Little Things Ch. 03 of 04bynomennescio©
I strongly recommend beginning with the first section of this story.
I awaken slowly the next morning, a yawn stretching my mouth and my limbs before I realize that I'm alone. The sun well-risen over the horizon, peering in through the window at me. Snowfall stopped, for now - the skies are mostly clear, with just a scattering of clouds, and yesterday's blanket of white sparkles so brightly in the sunlight as almost to dazzle the eye.
Slept in, I guess. At least by the standards of home, where one usually gets up with the chickens. Pulling on yesterday's jeans, I amble downstairs to find my mother at the sink, industriously scrubbing at a large cast-iron skillet, the sound of scraping masking my descent until I hit that one squeaky step near the bottom of the staircase.
"Well!" She turns around then, regards me with tolerant disapproval. "Good morning, sleepyhead. I wasn't sure you were ever going to get up."
"Sheesh, mom." Lightly amused, I roll my eyes good-naturedly, thumbs hooked into my pockets. "It's only like eight o'clock."
"'Only,' she says." For all the grumbling, my mother's voice is mild and friendly as she shakes her head. "You missed breakfast, I'm afraid. We had omelettes. I wanted to wake you up, but your brother insisted we let you sleep; you can blame him for missing out."
"I'll be sure to." A little smile quirks on my lips, touched and appreciative. Ah, Davey. "Anything left to eat?"
"Well, as it happens - entirely by coincidence - I may have left a pot of oatmeal simmering on the stove." She sniffs with an almost theatrical delicacy. "Do you still take it with honey?"
"Yeah, that'll be fine." Funny. Not sure why, but I laugh, a brief huff of humor. I just feel good this morning, overall. I guess it didn't necessarily have to be that way, after last night, but...everything feels nice, the day bright before me. It's not even a chore to get along with my mother; the smile of gratitude that grabs at my lips is entirely genuine. "Thanks, mom." For all that we fight, I know that she cares, that she's trying to look out for me in her own way. A girl can't really ask for much more than that.
Half an hour later, my stomach appeased, I slip on a heavy black turtleneck and dash across the snow outside to duck into the corral beneath the barn. The air inside is thick with the familiar smell of cow, of methane and manure - you can hose them down from time to time, but they're filthy creatures. Loud, too; on top of the near-constant conversational mooing, there's the steady hum and whoosh of the ventilation, bringing in and heating outside air so that the stink doesn't turn lethal. With the animals packed in tight, I have to scan twice over the long room before I catch sight of David two rows down, shoveling corn into a feeding trough.
I almost manage to sneak up on him. Only in the last few feet does he notice me and turn, setting the metal head of his shovel down upon the concrete floor with an audible clank. "Hey, morning, Sam." His tone light enough, but surprisingly restrained, hesitant. A daub of concern evident in his eye. "How are you feeling?"
"How do I feel?" I give him a look, amused and faintly sardonic. One eyebrow raised curiously. Not entirely sure what to say, until impulse pushes me close and lifts my hands to his face, one resting on each cheek as he looks back, uncertain. "I feel good." Laughter bubbling out of me again, alive and ebullient. I give his cheeks a pinch before letting go, treasuring briefly the texture of his skin. "Really good, actually. Why do you ask?"
His own smile blooms weak and relieved. "I don't know, I just kinda worried that, um..." A brief silence, his eyes in mind. The past night flowing in each of our thoughts. "That maybe you wouldn't. That's all."
"Well, I do." Stepping forward again, so our bodies are separated by no more than an inch. My hands draped down from his shoulders, my face close to his, tilted up. A careful question. "Is dad around?"
David's mouth barely opens, but he doesn't speak. Just shakes his head 'no'...and I cross the remaining inches, plant a quiet kiss upon his lips. A mild one, soft; no great sensual hunger possessing me here on this cold morning amidst the cows. Just a few moments, shared as welcome to the new day, as an affirmed connection. It feels almost natural now. Like it's totally normal to kiss my brother hello, to feel my soul warm with the touch of his lips.
Pulling back again, a silly smile stretches on my face. David speaks first. "I'm almost done here. Dad took the truck out into town, but we could, um...go for a walk, or hang out around the house, or...I guess we could drive the tractor out there if you wanted." Shoveling another load of silage from the wheelbarrow as he speaks.
