As the end of my first year at the university was nearing an end, I was trying to find an apartment where I could live for the next three years when, to my surprise, I received an e-mail from my big brother:
"I have a solution for your apartment issues. I'll call tonight."
That evening, as I sat on the front steps of the university library, my cell phone rang, and when I saw my big brother's name on the screen, I felt quite warm and happy. Although he was six years older than me, he and I had always been incredibly close, perhaps in part because I had never known our father, for he had left our mother shortly after learning that she was pregnant again. While I had dated several guys in high school and one person in college, no one could truly compare to him, and in the back of my mind, I wondered if anyone else could possibly make me feel nearly as cherished, nearly as protected, nearly as loved.
With a smile, I opened the cell phone and raised it to my ear. "I've been hoping you'd call," I told him.
"Oh?" He seemed genuinely surprised. "My little sister's been waiting for me to call?"
"Stop teasing," I laughed softly. "What's the apartment news?"
"I'm moving there," he said flatly.
"Eric, that's great! When?"
"I'm being transferred to the corporate office not too far from campus. They want me to start by May 15, which means that I'll need to come out there, find an apartment, and then get the move completed and everything around the time you're done for the semester. And since my little sister wants an apartment as well..."
"Are you sure you want me to live with you?" I asked. In part, I was joking, but it was really a serious question. After all, Eric was 24 and single – how would it appear to a potential girlfriend if she were to learn that he was living with his sister? As for me, I recognized the opportunity immediately: Living with my big brother would allow us both to share the costs of an apartment, and living with him would be a bit safer than living on my own.
"Come on, you know me," he chided me. "I wouldn't be offering if I didn't sincerely mean it."
"I know," I admitted, "but it's a bit... sudden. It's almost hard to believe."
"I plan to fly out there this weekend," Eric announced. "I have a rental car and a hotel room reserved already, and two places I found online which I want to look at, both along the light rail line that runs past the university, so if we were to live at either of those complexes, you and I could both get to and from campus and work very easily and quickly. I'll be driving the car while the movers are hauling my stuff, so we'll have a vehicle to use. And perhaps the best thing about all this is that I'd get to spend time with my little sister again."
"Awwww..." I was genuinely touched. "I miss being around you, you know," I admitted.
"Same here, Erica," he confessed. "Same here."
During the week, I went online to look at the two apartment complexes my big brother had selected, and I was rather impressed. Both complexes were gated communities with one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments offered, and plenty of plants and trees seemingly everywhere. I could not truly grasp the actual size of the various rooms from the online pictures, but I could see that they would both be nice places to live. My favorite of the two, however, was the complex where each apartment had a screen-enclosed patio or balcony, which would be great for leaving the sliding patio door open to obtain fresh air but still keeping the insects out.
Late Friday afternoon, I packed for the weekend and took a bus to the airport, and even though I had seen him just two months earlier, the hug which Eric and I shared was tight and heartfelt, a testament to the close bond which we had shared for such a long time.
Once we had the rental car, we went directly to the hotel. I had been past the hotel quite a few times during my first year at the university, but had never been inside. Since this trip was designed for Eric to select an apartment due to a work-related move, he was able to have the company pay for a company-approved hotel, and it was a suite-style hotel. It was the first time I had ever been in a hotel suite, and I was pleasantly amazed at just how home-like it was overall. Eric simply stood back and watched me as I took in everything, but after a few minutes, I realized something:
My big brother was truly watching me. The way his eyes roamed my body alerted me to a sensation that I had felt from other guys, but never from a family member:
He was truly interested in my body, in my beauty. In a way, it was as if Eric was seeing his little sister as a woman for the first time. I turned to show him my profile, willing to give him a little eye candy.
"You truly are beautiful," he said softly.
"You've said that before," I reminded him, afterward suddenly aware that my voice had been much quieter than it should be for a brother and sister simply talking amongst themselves.
He stepped toward me, almost tentatively, and something compelled my feet to move toward him. When he took me in his arms, it was not just for a hug. This was different – how and why, I do not know, but for some reason, this was significantly different.
