Chapter 24: World Peace

"Thanks a lot, Lex," Ben said. He was sitting on the front porch, fiddling with his acoustic guitar. "Two months before we go on tour, and you corrupt the newest band member. I mean, look at him…it's like he's fallen in love with football all over again."

Luke and Rob were standing on opposite sides of the massive yard, tossing a football back and forth. You really couldn't be a Johnson, or an ex-Johnson, and not like football.

The testosterone felt the need to escape the babies. Felt baby sitting was a woman's job. This woman however joined them. I was in no mood to deal with a very emotional Mrs. Evans—and two fussy twins, regardless of how cute they were.

Rob threw the ball to Luke and he fired it back, spiraling through the air to meet its intended target. Wow. Rob wasn't lying. Even totally out of practice, Luke still had the unmistakable gift. His father, a total man's man, would have tears in his eyes.

At a family reunion, which of course I was invited to too, he got to see. It was a family tradition and Rob, close as ever with Luke, coaxed him into playing. Mr. Johnson was very impressed and overjoyed.

So much for Luke being the 'delinquent', and the 'pussy musician'—whatever else he may have said. With his new interest in football, his father took a whole new interest in him. At first, Luke had completely blown up on him. Said some pretty hateful stuff—like how Ben was more of a father figure than he ever was. However, over time the Evans-Johnson relationship was slowly beginning to repair itself.

Once in a very rare while, Luke would spend the weekend at his dad's house.

Under Luke's impressive influence, the four boys had gotten into football too. Currently, they were out there with them. It took a lot to get them away from the flat screen and Guitar Hero. Now they were tearing across the yard, trying to get the ball, though they didn't have a chance. The American Sport had connected the family in a different way. Good different.

"Shouldn't you be inside with your wife and kids?" I asked Ben, grinning slyly.

He made a face at me. Just because he was a dad didn't mean he was mature. Oh, shit. She's right. He quickly bailed. "Hey, guys throw me the ball."

Ben sprinted very quickly from his spot beside me and joined his six sons. I could see the seven guys dividing up into teams. Completely blowing off whatever it was they should be doing.

"Oh, my God," I sighed. "Men are morons." I picked up Ben's discarded guitar and began to strum a few chords. After hanging out with the Evans family for so long, it was virtually impossible not to learn how to play.

I wasn't alone for long. Soon Ben came back to the steps, clutching his side and panting. "Can you get me a beer?" he asked. "The kids and the heat are killing me." He pulled off his t-shirt. I cringed and scooted to the other side, not wanting the sopping thing to touch me.

"Try water," I advised. "Much healthier. You need to stick around for awhile."

"My God," Ben groaned. "Are all you women so uptight? You sound like my wife."

"I'm telling her," I said, grinning evilly. "Between the raging hormones and having to practically raise the twins herself, I'm sure she'd love hearing that she's uptight."

"Luke!" Ben whined. "Get over here and do something about your girlfriend. She's being a bitch."

"Real mature," I sneered. Just like a kid.

"Just for that, my guitar." Ben snatched it away. He settled back down on the porch and began to play it.

Luke came over. T.J. was still dangling on his back. No matter how hard he tried, he was not going to be able to tackle Luke. It was a wonder he wasn't crushed by him.

"Play nice, children," Luke reproached. Ever since he had stopped hating Rob, his mood seemed to have improved. Hating someone that passionately could really take a lot out of you. He shook T.J. off his back and he too removed his t-shirt.

He picked up my water bottle and almost drained it. "Go ahead," I said shortly as he gulped down the water. "I was done with it." Who cared that I was reaching out to take a sip of it? Luke took the rest and poured it over his head.

Oh, damn. Suddenly a hot day became hotter.

"You guys aren't tired already, are you?" Rob asked haughtily. He had Brett on his shoulders and Max at his legs. The kids had grown on him. Another positive thing about the rekindled relationship with Rob and Luke. They were beginning to adopt each other's better qualities. Although now they both picked on me something awful.

