I don't usually spend much time at home. There's always something to be done, and someone to be with; I'm not very close to my family because of this.
Sometimes I forget they exist.
I'm not entirely sure if it's reciprocal.
* * *
Faint music plays whenever I'm home. It changes depending on my mother's mood. Mozart means she's approachable; calm, and welcoming. Bach means she's cold; sharp and isolated. Beethoven means she's blissful; idyllic and amicable. I've never actually heard Beethoven playing in the house.
He tells me Beethoven exists, but he does stay home more often than I do.
In fact, he can be considered a recluse.
I would probably be a recluse, too, if I didn't go out so often. I don't go out to visit with friends, but to seek isolation. My mother thinks I am out with friends, though I probably don't cross her mind much.
I wonder what he thinks. He's always been too smart for his own good.
* * *
I've broken my leg. It's all he's fault, and it isn't. It happens where everything goes wrong; at the top of the stairs. It's a dream I had, involving him, which is why I am tempted to blame it all on him. It isn't a dream I like to remember, and if I hadn't broken my leg, I probably wouldn't be thinking of it right now.
Or maybe I would.
Either way, I storm out of my room in fear—of the dream? Perhaps—and I tumble down the stairs. Because I am simply that stupid.
The worst part is that he is the only one to notice. He's never been a deep sleeper, and his room is downstairs, right near the stairs.
He hurries over to me; panicked and half asleep.
"Are you, okay?"
"I'm fine." I look up at him. My leg stretches unnaturally over my head. "My leg is just broken, that's all."
"Shit!" He yells, loudly, and I shush him, so mother and father don't wake up; they won't, but it's the right thing to do. "It is?"
"I was kidding," I say, and he looks at me, fear waking him up completely. "It's not broken. Just hurt."
"What should I... what happened?"
"I fell down the stairs."
"Why do you think?" I ask and move my leg. Pain sparks and I clinch my teeth together and shut my eyes, so I don't scream.
He lets out a shaky breath and holds the base of my foot. "Should I, can I help you up?"
"Okay," I give in.
He delicately removes my leg from over my head and places it on the floor. "Can you walk on that?"
"I'm going to go with no without even bothering to try," I say. "Just help me up the stairs and we can deal with this—with mother and father—in the morning."
He laughs. It's a fear-stricken, horrified laugh, but it's still laughter, and it helps—a bit. "No way are you going up the stairs. I can barely drag myself up them. You can stay in my room tonight."
I want to say yes, but I know I'm supposed to say no.
I've never been good with self control.
* * *
He's surprisingly gentle when he helps me back to his room. I don't think I've been in his room for years, so I don't recognize anything. There's a poster directly above his bed of some band I don't know.
"It's Nirvana," he finally says when he notices me staring at it.
"Oh," I say shortly and look for something else. "Is that supposed to be a rebel band?"
He laughs again. I like his laugh, so I smile. "No. Well, maybe. Maybe Kurt's the biggest rebel of them all. He's dead, you know."
"Dead?" I repeat. "Why bother liking a dead guy?"
He shrugs. "You're too old. Kind of funny considering he's your generation."
"You're hardly younger than me," I say. I feel old. I take a look at him, who seems so tiny all of a sudden, but the dream starts to come back.
"Two years is a lot," he says. He sits on his bed awkwardly, as though he can't do anything while I'm in the room.
"What do you usually do in your room?" I ask. "Don't let me stop you."
"I was sleeping." He smiles. "It's three in the morning. What were you doing?"
"Being stupid," I say and lie back on his bed. My leg still hurts, though he is nice enough to have brought me an icepack, and I don't want to end up lying on it funny. He stares down at me, mouth open like an idiot. "What?"
He sighs and shakes his head. "Don't lie sideways on my bed. Come here, it's a queen, you know."
"A queen?" I frown. "I only have a single. How ridiculous."
"Well, you're not usually home," he says quietly. "What with friends and all. Maybe they forgot about you."
"Mom and dad."
"Right now. Not normally. Just earlier today; you were out until twelve, weren't you? I was starting to think you weren't coming home at all."
"I wasn't," I say.
He looks at me.
"I was going to stay out, but I forgot my cell phone," I finish and look away. "It doesn't really matter."
"No," he says, and shifts me so I'm lying with my head on the pillow. "Go to sleep."
"You're not my mother," I say, but the bed is so comfy I can't help myself.
* * *
I wake up next to him. It's weird in his bed; it's weird in my bed, but weirder in his. He thinks I'm always out with friends, but I'm not. I'm usually at the library until it closes, and then I just take a walk, because there's nothing my house can give me that a walk can't.
I don't go home. Sometimes the park is nicer. Not usually, but sometimes. I look at his clock. It's already nine fifteen. I take another glance around his room, because I don't think I'll see it again. He only has one poster—Nirvana—and other than that, his room is almost completely bare. He has a bed, a table, and a closet. I wonder what he does with himself, if he never leaves the house, and with how bare he keeps his room.
The pain is back. My leg aches, and I almost wish I was in my own bed, but I know I could never travel safely down the stairs if I was, and it all started with my bed. If I hadn't even left my bed, my leg would still be fine. I stare up at the ceiling; it's all his fault; it's all his fault.
"You awake?" He mumbles.
He yawns for a moment and lies painfully still under the covers. "How's your leg?"
"I don't know. I'm not a doctor."
"Good to know the fall didn't change your attitude," he mutters softly. "Are mom and dad up?"
"I can hear Mozart," I whisper.
He pushes the covers off and sits up. "You want some breakfast?"
I shrug. "I don't think we really have much breakfasty food in the house."
He frowns and sits at the foot of his bed. He reaches under and pulls out a box. "It's okay. Here."
He takes out a candy bar and hands it to me.
I scrutinize it. "You keep a stash of candy bars under your bed?"
He avoids eye contact. "Like you said, we don't really have breakfast food."
I hum in agreement. "When did we get all awkward?"
"What?" He looks up at me.
"You don't have to be all jumpy around me," I say. "I'm just your brother."
"This is just how I act," he says quietly, but I can tell he's lying.
