When he returned Chris noticed the open door to his deck. He smiled when he saw her fast asleep on the lounger. Bending down he picked her up. She shifted in his arms, burying her face in his neck and gripping his shoulder with one hand. He waited to see if she would wake up. Her breath evened out and she didn’t move anymore.
Reaching her bedroom, he found himself reluctant to let go of her. Her heat was comforting to him. Her breathing against his skin gave him sweet tremors. He sat down on the bed, still holding her in his arms. She fit perfectly on his lap. Despite all her curves, she felt tiny to him, like a child. Cradling her to his body felt so right.
What the hell was wrong with him?
He laid her down on the bed. She immediately curled up into a ball. Grabbing a blanket from a wooden chest at the foot of the bed, he slipped it in around her. He allowed himself to tuck her hair behind her ear. It was so soft and silky.
Step away from your sister, he ordered himself. Leave her in peace. He turned quickly and left.
As she slept, he watched game films and took notes on his opponents. Because he watched the games muted, he could hear her making noises in her sleep. He got up to go check on her.
She still was curled up in a fetal position. This time however her arms covered her head as if protecting it. Her whimpers made his chest fill with emotion. He had never felt like this with a woman. His need to protect her was so strong it felt like an ache in his body. He hardly knew her. She was his sister but they hadn’t grown up together. In reality she was a stranger to him.
“No,” he heard her whisper. “Please no.”
He sat down next to her. Laying his hand on her exposed side, he felt her tension ratchet up with his touch. He began to rub his thumb over her tenderly wanting to comfort her.
She whimpered and tightened her fetal position.
“Emma,” he called to her softly. “Emma, wake up sweetheart. It’s a dream.”
He gripped her side slightly. She tensed even more.
“Emma,” he said more loudly. “Wake up baby girl. You’re ok.”
Before he could react she exploded away from him. She cowered against the headboard, her arms wrapped around her upraised knees. Her big brown eyes were terrified of him. She wasn’t seeing him still caught up in her nightmare.
“Emma!” he barked. “Look at me!”
Slowly her eyes began to focus on him. Her panting slowed down and she began to lower her arms and legs.
“Chris?” she finally said.
“I’m sorry. I was talking in my sleep. I’m so sorry I disturbed you.”
“You didn’t disturb me. Are you ok? It sounded like you were having a nightmare.”
She blushed with embarrassment. Looking away from him, she nodded her head. “I have nightmares,” she told him shame in her voice. “Usually I’m quiet when I have them, but I guess maybe being in a new place, I’m a little … anxious.”
“You have nothing to fear here,” Chris told her earnestly. “You’re safe here sweetheart.”
She looked back up at him. She looked dubious but she nodded her head. “I know,” she said softly. “I mean you don’t know me well enough to not like me.”
“What?” he asked confused.
“Most people who meet me don’t like me all that much. But we’ve just met so you can’t dislike me already. I know you don’t like me either. I am trying to be the best guest I can be. You won’t even know I’m here despite me … talking in my sleep. I’ll try to not do that anymore.”
“Why do most people not like you?” he asked curious. She was shy and introverted but nothing stood out to him that would make him dislike her.
She shrugged her shoulders and stared down at the comforter.
“Emma,” he said with a hint of steely encouragement.
She heard it and responded immediately even though she didn’t want to speak the words.
“I’m not a, a very friendly person,” she confessed, still not looking at him. “I don’t, I mean I’ve been told I’m an ice princess. Stuck up and cold. I’m not that great with people.”
“Well if it means anything to you, I don’t think of you as an ice princess.”
She looked up suddenly at him, her eyes wide with disbelief. “You don’t?”
“No sweetheart. You’re definitely shy and anxious, but you’ve been nothing but polite since you got here.”
“I try to be.”
“You are. How are you feeling? Not quite so nervous?” he asked. He put his hand on her knee. Again she tensed. “Emma,” he began quietly remembering what his parents had told him about her horrendous childhood and its lasting effects on her. “I won’t ever hurt you. You have my word. You don’t need to be scared. You’re my little sister and I am going to keep you safe. I promise.”
She gave him a weak smile. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I know you won’t hurt me. Mom and dad told me you wouldn’t. I trust them. I – I trust you, even though we don’t know each other well. But we’re family.”
“Right. We are family. Now, tell me what would you like to have for supper.”
“I’m not hungry,” she answered looking away from him again. He had the distinct feeling she was lying to him. Why would she lie about being hungry? His mother had told him Emma was on some crazy diet and she had lost quite a bit of weight, but still felt like she needed to lose even more. As far as he was concerned she was perfect the way she was. His mother had asked him to at least feed his sister once a day.
“Well I am starving. I missed lunch so I am thinking a big bowl of pasta for supper. I’ll make enough for the two of us and if you change your mind you can have some. I’d love it if you joined me for dinner,” he told her honestly. “I only get to have you for a week. I’d like to spend as much time together as we can.”
Again she stared up at him in astonishment. He smiled. “Would that be ok?” he asked.
“I would love that,” she answered tentatively. “I don’t want to put you out or anything, but if you have time I wouldn’t mind doing whatever you want to.”
“Well let’s start with supper and we can discuss the things you would like to do while you are here. Sound like a plan?”
She nodded her head and smiled at him.
There it was, he thought amazed. That smile. It made his stomach flutter and his heart race. What he found himself thinking about was making her smile like that forever. He frowned and turned away from her before he did something stupid.
“Come on,” he tossed over his shoulder, getting up and walking away from her. “You can help me make dinner.”