Even with the two cling-ons, he managed to pull off his shirt. He pitched it at me—the teachings of an expert. One of these two, Ben or Luke, was going to pay.

"Can you people just not keep your clothes on?" I asked. The porch was so contaminated I couldn't even sit there anymore. But the up side? None of the guys were what you could call bad-looking. One was married with seven kids and the mentality of a sixteen-year-old, one was an ex-boyfriend, but the last one was all mine—to stare at as long as I pleased.

And he sure as hell knew it.

"T.J., keep your shirt on!" Luke instructed his younger brother, who was beginning to follow suit. "You're all bones. You'll scare her away."

"Yeah because I'm completely comfortable seeing three half-naked grown men in front of me," I said.

"Good," Luke said. "Because you'll be seeing a lot of this at the concert." He flexed his arm muscle; a solid rock of muscle popped up.

"Where?" Rob asked, squinting and scrutinizing his brother's arm. "I don't see anything." A few sessions with Luke had given him a higher tolerance of sarcasm and as of lately he was trying his hand at it.

Luke sneered at him. "Loan me some steroids sometime, then."

Ben made it a point to pull his shirt back on, embarrassed. I couldn't help gagging as I watched. Completely drenched with sweat.

"Come on," Ben complained, "I'm not…" He paused to prod his stomach. "…that bad." A beer gut was starting, nothing some heavy-duty exercise wouldn't cure. He looked at his two stepsons, just entering their prime, and their perfectly cut abs. "Okay, fuck you guys. I'm going inside." The farthest he went was a couple of steps up. He was in no hurry to rush back inside.

"I think you're hot, honey," Mrs. Evans said, appearing at the top of the stairs. Her stance was suggestive and her smile alluring. Old people love, gross! Luke and Rob both ran off to play football. In their opinion, their mother should not be behaving like that. I was tempted to join them.

Parents, to put it simply, weren't supposed to behave that way.

"You know what would be even hotter?" she asked Ben in a sultry purr. "Getting your lazy ass inside and taking care of your sons, for once. You've scarcely spent five minutes with them and you're heading off on tour in a few months." Ben promptly lost his roguish grin; a pout replaced it.

"Okay," he said sulkily. He climbed the stairs and vanished into the house.

Mrs. Evans rocked—sometimes. In a house full of strong wills and big egos, she managed to keep everybody under control.

"You two," she said, turning on her sons, who had come closer to watch Ben get bitched at, "don't you have homework to do?" Awesome until she went overboard.

"I don't give a damn about homework. My grades aren't getting any higher." Nevertheless, Luke fled.

"Later, Mom, I promise. I have this…this thing I need to do over at this place…" Rob followed suit and ran for the sanctuary of today's car.

Luke and Rob both had their stepfather's work ethic, because at the mention of the word "homework", they disappeared in record time.

It wasn't so much that Ben had no work ethic. His was just—different than most people's. He actually thought about a task more when he was blowing it off and not doing it—and therefore thought of better ways to complete it. Except when it came to music. He and Luke would work tirelessly; Luke told me that making an album wasn't easy.

I believed him.

Like Luke, it was bitch first and then do it with Ben. Do very well. Regardless of how much he complained, he actually was a very involved father. (If you saw through the I'm-a-chart-topping-musician-and-I-don't-give-a-damn-about-anything-but-alcohol-and-getting-laid persona he had). Sure, he taught them plenty of their bad habits, but he cared about every single one of them.

He took all five kids after his ugly divorce. (I unintentionally acquired this information during one of my visits). At the time, he was broke. Apparently his ex-wife was a drug addict and would by no means provide a suitable home for young children. At least in this household, the lax parenting Ben provided was balanced out with the proper—if not a little intense—discipline of Mrs. Evans.

(Ben said when he came back from tour, he was shipping her off to a spa).