"I don't know." I shrug vaguely. "We'll figure something out, I'm sure." A beat passes, watching his body shift and tighten as he works. Warming by his labor and by the paddock's heating, he's wearing just a thin white t-shirt stretched across his chest, and the movement of muscle is outlined plainly beneath, intricate and precise like some grand machine. I almost want to just stand there watching as he finishes, enjoying the show.
Almost. "Let me pitch in there." The tools are still in the same place as always, left leaning against the wall; I pick up another shovel and head back to his side. A brief hesitation in his expression, a look in his eye like he wants to protest, to tell me that he'll handle it himself. But my knowing smirk heads off the words before they can reach his tongue, and together, the two of us burn through the feeding of the remaining cattle.
The work passes quickly with an extra set of hands. It's comforting, too, in its own way. A little slice of my childhood, looking after the big animals. Still, I'm far from disappointed when we finish, tossing our tools back into the corner and stepping back outside together into the brisk winter air. A pleasing chill, after the excessive warmth inside; I stretch, breathing it deeply in, while David shrugs his way into his battered old army coat, a hand-me-down from my father. The sun smiles down on us, and glints almost painfully up in fractured reflections from frozen waves of snow. Didn't think to pack my sunglasses...I avert my eyes, looking up into the sky, and the trees of the nearby woods poke up invitingly just into the bottom of my vision. That could work. "You know," my voice carries clear in the wintery stillness. "Let's go on that walk, like you said. It's been too long."
A rail line lies a hundred yards or so from the house, running ramrod-straight through forest and countryside - a knife, cut across the landscape. Little-used, now; usually just two trains a day. It makes a fine path to follow as we walk, sometimes alongside the old timbers, sometimes atop the steel rail, stepping carefully with arms outstretched like we're walking a tightrope. And sometimes hand-in-hand down the middle of the tracks, treading through light slush left by the passage of the morning train. At either side a steep embankment rises, leading now into the heart of the woods, splotched with light and darkness between evergreens still standing wide and majestic and the bare skeletons of deciduous oaks; as I look deep amongst the frozen forest, impulse takes me, and I lead us scrambling through crumbling snow up the short slope, into the woods proper, to truly wander between the thick-set trees.
David's quiet. Unusually so, a reticence of manner which itself speaks of some deep thought struggling to find words. But I don't worry overmuch - he'll say what he wants to, in time. Right now, amongst the trees with him, I feel a deep upwelling of peace, a simple, honest joy. It was walks like this which first made me realize my love of nature, the beauty I found in just this space making me want to preserve it and others like it, to work to spread the awe and the majesty which take root outside the cities of men.
We've been walking in silence for a while now. Me forging ahead, with David just behind. In the frozen stillness, the sound of his voice seems almost deafening when he finally speaks. "Sam." A diffident tone, even as he tries for my attention. I'm only half-listening, engaged in looking about. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know," an abstracted answer. My gaze still turned upwards to the treetops, trying to identify genus, species, subspecies as we pass beneath... "I'm just wandering, you know? Don't think there's any trendy nightclubs in the area, anyway." Amusement leaking through, at the end.
"No, that's not what I...um." An awkward silence. It takes me a moment to realize that the crunch of his footsteps behind me has stopped; when I turn and look over my shoulder, his gaze is laying troubled at my feet. Only slowly rising up to my eyes, before he speaks again. "I mean we. Us. What are we...what are we going to be? Where are we going to end up?"
My turn at quiet, an unhappy cast falling across my features. Obvious now what he means, what he's asking, but...I don't want it, don't want the question, don't want to see his eyes so soft and plaintive, lambent with desire for something that can't be.
I mean, sure, as a dream, as a fantasy...there's a kind of beauty to it. For us not to be pulled apart by time and distance. To hold tight to the closeness we've shared, to be siblings and friends and...and something more, too. If we didn't have to worry about the rest of the world, if we could love each other as fully as our hearts might want.
But that's foolishness. Insanity. There are things we can't have, things that are impossible. He has to see that. Biting unconsciously at my lip, I try for words of eloquence to explain it again, to make him understand. But they evade my grasp - I'm no poet, and as the seconds pile on one another I finally fall to the brusque, the direct. "Nothing, David. Nowhere." Looking out among the trees, tearing my gaze away so I don't have to look him in the eye. "We can't be anything other than what we are. Brother and sister. All this other stuff...it isn't real. It's a game, it's pretend. And it can only go on as long as we both understand that it's a game. That it can't lead anywhere, can't mean anything."
