Introducing the Wolfs

Consoling Mom

It's not unusual to find Mom crying when I walk into the house; to hear the whispering sobs and low sniffles echo from the back bedroom. The sound so soft, it's hardly discernible from the common hum of household appliances, or the creaking foundation. But still it's there, coloring the background a shade darker and breaking the hearts of any who enter. Just as it's always been.

I knock gently on my parents' bedroom door and hear how she stifles her sobs with a staggered sigh, attempting to make herself presentable for whichever of her beloved boys stands on the other side.

"Come in," she says with a repressed sob punctuating the phrase.

I peek my head in first and smile gently, "Hey, Ma."

She reciprocates as best she can, turning her eyes to my youngest brother, currently curled up and breathing softly next to her. His pink bottom lip quickly pops in and out, as he dreams of suckling.

"Hi, honey," she sniffles, "How was school?"

I answer plainly, stepping in and crossing the beige carpet. "Fine, nothing spectacular. How was your day?"

Her chin quivers as her voice cracks a little, but she manages to keep the tone light. She's well-practiced at it. "Oh, good…kind of spectacular. Squeaker here," her delicate fingers graze my infant brother's belly, causing him to twitch, "is bound and determined to get up and around."

"Really?" Gingerly, I sit on the bed's edge, hoping not to disturb the slumbering infant. My back twinges from the awkward position, but I ignore it.

"Mm-hmm," she nods, wipes some dampness from her nose with a well-used Kleenex and puckers her chin. "Sylvan, do you mind taking him? You know, becau-,"

Mom's voice cuts off sharply, choking back a sob while her eyes avert to the right. The sadness has become an unbearable weight and I know she doesn't want to cry with an audience.

"Of course."

I plant a solid kiss to her forehead before gathering a sleeping Sydney into my arms. He gurgles a bit, letting loose one of his signature squeaks that gave him the nickname, but remains napping as he collapses against my shoulder.

"Love you, Mom."

"I love you, too, baby. Thank you."

As soon as the door clicks shut, and despite her best efforts to muffle the sound, I can hear the familiar ragged breath that precedes every sob. And as always, the low moan which follows breaks my heart and sends my mind racing. I want nothing more than to rush back in, sweep Mom into my arms and hold her until the sorrow passes. It wouldn't help. In fact, it would do nothing but make it worse.

So, I don't. My heart breaks and I have to walk away, like always.

Mom's been sad for most of my life. Only Dad truly remembers when Mom was genuinely carefree. An age, years ago in New York, when my mother was attending art school and my father was hopelessly lost while on shore-leave, wandering the city for the first time.

"Didn't know where the hell I was...but then she found me." He likes to say.

She'd been idealistic and fresh, while Dad had been the incarnation of regimented order. They were complete opposites and completely in love. A whirlwind romance quickly ensued, filled with sporadic phone calls and weekly heartfelt letters; each of which is still stashed away in some secret corner of their room.

Mom always describes it as six months of the 'deepest emotions, permeating every smile and frown, all the laughter and tears, every word and silence until 'we knew we were meant to be.'

Whenever Dad could get to a phone, he called our mother first, desperate to hear her sweet, lilting laugh. She'd been just as anxious to hear his deep voice recount his daily happenings, and to tease him for being stuck on a boat amongst hundreds of men with hardly a female influence. Our father would merely reply by calling her a "flippy-hippy"; an endearment he uses to this day, filled with every ounce of his love for her.

Mom is and has always been his world since the day they met and I don't think a day goes by that he doesn't tell her as much.

Christmas time that very same year, on Dad's next shore-leave, he swept into her Midwest hometown and dropped to one knee in front of her father and the rest of the family, expressing his adoration and begging for her hand. Our grandfather, Pops, told us later how he questioned our father's sanity. There was such a stark contrast between the formal, disciplined request and the welling emotion in our father's eyes. The whole ordeal threw the old man for a loop. Underneath it all though, Pops was impressed with Dad's straightforward honesty and respect; coupled with the tender-loving look in his daughter's face. Pops couldn't deny them.

They were married two days later at City Hall. Then a year later, almost to the day, Simon arrived and my father's world slowly started to dissolve.

A case of post-partum depression quickly escalated into full blown despair that saturated their daily lives.

The strange thing about it is, Mom is blissful when pregnant. Hell, she's down-right joyous. Afterward though, it's as if she begins to shut down, piece by little piece. The sky darkens and it becomes harder for her to experience life without worry, sorrow and guilt. Day by day, the cracks in her mind slowly widen, pouring her soul onto the floor until she can't function anymore.

She's explained to us how her mind ricochets through an onslaught of thought and issues.

First, everyday life begins weighing heavily on her: from the laundry, to finances, to cooking dinner. Then, the state of the world breaks her heart: war, disease outbreaks, natural disasters. Everything from world poverty and hunger to whether the house note will be late and whether each of her boys are eating enough. All of it piles up to insurmountable heights.

Then some days, there are surges of confidence, a positivity and a will to do something 'll talk about volunteering, giving money to charity, going on missionary expeditions; help solve the most complicated issues.

She knows she could make an impact; if only her mind wouldn't turn against her, criticize her logic and deride her abilities. If only.

We all have that inner critic, but Mom's is the fucking devil.

Simon, my oldest brother, remembers as much joy as sadness; while I have only a few elated memories that weren't tainted by the depression. However, by the time Silas was born, Mom's brave façade had become a daily fixture, held tentatively in place by her enduring will. The smiles no longer reached her eyes and her laughs were less full, less genuine.

She just simply...couldn't do more than that.

Every blood test, neurological and physical exam each doctor could think of has been done, then done one more time. We've been referred to every specialist, internist, naturopath and psychiatrist in every rolodex. All who, in turn, put Mom on every anti-depressant, anti-psychotic, and supplement in existence; none of which have worked, at least not for any extended period of time.

Finally after years of tests, therapy, and countless doctors' appointments all they could say was, "It's an odd manifestation of depression, likely linked to something in your genetics. Essentially, it's a glitch. Here's your new prescription, treatment, exercise, etc..."

Strangely, the half-assed diagnosis came as a bit of a relief. Once we knew the doctors were utterly useless, we could fully re-focus on Mom and how best to help her. We shifted back and figured out, as a family, which treatments gave her the longest, clearest and best results. When we found a good mix (currently: meds, therapy, and classes), each of us did what we could to support her.

And yet, through it all, Mom's done her best to stay involved. She's always made an effort to pack our lunches, check our homework, and put us to bed. She has always tried to make time for us, for anything from a talk to a cuddle. The depression is just always there, pushed to the sidelines, tainting the mood of our "happy" home until it eventually overwhelms her again.

This ridiculous 'diagnosis' also gave us the humor we needed, especially during the roughest roads in our lives. So much so, it kind of became a family motto.

One of us kids can't manage to improve a grade? It's a glitch. The water main breaks beneath the house just after the plumbing guy checked it? It's a glitch. Mom "accidently" took too many pills? It's a glitch.

Yes, it's messed up but it works; at least for now.

And life in the Wolf household is simply that; just life, as it is.

