When her younger brother is born, Helen is five and waits in the hospital with a sleepy eyed nanny while her mother goes into labor and her father paces between the lobby and the room.
It’s early, at least early for Helen because it’s six in the morning and she would have at least slept another hour before having to get up to get ready for kindergarten. She was rudely awoken however, forced into the first clean set of clothes with no say so in the matter taken to the hospital.
Helen knew her mother had another sibling for her but it had taken so long that the soon to be eldest Gansey child expected they would never come. Her parents didn’t tell her if the baby would be a boy or a girl but she hoped for a little sister to dress up like her dolls and practice makeup on when she was older.
All this waiting grew to be boring and Helen is ready to ask for a candy bar from the snack machine when her father comes out all smiles but look a little wide eyed and tired.
“Do you want to see your baby brother, Helen?” he asks and holds a hand out to her.
A baby brother? Helen only frowns a little at the idea of having a brother instead of a sister but hops off her seats just the same, gripping her father’s hand. “How’s mommy?”
“Your mother is fine. She’s a bit tired and will have to stay in the hospital a couple of days and so will the baby but she’ll be home soon enough.” He ruffles her hair and scoops her up right before he opens the door to the room. “How about we throw a small party for them?”
Helen nods widely at the thought of a party, having not had one since her fifth birthday months ago. When they enter the hospital room it’s only a couple of nurses and Helen’s mom holding a bundle of blankets to her chest looking happy if not tired.
When mother Gansey spots Helen, she gives a smile in her daughter’s direction, beckoning them closer. “Come look at your baby brother, Helen. Isn’t he lovely?”
From her higher perch in her father’s arms, the child looks at the baby. He’s so small with his tiny nose and tiny mouth and tiny head underneath the tiny blue cap. “What’s his name?” Helen whispers, half in amazement and half because he looks like he’s sleeping and she doesn’t want to be the one to wake him even though she’d like to know what color his eyes are.
“Richard Campbell Gansey III.” Her father says proudly and Helen frowns openly. Her brother is much too cute to share the name of her dad and granddad. She’ll make sure to call him something different so he won’t get confused.
At one year old, Helen is probably Dick’s favorite person and vice versa. If he isn’t toddling after his parents he’s toddling after Helen, trying to catch up with her longer strides.
Helen doesn’t mind the attention, she loves it truly. She was worried her baby brother was going to take everyone’s attention away from her, especially her parent’s, but now she doesn’t worry about that for a second.
She can’t remember how many times her mom has taken a picture of her and her brother doing something ‘too cute for words.’ Like the time Helen was helping Dick to walk by holding his hands or the time she took a napkin and wiped the cake out of his hair during his first birthday party. While flipping through the family scrapbook, she even saw pictures of them curled up sleeping.
At six, Helen is learning how to read bigger words and small chapter books that makes her feel grown up. Since it’s a school assignment, Helen reads to her parents after dinner and they pat her head and tell her how well she’s doing and even help her when she stumbles over words.
Since they live in the capital of the country and her parents have very important jobs, they sometimes are gone for days, usually on the weekend, leaving the children with a nanny.
On those days, Helen is the one to read to her younger brother when he gets a little fussy and can’t sleep. She puts on her teacher voice and reads what she picked up from the school library until her brother goes to sleep and she feels proud because it’s something she can do on her own.
Helen feels quite important when she finally hits ten and gets a telescope for her birthday and a book of myths on her reading level. She didn’t ask for it, but her father insisted that if she was going to read fairytales and talk about princesses, it might as well be educational.
Her parents’ work gets busier leaving Helen and Dick with nannies more often. She doesn’t mind the nannies, they don’t do much besides make sure they don’t hurt themselves and eat and get to bed on time.
On nights where her parents are gone, it’s either Helen spending time in Dick’s room or Dick spending time in Helen’s room until it’s time to go to bed.
Every night, Helen reads him stories out of her book of myths and doesn’t mind if he chooses the same one to read two nights in a row. Dick isn’t like the other five year olds because Helen has come along with her mom to pick him up from kindergarten. He’s usually reading in the corner or working on a puzzle. Once or twice she’s seen him play with the other kids, but not too often.
