, claiming innocence. "I'm just saying!"

Ariana rolled her eyes. "Then I met this one girl. And…and I guess that's about it." She went back to her chili. She was only half done whilst he was up getting a second helping.

He just looked at her as she picked at her food. She isn't happy, he thought. She misses home, it's natural. She misses mom and dad, that's natural too. What didn't seem natural to him was that he felt such a big change in Ariana. Like there was this great chiasmic rift between them when they used to be so close. She was shutting him out, little by little, he could feel it. She was shutting out the rest of the world as well. "So, do you have any homework?"

"Gosh, yes! My social life is dead."

You killed it on purpose, he thought. Murderess. "Why don't we go see a movie tonight, just you and me. It'd be like old times." He sat down and she gave him a sidelong look.

"Brad it will never be like old times." She got up, placed her bowl in the sink, and leaned against the counter, pasting on a smile. "Maybe some other time, huh?"

His face was thoroughly crushed. "Sure." His half-eaten bowl of chili was left on the table as he got up and went into the living room. Her bag was at the door, her books were on the chair, piled halfway up the back. He picked up the first one. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. He replaced it silently and sighed inwardly. He grabbed his keys from the coffee table, a pair of her flip-flops from her room, her purse from atop her bag, and headed out to his truck.

She'd heard him leave and thought he'd retreated in anger. That was Brad; that was what he did. Rather than yell at you, he left to level his head. The only time you really got blasted was when he felt you really deserved it. You do deserve it, she thought. When he came back in she thought he'd forgotten his keys. "They're on the coffee table, I think," she yelled, trying to sound like she wasn't about to cry. She hated her brother being mad at her. She hated being the one to make him mad. She knew she was being stubborn…but stubbornness refused to let her admit that.

Sneaking up behind her, he put her in a head lock. She yelped from fright and he put his hand over her mouth. "Come with me if you want to live," he said in an overly-dramatic, deep, superhero voice. With that he half-dragged her to his truck, opened the door, and shoved her inside. Starting the engine, he looked around, as if speed and stealth were a matter of life and death.

"Bradley Carter Evans, what—"

"Shhhhh!" Ariana clamped her mouth shut, her lips drawn in a thin line. All she could do was hold on tight as the sped down their private street. When he reached the main road he began to slow down, eventually coming to a stop sign. "Whew!" he exclaimed as if he'd just got done riding a deadly rollercoaster. "Was that fun or what?"

"Or what," Ariana said flatly, slipping into her flip-flops. She rested her arm on the door's arm rest and stared bleakly out the window. What's wrong with you, she scolded herself. He's trying to bring you out of this…this…mood that you're in and you're causing him to fail miserably. She looked at her reflection against the window's glass and found that she didn't like what she saw. She could see herself too well as an old woman, alone, left with her bitterness and resentment. They want you to be happy, she thought, a family portrait coming to her mind. They were all smiling back at her, her mother, father and brother. A tear rolled down her cheek, one which she didn't notice welling up in her eyes. With a shaky sigh she looked over at Brad. "I'm sorry, I guess I…I'm not in a very good mood." She looked down, fidgeting with her hands.

"Hey," Brad said in a soft voice. "It's alright."

"No, Brad, I've been such a jerk." And he had been so nice and that made it ten times worse.

"And that's a crime?" He beat at his chest. "I'm a tough guy, I can take it."

She laughed and poked him in his muscled stomach, making all the air go out of his chest. "No, you're a softie." He looked at her expectantly, smiling like a fool. Ok, so maybe she was in a better mood. She sighed dramatically, admitting defeat. "Let's go to the movies!"

He whooped like a little kid whose promise was a candy store and put the truck in gear. By the time they got through and walked through the door it was dark and late. Ariana kicked her shoes off and put her purse where it had been hours before. Brad walked past her and turned on the light. "I'm going to take a shower, ok?" he asked.

"Ok," Ariana said, her eyes resting on her books. "I'm going to…" She wanted to kick herself. "I'm going to do homework." Brad was walking toward the bathroom that they shared, taking his shirt off in the process, throwing it over the arm of a nearby chair.

"Why don't you leave it for the morning," he called to her through two rooms.

Ariana picked up his shirt and put it in the hamper. "Because my life after high school isn't planned out in this neat little package. I actually have to get good grades and to do that I have to turn in my work on time." And keep my mind off other things. "You know, if you don't stop living like a bachelor, you'll always be one for the rest of your life!" She was referring to his laundry being placed anywhere and everywhere and his dishes staying in the sink until there was nothing to eat on. You have room to talk, she thought, considering her floor was covered in clothes as well. For the few weeks she was here she was too depressed to do laundry.The jets of the shower turned on, telling her he was either ignoring her or he didn't hear her. Selective hearing wasn't a bachelor thing, she decided. It was a male thing.

With a sigh she picked up her books and went into her room to finish her homework. Tomorrow was another day out of her shell. She had to interact with people at school, again, and after school she would have to find a job. Something about living on her brother's salary got under her skin. He's not Mom and Dad, she thought. It's not fair for him to have to pay for everything. As she set her bag beside her desk, she felt the strings of desperation pull at her heart. God, keep me sane. I can do this with Your help, just take me one step at a time.