Author's Note: Thanks to LizHaze for stuff and things.


It wasn't that I disliked spending time with my family. That wasn't it. I enjoyed fairly good relationships with my parents, brother, aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. There wasn't a single one of them that I hated or that I didn't want to be around. It was just that having all of them in one place at the same time was overwhelming, to put it delicately.

Mom's side of the family was fairly large. At least once a year there'd be a gathering of everyone who could make it. Every year I was torn between wanting to see all of my relatives and wanting to make an excuse to avoid them like the plague. My feelings on the subject didn't really matter. Mom did an excellent job of guilting me into participating if I showed even the slightest hint of reluctance.

I sometimes thought that it might have been easier to deal with if I were a boy instead of a girl. The family was a bit matriarchal in some ways, and the girls were all expected to participate in certain discussions and activities. My brother, on the other hand, was usually free to wander off and do whatever he wanted.

This year I was eighteen, which was kind of an awkward age at the family gathering since I wasn't considered a child, but also not really considered an adult. It meant that I got roped into a lot of adult discussions that I wasn't supposed to contribute to. No one seemed interested in my arguments as to why the arrangement didn't make any sense.

All of that led to me being bored out of my mind one afternoon while sitting quietly in a room full of my mother and aunts, and some of my older cousins. A couple of my uncles were there too, and they looked just as unhappy about it as I was. There were 'important' things that the women of the family needed to be kept informed about. That was what I was told. I had yet to hear anything that I would have regretted not knowing.

I very nearly thanked god out loud when my phone buzzed, indicating that I'd received a text. I got several mildly disapproving looks as I fished the offending noisemaker out of my pocket, but no one actually said anything. Until I was given a direct order to put my phone away, I fully intended to take any distraction I could get.

The text was from Simon, my older brother.

"How's the secret meeting going?" it read.

"Painful," I wrote back. Then, as an afterthought, "You're a lucky bastard, not getting dragged into these things."

"I'm aware."

The dirty looks were getting to be more overt, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I was asked 'politely' to put my phone away. I had a sudden burst of inspiration, a plan to make my getaway. The worst that could happen is Simon might just ignore me.

"Wait a few minutes then call me," I wrote. "I'll owe you."

I put my phone back in my pocket and tried to look apologetic. I hoped Simon would come through for me. If not I'd just have to sit there and pray for Armageddon. It was as good a bet as any.

Right around the time I was starting to get antsy and suspect that he wasn't going to call, my phone rang. I knew who it was, but I made a show of checking the caller. I tried my best to ignore the numerous disapproving stares and the soft muttering.

"Marcia dear," Mom said, "can you put your phone away for another few minutes."

Right. A few minutes. I almost laughed.

"Sorry," I said with all the sincerity I could muster. "It's just... my friend, Jill, her cat just died and she's kind of upset. I tried to tell her I'd text her more later, but..."

Mom frowned, probably suspicious of my story, and rightly so. I held my expression of concern for the next few rings until I was finally waved away by my mother. I darted out of the room, answering the phone while I was still in earshot.

"Hi, Jill," I said.

"Hey, Little Miss Pants-on-fire," Simon answered.

"It's so terrible what happened," I said, trying to hurry out of hearing range of the room I'd just left. "He was so young."

"I'm on the back deck if you want to join me, Pinocchio."

"Yeah, just give me a sec," I said, lowering my voice slightly.

I hung up and slipped my phone back in my pocket just before heading out the back door onto the deck. My dad and one of my uncles were sitting off to the side drinking beer, and several of my younger cousins were playing out in the yard. My brother was sitting on the steps with a beer of his own, staring off into the distance.

"Well if it isn't Liepants McGee," he greeted me.

"Clever. You got many more of those?"

"A few. I'll save 'em for next time."

"Looking forward to it."

I sat down next to Simon with a big sigh of relief. I might catch some flak for not returning to the meeting, but I was okay with that. Odds were good that they'd all get distracted by some minor piece of family drama and forget I was ever there.

Simon handed me his beer and I took a long drink from it before handing it back. Dad saw us, but just shook his head and pretended he hadn't seen anything.

"Seriously though, thank you," I said.

"No problem. 'Sides, it's always kinda fun when you owe me."

