Apparently, there is an unwritten rule somewhere that states, in no uncertain terms, that men are not allowed to express any emotion in any given circumstance. Unless it's anger, or sarcasm, then he can express to his heart's content.

This story is something that explores that bottling up of emotion while still allowing the reader to see beneath the mask.

This is also what happens when you combine a runaway imagination with very little sleep. Okay, no sleep. As in awake for almost 48 hours. And dealing with work.

Wow, now that I look at it, I am surprised I could even recognize what a keyboard was. Sleep deprivation does odd things to your mind.

You may not want to try this at home. The zero sleep part. Not the writing part. Well, there are some things in the story that you might not want to do but-

You know what? I'll just be quiet now.

Enjoy!

Close Means Comfortable

The window on the opposite side of the room is completely white. Nothing can be seen through the frosted panes, but Tom doesn't see it, not really. It is only a faint background to the thoughts swirling through his mind. And yet that whited-out window holds complete sway over his reality.

He is sitting on the floor. A cold, hard, wooden, floor that has seen wear from countless feet. A small metal bedframe is at his back as he sits there, knees drawn up to his chest, arms wrapped around them. Anyone who saw him would tell him that he looks extremely uncomfortable.

But he would instantly disagree.

Behind him, on the small metal bed, is a huddled figure. It is curled in on itself and snuggled deeply under just about every blanket that can be found. It moves with the gentle rise and fall that signifies breath and life; and it is the most wonderful sight that Tom has ever seen.

It is his brother, Matt.

It had been stupid really, a fight about who could hike the dangerous trail the fastest. The disagreement soon turned into something much worse. It turned into a bet when it really should have turned into a meeting of two sensible minds.

It was spring, the mountains still holding their snow and not showing any signs of letting go. It was definitely not time to go on a hike through treacherous winding trails.

But youth always seems to win over.

It has a way of whispering in one's ear about how a person is invincible. It talks about how an entire world of knowledge lies just beneath a thick mane of hair and it talks of how everyone else must be proved wrong.

Throw caution to the wind and feel alive.

Tom sits on the cold wood floor and wishes that he had never listened to that voice in his head.

They decided to race. To see who could make it to the end of the trail first and then whoever lost had to buy the other a steak dinner. No holds barred, the whole shebang, wine included.

It seemed so enticing. It seemed like the perfect adventure. Then Tom reached the end of the trail and waited. Matt never arrived.

After countless attempts to contact Matt failed, Tom started backtracking. Then the weather turned nasty. Tom panicked and decided to call in reinforcements. Still on the trail, just over halfway back to the starting point of their race, he pulled out his satellite phone and discovered that the signal had disappeared. It had been blocked by the incoming storm.

And so he continued searching.

The clouds descended down on the mountain as Tom scrambled over narrow trails and rocks sharp with broken chunks of ice. The temperature plummeted and Tom did his best to quicken his speed. He constantly pulled out his phone during his search, frantic to see the signal bars return.

Mountain weather, always a tricky thing, did nothing to help him. The snow closed in quickly and dumped on him the last hurrah storm of the season.

But the snow had not been quite quick enough. It had not closed off his vision fast enough to keep him from seeing the bright orange backpack.

Matt was relatively uninjured when Tom found him, despite the fact that he had fallen down a rocky incline and had somehow managed to pull himself back to the side of the trail. He sported a sprained ankle, dazed expression, and a very broken satellite phone, but nothing else. Other than the shivering that had clearly set in before Tom found him.

The best news had been that Matt was only five minutes away from one of the rest cabins that dotted the trail. They had been placed there because, in the mountains, the weather could change with almost no warning. Tom knew that the cabins had been placed for idiots like him and Matt.

Never again, Tom thought as he dragged Matt into the tiny one room cabin.

So now he sits on the cabin floor and waits for the white wall outside the window to diminish and the form behind him to move. The satellite phone rests on the floor beside him, the signal meter blank; the storm keeping it from making the connection that he so desperately seeks.

He knows that, even if he could call out, the search teams will be delayed; the weather keeping them from beginning their quest for two stupid hikers who had gotten lost on a snowy mountainside.

Tom huffs out a humorless laugh and drops his head down onto his knees.

Behind him is the softest of sounds, but he is instantly up and turning. He scrambles up to sit on the side of the narrow bed and sees his brother's eyes open and looking at him. They are half lidded and somewhat confused, but they are open and Tom is ecstatic.

"Hey, there you moron," Tom says.

It is not what he is thinking. But he cannot bring himself to say what he really feels.

(I cannot tell you how relieved I am to see you awake.)

Matt stares at him for a moment but a smile soon spreads across his tired features.

"You're a moron too," he murmurs sleepily.

"Yeah, but I made it to the end of the trail. Unlike you."

Again, a cover.

(I waited for what seemed like days for you to come out. I thought you were dead.)

"Guess I owe you a steak dinner then."

Tom laughs and pats his brother on the shoulder; at least what he thinks is his brother's shoulder. It is hard to tell under the layers of blankets.

"Yeah," Tom mutters. "You might also want to think about getting something for the rescue crews that are going to show up once the storm dies down and I can get a call in."

(I panicked. I tried to call in the cavalry. I am still trying to call them, because I don't want to lose you.)

"Thanks," Matt says simply and burrows deeper into the mound of blankets.

Tom quirks a grin and lets his brother drift off again. He eases himself off of the bed and settles down onto the floor, leaning back against the frame.

The bed shifts and squeaks for a moment and then a voice, half muffled, drifts down to where Tom sits.

"There is another bed over there," Matt mumbles.

Tom nods. "I know."

(I'm not leaving.)

"You could sit on that instead of the floor."

"I'm comfortable enough here."

(I am close to you and, right now, close means comfortable.)

"Moron," is the quiet reply.

Tom smiles, broad and genuine, and it only grows wider as he looks out the window to see, not solid white, but the silhouettes of pine trees.

Beside him, the satellite phone shows two small bars of signal.


Thoughts? Opinions?