"I'd better be going," I said quickly, should she get any ideas. Justin and Austin were adorable and extremely good as babies went, but this couldn't become a daily thing for me. I was Luke's girlfriend after all—not the nanny service. We needed some couple time, which became slightly harder now that I was 'family'.

Being a part of this family, meant partaking in the family agenda: errands, chores, and errands.

I tousled the nearest boys' hair in goodbye—however sweaty it may have been—and headed down to the street. Luke had swung back around the block and was waiting for me at the corner. In a fashion very similar to Cody's. Cody had taught Luke a number of things, not all of which were bad.

Admittedly, Cody had grown on me. He wasn't leaving and the wedding plans were raging on ahead at full speed.

My opinion of him was pretty low at first, but soon I decided he would be a decent first husband for Sawyer. She was so in love with him; she lit up every time he entered the room. He was absolutely crazy about her, and whenever he was around her, he revealed a sweeter, less obnoxious side.

But his obnoxious side was kind of fun. He was a fun sparring partner—both to argue with and to watch him go against any one of my friends. It helped that he was a total metalhead and had a wild streak that always made time with him unpredictable. In a good way. But he was trying to change his ways a little, become more fitting for marriage material. Cut back on the booze and (tried to) quit smoking. Stopped hanging out with the trashy people at his parties and began associating with a better crew:


The Original Five had their differences throughout the year, but we were all still pretty close. In spite of the many "lover's quarrels", I could confidently say that anyone would do anything for anybody.

Sam, released form the burden of being the family's sole supporter, was resentful when I told him I was with Luke. But I knew in time he would get over it. He said he loved me no matter what, so I knew I wasn't going to lose it. Heather and Kev had an interesting relationship now. Ash had begun flirting with him, and inexplicably Heather, who was with a new girl, Lindsey, got jealous. Several shouting matches, make-out sessions, and hours of 'Kitten' mediating, things were resolved. Or getting there; we still weren't certain where the lovebirds stood. 'Kitten' was rewarded for her efforts by getting a backstage pass to the last in-state Death Slip concert. Luke and I decided against telling her that everyone in the group was invited.

There would be a large number of people to sneak in. Throughout the year and especially in these last few months, the group doubled in size. The new additions were Ashley and Cody through association, Luke for obvious reasons, Rob through Luke's influence, and Sawyer through mine.

Both preps that were recruited. Both living proof that it was more fun on the dark side, or really the side that wore all black.

The entire Ocean Shores student body had gotten the shock of their lives when Sawyer came to school decked in black for the first time. Jellies, eyeliner, Converse tennies: the works. Even a borrowed pair of chained pants. The fact that she was wearing an engagement ring with a good-sized stone was completely over-looked. Since then, she toned it down a little—pretty much jeans with an occasional chain hooked on and band tees. (She took up an eager interest in music). Sometimes Mom couldn't even differentiate between us. Sometimes we did it deliberately, just to fuck with her.

Now that Sawyer had climbed down from her high horse, gotten over herself, we got along great. My friends all learned to like her, and soon enough, they were able to overlook her former condescending ways and judgmental tendencies. I think they even forgot she was ever a prep.

And then Sawyer decided to do something radical. One final thing to break away from the prep image. From the old Sawyer.

"I want to get my eyebrow pierced."

I was impressed. Needles scared me.

Mom, who had been trying to get her to take the lip ring out, objected strongly. "It won't look attractive in the wedding photos," she nagged.

"Fine, I'll just get a tattoo then."

"I'll get a matching one," Cody added, grinning at Mom. He was completely accustomed to her telling him to take the earrings out. "If I can find room." He made sure to display his tattoo sleeves.

Mom sighed in defeat and muttered something to effect of "old", "wrinkled", and "having to live with such idiocy". Because we were getting along now—as in she was including me in her former one-child-only activities—I pretended to agree.