Not for the first time in his presence, I felt my body begin to react. The telltale warmth began to form, grow, radiate. Almost imperceptibly, my big brother's arms held me just a little tighter than usual.
Not for the first time in my presence, he began to grow and stiffen. However, for the first time, I was very keenly aware of it. It made me think about my big brother as a man, not a sibling. It made me think of the few guys I'd dated, how they had attempted to bed me within the first few dates even though they definitely had not yet earned my trust and my respect.
Eric, on the other hand, already had my trust and my respect. Throughout my life, he had also clearly wanted the best for me, wanted for me to be happy, however that was defined in the moment. It would not be much of a stretch to imagine him also having my heart, but could I ever give my big brother my body?
Eventually, I stepped out of his caring embrace. "There is something to consider about this place..." I began.
"What's that?" he asked, sitting at the work table at the side of the living room area of the suite.
"There's only one bed."
"I know," he admitted. "But don't worry. I'd already planned on sleeping on the sofa."
"What? No! You've come all this way and paid all this money for a nice hotel suite just so you can sleep on the sofa?!?"
"Would you prefer that I'd pitched a tent somewhere instead?"
He laughed as I rolled my eyes. We both enjoyed camping, but trying to compare a sofa to a sleeping bag was like trying to compare a paper airplane to a boulder.
"I honestly don't mind sharing a bed with you," I said, again aware of how quiet my voice was, "even if it wasn't some huge monstrosity of a bed."
He smiled warmly. "I'll keep that in mind, sis."
My stomach growled. "While you're thinking, why don't we go get dinner?"
I was already in bed, sitting against the pillows and the headboard, reading a novel I had brought with me, when Eric finally came into the bedroom. He was topless, wearing his sweatpants, and I was a little amazed that he still wore sweatpants to bed. I even commented on it.
"Actually," he replied, "I generally don't."
He pulled back the covers and joined me, also sitting against the pillows and the headboard. "Generally, I just wear my underwear... if I wear anything at all."
I closed the book and set it aside, then leaned into him. I wore an old faded sleepshirt and a modest panty, and as I leaned against him, I lamented the fact that I was not also topless. While my arms were mostly bare and it felt good for my right arm to be pressed against his bare skin, I wanted to feel the skin-on-skin contact against more of my body.
My big brother draped an arm across my shoulders, and I wrapped an arm across his lap over the covers, and suddenly, it was the middle of the night, the bedroom was dark save for the dim glow of the street lamps several stories below our window, and I was laying upon him with the covers bunched up around my neck.
Somehow, although he was clearly asleep with his arms around me underneath the covers, I truly felt loved, and with that thought implanted in my mind, I drifted back into slumber with a smile upon my lips.
When I awoke in the morning, my big brother was not in the bedroom, but I could smell coffee, so I knew he had not gone far. In a way, it was comforting knowing that I had him all to myself in the hotel suite, knowing that soon I'd be living with him – just the two of us. It could almost be like he and I were married, just without the prospect of children coming into the household.
...or so I would hope.
I wondered what my roommate was doing. She had seemed genuinely happy for me that I would be sharing an apartment with my big brother – "He's already someone you know and will feel perfectly safe with," she had said – although I knew that she was jealous that I was spending the weekend in a really nice hotel and not a small university dorm room. She had even made a very good suggestion: "Since hotels inherently have pools, take a bikini."
I smiled as I remembered Haley's bikini comment. While I owned a bikini, I rarely ever wore it, in part because my breasts are just not large enough by society's standards to truly wear a bikini. Haley, on the other hand, could fill out a bikini quite nicely – and if it was a thong-style bikini, she would need a big stick to beat away the people with big sticks.
As Haley had suggested, however, I did bring a bikini with me. As I had put it into my carry-on bag that I was using for the weekend, I really doubted that I would wear it. But as I lay in bed, thinking about the fact that I was feeling more than just sibling love for my big brother, thinking ahead to the life we could share in our new apartment somewhere along the light rail line which passed by the university, I was almost convinced that I should wear the bikini if for no other reason than just to see the smile upon his face.