"Uh huh. Whatever. It's still totally worth it." I nudged his arm and gestured to the kids playing. "I kinda wish I was still that young sometimes."

"I know what you mean. Things were simpler, weren't they? Even if we didn't appreciate it at the time."

"More fun too. No 'sponsibilities hanging over our heads all the time."

Simon took a another drink from his beer then handed it back to me. I drained what was left of it.

"Get me another one?" he asked.

"I just sat down. Can't you get it yourself?"

"I dunno, I'm kinda comfortable where I am. How about you go get me another beer and we'll be even? That'll take care of what you owe me."

"Really? Someone's feeling awfully generous today."

"What can I say? I am a wise and benevolent brother."

I rolled my eyes, but let his statement pass without comment. He'd made it worth staying on his good side.

I went to the kitchen and pulled two bottles of beer out of the fridge. I popped the tops off of both of them, then poured one into an opaque cup. Simon could drink openly if he wanted, he was over nineteen, but I would be tempting fate not to be at least a little bit sneaky about it. There was no telling when my mother or one of my aunts might take issue with what was technically underage drinking.

Simon was exactly where I'd left him when I got back. I handed him his bottle and sat down with my own drink. He smiled when he realized what was in my cup. I put my finger to my lips to indicate that I'd rather he not say anything out loud. He simply held up his beer in salute, then took a swallow.

"I can't believe Mom wouldn't go for a hotel room or anything," I said. "It's gonna be so crowded tonight."

"Oh yeah? Where are you sleeping?"

"I don't even know yet. It's still being decided. I'll probably end up sharing a room with two or three of the younger girls."

"Ha! Well that'll be fun."

"Shut up. What about you? I don't suppose you're planning on sneaking out at some point, are you? Take me with you?"

Simon shook his head and chuckled. "No, 'fraid not. I did, however, have the forethought to bring a tent with me." He pointed out into the yard. "All I have to do is set it up somewhere and I'll at least have a little bit of privacy."

"Is it maybe, like, a two person tent by any chance?"

"Maybe. Why?"

I stuck out my bottom lip and gave him my most pitiful puppy dog eyes.

"Pwease share with me?" I asked, injecting just a little bit of a whine into my voice. "Puh-wease, big brudder?"

"Cut it out," he said, shoving me playfully. "That's such a sad look on you. And all just for the chance to share a cramped tent on the lumpy, uncomfortable ground."

"It's better than sharing a room with the rugrats. I've done it before and I don't want to repeat the experience."

"Oh come on, it's good bonding time for you." He pitched his voice higher in a surprisingly good imitation of Mom. "You don't get to see your cousins very often, you know. It'd be good for you to spend time with them. You're-"

I shoved him back harder than he had pushed me. He nearly toppled over sideways, mainly because he was more concerned with keeping his drink upright than himself.

"I don't need two mothers, thank you very much," I said. "The one I have already does a more than adequate job of nagging me."

"Careful, I wouldn't let her hear you say that if I were you."

"I know. I'm not stupid. Seriously though, can we share your tent?"

"Well... maybe if you set it up..."

"What, by myself you mean? Simon, you know that would be a disaster. I'll help, but you're gonna have to at least guide me."

He made a show of considering my proposal. I wasn't concerned about his apparent lack of decisiveness. I knew he'd say yes, he was just trying to make me squirm at this point. If he was going to say no, he would have done so already.

"There you are, Marcia," Mom said from behind us. It was as if our talking about her had summoned her. "Are you coming back in now? It looks like you're done consoling your friend."

"Sorry, Mom," I said. "Simon and me were just gonna go set up a tent for tonight. You know, to make the sleeping arrangements easier and everything."

Simon took another drink from his beer to cover up his smile. Mom looked like she knew that I was trying to get out of having to go back inside, but my excuse was pretty reasonable. She couldn't argue that it wasn't. She could, however, tell me to deal with it later, or perhaps tell Simon to put the tent up himself. I waited patiently for Mom's response, my face a mask of innocence and good intentions.

"Alright," she finally said with a sigh. "Go put your tent up. But I expect you to help get supper ready later on."

"Okay, Mom. I will."

Mom turned around and went back in the house. Simon drained the rest of his beer and stood up.

"You got lucky, Marcy," he said. "She was about ready to drag you back in there by your ear."