One day while Dick is getting his stuff, Helen stays with her mom at the sign out sheet and hears them talk about it.
“Richard is a bright boy and I’m so happy he enjoys reading and working on the more complicated things, but he doesn’t seem to have that much interest in the other kids.” The teacher said, Helen hasn’t been bothered to remember her name.
Mother laughs, softly but Helen knows it’s the laugh she uses when she doesn’t like the way a conversation is going. “I assure you, nothing is wrong with my son. My daughter Helen enjoys reading to him so I’m sure he just picked that up from her.”
“Well, play and interaction is very important and maybe if you and your husband can set aside some time to play games with our son or even slip them into regular activities like dinner time and such, I’m sure it can be quite beneficial.”
Helen doesn’t know what mom has to say to that because Dick hops over and immediately makes a grab for his sister’s hand. “Hi Momma. Hi Helen.”
Mother’s face softens automatically and she ruffles her son’s hair and turns her attention back on the teacher. “Thank you so much for the advice. I’ll be sure to possibly take it into consideration.” Hands placed on Helen’s shoulders, she ushers the kids out the door. “Goodbye.”
In the car, it’s silent save for that fact that Mrs. Gansey has a classical music CD playing. She only turns it off after ten minutes of the car ride and sighs.
“Should I stop reading to Dick?” Helen asks and she hopes the answer is no, but mother knows best.
That catches the other occupants of the car off guard and Dick looks surprised for once in his life and mom raises an eyebrow.
“Why would you?” her younger brother asks in a voice very much like a child instead of a small adult, there’s even a hint of whining in his voice.
“Because.” Helen draws out the last syllable. “Your teacher is complaining about you never playing with the other kids and thinks it’s because you read too much and we know you read a lot because I like to read to you so maybe if I stop she’ll stop being worried.”
“Helen, don’t listen to that woman. Your brother is perfectly capable of deciding whether or not he wants to play with the other kids, aren’t you sweetheart?”
“Yeah. I mean yes ma’am.” He seems firm in his answer at least. “I play with the other kids sometimes but they always wanna play with Legos and talk about cars or ninjas. As soon as I talk about the Greeks they get bored unless it’s Hercules but I think they like the Disney him better.”
“See, my children are too smart for their own good. Helen, keep reading to your brother and if he doesn’t want to play with the other kids we won’t force him.”
Helen nods like she’s just accepted a big mission and ruffles her brother’s hair, laughing at the surprised etched on his face that the gesture.
Even with five years between them, the Gansey siblings are as close as they come. When Helen is fifteen, she spends more time with friends and at sleepovers with daughters of rich congressmen than at home nowadays. Every month Dick is hearing about a new boy she’s hopelessly charmed into spending hundreds of dollars on her. Helen doesn’t seem to be wasteful though and when asked what she’s done with that hundred dollar dress John whatshisname bought her, she always says something about donating.
She tells him not to fall for rich girls because they’ll take his money and leave and she’s a testament to that. Dick has no interest in girls anyway and he doesn’t think he ever will since at ten he’s quite sure of the man he’ll become.
After the thing with hornets, Helen lessens her time with friends and stays home because he parents are too busy to deal with their traumatized child.
Since her room is the closest to his, she’s the one that hears him screaming himself hoarse at night. She’s the one that braces the cold tile floor of the house and runs barefoot to her brother’s room, hair a mess and wide awake. She’s the one that sees him clawing at his face and stands in his doorway unable to figure out what to do until he finally stops screaming and falls back into bed like nothing has happened.
When she brings it up with her parents, they say it’ll pass and that Dick doesn’t need help or medicine because he’ll be fine. Helen feels like kicking over a chair because they don’t to acknowledge that their son isn’t exactly the same as before. In her junior year of high school, she takes a college level psychology class because she likes being able to read people and hates not understand her brother even more.