It's a glitch.

Sweet Squeak

Down the hall, I lay Sydney in his crib, kissing his head because he really is the sweetest thing when he's sleeping. When he's awake though...

Plainly speaking, Squeak is a handful when his eyes are open. Even still, no one can deny he's freaking adorable and hilarious. Seriously, the boy is hysterical simply because he's so excited all the time about everything. It's all so bright and shiny and new. Keys, toys, faces...dust, you name it. He will giggle, squeak and squeal at it like it's the most original and interesting thing upon this planet Earth.

It truly is the most endearing damn thing.

Last week, Mom had a good day. Good days are great days in the Wolf household because there's a sense of normalcy, a hint of joy. Good days mean tired, but genuine smiles from Mom as she dawdles around the house in the daylight, interacting with each of us. There are still sniffles and tiny sobs, but each is easily cast aside for hugs and affection. Good days mean I have my mother back, briefly.

Anyway, early in the evening last Wednesday, a single, solitary feather suddenly appeared in our house. It was most likely carried in on a breeze from one of the countless times Dad or I stepped outside to smoke, then floated easily on numerous drafts from the of vents situated throughout the house.

Squeak was playing in the living room, his favorite blanket spread wide with a smattering of toys when his bright deep-green eyes caught sight of this hovering, single quill. He immediately pointed it out, squealing with joy at his newfound friend, eyes glowing neon with excitement. The tow-headed little man was so ecstatic over the new discovery, he fell over while clapping his hands, never once losing sight of the floating feather.

We all smiled and watched intently, completely enraptured by the sweet innocent soul writhing on the floor, his gaze captivated by his fluffy friend. Sydney flopped to his back with his hands in the air as if conducting an orchestra. Then would sit back up with a scowl on his cherubic features that wasn't at all intimidating but rather comical, as he scolded his feathery friend in gibberish for reasons unknown. Then it was back to his back, squealing and laughing once more, all the while chewing on his feet.

Suddenly, the feather dropped, plummeting to the floor not three feet from my infant brother. His eyes narrowed, watching warily and waiting for the show to resume. When the plume refused to play, Squeak began letting out this sort of demanding bark that rocked his whole body with every yip. He reminded me of a Yorkshire puppy, yapping for attention.

We each giggled into our hands while my tiny little brother desperately called for the feather's notice. Squeak continued this for at least a full five minutes, not once breaking stride or rhythm. And just as quickly as he'd become interested, the little bugger blew a raspberry at his former friend and crawled away toward more exciting prospects, without so much as a glance back in the feather's direction.

We fell out. Simon and I collapsed atop each other on the couch, gasping for breath through belly laughs while Silas couldn't give a damn from the loveseat. Mom, however, buried her face in Dad's rumbling chest, truly laughing for the first in a long time. It was as close to perfect as we get.

Thank God, for little Sydney Jarod Wolf.

"Hey, kiddo," Dad calls softly from behind while hovering in the doorway, "Squeak asleep?"

"Yeah." I whisper, strolling to meet him.

"How's Mom?"

I shrug a sigh, shaking an uncertain flat hand.

"She in our room?" He already knows the answer.

I nod the affirmative anyway and he claps a hand to my shoulder, turning back into the hall. Two steps away, he turns again, "You work tonight?"

"No, Mr. Behr told me to take the night off, said I looked like I needed it."

Dad chuckles, firmly squeezing my shoulder, "Mr. Behr's a good man."

I simply grin, as we step down the hall toward the kitchen.

"Do you mind taking care of dinner?" My father asks, though we both know there's no need.


One last hug and tight grip to my shoulder then Dad's gone, dashing toward the back bedroom.

Seeing Simon

I'm starving; the result of skipping lunch today.

Granted it was out of necessity, to make up a goddamn Calc 2 exam. But the need wouldn't have arisen if Silas weren't a juvenile fuckin' delinquent. I'd much rather have taken the exam yesterday afternoon but no! Instead, my ass had to schlep down to the goddamn truancy office, to liberate his dumbass bubble-butt from a considerably large truancy officer threatening to detain him. Silas gave no fucks, not even a 'thank you'. The little asshole. And now, I'm starving.

While scouring the fridge for something quick and ready-to-eat, I notice there's only a quarter gallon of milk, two eggs and little else left in the icebox. Firmly gripping the s last apple between my teeth, I pull the thawed pork tenderloin from the second shelf and close the door before making a quick list of groceries on the mylar board. Our kitchen is usually stocked to capacity, largely due to me and one of my slight glitches that verges on neurotic OCD.

I hate an empty kitchen. The house feels incomplete. Plus, it's a constant worry about someone going without because I failed to go to the damned store. And the more I rifle through bare cabinets in search of sides to go with the pork currently on the counter, the more my guilt and anxiety rises. I know how ridiculous the stress over empty cabinets is, but it can't be helped.

I settle on the making a baked pork-tenderloin casserole, except I'm going to have to use egg noodles and cream sauce pre-mix. It's not a culinary masterpiece, but it'll do.

Simon's familiar tone wafts through the air, calling my attention. "Hey, little brother."

In his usual cargo khakis and t-shirt, he's casually propped against the doorway, gazing at me with small grin. Simon's a natural at aloof.

I'm sure my smile is lopsided and my words are muddled, each forced around the chunk of apple tucked inside my cheek. However, my enthusiasm is clear. "Hey! What're you doin' here? I thought you had dinner with Cecilia's parents tonight."

Shaking his head, Simon puckers his chin. "Nah, some family thing came up. CC went to help out for a few days, figured I'd hang out here 'til she gets back."

It's then I notice the large, black duffle slung over his shoulder.

"You're gonna stay here?" There's obvious excitement in the question. When he nods, I clap my hands together sharply in celebration, "Awesome!"

The well-used bag slides to the floor as he shakes his head, smiling. "You're a dork."

I can always make Simon smile. I can always break his carefully constructed mask of cool, usually just by being me. It's something few can claim. Certainly, not Cecilia, though I'm sure she has other talents.

"Hey, you're the one that abandoned me here to go live with some girl. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to have a meaningful conversation with a nine month-old…or Silas?"

The reprimand is only half-serious, but still I pointedly spritz cooking spray in his direction after prepping the glass casserole dish. My teasing glare makes him chuckle as he surrenders, throwing up his hands.

"You're right. I'm sorry." Simon steps around the island to my side, knocking our shoulders together in a familiar gesture, "Can I help?"

I look around for several seconds, discerning if there's anything with which I truly need help. It's not a difficult recipe, but I don't want him to leave yet, even though he'll most likely stay anyway; if only just to keep me company. However, I don't want to chance that he'll gravitate to the TV or his old room.

"You could help bread the tenderloins." I point toward the pork resting on the countertop, snorting a laugh at his grimacing face.

Simon's not prissy, but fuck everything and everyone if his hands feel dirty or grimy. He hates breading things, the texture of slimy eggs and flour gets underneath his fingernails and he bitches about it for days. I suppose that's one of his glitches.