I was fairly certain that Eric would smile if he saw me in a bikini. Like most girls growing up, I had pleaded with our mother to buy me a bikini. Even though I was in second grade when I first wore a bikini, I was clearly being indoctrinated by the media: The cutest girls wear bikinis when they go swimming. As I navigated the turbulence of puberty, however, and tried to come to terms with the changes in my body, I was suddenly reluctant to wear a bikini, and Eric had asked me about it, affirming the he liked how I looked in a bikini, his words and his fond gazes soothing me, comforting me. Yet my breasts never reached what general society would consider an "appropriate size" for a young woman, and while it subconsciously plagued me throughout middle school and high school and even to some extent during my first year at the university, and whenever I would speak with my big brother about my deep-rooted concerns, he had a way of making me feel much more comfortable in my own body.
Deciding at last that I should wear the bikini for him before he left the city, I finally slipped out of bed, habitually reaching to the bedpost for the robe which was not there, then chiding myself with a soft smile – after all, my big brother had seen me wearing similar sleepwear without a robe for many years, and the temperature in the suite was definitely not cool enough to warrant a robe.
When I finally emerged from the bedroom, the small coffeemaker in the suite had just enough life-affirming brew for me to enjoy a cup and awaken a little faster. As I poured a cup of the hazelnut drink, I could feel Eric's eyes upon me as he sat at the table with his laptop. "Good morning, sunshine," he joked quietly as his eyes caressed me from across the room.
The "Good morning, sunshine" was part of our typical banter. His eyes caressing me, however, was the evidence that I was not the only one in the suite who was starting to feel more than just familial love for a sibling.
We ultimately decided on three apartment complexes to visit, all in the same general area. The first two were nice, but it was clear from the way we were treated that the staff viewed us solely as rent checks.
The third place, however – the complex with the enclosed patios and balconies – was both visually appealing and very strong on customer/tenant service. It was indeed the type of place we were looking for: two bedrooms, fairly spacious, good layout. The only choice was whether we wanted to share a bathroom or not. Ultimately, the choice was made for us: In the time period in which we wanted to move in, there were only one-bath apartments available, but that was fine with us – after all, Eric and I had shared a bathroom for much of our lives.
We signed the lease that same day, and then went to a local convenience store to buy a money order to pay the security deposit and the first month's rent. When we finally left the complex, we were both smiling, for we would soon be living together again in a place just for us.
We stopped to get a late lunch at Subway, and walked across the street to the small park to eat there. We sat on a comfortable bench together, eating, talking, watching the birds as an old man sitting upon a nearby bench fed them crumbs of bread. There was definitely a unique pleasure in something so simple as watching someone feeding birds, and even long after we had finished our sandwiches, Eric and I continued to sit, watching the birds clamoring for more crumbs, watching the camaraderie the old man had with the birds. Only when he had no more crumbs to offer did he and the birds finally leave the area.
...which left me alone with my big brother.
"We'll need to get you your own furniture," he reminded me.
"I know," I acknowledged, leaning against him.
Perhaps absently, he wrapped an arm around my shoulders. Except for the fact that we were wearing more clothing and were not in bed, it felt just like the previous night, when he had joined me in bed. I felt loved and cherished, confident that my big brother could protect me from all the negativity in life. I felt like a valuable person, a cherished woman who could truly bring him happiness simply by existing, simply by sharing a part of his life.
"We'll need to get a bit of furniture for me," I said. "Given that you're currently in that tiny studio, we'll need to get some common-area furniture as well, like a sofa and a coffee table. We'll probably need to get more dishes and silverware."
"All true," he said, patting my bare thigh with his free hand.
I glanced down, noting how close his thumb was to the hem of my skirt. Idly, I wondered if he had meant to touch my leg so close to my skirt, or if it was purely coincidence. After a few moments, however, he seemed to realize just where he had (inadvertently?) placed his hand, and moved it to my knee.