I risk a glance back in his direction. He stands there in ankle-deep snow, shoulders sagging, gaze fallen again to the frozen earth. Looking for all the world like a chastened puppy, innocent and desperately earnest in sadness - my heart tears a little at the seams, at the image of him there, empathic pain spreading swiftly through me like a poison in the blood. I step closer, wanting so badly to comfort him, despite how little I have to offer. And closer still, drawing up before him, my hands grasping at his wrists. Ducking down, to try to catch his troubled eyes. "Please tell me you understand, Davey." Softly. Tenderly, I hope. My thumb stroking gently at the back of his hand, my face rising up to his. A quiet regret that he's too tall, now, for me to touch foreheads...I lay it down at his cheek instead, feeling his nose at the side of my scalp. "I don't want it to have to end right now."
For a few moments, he just breathes, his exhalations running softly through my hair, setting it gently to flutter. Then, "Yeah." A sound low and self-conscious, trying for energy while burdened with an atom of bitterness. His hands brush ineffectually at my waist. "Of course. I understand. It's just a game." The words forced rigidly from his throat, his body stiff with upset. Not quite the truth, and yet not quite a lie; he may understand intellectually, but even a stranger could see how his heart rebels, how he fights against acceptance of the truth. Refusing to surrender his dreams.
It'll have to be enough. Game or not, what I said is true - I don't want it to end. "Good." A firm whisper on his skin. Before pulling away, I lay a little kiss there on the side of his chin, feeling the brush of his almost invisible stubble on my lips. A smile, weak and bittersweet, as contact breaks and I look up again into his troubled blue eyes. The space between us filled with the painful honesty of silence, building until it must be broken. "Maybe we should head back to the house."
There's a vague sense of guilt inside me that pushes me to his side in the return, walking not hand-in-hand but arm-in-arm through the snowy woodland. Pressed up close beside him, my head tilted onto his shoulder, sharing a morsel of warmth with arms stretched across each other's back and hands clasped on each other's waist...I can feel his fingers there, through my shirt and sweater, and the sensation is a constant distraction from the natural beauty which surrounds us.
"If only you weren't my brother." My voice again breaks the stillness of the forest, murmuring in tones tinged with longing.
"Well, thanks," he returns with faintly biting sarcasm. Nursing still his hurt.
"Oh, stop." My fingers slip under the edge of his jacket to give him a chiding little pinch. "You know what I mean. If we were just two random people. If it didn't have to be a game, be pretend. If we could just do whatever we felt like." It's an admission in itself, a suggestion of the things I might want, and my cheeks warm with color as I work past the mass of contradiction in my heart, my throat. Ending with a need to minimize, to brush aside. "Not that it matters, I guess. You wouldn't even feel this way about me if I weren't your sister."
His head shifts, glancing over, and I can hear the surprised injury in his tone. "What do you mean? Of course I would."
"No you wouldn't." I shake my head with the easy confidence of certainty. "Come on. How would I catch your eye, if I were just some girl on the street? Why would you care?" A shrug, one shoulder beneath his. "You'd just end up with somebody pushy enough to rope you in."
"You can be pretty pushy," he reminds me, a tickle of amusement in his voice.
"Maybe. Sometimes." A snort of laughter, then quiet. "But still, I don't have the goods. No, you'd probably shack up with April, or somebody like her." My smile flickers, touched by a twinge of jealousy. "Probably enjoy it a lot more, too, without me making you feel bad about it."
"I would not," he protests again, a defensive edge to his voice. "She's...I mean, I don't even know her, really, but she doesn't seem like someone I'd even want to spend time with at all." A frown, looking away. "And I know, I - I spent the night with her, but she...I didn't want to, exactly."
"Uh-huh." I raise a tolerantly skeptical eyebrow. "Well, like I said, she's pushy...but I don't remember you looking the other way when she was waving her tits around." A slight, self-deprecating smile, glancing down at myself. "Don't think I'd be much competition in that area."
"I..." Embarrassment and frustration wrestle in his voice, choking him off. He shakes his head, a bid for composure. "Jeez, Sam. What do you want me to say?"
"Just the truth," I fire off carelessly casual into the cold air, and immediately regret how much it sounds like an accusation. Scrambling for humor, to soften the impact. "Or a really good lie, if you can think of one."
