About a week after Sam leaves for college, you have five or six too many shots of tequila at a bar just this side of the Missouri, your first night on your first solo hunt. You call him from a pay phone because you can’t remember where you’ve put your cell phone but somehow you can remember his number. He picks up on the second ring and says hello? Hello, like he had no idea who it is. Later, you realize that he probably didn't, although you can’t imagine who else would be calling him at three am on a Wednesday night. Can’t imagine who else would be calling him at all. He doesn’t have anyone but you, although in a few weeks time he’ll probably have plenty of Stanford friends to drunk dial him at all hours on school nights.
You don’t respond when he says hello, and he says it a few more times before he mutters your name, voice going up like a question, but clearly knowing that it’s you. You still don’t answer, and he says your name again. Then there’s a click and a buzz and you aren’t used to hearing a dial tone because your cell phone doesn’t have one. Something about it is more final than even silence.
You stand there for a few minutes with the phone pressed to your ear and then you smash it against the phone booth until the bartender steps outside and tells you to go home and sleep it off. But you spent your cash for the night on the booze and by playing stupid in a game of pool with someone you should've recognized was a hustler so you sleep in your car and try to forget that you used to share the backseat with Sam on long drives as your dad raced through the night.
The next night you’re the one hustling pool and you get yourself a motel room, and when you open the door you realize you asked for one with two beds, the habit so ingrained that you don’t even notice you’ve done it until you see the twin shapes of the mattresses in the darkness. It’s the first night in your entire life you’ve ever spent completely alone. Sometimes you’ve ended up at some girl’s apartment, or more recently there’s just been Dad snoring in the next bed over, but almost always there’s been Sam. Even when you spent three days in the hospital after some monster or other collapses your right lung, you woke up each morning to find Sam sleeping in the next bed over, a nurse having offered it to him since there wasn’t another patient who needed it anyway. When Sam spent two days in with a smashed collarbone—your fault, you know; you should’ve been paying better attention—you refuse to leave and sleep in a metal folding chair beside his bed.
You’re pretty sure you’ve never spent more than a night apart, before now, and maybe that’s unhealthy but it’s the way things had always been. When you were younger dad used to put the two of you in the same bed, cheaper than getting two rooms. Even up to a few months ago, half a year or so, you'd be as likely to get one room as two, you and Sam pressed, curled, tucked together in a bed not quite big enough for your broad shoulders, his long legs. You'd wake up and realize that, at some point during the night, you had thrown an arm carelessly over his body, drawn him in until his back was against your chest. You'd wake up and realize that, at some point during the night, he had tangled his legs up with yours, had pressed his face against your neck and breathed there. You could feel the hot, damp air on your skin, and it would take you a moment too long to push him away. It's late August but everything seems cold when you wake up now, a blanket only making you sweat because it's not the warmth of scratchy cotton or rough linen that you miss. You'd never tell him that, wouldn't even if he were here—though if he were here there'd be nothing to tell anyway.
There’s a girl at the bar that’s eyeing you up the night after that. You don’t feel like being alone again and you’ve got no leads on the case anyway so you bring her back to your motel room. She sucks you off like she loves it, like there’s no place she’d rather be but on her knees between your legs. You doubt that but you don’t really care one way or another. You’re not so drunk that you can’t get it up but apparently you’re drunk enough that you don’t see anything wrong with imagining your brother in her place until you’re coming with the wrong name worming its way out of your mouth.
The girl leaves soon after that, not in the mood to stick around when you’re “so obviously hung up on some other chick.” You count yourself lucky that Sam is also a name for girls as well as for plenty of people who aren’t related to you. You think maybe you should take a break from bringing girls back for a while anyway.
Instead, you throw yourself headlong into the case until you’ve killed the son of a bitch who’s been kidnapping toddlers around town. Afterwards, you call Dad and he issues you a set of coordinates telling you where to meet up. Outside of Little Rock, you find him finishing a hunt, wiping the blood off his knives and handing you a gun to start cleaning. You want to ask him if he’s heard from Sam but you already know the answer; if your brother’s not calling you, he’s certainly not calling your father. Your dad’s got his eye on a hunt up in Minnesota and he says he’ll need your help on it, so you tail his car nine hundred miles up to St. Cloud.
At the library where you go to research the case, you find yourself looking up how far it is to Palo Alto. Dad claps you on the shoulder and tells you to focus. Sam’s two thousand miles away and you’re sitting at a dusty computer among musty books with Dad hovering over you and making sure you’re doing your job. Twenty-three years old and babysat by your father like you’re a kid. Like you used to babysit Sam.
You end up in yet another motel room a few nights later. The case is over, Dad’s off on another hunt of his own or just as likely a bender. You stare at the ceiling and wonder what Sam is doing. You will yourself not to jerk off, will yourself not even to think about it, and find yourself in the shower, one hand pressed flat against the tiles, hot water hitting the bare skin of your back.
This thing, it’s nothing new. You’ve been trying to convince yourself you don’t feel that way about your little brother, about Sam, for months. Years, maybe. For a few days after Sam left, you wondered if maybe he had figured it out, if he had taken off to get away from you and your sick, perverted feelings. It’s a thought you dismiss quickly; if Sam had suspected he would’ve been gone long before.
You’ll get over it. The words ring hollow even in your head but you ignore their insincerity and move on. Onto the next case, onto the next hunt, onto the trail of a ghoul on the East Coast and away from the brother who left you, the brother you left, the brother you can’t leave behind.