"Okay," I say and bite into the chocolate.
It tastes so very bitter.
"Thanks," I say nonetheless. He smiles briefly and sits back on the bed. "You're not going to eat?"
"I don't think so," he says and sighs. "You have to go to a doctor."
"I know," I say, but neither of us move.
* * *
It's stupid to make him drive, but he insists. He's only learning, but I can't drive with my crap leg. He basically attacks the doctor whenever he says anything, worried I'll lose the use of my leg forever.
It's stupid. He's the smart one, yet he can't wrap it around his mind that I'm fine.
Sometimes it seems like he's not smart at all.
"Do you want to stop for lunch?" He asks. We've taken mother's car, but she will never notice. She never drives anymore; she's always at home nowadays.
"I actually have plans today," I lie. In a way, I do, but the library is always going to be there. I look down to avoid his unnerving gaze.
"Oh," he says shortly. "I don't think you should be walking on that leg."
He means it in all sincerity; he doesn't care that I'm busy. I felt a twitch of pain in my leg.
"You're right," I say. "When mother finds out, she'll throw a fit. I'll just stay at home today."
We both know she won't notice, but he slaps on an unfitting smile and drives me home.
* * *
One day turns into two, and then three, and I've been home an entire week. I haven't been home for an entire week since I was eleven.
I've been spending most of my time in his room. I can't walk up the stairs with my leg, so I've been told to stay in his room until it heals. Mother says he can use my room since I've taken his, but he doesn't seem ready to move.
She gives him a glance, one that's so short and unusual neither of us pay much attention to it. But it's there.
"Let's do something," he says after a week of staying in his room.
I look up from my book. He never sees me read, so I figure he thinks it's for school. Typically, I would be at the library at the moment, reading, but he seems to like keeping me at home, which I don't mind as much as I thought I would. Maybe things have changed since I stopped coming home. "Pardon?"
He smiles. "You've been stuck in the house for an entire week now. I didn't think that was possible. You must miss hanging out with your friends."
There's a thin layer of self-deprecation hidden in his words.
"Are you sure? I figure we could do something outside so you're not completely and utterly stuck in the house, considering how often you usually go out."
"All right, I guess."
"Where?" He asks.
I study him for a minute. "The library?"
He seems happy enough. He probably thinks I chose it for him, instead of my own selfishness. I feel a bit of guilt as he helps me out of the room.
"Where do you go all the time?" He finally asks as we arrive at the library. "You never bring any friends to our house, so I just wonder sometimes."
I look at him. "Would you bring friends to our house?"
He flinches, and he doesn't say anything.
We enter the library and he stifles a groan. I give him a look. He nudges his head to the rack of nearby books where a young girl is standing.
"Elaborate," I say.
He looks down. "I'd rather not."
I shrug, and take his hand, dragging him across the lobby. He relaxes and allows himself to be taken. I look stupid holding onto him with a cast and crutches walking incredibly slow, and it attracts all the attention I don't want, but he's happy, so I'm happy. He stops me soon enough and wraps an arm around my waist, helping me walk easier.
"I can do it," I say.
"Oh? Hi!" The girl who he previously pointed out notices him quickly.
He gives a sheepish smile, brought upon merely from hatred and fear, instead of happiness. "Hi."
"What are you doing here?" She puts her book down and smiles.
"Just here." Normally, he isn't very talkative, but he's taking it to a new level. He points to me. "My brother."
I snort and he sends me a look. "Hey."
She frowns. "Oh, what happened to you?"
"I fell down the stairs," I explain.
"Ouch." She cringes.
I nod. "Well, we should get going. Nice meeting you."
"Yeah." She smiles at him. "Nice seeing you again."
"If you ever need anything—"
"I don't," he interrupts, keeping his eyes on the floor. "We should get going.."
The girl nods and goes back to her book.
"What was that about?" I ask out of range.
"Was she a girlfriend or something?"
It seems to hit a nerve, as he flinches visibly. "No. Just forget it."
"What's her name?"
"I don't know. Whatever you want it to be."
I sigh and he helps me walk the rest of the way to our section, but he might as well be playing Bach.
"Do you even read outside of school?" He asks me. He's always had a way of being sincere without patronizing anyone. I can tell he's not acting snarky, but rather truly interested in my answer.
"Sometimes," I say, because it's a better answer than 'yes'.
He smiles a bit and removes a book from the shelf. "You should read this."
I shrug. "Okay, let's get it."
It's stupid to go to the library for only one book, especially in my condition, but I have been missing the library. I also have to wonder if I'm missing out on him growing up. I end up silent on the way home, and I think it scares him.
* * *
He wants to read it to me. The book, 'Endless Sleep', is one of his favorites apparently, and he's eager to read it again.
I think I'll let him, because I like his voice.
He starts reading it when we arrive home. He's so into it he hardly realizes he's reading to me. We sit on his bed with a few candy bars thrown around. I lie back, savoring the space, as he reads excitedly, pushed up against the wall.
"'There's a sign? You must have missed it when we arrived,' Harper said. She started up the car and threw a glance to James. 'The sooner we get out of this place the better, and a sign would have made everything so much easier.' The sky was bleak and dark, forcing James to turn on a flashlight for Harper," he reads.
I listen, not taking in most of the words, but enjoying the sound. My hands clasp together and I stare at the ceiling. It seems to swirl, and when I finally tear my eyes away from it, he is staring at me. He's stopped reading, for how long I'm not sure, and he's simply staring.
"Are you okay?" I ask.
He swallows difficulty. He puts the book down and gives a weak smile. "Dinner time."
Dinner is something I haven't done in a long time. Mother looks a bit surprised to see me, but collects herself quick enough for me to think I might be imagining things. Father seems more interested in my presence.
"It's not like you to be home for dinner." Father stares right at me.
"I broke my leg," I say. I'm not sure how father doesn't know about it, but father is rarely home. "I'm going to let it heal for a while, so I'm not going out too often."
Bach plays quietly. I try to keep my mouth shut for the rest of the dinner.
He helps me back to his room after dinner. By this time, is should feel like a prison, but instead it feels like home.