I think it's funny, especially since he rarely misses an opportunity to exploit any of my weird hang-ups, such as flicking my goddamn ears. Still, in spite of his revulsion, he gathers the ingredients and begins doing it anyway, simply because I asked him.

"This is fuckin' disgusting, Syl." He whines slightly later, as though I haven't heard him muttering the same five words to himself for the last ten minutes.

Again, I just laugh, earning a flour bomb to the side of the face.

"UGH! ASSHOLE!" Yelling over Simon's hysterical joy, the sick feeling of raw egg and damp flour slides down my neck.

He's grinning like an idiot, entirely pleased with himself; but I know if I don't act soon, Simon will flour-bomb me again.

Exaggerating my displeasure, I move toward the sink with an eye keenly aware of Simon working his fingers into the flour again. Pulling the faucet, I dip a nearby towel in the stream then scrub at the mess coating my face and neck. Washing the egg-flour gunk proves more difficult than anticipated, but the difficulty works to my advantage. Simon is caught completely by surprise when I snatch the spray hose and release a deluge point-blank in his face.

He yelps like a little bitch, then in one fluid motion he spins away from the monsoon and rushes me. The next moment we're grappling for the nozzle, slamming harshly against the counter and fighting to use spray hose against one another. In a tangle of arms and legs, we struggle for victory while our voices echo throughout the kitchen, somewhere between laughing and screaming. Surely, the whole house can hear the commotion.

"What the hell are you two doing?" A voice demands from the doorway, startling us both and sending Simon to his ass when his foot slips in a nearby puddle.

I can't help the barking laugh that erupts from my chest. Simon obviously can't either, taken over by his own hysterics. All the while, Silas just glares at us from the entryway.

Finally able to breathe, I attempt to haul our older brother off the floor. "We're just making din-,"

My foot finds the exact same puddle, bringing me down atop Simon who grunts from the impact and we resume giggling like twelve year olds.

"You guys are fucking retarded."

Silas stalks off toward the back hallway, assumingly to brood and glower at the walls in his attic room.

Simon and I just continue laughing.

Sour SJ

An hour later dinner's ready, and Dad is eating with Mom in their room while Simon sets the table for him and myself.

"Set another place, Sy. I'm going to go let SJ know dinner's ready." I pat his back as I pass by, taking note of how deeply seated his spine is between the muscle tissue; as well as the odd look he's casting at me over his shoulder. It's wracks my nerves a bit because maybe my fingers lingered too long. "What?"

"You know he's not going to come down, Syl."

"Just set it, please."

The scowl isn't intentional, nor is the sharp huff that follows as I move to the stairs. And from the corner of my eye, I can see Simon's brows draw together. Whether he's concerned or simply annoyed I have no idea, and frankly don't give a shit. I've never been able to suss out exactly why, but it always pisses me off when Simon assumes the worst of our younger brother. It's not like he's wrong about Silas, but still.

Climbing the stairs two at a time cuts the distance considerably, but my lungs burn a little with the effort of it. Taking a sharp right at the top, I turn toward our bedrooms in the upstairs hallway. Well, more specifically my bedroom and Silas' attic hatch.

The string is down. Generally, that's a good indication Silas isn't in bitch mode, so I pull the entry open as quietly as possible; still sounds like a bomb went off, and unfolding the ladder only adds to the noise. I've never understood how he sneaks out at night, never making a goddamn sound. I certainly couldn't. I don't even trust the damn bottom rung to hold me, let alone the following steps. Each one creaks and rattles under the slightest weight, even more so under a full-grown man's. I swear, one day someone is going to sneeze four blocks away and the whole thing is going to collapse, probably somehow impaling me in the process, knowing my luck.

Still, Silas scales it every day, attacking the dry-rotted rungs with his feet and nary a splinter to show for it.

"What?" My brother hisses, sour and unseen.

Ignoring the snipe, I pull myself up and perch my ass on the edge of the entryway. Releasing a gentle sigh, I lock my fingers together and gently rest my hands in my lap, staring at him. He's bare-chested, lying along his side and idly flipping through the glossy pages of some nameless magazine. I remain silent, waiting. When he finally levels a glare my way, his eyes are storming; deep blue with the gray of rolling thunder echoing behind.

Out of us all, Silas truly did get the best set of eyes. The epitome of dynamic and expressive.

"What?" He repeats, more insistently.

Obviously, I've interrupted some very important brooding but let the attitude slide because frankly, I don't have the energy.

"Dinner's ready."

"Great." He shrugs and rolls his eyes, before resigning to the magazine again.

It's only then that Paul Banks' hypnotic baritone cuts in, wafting gently overhead from somewhere behind my little brother. Admittedly, I get a little lost in the slow, thrumming rhythm, mainly because I love this song but also, I'm fucking exhausted and sick of his attitude. At least, Silas is emo-brooding with a proper soundtrack.

"Are you going to eat?"

"Not hungry." He flicks another set of pages.

Deep breaths, I remind myself, deep full breaths. It's not helping, because every ounce of willpower I have is holding my hands together and not chucking a random shoe at his head. There's plenty of ammo in this chaotic pit.

"Come have dinner with us. I know you haven't eaten today."

"You know shit about me." The words are mumbled, but pure acid. And the little bastard doesn't even pause to glance up from his magazine.

Sweet muscular Jesus, do I want to tear his ass a new hole. My frustration is welling, while my lungs burn with the intensity of every repressed shout. I am utterly lost as to what to say without screaming. Even the sweet hypnosis of Interpol is useless, and within a split second I've lost the battle with myself. Snatching a shoe from the immediate right, but unwilling to hit Silas with it directly, I chuck it within inches of his head.

The resounding thud echoes throughout the room and Silas flinches, shooting daggers with his gaze. "What the fu-"

"Let me tell you something I do know then, Silas. I know that I skipped lunch today, to make up an exam I missed yesterday because I had to pick your stupid ass up at the fucking truancy office, for the fourth goddamn time this month! I know that you are thisfuckingclose to expulsion and would be, if it weren't for me pulling your ass out of every fire you insist on setting. And I know that I'm getting real fucking tired of your petty rebellion bullshit! Especially since you can't be bothered to give a flying fuck about anything outside your fucking dope or sticking your dick in every available fuck-hole, you ungrateful little shit!"

The ladder groans under my weight, protesting every movement as I slam each foot down. I can feel Silas seething, staring icily as I descend, but I'm done with this shit. When I happen to glance back, his chest is heaving with anger and his eyes...are glassy. It's clear he's pissed, but there's pain there too; and my heart aches at the thought. I don't like hurting him, but I can't handle this anymore.

I don't know what else I can do. I feel like he's slipping away from me, sand through my fingers. No. Worse. I feel like he's purposefully sprinting in the opposite direction.

Just as my feet hit the hallway carpet, I hear it. His voice barely above a whisper. "Fuck you, Sylvan."

All but slamming the hatch shut, I head back to the kitchen as Silas ardently zips the pull-string up out of reach.

"Fuck you, too, Silas."

