My brother climbed the obstacle course, laughing over his shoulder with one fist around the ladder. I smiled from the bench, finishing the last sentence to my article.
“I’m climbing a helicopter!” he shouted.
I grimaced at his imagination. He could’ve just said “castle” or “mountain” or “beanstalk.” I smiled again, growing tired and wanting to go back home. The kids around him played. They usually played without him. There were too many cops or too many robbers or too many runners in tag. He got over it quickly, tumbling down the sweaty slides alone, urging me to join him.
“In a minute.” I’d say and promise myself one more paragraph.
There was no point in playing with him. He dominated all of the rules. He made them up so that I inevitably lost. But I thought back to the evenings I impersonated a monster or a shark and I wanted to do it all over again. And then I remembered the evenings he invited me and begged me while the sun went down while I exhausted my chances doing something less worthy than my brother. I wrote faster. I glanced at his pudgy body struggling to remount the cages.
Just one last point. I promised.
Everything turned pink. Parents yawned and checked their phones impatiently. The laughter of the children seemed louder.
It was most fun playing at night, not because we usually weren’t supposed to but because everything became vivid. We couldn’t see each other’s faces; we traced each other’s voices and felt
around and searched. All that was heard were echoes shouting, “Where’s Janette? Where’s ChaChi?” It was as bright and cheerful as daylight when we listened especially amongst fireflies disappearing in the air. We’d capture them and let them go, looking outward for where they’d end up.
I wanted childish jocularity back over anything.
A bag zipped and I became anxious. I had only a few minutes left. I concluded my article, excited to join him like I was seven years old, too. And then, suddenly, I heard a thud.
A mother groaned and leapt for him.
“Honey, are you alright?” she sounded on the verge of tears.
He stood up swiftly like wings fluttering. Wood chips pinched his pants and shirt and he patted his body sternly.
“I’m okay,” he said, “Look, Heather, I didn’t cry.”
I looked down on him, clutching my notebook, trying to smile with this tone.
“I didn’t even cry,” he bragged, shaking his head and grinning, “I didn’t cry. Not even a little bit.”
The woman looked at me examining him. I was expressionless.
I said lowly, “It’s okay to cry, Pete.”
He shifted on the mulch, rubbing his knees in brief, painful spurts. He looked up at the disturbed almost disgusted expression I couldn’t hide. It made me sad. It was our mother making us nervous. It was a life of terror and embarrassment. I smiled at the woman hovering over his scabs.
“I think he’s gonna be alright.” I said, and took his hand and left.
I lied on my back with the sunrise peering over my nose. I was sweating but rubbing against a smooth nylon sheet. I shut my eyes and raised my nose toward the wall. It was just me. He couldn’t see me and wouldn’t if he tried. It was just me. My moment alone.I remounted, staring down at him, his soft eyes as open and honest as his conversation. His eyebrows tousled. His forehead wrinkled. I looked out the window.
Adrenaline rose over me so that a lump formed in my throat. I cleared it, tugging on his bare hip bone to flip over again. He looked into me. He knew me. He saw me with all his heart and made me feel with all his might. And I saw him too but I couldn’t look back for confirmation. I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t deserve the connection.
It was just me. My moment. My moment left alone.
I cleared my throat again but the lump came back up.
“You okay?” he asked.
I hummed that I was.
I’m not crying. Look, I’m not crying.
He placed his hairy chest on top of mine and I massaged the blade of his shoulder.
Don’t cry, Heather. I told myself.
He moved faster. I moved with him. We were faster than the fireflies reaching the streetlights. He blended into the light, disappearing and out of reach. I searched for him, wanting him back, wondering where he was going.
And then he calmed himself and I couldn’t let go. For a moment it felt like I never would.
“Are you crying?”
I felt the cotton pillow case with my cheek and covered my face. I assume he felt bad about it because he hasn’t touched me ever since.