I haven't been home in so long.
He picks up 'Endless Sleep' and sits for a while, not moving, not reading.
"Mom's sick, you know," he finally says quietly.
"Huh?" I look over at him, away from the ceiling. I've grown to enjoy his presence more than the book, or the ceiling, but it's safer to be caught staring at the walls.
"Mom's sick," he repeats. "Dad doesn't know. I didn't even know, but I saw her medical problems when she left them on the kitchen counter." He looks down. "No one else ventures throughout the house during the day, so it's not surprising I was the one to find it. I wanted to tell someone, but who am I supposed to tell? Obviously, mom doesn't want dad to know if she hasn't told him, and I couldn't tell you because you're never home. I don't have any friends, so..."
"How sick is she?" I ask.
"I don't know," he says. "She has leukemia."
My breath hitches. "Leukemia?"
He nods, and keeps his eyes away from mine. "I don't know what stage, though, or what kind. Please, don't tell dad."
I purse my lips. "Keep reading."
* * *
It's two in the morning. Slowly, he quiets down while reading, and soon he's asleep, the book over his chest. Handel is playing quietly in the background. I'm not sure what it means; I'll have to ask him in the morning. The moon shines through his window, giving me easy light. I watch him sleep. His hair is starting to get long, but I doubt anyone will notice. His hair is a nice brown that I'm not completely sure how he received. The rest of my family—including me—has black hair. Maybe it's a sign of how different he really is from the rest of us.
I don't like to be clumped together with my parents, but I know I'm more like them than him.
The dream starts to return as my head becomes hazy. It's about him; it's always about him. I remember it almost perfectly; the feel of his hand and the sight of his brilliant smile. Tears run down his cheeks; he's crying; he's crying because of me.
"Why're you up?" he slurs. His eyes are half open, dazed and heavy.
"Couldn't sleep," I say. It's half true. "What's Handel?"
He instantly understands. "She's crying."
We're all crying.
He shifts around. "Do you want me to read more?"
"It's okay," I say. He and I lay in the bed silently.
He leans on his arm to peer over at me. "Why aren't you tired? Are you used to staying out all night long?"
The park isn't as warm as the house. Maybe I've been wrong all along. "I guess. I'm a little tired, but I have too much on my mind."
"Tell me," he says. "It'll help. I might be able to help, and if not, I can just be an ear to talk to."
"I can't," I say. I honestly can't; he will think I am a freak.
His face falls. "Oh."
"It's okay," I say. "No one knows."
It doesn't look like it makes him feel better.
* * *
He's eating a candy bar when I wake up.
It reminds me of something, but I can't place my finger on it.
"Mom's at the doctor's today," he says, "so we don't have a car to go anywhere."
"It's okay. I was thinking of just staying home anyway. Maybe a movie marathon?"
He perks up a bit. "All right! Dad's at work so we have the house to ourselves."
It seems so very similar I pause for a moment, trying to make the recollection. "Say that again."
He raises an eyebrow. "Dad's at work so we have the house to ourselves."
"Dad's at work so we have the house to ourselves," he says with a smile.
I smile back hesitantly. My arm is wrapped around his, and we're sitting on the smaller couch in the living room. "That's nice."
"Yeah," he says and rests his head on my shoulder.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, never mind."
"What do you want to watch?"
"It doesn't matter," I say and stand up, collecting my crutches. "I'll go take a shower."
He stills before nodding. "I'll pick out some movies."
It's the longest shower I've ever taken. Showering with a cast is not easy; I have to keep it out of water, making it difficult to even stand. When I walk out, I hear a movie playing faintly.
Music is still playing; it's always playing. Mozart is taking his turn. I head to the living room where he is fiddling with the menu screen.
"Hey," I say. "What movie?"
"I figured we could watch anything by Jerry Bruckheimer. Not everything, of course. But a lot. Right now 'Enemy Of The State' is on. I just can't get the remote to work."
I hobble over to him and sit down cautiously. Putting my crutches aside, I lean over and grab the remote. He's stubborn, so he doesn't let go. I push a few buttons, and the previews starts.
He frowns. "It was taking me ages to get it to work. What did you do?"
I shrug. "Nothing much."
"I'll go get popcorn," he says, "and my box."
The movie starts, but I can't focus too much on it. He returns with his box of candy bars and a big bowl of popcorn.
He smiles. "Man, we haven't done something like this in years!"
I nod. When my leg heals, does he expect me to go back to hanging out with 'friends' all the time? He likes the library; I like the library. I'm not sure why I don't just invite him along with me. Perhaps I like the isolation, but I also like spending time with him, because it seems he enjoys the isolation just as much as I do.
"Mom will be back in a few hours," he says.
I look over at him—we're sitting on the smaller couch—and it's so similar that I have to just try, so I wrap my arm around him.
He looks at me oddly with an uneasy smile.
I feel better.
It passes, though, when he leans his head on my shoulder.
I don't believe him; I don't think Beethoven exists.
"Is your leg feeling better?"
"A bit. I just hope I can get the cast off, soon."
"We can go back tomorrow," he says. "When we have the car." He looks down. "Mom doesn't usually go to the doctors. Normally, she just ignores it. I think she's out of medication, though."
"It'll be okay," I say, because I'm the older brother, and I shouldn't be feeling younger than him.
He shifts and his hair ruffles my cheek. I shouldn't feel like this; I shouldn't feel like the dream.
"I miss you," he says. "You're never around anymore. How silly must I sound?"
"It's not silly," I say. I pull him closer. "Sometimes I miss you, too."
His mouth is closer, so I can hear his breath easier. It hitches, but soon regulates.
"I really miss you," he says. I look down at him; he looks up at me.
I don't like to think of the end of the dream.
* * *
"The movie's over," he announces.
I think I've fallen asleep. My mouth feels dry, and my eyes shoot open when he starts talking.
"You must be tired." His tone is taut. He's staring straight at the rolling credits, as though I've done something wrong.
I've done so many things wrong.