Dinner with Simon & Sydney

Back in the kitchen, Simon chuckles while trying to spoon feed our infant brother, who is having none of it, opting for his own tiny hands instead. Sydney happily destroys the noodles and cream sauce Simon plated for him. Half of it has ended up on the floor while a good portion is currently being used as face paint.

"God, I forget what a messy eater he is." Simon comments, smirking at the kid.

"Well, if you'd come around for dinner more often." I scold half-heartedly, eyes fixed to my plate, fork pushing the contents around while my mind wars with itself.

"I know. Just between the new job and planning the wedding... things get pushed aside."

Sydney squeals abruptly, thoroughly pleased with the noodles slopping through his fingers. I grin at him, Simon finally glancing at me then.

"I shouldn't have yelled at him." Maybe I should go apologize, races through my mind.

Simon's eyes roll to a close, heaving a sigh at my familiar guilt. Gently grasping my neck, he pulls us closer together and levels his sage-greens at me.

"Baby brother, listen to me. I love Silas, but he's an asshole. You can't-,"

"It's just he-,"

"No, listen." Simon insists, gripping tighter. "No one in this house has tried more than you, to show him love and make him feel included. If he can't appreciate that, fuck him."

When my head drops into my hand, Simon kisses my hair. Without another word, he resumes trying to feed our infant brother, letting me wallow for a minute in silence.

I know he's right, but I also know that I can't just "fuck him." Silas needs me.

"I miss having you around is all. When you were here it was a lot easier…" The thought simply stops on its own. I'm so...spent, I guess.

Simon has his own life. And six months ago took a giant step toward living it when he moved in with Cecilia, followed in short order by the proposal. Then weekly dinners became bi-weekly. Soon after that, his availability became "as soon as possible", until finally Simon "wasn't sure" when he'd be able to come by. Honestly, I can't exactly remember the last time he came for dinner, let alone a visit. I do not expect him to drop by every day like he used to, or even a daily phone call but the truth is, I've hardly seen him in the last month and I miss him.

Simon and I have always been close. We're best friends. We understand each other, balance each other out and without him here, I have no outlet. When he's gone there's just a consistent build-up of stress and aggravation. I have nothing to focus on except work & school, and eventually obsess over everything until my brain fries. When he's gone, there isn't anyone help bear the load or make me laugh when I get too serious. There's no one to take care of me, when I need it.

Stilling my restless hand, Simon locks his gaze to mine before gently gripping my neck again. His brows pinch together, deep moss eyes narrowing at the pain he sees in me. "That bad, huh?"

I don't respond, though my head kind of nods.

From his high chair, Sydney's become uncharacteristically solemn, gaze flittering between both of us. Simon pulls us closer, lips planting a solid kiss above my eye and arms sliding around me.

"Shit, man. I'm sorry, baby brother."

We hover there for a while, clinging to each other; Simon peppering several reassuring kisses along the side of my head, fingers carding through my hair. I'm close to tears, because I've fucking missed him and felt so goddamn alone, until he puts his arms around me. But, I do not want to cry. Goddamn it, I will not cry. Luckily, Sydney's quiet cooing erupts into an excited scream, followed by the usual giggle. When Simon pulls away, both of us are chuckling and I take the opportunity to discretely wipe the moisture from my eyes. Even still, I notice Simon's are glassy.

"How about after we put Squeak to bed, you and I commiserate a little bit?" Simon smirks at me to convey his meaning.

I nod simply, a small grin curling the corners of my lips. Simon always has the good stuff.

My big brother once again attempts to feed the youngest of us but after several minutes with no success, Simon simply laughs and resigns to the toddler's whims. Content to let Squeak continue joyfully decimating his food, Simon and I attack the clean-up together.

Afterwards, Simon snatches the little monster away for a bath and, thanks to some enthusiastic toddler thrashing, ends up soaking wet for the second time today.

Taking Sydney off Simon's hands, I dress the baby in bright yellow pajamas covered in ducks before laying him down in his crib. Sydney smiles brightly as his eyes shutter down, snuggling against the bear Silas gave him. Squeak loves that damn bear and won't sleep without it.

Once I'm sure that my baby brother is snuggled in and comfortable, I kiss his head and quietly shut the door before shooting down the stairs at a blazing pace out to the back porch.

"Razzle Dazzle, my friend, Razzle Dazzle." Simon announces jubilantly the moment I step outside, wetting the paper with his tongue and pressing it closed.

"Commiserate" is our code word. A particularly special term for Simon and I alone, used when we both need to blow off some steam...or just want to get really fucked-up together.

"Oh, Christ! Isn't that the shit that had me examining my past lives?"

Simon barks out a laugh, bouncing a bit as I plop down next to him on the patio chaise. "No, this is the shit that turned you into a cuddle-whore."

He lights the end and takes a couple of short drags, making sure the cherry is a bright orange before handing it to me. His chest puffs out with the smoke he's holding in until the narcotic fume forces its way out; his sinuses snorting when he tries to hold it a bit longer.

"Okay, but don't get pissed if I wind up in your lap again." I warn while drawing on the joint. The familiar smoke soaks into my lungs and I managed to hold it longer than my "more experienced" brother.

"Didn't mind it last time." Taking the joint back, he adds. "It was funny as hell."

Another hit and I'm already buzzing. It's been awhile since I've smoked with Simon, or just toked-up in general. "At least I don't try to do half-gainers from the roof into the pool."

"You talked me down."

I giggle, the memory from last year's party fresh in my mind. "Yeah, but you still sprained you're ankle trying to climb down."

"The fucking trellis was trying to eat my foot. It wouldn't let go." The smoke curls into the cool night air, billowing out from his lips.

Chuckling at the memory, it builds until I can't stop laughing. I laugh a lot when I'm high; it makes Simon a little jealous. He smokes more than I do, so he just mellows out. It would take an exorbitant amount of mind-altering substances to make him giggly and he knows it. Though, he always expresses a wish to be that high, if only to laugh with me. There's really no need because I make him laugh anyway.

"Yes, totally all the trellis' fault." I chuckle, taking the joint once more.

Simon's grinning from ear to ear. "Yes, it is."

"You're an idiot."

"Yes, but you love me...and you're high." He inhales deeply, eyes squinting against the burn and passing the roach back.

The joint's nearly gone already, so he lets me kill it. He loves me stoned.

"Yup, and I'm not in your lap. Good thing." I state pointedly before crushing the ember beneath my heel and falling into a reflective state of thought.

I usually try to avoid thinking too much when I'm high. Even though I am quite capable of controlling my actions regardless of being intoxicated beyond all measure, my brain is a whole other matter. It races on its own, mulling over the myriad of issues and concerns I lock away on a daily basis; one of the many build-ups which I mentioned earlier. It's another reason I don't smoke that often.

Simon's staring off into space with a curious grin on his lips, silent and pensive suddenly. His eyes smolder when he's high, turning from neon to a sage green reminiscent of a forest at night. And I'm pretty sure I'm in love with him.

It's just a glitch.


A random chuckle rocks my chest, popping out from between my lips in the strangest sort of way. The sound just makes me laugh more; the wonderful effects of THC soaking into my bloodstream.

Simon snickers from behind a sidelong gaze. "What the hell's so funny?"

