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The Small Things
"When I was young, seven or eight, my parents used to force my brother to baby-sit for me whenever they went out. He hated it, of course. What teenager in their right mind wouldn't?" I smiled as I remembered his surly looks and muttered curses, that mysteriously vanished the second our parents left the house. "He kept telling me that I was cramping his style and that if it wasn't for me he'd be at some party or other of his own, drinking and talking to pretty girls." My smile turned to laughter. "More like sitting round one of his friend's smoking pilfered cigarettes and staring at old copies of Playboy."
I couldn't help but cast her a flirty look. "I never took you for a Playboy kind of girl."
Her laughter was refreshing. "Just for the articles," she lied, "but I was actually talking about brothers."
"You have a brother?"
She said no more, so I was forced to continue, "Anyway, his hostility never lasted past the initial grumbling, and we soon settled down for a night of blood and gore." I leaned back on the couch, the image of my brother fresh in my mind, and for a moment blinding me to Sofia's presence. "He'd act tough for the first twenty minutes or so until Count Dracula or a zombie crowd rushed the screen. Then he'd curl up beside me on the floor, our backs pressed into the sofa and a cushion grasped between our sweaty palms. His mouth close to my ear, the sound of his breathing almost enough to drown out the heroine's screams, as he turned away from the screen."
I could feel the cushions beneath me move as Sofia shifts in her seat, resting her head next to mine on the back of the couch. "Did you keep on watching?"
"Yes." Her breath tickled my neck; the sensation a million miles removed from the one I was remembering. "I had to."
"I don't know, I just did." I fight the urge to turn to her, afraid that I would ruin the moment. "He trusted me." I know I'm not explaining it well. "Those nights were special. Just the two of us sharing something that was ours and no one else's. I know it was silly, but watching those films with him was the most loved I've ever felt."
"Sara..." Her hand engulfed mine and I had to squeeze my eyes tight to keep from turning and seeing the pity in her eyes.
"He would always fall asleep before the last film finished, his snores guaranteeing I'd stay awake until the last credit rolled. The sounds of the house finally intruding on our time together and reminding me that our parents would soon be home." A smile played across my lips and I finally turned to face Sofia, her eyes lit with a kind of warmth I hadn't seen in years. "Trying to wake him was always fun. I'd start with a shout and a shove, but all he'd ever do is mumble and promise that he'd be up in a minute. That's when I'd resort to the ice water."
"Uh huh." Her eyes sparkled with humour and I stopped resisting the urge to hold her close. "He'd splutter and curse, before stumbling to his feet and chasing me up the stairs. His anger evaporating almost immediately as we turned the chase into the final part of our game, and he made his usual threat to tickle me into submission." God she smelled nice. "His Dracula impression making me giggle long before he touched my ribs."
I wasn't sure I liked the gleam in her eye. "I was."
"But not anymore?"
If I said no she'd take it as a challenge, and as much as the idea of having Sofia search for my ticklish spots filled me with an erotic warmth, I didn't think I would survive the assault with my dignity intact. "He would end up laughing just as hard as I was, the tears streaming down his face and his cheeks bright with j..joy." My voice cracked and for the first time I wasn't sure I could hold back my own tears.
"He loved you."
I nod. "I don't remember if he ever told me or if I ever told him, but it was there in all the small things." As a tear escaped my resolve I felt the warmth of Sofia's touch, her hand cupping me cheek and brushing away the proof of my distress. "When he...when he was gone all those things disappeared."
"How did he..?" Her voice betrayed her uncertainty, the power of death as potent for those of us who witness it every day, as for those who encounter it as a stranger.
"An accident. Nothing... Just an accident." No one to blame. No monster I could hold responsible for ruining my life and ending his. Just a stupid accident. "He was three weeks shy of his seventeenth birthday."
I'm swallowed up in Sofia's warmth, her arms crushing me close and keeping me from falling apart. "Sara, I'm so sorry," she whispered, her lips brushing against my ear, setting my skin on fire. "I'm sorry."
My back grew rigid but I forced myself to relax into her embrace and welcome the comfort that usual sent me running. Finally letting her get a glimpse of the woman behind the mask and praying to God she'd like who she saw; the little girl my brother used to make cry with laughter and not the jaded workaholic that I've become.
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