"Let's watch another move," I say. It's already ten; we've watched four or five movies at this point, and I wonder where mother and father are. Mother should be home by now, considering she has only gone to the doctors. Father, however, doesn't arrive home until at least ten-thirty. I wonder if mother is all right.
'Bad Boys' is put in soon enough, and he retreats to his position on the couch. Fifteen minutes into the movie—the popcorn has already vanished, and he refuses to give out any more of his candy—he leans down and rests his head on my lap.
"Are you asleep?" I ask.
He doesn't reply, but I know he's awake.
I'm disgusting; instead of pushing him off, I let my hands find his hair.
It's so goddamn soft.
And I'm so goddamn disgusting.
He eventually does fall asleep on my lap. One of my hand rests comfortable on his hair, and the other holds onto his shoulder to keep his balance. Twenty to midnight, our mother walks through the door. I squint to see her in the near darkness. She stares at us. Her expression is unreadable, and she clutches her purse closer. She hurries off, leaving me to wonder what she's thinking.
Soon enough, Bach is playing with Handel following.
Father doesn't come home that night.
He sleeps on my lap all night. I don't want to bother him, so I stay in the living room, listening to the late night talk shows and early morning weather. My leg doesn't feel as much pain as it did before, but it might merely be my mind tricking me.
When he wakes up in the morning, he stiffens. I can tell he's awake because of his slight movement, but he doesn't seem ready to move from my lap.
"Are you awake?" He asks me.
"Yeah," I say. He seems to contemplate my answer, but decides not to move.
"Did we stay here all night?"
"I'm not sure how to answer that."
"When did mom get home?"
"Not home yet."
"Oh." He looks at the floor. "Candy?"
"Not today," I say.
* * *
Three days later, we take mother out for a late lunch. It seems like the right thing to do, but I don't think that's why I did it. She doesn't talk much, not anymore. Maybe she never did, but I don't remember, because it's been so long. He sits next to me, and across from mother. He looks a little more relaxed. I'm envious, but it's probably due to the fact that I never spend any time around my mother; it makes our time together awkward.
"Isn't it nice out, mom?" He asks.
She nods slowly. I can't tell what she's thinking. "You two have been spending a lot of time together."
We share a glance.
"Well," I start. "I broke my leg, and he's been a real help to me. I can't go out that much, so it's nice to spend some time at home with him."
"Mmm," she says. She sips her tea. "You two should take a break from each other."
"Pardon?" I say.
Her sharp gaze locks on me. In my mind, I hear Bach playing. "I said, you two should take a break from each other. You don't want to end up bickering, do you?"
He stays quiet.
"Honey," she says, directed at him, "will you drive me to the doctors after lunch? I need to go in for a checkup..."
"I know, mom," he says. "Leukemia."
She purses her lips, and refuses to look at either of us for the rest of the meal. He looks at me, desperate, but I look away, because I have nothing to give him.
With the way mother looks at me in the car later, I know I wasn't supposed to come along for the trip to the doctors. He drives, and she sits in the front seat. I sit in the back, out of place, out of mind. The radio is on, and Wagner starts playing. I'm not sure what that is; I ask him.
"I'm not sure, either," he says. He glances at me through the mirror, and my mother sits so very still.
The doctor's office is quieter than the car ride. Mother receives a few more suggestions and hopeful 'feel better's. It doesn't seem to help her much, but it seems to calm him.
"We should go somewhere after this," he whispers to me while the doctor is talking to mother.
"The park?" I suggest.
He looks surprised, but seems pleased.
"I haven't been here in forever," he says as he sits on the grass. It's unusually sunny outside, despite it being summer. The sun stays close to the ground. "It's weird thinking that once summer is over, you're going off to college."
I stare at him. He stares back.
"I've been thinking about it," he continues. "Ever since you've broken you're leg, we've spent a lot of time together. Before that, though, you were never around. I guess that's what it's going to be like when school starts. I mean, I thought I had become accustomed to you being gone all the time—maybe I even liked when you were gone, because then I wouldn't have to be sad when you left—but I'm not used to it anymore. You've been back around for what, two weeks? I already can tell I'm going to miss you at this point."
"Yeah," I say. "I guess so."
He cringes. I'm not sure what I said wrong, or what I'm supposed to say.
"It's okay," I say, and stretch out. It's nice to let my leg rest on the cool grass. The doctor says I only need it on for another few months. By the time school starts again, I'll probably have it off. "You can visit me."
He nods, solemn. "You know that girl we saw at the library?"
He looks off into the distance. It's been two hours since we dropped mother off at home, and the sun is already beginning to set. "She moved here right before school ended, around May. She didn't go to class, but she moved close to us."
I vaguely remember seeing a 'sold' sign.
"She saw me driving home from the store one day," he continues. "She approached me first. I didn't have time to deal with her; I was out buying food for dinner. She didn't take no for an answer, though. She bugged me until I went outside and sat with her. She talked nonstop the entire time. I couldn't get a word in—not that I wanted one—and suddenly she was standing up above me, smiling, and saying 'we should do this again sometime'. I haven't sought out her presence after the meeting, but she has a way of finding me. She will find me at the library, or the store, or whenever I step foot outside. She—she knows me."
"She knows you?"
He looks down, almost ashamed. "She knows my secrets."
"I haven't told her anything," he swears. He's quiet for a minute. When he looks back up at me, he's crying.
I'm stunned into silence.
"She found me in my room. I don't know how she got in—or I do, I don't know, dad was calling out to me saying something about someone at the door for me—and she found m—me in my room..."
He looks up at her. "What are you doing here? How'd you get in?"
She smiles. "Your dad let me in."
"My dad's at work."
Her smile vanishes. "Oh. Hmm. Funny."
She sits on the bed next to him. He scoots away from her, to the end of the bed.
"What do you want?"
"I just wanted to talk," she says. "How are you?"
"I'm fine. Please, leave me alone. I'm busy."
"Busy? With what?" She looks around his room.
"Stop it," he orders, and pushes her away a bit. "Please, get off my bed."
She bounces a bit, smiling, ignoring him. "It's so comfy, though."
He picks up his abandoned book, and looks down at the words.
She frowns. "Why don't you like me?"
