:: Brush ::

-A snapshot based on NaNoWriMo 2009-

*

Caleb looked into the full-length mirror and tried to smile.

But really, why bother? His eyes were too far apart and a watery gray. His smoke-colored sweater didn't hang right--his ribs were visible even through the wool--his ears stuck out and his arms dangled at his sides. Caleb rolled up his sleeves, revealing speckled forearms. He made a frowning V with his eyebrows.

Creak!

He turned. A tiny little girl was now sprawled on his bed.

"What do you want, Aiden?"

Aiden spread out like a snow angel over the covers, big, bare feet and all. Her dark hair spread out behind her like a sheet, and her washed-out blue jeans were rolled up to her knees. "You don't want me in here?" she asked, popping her gum.

Caleb rolled his sleeves back down. His little sister scrunched up her face. "You always look so serious, Cabe."

He didn't answer.

"Don't take it the wrong way, though." She seemed to notice something. "Hey, why are you dressed on a Saturday? Are you going to church or something?"

Caleb nodded.

"Will Yaakov be there?"

"Probably," Caleb said, starting to frown.

Aiden closed her eyes and cooed like a kitten. "He is so cute!"

"He's a freshman. You're in the sixth grade." Caleb closed the mirror. Aiden cooed yet again. "You're eleven. Boys still have cooties."

"Thanks for the advice, Dad. But Yaakov isn't a boy, he's a man. And I'm a mature young woman. So there." She stuck out her tongue.

Caleb said nothing, but sat down beside her on the bed. Aiden gave him a sly look from beneath her eyelashes. "So, big bro, do you like anyone? No, really, you can tell me! You're a sixteen-year-old boy; there has to be some girl. Is she cute? Do I know her? Can I guess?"

Her eyes were bright. "Is it Dana? She's adorable, but she dresses like she's in the third grade. It is Elisabeth? She's too serious, though. You need someone funny to balance you out. Is it Rachael--that's Yaakov's sister, right? Or..." She tried to keep the ball rolling. "Is it someone at church?"

For half a second, he smiled. He couldn't help it.

"It is someone at church!" Aiden squealed.

"Whatever." Caleb glanced at his watch, then grabbed his backpack and stood up. "I gotta go. Can't be late."

"Yeah, Jesus wouldn't like that." Aiden guffawed at her own stupid retort. "I'm going to figure out who she is, Caleb. Don't forget: I'm Asian. I'm a ninja."

"Don't forget: you're adopted. We can return you to the store." Caleb ducked as she sent a pillow whizzing at his head like a shuriken; he slammed the door and bounded down the stairs three at a time, laughing. Caleb grabbed his keys out of the drawer in the kitchen and could hear his mother watching Desperate Housewives in the next room.

"Mom, I'm leaving! I'll be back by dinner!"

"Take an umbrella, honey. It's raining."

Caleb glanced out the window. For the first time, he noticed the streams running down the glass, heard the rain hit the roof like clinking paperclips, and took note of the grumbling thunder in the distance. Huh. Be more aware, he told himself. He was constantly oblivious, no small flaw.

He opened the front door to go out to his car.

"Whoa!"

A girl was standing on his porch. Her hair was plastered in damp, white-blond clumps across her face and down her neck. Her shoulders were hunched and shivering, and her knees were red, probably slapped by the wind.

Then she looked up.

"Oh!" Caleb opened the door all the way. Christa hesitated, then stepped inside, her cheeks a flushed pink.

"My car is outside," she said. "I thought you could use a ride to church, because I knew there was a meeting today, and since I was passing your house and I'm going there too I thought I could give you a lift. Because also gas is kind of expensive, and anyway, my mom is in the car too, so it wouldn't be just you and me because that could get awkward. Not because that wouldn't be fun but because I know you don't like being alone with girls. And that's really cool. And yeah."

She stumbled over the words because of her thick metal braces, like forks cemented to her teeth. Caleb could have kissed her.

Without answering, he opened the umbrella he was holding and held it above her head. Never mind that they were both inside the house. He almost offered her his elbow to hold, but didn't. He wasn't that brave.

Christa's arm brushed his as they walked to her car.

And Caleb smiled.