We stayed at the beach until late evening, when the sun was finally starting to sink and the moon was half way into the sky.
The sunset there was amazing, and I wished that we could’ve stayed and watched it forever, but Aubrey wanted to get us back to the hotel. It was nine o’clock when we got back, and I was pretty beaten up from the day that was full of walking, shopping and letting our skin get soaked by the sun.
But at this time, the sun had gone away, and it was the time for nightmares and fears to brew. This is exactly what happened when I closed my eyes to go to sleep that night. ’The difference between me and you is that when you open your eyes your nightmares fade into nothing.’
I woke up with a startled cry. Outside was still dark, so I knew that it was either really early or the sun had exploded and we were all dead already. Josh rolled over to face me, his eyes open and looking at me with an intense stare. He gave me a half-hearted, sad and small smile; it looked pitiful so I turned away from it.
Josh put his arm around me and I curled into him. He was warm and I felt like I was outside on the beach again, lying on the sand and listening to the waves softly lap against the shoreline.
I fell asleep again, but Josh made sure I didn’t have a nightmare.
We walked across the board walk the next day, scoping out lakeside houses to rent or move into. I didn’t know where we were going to get the money to rent a house, let alone buy one, but Aubrey was fixed on the idea. And so, we searched for a house that looked nice and had a for sale sign on it; nothing. ’I guess we’ll have to get one in town then.’
Aubrey pouted for about ten minutes, but then decided it was time to get some ice cream from one of the many venders.
“I’m serious guys,” she said to us as we sat down on the concrete steps on the park, facing the lake and watching people play in the water, “Would you like to live here?”
It took us a moment to think, but then Josh answered, “I dunno. I kinda like our ‘we’re-homeless-and-live-in-our-van’ vibe. It gives us personality, and stuff.” Aubrey growled (she actually growled) at the ground and looked away from her brother in rage. ’Great, she’s upset again. Will she ever be happy? Shut up, and enjoy what you have.’
I looked down the street in front of us and caught a glimpse of a girl chasing after a runaway dog, and for a split second, I thought about helping her, but then I saw her older brother chasing after her and the dog. And that’s when I realized that not just the dog was running away, but all three of them were.
I smiled to myself, because they reminded me of my friends beside me. Violet came up to me then, and licked my mint ice cream. I didn’t mind this. In fact, a dog’s mouth has just as many germs as the human mouth. I licked my ice cream in return. Josh gave me a disgusted look, but I shrugged and ignored it.
“I do want to go back to my mom soon.” I said out loud instead of inside of my head, which I immediately regretted. Aubrey growled again, and I looked out towards the lake. It was true though, I wanted to go home, but not at that moment, I liked it where I was. Life was slow, and I wanted to soak up every minute of it; like I wanted to soak up the sun’s rays on my skin. “I miss her, and my house, even my stupid dad.” I tried to make it sound non-whiny, it didn’t go so well. “I mean, I like you guys and all, it’s just...”
“We’re not family.” Josh finished for me. “We were only substituting for the family you wanted, for the family you had.” His voice was angry, and I wanted to cover my ears with my hands to get away from it. I glanced over at Josh, and he looked white in the sunlight; like a corpse again. “But we’re not what you wanted. We’re not perfect.”
His face was growing red from anger, and I was starting to get scared. ’Don’t be a wimp. It’s just Josh, it’s not like he’ll hurt you or anything.’ Josh stood up, and for a terrifying second I thought he was going to punch me, but then he stomped away. Aubrey sighed and went after her little brother, leaving me alone in a town I had forgotten the name of.
I walked around the small market that was on the main street, trying to find something good to buy. Everything looked cool, but I wanted something to eat other than ice cream. There was a candy store, but unlike most kids my age, I couldn’t stand eating too much sugar.
Aubrey and Josh found me at a pizza place downtown.
They said that they had been looking for me for at least half an hour. I shrugged and said that they had left me to defend for myself. Aubrey looked irritated, and I could tell that Josh had cooled down because he smiled at me. I wasn’t in a very good mood; I didn’t smile back.
They sat down across from me at the table, and I looked down at my half eaten slice of cheese and pineapple pizza.
“Is it bad today?” Josh asked me, and he put out his hand for me to grab, but I didn’t. Josh sighed sadly and looked at me intensely. “You can’t hide from your own mind you know,” he said pitifully. “Just because you’re upset doesn’t mean you have to make everyone else upset, too.” Anger rose inside me, and balled my hands into fists under the table. I was ready to punch Josh in the nose, but I tried to control myself.
I glared down at my pizza.
“Josh’s right,” Aubrey agreed, “I know it’s hard, but the past is in the past and...”
“Yeah yeah,” I said sneered, “But you don’t know what it’s like to have your own brain at war with itself. It feels like grenades are going off all around me and I want it to stop.” Aubrey pursed her lips into a thin line, and I could tell she was getting really upset with me. Josh looked at his sister with an emotion I could not read. “I just want to be normal,” I growled at them, “I don’t want to be the kid who’s gay, or only has a mother, or has no life.”
“Then why did you come with us?” Aubrey snappily whispered to me. “If you wanted to be normal, then why did you make yourself an outsider?” Her voice was dangerously low, and I could feel the vibrations from her voice in my chest.
“Because I wanted to be normal with people who weren’t normal,” I said, “If that makes any sense.”
“It makes perfect sense,” Josh said to me. “You came with us because we’re outsiders, and you could be the normal one, not the outsider.”