"I want to be your girlfriend," she says.
"I don't—I don't, what?" He sputters.
"I want to be your girlfriend," she repeats, with more confidence this time. "Please? I want to get to know you better."
"No," he says.
"Why?" She pries.
"I don't want you to be my girlfriend," he says. "I don't particularly like you, no offense. You're too energetic for me."
She purses her lips. "You want a boyfriend, don't you?"
He frowns, confused. "What? I'm not gay."
She adverts her eyes. "I've seen you with him."
"He's my brother, you know," she hisses. "Would you rather have him?"
"Him?" He repeats. "He's my friend. That's all."
"She brings him into my room," he says. "She brings her brother into my room. I'm not even sure why they're all there. They're all in my room, and I hate it; I hate when people invade my space. He says that he doesn't want anything to do with me anymore, and that I disgust him." He closes his eyes. "He says I'm a monster, and they leave together."
"You're gay?" I whisper.
Tears stream down his face. "Don't hate me, please. Don't hate me."
"I don't hate you," I say. "Promise."
He's crying harder now. "I don't get how she could have found out. I don't even like her brother. I talked to him once, once at the store. I can't even be friends with him, now. He hates me. He hates me so much."
I lean in and give him a hug. He lets me hug him for a moment, until he wriggles out of it.
"Please," he says. "Don't."
* * *
"I've never even kissed a guy," he whispers in my ear. We sit on the couch together, watching mindless television. Mother is in her room, possibly reading, possibly crying; Handel is playing. Father is still at work; it's only nine. "Because—because it's wrong."
I glance at him, taken back. "It's not wrong."
He furrows his eyebrows.
"It's not wrong," I repeat. "It doesn't matter if you like boys, or girls, or both. As long as you're happy."
"God," he says shortly.
"God doesn't hate gays," I say. "Where did you hear that?"
"Dad," he says.
"Father is wrong," I say. "If you're gay, it can't possibly be wrong."
His face wrinkles up and he starts crying again.
I'm not sure if I'm doing more harm than I am helping.
* * *
"I believe you," he says that night. All the lights are turned off, all the sound missing—except for Mozart playing softly—and we're sitting on his bed. "Maybe being gay isn't so wrong after all."
He tries to smile back. Instead, he reads to me until three in the morning, when father arrives home. His voice trickles down into a whisper when he hears the front door open. We stare at each other, befuddled. I can see him easily now, as my eyes have become used to seeing in the dark.
"Dad's home," he mumbles.
I nod quickly. "Should we go say hi?"
"I don't... maybe," he finally says.
We don't find a solution to the problem, because his door slams open. He jumps, startled.
Father stares at us. "Why aren't you two asleep?"
I glance at him; he looks horribly afraid, so I jump in. "He was asleep; I just got up to get a glass of water, and I woke him up by accident."
"Why aren't you upstairs, boy?" Father looks at him. "Go, and stop bothering your brother."
"It's fine," I say. "It is his bed after all."
Father doesn't say anything, but soon leaves, steps heard in the distance before stopping completely.
He's holding his breath. "Why did you lie?"
I stare at him, unsure of what to say.
"Why didn't you just tell him the truth? We were just reading," he says.
"Does father know you're gay?" I ask.
He blushes. "No. And shh! I don't want him overhearing anything."
I try to ask him something else, but he doesn't want to talk; he puts the book down, turns over, and tries to sleep.
That night I dream that I remember the dream.
I'm disturbingly successful.
It's just a kiss. It's just a kiss, but I can list so many other things wrong with it. He looks horribly stunned after it.
"I'm sorry," I say. "I didn't mean to do that."
He looks at me, mouth shut, so I know he won't speak. I want him to say something, anything, but he just stares at me, forever, and ever.
* * *
Father doesn't speak to us in the morning. Mother attempts to walk around, making breakfast; she's hallucinating I believe; she thinks we have a huge family we need to feed at this exact moment. She nearly passes out. Father doesn't notice, but we do.
I finish making breakfast; he helps her to her seat and mutters comforting words as they both start crying. I pass around the bacon and eggs and toast, and no one eats any of it. Father reads the newspaper, as though nothing has happened.
After father leaves for work, mother starts babbling about her daughter, and how she needs to find her.
I look at him, at his crying, red face, and sigh.
"She wants her daughter," he keeps saying, "she doesn't have a daughter."
"I know," I say, and I'm more scared than I should be. "I know."
We take her to the hospital later that day. The doctor says we should be taking her to a psychiatrist or something of the sort. In the end, we do; she says that mother perhaps has schizophrenia. I can't say I'm very surprised.
We look at each other.
"Mom has leukemia and schizophrenia," he says, and his tears have tried, but they look like they're coming back. "Can we go home?"
While he is sitting with mother, I talk to the doctor. She mentions treatment, and I agree to risperidone, as does she.
The first few days, it doesn't seem to work. Eventually, she's walking around more, fretting less, but quieter. I don't talk to her much, though I never have.
"I miss mom," he says. "I think it's gotten worse over the years. I remember when she was more social, more normal."
I hand him a candy bar; it shuts him up.
* * *
"I really love you," he says.
I smile, because I know I'm dreaming.
* * *
"I had a weird dream last night," he says.
I stare at him; I can't tell if he's lying or not.
"You were in it," he says. "I was at home with you, and dad was gone, and mom was gone. I don't know where they were, but they were gone; everyone was gone. It was just you and me, only you and me."
"No one else?" I ask.
He shakes his head. "No one else existed."
* * *
He takes hold of my hand. "Where are you going?"
"No where," I say. We stare off into the distance. "I love you, too."
* * *
It's another park day, and we sit on the grass together: my hurt leg stretching out, relaxing. He lies on the grass, letting his head rest on my lap. We sit and watch the nearly nonexistent clouds together.
"Do you miss visiting with friends?" I ask. "You've just been hanging out with me."
He thinks for a moment. "I don't have any friends."
I snort. "You have a few friends."
"Cobain. Kurt Cobain," he laughs. "He's my best and only friend."
"Your friend is dead," I point out.