"Don't think I don't know that."

"Uh huh. Anyway, we better get to work before she comes back to check up on us. I'll go grab the tent, you try and find a flat piece of yard for us."



Getting the tent set up took longer than it should have. Having our younger cousins around to 'help' and spectate contributed to the difficulty of the project. A couple of the boys kept trying to steal the poles and pretend they were swords. Simon just laughed as they took turns beating each other over the head, which only encouraged them.

In the end, thanks mostly to my efforts, the tent was successfully installed on the flattest part of the yard I could find. I was rather proud of myself for my work. Simon kept trying to claim that it had been a team effort, which it technically had been, but I maintained that he'd spent more time inciting havoc amongst our cousins than actually helping. I didn't argue too hard on the off-chance that he'd change his mind about sharing the tent if I got on his nerves.

Simon and I hid out behind the tent for a while once it was set up. I was risking Mom's wrath by doing so, but I couldn't quite bring myself to care. It was a nice day out, and lying on the grass in the sun was by far preferable to preparing food indoors. Getting tripped over by running children every now and then was an acceptable hazard.

I was pretty sure I only got through supper unscathed because Mom was too busy to properly chastise me. Afterward I got a movie playing and sat down with some of the children. After all, no one was going to yell at me while I was keeping the kids quiet. I was seriously pushing my luck at that point, but I got away with it.

Bedtime eventually showed up. I borrowed a sleeping bag and pillow from inside the house for the night and took it out to the tent. Simon had brought his own and was already set up. He stripped down to his boxers while I got my side of the tent organized. I soon followed suit and removed everything except for my t-shirt and panties. I was aware of his eyes on me as I unhooked my bra and dragged it out from under my shirt.

"Do you ever, like, just wear your bra to bed?" he asked as he slid into his sleeping bag.

"Why the hell would I want to do that?"

"I dunno. Thought it might be a bit cooler maybe."

"If I was worried about that I'd just sleep naked. You know, assuming I was alone."


Simon arched an eyebrow and acted like he was suddenly more interested in the conversation.

"Oh shut up. Don't act like you're so surprised. I'm not gonna bite."

"I was only gonna tease you a little. You take all the fun out of it sometimes."

I shrugged and slipped into my sleeping bag, pulling the top half over me once I was mostly settled. It didn't take me long to figure out that I'd made a mistake.

"Oh, god dammit," I said. "What is this, a fucking winter sleeping bag?"

I opened the bag back up and kicked the top part off of me. I would have roasted in minutes if I'd tried to sleep while covered with it. Simon just laughed.

"How did you not notice that when you dragged it out here?" he asked. "Or when you unrolled it? Or-"

"Shut the hell up. It's not that funny."

"It kind of is though."

I flipped him off, then settled back in and got as comfortable as I could with only a small amount of padding between me and the ground. Sleeping without any kind of blanket or covering actually wouldn't be such a bad thing. It was a warm enough night for it. There was, however, the classic problem of being so used to having covers that not having them just felt weird. I experienced the same sort of thing sometimes during really hot summer nights when it was too hot for even a sheet over me.

"You can stop giggling any time," I said.

"I'll stop laughing when it stops being funny."

Despite his words, Simon fell quiet. The only sounds we made for a while were the slight rustling noises from our sleeping bags as we shifted around to try and avoid the worst of the lumps on the ground. Eventually he opened up his sleeping bag and kicked the top half off his body just like I had.

"Aw, too warm?" I asked with mock sympathy.

"Yeah, kinda," he said, unfazed by my teasing. He rolled onto his side facing me. "I thought it would be cooler by now. It wasn't even that hot today, relatively speaking."

"Yeah, well... what can ya do?"

"Buy a tent with a built in AC unit?"

"Okay then. You get right on that."

"Hey, it could work. It might not be a practical idea, but... it could work."

"You just keep telling yourself that."

I reached over and patted his head in as patronizing a manner as I could manage. He grabbed my wrist and gently guided it back to my side of the tent. I reached for him again just because I thought it was funny, and again he moved my arm back. This time he didn't let go right away.

"I'm beginning to regret letting you sleep in here with me," he said.

"Why's that?"

"'Cause someone's mother didn't raise them with any manners."