He chuckles at that, slightly, and then stays silent for some moments. Breathing slow and quiet through his nose as we walk together in the snow. "Yeah." Finally admitting, "She had a nice chest." I smile, though I don't really feel it. Just a smug little smirk from my inner cynic. But he's not done. "So do you, though, in a different way. And you have absolutely beautiful legs, while hers were kind of too skinny, with gross knobbly knees." A mild snort of my own, snidely amused, as he presses on. "And besides, it isn't even that important, all that physical stuff. I feel like I do because...because of times like this, you know? Walks in the woods, talks, all these moments we've had. All our adventures, and when you stuck up for me, and when I've been able to help you. I mean, maybe it'd be hard for us to have had those times, if I weren't your brother, but if we somehow did - if I'd just been your friend instead - I'd still feel the same way now." I hardly notice that we've stopped walking until he turns, looks into my eyes with such urgent sincerity that my heart seems to tremble in response. "I know I would."
My lips part, gently, but I can think of nothing to say until at last a murmured "Wow..." flows out to break my silence. Hanging there in the air, saying more than it ought, as my heart patters in a quick tattoo. My cheeks flushing at my own reaction, and my only escape is humor. "That is a pretty good lie."
A beat passes, David still staring down seriously. Then his mouth twists up at the corners, his head lightly shakes, and he laughs soft and sincere, warm and happy for a good handful of moments. Finally ending with a shyly good-natured bite at his lower lip, amusement dancing with affection in his eye. "That's why." He speaks, smiles, as his hand reaches up and taps me lightly at the top of my chest. "Right here - that's how I know." Turning back then, and as we continue onwards I feel a warm relief at least that the shroud of upset which had fallen over him seems to be lifted. I can hardly be happy when David isn't, but when he is...there's a subtle joy in being at his side, a pleasure I can find nowhere else.
It's a long walk back, crunching now through a foot of snow, forced into a cautious pace by the occasional log or rock that lies buried underneath. But in his company, the minutes pass swiftly, and my feet hardly feel the chill. Indeed, it seems almost a disappointingly short while later that the red edifice of the barn heaves into view past gnarled wooden skeletons, and the house follows close after. We could head back inside, have some lunch - I'm feeling a trifle peckish again. But I don't really want to. Not quite ready, yet, to face the restraint of observation, to have to watch my words and actions under the gaze of my parents.
Instead, I lead David up to the big barn doors, finally disengaging from one another to pull one open a notch and slip inside. Bare bulbs, hanging down on long wires from the roof, cast a dim light across the huge room, illuminating a cubist landscape built from yellow bales of hay, reaching up in some places almost to the slanted ceiling. It's warm, almost hot, the heat from the corral beneath drifting up to be captured by the insulating straw, and I hardly hesitate before stripping off my turtleneck and tossing it atop a bale near the door.
"So. What are you thinking?" David speaks mild and easy, leaning against the wall.
"I don't know." A bright admission, my fingers poking at the tight-bound hay. Glancing back, a bit of a grin curves my lips. "Remember when we used to build forts in here with this stuff?"
He laughs a moment, mirroring my smile. "I remember when one of them collapsed on us, anyway. Trying to make a roof probably wasn't too smart."
I stick my tongue out at him, playfully. "Hey, we dug ourselves out just fine."
"Maybe you were 'just fine,'" a cheerful retort. "Me, I was scared out of my wits."
Laughter, soft and brief, bubbles from my chest. My knee catches at the top of a bale, and I clamber up, sitting with legs curled half beneath me as I look back at David. "Didn't stop you from coming back the next time we built one." Lightly teasing.
He shrugs. "You asked me to." Simply. Like that's enough.
A little shake of the head as I smile, the cheer he inspires leaking irrepressibly into my expression. I turn again, gesture for him to follow as I climb further up the irregular, blocky hill. Another memory percolating slowly through my mind, though this one I don't share - long after we stopped with the forts, I brought a couple boyfriends here, when I wanted to spend time with them outside my parents' watchful gaze. Hidden behind piles of hay, I had some of my earliest sexual experiences. The first time I touched a guy's dick. The first time I was ever totally naked for someone. The first time I went all the way...I mean, it wasn't very good, and the guy turned out to be an asshole, but who can forget her first time? The trembling uncertainty of it, the fumbling, adolescent hunger. The curiosity and the fear, and the strange sense of simultaneous gain and loss in being for the first time possessed.