"It's okay," I assured him. "I honestly don't mind. In fact, I find it... flattering."
Our eyes met, and I smiled warmly at my big brother. The eyes – almost identical to mine – pierced me deeply, and suddenly I found that I was breathless, like prey trapped in a corner, shrinking back in fear, heart pounding violently and the lungs completely unable to function. Yet I was not afraid at all, so even though my heart was pounding vehemently and sounding loudly in my ears, the fact that I was breathless from just a single look, especially a single look from him, from my big brother, shocked me in a pleasant way, giving me that warmth deep in my belly...
Eric retracted his hand. "Let's head back to the hotel," he said softly. "It's a little... exposed here."
I understood his meaning. Clearly, a non-familial love was forming between us, and for us to show our illicit affection for each other in public could create great problems.
"Yeah," I agreed quietly. "Let's go back to the hotel."
Throughout the drive back to the hotel, we maintained a comfortable silence, but it was clear that something was brewing between us. We may as well have been tied together with a chain which kept tightening around us. Shortly before we arrived at the hotel, I briefly placed my hand upon my big brother's right thigh, and he placed his hand upon mine.
As we passed through the hotel lobby, we maintained a respectable distance between us, chatting quietly again, but something just felt different. Perhaps I was simply imagining things, but it seemed that the hotel staff and the other guests were watching us closely, curiously, trying to discern what made us different from any other brother and sister passing through the lobby.
We were not alone in the elevator. An older couple, clearly husband and wife given the aura of intense love which surrounded them, joined us to our floor, turning left as the exited the elevator while Eric and I turned right. I was still thinking of the couple as my big brother unlocked the door to our suite, and wondered if perhaps that was how we had appeared to the hotel staff and the other guests as we had passed through the lobby a few minutes earlier.
Stepping into the suite, I felt as if a previously-unnoticed weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. "Relieved?" my big brother asked as he ensured the door was closed and locked behind us, and only then did I realize that I had given a big sigh of relief.
I nodded as he approached me, opening his arms. Eagerly, I stepped into his embrace, hugging him fiercely, his heartbeat comforting in a way I had never noticed during our many hugs in the past. For several minutes, we stood in the living room, holding each other, simply enjoying each other's company, each other's accepting presence.
"Since I was traveling yesterday afternoon," Eric finally said quietly, "I need to catch up on work."
As one, we both looked to his laptop, perched upon the work table. "That's okay," I said. "I should probably do a little studying myself. I'll go work in the bedroom so I don't disturb you."
Even though we would be within the same suite, the prospect of being in separate rooms suddenly seemed threatening. However, I went into the bedroom and retrieved a textbook, a pen, and a notepad from my backpack.
I was having a very hard time focusing on my studies. My mind kept drifting to the man in the living room part of the suite. I kept feeling his arms around me. I kept hearing his heartbeat in my ear. I kept seeing his eyes piercing my soul.
Since hotels inherently have pools, take a bikini.
My roommate's suggestion returned to the forefront of my mind, and I looked toward my carry-on bag. To my recollection, Eric had yet to see me wearing that particular bikini, and I wanted to wear it for him, to hopefully see him smile appreciatively.
I tried to force myself back to my studies, but my mind still would not focus. I kept thinking of my big brother, of wanting to appeal to him, of wanting him to view me as more than just his little sister. The bikini in the carry-on bag was a good step in that direction.
Finally, I gave up studying – or more specifically, I put studying on pause. I rose from the bed and silently pushed the bedroom door mostly closed – leaving it open just a tiny crack.
A few minutes later, I wore the bikini. It was a basic bikini in terms of design: red with black trim and strings. I liked how the tie-side bottom showed off my hips, the strings tied into nice bows. As I looked at myself in the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door, I momentarily envisioned Eric standing behind me, watching my reflection with appreciation and admiration as his fingers gently tugged the bows loose...