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byXarth©

I lay in my bed, unable to sleep. It was another one of those nights. I wasn't sure what brought it on, but sometimes I could lie there awake for hours without drifting off. It sucked.

I sighed and rolled over, readjusting my blanket as I moved. My bed felt depressingly empty with just me in it. The sleepless nights were the times I felt most alone. I desperately could have used someone to cuddle with, or just to feel lying next to me. Once again I idly contemplated the merits of hiring a prostitute solely for the illusion of having a girl who cared about me in my bed. I wasn't sure if that was more or less pathetic than hiring one for sex. It probably didn't matter.

My thoughts drifted to home; to my mom and sister. I'd moved out on my own a couple years ago, but I still missed living with them. Of course, back then the problem always seemed to be trying to get some privacy, rather than having too much of it.

My idle musings made me reach for my phone. I scrolled through my contacts until I reached 'Steph,' my twenty year old little sister. I stared vacantly at her number for a moment, unsure whether I should actually text her or not. We'd gone through alternating phases of being able to share things, or doing our best to piss each other off. Since I'd moved out it had been far more of the former. Lack of proximity seemed to make our petty disagreements far less important.

After a brief hesitation, I wrote out a short text and sent it off to my sister.

"Hey, you still up?"

I second-guessed myself as soon as I sent it off. If she was asleep already, she'd only see it in the morning. It wouldn't do much good at that point. However, there wasn't much I could do about it. Sending another text to say "whoops, disregard that last one," was a silly idea, and I couldn't exactly turn back time.

I set my phone down and waited. Either Steph would text me back, or she wouldn't. There was nothing more I could do. I closed my eyes and tried once more to fall asleep. I didn't think I'd get anywhere, but made the attempt anyway

The buzz of my phone receiving a text jolted me back to semi-alertness. I blinked a couple times, then read what Steph had written to me.

"I'm awake, but it's late. You need something?"

I paused for a moment, then shrugged and wrote back.

"I'm not sure. Do you think it would be okay if I came by to visit for a few days?"

Steph's next response was quicker.

"Of course. Mom's always happy to see you. And I wouldn't mind seeing you either."

"Okay. I'll probably come up Friday evening. I'll let you or Mom know for sure."

"Sounds good. Night, Aaron."

"Night, Steph."

****

I left right after work on Friday. It was about a four hour drive and I wanted to get it over and done with as soon as possible. By the time I reached my destination, I was tired, hungry, cranky, and convinced every other driver in the world was either an idiot or an asshole.

The house I'd grown up in looked just the same as I remembered it. I grabbed my bag out of the trunk of my car and trudged my way to the front door. I opened it without stopping to knock or call out. It still felt like my house, even though I hadn't really lived there in years.

"Hello?" I called as I entered.

No one responded immediately, but there were lights on so someone must have been home. I shrugged and kicked off my shoes. I could find my old room on my own even if nobody was around to greet me.

"Aaron? Is that you sweetie?"

I grinned despite myself at the sound of Mom's voice. She came around the corner a moment later and threw her arms up for a hug. I allowed myself to be pulled into her embrace. It was warm, and familiar, and comforting. For a moment I was a kid again, free from all my adult problems.

"Hey Mom."

"It's been so long since I've seen you." She held me out at arm's length, looking me up and down. "You look hungry. Have you been eating okay?"

"I am hungry, but that's only because it's been a long day. I'm not secretly broke and homeless."

"I never suggested you were. But a mother's allowed to worry." Mom turned abruptly toward the kitchen. "There's plenty of food. I made sure to have something ready when your sister told me you were coming. I'll heat up a plate for you."

"Thanks Mom. I'll go drop my stuff in my room."

"Of course. I made the bed up for you and everything, no need to worry about any of that."

It wouldn't have even occurred to me that my bed wouldn't have freshly washed sheets, or that I might have had to make it myself. Some things were ingrained in my mind as being taken care of for me while I was home.

My room appeared practically untouched since my last visit. There really was no reason for either Mom or Steph to be in it when I wasn't around. I set my bag down beside my old bed as I took a cursory look around the room. Somehow... somehow the sheer familiarity and nostalgia of being home seemed to help. It was like I'd been homesick and hadn't realized quite how badly.