"I'll tell her you said that."

"Go ahead. You're already on her bad side. See how well it goes for you."

I stuck my tongue out at Simon. He mirrored the gesture right back at me. I started giggling, which made my brother give me an inquisitive look.

"You were just complaining about my lack of manners," I explained. "But you're just as bad."

"It isn't that funny."

"It is to me."

Simon shook his head slightly, but smiled indulgently. His grip loosened on my wrist and he began dragging his fingers idly up and down my forearm. I knew he was still ready to grab me again if I tried anything.

"You're weird," he told me.

"Yeah? Well so are you."

"I know." His hand moved up my arm to my sleeve. He stopped there for a moment, then went back down. "Do you still have that scar on your shoulder?"

"Of course I do. It's been there for years. It's not gonna suddenly vanish."

Simon pushed my sleeve up until he reached my scar. I'd had it since I was in my early teens and it had faded quite a bit in the interim, but it was still quite visible.

"I kinda wish I had a scar like that," he said.

"Speaking of weird..."

"What? It's not that strange. I just like the way it looks. Just this little line of skin that's slightly different from the rest. And it shows that you're not a complete wuss."

"First off, it is that strange. Secondly, scars have nothing to do with being wusses. The biggest wuss in the world could have a scar. It's not, like, a badge of character. More of a badge of poor judgement most of the time."

"Just remember those are your words and not mine."

He traced my scar lightly with his fingertips. Even though I thought he was being weird, I liked the attention. Maybe I was the weird one. There was a whole house full of my family members that I could interact with if I wanted to. Instead I spent far too much of my time trying to avoid all but the most superficial contact with them. Somehow, my brother was the exception.

I couldn't explain why, but it was different when I was with Simon. Maybe it was simply a question of numbers. The women of the family tended to stay in groups, whereas I generally preferred only having one or two other people around at a time.

"Do you remember when we used to stay up late watching movies together?" I asked softly.

"Of course I do. We had to turn down the volume so we could barely hear it or Mom would yell at us to go to bed."

"Mm-hm. And sometimes we'd just fall asleep right there on the couch."

"I'm pretty sure that was just you. Seems to me I was always the one getting my shoulder drooled on 'cause you couldn't keep your eyes open."

"I don't drool."

"Maybe you don't most of the time, but I was the one who had to deal with it so don't pretend like it didn't happen. That, plus all those times you whined at me until I carried you upstairs instead of just leaving you on the couch."

I smiled wistfully at the memory. "It was more fun than walking."

"I bet it was. You're lucky I'm such a good brother."

"I s'pose maybe I am."

I rolled on my side to face away from Simon, then scooted backward a bit. I reached behind me and searched blindly until I found his hand, then pulled his arm around my waist.

"Isn't it too warm for this?" he asked.

"You're free to go back to your side any time."

"I am on my side. You're the one across the line."

Simon didn't seem to have any genuine objections since he didn't go anywhere or push me away. His arm stayed put, and he maintained the small, nearly nonexistent gap between us. I was pretty sure that even if we were closer together and sharing more body heat, it still wouldn't have been warm enough to prevent me from getting to sleep. He wasn't as bad as my sleeping bag.

I felt my shirt get lifted slightly, then my brother's hand on my bare tummy. His touch was comforting, in a bizarre sort of way. It made me feel safe. I was reminded even more strongly of falling asleep next to him, my head resting against his arm. Sometimes physical contact was more powerful than mere words when it came to triggering memories.

"I miss you when you're not around," I whispered.

After a moment of silence, I assumed he must not have heard me. That was okay. I wasn't really sure why I'd said anything.

"I miss you too," he said. "You're kind of a unique person in my life."

"Is that... good or bad?"

"A little of both. More good than bad though. Usually."

"How reassuring."

Simon poked my side with his finger, making me squeal. I curled up into a protective ball to stop him getting in another free shot.

"I was being nice, Marcy. Don't act like I wasn't."

"You were being kinda mean too."

"Wasn't. You'll know it when I want to be mean."

He hooked his arm around me again and forcefully dragged me toward him. My back pressed up against his chest and he held me in a snug embrace. I didn't uncurl myself just yet. I was pretty sure he wasn't going to jab me again, but I had to keep up appearances.

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