Nikki panicked for a moment before remembering that the lock made that noise whenever the door closed. She really needed to get some sleep. Heart still pounding, tired, woozy, pounding head, jacket clutched under one arm, skirt off-center, she carefully balanced herself against the wall and moved down the cramped hallway. She reached out to the wall, cold plaster, until she found the light switch and flipped it on. Click.
She screamed, stepping backwards.
He regarded her through gray eyes, then took another sip of whatever he was drinking, as if she wasn’t worth his time. Despite him being the home invader here.
“Holy hell, Rob!”
“Hello,” Rob intoned, his voice flat.
“How did you get in here?!” Nikki yelled, flicking the light back off. Click. The room was spinning despite the darkness, and she didn’t want to look at Rob. “You can’t just visit without telling me! I live here!”
“You gave me a key,” Rob reminded her, “and said to drop by any time. Mom’s worried.”
Nikki scoffed. “What else is—”
“New? Fair enough, but I have to wish that you wouldn’t make her worry even more.” Rob sighed, and God, he sounded just like Dad. “You haven’t been taking her calls.”
“When do I ever? I’m the irresponsible sibling.” Nikki felt her way along the wall. Plaster and paint, then the wood of a doorframe. She pulled open the closet and grabbed a blanket. Rob could sleep on the table or something. “Go to sleep, it’s like two in the—”
“Three,” he interrupted, “Three forty-five. If you wanted to know.”
Nikki glared through the dark at her precocious younger brother. “I didn’t.”
“You’re mad at me.” Rob’s stupid clear voice was following Nikki down the hall. “Just because I make you think of Mom. She misses you. You’re being unfair.”
“Go to sleep,” Nikki repeated, “you’re—”
“Not wrong,” Rob insisted. “She’s happy, Nikki, can’t you see that? She was miserable with Dad, and I love you, Niks, but you’re being selfish—”
Click. Nikki flicked on the light again, throwing the white walls into stark relief. Rob stared at her coldly, his cup—her cup—on the table. He was like a statue. “How—”
“Can I say that? Basic observational skills and consideration of other people. Nikki, just call her. She’s freaking out—and you know, he’s not that bad—”
“You met him?! Have you even—”
“Thought about Dad? Yeah.”
“Stop reading my mind!” Nikki spluttered. “You don’t know everything, Robin! You don’t get to pretend that you’re so superior because you think about every option and never get mad! It’s not fair, what she’s doing!”
“How is it not fair? She waited until we moved out—”
“She was cheating on Dad for seven years! She was lying to us for our entire lives!”
“Nikki,” Rob said calmly, “she was living a lie. She was so, so, unhappy, and she deserves—”
“She could’ve been honest with us—”
“From the beginning? We were young. We just moved to a new city—”
“She’s changing everything—”
“Mom and Dad were never in love, not while we were alive—”
They said it together, Nikki with burning anger, Rob with ferocious quiet. Rob hadn’t moved, his stupid creepy face just staring her down. Nikki knew her face was red, her messy hair and clothes making her look crazy, as always. She wondered what the neighbors were hearing, what they would think—Nikki Werner, loose morals and bad choices—and Chris, what would he think—
“You’re thinking of your boyfriend,” Rob told her. “You should just break up with him already. You’re not happy with him. This is how things like Mom and Dad get started.”
“Says the guy who’s never been in a relationship?! What’s next, change my—”
“Job?” Rob took another sip of tea, raising an eyebrow, and Nikki knew that no matter what he said, he didn’t respect her, he might have wanted to help but he didn’t trust her or view her as an older sister, and Nikki couldn’t stand that—she made good decisions, too, she could be the good child too if she wanted to—
“You’re a good daughter,” Rob assured her. “Just...not at the moment.”
“Stay out of my head!”
“I’m not in your head, Niks, I just know you. I know how insecure you get, and how you just want to make Dad and even Mom happy. You just don’t know how to do it, and I want you to be happy, Nikki—that’s why I give you advice—”
Torn between sprinting into the kitchen and strangling her brother, and going into her room and slamming the door (her head was still swimming), Nikki shouted, “shut up, Robin Werner—” because he thought he was better than her “—you come into my house—” he loved Mom more than her or Dad “—you always try to tell me how to live my life—” and he knew her better than she knew herself “—but you’re not always right—” even though somehow, he was, and Nikki hated that “—so be quiet for once and go to sleep!” The light in her room was off. She slammed the door, leaving herself alone with the warm, motionless air. The quilt on her bed had been given to her by her mother. She ripped it off and then climbed under the sheet.
Robin sat in the light for a few more moments, the light swinging slightly over his head. Then he unfroze. He finished his tea, which was growing cold, stood, and washed out the cup and left it to dry on the counter. He walked down the tiny hallway, turned out the light, and left the cramped, dingy apartment.
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