Sister and brother-in-law went ahead and did it anyway.

They went to Heather's tattoo parlor, because apparently she was an expert—and because, wonderful friend that I was, I recommended her. She needed some new guinea pigs; Kev was almost out of room. (He had a number of scars from previous failed attempts, but the cute little couple didn't have to know that). Luke attempted to drag me along, because he needed some "new ink" for "the road". He got—go figure—a skeleton playing a guitar. I had yet to figure out what Sawyer got, but I caught a glimpse of Cody's.

It was some pet name, presumably one he had for Sawyer. When I teasingly asked him about it, he turned bright red and mumbled that it was a dog he used to own. Then he jumped onto his motorcycle and sped off. Couldn't bring himself to look me in the eye for the rest of the day.

If it was his old dog's name, he should have nothing to be embarrassed about. His dog. Yeah, right.

Must've been quite a dog.

God, I wished I knew what Sawyer called him when they were alone. If her pet name was good, his was probably hysterical! Heather assured me it was, but she kept the name to herself.

The preps, the Populars, whom I chose to have nothing to do with, gossiped mercilessly about the new, pierced and tattooed Sawyer (she got more) and began calling her a poser. (Was it any wonder they drove her away and almost to suicide?) But Sawyer wasn't a poser. She was a new person and ditched her old lifestyle and ways. Originally the partying side and the newfound 'Gothic' side were for acceptance sake, but over time, she adopted it. The 'Gothic' way, the only way to live, I mean.

(I didn't fully get how we were 'Gothic', aside from wearing a ton of black and chains and listening to metal and wearing heavy eyeliner and doing weird things with our hair and being heavily tattooed and hanging out in graveyards ('Kitten') and ... Nope, didn't get it. I was sure lots of non-Goths did the same thing, or a few combinations of these things. Labels were for soup cans, not people).

The way I figured, our way of life was just straight-up better. Now she saw what she was missing all of the years and how stupid she was for criticizing me.

… "Hey, Ma, I think you missed a spot."

Calling my mother that was Cody's latest way of "moving into" our house. Feet up on tables, poking through the fridge, hoarding the remote. He made himself right at home. And Mom loved him for it. She encouraged him to spend time over our house, because she felt his home-life was unsatisfactory. (His parents were scarcely home; it's not like they beat him or anything).

Mom also tried to invite Luke over a lot. "He's such a nice boy. So polite and respectful." True, almost freakishly so. (I was sure his mother would kill him if he acted any differently). Perhaps, Mom was hoping she might earn herself another son-in-law, but Luke currently seemed content being my boyfriend of almost a year.

"Funny," Mom snapped, brandishing a feather duster at him. "Now put your feet down; I just polished the table."

Sawyer slid off of Cody's lap and stood. "Mom, you've been cleaning like crazy all day."

Damn right. We were crashing down the basement all day, listening to new CDs and for new songs on the radio. Our bomb shelter when Mom went into a cleaning frenzy. She stripped room after room bare, cleaned it and then meticulously rearranged it. We didn't pay too much attention to her, only lifting our feet when she passed by with the vacuum cleaner or tuning the volume up louder. Only when Cody's radar picked up food did we all move upstairs. (The rest of the assembled evacuated the premises by then).

"What's the occasion, anyways? The wedding's not for several months."

I incredulously looked at Sawyer. In spite of the streaks she put in her hair, and other Gothic touches, the Barbie blondness still shone through. Why would she need to clean the house for the wedding? We weren't having it here. Unless Mom was trying to make room for all of the gifts she expected she would have to store.

"Josh's coming home tonight," Mom answered. "And I wouldn't mind some help. I haven't even gotten to the upstairs yet."

Josh wouldn't particularly care. He was pretty sloppy. All you would need to do was look at his room. We were pack rats, both of us.