"I don't know." The words vibrate from within my throat, tickling it until I cough.

My elder brother just laughs harder. "You are so fucking high."

I can only double over in hysterics, because it's so incredibly true. I have to lean against his muscled shoulder just to keep from falling off the patio chaise, all the while struggling to breathe. Simon's laugh bellows out, despite his confusion at my fit of giggles, while his eyes shine bright neon once again.

Our noise is reaching a fevered pitch, echoing off the trees and inside my head when the thunderous sliding glass door opens, startling us both and cuts our laughter bluntly short. We glance around with inquisitive and, not going to lie, slightly paranoid eyes to see Silas backlit in the open entryway. His face is barely visible in the contrasting light. What I can see is obscured by his curtain of black bangs and dark hoodie.

My greeting is breathy and ragged, lungs still struggling to catch air. "What's up, SJ?"

We wait; wait for him to say something, to do something. Silas remains silent. It's then that I notice him roughly working the keys around in his hand.

"Where're you going?"

Little brother continues to keep quiet and immobile, until Simon offers up his own question. "Are we going to need bail money, Less?"

Silas' eyes flash at the layered dig and I half-expect my little brother to launch himself across the porch at Simon, but he doesn't. Without a word, Silas merely zips his pitch black sweatshirt closed and stomps down the patio steps, curving around the corner and out of sight.

Watching my little brother's now empty path, I am utterly confused and more than slightly pissed off at my older brother. When Simon's gaze meets mine again, he looks genuinely stunned.


"That wasn't fucking funny, Simon. Don't say shit like that to him."

Simon snorts derisively. "Why? Because he's so delicate and sensitive?"

"Don't be an asshole."

"Why am I an asshole? Did I ask anything potentially slanderous?"

Simon has spent years honing his condescending sarcasm to a fine point. He's clever, witty and arrogant as fuck sometimes and it really chaps my ass. It's true, emotions are not his strong suit, being the ever the logical analyst but he's not an idiot. Simon can read people, even better than me on occasion. So, you'd think he'd realize to quit fucking smiling when snidely insulting our younger brother; especially when he knows it pisses me off.

"Why do you that?"


"Assume the worst about him. He's..."

"Because he's proven it, over and-"

" ...not a fucking terrorist, Simon."

"over- Don't be so fucking melodramatic, Sylvan."

"Quit being so goddamn harsh! We could've offered-"

As our words clash and overrun, Simon's hands fly out in a sharp gesture toward our absent brother. The first sign that his temper is beginning to flare. " What, to join?! Yeah! Because illicit substances...

"That's not what..."

"...are the best bonding idea for the juvenile addict!"

"...I was say-Do not call him an addict!" I yell.

"We had to put him in rehab, Syl!"

"As precauti-,"

"Precaution, my ass!"

And I'm done. I can't have this argument again, not right now. I can't defend Silas again. Simon won't listen. He never does. I simply can't anymore. So I stand, determined to walk inside and climb into my comfortable bed. Then Simon catches my hand and squeezes, pleadingly tight.

"Wait..Wait. Don't go. I'm sorry, okay?" The neon in his eyes darkens a bit.

He gently pulls, and I crumble back into the chaise with little resistence; mainly, because I'm too high to fight him. I can't even resist giving him my gaze when he shakes our interlocked fingers, craving my attention.

"I'm a raging dick-hole, okay? I'm sorry."

There's no response from me. I simply watch as he releases our hands, pulls another paper and opens the bag of Razzle Dazzle.

"I can't keep my sarcastic-ass mouth shut and I, shamelessly, fucked our high...without lube."

I chuckle involuntarily at the crude, yet accurate analogy and he smiles, rolling the green softly into the white paper.

"He's just always on his own, Sy."

The words all but fall out of my mouth and Simon simply nods, gazing sweetly from beneath his brows. He won't agree just to appease me, but he will be gentler in his reasoning. As always, he'll listen as I ramble until he can figure out exactly what pissed me off.

"It's not like we left him to be raised by wolves, Syl."

I watch enraptured, the light pink of his tongue darting out to wet the paper. Fingers still working to gingerly roll the joint evenly.

"I know, but he's just always on the fringes. Dad has to look after Mom, Squeaker always needs attention 'cuz he's just a chubby little bottle of cute-,"

Simon chuckles and I'm not entirely sure why; I'm still really high and my powers of observation are highly suspect.

"And us, especially us."

He gently presses the blunt between his fingers, finishing the roll. "What about us, baby brother?"

"We're, ya know and he doesn't have us. Or a brother to be an us with except the squishy bottle of cute. And I just hate-,"

Simon chuckles again, eyes gentle, and lips drawing off the joint as he lights it.

"I like us," he exhales.

"Me, too. I just feel like we left Junior out in the cold."

Simon leans in, his shifting weight and rocking the chaise a bit. He all but wraps around me, his chin resting on my shoulder and fingers pressed lightly against my lips, imploring me to inhale off the joint. And of course, I do.

"He chose the cold, babe. Like I said earlier, no one tried more than you to include him. SJ preferred to be alone."

"Not always," I correct him.

Simon draws on the blunt again, breathing out a moment later. "Often enough."

I stay silent, because unfortunately Simon's right, at least to an extent. Silas has been the 'lone Wolf' for awhile now. In fact, it's been so long I honestly can't remember when his destructive behavior began. Twelve? Or maybe thirteen? Silas' plethora of offences have steadily grown and bled together for a number of years now; makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact beginning.

Granted, Silas isn't always a raging delinquent. Every few months or so, he falls into a kind of quiet period that borders on normal. For no foreseeable reason, he'll hunker down, focus on his art, actually attend class and may even hold a civil conversation or two. At other times though, he's a fucking asshole and requires a reality ass-kicking.

On numerous occasions, however, he's been compelled to become an upstanding member of society. Such as, the court-mandated rehab Silas attended last year or the "voluntary" program the year before that. And each time, as his head clears and the junk flushes out, he's apologetic and remorseful. There are tears and seemingly genuine efforts to make amends; but it never lasts. Inevitably, Silas swaggers off the wagon creating as much chaos as possible.

He's like some kind of dormant drug-fueled volcano, suddenly spewing out angst-ridden, pissed-off magma everywhere.

Still in spite of it all, like Simon said, I've always tried. I've tried to talk to him. I've tried to engender trust hoping that Silas will open up, so that maybe we can figure out what the hell is going on with him. However, after his ruthless insanity last year and Mom's subsequent breakdown, I've found it increasingly difficult to talk to my little brother without wanting to crack his smart-ass mouth. So, I hardly try anymore.

He wasn't always like this, though. Silas used to be sweet and kind and loving and the biggest nerd known to man. We used to geek out together with impromptu dance battles, raiding local comic conventions, and sharing our very different but related hobbies. He and I were tight. Nearly as tight as me and Simon.

"You want another one?"

Simon's deep tone breaks my obsessing mind, electricity sparking down my spine as he strokes it reassuringly with gentle fingertips. When I finally focus, he's clenching a rolling paper between his middle and index fingers.