She starts carrying an EpiPen in her purse and glove compartment of her car whether she’s with her brother or not. When asked about it, she just smiles and smoothly changes the subject, deciding that if people don’t know about her brother’s situation then they don’t need to know.
“Why are you still home? Don’t you have a party to go to or a boyfriend to bother?” It’s a Friday night and Helen spends it in her brother’s room.
“Yeah.” She says simply, shrugs her shoulders and draws the youngest Gansey closer to her side and is pleased when he doesn’t protest against the physical contact. “But I canceled because I don’t feel like dealing with people.”
He makes a noise like he doesn’t quite believe her and continues flipping through a book of Welsh myths, something from Helen’s collection that she hasn’t read yet. “I’m people.”
“You’re not people, you’re my brother.”
That gets a laugh out of him and she hates how tired he sounds and Helen knows he isn’t sleeping and that he probably hasn’t slept right in a long time. She does something she hasn’t done in a long time, kisses the crown of his head and whispers ‘I love you’ into his hair.
Helen has no problem with her brother galumphing in other continents. She’s proud of him really since before he left, he insisted on her teaching her everything she knew. She taught him rock climbing and helicopter flying (though he didn’t have a knack for that like she did) and how to safely let out a parachute and other things.
While he’s gone, he sends post cards and letters and small trinkets like hand woven ribbons for Helen’s hair and foreign glassware for mother.
Helen keeps all the letters addressed to her in a special box under her bed and keeps a hand woven bracelet around her wrist. He wrote that it’s for good luck even though they both know she doesn’t need it.
Dick comes back home when Helen is away on her internship – super secret and for the government – but he doesn’t even stay long before he announces that he’s moving to Henrietta because it feels right. He writes to her still and insists that she visits whenever she can.
She’s curious about the state of Ronan Lynch. She’s met the Lynch brothers together a handful of times and knows Declan the best because reasons. She wants to know about the Adam character her brother has befriended and the Noah person who started appearing in the letters like he’s been in them all this time.
The first time she arrives at Monmouth Manufacturing, no one is there and Helen practically breaks in, but doesn’t feel bad upon realizing that no one had enough sense to lock the door anyway. The place is definitely Dick’s with all the books stacked on the floor and she can see the workings of a miniature town near the bed. She probably should call to let him know that she’s here, but decides she’ll stick with the element of surprise. Grabbing a book off the floor – one entirely dedicated to Welsh kings – she reads it and waits.
Dick pops around with his merry band of brothers after who knows how long and looks absolutely taken aback at the sight of his sister.
“Took you long enough, Dick.” Helen says with a sigh and closes the book. “Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friends?”
That seems to snap him out of whatever trance he’s in. “Helen, this is Adam and Noah and you already know Ronan.” He indicates to each person respectively. “Adam and Noah, this is my sister Helen. Now that we have that out the way, why are you here?”
Helen sighs and stands, makes her over to the boys and doesn’t trip on a single thing. “You told me to visit so I paid you a visit.”
“I would expect a call first or something. How long have you been waiting?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t have anything to do today hence the reason why I’m not wearing any heels, so it’s not a big deal.”
The youngest Gansey takes in his sibling’s full appearance for the first time. She definitely isn’t wearing heels which explain why she’s level to him instead of towering over him like some Amazon woman. She’s traded a finely pressed skirt and blouse for jeans and T-shirt. Comfort clothes, she really isn’t doing anything today.
“Well I’m glad you’re here however unexpected the visit.” Really, truly he is.
Helen smiles, throws her arm over the younger’s shoulders. It’s an action that’s more Helen than Gansey. “So tell me, what have you been up to?”
There’s a light that sparks in her little brother’s eyes. It’s a light that Helen loves which is why she always asks him about how his work is going. “It’s been a few months so it’s a lot to talk about, but I’ll be glad to fill you in.”
When her sweet baby brother gets buried six feet under with three empty plots between him because he was supposed to outlive them all, that light that Helen loves so much goes out and she’s left in the dark with a scrapbook full of pictures and a box full of letters.