Shaun had gotten an invitation to hit Santa Cruz with a group of Mom's Irwin friends. Shaun would be staying in the armored van, Mom's friends had promised, but he'd get experience and get to see a working group of Irwins survive poking dead things with sticks. Since I'd like my brother to survive poking dead things, I was all in favor of this trip, but I hadn't thought about the consequences.
Shaun got the invitation. Not me. And you don't take any more people into the field than you have to, even when you know what you're doing and are well-equipped. Since I wasn't an Irwin-in-training, I was superfluous.
Which resulted in our longest separation since my nights in the hospital when my retinal KA flared.
Shaun found me staring at the monitors, clicking almost mindlessly.
Our inboxes--his and mine, because I'd known his password from the moment he started the account--were as clean as they'd ever been. Every message was properly filed, every outstanding issue was taken care of, and I'd even drafted several versions of letters Shaun should send sooner rather than later. He could pick which version to use when he got back.
I was caught up on the blogs of every Newsie I followed and had read the archives of a number I didn't. I'd tramped through the posts of several Irwins Shaun followed that I didn't, and even dipped my toe into the Fictional realm. Empty Coke cans littered my desk and spilled over the sides of my recycling bin.
Through the gritty, caffeinated haze, I noticed a warm weight on my shoulders. Hands. Warm all along my back.
For what felt like the first time in days, I relaxed. My body, which had tensed more with every hour Shaun was gone, practically melted.
"Whoa!" Shaun caught me as I almost slid out of my chair. "George, when was the last time you slept?"
"You know," I mumbled into his stomach. I'm not usually so demonstrative--or so incoherent--but dammit. Shaun.
"I know what?" he asked patiently. For as impatient as he is with the rest of the world, my brother has the patience of a saint when it comes to me.
"Last time I slept." I said. "Were there."
Shaun hauled me up and dragged me over to my bed. "I was there the last time you slept?" he said, teasing, as if it couldn't possibly be true.
"George?" he said, going all concerned on me. "Oh, man, George." Shaun got me into bed and tucked me in. He tapped the bridge of my nose in warning and I closed my eyes. He took off my sunglasses and set them on my nightstand. Then he stood back up and I make a noise of protest, grabbing for his shirt.
He must've been practicing the avoidance techniques with the Irwins he want out with, because he evaded me and said, "I'll be right back, I swear."
I listened as he padded to my door and left the room. I whimpered and grabbed my pillow, burying my head under it. Days without sleep and now he left me like this? Maybe I didn't love my brother.
Raised voices carried up the stairs: Shaun arguing with our parents. He'd started to call them "the Masons", and I wasn't sure what to think about that. Whatever they're arguing about, Shaun sounded like he's winning.
After the voices died down, I heard Shaun go into his room on the other side of the door. I'd closed it that first night, when I still thought I might be able to sleep, to attempt to create an illusion that Shaun was just being very quiet.
After a long couple of minutes of rustling and banging noises--so much for any illusion that Shaun could be quiet--Shaun came back into my room through the adjoining door. He closed it behind him and walked over, climbing into bed with me without a moment of hesitation.
I rolled over a little to make room, and then draped myself all over him. Shaun laughed and wrapped his arms around me. He touched my chin and drew my mouth to his, giving me a kiss.
"I'll tell you all about it in the morning," he whispered in my ear.
Nodding, I buried my face in his shoulder. Surrounded by his smell, his chest rising and falling beneath my arm, his breath against my cheek, I fell asleep.