"Yeah, but let me get my bowl."

Popping up from the chaise, my head rushes and I nearly fall over, much to Simon's amusement. A second later, I'm good and bound for the door, still slightly ajar from Silas' dramatic exit. Heading toward the back stairs, I hope to find the bowl quickly in the disaster area that is my living space. It's not likely, though.


Silas stands out of sight, cloaked in the deeps shadows cast by the house. He's sure Sylvan and Simon assume he's left, but curiosity has gotten the better of him, as it often does when it comes to brothers' conversations.

When the cops first started bringing him home on a semi-regular basis, the eavesdropping began as a frantic countermeasure to find out what his beloved brothers were thinking. Were they angry with him? Worried? Silas agonized over the idea that he'd disappointed his family, but his brothers in particular, each placed high upon a golden pedestal.

However, the relationships quickly distorted. Simon's firm yet guiding hand promptly turned demandingly harsh. Every conversation regularly degraded into accusations and arguments. At the time, the disintegration of their relationship had been heart-wrenching, causing Silas to wallow in guilt. Then, as worried ranting devolved into relentless sarcasm and belittling lectures, the guilt twisted into hostility and bad blood.

In his heart, Silas still loves his brother but Simon's place in it is scarred over. Possibly forever.

Sylvan, on the other hand, had remained kind and soft when dealing with Silas. He took his time, gently breaking through the formidable walls Silas had built to protect himself. Sylvan would talk, ask, encourage; he never berated or derided Silas, even when he threw out an attitude. The elder would simply concede, give the youth his space until he was ready to open up; and Silas would, eventually. Their late-night talks and early morning "smoke breaks" gave Silas hope. Maybe, just maybe he could repair the damage he'd done. Perhaps, he could figure out exactly what this...glitch was and be happy again.

Then seemingly overnight, Sylvan appeared to almost completely disconnect. He stopped talking, stopped asking, and stopped encouraging. Of course, Sylvan still spoke to him, joked with him, hugged and kissed him but there was an undeniable rift. That's when eavesdropping went from a countermeasure to a fixation.

Silas isn't ignorant. He knows the reasons why Sylvan finally began to pull away; Silas knows what he's done, his culpability. The third-born spends hours of each day wondering, pondering and planning to fix the breach between them; to make amends, not only to Sylvan but his family. However, each time his resolve falters. His feelings of abandonment, of being left alone in a house already drenched in sorrow, swell. The youngest blue-eyed Wolf has no one to talk to, no one to "commiserate" with at all.

And so, the separation remains and continues to burn.

Now secreted away in the shadows with only his churning jealously to keep him company, Silas listens as Sylvan bounds to his rescue from Simon's character assassination. Hearing Sylvan defend him, even half-heartedly, lightens his spirits. But as quickly as Silas' heart lifts, it plummets when his defender falls silent, reminding Silas that even Sylvan's goodwill has its limits. Limits that he, at just sixteen years old, seems to have already exhausted.

"Are you going to listen to us all night?" Simon's deep voice calls from the lighted deck.

Startled, Silas remains stalwartly silent.

"I know you're there, Silas."

The youth feels something akin to a deer in headlights, shocked that his brother could be so perceptive. He hugs the wall, resolute in his stillness.

"Who are you talking to?" Sylvan asks, the roar of the sliding glass door nearly muting his words.

"No one." Simon answers, "Did you find the bowl in that mess you call a room?"

Sylvan laughs loudly, obviously still feeling the effects of Simon's narcotics. "No, and don't give me shit."

"No biggie. I've got plenty of papers." Simon chuffs.

"Then roll a fatty." Sylvan lilts, reclaiming the seat next to his closest brother on the patio chaise.

Silas risks exposure, slinking along the edge to the corner until the pair of them fall within sight. Though not flooded in light, either brother could easily discover his hiding place by merely glancing around in this direction. Still, Silas can't leave, not just yet. He needs to see.

Commiserating Continues

"Shotgun?" Simon offers, presenting the glowing bud with a mischievous grin.

I sigh, though it comes out more like a staggered breath. Two and a half blunts into a narcotic haze, it is becoming difficult to control myself, both mind and actions. "Sy…I am so-,"

"C'mon..." He urges, colliding our shoulders together, his fingers pinching the joint poised in reverse at his mouth, ready and waiting.

I grunt, eyes lazily rolling up and grinning despite myself. The victorious smile nearly splits Simon's face in half.

Gingerly he sets the beautifully burning illegal substance between his teeth, the dim ember floating in the free space between his tongue and palate. His mouth puckers into a relaxed 'o' as he leans in so close our lips nearly brush. Instinctively, I close my eyes in an attempt to keep the hormones infusing every vein within check, only to open them again, eager to watch our exchange. The world quickly slips away as I inhale, taking in the thick drug-laden fume from Simon's mouth. He pushes forward, closing the distance between our mouths even further. When his lips accidentally graze mine, I'm lost in the high. Eyes closed once more to revel in the scent of marijuana and Simon's cologne, the aroma of sandalwood and fire.

Behind the intoxicating mix, I could swear there's a pressure against my mouth but I'm too far gone to care, knowing it's simply a narcotic-induced daydream.

When the smoke hits my lungs, pervading every branch and capillary, I begin coughing fitfully and I'm dropped unceremoniously back into the world with a spinning head. I can hear Simon laughing over the hacking fit. That's what I get for concentrating on his mouth and not on breathing.

"You okay?" He giggles.

I simply nod, lungs still clenching against the invading air, though less so now. Several seconds later, I can almost breathe but have to keep clearing my throat against a raw itch.

"You done?" Simon asks.

Once again, I nod punctuated with another small cough.

He laughs, clapping a hand on my shoulder, "Me too. Let's go mellow out in my room. I've got some new bands I want you to listen to." Simon stands, gathering all evidence of drug use and pockets it within his jacket.

I follow dumbly, still dazed and confused, and wholly excited to be with him.

Enough Eavesdropping

Shot-gunning between his brothers was not unusual, Silas has witnessed the act at least a dozen times. Still, watching Sylvan so readily accept Simon pushing into his space, taking in his breath so effortlessly; it never gets easier. Each time, Silas' gut twists sharply and his chest freezes up. Yet, he's compelled to watch, unable to look away even with every sinew screaming at him to do so. Again and again, he holds on to a naive hope that Sylvan will pull away, force Simon back and leave him as cold as Silas feels now, but it never happens that way.

Silas knows it will never happen that way, because he is also knows just how much Sylvan loves Simon.

Still, he can't help but watch. Silas stands in the shadows, listens to Sylvan's half-hearted protest and Simon's chiding insistence. He remains hidden and spies as Simon pushes in, closer than necessary, while Sylvan breathes deeply and his crystalline blue eyes shutter down, open then close once more. Silas watches, helpless and heartbroken, as Simon presses into Sylvan's mouth.

It's not a kiss; but may as well be, at least to Silas when Simon's green eyes search him out in the shadows. Shell-shocked, Silas ducks back into the safety of shadows, a burning line crawling along the base of his storming eyes and silently chokes on his rage.