Mom was just taking a plate out of the microwave when I got to the kitchen. The food would probably be too hot to eat for a few minutes. She had a thing about making sure leftovers were well heated.

"Thanks, Mom."

"You're welcome, sweetie. You can go ahead and watch tv while you eat if you want. I have a few things I need to take care of. I meant to be free to spend time with you when you got here, but..."

"That's fine. I'm sure I can manage on my own."

I kissed the side of Mom's head the way she'd always done to me as I took the plate of food. It used to amuse me to do that when I'd grown taller than her in my teenage years. These days, it was simply a minor display of affection. Mom just smiled.

"Oh, hey," I said as an afterthought. "Is Steph around? It looked like her room was empty when I went by."

"She's out with friends, I think. She should be back any time. She knew you were coming."

I nodded and turned toward the living room. It might have felt a little silly to have spent four hours driving just so I could eat supper alone in front of a tv, a rather small change from eating in front of my computer as I usually did. It didn't, though. It felt like being home. Even if I did nothing all weekend but lay around on the couch, it was helping. That was all I cared about.

****

I was woken up by someone shaking my shoulder. I blinked stupidly, then yawned. I tried to process where I was and what was going on. Mom was standing beside me in her robe, a small smile on her lips.

"I'm going to bed now," she said. "I thought... maybe you'd prefer to sleep in your bed than on the couch. Your body would probably prefer it."

"Oh, yeah. Thanks."

I stretched and pushed myself to my feet. I couldn't believe I'd fallen asleep in front of the tv. All the trouble I'd had recently with sleeping, and suddenly it just happened without me even trying. Not that I was complaining.

"Good night, sweetie."

"Night, Mom."

Mom padded off to her room. I grabbed my dishes from earlier and took them to the kitchen before heading to my room. I was hopeful that I could fall right back to sleep if I went straight to bed.

I closed the door behind me when I got to my room. I started stripping down, almost losing my balance as I pulled off my socks. I was down to my boxers and just moving toward my bed when there was a soft tap at the door. Before I could answer, it swung partway open. It was Steph.

"Hey there," she said. She paused and examined my state of undress. "Oh, sorry, were you changing?"

I shrugged. "Just going to bed. I thought you weren't home or I would have come to see you first."

"Mmhm. Well, someone must have had a long day 'cause they were all passed out on the couch when I got back. Hard to announce my arrival when you're sleeping like a baby."

I arched an eyebrow at my sister's teasing smile. "Are you gonna pick on me just 'cause I fell asleep?"

"Maybe." She walked over to me, then slipped past and plopped herself down on my bed. "Or you can change the subject if you're feeling touchy."

I shook my head in mock exasperation. "Jeez, come home for a visit and this is the reception I get. I'm starting to wonder what I was thinking."

"You always were a slow learner."

I sat down next to Steph and jabbed her in the side. She squealed, then giggled as she blocked her vulnerable soft spots with her arm.

"Hey now," she protested. "No need for violence."

"With you, there's always a need for violence."

I jabbed her again, a little higher up. It didn't have quite the same impact, but she glared at me all the same. Or tried to, at least. She wasn't doing well at keeping a straight face while she chastised me.

"No wonder I have so many bad habits. My big bro's such a bad example for me."

"To be fair, you've got plenty of bad habits that I had nothing to do with."

Steph grinned impishly, silently conceding the point. She fell back and stretched out across my blanket. Her shirt was pulled tight across her breasts for a moment before she relaxed. She'd developed nicely as she grew out of her teens. It was kind of a waste, her being my sister and all.

"So what happened?" she asked.

"What happened? I dunno. What happened with what?"

"Aaron, in all the time I've known you, or at least in the time since you've moved out, you've never come running home for no reason. You come home for Christmas, or for someone's birthday, or because Mom asked you to, but never just because you felt like it."

Her tone wasn't accusatory, but she clearly felt like she had a point. Hell, she did have a point. Unfortunately, it wasn't an easy question to answer, even if I wanted to. I had no idea how much I should-or wanted to-say. I remained paralyzed in indecision long enough that Steph probably thought I wasn't going to respond.

"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to," she said. "I was just asking. You came all this way, I figured you might want to talk about it. That's all."

"I was lonely," I blurted out.

