I expected to lay there tossing and turning after Chris left, but somehow I fell asleep practically the minute my head hit the pillow. And I had a dream. We were back in the hospital, but this time it was Chris unconscious and pale in the bed and me sitting at his side, watching and worrying. Doctors came in and out shaking their heads, my father was there for a split second and then disappeared again. Peter was there too, in the background but coming over to rub my back and tell me it was okay, that he loved me and I would be fine. "But what about Chris?" I kept asking tearily. "I need him." But nobody had an answer for me.
I woke up to find the tears on my cheeks were real, and I covered my head with my pillow, hiding from the morning sun streaming in the window while I cried out the leftover sadness. I didn't understand the dream or what it was supposed to mean, but then, I didn't understand a lot of things lately.
I didn't understand how my father couldn't even try, when I'd only wanted to get to know him. I didn't understand how I could feel happy and sad at the same time about not going to California. And I especially didn't understand what Chris had been trying to tell me the night before when he said "I kinda don't think Peter was on that walk with us tonight. I think it was just you and me."
I'm not completely stupid. I knew he was hinting that maybe I didn't really love Peter in a getting-married kind of way. And that he didn't want me to make a big mistake by thinking I did. Chris didn't know that Peter and I had already covered that, and we were both okay with taking some time apart to figure it out.
But what I wasn't so sure about is what Chris meant by the 'just you and me' part. Did he think I'd come to him only because Peter wasn't there to comfort me? Or was there something way more to it, something just between us? And the part about what real love was to him, "... understanding how the other person thinks, and letting them understand you... and they're still part of you even when you're not together.
Because if he meant what I thought he meant, I realized suddenly, then a lot of things made a lot more sense.
I sat up in my bed, the pillow falling onto my lap and the sun shining away the last of the cobwebs in my brain. How could I have been so dense? How could I have not seen what was right in front of me? Chris had been letting me understand him, a few carefully chosen words at a time. And I knew what he was trying to tell me now.
I jumped out of bed and went down the hall, but his room was empty. Jo looked up from the newspaper when I came into the kitchen, and even though I loved her to death, my heart fell a little when I saw she was alone.
"There's my girl. Good morning, hon."
"Morning," I said shyly. "I guess you've heard the news. No California tan for me."
"I have," she said, setting down her paper. "And I'm sorry."
"It's okay, really. But I guess you're stuck with me a little longer, if that's all right."
"Hooray, I'm stuck again!" she said happily, getting up to give me a hug, and I squeezed her back.
"Want some breakfast?" she asked as she let me go, but I shook my head. I had something else on my mind.
"He said he was going to shoot some hoops. Dug the old basketball out of the garage and headed out about twenty minutes ago." She returned to the table and picked up the paper again. "And in case you're wondering, for no particular reason whatsoever, the nearest park is about four blocks straight south."
"Thanks," I grinned, and left the kitchen. I was nearly out the front door when I remembered I was still in just my boxers and t-shirt. Maybe that would work in the dark of night, but not so much on a Saturday morning in May.
Once I was dressed a little more respectably, I headed south. The morning was almost as beautiful as the night had been, but this time there were birds singing and kids playing and it was like the whole world had woken up to a new beginning just like I had. I hardly noticed the first three blocks go by and then I could see the park up ahead. Moms swinging babies, kids running around playing tag. And I could see Chris, a lone figure on the weathered cement.
He was moving slowly, dribbling and shooting, getting the rebound, dribbling again, and as I got nearer I could tell he was thinking about more than basketball. At one point he stopped completely, just holding the ball against his hip for a minute, then slowly started dribbling it again as I crossed the last street.
His back was to me as he took the shot. It hit the backboard and bounced off, coming toward me, and when he turned he saw me and stopped in his tracks. I scooped up the ball and rolled it between my hands as I came up to him. "Can a girl have a shot?"
He shrugged. "Are you any good?"
"No, I pretty much suck. Watch this." I dribbled a few times, then heaved the ball toward the basket. Complete air ball, of course. I'd always stunk at basketball in gym and just passed it Mina whenever possible. Chris quickly retrieved the ball, sent up a little layup from under the basket and made it, then passed it back to me.
"So," I said carefully, trying another few dribbles and studying the basket. "Can I ask you something?"
I took my shot and it hit the backboard and teased me by rolling around the rim before falling out. Chris caught it and gave it a few bounces, then passed it back to me without taking his turn. "Are you okay?" I asked, holding onto the ball.
He just looked at me for a second. "Is that what you came here to ask me? If I'm okay?"
"Sort of. Are you?"
His eyes dropped to the ball in my hands. "Not really," he said quietly, then suddenly broke to the side and came after the ball. I spun away, guarding it, and I think he was surprised when I ducked under his arm and turned back around and took a shot for the basket. And to my own shock and amazement, I made it (okay, barely). I grinned at Chris in triumph, but my smile didn't last because he was just standing there watching me with a little pensive frown.
"You came here to think, didn't you?" I asked guiltily.
"Sorry. I should probably leave."