"Oh no!" He fakes, and laughs again. "Seriously. You know I don't have friends. Way to rub it in."
I shrug. "Sorry, sorry."
"What about you?" He asks. "You miss your friends?"
I don't know what to say; I shouldn't lie, so I don't: "I don't have any friends, either."
There's a silence.
He starts giggling. "Nice one. Seriously, though."
"I don't," I admit. "I don't have friends. When you think I'm out partying, I'm at the library, alone."
There's a longer silence.
He stands up and walks away.
I would follow, but my leg hurts.
* * *
He doesn't talk to me during dinner that night. He lets me stay in his room, but he doesn't talk to me. Mother has taken to going to group therapy; her condition is becoming better, both with leukemia and schizophrenia. Father doesn't come home, so it's only us.
We stare at each other while eating dinner. I make macaroni and cheese for him, because I know it's his favorite. He eats it, but he doesn't thank me.
I don't blame him; I'm disgusting.
We eat it on his bed, because it's easier for me. He doesn't mention the mess, even though I know he usually hates eating in his room, which is why I can't figure out why he let me. He reads 'Endless Sleep' on his bed after dinner. I sit next to him and wish he would read it to me again; I wish everything could go back to normal, before mother was sick, and before father didn't come home, and before we became strangers; I don't remember that time well.
"I'll read to you," he finally says, "if you stop making that face."
"My leg hurts," I defend. "Of course I'm making a face."
He hands me the bottle of ibuprofen he keeps on his bedside table. "There was a break in the wind, allowing James to grab Harper's hand and pull her out of the open road. "You're absolutely ridiculous," James laughed. He was tired, and dirty as Hell, but he was alive; they were both alive. Harper smiled and brought him into a kiss as the rain fell, washing them away."
I watch him. "Why do you like the book?"
He turns to me. "You're not even excited to talk about the ending?"
I smile; he honestly hasn't changed. "No, I am. I was just wondering."
"I don't know," he says. "There's something about it."
"Wishing some guy would kiss you passionately in the rain after almost dying?" I tease.
He laughs; it's a real laugh, but it involves more pain than I thought something as joyful as a laugh could ever hold. "Shut up. I like the philosophical part of the book."
"Philosophical part? It took up not even an entire chapter!"
He shrugs. "You take what you can get, man. It's not often you come across a book that has action and philosophy."
"You're all I need," he says. "Why'd you have to be my brother?"
I glance at him. "The world works in funny ways."
"Let's kill ourselves; we'll be together," he kids, or maybe he doesn't; I can't tell.
"Let's not," I say, but maybe I'm kidding; I can't tell.
"So, can you find any underlying meaning in my words?" I ask.
He smiles, but I'm not sure what it means.
"Goodnight," he says, even if it's only eleven. He turns off his lamp, and turns over.
I'm annoyed; I'm not sure why, but I'm annoyed, so I shuffle around the best I can—while keeping leg elevated with plenty of pillows—over to him. I wrap my arm around him. At first, he moves away. I scoot closer again, and he allows me this time. I pull him closer, and he relaxes, leaning back into me.
"Goodnight," I whisper to him.
* * *
It's probably only because of how close we're sleeping.
"You're cold," I say.
He shakes a bit more. "I'm fine. It's just because it's winter."
"I'll get us a blanket," I say.
I stand up and walk up the stairs. It's all different. There are pictures of other people, not him, not me.
Father appears in front of me.
"You're disgusting," father spits.
"I know," I say, and I slide past, grabbing a blanket. I go back downstairs to give it to him, but father is there instead.
"You're disgusting," father repeats.
"I know," I say again, and walk over to try to find him.
He's at the end of the couch, trembling and smiling at me.
"I won't let you corrupt him," father says, right before stabbing me.
It's probably only because of how close we're sleeping.
I wake up to him truly shivering. I tug him closer, and try to clear my mind.
"Thanks," he mumbles.
I close my eyes, and I don't want to sleep, but I do.
* * *
The medication doesn't seem to be working so well on mother anymore. I drive her to the doctor's today. He sits in the back, catching my eye whenever I try to look out the mirror at the traffic.
"You two are close," mother comments, "very close."
"Yes," he says. "Since his leg has been broken, I spend more time with him."
"His leg broken?" She asks. "Did you break it?" She stares at him wickedly from the passenger seat. "I bet you broke it."
His lower lip trembles, and I cough from the front.
"He didn't break it," I say. "I fell. It was my fault."
"You shut it," she snaps at me. "You've ruined him. You just keep driving."
He starts crying when mother grabs the steering wheel and tries to drive us into a ditch ten minutes later.
To be honest, I start crying, too.
* * *
Mother is weak when we return. The leukemia is starting to take a toll on her. The doctors say to bring her back in a few days.
"It'll be okay," I insist, because he's crying again.
She starts feeding a cat we don't have.
"Maybe we should get her a cat," he says through hiccupped cries.
"No, we shouldn't," I digress.
I make him lunch, because no one else will.
He watches as mother pets, pets, pets a cat that isn't there.
He eats the turkey sandwich I make him, I think.
Mother goes to bed, as do we. It's only one in the afternoon, and we don't actually sleep, but I think it calms him down.
We sit on his bed, holding each other quietly.
"I don't want mom to be sick," he cries.
I pet his hair like he's a cat.
* * *
She's back. The door opens, and I think it's father, but it's not.
"Hi," she greets. She sees me holding him tightly, and I can only begin to imagine what she's thinking.
"Hi," he greets coolly. "What are you doing here?"
"Your dad let me in."
"He's at work," he says in a frightened voice. I look at him, worried.
She maneuvers over and sits down next to us. I frown.
"Hi again," she says to me.
"Hi," I say. "What are you doing here?"
She looks away. "Just saying hi. How are things?"
"Fine," he spits. "Leave me alone, please."
"I heard your mother has leukemia."
He shuts his eyes. "Where on earth did you hear that?"
She shrugs. "My brother."
"Where did he hear that?"
"You'd have to ask him." She smiles.
He narrows his eyes. "You know I don't talk to him."