In his fat days, the floor would be littered with chip bags, soda bottles, and candy wrappers—all empty—and you'd probably find some moldy, nibbled-at morsels strewn throughout. Now, there was a different assortment of items on the floor. A lot of his 'fat clothes', too big to wear, CD cases, probably weights, considering I had stubbed my toe on one, school papers, football junk, condom packets. Wait, what?

Was my little brother having sex?

It struck me that he was a nice-looking guy and many girls probably would be interested in him for such reasons. Josh was growing up. He was far from being the fat blubbering baby I remembered him as. And he was probably even more different now. It had been months since he went away to rehab.

"So they cured him?" Cody asked stupidly. "I thought that could take a few years." Idiot. You treated anorexia; you didn't cure it. Mostly it was up to the sufferer to get through it—if they were able to. The disease was a life-long plague.

At present, I hoped that Mr. and Mrs. Brain Surgeon weren't going to reproduce any time soon. Between the two of them, they sometimes had half a brain. At that rate, there would be nothing left for the kid to inherit. While my niece/nephew would be very attractive, looks could only get you so far.

Surprisingly, the news of Josh's homecoming left a hard knot of anxiety in my stomach. It was sort of, no, scratch that, entirely my fault he became anorexic in the first place. Years and years of taunts and abuse.

"I'm tired," I announced to anyone who cared. "I'm going to bed."

"Not without having dinner," Mom scolded. "And we're not having dinner until Josh and your dad are home from the airport."

"Damn," Cody grumbled, "then we'll never eat. I'm out." He gave Sawyer a kiss and headed outside.

We heard his motorcycle roar to life. Then we heard a squealing of brakes and a loud crash. It sounded a lot like someone ran into a telephone pole.

Mom, Sawyer, and I all looked at each other in panic. "Oh, God." We all ran outside, praying that it wasn't Cody who had run into the telephone pole. If it was, we wouldn't be having a particularly joyful welcome home party for Josh.

Dad got out of the car and he was pissed. "Some retard ran me off the road!" he shouted to us. Then he saw Cody, taking off his helmet and looking pretty shaken. "Oh, it's you." The sheer loathing in his voice suggested disappointment at hitting the pole, rather than his future son-in-law.

He still hadn't forgotten his first introduction. He spoke to Cody only when he had to and would never let him spend the night—even if Mom said she'd fix up the couch for him. The basement couch. Never. Even it was pouring rain. Which was totally weird because a) they did it already and b) were a few months away from getting married.

Cody swallowed nervously. "H-hi, Mr. Monroe. I'm really sorry about your car." His tone was one of utmost respect and a slight bit of fear. There would be none of that 'Dad' crap—stuff that he pulled off effortlessly with Mom. My dad was just crazy picky about guys. For some totally strange reason, he didn't even like Luke. Nobody was good enough for his little girls.

"What's going on?" asked a very confused Josh. He punched back the airbag and got out of the car. "Who the hell is he?" he demanded of Dad, eying Cody. Angry because Cody fucked up his first time behind the wheel since he got back. (Technically he wasn't supposed to drive for a few months, but Dad sometimes let him drive through the neighborhood to our house.)

"Your future brother-in-law," Dad answered grimly.

"What happened to Rob, or that Luke guy, or whoever the fuck she was dating?" Josh asked, still confused. I was annoyed beyond anything else. Why did he automatically assume Cody belonged to me? That I was a slut? Which I wasn't.

"You've been gone a long time, son," Dad said gently. "You have a lot catching up to…" That was about as far as he got because Mom couldn't take it any longer and came tearing down the steps. She pounced on Josh and scooped him into a bone-crunching hug.

"Oh, my little boy!" she bawled. "Home at last!"

Josh stood quietly against the assault; I remained on the front porch and Sawyer slowly ventured down to see if Cody was hurt.

"Hi, Josh," Sawyer greeted happily. She moved to her permanent spot at Cody's side. Mom was still holding Josh, forbidding anyone else to touch him. "Welcome home."