"You were lonely?"

"Don't make fun. You asked, I'm answering."

"Sorry, I wasn't... go ahead, I'll listen."

I sighed. "What else is there to say? I wasn't having a great time, and it feels a little better being home."

"It can't have been that bad. I mean, you've never been crazy social, but you've got, like, people to hang out with and everything, don't you?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I do. I've got friends, and people I can talk to at work and everything. It's not like I'm a hermit exactly. Just..."

"What?"

I looked at my sister. She appeared somewhat concerned, though more curious than anything. Again I struggled with how much to share. In the moment, talking to her felt right. In all honesty, telling her truly personal things had never backfired on me. It was the less serious material that was fodder for later teasing.

"At night, that's when it's worst," I said. "When I'm alone, and it's dark, and I wish... I wish there was someone there."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

I lay back parallel to Steph, folding an arm back under my head. I waited in silence, unsure if she'd speak or if she was waiting for me. I'd given the important details. I was done as far as I was concerned.

"So you want a girlfriend."

"I... maybe? I guess. I mean, that's the obvious solution."

"Obvious solutions can be good. A roommate wouldn't be a bad idea either. You know, so you wouldn't be alone in your place at night."

"That's true. I don't know that I want that though. Living with anyone too long... it doesn't always go well. Us, for instance. We used to drive each other crazy."

"Only sometimes. Other times it was good. Overall, I'm glad I'm not an only child."

I turned my head toward her. Her eyes were closed, giving her the appearance of being asleep if not for the movements of her lips. Her words had been almost touching, in a weird sort of way. By her tone, she didn't seem to consider it any more than a statement of fact.

"Me too," I said.

The corner of her lips twitched upward for a second before fading back to a neutral line. I began to suspect that she was more tired than she'd let on. The novelty of my visit must have made me rate higher than sleep, at least temporarily.

"So how are things with you?" I asked.

Steph shrugged lazily. "Pretty much the same as always. Nothing ever really changes."

"Some things do."

"Sure, but..." She shook her head and propped herself up on her elbow. "Look, Aaron, you came back this weekend 'cause you missed the way things were, right? Or something kind of like that anyway. People get comfortable, set in their ways. That's kind of what my life is right now."

"Oh."

I wasn't sure how to respond to that. I felt like Steph was letting me in on some personal secret, but if she was it was only the very surface of it. It was hard to know how much it was bothering her.

"It's fine. It's not a big deal."

Steph sat up as though preparing to leave.

"No no, if you want to tell me something... well, you can. If you want."

"There's not much to tell. I'm just working some things out. That's all." She reached over and squeezed my leg reassuringly. "We'll talk more tomorrow, promise. I need sleep right now."

"Oh, yeah. Sure. Night, Steph."

"Good night, Aaron."

After my sister left, I turned the light off and went to bed. Unfortunately, thanks to our talk, I was no longer in quite such a sleepy state as I'd been after my nap on the couch. I certainly didn't begrudge her that, but it would have been nice not to lie awake-alone with my thoughts-as had so often been the case recently.

There was a part of me that wondered what it would have felt like if Steph hadn't gone back to her room. It was weird to even contemplate her sleeping in my bed with me, but in the moment it wasn't quite as weird as it could have been. She'd been lying there next to me only moments ago. I missed her presence now.

I couldn't seem to win. I'd come all the way back home to capture some feeling of belonging, and still I found myself lacking some undefined emotional connection. Maybe I'd missed my sister more than I thought, and now that I'd seen her my longing had only been reinforced. If anything, that was a stranger thought than any of the others.

The longer I lay there-tired, confused, but still very much awake-the more I wondered what it was I actually wanted from my sister. I had the strong, inexplicable sense that it would feel nice just to have her next to me. Maybe I was simply longing for a time when we'd been closer. There had been a lot of good times in our younger years when we'd lived together. There had been bad things too, but the nostalgia in me made it easy to skip over those parts.

We'd have to do something together while I was home. I made a firm mental note. Whatever my problem was, hanging out with Steph should help, or at the very least distract me for a while.

****

The first thing I knew the next morning, someone was shaking my shoulder. I jerked awake, confused and alarmed that someone was in my room. It took me a second to remember where I was, and that the person in question was my sister rather than an intruder.