"Tough luck, I suppose," she says. "Your bed is comfy. How's your leg?"
"Better," I confess. "You should get going, soon. It's getting rather late."
"It's five in the afternoon," she laughs. "It's not late."
"I want to be alone," he says, and I sigh.
She nods. "All right. I'll respect that. I'll see you later."
I don't say anything, because I know she's right.
He covers his face shamefully.
"She's horrid," I say.
"I know," he says. "I can't do anything about it, though."
"Why did you get so afraid?" I ask.
"Because it sounded so familiar," he says. "I didn't want a repeat of anything. How could she possibly figure out about mom?"
I shake my head. "Lord knows how. Want me to read something?"
He shrugs, which I take as a yes. I pick out another book we checked out from the library, and start reading.
I read to him for hours. The door clicks open, and father is home; it's midnight. I look at him; he looks weary.
"Are you hungry?" I whisper.
"Extremely," he realizes and holds his stomach, which growls. "I wish we had figured that out before dad arrived home, however."
"He's going to come in here," I say, "and berate us for being awake."
"I know," he says with a sigh. We hear father's footsteps coming closer, so he throws a blanket over us, helps elevate my leg, and feigns sleep. I can feel father's gaze on us, and I stay perfectly still. Finally, father leaves, and I glance at him.
"I'm hungry," he whispers.
I hand him a candy bar from the box.
He scowls, but he eats it, because it's something.
* * *
In the morning, I make him a larger breakfast to make up for the nonexistent dinner the night before.
Father stares. "Son, come with me to work today."
He looks at father. "I'd rather not. I have a few things to do."
"Son," father barks.
I look over. "Go with him."
He looks at me with a frown, but he goes.
I'm left alone with mother. I make her tea and bring it to her in bed. She stares up at me; she thinks I'm her daughter.
"Thank you, sweetie," she says. "Thank God I had one daughter, instead of just two disappointment sons."
I smile for her.
She smiles back, and it's enough, even if it's not for me.
I stay by her bedside and read her a book until she falls asleep. I slip out, knowing I'll be her son by the time she wakes up.
It's nice while it lasts.
* * *
The day is boring without him. I sit on his bed all day, rereading books, and watching television. I've moved the small television into his room, as no one else even watches it. My leg twitches a bit, and I ignore it, because I'm too tired to even bother anymore. He and father return home late, near one. I pretend to be asleep, and listen to their conversation.
"It was… good having you at work, son," father says.
"I don't like your work," he says.
"You'll like it soon enough."
He sighs, and heads into his room. "Are you still awake?"
"Uh huh," I mumble from the bed. He slips in next to me and gives me a hug. I hug him back warily. He doesn't let go for some time, and when he does, I tell him I've moved the television into his room. He puts in 'Endless Sleep', and we watch the movie version of it on repeat until morning.
"What did you do at father's work?" I ask him.
He shrugs. "Not much. He went into his office cubical and made sure I didn't come in. I believe the only reason he brought me was to keep me away from you, which I still don't entirely understand the reason for. Either way, it was boring, and I hope I never have to do it again.
I smile slightly. "He didn't talk to you at all?"
"Not a word," he huffs.
* * *
Mother is still sleeping; she's been sleeping for two days straight at this point. I have to wake her up to take her to the doctor's office. She isn't happy; Bach is playing. The doctors say she's going to have to stay at the doctors overnight, just in case.
"We'll pick her up tomorrow," I say.
He looks at me. "Okay."
"Want to get some ice cream?" I smile.
Smiling back, he nods.
Maybe it's time I start making healthy food for him, instead of filling him with junk. He seems happy enough with the ice cream, though; he's laughing again as he mischievously turns the radio channel when my eyes fall to the road.
He spills a bit on the seat. "Oh."
"It's okay," I say, "if you give me a bite."
He grins and pushes the ice cream up to my mouth. I lick a bit at it and he starts laughing. He brings the ice creak back to his own mouth and takes a big bite. My smile strains, and I try not to watch him; I end up watching him.
"Are you sure it's okay?" I ask.
His lips curl up. "I love you."
I smile back. "I love you, too, but…"
"It's okay," he whispers. "Just don't think about it."
* * *
He buys a cat.
"You're ridiculous," I say.
"It's for mom," he says.
"She won't want it."
He hugs the cat closer. It purrs. "She'll want it."
I ruffle his hair. The cat slips out the back a few hours later, and I don't stop it. Either he doesn't notice, or he doesn't care.
A few days pass, and he follows father to work time after time.
"I really hate it," he tells me. "But he wants me to go so badly. I don't understand."
"I think he doesn't want us spending time together," I say.
He looks stunned. "Why? Why is everyone so freaked out about us spending so much time together? Yes, it's not usually how we spend our time, but we are brothers; brothers who get along. Is there something wrong with that?"
I shrug. "It's best not to think about it."
He sighs. We sit wearily on his bed. "All of this is making me tired. I just don't want to think anymore at all."
I smile a bit. "I know. It'll be okay, though. Trust me."
He rests his head on my shoulder. My arm wraps around his waist. He snuggles closer; he shouldn't, but he does.
"You're soft," he mumbles.
I swallow. This shouldn't be happening. He lets his head fall to my lap, and he looks up at me, smiling. His eyes are half open, and he's laughing, though I'm not sure why. He raises his hand and cups my cheek.
"I'm just so tired," he says. "I don't want to bother anymore."
"I'm so tired of pretending this doesn't exist," he says.
"What's this?" I ask.
He smiles hesitantly, leans in, and kisses me.
I kiss back without delay. He tastes like candy.
He leans up and kisses me.
I close my eyes. "You can't."
He lies back down, and looks up without blinking. "I can't what?"
I give an uneasy smile. "You know what you can't. You're just proving what father has been worrying about."
He looks off at his wall. "That took a lot of courage, you know. You're not going to freak out, are you?"
"No," I say. "I'm not. That doesn't make it okay, though."
"You said it was okay," he says quietly. "I love you."
My fingers tangle in his hair—it's something I can touch; I want to touch him, God I want to touch him—and I stroke his head. "I love you, too."