Josh didn't return the greeting. He was disgusted. "You're marrying him?" he asked contemptuously, wiggling free of Mom's hold. The outside lights only barely illuminated the snarl on Cody's face.

"You got a problem with that?" he demanded. Suddenly his comfortable, usually male-free second home was being threatened. As learned from past dealings with him, Cody liked to be the alpha male. However it would seem Josh now favored that role too. He had toughened up considerably over the last few months and even more after he left.

"My God, Sawyer, what'd you do to yourself?" snapped my former soft, squishy pushover of a younger brother. "You look like…" His eyes lingered on me. "…a freak," he finished decidedly.

"Josh, is there any need for that?" Mom reproached gently. "You just got home. Can't we all have a pleasant evening? As a family?"

My brother's scowl only deepened. "None of you are my family," he said hatefully. "Families don't abandon each other."

"We sent you off to rehab for your own good," Mom pleaded. Tears were welling up in her eyes, unaccustomed to Josh being so nasty. "Because we love you."

"Pff. Yeah, right." Josh was unconvinced. I could understand why he was bitter, but why couldn't he let his resentment go and be glad to see us?

"It's our seven-month anniversary, Mom," Sawyer said, making a random excuse. "I just remembered that we were going out tonight." She just wanted to get away from Josh, who was being a total dick and dishing out rude opinions right and left. She mounted Cody's bike and pulled him on after her. "I'll be home later."

Cody cast one final fleeting look at my father, who clearly was wishing him death, before kicking the thing to life and roaring off into the night with his soon-to-be wife. It could be noted that neither was wearing a helmet.

Two down.

The idea of a pleasant family dinner and a happy swap of stories was shattered. Crushed, Mom skulked off, muttering something about dinner being in the oven—should anyone get hungry. Dad attempted to help Josh with his luggage, but left disgusted shortly after.

"I hope you're happy. Your mother has been working her ass off all day to welcome you home 'properly' and you make her cry. Men don't make women cry." Tell that to the guys I shed tears over. (Sam).

Eye-rolling on Josh's behalf. "Whatever, Dad," he scoffed.

"Okay, listen," Dad warned. "I don't know where you picked up this attitude, but I suggest you lose it. Now. Otherwise we're sending you back to that rehab and leaving you there." He stomped up the stairs, past me, and banged the door shut behind him.

"Good," Josh growled under his breath. "I liked it better there anyways." He had lost some of his venom, fearing Dad's threat become reality. He worked silently for awhile, pulling all of his luggage out of the car, before noticing me. "What are you looking at?"

I sat on the banister, swinging my legs and considering his question. In the dim front porch and street lights, I saw the outline of a young man. A semi-tall young man with a strong physique. And then I blinked and for a moment, saw the short, pudgy figure of a kid.

I wasn't sure what I saw. I was pretty sure Josh had no clue either. Hence this behavior. Fifteen was such an awful age.

He was so desperately trying to distance himself from our parents, trying to prove, maybe, that he was no longer a baby or even a kid for that matter and he refused to be treated as such. But at the same time, he was. I had noticed him resist the urge to bring his arms up around Mom when she hugged him. Just wanted to disappear into the safety of our mother's shoulder and go back in time. To simpler times. Where there were no girls to mess with his emotions, where he could eat and act how he wanted without it being deemed "uncool" or without feeling guilt.

"If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at me," I said to him. "They never did anything wrong, so don't try to estrange yourself to get respect."

He looked quizzically at me, not sure of where I was going with this. He wasn't trying to kill me with his eyes—a good sign.

"Think about it," I advised, sounding a little too philosophical for my liking.

…Even though I was blasting Lamb of God, I heard the door quietly creak open. It was different from the past times, when Josh was lugging his suitcases through the house to his room. He slipped into the kitchen and I turned off my precious music to spy on him.