Logically, Silas knows the shadows are far too deep, that Simon could not actually see him stashed away against the side of the house; yet, Silas could feel it, the superior glare boring into his skull. Even twenty feet away and completely out of sight, Silas can still feel the arrogance rolling off his eldest brother, crashing repeatedly against Silas' mind and heart.

In a fraction of a second, Simon had managed to stake his claim, taunt the youth and warn him off, with hardly more than gesture.

THAT FUCKING BASTARD, Silas' mind screams.

Stepping to the side gate, the well-oiled latch and hinges open with next to no noise. He's seen enough. His brothers are heading inside and Silas needs to wallow in some seriously mind-numbing debauchery, to the point that he can no longer function or feel. Silas wants nothing more than to forget the scene he's just witnessed.

Even minutes later, his rage continues to screw deeper, tearing its way through the viscera, blazing a hot trail through his wounded insides, overwhelming him.

None it matters now, Silas thinks to himself, sneakers scraping against the asphalt road. The entire scene would matter even less once he met up with Derek at McFarland Park and drank himself insane, into a numbing disconnection where this burning rage couldn't affect him.

Audible Waves

"What the hell's the name of this band again?" I ask over the experimental rock flowing out of my brother's speakers.

"She Wants Revenge." Simon's head bobs to the heavy bass drum. "They're a current obsession. You likey?"

I shrug. "They're good. Sounds like Joy Division and Depeche Mode had an emo-goth baby…with abandonment issues."

I'm actually kind of digging it, but I rarely let Simon know exactly how I feel about the music he introduces. It's funny to watch him step up onto the soapbox, debating the merit of his auditory choices.

He shifts from his spot where he's kneeling, snatching the CD case from the floor and crawls over, awkwardly holding the plastic square out for me to take. "Well, you're a lyric guy and theirs are tremendous."

I take the case and pop it open as he settles next to me on the floor, both of us resting against his mattress.

I flip through the cover art, all the while looking at him sidelong, "Tremendous, huh?"

"Just read 'em, Sylly-Ahh, fuck!" Simon yelps when I punch him hard. I hate that damn nickname.

"Well, don't call me that and I won't beat the shit out of you." Settling back against the bed, I find the song currently filtering into the room and follow along with the words.

Simon just chuckles, sorting through a plethora of cases strewn around our legs; I suppose trying to discern what musical revelation he'll subject me to next. His hand pushes the jewel casings around, fingers searching through the mix of retail and burned music. I can only assume he brought so much to prevent listening to the same thing twice over the next few days. He's a complete audiophile. Truth is I am too. I have a perpetual soundtrack playing inside my head, but it's mainly Simon's fault. He's been feeding my addiction since I could toddle and keep a beat.

"So?" Simon calls, brows rising as he nods toward the booklet in my hands.

The lyrics are good, provocative and emotive. I say as much.

"Told you."

Suddenly, Simon's bridged over my lap, reaching over me to rummage through the music on my left. Even beneath his t-shirt, the sinews of his back flex visibly, expanding and snapping back with his movements. He's so close his scent is filling my head. I can feel my breath hitch, staggering out of my lungs quietly. He doesn't seem to notice, thankfully, but if he doesn't move soon…

A second later, he's back in his seat and my heart is beginning to slow.

We sit there for several hours more, listening silently to the music flowing through the old stereo he hijacked from our parents years ago. Occasionally we comment, on the music, the lyrics, or the cymbal splash of a hardcore drum solo, but mostly we're silent. Beautifully, comfortably silent as the music gently vibrates the floor, permeates the air, surrounding us in ebbing waves of ease. The rhythm is lulling, rocking me back and forth and side to side causing my eyes to shutter, to better hear whichever band is currently playing.

Warmth and comfort rolls over me, and at some point, my head comes to rest on something firm but pliable. I can't open my eyes, the lids are far too heavy to lift. But whatever it is beneath me, it smells like Simon, amplifying the soothing calm and I'm lost as everything else fades.

Checking In

Silas habitually checks Sylvan's room. He can't help it. He passes by it every time he trudges toward his own room anyway. By now it's second nature to peer in, to ensure his elder brother is safe and sound. But in the wee hours of this morning, Sylvan isn't sleeping in his bed.

The sheets are arranged much as they were yesterday, thrown haphazardly aside when Sylvan thrashed out against the barrage of dirty clothes Silas lobbed at him; the younger man's version of an improvised alarm clock. Yet, everything else stands in the usual order; his computer and iPod are neatly gathered on his desk; his clothes, both dirty and clean, are strewn around the floor. But the bed is undoubtedly empty and the sight of it leaves Silas undeniably disturbed.

Hit with a sudden realization, Silas darts back through the hallway, foregoing a room by room search because he knows where Sylvan is sleeping. Quickly but quietly, Silas bounces down the back stairwell, his heart sinking with every step, sure of what he'll find in the basement. Still, he feels compelled to confirm it, to see it with his own eyes.

Moments later, he bursts through Simon's door and the sight inside stops him cold. The pair hardly move, even with the resonant echo from the slamming door still reverberating. Silas can only glare; the image of his brothers so comfortably intertwined is distinctly different than imagined and twice as hard to accept. Sylvan's head on Simon's thigh, Simon's fingers laced into Sylvan's hair, both sleeping soundly; it's a hard punch to the chest.

And the sharp, serrated twist is back.

Checking Back

A sharp kick to my heel startles me awake, and I all but leap from the floor, head tearing away from Simon's thigh. He's still asleep, head wilting to one side and hanging precariously on the mattress' edge with one hand relaxed in his lap. I vaguely recall fingertips stroking my hair.

"I was looking for you." Silas growls.

His hands are dug deep within the pockets of his sweatshirt, the hood still pulled low. A strange fire burns behind his cerulean eyes as he focues on Simon, still sleeping against the mattress. When his gaze shifts back to me, the fire extinguishes, the smoke billows and turns his eyes the color of steel. He peers at me from behind the solitary black panel of bangs in his otherwise white blonde hair, mouth soft as though it may form words at any moment. Then he just leaves, turning abruptly for the stairs.


The question forms in my head but falters before it can reach my lips. It doesn't matter anyway; he's gone, already trudging up the stairs. Echoes of his slow, thudding footsteps fade and die into a thick silence, weighing down the air. For a long moment, I feel like I can't draw a full breath.

Then Simon grunts, stretching awake beside me. Pushing out, arms reaching to full length, he groans and winces.

"Ugh! Ok, sleeping against the mattress instead of on it? Not a good idea." His fingers knead the tension from his overstretched neck, until he smiles at me. "Next time, try not to drool on me."

I glance at his pant leg, flushing red when I spy the sizable coin of darkened fabric on his thigh. "Sorry."

"No worries."

He pushes out once again, arms pushed to their limits as his chest rumbles and coughs to rid itself of cobwebs. "What time is it?"

With an exaggerated blink I clear the fog from my eyes, gazing at my watch. "Uh, shit, it's only 4:36."

"Ugh. And I'm wide awake, now."


"Good thing I've got plenty of tunes to occupy our time." Simon grins crawling back to the silent stereo.