"Hey, sleepy," she said, giving me an overly cheerful grin.

"Mmph. What do you want? It's early. It's..."

I looked for a clock and found none in the room. Admittedly, the sun was up, but it didn't seem like I'd slept in long enough to get a wake up call. There was nowhere I needed to be.

"Mom's making pancakes. She said to come get you."

"Ungh, at this hour?"

"It's, like, nine-thirty, dude. You're lucky she waited as long as she did. Some of us are starving."

Steph shook my shoulder again. I swatted at her, making glancing contact with her wrist as she pulled back out of range.

"I'm awake. Your job is done. S'no need to poke at me more."

"Maybe not, but it's kinda fun."

I rolled my eyes. "Great."

I sat up and swung my feet over the side of the bed. Steph was giving me the impression that she wasn't going to leave until I was moving. I wanted to spend time with her, but first thing after waking up was not ideal for me. I wasn't much of a morning person.

"You should put some clothes on before you come downstairs."

This time I gave Steph a full-on glare. "Thanks so much. Never would have thought of that."

She smiled sweetly. "You know, I forgot how cranky you can be in the mornings. I kinda missed it." She turned away, heading back out of the room. "Don't take too long, or your pancakes'll get cold."

"Yeah, yeah," I muttered to myself.

I was awake and alert enough at that point that falling back into bed didn't hold much appeal for me. The promise of pancakes, on the other hand, had been bouncing around in my head since it had been mentioned. It was enough to get me moving.

Steph was already eating by the time I got to the kitchen. Contrary to her warnings about me being late, Mom had a fresh plate of pancakes ready for me as I arrived. I thanked her and sat down opposite my sister at the table.

"I already told Stephanie, but I have some errands to run today," Mom said. "I should be back in plenty of time to make supper, but you two will be on your own for lunch."

"Um, okay," I said between mouthfuls. The pancakes were good, and I was hungrier than I'd realized.

"Don't worry, I'll look after him," Steph said. "Make sure he doesn't get into any trouble."

She smirked at me, obviously expecting her comment to needle me. She'd miscalculated; I was far too focused on my breakfast to care about subtle jabs at my ability to take care of myself. Besides, she was the one still living at home. I had nothing to prove.

"I'm sure you two will have a good time," Mom said.

"I'm sure we will too," Steph said, still grinning like an evil genius. "I've got plans for us today."

I arched an eyebrow. I didn't want take the bait, but she'd successfully aroused my curiousity. It was just going to bug me if I didn't ask.

"What kind of plans?"

Steph's face was a picture of innocence. "Nothing much. A little painting, that's all."

"Painting?"

"Mm-hm."

She was getting a kick out of making me squirm. I went back to my pancakes instead of continuing to give her the satisfaction.

"Ask your brother nicely, honey," Mom said. "Don't just expect him to help."

I was surprised to have Mom interject into the conversation. Clearly she knew what Steph meant. I still didn't have any idea what we were discussing.

"Mooom. It's only Aaron. He won't mind."

"Stephanie!"

Steph stuck her bottom lip out in a mock pout, then turned back to me.

"I need to paint my room. I thought, you know, it might be a good time to do it." She glanced at Mom for a second, then flashed me her 'innocent' face again. "Won't you pleeease help big bwuther? I'm only little and delicate and it would be ever so kind of you to assist me."

Even Mom rolled her eyes at Steph's display, which was certainly the intended effect. The two of them had been living together for a while now without me to balance things out, and it seemed to have changed the dynamic between them.

"We'll see," I said.

Steph batted her eyelashes as though it would help sway me. Mom shook her head, unable to watch any more of her daughter's atrocious acting.

"I need to go get changed. Will you finish up the pancakes, Stephanie?"

"Certainly, Mother dearest. It would be such an honour for me to-"

"Oh hush. Save it for your brother."

Despite her sarcasm, Steph did as she had been asked. She even slid a few more fresh pancakes onto my plate when they were ready. The transition was jarring enough that I couldn't just let it go. It seemed like her and Mom might have been having problems in my absence.

"So, uh, is something going on?" I asked.

"With what?"

"You know. You and Mom? That whole thing just now?"

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byXarth© 39 comments/ 101254 views/ 176 favorites

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