Unable to stay out of her favorite room in the house, Mom was bustling around the already spotless kitchen, cleaning up from the failed dinner plans. She dropped things unceremoniously into the sink, rattled the pots and pans, and banged cabinet doors shut. If she scrubbed the minuscule stain on the counter any harder, she would bore a hole in it.

"Mom?" Josh said tentatively. She jumped when she heard him and turned to look at him.

"Everything's stored in the fridge if you're hungry," she said timidly, blotting away a stray tear. She seemed as if she expected him to blow up on her again.

Taking a couple long strides, Josh crossed the kitchen. Out of nowhere, he hugged her. He had gotten so tall he had to lean over a little. "I'm sorry," I heard him whisper. Mom's arms came up around him and she said something, but I couldn't make it out.

Smiling, I crept off unnoticed. My work here was done. After months of growing distant, Josh and Mom finally reconciled. Maybe there was hope for us.

… The never-ending click of computer keys roused me from a light sleep. God, it was probably three in the morning. Not three. Four. Who could possibly be up so late? (Other than me when my insomnia hit hard). I ventured off down the dark hall, navigating expertly down it. I wanted to find and eliminate the source. Then maybe I could go back to sleep.

My first stop was to poke my head into Sawyer's room. Her hours had gotten progressively later. She was asleep at the moment. There was a mound of blanket beside her, which she was cuddled up against. Cute as it was, Cody had better clear out before Dad woke up.

I continued my search for the offender. The light coming from Josh's room was pretty suspicious. When I popped my head in, he jumped about a mile and toppled out of his computer chair. "What the hell?" he demanded. "Were you trying to give me a heart attack?"

At least if he had a heart attack, he wouldn't be keeping me awake.

"What are you doing?" I asked groggily.

"They didn't let us use computers at rehab," Josh answered matter-of-factly.

Myspace binge. Damn, the three of us really did have addictive personalities.

I squinted at the computer screen. He was visiting a girl's profile—other than Taylor's—with some Carrie Underwood song playing. The default picture shocked me. It was Josh in a lip lock with a girl I had never seen before.

So he had a new girlfriend.

My brother. He was all grown up. Tall. Handsome. Buff. Had a little bit of peach fuzz coming in on his chin. Learning how to drive. For a moment I studied him, too clearly remembering the fat, friendless, geeky kid he once was. There was no trace of that now. He was a jock. Had over 400 Myspace friends—catching up to me. (When I was dating Rob, my friend numbers skyrocketed. Now probably less than ten still contacted me). If I didn't know any better, I'd swear it was a different kid entirely.

"She's pretty, Josh," I said, giving him an evil smile. "Where'd you pick her up?"

"Rehab," was the truthful answer. "Her name's Sarah." That was adorable. They helped each other get through their problems.

"Was she…?" I stopped, not sure how to word it without offending him. It was strange to be in my brother's good graces. I didn't want to fuck up now.

"No. Heroin addict."

Oh. Comforting. But then again, look who Sawyer brought home. At least this girl was in Texas, not in the neighboring school district.

Josh decided he said too much because he quickly shut down his computer. "I'm tired," he said, yawning hugely. "I'm going to bed." He pushed the chair back from his desk, shuffled over to his bed, and collapsed face-first onto it. "Can you get the light?" he mumbled into his pillow.

"What am I, your slave?" I wanted to ask. But I didn't. I obligingly switched the light off. I was rewarded with a sleepy "Thanks, Lex." There was a soft rustling of sheets as he rolled over. A few seconds later, he was snoring.

"'Night," I whispered tenderly, though I knew Josh didn't hear me. I closed his door carefully behind me and finished my thought. "Joshie."

No matter how old he got, or how mature he convinced himself he was, he would always be my baby brother.

Author's Note: Basically a summary of how everybody is doing. The drama has finally died down.

I can't believe there's only one chapter left! :( Then I won't have anything to obsessively write. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to everybody who has reviewed. It means a lot to me.