He curls up. "I love you too much."
"I know," I say. "I do, too."
* * *
He lies on me until bed.
"I don't want to move," he says. "Please don't make me move."
"Father will be home soon."
"I don't care," he says in a fierce whisper. "Let him see whatever the Hell he doesn't want to see."
I pat his head.
"I didn't go out with him because of you," he says quietly. "Her brother. I guess now it's because of his homophobia, but I actually thought something could come of us. We talked at the store a lot, and I almost asked him out, but I was waiting." He looks at me. "I was waiting for you. I thought it was stupid—we hadn't hung out in years, and at first it was only hero worship I had for you—but ever since you broke your leg, I thought—I thought maybe there was a possibility.
"It's been there. It's always been there; ever since I was little. Perhaps hero worship did turn into more, but nonetheless, it's still there. I love you." He stares at me. "And I'd give up anything to be with you. Please, just give me this chance."
"It isn't about chances," I say, but my voice is wavering; by the light up of his eyes, it rises his hopes. "This is about the fact that we're brothers."
"Stop being the responsible one for once," he says. "Stop trusting your instincts. Stop trusting our parents."
I give him a half smile. "This isn't about trusting our parents, because I sure as Hell don't trust a word that comes out of their mouths. You have to listen to me. It can't happen."
"I was awake," he says. "When you were dreaming."
He looks up at me; I look down at him. He struggles off of my lap and sits next to me against the wall.
"What are you talking about?" I ask.
"When you fell down the stairs," he explains. "I—I was up. That was right after she had brought in her brother. A few days, maybe. I knew we didn't really talk that much, but I figured I could talk to you, at least more than I could talk to mom or dad. I was on my up the stairs to talk to you when I heard you. I stood at the top of the stairs, listening to the door. You were scared of something, I wasn't sure what at the time. You kept saying 'Oh shit, oh shit' and I was confused. You were saying 'not him, anyone but him'. You, you said my name.
"Maybe it wasn't the smartest thing to say, but why would you ever think anyone was listening? I heard, though." He smiles at the memory. "I heard you say you loved me, more than you should. When I heard the door start to open, I hurried down the stairs. Thankfully, you were too out of it—and scared—to hear me. I hid near the bottom of the stairs, right outside my room. That's when you fell, and why I was right there."
I stare at him. "God, I—I didn't mean for you to hear that."
He flinches, still smiling. "See? We can be together."
"It's not that simple," I say, but I'm lying. And then I kiss him.
He kisses back.
Father walks in.
"Get out," father says to me.
"We were just talking," he says, and he's so incredibly calm I don't believe it.
"He's right," I say. "I'll get out."
I slide off the couch, grab my crutches, and stumble out. I don't need the crutches anymore, the doctor says, but I refuse to take any chances.
I'm lucky father doesn't own a gun.
I head to the park. I can hear crickets chirping, and the breeze of the wind; it's so similar to what I used to be. I end up on a bench I used to sleep on. It's cold, but the slightest bit comforting. I don't go home that night.
Father is waiting for me when I come back. Father has brought mother into the mess, though I doubt her knowledge of what's occurring. The cat must have been found, because she's petting one. That, or he bought another one.
"I found the two kissing," father says with crossed arms.
Mother's petting stills. "What?" Her eyes dart to me. "Why were you corrupting my poor son? How could you do such a thing?"
"I have to get to work," father mutters. "I don't have time to deal with my faggot of a son."
I look at him; he looks down.
Father goes to work, and mother pets the cat.
"Dad hit me," he says. His eye is bruised, and he seems so small all of a sudden. Mother doesn't notice he's talking; she just sits with the cat.
"I'm sorry," I say and cradle his face. "I'll help you with that."
"Dad said we're going to Hell," he whispers. "I don't want to go to Hell."
I don't know what to say to him, so I hug him. His head falls on my shoulder, resigned. I kiss the top of his head. He doesn't say anything; I can't tell if he's angry or exuberant.
* * *
I bring mother to the doctors in the morning. She's forgotten about he and I at this point. The cat sits surprisingly still on her lap the entire drive.
"Some music would be nice," she mutters.
I turn on the radio. I don't think it's a coincidence Wagner starts playing.
He sits in the back. He says he's coming so he won't be bored, but the fear in his eyes say much more, I just can't describe what.
The doctors say she's taken a turn for the worse. I cover his ears with my hands, but he knows what's happening. I take the three of us out for ice cream after, but mother sits still, holding the dripping ice cream cone. The cat licks up the spilled cream, and he starts crying. I wipe the tears from his cheeks, and she stares straight at us; straight through us, and I still don't know what she's thinking.
Three days later, I find the cat bloody and ripped apart. I close my eyes, pick it up, and bury it out back; I hope to God he doesn't find the cat.
"Where's the cat?" He constantly asks.
"It ran away again," I say.
He looks away. "I really liked that cat."
I buy him another cat, and I make sure mother doesn't find it.
* * *
Father doesn't come home that night, and then the next night, and then the next night. I read to him and mother before bed. He helps me back into his room and sit on his bed, because neither of us can sleep.
He pets the new cat. "I don't want to live at home anymore."
I rub his shoulder. "I know. It'll get better."
"You always say that," he whispers.
I kiss him. The cat jumps off his lap and curls up on the end of the bed. He pushes me down—staying wary of my leg; he only leans over me on my left side—and kisses me back.
He tastes like toothpaste.
* * *
"It's almost July," he tells me in the morning.
I smile and kiss him to shut him up.
"Where's dad?" He asks.
I look at him, and he's so tiny; he's only fifteen, and I kiss him.
I sigh. "He'll be back."
He smiles. "Don't lie to me."
* * *
Mother dies that day. We walk into her room to bring her tea, and she's dead. The cat follows us, jumps up on the bed, and curls up next to mother, purring; the cat won't budge.
He stares for what seems like ages, unmoving. "I hated her," he finally says.
"No, you didn't," I say.
"Will you push me down the stairs?" He asks. "Maybe I won't be ask lucky as you were."
I kiss him; he clings to me desperately.
We head back to his room.
He lets me.