“But that didn’t happen, now did it?” Aubrey interrupted. “You only dug yourself deeper into his mess of a life. You screwed up everything and everyone you loved.” I banged my fist on the table like an ill tempered adult.
“Will you two stop it?” Josh screeched at us. People from around us started to stare, but I didn’t care. Aubrey and I both glared at Josh. “You know, I once heard that the people who have a lot of things in common fight a lot.” He had a point, because I had heard many people say this as well.
But Aubrey and I were not the same, if anything the only thing we had in common was Josh, and that was about it. Although, this shut us both up; and I sulked in my seat and looked at anybody but Josh and Aubrey.
“I hate you.” Aubrey whispered to her brother and got up to leave. He looked at her with what I could only guess was guilt and regret, but I didn’t feel anything other than anger and resentment. Aubrey stormed out of the restaurant and I decided that I really was going to go home.
’I don’t like this anymore. I know I don’t like it either. What about Josh? He said he loved us. That’s something we can’t handle right now, sorry. Okay, but he won’t take it well. I’m working on it.’ Thoughts banged around in my brain, and I could feel a major headache coming along.
My arms felt like cement, but I put them on the table anyway and laid my head onto of them. My head was really starting to hurt and all the noise from the people around us suddenly grew ten times louder than normal.
“Ben,” Josh shook my shoulder worryingly, “Ben? Are you alright? Are you okay? Aubrey’s just being Aubrey. It’s that time of the month, I think... She’ll be back to normal soon enough. Ben?” He shook my shoulder again and I groaned in response. Josh let go of me and I could tell that he was staring at me.
“I wanna go home now.” I said my voice muffled from my arms and the table.
“You can’t go home, not now. We would have to drive you back.”
“Then I’ll call my mom and she could pick me up.”
“Do you even know where we are?”
“I dunno, either. But we could ask Aubrey.”
“I don’t wanna talk to her.”
He sighed, “I know you don’t.” Josh sighed again and I could tell that he was growing angry with me. In all fairness, I was acting pretty childish, but I wanted my mother (like most fourteen year old boys) and I wanted to be around the ones I knew best; my family.
Aubrey was waiting silently in the van when we came out of the pizza place. We drove silently through town and onto the highway. She wouldn’t speak, or even look at Josh and I. I pitied her, she had to deal with two whiny teenage boys, but I was still mad at her.
Half of my brain was thinking of ways to apologize to her, and the other half was thinking of ways to murder her. It was so confusing that I hadn’t noticed when I had fallen asleep in mid conversation with Josh. Not that I was really speaking to him, he was the one who was doing the talking; he assumed that I was going to listen to his rambling.
When I woke up, we were parked in a truck stop, Aubrey and Josh snoring away in their seats. I unbuckled myself, and grabbed my blue sweater to make a pillow for my head. Josh grunted in his sleep and I could see a dribble of drool coming out of his mouth. I stifled a giggle and tried to fall asleep again. ’He’s cute when he sleeping. Stop it! We’re leaving soon!’
My headache had subsided to a rhythmic hum in my ears, and I tried to concentrate on the ticking of my battery powered watch. This helped me focus on something other than the hum of pain and anger.
“Hey,” Aubrey whispered from the front, “Ben? Are you awake?”
“No, I’m ice fishing.” I snapped at her. In my defense, I was tried and my headache was coming back. I heard her sigh impatiently at me. “I do want to go home, though.”
“I know,” she replied. “That’s why I got upset. I knew that you would want to go home eventually. To be honest I didn’t think you’d last this long.”
“Really, how long did you think I would last?”
“Well, it’s been four weeks since you last saw your family. I thought you’d get up to maybe two weeks.” We chuckled together, and I glanced at my watch. ’Two o’clock, that’s actually not that late.’
Aubrey turned in the passenger seat to face me, and her green eyes looked like toxic waste in the yellow light from the street lamps outside. She reminded me of a cat stalking a mouse or a flightless bird; waiting for the right moment to attack and take a life, wild and unpredictable.
She smiled at me and I grinned back at her.
“He’s really lucky to have you.” She said to me. I cocked my head to the side in confusion.
“We fight a lot and we make each other cry. Yeah, he’s pretty lucky.” I said sarcastically. Aubrey chuckled at my remark.
“You understand him in ways I will never be able to,” she answered. “Maybe it’s because you’re guys or I’m his older sister. But there’s something about you that just makes Josh, I dunno, sparkle. He lights up when he sees you, and I can tell,” she was crying again and her voice got all choked up. “That you’ll know each other for a very long time after this; he’s very lucky, because I’ve never seen him act so happy and open about himself; ever. He’s always been this shy little, blond kid that walks around this dying Earth like he’s nothing. But in truth, his life is just as important as Oprah’s or the frickin’ Queen of England’s. And I don’t think he realizes that. But when he’s around you, it’s like he becomes a different person and a much less moody one that is.”
I realized in this moment that Aubrey really cared for her brother. She had cared so much that she ran away from home with him, she took on this depressed little boy to make her brother feel better; she was all I wanted to be in that moment.
A sibling’s love toward another sibling, younger or older, is something that holds forever; no matter how much you fought or if they died at birth, you would always remember what it was like to have a sibling, even if it was only for a split second or if it was a hundred years.
Aubrey really loved her brother, and I would never feel that way toward another kid my age, because there was only me.
But then I said this: “You’re a great big sister, Aubrey; to Josh and to me.” I don’t remember what happened next, I suddenly fell asleep on the spot. Although, I could faintly hear Aubrey saying something like: “And you’re a great little brother.”