"Um, actually, I think I'm going to head to my room and try to go back to sleep anyway."

It's only half a lie. I do plan on crashing again, but hopefully I can find out what Silas wanted on the way. The hatch to his attic is just down the hall from my door. He should still be awake.

"Why? You just said you were wide awake, too."

His eyes are deep sage again only now there's an insistent element involved. And I can't think of response, despite my mouth opening to protest. Simon smirks at the silence.

"See, you can't resist me."

Stating the obvious.

"Just don't drool on my pillow."

He can't be serious.

"I'm not sleeping in your bed, Sy."

"Why not?" He asks, genuinely confused.

Eyeing the bed, I cock an eyebrow at my brother. "It's too small."

"What are you talking about? It's a queen-sized mattress. We used to sleep in it all the time."

I can't help the smirk. "When we were kids! Now, it's barely big enough for you."

Simon quiets for a moment, examining the mattress. A split second later, he grins widely with a casual shrug. "We can squeeze in and cuddle."

The heat fills my face, ears burning and the air catches in my chest. I pray he can't see the blush.


That adorable fucking grin of his never waivers, even as he micro-steps closer and behind me. Confused, I remain stock-still, curious as to what the hell he is doing. When his arms pull my back flush against his chest, my heart races and the blood rushes through every nerve ending.

"Oh, c'mon, little brother. I let you be the little spoon."

When Simon's breath hits my neck, I can't breathe. My head swims as explicit images flash behind my eyes. For a moment, I'm lost. Somehow, I manage to keep my voice even, despite the knot in my stomach.


With a frustrated sigh, he pulls away, flicking my ear. I try to retaliate with a quick jab, but am too slow. Simon easily sidles away from the attack and pushes at my shoulder.

"Fine. We'll sleep on the floor, but the drooling mandate still applies."

I can't say anything, so I simply watch as he kneels down and rummages through the music strewn out on the floor. Apparently, he finds whatever he's looking for and walks on his knees to the stereo, chattering. His words are lost on me because I'm currently incapable of listening.

My mind is rushing, processing, and short-circuiting. Every nerve is still crackling, begging him to come back and touch me again. I'm trying to remember how to move, to bend my knees so I can sit on the floor next to him. I don't tune back in until Simon's stealing the two pillows from his bed, tossing the extra at my head. I barely catch it.

"Lay down, jackass." Simon commands from the floor, settled nicely into his pillow, lids relaxed and half-closed.

I awkwardly hunker down, leaving plenty of space and a river of CD cases between us. As my shoulder touches the floor, Simon rolls to his side, eyeing me strangely.


"Nothing." He responds, lying down and fully closing his eyes.

An expressive tenor's voice fills the space between us, lulling me into a tranquil haze. Only Simon's words can break the trance.

"I think you'll really like this. It's not so heavy as She Wants Revenge, they've got more of a funky soul vibe. Plus, the lyrics," a little moan slips into his throat, forcing it to flex and respond, "the lyrics are like sex."

A lump clogs my throat suddenly and I have to swallow hard. I close my eyes tight, concentrating on slowing my racing hear

Of course, Simon is right. I like this band, very funky, very soulful. Even the more pop-sounding tracks are still mellow and soothing. I don't know exactly how long it takes, but roughly three songs later I'm out like a light.

I start, nearly jumping from my skin when I wake, though there's no outside influence this time. Just little ol' me and whatever forgotten dreamscape machination that formed within my brain. Simon's breathing gently against the fabric of his pillow, pulling it close with hands tucked firmly beneath it, the sound grounding me more firmly in the world.

Instinctively, I reach out and brush his auburn hair from his forehead. He's the only one with any natural red in his blonde hair. It comes from Mom, her color somewhere between copper and sunrise. Simon's color isn't so pronounced, being a deeper shade, almost like brick dust.

It's too early to tell for sure, but Sydney's shaping up to be as platinum as Silas and me. Although, Silas insists on tinting his blonde with random hues, the most recent being the pane of black bangs which always covers his eyes. But Simon, his auburn is pure and untouched by chemicals.

I love his color.

I love him.

I love this man and have no idea how to stop. I need to because it's wrong and seriously fucked-up.

Yet, I don't want to. Loving him makes me happy and joy is in short supply in this household.

The thought reminds me about Silas, and his abrupt exit after kicking me awake.

Gathering myself from the floor, I toss Simon's extra pillow back onto his bed and step to the door. Before leaving, I chance another look at my slumbering brother, debating whether to stay. I want to stay, to lie back down, closer than before and card my fingers through his hair. But right now I know Silas needs me more.

Taking the stairs two at a time, I round the dividing wall just off the kitchen and launch up the second staircase. I pull the string to the attic hatch, the hinges screeching noisily as the ladder unfolds, and begin climbing carefully. I've always mistrusted this damn thing. It creaks and rattles under the slightest weight, but Silas scales it every day, almost attacking the rickety, old ladder with his feet and hands.

"What do you want?" Silas' acid tone sounds out before my eyes can focus, dim light from the desk lamp situated on the floor filling the space.

He's propped up on an elbow with his back to the hatch door, the unmistakable crinkle of magazine pages turning. The pitch black hoodie has been hastily shed and lies in heap behind his knees, his darkly colored tank-top contrasting against his honey-colored skin.

"You wanted to talk to me?" The words form into a question without my consent, but then again we all learned long ago to walk on eggshells when it came to Junior. Don't call him that, by the way.

Without even a glance back, he curtly retorts. "No, I said I was looking for you. And I found you…in fucking Simon's room."

I scoff, mentally berating myself for thinking, even for a second this little bastard needed or wanted anything from me. The ladder creaks as I begin my descent.

"Fine, forget it. Didn't mean to disturb your brooding."

Suddenly, he flips over. "Van?"

I can feel the surprise in my face. "Van?"

Silas looks embarrassed, as though he's been caught peeping in the girl's locker room. Obviously, he hadn't meant to call it out.

"Everyone calls you 'Syl.' Nobody calls you 'Van.'" He states simply, eyes scanning my face, the walls, the floor, but never settling anywhere for more than a split second.

I chuff, feeling a gentle smile curl in on my mouth. "Huh…Van…I could get used to that."

Ever so slightly, the ghost of a grin outlines his lips. It's the first one I've seen in a long time, which wasn't directed at Sydney that is. Though, he only did that when he thought no one was watching.

I gaze to him expectantly but it seems he's forgotten what he wanted to say because he's rolled back over, once again scanning his magazine. I just shrug, more to myself than anyone, and climb back down the ladder.

Before I can fold it up, Silas' head pops over the edge. "Tell Simon to turn the fucking bass down. I can hear it through the goddamn."

I choke on the venom in his voice and jump back when the ladder's yanked up violently. He even retracts the pull string into the ceiling; his blatant 'Leave me the hell alone' gesture.

"What're you doing?"

I flinch harshly in surprise at Simon's voice in my ear.

"Holy shit! Don't do that."

He just snorts, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. "C'mon. Make me breakfast."

"What am I? You're kitchen bitch?"

"Damn straight."