"No, it's okay." He bent down and picked up the ball, inspecting it closely so he didn't have to look at me. "Actually," he went on after a moment, "I'd kinda like to try talking about it."
Okay, so it was a dumb question, blurted out before I thought as usual. But at leaast it brought a little smile to his face.
"Yes, with you." He waited until I nodded, then looked around us and led the way to a big oak tree and sat down slowly with his back against the trunk. I did too, so we weren't exactly facing each other, but it was an okay way to have what might turn out to be a serious talk, considering Chris wasn't always real big on eye contact when it came to such things.
"Ready when you are."
For a long minute he didn't say anything, then I heard him take a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I've been thinking a lot about... well, school."
You've got to be kidding, I felt like saying, but I didn't. With everything I had on my mind that morning, I'd sort of hoped for something more... personal. Still, it was obviously important to him, so I tried not to let my disappointment show. "Okay. What about school?"
"I was thinking... instead of going to State, what if I just, you know... go to UIC?"
I was so surprised that I turned to stare at him. "What do you mean, go to UIC? You got that big scholarship, Jerry was all proud, and I remember him saying you've always wanted to go to State. And just a few nights ago at Applebee's you were bragging to Tim about how State's gonna kill Northeast next year."
He looked a little uncomfortable, avoiding my eyes. "Yeah, well, sometimes stuff changes." He ran his fingers through the grass and pulled up a few blades, and when he let them fall slowly back to the ground it reminded me of another talk we'd had once. That day seemed like months ago now, and at the same time it seemed like yesterday.
"Maybe things change, but what's changed that much since Tuesday?"
He pulled up a little more grass. "I found out you're gonna be in Evansville."
Oh. I was so surprised that I didn't answer and I guess he took my silence as aggravation because he turned suddenly toward me too and he looked almost angry.
"Okay, fine, so you're tougher than I am. You're ready to move to California or Evansville or wherever and start this whole new life, but maybe I'm not there yet, at least not when it comes to you and me. Maybe I want you around. Maybe I want to be part of your life. Even if it's just as your brother right now, but maybe some day - " He drew in a quick breath as if he'd said something he hadn't meant to say, and I saw his face go red as he turned away and leaned back against the tree again.
I sat back again too and leaned my head back against the rough bark and looked up at the bright blue sky, watching the clouds drift by. It was peaceful up there but it sure wasn't down here where I was. I'd come here wanting to tell him about my dream and how I'd thought about what he said, but now it didn't seem like the right time, not after him spilling his guts like that. Chris was just sitting there all awkwardly now, and my heart and brain were all upside-down and inside-out, and I wasn't sure what to do about it. The silence stretched on and on and finally, just when I was starting to wonder if he was ever going to say another word to me again, he spoke.
"Am I just your brother, Kris? Or is there something else going on with us?"
I watched a cloud change from a rabbit to a VW Beetle before I answered. "I'm thinking there's something else going on. How about you?"
"I know there's something else going on," he said quietly. "At least for me, but I don't have a clue how you feel about it."
"I didn't either, until this morning," I answered, giving up on the clouds and turning to find him watching me. "And I'm still not sure if I might have it all mixed up. But I think we're gonna have to find out pretty soon, don't you?"
He didn't answer, he just stared out toward the playground for a minute. Then he slowly left his spot and scooted over to mine, pulling my legs across his so that he could get right up next to me, face to face. It was almost like I was sitting in his lap, but not. Then he looked right at me, his eyes so deep and intent that I couldn't seem to look away. My heart was pounding so loud I figured he could probably hear it, and I was so nervous I didn't even see his hand move until it cupped my face, his thumb lightly brushing my cheek. My eyes closed all on their own, but I took a deep breath and forced them open again.
"You scared?" he whispered.
Time seemed to stretch forever as he gazed at me. I felt his fingers slide under my chin, lifting it gently, and then he leaned toward me and my eyes closed again. I think he must have had to gather his courage, because it seemed like an awfully long time until I finally felt the soft touch of his lips on mine. I leaned in a little, to see how it felt to kiss him, and it pretty much felt... amazingly wonderful. I guess he thought so too because he kept kissing me, long and sweet, and didn't stop until we heard some little kids giggling at us. He was watching me nervously as we pulled apart, and when I grinned and giggled too, his face relaxed into a relieved smile. And it felt... somehow right, like this was how things were supposed to be. Maybe I didn't have it mixed up at all.
But boy oh boy, it's going to be an interesting summer.
A/N: I know, cliffy ending. Sorry, but not much. I am toying with the idea of a sequel, but I honestly don't know. Let me know if you like the idea.
Note to those who would've loved more mush between Chris and Kris – you might check out my story Relatively Married. It came from the Steps idea, is shorter, has some similarities you might notice, and is told with alternating POVs. I hope you like it as well.
And as always, I send out big hugs to all who read and reviewed. This story is my biggest hit so far on FP and I appreciate SO MUCH all the fantastic feedback, laughs and tears. It makes it so much more fun to write and post when other people are involved in the story as much as I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you!